You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com


The Stag Wizard by Gryffindor Soar

Format: Novel
Chapters: 26
Word Count: 181,216
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Strong Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Humor, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Lily, James, Draco, Ginny, OC
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Draco/OC

First Published: 10/21/2011
Last Chapter: 02/22/2012
Last Updated: 06/30/2013

Summary:
Equivalent to The Swan Princess - Harry manages to find himself in quite the predicament: he's been cursed by an ancient sorcerer to become a stag every day from sunset to sunrise. And why would he be cursed? For the most powerful, unexplanable magic in existance: Love. 


Chapter 1: Chapter 1. The Final Goodbye
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

 

Number four, Privet Drive was experiencing a heavy dose of rainfall. It wasn’t entirely unexpected since the weatherman had predicted rain was inevitable for the entire weekend but the occupants of the home found the weather agonizing and distasteful. The residents of the home, the Dursleys, were currently holed up in the living room, each dressed and sitting comfortably around the fireplace, yet surrounded by an atmosphere of unease.

Petunia Dursley, tall with a horse-like face and bony features, kept glancing out the window at the rain, as if expecting someone to leap through it any moment. Her larger counterpart, Vernon Dursley, sat in a chair, his beefy, sausage-like fingers stroking his bushy mustache every few minutes. Their son, Dudley, who could easily be mistaken at a zoo for a humongous pig, took up the entire sofa himself. His small eyes seemed to be going haywire; one second they would look at the living room entrance, then the window like his mother, then at both his parents, and then back to the entrance of the living room.

Vernon Dursley huffed angrily as he looked at the clock sitting above the mantle. “The boy’s late. Just because he’s one of their lot he thinks he can waltz in here whenever he pleases.”

 His wife scowled, agreeing.

“He probably got caught up with something,” said Dudley.

His parents eyed him with slight worry. A year ago, when their nephew, Harry Potter, had parted from their company, their son had displayed a strange expression of compassion to his cousin (something that before would have caused those who knew Dudley to question his sanity). It appeared to both parents that Dudley may actually harbor this same bizarre compassion for Harry.

“Don’t go defending him, Dudley,” his father said, slightly snappish. “If we allow him to come as he pleases he’ll get the wrong idea and make it a habit. Last thing we need, having a – a – a…you know what… staying here all the time.”

“He used to live here, dad.”

Vernon frowned. “Don’t remind me, son.”

Before anymore conversation could be said, the three Dursleys leapt out of their skins. They had heard a loud CRACK outside their home, close to the car Vernon had just purchased. There was a few moments of silence and then someone knocked on the door. Vernon and Petunia looked at each other.

“Let’s get this over with,” Vernon grumbled, coming to his feet. He sauntered down the hallway, breathed deeply through his nose, and pulled the door open.

On the doorstep stood his nephew, Harry Potter. Harry appeared older to his Uncle; his eyes now shone with horrible life experiences, something Vernon had noticed before the boy had been lacking. His jet black hair was still as untidy as it ever was, round glasses stood on his straight nose in front of his emerald green eyes, and a long traveling cloak was draped around his broad shoulders.

Vernon’s nose wrinkled. “So, you think you’re entitled to come under my roof wearing something so distasteful?”

Despite being obviously insulted, Harry managed a small smile. “It’s good to see you too, Uncle Vernon.”

Vernon huffed and moved aside. “Well, get in here before the neighbors see.”

***

Harry just managed to slip inside before being shut in the door by his uncle. Everything seemed to be the same as he remembered when he’d left this place. Even his uncle was still as large and as surly as before. Harry was sure his aunt and cousin hadn’t changed either.

“So, obviously the Order of the Phoenix kept you safe from Voldemort,” Harry observed as he followed his uncle into the drawing room.

Uncle Vernon snorted in response. Harry entered the room after him and noticed his enormous cousin Dudley sitting on the sofa while his aunt stood near the window.

“Hello Aunt Petunia, Dudley,” he greeted.

They merely nodded to him. Harry looked around the room one more time. So many terrible memories were holed up in this house. He didn’t like being here just as much as the Dursleys didn’t. He wanted to make this visit quick and then be on his way.

“Well, out with it boy!” shouted his uncle once seated back in his chair. “You’re the one who wrote a letter stating you were coming back here so tell us the reason.”

Harry scowled. “Well, to be honest, I only came back to pick up the things I had to leave behind a year ago. I thought if I got rid of all the magical remains in your house that it would be easier for you to not think about my lot’s existence.”

“If that’s all you’re here for then go upstairs and get on with it,” grumbled Uncle Vernon. “I’ve got plenty of other things to do today.”

Harry snorted. “I’m sure you do.” He looked out the window. The downpour had intensified so much that it was pointless to do anything but stay inside. More than likely, Uncle Vernon was going to spend this entire day sitting in front of the television. Smirking at the thought that television was more important to his uncle than his own nephew, Harry cleared his throat and added, “I also wanted to see if you were all okay.”

His aunt and uncle stared at him like he was some strange extra terrestrial. Dudley was the one who broke the silence.

“We’re okay. It’s good to be home.”

Harry -grateful that at least his cousin seemed capable of conversing- nodded, and said, “That’s good to hear.”

There was an awkward pause where nothing could be heard but the rain pounding on the roof. Harry wanted to tell them a few things, just because they were family, but there had always been tension between him and his relatives. Most of the time they didn’t seem to care what was going on in his life anyway but seeing that he was planning on getting married next year, he thought it best to at least bring this to his only relatives attention. He just didn’t know how to delicately broach the subject.

He swung his hands forward and clasped them together. “So, I thought I’d let you know I’m getting married next year.” The Dursleys hardly reacted to this news; only their eyes widened slightly. Harry cleared his throat. “I’m going back to school first, since I didn’t attend my seventh year because of Voldemort trying to kill me all the time.”

This caused a reaction. Uncle Vernon’s face began to redden slightly. “You’re not saying you’ll be moving back in then?”

Harry actually laughed. “Are you out of your mind? Of course I won’t be. That would be torture for everyone. No, I’ll be staying where I’ve been living for the past couple weeks – my godfather’s place.”

His uncle seemed to relax again. “Well, that’s good news at least.”

“Do we have to come to the wedding?” Dudley asked his tone more curious than condescending.

Harry blinked. “Well, er – only if you want to. Like I said, it won’t be for a year.”

“Well, who is she?” his aunt demanded, finally speaking for the first time.

Harry’s face softened a little as he thought of his fiancé. The Dursleys noticed the change but didn’t comment. “Her name is Ginny Weasley. She’s my best friend Ron’s younger sister. We were dating in my sixth year but I had to break things off for her protection before I went off killing Voldemort’s horcruxes.”

“So she’s one of your lot?” Uncle Vernon practically spat.

“Yes, she is and I’ve never been happier,” Harry replied boldly. “Ginny’s one of the best witches in her class. I’m honored that she accepted my proposal.”

“Yes, well, we’re not going to give you a guarantee of being there,” said Uncle Vernon forcefully. “It’s obviously going to be a wedding made for your kind.”

Harry snickered. “I suppose so. Like I said, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to. I just thought that since you were family you’d be interested to know about it.”

“Congratulations,” said Dudley quietly.

Again, Harry blinked at his cousin with surprise. “Er – thanks, Dudley.”

“I didn’t really understand everything those wizards were talking about when we stayed with them but I figured from what they were saying that you killed that Lord guy.”

Harry nodded. “I did.”

Uncle Vernon raised his eyebrows. “You murdered someone? Are they going to convict you for that?” He sounded hopeful.

Harry laughed. “Not for this murder, Uncle Vernon. I did the whole wizarding world a favor by killing him and your world for that matter. Voldemort would have enslaved muggles if he hadn’t been stopped so you should be a tad bit grateful.”

His uncle snorted into his mustache. “Don’t think for a second I’m going to express thanks.”

“I wasn’t asking for it,” Harry replied. He looked at his relatives briefly before clasping his hands together. “Well, I’ll get my things and get going, shall I?”

“The faster you do the better,” his uncle huffed before turning on the television.

Harry sighed heavily before heading out of the drawing room towards the stairs that would take him to the upper floor. After climbing the stairs, he came to the smallest bedroom and went inside. His possessions were exactly as he left them; a stack of old, yellowing Daily Prophets stood on a wooden desk, the floor was littered with scattered parchment, his school books were stacked in unharmonious piles, clothes that no longer fit stuck out of his old school trunk which lay at the foot of his bed. Taking in the scene one last time, Harry pulled out his wand and waved it in the air.

All the possessions flew across the room into the trunk, all cramming into every nook and cranny available in the space. After everything seemed to be snuggly inside, Harry shut the lid, fastened it and levitated his trunk so it went down the stairs in front of him. Before leaving the room, Harry glanced back.

Years ago, this was where he first met Dobby, a house elf that would forever be one of Harry’s dearest friends. He chuckled as he remembered the many attempts the elf executed while supposedly trying to save his life with the last being the only successful one. Harry lamented again the death of the elf’s last act – saving Harry and his friends from the terrors at Malfoy Manor.

This room had also been a prison in his second year, a place of solitude while mourning the deaths of his Godfather, Sirius Black, and his headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. So many horrible emotions and memories came from this room. Harry was experiencing some kind of euphoria from the realization that this was the last time he would ever have to come back here.

On that happy note, he turned on his heel, closed the door, and guided his trunk down the stairs. Setting it near the front door, Harry made his way back to the drawing room to bid a final goodbye to his last living relatives. They were all sitting around the television, watching the news. He cleared his throat. For once, and to Harry’s utter shock and bewilderment, Uncle Vernon muted the television.

“So, all your paraphernalia is gone?” he asked.

“It will be when I leave,” Harry assured, still surprised from his Uncle’s earlier action.

“Well…best of luck then, boy,” Uncle Vernon said awkwardly.

Dudley managed to pick himself up off the sofa and walked over to shake Harry’s hand. “Good luck with everything,” he said as awkwardly as his father.

Harry gave him a small smile. “You too, Big D.”

Dudley too managed a grin. “Don’t make me come to your wedding to punch you in the face.”

Harry chuckled. “Only if you manage to swing one of your gorilla arms before I can get a hold of my wand.”

Dudley grimaced but tried to remain pleasant. “Yeah… well, see ya.”  

His cousin walked back over to the sofa and sat down. Harry noticed Uncle Vernon had turned the sound back on the television. He glanced at his aunt who surprisingly was still eyeing him.

“Goodbye, Aunt Petunia.”

She didn’t say a word. Harry turned on his heel and began to walk into the hallway.

“Take care.”

He turned around. His aunt was staring at him, still eyeing him with distaste. Harry sighed but gave her a smile and a nod. His walk towards the door seemed to take forever. Harry pulled out his wand and magicked his trunk to number 12, Grimmauld Place, and then stepped outside. The second the door was closed, he felt as if he was finally able to freely breathe. He gave Privet Drive one last look before disapperating to a much happier place.  

 

 


Chapter 2: A Wonderful Proposition
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



Chapter 2

Harry woke to a thunderous knock outside his bedroom door.

“Master Harry, there’s someone at the door for you, sir.”

Harry groaned, turning onto his side. His bedside clock displayed 7am. Who in blazes could that be? Stretching and yawning loudly, Harry got up and opened the door.

“Good morning, Kreacher,” he said, stifling another yawn.

“Good morning, sir. Breakfast is already waiting downstairs.”

“Great, thanks. I’ll come eat in a minute. Do you know who’s here?”

“No, sir. Kreacher thinks it might be one of Master Harry’s friends.”

“Let’s hope it is,” Harry mumbled, reaching the stairs. “With all that pounding on the door, I’d say it was Ron.”

Harry’s hunch was correct. His best friend, Ron Weasley, flaming red hair and an insurmountable amount of freckles, stood on the doorstep with his other best friend, Hermione Granger, her hair similar to a bush, the brown locks flipping in all directions. Hermione was the first to envelope him in a hug.

“Harry, it’s wonderful to see you!” she exclaimed.

“You too, Hermione,” he said before sending Ron a slight grin. “Would you care to explain why you’re banging on my door at seven in the morning?”

“Sorry mate,” said Ron, “but we were a little excited.”

Harry cocked an eyebrow. “About what?”

“Let’s get inside and then we’ll explain,” said Hermione.

Kreacher took Ron’s and Hermione’s cloaks before the three of them headed into the kitchen. While Harry ate his breakfast of eggs and bacon, Ron explained the reasoning for their impromptu visit.

“So, you remember before our third year, my family went to Egypt, right?”

Harry grinned. “Yeah, and because of that Sirius knew Pettigrew was alive and escaped from Azkaban to kill him. What about it?”

“Yes, well, Ron’s dad got a really good bonus from the ministry and he’s going to spend it on another trip to Egypt and he’s inviting me and you, Harry, to come with the family,” said Hermione.

Harry’s heart soared. A vacation to Egypt right before school started sounded wonderful. He’d been confined to Grimmauld Place for his own protection; there were too many people demanding his presence, seeking audiences with him, fan girls chasing him down the street, advanced wizards of his time trying to rub off on him. It was ridiculous. Kingsley Shacklebolt, the new Minister of Magic, had tried to order everyone to leave Harry alone but one man against the entire wizarding world barely stood a chance. So it was with a heavy heart that Harry and the Minister decided to have Grimmauld Place be a safe haven for the young hero until the paparazzi and the rest of the world calmed down.    

“That sounds wonderful,” said Harry, beaming at his two best friends.

“So you can come?” asked Ron anxiously.

“Of course I can. What would stop me?”

“Well, we just didn’t know if Kingsley had made you swear not to leave,” explained Hermione.

Harry nodded, completely understanding her point. “I can see why you’d think that. But he never said I had to stay in Britain. I’m sure that if I wrote to him, he’d give the all-clear.”

His best friends looked positively delighted. Harry was in the same euphoria. He hadn’t seen Ginny in weeks. It would be wonderful to see her again and to spend time with the Weasleys. Leaving Hermione and Ron in the kitchen, Harry went into the drawing room where his new owl, Alomier, stood resting on his perch. The snowy owl looked up at him with his amber eyes, stretching his wings.

“Hey, Alomier,” Harry greeted, stroking his head. “Can you do me a favor this early?”

The owl hooted, excited. Harry hadn’t sent him on a job in weeks.

Harry scribbled a note to Kingsley and tied it to Alomier’s leg. “Take this to Kingsley for me?”

Alomier nipped Harry affectionately with his beak as he climbed onto his master’s shoulder. Harry went downstairs, opened the door, and watched as Alomier took off into the rising sun. When he came back into the kitchen it was to find that Kreacher had served Ron and Hermione some breakfast. The two were sitting close together, enjoying each other’s company. Ron was fiddling with Hermione’s hair, whispering things in her ear, causing her to giggle. Harry definitely approved of them being a couple but he still found it strange to see Ron being so affectionate. Clearing his throat to announce his presence, Harry entered the room. Ron and Hermione noticed his smirk.

“Enjoying breakfast?” Harry teased, sitting down across from them.

Hermione blushed. “Ron was just telling me something.”

“Oh? Care to share?”

Ron and Hermione squirmed. It was obviously some gooey lovey-dovey stuff. Harry started to laugh. Hermione slammed her hand down on the table.

“Dang it, Harry! You were teasing us!”

Harry, still laughing, managed to say, “Of course I was. Do you really thing I want to know what you two were talking about?”

“Well, you usually do, mate,” said Ron, equally frustrated with his best friend.

“Well, with this particular conversation, I’d prefer to remain in ignorance,” Harry replied with a large smirk.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Oh, I can’t wait to get back at you when you’re with Ginny. Mark my words, Harry. You’d better watch your back!”

All three friends started laughing at this idle threat. Harry hadn’t been this happy in a long time. At first, he was worried that Ron and Hermione were going to leave after breakfast but they told him they had planned to visit so the three made their way into the drawing room.

“So tell us Harry, what have you been up to lately?” Hermione asked after they were all seated comfortably.

Harry sighed. “I had to go to the Dursleys last night.”

“What? Why?” demanded Hermione.

“Yeah, what would possess you to go back to that horrible place?” asked Ron.

“Well, a year ago I left most of my possessions at their house so I decided to go back and get them since we’re going back to school for our last year.”

“That still must have been awkward,” Ron muttered.

“Believe me, mate, it was beyond awkward,” Harry assured. “Dudley was a little surprising though.”

He then told them the entire account of what had happened at the Dursleys. After a small round of laughter, Hermione and Ron shared with Harry what had been happening with them. Hermione had found her parents in Australia, restored their memories, and taken them back to England. Most of her time had been spent with them, filling them in on her latest adventure and telling them the good news of being engaged to Ron.

Ron had started working at Weasleys Wizard Wheezes mostly to give company to George who was still mourning over the death of his twin, Fred. According to Ron, George was trying really hard to stay happy by focusing all his efforts on making new products and keeping busy at the shop. He was practically a slave driver to all his employees but Ron didn’t mind as long as he was happy.

The three were just beginning to discuss what going back to Hogwarts was going to be like when Alomier returned. Kreacher carried the owl into the room and transferred him to Harry, who gave the owl a treat before opening the letter.

“He says it’s okay!” Harry exclaimed with delight.

Ron whooped. “Awesome! I’m going to let everyone know. You have any floo powder, Harry?”

Harry nodded. “It’s on the mantelpiece.”

“Cool, thanks.”

Ron left the room and Hermione sighed. Harry sent her a smile.

“So, how’s it been with you two?”

Hermione blushed a little. “I can tell you one thing, Ron loves to snog.”

Harry chuckled. “I bet you don’t mind though.”

“No,” Hermione admitted. “But that’s only because he’s good at it.”

The two of them laughed.

“You should probably start packing,” said Hermione.

“Why?”

“Well, we’re leaving for Egypt tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?! Why did you wait until now to tell me?”

“We tried to find where your actual location was,” Hermione confessed. “The Ministry has you under a lot of protection right now. It was a nightmare getting through their security just to be able to talk to an official on your ware-a-bouts.”

Harry grimaced. “I guess there are a lot of people demanding to know where I am, huh?”

Hermione nodded. “That’s an understatement. Reporters have practically been sticking their quills down people’s throats trying to find where you are. It’s simply horrid at the Ministry right now. I think Kingsley did the right thing, sending you here.”

Harry agreed. “I like that it’s keeping everyone away but I don’t like being here.”

He didn’t have to elaborate for Hermione to understand. This had been where his Godfather had grown up and spent the last year of his life. It must not have been easy for Harry, living in a house that constantly reminded him of Sirius.

Ron burst into the room. “Everyone’s waiting for us back at the Burrow. Mom’s invited you to dinner, Harry. She’s also expecting you to sleepover so we can all leave early tomorrow.”

Harry nodded. “I think that’s a great idea.”

It didn’t take long for Harry to pack everything. His two friends mostly sat on his bed, making further conversation as he moved around the room, shoving his things into a bag with an enlargement charm to make the inside fit everything comfortably. After sweeping the room one more time to make sure he remembered everything, the trio left to go back downstairs.

“We’re coming back a week before school starts so you can pack all your school things then,” Hermione explained as they descended the stairs.

Once at the front door, Harry turned and called for Kreacher. The house elf appeared at his feet with a crack.

“Master Harry summoned me?”

“Yes, Kreacher. I’m going out of the country to Egypt and I won’t be back for a while. Since there won’t be anyone here to care for, I’d like you to spend the time I’m gone at Hogwarts with the other house elves. And I want you to take Alomier with you. If I need you, I’ll call. I don’t want you running around the grounds while you’re there either. Stick inside the castle and don’t tell anyone where I am or any other information regarding me. Okay?”

Kreacher humbly bowed. “Of course, Master Harry. Kreacher will do as master wishes.”

Harry smiled. “Thanks, Kreacher. I’ll call you if I need something.”

Kreacher fetched Alomier, who seemed enthused to be leaving the dreadful house. Harry waited until they were gone before locking up Grimmauld Place with various protective spells. After finishing the last incantation, he, Ron and, Hermione, turned on their heel, apparating to the Burrow. 

Harry barely had his feet planted on solid ground when he was accosted by his fiancé, Ginny. Immediately the smell of strawberries and flowers filled his nose as her bright red hair brushed against his face. Harry spun her around a couple times before setting her back on her feet and kissing her.

“I missed you,” he muttered into her hair. “It seems like forever since I last saw you.”

Ginny sighed. “You have no idea, Harry.”

Taking his hand, Ginny led him into the house where he was received enthusiastically by the rest of the family. Ginny’s older brothers and father stood to shake Harry’s hand while Mrs. Weasley squeezed his shoulders tightly in a motherly hug.

“Harry, it’s good to see you, dear.”

“You too, Mrs. Weasley. Thanks for inviting me along.”

“Well, you are practically family, dear. Why would we not invite you?”

“Maybe to free us from Harry and Ginny snogging in a pyramid somewhere,” George said, grinning.

There was a general peel of laughter from everyone except for Ginny and Harry who were both lightly blushing.

“Alright, that’s enough,” said Mrs. Weasley to her husband and children. “I’m sure that if any of you were able to have girlfriends that you would want to snog them too.”

“Oy, mum, for your information I do have a girlfriend,” said George. “She just couldn’t make it.”

“And I have been on a couple dates with Audrey,” Percy added, attempting to defend himself.

George scoffed. “You call talking to her over drinks a date?”

Percy’s face reddened slightly. “I would say so, George. Just because I didn’t snog her the first time we met like you did with Angelina does not mean that we weren’t on a date!”

Charlie and Bill snickered.

“Only real men snog on their first date,” said George heatedly. “Harry snogged Ginny, Ron snogged Hermione, Bill –”

“Alright, we don’t need any more examples,” Bill said.

“Quite so,” his wife, Fluer, agreed. “It isn’t proper to speak of such private affairs.”

Percy scoffed. “Since when has George ever spoken of proper things?”

The family laughed while George thumped Percy heartily on the back. The atmosphere of the Weasley home was the same as Harry remembered even though Fred wasn’t there. Harry wondered silently if the family was trying to be humorous so as not to insult Fred’s memory. Whatever the reason, it was good to see the Weasleys in high spirits.

Harry enjoyed the rest of the day mostly with Ginny. They took a walk around the Weasleys garden, enjoying the gnomes running away from Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks. Harry caressed her hand bringing it up to his lips to kiss occasionally. They had discussed what had happened during their separation and were looking out at the sunset when George poked his head out the front door and told them to come in for dinner.

Dinner that night was the best Harry had had in ages. Kreacher’s cooking was on par but there was something delectable about Mrs. Weasley’s meals that made Harry’s taste buds dance with utter satisfaction.

Loaded down with various helpings, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny made their way up the stairs about an hour later to go to bed. Everyone was turning in early, seeing as they were going to be waking up near the crack of dawn. Ron and Harry bid their ladies goodnight before trudging up the steps to Ron’s room.

Neither spoke as they dressed for bed, both too tired to really make an effort to converse. Ron managed to wish Harry goodnight before immediately falling asleep. Harry looked up at the ceiling, hardly believing that tomorrow he would be in Egypt exploring ancient tombs. Smiling at the thought of this thrilling freedom, the young wizard turned on his side and drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 


Chapter 3: Egypt and A Sacrifice
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

AN: WARNING - This chapter contains scenes of mild violence



The air was dank and musky, like no living thing had been inside for more than a millennia. The stone hallway and various rooms were cut with remarkable skill, each doorway and wall displaying tons of different Egyptian pictographs and hieroglyphs. The paint had faded into dull, earthy tones but the artistry itself was one that could be praised no matter what century beheld its magnificence. Torch brackets lined the walls, all magically lit, casting dark shadows in the deeper corners of rooms, giving off a certain sinister air.

Since Bill was the only one who had any experience exploring tombs, he was the natural tour guide for the Weasley company. Harry found the disfigured muggle skeletons a little gruesome but also strangely interesting; it wasn’t often that someone saw a deformed skeleton. Bill explained that these muggles were thieves that tried to get into the tomb which was guarded by magic and had therefore suffered from terrible curses. Apparently Ancient Egyptian wizards were rather aggressive when it came to torturing muggles. There were a few remains so gruesome that Harry nearly lost his breakfast.

“This tomb supposedly contains not only bodies and treasure but a secret weapon kept by the Ancient Egyptian wizards,” said Bill as they came upon yet another room filled with gold. He’d warned the family in advance not to touch anything since there was a high probability that all of it was cursed.

“What kind of secret weapon?” Percy asked while examining a rather graphic hieroglyph.

“It supposedly was this object that brought about Egypt’s destruction,” explained Bill. “The Ancient Egyptian wizards of Pharaoh hid the object, burying it within their own tomb, to ensure that it could never be found again to destroy another civilization.”

“You sound as if you don’t believe a word of that,” Hermione pointed out.

Bill laughed. “Of course I don’t, Hermione. It’s a load of tripe.”

“Still,” muttered Mr. Weasley, “it would be best to be weary of anything out of the ordinary.”

“Yeah, since warped skeletons are way normal, dad,” George said, grinning.

They came to a rather sharp turn, plunging deeper into the tomb, revealing many rooms and crypts filled with treasures beyond anyone’s imagination.

“Why hasn’t anyone simply taken off the curses and made off with the gold?” asked Ron, eyeing a ruby the size of his head.

“Ancient Egyptian magic is very complex, Ron,” Bill explained. “There are many unknown spells they used, rather dark ones at that. Nobody has tried in fear that a curse would come upon them just for putting up an effort. Believe me when I say this, don’t suspect that all the skeletons in this place belong to desperate muggles searching for gold.”

Ron gulped and put a large gap between him and the ruby he’d been leaning towards. Everyone laughed before moving on to the next room. Harry turned, desiring to hold Ginny’s hand, but found that she was no longer beside him. He looked over all the red heads present in the group but she wasn’t there! An eerie feeling overcame him. Without a word, Harry let the others go on ahead, deciding to backtrack a couple rooms. He hadn’t even realized when Ginny had left the group.

A wave of panic caught his chest as he went from room to room finding nothing but skeletons and treasure. He ventured around the sharp corner, leading back into a hallway closer to the tomb’s entrance. It was in the fifth chamber that Harry found her. Ginny was lying on the floor, her body deathly still, a shiny object only a few feet away from her outstretched hand. Harry rushed to her side.

“Ginny,” he cried, lifting her head into his lap. “Ginny, come on, wake up!”

She didn’t move. The panic Harry had experienced before cascaded into his chest. She felt cold, lifeless. It was similar to the time he’d found her in the Chamber of Secrets. Harry pulled out his wand, trying to think of a spell that would help yet nothing came to mind. Just as Harry was about to cry out for the others, a figure stepped out of the shadows.

He was wearing a black skirt, similar to the ancient Egyptian styles displayed on the walls behind him. A long golden sash tied around his waist, the material hanging down in two separate pieces. Golden jewelry adorned his ankles, wrists, neck, and ears, each containing multiple priceless stones. His long black hair reminded Harry of his late Potions Master, Professor Snape, greasy and lank, hanging around the man’s face like strings of death. His teeth were rotten, yellow and brown, his eyes, cold as steel and as black as ebony. He held a long, elegant staff, the top cut into the shape of the figure of Anubis, the Egyptian god of death. His figure was outlined in a slightly darkened light but for some reason Harry got the impression that he wasn’t a spirit.

“Who are you?” the man demanded. His voice sounded like it was grinding its way out of his throat.

“My name is Harry Potter. What have you done to her?”

The man’s eyes slightly widened, as if he’d heard Harry’s name before. Scrutinizing Harry with his cold eyes, the man responded, “My name is Sephtus. It is a distinct honor to meet the One of Prophecy. I am to assume you have destroyed the Dark One?”

Harry quickly responded, “If by ‘the Dark One’, you mean Voldemort then yes, I killed him. But that’s not important! What have you done to Ginny?”

Sephtus stared at Harry for a long moment before stooping down to pick up the object near Ginny’s outstretched hand. “She simply tried to steal the Ankh of Death. Naturally the only appropriate curse to bestow upon her is of death itself.”

“NO!” Harry cried in dismay, clasping Ginny’s hand. “You can’t! Please! She didn’t know what it was!”

“It matters not, One of Prophecy,” said Sephtus, his tone unconcerned. “All who enter this tomb should feel the dangers they may encounter.”

“Please,” Harry begged. “I’ll do anything! Just don’t kill her!”

Stepping forward, the ancient man cleared his throat.

“There is a way to save her life.”

“Name your price,” Harry demanded. “I’ll do anything.”

Sephtus rubbed his chin. “A curse has to be made, One of Prophecy. I cannot lift the curse but I can change it to something else.”

“Could you place it on me instead of her?” Harry practically begged. He couldn’t bear the thought of seeing Ginny cursed in any way. If it was possible, he would take it upon himself before letting her suffer.

Sephtus raised an eyebrow. “You would be willing to do that?”

“Yes.”

Sephtus almost seemed to smile. “I suppose love causes even the greatest of wizards to make foolhardy mistakes.”

“Can you do it?!”

“Yes, One of Prophecy, I can. It will take a week for the curse to transfer from your lover to you.”

“Fine, just do it!” Harry cried.

Ginny already felt like she was slipping to the other side; her body was so cold, her lips devoid of all color. Sephtus raised his staff and began chanting in ancient Egyptian. Sparks of purple lightning filled the room, crackling and surging through the air like jagged snakes. A howling wind stirred the dust and dirt of centuries, causing the air to fill with haze. Harry coughed as it filled his lungs while the lightning around him intensified in size. The flashes left lasting impressions that burned his eyes. Through this curious storm Sephtus continued to chant, his grinding voice twisting into one of power and authority, the volume escalading into a shout that could be heard in every corner of the room.

As the wind howled and the lightning danced, Harry suddenly began to feel drowsy. His brain turned sluggish and his senses dulled. Sephtus's voice became a distant whisper in his ears – which seemed to be having trouble picking up the sounds around him. Harry's eyelids began to droop and his eyes rolled back. He lost consciousness and collapsed next to Ginny on the cold, stony floor just as a monstrous thunderclap could be heard echoing around the chamber.

***

“Did you hear that?” Ron demanded.

The Weasleys and Hermione all looked down the passage behind them; they had just heard a deafening clap of thunder that echoed off all the walls. They had been searching for both Harry and Ginny for ten minutes. George had even teased that the two had really gone off to make out but after not hearing from them for such a long time he'd stopped making the joke.

“Harry!” Hermione shouted, rushing down the hall. "Are you there?"

No response. For some reason Hermione felt that the noise of thunder was somehow connected to Harry and Ginny's location. Leading the way, she rushed around the corner towards where she felt the noise had originated with Ron and the others at her heels. They glanced in every room, unsure where exactly the sound had come from, until they found two figures lying on the ground in the fifth chamber down the hall. Hermione rushed to Harry’s side and turned him over while Ron reached Ginny and did the same. Both were as pale as winter, their body temperature so cold it stung Hermione and Ron’s warm hands.

“They’re freezing,” said Hermione.

Ron shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over Ginny while Mr. Weasley did likewise for Harry. Everyone looked around the room but the only thing they could make out was Harry’s wand. Wherever the thunder had come from, it hadn't left a single trace of a possible magical storm occuring in the tomb. Unlike the other rooms filled with treasure, this one was empty.

“What do you think happened to them?” George asked, his voice filled with worry while picking up Harry’s wand and pocketing it.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Weasley muttered, “but we’re not going to stick around here. We’re apparating to St. Mungo’s this instant.”

Apparating such a long distance was going to be extremely taxing but nobody complained. The lives of two of their family members were possibly on the line. Everyone grabbed hands, disapparating at the same time.

Instantly, they landed in the middle of the magical hospital’s waiting area. Though winded, Mr. Weasley rushed to the counter and exchanged hurried conversation with a rather surprised receptionist. Luckily for them, Healers immediately arrived on the scene, escorting both Harry and Ginny to another floor on magical stretchers.

Long after they disappeared, the Weasleys and Hermione still remained in the waiting area. George hadn’t said a word to anyone; probably because he was terrified that he was about to lose his only sister. He’d barely overcome the grief of his brother, a blow that several thought would have led himself to the grave. It wasn’t as if the rest of the family hadn’t mourned over Fred’s passing; it was just that George was his practical counterpart. The two had shared a bond that none of the others could really fully understand. Mrs. Weasley found herself glancing at him more often than the rest of her children.

Mr. Weasley never let go of Mrs. Weasley’s hand. They sat together, both saying very little. Hermione and Ron along with Bill and Fleur were also holding hands. Audrey and Angelina had arrived two hours after the Weasleys arrival to the hospital, both providing a small dose of comfort to their boyfriends. Charlie disappeared for a few minutes after nine in the evening, returning with a tall brunette at his side. There had been a rumor that he was seeing someone but no one had actually met the girl. The two of them also took seats close together, whispering occasional assurances that everything would be alright.

It was near the early morning hours when a Healer approached Mr. Weasley. The others, except for Bill and Charlie, were asleep, overcome with exhaustion and stress.

“I can assure you that both your daughter and Mr. Potter are alive,” said the Healer.

Mr. Weasley still remained tense. “Are they going to be alright though?”

“We’re still running some tests. Their bodies seem to be perfectly fit so we can only assume that if any damage has been done it is in the mind. We’ll let you know if there is any mental damage in about an hour.”

Mr. Weasley nodded. “Thank you.”

The Healer nodded, his face a little solemn, before disappearing through the set of double doors leading to the upper floors of the hospital. Mr. Weasley came over to his wife and gently nudged her awake.

“Molly,” he whispered gently, “Molly, wake up.”

Mrs. Weasley opened her eyes, suddenly fully alert. “What’s happened, Arthur?”

Mr. Weasley sighed. “A Healer has informed me that physically the two of them are fine but there still is a possibility of mental damage.”

Mrs. Weasley tensed. “And?”

“They’re running a few more tests,” Mr. Weasley continued, “with the promise that if anything appears they’ll know about it within the hour.”

Mrs. Weasley glanced at her watch. “Do you think we should wake the kids?”

Mr. Weasley shook his head. “Let’s let them sleep until we hear further news. This has been a trying day.”

Mrs. Weasley fought back tears. “Oh, Arthur, what if something terrible happened to them? Harry had just started a new life. And Ginny…”

She blew her nose on her handkerchief.

“I know, dear,” Mr. Weasley mumbled, putting his arm around her. “I know. We shouldn’t think too much. Let’s wait until we find out what’s really going on.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded, trying to get hold of her overflowing emotions. As a mother, she was still mourning over the loss of one son. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing her one and only daughter. And Harry, practically another son! She couldn’t think on it; her emotions overwhelmed her if she did. Instead, she focused on the comfort of her husband and the ticking of the clock, waiting, dreading, the end of the hour.

It seemed like a lifetime had elapsed before a Healer reappeared. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley both got to their feet. The Healer clicked his tongue while glancing down at his clipboard.

“We have come to the conclusion that both your daughter and Harry Potter are fine. However, we diagnosed that they are in a severe coma that could take an insurmountable amount of time before they regain consciousness.”

“So you’re saying that there is a possibility that they may never wake up?” asked Mr. Weasley, his voice barely making its way out of his throat.

The Healer nodded gloomily. “I’m afraid so, Arthur.”

Mrs. Weasley nearly fainted. Her husband steadied her shaking frame while barely managing to keep himself under control.

“In your professional opinion, Greg, do you think they’ll wake up?”

Greg sighed, rubbing his eyes. “I can’t say whether they will or not, Arthur. To me, they look like they’re merely sleeping. But it’s obvious that they’re under some kind of ancient magic that none of us Healers know how to counter. I wish I could tell you more but I’m at a total loss. I’m really sorry.”

Mr. Weasley grasped the man’s shoulder. “I understand, Greg,” he said sincerely. “Can we not inform anyone that Harry’s here?”

Greg nodded. “I’ll be sure to keep his presence a secret. The last thing we need is a bunch of paparazzi in a hospital.”

“We’re going to send the kids back,” said Mr. Weasley to his wife. Turning back to Greg, he asked, “Would it be okay for us to see them?”

“Mr. Potter and Ginny are being moved to room 287,” said Greg. “You can head on back whenever you want, Arthur.”

Mr. Weasley only nodded. Mrs. Weasley was too overcome with shock to help him wake the others so Mr. Weasley guided her over to a chair before beginning the process of getting everyone up. The dreadful news was spread to everyone, leaving a horrifying, morbid atmosphere in the waiting room.

“Ron, Hermione, I know Harry’s the closest to both of you so you’re free to stay here but I want everyone else to return to the Burrow,” said Mr. Weasley firmly. “Your mother and I will meet you all there in a few hours. Bill, you’re in charge.”

The oldest Weasley nodded and immediately set to work making sure everyone was ready to depart. After everyone had gathered their possessions, they left through the exit that would lead them out to the muggle streets of London.

Ron put a shaky arm around a crying Hermione, leading her down the hallway to room 287. They walked in and came to Harry’s bedside. Mr. Weasley conjured four stools, two at Harry’s side and two at Ginny’s. The four of them sat down. As soon as Mrs. Weasley was settled, she let out a horrible sob and collapsed into her husband’s side.

Hermione tried to remain strong but her emotions overcame her. She leaned into Ron’s chest and cried, unable to look at Harry’s silent form any longer. Although neither would admit it later, both Ron and Mr. Weasley shed tears of their own, their grief too agonizing to contain. The possibility that their loved ones might never return to them was a torture similar to death itself.  

 



 

 

 

 


Chapter 4: Return of the Headmaster
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

            The grounds of Hogwarts Castle were bright green, the morning dew still evident despite the early afternoon hour. The forbidden forest was as silent as a graveyard, the eerie trees reaching towards the sky, their branches filled with deep green leaves. Smoke could be seen coming from the hut of the Hogwarts Gamekeeper, Rubeus Hagrid, while the insides of the castle were bustling with activity, the occupants inside preparing for the next school year that would take place in less than a week.

The surface of the Black Lake was as smooth as glass, reflecting the beautiful blue sky and small puffy white clouds gliding lazily over the earth. The previous Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, had passed away from being hit with the Avada Kedavra, the killing curse, by Professor Severus Snape in the Astronomy Tower about a year ago. His grave stood near the edge of the lake, solid white like the clouds above in the sky. It appeared that today was just another average day on the Hogwarts grounds but if one would be more observant, they would find that the lid to the deceased Headmaster was moving.

The lid bounced up and down several times before a sound like a gunshot echoed across the grounds and the lid was thrust into the air, spinning twice before slamming into the dirt, shattering into pieces. If any had been present to witness what happened next, it is positive to say that the observer would have most definitely fainted.

The hands of Albus Dumbledore wrapped around the edges of the tomb, providing the Headmaster leverage to sit up. The professor straightened his hat, dusted off his robes, and stood shakily upon his feet. He felt as if he hadn’t eaten in a year. Pocketing his wand, Dumbledore stepped out of the tomb onto the grass. Eyeing the place he had just lifted himself from, Dumbledore actually managed to chuckle.

“It appears as if I was buried alive,” he said aloud to himself.

Sitting on the edge of his tomb, he tapped into his memory, trying to recall what had actually happened after Severus Snape had cast the killing curse toward him.

*~*~*~*~

He remembered waking up in a room similar to his office at Hogwarts except the pictures on the walls were blank white canvas, the window that should show him the grounds displayed nothing but white, and his phoenix, Fawkes, was missing from his perch.

Dumbledore had waited in this room, unable to get out, for what felt to him like mere minutes when someone came through the door. This man had on a white robe, round glasses, and untidy jet black hair. At first Dumbledore thought he was staring at Harry Potter but then he noticed the eyes. They were hazel.

James Potter had come to see him.

“Nice to see you, Albus,” James had said.

Dumbledore took the shock rather well for one conversing with the dead. “James Potter, you look wonderful for one who’s dead. I suppose that I am as well?”

James had shaken his head from side to side. “Actually Albus, you’re still alive.”

“Odd. I was hit with the killing curse.”

James face had darkened. “Yes, by Snape. We watched it happen. I still can’t believe he did it. And on your orders!”

Dumbledore had shrugged. “James, I was dying anyway. Severus just provided a way for me to supposedly pass on in peace. But according to you, that didn’t happen. Care to explain this to an old man who's been deprived of his next adventure?”

James had then nodded. “Apparently it’s not your time to go yet, Professor. I’ve been given the honor to tell you that the killing curse didn’t hit you but your pocket watch. It obliterated the object but the remains of the curse caused you to go into a coma. You’ll be in this coma for a year and then you’ll have one more task to complete before you will be officially called home.”

Dumbledore’s eyebrows had risen in surprise. “Well, this is an oddity that I never would have thought possible. So basically, I’m stuck in what one would call, limbo?”

James had laughed. “You could say that. I’m afraid you’ll have to stay in here for about a year. But trust me when I say, time will pass sooner than you think. And while you’re waiting, you have all the books you need to keep you busy - including a few extras that I was told to place in here with the instructions that you needed to read them thoroughly. If you get hungry, food will appear. And if you want company for a little bit, on your desk, write down on that piece of parchment the name of the dead person who you want to see and they’ll be able to visit you for a while.”

Dumbledore had nodded, conveying that he understood all of James instructions. “Thank you for explaining things, James.”

The deceased Potter had nodded again while smiling. “It’s the least I could do, Albus. You’ve watched over Harry like a grandfather. Lily and I can’t even begin to tell you how much we appreciate what you’ve done.”

Dumbledore had smiled. “He’s a great young man, James.”

“I know,” James had replied proudly. “So, do you have any other questions?”

“Just one,” Dumbledore had said. “Can I see more than one person at a time?”

“Of course, Albus,” James had assured. “We’re just on the other side of that door.” He pointed behind him with his thumb.

“Thank you, James.”

*~*~*~*~

Dumbledore smiled as the memory concluded. He had taken up James’ offer and visited with quite a few of his deceased friends and family members. The hardest visit was with his father, mother, and younger sister but it was probably the one visit he cherished the most. Smiling fondly at this memory, Dumbledore stood and began making his way up to the castle.

It felt so wonderful to be able to move around freely again, even though he felt as if he would wither away at any moment. The only time he was allowed to leave his study was to visit with Harry when he himself was stuck in a similar state of limbo. Dumbledore couldn’t begin to tell Harry how proud he was of him. He’d defeated Voldemort once and for all, following the instructions Dumbledore had left to the letter.

The old Headmaster couldn’t understand why he had not been able to move on. Voldemort was dead. What more was he supposed to do? Although he was confused, Dumbledore decided not to worry about it too much. Everything would fall into place the way it should in due time.

Arriving at the castle, Dumbledore pushed the great oak front doors open and walked inside. It was a most welcoming sight. The large stone staircase leading to the upper floors stood just off to the left, the familiar containers for the four houses were still located by the front doors, and the entrance to the Great Hall seemed to be begging the Headmaster to step further inside. Making his way toward the Hall, Dumbledore noticed distinct voices coming from a door a little further down. It was the staff room.

His heart started beating with anticipation. Who would he remember? Who had been killed during the Final Battle? How would they all react? Dumbledore swallowed, filled himself with determination, and walked into the room.

The professors didn’t notice him at first. Dumbledore was pleased to see that he recognized all of the people in the room, although some of the professors had not been professors in his day. Professor McGonagall seemed to be in charge of the meeting, explaining some of the rules for the newer professors’ benefits.

“Now, there should be –” Professor McGonagall began but froze. Her eyes had finally landed on Dumbledore. Her shocked expression caused the other professors to look around and soon the whole room was filled with similar astonishment. There was a full minute in which nobody spoke, everyone simply taking in the scene.

Dumbledore’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s good to see you again, professors.”

Jaws dropped. Professor McGonagall was the first to speak.

“Albus…you’re…are you…?”

“Alive? Very much so, Minerva,” said Dumbledore, wiping a tear away. “But I will say that it appears that I am just barely. My stomach has been grumbling nonstop ever since I woke up.”

There was another pause, and then every occupant was on their feet, surrounding Dumbledore, embracing him with tears and demands of how this miracle was even possible. He managed to calm them all down before making his way over to a chair, where he sat looking rather weary.

“Before I explain, would it bother anyone if I were to eat something?” he asked.

Professor McGonagall immediately called for a house elf. Upon seeing Dumbledore, the house elf squeaked and actually hugged him around the legs. Dumbledore chuckled before asking the elf to bring him a plate of breakfast food. The elf enthusiastically obliged, reappearing with a tray loaded down with a wonderful meal.

The professors sat down at the table and watching him silently, determined not to disturb him although their thoughts were buzzing with questions. Dumbledore savored every bite, and when he had consumed half of his meal, he began his tale. He started with the Astronomy Tower, indicating firmly to all that his death was planned by his hand and that Severus was an innocent man. After making this explicitly clear, Dumbledore explained his encounter with James and the state of limbo.

The professors were shocked into silence.

“I would ask,” Dumbledore concluded, “that you keep this information to yourselves. I only want the rest of the wizarding world to understand that I was in a coma for merely a year. They do not need to know that only after I finish the task that has been given to me will I truly be able to rest in peace.”

The professors merely nodded except for Professor McGonagall.

“Albus, you really will die next time?”

“Yes, Minerva,” Dumbledore answered. “James was very clear on that.”

She shook her head. “I still don’t believe this.”

“Try not to think on it too much,” Dumbledore replied kindly. “It hurts the head a great deal if you do.”

They all nodded in agreement. Dumbledore finished his plate, sighed, and stood up.

“I need to go to the Ministry to let them know I’m still alive. Minerva, would you care to join me?”

“Of course,” Professor McGonagall obliged.

“Excellent,” said Dumbledore. “I’m sorry to interrupt the staff meeting.”

“It’s fine, Albus,” assured Professor Slughorn. “We’re just glad to see you.”

“Likewise,” the old Headmaster nodded. “I will see you all shortly.”

And with that, he left the room with Professor McGonagall, both heading down to Hogsmeade, the only all-wizard town in Britain.

 “So, you’re now Headmistress?”

“Yes, but since you’re still alive wouldn’t you still be Headmaster?”

Dumbledore shrugged. “I don’t mind teaching, Minerva. You’re the Headmistress of Hogwarts and I’m just an old duffer way past the point of being capable of the Headmaster position again.”

Professor McGonagall snorted. “I’m not going to believe that for a moment, Albus. As far as I’m concerned, you are still Headmaster – the best Hogwarts has ever had.”

“You flatter me, Professor,” said Dumbledore in good humor, “but I believe that there were many Heads much better suited for the job than myself.”

“You’re too humble, Albus,” Professor McGonagall scolded.

Dumbledore chuckled. “I suppose. You have to admit it would be weird for me to be Headmaster again especially since there have been two Heads after me.”

Professor McGonagall sighed. “It took me a long time to forgive Severus. I couldn’t believe my ears when Potter claimed his innocence.”

“Harry knew the truth,” said Dumbledore simply. “He learned it right after Severus passed on. Before that he too could not forgive Severus for what he did, what I secretly asked him to do.”

“Why, Albus? Why did you ask him to kill you?”

Professor McGonagall seemed to be begging to know. Dumbledore could hear pain and suffering behind her words. He was deeply touched that she cared about him so fondly.

“I was dying, Minerva.”

“That’s no excuse,” Professor McGonagall unexpectedly snapped. “We’re all dying, Albus.”

Dumbledore, slightly taken aback by this sudden change of tone, tried to explain himself better. “Do you remember my rotted hand?”

Instinctively, Professor McGonagall looked at his right hand, still as dead and withered as it had been back when she had first seen the injury. “Yes.”

“Well, it is the result of a curse that I accidently came upon, a curse that has no cure. Severus managed to seal it into my hand for a little while but he estimated that I only had a year left to live.”

Professor McGonagall looked at him astounded. “Do you think that’s still the case?”

Dumbledore shrugged. “I’m not sure. I just know there is something I’m supposed to do before I can die peacefully. I am an old man, Minerva. If there is one thing I am ready for, it’s the new and unknown journey after death.”

Professor McGonagall looked rather sad. “I understand, Albus.”

Dumbledore placed a comforting hand over her shoulder. “This is how it was meant to be, Minerva.”

They had finally reached Hogsmeade. Before heading to the Ministry, there was someone Dumbledore needed to see. Asking Professor McGonagall to wait for him outside, Dumbledore entered the Hog’s Head.

His younger brother, Aberforth, was busy cleaning out his mugs. He didn’t have any customers yet; the Hog’s Head was a pub that usually housed shadier characters mostly in the evening hours. Aberforth’s beard was not as long as Dumbledore’s and was gray instead of white. The two brothers each wore glasses and had the same twinkling blue eyes. Dumbledore smiled and stepped up to the bar.

Aberforth had still not looked up from his glass, continuing to feint ignorance that he had a customer. He had always been one to dislike people. Dumbledore chuckled silently, waiting patiently for his brother to give him his full attention. After wiping the glass for a second time, Aberforth finally set it down and looked up. His mouth dropped open, his twinkling blue eyes widening to the size of saucers.

“It isn’t possible,” he gasped.

Dumbledore came behind the bar and embraced his younger brother. “Aberforth, I’m so sorry for everything.”

Aberforth overcame his shock to return the embrace. Pulling away, he searched his brother’s eyes. “You’re really here? Alive? How?”

“I’d love to explain to you the details but I’m afraid Minerva is waiting outside to join me at the Ministry so I’ll have to give you a basic version. Apparently I’ve been in a coma for a year.”

“But, you were killed with the Avada Kedavra,” said Aberforth. “And you fell from the Astronomy Tower. Even Merlin wouldn’t have been able to survive something like that.”

Dumbledore shook his finger back and forth. “On the contrary, my dear younger brother, if the same thing that happened to me happened to Merlin, the man would indeed have survived. The curse hit my pocket watch but there must have been a part of my body that tasted of it since it caused me to slip into a coma. As to falling from the Astronomy Tower, do you really think a wizard as advanced as myself would have been killed from such a fall? My body probably acted on its own, expelling uncontrollable magic. Indeed, no fall is great enough to destroy these old bones.”

Aberforth blinked several times, trying hard to keep his thoughts together. “It’s just so unbelievable. It makes sense but it’s unbelievable just the same.”

Dumbledore nodded in agreement. “I feel the same, Aberforth. This whole situation is rather difficult to fully grasp. My head has been having a hard time keeping all the facts straight. There is more I want to tell you, things that happened to me while I was in that coma. But I must go to the Ministry to let them know I’m alive.”

Aberforth sighed bitterly. “I understand. You come back and you don’t even have time to sit down for a drink with your own brother. No, of course not; you never really had time for family. You were always off doing something that would keep you distracted from what was most important. It’s always been that way. Even after everything that has happened, nothing has changed about you.”

Dumbledore looked pained from the callous tone of his brother. He seemed to wither away before Aberforth’s eyes.

“I’m truly sorry, Aberforth. I had a lot of time to ponder over my life and one of the things I want to fix is spending more time with you before my time truly comes. Would you forgive your older brother for being so insensitive to his family?”

Aberforth eyed Dumbledore wordlessly, trying to detect whether or not his brother really meant that he was sorry. After gazing for a solid minute, he recognized the sadness, the pleading, in Dumbledore’s eyes. He sighed.

“I forgive you, Albus.”

The two shared another embrace.

“Thank you, Aberforth,” said Dumbledore quietly. “I promise to visit with you as often as I can. And if you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to approach me.”

“I’ll hold you to that, Albus,” his brother assured.

“Good. How about we have dinner together tonight? It would be an appropriate time to go into deeper details of my story.”

Aberforth consented. “That would be fine. Just don’t be late. I’m closing shop at exactly nine o’clock.”

“I’ll be here,” Dumbledore promised.

The two shared goodbyes before Dumbledore departed from the pub, the atmosphere now somewhat brighter than it had been when he’d first went in. Professor McGonagall was waiting, smiling silently, knowing full well that the two brothers had had a good discussion. Dumbledore only smiled at her in return. The two walked further down the path, passed the Three Broomsticks, before disapparating to the Ministry.

 

 

 


Chapter 5: The Curse Begins
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



Chapter 5

                Mrs. Weasley was sitting next to Harry, watching him silently. He and Ginny had now been in their coma-like state for six days yet, earlier this morning, Harry had moved. It was slight but he had definitely moved his arm from his side to lie over his stomach. The Healers had taken this as a very good sign. Because he had stirred, Mrs. Weasley felt that if either of them woke, he would be the first. She was in the state of readjusting his sheets when the door burst open, banging off the wall from the excruciating force. Mrs. Weasley made out a sharp gasp, her heart pounding in her throat.

“Arthur, are you mad?” she cried.

Mr. Weasley barely heard her. “Molly, you won’t believe this! It’s incredible! Simply impossible!”

He was waving a copy of the Evening Prophet in his hand. He came over and displayed the front page to Mrs. Weasley who gasped. Her eyes widened to the size of goose eggs.

“Arthur! Oh, Arthur!”  She leapt out of her chair into his arms, hugging him tightly. “Is this true? Is this really true?”

Mr. Weasley nodded, a large smile spread broadly across his face. “It’s true, Molly. He’s at the Ministry. Do you want to see him?”

“Of course! But…what about…?”

Mr. Weasley glanced at Harry and Ginny. “They’ll be fine. Besides, we have to tell him what happened. He’ll want to know where Harry is.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded. “Alright. Let me get my coat.”

Mr. Weasley set down the Evening Prophet on Harry’s bedside table. After Mrs. Weasley’s coat was over her shoulders, the two quickly exited the building, practically running to the exit so they could disapparate to the Ministry.

Shortly after their departure, Harry’s eyes fluttered open. He glanced around him, confused. From the obvious look of the room he was in, he was at St. Mungo’s hospital. But how did he get here? The last thing he remembered was…

Panicking, he looked around until he spotted Ginny. Relief immediately washed over him. She looked perfectly healthy, asleep even. Her lips were a deep shade of red, her freckles standing out against her warm peach skin. Slipping on his glasses, Harry sat up, wondering what day it was. Noticing an Evening Prophet sitting on his bedside table, he picked it up and looked at the date.

Six days; it had been six whole days since they had been in that tomb. Harry thrust the paper away, not bothering to read any of it. He was incredibly hungry and his throat felt terribly parched. He slipped out of his bed, determined to see if Ginny was truly alright. He sat down, grasping her hand. It was warm. Harry actually laughed in relief. She was alive and she was fine.

Kissing every one of her fingers, Harry held her hand to his cheek, soothed by the warmth of her touch. In his heart, he thanked Sephtus for granting his request. Apparently the curse had transferred from her to him successfully. But what had actually happened? Harry felt perfectly normal. Had his physical appearance been altered? He glanced at a mirror hanging on the wall. His features were still the same.

Odd, he thought to himself. Something had to be different. Perhaps it was transfigured into a smaller curse, Harry supposed, since he couldn’t feel any differences. Whatever the case, the fact was Ginny was alive and whole, untainted by any horrible incantation.

Harry leaned forward and kissed her. He didn’t become aware that someone was standing in the doorway until he had broken away from her. As his eyes looked upon the figure in the doorway, a gasped leapt from his throat. His mind whirled. The person standing in front of him could only be a hallucination. The man was clothed in a midnight blue robe decorated with large silver crescent moons and stars. A large pointed hat of similar design rested on top of his flowing silver hair that was as equal in length with his beard, ending at the waist. Half moon spectacles rested against his crooked nose in front of a pair of twinkling blue eyes that always gave the impression that one was being x-rayed.

“Dumbledore?!” Harry gasped, weakly coming to his feet.

The smile Harry always knew climbed the old man’s face, causing the corners of his eyes to crinkle. “Hello, Harry. It’s good to see you again.”

Harry squeezed his eyes shut before opening them again. Dumbledore was still there. A horrible realization came over him. Sephtus hadn’t kept his end of the bargain. He and Ginny were dead. How else could he explain Dumbledore’s presence?

“I’m dead,” Harry said.

Dumbledore let out a hearty laugh. “On the contrary, my dear boy, you are very much alive. A fact that I am very pleased to hear by the way. Molly and Arthur told me that you and Ginny had been brought here unconscious. I must say I am thrilled to see you on your feet.”

Harry’s shock was too much; he sat down and put his head in his hands. “Explain,” he said loudly after taking a few deep breaths. “I saw you die, Professor. If I’m not dead, how are you here? This isn’t like what happened just a few months ago, is it? I don’t have to make the decision to board a train again, right?”

Dumbledore walked into the room and sat down on Harry’s now unoccupied bed. Placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder, he comfortingly said, “No, Harry, this isn’t like before. This is real. I would like to discuss what actually happened but I’d prefer to do so back in my office.”

“You mean your office back at Hogwarts?” Harry asked.

Dumbledore nodded. “Are you strong enough to travel?”

Harry flexed his fingers. He felt fine. “I think so. But, what about Ginny?”

Dumbledore glanced at the youngest Weasley. “She will be alright, Harry. Molly and Arthur are just about to come in. They have practically been living at the hospital for a week now. I’m sure they will look after her until you return.”

“Alright,” Harry said. “How are we getting to Hogwarts? Portkey?”

“Yes, I thought that would be best,” said Dumbledore. “Although, since I am no longer the Elder Wand’s true master, it hasn’t performed my spells completely.”

“I think I can fix that problem,” Harry said, taking the Elder Wand from Dumbledore’s grip. “Now, all you have to do is take it back from me.”

Dumbledore sighed as he took the wand out of Harry’s outstretched hand. “Such a simple way of passing power from one individual to another; it’s terrible, isn’t it, Harry?”

Harry agreed. “Yes. But I think it has a certain fondness for you, Professor.”

Dumbledore chuckled as he waved the wand, successfully channeling his full power through it to create a portkey out of a simple, tarnished key. “I guess it does. Now then, let me leave a little note for Arthur and Molly explaining where it is you have disappeared to and then we can be on our way.”

Conjuring and leaving the note on Harry’s pillow, Dumbledore returned to Harry’s side and held out the key. The two touched its surface. Harry felt the familiar tug behind his naval as the portkey transported him immediately to Dumbledore’s office.

The portraits on the walls immediately began to clap. Exclaims of welcome were shouted as the frames occupants jumped from their seats, each trying to get a better look at Dumbledore. The old wizard waved his hand for quiet and addressed the room at large.

“It’s good to see all of you,” he greeted with a warm smile.

“I honestly can’t believe you’re still alive,” said Armando Dippet.

“Practically unheard of,” muttered another previous head.

Harry barely paid attention to them; he was busy staring at the canvas behind the Headmaster’s desk. Severus Snape sat in an elegant chair of deep green leather. His outfit was black with a little ounce of silver coming from various fastenings on the sleeves of his cloak. He noticed Harry staring at him and surprisingly sent him a very miniscule smile.

“I had wondered what became of you when your picture disappeared, Dumbledore,” Snape said, gaining Dumbledore’s attention.

“Severus,” the Headmaster greeted with warmth. “I am sorry to see you on this wall.”

Snape waved his hand lazily. “It was bound to happen so spare showing me any sympathy. To be honest, I’m not fond of having to sit in this office and listen to all the ridiculous excuses from delinquents that are given to the current Headmaster or Headmistress.” He stared pointedly at Harry. “I’m to assume that Potter is only here because he has once again landed himself into trouble.”

Harry scowled. Even though he now knew the truth about Snape, he did not miss his old professor’s taunts.

“Actually, Professor Dumbledore wanted to see me,” Harry clarified. “But it is good to see you, professor.”

Snape stiffened slightly. “Not a word to anyone, Potter. Do you hear me?”

Harry smirked. “Sorry, professor. I had to clear your name somehow.”

“You didn’t,” Snape muttered, horrified.

“Oh, he sure did,” cried Dumbledore happily. “I always thought people should know the good in you, Severus.”

Snape moaned. “No wonder Minerva was being so nice the last few months. I had thought she would have tried to curse my portrait off the wall. When did you spill the secret, Potter?”

“The same day I killed Voldemort, in this very room, actually,” Harry explained. “You were still asleep in your portrait.”

“Who did you tell?” Snape demanded.

“Professor McGonagall, the Weasleys, Hermione, Aberforth, and Kingsley Shacklebolt,” Harry answered. “I made them swear not to tell anyone else though, Professor, so your secret’s safe.”

Snape was obviously surprised that Harry hadn’t announced the truth to the entire wizarding world. He found himself asking, “Why didn’t you tell anyone else?”

Harry looked at him and then shrugged. “Not everyone needs to know that truth, Professor. Most of the Wizarding World was astonished when I proclaimed your innocence.”

“And how did you proclaim it without revealing that detail?” Snape asked.

“I told them that you and Dumbledore planned his death and that you were merely following his orders to the letter. I had to show one of the memories you gave me before the Wizengamot. You know; the one where you and Dumbledore actually had that discussion.”

Snape nodded looking slightly uncomfortable. “If you ever tell or show those things to anyone else, Potter– ”

“I’ll show them to anyone I feel needs to hear it,” said Harry calmly, “but there probably won’t be anyone that needs to see your memories. Maybe my fiancé, after we’re married, of course.”

 Snape stiffened. “Those are my memories, Potter!”

“And you willingly gave them to me before you died. You obviously trusted me then to take care of them.”

“I was dying! And you needed to know the truth,” Snape spat. “I never would have shown you any of them otherwise.”

“I understand that, Professor. Calm down; I’m not going to bruise your reputation, okay? They’ll remain a secret from everyone except my immediate family members.” Snape looked as if he was about to argue so Harry added, “It’s part of my history, Professor. My descendants have a right to know.”

Snape groaned. “It was a total mistake,” he mumbled, “giving those to you.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Well, the deed is done, Severus. You’re dead so you can’t stop him.”

“Yes, but you’re alive, Dumbledore. You could,” Snape pointed out.

But Dumbledore shook his head, grinning. “I honestly don’t know what you and Harry are talking about. I’m afraid that I became temporarily deaf while you two were conversing.”

Snape looked outraged. Harry practically had to stuff his fist into his mouth to keep from laughing. Dumbledore glanced sideways at him and winked. Snape, completely frustrated, threw up his hands, stood on his feet, and walked out of his portrait.

“I think you offended him, Professor,” Harry snickered.

“I suppose I did,” said Dumbledore, amused. “Oh well. He’ll cool off and come back eventually. Why don’t you have a seat, Harry?”

Harry sat down in front of the Headmaster’s desk while Dumbledore took his place behind it.

Dumbledore sighed, suddenly looking rather exhausted. “I’ve had an eventful day, I must say,” he muttered, rubbing his eyes. “Well, Harry, I suppose I should start with how I’m even alive?”

Harry nodded vigorously. “Please do.”

Dumbledore reiterated his tale to Harry, explaining the miracle of the curse hitting his pocket watch and the state of limbo in which he had lived for a year. Harry was extremely shocked when he concluded his story.

“So you saw my parents?” Harry asked.

Dumbledore nodded, smiling widely. “Yes, Harry. I visited with them many times. They’re so proud of you.”

Harry’s eyes teared up. “So they are watching me.”

Dumbledore said kindly, “Of course they are, Harry. The dead are frequently with us, even if we cannot see them.”

Harry nodded, rubbing his eyes. Dumbledore looked up at his ceiling to give him some privacy.

“Did you…see Sirius?”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Yes, Harry, I did. And I saw Remus and Tonks as well. I can’t say how many times the Marauders, along with Lily and Tonks, came to visit. It was truly wonderful to see them together again. Peter was absent, of course, seeing as he didn’t make it to the same place as your parents, Sirius, Remus, and Tonks.”

Harry assumed Dumbledore meant that Peter Pettigrew hadn’t made it into heaven. This realization made him feel at peace but also sorrowful. He’d had a lot of time to think about his parents and their best friends after the war. He’d come to conclude that all his feelings for Pettigrew consisted of sadness. There was no point being angry or resentful of someone who was dead. Harry only felt pity for him. He’d made horrible choices, leading him to betray his best friends, killing them all eventually, and now he was reaping the reward he had sown.

Dumbledore observed Harry quietly. At the mention of Pettigrew, he was sure that Harry’s eyes would fill with loathing but what he saw instead made him astonished as well as proud. He saw pity. Harry definitely had grown, he decided, in many ways. The person before him was no longer a boy. He was a full grown man.

“I’m proud of you, Harry, for all you have done.”

Harry looked up, bemused. “I only did what I thought was right.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Yes, I suppose you did. But you are a genuine individual, Harry, and a far greater man that I ever will be.”

Harry blushed. “Thanks, Professor. Can I ask you something?”

“Anything, dear boy.”

“If you were stuck in limbo, how did you come to see me after I got hit with the killing curse? And why did you tell me you were dead?”

“Ahh, yes, I suppose I should explain that,” said Dumbledore with a smile. “I received special permission to leave my office to see you since you were in a similar situation as myself; stuck in limbo. Does that make sense?”

Harry nodded.

“And as to why I told you I was dead, well, forgive an old man for not telling you the truth. For some reason James instructed me to keep the truth from you. I was only following orders.”

Again, Harry nodded. It made sense. At that time, it had not been appropriate for him to know about his headmaster; he was supposed to have been focusing on killing Voldemort once and for all. But he had also been given the choice to move on.

“If I’d decided to go on, would you have been able to tell me the truth?”

Dumbledore rubbed his chin. “As to that question, Harry, I am unsure. But I suppose it’s foolish to dwell on what might have been since we will never know.”

“I guess you’re right,” Harry agreed. 

“Any other questions you might have?” Dumbledore asked kindly.

Harry shook his head. “I understand everything we’ve discussed but I’m still having a hard time believing it all.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “As am I, Harry. Oh, I almost forgot! I have something for you.”

“You do?”

“Yes. I had to put it upstairs in a safe place though. Do you mind waiting while I go get it?”

“Not at all, sir.”

Dumbledore promised he would return shortly before disappearing up the stairs. Harry looked out the window. The sun was seconds away from sinking beneath the horizon. Harry blinked. An odd feeling began to stir in his bones. It kind of reminded him of muscle pain after an excruciating Quidditch practice. He tried to shrug it off but the pain only intensified.

And then, all at once, Harry felt like someone had thrust him into the heart of a bolt of lightning; his bones were on fire, his muscles stretching and shifting into different positions. He cried out in agony as his whole body began to convulse. He was vaguely aware of the portraits on the wall screaming his name. The excruciating fire surged into his bones, churning for three torturous seconds, before Harry blacked out, the pain too much for him to bear any longer.

The portraits of the previous heads had all become as silent as the grave. They couldn’t fully believe their eyes. Unable to recover from their shock, they stared at Harry, who had fallen to the floor, without a word. It was to this silence that Dumbledore reappeared with four people behind him.

Armando Dippet was the first to see them. “Dumbledore, we didn’t know what to do!”

Dumbledore looked at his predecessor noting his alarm at once. Before he could respond all the other portraits were shouting and pointing at the floor, each trying to make themselves heard above the other. Instead of listening to them, Dumbledore followed their pointing fingers. Quickly, he walked around his desk and gasped.

The four people who had followed him down the stairs in silent amusement peeked over his shoulder.

“Oh my…” gasped Lily Potter.

Dumbledore demanded silence from everyone as he bent low. A magnificent white stag lay on the floor, unconscious. Dread was growing in Dumbledore’s chest as he put a hand on the creature’s neck. It was breathing but the breaths were shallow.

“You didn’t just pull a prank, did you Prongs?”

“Of course not, Sirius,” James Potter said in a subdued voice. “Besides, I wouldn’t use myself as a model for a prank.”

Dumbledore held up a hand, silencing the two men. “Remus, Harry’s patronus is a stag, correct?”

“Yes,” Remus replied, finally speaking.

Dumbledore nudged the stag softly and muttered, “Harry?”

Lily gasped again. “Albus, surely you don’t think…”

“Harry is no longer in the room, Lily,” said Dumbledore without looking away from the stag. “And judging from the shocked expressions of the portraits, they just witness a horrible round of magic.”

“That’s an understatement, Dumbledore,” said Phineas Nigellus. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

“Care to explain, Grandpa,” asked Sirius.

Phineas eyed Sirius with piqued interest. “I must say it is a surprise to see you, Sirius, especially since you’re dead. Though I don’t understand how he did it, I suppose Dumbledore would have to bring you back out of all my descendants. The black sheep has returned.” He sneered.

Sirius tried to keep his cool. “I’m here because Harry is my godson and I’m here to see him and him alone. Now tell us what happened!”

Phineas shrugged still smirking. “Fine. Imagine seeing someone taking Polyjuice Potion with the pain ten times more agonizing.”

Lily shuddered, completely capable of imagining the imagery; she’d seen it countless times during her potioneering days. Still, she remained shocked over the distinct possibility that the stag at her feet was none other than her son. But hope sustained her with the suggestion that Harry had just decided to play a prank on Dumbledore by leaving a fallen stag in front of his desk. Trying to keep her voice even, she asked, “It can’t be Harry, surely.”

To these words, the stag’s eyes opened, blinking a few times. Its eyes were emerald green.

“I’d never forget those eyes,” James muttered nervously, glancing at his wife.

Lily let out a sob, burying her face into her husband’s neck. “It can’t be! It just can’t!”

“Professor?”

Everyone froze. They all knew that voice.

Dumbledore’s eyes sharpened considerably. “Harry? Are you okay?”

“Of course he’s not okay!” Sirius shouted. “He’s a stag, Dumbledore! A STAG!!!”

I must have hit my head really hard,” Harry muttered. The stag looked at the people behind Dumbledore and shook its head back and forth. “I’m seeing dead people.”

“Harry,” Dumbledore began delicately, “I don’t know how to say this politely.”

“What is it?”

“Well, you’re a stag.”

The stag’s green eyes widened. “I’m a what?”

“A stag, I’m afraid,” Dumbledore repeated. “A spitting image of your patronus, actually.”

Harry finally looked down at his body. How could he not have noticed before? Perhaps it had to do with the fact that his limbs still felt like they were on fire. His muscles ached something monstrous too. He closed his eyes and took a deep steady breath, trying to remain calm.

He was a stag. Somehow, he’d been transfigured into a stag! The horror of this situation crashed down upon him like a tidal wave. His heart began to race, throbbing horribly within his chest. He wanted to sit up but his muscles felt like they weren’t his own. They were new, different, and practically alien to him. How did he even get this way?! What was going on?!

“How did this even happen?” he asked. It was only after he heard the words coming from him that he realized he was speaking telepathically. Apparently when he wanted to talk, his thoughts could be heard. Small comfort, seeing as this did nothing to fix his problem.

“It happened while I was upstairs, Harry. Tell me, what occurred after I disappeared?”

Harry thought hard. “I looked out the window and saw the sun set. Immediately after that my body felt like it was on fire. I passed out as the pain got worse. My body couldn’t handle it anymore.”

Dumbledore nodded silently. “Well, the air is thick with evidence that a horrible curse has just been placed on you. Do you remember hearing anyone enter the room? The door opening? Anything to indicate there was someone in here other than yourself?”

Harry shook his head. “There was no one, Professor.”

He tried again to shift his position; his legs were sticking out in front of him as he lay on his side. Folding them, he was able to sit up. It felt really awkward having his arms and legs beneath his body but he couldn’t deny it was definitely more comfortable than having them protruding in front of him. His eyes finally focused passed Dumbledore.

He blinked several times, sure that the scene before him wasn’t real. He was staring at his parents, Sirius Black, his godfather, and Remus Lupin, a dear friend and previous Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. Their outlines were not solid but blurred; yet they weren’t transparent so they obviously weren’t ghosts.

“Hi, Harry,” Sirius said with a small smile. “It’s good to see you even though you’re…well…a stag.”

“Sirius? Remus?” He also looked at his parents, unable to say more because his throat felt like there was a Quaffle stuck in it.  

Lily smiled despite being horrified at the state of her son. “Hello, Harry.”

“It’s great to see you,” said his father.

Harry shook his head. “I don’t believe this.” Turning to Dumbledore, he asked, “Are you sure we’re not both dead?”

For the first time since finding Harry in this predicament, Dumbledore chuckled. So did the others.

“Yes Harry. I can assure you we are definitely very much alive,” Dumbledore assured. “Allow me to explain. Because you destroyed Tom Riddle, you have been given a rather unique gift. A gift that should not be taken lightly and never abused.”

Dumbledore held out a small picture frame, the size being no larger than 2 inches by 3 inches.

“I was told to give this to you as soon as I saw you. This is a doorway from heaven to the mortal world. You have earned the right to visit with your loved ones as long as you like, however you may not be able to see them every day. They have a lot to do on the other side but if you ever find yourself in need of a parent or friend’s advice, you just have to pull out this frame, say their names, and they will come to you.”

Harry didn’t know what to say. He was speechless.

“It looks like we’ll be bugging you a lot, Harry,” Sirius said with a grin. “I’m afraid we’re not that easy to get rid of either.”

The corners of the stag’s mouth lifted. “Like I’d want to get rid of you.”

James laughed.

Lily, on the other hand, did not. “Am I the only one who sees that we have a big problem? Harry’s a stag, James! And although you and Sirius and Remus find this not to be disturbing, I find it alarming! Our son has just been cursed and nobody seems to even care!”

The smiles of James and his friends slipped from their faces, each replaced with soberness.

“I’m sorry, Lils,” James muttered.

Dumbledore conjured chairs for all of them to sit on while Harry continued to lie on the floor. It was great that he’d just been given a present from the deepest recesses of his heart but the happiness he felt from this gift was becoming crushed by the gravity of his current situation. What was he going to do? He was supposed to start school in a week!

“This is indeed a major problem,” Dumbledore muttered, running his hand down his long white beard. “Obviously Harry is under a heavy curse but according to him there was nobody in the room to inflict it.”

“So what are we going to do, Albus?” asked Lily. “Harry can’t remain this way!”

Dumbledore sighed. “At this current moment, there’s not much I can suggest, Lily.”

The adults all stared at the Headmaster in disbelief.

“You mean, you don’t know?” asked Sirius in a hoarse voice.

“This isn’t something I have encountered before, Sirius,” Dumbledore confessed.

“But, you have to know!” Lily cried, exasperated.

Dumbledore smiled at her sadly. “Although I appreciate your confidence, Lily, I am sorry to say that I am as confused as everyone else in this room.”

Everyone was shocked into silence. Dumbledore really didn’t know? Harry had come to think the Headmaster always had some idea, some theory, to explain everything. The fact that Dumbledore was as lost as everyone else made Harry feel that his chances of ever figuring out how to solve this curse had turned from slim to zero. He hung his head.

Dumbledore noticed this expression of hopelessness. “You must not give up so easily, Harry. I will do everything I can to figure out what exactly happened to you. I can give you a theory but it’s based on very little facts.”

Harry looked up. “Even a theory would be appreciated, sir.”

Dumbledore sighed. “Well, from what you have said and from the curse that I can feel hovering over you, I would have to say that this is ancient magic of the blackest kind.”

“Why would you say that, Albus?” asked James.

“I have been exposed to ancient magic before, James. The curse lingering over Harry is similar to what I have felt in the past. As to what curse has been cast and who conjured it, I have no answers at this time.”

Harry sighed. “So I’m stuck like this.”

“For now, Harry,” said Dumbledore.

“What do you suggest we do now?” asked Remus.

“I think we should wait a full day to see if the curse has a time limit or if Harry has been permanently transfigured,” Dumbledore said.

“I think that’s a good idea,” James agreed. “What do you think, Harry?”

“I don’t see what other option there is,” Harry muttered. But then his heart jumped. “What about Ginny though?”

“Ginny?” said Sirius. “What about her?”

The stag looked down at the ground. James and Sirius looked at each other and grinned. Before either could begin teasing, Dumbledore said, “I will go to St. Mungo’s to check on her and tell the Weasleys you will be staying at Hogwarts tonight. In the mean time, I suggest you rest in here, Harry. I have an appointment this evening that I have to keep so you will have plenty of time to spend with your parents and friends. I will also seal off the entrance to my office to ensure that no one stumbles in here. And I am to make this specifically clear that the events that have transpired in this office are to remain a secret.” To this, Dumbledore looked around at all the portraits. Each of them nodded.

“If we must,” said a voice behind Dumbledore’s desk.

James jumped and looked over at the wall, ribbing Sirius in the side. “Well, look who it is, Padfoot.”

Sirius scowled with distaste. Eyeing the picture sordidly, he said, “Why would anyone make a portrait that big of you, Snape?”

Snape narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to retort but someone spoke before him, answering Sirius’s question.

“Because he deserves it.”

Sirius whirled around, his mouth dropping to the floor.

James couldn’t believe his ears. With wide eyes he said, “Did you seriously just say that, Harry?”

The stag nodded.

“Are you sure he’s not ill?” Sirius asked, concerned.

The stag rolled its eyes. “I’m perfectly fine, Sirius.”

“But…you just defended Snape! Last time I checked, you hated him!” said Sirius in frustration. “Did I miss something?” He turned and pointed a finger at Snape. “You cursed him, didn’t you?”

Snape rolled his eyes. “If you honestly believed that, I would take you for a bigger fool than you already are, Black.”

Sirius’ face reddened while his eyes flashed dangerously. “I think a change of decoration is in order. What do you think, Prongs?”

James clenched his teeth together. As much as he loved the idea of blasting Snape’s portrait to smithereens, it wasn’t couth. “Sirius, let it go.”

Sirius angrily looked away from Snape, determined to ignore him.

Snape only grinned. “Oh yes, listen to Potter. He saved your neck more than once when you were alive. I see some things remain the same even in the afterlife.”

Sirius leapt to his feet. “That’s it. Mark my words, Snape. When we finish our little visit with Harry, I’m going to find and beat the living snot out of you!”

Snape rolled his eyes. “I’m really scared.”

James and Remus got to their feet as well. All four men were shooting daggers at each other.

Lily sighed, standing up only to put a hand on James’ shoulder. “James, relax. You too, Remus and Sirius. Severus is just bitter that he wasn’t invited to come this time.”

Snape scoffed. “I am not!”

Lily snorted. “Oh, really? I seem to recall you coming up to me asking if you could be part of this little reunion.”

“What?!” James cried, rounding on Lily. “Did he really?”

Snape had turned red. “I only wanted to come so I could discuss a few things with Potter.”

“And what might those things have been?” James demanded.

“Stop it, Dad.”

James looked down at the stag in surprise.

Harry sighed. “The things Professor Snape and I discussed don’t need to be shared unless I feel like sharing them, which I don’t. So give it a rest.”

These words seemed to cause James to fall into shock. He sat down in his chair, speechless. Even Remus and Sirius couldn’t believe their ears. What on earth had happened to make Harry look at Severus Snape with such respect? Had the world come to an end? Had his brain been fried when he’d been cursed? The three best friends couldn’t comprehend what was going on.

Harry felt bad being so blunt to his dad but this was something very personal. He was sure that if James did discover the entire truth behind Severus that he would blow a gasket. Harry glanced at his mother, who had remained silent through this whole exchanged. She seemed mildly uncomfortable. From her expression, Harry knew that she knew everything. He didn’t know how she’d figured it all out, but the fact remained she knew. Harry sighed. He was feeling so exhausted.

Dumbledore picked up on this. “I suggest that all of you refrain from causing a fight in the office. I’m sure Harry is feeling rather exhausted after undergoing such a terrorizing transformation.”

James sighed. “Alright, we’ll behave. But I’m gagging Snape if he says anything else offensive.”

Snape seemed on the verge of doing such a thing but Dumbledore flashed him a warning glance. “I trust that all of you will be able to act like adults. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to be on my way. Remember, Harry, take it easy in here until I return.”

“I will, Professor. Let me know if anything’s changed at the hospital,” Harry added, slightly embarrassed.

Dumbledore smiled. “I will.”

And with that, he stood and left the office, leaving Harry alone with his loved ones.


 


Hi! Thanks for sticking with my fanfiction so far! I really appreciate it! I promise to update as often as possible. I thought I’d make a note to explain that when Harry is speaking telepathically as a stag, his dialogue will be in italics. Please leave a review if you’d be so kind! They’re always encouraging! See you in the next chapter!
                                                                                                            -Gryffindor Soar

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 6: Meeting James and Lily
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Shortly after Dumbledore left, Harry let out a long sigh. He didn’t really know what to say. He’d imagined conversing with his parents before but now that they were actually here…it was proving to be really difficult coming up with something to talk about. Not to mention in all his previous imaginations, he had never been a stag when discussing things with them. Discomfited over being an animal, Harry decided to start out with being honest.

 “I’m really grateful to see all of you… but…”

Lily, sensing her son’s embarrassment, got down on her knees and gave him a hug. “It’s going to be alright, Harry. We still love you, no matter what you look like.”

James nodded. “That’s right, son. And out of all the creatures you could have turned into, a stag! I couldn’t be more proud! ”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. “I know you’ve heard this a lot Harry, but you look a lot like James.”

Remus chuckled. “I’m assuming that you’re referring to James’ animagus form?”

Sirius grinned. “Of course.”

“Except he has-” James began.

Harry interrupted, “Mum’s eyes, I know. I’ve heard those words my whole life.”

Everyone managed to laugh. Harry was grateful to Sirius for lightening the mood.

“So, Harry,” said Sirius pleasantly, “why was it so important that Dumbledore check on Ginny?”

Harry hoped he wasn’t blushing. He wasn’t entirely sure if stags did blush. Whatever the case, he seemed a little flustered with his reply. “Well…she’s…it’s just…”

James face broke out in a wide grin. “Is she your girlfriend, Harry?”

Harry shook his head.

Sirius looked confused. “But I thought you two had some kind of chemistry going on.”

“Harry did date her in his sixth year,” said Remus, “but he had to break up with her when he went after Voldemort.”

“Yes, but Voldemort’s dead so…” Sirius left his comment unfinished.

“Maybe she’s just a very dear friend to Harry,” suggested Lily.

“She’s more than that, mum,” said Harry.

“See,” said Sirius to James, “they are a number!”

“But Harry just said she wasn’t his girlfriend,” argued James.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Sirius argued back. “Harry just said she was more than a dear friend.”

Harry rolled his eyes but he was smiling. This was the first time he had seen his father and Sirius together, and arguing of all things! He decided to let them butt heads for a while before telling them his true relationship with Ginny.

Lily didn’t allow them to argue for very long. “Oh will you two knuckleheads stop quarrelling? If you really want to know what Harry’s true relationship is with this girl, pipe down and hear it from the source!”

Sirius and James looked thoroughly scolded. Slightly embarrassed, they both apologized.

“Forgive us, Harry,” said Sirius.

“We tend to get a little rough with each other,” added James.

Harry chuckled. “It’s fine. Honestly, I don’t mind. I never saw Sirius so happy to argue with someone before. It was quite entertaining.”

Remus chuckled. “I have to agree with Harry on that.”

“That is a compliment, right?” Sirius asked.

James laughed. “Probably.”

“Alright, so, Harry, what is your relationship with this Ginny?” asked Lily curiously.

Harry gulped. He was sure he was in for a good ribbing from the Marauders. Oh well, it couldn’t be helped. They would find out eventually anyway. Why not tell them?

“She’s my fiancée.”

Remus and Sirius’ eyes grew to the size of goose eggs. James’ mouth had dropped to the ground. Lily clasped her hands together, positively thrilled.

“Oh, Harry that’s wonderful! Who is she?” Lily cried, overjoyed.

“She’s the youngest of the Weasleys,” answered Sirius. “I can’t believe it! I knew you liked her but I had no idea things went this deep.”

Harry shifted awkwardly. “Well, I’ve always felt like Ginny was the missing piece to my puzzle. She fits my life in every way.”

“A Weasley, huh?” James mused while chuckling. “I guess I passed the gene of loving a redhead to my son.”

Sirius and Remus laughed joyfully.

“That you did, Prongs!” said Remus between fits of laughter.

Lily rolled her eyes. “I think Harry’s made a very good choice. I always liked the Weasleys. Mind you, we were never that close.”

“Of course we weren’t,” said James. “Molly and Arthur were way older than we were.”

“They’re not that much older,” Lily argued.

“They had kids while we were still in school, Lils.”

“And why should that mean they’re old?” asked Lily.

Sirius and Remus chuckled.

“If Molly heard you say that, I’d fear for you, James,” Remus warned. “She’s not a woman to cross.”

“Yeah,” added Sirius with a grin. “She did kill good ol’ Bellatrix after all. Did me a huge favor, she did.”

“Besides,” said Harry, “The Weasleys practically adopted me shortly after I’d discovered the magical world.”

“Molly even called Harry as good as a son,” Sirius remarked.

James raised his eyebrows. “I think we need to thank the Weasleys, Lily.”

Lily nodded in full agreement. “Yes, we really do. They’ve watched over him this whole time. Heck, maybe even more than Dumbledore has.”

James chuckled. “Maybe a little bit more. So, when can we meet her?”

Harry immediately began to protest. “Dad, I think it would freak Ginny out to see all of you. No offense but all of you are dead! Besides, I was told that just being able to visit with you is a rare gift that should never be taken lightly.”

“But she’s your fiancée!” James argued. “She’s going to be a Potter! I want to meet her. It’s my right as your father.”

“James, I want to meet her too,” said Lily. “But Harry’s right. Perhaps we should get permission to let her see us first.”

“Could you do that?” Harry asked curiously.

“Sure,” said Remus, “it’s just a matter of asking the right people.”

“And giving them a righteous reason as to why,” Sirius affixed.

Harry pondered on this for a moment. “Do you think you could get permission for all the Weasleys to see you? And Hermione? They’re my best friends and I really want them to meet you.”

He looked at his parents, hopeful.

Lily, seeing this look, couldn’t refuse. “Of course we’ll try to get permission, Harry.”

“I’m sure they won’t mind,” James assured. “Especially if we tell them what the Weasleys and Hermione’s relationship is to you.”

“I’d really appreciate it.”

Sirius grinned. “So, when’s the wedding, Harry?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “What a way to change the topic, Sirius. If you must know, I’m going back to Hogwarts for my seventh year and then after graduation Ginny and I will make plans. Ron and Hermione are getting married too so we might just make it a double wedding.”

Sirius and Remus didn’t seem the least surprised to hear about Ron and Hermione.  

“I always knew those two would end up together!” Sirius said.

“Who would have thought otherwise?” Remus muttered with a smile.

“Ron is the second to youngest in the Weasley family and Hermione is a muggleborn. They’re Harry’s best friends,” Sirius explained to James and Lily.

“Oh, are they the two you mentioned before?” Lily asked.

Sirius nodded. “Yep; the two who stayed by Harry’s side no matter what!”

“A double wedding would be exciting!” Lily exclaimed. “I think it’s a great idea! So, after you graduate; oh, I can’t wait! It’s going to absolutely wonderful!”

She leapt into James arms, jumping up and down.

James looked slightly hassled but he laughed, saying, “My, Lils, I haven’t seen you this excited since you told me you were pregnant with Harry.”

“Well it’s something to celebrate over!” Lily defended, her cheeks becoming slightly pink.

The boys all chuckled.

At that moment, Harry yawned widely. He was so tired. His body still felt like it had gone through a mill. He felt childish for admitting it but he didn’t want to sleep because he was afraid his loved ones wouldn’t be there when he woke up. He was terrified that this was all some crazy dream. After being with them, finally having them around again, more than anything, he didn’t want to lose this. It would devastate him more than anyone knew to wake up and have them gone. But he was so tired! Frustration welled within his chest as his eyelids began to close on their own. He shook himself but his actions couldn’t be hidden from his mother.

“Harry, dear? Are you tired?”

Harry cursed quietly for getting caught. “A little bit,” he admitted, reluctantly.

“Then you should sleep,” said James.

Harry looked uncomfortable. He didn’t want to tell them the truth. Once again, he was surprised by the sharpness of his mother.

“We’ll still be here when you wake up,” Lily promised, kindly smiling at him. “You go ahead and sleep.”

Harry looked into her eyes and somehow knew that she was telling the truth. Feeling much more reassured, he nodded silently in consent. His eyelids immediately closed. James pulled out his wand and gave it a wave. A blanket appeared and draped over Harry’s body. The four friends watched as Harry’s head dropped down to his side as he fell to sleep.

Lily kissed his head. “Sleep well, Harry,” she muttered.

The stag smiled. Feeling embarrassed yet longing to say these words his whole life, Harry opened his eyes and voiced the thought, saying, “I love you, mum.”

Tears pricked Lily’s eyes. She too had always wanted to hear him say those words. “I love you too,” she cried softly, kissing his head one more time.

The stag sighed and then grew quiet, its breaths becoming long and deep.

Lily walked back over to James and sat in his lap. The two of them stared at their son, their pride and joy. Even as a stag he looked terribly exhausted. Both parents worried that he would remain this way forever. From the looks of Sirius and Remus, they were wondering the same thing.

“What are we going to do, James?” Lily mourned quietly after being sure that Harry was asleep.

“Don’t fret just yet, Lils,” James muttered against the back of her neck. “Remember, Dumbledore said to wait twenty four hours before we should start panicking.”

“Some comfort,” Lily snorted.

“Whatever happens, Dumbledore will find a way to fix everything,” Sirius assured.

“Like he always does,” Remus comforted.

“I hope so,” Lily whispered, looking at her son. “I really hope so.”

James hugged her tightly. “At least he’s a stag.”

“Yeah,” Sirius muttered, “I don’t know what I would have done if he’d turned into a swan or something.”

James couldn’t help but crack a smile. “That would have been completely insulting.”

The two of them quietly snickered.

“If you two even dare to tease him I’ll transfigure you both into swans,” Lily warned.

James saw this as an idle threat. “Lils, we both know that Sirius and I are way more advanced in transfiguration than you are.”

Lily narrowed her eyes. “Who said I would use a spell to do it?”

Sirius and James’ eyes widened.

“You wouldn’t use a potion?!” Sirius said with slight fear.

Lily’s eyes flashed dangerously, a wicked smile curling her cheeks. “I’ll leave your imagination to play with that idea.”

James gulped. He was definitely attracted to her when she was devious but silently he would never want to get in the way of her devilish ideas. Playing pranks was fun but when Lily was the instigator and she’d labeled you as the victim, it was wise to always watch your back.

“Alright, we won’t tease him about it,” James promised while Sirius nodded vigorously.

Remus laughed. “After all these years, she’s still got both of you under her thumb.”

“You’re darn right I do,” said Lily proudly. “Who else is going to keep these knuckleheads in check?”

They all laughed quietly. Harry shifted slightly in his sleep, drawing their attention.

“Maybe we could transform to keep him company,” suggested Sirius. “It worked for Remus.”

James nodded. “I think that’s a good idea.”

“I’ll refrain from joining you,” Remus muttered. “I had enough of transforming when I was alive. Now that I’m dead and can control when I change, I’d rather stay like this forever.”

“We weren’t going to ask if you would, Moony,” James assured.

“Yeah,” said Sirius, “we know how much pain it caused you, mate. We’d never wish for you to go through with it again.”

Remus looked at them both gratefully. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” said James, grinning.

The four of them grew really quite after that.

“I suppose one of us should go back and get permission to see the Weasleys and Hermione,” said Lily somewhere around three in the morning.

“I’ll do it,” Remus offered, standing up.

“Thank you, Remus,” said Lily gratefully.

“I’ll be back soon,” Remus assured.

He walked over to the Gate Frame and seemed to disappear when he stood in front of it.

Sirius, James, and Lily contented themselves to watch over Harry as he slept. Remus returned an hour later, stating that permission had been granted. The four of them quietly cheered at this news.

Just before sunrise, Harry started twitching. Lily, who had been watching him constantly with motherly care, nudged James away from his chess game with Sirius.

“James, look,” she whispered.

The concern in her voice caused both Remus and Sirius to look over as well. Harry had begun to shiver violently.

“What’s going on?” Sirius asked, his voice faltering.

James stood up, planning to wake his son, when Harry opened his eyes.

“Harry, are you alright?”

Harry groaned. “Not again,” he muttered.

Lily and James looked at each other.

Before anyone could move, Harry started to scream. He began convulsed wildly on the ground. His parents and friends watched in terror as his body began to glow a light shade of purple. The sun broke the surface of the horizon and the stag’s form began to shrink in size; the face transformed, black hair sprouted, a human nose reappeared along with a pair of black round glasses resting on its bridge, the neck shrank while the shoulders broadened, the legs transformed into human arms and legs, and the hooves were replaced with fingers and toes.

The screaming coming from Harry silenced as the transformation drew to a close. His breathing was heavy, and the clothes he had been wearing were covered in sweat. His body felt like it had been doused with ice water. Shivering violently and suppressing the urge to throw up, Harry opened his eyes. His parents, Sirius, and Remus were all standing around him, their eyes filled with concern, and in his mother’s case, tears.

“Harry,” she cried, putting her arms around his neck, “are you alright?”

Harry turned a horrible shade of green. James pulled Lily away. “Give him a little room, honey. He looks like he’s going to be sick.”

Suppressing the urge to vomit once more, Harry swallowed. His throat was totally parched. “Well,” he said hoarsely, “at least I turned back to normal instead of something else like a rat.”

Sirius smiled. Looking rather relieved, he said, If Harry’s capable of joking, I think it’s safe to assume he’s alright.”

“How are you feeling?” Remus asked.

“Honestly, really weak,” Harry replied. “It’s the same as when I changed into the stag. My muscles feel like I’ve lived through the most grueling hard labor Aunt Petunia ever put me through and my bones feel like they’re on fire. Other than that, I’m fine.”

The men managed to laugh but Lily continued to be weary. “Harry, are you sure you shouldn’t go to the hospital wing?”

Harry grimaced. “Mum, I don’t want to go there. What if I change back again?”

“Madam Pomfrey should know about this,” Lily argued. “I think the whole staff should.”

“What?!” Harry cried, looking positively alarmed. “Why?!”

“It’s the same as when I was hired by Dumbledore to be the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor,” said Remus. “The teachers have the right to know, Harry. They may even be able to help in keeping your secret safe from the other students.”

Harry groaned. “This is already embarrassing enough. We don’t even know when it’s going to happen again.”

“It might not,” said James.

Harry looked at him critically.

James shrugged. “It’s not bad being positive, Harry.”

“It’s a curse though, Prongs,” countered Sirius. “There are tons of different kinds. Harry could be stuck with turning into a stag every hour or every day or every week.”

“Or once a month,” Remus put in.

“He changed back once the sun rose,” Lily said, pointing out the window. “So it can’t be every hour.”

But to these words, Harry’s heart started accelerating. He changed back at sunrise. And when he’d transformed into the stag, it had been-

“Sunset,” he whispered.

“What was that, Harry?” James asked.

“I think the curse lasts from sunset to sunrise,” Harry guessed.

Sirius blinked. “Dumbledore did tell us that we’d arrived in the mortal world just after sunset.”

“And Harry just changed back, at the first ray of the sun,” exclaimed Remus.

Lily looked faint. “Sunset to sunrise? Is it every day?”

Harry shrugged. “That’s anybody’s guess, Mum.”

“Right now, all of us are only guessing,” clarified James. “Although I think Harry is right by the timing of the curse. When Dumbledore comes back we’ll have to tell him our theory.”

“I wonder where he went anyway,” Lily mused. “He never came back last night.”

Harry looked towards the door, almost expecting Dumbledore to walk through it. “Maybe he got held up at the hospital. He did just come back to life after all. Perhaps everyone wanted to interview him.”

In the end, they decided to wait, although Harry hoped the Headmaster wouldn’t be long. He was getting awfully hungry. Technically he hadn’t eaten for over a week. He was positively starving. His parents decided to ask him questions to pass the time, like what his favorite subject in school had been and how many secret passages he’d discovered along with any pranks he’d pulled.

“I didn’t have time for pranks, really,” Harry told his dad.

James frowned. “That’s too bad. Were you too busy with girls?”

Harry rolled his eyes at his father’s joke. “Not really. It was more of having to deal with people making fun of me or trying to get my attention. Being a celebrity hasn’t been easy.”

James shifted awkwardly, regretting to have brought up the subject. “Sorry,” he apologized.

Harry shrugged. “It wasn’t your fault, Dad. It was Tom Riddle’s.”

“Yes, but even so,” James muttered, looking at the floor. “I’d left my wand on the sofa when he broke in. I was totally defenseless. I didn’t even think that we were in any danger. I was so careless.”

Harry could see that this had been something that had bothered his father for a very long time. It appeared as though James believed that it was his entire fault that Harry had grown up the way he had.

“Dad,” Harry said calmly, “it wasn’t your fault. I don’t blame you in the slightest. You didn’t make Voldemort break in so don’t blame yourself either. Besides, you didn’t have a wand and yet you still stood up to Voldemort. You didn’t hide like a coward which is the last thing you’ll ever be.”

James looked slightly astonished. “How do you know what happened, Harry?”

Harry smiled sadly. “I know because I saw it.”

“You saw it? How?”

Harry explained, “When I was still a horcrux I always had a connection with Voldemort that allowed me to look into his mind. When Hermione and I went to visit Godric’s Hollow, searching for horcruxes, we ran into Voldemort’s snake. She let him know we were there and then he showed up. By sheer luck, we were able to get away. Voldemort was so angry because I’d escaped. He remembered the night he came to kill our family and I saw it all through his mind. It was usually easier for me to slip into his mind when he was experiencing deep emotions.”

Lily looked sick. “So you saw him murder us?”

Harry looked away from her. “Technically, I was Voldemort…”

He left the rest of his sentence unsaid. His parents seemed to catch on.

Lily took his hand and gave it a squeeze. Her green eyes were filled with tears. “We’re so proud of you, Harry,” she whispered.

Harry smiled softly. “Thanks, mum.”

Just then, Dumbledore returned. His blue eyes twinkled when he saw Harry was back to normal. After settling himself behind his desk, Harry explained his theory to the Professor, who nodded his head.

“That seems to make sense,” said Dumbledore. “Do you want to remain here until sunset to test your theory?”

Harry bit his lip. “As much as I love your office, Professor, I’m getting rather tired of being stuck in here.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “I know exactly what you mean, Harry. I suppose that’s why I stayed at the Hog’s Head last night- I needed a change of scenery. So, you probably would like to know what happened at the hospital.”

Harry nodded.

“Well, Ginny woke up shortly after we left.”

“She did? Is she alright?” Harry asked before he could help himself; he was just so concerned about her.

Sirius chuckled and muttered, “Totally head over heels.”

Remus jabbed his elbow into Sirius’s side for Harry’s benefit. James laughed as Sirius massaged his ribs.

“I’m sure you’d be concerned about your love if you had ever had one, Padfoot,” said James.

Sirius grunted. “I was locked in Azkaban for thirteen year so I didn’t really have a chance to find love like you and Moony, Prongs. Not to mention being cooped up in Grimmauld Place and then dying at the Ministry.”

“All right, all right, sorry,” James muttered, although both men were smiling. “You were always the player type anyway.”

“In my defense that was when we were in school,” said Sirius haughtily.

Dumbledore cleared his throat, silencing the two of them. “Yes, well, I was going to say, Ginny is perfectly fine, Harry. The only distress she’s experienced was from wondering why you weren’t there at the hospital when she woke up.”

“Oh boy,” interrupted Sirius again. “You’d better be careful, Harry. She could be upset.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Shut it, Sirius.”

His godfather chuckled.

“So, did you tell her?” asked Harry.

Dumbledore shook his head. “I thought it best to leave that to you, Harry. Now, if you want to wait until after you phase again, I have no problems with that decision.”

“What do you think we should do, Albus?” asked Lily. “Let Harry stay here or let him roam around?”

Dumbledore shrugged. “I think Harry will be fine going wherever he wants. Besides, I’m sure he would like to see Ginny as soon as possible.”

Harry, blushing slightly, said, “I’d like to make sure she’s alright.”

“Then I think you’re free to go,” replied Dumbledore. “However, I must caution you, Harry. You probably will change back and then have to explain the circumstances to whoever may have witnessed you transform.”

“I understand. The Weasleys should know. I owe them that much.”

“What about the teachers?” asked James.

 Dumbledore tapped his chin. “They should be notified of the situation. Harry’s condition wouldn’t allow him to do homework in the evenings. I’ll have to ask them to refrain from giving him assignments. Besides, to most of the Wizarding World, Harry is already considered an adult. He’s only returning to school so he can become an Auror. Although I think we can set aside a time for you to practice your wand work during the day, Harry, so you don’t fall behind in the classes. Does that sound reasonable?”

Harry sighed. “As much as I don’t want the teachers knowing about this, I can see the value of having them in on the secret.” He paused. “Professor,” he asked hesitantly, “Do you think I could wander around on the grounds after sunset? If I’m out there it might stop any students out of bed from seeing a stag haunting the halls.”

Dumbledore looked at him critically before consenting. “I think that would be tolerable. However, you are never to be alone, Harry. Voldemort’s Death Eaters are still out there and some may even be planning to avenge him.”

“Who would accompany me?” Harry asked, hoping it would not be one of the teachers.

“I think those present would do the job nicely,” answered Dumbledore, staring over Harry’s shoulder at the Marauders and Lily.

James agreed. “We could do that. Besides, nobody can see us unless Harry gives them permission otherwise.”

“Really?” Harry asked, interested.

Sirius nodded. “If you were talking to us around other people, they would think you were talking to yourself.”

James’ eyes brightened. “That would be the perfect prank!”

Lily shot this idea down immediately. “James, Harry is not supposed to abuse the Gate Frame!”

James sighed, his enthusiasm squashed. “Sorry, Lils. I forgot.”

“Drat,” Sirius mumbled. “It would have been perfect!”

“A worthy Marauders prank,” said Remus, nodding.

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “Although you may not be able to pull off that prank, perhaps others could be done.”

Sirius grinned. “You hear that, Prongs? Dumbledore’s actually giving us permission!”

“Christmas has come early!” James exclaimed happily.

Dumbledore lightly coughed. “Well, I did rather enjoy your pranks. The Weasley twins were excellent as well but I don’t believe any other mischief makers have recently been born. Maybe you can lighten the castle’s mood once more.”

“And since nobody will be able to see us…” Sirius began.

“We can spook everyone, including the ghosts!” James finished with glee. “Oh, this is going to be excellent!”

“You would think,” Lily scolded, “that they would have grown up just a little bit after dying.”

Remus laughed. “You of all people should know the Marauders work wouldn’t stop just because we’re dead. What can I do to help, Prongs and Padfoot?”

James thumped Remus on the back. “That’s it Moony! We need your brains to come up with the more advanced pranks.”

Lily put a hand over her eyes. “Here we go again,” she groaned.

But as she looked over at Harry, he could see a gleam in her eye.

Harry grinned. “I suppose you’re going to take part in some of the pranking, mum?”

Lily grinned mischievously. “I just might, Harry. Keep on your toes.”

Everyone laughed. Dumbledore checked his watch (apparently he’d gotten a new one) and clicked his tongue. “By now the Weasleys should be back at the Burrow. Would you like to join them, Harry?”

“I probably should, Professor. I have a limited amount of time after all.”

Dumbledore picked out an old kettle from a draw behind his desk. It seemed to contain a lot of useless junk; probably for the very purpose that Dumbledore was about to use the kettle for. Pointing his wand at the kettle, Dumbledore muttered, “Portus.” The object glowed blue for a second before becoming still on the desk. “This should take you to the hillside near the Burrow, Harry. Contact me if anything new happens with the curse.”

“I will,” Harry assured. “Thanks, Professor.”

He picked up the Gate Frame and put it in his pocket; his parents, Sirius and Remus remained at his side. He walked over to Dumbledore’s desk.

“I’ll see you at the start of term feast, Harry,” Dumbledore said.

Harry smiled. “It’s good to have you back, Professor.”

Dumbledore returned the smile. “Thank you, Harry. Take care.”

“You too, sir.”

Harry touched the kettle and felt the tug behind his naval that would take him to the Burrow where Ginny would undoubtedly be waiting.

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 7: A Fantastic Prank and A Dire Warning
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Harry’s feet touched down on a grassy hillside looking over the southern area of Ottery St. Catchpole. He could see the Burrow below, with smoke already drifting towards the sky from the home’s various chimneys. The morning still held a bit of a chill, the dew still collecting on the grass and tall weeds. Harry glanced behind him and found the Marauders and Lily straightening up and looking around.

“I haven’t been here in years,” said James as he surveyed the landscape. “It’s pretty beautiful, don’t you think, Lils?”

Lily nodded. “Yes.”

“When did you visit here?” Harry asked interestedly.

James’s happy expression faltered a bit. Scratching the back of his head, he replied. “During the first Wizarding War; Remus, Sirius, Peter, and myself were asked by Albus to protect the Weasley family from a tip off of a Death Eater attack. I refused to let Lily come along because she was extremely pregnant with you, Harry.”

“Was there an attack?”

Sirius shook his head. “Nope. We stayed in the woods all night but nobody showed up.”

“Thank Merlin,” said Lily. “The Weasleys had so many young children at the time. It would have been awful if they’d been attacked. I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I was when James came home the next morning unscathed.”

James smiled, putting his arm around her. “I had promised to come back safely.”

Lily managed a smile though her eyes seemed distant, lost in the past. Harry wanted to hear more but his mum was obviously a little distressed about the subject. James sensed this as well.

 Taking Lily’s hand, he turned to Harry and said, “Well son, why don’t you lead the way down to the Burrow?”

Harry started but then stopped. “Did you get permission yet for the Weasleys to see you?”

“I left while you were sleeping last night, Harry,” answered Remus. “And they gave it the all clear with the caution that the Weasleys and Hermione must never tell anyone else about our presence.”

Harry looked at the Marauders and his mother and noticed a terrible mischievous glint in their eyes. Grinning, he asked, “You’re all going to scare the living daylights out of them, aren’t you?”

All four displayed wicked smirks.

“Well, we talked about it last night, Harry,” said Sirius.

“And we feel that a little spook wouldn’t hurt anyone,” said James.

“So we thought, well…why not give them a little bit of a scare?” mused Remus.

Harry started laughing. “So what part am I supposed to play in all this?”

James tapped his chin. “Hmmm, well, we can’t have you ruining the prank, Harry.”

“Maybe he can be the victim,” suggested Lily.

Sirius thought this was a great idea. “What do you think, Harry? Can you handle that?”

Harry slightly grimaced. “Although I don’t like the thought of being the prey, I’ll do my best.”

James thumped him on the back. “Excellent! Don’t worry, Harry. The victim is essential to our scheme. Just play along with what we do, okay?”

Harry nodded.

“Great,” exclaimed James happily. “Now, you go into the Burrow alone and we’ll show up shortly after you. Sound good?”

“Let the game begin,” Harry replied.

Sirius grinned mischievously. “Try not to laugh, Harry.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Ten minutes later, Harry rapped on the door to the Burrow, trying to keep a straight face. He didn’t have to wait long before the door burst open and there stood Mrs. Weasley.

“Harry!” she cried, latching onto him. “We were so worried about you, dear! It’s wonderful to see you awake.”

“I’m sorry I made you worry, Mrs. Weasley,” said Harry as she led him inside.

“At least you were with Dumbledore,” Mrs. Weasley muttered. “He always was good at keeping an eye on you. Come into the kitchen, dear. Everyone’s just finished breakfast.”

The second Harry appeared he was attacked with hugs from Ginny and Hermione along with a good thump over the head from Ron. The others were kind enough to not cause him bodily harm though they did scold him for running off with Dumbledore without seeing them first.

Harry smiled sheepishly as he joined the others at the table, not really listening to the scolding he was receiving. He was more preoccupied with what his parents and the others were planning. His dad had said that they’d come a little after him. He didn’t want to explain about the curse until after the prank. He hoped they would get here soon.

Right after thinking this, Harry noticed the drapes over the kitchen window began to open and close on their own. His distracted gaze drew the others attention to the drapes which had picked up speed in movement. The pots and pans in the sink started to bang up and down, their clatters leaving a loud ring in Harry’s brain.

“George, it’s a bit early for a prank don’t you think?” said Mr. Weasley.

George blinked. “I’m not doing that.”

Everyone looked at each other in alarm. If George wasn’t doing this, then who was? A clock from the living room began to chime, the dull bong reoccurring every five seconds. An eerie green fog leaked in through the windows and kitchen door, the haze containing gruesome shapes of rotten hands and rolling eyeballs that rolled and crawled across the floor before disappearing into the wooden cracks in the floorboards. The sky became dark, like it was just before dusk, causing the eerie green mist to be the only source of light in the room.

The floor shook even more violently and then, out of the mist appeared three black tombstones, the letters glowing crimson red. Hands sprung out from the foot of the graves followed by a wretched cry as the ghostly green forms of Harry’s parents and Remus Lupin appeared, rising out of the floor.

By this time, the Weasleys and Hermione were shouting in horror. But their cries were about to be turned into silent screams of pure and utter terror. The kitchen door nearly exploded off its hinges as a great black dog appeared.

“It’s the Grim!” Ron shrieked, toppling out of his chair.

The dog’s red eyes surveyed the whole room until they landed on Harry. It snapped its ferocious sharp jaws, growling and snarling as its great paws stepped forward. Hermione looked around and noticed the ghosts of Harry’s parents and Remus Lupin had disappeared. Just as she began to wonder where they had gone, the three spirits burst from the floor, grabbing onto Harry from all sides, holding him in place.

“Bring him to us,” the ghost of Lily commanded to the Grim.

“HARRY!”

The shout was spoken by everyone in the room just as the Grim leapt into the air, crashing into Harry’s chest. Harry’s parents, Remus, and the greenish mist all disappeared. The kitchen immediately filled with sunshine and laughter, the latter coming from Harry who was being licked furiously by the great black dog.

The Weasleys and Hermione stood there with their jaws dangling to the floor.

“Ouch, Sirius, stop it!” Harry laughed as the dog continued to lick him furiously.

“Oy, Padfoot! I don’t think Harry appreciates you kissing him like a lunatic!” shouted the voice of James from the doorway to the kitchen.

The dog stopped licking Harry to growl at James. Removing its gigantic paws off Harry’s chest, the dog transformed into a man. Hermione screamed. Mrs. Weasley nearly fainted.

Sirius ignored their reactions to angrily retort to James, “I wasn’t kissing him, Prongs!”

James’s grin was as wide as the Nile. “Sure you weren’t. What did that look like to you, Moony?”

Remus smirked, opening his mouth.

“Don’t you dare say a word!” Sirius snapped.

Remus shrugged. “I don’t think I have to, Padfoot.”

James and Remus roared with laughter as Sirius stared at them, looking mutinous. Lily appeared to be holding back her own peel of laughter.

“Mark my words, Prongs,” said Sirius with venom, “you’d better watch your back!”

James continued to laugh hilariously, leaning against the frame of the kitchen door for support. Harry started laughing too but not from Sirius’ embarrassment. He was busy watching the looks of the Weasleys and Hermione. Their eyes were the size of dinner plates and the color of their faces resembled white chalk.

“That was an amazing prank,” Harry congratulated, looking at his parents and Remus at the door. “I liked your part the best, Sirius.”

“At least someone appreciates my skill,” Sirius replied with a huff.

James rolled his eyes. “Come on, Padfoot, lighten up.”

Sirius sighed. “Fine; it was a pretty awesome prank.” And then he cracked a smile, turning to the Weasleys. “I bet you weren’t expecting that. Sorry for scaring all of you to death.”

Mrs. Weasley, once devoid of all color, suddenly turned a deep shade of red. “Alright, what’s this all about? Harry, is this your doing?”

Harry shook his head emphatically. “I didn’t think it up, Mrs. Weasley. But I knew they were planning on doing this.”

“They? You mean-” -she looked at his parents and Remus in the doorway and then to Sirius who was standing next to Harry, grinning broadly- “They’re really here?”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. “Good to see you, Molly.”

Mrs. Weasley held her heart. “My word. What- what in the- WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!”

Mr. Weasley helped his wife to sit down but demanded the same explanation. All the Weasleys seemed to be hyperventilating. Hermione’s knees were shaking so badly Harry feared she would topple to the ground any second. Ron pulled her over to a chair, before sitting down himself.

Harry decided to be the one to elucidate the presence of the dead among them. He pulled out the Gate Frame and told the others that it was a gift given to him so that he could see his loved ones. He also explained that they couldn’t be seen by anyone except the Weasleys, Hermione, Dumbledore and Harry.

“How in the world did you get this?” asked Hermione, pointing at the Gate Frame.

“Dumbledore gave it to me last night,” said Harry. “Before he woke up from his coma he was asked to make sure this got to me.”

George looked at Sirius. “Does this Gate Frame only work for you four?”

Sirius looked at James who shook his head. “Anyone Harry wishes to see can come through it, George.”

George looked at Harry, his eyes filled with silent pleas. Harry had never seen George with such a look before.  The other Weasleys appeared to be filled with this same silent longing. Harry looked around at all of them before turning back to George and smiling reassuringly.

“I’ll call him, George, I promise, but first I have something to tell everyone.”

George looked extremely grateful. He nodded to Harry, silently consenting to wait.

Harry grew rather quiet, unsure of how to begin. The Marauders and Lily were now sitting at the kitchen table with the others. He looked to his dad who nodded to him encouragingly. Harry bit his lip.

“What’s wrong, Harry?” Ginny asked.

Harry sighed. “I want to explain the real reason I didn’t come back here last night.”

This got the Weasleys and Hermione’s attention. They furrowed their brows, confused.

“Dumbledore told us that you were too tired to travel,” said Mrs. Weasley.

Harry explained, “Dumbledore didn’t tell the truth because, in this case, he didn’t think he should be the one to tell it. The reason I didn’t return to the Burrow last night was because of a curse.”

“Curse? Harry, what do you mean?” asked Hermione.

Harry took a deep breath, gathering his discomfort concerning the subject. “I’ve been cursed by ancient magic to turn into a stag from sunset to sunrise.”

George scoffed. “Yeah, that’s a good one, Harry. Another prank?”

Harry shook his head, slightly pained. “I’m afraid not, George. Though I wish it was.”

Ron stared at his best friend. He’d known Harry longer than anyone and he knew for a fact that at this moment, he was being completely serious.

“He’s not lying, George,” said Ron, though he was silently wishing that he was.

“How do you know?” asked Percy skeptically.

“I’ve known Harry longer than any of you so I can most definitely say I can tell when he’s being serious and when he’s joking,” Ron answered heatedly, “and right now he’s being completely serious.”

Hermione furrowed her brow, concerned. “You’re telling the truth, aren’t you, Harry.”

She didn’t pose it as a question. Harry was rather grateful that his two best friends knew him so well. He looked to Ginny, hoping that she believed him. He was frightened by what he saw. She looked a little sick.

“Ginny, are you alright?” he asked.

She swallowed and nodded. “I’m okay.”

Somehow Harry knew she had more to say but she didn’t elaborate further. He still looked at her with concern but turned his attention back to the rest of the table.

“How did you get this curse?” asked Mr. Weasley.

Harry looked quickly at Ginny again before responding, “While we were in Egypt in that tomb, I think.”

Mrs. Weasley gasped, looking from him to Ginny. “Did it happen when you two were in that room together? Is Ginny cursed too?”

Harry shook his head. “Ginny’s fine. I’m the only one who was affected by anything.”

“How do you know that?” asked Bill.

Harry shrugged. “I made an exchange.”

He didn’t want to elaborate but the rest of the family looked on the verge of demanding a better explanation. Ginny shook her head, pleading for Harry to remain silent. He looked at her oddly but decided to do as she asked. He kept quiet, determined to keep the deeper details unspoken.

“We need to know more than that, Harry.”

Harry looked up. It was his father who had spoken.

“Dad, I’d rather not say anything more until I talk to Ginny alone,” said Harry.

Everyone looked from Harry to Ginny. She stood and took Harry’s hand. “Excuse us.”

Dragging Harry behind her, Ginny went out of the kitchen, across the yard, and over to the garden. They were well out of hearing now. Before Ginny could say a word, Harry pulled her to him and kissed her. It had felt like he hadn’t seen her in a thousand years. Ginny protested at first but as Harry deepened the kiss, she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Harry slid one of his hands down her back while the other snaked into Ginny’s soft long hair. He deepened the kiss, tasting her lips. Ginny tightened her hold on Harry’s neck, longing for more. Harry pulled away, allowing the two of them to breathe heavily. Ginny’s chocolate brown eyes were glittering, her cheeks slightly flushed. She hadn’t had time to put on any makeup but Harry thought she didn’t need it. She was positively stunning. Unable to resist the urge, he kissed her again.

He couldn’t get enough of her; the feeling of her so close to him, her body encased within his arms. He wanted to stay like this, holding her forever against him, but he knew his time was limited. At this thought, he pulled away but still kept their hands linked.

“You could say that’s my way of saying: it’s good to see you awake,” he said.

Ginny looked dazed. “Well, Mr. Potter, I’d say that was a wonderful morning welcome.”

Harry chuckled. “I’m glad to see you enjoyed it as much as I did.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Harry stiffened. Had he gone too far? He’d only tasted her tongue once and it was very brief.

Ginny laughed from her fiancé’s worried expression. Kissing his cheek, she mumbled, “Got you!”

Harry narrowed his eyes, grinning. He went for her sides, tickling them furiously.

“No! Stop!” Ginny squealed between laughs.

“What was that?” Harry called, laughing too. “I’m afraid I can’t hear you over all that giggling.”

“Harry!” she protested, laughing hard. “I’m sorry!”

Harry stopped tickling her but pulled her close, leaving his hands settled on her hips. “Now, what was it you wanted to tell me?” he asked.

Ginny immediately went quiet.

Worried by this sudden change of mood, Harry muttered, “Ginny, are you okay?”

She leaned into his chest, her arms hugging him tightly. “I’m scared, Harry.”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “Why?”

“When I was unconscious, I heard a voice. It told me that because I had touched that necklace you had suffered from a terrible curse. It said it was punishing me. When you didn’t show up last night, I was so scared. I thought something terrible had happened to you! And then, you told us you really had been cursed. I shouldn’t have touched that stupid necklace but I felt like it was calling to me. I picked it p without realizing what I was doing! This is all my fault!”

Harry stroked her hair. “No, Ginny,” said Harry. “Don’t blame yourself.”

“But you’re cursed because of my actions!”

“Ginny, I asked to be cursed.”

Ginny looked up at him. “You what?”

Harry wiped away a tear from her cheek. He told her all about his encounter with Sephtus and the price he paid to save her life. Ginny was crying renewed tears.

“So it really is my fault!” she cried. She tried to push away from him. “Let me go, Harry. I don’t deserve to be with you. I’ve ruined everything!”

Harry redoubled his grip on her. If she left him now, he would have nothing left to live for! “Ginny, I am not going to let you go. Don’t you realize? I love you. I would have lost you forever if I hadn’t made the exchange. Do you think I would have let Sephtus curse you? I’d rather suffer the curse meant for you instead of watching you endure it.”

“But now I have to watch you suffer, Harry!” Ginny argued, slightly angry. “That curse was meant for me!”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Look, Ginny, there’s no point arguing over this. The curse may have been meant for you but I took it instead. Can’t you just be grateful and support me through this? I need your strength.”

Ginny turned limp in his arms. “I’m going to hate myself forever,” she whispered.

“You’ll do no such thing!” Harry commanded. “I want you to be yourself, Ginny. I need you to be yourself! I can’t deal with this curse without you by my side. Come on. Where’s that inner fire that I always see in you? This is just a little bump we have to deal with. Dumbledore is working on finding a cure to the curse. I’ll just have to deal with it until he can fix it.”

“What do you want me to do, Harry?” Ginny asked desperately.

Harry kissed her gently. “Just be the strong and confident Weasley I fell in love with.”

She managed to laugh weakly. “Funny, I don’t feel very strong right now.”

“I’ll support you,” Harry assured, holding her tightly. “I always will.”

“Should we tell them exactly what happened?” Ginny asked.

Harry was about to say yes when he suddenly felt a dark presence enter his mind. Using Occlumency, Harry fought against the intruder.

“Don’t worry, One of Prophecy,” said a voice. “I just wanted to warn you about a few things. If you tell anyone that the object your lover tried to steal was the Ankh of Death, the curse will become permanent. The same punishment will ensue if you speak my name to anyone. You may roam wherever you wish in your cursed state but be weary; any injury you sustain while in that form will still be present when you transform.”

“But I already told Ginny about what happened,” said Harry through his thoughts, slightly panicking. “Does that mean the curse can’t be lifted?”

“No,” replied Sephtus’ voice, “but only because I did not warn you in time. However, speak my name or the title of the Ankh of Death to her again and your fate will be sealed. You have been warned, One of Prophecy.”

“So this is something new you’re adding to my sentence? That’s not fair!”

“I can change the curse to be permanent if you have any further complaints.”

“NO! No, leave it like this,” muttered Harry angrily. How could Sephtus spring this on him?

“I will not come to caution you again, One of Prophecy. Don’t break my rules or else I will be forced to execute my warning.”

“Wait! Is there a counter-curse to this?”

Sephtus’ voice did not answer. Harry waited, desperate to hear more, but his mind remained silent.

“Harry, are you alright?”

Harry blinked and looked down. Ginny was looking on him with concern. Harry explained to her what happened, except he avoided giving the object its title and revealing Sephtus’ name.

Ginny shuttered. “I’m sure that was the same person who spoke in my thoughts. What are we going to do, Harry?”

Harry shook his head, slightly frustrated. “I’m not sure. We can’t tell them exactly what happened. But we can say the curse came from an ancient sorcerer. We’ll just have to be emphatic that if we reveal anymore, I’ll be cursed permanently.”

Ginny groaned angrily while running her hand through her long hair. “This is simply awful! We got rid of Voldemort and now we have to face this problem?! When are we ever going to get a break?”

Harry felt the same frustration. But what could they do? He was stuck this way until they could find a counter-curse – if there was a counter-curse. He shook his head. He had to remain hopeful. He refused to be stuck like this forever.  

“We’ll take it one day at a time,” Harry decided. “If we think on this too much, we’re going to drive ourselves crazy. Come on, let’s go back.”

Ginny reluctantly took his hand and let him guide her inside, trying her best not to think the words she had been the entire night before: This is all my fault.    

 

       

  

 


Chapter 8: Professor Merrylow, Alexandria Write, and the Hogwarts Express
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



Chapter 8

The next four days at the Burrow were somewhat depressing for Harry. Transforming into a stag every night had many disadvantages: he missed out on dinner a couple nights because Mrs. Weasley couldn’t get it prepared in time, he had to sleep outside in a small den from a transfigured tree (the wand work had been done by Hermione), and he felt as if everyone was staring at him whenever he was in stag form. It also hadn’t helped that he’d had to learn how to walk all over again since the muscles when he was a stag were so different from the ones he was used to. Harry was very grateful for his father who was very patient in giving him explicit instructions. Through his tutelage, Harry was able to master the art of simply walking after three days effort (although his speed wasn’t very fast just yet).

It was the day before the return journey to Hogwarts and Harry had just transformed out in the yard. He didn’t like it when the others watched him endure the painful process (they all witnessed it the first night he arrived) but Ginny would never leave his side when he phased. He’d gotten used to the horrible pain enough that he didn’t scream anymore. He merely expressed gritting his teeth really hard as his bones melted and his muscles twisted. It was a process he was unfortunately getting used to.

Harry shook his head as he looked up at Ginny who was sitting on the steps leading into the house. She smiled at him with sadness in her chocolate brown eyes. Harry knew she was silently blaming herself for his misfortune but whenever he’d brought it up with her she blatantly denied it.

Ginny stood up and gave him a hug. “You may not believe this but you still look really handsome as a stag, Harry.”

Harry’s nose picked up her wonderful scent. To distract himself, he managed to chuckle. “I guess I can take that as a compliment.”

“Do you want to go for a walk?”

Harry nodded. “I need to stretch these legs anyway.”

Ginny rested her hand on his neck – something Harry surprisingly enjoyed – and the two of them headed away from the Burrow into the trees leading to the Weasleys own Quidditch pitch. The cover of the thick tree branches plunged them into a darkness so thick Ginny couldn’t even see her hand in front of her face. Harry, on the other hand, had keen senses as a stag and was able to see everything in detail and sense things further in the woods that he couldn’t see with his eyes.

Ginny pulled out her wand. “Lumos.”

 Harry blinked rapidly from the sudden bright light. “Ouch.”

“Sorry; it’s just so dark, I can’t see a thing.”

Harry shook his head a little, blinking furiously. “Warn me next time.”

“Sorry,” Ginny apologized again.

Suddenly, she surprised him by kissing one of his ears. Harry felt like his whole face was on fire. The ear Ginny had kissed twitched a little after she pulled away.

She giggled. “Awww, Harry, what a cute reaction!”

“Ginny,” Harry muttered, exasperated.

The sound of his thought only made her laugh even more. “I think that’s how I’ll kiss you when you’re a stag.”

And before he’d prepared himself, she kissed his ear again. It twitched like mad. Ginny giggled furiously.

“I don’t think it’s that funny,” Harry mumbled, embarrassed.

“Oh, lighten up,” said Ginny pleasantly, pushing against his shoulder.

Harry narrowed his eyes and made a decision. He twisted his neck around, brought out his tongue, and licked the side of her face.

“Ewww!” Ginny exclaimed. “Harry!”

Harry looked smug. “If you get to kiss my ear, I get to kiss you stag-style.”

Ginny pursed her lips, her chocolate brown eyes narrowing. “But you used your tongue!”

Harry rolled his eyes and started walking again. He heard her trying to catch up. “That didn’t seem to bother you before.”

He glanced back and was satisfied to see her blushing scarlet. She looked away, becoming flustered. “Yeah, but that was when we were kissing mouth to mouth.”

Ginny looked at the ground, fiddling with her wand. As quiet as a mouse, Harry twisted around and brought his face inches away from hers while saying, “That can be arranged.”

Ginny looked up and leapt backward, surprised to find him so close with his tongue sticking out playfully. “Not on your life, Harry!”

Harry laughed before turning around again, stepping over a fallen tree. Ginny crawled over the log and straightened her clothes looking mutinous.

“You were teasing me!”

“And if I was?”

“Oh, you…you…! UGH! Fine, whatever! You can lick my cheek; BUT ONLY MY CHEEK! And I can kiss your ears. Fair?”

Harry smiled. “Yeah, I guess that sounds fair.”

“You’re horrible,” Ginny muttered as she rejoined his side, placing her hand back on his neck.

Harry laughed. The two of them made their way passed the Weasley’s Quidditch field and ended up coming to a small clearing with a pond and a few fallen trees. Fireflies glided across the pond’s glossy surface and through the tall weeds surrounding the area. Dandelions glittered like they were covered in specks of gold and bullfrogs in the darkness were having a battle with the crickets to see who could make more nighttime music. Ginny walked over to the largest fallen tree and sat down. Harry followed after her and folded his legs beneath him, leaning slightly against her legs. Ginny rubbed his head; Harry closed his eyes in pleasure.

“That feels good.”

Ginny laughed and planted yet another kiss on his ear. “So tomorrow we’ll be going back to school. Doesn’t it seem a little weird?”

“Yes, especially after everything that’s happened in the last couple months.”

“Do you think you’ll be an attention magnet again this year?” Ginny asked with heavy sarcasm.

“Nah, I’m old news,” Harry replied. “I only killed the most powerful evil wizard two months ago. I’m sure there are other juicy stories captivating the Wizarding World’s attention.”

Ginny snorted. “I’m going to shove quills down any reporter’s throat that tries to snoop around.”

Harry chuckled at the imagery. “I’m sure you will but don’t do anything that will land you a cell in Azkaban.”

“Oh yes, because assaulting a reporter merits to that kind of sentence.”

The two laughed lightly before becoming quiet, staring at the pond, and watching the fireflies dance. They definitely had deeper thoughts but both didn’t want to voice them. Silently they were wondering how Harry was going to deal with his situation once he reached Hogwarts. He couldn’t sleep in Gryffindor Tower; the others would definitely notice a large white stag lying in Harry’s bed. He’d also have to skip out on dinner in the Great Hall. He wouldn’t have to do homework but he had to practice the spells they were learning in class; how else would he pass his N.E.W.T.S?

Ginny sighed. “I suppose Dumbledore will have answers to what to do about your problem.”

Harry sighed too. “I suppose he will. We should head back soon. I don’t want your mum to wonder where we ran off to.”

“It’s not like I have to worry about you trying anything,” Ginny joked.

Harry tried to laugh but his chuckle came out sour. Even though her words were true, it still hurt his pride. He was a man after all. It was only natural to be with the girl you loved, to hold and caress her. Yet he couldn’t do anything like that at night anymore. And he had to be honest with himself; being alone holding Ginny during the day was way less satisfying than holding her at night. It sounded like a stupid thing but Harry felt like the romance between them seemed sharper, more intense, during the nighttime. This stupid curse had seriously rained on his parade.

Ginny realized that she’d said something offensive. “Harry, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

Harry waved her apology away. “It’s fine. I’ll just have to find time in between classes to catch you. Since I don’t have homework to worry about I can spend my time building Ginny Traps.”

This made her laugh. “Well, before you set them, keep in mind that I still have homework.”

Harry shrugged. “You can do homework with me.”

She kissed his ear. “Only if I want you around.”

“I’m afraid my presence isn’t optional.”

Ginny launched herself on top of him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I suppose I can deal with that,” she said in his ear before kissing the tip.

Harry stood up with her still on his back. This was the first time he’d ever let someone ride him. Since it was Ginny, he didn’t mind in the slightest. Her legs resting on either side of him actually satisfied the craving to hold her.

“Am I heavy?”

“Immensely.”

She swatted his neck. “Harry!”

“You set yourself up for that one,” he laughed.

“I just wanted to see how strong you were,” she said, trying to recover her pride.

“Sure,” muttered Harry, not buying this excuse at all.

“Really though,” Ginny said in a much gentler, even slightly worried tone, “am I too heavy?”

Sensing her stress, Harry decided not to rag on her again. “No,” he answered sincerely. “I actually like this. A lot.”

“You’re just saying that.”

No, honest! I feel…excited…”

He felt a little embarrassed admitting this. He was basically saying that he felt aroused by her sitting on his back. Was that weird? He remained silent, waiting for her reply, hoping that this didn’t freak her out.

Ginny understood what he was getting at. She figured it must be hard for him, not being able to cuddle with her anymore after sunset. She’d harbored similar feelings of longing to be held in his arms. She too felt closer to him at night, more excited, than during the day. When the sun was out, everyone else always seemed to be around, watching them. The only moments truly alone that she and Harry experienced were during evening hours; that is, until the stupid curse.

Realizing that Harry was embarrassed by what he’d said, Ginny decided to ease his worries. “I like this too.” She leaned against one of his antlers. “I like this a lot.”

His scent was still the same as when he was human. It was entirely intoxicating. Ginny was having a hard time controlling herself. She’d done quite well in making sure their relationship remained on safe ground. She was bound and determined to wait until after they were married to go any further. Not only for the sake of moral standards but also because her mother would murder them both. Maybe Harry being a stag at night was a good thing in this case. Still, Ginny was having a hard time keeping her thoughts occupied with other things as she sat on his back, intoxicated in his scent.

Harry led them through the woods and back out onto the Burrow’s front lawn. As if she knew exactly where they would emerge, Mrs. Weasley stood in the doorway of the kitchen, her eyes locked in on their precise location. Ginny slid off Harry’s back but kept her hand resting on his neck.

“Thanks for the ride.”

Harry lightly licked her face. They’d been in the forest longer than they’d thought; it was time for bed. Mrs. Weasley waited until Ginny was on her way up the stairs to her room before heading out of the house to Harry’s transfigured tree-den.

The inside looked like a large dome shaped room with a soft carpet floor and a large pad covered in a thick quilt. Harry was already inside, sitting on the pad. Mrs. Weasley moved over and picked up a warm blanket before throwing it over Harry’s back.

“Are you sure you’ll be warm enough?” she asked, like she had every night since he arrived.

Harry nodded. “It’s a pretty warm blanket, Mrs. Weasley. I should be fine. Thanks.”

She patted his head. “I just don’t want you to freeze,” she muttered.

Harry smiled. “I’ll be fine, I promise.”

She still looked concerned but she nodded. “Alright. Well, good night, Harry.”

“Good night.”

She left the den, closing the round door behind her. Harry looked over at the Gate Frame propped against the wall near his bed. His parents, Sirius, and Remus hadn’t been able to see him ever since he’d first come to the Burrow. Apparently they had things occupying their attention on the other side because every time he’d tried to ask them to come visit, letters in gold had appeared in the Frame, each time the same words: CAN’T COME TODAY. TRY AGAIN TOMORROW.

Harry sighed before blowing out the candle next to the frame. He closed his eyes, praying that tomorrow wouldn’t be as hectic as he feared, before falling to sleep.  

***

Harry woke up in his den back in human form, a sliver of sunlight attempting to give light to the darkened dome. He stretched, got off the pad-bed, and opened the door of the den. His eyes watered from the sudden exposure to sunlight but it felt wonderful to be out in the open air. He went back into the den to retrieve the Gate Frame before heading to the Burrow.

Once inside, Harry became conscious of the chaos that had ensued within the Burrow’s walls; Ginny was running up and down the stairs, trying to make sure she had everything, Ron had lost his wand somewhere and was blaming George for swapping it with a fake, Hermione was flinging sofa cushions onto the floor in the front room apparently desperate to find some book she’d misplaced, Mrs. Weasley was up to her elbows in trying to do too many things at once, and Mr. Weasley and the older boys were getting ready for work.

Harry flattened himself against the wall as Ginny came flying by with her arms loaded down with laundry her mother had just given her. As Mrs. Weasley shouted that everyone had ten minutes before they had to apparate to King’s Cross, Harry was silently thankful he’d had Kreacher magic his trunk to Hogwarts yesterday afternoon – he’d already had everything packed before the Egypt trip.

Ginny stomped back down the stairs and finally noticed him. She looked frazzled, her hair in tangles and her clothes askew, but she managed to give Harry an exasperated smile. She wrapped her arms around him.

“I just need to calm down,” she muttered.

“Why?”

“Because it’s been cr-”

“Ginny, you can hug Harry later!” shouted Mrs. Weasley as she came around the corner with another armful of laundry. “I need you to take these to Ron and Hermione.”

Ginny groaned. “Why can’t they get their own laundry?”

Mrs. Weasley’s eyes swirled with anger and frustration. “Ron is still getting his things packed and Hermione’s out in the garden chasing Crookshanks. Since you’re fully packed the least you can do is help them finish packing!”

She thrust the laundry into Ginny’s arms and marched back into the kitchen.

Ginny turned to Harry and scowled. “I can’t wait to get on the train. Then I can have a moment’s peace.”

“Let me take care of Ron’s stuff,” Harry offered, taking the clothes from her.

She looked at him gratefully before kissing his cheek. “Thanks. I’ll see you in a bit.”

Harry climbed the stairs to Ron’s room. The redhead was in the process of chucking a stack of things on his bed into a rather beat up trunk. Harry added the folded laundry to the other contents. Ron threw the last couple of books in from a pile next to his window and slammed the lid shut.

Huffing and puffing, he turned to Harry and said, “Thanks mate.”

Harry grinned. “You know, you could have just magicked it all into your trunk.”

Ron looked crestfallen. “Why didn’t I think of that?! Getting all worked up for nothing.”

Harry laughed.

Ron sized him up. “I see you’re not running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”

“For once I decided to pack my things early,” said Harry, shrugging. “I guess it came in handy.”

Ron nodded. “You think after six years I’d learn to do the same thing.”

The two friends shared a smile before they heard Mrs. Weasley yelling at them to come down. Ron snatched up his wand (which apparently had been taken by George but was now safely returned)  while Harry pulled out his own wand to magic Ron’s trunk down the stairs. The two rushed down the steps as fast as they could and arrived in the kitchen thirty seconds later, gasping for breath. Harry guided Ron’s trunk over to the others before Mr. Weasley reduced their size and put them in his pocket.

“All right, let’s be off!” Mrs. Weasley shouted, shooing everyone out the door. “You’re going to miss the train!”

“I don’t see why we can’t just apparate to Hogsmeade,” Ron grumbled as they left the house and marched across the lawn.

“This is your last chance to ride the Hogwarts Express,” snapped his mother. “It’s a tradition to ride it to Hogwarts every year!”

“Harry and I broke that tradition in our second year. Why can’t we break it again?”

“Don’t argue with your mother!” Mrs. Weasley retorted. “I’d better see you at King’s Cross or else!”

Ron scowled. “Alright, keep your head, mum.”

Mrs. Weasley looked ready to wallop her youngest son right on the head but thought better of it before disapparating. The others followed her example and apparated outside the station a second later.

“Hurry!” ordered Mr. Weasley.

The group rushed inside and made it to the secret location to platform nine and three quarters. Taking turns in twos and threes, the group leaned against the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Two seconds later, Harry was standing on a large platform filled with witches and wizards. Students were saying their goodbyes to their families while others were gathered in small clusters catching up on things they’d done for the summer. Harry spotted a few reporters mucking about near the entrance and exit of the platform, their eyes darting from one section of students to the next. Figuring they were on the lookout for him, he ducked behind Ron and Hermione, asking them both to shield him from any reporter’s eyes.

After their group had successfully evaded the bundle of Daily Prophet reporters, a woman standing closer to the train caught Harry’s eye. She was tall and thin, about the same in height as Harry, with ridiculous curly long hair the color of green, pink, and blue. Her eyes were a deep colored brown reminding Harry of the color of dirt shortly after it rained. She wore light blue robes accented with a brilliant pink sash and black combat boots along with a pink choker necklace and arm bracelets.

She sent him a dazzling smile before picking up her suitcase and heading in his direction. Most of the Weasleys were staring at her the same way as the rest of the crowd; wide-eyed and slightly alarmed. She stopped in front of Mr. Weasley and grinned.

“Arthur, good to see ya!” she said in a pleasant yet enthusiastic voice.

“Gretelle?” said Mr. Weasley in bewilderment.

The woman’s brown eyes immediately stirred like churning mud. “Don’t call me that, Arthur! I told you, it’s Elle.”

“Sorry,” Mr. Weasley apologized, still not over his shock. “You just look so different. I wasn’t sure it was you.”

Elle smiled. “It’s the new me, Arthur! You may not know this but I used to be this way back in school. Tonks and I were always trying to compete against each other!”

“You’re a friend of Tonks?” George asked.

Elle turned her attention to him. “Sure am,” she said proudly, “Her best friend, in fact! I should introduce myself. My name’s Elle Merrylow. I’m the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.”

The Weasley children and Harry and Hermione continued to stare at Elle Merrylow with interested expressions. It was hard for any of them to think of her as a teacher from her appearance. But then again, Harry hadn’t thought Remus would be up for the job when he’d first met him either.

“Well, I must say it’s good to see you, Elle,” said Mrs. Weasley. “We had wondered where you ran off to after the Last Battle.”

Professor Merrylow’s eccentric aura seemed to dampen. “I had a few things to sort through,” she muttered.

Harry guessed that she had probably disappeared from society to deal with the loss of her best friend. He tried to clear the air. “It’s good to meet you, professor.”

Professor Merrylow shot Harry a grateful look before saying, “Likewise, Harry. I’ve got a letter for you from Dumbledore. He wanted me to give it to you before you got on the train.” She rummaged through a couple of her pockets before pulling out a crumpled envelope. “Here.”

“Thanks,” Harry muttered before opening it.

Harry,

I figured that since you will still be on the train by the time the sun sets I should prepare a special compartment for you to stay in until Hagrid can come to get you. I’m sorry you’ll have to miss the feast but I promise that the substitute meal I will have ready for you will make up for the loss of fun you would have so very much enjoyed.

                                       Yours sincerely,

                                                            Albus Dumbledore    

 Harry immediately felt like a lead balloon had encased his chest. He’d completely forgotten about having to miss the feast. Folding up the letter and pocketing it, he looked up at Professor Merrylow who was smiling at him sadly.

“I’m sorry to learn about your problem, Harry,” she said sincerely. “Dumbledore wanted me to make sure you got on the train safely.”

Harry nodded while trying to hide his depression. He should be very grateful to the Headmaster for being so thoughtful but he couldn’t help feeling miserable. He would have to stay in a compartment separated from everyone else. Stupid curse, he thought angrily.

A train whistle blew signaling that the Express was about to leave. Mr. Weasley gave Ron, Hermione, and Ginny their trunks while Mrs. Weasley made sure to wish everyone farewell. Harry shook the older Weasleys hands before rushing to get on the train with the others. Professor Merrylow was attracting a lot of attention as she headed down the train. Harry’s presence behind her didn’t help either. Every kid on the train had their eyes glued to him as he passed.

Harry tried to ignore them as he followed the professor down to the very last compartment. Professor Merrylow pulled out her wand and tapped the door which slid open. One half of the compartment consisted of the usual seats but the other housed a nice large pad with a couple of pillows. Ginny had followed after Harry, refusing to leave him alone. Professor Merrylow made sure none of the other students were looking before issuing all three of them inside.

“What do you think, Harry?” she asked as he surveyed the compartment.

Harry tried to mask his disappointment with gratitude. “It’s great, thanks.”

Professor Merrylow sighed. “I know it can’t be fun to be secluded back here by yourself but it’s the only thing Dumbledore could think of to make sure your secret remained a secret.”

“I understand,” Harry replied firmly. Now was not the time to be whining like a child. He had asked for this curse and he needed to grow up and deal with the hindrances that came with it.

Professor Merrylow nodded. “Okay. I’ll be in the next compartment to keep a lookout for anyone trying to make their way back here. They can’t get in but it’s better to not draw attention.”

“I’m staying with Harry,” said Ginny as Professor Merrylow waited for her to join her.

The professor sighed. “Alright but you need to be with the other students before we reach Hogwarts.”

“Do I have to stay back here the whole ride?” Harry asked her.

“Dumbledore was emphatic about you being in here an hour before sunset. As long as you keep to that, I’m fine with you mingling in other compartments.”

“I’ll set an alarm,” Harry promised.

The three of them left the compartment and journeyed further up the train. Professor Merrylow disappeared into an empty compartment but Harry and Ginny decided to try to find their friends. People immediately noticed Harry and nudged their friends, pointing at him as he passed. Harry wished they’d stare at something else. Just when he was beginning to contemplate spending the entire ride in the last compartment, Ginny spotted Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood sitting in a compartment with a stranger.

The girl sitting next to the window appeared to be the same age as Harry and Neville but Harry had never seen her before. She wore a simple linen tee with jeans but was decked out in golden jewelry from large hoop earrings to arm bracelets. Her curly hair was as long as Professor Merrylow’s except it was a natural shade of copper and her skin was slightly darker than an American Indian. Her bright green, almond-shaped eyes looked over at the door as Ginny opened it.

“Hey Neville, Hi Luna!” Ginny greeted enthusiastically.

Neville and Luna exchanged greetings with both before inviting them to sit down. Harry noticed that Neville was holding Luna’s hand. He smiled. Harry couldn’t think of two people better suited for each other.

Their relationship didn’t escape Ginny’s eye either. She looked from Neville to Luna, positively thrilled. “When?” she demanded.

Luna grinned. “Over the summer Neville came to visit. I wanted to show him the nargle nest near my house and while we were trying to hunt them down, he asked me to date him.”

Neville’s cheeks darkened a little. “I’m just glad she said yes.”

“Why wouldn’t I have?” Luna asked, kissing his cheek.

Ginny and Harry grinned as Neville fidgeted, embarrassed.

Trying to change the subject, Neville introduced the compartment’s last occupant. “This is Alexandria Write.”

Alexandria smiled warmly at them. “Pleased to meet you,” she said with a slight accent.

“Alexandria is a transfer student,” said Luna. “She was just beginning to tell us.”

“Really?” asked Ginny. “You transferred from another magic school?”

Alexandria nodded. “I was studying at the Egyptian Academy of Enchantments but my mother decided to move back to England this summer. I wrote a letter to Professor Dumbledore who met with me over the summer and arranged for me to finish my schooling at Hogwarts. Since I am half English I was able to get permission from the Ministry of Magic to do so.”

“Wow,” Harry muttered. “So you’ll have to get sorted and everything?”

Alexandria nodded. “I suppose it’s going to be weird for everyone to see a seventeen year old lined up with the first year students.”

“Yeah, well, Hogwarts is known to produce things that are out of the ordinary,” Ginny joked. “I’m Ginny Weasley, by the way, and this is Harry Potter.”

They shook hands.

Alexandria stared at Harry with interest. “You are a very famous wizard, Harry. Your fame is known all over the world. I’m honored to meet you in person.”

She was incredibly sincere. Harry had suspected that she would act like some rabid fan but she was simply paying him a compliment. He knew from her relaxed reaction of learning who he was that they were going to be friends.

“I hope you’re a Gryffindor,” said Ginny as she leaned against Harry’s shoulder.

“Being sorted into Ravenclaw wouldn’t be so bad either,” added Luna.

Alexandria chuckled. “I don’t mind which house I’m put into. I’m sure that all of them have promising qualities.”

The others were slightly impressed with her maturity on the subject but Harry felt the need to caution her.

“The houses can be extremely competitive,” he said. “Gryffindors and Slytherins, for example, are total enemies.”

Alexandria seemed a little sad by this. “I know of the feud between the houses. I read up on Hogwarts over the summer while moving to England. It’s truly a pity that such a grudge exists.”

Harry and Ginny looked at Alexandria as if she were nuts but Luna seemed to agree. “I too think their grudge is silly. It’s just over exaggerated rival competition.”

Alexandria sighed when seeing the expressions of the Gryffindors. “I don’t mean to offend you or your house. I speak from experience when I say that such feuds can bring about great destruction.”
Her green eyes darkened, plagued with unspeakable suffering.

Harry felt uncomfortable. He decided to change the subject to Quidditch- always a safe topic. Alexandria knew everything about the game and joined in enthusiastically as she described plays she’d witnessed back at her old school. Ron and Hermione joined their compartment after dealing with prefect duties and were introduced to Alexandria. She fit in so well with the group that Harry felt as if he’d known her for years instead of a few hours.

After the lunch trolley had come and gone the door to the compartment door burst open to reveal Draco Malfoy. Harry vaguely noticed that he was alone. The last time Harry had seen him, Draco had looked a little sickly but now he seemed to be in perfect health. His gray eyes were filled with an emotion Harry had never seen before: pain and loneliness?

“So you four have decided to finish your last year too?” he said while crinkling his nose. “I should have realized that you’d want to come back.”

“Didn’t you actually graduate last year, Malfoy?” Ron asked.

Malfoy shrugged. “Dumbledore offered me the choice of returning since last year’s curriculum didn’t include the necessary classes to graduate. If you’d noticed, Weasley, half the kids in our year have decided to come back too. But I suppose you were too busy eyeing Granger to perceive anything else.”

Ron’s ears turned pink.

“Get out!” Harry snarled.

Malfoy shrugged. “Just stating the obvious, Potter.”

Then his cool gray eyes landed on Alexandria. They seemed to widen and for once Malfoy was speechless. Alexandria stared at him with interest and then smiled.

“I suppose you would be in Slytherin House?” she asked calmly.

Malfoy shook his head, getting his bearings. “Yes, I am.” He didn’t seem to be proud of it. The lack of emotion caused a little concern for Harry but he let it slide. What did he care if Malfoy wasn’t feeling up to boasting about being a pureblood?

“I figured as much,” Alexandria replied pleasantly, “seeing as the way the Gryffindors are eyeing you with desires to stab daggers down your throat. I can see you feel the same way about them.”

Malfoy seemed a little taken aback by her forwardness but he nodded. “Well, duh. Gryffindors and Slytherins hate each other.”

Alexandria sighed before standing up. “Would you excuse me, Luna? You guys?”

The others nodded.

Alexandria approached the compartment door still occupied by the young Slytherin. She smiled at him and whispered in his ear. Malfoy leapt back in surprise, his face on fire. Alexandria giggled lightly before saying over her shoulder, “I’m going for a walk.”

The others stared as she shut the compartment door and disappeared. Malfoy stood there, obviously staring after her for a few seconds before disappearing too.

Ron turned to Hermione. “What in Merlin’s name was that about?”

Hermione shrugged. “How should I know? From what I could tell, it appeared as if Alexandria has some kind of dirt on Malfoy. Did you see him blush?”

Harry sighed. “I’d give anything to know what kind of dirt it is. The last time Malfoy blushed that dark was when Moody turned him into a ferret.”

There was a round of laughter from the memory. Shortly after, the silent alarm charm that Harry had set went off in his head. Dread overcame him as he looked out the window. The sun was definitely setting. Turning off the alarm with a wave of his wand, Harry stood up.

“I need to get something,” he muttered for Neville and Luna’s benefit. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny knew they wouldn’t see him again tonight. Ginny stood, saying that she had to go to the bathroom. Ron and Hermione looked sad as they waved goodbye before Harry and Ginny exited the compartment.

Ginny took his hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be there until Merrylow kicks me out.”

Harry nodded.

They made their way down the train, passing compartments packed with students that were already changed into their Hogwarts robes. Several people were lingering in the hallway, chatting pleasantly, their lives perfectly normal. Harry envied them. Professor Merrylow was waiting outside the door to the last compartment. She checked to make sure the coast was clear before letting them inside.

“I’ll come get Ginny in a little bit,” she said.

She shut the compartment door and the blinds whipped in front of the glass, blocking the interior from any eyes that may try to pry from the hallway. Harry sighed and pulled out the Gate Frame.

“Who are you going to call?” asked Ginny.

“Well, I was thinking of just my Dad and Sirius this time.”

Ginny nodded, sitting down next to the window. “I’m still trying to get over that reunion with Fred. I think it tore up mum and dad pretty bad.”

Harry smiled sadly. “Yeah, but it was a necessary get together. I think seeing him again really helped George.”

Ginny agreed. “It really did. He was like his old self again after talking to him alone for three hours. We all needed to see him.”

Harry put his arm around her. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Ginny sniffled. “I just really miss him, you know?”

“I know,” Harry muttered, rubbing her shoulder. “I know. But if you ever want to see him, just ask and I’ll see what I can do.”

Ginny kissed him. “Thanks, Harry. I’m so grateful.”

Harry looked down at the Gate Frame. “So am I.” Ginny suddenly surprised him by sitting in his lap. “Ginny?”

She kissed him lightly. “Can I be selfish for a little bit?”

Harry grinned. He wrapped his arms around her before kissing her. She moved her arms around his neck while he cupped her cheek, caressing it with his thumb. This intense snog session lasted for fifteen minutes and Harry was having a hard time controlling his feelings. He wanted to touch her more but he was out of time.

He started to pull away but Ginny locked her fingers together behind his head and forced their lips to remain connected. She slid her tongue along his bottom lip. It took every ounce of Harry’s will to push her away.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, breathing heavily.

Harry looked into her eyes; they were dancing, swirling like melted chocolate. He wanted nothing more than to snog her again but he needed to control himself. He rested his head back while Ginny leaned into his chest, still sitting in his lap.

“I went too far that time,” she muttered, chiding herself.

Harry chuckled. “Well, I can say I enjoyed every minute of it.”

Ginny slapped him playfully. “You’re supposed to stop us from getting that far.”

“Ginny, I hate to admit this but I’m never going to be the one to back out. If anyone’s going to keep my emotions in check, it’s going to have to be you.”

 Ginny snorted. “Don’t make that excuse. You stopped the kiss just fine. I wanted to keep going.”

“I only stopped it because I’m running out of time,” Harry said, pointing out the window. The sun was touching the horizon.

Ginny sighed. “Leave it to you to be the responsible one.”

Harry laughed. “Well someone has to be, Ginny.”

She slapped his arm again. “Oh, shut up.”

Harry continued to laugh as he pulled out the Gate Frame and spoke the names of his father and godfather. He was sure he would see the golden letters, telling him to try again tomorrow but to his surprise, the Frame began to glow and James and Sirius appeared in the compartment.

“I wondered why you hadn’t already tried to call us,” said Sirius while eyeing Ginny in Harry’s lap. “I guess you were a little busy.”

Ginny blushed but managed to keep her voice strong as she retorted, “At least he has someone to be busy with, Sirius.”

James burst out laughing. “Ouch! She got you good, Padfoot!”

Sirius scowled. “Shut up, Prongs.”

James continued to chuckle with mirth as the two sat down. Harry gestured for Ginny to get off him so he could move over to the pad. He was already beginning to feel his bones tingle (the first sign that they were about to catch fire).

“Did Dumbledore arrange this?” James asked.

“Yeah,” Harry answered.

Sirius let out a low whistle. “This has got to be the nicest compartment on the train. The seats look totally new.”

“That’s probably because they are,” James pointed out.

Harry shuddered. The sun’s last ray was about to disappear. Ginny knew Harry didn’t like it when other people watched him transform but she wasn’t about to avert her eyes. Neither were James and Sirius. Harry gritted his teeth as the pain sprung up, engulfing his entire body. His limps bent and twisted, slowly transforming into the stag.

Three seconds later he was laying on the pad, breathing heavily, his muscles aching like crazy.

“So, are you excited to be going back to school?” James asked as if nothing had even happened.

Harry was silently grateful that his dad didn’t ask him if he was okay. James obviously knew Harry suffered every time he changed but he also understood that Harry was uncomfortable with having to describe the pain every single time. It was easier to just pretend that nothing major had happened. The other followed James’ lead; they didn’t pester Harry about the pain.

Harry nodded. “It feels kind of weird though.”

“I bet,” said Sirius. “You were just here two months ago experiencing the biggest battle of your life.”

“I suppose Hogwarts looks brand new by now,” mused James as he leaned back in his seat. “They can’t be teaching students in ruins.”

“Maybe Professor Binns requested for it to be left the way it was after the Last Battle so he could use it as an object lesson,” joked Sirius.

All four of them laughed. Professor Binns was the History of Magic teacher. His subject was the most boring out of all the studies more than likely because he droned all the way through his notes. He also was the only teacher who was a ghost but Harry was sure if he were still alive his teaching would still be as boring and drone as it was now.

They made small talk for a good half hour before Professor Merrylow appeared.

“Time to go, Ginny,” she said, after closing the compartment door. “The train should be arriving in Hogsmeade in fifteen minutes. You still need to change into your school robes.” She then turned to Harry. “I know you might not like this Harry but you’re a really handsome stag.”

“Thanks, professor,” Harry muttered while James chuckled.

Harry was silently grateful she couldn’t see or hear James and Sirius. Ginny got up and kissed Harry’s ear. It twitched six times before growing still. Ginny laughed softly before kissing the other one to see the same reaction.

“Would you knock it off?” Harry asked as he shook his head.

Ginny winked. “I had to say good night, Harry.”

Harry licked her face in retaliation.

“Harry!” she said, wiping her nose. “I said only the cheek!”

Harry smiled. “Sorry. I guess my aim was a little off.”

She narrowed her eyes. “You’re gonna get it tomorrow.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Harry replied cheerfully.

She rolled her eyes before disappearing from the compartment with a grinning Professor Merrylow.

Harry sighed.

“Well, that was…interesting,” said Sirius while grinning. “You two seem to be quite the happy couple. But a kiss on the ears? Come on; why didn’t you go straight into French snogging?”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Don’t make me skewer you with these antlers, Sirius.”

James laughed heartily. “I’d pay to see that!”

Sirius punched James lightly in the arm but he too was grinning. “Sorry, Harry. But ragging on you is part of my job as Godfather.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Funny, you never ragged on my romantic relationships when you were alive.”

Sirius shrugged. “Darker times, Harry. There wasn’t time for that sort of thing. Besides, we rarely had time to spend together anyway.”

Harry’s ears dropped a little as he looked out the window. James looked at Sirius as if to say ‘nice going’. Sirius silently responded with an affronted look as if to reply ‘Hey, don’t get mad at me! I didn’t think saying that would make him depressed’.

Harry looked over at his dad and godfather. They seemed to be having a silent argument; probably about him. He hadn’t meant to bring it up and he didn’t mean to look depressed over Sirius’ words but they spoke the truth. Harry could count on one hand the happy moments he had with his godfather that weren’t tainted with disaster and news of hardship. It was a rather dismal revelation.

But now he had the Gate Frame and at this moment he was experiencing being with his godfather without having to worry about Death Eaters or killing Voldemort. That was definitely something to be happy about.

“Sirius?”

Sirius gave Harry his full attention. “Yes, Harry?”

Harry smiled. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Sirius looked slightly surprised but then he smiled and Harry was reminded of the photograph of his parents wedding when Sirius looked healthy and completely happy. His godfather at this moment looked exactly like he did in that picture. Harry hadn’t really noticed before but Sirius didn’t look like he’d suffered for years in Azkaban; his appearance was handsome and vigorous, full of eternal life. Seeing him like this, cheerful and bantering with his father, made Harry happier than he’d been all those times with Sirius when he was alive.

James looked from Harry to Sirius and coughed. “Should I leave to give you two a private moment?”

This comment only rewarded him a good punch from Sirius and a slightly bruised arm. The three of them laughed. Harry spent the rest of the time listening to his dad and Sirius talk about some of the pranks they pulled in school during their first couple of years. As he listened, Harry was secretly thankful that Fred and George had never met Sirius and James together; those four would have been a force that probably would have blown Hogwarts Castle to smithereens. Although, part of Harry was curious with the idea of introducing all of them; maybe allow them to play a small prank….Harry shook his head. No, that was a very, VERY bad idea.

The Hogwarts Express twisted around a few more bends before it began to lose speed. Harry could hear the hallways filling with hungry students who were eager to get to the feast. A pang of remorse filled his stomach. What he wouldn’t give to be sitting with the rest of them, enjoying conversation, and filling his stomach with the best house elf foods! His mouth watered with the very thought of treacle tart. He was terribly hungry. Dumbledore had said he had a meal prepared for Harry but what did it entail? Harry’s nose wrinkled with the sudden thought of having to eat grass.

James noticed his son’s look of distaste. “What’s wrong, Harry?”

Harry groaned. “Dad, what does a stag usually eat?”

James sighed. “I should have realized you wouldn’t be able to attend the feast. Well, let’s see…they like nuts, grasses, ferns, mushrooms, clover, alfalfa, corn, winter wheat, oats, soybeans, peas, sweet potatoes, apples, and if there aren’t any of those foods around, they’ll turn to branches from trees.”

Sirius gave him a look of concern.

“What?” said James, defensive. “I thought I should learn as much as I could about a stag seeing as that was what I turn into.”

Sirius snorted. “I guess it’s good to be that prepared.”

James shoved him. “You don’t have to worry about what you eat, Padfoot, since dogs will eat anything.”

Sirius grinned. “I’m not complaining. While you have to chew down on nuts I can have all the food Lily puts her love and hard work into.”

James snorted. “Anything Lily would feed you would more than likely be spiked with some kind of potion or poison. She still hasn’t had her revenge from the last prank you pulled.”

Harry managed to pull himself from the miserable idea of having nuts and grass for dinner out of curiosity. “What prank was that?”

James face darkened while Sirius grinned like an evil Cheshire Cat.

“I thought it would be humorous to have little clumps of Lily’s hair fall out every time she snogged James,” Sirius explained.

Harry looked at him, horrified. “You didn’t.”

James, glowering at his best friend, nodded. “He did. And it was horrible! Lily was in tears! She went completely bald after the fiftieth snog, right in front of everyone.”

“All her hair grew back right after it fell out,” Sirius defended. “Besides, you were the one who came up with the idea.”

James looked outraged. “I didn’t want to try it on Lily! I was aiming for Snape, you git!”

Sirius looked slightly crestfallen. “Darn, I guess we should have used it on him, huh?”

James continued to remain mutinous. “And now, because of YOU, I have to sleep out on the couch for a week! A FULL WEEK! Do you have ANY idea how torturous that is?!”

Sirius’ eyebrows rose. “She pulled out that punishment? But, she hasn’t done that since-”

“I KNOW!” James snapped.

Harry couldn’t contain the urge to pry. This was something that happened to his parents after all. He had a right to know. “Since when?” he asked.

James turned brick red. “Since I…since I…”

“Since he forgot about their wedding anniversary the year after they got married,” finished Sirius while trying to keep a straight face.

Harry’s eyes widened. “You really didn’t, did you?”

James put a hand over his eyes, nodding. “It is terribly unfortunate but, I did, Harry. It was an absolute nightmare.”

“I’ll say,” muttered Sirius. “I came over for dinner the next day and found a butcher’s knife at my throat with Lily threatening to run me through if I didn’t leave the house immediately. Needless to say, I told Remus and Peter and the three of us didn’t come by until James contacted us a couple weeks later with the assurance that it was safe to visit.”

Harry shuddered. He tried to imagine his mother’s anger but he could only compare it to Mrs. Weasley’s; her anger episodes could cause third degree burns if one wasn’t careful. From what Sirius had just explained Harry was sure his mother could cause similar injuries if pushed.

“If Sirius pulled the prank why is mum punishing you?” Harry asked James.

“Because I technically came up with the idea for the prank,” James answered. Then turning to Sirius he added, “And this idiot had to blab that to my wife right after the incident.”

Sirius looked guilty. “I’m real sorry, Prongs. I didn’t think she’d blow this big of a gasket.”

Harry sighed. “Sirius, not to say that I’m an expert on girls, but one thing I’ve learned from Ginny is that hair to the opposite sex is sacred and should be treated with the utmost delicacy and concern.”

“There,” said James, pointing, “even my own son knows this secret. You’ve dated more women than both of us put together and you don’t even know that?! What is wrong with you?!”

Sirius, looking rather putout, muttered, “I just didn’t think, James. I’m sorry. I’ve already said I was. What do you want me to do, beg on my knees for forgiveness?”

James’ anger dissipated. Putting a hand on his dejected friend, he sighed. “I forgive you, Padfoot. I’m just a little frustrated is all; being locked out of my own bedroom is no fun.”

Sirius continued to look distressed. “Maybe I can ease Lily’s anger. Give her flowers or something.”

James made a small smile. “She might calm down from that.”

“I think you should invite her to prank you, Sirius,” said Harry. “Let her get back at you in any way she wants.”

Sirius paled. “‘Any way she wants’? Do you realize what kind of death sentence that would be?”

Harry shrugged (or at least tried to; it was a little hard to execute the gesture as a stag). “I don’t see what the big deal is. You’re already dead and not to mention you deserve it.”

James nodded though he looked rather grim. “Harry’s right, Sirius, you have to reap what you’ve sown.”

Sirius gulped. “I’m going to die…again.”

Before James or Harry could provide him with any kind of comfort, the train came to a stop. Harry’s ears immediately picked up the increased chatter of his fellow students as they lumbered out of the train onto the platform. Once more he longed to be out there with everyone else. James and Sirius watched him in silence, both completely forgetting about their own problems out of concern for him. It seemed to take hours before the train became completely quiet but it was really only less than one. Harry remembered in his sixth year that shortly after all the students were gone, the train had started to leave the station. So why was it staying put? Harry began to wonder and then the answer came to him. Dumbledore had probably given special instructions for the train to stay in Hogsmeade.

His suspicions were correct when about a half hour after the train and its surrounding area had become completely dead, the compartment door was ripped open by a man that Harry, despite his depressed mood, was delighted to see.

“Hello Harry,” greeted Hagrid with a large, kind, half-giant smile. “Best be off, shall we?”

  

 

 

 

 

   

 

  

 

   

  

 


Chapter 9: First Day of Classes Ends in a Broom Closet
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Hagrid, twice the height of a man and as sturdy and wide as a thousand year old oak tree, stood back so Harry could get out of the compartment. The half giant didn’t even seem fazed by the fact that Harry was a stag; Harry was sure he had been told beforehand by Dumbledore but had decided to remain quiet about it. Harry was grateful to him for not making the curse a big deal. Harry stopped to pick up the Gate Frame with his teeth before walking down a platform that Hagrid had kindly placed at one of the train’s exits.

“It’s a lil’ cold tonight, Harry,” said Hagrid as he joined him on the platform, “Are ya warm enough?”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, thanks Hagrid.”

Hagrid smiled. “I’d pet ya, Harry, but I don’t think ya’d appreciate it.”

Harry was grateful Hagrid suppressed the urge. The last thing he wanted was to be treated like some pet animal. Sirius and James joined Harry and Hagrid as they made their way towards the school. Harry trudged along, tripping slightly over loose rocks. He still wasn’t entirely used to this body. He hadn’t tried running either; he didn’t want anyone to see him fall on his face. Every time he stumbled Hagrid would ask him if he was alright, which was terribly embarrassing. By the tenth stagger, Harry was completely irritated. If it wasn’t for the fact they had reached the castle, he was sure he would have shouted out a few choice swear words.

He climbed up the steps with a little difficulty. Hagrid offered to carry him but the very thought made Harry want to curl up and die of shame. Professor McGonagall met them just on the other side of the great oak doors. She smiled warmly at Harry though he could see the pity in her eyes.

“I’ll take it from here, Hagrid.”

“Sure, Professor,” said Hagrid. “Take care, Harry.”

“See ya later, Hagrid,” Harry replied trying to be cheerful.

The aroma from the feast was ten times worse through his stag enhanced nose. His mouth watered and his eyes stared at the hall with longing.

James rubbed a hand against his neck. “It’s okay, Harry.”

“Yeah,” said Sirius, rubbing his head. “You’re not really missing anything.”

Harry tried to ignore them because Professor McGonagall was talking to him at the same time.

“If you’ll follow me, Potter,” she said, heading away from the hall towards a hidden entrance behind a tapestry.

“This entrance wasn’t here before,” muttered James as they walked through the textile.

At first, Harry thought Professor McGonagall had heard his dad but then he realized she was explaining to him. “Dumbledore made this for your use only. It leads up to a private room. Dumbledore has given all of us teachers instructions that you are either to be in this room an hour before sunset or out on the grounds in the forest at the same hour. You are also allowed to be out on the grounds at night with full confidence from the Headmaster that you will be back in this room before sunrise. Is that all understood, Potter?”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Good.”

They stopped in front of a door with a large Gryffindor lion painted on the front. Professor McGonagall touched the lion’s tail and then it opened its mouth.

“Password?”

“Quaffles are not waffles,” answered Professor McGonagall.

Harry stared.

“Professor Dumbledore thought it appropriate to use Quidditch passwords that rhyme,” explained a rather exasperated Professor McGonagall.

Harry grinned. “Seems like you don’t really approve of that, professor.”

She pursed her lips. “Yes, well, come along.”

James and Sirius snickered behind Harry. Professor McGonagall pushed open the door to reveal a circular room containing a couple comfortable sofas, a coffee table in between them, a pad on the floor, and a roaring fireplace built into the circular wall opposite to the door. Another door off to the side led into a bedroom containing a closet, a king sized bed, and a bathroom. A small platform had been hooked onto the bed’s frame so Harry could climb into it as a stag. Every item in both rooms celebrated the colors of Gryffindor.

After poking his head into his room, Harry turned to find Professor McGonagall studying him. “I’m sorry this happened to you, Potter,” she muttered. “I’m a little concerned about you not doing any homework but I can now see that is an impossibility.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this but I agree with you, Professor,” said Harry. “I’m a little worried about being able to keep up with the classes.”

James, who had sat down on one of the sofas with Sirius, looked at Harry with concern. “He actually wants to do homework? Sirius, my son’s gone mad.”

Sirius snickered. “So what do you suggest we do about that? We can’t have him turning into a bookworm.”

Harry ignored the urge of telling the two of them to shut up. Professor McGonagall made him jump a little as she put a hand on his neck. Harry looked up at her.

She smiled. “Potter, after all the things you did two months ago, I have complete faith that you will keep up with the others even if you can’t do the homework assignments.”

Harry continued to look worried. “But what about N.E.W.T.s?”

Professor McGonagall rolled her eyes. “Potter, do you honestly think you’re going to fail in your N.E.W.T.s after all the spectacular magic you have had to perform while trying to survive against Voldemort? You’re one of the best students I’ve ever had to teach – even better than your own father who was an expert in Transfiguration.”

Harry glanced over at James who was grinning. “She’s right you know.”

“But I’ve never been that great at Transfiguration,” Harry argued.

Professor McGonagall smiled. “I didn’t say that you were, Potter. What I meant was you have more magical talent and skill than most of the students I’ve taught.”

Harry blinked. “Really?”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “You know Prongs I don’t think McGonagall is right. Harry’s brain seems to be having a hard time comprehending what she’s saying. Shouldn’t wizards with the talent McGonagall’s describing be able to grasp a concept as simple as this?”

Both Marauders laughed openly. Harry wanted to kick them. Trying to keep his composure he gave McGonagall his full attention.

“Thanks a lot, Professor.”

Professor McGonagall smiled once more before explaining that Harry’s dinner would arrive shortly. After making sure he was settled, she left the room, closing the door behind her.

Harry glared at his father and godfather.

“What?” said Sirius while trying and failing to hide a grin.

Harry groaned. “I was this close to kicking the two of you upside the head.”

“That would have been intense,” said James. “McGonagall might have wondered if you’d gone temporarily insane, kicking at nothing in particular.”

Harry groaned. “Oh, whatever.”

He plopped down on the pad located close to the fire. It was rather comfortable and the fire warmed him all the way to the bone. His stomach groaned uncomfortably but so did his mind. He wasn’t looking forward to feasting on twigs, grass, and mushrooms but what else was he supposed to eat? Consuming human food would likely get him sick; but the thought of the other students guzzling down on unlimited amounts of shepherd’s pie and treacle tart seriously made Harry want to throw caution to the winds.

James and Sirius marveled over the private room while Harry waited in dread for his dinner to arrive. He didn’t have to wait long. There was a loud CRACK in the air. Harry looked up to find Kreacher setting a tray down on the table.

James gaped at the elf. He turned to Sirius. “Is that?”

Sirius’s face glowered with hatred. “It is.”

“But… he looks so different,” said James with surprise.

The elf was dressed in a clean little toga with a small hat on his head. His ear hair was fluffy and healthy and his expression held a respect that Sirius had never seen before. He almost wondered if this elf was a distant relative to Kreacher but what other elf possessed that amount of ear hair? Sirius was beside himself. This was definitely Kreacher but something had transformed his attitude.

“I can’t believe it’s him but what is he doing here?” James wondered.

“Harry inherited him along with Grimmauld Place from my will,” Sirius explained.

Both of them looked at Harry. He was studying the food the elf had brought. Both of them finally realized what the plate contained. Harry’s dismay heightened as he glanced at the plate; mushrooms, grasses, and twigs. He wanted to cry out in despair but he held in the emotion and stood up.

“Thanks, Kreacher.”

Kreacher jumped a little as he eyed the stag before him. “Master Harry?” he asked uncertainly.

Harry sighed. “I guess nobody told you what happened, did they?”

Kreacher shook his head. “Kreacher wondered why Professor Dumbledore requested him to serve Master Harry twigs and raw veggies. May Kreacher ask what happened?”

The elf’s curiosity was sincere. So sincere, in fact, that Sirius’ mouth dropped open. “Kreacher’s being compassionate? What in Merlin’s beard smacked him on the head that hard?”

Kreacher’s eyes turned immediately towards the voice and his whole body leapt off the floor. “Master Sirius!” the elf exclaimed in shock and terror. His form trembled uncontrollably and his eyes were bulging from their sockets. “And Master James Potter! It is not possible!”

The elf looked about to faint. Harry smacked one of his hooves on the ground. “Kreacher, first off calm down.”

The elf took a few deep breaths. “But, Master Harry,” he stuttered, pointing at the sofa, “there is dead peoples in this room, sir!”

Sirius and James looked highly amused and had a wicked glint in their eyes, as if they were already planning ways to torture the elf further. Seeing this, Harry shook his head. “Oh no you don’t!”

Sirius was still grinning. “Oh, come on, Harry! It would be so much fun!”

“No.”

James sighed. “Why not?”

“Because Kreacher is already extremely old and I don’t want either of your pranks to be the death of him,” said Harry firmly. “Now, Kreacher, you can see them?”

Kreacher nodded while continuing to eye James and Sirius like they were a horrible omen. “Very much, Master Harry, sir.”

Harry looked at his father. “Can you explain why he can see you two?”

James shrugged. “I can only guess.”

“Go on then,” Harry invited.

“Well, I think the rules with the Gate Frame only applied to humans,” said James. “We were specifically told that only you and those witches, wizards, or muggles who gain approval from the Higher Ups would be able to see us. Since Kreacher can see us I can only assume that he falls into a category other than humans.”

“So do you think that other creatures, like giants or hippogriffs or mermaids or some other beast, would fall into that category too?”

Sirius was about to answer when a small golden light erupted in front of him. After it dimmed, a card appeared, fluttering into his lap. Sirius picked it up and smiled. “Looks like this is our answer,” he said, holding up the ticket.

“What does it say?” James asked.

“It states that Gate Framers – meaning us – are able to be seen by creatures that are not related to human beings (or humanoids) in any way. Humans, half – humans, or any other creature resembling a human, like a mermaid, can only see us if the Gate Keeper – meaning Harry – recommends them and his recommendation is validated by the Higher Ups. Pretty straight forward.”

“But aren’t house elves humanoid life forms?” James asked.

 Sirius scratched his chin. “You’re right.” Then he paused. “Oh, there’s something else here,” he muttered, staring intently at the paper. “Ahhh, the Higher Ups have approved of Kreacher knowing of our existence because he belongs to Harry and knows all his secrets.”

“Well, that’s great,” Harry muttered. “It makes things easier for me at least, not having to hide anything from my house elf.” He looked at Kreacher who was apparently very confused. “Kreacher?”

“Yes, Master Harry?”

“There are a few things I need to explain to you really quick. But I have to order you. I order you to not disobey in any way, shape, or form, whether it be written, spoken, or thought, what I am about to tell you. You are not to give away this information to anyone. Do you understand?”

Kreacher nodded without complaint.

“Good,” Harry breathed. “Now, pay attention.”

He then related the details of his curse without stating Sephtus’s name or mentioning the Ankh of Death. Afterword he spoke of the Gate Frame. Kreacher took everything in stride and when ordered again to never speak of these things to anyone, he once more nodded without complaint.

 Kreacher shuffled his feet. “Kreacher feels bad that master has become subject to such a terrible dark curse. Is there anything Kreacher might do to make Master Harry more comfortable?”

Harry shook his head. “No, but thanks anyway for asking. I’ll let you know if I need anything, okay?”

Kreacher bowed then turned to Sirius and James. “Kreacher still does not think Master Sirius was a good master.”

“I still don’t like you either,” said Sirius simply. “But could you tell me why you’re treating Harry with so much love when before you hated his guts and called him a blood traitor?”

Kreacher looked to Harry and said with great gusto, “Master Harry respects Kreacher, sir! He gave Kreacher a priceless treasure that required much sacrifice. And because he has done this, Kreacher will serve Master Harry until the day he dies!”

James raised an eyebrow. “What did you give him?” he asked his son.

Harry managed a smile. “It’s a long story. I’ll explain later. Kreacher, I appreciate the food. Thanks for bringing it.”

“Master is very welcome,” Kreacher replied with a steep bow.

“You can go back to the kitchen now,” Harry said kindly. “I’ll call if I need anything.”

Kreacher bowed again before disappearing with a loud crack. Harry was about to turn his attention to his dinner when he noticed his father looking at him strangely.

“What?”

“You thanked him,” his dad pointed out with surprise.

“Yeah, so?”

James raised an eyebrow. “It’s just…wizards normally don’t thank their house elves.”

Harry sighed. Having to explain this to his father was going to be difficult. He was a little nervous that he would be disapproving. But Harry wasn’t about to change his opinion – even if his dad ended up eying him with dissatisfaction.

“I guess I should explain; since I grew up with the Dursleys and was treated like a house elf myself, I don’t technically see house elves as lower creatures. To me, I see them as creatures with lives and feelings. They should be treated as such; not like pieces of property.”

Harry searched his father’s eyes, hoping that they wouldn’t be disapproving. What he found was pride. “I’m impressed, son. You’re a very unusual wizard.”

Secretly pleased with himself, Harry replied, “Funny, I’ve heard that a lot in the past.”

“I bet,” James laughed.

Realizing that his godfather had been rather quiet from his end of the couch, Harry looked over and saw a peculiar expression on Sirius’s face. His godfather’s mouth was wide open, his eyes full of total surprise.

“Sirius, you look like you want to swallow some flies,” said Harry. “What’s with the stunned look?”

Sirius shut his mouth and shook his head. “I just still can’t believe that was Kreacher. What did you do? Brainwash him? Not once did he mutter an insult at you.”

Harry managed to laugh. “I suppose I could tell you the story while I eat…this stuff.”

He looked again at the food with distaste.

“It just might taste really good, Harry,” said James. “Being a stag your taste buds should like it.”

Harry sighed. “I guess I could give it a try. It’s either that or starve all night.”

It felt really awkward eating with his mouth not to mention embarrassing because his father and Sirius were watching. He had a hard time at first picking up the twigs and grass with just his tongue but he got the hang of it after a couple of bites. Also, to Harry’s great surprise, the twigs and grass tasted exactly like the foods being served at the feast. He was also delighted to find that the mushrooms tasted like all the desserts he liked. The meal suddenly became rather enjoyable. Harry explained the tastes to his father and Sirius who both raised their eyebrows before chuckling.

“Should have known Dumbledore would change the taste for you,” mused Sirius. “You are practically his favorite student.”

James smiled. “You should be sure to thank him the next time you see him, Harry.”

Harry nodded. “I will.”

As he ate, Harry decided to tell Sirius how Kreacher’s attitude had changed. It was a slightly painful subject for Sirius who had always thought his younger brother to be an utter moron for choosing the path of a Death Eater. Finding out the truth about his last act of courage made Sirius rather uncomfortable.

“I’ve always hated him for becoming a Death Eater,” he muttered after Harry finished his story. “I never would have thought he would betray Voldemort.”

“Me neither,” said James, who was equally astounded by Regulus’s actions. “From all the times I came across Regulus he was always passionate about the Dark Arts. I never would have thought he’d do something to contradict them. This is huge.”

“So he repented and died in that cave,” muttered Sirius. He looked a little sad. “What an idiot.”

James put his hand on Sirius’s shoulder. “Maybe you can find him when we go home and you two can talk things out.”

Sirius nodded silently. Harry perceived that this was going to be a very rough conversation. He felt bad for Sirius. From what Harry understood, the brothers had been close in childhood but had drifted apart after Sirius was sorted into Gryffindor. Harry realized from Sirius’s reaction to Regulus’s death that his godfather had loved his brother despite the choices he had made. Discovering Regulus’s betrayal to Voldemort had obviously impressed Sirius. The two were going to have a lot to talk about when they saw each other.

Harry yawned widely. His meal had completely satisfied his hunger and now all he wanted was to sleep. James noticed the yawn and immediately ordered Harry to go to bed. Harry should have protested but he secretly enjoyed his father ordering him to go to sleep. He supposed it was because he’d never had a father to order him to do such things. Whatever the case, Harry made his way into his room without complaint and settled comfortably on the bed.

James came in to put a blanket over him while Sirius leaned against the doorframe, watching silently.

Harry was half asleep when James rubbed his head. “Good night, Harry,” he muttered. “We’ll come back tomorrow when you call. Sleep well.”

The two men left the room, closing the door behind them. Harry nestled his head closer to his side and fell asleep.

Sunlight kissed Harry’s face, waking him as the warmth seeped to his bones. His glasses were no longer on his face and when he located them, they weren’t in one piece either. Harry cursed. They’d probably fallen off shortly after he’d transformed and he’d rolled on them in his sleep. Locating his wand, Harry tapped the framework and the two halves snapped back together. There had to be an unbreakable charm he could use to make sure this didn’t happen again. Harry made a mental note to ask Hermione about it.

He looked at a clock on the wall. It was 7:30. Classes would start in half an hour. Harry groaned as he turned over and rolled out of bed. Even if this only left him with fifteen minutes to eat breakfast, Harry had to take a shower.

The warmth of the water made Harry feel like he was soaking in rays from the sun. His only regret was that he couldn’t stay under the warmth for as long as he wanted. After getting out, Harry found his things had been unpacked from his trunk and were now in the closet. Suspecting it was Kreacher, Harry made a mental note to thank him later. After pulling on his uniform, Harry grabbed his school bag and slipping the Gate Frame (now on a small chain) over his neck and under his robes. After making sure he had everything, Harry made his way down to breakfast.

Despite the fact that classes were about to start in fifteen minutes, the Great Hall was packed with people hastily shoving breakfast food into their mouths. Apparently Harry wasn’t the only one who had slightly slept in. Ron and Hermione were sitting further down the Gryffindor table together. The instant Harry appeared they waved at him frantically. Harry made his way over to them but was stopped by a bunch of red hair enveloping him in a hug.

“You’re a little late you know,” said Ginny after kissing him gently.

Harry grinned. “Good morning to you too. You look like you’re in a hurry. What’s the rush?”

“We’ve got potions class in fifteen minutes and I forgot my stuff upstairs,” she explained.

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“No. You need to eat breakfast. I’ll meet you down there.”

“Are you sure?”

Ginny gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “I’ll be fine. Just get going. Ron’s waiting for you anyway.”

Harry watched her disappear up the marble staircase before heading over to Ron and Hermione and collapsing next to them. He immediately pulled eggs and bacon towards him and loaded down his plate.

“Where’d you sleep last night?” Ron asked as he watched Harry shovel down large mouthfuls. “In the forest?”

Harry shook his head. “I actually have a private room Dumbledore fixed up for me.”

“Really?” asked Hermione with interest while Ron mumbled something along the lines of “no fair”.

“Yeah, it’s located near the front doors so that I can get out onto the grounds easily,” explained Harry. He was halfway done with his food by now.

“Can you show it to us?” Ron asked. “Or is it someplace that only you can enter?”

“I think you two can get in just fine. McGonagall did.”

“I had wondered why she disappeared during the feast,” said Hermione. “I guess she was showing you around?”

Harry nodded.

“Oh, here’s your schedule Harry,” said Ron, handing him the piece of paper. “We’ve got potions first, then Defense Against the Dark Arts, then a free period, and then lunch. You can show us the room during our free hour.”

Harry consulted his schedule while saying, “That’s fine with me. Wonder what Professor Merrylow’s lessons are going to be like. We really haven’t had a great teacher since Lupin.”

“I don’t know,” countered Hermione, “Professor Snape’s classes were pretty good.”

Harry had to agree with her after thinking back on his deceased professor’s lessons. Ron still complained that Snape’s compassion for the subject had been a little creepy but admitted that they had been educational.

“Whatever the case, we shouldn’t judge until we sit through it,” said Hermione. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”

The three of them made their way out of the Great Hall down to potions class. Harry wondered what Slughorn was going to say about his potions now that he didn’t have Snape’s book; it had been destroyed along with everything else in that Fiendfyre during the Last Battle.

There were only a handful of students in the class. Ginny was already seated at an empty table, a couple of Ravenclaws were sitting with the only Hufflepuff in the class, Ernie McMillan, and Draco Malfoy sat in the back looking slightly annoyed with Alexandria Write sitting leisurely beside him. The Egyptian waved cheerfully when she noticed Harry.

Harry returned the gesture before sitting down next to Ginny. “What house did Alexandria end up in?”

Ginny looked over her shoulder and smiled. “She’s in Gryffindor. The hat took forever before making a decision.”

“I’ll say,” said Ron. “She sat on that stool for ten minutes! And they still had half the first years to sort! I nearly died of starvation!”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You’re over exaggerating, Ron. If I recall, you were saying that you were so worried about Harry that you didn’t really want to eat.”

Ron tried to look nonplused but failed. “I didn’t say that.”

Ginny snorted. “Sure you didn’t, Ron.”

Harry grinned. “That was really nice of you.”

“Shut up, Harry,” Ron grumbled.

“If she’s in Gryffindor, why is she sitting with Malfoy?” Harry wondered aloud.

Hermione shrugged just as Slughorn sauntered into the room, cutting off their conversation.

“Alright, settle down everyone,” he said. “We’ve got quite the lesson ahead of us today. I want all of you to turn to page 43 and begin gathering ingredients while I share what delectable concoction we will be making today.”

Harry’s nose wrinkled as he looked at page 43. “Skele-Gro? Seriously?”

Harry had terrible memories of having to drink this potion to regrow all the bones in his right arm after his idiot professor, Professor Lockhart, caused them to disappear after a Quidditch game in his second year.

Hermione looked enthused. “This potion is really good to know, Harry! Oh, this is going to be exciting!”

Ron looked like someone had died. “Remind me again why we’re taking this class?”

“So we can become aurors,” said Harry heavily. “This isn’t going to be fun. Come on.”

The four of them got up and joined the others at the supply closet while Slughorn went into great detail about all the times Skele-Gro had saved people from serious injury. The potion’s ingredients were surprisingly simple but the process of counterclockwise stirs versus clockwise stirs along with certain ways to swirl the potion were hard to follow.

It was no surprise by the end of the lesson that Hermione’s potion was the only one that looked the way it should. Harry’s resembled pond spawn while Ron’s looked like melted tar. Ginny had accidently done the potion on the opposite page without meaning to. Even though it looked like it should, Slughorn gave her a lower score since it was a different potion than the one they were supposed to make.

“Well, that was a disaster,” muttered Harry after catching up with the others as they headed out of the dungeons. He had to stay behind to explain to Slughorn why he had failed so badly with his potion. “I just had to tell him that I accidently messed up the counterclockwise stirs and he believed me. He’s going to realize sooner or later that I’m not a great potioneer.”

Hermione tried not to look too smug as she replied, “You should have realized this would happen, Harry.”

Harry scowled. “I’ve been a little preoccupied with other things, Hermione.”

Ginny rubbed his back. “You should tell him the truth, Harry. It’ll make things easier.”

Harry sighed. “I guess I’m going to have to. It’s the only way to stop him from trying to praise me all the time.”

The four of them made their way to Defense Against the Dark Arts. There were a lot of kids that Harry knew by face but not name as they joined the other Gryffindors waiting outside the classroom; most of them had been in the year under Harry, Ron, and Hermione before they went hunting for the horcruxes. At the sight of Harry, many of them tried to get his attention, smiling or waving while others looked to him with awe. It was the same way in the halls. Harry had already had several students come up and ask him if he could describe his duel with Voldemort again even though they had been there to see it for themselves. Harry, not wanting to be late for classes, brushed them off.

Professor Merrylow opened her door, issuing them all inside. Her hair was still the same: pink, green, and blue with long braids mingling in with her loose curls. She wore bright green robes today with large blue boots and dangling pink beads. She smiled at them brightly after they were all seated.

“Welcome to Defense Against the Dark Arts,” she said pleasantly. “My name is Professor Merrylow. Since I hardly know any of you, I thought we’d do a fun activity today.”

Some of the students became apprehensive. The last time they’d had a “fun” class for their first lesson, it involved Professor Lockhart. Needless to say, none of them wanted another Cornish Pixy incident. Professor Merrylow came around to the front of her desk and sat on it, pulling out her wand. Crossing her legs comfortably, she fiddled with her wand in her hands.

“First, can anyone tell me what the flagrate spell can do?”

Hermione’s hand shot into the air.

“Yes, Hermione?”

“With this spell, the castor’s wand can leave fiery marks,” she answered.

“Correct,” said Professor Merrylow. “Take ten points for Gryffindor. Now, the flagrate spell is a rather simple one. I assume everyone here can do it.” She looked around the room. Everyone nodded. “Okay, good. Alright, I want everyone to think of their favorite animal.”

Although this was a strange request, Harry did as he was told. A stag was the first animal that came to mind. Deciding to go with that, Harry looked around and noticed everyone else appeared to have settled on an animal too.

Professor Merrylow tucked a braid behind her ear before standing up. “Alright, now for the fun to begin! All of you are basically going to use the flagrate spell to write out facts about you and then you’re going to shape these facts into your favorite animal. When you’re done with that, you’re going to shrink your animal down, place it in one of these boxes at the end of class” – she waved her wand and a bunch of boxes with lids appeared – “and place them on my desk. The one to come up with the best animal form will receive a prize of Honeyduke’s Chocolate.”

Immediately there were small comments about how interesting as well as fun this task was going to be. Harry thought it an appealing idea. Already he was wondering what sentences could be used for his stag’s antlers and which ones could be used for the legs.

Professor Merrylow cleared her throat to get their attention again. Her brown eyes glittered. “Before you all get started, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Elle Merrylow, my best friend in school was Nymphadora Tonks Lupin, my favorite colors are pink, green, and blue, my hair is naturally curly and completely uncontrollable,” – the students laughed at this comment – “I was sorted into Gryffindor house in 1984 and graduated from Hogwarts in 1991, I was trained under the watchful eye of Alastor Moody and became an auror in 1994. I’m unmarried for now, I love to be eccentric and outgoing, and I plan to remain the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for as long as I’m breathing.”

With each fact she spoke she flicked her wand and the words appeared. They bent and twisted until they became the unmistakable form of a badger. The class applauded as she not only made the badger scratch its ear but run fully around the room before disappearing in a puff of orange smoke.

“Now it’s your turn,” she said enthusiastically. “You have my permission to talk the entire period under these two conditions: one, you’re having fun and two, you’re completing the assignment.”

The students immediately set to work. Professor Merrylow had made the spell look easy but the truth was that it was rather difficult. Harry became slightly frustrated when he moved on to his next sentence only to find the first one had disappeared. He looked around to find the others were suffering from the same problem. Ron’s face was turning purple as he tried to keep his concentration so his first sentence wouldn’t vanish in a whiff of orange vapor.

Harry tried to do the same. He focused all his energy into multiplying his thoughts. It took several tries but he finally managed to create several sentences in the air. Now he had to shape them. Waving his wand slowly, Harry molded and shaped each sentence into a different part of a stag. He used one sentence each for the legs, five for the body, one for the spine and tail, three for the neck, two for the head (curling on the ends for the ears), and two sentences each for the antlers.

Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead as he kept his concentration on keeping the animal’s shape and the sentences from disappearing. He used Descendo to shrink the size of the stag so that it rested in his palm. Carrying it up to the front, Harry placed it in the box and sealed the lid over the top. Only after he had sealed the lid did Harry’s mind relax. His brain felt like a wrung sponge.

Professor Merrylow came over to him and smiled. “Great job, Harry! You’re the second to complete the task. Hermione was the first though she looked less weary than you.”

Harry wiped his forehead. “I didn’t think it would be that difficult.”

Professor Merrylow laughed. “I guess you can say this is how I test out the strength of my students. What did you think, Harry? Good way to see how well people can concentrate on their spell work, huh?”

Harry looked at her, impressed. “Is this something Moody taught you?”

Professor Merrylow smiled, leaning against her desk. “Yeah. Tonks and I were the last aurors he ever trained and he wanted to make sure we were experts at concentration. It really hurts your brain, doesn’t it?”

Harry rubbed his temple and nodded. “I won’t be surprised if all your students today complain to Madam Pomfrey about headaches.”

Professor Merrylow held up a basket full of chocolate. “That’s what the chocolate’s for. You know it makes you feel better, right?”

Once again Harry was impressed. “Remus taught me that when he was the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor in my third year.”

Professor Merrylow suddenly grew rather sad. “I wish I could have gotten to know him better,” she sighed. “I was there at their wedding, you know. I’ve never seen Tonks so happy. It was really hard when I saw them…lying in the Great Hall…” Her voice quivered and died.

“You were there?” Harry asked in a subdued tone.

She nodded. “I joined the Order of the Phoenix a few months after Dumbledore died. Well, after he fell into a coma. I nearly died myself when I saw him walk into the staff room over the summer. He scared the entire staff out of their wits! That man!”

Harry laughed. “I had a similar experience when I met him again.”

Professor Merrylow helped a couple students get their animals into boxes before turning back to Harry. “I’d like it if you didn’t tell everyone the motive behind this lesson Harry. I want them to master concentration before I reveal anything to them.”

Harry grinned. “Does this mean we’re going to have to do mental concentration exercises every lesson?”

Professor Merrylow shuddered. “Good heavens, no! Your brains would resemble fried eggs if I were that vigorous! No, I’m going to spread these kinds of exercises throughout the year. But one thing I promise is that by the time your N.E.W.T.s come along, you’ll have no problems keeping a spell consistent.”

“I’m looking forward to it then,” said Harry. “And don’t worry; I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

Professor Merrylow beamed at him. Harry made his way back to his seat just as Ginny finished shrinking down a miniature horse. Ron had managed to make his look like a dog but was having problems reducing its size. Hermione wanted to help but she realized that Ron would be insulted if she did. After waiting patiently for a few minutes, Ron was successful. Looking immensely proud of himself, he went up to the front and dropped the dog into a box before turning it in.

“My brain hurts,” Ginny complained, resting her head on Harry’s shoulder. “I never thought it would be that difficult to manipulate sentences.”

Harry took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “If it helps, my brain feels like a wrung out sponge too.”

Ginny managed a smile. “Glad to know we’re in the same boat.”

Hermione rubbed her temples. “I guess my brain feels a little funny. I didn’t find the spell work that hard. I wonder why I’m suffering like everyone else.”

Ron sat down next to her just in time to hear her question. “That’s because you’ve been hanging around with me too much, Hermione.”

Hermione scoffed. “You’re not stupid, Ron.”

“I didn’t say I was,” Ron replied while grinning.

Hermione pursed her lips. “Stop trying to make me inflate your ego.”

“What’s wrong with wanting to have your fiancée praise you?” Ron asked innocently.

Hermione groaned, mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like “men”. She pulled out a book and buried her nose in its pages while waiting for the bell to ring.

Professor Merrylow passed around chocolate, saying she was impressed with everyone’s animal so they all won the prize. Harry’s brain stopped throbbing right after his chocolate was consumed. He prayed that Professor Merrylow’s future concentration exercises would be easier than this one.

Harry fiddled with Ginny’s hair for the last ten minutes of class. He enjoyed feeling her shiver next to him every time he ran his fingers through her red locks. By the time the ten minutes were up and the bell had rung, Harry wanted to steal Ginny away to some private place so they could heavily snog. But he’d promised to show Ron and Hermione his private room. Disappointed at having to wait to be alone with his fiancée, Harry led his friends down the marble staircase into the entrance hall. They had to wait until the hall was devoid of life before slipping behind the tapestry near the front doors.

Harry stopped in front of the Gryffindor lion and touched its tail.

“Password?”

“Quaffles are not waffles,” Harry replied.

Ron snorted with laughter as the door swung open. “What kind of password is that?”

 “Dumbledore’s idea,” said Harry, already feeling ridiculous at having to say the password out loud.

Ron continued to laugh as they entered the room. Only after Hermione slapped his arm did he get control over his incessant snickers.

“Wow, Harry!” Ginny exclaimed as she looked around the room. “This place is great!” She slumped onto one of the sofas and sighed comfortably. “I could definitely get used to this.”

Ron and Hermione sat down on the opposite couch.

“Ginny’s right,” sighed Ron, “this place is awesome. I can’t believe Dumbledore made all this just for you.”

“Did you think he’d have Harry sleeping out in the forest?” asked Hermione.

“No but I didn’t think he’d give him his own private chamber!” said Ron defensively.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “The place is really nice, Harry.”

Harry sat down next to Ginny and put his arm around her. “I like it but I’d prefer to be in Gryffindor tower with everybody else.”

“Speaking of which,” said Ron, “all the guys last night kept asking where you were.”

“And it’s not just the boys,” added Ginny. “Everyone in Gryffindor tower seemed to be looking for you. I didn’t know what to say so I just rushed up the stairs to my dormitory and refused to give the other girls details.”

Harry scratched his head. “It looks like I need to have a good excuse as to why I’m not up there or going to dinner. Anybody got any ideas?”

Everyone turned to look at Hermione. She looked slightly amused. “Why are you all looking at me?”

“Because you’re the one who always has the best ideas,” said Ron.

Hermione eyed him with a raised eyebrow. “Oh, really?”

“Come on, Hermione,” urged Harry, “We know you have to have thought of something.”

Hermione shook her head, sighing. “It’s a good thing I look out for you, Harry, or everyone and their dog would know your secret already. Yes, I confess, I do have an idea.”

“And?” Ginny prompted.

“Well, I thought we should go with this angle: since Harry doesn’t want to be bothered about what happened with Voldemort, he’s found a secret place to stay during the evening after lessons.”

Ron scoffed. “People aren’t going to buy that!”

“And you have a better idea?” Hermione huffed, turning on him.

Ron looked away. “Not really,” he muttered.

Hermione sniffed. “I thought not.”

“If we tell people that, they’re going to try to find out where Harry’s hiding,” said Ginny. “What if they follow him and discover this place?”

Harry rubbed his eyes. “Maybe we shouldn’t say that I have a private place.”

“Then how can we explain your absence in Gryffindor tower?” asked Hermione.

“Why can’t you live up there anyway?” Ron asked.

Hermione turned to him, exasperated. “Ron, Harry transforms at sunset. If everyone sees a stag sitting and sleeping where Harry should be, they’ll put two and two together. Not to mention it would be a nightmare for Harry to have to climb all those stairs! That’s why Dumbledore put this private chamber at ground level.”

“Oh,” Ron muttered, looking embarrassed, “I knew that.”

“Of course you did,” Ginny snickered.

“All this is great but it still doesn’t answer what we’re going to tell everyone else,” said Harry, bringing everyone back to their predicament.

Hermione fidgeted slightly. “Well, I kind of already told people that you have a private place, Harry.”

“What?” Harry cried.

“I thought they would buy it,” said Hermione.

“And did they?” Ron demanded.

Hermione looked defensive. “Most of them have, for your information, Ron.”

“Most of them?” said Ginny.

“Well, of course the Slytherins aren’t going to be satisfied with that kind of answer,” Hermione answered.

“You told the Slytherins?” shouted Ron angrily. “What’s wrong with you?”

Hermione looked annoyed. “They overheard me telling Ernie MacMillan,” she snapped. “I can’t control what other people hear, Ron.”

“Yes you can,” Ron retorted. “Just use Muffliato.”

“I’m not going to cast Muffliato every time I want to have a conversation with someone,” argued Hermione.

“I didn’t say every conversation,” said Ron. “Only the ones that have to deal with Harry.”

Harry rolled his eyes while Hermione and Ron continued to bicker back and forth. This arguing lasted five minutes straight before Ginny put her foot down.

“Will you two shut up?” she snapped angrily. Her resemblance to Mrs. Weasley was uncanny as she scrutinized Ron and Hermione on the couch. “Hermione’s ploy seems to be working so far. It’s only the first day of school for heaven’s sake! Let’s just see how it goes. If people continue to ask questions then we’ll come up with something else. Now stop fighting; you’re giving both Harry and I headaches.”

Fuming, Ginny slammed back into the couch and closed her eyes, leaning against Harry for support. Her angry outburst had done its job; Ron and Hermione didn’t say another word but it was obvious they were completely angry with each other. Harry sighed. The last thing he needed was for his two best friends (who were engaged) to be having a row. Trying to lighten the mood, Harry changed the topic to Quidditch. Hermione didn’t seem too happy about the subject but decided to be civilized and engaged in the conversation the same as Ron and Ginny. Ron asked Harry when he was going to be holding tryouts for the year.

Harry shrugged. “I’m honestly in shock that I’m still the captain.”

“Well, Quidditch last year didn’t really happen,” said Ginny, “due to the fact that Voldemort wanted us drilled in the dark arts. Nobody really felt in the mood to play.”

“That’s depressing,” said Harry. “Hogwarts without Quidditch? What a nightmare!”

Hermione tried very hard not to roll her eyes. “I’m sure it was different.”

“Putting last year aside,” said Ron, “you’re still captain so when are tryouts?”

Harry tapped his chin. “Well, we can’t have it in the afternoon because that could conflict with my personal problem. I was thinking a Saturday morning.”

“That would be a good time,” said Ginny, resting her head on Harry’s shoulder. “Do you have a Saturday in mind?”

“I was thinking two weeks from this Saturday,” said Harry, “just so students who want to tryout have enough time to sign up.”

“Let’s hope we have a good team this year,” muttered Ron. “I want to knock the Slytherins off their brooms.”

“Very mature, Ron,” said Hermione.

The four of them left Harry’s chamber a few minutes later to go to lunch and then Transfiguration. As usual, Professor McGonagall’s class turned out to be extremely difficult. She put them to work trying to transfigure their desks into pigs. At the end of class Hermione was the only one to have successfully completed the task. Harry’s desk was pink and managed to snort. Everyone was told to practice and then given a homework assignment to write a three page essay about the benefits and detriments of transfiguring household items.

Professor McGonagall didn’t say that Harry was excused from the homework but the look she gave him as he left with the rest of the class told him he didn’t have to do the assignment. He felt slightly guilty as Ron complained all the way up to Gryffindor tower about having to do essays for both Slughorn and McGonagall, both due before the end of the week.

“Be grateful that Professor Merrylow didn’t assign us anything,” said Hermione as they entered Gryffindor tower.

The second Harry stepped inside, the occupants of the common room noticed him. Several shouted his name, others waved enthusiastically, and a couple first years were brave enough to ask him for his autograph, their eyes filled with silent awe. Harry made up the excuse that his quill was broken to sidestep the first years and made a beeline for the chairs near the fireplace. Ginny was right on his heels.

Harry collapsed into one of the armchairs and Ginny sat down in his lap. They’d been sitting like this for three minutes and then the chairs around them were occupied with people, all demanding Harry’s attention. They asked him questions about the Last Battle, how his summer had been, if he’d been promised a job at the Ministry as an auror, if he’d killed any of the Death Eaters still on the run; they wouldn’t leave him alone. Harry tried to answer their questions with simple answers but they didn’t seem satisfied. Ginny, feeling his strain and tension, stood up.

“I think I need some air. Coming, Harry?”

Harry immediately accepted her offer. Ignoring the groans from his captive audience, Harry allowed Ginny to steer him out of the common room. Harry managed to catch Ron and Hermione in a corner, both so immersed in each other’s embrace that Harry was sure they wouldn’t realize him and Ginny were gone. He supposed that they were so engrossed in their snogging session they hadn’t noticed he was being eaten alive. But he wasn’t bothered by this; the two of them needed time alone just like he and Ginny did.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief as the portrait door closed. Ginny let out an exasperated chuckle.

“Well, that was intense,” she said.

Harry shook his head. “I think people will believe Hermione’s story now. If I have to deal with that every time I visit the tower, I’m definitely going to spend a lot more time at my own place.”

The two of them shared a laugh before walking hand and hand down the hallway. Harry became increasingly aware of Ginny; her hair swished back and forth every time she moved, her fingers squeezing his every so often, and her lips were pulled up in a smile. Harry couldn’t stand it much longer; he found the nearest broom closet and pulled her into it.

Before she could protest about the cramped space, Harry found her lips and kissed her. Ginny’s eyes closed as she snaked her hands up Harry’s chest to settle behind his neck. Harry’s left hand rested on her hip while his other wound itself to the back of her hair. He pulled her closer to him, longing to close the small gap between them. Ginny’s hands moved from Harry’s neck into his untidy hair. Harry’s left hand trailed from her hip up to the small of her back.

Ginny broke away to breathe a little but Harry continued to kiss her. He made a small trail down to her chin, across her jaw line, and over to her ear. Ginny shivered with pleasure and she came back to snog him again. The two of them kept this up for a good ten minutes before Ginny put her hands on Harry’s shoulders and pushed him away.

Harry grinned. “Too much?”

Ginny’s brown eyes rose to the ceiling but she was grinning. “A broom closet, Mr. Potter? Seriously?”

Harry shrugged. “You didn’t seem to mind so much about the location.”

Ginny’s eyes stirred with excitement. “No, I suppose I didn’t. But we should get going. You don’t have much time left.”

Harry sighed, looking at his watch. She was right. He had two hours before sunset. “Maybe we can go visit Hagrid?”

Ginny bit her lip. “I really want to, Harry, but I need to get started on those essays.”

“Oh, right,” Harry said, disappointed. “You could work on them at my place.”

He looked at her, hopeful.

Ginny narrowed her eyes. “Can you promise me that you’ll leave me alone so I can work on them?”

Harry grinned. “I promise to behave as long as I can kiss you a little bit before sunset.”

“You just did,” said Ginny.

Harry started to deflate.

“But I suppose I have some time for a little more snogging,” she said, grinning. “As long as it doesn’t take place in a broom closet.”

Harry grinned. “Deal. But you have to admit, you enjoyed this.”

Ginny looked like she wanted to argue but then she sighed. “Okay, broom closet every once in a while. But don’t make it a habit!”

Smiling devilishly, Harry took Ginny’s hand. Checking that the coast was clear, the two left the broom closet and made their way back to Gryffindor Tower so Ginny could get her school bag. Harry waited outside so as to avoid any potential mob. Ginny came back a couple minutes later and took Harry’s hand again, leading him down to his private room and hopefully a little more snogging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 


Chapter 10: Let's Play Tag in the Forbidden Forest
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny didn’t get a chance to visit Hagrid until two weeks after the start of term. They had just finished with the Quidditch tryouts which took up the entire morning and early afternoon and Harry couldn’t be happier to leave the pitch. Practically the entire school (minus the Slytherins) had shown up to watch Gryffindor candidates fly around the Quidditch field. Harry had to borrow Madam Hooch’s magical megaphone just so people could hear him.

Halfway through the horrific tryout experience, Harry had the pleasure to be bombarded by Daily Prophet reporters who had snuck onto the Hogwarts grounds. They shouted questions at him in between his instructions to the chasers and followed him around the field as he observed the groups flying overhead. Harry did his best to ignore them and focus on finding a team.

 After shouting himself hoarse and extricating a ton of stress, Harry had successfully disregarded the reporters and found himself a compatible squadron. Harry was pretty satisfied with his choices. Ginny Weasley and Damelza Robins were returning to the team as chasers and the new chaser was Alexandria Write who worked with Damelza and Ginny very well. Jonathan Forks and David Vinar were a couple of new finds. Both of them knocked the bludgers around like they were bouncy balls. Harry was very pleased when Ron beat out all the competition for the keeper position and was rather thankful that he didn’t appear to be as sick or apprehensive as he had the first time he’d tried out two years ago.

After assuring the team that practices would start next week, Harry left the field, eager to escape the reporters mingling near the stands. They tried to follow but Hermione surprised everyone with a couple of decoy detonators from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. She tossed them into the middle of the reporters, temporarily blinding them, and allowing the perfect escape.

Harry kept glancing over his shoulder as he, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione ran down to Hagrid’s. The detonators may be useful but they weren’t permanent. Luckily they came into the sight of the hut two minutes later and Hagrid was mercifully sitting outside, carving a large piece of wood.

He looked up and beamed at the sight of them. “I’d wondered when ya’d come ter see me.”

Harry plowed passed Hagrid, ripped his door open, and ran inside. Hagrid blinked several times.

“Wha’s up with Harry?”

“Reporters,” Ginny simply answered as she, Ron, and Hermione went inside after him.

Hagrid’s face darkened as he turned to scan the grounds. “Lousy, no-good, lollygaggers,” he growled, “If I see ‘em, I’ll give ‘em what fer!” He shook his fist threateningly before slamming the door shut.

Hagrid set to work making tea while asking them how their schooling was coming along as well as if Harry was getting used to the curse.

“The pain’s always there,” Harry answered after taking a sip of his tea, “but I’m used to it now.”

“Haven’ seen ya runnin’ ‘round the grounds yet,” Hagrid observed, taking a seat at the large table.

Harry shrugged. “I haven’t had time really to do that but I’m thinking that tonight I’d give it a go, seeing as sunset is going to happen in two hours.”

Everyone looked out the window. Indeed the sun was nearing the horizon, seemingly eager to disappear.

“How are your classes coming, Hagrid?” Hermione asked to change the subject.

Hagrid’s beetle black eyes brightened. “They’re comin’ ‘long great! I’ve been savin’ up ter get some pretty exotic animals from aroun’ the country. Wanna see what I managed ter buy?”

Harry and Ron shared a worried look. Though they were friends with the half-giant, Hagrid was known for his love of dangerous creatures. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, they both agreed to go and see what monstrosities he’d found for this year. Ginny and Hermione shared the same lack of enthusiasm but masked it with false smiles and nods of agreeing to tag along.

Hagrid beamed happily before leading them out into the backyard. His pumpkin patch was already flourishing, each pumpkin now equivalent to normal size but sure to be five times that big by the time October rolled around. Hagrid led them around the patch to the edge of the forest where two large crates rested between two trees. The crates were large enough to fit a fully grown lion and shook violently, the beasts within obviously reacting from the sound of approaching footsteps.

“They’re only babies righ’ now,” said Hagrid. “Dumbledore gave me permission ter raise ‘em. He said they’d come in handy for defendin’ the castle if we’re ever under attack again.”

Hermione gasped as she looked into one of the crates. “Oh my gosh! Hagrid, where on earth did you get them?”

“From Greece, where else?” said Hagrid. “Aren’ they gorgeous?”

Harry took a turn to peek in between a few boards. His eyes widened. Inside the crate was a baby lion. But it wasn’t a normal lion cub; it had three heads: one a goat, one a lion, and the last, a dragon. Leathery wings were folded against its lion body and the tail changed from golden fur to deep green scales ending with the head of a lethal, venomous snake. The creature yawned through the lion’s mouth and a small burst of fire escaped from its jaws.

Harry backed away. “What is that, Hagrid?” he asked.

“Chimera,” said Hagrid. He opened the top of the crates to dump in a couple bucketfuls of raw meat. The contents could be heard being devoured from within.

Ron and Ginny peered into both crates and held the same silent opinion as Harry; these creatures were dangerous but something about them did seem to be really cool.

“Are you having the students raise them?” asked Ginny.

“Right now I’m just havin’ ‘em observe ‘em, ya know, lettin’ ‘em draw pictures and such. I think when they get ter be a little bit bigger, I’ll let the kids have a crack at ‘em. I got these two over the summer, just after they were born. They should be full adults by the end of the year. Wha’ da ya think?”

“They’re – erm – lovely, Hagrid,” said Hermione. “But I do have one question.”

“Fire away,” said Hagrid cheerfully.

“They’re in wooden crates but they breathe fire,” Hermione pointed out. “Surely you don’t think that’s safe?”

Hagrid smiled. “Dumbledore’s put a special spell on the crates so they’re extra fireproof. I don’t wanna move ‘em to a new environment until they develop their claws. Besides, they seem pretty comfortable where they’re at.”

One of the chimeras roared and a blast of hot air crashed against the back of Harry’s neck. Rubbing the burned spot, Harry moved closer to Ginny. “I’m sure that if anyone can tame them, you can Hagrid.”

“Thanks, Harry,” said Hagrid happily.

After taking one last look at the exotic creatures, Hagrid led them back to his hut where they spent the remainder of their time talking about Harry’s new Quidditch team. Ten minutes before the sun set, the four Gryffindors left Hagrid’s and began to make their way up to the castle. Harry stopped halfway, said goodbye to everyone, and made his way over to the Forbidden Forest. Hiding behind a large tree trunk, he pulled the Gate Frame from under his robes.

“Sirius, James, and Remus,” he said.

It glowed brightly against his chest just as the last ray of the sun disappeared. Harry dropped onto all fours, his arms extending, his hands and feet transforming, sinking into the slightly damp earth. The fiery pain died away and Harry shook his head, fully a stag. Blinking slightly, he looked around and found his dad, Sirius, and Remus sitting on large roots of a particularly large, heavily knarred tree.

James grinned. “Nice to see you, son.”

Harry shook his head again to get rid of a couple flies that were hanging around his face. “Good to see you too, dad.”

Sirius looked around and whistled. “Being here brings back a ton of memories. Remember that one time we stumbled upon the Acromantulas?”

Remus shivered. “Don’t remind me…that was terrible.”

James let out a loud burst of laughter. “I can’t believe you almost ate one of them, Moony!”

Harry tasted bile. “You what?”

Remus rolled his eyes. “They attacked us and I didn’t try to eat it, James! I tried to bite it so it would stop chasing after you. If you hadn’t got your antlers caught in one of its webs I wouldn’t have tried to take the owner’s leg off in the first place.”

James clicked his tongue. “I didn’t need to be rescued, Moony. I was doing just fine on my own.”

Remus rolled his eyes. “Sure you were. And that’s why you asked Sirius and me to distract it by chewing off two of its legs so you could free yourself.”

Sirius laughed heartily while James scowled.

“Shut it, Padfoot,” James muttered.

Harry chuckled. “I can’t believe you and Remus chewed a spider’s legs off, Sirius.”

“In my defense, it didn’t taste too good,” said Sirius while grinning.

“I bet,” Harry muttered.

“So, thought you’d give the forest a try, huh, Harry?” James asked, jumping down from his tree root and brushing off his pants. “How about we join him, Padfoot?”

Sirius grinned. “You first?”

James shrugged. His whole form began to ripple like disturbed water. His arms grew longer, his hands transformed into hooves, and antlers emerged from his head as his black hair disappeared. Round markings appeared around a pair of large hazel eyes, the same shape as James’ glasses. His body grew longer and his legs stretched to be the same length as his front legs. The large white stag shook his head and straightened up before joining Harry’s side.

Sirius transformed next. His whole body exploded into a fury of black fur. He fell to his knees as his hands and feet curled into humongous paws while his face stretched and changed into that of a dog. The Grim-sized canine shook his whole body violently before sending Harry a large toothy grin. Sirius trotted over to James and snapped at his back legs playfully. James sent him a good kick in retaliation.

Harry looked over at Remus and gaped in shock. A wolf, larger than average, sat where Remus had once been, its fur chocolate brown with razor sharp claws the color as deep as ebony, sparkling white teeth visible from the closed jaw, and yellowed eyes as large and mysterious as the moon. It looked like it could break an Acromantula in half as easily as someone snapping a toothpick.

“Remus?” Harry asked.

The wolf nodded. James and Sirius turned to look at him with equal surprise. They became a little defensive, standing in front of Harry in an act of protection. Remus stepped forward and tilted his head.

Harry jumped suddenly as Remus’ voice filled the void of the forest. “It’s okay. I asked the Higher Ups and they told me that if I wanted to change into my wolf self that I’d be able to control it.”

James relaxed. “That’s a relief.”

“You can talk too?” Harry asked happily, turning to his dad.

“We couldn’t do it when we were alive but James and I also got permission to talk to you while in animal form,” Sirius explained. “Pretty cool, huh?”

Touched that the Marauders would go to such lengths for him, Harry nodded. “I’m kind of glad. I have no idea how to communicate as a deer without telepathy.”

James laughed. “It all comes naturally, Harry. The more you experience in your stag form, the easier it will be to talk to animals without physically communicating to them.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Animals have their own way of conversing to each other,” said Sirius. “It’s hard to explain in human tongue. It’s more like your senses as an animal can speak with others around you.”

“As you trust your senses, you come to understand the intensions of any animal you may come across,” added Remus.

“Could you teach me?” Harry asked.

“Sure,” said James. “It’ll help pass the time. But first we need to teach you how to run. You won’t survive long in the forest without knowing how to bolt.”

“It usually helps to learn while something dangerous is chasing you,” said Sirius with another toothy grin. “That’s how James and I learned.”

“What was chasing you?” Harry asked.

“Me,” answered Remus. “And I nearly got them too. If I didn’t have the sense to realize they were my friends, I more than likely would have mauled them both.”

“Not to mention Peter bit into one of your paws, causing a distraction,” Sirius snickered. “At least he was good for something.”

James pawed the ground. “So, Remus, do you want to do the honors?”

Remus grinned. His teeth reminded Harry of a chainsaw. Compared to Remus, Sirius’s teeth resembled that of a teddy bear’s. Even though they were already out, Remus’ claws extended even further, sinking into the forest floor. The large wolf bent low to the ground and began to snarl, his tail swinging back and forth in agitation like an animal waiting to attack.

“You’d better run like the wind,” Remus warned.

He sounded like a sadistic child about to damage his favorite toy. Harry found it terrifying to hear Remus this way, to sound completely and totally wild, untamed. The hoarse tone was gone, replaced by a voice that was full of vigor and irresponsibility.

James chuckled. “Good to see you in high spirits, Moony.”

“Well make sure he doesn’t take a chunk out of you, Harry, but you have to be sure to run,” Sirius warned.

Harry looked at his father and Sirius, alarmed. “Are you guys serious?”

They both returned looks of mischief and excitement.

“Of course, Harry,” said James. “This was how it was every month when we were in school. Don’t you feel exhilarated?”

Remus snarled, obviously impatient. “Are we going to play tag or what?”

“Better run, Harry,” Sirius warned. “He’s going to pounce.”

Harry eyed the werewolf wearily. Those yellow eyes were filled with mischievous intent. A new feeling began to stir within Harry’s breast. His heart started beating faster, blood pumping into every muscle in his body, causing him to shiver. Remus’ shoulders hunched, his jaw opened to let out a ferocious snarl. This loud noise jolted Harry’s senses and the next thing he knew, he was running.

James and Sirius howled with laughter right beside him as the werewolf let out a howl. Harry could hear Remus’ paws slamming against the earth, matching the pace of his pounding heart. Trees and bushes dotted the forest like landmines but Harry miraculously dodged them with ease. His father and Sirius didn’t always stay right beside him; there were too many trees for all three of them to fit between the gaps. When they weren’t next to them, Harry could feel and hear them; his dad’s light hooves rustling the debris of the forest floor, Sirius’ heavier paws pounding against the earth, sending small shockwaves across the dirt.

Harry could also sense Remus; the werewolf’s size and bulk sometimes would slam into a tree, causing the tall plant to groan in protest, its roots creaking from the strain. He would also release a loud snarl and howl every time he’d crash through large brambles and bushes obscuring him from his prey.     

After ten minutes of running for his life and avoiding collisions with trees and other forest nonsense, Harry’s body felt like a machine. His muscles rippled with power and force, flexing and bending with his every stride. His lungs heaved for oxygen, his body glistened with sweat, and his eyes stung slightly from the constant wind brushing against his face. But he didn’t feel exhausted. He felt invigorated. The thrill of running, leaping, and dodging heightened his senses and exhilarated his soul. The only thing he could remotely compare this to was Quidditch; except this was more lively… more… wild.

They ran through the forest for about an hour, circulating and backtracking according to James’ direction. Remus eventually switched places with Sirius. Harry slightly enjoyed Sirius’ ways of playing chase. He would bound faster and harder than all of them and lie in wait in an unsuspecting bush. Once his prey had been sighted, he would burst forth out of the brush and snap at the heels of his victim. Every time his jaws appeared near Harry’s ankles, Harry’s heart would skip a beat and a peel of adrenaline would shoot through his body like a rocket, causing his legs to pick up speed.

James and Harry each got a turn at giving chase, using their antlers to spur the others forward. It was a bunch of fun for Harry when Sirius got a taste of his antlers. His godfather had tried to pull a fast one on him by turning around and taking him head on. James and Remus laughed openly as Sirius was sideswiped into a tree trunk from Harry’s antlers smacking into the side of his body. In retaliation for his embarrassment, Sirius took over and started chasing Harry until he’d pinned him to the forest floor.

Harry was having the time of his life but sooner than he would have liked, his body began to wear down. After two hours of running, he slowed his pace. Remus, who was currently ‘it’, shot past him like a bullet, continuing to chase after James and Sirius. Harry’s lungs heaved for air, their insides feeling like they were on fire. His muscles groaned with each step he took. He hadn’t realized he was so exhausted; he’d probably been running on pure adrenaline for a good half hour. He leaned against a tree, closing his eyes and feeling the forest air permeate around him, the smell and taste of earth thick in his nose and mouth.

His ears flickered as he heard two sets of paws and one set of hooves approaching him from out of the darkness. He picked up that the sound of their footfalls changed as they continued to approach and when he looked up, heaving for oxygen, he noticed his dad, Sirius, and Remus were all back in human form, not even winded despite the fact that they’d run for two hours.

“I guess we should have taken more breaks,” James said as he observed Harry’s winded state with concern. “You okay, Harry?”

Unable to speak, Harry nodded.

“We should have remembered that. Because we’re dead, we don’t get tired,” Sirius muttered, scolding himself. “Sorry, Harry.”

“That’s…alright…” Harry gasped. “I didn’t realize I was this tired until my body ran out of steam.”

Remus chuckled. “I remember feeling the same way the first time we played tag, don’t you James?”

James nodded. “Yep. Poor Peter nearly had a heart attack.”

“I wish he had,” Sirius growled. “It would have done all of us a favor.”

Remus cleared his throat. “Yes, well, the important thing is to check up on Harry.”

“I’m fine,” Harry assured, though his lungs were still on fire. “I just need to rest.”

James knelt beside him. “Lily will have my head if I don’t make sure you’re really as fine as you say you are, Harry. Now, let me feel your pulse.”

Harry wanted to complain but he didn’t have the effort to do so. James placed his hand over Harry’s ribcage and listened carefully. Sirius and Remus stood by, waiting.

James clicked his tongue. “You’ll be okay but only if you continue to rest here.”

Sirius relaxed. Sitting down in the dirt, he pulled up a twig and began to break it into smaller pieces. “That was the best run I’ve ever had.”

Remus chuckled, sitting down beside him. “That was the easiest transformation I’ve ever gone through. No pain and I can control when I want to faze; what a great deal!”

James sighed, smiling. “Wish it could have been that way in real life. We could have come here more than once a month.”

Remus looked alarmed. “I’m just the opposite. If werewolves were allowed to control when they fazed there wouldn’t be any humans left on the planet.”

Sirius scratched his chin. “You’ve got a point there, Moony. I guess we should just enjoy the way things are now, since we’re going to be like this for eternity.”

“If that’s true, then I’m in complete paradise,” said James, putting his hands behind his head, closing his eyes, and leaning against a tree. “All that’s missing is Harry being with us twenty four seven –eventually he’ll join the other side.”

Harry cocked an eyebrow. “You sound awfully excited about the idea of me dying, dad.”

James opened on eye and grinned. “I’m only looking forward to spending all my time with you, son. But don’t go hang yourself from a tree or something tomorrow. I want you to live to a ripe old age and give me some posterity before kicking the can. We can’t have the Potter name die out like the Blacks did. That would be embarrassing.”

Sirius scowled. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

James laughed at his affronted look. “Relax, Sirius. You’ll find the love of your life someday soon.”

Harry tilted his head, curious. “You can find someone after you’re dead?”

James smiled. “Of course you can, Harry. We can’t really go into deeper details but one thing about Paradise is that everyone finds their soul mate at some point, whether in mortality or after death. How can you expect it to be Paradise without a soul mate beside you?”

Harry mused over this. “Makes sense to me. So, when finding your soul mate, is it the same as here? Like having to date and all that?”

Sirius looked forlorn. “Unfortunately, yes.”

“You don’t look too happy about that,” Harry observed.

Sirius shrugged. “I was always good with women, Harry. But staying attached…well…let’s say that’s not my area of expertise.”

James and Remus snorted.

“I’ll second that,” Remus muttered.

Sirius threw a pinecone at him. “Shut up, Moony.”

“Don’t worry, Sirius,” James consoled, “When she arrives, you won’t want to walk away.”

Sirius looked really unsettled. Harry had never seen him so insecure. Then again, he hadn’t really gotten that much of a chance to talk to Sirius about women before.

“I don’t know,” Sirius mumbled. “Everyone I’ve seen so far has ended up being completely incompatible with me.”

Remus put a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Padfoot, cheer up. I never thought I’d find love. I’m a werewolf! It was practically impossible for me and yet here I am married to your cousin. A great guy like you should have no problems finding their soul mate.”

Sirius finally managed to smile. “I guess you’re right, Moony. Although I can’t believe Tonks fell for you.”

James laughed. “Hey, age has nothing to do with it. Maybe you’ll rob the cradle too, Sirius.”

It was James turn to dodge a pinecone. “Speak for yourself, Prongs,” said Sirius. “You robbed it too.”

“Yeah, but only by a few months,” James clarified. “Besides, Lily likes the fact that I’m older than her. She feels more protected that way.”

Sirius snorted. “I think she only told you that to make you feel better.”

James narrowed his eyes. “Whatever.”

Harry yawned. His heartbeat had finally slowed and now he just wanted to rest.

Remus was the first to notice Harry’s eyes drooping. “We’d better get Harry back to the castle. We don’t want him staying out here all night.”

James looked over at his half-awake son. “Come on, Harry. Let’s go.”

Harry shook his head to wake up his brain and stood on his feet. Thankfully they had stopped the chase close to where they’d started it. The black lake rippled slightly in a faint breeze, the night filled with the hoots of owls and the rustlings of forest life, and most of the windows in the castle were dark. Harry trudged up to the school with the Marauders close beside him, ready to steady him if he lost his footing. After mastering the art of jumping, Harry leapt up the front steps with ease. To his and the Marauders surprise, Dumbledore was waiting for them just inside the doors.

“Have a good time?” he asked pleasantly as he sighted Harry’s slightly muddy hooves.

James grinned. “We had the time of our lives, didn’t we guys?”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. “We might just make this a habit, huh, Harry?”

Harry nodded. “I wouldn’t mind.”

Dumbledore pulled out his watch. “Well, you did make your timing pretty well, frolicking through the forest for three hours. I just thought I’d caution you that the doors of the castle will automatically lock themselves at 10pm.”

“What time is it now?” Harry asked.

“A quarter past, I’m afraid. If I hadn’t been here to keep them open, you would have been locked out.”

Harry grimaced. “Sorry, Professor.”

Dumbledore looked in good spirits. “Not to worry, Harry. This was a first offense so no punishment is necessary.” He smiled kindly. “Although, I would urge your guardians to take better care of the time.”

James shuffled his feet. “Sorry, Albus. We got excited and didn’t realize…”

Dumbledore held up a hand. “Not to worry, not to worry. Now, Harry, I see that you’re about to drop off the face of consciousness so I urge you to head to bed.”

Harry nodded. “Good idea, Professor.”

“Before you come in,” said Dumbledore, “allow me to clean your hooves. I wouldn’t want Argus to come down to your chambers to murder you for messing up the halls.”

He waved his wand with a flourish and the mud covering Harry’s hooves disappeared.

“Thanks, professor,” said Harry gratefully.

“Don’t mention it,” said Dumbledore. “Now, off to bed, Harry.”

Harry didn’t need any more urging. He felt like he was in a trance as he walked behind the tapestry leading to his private chambers. Brushing his nose against the Gryffindor lion’s tail, he mentally gave the password and went into his bedroom. Climbing the platform, he collapsed onto his bed, curling his head around to his side. Sirius was the one to place a blanket over him this time.

“Thanks, Sirius,” Harry muttered sleepily.

Sirius rubbed his head. “No problem, Harry. Sleep well.”

Harry faintly heard the door to his room click close before falling completely asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 






 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 


Chapter 11: Remembering The Potions Master
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Before Harry knew it, two months had passed since the start of term; a chill had descended across the grounds and every morning frost gathered on the edges of every tree in the forbidden forest.

Even though he didn’t have to do homework, shortly after the term started, Harry had found other ways to occupy his time. After much deliberation, he’d decided to take on a secret project. It involved a ton of different books so while his friends would be furiously trying to complete their mountain sized load of homework, Harry escaped to the library where he spent hours of free periods searching for things that would help him understand and practice his project. He’d also found empty classrooms to practice the required wand work as well as the things he’d learned in his lessons.

With all of this magic practice, Harry soon discovered that he’d had very little time to experience loneliness. The secret practicing preoccupied him so much that sometimes he would forget the time and rush into his classes at the last second, earning him rather stern looks from his professors.

Harry also had to deal with the constant looks of admiration and awe from his fellow students. Constantly people were seeking him out, shyly asking if he would sign something for them or let them take his picture. Harry put up with these incidents on a few occasions but the majority of the time he would make up excuses to get away or pick up his pace and ignore the calling of his name. He should have expected this to happen. He’d just destroyed Voldemort after all. The kids were bad enough but Harry did have to wonder why there hadn’t been any reporters chasing after him. Suspecting that Dumbledore was keeping them away, Harry decided to shrug off the thought and not worry about it; it was best to concentrate on his studies, which had become increasingly difficult.

But despite all this, Harry had one glorious thing to look forward to. The Quidditch season had finally begun. Harry had drilled his team three times a week, right after their classes were over, sometimes until it was only an hour before the sun set.

 After these intense practice sessions, he’d head into the forest and spend his evening exploring its contents with the Marauders. They’d taught him how to read the intensions of other creatures they came across and how to communicate without mentally talking. It had taken a lot of practice but now Harry had no problems of communicating with any kind of animal without mentally speaking to them. Sometimes he’d only converse with his father in deer language which left Sirius and Remus a little putout because they couldn’t fully understand what they were saying.

It was the third Saturday in October. Harry woke instantly and stretched. The first Quidditch match of the season, Gryffindor versus Slytherin, was to take place in just about an hour. Harry got out of bed, invigorated with the prospects of playing the game. He dressed in his Quidditch robes, slipped his wand under his robes and picked up the Gate Frame from his bedside table.

Entering his small common area, Harry put the Gate Frame around his neck and said, “Lily, James, Sirius, Remus, and Tonks.”

This was the first time he would see Tonks not alive so he was a tad nervous. But once the Marauders had found out the first Quidditch game was happening, they’d begged for Harry to let them come and watch. Of course Harry didn’t refuse. Secretly, he really wanted his parents to see him play. Sure enough, the Marauders, his mum, and Tonks all appeared, geared with excitement, each displaying a wide smile.

“Harry!” Tonks said happily, bowling him over with a hug. Her hair was her favorite bubblegum pink, spiked short. She nearly squeezed the life out of him before pulling away. “It’s great to see you!”

Harry grinned, massaging his ribs. “Good to see you too, Tonks. Man, I thought Hagrid was the only one capable of breaking me in half but you sure did a great job.”

Tonks looked a little guilty. “Sorry.”

Lily came in for her own hug. She was gentler but her grip was still rather strong. “I understand that you have a ton of fun with your father but could I be selfish and say that I’d like some mother and son moments sometime?”

It was Harry’s turn to look guilty. “Sorry, mum. Why don’t we try for later today after the match?”

Lily beamed. “Oh, could we?” she asked, excited.

Harry shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

“I can’t wait to see you fly, Harry,” said James. “Sirius and Remus have told me some of your matches from what they can remember.”

Harry glanced at his watch. “Speaking of which, I need to meet up with my team. Come on.” He picked up his broom, another Firebolt that he’d bought over the summer to replace the one he’d lost, and headed for the door.

The adults followed him out of the room, down the corridor, and out into the Great Hall. The rest of the school was already inside enjoying their breakfast, talking animatedly about the match. At the sight of Harry, a loud hissing noise echoed off the walls from the Slytherin table while Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw supporters cheered. The Gryffindors burst into applause as he moved down the table to where his team sat.

Harry tried to ignore the cat calls from the Marauders as he sat down next to Ginny. “Morning,” he said, kissing her.

She grinned. “Hi. You might want to do something about Ron. He already threw up this morning.”

Harry looked over at his best friend. Ron’s face was green, his mouth drawn in a thin line, and his eyes seeming to be slightly out of focus. He looked like he was about to shatter into a thousand pieces. Hermione was rubbing his back, whispering comforting words in his ear.

Harry glanced at the rest of his teammates. Jonathan and David seemed fine; both were shoving their eggs down their throats heartily. Alexandria and Damelza were conversing together as if it were a warm summer’s morning, with no care or worry in the world.

Harry sighed. “Ron, come on, mate. You need to relax. You were completely fine at all the practices. What’s eating you?”

Ron shook his head. “I didn’t have the entire school watching me during the practices, Harry.”

“They were watching you during tryouts,” Harry pointed out. “You seemed fine then.”

“I didn’t realize the whole school was there,” said Ron.

Harry groaned. “Can’t you pretend that the stadium is empty or something? I can’t have you throwing up on the field during the match. I need a keeper that can keep his cool and save goals. Can you do that? You fought remarkably during the Battle of Hogwarts…maybe all that courage disappeared.”

Ron seemed a little insulted by Harry’s lack of faith. Little did he know this had been Harry’s plan all along; make Ron angry and have him forget about the crowd.

“I’ll prove you wrong, Harry,” Ron snapped, the green color in his face disappearing. “I’ll save every goal.” Then he went further, mumbling, “I’m courageous. I’ll show you.”

Harry thumped him on the back, trying to hold back his elation since his ploy had actually worked. “That’s all I ask.” He stood up. “Let’s go, team.”

The Great Hall resounded with cheers and jeers as the Gryffindor team headed for the exit. The Marauders, Lily, and Tonks stayed to mingle with Dumbledore; they were probably going to go down to the Quidditch pitch with the rest of the school. Harry did hear them shout wishes of good luck before he left the hall.

As they made their way out to the locker rooms, Harry observed the skies. “Looks like we’re going to have perfect conditions,” he said happily.

The sky was completely blue, zero clouds obscuring its color, and the sun was shining pleasantly, lighting the world with warmth.

Ginny slipped her fingers between Harry’s and gave them a squeeze. “You seem excited.”

Harry grinned. “Sure am.”

“I think we’ll beat the Slytherins easy,” said Jonathan. “David and I have been keeping an eye on their practices. I don’t think we have much to worry about, Harry. Their practices haven’t been going very well since Malfoy quit the team.”

Harry stopped in his tracks. Jonathan bowled right into him.

“What did you say?” Harry asked while Jonathan rubbed his nose. “Malfoy quit?”

“Yeah,” said David, “we saw him snap his broom in half and walk off the field, telling the team he’d had enough.”

Harry was shocked. Malfoy had snapped his broom? But he loved Quidditch. He’d always made it a point to rub in Harry’s face how much more superior he was at flying. What would possess him to quit?

“Who’d they replace him with?” Harry asked, beginning to walk again.

“Some fifth year named McGreff,” answered Alexandria. “He showed some promise at the tryouts. I think he caught the snitch once but from the look on his face he seemed as surprised as everyone else to actually be holding it.”

Damelza glanced at her. “What were you doing at Slytherin’s Quidditch team tryouts?”

Alexandria shrugged. “I had some free time. Not to mention I didn’t see any harm in checking out the competition – that is, if you can call them competition now that Malfoy’s backed out.”

Harry continued to silently wonder about Malfoy. Not that he was actually concerned about him; they were bitter enemies. Why would he care about what Malfoy was up to anyway? The last time he’d stuck his nose in Malfoy’s business, he’d ended up in a pretty rotten situation. Still…Harry couldn’t help but wonder…

They arrived in the locker rooms where the rest of the team changed and listened to Harry’s short pep talk.

“Alright everyone, remember what we’ve practiced,” Harry encouraged. “This year’s my last year and there’s no way I’m going to let any other house win the cup. I know we have a fair amount of seventh years on this team so for those of you who have a year or two left, show your seniors some support. Damelza, Alexandria, and Ginny, if you three fly and silently communicate the way you practice, your plays should be completely flawless. Jonathan and David, I know how much you love to strike those bludgers – just make sure you’re aiming only for the people dressed in green. And Ron, remember what I told you at breakfast. Don’t disappoint our house. We need you the most. Guard the goal posts and do your best to keep the Quaffle from getting the better of you.”

Ginny stood up and kissed him full on the mouth. The rest of the team snickered and wolf whistled. Ginny grinned from Harry’s shock and slight embarrassment.

“You make sure to catch the snitch for us, Harry,” she said, “and we’ll do our best. Right, team?”

Everyone let out a cheer.

Harry straightened his glasses and cleared his throat. “Right, let’s go!”

They made their way out onto the field to shouts and cheers from the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs. The Slytherins tried their best to make their jeers and taunts heard but they were drowned out by the rest of the crowd. Harry scanned the stands until he managed to find his parents, Remus and Tonks, and Sirius sitting with the rest of the teachers. He probably wouldn’t have found them if it hadn’t been for Dumbledore’s silver beard shining like a beacon in the sunlight.

“And here come the Gryffindors! Weasley, Weasley, Write, Robins, Forks, Vinar, and Potter!”

The cheering from the crowd intensified as Harry recognized the voice of Terry Boot. He was sitting in the stands with the teachers, shouting into a large purple megaphone.

“It looks like Harry’s put together quite a team for this year,” continued Terry as the Gryffindor Team made their way over to where the Slytherin Team stood waiting. “From the terrible practices held by the Slytherins, everyone says this match is pretty much in the bag.”

Cries of outrage could be heard from the Slytherin crowd. Harry tried not to grin. Madam Hooch stepped up to the crate containing the four Quidditch balls and kicked it open. The snitch zoomed off and disappeared while the bludgers pelted into the sky, whirling around, anxiously waiting to attempt to knock off players.

“Captains, shake hands,” Madam Hooch directed.

Harry stepped forward and tried to crush the fingers of a burly seventh year Slytherin he’d never met before. The guy looked like his face had been smashed in by a bludger one too many times and his eyes were small and slightly crossed. He stared at Harry in pure hatred.

“You disgraced the name of Slytherin, Potter,” he spat. “This game is going to be personal.”

Harry smirked. “Are you sure you’ll be able to see me? You look like you’ve had a bit of trouble during practice. Tell me, did you ask a bludger to hit you repeatedly in the face?”

The Slytherin scowled and spat into the dirt. “Just wait, Potter. You’re a dead man.”

Madam Hooch, not listening to these whispered threats, gave out the order to mount brooms. Harry let go of the Slytherin Captain’s hand and swung his leg over his Firebolt. Madam Hooch blew the whistle and the two teams flew into the air as the crowd around them shouted and cheered. Harry sped off in search of the snitch, trusting his teammates to do their part.

“And it’s Ginny Weasley with the Quaffle,” said Terry, “wow, look at that girl fly! No wonder she’s caught Potter’s eye.”

“Terry, get on with the match!” shouted Professor McGonagall’s voice through the megaphone.

“Sorry, Professor,” said Terry, “Just thought I’d compliment the girl who turned me down a year ago.”

Harry swerved a little off course. Terry had asked Ginny out? He looked around and caught her staring at him. She rolled her eyes before avoiding one of the Slytherin chasers by performing a spectacular loop. Feeling rather elated that Ginny had turned Terry down, Harry brought his attention back to searching for the snitch.

“Gryffindor still in possession,” shouted Terry. “Ginny Weasley passes to Damelza Robins who passes to Alexandria Write. Alexandria’s the first transfer Hogwarts has had in a century but as you can see, this doesn’t mean that someone from out of the country can’t handle a broom. She’s coming up to the goal post. SCORE! Ten points to Gryffindor!”

The Gryffindor supporters sent up a cheer while the Slytherins groaned. Harry dodged a bludger aimed at him and swirled his broom in a barrel roll to avoid another attempted attack. The two Slytherin beaters seemed to be aiming only at him. Is this what their captain had warned about? Harry’s eyes narrowed. Fine; if they wanted to get rough, then so be it. He leaned against his broom and shot forward at one of the beaters, causing their eyes to widen in alarm. They barely managed to get out of the way from a head-on collision.

“What’s your problem, Potter?” shouted the offended beater.

Harry twisted around just in time to see one of the beater clubs flying for his face. He pulled himself into a barrel roll, narrowly avoiding the club and its attacker. As he sped out of harms away, he heard a dull thunk as the club connected with the other beater’s face; apparently he’d tried to attack Harry from behind while he was preoccupied with his friend.

Madam Hooch’s whistle blew. “Penalty to Slytherin for an attempted assault on the Gryffindor seeker!”

The two beaters scowled. Ginny took the penalty and scored. The Gryffindors sent up another cheer. Harry went back to scanning for the snitch. The game continued for a good solid twenty minutes. Ron allowed the Quaffle to pass through the goalposts five times. Harry was afraid the Slytherins were going to make a new rendition of Weasley is Our King; thankfully they didn’t or Ron probably would have lost it completely.

“Come on, Ron!” Harry shouted as he flew past him. “Pretend that Hermione’s the only one watching you.”

Ron blinked. “But she doesn’t understand Quidditch!” he shouted.

“She understands what it means when you let the Quaffle in,” Harry pointed out, avoiding another bludger thrown his way. “You don’t want her to ditch you for another Cormac McLaggen, do you?”

Ron’s face reddened. The Slytherin chasers were in possession of the Quaffle and were heading towards them. Harry flew out of the way just as one of the chasers rushed forward and threw the Quaffle at the far right goalpost. The move Ron pulled made the entire stadium speechless: he did a full body back flip on his broom putting himself directly between the Quaffle and the goalpost. He swung back his right leg and kicked the Quaffle with all his might. Every eye in the stands followed the ball as it soared across the pitch and smacked the Slytherin Keeper right in the face, the force so strong that it knocked both the Keeper and the Quaffle through a goalpost.

The crowd exploded with exclamations of praise.

“What a spectacular save!” Terry shouted over the roaring of the approving crowd. “But does it count as a goal?”

Everyone waited for Madam Hooch. She blew her whistle. “Penalty to Gryffindor for injuring the Slytherin Keeper.”

The crowd immediately erupted into angry shouts, shaking their fists and flashing crude hand gestures in Madam Hooch’s direction. Outraged, Harry flew over to demand she revoke the penalty.

“It was an accident!” Harry tried to explain. “Ron didn’t try to hit her on purpose.”

“I’m calling it the way I see it, Potter,” said Madam Hooch.

“It looks like Harry’s having an argument with Madam Hooch,” commented Terry. “No doubt he wants her to call off the penalty. Looks like that’s not going to happen,” he added as Harry flew off, obviously rather angry.

Madam Hooch threw the Quaffle to one of the Slytherin chasers who approached Ron with a smug expression. Ron glared, his eyes resembling those of a panther waiting to strike. The Slytherin took aim, flew forward, and chucked the Quaffle towards the center hoop. Ron flew forward and outstretched his hands…

“Weasley saves!” shouted Terry as the Slytherins let out a groan.

Harry cheered along with the other Gryffindors as Ron smirked at the Slytherin and moved his eyebrows up and down as if to say, ‘what now?’ Harry grinned as he saw Ron look towards the stands to find out if Hermione really was watching him. Wanting to know this himself, Harry scanned the crowd until he found her. Sure enough, she was beaming and giving Ron a big thumbs up. 

After Ron’s spectacular save, the course of the game turned in Gryffindor’s favor. After another ten minutes, they were in the lead by fifty points. Harry needed to catch the snitch before the Slytherins started committing more aggressive fouls than the ones they’d already made on his team (Damelza had a black eye from a bludger, David had a large goose egg on the back of his head from one of the beater’s clubs, and Ginny had received a hefty scratch on her face from the fingernails of one of the Slytherin chasers that tried to argue with Madam Hooch that they thought her head was the Quaffle).

Harry’s eyes darted back and forth, catching every glimpse of gold from jewelry to watches, and then he saw it! The snitch was glittering near the Slytherin goalposts. Harry sped up.

“Wait a moment!” shouted Terry. “Has Potter seen the snitch?”

The crowd turned their attention to Harry who sped faster and faster towards the snitch’s location. And then a bludger came out of nowhere. Harry swerved but the ball managed to collide with his left wrist, breaking the bone instantly. Harry grimaced as pain shot all the way up his arm. Despite the pain, he looked around for the snitch. Unfortunately, in those few precious seconds, the little golden ball had disappeared. The crowd groaned. Harry looked up to see the beater who’d hit him grinning evilly, hefting his bat with pride.

Ignoring the smarting of his left wrist, Harry grasped his broom handle again and went back to surveying his surroundings. The Slytherin chasers managed to get in four goals but Ron saved more than he let in. The red head pulled some spectacular saves, catching the Quaffle – even kicking it again – with ease. Harry watched him defend the goals before throwing the Quaffle to Damelza. She sped off towards the Slytherin goalposts, tossing the ball to Ginny, who passed it to Alexandria, who passed it back to Damelza. 

A speck of gold caught Harry’s eye just as Damelza scored another ten points for Gryffindor. The snitch was racing along the ground, ten feet above the grass. Harry dived. He wasn’t going to let it go this time.

His wrist throbbed in protest as Harry flattened himself against his broom. He sensed more than saw a bludger thrust his way. He swerved around its course and continued to dive. The Slytherin’s seeker, McGreff, was diving just like Harry, but the Firebolt outranked his broom; he was already fifteen feet behind him. McGreff pulled out of the dive twenty feet from the ground but Harry kept on going. He was five feet away; he reached out his hand and grabbed the snitch. Ignoring the pain and wrenching his broom upward with his injured hand, Harry punched his fist into the air. The stadium exploded.

“Harry Potter has caught the snitch after a bloody fantastic dive!” shouted Terry, trying to make himself heard over the cheers of the crowd. “210 to 90! Gryffindor wins!”

The Gryffindor team rushed over to Harry’s position. Ginny was the first to attack him. She almost slipped off her own broom as she kissed him. Damelza and Alexandria kissed his cheek while Jonathan, David, and Ron patted his back. They made it down to the ground where Gryffindor supporters were racing onto the field, Hermione in the lead. She leapt into Ron’s arms first, enveloping him in a kiss, before turning to Harry and giving him a big hug. She also had the decency to heal his left wrist which had swollen to the size of a golf ball. Harry managed to offer her thanks before having more people pat him on the back and offer congratulations.   

Though Harry was surrounded by his friends and supporters, his eyes scanned around until they found his parents and friends. James and Lily were smiling widely, their eyes full of unmistakable pride. Sirius gave him a big thumbs up while Remus and Tonks waved cheerfully. Harry grinned at all of them before being swept away from their sight by Gryffindors clamoring around him.

It was a great victory and everyone agreed that a celebration party was in order; it almost felt as if they’d already won the cup. Harry blamed their enthusiasm on the fact that the Gryffindors wanted to rub the win in Slytherin’s face since the house had been particularly difficult towards them since the beginning of the school year (probably because of Voldemort being a Slytherin and all and disgracing their house by being beaten by Harry).

Harry and the rest of the Gryffindor team were kept in the middle of the crowd of Gryffindors as they plowed their way past eager reporters who were desperately trying to reach Harry. They had been restricted from the Hogwarts grounds but they’d still managed to slither into the crowd of Hogwarts students, each bent with an unyielding desire to get an interview with him. As Harry plowed passed them amongst the other Gryffindors, he was surprised to admit that just this once he was grateful that so many people wanted to be around him; if it meant avoiding the reporters, he’d accept a mob of Gryffindors any day.

When the Gryffindors entered Gryffindor Tower they were shocked to find that the entire place had been decked out with congratulations banners, streamers, balloons, confetti, tables of sweets, and unlimited amounts of butterbeer. The Gryffindors gladly dug into the spoils while speculating who could have done such a thing. To Harry’s surprise many people thought he was the one behind all the decorations despite his constant protests. Harry himself suspected that his parents, Sirius, Remus, and Tonks were the real decorators but they were nowhere to be found.

Harry wanted to find them but he hadn’t been in Gryffindor Tower for ages. Besides, he was feeling rather comfortable sitting in an armchair with Ginny on his lap. The two of them were surrounded by people who asked constant questions about the match, wanting a personal play by play from both Harry’s and Ginny’s perspectives.

By the time Harry had to share his dive for the fifth time in a row, Ron and Hermione looked ready to change the subject or find a private place where they could be alone. Harry didn’t blame them. He really wanted some personal time with Ginny before he had to transform. As a fresh wave of people began sitting down around them, Harry put his foot down.

“I think I left something in the locker rooms,” he said, trying to stand.

Ginny got off him and looked over at Ron. “Didn’t you forget something too, Ron?”

Ron looked at her, bewildered, but Hermione got the hint. She turned to Ron and said, “You did, Ron. I remember you telling me that you left you broom polish.”

“Yeah,” said Harry, “and I forgot to lock up the changing rooms. Come on, Ron. Ginny and Hermione would you like to join us?”

They nodded eagerly. Several people tried to ask if they could come too but Harry and Ron ignored them, pretending they hadn’t heard their pleas to tag along. Taking their girls by the hand, Harry and Ron left the common room, waving and nodding to anyone trying to stop them.

As Harry stopped at the portrait hole to let Ginny go out first, he looked up and noticed Alexandria Write staring at him intently. What puzzled Harry was that she was sitting by herself, detached from the commotion around her, only participating with the festivities by sipping on a butterbeer. She nodded to Harry before looking out the window she was sitting next to.

“Harry, you coming?” Ginny asked.

“Yeah,” Harry muttered, turning away from Alexandria. “Let’s go.”

“So where are we really going?” Ron asked as soon as the portrait hole closed behind them.

Hermione shrugged. “Where do you want to go, Ron?”

Ron gaped at her. “Why do I have to decide?”

Ginny rolled her eyes, smacking Ron in the arm. “You’re her fiancée, Ron. You should know by now that Hermione wants to be alone with you, you git.”

Ron’s ears turned pink. “Well, why didn’t she just say that?”

Harry smirked. “Better not to ask, mate. Just get going.”

Ron turned to him. “Where are you two going?”

Harry glanced at Ginny and then said nonchalantly, “Owlery.”

Ron snorted. “Yeah, that sounds like a really romantic place.”

Harry scowled. “At least I’m not thinking about spending all of my romantic time in a broom closet on the fourth floor.”

Ron’s ears went from a light pink to a deep hue of red. “Shut up, Harry.”

Ginny and Harry chuckled before leaving Ron and Hermione to come up with some place to be alone. Hermione looked a little exasperated but she knew how to exercise patience. Harry was sure that wherever Ron decided to take her, she would have a good time. Leading Ginny up the steps to the Owlery, Harry glanced at his watch. He had an hour before sunset.

“I thought you were kidding when you said the Owlery,” said Ginny as they entered the tower.

Harry gulped. She didn’t sound too enthused. “I wanted to see Alomier,” he confessed hesitantly, fidgeting silently.

“Oh I see,” she muttered, “you just wanted to see your owl.”

“No!” Harry insisted. “I want to be with you, honest! I just wanted to check up on him while we were here.”

Ginny’s disappointed eyes suddenly transformed into sparkling brown gems. “Sorry, Harry,” she giggled, “but sometimes I love seeing you squirm.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open. The sly fox! She’d been messing with him! “Please,” he muttered, “don’t make that a habit.”

Ginny continued to giggle. “I’m sorry! I couldn’t help it!”

In retaliation for making him feel insecure, Harry went straight for her sides, tickling her furiously. Ginny’s laughter echoed off the Owlery’s walls, filling Harry’s ears with sweet music, though it greatly agitated the sleeping owls in the rafters above. Some of them hooted indignantly and ruffled their feathers before taking off through the open windows.

“Harry!” Ginny cried between fits of laughter. “I can’t breathe!”

Harry chuckled. “What’s that? I can’t hear you.”

“Yes you can!” Ginny protested, giggling furiously.

Harry’s hands settled against her hips, pulling Ginny towards him. Gasping for breath, Ginny looked up into Harry’s warm green eyes, shining like mischievous gems. Harry smiled warmly at her, taking in her winded state, her cute brown eyes, with strands of her red hair slightly hanging in front of her brows. Brushing them aside, Harry leaned in and kissed her.

Ginny’s eyes closed, savoring the moment. Her hands snaked up Harry’s chest, to his strong, broad shoulders, before settling behind his neck. Harry’s hands moved from her hips, one trailing to her back, pushing her closer against him, while the other wound its way through her long red hair to the back of her head.

Ginny finally pushed away from him, breathing heavily. “Alright, Harry,” she gasped. “We need to back off.”

Harry sighed but took a step back. “I know. Snogging only.”

Ginny nodded. “No touching.”

“What about hugs?” Harry asked, looking slightly crestfallen at the idea of ‘no touching’.

“Hugs are fine.”

“So, define touching,” Harry demanded.

Ginny looked exasperated. “Do we really have to have this conversation again?”

Harry scowled, remembering the ‘no touching’ conversation they’d had over the summer. Ginny had okayed holding hands, sitting in his lap, and holding her tightly when kissing but outlawed any movements that would involve Harry’s hands running up and down her body. Harry respected Ginny’s incredible values but he was still slightly frustrated. He was a male after all. It was only natural for him to want to touch her.

“No,” he muttered, “we don’t have to discuss it again.”

Ginny looked a little stressed. “Harry, you know it’s for the best that we wait.”

Harry looked at her, alarmed. “I wasn’t thinking about going that far right now, Ginny! Gracious! Whatever gave you that idea?”

Ginny crossed her arms and leaned against one of the lowest rafters. “Gee, Harry, what would have given me that idea? How about the way you sneak your hands up my back, caressing the back of my head, and pushing me closer against you.”

Harry bit his lip. “Okay,” he confessed, “but in my defense, I’m a guy, Ginny. It’s kind of hardwired in my natural instincts.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Don’t try to hide behind that, Harry. You do have the ability to control yourself.”

Harry groaned, exasperated. “I wasn’t trying to hide behind anything! And you should know that it’s hard to control yourself after you keep snogging the way we do.”

“Then maybe we shouldn’t snog so intently,” Ginny suggested.

Harry panicked. “Why? We’ve already decided that heavily snogging is fine.”

Ginny sighed. She looked a little uncomfortable. “Harry, can I ask you something?”

Harry came closer, concerned. “What’s wrong?”

She bit her lip. “I’m…scared, actually.”

Now Harry was confused. Where had this come from? “Why are you scared?”

Ginny couldn’t look at him. Instead, she directed her attention to the window. “It’s just…I’m different from most of the other girls. Unlike them, I don’t want to move on until I’m married. My friends have told me that if I don’t let down all my defenses that you’ll lose interest and dump me.”

Harry laughed. He couldn’t help it. The thought just seemed so ludicrous. Then he saw Ginny’s face. Her eyes had filled with tears and her cheeks were deep pink. Harry’s laughter died in shock. Ginny crying? She never cried! Immediately Harry realized he’d made a big mistake. He closed the distance between them and wrapped her in a hug.

“Ginny, don’t listen to what your friends say,” he soothed. “I don’t mind waiting.”

Ginny tried to scoff but it changed into a strangled gasp as she tried to get hold of her emotions. “Yeah, right.”

Harry lifted her chin so she could look into his eyes. “I’m serious,” he said firmly. “I may be a guy, prone to wanting to satisfy myself, but I’m not stupid enough to sacrifice something I agree should be saved for after we’re married. I don’t want you to think that I would dump you because of something as simple as waiting.”

Ginny calmed herself enough to stop the few tears that had surfaced. She saw the conviction in Harry’s eyes and it dispelled all the doubts she’d had from listening to her friends. She smiled.

“I love you, Harry.”

“I love you too, Ginny,” Harry said gently before planting a small kiss on her lips.

*~*~*~*~

Harry entered his private chamber half an hour later after seeing Ginny back to Gryffindor Tower. After touching the lion’s tail and pushing open the door, he found his parents, Sirius, Remus, and Tonks sitting leisurely on the sofas.

At the sight of Harry, Sirius grinned. “So…how was the Owlery?”

Harry bristled, his face instantly turning red. “You were spying on me?”

James laughed. “Wow, your face turned as red as Lily’s does! That’s hilarious!”

Lily smacked him. “It is not, James! I can’t believe you and Sirius! You said you were going to see if he was still in Gryffindor Tower!”

“We were,” said Sirius. “But then we saw him heading down the hallway with Ginny and we got curious.”

Harry’s face felt like it could fry an egg. “What did you hear?”

Sirius stood up and patted Harry on the shoulder. “I have to take my hat off to you, Harry, waiting until after you’re married. I couldn’t control myself when I was in school.”

Harry threw Sirius’ arm off him and walked into his room, slamming the door behind him. He was so embarrassed! Not to mention angry! That had been a private conversation. His dad and Sirius had no right listening in on something like that! And now they seemed to be making fun of him?! Harry hadn’t been this angry since he’d fought with Ron when they were searching for Voldemort’s horcruxes. He stormed over to his bed and sat down, putting his head in his hands and breathing deeply through his nose.

*~*~*~*~

“James, Sirius, you two are the biggest gits in the world,” Remus muttered.

The five adults sat on the sofas, looking at the door where Harry had just disappeared.

“What?” Sirius said defensively. “We just wanted to see where they were going.”

“He was alone with Ginny heading up to the Owlery,” snapped Lily, “what did you think was going to happen?!”

“We thought they were going to send an owl to someone at first,” said James truthfully, “but then we saw them snogging and we sort of –”

“Stayed right where you were and watched,” finished Tonks. She turned to Remus. “I guess you were right, honey; when James and Sirius are together their stupidity levels double what they usually are.”

James and Sirius looked at Remus.

“You actually said that?” James asked, hurt.

Remus sighed. “I was referring to when we were still in school, Prongs. You and Sirius did a lot of stupid things when we were younger. You admitted that yourself.”

James relaxed. “Yeah, but in my defense I blame Sirius for the added stupidity.”

Lily smacked him. “James, you need to go in there and fix this!”

“Ouch! Fix what?” James retorted, rubbing his arm.

“You hurt Harry’s feelings,” Lily pointed out, spitting venom. “How could you and Sirius make fun of him for being a better man? You march right in there and fix this right now! I will not go on a walk with my son alone and have him conflicted because his father and godfather made fun of his manhood! Go and apologize! Both of you! NOW!”

James stood up immediately, eager to avoid the venom spewing from his wife. Sirius, knowing the dangers of having Lily angry, stood up too.

“We didn’t mean to insult him,” Sirius said.

“Well you did,” Lily snapped. “So go in there and apologize.”

James sighed, rubbing his arm, feeling awkward. “But…what are we supposed to say, Lils?”

Tonks scoffed. “Give me a break! How about trying ‘I’m sorry’? That always seems to be the best thing to say when you’ve offended someone.”

“Maybe getting on your knees and begging for forgiveness will soften Harry’s heart,” Remus suggested.

James scowled. “Why don’t you do that, Moony, while Padfoot and I watch?”

Remus held up his hands. “I wasn’t the one who insulted their son. I was just a witness.”

Sirius shoved him as he walked towards Harry’s room. “Shut up, Remus.”

James froze a fraction of a second before knocking on the door. Testing the handle, he found the door was unlocked. After a reassuring nod from Sirius, he opened the door and the two of them went inside.

*~*~*~*~

“Harry?”

Harry stiffened. He’d heard the knock but he’d thought it would be his mother not his dad. He sighed but didn’t move from where he lay on his bed. “What do you want?”

“We wanted to apologize,” said Sirius.

Harry finally moved his arm away from his eyes, put his glasses back on, and sat up. “Really? For what?” he asked sarcastically.

He was still relatively upset but he wasn’t fueled by anger anymore. He didn’t really want to pretend that everything was fine between him, his dad, and his godfather but he also didn’t really want to fight with them either. Harry sighed. He was being childish, hiding in his room, trying to control his anger and get over his embarrassment.

James’s expression looked as awkward as Harry felt. “Could we sit down?”

Harry nodded, moving over to give them room.

Sirius was the first to speak. “Look, Harry –”

“We didn’t mean to make fun of you,” said James. “When Sirius and I get together we tend to act like stupid teenagers.”

Harry cocked an eyebrow. “I’m seventeen. Does that make me stupid?”

James tried to backtrack. “No! No, that’s not what I meant.” He looked to Sirius for help.

Sirius scratched the back of his head. “What we mean, Harry, is that we act really immature sometimes and speak before thinking about what’s coming out of our mouths.”

“Exactly,” said James, giving his best friend a look of gratitude. “We honestly didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I actually think you’re a far better man than Sirius and myself for waiting. It takes guts to wait and we heard how this was a request from Ginny. We respect you for respecting her and we’re sorry for sticking our noses into something we shouldn’t have and for making fun of you for it.”

Harry felt he needed to confess too. “I didn’t act really mature either. Usually I get tripe from the other Hogwarts students. I’ve had to deal with it my whole life. I guess I was just upset that you and Sirius would make fun of me like everybody else.”

James and Sirius looked crestfallen.

“We didn’t mean to, Harry,” said Sirius, “we really didn’t.”

“Just say you’re both the biggest gits in the world and I’ll forgive you,” said Harry.

James and Sirius grinned. “We’re the biggest gits in the world,” they said together.

Harry scrutinized them silently before cracking a smile. “Good to hear.”

“To other things,” said James, “that was one heck of a Quidditch match! You were spectacular Harry!”

Harry tried to hide his smile at his father’s praise. “It was a pretty rough game.”

“And you beat the crap out of the Slytherins,” Sirius said, grinning widely. “You made all of us so proud, Harry. That dive was awesome!”

“You could even continue with Quidditch professionally,” said James.

Harry shook his head. “I don’t think I’m up for it, dad.”

James cocked an eyebrow. “Really? Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to end up with multiple scars all over my body from vicious bludgers and other Quidditch players.”

Sirius laughed. “He does have a point there, James. That’s the reason you didn’t go pro.”

James nodded. “That and I’d joined the Order and thought it best to devote my time to being an auror.”

“That’s what I’m going to do,” said Harry. “I’ve killed Voldemort but the Death Eaters are still out there. There haven’t been any reports or sightings of them but I’ve suspected an attack for some time.”

“So you plan to round up all the Death Eaters after you’re done with school?” asked James.

Harry nodded. “I guess you could say that I feel it’s my responsibility to finish them off. Besides, I’ve fought against dark wizards my whole life anyway. Might as well put the knowledge I’ve gained from fighting them to good use by becoming an auror.”

“It’s a dangerous road, Harry,” warned Sirius. “You’ll be constantly fighting dark wizards and you could possibly lose a few limbs in the process. Look what happened to Mad Eye.”

Harry shrugged. “It comes with the job. Besides that’s kind of exciting, knowing I’ll be battling for my life, testing out my skills, sharpening my senses.”

James and Sirius would have thought Harry was joking if his tone hadn’t been so serious. There was a fire burning in Harry’s eyes that Sirius had rarely seen; a fire that made him dangerous and even unpredictable. It was the same fire he’d seen in James before they would go on a dangerous mission for the Order.

Sirius smiled. “Well then, I guess we need to make sure you’re capable of passing all your N.E.W.T.’s.”

James nodded. His eyes were filled with excitement, an emotion spurred by the passion emanating from his son. “We’ll help you in any way we can, Harry. If you need advice or study help, we’ll be glad to offer you assistance.”

Harry grinned. “I’d appreciate that.”

James patted his son on the back one more time before standing up. “Come on. Lily’s probably wondering what’s taking us so long.”

The three of them came out of Harry’s room in good spirits. Lily looked pleased as she noted how congenial they were being towards each other.

“It took you long enough to kiss and make up,” comment Remus with a smile.

James took the nearest pillow off the sofa and threw it in his face. “Shut it, Moony! We were only in there for five minutes.”

Remus pulled the pillow away and laughed. “Try fifteen. We’ve been wondering if Harry had lashed out irrationally and murdered you again.”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. “Now that would have been interesting, dying as a spirit. What do you think, James? Sound adventurous?”

James shrugged. “I already died by getting hit from the killing curse and that was enough of experiencing death for me. But if you want to die again, Sirius, be my guest.”

Harry looked at the clock. Ten minutes. He looked at his mom and cleared his throat. “Um, mum? Do you want to go on a walk?”

Lily positively beamed as she stood up. “Lead the way, Harry.” She turned to James. “Don’t you dare destroy anything while I’m gone.”

James grinned mischievously. “Awww, come on, Lils. Do I look like the type of wizard that would destroy things?”

Sirius and Remus snorted while Tonks laughed.

Lily rolled her eyes, giving him a hug. “Behave,” she ordered. “We’ll be back later.”

“Oh, we’ll just be sitting here the whole time you’re gone, planning our first prank on the living,” James assured.

Lily breathed through her nose, exasperated. “Let’s go, Harry, before they suck you into their schemes.”

Harry grinned. “I wouldn’t mind helping.”

Lily shook her head firmly. “Not this time. Come on.”

She forced him out of the room, shutting the door behind her. Harry followed all the way out onto the grounds. The sun was barely above the horizon. Harry needed to find a place far enough away from the castle that people wouldn’t see him transform from the windows. He spotted the perfect bush and headed towards it, his mother following at his heels. Harry managed to get behind the bush just as the last ray of sunlight disappeared, enveloping him in shadow. Lily waited, watching in silence as her son grimaced in pain as his body twisted and changed, transforming from man to stag.

“You look like you’re getting used to that,” she commented as Harry stood up, shaking his whole body.

“I guess you could say that,” Harry muttered, waiting for the burning of his muscles to die. “It’s always painful but I’m getting used to it.”

Lily patted his neck gently. “Come on; let’s go sit under that tree over there.”

She pointed at a large beech tree planted near the lake. Harry remembered that it was the same tree he’d seen in Snape’s memories where the marauders had sat before torturing him after finishing an O.W.L. exam.

“Dad liked this tree, didn’t he?”

Lily smiled. “Yes. He and the other marauders would sit near the base all the time during the fall and spring seasons. It used to drive me crazy when they tried to get everyone’s attention with their stupid pranks and various showings off.”

“Like dad playing with the snitch for example?”

Lily glanced at Harry. “You seem as though you’ve seen him doing that.”

Harry sighed as he planted himself under the birch’s strong branches. “I did see it.” Then he went into detail explaining entering Snape’s memory instead of enduring another horrible Occlumency lesson back in his fifth year.

Lily looked uncomfortable. “That was a terrible day. And you said that was the first time you’d every truly seen James? Golly, what a horrible first impression of your father.”

Harry actually managed to laugh. “That’s exactly what I thought. All my life up to that point I’d heard what a great man he was so when I saw that, I confess that I doubted what everyone told me. I wanted to talk to Sirius and Remus about it so I used the floo network. They seemed to find the memory really hilarious especially when I told them about how Dad kept trying to make his hair stand up.”

Lily giggled. “I forgot he used to do that all the time; trying desperately to get my attention. Though, at the time, I thought he was just trying to look cool, like he’d just gotten off his broomstick.”

“I also thought that he’d somehow tricked you into marrying him. I mean, no offense to dad, but he was a real jerk to Severus. I couldn’t understand how you two had fallen in love after witnessing that memory. You hated him.”

Lily put a hand on Harry’s long neck and gently rubbed it back and forth. Her touch didn’t feel like that of a ghost (like someone plunging your skin in ice water); instead it was warm and Harry almost felt as if she was physically there.

“I did hate him,” she muttered, looking out at the lake. “Severus was my friend, Harry, the first friend from the magical world I ever had. We were incredibly close and I always made a point to hang out with him. I think that may have been one of the reasons James hated him so much – besides hating him for his obsession with the dark arts. He was jealous.”

Harry looked at his mother. “You know, don’t you?”

Lily nodded and answered, “Yes, Harry, I do.” She looked incredibly sad, conflicted even. “I witnessed Severus’s memories the same time you did. James wasn’t there because he was needed by the Higher Ups. We always made it a point to be with you as much as possible, Harry, watching over you. I guess it’s fortunate that James didn’t see Severus’s memories. He probably would have found Severus and tortured him with jests of the fact that I chose to marry him.”

“Did you know that he loved you?” Harry asked quietly.

Lily sighed deeply. “I always suspected something, Harry. I guess I should have realized he loved me.” Silver tears fell down her face. “I felt so bad when I saw how much suffering he endured after learning of my death. I never knew it was Severus who told Dumbledore that Voldemort was coming after us. Albus only told us that he’d had a tip off that we needed to go into hiding.” She shook her head, breathing deeply. “I never would have thought…Severus would go that far for me.”

Harry looked out at the lake, watching the silver reflection of the moon overhead ripple in the slightly disturbed surface. “People go to any length necessary, sacrifice anything they have to, for the one they love.”

Lily smiled through her tears. “You’re right. But it still doesn’t chance how guilty I feel.”

Harry rubbed his head against her arm. “You don’t have to feel guilty, mum. Severus loved you but he made choices that drove you away from him. You fell in love with dad after he managed to grow up a little. You were happy with choosing dad. I know that now from watching the way you two are together.”

“But…Severus…”

Harry sighed. “His life wasn’t great, mum, but he himself was a great man. He was the bravest man I knew. Even though he treated me horribly in school as my professor, he was always looking out for me and he did that for your sake, out of his love for you. I’m positive that he wouldn’t want you suffering over feeling sorry for him. The only thing he cared about was you and your happiness even though you didn’t choose him. The last request he made before he died was for me to look at him so he could see your eyes one last time.”

Lily sobbed. “Oh, Severus…” she buried her face in her hands. “We had such a past, Harry,” she cried. “I haven’t wanted to talk to James about this. I don’t want him to hurt Severus. He’s suffered so much already because of me. And even after I died he devoted himself to protecting you, my only son. How can I ever make up to him what he’s done for me?”

Harry placed his head on her shoulder. “First you need to tell dad everything. Sirius and Remus need to know too. Then I would suggest going to visit him once a week, just to talk or something. Dad should respect that. He owes Severus because of the lengths that he went to protect me.”

Lily leaned her head against Harry’s and sighed. “That’s not going to be an easy conversation… but I agree with you, Harry. Who knows, maybe your father and Severus could become friends.”

Harry snorted. “Don’t be that optimistic, mum.”

Lily laughed before rubbing his head and tapping the end of his nose. The two of them sat in silence for a long time, both remembering Severus Snape – his bravery, his suffering, his sacrifice, and his love.

“I hope he finds that special soul mate,” said Harry quietly after a long moment’s pause. “Someone who can make him happy. He definitely deserves it.”

Lily looked up at the moon, blinking back another wave of tears. “I hope so too, Harry,” she whispered quietly. “I truly hope so.”   


Chapter 12: A New Possibly Unstable Friendship and A Surprising Date
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



The night after Harry spent the evening with his mother he decided to venture out into the forest alone. He wanted some time to run around and relax without having to worry about any werewolves, Grim-like dogs, or large white stags chasing after him. It was great to feel the power radiating through his body as he leapt over fallen trees and dodged low hanging branches threatening to tangle up in his antlers.

Harry had been running for an hour straight and had decided to walk back to the castle. He could see the tallest spires of Hogwarts in the distance (he always made sure to keep the school within his sights). Breathing in the freshness of the earth and the peacefulness of the night, Harry let his mind wander.

That morning when he’d woken up he’d found a small bulletin in his small common room tacked to the wall with some notices attached to it. He figured that one of the house elves – if not Kreacher – had put it there sometime during the night. One of the fliers advertized a Halloween Ball for fourth to seventh year students. It was to take place after the Halloween feast and all were encouraged to dress up in costumes although it wasn’t mandatory.

The entire castle was filled with conversations about the dance and how exciting it was going to be. People had already begun planning what they were going to wear as a costume. Harry found it particularly hilarious when some fifth years in the corridor were overheard asking each other how a muggle dressed and if going as one would be passable as a costume.

Of course Harry couldn’t go to the ball as it was after sunset. Ginny had offered to stay with him in the evening but he could see how much she wanted to go and so, after much reassurance that he would be fine, Ginny consented to go to the ball without him. But she also promised that she would come and visit before she went up to bed.

Harry then thought of the costume Hermione had forced Ron into accepting to wear and chuckled to himself. Ron would be going as an elf while Hermione was planning to dress as a fairy. Harry had a hard time stifling his laughter when Hermione pulled out an illustration of what Ron’s costume was going to look like. It was similar to all the elf outfits Harry had seen in muggle illustrations, pointy ears and long hair included. Ron had turned pale and greatly protested but when Hermione threatened to not talk to him until Christmas if he didn’t go as the elf, he consented to wear the stupid outfit.

Just as Harry came to the edge of the forest surrounding the lake, he heard shouts of riotous laughter, pulling him away from his thoughts. His ears pinpointing that the source was thirty feet ahead of him, Harry silently made his way through the trees until he came upon a clearing and a startling sight.

Draco Malfoy was surrounded by various Slytherin students and he seemed to be the object of ridicule.

“Hey Draco,” sneered a burly Slytherin sixth year Harry recognized as the Slytherin’s Quidditch Captain, “you thought you could hide out here in the forest? It’s a good thing we decided to follow you. How else are we supposed to keep the orders of making your life completely –”

Malfoy raised his wand and the offending sixth year was hit with an invisible force, knocking him into a thick tree trunk. Another Slytherin pointed her wand at Malfoy and disarmed him.

“We’re not going to have that,” she said, her eyes bubbling with silent taunts. “You don’t deserve to even carry a wand, Malfoy. You and your parents betrayed the noble house of Slytherin when you left the Battle of Hogwarts to save your own skins. And look where it got your parents – killed by the killing curse, leaving you with a horrible reputation and zero respect.”

“Shut up!” Malfoy shouted, rushing at her.

The girl raised her wand. “Crucio!”

Malfoy fell to the forest floor, convulsing in pain, his screams echoing around the dark trees. The Slytherins laughed loudly at his cries. The girl lifted the curse.

“Let me have a go, Kristle,” said the sixth year that Malfoy had injured. He still had twigs in his hair from the branches that had fallen from his impact with the tree’s trunk.

“Remember we can’t kill him, Greg,” Kristle said, stepping aside. “Lestrange wants to kill him personally.”

One of the Slytherins groaned. He was a tall young man, probably in his fourth year, with short brown hair and beetle black eyes. “Come on, Kristle. We could just kill him and say it was an accident.”

Kristle narrowed her eyes. “And get killed by Lestrange in retaliation? Thanks but no thanks. He gave us strict orders to torture Draco all we wanted in punishment for cowardice but we can’t kill him.”

While the three of them argued, Malfoy had found enough strength to crawl across the ground to where his wand lay. He was within three feet when Greg noticed him.

“Oy! None of that!” There was a flash of light and Malfoy became as stiff as a board. Greg walked over and kicked Malfoy’s wand into the bushes. “See if you can find that in the morning!” he laughed stupidly before kicking Draco in the face.

Harry cringed as the five other Slytherins moved in and began kicking and pelting Malfoy with debris from the forest floor and their shoes. Harry couldn’t stand it any longer. Pawing the ground angrily, he bent his head low and charged out from behind the tree he was hiding. Careful to avoid stepping on Malfoy, he smashed his antlers into Greg’s chest. The burly sixth year went toppling into the dirt.

Harry didn’t wait to see if he’d been knocked out. Instead he focused on plunging some well aimed kicks into the sides and faces of the other Slytherins. There were cries of pain as the bullies stepped back, holding their wounds and looking around to see what had attacked them.

Kristle’s eyes widened. “What the – What’s a stag doing here?”

Greg got to his feet and pulled out his wand. “Who cares?” he snapped. “Let’s kill it!”

Harry said the spell without thinking even though he didn’t have a wand. “Flipendo!”

To both Harry’s surprise and delight, the spell worked! Greg was blasted off his feet, flipping backwards before his whole body slammed into another tree. He fell to the forest floor with a grunt. He didn’t get up. The other Slytherins looked at Harry in utter shock. Inspired by their trepidation, Harry lowered his head and pawed the ground as if preparing to charge.

“Let’s get out of here!” Kristle shouted, turning to run.

“It’s just a stag, Kristle,” one of them protested.

“And it can cast spells,” she pointed out angrily. “How many animals do you know that can do that? We just learned that there are evil creatures that might be able to use magic that prey on humans for food. Don’t you guys realize that this stag is probably one of them?!” The others looked at her stupidly until she shoved one of them. “Get Greg and let’s go before the thing turns into a demon and devours us!”

“What about Malfoy?”

“I’m not risking my neck for him!” said Kristle. “Even if that means getting punished by Lestrange. Besides, if we leave him, maybe the demon will eat him and forget about us.”

Harry, finding this conversation extremely amusing, stepped forward and began to growl. He pawed the ground and rolled his eyes and then he reared onto his back legs, kicking the air furiously with his front hooves.

Kristle screamed before turning on her heel and bolting through the trees. The other Slytherins ran after her, looking over their shoulders and stumbling upon rocks in their haste to get away. Harry waited until they were long gone before chuckling to himself. He never would have thought that Professor Merrylow’s lesson on sinister dark creatures that shape-shifted into animals would actually play in his favor. He’d have to remember to tell Ron and Hermione about this later.

A twig snapped. Harry immediately stiffened, his ears flicking forward, his eyes silently scanning the trees. Something was moving towards them. Harry looked down at Malfoy. He didn’t want to leave him here, especially in the state he was in, but he couldn’t move him and make it out of the clearing before whoever it was would stumble upon their location. Regretting leaving Malfoy behind, Harry leapt into the bushes and crouched low to the ground, his eyes focused on the dark shadow moving ever closer.

Harry had to stop himself from gasping as the person stepped into the clearing. It was Alexandria Write. She took one look at Malfoy, gasped, and rushed to his side. She pulled out her wand and muttered, “Rennervate.”

Malfoy immediately groaned. Blinking his eyes, he looked around. “Alex?”

Alexandria smiled. “Hey, you don’t look too good.”

Malfoy sat up, wincing. “I’ve been worse.”

“I know,” Alexandria said simply, pulling out a potion and beginning to apply it to Malfoy’s wounds. “How did they find you?”

Malfoy shrugged. “Followed me I guess. Ouch! Watch it, woman!”

Alexandria rolled her eyes. “It’s going to hurt no matter what I do, Draco. Stop squirming. You’re worse than a two year old.”

Harry couldn’t believe his eyes. Alexandria and Malfoy? Alone? And together? Harry shook his head. A Gryffindor and a Slytherin meeting each other in the Forbidden Forest after ten o’clock; that was a new one. It was so obvious what was happening but Harry still found it completely shocking. But then, as he thought about it, the more it made sense; the way Malfoy looked at her on the train, the way Alexandria had looked at him, why she sat next to him in potions class, the real reason Alexandria was at the Slytherin Quidditch tryouts, why she knew that Malfoy had quit the Quidditch team. All of this clicked in Harry’s brain in a matter of seconds.

And then, from what happened just now, Harry had learned that Malfoy’s parents had been tracked down and murdered by the Death Eaters and he was being beaten up by the other Slytherins. An immense pity came over Harry; a pity for Malfoy that he didn’t think would have been possible. He’d lost everything, his parents, his reputation, his friends; all in the course of one summer.

Harry had no idea. The death of the Malfoys hadn’t been mentioned in any of the papers. Their reputation may have been destroyed when they went public as Voldemort’s followers but Harry was sure there would have been some mention of their deaths. He racked his brains but no memory of any article in the paper that he’d read over the summer came to mind. He could then only come to one conclusion: their deaths had been done in secret and their bodies had been disposed of by the Death Eaters in such a way that they couldn’t be found.

Now Harry’s next question was how Malfoy had managed to survive? Had his parents died to save him like Harry’s had? Or were they just separated from Malfoy at the time of the attack? Harry didn’t know. But he wanted to find out.

It was now obvious to him how lonely Malfoy had looked every time he saw him in classes and in the halls. Looking back, Harry realized that Malfoy hadn’t even bothered to torment him, except for back on the train. But that hadn’t really been what he was doing either. Thinking on it, it almost was as if Malfoy had only bothered disturbing their compartment so as to have someone to talk to, even if it was Harry, his hated enemy. Harry looked at Alexandria, highly impressed with her. She’d seen that Malfoy had a need and she’d filled it in more ways than one.

Harry almost had the wild notion of offering to be friends with Malfoy himself but that would be too weird. They’d hated each other since they’d first met. Why in the world would Harry want to be his friend? They were enemies!

“Did you chase them off?” Alexandria asked.

Harry was jarred from his thoughts as Malfoy came to his feet, holding Alexandria’s hand.

“No.”

“Then who did?”

Draco scanned the grounds, almost as if he was looking for something or, Harry gulped, someone. He let go of Alexandria’s hand and began inching closer to Harry’s hidden position.

“Draco?”

“Shut up a minute,” he said over his shoulder. “I’m listening for something.”

Harry thought it rather rude of Malfoy to tell his girlfriend to shut up but when he looked at Alexandria, she was smiling and rolling her eyes. Harry eyed her as if she were crazy. Oh well, different strokes for different folks. Malfoy’s feet stopped at the foot of the bush Harry was hiding behind but thankfully he peered over the top instead of looking down.

“Draco, come on,” said Alexandria, coming over to him and taking him by the arm. “We need to get back up to the castle before the doors are locked at ten. We have fifteen minutes.”

Malfoy continued to look around for thirty seconds before finally giving up. He walked over to a nearby tree and picked up his wand. Pocketing it, he rejoined Alexandria who wound her arm through his and began dragging him towards the castle.

“Stop pulling me, will you? I can walk on my own.”

Alexandria giggled. “I thought your attitude would have changed by now.”

“Shut it,” Malfoy said, though his tone was surprisingly soft.

Harry was so shocked from this sudden affectionate side of Malfoy that he nearly revealed his hiding place. One of his hooves landed on a twig that snapped, creating a small noise. Luckily, both Draco and Alexandria were out of earshot. He waited until they were gone before bolting from his hiding place and rushing up to the school.

Professor McGonagall was standing at the doors, eyeing him with slight disapproval. “Cutting it rather close, don’t you think, Potter?”

“Sorry, Professor,” Harry said as he walked in passed her. “I got caught up in the Forest.”

“Yes, well, get in, get in,” she said, ushering him inside. “And go straight to your chambers, Potter. It’s ten o’clock and you have classes tomorrow.”

“Right, Professor. See you tomorrow,” Harry muttered before looking around and checking that the coast was clear. Sensing no one, he walked over to the large tapestry hanging against the wall and disappeared behind it, heading straight for bed, praying that his thoughts would clear so he would be able to rest.

*~*~*~*~

The week leading up to the dance, Malfoy always seemed to be in Harry’s peripheral vision, watching him in between classes, at breakfast and lunch, and even during potions when he should have been focusing on his work. Harry’s fear that Malfoy might know his secret turned into a horrible nightmare on Halloween.

Because of the distracting conversations about the ball taking place in the evening, most of the professors decided to forget lessons for the day and instead let their students talk and relax. Of course Professor McGonagall wouldn’t let them have a break and to everyone’s surprise neither did Professor Merrylow. Even though she had a lesson for them, it was very appropriate for the holiday. She’d invited a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost to class so they could learn about the similarities and differences each creature had in a society of witches and wizards.

The students asked questions and took notes. The three creatures actually were rather cooperative and Harry had a suspicion that all of them had a personal friendship with Professor Merrylow, especially since she joked and teased each of them throughout the whole lesson. Not only had Professor Merrylow brought holiday appropriate creatures, she’d also decked out her entire classroom with Halloween décor. Creepy spider webs clung to every surface along with their owners, live bats hung from the ceiling, their red eyes glowing in the dim candlelight, and a small graveyard had risen from the classroom floor, complete with fog, the headstones scattered between the students’ desks. The bell rang, signifying the end of lessons for the day, and the students began to put their things away.

“For homework, I’d like each of you to come up with a short story, two pieces of parchment, involving you, a werewolf, a vampire, and a ghost,” said Professor Merrylow, “due next Friday. And remember, try to make it as creative as possible!”

The students didn’t seem bothered by the idea of having homework but it was probably due to the fact that the assignment was fun; Professor Merrylow’s assignments usually were.

Harry made his way out of the classroom only to find Draco Malfoy leaning against the opposite wall by himself. Their eyes met and Malfoy looked over to an empty classroom. Harry narrowed his eyes but turned to Ron and Hermione.

“I’ll see you two later. I need to do something.”

They looked at him questioningly but nodded before following the rest of the Gryffindors heading back to Gryffindor Tower. Malfoy pushed his way through the crowd and slipped into the classroom first, shutting the door behind him.

Harry hesitated. What if Malfoy was waiting on the other side of the door to hex him? Every time Malfoy had singled him out before it usually was to provoke him into a fight. Harry looked back and forth to make sure nobody was looking his way before pulling out the Gate Frame from under his robes and whispering for Sirius.

Immediately his godfather appeared. He looked around at the students and then at Harry, concerned. “What’s up, Harry?”

“I’m about to meet up with Malfoy for something and I just want to have some invisible back up just in case he decides to hex me,” Harry explained quickly before slipping into the classroom.

“What kept you?” Malfoy immediately demanded as Harry shut the door.

Sirius came through the wall and stayed close to Harry though both he and his godson felt immediately that this was strictly a social call. Still, Sirius decided to be on his guard.

“It’s kind of difficult for me to get away from crowds unnoticed,” Harry answered a little coldly.

Malfoy scoffed. “You could have used that invisibility cloak of yours.”

“Most of the time I don’t carry it around with me everywhere I go, Malfoy. Now, what do you want? You’ve been trying to get me alone for a week.”

“You’re darn right I have,” said Malfoy smugly, leaning against a desk, his arms crossed. “Look, Potter, you may have circulated that you avoid people in the evenings for the sake of keeping on the down low but I don’t buy it. I think something’s happened to you that renders you unable to be around anyone after sunset.”

Harry bristled. Malfoy grinned.

“I thought so. Mind telling me what’s going on? Because if you don’t, I’ll just keep following you until I find out. Although, I think I’ve pretty much figured out things on my own.”

“Don’t tell him anything, Harry,” Sirius warned. “Remember who he is. He could use your secret as blackmail; maybe he’ll even sell it to the Death Eaters.”

Harry ignored answering Sirius, silently grateful that Malfoy couldn’t see or hear him.

Folding his arms as well, he said, “And what do you think is going on Malfoy?”

Malfoy sneered. “Don’t try to play dumb with me, Potter. I’ve noticed how you disappear at sunset and I’ve heard from the other Gryffindors that you’re not sleeping in Gryffindor Tower. And hearing your voice casting a spell in the forest last week when I was being attacked by Kristle and her little gang kind of helped me put two and two together. Tell me, have you become an unregistered animagus?”

“Play ignorant, Harry,” said Sirius.

Harry shook his head in his godfather’s direction before addressing Malfoy. “Well, first off, I’d like to say I’ve noticed a few things about you, Malfoy. You and your parents left instead of helping fight with Voldemort in the Last Battle, you became enemies to the surviving Death Eaters who then hunted you and your parents, killing both of them and leaving you an orphan, your reputation is terrible in all circles, and you have no friends here at school except for Alexandria who is secretly your girlfriend. May I say I’m shocked that you fell for a Gryffindor and a muggleborn at that?”

Harry’s last comment wasn’t condescending. It was purely stating that he was indeed surprised. It was Malfoy’s turn to look sour.  

“If you breathe a word to anyone about this –”

“I wasn’t going to,” Harry said simply. “I just wanted you to be sure that I know your secrets too so you can’t use anything on me as blackmail.”

“I wasn’t going to blackmail you,” Malfoy snapped defensively. “I just wanted to confirm my suspicions.”

“Well, then that settles that. We both agree not to blab each other’s secrets?” He held out a hand, waiting.

Malfoy eyed him with narrowed eyes before stepping forward and taking his hand. “Agreed,” he said, shaking it. “Now tell me what’s going on, Potter.”

Harry ran a hand through his hair. “I can’t tell you anything in great detail. All I can say is that I’ve been cursed. I transform into a stag every night from sunset to sunrise. Wanting to keep my condition a secret, Dumbledore made up a place for me to stay on the ground floor so I can leave the castle and spend some time out on the grounds while the rest of the students are still milling around the castle in the early evening hours.”

Malfoy looked at him with a slightly amused expression. “Who did it?”

Harry shook his head. “Sorry, but I’m unable to give you any more information.”

“I get it. This is one of those curses where if you reveal who performed the spell then you’ll suffer an even greater curse, maybe even death. Well, you’re in a bit of a fix, aren’t you, Potter?”

Harry tried to ignore the silent taunt in Malfoy’s voice. “You don’t seem to be in a really good spot either. A Gryffindor as your girlfriend, no friends, no wonder you’ve been spending time out in the forest; rather be out there than get beat up by your own house in your own common room.”

Malfoy scowled. “So what if Alex is my girlfriend?”

Harry shrugged innocently. “Nothing. I just find it a bit shocking that you’d fall for a muggleborn, Malfoy.”

Malfoy looked out the window, unfolding his arms so he could put his hands in his pockets. “Look, Potter, when I was milling around with Voldemort I had a lot of time to think. My parents and I finally realized just how insane he was after he’d fully come into power. I spent some time contemplating how I’d ended up in such a ridiculous situation, how I could possibly get out, and what I would change once I was free to do my own thing.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “So basically you underwent a bunch of personal therapy and finally woke up to realize all the crap your parents and relatives drilled into you about purebloods ruling the world was a load of tripe.”

To Harry’s surprise, Malfoy actually smirked. He even chuckled a bit as he looked back out the window. Shrugging, he said, “That sounds about right.”

Harry’s ears must not be working. Had Malfoy just agreed with him? “So, what happens now?” he asked.

Malfoy shrugged again. “I keep dealing with the abuse and spending as much time as I can away from the Slytherin common room while you suffer transforming into a flea bitten animal every night.”

Harry couldn’t believe it but he cracked a smile. “At least being a flea bitten animal is better than getting beat up all the time.”

Malfoy also smiled. “I’d have to agree with you there.”

And then Harry did something that previously he would have considered himself insane for doing. “Hey, since you seem to be completely friendless now, why don’t you hang around us Gryffindors for a change?”

Malfoy’s eyes bulged as he looked at Harry in shock. Harry must have had the same look because he was surprised as well. Malfoy frowned, observing Harry closely. “Potter, are you offering to strike up a friendship?”

“I guess so,” he answered, still stunned by his own offer.

Malfoy narrowed his eyes. “This isn’t a trick, is it?”

Harry cocked an eyebrow. “Look, I’m just as surprised to be offering friendship as you are.”

“Then why did you suggest it?”

Harry groaned. This whole situation was awkward enough. Did he really have to explain his reasoning? One look at Malfoy and he had that answer: yes he did.

“You may not want to hear this but I feel I can relate to what you’re going through right now. I know what it feels like to have everyone hate you, to be picked on by others, and to not have parents.”

“So you’re only asking to be friends out of pity?” Malfoy surmised.

Harry shrugged. “Yeah, something like that.”

The two of them stared at each other for a long moment. Finally Malfoy shrugged. “What do I have to lose? Fine, Potter, let’s see if we can tolerate each other. But if this doesn’t work out we’ll blame our attempted friendship on some strange potion and part ways forever. Deal?”

“Deal,” Harry agreed, shaking Malfoy’s hand.

The two of them stepped away from each other, feeling a little awkward.

“Right,” muttered Draco, “I’m late to meet up with Alex so I’ll see you around. And not a word about her and me, Potter, understand?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I got it. Like I would tell; you’d spill my secret if I did.”

“And don’t you forget it,” Malfoy replied smugly.

Harry grinned. “Whatever. I’ve already given my word not to say anything. It’s up to you two whether to reveal yourselves or not.”

Draco nodded. “And don’t forget that either. I’ll see you later, Potter.”

“Bye, Malfoy.”

Draco walked passed him and left the classroom, leaving Harry alone with Sirius.

“Well, that was a surprising turn of events,” Sirius commented, joining Harry at his side. “Were you actually planning that?”

Harry shrugged. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t. I’d considered it a possibility but I will say that I had thought that he would have agreed to keep secrets and then we’d part ways. I guess friendship is the better alternative in the long run though. Who knows, maybe we’ll work things out enough to send Christmas cards to each other later in life.”

Sirius snorted. “Yeah, that’ll be the day.”

The two of them left the classroom and Sirius ran right into an unsuspecting Professor Merrylow. Harry had expected him to go right through her but the professor stumbled just like any regular person would when being hit head-on by someone else. Sirius reacted instinctively, grabbing her around the waist. Again, Harry was stunned that Sirius appeared to be solid. He held Professor Merrylow against him, looking just as shocked as Harry felt.

The professor’s hat had fallen off, exposing her ridiculous pink, green, and blue curls. As she looked into Sirius’s deep grey eyes and handsome dark face, a deep blush filtered into her cheeks. Sirius looked surprised, his eyes raking over every inch of the young woman in his arms. They stayed in this position for five seconds before Sirius became aware that he was physically holding her. Pulling her to her feet, he immediately released her and took a step back; apparently completely astounded that he was even able to hold her.

Professor Merrylow was completely flushed. “Hi,” she breathed. “Um, thanks for saving me.”

Sirius shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “No, no, I should apologize. I didn’t mean to bump into you.”

Harry started to smirk. Right now it didn’t seem to matter that Sirius could see his professor and that she could see him. What mattered was that his godfather looked like he was trying to screw his eyeballs back into his head.

Professor Merrylow noticed Harry for the first time. “Harry! What are you doing here?”

“I was having a conversation with my godfather, professor,” he said automatically. “He came to visit me.”

Professor Merrylow looked at Sirius. “How nice. Oh, forgive me, I’m being rude. My name is Gretelle Merrylow but I go by Elle.”

Sirius took her hand and shook it gently. “Sirius,” he said, “Sirius Black.”

Professor Merrylow nodded cheerfully. “Well, Sirius it’s very nice to –” Then she froze. Looking Sirius up and down, her eyes widened with considerable alarm. She looked at Harry, disbelief filtering every inch of her face. “That can’t be right,” she muttered more to herself than to them. “Sirius Black died at the Ministry of Magic. He’s dead.”

Sirius tried to remain nonchalant. “I am dead, professor.”

Professor Merrylow looked beside herself. “But…but…I can see you… and you’re obviously not a ghost… and you held me…and…and…”

She looked about ready to faint. Harry caught her and guided her into her classroom across the hall. “Come on, professor,” he urged, “you need to sit down.”

“Yeah, sit down,” Professor Merrylow repeated weakly. “Good idea, Harry.”

After the three of them were inside, Sirius pulled out his wand and pointed it at the door. It swung shut. He then used a charm to lock them in so they wouldn’t be disturbed. Keeping his distance, Sirius watched as Harry made sure the professor was sitting down properly, even though every fiber of his being wanted to be right at Elle Merrylow’s side, asking if she was going to be okay.

Professor Merrylow looked over at Sirius. “If he’s dead, how is he here, Harry?”

Harry bit his lip. He wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about the Gate Frame. But how was he supposed to explain this without revealing the Gate Frame to the professor? He looked to Sirius, hoping he would have an answer. Sirius eyed him wearily and took a step before freezing in place. Harry, afraid that something bad had just happened, stood up.

“Sirius?” he asked hesitantly. His godfather didn’t respond. Concerned, Harry took a couple of steps closer. “Sirius?” he asked again.

Suddenly, Sirius blinked and leapt back in surprise from how close Harry was to him. “Harry! What’s the big idea, creeping up on someone like that?”

“I didn’t,” Harry protested. “You froze up, like you were petrified. What happened?”

A look of understanding filled Sirius’s eyes. “I just received a message from the Higher Ups,” he explained. “They said it’s okay to tell Elle about the Gate Frame but we have to give her a strict warning. If she tells anyone else about it she’ll be punished severely in the next life.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “Does this mean that she can see the others?” - Referring to his parents, Remus, and Tonks.

Sirius nodded. “For some reason, the H. U.s think its fine for her to see them.”

Harry looked over at Professor Merrylow who had been listening in on their conversation.

“Hold everything,” she said, standing up. Already she looked like her eccentric self again, every trace of fatigue gone. She marched right over to Harry. “Let me get this straight; if you tell me some big secret then my life after I die may be in jeopardy?”

“Only if you tell anyone else the secret,” said Sirius.

“Okay then,” Professor Merrylow muttered, pacing back and forth, “okay…a secret that Harry has that if I learn may cause my salvation to be on the line if I tell anyone else…seems dangerous…sounds fun!” She turned to look at Harry and Sirius with a big smile on her face and a spark in her brown eyes. “Fire away then, Harry!”

Sirius gaped. “I like her,” he said, praising her enthusiasm.

Harry laughed. “Professor Merrylow’s always been a sucker for thrills.”

“You’ve got that right,” she replied happily. “Now, tell me, what’s this secret?”

*~*~*~*~

Harry emerged from the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom an hour later with Sirius who was looking like the happiest man on Earth.

“I can’t believe that we go in there to explain to her about something as serious and confidential as the Gate Frame and you somehow managed to get her to go on a date tonight,” Harry sighed, slightly exasperated.

Sirius looked cheered. “Never be surprised by my ability to woo a woman, Harry.”

“This is a side I never saw of you.”

“Well, I didn’t have much chance to find women when on the run all the time,” said Sirius as the two of them made their way to Harry’s private chamber on the first floor.

Harry shook his head. “And I can’t believe I was the one who suggested that you two should go to the Halloween Ball together. What has gotten into me?”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. His grey eyes stormed with excitement and thrill, something Harry had never seen before. “You just wanted to be in on helping me plan the date. Oh I can’t wait to tell James and Remus that we’re all going on a triple date tonight to a Hogwarts dance. Their wives will be thrilled!”

Harry tried to be optimistic. “Yeah; tell me how it is.”

Sirius stopped, finally realizing that Harry wasn’t going to be able to go. “I’m sorry, Harry,” he apologized. “I wasn’t trying to rub it in.”

Harry smiled. “I know you weren’t, Sirius. I’m happy for you. Professor Merrylow is pretty awesome. Did you know she was Tonks’s best friend?”

Sirius laughed heartily. “Now that’s irony for you. Remus is my best friend and he’s married to Tonks and now I’m going on a date with Elle Merrylow who is Tonks’s best friend! That’s great! I can’t wait to tell them!”

Harry couldn’t help but be cheered by his godfather’s enthusiasm. He hadn’t seen Sirius this happy since Harry had told him he would love to move in with him back in his third year when they had first met. Immediately Harry decided not to be depressed over not being able to go to the dance. This was a night for Sirius to finally feel free, to experience happiness and fun, not having to look over his shoulder all the time or stay locked up in a house; no, Harry was definitely going to make sure that Sirius had no need to worry about him. For the sake of his godfather, Harry would keep his misery locked up in silence and reveal it to no one.

The two of them finally arrived at Harry’s private chambers. After giving the password, Harry went inside, tossing his schoolbag onto one of the sofas before collapsing next to it. He felt completely exhausted for two reasons: he’d been practicing some heavy mental exercises during his night time escapades in the forest (trying to master the art of performing magic without the need of a wand just as he’d done when defending Malfoy a week ago) as well as the top secret research he’d started earlier in the year which required a lot of his energy mentally as well as physically. He had kept his secret project from everyone (even Ron and Hermione) because he felt strongly that it needed to be done independently without having anyone harping on how perilous and disastrous it was.

He also hadn’t told anyone about his new found ability to perform magic without a wand – and the lengths he was going into frying his brain to produce results – but he couldn’t hide his obvious fatigue from his parents and the other marauders . They could tell he was exerting himself in such a way that left him completely and utterly bushed.

Sirius keenly observed him as Harry laid his head against the back of the sofa and closed his eyes. “Are you going to tell me what you’re secretly doing that’s making you so tired?”

Harry opened one eye to look at his godfather. “I already told you, Sirius, I’m just worn out from my studies and running around with you, dad, and Remus every night.”

Sirius wasn’t satisfied with this answer. “Come on, Harry. We all know that isn’t the truth.”

Harry cocked an eyebrow at him. “Been talking about me behind my back, have you?”

“We’re just concerned,” Sirius said, agitated. “You look like you’re going to fall asleep right where you’re sitting.”

Harry frowned. “I do feel that way. I’d better call out everyone else.”

“Harry,” Sirius began but Harry held up his hand.

“Sirius, when I’m ready to tell you why I’m tired, I’ll tell you, okay? Now stop badgering me.”

Sirius sighed, closing his eyes. “Alright,” he consented, “as long as you promise me that whatever you’re doing doesn’t possibly lead you to your death.”

Harry would have laughed but Sirius was serious. He sized up his godfather before sighing. “I’ll let you know if it gets to that point.”

Sirius didn’t relax. “Harry, you really should tell me.”

Ignoring him, Harry pulled out the Gate Frame. He was too tired to argue with Sirius. It was best to summon the others so to stop the current conversation. “James, Lily, Remus, and Tonks,” he said before closing his eyes again.

He’d fought so hard to keep himself cognizant in his classes and in front of his friends but his body was at its limit. He felt really rude for falling asleep on the others, but he was just too tired to fight the battle of staying awake. He distinctly heard his parents’ voices before drifting off, unable to stay conscious any longer. 

*~*~*~*~

Harry woke up a few hours later and was surprised to find himself on his pad in front of the fireplace, his body having already transformed. Sirius, James, and Remus were sitting on the sofas, James and Remus playing a game of wizard’s chess while Sirius watched. Harry stretched, his movement alerting them to his presence.

Sirius looked at him warily, obviously remembering their earlier conversation. Harry could tell he wanted to continue it but his Godfather seemed to decide that now was not the time. So instead he smiled and asked, “How do you feel?”

“Fine,” Harry responded, silently praying that the earlier conversation would never be brought up again. “How long have I been asleep?”

“Four hours,” said Remus. “We were beginning to wonder if we should wake you up. The Halloween feast is almost over.”

“Kreacher showed up to give you your dinner,” Sirius added, pointing at a plate full of nuts and twigs resting off to Harry’s left on the floor. “We told him not to wake you up though. Hungry?”

Harry shrugged, sniffing the plate. “A little. This smells good.” He snatched up a couple of twigs with his teeth and immediately tasted shepherd’s pie. “Tastes good too.” He picked up a few more twigs and a couple nuts, enjoying the different food flavors each brought.

James smiled. “Glad to hear its good, Harry. We wondered if you wanted to go for a run before we went to the dance.”

Harry shook his head. “No, I’m just going to stay here tonight. With the dance going on I’m sure that a lot of people are going to be milling around. The last thing I need is to have someone else discover my secret. Having Malfoy know is bad enough.”

James and Remus looked at each other.

“Sirius told us what happened, Harry,” said Remus. “Are you sure Draco’s trustworthy?”

Harry nodded. “I know he’s been a Death Eater and an avid supporter of Voldemort in the past but I feel that he’s had a change of heart. We can trust him.”

James sighed. “Alright, Harry, if you say we can trust him then we will.”

“Where’s mum and Tonks?” Harry asked, noticing their absence for the first time.

Sirius snickered. “They went to go get ready for the dance about an hour ago. Don’t know why it takes women so long to get ready but I guess it can’t be helped.”

“You do realize it’s a costume dance, right?” said Harry.

James nodded. “We noticed the sign,” he said, pointing at the bulletin board. “I’m going to be a vampire, Remus, a ghost, and Sirius a grim reaper. Sirius and I suggested Remus go as a werewolf but he put up a big argument against it.”

Remus scowled. “What’s the fun of dressing up as myself?”

The four of them laughed.

“So, when are you guys going to get into your costumes?”

“After we finish this game,” his father answered. “Remus is about to cream me.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well, don’t blame me if mum and Tonks show up completely ready to go and the three of you aren’t even dressed up. Besides, don’t you have to pick up Professor Merrylow, Sirius?”

Sirius looked at a clock positioned close to Harry’s room. “Yeah, I need to meet her by her classroom in about ten minutes.”

Harry looked him up and down. “And you can be dressed in ten minutes?”

Sirius grinned. “Of course I can, Harry. It’s not that difficult to become a grim reaper. I just need a long black cloak,” – he waved his wand and one appeared – “a belt,” – another wave from his wand and a black studded belt fell onto the cloak – “and a scythe.” He flicked his wand one last time and the terrifying death tool appeared, leaning against the wall with its blade resting on the floor.

James complimented him on the outfit. “Looks good, Sirius. Now we just need to see it on you.”

Sirius stood up, pulling on the black cloak, which fell to his feet, before buckling the belt around his waist. Putting on the hood, he picked up the scythe and turned to face them, a wicked grin climbing his cheeks.

Remus whistled. “You look pretty terrifying. Nice job, Padfoot.”

“Thanks. Do you think Elle will be impressed?”

James grinned. “Sure, as long as you don’t use your scythe to kill anyone.”

“Don’t worry, the blade’s completely child proof,” Sirius assured. “It can’t cut a thing.”

And to demonstrate, he lifted the object above his head and brought it down upon the couch right next to Remus’s head. The impact caused the sofa to press down but nothing split.

Remus looked pale as he eyed the blade four inches away from his face. “Could you have demonstrated somewhere else? What if it hadn’t worked? You could have decapitated me!”   

James and Sirius roared with laughter.

“You’re already dead, Remus,” James pointed out, laughing.

Remus blinked. “Oh...right. Guess I forgot.”

This only brought about another round of laughter.

James glanced at the clock. “Better get a move on, Sirius. Don’t want to be late for your date.”

Sirius looked at the clock as well. “Yeah,” he muttered, suddenly sounding nervous.

Remus and James looked at each other, clearly surprised. Sirius being nervous before a date apparently was not something either of them had ever seen.

“Do you think she’ll like the outfit?” Sirius asked, oblivious to his two friends’ silent shock.

James recovered first. “Why wouldn’t she? You’re a reaper of souls! That’s one of the coolest creatures to be for Halloween.”

“Yeah,” said Remus. “Besides, you’ve never had problems with a girl liking you before. There’s nothing to worry about, mate.”

Sirius gulped, fidgeting with his cloak. “Right,” he muttered, “nothing to worry about at all.” He straightened up, silently continuing to assure himself, his eyes reflecting Gryffindor bravery. “Well, I’ll meet you guys in the Entrance Hall.”

“Go get her, Padfoot!” James encouraged.

Sirius left and James turned to Remus. “I’ve never seen him looking nervous over a date before, have you?”

Remus shook his head. “Never.”

“Well, I’ve never seen Sirius looking completely speechless over a woman either,” said Harry, finishing up the rest of his dinner.

“He was speechless?” James asked with surprise and interest.

“Yeah,” said Harry. He then explained to them the encounter of Sirius and Professor Merrylow from his perspective. “Sirius looked like he’d fallen into some kind of trance for five seconds,” Harry finished. “I’ve never seen him like that.”

James looked at Remus slyly. “I think a female has finally captured the heart of our Grim, wouldn’t you agree, Moony?”

Remus grinned. “It would appear that way, Prongs.”

Harry looked at them both. “You’re not going to tease him over it, are you?”

“Of course not,” said James, grinning. “We’re just going to enjoy watching him babble like an idiot like every man does when they’ve fallen head over heels for a girl. Oh, this night just got a thousand times better!”

Remus laughed. “It sure has! We’ll tell you all about it too, Harry, if you’d like to know the details.”

Despite the fact that this was sure to be a slightly embarrassing experience for Sirius, Harry couldn’t help but be curious as to what would happen. “Alright,” he said, “but only as long as you two promise not to tease him over his actions.”

James looked slightly crestfallen. “Do we have to promise that?”

“Yes,” Harry answered firmly. “This is the first time in years that Sirius has gone on a date. We shouldn’t be making fun of him.”

James and Remus considered his words.

“Alright,” Remus sighed. “We won’t tease him about it.”

“Promise?” Harry asked, looking at his dad. 

James nodded. “You have my word.”


Chapter 13: The Halloween Ball
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



AN: This chapter will take place in Sirius’s point of view

Sirius moved up the spiral staircase leading to the third floor corridor. Students ran passed him, dressed in colorful costumes, rushing down to the Great Hall where the dance was about to begin. Sirius was somewhat grateful that none of them could see him; it would have been awkward explaining that he was heading to their professor’s classroom to ask her to join him at the dance.

Speaking of not being able to be seen, Sirius remembered that he’d run into Elle before back on the Hogwarts Express with James. Obviously she hadn’t been able to see him then so why could she see him now? As he walked, musing over this, a card suddenly appeared in front of him. A light glow shined around its perimeter. Sirius snatched the card out of the air.

The background was a simple white with a swirling border of golden leaves. Printed in neat handwriting in the center were these simple words: It wasn’t time yet. H.U.

Sirius half-smiled, silently amused. Normally the Higher Ups didn’t answer a spirit’s questions automatically like this but apparently they wanted him to know this detail. It certainly cleared his mind but it left him to wonder why when he’d first seen Elle that it hadn’t been time for them to actually meet. He pondered over this for a good minute before realizing that he had walked past the D.A.D.A. classroom.

Backtracking, he came to a halt in front of the door and took a deep breath. He’d never been this nervous over asking a girl out. He’d also never been rendered speechless at the sight of a woman either. Sirius rubbed the back of his neck, confused. What was it about Elle that was causing him to wonder if such an amazing woman even deserved to be with a pitiful man like him? What if she opened the door and told him she’d changed her mind? What if she told him he wasn’t good enough to be her date and that she’d rather go with someone who was alive like she was?

He shook his head. Standing tall, fighting these insecurities, he knocked three times on the classroom door. Elle answered immediately. It took every ounce of Sirius’s mind not to allow himself to stand there gawking at her like an utter moron.

She was positively stunning! Her curly hair had been dyed black, her eyes changed from their usual dark brown to the color of sunshine yellow, large cat ears poked out of the curls, and a bushy tail swished back and forth behind her legs which were a wonderful eye catcher for Sirius. They were long and sexy, exposed from the middle of her thighs all the way down to her feet which were strapped into a pair of black stilettos. She wore a black plaited skirt with a silver studded belt, a black tank top exposed her perfect hourglass figure, and her arms were covered in black gloves that extended to her elbows. Little glittering black bats glistened from a choker around her thin throat. Sirius silently noted that she had a small explosion of freckles along the tops of her shoulders.

Elle grinned, exposing a pair of small, sharper canines than the ones Sirius remembered from her earlier smile. “The Grim Reaper, huh? Nice!”

Sirius tried to regain his composure. “Thanks. You look fantastic yourself. A black cat, right?”

Elle nodded enthusiastically. “Yep! I wore this outfit to the Halloween Auror’s Party last year and got first place in the costume contest.”

“I can’t imagine why,” Sirius muttered under his breath, eyeing her legs again. “Well, are you ready to go?”

Elle nodded, taking his outstretched arm. “Lead the way, Grim Reaper.”

Sirius smiled, feeling like the luckiest man in the world. They met up with James and Lily and Remus and Tonks at the base of the steps to the Entrance Hall. James looked fantastic, his hair somehow slicked back (Sirius suspected he’d used five bottles of gel), his face looked ghostly white, and he was wearing the classic ‘tuxedo and cape look’ like the traditions of the muggle vampires. Lily appeared to be one of his victims; a trail of fake blood fell down her neck from a pair of black dots, disappearing into her clothes. She was wearing a fancy deep blue dress and black boots and she’d made her skin look like a corpse’s.

Remus had somehow made his body look transparent like a ghost and had put on some shredded clothing to make his appearance more sinister. Tonks had decided to dress up as a rag doll, her clothes shredded and patched with different quilt squares, her skin revealing several fake sewn up cuts. She’d also exercised her metamorphmagus abilities to make her hair long and tomato red. All of them smiled at Sirius and Elle as they descended the stairs.

Tonks leapt for joy, her smile as wide as the Nile River. She let go of Remus’s hand and attacked Elle in a hug. “Ellie!” She cried happily, twisting around with Elle in her arms. “I’ve missed you!”

“Dora!” Elle shouted, laughing happily. “I can’t believe it!”

The two friends pulled apart so they could look into each other’s eyes.

“You look great,” Tonks complimented.

“You too,” said Elle, looking her up and down.

Sirius took Elle’s arm again and introduced James and Lily.

Elle breathed deeply. “Your son is great,” she said, shaking both of their hands. “It’s an honor to meet you both.”

Lily smiled. “Likewise. I love your costume.”

“Thanks,” said Elle, “I love yours. You and James look really great.”

“And if you’ll believe it, we didn’t even plan to be a matching pair,” said James heartily.

“James, did you remember the potion?” Sirius asked all of a sudden.

James grinned. “You’d think I’d forget? This is the first prank of the year!”

Elle raised an eyebrow, eyeing Sirius. “You’re going to prank someone?”

“Not someone, everyone,” clarified Remus.

“We’ve been planning it for months,” added Tonks.

Elle looked surprised. “You’re in on this too, Dora?”

Tonks laughed, placing a hand on Remus’s chest. “When you’re married to a marauder, pranking is part of the package.”

“What’s a marauder?” Elle asked.

James, Remus, and Sirius laughed.

“That was the name we were known by when going to Hogwarts,” Sirius explained. “There’s not a person our age that went to Hogwarts who wouldn’t forget us. The pranks we pulled are legendary.”

“Really?” asked Elle with an incredible amount of enthusiasm. “Like what?”

James grinned. “Ever heard the story of when the entire fourth floor had wet toilet paper stuck to the ceiling?”

Elle let out a peel of laughter like a bell. “Of course! Who hasn’t heard of that one?”

“Well, that was us,” James revealed proudly.

Elle’s eyes widened. “Get out! Seriously?”

Sirius nodded. “Yep! We’re really proud of that one too. Took us five hours in the dead of night to pull it off. We had to dodge Filch three times, lock his stupid cat in the closet so it wouldn’t run off and fetch him, and tie up Peeves so he wouldn’t go and get a teacher. But it was completely worth it! Everyone’s faces! And Filch having to clean everything off! Priceless!”

“Mind you, we only did it because he’d made all of us clean the trophy room without magic,” said Remus.

Lily looked exasperated. “That was because you were in detention for some other prank you’d pulled earlier on in the week.”

The three men laughed.

“Like I said, totally worth it,” repeated Sirius.

Lily did not appear to be amused. She grabbed James’ elbow. “Let’s go dance,” she said, steering him into the Great Hall where music from the Weird Sisters could be heard blaring from a set of loud speakers.

Sirius followed her example and offered his arm to Elle. She smiled at him warmly before threading her arm through his.

“So, what is this prank you’re going the do?”

Sirius grinned. “Do you want to be told or do you just want to find out?”

Elle looked up at the ceiling, thinking. “I’ll just wait and find out,” she said. “I like surprises.”

The Great Hall looked absolutely fantastic. Sirius was slightly envious that they hadn’t had a Halloween Ball in his day. The four house tables were gone, replaced with smaller circular tables lining the walls, their surfaces covered in cobwebs, an eerie purple light coming from a glittering black candle holder in the middle, with black plates and goblets indented with silver spiders scattered about their surface. A graveyard had been erected where the band stood playing amidst the tombstones while awesome green fog rolled around them from a giant cauldron sitting next to one of the larger grave markers. Live bats fluttered in small numbers across the ceiling, their screeches heard between the pauses of each song. The green fog coming from the cauldron had seeped onto the dance floor where all the students were located, immersing their legs from the knees down. Several professors could be spotted amidst the students, dancing and having a good time with other fellow professors.

Professor Dumbledore was dressed up as a court jester, his ridiculous hat jingling with his movements as he danced with Professor McGonagall who had decided to be a winter fairy, her robes snow white with glittering icicles and snowflakes.

Sirius managed to make out Ron and Hermione, the former being dressed up like one of the illustrations of wood elves that Sirius had seen in muggle paintings. Ron’s hair had grown down to his lower back and a pair of pointy ears could be seen sticking out of the bright red locks. Hermione had dressed up as a wood fairy, her bushy hair containing a few braids that had bright green leaves woven into the strands. Her green dress was short, exposing her legs, and spiraling wires of silver climbed up her arms and calves, stopping at the elbows and knees.

Ginny was also spotted sitting at a table with a bunch of friends, dressed up as a mummy. She seemed to be having a good time though Sirius immediately picked up that everyone around her had dates. Making a note to spend some time with her later, Sirius led Elle out onto the dance floor just as a new song was beginning to play.

It was a slow number, and immediately Sirius and Elle were surrounded by the people who had previously been sitting down at the tables along with those already on the dance floor. Sirius placed one hand on Elle’s tiny waist and the other in her hand and began to lead her in a slow, simple dance pattern.

“I didn’t think you would know how to dance,” Elle said as he twirled her around.

“My mother thought it important to learn,” said Sirius with slight distaste.

“I see. So she forced you to take dancing lessons, huh?”

“When you’re a pureblood you’re forced to learn a lot of things to keep alive traditions that are older than Dumbledore.”

Elle laughed. “I suppose that makes sense. If we stopped having traditions, we’d lose a lot of culture. What other things did you have to learn as a pureblood?”

“Funnily enough, dancing is the only one I can remember at the moment,” Sirius confessed. “That must sound really lame.”

Laughing, Elle nodded. “Yeah, that is a little pathetic.”

Sirius felt like someone had dropped a lead balloon into his stomach. That is, he did until he saw the mischievous glint in Elle’s eyes. “You’re messing with me!” He said with surprise.

Elle raised an eyebrow, trying to hide her smile. “Nope, I’m being totally serious, Sirius.”

Sirius pursed his lips. “Alright, since I’m so pathetic and can’t remember any other traditions of my family, why don’t you care to share some of yours?”

Elle thought for a moment. “Alright, I think I’ve got a couple. Mind you, I’m muggleborn so I didn’t find out about being a witch until I was eleven. My dad passed away when I was five. To help preserve his memory, my mother would always take me to the zoo. She would take me there the first Saturday of every month. I had so much fun going.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your dad,” said Sirius sympathetically.

“It’s alright,” Elle answered. “He was a great man and he lived his life to the fullest. I don’t think he had any regrets. He tried to save a kid from drowning and ended up drowning himself.”

Sirius listened attentively. “I’m terribly sorry.”

“It’s alright. He died a hero and people saw him as such. That’s what helped me get over his passing.”

Sirius nodded silently. “Why did your mum think that going to a zoo would preserve your memory of your dad?”

“The tradition of going to the zoo started with my parents,” she answered. “That’s where they met; bumped right into each other while following the emperor penguins gliding through the water. And it’s also where my dad proposed to my mum.”

“So I assume your favorite animal is a penguin?”

Elle chuckled. “Everyone draws to that conclusion probably because my parents often called me their little penguin. Actually, my favorite animal, believe it or not, is a dog.”

She had to be joking. Sirius eyed her, waiting to see if she would say something like ‘just kidding!’ but after searching her eyes, he detected no sense of jest. The fates were laughing at him. She loved dogs. Could there be any more ways for her to fit his missing puzzle piece?

“What are you staring at?” Elle asked.

Sirius blinked. “Nothing. I just think it’s odd that you don’t like an animal like a koala or a giraffe since you’ve practically grown up around a zoo.”

“Yeah, a lot of people seem surprised,” Elle admitted. “But to me, a dog is absolutely awesome! Their loyal, they protect you, they act like guardians when anything you own is in peril, and they are always there to comfort you when you need a hug. I love dogs.”

She blushed slightly, biting her lip.

“What’s wrong?” Sirius asked.

“I don’t usually ramble like that,” she said, giggling slightly.

Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Really? Why not?”

“Because people usually find it annoying whenever I do,” she answered. “Dora was the only one who enjoyed when I rambled off like an idiot. She found it highly entertaining and engaging.”

Sirius glanced over at Tonks who was in Remus’s arms, her head nuzzled into his neck. He smiled. “She’s a great girl.”

“Oh yes,” Elle agreed. “And Remus seems to have made her happier than I have ever known her to be.”

“Believe me, she’s made him happy too,” Sirius said, watching the couple. “Remus didn’t have a very great life after he left Hogwarts.”

“Because of his little furry problem?”

“How did you know about that?”

“I joined the Order shortly after Dumbledore died. Everyone in the Order knew about Remus’s condition.”

Sirius studied her intently. “And that doesn’t bother you; that your best friend married a werewolf?”

Elle looked slightly insulted. “Of course it doesn’t! Didn’t I just say how happy he’s made her? I wouldn’t care if he was a pureblood, raving, old codger as long as he made her happy. I’ve got nothing whatsoever against werewolves. In fact, I have several friends that have suffered from werewolf bites. I sometimes get together with them at the Three Broomsticks. I think they’re some of the coolest people in the wizarding world and I feel that they are definitely mistreated among witches and wizards. It isn’t fair for people to treat them like they’re lepers.” She paused and sighed, “There I go, rambling again. Sorry.”

Sirius was positively delighted. “I agree with you one hundred percent. I’m grateful to know there are other people out there who see Remus the way James and I see him: as a person.”

“Anyone who doesn’t must have had their head bludgeoned by a red cap.”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. Elle laughed too.

They danced to four more numbers, two upbeat and the other two slow. By the time the second slow song started, Elle’s head had copied that of Tonks’s and was nestled against Sirius’s shoulder. James lifted his eyebrows up and down when Sirius caught his eye. Sirius grinned.

As the final slow song came to an end, Elle decided she needed to rest her feet. She seemed reluctant to leave Sirius’s embrace but he could tell her feet were beginning to hurt. He told Remus and James that they were going to sit down and the two agreed that a break was in order. Lily and Tonks looked relieved to hear this. The six of them managed to secure a table farther away from the loud speakers.

They’d been relaxing for a few minutes when Dumbledore came over and greeted them enthusiastically. “It appears as if the dead have managed to capture the living,” he commented with a smile, looking to Elle.

She grinned. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that you can see them, Professor Dumbledore.”

“Of course I can,” Dumbledore said cheerfully. “Tell me, am I to expect a prank tonight?”

James smiled evilly. “Any moment now and you’ll see the fruit of our labors, Albus, of that I can assure you.”

Dumbledore looked pleased. “Excellent! I’ve been wondering when the pranking would begin. You’ve all been rather quiet since the beginning of the year.”

“We were letting the students settle in,” Remus explained.

“Ahhh, yes, they’ll be less expectant then for something to happen,” Dumbledore surmised. “An excellent decision, I would have to agree.”

Elle looked slightly surprised that Dumbledore knew that the marauders were planning to prank his students and even more so that he was okay with it.

“Don’t worry,” Sirius assured her, “we don’t do anything life altering. We just stir things up enough to make people laugh.”

“I’m not worried,” said Elle. “If Dumbledore is okay with all of this then I might as well sit back and enjoy the show too.”

Suddenly several people screamed. Elle looked around.

“Looks like our evil plan is working,” James said cheerfully as the screaming turned into rounds of laughter.

“What happened?” Elle asked, standing up to get a better look at the students crowding around the dance floor. She didn’t have to wonder for very long.

Sirius grinned evilly as he watched a student freeze up in mid-step. His skin seemed to harden and then the boy stepped forward leaving a scaly figure of himself behind that looked like a snake’s skin. The snake skin-like figure dissolved as it withered to the floor.

James apparently had been watching the same person. “Looks like we got ourselves a Slytherin,” he laughed.

Sirius nodded before turning his eyes on a group of Gryffindors. He could tell they were from Gryffindor house because their hair had burst forth into ridiculous tangles, forming a lion’s mane, which lasted for five seconds before shedding off their skin, returning their hair to normal. Like the snake skin, the remains of mane dissolved before hitting the floor.

Remus nodded in approval, “Good idea for Gryffindor, Sirius. I like it.”

Sirius grinned. “Thanks. I can’t wait to see how yours and Tonks’s idea for Ravenclaw turned out.”

Sure enough, a couple of Ravenclaw boys sprouted bronze feathers all over their body before shuddering and having the feathers molt off of them, the plumage disappearing in the same fashion as the snake skin and lion hair.

James, Sirius, and Remus roared with laughter, each congratulating the other for their success.

“And now Lily’s Hufflepuff idea!” James said enthusiastically, looking around until he spotted three Hufflepuff students whose skin was rapidly developing long gray hairs all over their bodies. Once they were covered in deep gray fur, the hair on their heads turned black with white stripes. The effect lasted five seconds before all the hair fell loose. The hair disappeared before it could touch the ground. “Excellent!” James shouted, patting his wife on the back. “Good idea, Lils!”

Lily grinned. “Thanks for going with my idea.” She kissed him lightly.

Soon students were bursting forth lion manes, sprouting feathers, shedding skin, and shrugging off mounds of gray hair, all of them laughing heartily. Dumbledore chuckled pleasantly after he’d shed his own mane of lion hair.

“What an excellent prank,” he complimented. “Quite a bit of magic; I suppose of your own invention?”

James nodded. “Naturally. Sirius and I have been saving that one for years. Remus helped come up with the concept though. It was his idea to have the potion be able to identify what house you belong to, no matter what age you are, and then have the effect have something to do with your house. Sirius and I just made the magic happen while Lily provided the necessary potion skills to put everything into liquid form.”

“I see,” said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling with understanding, “you spiked the pumpkin juice.”

“Sure did!” James laughed.

Dumbledore tapped his chin. “Impressive. When did you do it? I’ve kept my eye on you the whole time and all of you were dancing.”

“When Lily and I danced passed the refreshments, I thought it a good opportunity,” James answered.

“How long does it last?” Elle asked as another group of Slytherins shed their skin.

“Four hours, on the hour, after the first occurrence,” Lily responded.

“Ingenious,” Dumbledore laughed. “Are the six of you not going to participate?”

Sirius grinned. “Are you kidding? I’m on my way to get pumpkin juice right now.” And he stood up to prove it.

James and Remus joined him.

“There’s no way we’re not participating in our own prank,” said James. “That would be ludicrous.”

“We’ll be right back with drinks for you girls too,” Remus promised before the three of them disappeared into the crowd.

As they walked, they heard people commenting on how awesome the prank was and inquiries of who had done the magic. Sirius grinned. “We’re definitely leaving our mark on this generation, aren’t we?”

Remus laughed. “They’ll be talking about this one for years.”

“Cheers,” said James happily.

The three of them reached the refreshment table. While Remus filled up several cups of spiked pumpkin juice, James joined Sirius who was silently watching Elle interact and laugh with Lily and Tonks. Sirius felt strange, like something was tugging deep inside him, a strange longing he’d never felt before. He’d dated girls in the past, more than any of his friends, and most of them he couldn’t even remember. He supposed they were just passing fads; a means to satisfy his desire of having someone admire his good looks and lift his self esteem so he wouldn’t get depressed.

He felt horrible for admitting it but Sirius had never really liked any of the girls he had dated while in school. Life at home in the Black house had always been a living nightmare for him; everyone hated him, spurned him because of his differences, and despised him for his choices of rejecting the pureblood ways. When he’d gotten to Hogwarts, he’d discovered that girls seemed to find him attractive, always giving him compliments, smiling up at him, going out of their way to make sure he noticed how much they liked him. Sirius supposed that was why he’d dated so many different women: he wanted and enjoyed the positive outlook they always had when looking at him. He’d never truly cared when he’d found his current girlfriend’s eyes wandering to some other boy. Instead he took that as a sign to dump her and move on to the next girl in line.

But Elle was different. There was something about her; some draw that pulled Sirius towards her no matter if she was on the opposite side of the room. He was overcome with a desire to spend every waking moment with her, to learn everything about her, and to hold her in his arms. Dancing with her had left him thirsting for more opportunities to touch her; feeling her small hands in his own, having her head rest against his shoulder, being completely aware of her body against his own.

These new emotions scared Sirius. He’d never felt this way before. How was he supposed to deal with this kind of thing? He was an expert at ditching a girl but winning her hand? He’d never done that before. And then there was one other major problem: he was dead and she was alive. How could he be with her when they existed in two different realms?

But he couldn’t deny his feelings. He had it bad. And he’d only just met the woman earlier this morning! How could someone fall in love in just a few short hours? Was it love or was it lust he was experiencing? He didn’t know and it both scared and annoyed him to no end.

He looked at Elle, her beautiful curly hair flipping out of her face as she ran her small hands through it, her almond shaped eyes that sparkled in the candlelight, her gorgeous figure that distracted Sirius every time she moved, her long, sexy legs, and her beautiful personality that radiated with every movement she made and every word she spoke. She was undeniably, positively beautiful.

Sirius was so preoccupied watching how well she got along with Lily and Tonks that he didn’t realize James and Remus were smirking at him.

“So,” James said loudly, slapping his hand on Sirius’s shoulder, “pretty great party, wouldn’t you say, Padfoot?”

Sirius blinked, tearing his eyes away from Elle who was laughing lightly as Tonks changed her nose into different shapes. “Yeah, everything’s really well done,” Sirius muttered, trying to focus on the decorations and failing as his eyes fell back to Elle.

James grinned for a split second but remembered his promise to Harry. They weren’t allowed to tease Sirius. But there wasn’t any harm in asking him what he thought of her.

“So, Sirius, do you like her?” James asked sincerely.

Sirius sighed, turning around so he wasn’t constantly watching her like some overbearing stalker. He noticed Remus and James faces; both knew very well that he liked her. They just wanted to hear him admit it.

“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”

Remus nodded. “Almost blindingly so.”

Sirius bit his lip, unsure if he should tell them his thoughts.

James immediately realized he was hiding something. “Hey, what’s up?”

Sirius sighed again. “You’re going to laugh.”

“No we won’t,” Remus promised sincerely. “What’s wrong, Sirius?”

“I’m…scared.”

James and Remus shared looks of surprise.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” James suggested. “The girls look like they’re having fun.”

“But wouldn’t it be rude to leave them? This is a date after all,” Sirius pointed out.

Remus smiled. “They’re having such a good time I don’t think they’d realize we were gone.”

“I’ll tell Lily we needed to get some air,” James said before disappearing into the crowd of kids dancing in the middle of the room. He took three of the filled cups of pumpkin juice with him to give to the girls.

Touched by the concern of his friends and their willingness to leave their wives to listen to his concerns, Sirius turned to Remus and thanked him.

“No problem,” Remus replied, smiling kindly before taking a sip of his drink. “You’ve done the same for us in the past. It’s the least we can do.”

James came back. “They said it was fine. In fact, Tonks even said we could probably be gone for an hour and they wouldn’t notice our absence.”

Sirius picked up the remaining cups and handed one to James before taking a sip from his own. “Then let’s go out onto the grounds.”

The three of them wandered out of the room, away from the noise of the Great Hall, and slipped out of the castle. The moonlight from above bathed the grass in a bluish hue while the chill of October settled a light frost over the grass. The three marauders made their way down the path towards the lake where their favorite beech tree stood. They hadn’t even really decided to go there; their feet seemed to take them there of their own accord.

The cold didn’t bother them as they sat down on the cool grass, enjoying the night’s breeze and the beauty of the Hogwarts landscape. The giant squid had decided to come to the surface to allow its tentacles to stretch and wave through the chill while owls glided through the sky, cutting across the magnificent starry night spread out above them.

“So what’s really going on, Padfoot,” asked James while pulling up a bit of grass.

Sirius didn’t really know where to begin. “I don’t know where to start.”

“How about at the beginning?” suggested Remus.

James snickered.

Sirius scowled. “Alright, fine. The beginning…I guess that’s when we were back in school.”

James and Remus were good listeners. They didn’t interrupt Sirius as he explained the reasoning behind dating so many girls and the way he’d never really harbored any feelings for them. Then he went into detail of the way he felt about Elle, how he was scared because he had never felt this way about a girl before, and if he was experiencing love or lust, and if it was love, how would it ever work out since he was already dead.

James whistled before placing a comforting hand on Sirius’s shoulder. “You’ve been completely smitten my friend.”

“So it is love?” Sirius asked like a child would to a parent.

Remus nodded. “Everything you described was the same way I felt when I was dating Tonks.”

“Looks like you finally found your soul mate, Padfoot!” James said happily.

It was hard for Sirius to be happy about this. There was still one obvious problem. “But I’m dead.”

Remus scratched his head. “But you love her, right?”

“I want to say yes but I don’t even know what love feels like,” Sirius admitted. “I haven’t experienced anything like this before.”

James looked up at the starry night before thumping his fist into his hand. “I got it! Sirius, if Elle was about to be killed by the killing curse and you were the only one to jump in front of the curse to save her, would you?”

Sirius looked at him like he was the biggest idiot on the planet for asking such a stupid question. “Of course I would.”

“Would you hesitate at all?”

“NO!”

“And if she did die and left you alive, how would you feel?” Remus asked, catching on to what James was getting at.

Sirius looked at them both as if they were nuts. “But I’m already dead.”

James hit him over the head. “This is a hypothetical situation, you git. Just answer the question.”

“Alright, geez,” Sirius muttered, rubbing his injury. He thought for a few minutes before answering. “I’d feel like I’d just experienced the Dementor’s Kiss. There would be no happiness, no light, nothing to look forward to.”

James and Remus smiled warmly. Remus put an arm around Sirius and shook him gently. “That, Sirius, is love.”

Sirius looked up at them. “Really?”

James laughed heartily. “Yep! Congratulations, Padfoot! You finally found her!”

As James said these words, Sirius felt a calming peace enter his soul almost as if someone were confirming to him that he had indeed found the missing piece to his life puzzle. It was Elle. Overcome with emotion that he’d been harboring deep within his heart his whole life, Sirius felt tears come to his eyes.

“So there really was someone out there,” he muttered, “meant for me.”

Remus patted his back. “Of course there was, Sirius. Did you think you wouldn’t be included in the eternal plan of Paradise? Everyone will have an eternal companion in Paradise even if they have to search for a while before being able to find them. And now you have.”

James grinned. “We’re happy for you, mate! You deserve it!”

“This is really great and I do feel really happy to know I’ve finally found the one,” Sirius said sincerely, “but there still remains the problem that Elle’s alive and I’m dead. What am I supposed to do, wait for her until she dies? The only reason we’ve even been able to meet is because Harry has the Gate Frame and she just happened to be his teacher.”

“Everything happens for a reason, Padfoot,” said James consolingly. “Harry got the Gate Frame, allowing him to see us, because he saved thousands of people from death, he went back to school to finish his education so he could become an auror, and Elle became the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher so she could meet you. Everything happens for a reason; you of all people should understand this now that you’ve lived a mortal life.”

Sirius sighed, staring at the lake’s silvery surface. “I guess you’re right James. But I need to know if I’ll have to wait until she’s dead or if I can continue seeing her while she’s still alive.”

“I’d ask the H.U.s about it when we go home,” Remus suggested. “It’s no use wondering over things we don’t yet understand. We’ll get an answer in time but we need to be patient.”

James nodded. “Come on, let’s go back up to the castle and enjoy the rest of the evening with the girls we love. That is, if you’re up for going back, Sirius. We can stay out here for the rest of the night and have Lily tell Elle that you didn’t want to say goodnight.”

Sirius punched him lightly in the arm. “Are you kidding? There’s no way I’m not going to spend the rest of my night without my little black cat.”

“Yes, because dogs and cats get along so well,” Remus teased quietly as the three of them stood up.

James elbowed him in the ribs. “Remember our promise to Harry, Remus?” he whispered as Sirius stretched. “No teasing!”

Luckily for Remus, Sirius didn’t appear to have heard his comment or James’s quiet warning.

“Thanks for listening to me, guys,” said Sirius gratefully as they cut their way up the path back to the school. “It really means a lot.”

“Anytime Padfoot, old friend,” said Remus sincerely.

“Let’s go back and party!” James said, jumping between his two best friends and putting an arm around each of their shoulders.

The second they entered the Great Hall they could tell that the crowd had thinned; it appeared as though the younger students had gone to bed. Sixth and Seventh year students were still hopping up and down to a loud jamming song, enjoying the music, and shouting the words right back at the musicians. Sirius immediately noticed that Elle, Tonks, and Lily were part of the crowd, acting the same way as the teenagers.

This didn’t bother Sirius in the slightest. In fact, he felt like he was a teenager himself again; he assumed that it was the euphoria of being back at Hogwarts. Catching the excited gleams in James and Remus’s expressions, Sirius could tell they too had been infected by the spell. The three friends grinned widely before joining in with the riotous teens, dancing with their girls, and enjoying the remainder of an unforgettable evening.

The dance lasted another hour (til midnight) before Professor McGonagall put her foot down and ordered that it was time for everyone to go to bed. The students complained but did as they were told. The Weird Sisters looked grateful that the concert was over but that was probably only because they’d been singing for almost three hours with only a few short breaks throughout the night.

Sirius, James, Lily, Remus, and Tonks decided that they would stay to help the teachers clean up the Great Hall. They tried to have their magic go unnoticed so the teachers beside Elle wouldn’t think that objects were floating around or disappearing by themselves without a castor behind the magic. It took about half an hour to transform the Great Hall back to the way it normally was. The teachers looked extremely tired as they trudged out of the hall to go to bed.

Elle began to head over to where Sirius and the others stood waiting for her when she was joined by Professor McGonagall.

“Elle, I didn’t even see you here,” she said, slightly surprised. “Have you been here this whole time?”

Elle nodded. “I guess we’ve just missed each other all night, Minerva. I like your costume.”

“I like yours,” she said. “Mind you, I could never wear it.”

The two of them shared a laugh before Elle said she’d left something behind so as to excuse herself. Professor McGonagall said she would wait for her but Elle told her to go on ahead. Bidding goodnight to the Transfiguration Professor, Elle walked back over to where the Marauders and their wives stood silently waiting.

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Elle,” said Lily, hugging her tightly. “We’ll have to have some other time where we can talk some more.”

Elle agreed. “That would be great!”

“When you want to hang out just find Harry and ask him to call us,” said Tonks, giving her a hug. “I’m very glad I got to see you again and in much happier times.”

Elle nodded. “I’m glad too. I had a great time.” She turned to Remus and gave him a hug. “Thank you for making her so happy,” she whispered in his ear. “It means a lot to me.”

Remus looked a little surprised but he hugged her back. “It means a lot to hear you say that,” he said.

Elle turned to James who grinned and extended a hand. Elle ignored the handshake, instead enveloping James in a hug. “It was nice to meet you,” she said.

James, somewhat shocked, returned the embrace. “You too, Elle. I hope I get to see you again sometime soon.”

Sirius extended an arm, saying, “Shall we?”

Elle smiled, taking it. “Good night everyone!” she said cheerfully before both she and Sirius exited the Great Hall.

They walked in silence, enjoying each other’s company. Sirius was very aware of how close she was to him; he could practically feel her body heat seeping through his clothes. It was incredible that he could feel her this way; the H.U.s had said the only person he and the others would be able to physically feel was Harry. They could touch the Weasleys, Hermione, and Professor Dumbledore when giving handshakes or hugs but they could never feel the others physically touching them. And yet Sirius could physically feel Elle just like he could feel Harry. It was a precious gift and he was going to treat is as such.

“I wonder why Minerva said that she couldn’t see me earlier,” said Elle, breaking Sirius’s silent thoughts. “I was standing right next to her a couple of times.”

Sirius scratched his head. “I’m not really sure why she didn’t either. Maybe it was because you were with us. People can’t see us except the Weasley family, Hermione, Dumbledore, Harry, and now, you.”

“I guess it would have been weird to see me dancing by myself,” Elle laughed. “Maybe I was concealed while standing with you guys.”

Sirius chuckled from the mental image of the look of concern on students faces as Elle danced gracefully without a dance partner. “Yeah, that would have been weird. My only suggestion is either Dumbledore did something or it was the Higher Ups.”

“I’ve heard you use that term a lot. Who are the Higher Ups?”

“I’d tell you who they are except we’re not allowed to say anything pertaining to the next life,” Sirius explained.

“Oh, gottcha,” said Elle, completely fine with him keeping a secret from her concerning this particular subject. She understood that the afterlife was something that one was supposed to experience only after death.

Happy and grateful that she seemed completely nonchalant about the subject, Sirius smiled before changing the conversation. “Did you have a good time?”

“Are kidding?” Elle asked luridly. “I had the time of my life! I haven’t been this happy since…” She paused, her eyes suddenly growing very sad. “Since my mum died,” she finished.

Sirius looked at her, concerned. “When did it happen?”

“This summer,” Elle muttered, trying not to get emotional. “She was the only family I had left besides Tonks – and she ended up dying during the Final Battle. I thought I’d have my mum to fall back on but then she got into a car accident and didn’t survive from her injuries.” Elle’s eyes blurred. “I’m sorry,” she sniffed. “This probably isn’t something I should be loading on you on the first date. I guess I just feel so comfortable around you; I haven’t been able to talk about her passing with anyone yet.”

They’d stopped in front of her classroom. Several torches illuminated the hallway, the fiery images reflecting in Elle’s cat-like yellow eyes. Sirius wanted to grab and hold her tightly but experience stopped him. Taking it slow was the best thing to do on the first few dates. Even so it took everything he had not to pull her into a tight embrace and snog her. Curbing this desire, he pulled her into a brief hug.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed about crying over lost loved ones,” he soothed, pulling away. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried the whole night after James and Lily died. It was the worst night of my life.”

Elle wiped her eyes away. “It must have been great to see both of them again.”

Sirius nodded. “Reuniting with them was one of the greatest experiences I have ever been fortunate to have. One day Elle, I can promise that you’ll see your parents again and both of them will be very proud of you.”

Elle laughed, trying to stop another flow of tears. “How do you know, Sirius? We don’t even really know each other.”

“So why don’t we set up a second date so I can get to know everything about you?” Sirius asked smoothly. Perfect delivery, he thought to himself. Now all he had to do was wait and see if she would accept the package.

Elle’s eyes danced mischievously. “I’ll have to check my schedule,” she said, tapping her chin. “Hmmm, schedule says I’m free next Saturday. It’s the first Hogsmeade weekend.”

Sirius took the opening with great enthusiasm. “Would you like to join me in Hogsmeade, Saturday next?”

Elle grinned. “It’s a date. Don’t be late.”

Sirius managed to contain punching the air in triumph. “I’ll be here to pick you up at eleven,” he promised.

The two searched each other’s eyes for a few moments. Sirius didn’t want the date to end but he knew that it was time to say goodnight. It wasn’t good to linger; women didn’t like someone who dragged a date on for hours when it was obviously time to say goodbye.

Sirius took Elle’s hand and lifted it to his lips, kissing it gently. He pulled away, letting go. He was pleased to see that her cheeks had completely flushed. He smiled.

“Good night, Elle.” 

Elle flashed him a knockout smile before saying, “Good night, Sirius. I’ll see you Saturday.”

Sirius nodded. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”

“Bye.”

Elle slipped inside her classroom, giving him one last chance to look into her beautiful face. Her thin lips were pulled into a wonderful smile, displaying her pearly whites, right up until the door closed. Sirius felt as if he were walking on air as he made his way down to Harry’s private chamber down on the ground floor.

She wanted to see him again. Making sure there was no one around, Sirius leapt in the air and shouted, “YES!” before speeding down the marble staircase into the entrance hall. Slipping behind the tapestry, he moved down the hallway until he stumbled upon Remus and Tonks who were sitting outside of the secret room.

“What’s up?” Sirius asked as he came closer.

Remus looked up and sighed. “Harry wanted some private time with his parents since today was their death day.”

Sirius stopped in his tracks, his smile fading. “I completely forgot about that.”

“No surprise,” said Remus. “We all forgot, seeing as things like death days are only something the living think about.”

“Harry wasn’t angry at spending the evening alone, was he?”

“Not in the slightest. Actually he was completely exhausted,” said Tonks.

“He must have been doing what he’s been doing for the past week. I really want to know what he’s up to,” said Sirius, sitting down. “I’m worried about him.”

“We all are,” said Remus. “I think James and Lily are going to talk to him about it tonight.”

“So, while we’re sitting out here, how did it go?” Tonks asked.

Sirius grinned. “Let me tell you all about it.”


Chapter 14: Obscurvirgum
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]



“What is it that you wanted to talk to us about, son?” James asked as he and Lily sat down on the floor next to where an exhausted Harry was lying in his pad by the fire.

Harry blinked a couple times, fighting the sleep from his eyes. He was completely worn out. He’d never thought that nonverbal spells without the use of a wand could be this taxing. His whole body felt like it had been shoved into a blender. He had been a little childish wanting to keep this new found ability from Sirius, Remus, and Tonks but his reasoning was that he wanted to show his parents first.

Lily noted that there were several open books scattered around them. “Harry, have you been reading?”

Harry nodded. “It took a lot of research to pull off what I want to show you.”

James hefted up a heavy book. The binding was tattered and worn and looked as if it would fall apart in someone’s hands. “This looks like it’s as old as Merlin himself! Where on earth did you get it?”

“Library,” Harry said simply, stretching his neck and shaking it to keep himself from falling asleep.

“Harry, you should get some rest,” his mother said, noticing his fatigue. “We can wait until tomorrow to talk.”

“No,” said Harry stubbornly. “I’ve finally mastered it and I want to show you.”

James and Lily looked at each other, trying to hide their smiles. Harry sounded just like a little kid completely bent on sharing with them his newest achievement. Somewhat elated that their son wanted to show them something he’d accomplished alone, they turned back to him and gave him their full attention.

“I assume what you’re about to show us is the reason behind your completely exhausted state these past few days?” James asked.

Harry nodded. “Yes, and it’s been extremely strenuous. But I’ve finally got it down. Watch.”

He looked down at the books scattered around the floor and used the Hover Charm, saying the spell silently in his mind. The books immediately climbed into the air. Harry then used the Accio spell to send them flying across the room towards him before he redirected their position to stack up in a nice pile in the corner. Lily and James faces were full of fascination as they witnessed the spellwork. As the last book fell with a dull thunk at the top of the stack, Harry began breathing heavily.

“Harry, you can perform magic without a wand?” James asked, completely impressed.

“Yes,” Harry gasped, trying to regain his normal breathing pattern.

“Are you alright?” Lily asked with concern.

Harry nodded. “I’ve been practicing for four hours straight so my body’s a little tired. I would have shown you something a little more impressive but I’m afraid my concentration is pretty low. Just using the hovering and summoning charm took a lot out of me.”

“You’re saying that you can do more than that?” James asked, surprised.

“I can perform every spell I’ve ever learned,” said Harry. “I was having a bit of fun transfiguring the couches into animals at first but then I got too tired to do the spells. The harder the spell the more taxing it is on the mind.”

Lily and James couldn’t believe their ears. Their son had just passed to a whole new level of wizardry. Only a handful of wizards and witches throughout history were able to use magic without a wand. James was able to do a few simple spells – like stirring a spoon around in a bowl – but there was no way that he could do what Harry had just done. And he was saying that he could transfigure the furniture and do every spell he’d ever learned in school? The pride shining from James affected Lily as well.

Harry was fully aware of his parent’s delight but he was a little concerned about something. “I’m not a freak for being able to do this, right?”

James looked at him, wide-eyed. “Are you kidding, Harry? Nobody in their right mind would consider you a freak over this.”

“This is a rare gift you have, dear,” Lily revealed. “Not a lot of witches and wizards can perform spells without a wand. Only really powerful witches and wizards can do it.”

“I looked up in the library how many other people can do this and the only names on the list for the last century were Dumbledore, Voldemort, and three others,” said Harry. “Everyone else was back in the medieval times. The founders of Hogwarts and Merlin, along with a couple of others, made the list. I guess I’m just surprised that not many people can do it.”

James grinned. “Like Lily said Harry; this is a gift. You should be really grateful that you have it. If it were me, I wouldn’t use it too much; only in times of dire need.”

“Why not?” Harry asked.

“It will just make you even more famous,” said Lily.

“And we know how much you like being famous,” added James, grinning.

Harry grimaced. “Keep it to myself, got it.”

“Do you want to show Remus, Tonks, and Sirius now?” James asked.

“I’d better before I fall asleep,” Harry answered.

James got up, heading for the door.

“Dad?”

James stopped. “Yes, son?”

Harry bit his lip. Earlier in the day, during his free hour, he had been working on his secret project, trying to finalize it… and he’d been successful. He had really wanted to show Ron, Hermione, and Ginny but there hadn’t been time during the day to do so. He’d planned to show them tomorrow. As he considered his dad, showing was definitely better than telling. But he was a little scared; what if his dad didn’t approve? The final result had turned out differently than Harry had thought and part of him wondered if his dad would hate the outcome. Only one way to find out…

“There’s something else I wanted to show you,” Harry muttered, trying to keep the wariness from his tone.

Lily and James’s eyes met briefly.

“What is it, Harry?” Lily asked.

“I can’t show you right now,” said Harry, “but I’ll show you tomorrow – that is, if you’re free.”

James surveyed his son silently. A strange excitement was bubbling in his chest. He couldn’t put a finger on why he felt that way until he looked at three of the books standing with the stack in the corner. His heart picked up. He looked at Harry but his son appeared to be near dozing. Fighting down the urge to confirm his suspicions, James swallowed his words and invited the others inside.

Sirius looked rather pleased about something while Remus and Tonks appeared to be putting up an effort not to smirk behind him. James raised an eyebrow.

“What’s made you three so happy?”

“Padfoot has a second date to look forward to,” said Remus.

Sirius smiled widely as James congratulated him. “Well done, Padfoot! When and where will you be going?”

“Hogsmeade on Saturday,” Sirius answered.

Harry, who heard everything from across the room, smiled. “Looks like Professor Merrylow has a crush on Sirius.”

His godfather came into the room, trying with difficulty to contain his joy. “You won’t forget to summon me on Saturday, right?”

Harry smiled. “What if I did?”

Sirius looked terrified. “Please, Harry, don’t joke about that.”

Everyone laughed.

“I guess I could remember,” Harry answered. “What time will she be expecting you?”

“Eleven,” Sirius replied, sitting down next to James and Remus on the floor while Tonks sat next to Lily. “If you could call me fifteen minutes til, that would be great.”

Harry nodded. “Sure, I can do that.”

Tonks noted the exhaustion in Harry’s voice. “Harry, you sound really tired. You should go to sleep.”

“I’m about to but I wanted to show you something. I’ve just showed mum and dad. I’ll use the books again, seeing as it’s not too difficult to move them around.”

Remus, Tonks, and Sirius looked perplexed until the books in the corner flew into the air, zooming around as if by their own accord. They performed several loops and twirls before rocketing with incredible speed back into the corner and restacking themselves into a pile.

Harry took several deep breathes. “And there you have it,” he managed to say between pants.

“Wow,” Tonks breathed. “Awesome, Harry!”

“Merlin’s beard!” Sirius exclaimed. “Nonverbal magic without a wand! Did you just see that?”

He turned to Remus who looked equally impressed but not too surprised. He turned to Harry and smiled deeply. “This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Harry perform extraordinary magic. When you were able to do a corporeal Patronus at the end of your third year, I knew to expect far greater things from you in the future. Outstandingly done, Harry.”

Harry smiled. “Thanks.”

“I bet you’re about as exhausted as the times we practiced learning the Patronus Charm, however,” Remus guessed.

Nodding, Harry replied, “It’s a little worse, I think. I would have eaten chocolate but I was afraid that as a deer it might not have settled to well in my stomach.”

Remus remained greatly concerned. “I’ll go see Professor Dumbledore. You need to have some to curb how you feel. Don’t go to sleep until I get back.”

Harry nodded although he greatly wanted to close his eyes. James and Sirius kept him awake by telling him all about the dance and the prank they pulled. Harry laughed, complimenting them on their success, and also expressing his thoughts that he wished he could have seen it.

“We can show you our memories about it sometime, if you’d like,” James suggested.

Harry perked up. “Could you?”

“Sure,” said Sirius. “We’d just have to borrow the Pensieve from Dumbledore.”

“I can arrange that,” said an old voice from behind them.

They all turned to find Professor Dumbledore entering the room in a dark blue nightgown and head cap. He appeared in good spirits despite the fact of being woken up at almost one in the morning. Slightly concerned, he looked down on Harry.

“So, playing with old magic, Harry?” he asked, his eyes x-raying him.

For some reason, Harry felt a little guilty, like he’d stepped over some boundary he shouldn’t have. “Yes, Professor.”

Dumbledore smiled. “Quite alright, my dear boy, but you should have at least told me what you’ve been trying to do. You look like you’re about to keel over.”

“I am, sir. I didn’t think it would be this exhausting.”

Dumbledore shook his head. “Indeed you didn’t. I’m glad Remus came to get me. You do realize that practicing Obscurvirgum can sometimes result in death?”

Lily and James looked horrified.

“Harry,” Lily scolded. “Did you know that?”

“I’d read that could happen but I thought I could handle it,” Harry muttered, shrinking under his mother’s furious gaze. “Sorry.”

James, Sirius, and Remus all snickered.

“He’s just as reckless as you are, James,” Remus chuckled.

“A spitting image of his father,” added Sirius.

“And I’m very proud to hear it,” said James haughtily.

“And I consider all of you to be a bunch of idiots,” Lily snapped. “Going behind everyone’s back, learning how to become Animagi, running around the grounds at night with a werewolf, pranking everyone, writing the marauder’s map, strutting around the castle at night like you could break the rules, getting into motorcycle chases and accidents after you got out of school, and now you’re encouraging Harry to go down the same road that you –”

James cut off her tirade by kissing her. Harry felt a little embarrassed watching his parents snog each other so intently but Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and Dumbledore didn’t seem to share his point of view. In fact, they all had deep smiles on their faces, as if they were each experiencing some private joke.

James broke the kiss and grinned. “And despite all my flaws, you married me, Lils.”

Lily’s eyes looked like they could kill as she pursed her lips. “Don’t let it go to your head, James.”

James laughed. “Too late.”

 Dumbledore cleared his throat. “As wonderful as it is to see the love between you two blossoming, Harry needs my immediate attention.”

“Oh, right, sorry, Albus,” said James, giving him room to kneel down in front of Harry on the floor.

Dumbledore pulled out a couple of twigs, a chocolate bar, and his wand from one of his pockets. He waved his wand in an intricate pattern. The chocolate lifted into the air, its solid form melting into liquid, swirling through the air before injecting itself into one of the twigs. It sucked up the chocolate like it was water.

Then Dumbledore pulled out a small bottle containing a potion. He performed the same wand movement as before. The cork on the potion bottle popped off as the liquid within sprung into the air. It performed a couple of loops before being sucked up by the other twig. Satisfied with his work, Dumbledore pocketed his wand and set down the wood containing the chocolate in front of Harry.

“Eat this one first, Harry,” Dumbledore ordered.

Harry did as he was told. Immediately the aching in his body began to lessen. He’d felt completely drained for so long that he didn’t think he’d ever be able to feel so relaxed again. He was in absolute bliss.

“I’ve been receiving reports from the professors that you’ve been falling asleep in classes, Harry.”

Harry grimaced. “Sorry, sir,” he apologized. “I tried to stay awake.”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “I’m sure you did, Harry, but you should have realized that learning this technique really sucks up your strength. If not treated properly, disastrous things can happen to the witch or wizard who attempts it. I’m glad Remus came to get me; you might have died in you sleep if he hadn’t.”

Harry, completely shocked over this, looked gratefully to Remus. “Thanks.”

Remus nodded. “I’m just glad I was able to recognize what was going on. I read about the technique of Obscurvirgum when I was here as your professor. I checked out the book for a little light reading.”

Tonks pecked Remus on the cheek. “Once again you save the day, honey.”

 Remus looked pleased.

Dumbledore set the second twig down in front of Harry. “This contains a dreamless sleep potion, Harry. I had to wake Professor Slughorn to get it so if he seems a little ornery tomorrow you alone will know why.”

Harry again felt guilty as well as stupid. He’d done a lot of stupid things in his life, he’d realized. When he’d started feeling really exhausted the third night, he had thought of going to Dumbledore but his stupid pride told him that he could get through this without any help. And look where that got me, he thought to himself, on the verge of death. He vowed that the next time he had a hunch to go to Dumbledore, he would do it.

“Thanks a lot, professor,” Harry muttered, picking up the twig. “I’ll get Professor Slughorn some crystallized pineapple to compensate him for his trouble.”

Dumbledore beamed. “I’m sure he’d appreciate that, Harry. Now, sleep. You should wake up in the morning in time for breakfast. I’ll come and check on you though, to make sure you’re fit to go to class.”

Already Harry was drifting away. He’d taken dreamless sleeping potions before but he’d never experienced one that was this powerful. He was out like a light right after he’d swallowed the twig.

*~*~*~*~

Harry’s head began to fall and James caught it, resting it gently at his side. The six adults watched the stag breathe deeply for a few minutes before anyone spoke.

“Have you found anything yet, Albus?” Lily asked.

Her eyes expressed the concern she had been hiding from Harry for quite some time. She hadn’t wanted her son to know how worried she was about his condition; neither had the others. They pretended to be in good spirits whenever around Harry but the second he was asleep, they had discussed their concerns over his curse. It had been months now. The others looked at Dumbledore, hoping he would have an answer.

The old headmaster shook his head. “I’m afraid I haven’t. I’ve searched every book in the library twice, asked countless colleagues who are experts at ancient curses, and even visited the tomb where Harry and Ginny were found by the Weasleys and Hermione when they were unconscious. I was sure that when I went to the tomb that I had found the information I was seeking but when I left to return here, that information disappeared from my mind, as if it were being blocked.”

“So we do have a lead,” said James, looking down at his son. “It ties in with Egypt.”

“There are countless ancient magical spells the ancient Egyptians used that were lost when their dynasty was destroyed,” said Dumbledore. “Harry’s curse must be one of those spells.”

“But nobody really knows how the Egyptian reign came to an end,” pointed out Sirius. “Do you think it was destroyed by magic?”

Dumbledore stood up and began to pace back and forth. “I have been doing a lot of research into the matter,” he admitted. “There are some speculations that Egypt fell on its own, that the line of Pharaohs died and wars broke out to try to raise a new line of royalty and during these wars, other countries invaded and took over the land. However, there is another story, a story that is circulated among witches and wizards that the mighty civilization was destroyed by an ancient magical artifact and that from its destructive power, many of the spells invented by the ancient Egyptian witches and wizards were lost. However, I haven’t been able to locate any kind of proof that such an artifact existed.”

“But you think it might tie in somehow with Harry’s condition?” Remus surmised.

“You may find it a ludicrous idea but that is indeed what I think, Remus,” Dumbledore answered.

“But without any proof, we’ve come to a dead end,” said Tonks.

“Then we’ll just have to keep searching for other theories, other curses,” said James. “He can’t remain this way forever, Albus.”

“He won’t, James,” Dumbledore replied firmly. “As long as I’m alive I’ll do everything in my power to help cure him. But we must be patient. This is a curse that none of us have come across before.”

“Surely there must have been others that had this happen to them,” countered Tonks, “Like in other areas of the world.”

Dumbledore sighed. “There have been similar instances of people cursed to change into animals but they are not the same as Harry’s situation. Those curses only lasted three to four days before they wore off. Medieval kings used to have their magicians cast these curses as punishments on the guilty. Harry’s curse happens every night, without fail, and lasts exactly from sunset to sunrise. It’s more specific and complicated. I spoke with the Healer who took care of him and Ginny in St. Mungo’s and he said there was some ancient magical aura surrounding Ginny and Harry that none of the Healers could explain. They only could recognize that both were in a coma.”

“But Ginny didn’t get effected in any way,” pointed out Lily. “She’s perfectly fine.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Indeed.” He looked down at Harry. “So we are only to assume that when Harry had the curse placed upon him that Ginny was there.”

“We should go talk to her,” said James at once, standing up. “She may know something.”

“No,” said Dumbledore sharply.

James looked outraged. “We finally have a lead and you’re not going to pursue it?”

“Sit down, James,” said Dumbledore, suddenly sounding exhausted. “Let me explain.”

James ground his teeth but sat back down. “There’d better be a good reason for this, Albus.”

“There is,” Dumbledore assured. “Just sit down and think: if Ginny knew who had cast this curse upon Harry, do you think she would have kept it to herself or told someone?”

“If she truly loved Harry, she definitely would have said something,” said Lily.

“So are you trying to say that she doesn’t love Harry?” Sirius asked.

“I think what Lily’s trying to say is that someone is preventing Ginny from telling anything to anyone,” Remus guessed.

Dumbledore nodded. “Exactly. Ginny’s love for Harry is real. I personally believe that if she was to identify the one who cursed him then something horrible would happen.”

“So she’s being blackmailed,” said Lily angrily. “Only lowlife scum would do something as dirty as this. Can anyone think of a person that wanted Harry cursed?”

“I would say Draco Malfoy but he and Harry just struck up a friendship a week ago,” said Sirius.

“And Voldemort’s dead so we can’t blame him,” said Tonks.

“What about the Death Eaters?” suggested Remus.

Dumbledore sighed. “Though the Death Eaters have a grudge against Harry I personally don’t think any of them are powerful enough to produce this kind of curse. No, this is someone else; someone who Harry and Ginny offended somehow while in Egypt over the summer.”

“So let’s go and comb the desert,” Sirius joked sourly. “It should only take us the rest of eternity to find the right person.”

Dumbledore sat back, looking thoughtful. “We don’t have to take such drastic measures just yet Sirius. Give me a little more time to sort this out. I promise that I’ll discover a solution before the end of the school year.”

The others didn’t seem thrilled about this but there was nothing further that could be done. Agreeing to close the conversation for the night, they bid Dumbledore goodnight, thanking him again for taking time to check up on Harry. The old headmaster only nodded before leaving the room, leaving Sirius, Tonks, Remus, James, and Lily to watch over Harry silently, wondering when this curse was going to be resolved.

*~*~*~*~

True to Dumbledore’s word, Harry awoke just in time for breakfast Sunday morning. The marauders, his mum, and Tonks greeted him enthusiastically as he stretched and stood up from off the pad he’d laid on all night. Sirius had said they wanted to move him but Lily thought it best to leave him where he was. Harry didn’t mind. He’d slept like the dead and felt completely refreshed. In fact, he felt like he could run for three hours without getting tired.

He went into his room to dress in some normal muggle clothes for the day. When he reemerged he found Dumbledore there. As promised the Headmaster asked him a few questions about how he was feeling and seemed satisfied with Harry’s answers. Shortly after, he left to conduct other business. Harry promised his family that he’d be back later before heading out of his room to go to breakfast. He found Ron and Hermione sitting together with Ginny, all three of them enjoying breakfast though looking rather tired.

“Out partying all night?” Harry asked them as he sat down.

Ginny kissed him on the cheek. “I went to bed after visiting you for half an hour but these two stayed up in the common room an hour after the party was over.”

Harry raised an eyebrow at Hermione. “Really? Staying up late isn’t very responsible for a couple of prefects, don’t you think?”

Hermione tried not to blush. “Oh, shut up, Harry.”

“Did you hear about the prank?” Ron asked, trying to change the subject so Harry couldn’t ask any other embarrassing questions involving what he and Hermione were doing that late.

Harry nodded. “The creators gave me a very detailed description of what happened.”

“I knew it was them!” Hermione muttered, looking disapproving. “They shouldn’t have done that!”

Ron laughed. “Come on, Hermione, even you admitted it was extraordinary magic.”

“It was…but that they shouldn’t have used it as a prank,” Hermione retorted. “It’s Fred and George all over again. If the marauders got together with them we’d all be living in a nightmare.”

“Which is why I haven’t introduced them,” Harry said. “So, are there any plans for today?”

Ron fidgeted with his feet. “I know you suggested visiting Hagrid’s today, Harry, but we’ve got a lot of homework to do. Even Hermione’s behind.”

“I’m only behind because we had the dance last night,” said Hermione. “You and Ginny have a mountain compared to the anthill I have to finish.”

“Whatever,” said Ginny. “The point is that we’re going to be stuck up in Gryffindor Tower and the library for pretty much the whole day. I’m really sorry, Harry.”

Trying not to appear disappointed, Harry shrugged. “That’s alright. I understand the necessity of sacrificing a perfect day for the sake of not wanting to fail a class. Maybe if you want to take a break you can come see me.”

Ginny nodded, encouraging the idea. “I’ll try to finish before sunset so we can go do something.”

Ron snickered. “Just make sure you’re not discovered.”

Hermione punched him in the arm. “Just because they want some time alone together doesn’t mean they’re going to be doing anything like that, Ron!”

Ron rubbed the bruise but continued to smile. “Sure it doesn’t.”

“Don’t make me shove your bacon up your nose,” Harry warned, slightly embarrassed.

“I’d like to see you try that one, Potter,” said a voice behind him.

Ron’s face turned sour. “What do you want, Malfoy?”

Malfoy, ignoring him completely, sat down at the Gryffindor table. There was a collective gasp followed by a wildfire of gossip. The entire hall seemed to be looking over to where Malfoy sat next to Harry, pulling a plate towards him and loading it down with food.

“Oy, are you mad?!” Ron asked in a subdued voice. “You do realize you’re sitting at the Gryffindor table?”

“I understand that, Weasley,” said Malfoy with ease before taking a bite of his eggs. “I’m simply taking up Potter’s offer.”

Hermione turned to Harry. “What offer?”

Harry sighed. “I meant to explain earlier to you guys.”

“You didn’t tell them?” Malfoy said, sounding somewhat unsurprised. “I guess it must have slipped your mind.”

“Shut up, Malfoy,” said Harry, trying to focus on how to explain this at the table without anyone listening in learning of his secret. “I just helped Malfoy get out of a sticky situation by offering to be friends.”

Ron’s fork clattered onto his plate. His mouth hung open to catch a few flies. “Are you mental?” he finally gasped. “After everything we went through with him in the past you want to be friends?!”

Harry tried to keep a straight face from Ron’s incredulous look.  “Malfoy’s been through a lot. I thought he could use some different company.”

Malfoy snorted and said sarcastically, “I thought it would be a great idea.”

Hermione and Ron remained skeptical.

“Harry, you do remember the hideous past you two have, right?” Hermione asked.

Harry nodded. “I do.”

Hermione scrutinized him for a minute before sighing. “Alright, if we’re going to be friends, let’s try calling each other by first name terms.”

“What? You’re actually going to go along with this?” asked Ron in disbelief. “This is Malfoy we’re talking about! You know, the guy who’s hated our guts from the beginning of first year, the guy who nearly killed Dumbledore, and the guy who nearly killed us in the Room of Requirement earlier this year?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I know who he is Ron. But if Harry has decided to befriend him then, as Harry’s friend, I’m going to give him a chance.”

“What if I’m not comfortable with this?” Ron argued.

Harry tried to not look angry. Ron was being prejudice. He didn’t know what Malfoy had been through. But in Ron’s defense, Harry probably would have been acting the same way if he was ignorant of Malfoy’s situation.

“Ron,” Harry said quietly, “I’ve got a good reason for offering friendship to Malfoy but I can’t tell you that reason here. If we leave -go out on the grounds or something- I can tell you everything.”

He looked at Malfoy, waiting for him to object. He shrugged. “Fine by me, Potter.”

Hermione cleared her throat. “You mean Harry.”

Malfoy gave her an annoyed expression.

“If we’re going to be friends, we’re going to address each other as such, Draco.”

Draco looked like he’d swallowed a lemon. “Alright…Hermione.”

“Let’s get out of here,” said Ginny, who had been really quite during this whole conversation.

Harry looked over at her. She’d hardly touched her breakfast. “Ginny, are you okay?”

She nodded. “I’m just tired from last night.”

Harry continued to look at her. She looked a little pale but she did have deep circles under her eyes indicating truth to her words. Harry suppressed his worries. The five of them stood up together – drawing more attention, whispers, and snickers from the other students – and left the hall, heading out to the grounds. November had arrived, bringing an intense cold and a little snow during the night. Deciding that it was best to be sure that they wouldn’t have any eavesdroppers, Harry led them around to the back of the greenhouses.

Once there, he and Malfoy (or Draco as he was now supposed to be called) told the others of what happened a week ago in the forest. Draco also decided grudgingly to bring to light his parents’ deaths as well as the abuse and torment he’d had to endure since returning to school.

“Believe me, I think its low that I decided to be friends with Potter – I mean, Harry – but I can assure you that this isn’t a joke.”

“I need some proof,” said Ron, continuing to be stubborn. “This could all be a ploy to have us gain your trust so you can turn Harry over to the Death Eaters. How can we be sure to believe you?”

Draco looked insulted. “I’ve just told you my parents were murdered by the Death Eaters and you think I’d still be in league with them? I hate them! If I had it my way, I’d kill them all for doing what they did to my family. The respect for the name of Malfoy has completely deteriorated since my father’s failure to deliver that stupid prophecy to Voldemort back in our fifth year. Voldemort made it his personal round of pleasure to insult us at every waking moment. He tortured me personally when he was angry with the Death Eaters for failing his orders. He…he made me torture my own mother with the Cruciatus Curse because he was merely bored. He made my father torture me too, as punishment for failing to kill Dumbledore.

“While you’ve had to deal with your hardships, Weas – I mean, Ron – I’ve had my own thorns to endure. I had a lot of time to think this past year. Ever since I was kid, it’s been drilled into my brain that purebloods were the best and should be treated as such. I believed it too, that is, until I came to Hogwarts and realized that there were mudbloods” – he looked at Hermione – “that were far more gifted than I was. I didn’t want to admit that purebloods weren’t as great and powerful as my parents had made them out to be. So I kept feeding myself on the old delusions that had fueled me since I was a kid.

“But after Voldemort returned and my father failed him, I began to realize I was on the wrong side. My actions of cruelty weren’t because I enjoyed torturing muggleborns and witnessing witches and wizards die; they were because I was trying to survive. Voldemort was living in my house, watching my every move. If I betrayed him in anyway, he would have killed me. My thoughts filled with desires to run away but I was in too deep, too involved, with the Death Eaters and Voldemort. I’m glad I learned Occlumency so I could keep Voldemort out of my head; I was sure he would have killed me just for thinking of him as a lunatic.”

Ron looked really uncomfortable. Harry supposed that he was conflicted with the idea of admitting that Malfoy had had it rough as well as acknowledging that he really had gone through a change of heart. His mind raged with indecisions. Harry silently hoped he’d accept Malfoy’s friendship; it would be a lot easier for everyone if he did.

Ron bit his lip before nodding silently. “Alright, I believe you,” he said. “Except one thing still doesn’t add up.”

“What?” Draco asked, looking highly annoyed that Ron still didn’t seem completely satisfied.

“Why did you follow Harry into the Room of Requirement and try to kill him?” Hermione asked, voicing the same question that Ron was about to say. Obviously she’d been wondering the same thing.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Like I said before, I was trying to survive. Not to mention I was trying to find a way to get my family off of Voldemort’s possible target practice list. If I brought him Harry, I would have been able to sneak off with my parents and nobody would realize we were gone because they would be too busy watching Voldemort and Harry dueling to the death.”

“So your plan was to use Harry as a means to help yourself?” Ginny asked with disgust.

“Not just me,” Draco retorted, “my parents as well. If you were in the same situation and your family was in jeopardy, you would have done the same thing.”

“No I wouldn’t,” Ginny snapped. “I would never sacrifice someone else’s life to save my own or my family’s.”

Draco shrugged. “So we’re different in the way we think. I’ve told you the truth and that’s what you wanted.”

Ron looked outraged. “How can we be friends with him after he’s admitted that he’d rather sacrifice you to save his family, Harry?”

Harry tried to choose his words carefully so that Ron would understand. Yes, he was mad that Draco had just revealed what his plan had been during the Battle of Hogwarts, but that plan had never fallen through. Besides, Harry had to go to Voldemort anyway in the end. He’d just gone there voluntarily instead of by force. And Draco had only acted like any member of Slytherin house would have.

“Ron,” he said calmly, “think about it from this perspective. Gryffindors are naturally drawn to protecting not only themselves and their families but their friends. They would lay down their lives before allowing a friend to die. Slytherins are not the same. They care solely about themselves, wanting glory and power. They’ll protect the family members that support this same goal but if there is a threat to them that could destroy all they have been trying to build, they’ll get rid of that threat. If they’re given an opportunity to rise to glory through the means of sacrifice, they’ll go ahead and do it. Draco is naturally a Slytherin. His nature is to act as such. While all of us are Gryffindors – loyal through and through to the very end.”

“Great speech, Potter,” complimented Draco. “I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Ron’s prejudice seemed to thaw a little bit. He silently contemplated Harry’s explanation, trying to be content with it. He agreed that the things Harry described were the perfect description of a Slytherin versus a Gryffindor but it still bothered him that Malfoy would be willing to ditch his friends if he felt they were a threat to him. That was the Gryffindor speaking in him. Ron tried to look passed the obvious flaw and instead focus on Draco as a person; it was difficult but he somehow managed to see the deeper sides of Draco he hadn’t seen before.

“Alright,” said Ron finally, “we’ll give friendship a try. But if it doesn’t work, we’ll part ways and pretend this never happened. Do you agree Hermione? Ginny?”

The two girls nodded.

“Great, let’s shake on it,” said Harry to everyone.

Draco grimaced. “Do we have to?”

“It’ll make it official,” said Hermione.

“Fine,” Draco muttered, shaking hands with everyone. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I promised to meet up with Alex in the library.”

“Who’s Alex?” Ron asked.

“My girlfriend,” Draco answered reluctantly before disappearing behind the corner of the greenhouse.

Hermione raised an eyebrow. “Well, this year just got a tad more interesting. So, Harry, are we going to look out for Draco if he gets into trouble?”

“We’re going to treat him the same as we would each other,” said Harry firmly. “He’s just lost his friends, reputation, and parents. He needs a lot of support right now.”

Ron suddenly grinned. “This means we’ll be getting into a lot of fights with the other Slytherins.”

“They won’t stand a chance against the four of us,” said Ginny cheerfully. “Come on, let’s get back up to the castle; I’m freezing!”

Ron and Hermione started to follow her but stopped when they noticed Harry still standing next to the greenhouses.

“What’s up, Harry?” Hermione asked, turning back.

The three of them rejoined Harry who looked out at the grounds, his eyes slightly unfocused.

“Harry?” Ginny prompted.

Harry blinked. Turning back to them, he cleared his throat. “I’ve got to tell you something.”

Ron and Hermione noticed how restless he appeared. Normally when Harry looked like this in the past, it was when he had a secret, something he didn’t really know if he should share. Ron stepped up and folded his arms.

“What’s the secret, Harry?” he demanded in a firm voice.

Harry’s eyebrows rose in slight surprise. “It’s not a bad secret,” he said defensively because Ron was looking at him with an accusatory stare. His friend didn’t relax, however.

“Tell us,” Ron repeated.

Harry frowned. “Look, the reason why I didn’t tell you guys about this earlier is because I didn’t want you freaking out.”

“Will you stop dancing around the subject and tell us already?” Ginny demanded.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Fine; but it’s better if I show you.”

Ron and Hermione looked at each other with puzzled expressions. Ginny also appeared confused. Harry backed up a few paces. Ginny stepped forward.

“No, stay back,” Harry ordered.

Ginny faltered. “Harry, what -?”

Harry’s form rippled. The process was the exact opposite of his nightly transformations. Instead of fiery pain, Harry felt warmth spread from his head to his toes. The joints of his knees twisted in the opposite direction, his feet changing into humongous padded paws complete with claws as deep as ebony and as sharp as knives. A long golden tail sprouted behind him, the end displaying a tuft of brilliant black and brown hair.

From the waist down, Harry’s body had transformed into a glistening golden lion. The golden fur transformed from the waist up into beautiful arrays of brownish black feathers, covering every part of the torso, upper arms, and top of head. Harry’s front hands curled before morphing into magnificent talons, the claws just as sharp, beautiful, and dangerous as the back ones. Wings sprouted from Harry’s back, each five feet in length, the plumage the colors of brown, black, and gold. A large formidable beak made up most of Harry’s face. A pair of piercing yellow eyes stirred with an inner fire; subtle round markings resembling his glasses framed the large irises.

The gryffin folded its wings and sat down on its haunches, eyeing Ron, Hermione, and Ginny with silent amusement. Their faces were terribly hilarious after all. Ron looked like he could have swallowed a dragon’s egg his mouth was open so wide. Hermione could have passed for an owl with the dilated circumference of her brown eyes. Ginny’s expression held awe, delight, and a slight twinge of fear.

“Oh Harry!” Hermione cried, bravely taking a step towards the gryffin.

It snapped its beak. Though Harry meant for it to be a friendly gesture, Ron took this the wrong way and dragged Hermione back. She immediately protested.

“Ron, that’s Harry! Stop acting like he’s a wild animal,” she chided.

“Are you sure it’s Harry?” Ron asked, his voice resembling a squeaking mouse.

The gryffin made a strange noise. It almost sounded like a chuckle. Ginny caught its eye and grinned.

“That is Harry!” she said, stepping closer to the magnificent creature. “Don’t you see the markings of his glasses? And look! There’s his scar!”

She pointed at the gryffin’s forehead. Ron squinted his eyes, assessing where she was indicating, before looking over the beast and letting out a low whistle. “Merlin, Harry….a gryffin of all things? Brilliant!”

Harry clicked his beak again and squawked happily.

“Don’t sound so happy,” Ron grumbled, obviously incredibly jealous.

Harry’s eyes seemed to radiate his smile. He hadn’t intended to rub this in Ron’s face. He’d only wanted to show him what he could do. Ron looked really excited for him but Harry could also see the jealousy churning silently from his eyes.

“Can you fly?” Ginny asked eagerly.

Harry shook his head. He hadn’t tried yet. In fact, he hadn’t even tried walking. He’d only successfully transformed yesterday during one of the breaks; He’d decided to set aside his Obscurvirgum practicing to give the animagus spell another shot.

“Awww, that’s too bad,” muttered Hermione, clearly as disappointed as Ginny.

Transforming back into his human form was incredibly easy and painless. All Harry had to do was focus every ounce of his concentration on a mental picture of his mind. His muscles twisted naturally, a magical power fabricating the change, flowing under his skin like a steady stream. It wrapped around his bones, seeping into them, transfiguring them back into the state of a human skeleton. The process was over in the blink of an eye and one hundred percent pain free. Harry was also delighted to find that he wasn’t on his hands and knees like he always was just before and after the curse.

He blinked and smiled. “Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “You know we would have tried to talk you out of it. Becoming an animagus takes extremely difficult magic, Harry. How on earth did you learn how to do it?”

Harry grinned. “Oh, I just spent all my free time from the beginning of the school year up to this point reading every book in the Hogwarts library about the subject and testing out parts of the spell. I’ve transfigured my hand and foot but I couldn’t figure out exactly what creature I was until last night when I did a full transformation. This was my second time.”

“Let me guess,” said Ron. “The first time was with your parents?”

Harry tried not to detect the slight bitterness in Ron’s tone. Obviously Harry had been spending a lot more time with the Marauders than with him lately. But that wasn’t entirely Harry’s fault. The times they could hang out were always during the day, and Ron was usually either off with Hermione in some classroom or studying like a wild man in Gryffindor Tower. Ignoring a retort containing this info, Harry shook his head.

“Actually, I haven’t shown them yet.”

This caused his friend’s eyebrows to rise in obvious surprise. “Y-You haven’t?” he asked.

Harry tried not to roll his eyes. “No, I haven’t, Ron. I didn’t get to show them last night because I was too exhausted from stressing out my body. I only had enough strength to show them Obscurvirgum.”

“Whoa, wait a minute!” said Hermione, holding up a hand. “Did you just say Obscurvirgum, Harry?”

“Yes.”

Hermione looked totally impressed. “You can do that? Seriously?”

Harry nodded.

“Would you care to enlighten us what obscure – whatever is?” Ron asked, perplexed.

“Obscurvirgum is controlled magic performed by a witch or wizard without the use of a wand,” Hermione explained. “It’s incredibly advanced and nearly impossible to learn. What made you actually pursue the technique in the first place, Harry?”

 Harry explained how he saved Draco in the woods.

Hermione sighed. “You’re so gifted, Harry! I’m envious.”

Harry’s eyebrows rose. “You’re envious of me? You’re the cleverest witch of our age, Hermione.”

She waved a hand as if to swat the title aside. “So I’ve got brains, big deal. You’re naturally able to bend raw magic to your will. You have no idea how lucky that is.”

“I can’t do it for very long though,” Harry said, trying to dispel this unsuspected and slightly unwanted praise. “It’s extremely difficult. So far I can do every spell I’ve ever learned but not at the same capacity as to what I can do with my wand.”

“Well of course not,” Hermione responded. “A wand amplifies your magic to its greatest potential. Every witch and wizard is able to perform raw magic when they are young but the ability soon leaves them as they grow older and learn to only control that magic through a wand. Very few wizards and witches are able to gain control over the raw magic within them. I say this again, you’re really fortunate, Harry.”

“And that leads me to asking a huge favor,” Harry muttered, looking at his three best friends. “Could we not say a word of this to anyone? The last thing I need is more unwanted praise.”

At this, Ron actually grinned. Harry was relieved to see that he’d gotten over the fit of jealousy he’d harbored earlier. “What, you don’t want your head to inflate anymore than it already has?”

Harry scowled. “I’ll definitely pass on that one, thanks.”

The four of them laughed. Harry took Ginny’s hand and noticed how cold it was. Her complexion didn’t look very good either. “Ginny, are you okay?”

She nodded mutely.

“Are you sure?” Harry pressed.

“I’m fine,” she managed to mutter after blinking several times. “Like I said before, I’m just really tired. The cold is helping to shut down my already slow processing brain.”

Harry managed a small smile. If she was still able to joke around, he was sure she was fine. “Let’s get back inside,” he said. “It’s pretty cold out here.”

Harry put his arm around Ginny and the four of them trudged through the few inches of snow back into the castle. Along the way, Hermione pestered Harry about showing his form to McGonagall and getting himself registered. Harry secretly didn’t want to be registered because then it would leak out that he had another remarkable talent. Not to mention if the Death Eaters ever found out, his advantage of taking them by surprise as a gryffin (should they ever attack) would have immediately become void. Hermione’s nagging only ceased once they reached the inside of the castle.

The entrance hall was completely deserted. Most of the students were up in their dormitories, working hard on the heavy workloads given to them by the teachers. Harry bid farewell to Hermione and Ron who went up the spiral staircase to grab their books with a promise to meet Ginny in the library.

Harry, having to deal with sudden urges to whisk his fiancée away during the entire walk back to the castle, pulled Ginny behind the tapestry leading to his private common room and immediately began to snog her. It was rather difficult for him to control his hands; they wanted to move away from Ginny’s hips to climb up her back towards her head. Forcing them to stay locked where they were, Harry instead focused on snogging, deciding that Ginny hadn’t said he could only kiss her mouth. Moving his lips from hers, he made a small trail from her chin down to her neck, where he proceeded to climb back up to her ear, kissing the lobe delicately.

Ginny sighed, her body responding to Harry’s movements. Her arms moved down from his neck, touching his clothes. Before she even realized what she was doing, the first three buttons of Harry’s shirt were undone, giving her a little visibility to his chest. While she had been busy unbuttoning his shirt, Harry had finally lost control of his hands; they’d snaked upward feeling their way to her face.

Cupping her beautiful jaw line, Harry kissed her lips once before pulling away. “Not this time,” he muttered more to himself than to her. “I’m not the one who’s going to be in trouble.”

Ginny looked guiltily at his unbuttoned shirt. “I couldn’t help myself?” she said hesitantly.

Harry groaned, laying his head against her shoulder. “It’s a dang good thing I’m planning to marry you after school gets out,” he muttered, “or I’d throw caution to the winds and take you into my room right now.”

Ginny enveloped him in a hug. “I’m sorry, Harry; really. My body sort of took off before my mind did.”

Harry had to laugh. “Now you know how I feel every time you scold me for touching you.”

Ginny bit her lip. “Wow, every time?”

Harry nodded. “Yep.”

“That’s got to be torture.”

“That’s the biggest understatement of the year.”

Ginny’s cheeks turned pink. “You know, I could forget studying.”

Harry was tempted. No, he was more than tempted. He was positive that if he could continue to snog her the way he’d just done that they wouldn’t stop if she decided to stay with him. His body was so wired right now that it took every ounce of his will to deny what he wanted most. Closing his eyes and counting to ten, Harry took a few steps back. His body shriveled in disappointment. He kept hold of Ginny’s hand.

“I don’t want Ron and Hermione to come down here looking for you,” he said, failing to hide his disappointment.

Ginny sighed. “You’re right.” She sounded just as depressed as he was. “I guess I’ll see you later?”

“A visit would be nice,” Harry encouraged.

Ginny smiled. “Alright.”

She kissed him lightly before moving down the hall and disappearing on the other side of the tapestry. Harry’s skin burned from where her lips had pressed against his. It took every ounce of self control not to go tearing after her.

“Breathe,” he told himself, “just breathe.”

He slowly made his way to the Gryffindor lion portrait. Stroking the tail and giving the password, Harry went inside. The sight that met his eyes caught him completely off guard. The Marauders, Lily, and Tonks were playing an intense game of wizard chess: the Marauders against Lily and Tonks.

“No, there,” Sirius whispered in James’s ear, pointing at one of the rooks.

“Are you mad, Padfoot?” scolded James. “Their queen will murder us if we play that move.”

“Why not move the bishop?” suggested Remus.

Sirius and James stopped arguing to look at the move Remus was pointing at. Both silently calculated before clapping Remus on the back.

“Excellent idea, Moony,” said James. “Let’s do that!”

Remus made the move and then it was the girls turn.

Harry crossed the room, amused. “Can’t you hear each other?”

All of them jumped.

“Harry!” Tonks exclaimed. “Don’t sneak up on us like that!”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “I’ve been standing here for three minutes.”

“Really?” said James with fascination. “I didn’t even notice. Did you?”

Sirius shook his head. “I was too busy focusing on the chessboard.”

Harry laughed. “I have to ask though, you were saying out loud what move you were going to make. Couldn’t mum and Tonks hear you?”

Remus shook his head. “We put a spell over us so that we wouldn’t be able to see or hear each other. We could only see the chessboard.”

“I guess Harry stepped into the spell’s boundaries and broke it,” said Lily, laughing lightly. “Goodness that was fun! We were winning too.”

“You were not!” James said, mocking anger. “We just sealed your fate by moving that bishop! See!”

Lily looked down at the board. “Hmmm…are you sure?”

“Of course,” said Sirius. “We don’t make mistakes.”

Lily grinned, a mischievous look in her eyes. She commanded one of her knights to move four places. “Checkmate.”

The marauders gasped.

“No way,” muttered James.

“How did we miss that?!” Sirius cried, outraged. “It’s all your fault, Remus! You cost us the game!”

“I did not,” said Remus calmly. “It was you and James who suggested leaving the king in that position. I wanted to move it but you two were adamant that it was safe there.”

James and Sirius looked mutinous. Lily and Tonks giggled, overjoyed with their success. Lily kissed James lightly on the cheek. “Sorry, honey. Try again next time.”

“I’ll win,” James warned.

“I’m sure you will,” Lily said kindly. “Now, how was breakfast, Harry?”

Harry sat down. “It was alright. Draco sat with us today.”

“What? Seriously?” said Sirius.

Harry nodded. “Everyone in the hall was just as surprised as you.”

“Well of course they were,” said Remus. “A Slytherin sitting at the Gryffindor table is unheard of.”

“Until now,” said James. “I hope the other Slytherins don’t try to jump him after this. You’d better keep an eye on him, Harry.”

“That’s what we plan to do,” Harry replied.

“Good,” said James. He then sat forward, a strange twinkle in his eye. “So, Harry, what was that thing you wanted to show us?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “You look as if you already know, Dad.”

James grinned. “I’m pretty sure I do, son.”

Sirius looked at the two of them. “Care to share the secret?” he asked, feeling left out.

“It’s better if Harry shows us,” said James, his smile as wide as the Nile River.

Harry stood up, biting the inside of his cheek. His father looked full of explicit rapture. But would it remain that way when he discovered that his son wasn’t a stag like himself? Mortified by the idea of his father’s disappointment, Harry hesitated.

James mistook Harry’s hesitation for nerves. “It’s alright, Harry. Go ahead.”

Harry’s heart began to beat faster. Mustering up his Gryffindor courage, he looked around to make sure he wouldn’t hit anything. “Just don’t be too surprised,” he muttered before his form began to ripple.

As if getting struck on the head, Sirius gasped. “No way!”

“Shhh! Just watch,” James ordered.

Harry’s body slipped into the transformation like one slipping beneath the surface of the water, calmly and pleasantly. His lower half transformed into the lion, his upper to gigantic bird. Praying his wings wouldn’t hit anything, they burst from his spine, the longest tips brushing against the far walls on either side of him. Folding them gently to his body, Harry stood up straight and found his father first.

He was beholding Harry with a mixture of delight and surprise. It was obvious from his expression that the creature before him was not what he had been expecting. Harry waited for the disappointment to come. James looked him up and down and then a large grin spread across his face.

“I knew it!” he said, happily leaping from his spot on the couch and bounding forward. He stepped up to Harry who was now looking up at his father (a rather strange observance since before he was able to look at him head on). James walked around Harry in full circle before coming back to the front and letting out a whistle. “Extremely impressive, son,” he said, his voice full of awe. “A gryffin…I never would have believed it!”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. “It makes a lot of sense when you think about it,” he said as he came over to look at Harry too.

 Remus soon joined him. “Quite,” he agreed. “Gryffins are thought to be especially powerful and majestic creatures. They’re considered the king of all creatures because they’re a combination of a lion, the king of beasts, and a bird, the lord of the sky. Harry has always possessed leadership qualities and he is an extremely powerful wizard. It’s only fitting to have his true animagus form be an image of himself.”

Harry, wanting to express thanks, let out a loud chirp. It sounded extremely strange to him as well as a little embarrassing.

 Remus grinned widely. “You’re welcome, Harry,” he said pleasantly.   

Harry looked passed the three Marauders towards his mother and Tonks who were still sitting on the couch. They appeared too shocked to speak. They sat comparable to statues, looking at Harry’s animagus form, their eyes wide as dinner plates.

James rubbed Harry’s head. “I knew it!” he said again happily. “Well done, Harry! You’ve kept the tradition alive!”

 “But why?” Lily asked, her voice full of trepidation. She’d finally left the couch. “Why did you become an animagus, Harry? I thought you’d hate being an animal. Please don’t tell me you did this because you were pressured into it.”

She gave James a stern look. Harry phased back into his regular form. Wanting to settle his mother’s unease, he shook his head emphatically. “I’m sure it seems weird, mum,” he said, “but I actually have been tossing around the idea of becoming an animagus for quite some time. I’ve been toying with the idea all summer. After the curse started happening and I experienced being an animal by force, I was curious to know what it would feel like being one by choice. So I decided to start researching how to become an animagus once I got back to school.”

“You’ve been researching this for three months?” Lily asked, surprised.

Harry nodded. “I had to have something to do during my free periods.”

Sirius, James, and Remus roared with laughter.

“That’s my boy!” James said enthused.

“A true Marauder’s son!” exclaimed Sirius.

Lily shook her head though now she was grinning. “I guess it can’t be helped,” she sighed. “I’m sure you just made James the happiest father in Paradise, Harry.”

“You bet he did!” James cried. “Let’s go raid the kitchens to celebrate, huh?”

Harry continued to hesitate. “So you’re not disappointed?” he asked his dad.

James looked at him incredulously. “Why in Merlin’s name would I be disappointed?”

Harry shuffled his feet. “Because I’m not a stag,” he muttered.

James caught Sirius’s eye. Sirius placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder and squeezed. “Everyone’s form is unique and individual, Harry. Just because your father’s a stag doesn’t mean you have to be one too.”

“But the curse…”

“Has nothing to do with who you really are,” said James. “I think you became a stag, Harry, because whoever cursed you saw that the animal held great significance to you. Whoever performed it must have been evil.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because they couldn’t see the real you,” James replied proudly. “Evil can’t penetrate the pure in heart, Harry.”

And with that, he put an arm around Harry’s shoulder and steered him out the door towards the kitchens, the others following right behind him.


Chapter 15: Great One and Whirlwing
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It was a week before the Christmas holidays. Harry and Hermione had been invited by the Weasleys to spend Christmas with them at the Burrow and the two had taken up their offer. The Grangers (to Mr. Weasley’s ultimate delight) had also been invited so the future in-laws could get to know everyone. Harry was pleased to confirm to Mrs. Weasley that his parents, Sirius, Remus and Tonks, Teddy Lupin, his godson, and Andromeda Tonks would be spending Christmas there as well. It was going to be a full house and Harry was looking forward to it immensely. He was sure that the holiday was going to be the best he ever had.

The school had been attacked with thousands of decorations, the usual along with countless amounts of garland lining every staircase and archway. Clusters of mistletoe could be spotted in places which were avoided by the boys with great care much to the disappointment of a fair amount of females. Harry had been caught by a Hufflepuff third year underneath the stupid plant and had successfully turned the girl down by feinting illness. Though it happened over a week ago, Ron still teased him about it.

Draco had finally made it a habit to spend as much time surrounded by Gryffindors as possible since his entire house seemed to be out to kill him. He didn’t stay in the Slytherin common room anymore for sake of his safety. Harry had received permission from Professor Dumbledore to share his private room with Draco. The professor had been nice enough to even make up another room to accommodate the Slytherin outcast. Draco couldn’t see the Gate Frame inhabitants so Harry had to move meeting with his parents and friends in his bedroom whenever he wanted to talk to them.

It honestly wasn’t so bad living with Draco. The guy actually had a really great sense of humor - that is, only if he found the joke funny. He was also extremely sarcastic and even though they bantered back and forth every time they were together, Harry silently enjoyed trying to beat Draco at his own wit. They didn’t talk too often though but when they did, they always had something to disagree upon. Most of the time when they were in the common room (Draco finishing up his homework and Harry reading books he’d checked out from the library) they would challenge each other to a game of Wizard’s Chess.

Harry liked these challenges because they took him away from the book he was reading, giving his brain a break. Harry had really taken to the library; he supposed it was because the books available were actually really educational. He’d finally discovered that the lessons given by his teachers only skimmed the surface of the magic they were studying. He now realized why Hermione was so smart. Years ago, Harry would have never believed it if someone told him he’d be reading countless library books. Ron had nearly died when he saw the immense pile of books stacked in the common room. He’d even voiced his fear that Harry was turning into Hermione. Needless to say, that comment got him into a really big pit; the only way out was to apologize to Hermione with a large bouquet of flowers and chocolates.

Alexandria – or Alex as she apparently preferred – spent a lot of time in the common room with Draco. Harry had come to know her really well over the past month. Draco made sure to banish her from the room before sunset so as not to give away Harry’s secret but Harry harbored this strange suspicion that Alex knew the truth. It wasn’t that he suspected Draco of revealing it; he was just under the impression that Alex knew. The way she stared at him sometimes – like she was studying a science experiment – really freaked him out. To Harry, her eyes looked as old and wise as Professor Dumbledore’s, which was both intimidating and disturbing.

Despite this, Harry really liked Alex as a person. She was a wonderful girl and she even got along with Ginny when she would come to visit Harry. She had good morals and she always tried to stick up for kids who were being picked on in the halls. Not to mention she was a superb chaser for the Gryffindor Team and had helped them win every match thrust in their way so far. Harry suspected that this year the Quidditch Cup was in the bag.

Studying for the end of term exams had taken their toll on the students for the last week. Harry only prayed that the actual exams taking place the next week would be to his advantage since he hadn’t been able to practice as much as everyone else in the evening hours. Even though he hadn’t had homework, he was just as exhausted and strained from constantly working towards perfecting his Obscurvirgum spells. Dumbledore had taken it upon himself to teach Harry a few tricks on deeper concentration. Professor Merrylow’s classes also focused on constant meditation these past couple weeks so these two vigorous teachers helped Harry immensely over the last month – even though his brain felt like it was about to spontaneously self-combust.

Speaking of Professor Merrylow, she and Sirius were getting along like bread and butter. The two were practically inseparable when they got together and it had been learned a long time ago that when they were alone, it was best to leave them that way. Sirius was being called from the Gate Frame so much that Harry almost had half a mind to keep him in the mortal world constantly (except Sirius had other unspeakable duties he had to attend to in the afterlife).

Despite the slight annoyance of having Sirius and Professor Merrylow constantly asking him when they could get together again (like Harry was the parent and Sirius his overprotected son) Harry was extremely happy for both of them. Sirius was a new man; his very demeanor and happiness a complete one eighty from Harry’s memory. Professor Merrylow had also undergone a change. She was always smiling, sometimes even humming openly in classes, and her cheerfulness seemed to have the ability to affect everyone around her. Every D.A.D.A. class was fun and upbeat and not even the Slytherins seemed to complain about her.

Their relationship was going so well that Harry was sure that any day now Professor Merrylow would approach him to ask if she too could spend Christmas at the Burrow. In preparation for this, Harry had secretly sent Alomier to the Weasleys, asking them if it would be okay for another guest to stay with them. Their response letter had appeared to be extremely optimistic about the whole deal.

Harry had just finished his last class of the day and was making his way down to lunch with the other Gryffindors when Professor Merrylow appeared in the hallway and called his name.

“Mr. Potter, a word if you please!”

Harry looked at Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. All of them were smirking. Ginny nudged Ron in the ribs.

“That’ll be two galleons, Ron,” she said.

Ron grimaced as he fished his pockets. “I was sure that if she was going to ask it would have been after the exam yesterday. Why’d she have to wait til now?”

“Because exams are over,” answered Hermione, disapproving of Ron and Ginny gambling. “Honestly, why did you even have to bet over this?”

“We have to follow in Fred and George’s footsteps,” Ron said with dignity, finally finding the gold coins and thrusting them into Ginny’s hand. “Though I can’t believe I lost to Ginny. Those were the only two galleons left from my allowance.”

Hermione pursed her lips. “You two wouldn’t be gambling at all if your dad still worked for the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts department.”

Ron shrugged. “Maybe Hermione but now that dad’s promoted and we get allowances, what’s the hurt in gambling a little bit?”

Hermione stomped her foot in impatience. “You two are impossible!” Ginny, Harry, and Ron snickered openly. Hermione rolled her eyes before pushing Harry in the shoulder towards where Professor Merrylow stood waiting. “Get going before she calls you again.”

“See you at lunch,” said Harry before making his way through the crowded hallway to Professor Merrylow. She smiled but her expression was also a little flustered.

“Did you need something, Professor?”

Professor Merrylow looked around before saying, “I just wanted you to step in here for a minute, if that’s okay.”

The two of them disappeared inside her classroom which was decorated beautifully for the Christmas season. Small flakes of snow fell from her ceiling, disappearing four feet above the now empty desks, garland hung on every visible pole, a small collection of snowmen sat against the window sill, each one waving their stick arms merrily, and twinkling lights flashed on and off around the blackboard. Professor Merrylow was wearing rich red robs outlined in white, her ferocious hair spiraling about her face under a matching hat.

She swallowed and began to ring her hands nervously, wetting her lips, and darting her eyes from Harry’s face, to the floor, to her hands. “Listen, Harry, um…”

“Professor, if you want to spend Christmas at the Burrow, I’ve already asked the Weasleys and they said they’d be happy to have you.”

Professor Merrylow blinked several times in surprise. “Y-You did? And…and they already said it was okay?”

Harry couldn’t help grinning. “I thought you might want to spend the Holiday with someone Professor and seeing as he’s going to be spending it with me I suspected that you might ask to tag along.”

Professor Merrylow’s eyes narrowed though Harry saw a merry twinkle within the brown irises. “Rather presumptuous, aren’t you, Harry?”

Harry shrugged. “I just saw a need that I figured needed to be filled, Professor.”

Professor Merrylow immediately began to laugh. She put a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I’ve underestimated your observation, Harry. Am I too obvious?”

Harry, somewhat taken aback that a teacher was being so forward with him, tried to feint ignorance. “I don’t know what you mean, Professor.”

“Oh, yeah right,” Professor Merrylow chided kindly, rolling her eyes. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re his godson and you know him better than everyone alive so I thought I’d get your opinion. Now answer me honestly, Harry, is it too obvious that I like him?”

Harry felt slightly uncomfortable. He wasn’t prone to being an expert on girls. This was definitely where Sirius’s expertise would have been appreciated. But seeing as the situation involved his godfather, Harry was finding himself in a definite fix. He rubbed his arm, feeling awkward.

“I’m not an expert on this sort of thing, Professor.”

“I didn’t ask for an expert, Harry,” said Professor Merrylow kindly. “I asked for your opinion.”

This still didn’t relax Harry’s nerves. “From my point of view it’s really obvious but that’s because I’ve seen the way Sirius was before he had you in his life. He’s extremely happy now. And I don’t think you seem like your acting any different to other students. You’re as energetic and upbeat as always and your classes are a knockout success. I haven’t even heard the Slytherins complaining about you and that’s a compliment, believe me.”

Professor Merrylow seemed to relax. Her stiff shoulders slumped as she let out a sigh she’d apparently been suppressing. “That’s good. I was afraid he was thinking I was desperate or something. He hasn’t said anything like that to you, has he?” she asked, grabbing Harry’s shoulders suddenly.

Harry adamantly shook his head. “No! Not in the slightest. Personally I think he might be thinking the same thing. He’s never had someone like you before and that’s coming from my dad not me. I think you shouldn’t worry too much about this, Professor. Just let things work themselves out naturally.”

Professor Merrylow nodded. Then she bit her lip. “You don’t think it’ll be weird for me to be at the Burrow, do you?”

Harry had to refrain from rolling his eyes. “Professor, you’re there to spend the holidays with your boyfriend who happens to be there. There’s nothing weird about that.”

Professor Merrylow hung her head. A low chuckle escaped her lips. “Gosh, I’m pathetic,” she mumbled.

Harry’s eyebrows rose. “No you’re not, Professor.”

“Yes, I am,” she mumbled, releasing Harry to walk away and look out the window over her snowman collection. “I’ve never felt this way before, Harry. I’ve never felt so comfortable with someone, so open. I’m thinking like a teenage, wondering if he likes me, fussing over what to wear when I’m with him, pondering on if he finds my habits weird. It’s annoying but exciting at the same time.” – She froze, putting a hand over her mouth – “Sorry, Harry, I’m rambling.”

Harry grinned. “You don’t have to apologize, Professor. Everyone feels that way when they have really deep feelings for someone. I feel that way about Ginny all the time.”

Professor Merrylow’s worried expression seemed to finally disappear. She smiled. “Thanks, Harry. I’ve been bottling this up for a while. Can you tell?”

Harry nodded and both of them laughed.

“I’m sorry to have kept you from lunch,” she apologized. “But you did make me feel a lot better. I just wanted to talk to someone about it.”

Harry smiled kindly. “No problem, Professor.”

“Go on then,” she said. “I’ll talk to you later about the holidays, after you’ve stayed up late studying over the exams.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “If by studying you mean running through the snow with the Marauders out on the grounds, I’m sure it’ll be a blast to stay up late.”

Professor Merrylow smiled at his sarcasm. “I’ll see you later, Harry.”

“Bye, Professor.”

*~*~*~*~

After lunch, Harry found Draco sitting in their common room reading a potions book. Harry raised an eyebrow. “Are you planning to take over for Slughorn?”

Draco looked slightly annoyed at being addressed. “So what if I was?” he asked, peering over the edge of his book.

Harry smirked. “I just can’t see you being a professor, that’s all. Unless you’d like to follow in Snape’s footsteps and get a really bad reputation with a lot of people.”

Draco scowled. “Snape was a better man than anyone I know, Harry.”

Harry sat down, stretching out his legs. “I didn’t say he wasn’t. We already discussed his reputation as a great man; I was talking about his popularity as a teacher. No offense to him but he wasn’t really liked.”

“And you’re saying I’m going to end up having the same rep if I take over for Slughorn?”

Harry shrugged. “Maybe.”

“I bet I’d make a better professor than you would, Potter.”

Harry noticed the glint in Draco’s eye. Those were fighting words. Harry grinned. “Need a break?”

Draco tossed the book aside. “Are you offering to get murdered again?”

Harry pulled out the chess set. “In your dreams. I won’t lose this time.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “Let’s face it, Harry. When it comes to chess, you’re not the best.”

“Did you intend to rhyme like a little school girl?”

Draco’s eyes narrowed. “Shut it, Potter.”

Harry grinned. “I will if you take it back about me not making a good teacher.”

“You’re honestly considering a post to teach?” Draco asked incredulously as he set up the black pieces.

Harry shrugged, placing his white pawns into place. “I’ve considered it a possibility. After I’ve finished my auror career of course.”

“Ahhh, yes,” Draco mused, grinning, “You’re going to kill and or capture all the Death Eaters. I’m not going to let you have all the fun, you know.”

Harry looked up from the chessboard, surprised. “You’re going to be an auror?”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t I tell you?” He looked at Harry’s surprised expression. “No, I suppose I didn’t. Well, if you must know, Harry, how else am I going to have the authority to track down and kill my parent’s murderers if I’m not an auror?”

Harry sighed. “Right, you’re pursuing the career for revenge. What an aspiration.”

“If I recall, someone else lost their parents and sought out revenge too,” Draco muttered as he gestured for Harry to make the first move.

After moving a knight, Harry shrugged. “Hey, I didn’t kill him for revenge. It was all part of a prophecy and wanting to free myself from his soul. Besides, he wasn’t a Death Eater and he just happened to be an evil wizard bent on world conquest.”

Draco snorted. “That sums up Voldemort quite well.”

The two continued their chess match in silence for a few minutes. After Draco had successfully killed all of Harry’s pawns, a knight, and a castle, Harry finally decided to speak again.

“What are you doing for Christmas this year, Draco?”

The young blond shrugged. “I invited Alex to the mansion for the holidays but she said she has to return to Egypt until school starts again. So I guess I’ll just spend it by myself.”

Harry scoffed. “Yeah, because leaving you alone in your house while every Death Eater is intent on having you dead is a very smart idea. You should spend Christmas at the Burrow.”

Draco’s hand flinched so bad it knocked over a nook. “Are you out of your mind, Potter?! Spend Christmas with a bunch of…” He stopped at the look on Harry’s face.

“It would be the safest place for you,” said Harry. “Or Hogwarts of course. What fun that will be, stuck here in the castle by yourself.”

“I don’t mind being alone,” Draco slightly snapped.

“Then all the Slytherins will find out you’re staying and then they’ll stay and torture you and drag your limp body off to Lestrange where he can finish killing his nephew as a Christmas present. Yep, sounds like a jolly holiday to me.”

Draco’s scowl was as deep as the lines in Dumbledore’s face. Glowering, he just managed to spit out the words, “Fine, Potter! I’ll go to the Burrow! But if one thing – and I mean one thing – disgusts me, I’m gone! You hear?!”

Harry grinned. Even if Draco planned to leave Harry would do everything in his power to keep Draco alive even if that meant tying him up like a festival pig; besides, that’s what friends were for, right? To keep their friends alive.

*~*~*~*~

It was a little before sunset. Harry was out in the forest, bidding his time for when the sun would disappear. He’d been in the shadow of the trees for about fifteen minutes now. Harry was somewhat grateful for the thickness of the tree trunks because their bare branches held most of the snow, leaving about three inches on the ground. Harry climbed over a fallen log, planning to sit down and take out the Gate Frame, when he heard a noise – a tree branch breaking.

He’d had to wear his invisibility cloak into the forest since so many kids were out on the grounds enjoying rousing snowball fights as an attempt to rest their weary minds from studying. Pulling the cloak from his pocket, Harry pulled it on just before someone broke into the clearing. Harry remained deathly still. It was Alex.

She looked completely different from her usual bubbly personality; her eyes were narrowed, every trace of cheerfulness gone, her expression like that of an Amazon, keen to find and kill anything that she deemed a threat. Her deep green eyes seemed to produce the same x-ray feel that Dumbledore portrayed. She looked around the forest, double, triple-checking, to make sure she was completely alone. Seeming satisfied, she flung her loose copper curls from her face and pulled out a necklace.

It was a simple golden chain with a pendant on the end that Harry recognized as the symbol of life for Egyptians: the ankh. Alex closed her eyes and began chanting. Harry shuddered; he knew that language. It was the same as Sephtus’s.

Alex chanted in a low whisper but soon her voice rose until it filled the surrounding trees, alerting birds that took off into the sky. The snow surrounding Alex’s feet began to stir, like a sudden mini blizzard had erupted under her boots. Harry gathered the invisibility cloak closer around him to make sure it wouldn’t fly off and reveal his location.

As the snow stirred through the air, a small circle appeared at Alex’s feet. Lines inched towards the center, disappearing under her shoes, while a spiral of strange symbols climbed around her until she appeared to be in some bizarre yellow ribbon tornado. Alex stopped chanting and the symbols that had been spinning around her exploded into a burst of blinding white light. Harry’s eyes squinted until the light dissipated, revealing a shocking sight. 

A tall figure stood in the clearing, his robes a deep shade of crimson. Long spider-like fingers curled around his lengthy folded arms, drumming against them every two seconds. His face was hooded but long black hair climbed out of the hood all the way down to the man’s waist.

“Alexandria,” came a voice from inside the hood, “you are failing, child.”

His voice was deep and powerful and seemed to speak from the depths of the earth. The whole surrounding area seemed to be rejecting this man’s presence, as if he was a phenomenon invading this time and space. The air had turned dry and Harry immediately felt the need to cough. He stopped himself though his eyes streamed from having to suppress the urge.

Alex looked as if the man had slapped her in the face. “I am not failing, Great One,” she said in a squeaky voice. “The task you have set me has proven to be more difficult than any of us realized.”

The hooded figure drummed his fingers again. “Silence! Excuses are not tolerated. You know this well. You are either achieving or you are failing and we can both agree that your meager excuses fall into the latter category.”

Alex hung her head. “Yes, Great One.”

“So, what do you plan to do to change this? Time is running out and we are growing weaker.”

“I have realized this,” Alex muttered in distain.

“If you do not deepen you attempts, you will not gain the trust of the Sacrifice. Have you even found them?”

Alex sighed. “Yes, Great One.”

The drumming fingers froze. “Really?” Great One said with heavy surprise. “Hmmm, I must say I’m amazed. I thought your last report stated that your search was not fruitful.”

“My last report, Great One, was three months ago. Since then I have been busy attempting to secure a relationship with the Sacrifice but it has taken me time. The people here are very different from us. It takes a long time to gain trust.”

“That sounds like an excuse, child. But this is progress. Does the Sacrifice suspect anything?”

“No.”

“Does anyone?”

Alex bit her lip. “There may be one person.”

Great One leaned forward. “Yes?”

“The One of Prophecy; I think he’s suspicious of me.”

Harry stiffened. Those words left a chill down his spine. One of Prophecy; that’s what Sephtus had called him. Harry couldn’t believe his ears. Did this mean that the one under the red cloak was Sephtus? And if it was, did that mean that Alex was a spy? And who was this Sacrifice and what were they being sacrificed for?

“Ahhh, yes, yes, he would suspect something, now wouldn’t he?” Great One mused, his tone sounding slightly as if he carried a sneer. “He’s already been exposed to some of our ancient magic.”

“Yes,” replied Alex, though she seemed a little sad about this.

“It is of little importance,” said Great One. “He has been cursed so as to not interfere. You know this quite well, Alexandria. You swore that under no circumstances were you to approach him about it. I trust you have not broken that oath.”

“You know I haven’t, Great One. Breaking the oath would mean death and I value my life.”

Great One chuckled. “Of course you do. Now, we don’t have much time left. The Sacrifice is ripening. We must be prepared when the time comes. You must ensure that you are there, Alexandria, in order for our plan to succeed. We cannot risk another failure.”

Alexandria bowed. “I understand, Great One.”

“I want another report as the next moon cycle begins. Do not miss this appointment, Alexandria, like you did the last three.”

“I won’t, Great One,” Alex promised. She acted like she’d just received a humiliating chastisement; her cheeks were pink, her feet shuffled back and forth, and her hands rung behind her back. “I’m sorry to have failed you before. I will do my best to attain a close relationship to the Sacrifice.”

Great One put his hands behind his back and stood at his full height. “I expect only that from you, Alexandria Write. The Sacrifice is not to die by your hand, only to be nurtured. And might I add a word of caution: do not be easily distracted by those who are clouding your vision. You know your path and you must follow it, casting aside any who might stand in the way.”

Alex looked as if Great One had issued a death sentence. Her face had turned as pale as the snow, her entire frame trembling like a leaf in a hurricane. Tears pricked her green eyes, and her curls seemed to lose some of their volume.

“But what about treasures, Great One?” she asked hesitantly, as if being afraid that he would fry her to a crisp.

“Treasures are distractions, Alexandria! There are more important forces going on right now than you and a treasure that you can easily replace.”

“Not this treasure,” Alex argued but then she covered her mouth.

A powerful force of energy rushed through the trees, lighting the dead leaves in the snow on fire. The flames danced menacingly before sizzling out in the snow, melting holes all the way down to the forest floor. Harry felt like he’d stepping into a sauna. His whole head was dripping with sweat. What had just happened?

“Do not dare to argue with me, child!” Great One roared angrily. “I will not tolerate primitive feelings to get in the way of the fate of the future! Argue with me again and your treasure just might fine the same fate waiting for it as these burnt up leaves.”

Alex shivered uncontrollably as the wind picked up around her. The yellow ribbon-like symbols that had dissolved earlier had returned, swirling around Great One like a whirlpool. Five seconds of roaring wind and twirling snow pounded against the trees, Alex, and Harry’s invisibility cloak before the red robed figure vanished in the same fashion as he had appeared. The second he was gone, Alex fell to her knees, her arms wrapping around her body, trying to hold in her threatening sobs.

Harry was so overwhelmed he didn’t know what to think. Alex, the sweet seventeen year old from Egypt, was in a plot to sacrifice someone at Hogwarts? It seemed so asinine. She was so kind. Why would she even do something like this? Harry didn’t get the vibe at all that she was being forced into the conspiracy. From what he’d guessed, Alex had signed an oath to accomplish one thing: find and get close to this Sacrifice. But who was the Sacrifice that Alex was supposed to find?

Immediately Harry thought of Draco. She’d been kind to him first. But for some reason Draco didn’t seem to fit. Great One had said this Sacrifice was a person that Alex was having difficulty befriending. At least he could rule out himself as the Sacrifice. What had Great One said? Something like he’d had the curse placed on him so he would stay out of the way? So he was a liability? A threat? To whom? To Great One?

Harry needed to talk to Dumbledore. The headmaster should know what was going on. But Harry had less than five minutes and the sun would be down. He looked over at Alex. She had finally stood, getting control over her emotions. Trying to be brave, she made her way out of the clearing, heading back up to the school.

The last ray of the sun finally disappeared and Harry transformed. The burning pain of his muscles was excruciating but Harry held in the cries that wanted to escape his throat. Deeply thankful that the animagus transformation was pain-free, Harry stood up on all fours, panting heavily. Harry was torn with indecision as his eyes darted towards the castle and the various thick tree trunks around him. He wanted to run right up to the school to find Dumbledore but he’d promised the marauders that he would meet them by the lake.

Harry decided that Dumbledore could wait. It wasn’t like Alex was walking around with a butcher knife, ready to slice someone to pieces and stick the remains on an altar. He needed to think rationally about this, study out all the things he’d just learned, and then discuss it calmly. There was no use panicking about it. He made a note to mention it to Dumbledore at the first opportunity before turning towards the lake. Harry bounded through the trees, scaring a few squirrels and birds hovering near the forest floor. Rocketing through the forest at top speed, the chilly winter winds pounding against his skin, Harry came upon the edge of the lake within minutes.

He discovered three animals already resting at the base of the beech tree near the lake’s shoreline. They lifted their heads as Harry ran around the lake’s edge. The large grim-like dog started barking at Harry’s approach. Harry skidded to a halt, spraying him with snow.

“HEY! Not funny Harry!” Sirius growled, shaking snow off his snout.

James laughed. “That was wicked, Harry! A perfect delivery!”

Harry smiled. “I didn’t try to aim specifically at you Sirius, sorry.”

“Then can I ask who you were aiming for?” Remus asked as he stood up, shaking fallen snow off his werewolf body.

Harry shrugged. “All of you, I suppose.”

James knocked antlers with him. “Be grateful you didn’t hit Remus, Harry. He’s in a bad mood.”

Harry looked at the monstrous wolf who displayed a set of ridiculously sharp fangs while growling in James’s direction. Harry backed up a few steps out of instinct. He’d seen Remus and Sirius ‘play’ during an argument and he didn’t want to have those teeth anywhere near him. No, in Harry’s experience with being around the werewolf, when Remus was mad, it was best to keep one’s distance.

“Not another word, James,” Remus muttered.

Harry wanted to ask what had made Remus so angry but thought better of it. “So, why did you ask me last night to let you out in the morning?” he asked, turning to his father.

James grinned. “Oh, we were just putting something together. We couldn’t actually do anything until classes were over.”

“We wanted it to remain a surprise,” said Sirius.

“I think we did a great job,” said Remus, his appearance seeming to soften a bit. “I really needed to get away from the house for a while.”

“Tonks and Remus had a bit of a row,” Sirius muttered. “Best not to ask him about it unless you want to get your neck torn in half.”

Remus snapped at Sirius’s tail. The large dog yelped before turning around to growl at the werewolf. Remus’s yellow eyes were gleaming, each reflecting the snow that had started to fall around them. Sirius snarled and crouched low to the ground. The werewolf mimicked him. Just as they were about to pounce, laughter echoed across the grounds. James perked his ears.

“Not good. Come on, if you two want to fight let’s take this to the woods.”

Remus snapped his jaws at Sirius who growled in response. The two stalked off in the direction of the trees, keeping a five foot distance between them. Harry and James walked behind them, keeping an eye on the two, ready to intervene if needed.

“Are they really angry at each other?” Harry asked.

James chuckled. “No, Harry. This is just how Remus takes out his stress when he’s a werewolf. Since Sirius is a dog, he and Remus were always quite the good match when Remus wanted to beat something up back in our school days. Sirius finds it to be a lot of fun, locking jaws and clawing at each other. You could almost say it’s their dog and wolfish way of playing.”

Harry still remained concerned. “They look like they’re about to tear each other’s throats out.”

James remained unconcerned. “They always appear that way. You’re starting to sound like Peter. He was always scared when they would get this way.”

“I’m not scared,” Harry retorted, silently angry that his father would compare him to that traitor. “I’m just concerned.”

James looked over at him and scoffed, “Sure. You’re shaking. Last time I checked, that means you’re scared. Peter would always climb up and hide on my back when he was terrified of something. We used to joke that if Remus ever chased after him that he’d keel over from fear. No need to worry, Harry; if you get in the way of their fight, I’ll protect you.”

Harry knocked antlers with his father as their shoulders impacted. “I’m not scared,” Harry repeated firmly. “And I don’t cower behind someone else when faced with a threat.”

James stopped. They’d reached the edge of the trees but were still in perfect view of the castle. Remus and Sirius turned around once realizing the two stags weren’t following after them. Harry faced his father, his heart picking up speed, his thoughts suddenly turning slightly wild. He pawed the ground, his body suddenly shivering in anticipation. What was wrong with him?

James stood stock still. “You want to fight me, Harry?” He sounded slightly amused.

Was that what Harry wanted to do? He was angry that his dad had compared him to Pettigrew and that he seemed to be making fun of him. Had his body naturally begun to act like this was a challenge? The animal side of Harry definitely seemed appeased with the idea of charging his father and slamming his antlers into him. But Harry’s human side thought this was ludicrous. Why would he want to fight against his own father?

“You’re hesitating,” James observed. “Are you mad that I compared you to Peter?”

Harry pawed the ground again. It was as if his father was taunting him on purpose, wanting Harry to fight.

“James,” Sirius said with concern.

“Stay out of it, Padfoot,” James muttered.

“You not seriously going to try to fight against Harry?” Remus asked. “You’d slaughter him!”

“I don’t what to have to jump in and stop you from tearing him to pieces, Prongs,” said Sirius.

This ticked Harry off even more. Did they think he was a child incapable of defending himself? Why didn’t Remus and Sirius have concern for James? Why were they trying to stop a fight for Harry’s sake?

Harry pawed the ground. James mimicked him.

“You two stay out of this,” James muttered. “When Harry’s hurt, I’ll stop.”

This was the last straw. Sensing the need to prove that he was perfectly capable of winning this, Harry lowered his head. His body shivered as snow fell and swirled through the slight breeze coming across the Hogwarts grounds. His eyes locked in on his father who had also lowered his head. Sirius and Remus were perched just behind James, watching Harry silently. The two stags seemed to be waiting for some precise movement. Four seconds ticked passed and Harry felt a jolt leap from his head all the way to his toes. He rushed forward, lowering his head, exposing his antlers, without really thinking about what to do; this movement was completely natural.

James must have done the same thing because a millisecond later both their antlers collided, interlinking together. James shook his head trying to wrench himself free. Harry used the interlinked antlers to his advantage. Swinging his body around, he threw James with all his might. James was thrust away from him, his hooves skidding in the snow. Harry didn’t wait for his dad to regain his footing; instead he charged again, lowering his antlers. James just managed to throw his head down to catch the impact before Harry’s antlers smashed into his face.

James pulled the same stunt Harry did, swinging him sideways, attempting to knock Harry to the ground. Harry retaliated by rearing on his back legs, forcing his father to do the same. The two kicked with their front hooves, scraping into each other’s chests. Harry came down on his front hooves hard, his legs disappearing in three feet of snow. James wrenched their antlers apart and Harry nearly fell as he stumbled to regain his footing.

James charged him again, coming at him with full force. Harry stood his ground and just as his father lowered his head, he leapt to the side. Driving his own antlers forward, Harry connected with James’s side, sending him sprawling into the snow. Harry stood over him, panting heavily. A wild desire wanted him to lift up on his hind legs and slam his front hooves into his father’s side but then Harry looked into his father’s eyes and immediately felt ashamed for his actions. He backed off, allowing James to stand. Remus and Sirius bounded over. Harry was sure they were going to chastise him for what he’d just done.

Sure enough, Remus turned to Harry and snarled. “What did you think you were doing, Harry?” he snapped angrily.

“You were about to stomp down on him,” Sirius raged, growling furiously in Harry’s direction.

James got to his feet. He looked extremely irate. “Harry, why would you do that to your own father?” His voice felt like it was drilling deep into Harry’s heart.

Harry backed up a step as all three advanced on him. “I didn’t intend for that to happen,” Harry defended. “It was just natural.”

James looked at Remus and Sirius and then the most bizarre thing happened; they started laughing. Harry’s eyes widened with surprise.

“What – ?”

James laughed. “I told you he was ready!” He said, looking at Remus.

Remus chuckled. “I was afraid he wouldn’t be, James. I was just concerned.”

Sirius let out a bark as he laughed. “You’re just overcautious, Moony.”

Harry was beside himself. “What in the name of Merlin is going on?”

James stepped forward and knocked into Harry’s antler with his own. “That was a test, son,” he smirked. “And you just passed.”

Harry gaped at him, dumbfounded. “A test? A test for what?”

Sirius and Remus both grinned, exposing large sets of pointed fangs. “Everyone has to undergo a rite of passage to join the Marauders, Harry,” said Sirius.

“And you made it!” Remus revealed, smirking. “Welcome to the group.”

Harry looked at the three of them, completely shocked. “You’re serious? So…all that teasing…?”

“Was to get you to fight,” finished James, nodding. “We’re sorry for saying those things, Harry, but we figured that before Christmas we should test to see if you were true marauder material.”

“But I’m not in my true animagus form.”

“That doesn’t really matter. You’ve learned the instincts of an animal and used them successfully in combat. As far as we’re concerned, if you can manage that as a stag you can certainly manage it as a gryffin. So stop arguing and accept our congratulations.”

“I hate you guys,” Harry muttered although he was smiling.

James, Remus, and Sirius laughed openly while Harry secretly reveled in this initiation. He was a marauder. They’d wanted him to be part of the group. The insults were all a ruse to get Harry to fight so he could prove himself worthy of joining them. The happiness Harry was feeling was indescribable. He was part of a group of men he’d idolized (with the exception of Peter of course) and now they’d allowed him to officially join them!

“You’ll need a nickname now,” said James, thrusting Harry away from his thoughts. “Any ideas?”

Harry shook his head.

“Then how about the one we came up for you?” said Remus.

“And what might that be?” Harry asked a little tense. He hoped it wasn’t something dumb.

“The Love Bird,” said Sirius, straight-faced.

Harry stared. “You’ve got to be joking. Please, anything but that.”

“But we already put it on the Marauders Map,” Sirius complained.

YOU DID WHAT?!” Harry shouted in dismay.

“Well, your life has always been centered around love, Harry,” said Remus.

“The name suits you perfectly,” added James.

Harry felt like he was about to throw up. That, or keel over dead. “For the dignity of everything Merlin held sacred, PLEASE tell me you’re all joking.”

Harry’s desperation was so hilarious the Marauders couldn’t keep up their ruse. They all burst out laughing. Sirius was laughing so hard he fell over. James had to lean against a tree in order to keep himself from joining Sirius in the snow. Harry didn’t know whether to laugh or kick them all in the head.

“That was horrible,” he muttered, slightly angry. “That was not funny.”

“Sorry, Harry,” mumbled Remus, the first to return to a state of maturity. “We couldn’t help ourselves.”

“We had to see your face!” said Sirius, picking himself up out of the snow. “Completely priceless, by the way.”

Harry groaned. “I was right. The three of you are worse than Fred and George.”

“The Weasley twins?” James asked.

Harry nodded. “They had a similar mischievous streak like you three.”

“We have to meet them sometime then,” mused James, “maybe we can come up with a few pranks or something.”

Harry groaned. “I was afraid you’d say something like that.”

“Don’t worry, Harry, our schemes with them won’t be as horrible as this one we just played,” assured Sirius with a grin.

“I hope not. That name is terrible,” Harry muttered.

James chuckled. “It made a good laugh, though. But in all seriousness, we did pick out a name for you.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “If I don’t like it can I kick you in the head?”

James grinned. “Sure but I’ll kick you back if you do.”

“Fine,” Harry said. “Just tell me what it is.”

“Whirlwing,” James revealed.

“We thought it would be appropriate because of your wings,” said Remus.

Harry thought about it. It wasn’t so bad. It did seem to fit his gryffin side. He imagined whirling around in the air, braving storms and rocketing through clouds. The more Harry thought about it, the more he appeared to like it.

The Marauders waited, seeking his approval. Harry decided to repay them for their earlier hoax. He scoffed. “That sounds stupid.”

Sirius groaned. “I told you he wouldn’t like it.”

James looked offended as well as hurt. “But we thought it was great! Why don’t you like it son?”

“Because it sounds like you just looked up the word whirl in the dictionary and stuck it with the word wing. That doesn’t sound too clever to me; it’s almost like you didn’t put much thought into it,” Harry replied, trying to lay on his annoyance really thick.

Remus looked crestfallen. “We spent two hours coming up with that name. You really don’t like it?”

It was Harry’s turn to reel in laughter. His chuckles escaped him and the Marauders froze. Getting a hold of himself, Harry grinned. “Looks like the tricksters have just been tricked.”

Their eyes widened. This only made Harry’s laughter redouble. James was the first to recover from shock.

“I can’t believe it,” he said numbly, “my own son fooled me.” He turned to Sirius and leapt up and down in the snow. “Did you just see that, Sirius? We just got owned! Isn’t it great?!”

Sirius grinned, displaying his teeth. “I never thought I’d say this but it does feel great. But that’s probably because it’s Harry who pulled the prank. Well played, Harry.”

I think we’ve definitely found the one to fill our open position,” said Remus proudly.

James nodded. “Alright. We’ll update the Marauders Map tomorrow. How does that sound, Harry? Or as I should say, Whirlwing?”

Harry grinned. “Sounds great…Prongs.”

James grinned. “Come on, we still need to stretch our legs.”

Harry grinned. “You want to lead the way?”       

James pawed the ground before twisting around and bounding off into the forest at top speed, the other Marauders following right behind him.


Chapter 16: Suspicions Shared and a Christmas Card Hall
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Harry ran around in the forest with the other marauders until ten o’clock. They came out of the woods and rushed up to the school to find Dumbledore ascending the castle’s steps. James, Remus, and Sirius all transformed before following Harry up the stairs. Dumbledore turned and smiled.

“Did you have a good time?”

“We sure did,” said James before Harry could answer. He raced up the stairs to lean against Harry’s side. “And we have some great news, Albus!”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as he smiled. “Do you?” he asked, amused.

Sirius cleared his throat. “Introducing the newest Marauder!”

Harry felt a little embarrassed, like he was on display. Dumbledore eyed him, interpreting his feelings perfectly. The two stared at each other for a moment before Harry realized that Dumbledore was waiting for him to speak.

Shuffling back and forth on his hooves, Harry finally said, “I need to discuss something with you, sir.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I know, Harry.”

“You do?” Harry asked with surprise.

Dumbledore’s smile deepened. “I have watched you more than anyone alive, my boy. I can tell when there is something you wish to discuss with me. Luckily for you, the rest of my evening is free. Shall we take a walk?”

The marauders looked at Harry rather surprised and a little hurt.

“There’s something on your mind, Harry? Why didn’t you tell us?” asked his father.

Harry sighed. “In the past I’ve had a tendency to follow my first instincts instead of thinking rationally. It’s cost me dearly in the past.” He couldn’t look at Sirius as he said this. Because Harry rushed off to the ministry in his fifth year, Sirius had died trying to protect him.

Sirius placed a hand on Harry’s neck. “Harry,” he said consolingly, “I don’t blame you for that in the slightest.”

“It still doesn’t change the fact that you died because I panicked,” Harry retorted, stepping away to break contact with his godfather. He didn’t want to be consoled right now. He still blamed himself for losing Sirius. It was entirely his fault.

Sirius caught James’s eye and the two moved forward to comfort Harry but Dumbledore intervened.

“Harry, if you have something to discuss, let us discuss it. Do you want James, Sirius, and Remus to accompany us?”

Harry looked at the marauders. Would they hate him for saying no? Pained, he shook his head. “I’d rather just talk to you, Professor.”

They were obviously hurt but James was the first to recover. “We’ll be in your room when you get back,” he said, unable to fully look Harry in the eye. “Come on Sirius and Remus.”

The two looked at Harry and then at James before following him inside. Harry felt bad for hurting their feelings. He was sure he’d hurt James the most, choosing to tell Dumbledore his problems rather than his own father. Harry bit his lip as he followed the old professor down the Hogwarts steps and out onto the grounds.

“Marvelous night,” Dumbledore commented as they rounded the outside of the first tower, referring to the vast display of the heavens, their stars twinkling brightly.

Harry agreed. “Yes, sir.”

Dumbledore sighed. “They won’t hate you for not letting them come along, you know.”

Harry glanced at his headmaster, unsurprised that once again, he’d interpreted his distress. “I just don’t want them to – ”

“Worry?” Dumbledore finished. Harry nodded. Dumbledore lightly chuckled. “Harry, it is their right as your guardians to fret. It is only natural for a parent and guardian to dot on their child.”

“I guess but I still think they’ll be upset about it.”

“I am sure they will be,” said Dumbledore, “until you explain to them that you were unsure if what you are about to tell me was serious enough to cause them to be concerned.”

Seeing that Dumbledore was inviting him to tell his tale, Harry immediately went into detail about what happened in the woods. Dumbledore halted in his steps as Harry gave the account, his expression becoming more calculating by the second.

“I didn’t want to say anything at first because I didn’t think Alex would immediately go off and bring this Sacrifice to the person she kept addressing as Great One.”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore muttered.

His voice was right beside Harry but his thoughts were elsewhere. Harry had seen the headmaster display this expression before – calculating eyes, furrowed brow, slight frown, and frequent pacing. Sure enough, Dumbledore began pacing in the snow. After moving back and forth silently for a good minute, he realized that Harry was watching him.

He smiled. “I’m sorry, Harry. I tend to become highly rude when my mind decides to wander. Forgive me.”

Harry smiled. “No need to apologize, professor. I’m used to seeing you like this.”

Dumbledore laughed. “I suppose so.” His twinkling eyes became serious as did his tone. “Harry, I appreciate you sharing this with me. However I do not think it is something that we need to concern ourselves with at this time.”

Harry tried to delay the annoyed expression he so desperately wanted to display. In the past, he’d had several disagreements with Dumbledore over similar circumstances; Malfoy in his sixth year, for instance.

Dumbledore sensed Harry’s anger anyway. “Harry,” he said calmly, “I didn’t say that I want you to not concern yourself over this.”

“Sir?”

“I implied that I don’t want Alexandria to be approached about this at this time.”

Harry blinked. What? No arguing? No protective speech telling him he was too young and that it was best to let the Order handle the situation?

“So I can keep an eye on her?”

Dumbledore sighed. “As much as I wish to say that I would prefer if you left this matter to those with more experience than yourself, I will override that protective desire I’ve always felt towards you and say yes. You are not a boy anymore, Harry. ” He looked over and smiled at the stag.

Harry smiled back. He’d wanted to hear those words from Dumbledore more than he realized. Finally he was recognized as a man by his headmaster. Harry knew some might find it childish to be overjoyed about this but it appeased him greatly. All his life, he was always angry with adults coddling over him, feeling that he couldn’t handle the horrors of Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Finally when there was the potential of a new threat, instead of being restricted, he was being invited to fight. He tried to hold back his true elation over this as he replied, “This means a lot to me, professor. Thank you.”

Dumbledore looked pained. “You have no idea how hard it is for me to admit this, Harry. I know you are overjoyed – don’t try hiding it, my boy – but I can’t help but wallow in an old man’s lamentation that his favorite student has finally graduated out of his care. It is, I’m afraid, a hard pill to swallow.”

Harry’s joy became subdued. He looked on Dumbledore who appeared to be harboring more sorrow than he was actually letting on. Harry should have been more grateful. The man before him had done more for him than any other person alive. Though his actions were often performed in ignorance to Harry, everything Dumbledore had done came from the goodness of his heart.

Harry realized that his headmaster’s original objective to keeping him alive was only so the Wizarding World could be rid of Voldemort. He’d said so himself. But sometime along the way, Dumbledore had come to care for Harry like a son. It would be entirely understandable if Harry hated Dumbledore for his original objective but he honestly didn’t feel that way. In perfect honesty, the old headmaster had become the closest thing Harry had to a parent (besides Sirius, of course) and he cherished this relationship greatly.

Harry stepped closer to Dumbledore and put his head on his shoulder. “I appreciate what you’ve done for me, professor.”

Dumbledore placed a hand on Harry’s face. “Thank you, Harry.”

*~*~*~*~

After Harry had returned from his walk with Dumbledore, he’d returned to his room to sort out the wounded feelings he had inflicted on the Marauders. Thankfully, Dumbledore had been right; they had immediately forgiven Harry for keeping them in the dark and had even called him a slight git for not wanting to worry them. Harry had almost smiled as they conveyed the desire for him to share anything with them that bothered him. Settling into his bed, Harry rested his head next to his side and yawned. The Marauders smiled, wishing him goodnight before they walked over to the Gate Frame and disappeared. 

*~*~*~*~

Harry was standing in a field. Healthy green grass danced in a cool breeze, the blades flashing lighter then darker as they were caught and then released from the rays of a brilliant sun shining above. A long fence separated the field from a forest that left Harry’s skin prickling. The contrast of atmosphere was astounding. While the meadow gave on the feeling of happiness and life, the forest represented sorrow and death. The branches belonging to the grey tinted trees curled menacingly like claws, vines hung down from the tops, dancing like wispy spider webs, waiting for prey to fall into their clutches. Though the treetops were full of leaves, the colors were brownish grey, holding no color of life. The forest floor held no signs of vegetation. It looked like a graveyard for the earth.

The landscape held Harry’s gaze until he discovered a magnificent animal standing close to the fence. It was brilliantly bright, the color resembling paprika, with a mane and tail of slightly deeper shade, and brown eyes that swirled like melted chocolate. Harry was captivated by its beauty but also couldn’t ignore that it was breathing rather irregularly. Becoming concerned, Harry took a step towards it.

The horse lifted its head, which had been near the ground, locking in on Harry’s sudden movement. Harry hesitated but then relaxed as the horse whinnied, appearing rather joyful to see him. Harry took a few more steps, drawing closer to the magnificent creature, when suddenly a fierce wind attacked him from behind. It seemed to blow right through him but as it landed on the horse, the animal began to cry out in pain. The gust was trying to push the horse right into the forest; the animal had begun to move backward against its will.

Harry looked on in horror as he watched the horse’s struggle with the wind - which had backed it up to the fence. Suddenly the vines from the nearest trees rose up like arms. Being unaffected by the ferocious winds, they rapped themselves first around the horse’s neck, then its torso, and finally all four legs. As the creature fell to the ground, Harry’s feet broke from his shocked state and began to run towards the fence to fight against the menacing vines. He felt a desperate need to free this creature but he failed to reach it in time. The vines pulled the horse towards the forest, breaking the fence, causing splintered wood to scrape into the animal’s flesh. The horse cried out in agony, its pain somehow stabbing into Harry’s heart. It was pulled into the shadow of the trees as Harry screamed.

“NO!!!!!!!”

*~*~*~*~

Harry’s eyes flew open. Panicked, he sat up, searching for his glasses. Finding them near his pillow, he pulled them on and looked around. He was in his private room, the sun was streaming through his window, and the clock read eight in the morning. Harry slumped back into his pillow, his heart rate still beating wildly within his chest.

The dream had seemed so real. And the horse…there was something about it… Harry couldn’t understand why its fate had disturbed him so much. Sweat fell down the side of his face. He wiped it off. A loud banging on his door caused him to leap out of his skin.

“Potter!” shouted the voice of Draco on the other side of his door. “What’s all the shouting for? Are you getting killed or something?”

Harry leapt out of bed and thrust on his robe before coming to the door. Before pulling it open, he made sure to remove any hint of sweat on his face. The last thing he needed was to have Draco taunt him for expressing concern over the fate of an imaginary horse. He opened the door. Draco eyed him with slight annoyance. He appeared to have been in the middle of getting ready for the day because he didn’t have his shirt on and a toothbrush was in his hand.

Giving Harry a look over, Draco scowled. “Nightmare, huh?”

Harry grimaced defiantly. “And what if it was?”

Malfoy shrugged. “None of my business, really. I just remember that from what I’ve heard in the past, your nightmares have all had something to do with Voldemort.”

“Well, you can rest your anxiety,” Harry managed to joke, “since Voldemort wasn’t the star.”

Malfoy scoffed. “Thank you for reassuring me,” he said sarcastically. “I was so concerned.” He eyed Harry carefully. “Seriously though… are you alright?”

Harry blinked. Malfoy showing actual concern? This was…awkward. Swallowing, Harry shrugged. “I’m fine.”

Malfoy cleared his throat. “Good,” he said, trying to keep his usual sneering tone, “because the last thing I need is to worry about you first thing in the morning.”

The door to their private chambers burst open, giving the two boys an excellent excuse to step away from the awkward situation they had both found themselves in. Ron and Hermione came in after Ginny, all three fully dressed.

Draco slinked back to his room and shut the door before anyone could say anything. Harry turned his head to the side, inviting his three friends into his room.

“Did we interrupt something?” Hermione asked as Harry went over to his closet to pull out his school uniform.

“Not really,” he said, shrugging out of his night shirt. “I just woke up from a weird dream and apparently I yelled. Draco just came over to find out if I was being attacked by anyone.”

Ron blinked. “Wait, so…Malfoy was expressing concern?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Ron, Draco’s a friend now, remember?”

“Right, but still…” Ron muttered.

“I’ll admit it’s weird,” said Hermione, “but we need to not make a big deal out of it, Ron. Draco’s our friend now.”

Ron shook his head. “I know it’s been more than a month since he started this new relationship with us but I’m still finding it difficult to grasp that he actually just displayed concern for Harry.”

Harry had to agree. “It was definitely awkward. But I have to agree with Hermione. If we treat it like it’s a big deal then things will remain really uncomfortable. Why are you three here this early anyway?”

Ginny grinned. “We were actually wondering if we could issue congratulations.”

“Huh?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Come on, Harry, like you don’t know.”

“It was bloody brilliant,” sighed Ron. “Couldn’t believe it when we first saw it; it was so –”

“Would you mind explaining what you’re talking about?” Harry asked.

Hermione blinked. “You mean, you really don’t know?”

Harry tried to keep his voice even as he replied, “Hermione, if I knew, would I be acting completely clueless?”

Hermione tapped her chin. “I suppose not. But we thought –”

“–since they hang out with you every night –” said Ginny.

“–that they would have said something,” finished Ron.

Harry suddenly began to understand why the marauders had asked him to let them out earlier than sunset. He began to grin. “Don’t tell me they pulled another prank?”

All three nodded, grinning too.

“It’s completely brilliant,” exclaimed Ron.

“What did they do?” Harry asked with intense interest.

Ginny smirked. “Remember Fred and George’s swamp?”

Harry nodded, “How could I forget?”

“Well,” elaborated Hermione, “they decided to turn the entire third floor into a winter wonderland with pine trees that attack you with snowballs while Father Christmas flies overhead with his reindeer pelting people with candy canes.”

“Brilliant!” Harry exclaimed with a large smile. 

“Oh, that’s not all,” added Ron, “the only way to cross is by sled.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because everyone who’s tried to cross on their own feet freezes instantly,” said Hermione. “The teachers had a rather hard time unfreezing over ten students already.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “Can’t they just get rid of it like they did the swamp?”

Ginny shook her head. “Nope. They’ve tried everything. Even Dumbledore couldn’t figure out the right spell to make it vanish. In fact, every spell they tried seemed to egg-on the trees; they threw double the amount of snowballs at the spell castor threatening to destroy them.”

Harry laughed so hard he couldn’t breathe; imagining Dumbledore fighting with a bunch of magical trees broke the seal keeping it in his chest. He couldn’t believe his dad hadn’t said anything to him! Then again, they probably wanted to keep him surprised like everyone else. Desperately wanting to see something so hilarious, Harry excused himself to get changed before following the others out of the room. Draco decided to go with them; he’d apparently been eavesdropping.

There was a large crowd of students gathered around the edges of the third floor corridor, all watching Professors Flitwick and McGonagall trying desperately to dispel the frosted landscape. Dumbledore had given up; he was resting against one of the walls, his robes completely soaked from melted snowballs. The second he caught Harry’s eye, he winked and displayed a small smile, almost to say he was highly enjoying this. Harry grinned too.

Professor McGonagall sent a fire charm at the nearest tree. It burst into flames, searing off all the pine needles and charring the wood. Just as Professor Flitwick began to congratulate Professor McGonagall for her good work, the burned tree melted into a puddle of water and a new pine sprung up from the snow, sucking up the water around it.

Professor McGonagall, staring in disbelief, wasn’t prepared for the ten snowballs that pelted her from the apparently very angry pine. Stunned and dripping wet, she turned to Dumbledore who was displaying over bright eyes and a twitching mouth.

“What should we do, Albus?” Professor McGonagall asked desperately.

Dumbledore shrugged. “Apparently this vicious forest will not be tamed, Minerva. We’ll have to leave it for now.”

Professor McGonagall protested, “But what about classes?”

“I’ll assign Mr. Filch to be in charge of directing sleds to each of the classrooms,” said Dumbledore. “Leave the problem of dispelling this winter wonderland to me. In the meantime, enjoy the spirit it brings to the holiday season.” He smiled as Father Christmas flew over the scene, aiming a few candy canes at Professor Flitwick’s unsuspecting head.

While the charms professor rubbed the back of his skull, picked up his hat, and cursed, Dumbledore ordered for the students to head down to breakfast. He caught Harry’s eye again and silently gestured to the nearest empty classroom before disappearing inside.

“I’ll catch up with you,” Harry muttered to the others before fighting the crowd to get to the empty room. After shutting the door behind him, Harry turned to the headmaster. “Something you needed, sir?”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “I think you are aware, Harry, that there is a perfect example of a Christmas card occupying the third floor.”

“I’m aware of it, sir.”

“I should think we may need to ask the enchanters when this lovely prank will dissipate.”

Harry pulled out the Gate Frame but glanced at Dumbledore and grinned. “You’re not going to chastise them, are you?”

Dumbledore’s expression turned mischievous. Shrugging and looking oddly casual, he replied, “I might consider it.” He couldn’t hide his grin for long.

“Sirius, James, and Remus,” Harry said, speaking into the Gate Frame. It glowed brightly before all three men shimmered into view. Each of them was displaying a grin as wide as an owl’s wingspan.

“Harry, fancy seeing you this morning,” said Sirius, trying to be casual.

“Is there something bothering you?” James asked, also playing ignorant.

Dumbledore cleared his throat, alerting them to his presence. All three kept their smiles but their eyes grew a little apprehensive.

Remus shuffled his feet. “Sorry about the third floor, Albus,” he said, cracking under the pressure of the headmaster’s gaze.

Dumbledore chuckled. “Remus, I found it highly entertaining and rather appropriate for Christmas.”

Sirius punched the air. “Yes! I told you Albus wouldn’t mind, Remus!”

Remus shrugged. “What’s wrong with being concerned that he might transfigure us as punishment?”

James snorted. “Yeah right; Dumbledore wouldn’t do something like that.”

“Wouldn’t I, James?”

James stiffened. Dumbledore’s question had been completely serious, his expression devoid of the smile that had previously been present. A sudden chill had descended upon the room, making the marauders and Harry shiver. Dumbledore stepped forward, pulling out his wand.

“I gave permission to prank but I did not say that you could transform an entire corridor and place a spell upon it that not even I can remove. Quite embarrassing in front of my students; getting pelted with countless snowballs from pine trees of all things.”

James, Sirius, and Remus backed away a few paces. Harry immediately moved out of the line of fire, taking refuge near the door. The power emanating from the Headmaster had only been witnessed by Harry once before and that was when he fought against Voldemort at the Ministry. The atmosphere of the air felt like small sparks of electricity, leaving the hair on the back of Harry’s neck standing up uncomfortably.

The marauders had backed into the wall, all three looking on Dumbledore’s wand with trepidation. James managed a glance at Sirius and Remus. The two men looked to their leader, whose eyes had suddenly dispelled all fear. This gave Remus and Sirius the courage to stand tall as well. James nodded in approval once noting the change in their expressions before turning back to Dumbledore.

“Albus,” he said, all anxiety gone from his tone, “we admit to having done the prank and we are willing to accept any consequence that you have in mind. After all, the motto of a marauder is if one gets caught, deal with the punishment and honor the prank.”

Dumbledore studied the three men as they stood their ground. He glanced at Harry who finally couldn’t control himself any longer. He burst out laughing. The marauders blinked, their expressions frozen, their thoughts completely numb. What had just happened? The question was written all over their faces. Dumbledore allowed a few good laughs to escape him before taking his hat off to Harry.

“Thank you for playing along so well, Harry,” he said.

“It really wasn’t any trouble, sir,” Harry obliged.

Remus was the first to stir. He coughed, slightly embarrassed. He smiled sheepishly towards James and Sirius and finally managed to laugh. “We’ve been had,” he replied.

James and Sirius blinked a few more times before allowing their mouths to drop open. James’s hand slapped to his forehead while Sirius placed an elbow on his shoulder for support.

“I don’t believe it,” muttered Sirius. “Upstaged again! And Harry included Dumbledore this time!”

Harry smirked. “Actually, the professor came up with this one. I just went along with it.”

This caused a reaction from the marauders. They looked at Dumbledore who was stowing his wand and looking immensely smug for an old man.

“I’m in shock,” James murmured. “I can’t believe…Albus played a prank on us! This is fantastic!” he exclaimed in a louder tone, his hazel eyes sparkling with excitement.

Sirius’s cockiness had returned as if someone flipped a switch. Marching right up to Dumbledore, he drew himself to his full height and put his hands on his hips. “You’ve declared war, you know.”

Dumbledore, not the least bit intimidated, merely shrugged. “Sirius, by all means, I invite you to challenge me. Though I give these words of caution: keep in mind who it is that you are willing to wage war with.”

“What are you trying to say?” Sirius asked competitively.

Dumbledore’s eyes began to regain their twinkle as he smiled deeply. “My dear man, if I was seriously going to pull pranks of magic, you may want to stay clear of where I point my wand. Your fate would be…how shall I say this…ahhh, yes…most severe.”

James looked wary. “Sirius, I suggest that we reconsider waging a war.”

Sirius looked put out. “But it would be so much fun,” he argued.

Harry scoffed. “Fun? You do realize it’s Dumbledore you want to fight against, right?”

Sirius looked as if he was about to shrug but Remus put a hand on his shoulder. “Harry is right, Sirius. Waging a prank war with Albus wouldn’t be in our best interests. Besides, he seems perfectly fine with us playing jokes on the students and staff so let’s be grateful and wave the white flag in this battle.”

Sirius’s competitive spirit finally broke. He shrugged and grinned, brushing off the conversation as if it never took place. “So, I assume what you really want, Albus, is to figure out how to destroy the forest?”

“Destroy?” repeated Dumbledore in false alarm. “Why on earth would I want to destroy such advanced magic?”

“Because it’s hindering classes?” Remus suggested.

Dumbledore shook his head. “On the contrary, I find the entire ordeal quite amusing. However, I would very much like to know how long the spell will last.”

James scrunched up his forehead. “Well, we set the spell to last until the beginning of the Christmas holiday.”

“It’s that powerful?” Dumbledore asked, clearly impressed.

Sirius nodded. “We worked really hard to make it so. We wanted Harry’s last year to be memorable.”

All four men stared at the teenager who grinned widely. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one. Great job; can I just make one suggestion?”

“Anything, Harry,” James invited.

Harry looked slightly uncomfortable. He didn’t want his request to sound like he was whining. But he couldn’t deny that being a marauder himself now, he felt really left out since the others had done this prank without him. From the questioning looks of his dad, Sirius, and Remus, Harry sighed, deciding to voice his thought.

“Next time the marauders decide to prank someone, can I help out?”

Sirius raised his eyebrows. “Is that why you look upset; because we didn’t include you this time?”

Harry tried to remain nonchalant about it. “Not really.”

James caught Remus’s eye. Stepping forward, he laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. “Harry, we didn’t invite you to do this one with us because you weren’t an official marauder yet. But now that you are, of course you’ll be in on all our other pranks.”

Harry brightened over this though he tried to mask it in his reply, “When is the next one?”

“Now, now, Harry,” said Dumbledore, stepping forward, “You’ll have to plan another time. You have classes, remember?”

Harry sighed. “Oh, right.”

“Best get a move on,” urged James. “We don’t want you failing your last year either.”

“What about you guys?” Harry asked as he picked up his schoolbag.

“We’ll catch up with Albus on some things,” answered Remus. “We’ll come find you when we’re done.”

Harry nodded. “Alright; see you.”

He slipped out of the room, rushing down to the Great Hall where he prayed there were still some leftovers from breakfast.

*~*~*~*~

The first day of the holidays, Harry woke to someone banging on his door. Rubbing his eyes and finding his glasses, Harry got up, and threw the door open.

“What’s going on?” he asked with surprise. Ginny, Ron, and Hermione were standing in the doorway all looked rather peeved as well as ready to travel. Draco was smirking over on the couch, fully dressed in a black turtleneck and jeans, apparently enjoying the scene before him.

Ginny looked exasperated as she tried to keep her voice level. “Harry, we were supposed to floo to the Burrow at eight. Why aren’t you ready?”

Harry grimaced, realizing it was ten past. “I completely forgot! I was out really late last night.”

“Running around on the grounds?” Ron guessed, smirking.

Harry shrugged. “And if I was?”

Hermione rolled her eyes at this irresponsibility and turned on Draco. “Why didn’t you wake him up?”

Draco returned a sour expression. “I’m not Harry’s babysitter, Hermione. The man is perfectly capable of getting up himself.”

Before a snide comment could escape from Ron’s mouth, Harry said, “Just give me a few minutes, alright?” before slamming the door in their faces.

Grabbing the muggle clothes he had set out the day before from his closet, he hastily headed into the bathroom. After taking the shortest shower of his life, Harry attempted and failed to comb his hair. Giving it up as a bad job, he set to work shaving, brushing his teeth, and dressing in top speed. He emerged from the bathroom fifteen minutes later, completely ready to depart.

He found that Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had joined Draco on the couch, the latter reading a potions book he’d gotten from the book shelf out of boredom. 

“Bout time,” Draco muttered, putting the book away. “We were tossing around the idea of leaving you behind.”

“Too bad I was thinking the same thing,” said Harry smugly.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Let’s just go before Ron and Ginny’s parents send out a search warrant.”

The five seventh years left the room without any luggage; their trunks would be magicked to the Burrow after their departure from the castle. Skipping breakfast, they made their way up the staircase to Professor McGonagall’s office where they’d be flooing to the Burrow. Hermione pestered Harry once more about telling McGonagall the truth behind his animagus form. Ignoring her, Harry knocked on the door.

“Come in,” Professor McGonagall invited.

Harry opened the door. Professor Merrylow sat near Professor McGonagall enjoying some tea. She’d ditched her robes for muggle clothes; a soft green turtleneck under a pink pea coat and deep blue jeans with winter boots. She carried nothing but a satchel and waved merrily at the teenagers as they entered the room. Harry was surprised to see that Professor Dumbledore had personally decided to see them off. He smiled as he met Harry’s gaze while the others filtered into the office.

Merrylow stood up from the chair she was sitting in, placing her cup of tea back on McGonagall’s desk. “Thanks for the tea, Minerva. Shall we get going then?”

She went over to the fireplace and held out a box full of floo powder to Ron who accepted it at once. Grabbing a pinch from the box before handing it to Ginny, Ron stepped up to the flames, threw in the powder, shouted, “The Burrow!”, and vanished. Ginny stepped forward and repeated the actions before disappearing.

While the others gathered around the fire, Dumbledore pulled Harry aside. “I’d like a quick word, Harry, if that’s alright?”

“Sure,” said Harry as Draco disappeared.

Dumbledore looked down at him from his rather crooked nose. Frowning slightly through his beard, he said, “I’m regretful to say that since you are going to spend the holidays with the Weasleys, certain measures had to be made.”

Harry stared at him, bemused. “What kinds of measures, sir?”

Dumbledore sighed. “I know you may not like it, Harry, but there are Death Eaters still at large. They are sorely tempted to achieve revenge.”

“Why haven’t there been any attempts on my life then?”

Dumbledore shifted his gaze. “That mostly has to do with my presence, if you want the truth. My return from the beyond has rattled them more than Voldemort’s death.”

Harry smirked. “Afraid you’re going to act like a Reaper and drag them to the Underworld, are they?”

Dumbledore smiled faintly from his flippancy. “Perhaps, Harry. But I regret to say that while Hogwarts – and Hogsmeade for that matter – are completely safe for you, the Burrow is probably less intimidating to the Death Eaters. As a precaution I have already placed spells that will ensure your safety while there but it will give an old man a peace of mind if you would be so kind as to keep your invisibility cloak and wand with you at all times and that your parents or at least one of the marauders remain constantly by your side.”

Harry sighed in frustration but nodded. “Fine.” he paused while staring at the flames of the fireplace. “I’ll never get a break,” he murmured.

Dumbledore patted his shoulder. “You will, Harry, when they are captured.”

“Wish I could help catch them,” Harry muttered darkly.

“Revenge is not something to chase after, Harry,” Dumbledore muttered quietly. “It brings no relief to the pain of anger one experiences.”

“But it does bring justice,” Harry argued forcefully. Noticing his tone of voice, he immediately apologized. “Sorry, professor. That was out of line.”

Dumbledore scrutinized him with his x-ray stare. Harry swallowed, looking away. The old man sighed and placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Harry,” he said consolingly, “I know you want to avenge the death of Remus and Tonks but it isn’t kosher to chase after and kill to attain said revenge.”

“Professor, I understand what you’re trying to say,” said Harry a little coldly, “but I’m not going to change my mind about bringing all the Death Eaters down. To me they’re remains of Voldemort that I still need to destroy.”

Dumbledore looked as if he was about to argue but decided against it. Instead he placed a warning. “If any Death Eaters should attempt to attack you while you are at the Burrow, I don’t want you to go after them alone. Do you understand?”

Harry eyed Dumbledore silently. This wasn’t a terrible arrangement. It would ensure that he’d have backup should he fall into a trap but Harry really didn’t like the idea of needing supervision. Dumbledore had said he was a man after all. He was old enough to take care of himself. But the look in his headmaster’s eyes, a silent plea that Harry would accept the old man’s request, made him nod in consent.

“Good,” Dumbledore said, patting him on the back. Harry moved to step up to the fire to follow after the others when Dumbledore called him back. “Harry?”

“Yes, sir?”

Dumbledore considered him again. “Would it be acceptable to you if Aberforth and I happen to visit Christmas day?”

Harry, slightly taken aback about the idea of the Dumbledores spending Christmas with him, managed to overcome his shock enough to say, “Sure.”

Dumbledore looked incredibly grateful. “Until then,” he said, nodding, “have a good holiday, Harry.”

“You too, sir.”

“And Potter,” Professor McGonagall called as Harry stepped up to the hearth.

“Yes, professor?”

McGonagall scrutinized him with her piercing stare, a stare that only came when a student had done something against the rules. Harry swallowed. Could Hermione have said something while he was speaking with Dumbledore? One more glance at McGonagall and he knew the answer. Yes, she had. So it came as a great surprise when she sighed and then smiled.

“Have a good holiday.”

“You too, professor,” said Harry uncertainly. She was still staring at him, appearing to be waiting for him to say something. Glancing at Dumbledore, he held a similar expression. Wanting to disappear, Harry stepped up into the green flames and shouted his destination before vanishing from the office.


Chapter 17: The Holidays Start Out with a Bang
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A healthy dose of snow had covered the entire countryside, leaving six inches of winter wonder for the Weasleys and their guests to enjoy. Harry noticed the landscape from the frosted windows the second he stepped out of the Weasleys hearth. Mrs. Weasley enveloped him in a hug first, squeezing him tightly and complaining that he’d grown too much and eaten too little. Promising a hearty meal for dinner, she moved aside to let the other Weasleys welcome him to their home.

“Harry,” Mr. Weasley greeted, shaking his hand. “It’s wonderful to have you staying with us.”

“Thanks for inviting me, Mr. Weasley,” Harry replied, smiling deeply. “I am grateful to you and Mrs. Weasley allowing Draco and Professor Merrylow to be here too for the holidays.”

Mr. Weasley looked over at Draco whose face displayed silent distain to his current surroundings. “I am curious as to why you asked Draco to spend the holidays with us, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said in a lower voice.

“A lot happened at school, sir,” Harry answered, not wanting to go into the details for Draco’s sake. “Let’s just say that because of certain events, Draco’s now one of my friends.”

Mr. Weasley still remained a little wary but he shook his head and tried his best to smile. “Alright, Harry. If you feel he’s trustworthy then I won’t be judgmental.”

“I’d appreciate that,” said Harry.

George and Angelina Johnson suddenly appeared from the outside, their hair coated with a light layer of snow. Noticing Harry’s appearance, they both came over to greet him, ending his conversation with Mr. Weasley. After exchanging pleasantries with them and the other older Weasley brothers, Bill, Charlie, and Percy (who had his nose stuck in a book in the living room area) Harry was about to go up stairs with Ginny when Andromeda Tonks arrived with an eight month old Teddy Lupin.

The second the baby was seen, every girl in the room seemed to fawn over him. Harry was practically bowled to the side as Ginny rushed passed to join the others around the infant; George caught him before he could fall down the stairs.

“Easy there, Harry,” he said, helping him regain his balance. “The last thing we want is for the hero of the Wizarding World to break his head open.”

“Thanks,” Harry muttered. Looking at the group of women practically assaulting the baby, he shook his head. “I never thought Remus’s son would be such a lady killer.”

George chuckled. “Yeah, I bet he’d be surprised.”

The two of them watched Teddy who was eyeing the women with interest. As his large eyes landed on Ginny, his hair turned a violent shade of red.

“Harry,” Andromeda said, ushering him forward with a wave. “It’s good to see you.” She gave him a hug as he came closer.

Harry smiled. He didn’t know Andromeda well yet and her similar looks to Bellatrix Lestrange still freaked him out a little. But her eyes were kind, much different than her sister’s, and she was Tonks mother and Teddy’s grandmother. Being Teddy’s Godfather, Harry wanted to be sure he grew up in a good home and, after the Last Battle, he’d decided with Andromeda that she was the best to raise him; though Harry made an adamant point to be involved as much as possible in Teddy’s life.

“It’s good to see you too, Mrs. Tonks,” he said.

“Oh, Andromeda is fine, dear,” she said pleasantly.

Harry’s eyes strayed to Teddy who was presently in Angelina’s arms. The child looked like he would resemble his father in every detail except for his hair and eyes, both inherited from his mother. Harry smiled, already deciding that over the holiday he would make sure that Remus and Tonks were allowed to spend a lot of time with their son.

“Do you want to hold him?” Andromeda asked as she saw what had drawn away Harry’s attention.

Harry swallowed. He’d never been around a baby before. He didn’t have the foggiest idea of how to hold one or even care for one. Terrified that Teddy would start to cry hysterically in his arms, Harry thought of declining the offer. But then he remembered how he’d felt after Sirius died; being deprived of spending further time with his godfather. He didn’t want that to happen to Teddy.

 Nodding his head, Harry managed to say through his nerves, “Sure.”

Angelina looked a little disappointed that her time with Teddy was over but Andromeda assured she and Teddy would stay through the Christmas holiday, giving everyone ample time to fawn over the baby. Only after this reassurance was Angelina willing to hand Teddy over.

Harry lifted the infant under the arms. Andromeda, sensing Harry’s distress of how to hold him, gave simple instructions. After resting one arm underneath Teddy and the other behind his head, Harry stared at his little godson. The second Teddy’s eyes locked on Harry’s, they turned the same bright green color. Harry, slightly surprised as well as delighted, smiled. Teddy smiled back.

“Hi, Teddy,” he said.

The baby’s eyes seemed to spark and the smiled widened even more. The girls around Harry all awww-ed.

“He really likes you, Harry,” commented Mrs. Weasley.

Harry suddenly felt a surge of pride. “That’s because he knows who I am,” he said pleasantly before addressing the infant again, “Don’t you, Teddy?”

The baby squealed, slightly kicking his legs happily.

“I thought so,” Harry muttered, having a hard time not grinning as the girls swooned again.

For some reason, he felt a surge of unspeakable emotions; joy, pride, and tenderness. These feelings were very strange to him. They were similar to the way he felt about Ginny except, somehow, they were different. Harry couldn’t fully explain it. Figuring that what he was experiencing may someday resemble his feelings for his own children (also including Teddy of course), Harry returned his full attention to the baby in his arms.

Teddy was stuffing his fingers into his mouth, gnawing on them softly. Harry chuckled. “Getting hungry?”

Teddy blinked before making a gurgling sound around his fingers.

Andromeda smiled. “He’s been attempting to talk for a while,” she said to the room at large. “He hasn’t said anything recognizable yet but he definitely has tried very hard to do so. Maybe while we’re here he’ll finally speak up. Do you want someone else to hold him now, Harry?”

Harry glanced at Teddy. The eight month old seemed to be pleading to remain in his arms. Harry couldn’t refuse those big eyes (now a cobalt shade). He shook his head. “I’ll hold on to him for a little bit longer, if that’s okay?”

Andromeda nodded. “You are his godfather after all. You don’t have to hold him the whole time; he’s finally mastered the art of crawling. It’s a bad idea to leave him alone so keep an eye on him.”

Mrs. Weasley looked a little anxious at this news. She glanced at all her furniture and figurines scattered about the various rooms. Harry hefted Teddy onto his other hip. Seeing her distress, Harry decided to take Teddy into the living room where there was the least amount of drawers and things that his little hands might try to pry into. Mrs. Weasley immediately set to work childproofing everything from the ground to three feet above, placing charms on drawers so they wouldn’t open unless by an adult, enchanting corners that might be banged into so that they would act as a cushion instead of a sharp impalement, and arranging shield charms on anything she didn’t want Teddy to touch.

Andromeda was kind enough to help her in the process, along with Mr. Weasley, who seemed to remember the days when they still had young ones and knew which things held deep importance to his wife and which things, if broken, would not be missed or could simply be replaced. Harry kept a slightly squirming Teddy in his arms until the wand work was done. He decided to bounce Teddy on his knee a couple times to keep the young one in good spirits. Teddy seemed to like this a lot because he immediately started giggling.

Ginny came over and sat down beside Harry and squeezed Teddy’s hand. “He’s so cute,” she crooned.

“Yeah,” Harry muttered, a grin on his face. “I can’t wait to see what he’s like when he’s older.”

“Me too,” she answered, giggling in response to Teddy’s laughter. She looked at Harry, whose eyes were warm. She looked on him with fondness. “You’re really good at making him laugh.”

Harry noticed the change in her tone. He looked over at her and noticed the emotions stirring in her eyes. They were very distracting. He almost lost his grip on Teddy, his thoughts suddenly occupied on kissing his fiancée. He blinked and looked away, focusing on the baby.

Swallowing, he tried to remain rational. “Yeah, or maybe he’s just laughing at my face.”

Ginny giggled. “You do have rather hilarious features, Harry.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Oh, yes, of course.”

“Ugly mug one-o-one,” Ginny continued to tease, “perfect for making any baby laugh who lays eyes on it.”

“And yet you don’t seem to mind it,” Harry mused. “Care to explain that one?”

Ginny grinned. “Let’s just say I’m a sucker for an ugly face.”

Harry tried not to glance at her. He could almost feel her body heat next to him. And her scent! It was intoxicating. As her hand grazed his to tickle Teddy in the sides, Harry felt his skin catch fire. The tingling sensation lasted longer than her touch but it was enough to kindle Harry’s desires. He needed to get her alone. Fast.

Glancing around, he found Hermione sitting in Ron’s lap, completely preoccupied. Next to them sat Draco, who had finally seemed to relax just enough to have a conversation with Charlie about dragons; but Draco definitely wouldn’t be the best person to care for Teddy.

Then Harry’s eyes landed on Professor Merrylow, who was chatting with Fleur at the kitchen table. Promising Ginny he would be right back, Harry stood and approached the two women.

“Would you mind watching him for a bit?” Harry asked, holding out Teddy.

Professor Merrylow’s face brightened. “Had enough, huh?”

Harry grinned. “Nope. I just thought someone else might want to get a chance.”

“I’m not sure I’m up to it,” she replied, deciding to play difficult.

Harry looked to Fleur. “You wouldn’t mind, would you?”

Before she could respond, Professor Merrylow whipped Teddy from Harry’s grasp. “I’ve got him,” she said firmly.

Fleur looked put out. “But I wanted to ‘old him,” she complained.

“You’ll get a change,” muttered Professor Merrylow distractedly as she smiled at Teddy.

Upon seeing that Harry was about to walk away, Teddy began to cry. No; this wasn’t crying. This was wailing! Large tears poured down the little one’s cheeks, moistening them and his clothing immediately. His little hands reached over Professor Merrylow towards Harry, who stood looking at him bewildered. Andromeda seemed to swoop in out of nowhere. She observed the scene and suddenly started to laugh. Harry looked at her, confused.

“Well, well, well,” she chuckled, “It would appear that he’s overly fond of you, Harry.”

Harry blinked. He’d never experienced this. Desperate to stop the intense tears, he looked to Andromeda. “What do I do?”

“Well, you can either take him back or you can explain to him that you need a break,” she said.

Harry looked at her, doubtful that Teddy would understand a word he said. But the old woman only nodded encouragingly. Harry stepped closer and immediately Teddy stopped crying. Harry blinked, amazed. Clearing his throat, he said, “Teddy, I need to step outside for a bit. But I promise to come back. Okay?”

Teddy stared at him, frowning, apparently not satisfied with this. Harry looked at Andromeda. She continued to grin.

“Try to tell him again,” was her only suggestion.

Harry sighed but nodded, determined. “Teddy,” he said in a firm voice, “I promise to play with you later and if you’re good, I’ll show you something really special.”

The baby’s eyes suddenly lit up. As Harry watched, they fell to his chest, directly where the Gate Frame sat under his shirt. Harry’s eyes widened. Had Teddy understood that the special thing he was going to show him was his parents? From the sparkling, excited look in the baby’s eyes, Harry knew the answer. He smiled.

“Promise to be good while I’m gone?” Harry asked.

Amazingly, Teddy nodded. Harry hadn’t realized he had an audience until he looked up and noticed the Weasleys, Andromeda, Angelina, Hermione, and Draco all staring at him.

“What?” Harry asked.

“He nodded,” Hermione pointed out. “I’ve never seen a baby as young as him do that before.”

“Neither have I,” said Mrs. Weasley, “and I’ve raised my fair share of children.”

Harry looked back at Teddy but the baby had once again returned to sucking on his fingers, not paying attention to anyone in particular. Shrugging, Harry decided to not make a big deal out of it. Turning to Ginny, he avoided the others eyes as he asked, “Care to take a walk?”

Immediately she took his hand. The two grabbed their scarves, hats, and gloves from by the kitchen door before stepping out into the winter air. A path had been blown through the Weasleys yard towards the road, probably courtesy of George and Angelina when they’d arrived earlier. Harry decided to take Ginny down this path and out onto the slightly plowed street so they wouldn’t have to wade through solid snow and freeze their toes.

The road thankfully contained less snow than the yard but it definitely wasn’t up to par like those Harry suspected in the city. Since people didn’t really travel down this way, Harry figured that these streets were neglected half the season. All around them, the landscape displayed ice, snow, and icicles hanging from branches of tall trees. The light crunching under their feet from harder snow soon became a steady rhythm as the dark gray clouds overhead released another light coating of flakes on the world.

Ginny’s breath was seen several times as she stuck out her tongue to catch a few pieces of snow. As she lifted her tongue, other flakes fell over her face, some catching in her long eyelashes. Harry smiled at her childishness and soon joined her in trying to catch a few pieces with his tongue. The tiny drops were cold and melted instantly in his mouth. After walking about twenty feet away from the Burrow, Harry stopped.

“What’s wrong?” Ginny asked, finally lowering her gaze from the sky to stare at him.

Harry shook his head, keen to listen rather than answer her. He’d thought he’d heard something – like a snake slithering across the snow… or a cloak swishing against the ground.

“Let’s go back,” Harry said firmly, suddenly remembering Dumbledore’s warning that the Burrow wasn’t a completely safe place for him.

He chastised himself for being so careless. Praying that he was still under the boundaries of Dumbledore’s protective spells, Harry practically dragged Ginny back to the Burrow, he was moving so fast. They rocketed into the yard just as some invisible spell smashed against the sky making a sound like an exploding canon. Ginny screamed. Harry spun around. The spell, turning a deep menacing purple, seeped down an invisible barrier like paint until it disappeared. Harry looked around wildly but the snow was now falling so fast that he couldn’t make out any figures.

Just then, the door to the Burrow burst open and all the men came out into the yard, wands raised, eyes searching the surrounding area. Mr. Weasley immediately noticed Harry and Ginny, the latter hiding protectively behind the former, him standing in front of her like a shield. Silently commending Harry for his bravery, Mr. Weasley stepped forward.

“What happened?” he demanded.

Harry shook his head, still trying to hear for any cloak-like sounds or slithering creatures in the snow. Ginny had finally gotten over her sudden shock and was concentrating on the forest on the opposite side of the road, her wand already out.

“Harry, what happened?” Mr. Weasley asked again sternly.

Harry sighed, finally giving up. “We were walking on the road when I heard something.”

Mr. Weasley’s face went red. Surprising Harry, he turned to Ginny. “You led him out on the road?! Ginny, what were you thinking?!”

Ginny looked ashamed. “I wasn’t, dad. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry?” said Percy incredulously. “Ginny, we were all warned that while Harry was here he was to remain within the boundary Dumbledore set up!”

Ginny looked highly upset. So did Harry. They were all assuming it was her fault. Stepping forward with his arm around her, Harry said defensively, “She wasn’t the one who led us out onto the road. That was me.”

“Harry,” said Charlie, trying to sound calm, “even if it was you, Ginny should have known better. Dumbledore gave us explicit instructions-”

“He told me about the boundary line too,” Harry interrupted, “and the potential dangers that might be on the other side.”

This seemed to surprise the others.

“He did?” Mr. Weasley asked.

Harry nodded, looking somewhat defiant. “What? Surprised he told me exactly what was going on?”

Ron rubbed his arm, feeling a little awkward. “Well, he hasn’t wanted you to know things in the past, mate. We just assumed…”

“Well you assumed wrong,” Harry replied heatedly. “I led us out there, I put us in harm’s way, so if you want to blame someone for what almost happened, blame me. Leave Ginny out of it.”

Harry stood firm, his arm wrapped around his fiancée. Draco finally stepped away from the house to go up to the very edge of the boundary. His approach broke the tense atmosphere as everyone watched him stop at the end of the Weasleys front yard and heave a sigh.

“Death Eaters,” he muttered.

“How do you know that?” asked Bill almost accusingly.

Draco studied him, looking impertinent. “Being a Death Eater sort of has its advantages.” He tapped his arm. “I can tell when others are close.”

Harry blinked. “Can you really?” he asked.

“How do we know he wasn’t the one who summoned them here?” demanded Percy, eyeing Draco with distaste.

Draco frowned. From hanging around him, Harry could tell that this comment made Draco really upset. Not angry but…somewhat sad, dejected even. Harry had had conversations with him before, when they’d first become friends, and Draco admitted to Harry that Voldemort had forced him to become a Death Eater so he could keep an eye on his attempts to kill Dumbledore in their sixth year. Having the mark of one of Voldemort’s subjects was not something Draco was proud of and Harry knew this. He also knew that he wanted to defend Draco in any of these kinds of accusations but the guy really wanted to handle them himself.

Draco caught Harry’s eye. The two shared a silent argument. Draco sent Harry a warning glance, telling him to stay quiet unless he required additional assistance. Harry shrugged to say that he agreed with the terms. Only after this silent exchange did Draco turn back to Percy.

“I have been in the house, talking to Charlie about dragons this whole time,” said Draco. “Besides, Death Eaters can’t summon each other; only the Dark Lord could do that. Now that he is dead, no one holds that ability. However, the magic that helps identify a fellow Death Eater still remains. Don’t ask me how. Perhaps when the Dark Lord branded his followers, he put an identification spell on the mark to ensure that they could track one another should any decided to…uh…slip, if you will, from the ‘right’ path.”

Percy was about to argue when Charlie intervened. “Percy, let it go. Draco’s right. We’ve been talking this whole time. He couldn’t have summoned them.”

“How do we know he doesn’t have you under an Imperius Curse?” Percy retorted. “Death Eaters are famous for that.”

Draco was insulted. He pulled out his wand as fast as a cobra striking its prey. The others, except for Harry, raised their wands too. Undaunted, Draco stepped forward. “Do not associate me with them,” he ordered fiercely.

“You bear their mark,” Bill pointed out, though his voice was level.

Draco pulled the sleeve of his right arm back. “I may have been branded by him, but that doesn’t mean I am one of them.”

Harry felt a surge of respect towards Draco as the young man looked at his arm in disgust before covering it with his sleeve. The Weasleys still had their wands pointed at him but their arms had lowered slightly. Harry felt the need to step forward.

“Mr. Weasley, Draco is not a Death Eater,” he said firmly.

The head of the Weasley family eyed him through his glasses for a long moment before finally lowering his wand. “I believe you,” he said.

Bill, Charlie, George, Ron, and Ginny immediately put their wands down. Percy, however, remained skeptical.

“Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater,” he said.

“That’s not true,” Harry argued. “Professor Snape was also branded a Death Eater but he was Dumbledore’s man through and through. I proved this over the summer and if I recall, Percy, you were there when I showed the memory to the Wizengamot.”

Percy shook this off by saying, “How do I know he hasn’t Imperiused all of you?”

“That’s a simple answer,” said Harry. “I can’t be controlled by it.”

Percy blinked. “You can’t?”

Harry shook his head. “I learned how to fight it off in my fourth year.”

Percy looked like he wanted to believe but he refused to let down his guard. “How do I know you’re not lying to me right now?”

Draco growled. “Let’s settle this little blame game.” He stepped forward before anyone could stop him, aimed his wand right at Harry, and shouted, “Imperio!”

Immediately, Harry’s mind went blank. No longer did he feel the cold nipping at his skin or the snowflakes drifting around him. The Weasleys had completely disappeared from his view, his thoughts completely and utterly void.

Dance around the yard singing, a voice said in his mind.  

“Like I’m actually going to do that,” Harry said aloud.

Suddenly the spell lifted and Harry immediately recognized the cold. His vision returned and everything fell into focus. Percy stood beside him looking awestruck, Draco was three feet away, sneering, and the others simply looked on. George, Ron, and Ginny all knew that Harry was immune to the curse but for Mr. Weasley, Bill, and Charlie, this was as new to them as it was to Percy; they just did a better job at masking their surprise.

Percy sputtered, “It really doesn’t affect you!”

Harry tried not to look smug as he shook his head. “Not at all; shocked Voldemort a great deal when he fought me in that graveyard. I don’t think he was too happy when he found out he couldn’t play with me that way.” Harry shrugged as if this was no big deal. “So, done suspecting Draco?”

Percy shut his mouth and glanced at Draco before managing to nod and say, “Yeah, sorry.”

“What was that?” Draco asked, smirking while holding a hand up to his ear. “I’m afraid I didn’t hear you.”

Ron punched him in the arm. “Don’t rub it in, Draco,” he said.

Draco took this all in good humor and punched Ron back. “Keep out of it, Ron.”

This was something that slightly surprised Harry. Ron had never been that open with Draco before; even after they had become friends. Seeing them fake-punch each other was peculiar. Wanting to change the subject, and escape the weirdness of the situation he was witnessing, Harry turned back to the road.

“Are they still out there, then?”

Draco followed Harry’s gaze. “No,” he said. “They went back into the woods and disapparated.”

“How many?” George asked.

“Three,” Draco replied.

“Can you tell specifically who they were?” Charlie asked, more out of interest than demand.

Draco shook his head. “No, although that would have been highly useful. Too bad the Dark Lord didn’t put that kind of spell into the mark.”

Mr. Weasley surveyed the woods. “Right, let’s all go inside. I’ll write to Dumbledore explaining what just happened. I pray I don’t have to tell you not to wander off again, Harry.”

Harry was angry and upset but he nodded, keeping his thoughts to himself. He was partially upset with the way the others had acted towards Draco as well as the fact that they’d yelled at Ginny. But he was mostly angry with himself. He’d been warned by Dumbledore hours ago about staying within the boundary and he’d blown it all because he couldn’t keep his emotions in check.

He was not happy about Mr. Weasley informing Dumbledore about what just happened but understood the importance for letting the headmaster know. Deep down, if he was honest with himself, he was ashamed that he’d not heeded his Headmaster’s warning and that now he was suffering the possibility of a lecture he was sure would come the next time he saw him. Most likely, it was bound to be filled with Dumbledore’s disappointment in him and that was something Harry felt the most ashamed.

Taking Ginny’s hand again, Harry went inside with the others. After explaining what happened and receiving a light chastisement from the older women and Hermione, Harry escaped with Ginny to her bedroom where he collapsed onto her bed.

After locking the door, Ginny walked over and sat down beside him. “Well,” she muttered, “I suppose we should have just come up here.”

Harry looked at her and the two started laughing. It felt good to release the pent up stress in his chest by letting it out through laughter. Ginny seemed remarkably calm about the whole incident to which Harry noted.

She shrugged. “Honestly, after all we’ve faced, a little spell slamming into an invisible shield wasn’t all that terrifying.”

Harry smirked. “Yeah, but you’ve got to admit it was unnerving.”

Ginny took his hand and began to trace her finger along its surface. “Harry,” she said, speaking to his hand, “what made you turn around?”

“I heard something,” Harry replied. “It was like a cloak moving across the ground. It reminded me of similar noises I’ve heard when surrounded by the Death Eaters and Voldemort. I sort of reacted on instinct after that.”

Ginny looked up at him and smiled. “You’ll make a good Auror, Harry, always being on the alert like that.”

“Thanks.”

“Just promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“Don’t become as pessimistic as Moody.”

The two once again fell into a round of laughter. After making their sides hurt, Harry sighed. “Thanks for making me feel better, Ginny.”

She kissed his cheek. “You’re welcome. You looked like you needed it.”

Harry felt the spot where she’d kissed him. Like before, his skin burned. He lowered his hand and looked into her eyes. They were swirling like hot chocolate. Leaning forward, he kept his hands firmly at his side, intertwined with hers, as he began to snog her intently. The second Ginny tasted his lips, Harry’s hands twitched, longing to leave hers to move up her body.

After the third time Ginny advanced, Harry’s body took over. The next thing he knew, his arms were wrapped round her, pressing her closer to him. Ginny welcomed this, even scooting closer. She was almost sitting in his lap by the time she had sense enough to put her hands on Harry’s shoulder and push him gently away.

Harry had learned by now that this didn’t mean rejection; they’d reached the end of the line and it was best to call it quits. But Harry still wasn’t satisfied.

“A little more?” he asked, pressing his luck.

Ginny huffed slightly but her eyes were filled with the same longing. She considered him a moment longer before letting out a sigh. “Oh, alright.”

Grinning happily, Harry scooped her up and placed her fully in his lap, relishing the heat from her body so close to his despite the fact that both were wearing clothes. Ginny permitted Harry’s hands to roam a little bit but when they started heading north from her stomach, she grabbed them and pulled away from their kissing.

“Sorry,” Harry said, trying to sound it.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “I know you couldn’t help yourself.”

Harry shrugged. “You seemed fine with it.”

Ginny’s cheeks flushed. Harry grinned knowing full well that meant she agreed. Her lovely brown eyes filled with defiance as she replied, “Just because I was fine with it doesn’t mean it was right to do. That’s something we have to save, Harry. If we do everything now we won’t have anything to look forward to.”

Harry sighed. “I know, I know. We’ve been through this. Keep reminding me though, so I’ll be able to restrain myself.”

“Alright as long as you promise to remind me if I ever get out of control,” she agreed.

Nodding, Harry squeezed her tightly and kissed her lips lightly, “It’s a deal.”

*~*~*~*~

Harry had two hours. Thinking that now would be a good time to summon his parents, Harry stood to leave the living room where everyone was busy playing various wizard games. Mr. Weasley caught Harry’s eye as Harry turned to disappear into the kitchen.

“Harry,” said Mr. Weasley, joining him, “I wanted you to see where you’ll be sleeping while you’re here.”

Harry, remembering that last time he had to sleep in a transfigured tree, became tense. It hadn’t been bad sleeping outside but now that it was winter…

Mr. Weasley noticed Harry’s unease and put a hand on his shoulder. “You can relax, Harry. We’re not going to throw you out to live in the woods.”

“That’s reassuring,” Harry muttered.

Mr. Weasley chuckled. “Actually we transfigured the coat closet.”

Harry looked to where he was pointing. The door was narrower than a normal door. One thing Harry knew for sure was that once he was in that room, he wouldn’t be able to get out; his antlers would definitely get stuck in the frame.

Mr. Weasley opened the door and Harry stepped inside. Proving that magic once more could fill him with surprise, Harry’s mouth fell open. The room itself was as large as the Weasleys kitchen with a nice pad for him to lie on next to a fireplace, a couple of soft overstuffed armchairs sat around it, another wider door led into a small lavatory, and two beds stood against the corners of the far wall. Harry wasn’t sure who the beds were for but he guessed that he wouldn’t be the only one sleeping in here.

Mr. Weasley noticed his gaze. “We realized that when the Dumbledores come for Christmas that they’ll need a place to stay,” he explained.

Harry looked over at him with interest. “They’re staying the night?”

“Actually, Harry, Albus informed me that once they arrive, they will spend the rest of the Christmas holiday with us.”

Harry’s eyebrows rose at this. He knew that Aberforth ran the Hog’s Head and Professor Dumbledore was the Headmaster of Hogwarts, both jobs required their presence on a constant basis. Did they really have the leisure to spend Christmas at the Weasleys? Harry just couldn’t imagine it.

Mr. Weasley seemed to share his amazement. “I understand how you feel, Harry,” he said. “I first thought they wouldn’t be able to stay that long but Albus insisted that both would be free for the remainder of the holidays. So we figured they could sleep in here with you, if that’s alright?”

Harry shrugged. “I don’t have a grudge against them, sir.”

Mr. Weasley smiled and patted Harry on the shoulder. “Excellent. Now, I think this room is missing something.”

 He waved his wand. Christmas decorations appeared over the fireplace mantle, garland winding around the edges while socks fell down in front of the flames, and twinkling lights lined the edges of the walls and floor. A small Christmas tree appeared in a vacant corner next to the door, its branches suddenly becoming filled with round ornaments, candy canes, and lights.

“Nice,” Harry complimented.

“Thank you, Harry,” said Mr. Weasley. “Now, I think I’ll leave so you can summon lost loved ones, hmmm?”

Harry grinned. “I’ll be right out.”

After Mr. Weasley closed the door, Harry pulled out the Gate Frame. With his heart beating faster than usual, Harry swallowed and called the names, “James, Lily, Remus, Tonks, and Sirius.” The Gate Frame glowed faintly and his loved ones shimmered into the room. Lily attacked Harry with a hug.

“Harry,” she cried happily, squeezing him tight, “We haven’t seen you for over a week! What have you been up to?”

“I told you I had to practice my school work, mum,” Harry answered.

“Oh that’s right,” she muttered, pulling away to give him breathing room. “I guess I forgot.”

James rolled his eyes. “Don’t listen to her, Harry. She was pacing around at home watching you every second to make sure you didn’t faint.”

Lily turned on James. “I thought we weren’t going to admit that!”

James feinted in disbelief. “Why Lils, I didn’t know we’d made that decision.”

Lily rolled her eyes.

Sirius stepped over to Harry to give him a hug while his parents continued to lightly bicker back and forth. “How are you, Harry?” he asked.

“Fine,” Harry replied honestly.

Remus and Tonks joined them to avoid James who was attempting to hit Lily with a tickling charm. Harry, trying not to watch, focused on the three people in front of him.

Remus smiled. “Did you understand the work the teachers left for you to practice?”

Harry nodded. “I think so. Well…except potions. I’m lousy at those.”

To this, Lily perked up. “I can teach you, Har-”

James took advantage of the distraction and hit right on target. Lily doubled over, laughing hysterically.

“James!” she shouted between uncontrollable giggles. “I’m going to…hahahaha….kill you…..ahahaha!”

James grinned. “Sure. Just let me know when you’ll attack me after you’ve picked yourself up off the floor.”

Lily leaned against one of the arm chairs while continuing to laugh. “Take it off…hahahaha….NOW!

She said the last word with such force that James’ smile faltered. Immediately taking out his wand, he muttered the counter charm and Lily straightened up. James knew he was in trouble.

Sirius placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Let’s leave them alone for a minute, shall we?”

Harry looked over at his mother who held a frown Professor Snape would have been proud of. Wondering if his dad was going to be alright, Harry allowed himself to be steered from the room. Not wanting to enter the living room without his parents, Harry stood outside the closed door and waited patiently for them to reappear. Remus, Tonks, and Sirius decided to wait with him although the latter kept looking around, appearing hopeful that he’d catch a glimpse of a certain someone.

Harry tried to remain straight-faced as he said, “Sirius, I have some bad news.”

Sirius twisted around to look at him, his hopeful expression immediately deflating. “She couldn’t make it,” he assumed, trying to mask his apparent disappointment.

Harry shook his head. “Actually, the bad news is that I probably won’t be able to spend that much time with you.”

Sirius’s brow furrowed. “Why not, Harry?”

Harry smirked. “Because she is here.”

It took him five seconds to comprehend Harry’s words. When he finally understood, he was immensely happy. But then this emotion faded as he considered his godson. “Harry,” he began, “just because she’s here doesn’t mean I won’t spend time with you.”

“I didn’t say you wouldn’t,” Harry replied, trying to sound unconcerned about the matter when on the inside it really bothered him.

Sirius placed a hand on his shoulder. Looking him straight in the eye, Sirius firmly stated, “Harry, if I’m with Elle and you want to talk to me, by all means, interrupt us.”

“I couldn’t do that,” Harry protested.

Remus intervened. “Harry, what Sirius is trying to say is that we’re here for you. You come first.”

Sirius nodded. “Moony’s right. The ability to be here in the mortal world is only possible because of your actions Harry. We were given the opportunity to come back here for your sake. Seeing Elle is a remarkable treasure but my first duty while in this form is -and will always be- to you.”

Harry wasn’t happy for acting like a child in wanting to keep Sirius to himself but he was grateful to hear these words. They gave him reassurance that his godfather had not side swept him for someone else even though Elle was apparently his soul mate. Sirius admitting that Harry came first lifted a great weight of worry off his chest – worry that he hadn’t wanted to speak to anyone about.

Before anyone could say anymore, the door to the coat closet opened and James came out towing a rather pink faced Lily behind by the hand. Harry noted that the look his mother was giving his father was completely devoid of the anger he’s seen blazing in her eyes just minutes ago. Sirius and Remus eyed one another before smirking.

“I suppose you fixed things?” Tonks asked to break the silence.

James grinned after catching the looks of his two best friends. He pulled Lily closer to him and kissed her on the cheek. “Everything’s fine, thank you.”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Let’s go mingle,” she said in a rather forward tone, clearly giving the unspoken hint that she did not want to discuss what had just occurred.

Harry – grateful to avoid what more than likely would have been an embarrassing conversation – took his mother’s cue and asked everyone to follow him into the living room.

The men were still in the living room area, enjoying their games, while the girls had vacated to the kitchen. The Weasleys looked up as the new arrivals entered. After exchanging pleasantries, Harry finally realized that Draco was missing.

“Where’s Draco?” Harry asked, looking around.

Ron sighed. “He wanted some place quiet so he could read his ridiculously boring potions novel.”

“I sent him to Percy’s room,” George clarified, while grinning. “It seemed the perfect place for him, being that its reputation is the ‘no-fun-room’.”

Percy scowled. “I heard that. For your information, it can be a remarkable place where one can-”

“Please spare us from what would be an incredibly intense speech, Percy,” pleaded Charlie. “You’re going to kill Bill if you continue.”

Everyone looked to Bill who immediately feinted being ill. “I’m seeing black spots,” he muttered.

Everyone laughed except for Percy who sat in his recliner looking sour. He rolled his eyes before picking up his own book to bury his nose in it. Harry, wondering whether he should check up on Draco or leave him alone, eventually made the latter decision. Instead he turned to his parents and decided to fill them in on what happened earlier with the near Death Eater attack.

James looked furious by the time Harry finished. “Harry,” he said, his tone immediately disapproving, “what on earth were you thinking going outside of the barrier? Albus put up those protective spells for you! And you just waltzed right through them into harm’s way!”

Harry already had this lecture from Mr. Weasley. He didn’t need his dad to jump down his throat too. Crossing his arms and looking defiant, he replied heatedly, “I wasn’t thinking, okay? So I made a mistake. I’m sorry. Nobody can be absolutely perfect all the time. Besides, no one was hurt so what’s the point worrying?”

James came right back. “Don’t get cocky, Harry. Your thoughtless actions could have cost lives! You should have had one of us with you. Why didn’t you call us?”

Harry stood up. Anger coursed through his veins. He felt completely misunderstood. He didn’t think his dad would blow up over a small attack like this one. What was the big deal? It had only been a couple of Death Eaters. Harry had already killed Voldemort. He was perfectly capable of handling his stupid cronies. Why did his dad think he couldn’t handle the situation, that he needed protection?

“I don’t need to be babysat all the time, dad, even if you think otherwise,” Harry snapped angrily before storming from the room.

“Harry,” Sirius called but Harry didn’t stop.

He slammed the front door closed behind him, crossed the yard, and stopped once he reached the garden, knowing that if he went any farther it would be out-of-bounds. It was childish of him to slam the front door; already he felt immature for doing so. But he was just so frustrated! He’d wanted to prove how upset he was. Slamming the front door seemed like a good way to express his feelings.

Why had his dad said those things anyway? Why was he so upset with him? The disappointment and anger in his father’s eyes left Harry’s insides burning. He’d faced these feelings before when he’d acted stupid but he’d never had to deal with them in front of a parental figure. He was angry, viciously so, for being scolded like a child. But his deeper emotion was that he was offended; his dad didn’t think he could handle things on his own. He felt he was irresponsible.

The feelings stirring inside Harry were ten times worse than all the times when Dumbledore had hidden things from him because he didn’t feel that Harry could handle the pressure – like during his fifth year, when the headmaster wanted to keep him in the dark on everything. His chest felt like it was about explode, his hands clenched into fists, and his eyes burned.

He didn’t want to feel this way, especially towards his dad. He felt the need to punch something. Acting on this inclination, Harry’s fist pulled back and slammed into the Weasleys wooden fence. The force knocked the resting snow on the fence’s top to the ground. Harry breathed heavily.

He wasn’t a child anymore. He was of age! He’d fought all kinds of battles and came out on top! He’d destroyed all the horcruxes! Why did they still insist on treating him like he was eleven years old? Babying him all the time? Thinking that he couldn’t handle facing off against the Death Eaters? He’d fought them many times… with a lot of help… but still! It wasn’t like he was completely vulnerable. So why was his dad so disappointed in him?

“Harry?”

Harry didn’t turn around. Warm hands grasped either of his shoulders, squeezing them gently.

“You’re freezing,” Lily muttered. “Do you want to go inside?”

“I’m not cold,” Harry muttered stubbornly even though he was shivering. It had started to snow again.

Lily sighed. “Harry,” she said gently, “I know you’re upset with your father.”

Harry huffed. “What gave you that idea?”

“Can you blame him for being angry?”

Harry stiffened. Though his mother’s voice was gentle, he felt like she was disapproving of his earlier actions too. “What do you mean by that?” he demanded, turning around to face her.

Lily’s long red hair was collecting snowflakes, her eyelashes catching smaller ones as she blinked over her vibrant green eyes. Her lips were pulled into a slight frown. Crossing her arms over herself, she surveyed her son in silence for a few moments. Harry continued to remain defiant, his eyes harboring the hurt and anger stirring within his chest. Lily flinched a little from these intense emotions.

She sighed, rubbing her arms up and down over her thick green coat. “Harry, tell me what’s bothering you. Maybe I can help.”

Harry was about to say “you can’t help me at all” but then he thought better of it. Turning away from her, he looked towards the abandoned road in the direction that he and Ginny had been heading before the attack.

“All my life I’ve felt that people have been sheltering me,” he muttered, feeling it important to explain the words swirling though his mind. “I’ve wanted to prove that I can fight my own battles; that I don’t always need to hide behind someone else, to be protected by someone else. Dumbledore protected me, even hid information from me, just because he didn’t feel I was able to handle the secrets. Even after I was fully capable of dealing with the problems, he insisted on keeping me in the dark. I hate that. Now that I’m of age, I don’t want to have to hide behind anyone’s cloak.”

“You thought that you could handle the Death Eaters on your own, is what you’re trying to say,” Lily guessed.

Harry looked into her face, searching her eyes. They weren’t disapproving but they weren’t proud either. They were silently sad. A faint smile had curled her lips but it couldn’t reach the saddened state of her eyes. She came forward and hugged Harry tightly, squeezing him for a full minute before pulling away.

“You’re not a boy anymore,” she muttered.

“Of course I’m not,” Harry muttered, but the words lacked the anger he’d displayed before.

“Oh, Harry, don’t you see?” Lily asked, smiling faintly still. “Your father and I are simply concerned for you. We’ve always felt bad about not being there to protect you. Hearing what could have happened… hearing that you were in danger…it made James frantic. And because you’d walked right into that situation, your father was angry. He’s only concerned about your wellbeing, honey.”

“That doesn’t mean he had to go and yell at me like that,” Harry pointed out.

“You’re right,” Lily agreed.

“I am?” Harry asked in surprise.

“Yes. James didn’t handle himself very well. He tends to yell out the way he feels without first considering one’s feelings – especially if it’s one of his loved ones displaying stupidity.” She squeezed Harry’s shoulder. “Your father loves you, Harry. He does think you can handle things on your own.”

“Then why did he say that I should have taken someone with me?”

Lily leaned against the fence and stared out into space, her eyes looking distant. “We fought many more battles with the Death Eaters than you have, Harry. We’ve seen what they can do first hand. Some of them have committed crimes just as terrible as Voldemort. Some were even capable of matching the same power of the Cruciatus Curse that their master could cast. The Lestranges, for example, were so powerful that they caused several people to lose their minds, tortured into insanity.”

Harry felt a twinge. He was sure that his mother was talking about the Longbottoms. He looked at Lily, who now held an expression of insurmountable grief and pain. Harry’s heart ached just seeing such a face.

“It was a terrible thing, Harry,” Lily muttered. “Your father flew off the handle because he knows what Death Eaters are capable of. He doesn’t want his son to end up like the many victims of the past. If there are enough bullies on the playground even the best of wizards can be hurt by dark wizards. I think you are a great wizard, son, but even you have your limits. We all do. Taking on all the remaining Death Eaters at once by yourself would be a very unwise thing to do.”

“You don’t think I can beat them?” Harry asked, trying not to sound disappointed.

Lily squeezed his shoulder. “I want you to understand, Harry. You have a great future ahead of you. You have the potential to bring down the rest of Voldemort’s army but you can’t fight them off all at once. One at a time,” – she smiled – “…or perhaps three… is plenty. You need to think strategically. If you want to hunt down your enemies, do so by stealth and shadow, cutting down their forces little piece by little piece. And by the time they realize what is going on, you’ll be the one holding all the cards.”

Harry looked at her, impressed. Such dark thoughts he hadn’t expected to be coming from his mother. “Where did you learn that?” he asked.

Lily shrugged. “Auror training.”

“Really?” Harry asked, interested.

Lily nodded. “Pretty good strategy, huh?” She smiled.

Harry smiled back. What she’d said made perfect sense. A wave of gratitude fluttered within his breast. This was the first time he’d been able to receive such advice from his mom. He never thought he’d ever be able to have someone who understood him so well, who could interpret his needs, and provide answers to said needs. His mother didn’t find him a child. She had found his actions unwise but she hadn’t treated him like an idiot. She’d only wanted him to understand that she and his dad were merely concerned for him and wished to give advice about his problem.

He gave her a hug. “Thanks mum,” he muttered.

Lily ruffled the top of his hair before kissing it gently. “I love you, Harry.”

“I love you too.”

“Guess I’d better go back in before I freeze to death,” Harry muttered, turning around in the snow.

Lily followed him back inside. When they entered, they found Remus and Tonks peering into the kitchen, both of them silently longing to hold a little boy who currently was in Andromeda’s arms. They were holding hands. Tonks was using her other hand to wipe the tears away from her eyes.

“He’s gorgeous, Remus,” she whispered. “I wish mum could see us. It’s good to see her looking so happy, especially after learning of our and dad’s passing.”

Remus nodded. He let go of her hand to gently rub her back. “I know what you mean,” he whispered.

Lily squeezed Harry’s shoulder. He looked up and found her silently pleading with him. Confused at first, Harry cocked his eyebrow. Then his mother silently gestured to where Teddy was sitting and Harry began to catch on. Clearing his throat, he stepped passed Remus and Tonks and came up to Andromeda.

“Do you mind if I hold him?”

“Not at all, Harry dear,” Andromeda replied, slightly surprised by his sudden appearance. “I was going to feed him in a little bit though.”

“I’ll bring him back in half an hour,” Harry promised.

Andromeda nodded before handing Teddy over. Once in Harry’s arms, the little one squealed happily, wrapping his fingers around Harry’s hand. Harry grinned.

“Good to see you too, Teddy,” he muttered. “Come on, there’s a couple people I want you to meet.”

Remus stiffened as Harry began walking towards them. “Harry,” he said, his voice filled with dismay, “Teddy can’t see us….”

But the second he’d spoken, the little baby turned his gaze directly on his parents. His legs kicked excitedly and he began to squeal and clap his hands. Harry was the only one who wasn’t surprised; he’d somehow known that Teddy would be able to see the Gate Framers. He couldn’t explain it exactly but did that really matter? The important thing was to allow Remus and Tonks to be able to spend time with their son.

“Come on,” Harry muttered still holding Teddy. “Let’s go back to my room. That way Andromeda or Draco won’t be able to see Teddy floating in midair while you’re holding him.”

“But…” Tonks faltered.

Harry turned. “Yes?”

“He can see us,” she said, completely shocked. “How can he see us? We didn’t get permission…”

Harry smiled. “Sometimes I don’t think you need to have permission, Tonks.”

Remus’s brow furrowed. “You knew he’d be able to see us, Harry. How?”

Harry shrugged. “I haven’t the foggiest idea,” he answered truthfully.

With that, he went into the coat closet room. Remus and Tonks followed. Lily stopped at the door to explain that she was going to find James before closing it. After Tonks had settled into a chair, Harry placed Teddy in her lap. The baby sent his mother a wide smile.

“Hi Teddy,” Tonks cooed. “Hello, my sweet, precious little boy.” Her eyes were moist as she squeezed Teddy slightly in her arms.

Teddy’s hair changed from brown to blonde to pink. Remus’s eyebrows rose. “He’s definitely inherited his mother’s ability,” he observed. “We were afraid that would only be temporary when he’d first been born…” Then a shadow passed his face.

Harry placed a hand on Remus’s shoulder. “He’s not a werewolf, Remus,” he said consolingly.

These words held an amazing transformation. Remus had been apprehensive before, even guilty, as he’d watched his son. Obviously he’d been terrified that the boy had also inherited his curse. But with Harry’s news, his faced brightened like the sun and his eyes brimmed with tears of relief and joy.

“He won’t be an outcast,” Remus whispered. “Thank goodness….oh, thank goodness…”

Tonks was too busy playing metamorphmagus games with Teddy to notice her husband’s silent gratitude. Remus pulled Harry into a hug. Harry didn’t object; the guy looked like he was about to fall over. He obviously had been bothered about this ever since he’d found out Tonks was pregnant. To have this worry lifted from his mind was comparable to Harry’s freedom from Voldemort. Harry patted Remus’s back.

“Why don’t you go hold him?” Harry suggested.

Remus stepped away, rubbing his eyes. He smiled warmly at Harry. “Thank you, Harry.”

“For what?” Harry asked.

Remus’s smiled deepened. “For stopping me that day from running away from my wife and child,” he muttered. “I’ll be in your debt forever. It almost appears a burden to have asked you to watch over my son. I don’t deserve your kindness.”

Harry looked on him with disbelief. “Remus, I’d never see watching over Teddy as a burden. I’m happy to be his godfather, honest! And I’ve already forgiven you for what happened earlier. I’m sorry I said those harsh things to you back then.”

Remus shook his head. “I needed a severe kick upside the head. You helped put me in the right direction again, Harry. Thank you.”

Harry smiled. “Don’t mention it, Moony.”

Remus grinned.

“Remus, he wants to see you,” said Tonks.

Remus turned. Teddy was indeed looking at him. His purple hair and orange eyes transformed into the similar features of his father. Remus came forward with trembling hands, scooping his son into his arms. Teddy giggled, touching his father’s face.

“Hi, Teddy,” Remus whispered.

Teddy began to make funny noises. Harry’s eyes slightly burned. He looked away to wipe them. He didn’t need to be here anymore. The family needed their privacy. He turned to leave when he heard Teddy say his first word.

“Dada!”

Harry spun around.

“Did you hear that?!” Tonks squealed. “He said ‘Dada’! Was that his first word?”

Remus, his voice thick with emotion, muttered, “I think it was.”

Both parents immediately began prompting Teddy to speak again. The eight month old gladly obliged. Happy to have discovered a word that brought his parents’ joy, Teddy repeated “Dada” over and over again. Harry smiled deeply. He slipped out of the room unnoticed, leaving them to revel in each other’s joy. He leapt out of his skin when he turned around and found Professor Merrylow’s nose nearly touching his.

“Geez,” Harry gasped, holding his heart.

“Sorry,” the professor said, leaning away. “I didn’t mean to scare you, Harry.”

Harry took a couple more deep breathes before surveying his teacher. She was trying to wait patiently though her eyes kept darting back and forth and her weight moved from one foot to the other as she stepped back and forth. Harry tried to keep his face straight.

“What can I do for you, professor?”

“Well…um…you see, Harry,” Professor Merrylow muttered, rubbing the back of her head, “I was just wondering if…”

“He’s probably in the living room,” said Harry, still trying hard not to laugh over his teacher’s antics. “Oy! Sirius!”

Sirius immediately came around the corner of the living room. “Yeah, Harry?”

His eyes stopped on Professor Merrylow. Harry grinned. He looked between them as they bore into each other’s eyes. Feeling like he’d done his work, Harry slipped out of the hallway, leaving his godfather and professor to themselves. He found James standing in the entrance way, observing Sirius and Merrylow briefly as he approached. James rubbed his arm.

“Look, son,” he muttered, “I didn’t mean to yell at you earlier. I’m sorry. I was just concerned for you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Harry held up a hand. “It’s okay, dad,” he said. “Mum already told me everything.”

James sighed. “Wish I’d stepped out there to talk to you too; too bad Lily felt I should stay behind.”

Harry felt the corners of his mouth lift. “Dad, don’t worry about it. No hard feelings.”

He patted his dad’s shoulder a couple times before walking into the living room. Just then, a low ray of sunlight hit Harry’s face. Harry froze. His body started tingling.

“Not good,” he muttered.

Everyone looked up at him as he grimaced and spun around on his heel. He’d totally forgotten about the time. Praying he’d make it, Harry bowled passed Sirius and Merrylow and barged into the coat closet just before slamming onto his hands and knees. Painful ripples made his arms and legs quiver as they stretched out. He fell onto his belly. Needles felt like they were piercing every inch of his skin as his muscles caught fire, twisting and transforming into the stag.

Harry gritted his teeth as the pain engulfed him but he couldn’t stop the cry wrenching from within his throat. The ache was terrible, somehow worse than before. He couldn’t understand it. It had been months since the first time he’d transformed. It had never been this bad. Panting furiously, he opened his streaming eyes. James and Lily were kneeling beside him. Professor Merrylow and Sirius were just behind him while Remus, Tonks, and Teddy were in front. His muscles still aching something fierce, Harry raised his head.

“At least I made it through the door,” he observed, looking over the shoulder of his stag body. His back legs were protruding into the hallway.

What wonderful timing it was to have Andromeda suddenly appear at that moment. “Good gracious!” she cried with slight alarm. “Molly, there’s a deer in your house!”

Mrs. Weasley rushed around the corner and noticed Harry’s back legs. Ignoring Andromeda, she asked with intense worry, “Harry dear, are you alright?”

Harry pulled himself onto his hooves. His legs shook unsteadily. He had long since adjusted to the strange muscles of the stag body but the intense pain had left him lightheaded. He turned around and found Andromeda staring at him in disbelief.

“Molly, did you just call that stag…”

Mrs. Weasley continued to ignore her as she entered the room. “Harry, are you alright?” she asked again.

Harry nodded and answered tiredly, “I’m fine. I just forgot the time is all.”

Andromeda’s eyes were popping. “Am I the only one who sees that Harry is a stag? What is going on?”

Harry really didn’t want to have to explain. Mrs. Weasley came to his rescue. Placing a hand on Andromeda’s shoulder, she steered her from the room. “Come on, Andromeda. Let’s go into the kitchen and have a nice cup of tea. I’ll explain everything.”

Andromeda looked over her shoulder at Harry, her eyes filled with worry. Harry sighed and walked shakily past his family to lie down on his pad next to the fire. The warmth from the hearth soothed his aching bones. He rested his head down by his side, feeling immensely exhausted.

“Are you alright, Harry?” James asked, sitting down in front of him.

Harry blinked. “Yes, just really tired.”

Lily’s brow furrowed. “You’ve never convulsed that badly before. Did the transformation hurt worse this time?”

Harry didn’t want to say yes. He personally found this rather disturbing. What did it mean? Why had it been so painful? Was he getting weaker or something? He couldn’t wrap his finger around it. Being silent had agitated the others.

“Harry,” said Sirius, “tell us, was it worse this time?”

Harry looked up at his loved ones and sighed. “Yeah… yeah it was.”

Lily and James looked at each other.

“What does this mean?” Lily murmured.

“I don’t know,” James admitted. “We should tell Dumbledore.”

“Can’t we tell him when he gets here Christmas day?” Harry asked, not wanting to bother the Headmaster with his problems.

Lily bit her lip. “But what if this is serious, Harry? What if something else happens? Albus should know.”

Harry remained stubborn. “I don’t want to involve him in this just because I think the pain is worse than before. Just leave it alone, mum.”

This whole situation reminded Harry once more of his fifth year when Hermione had pestered him to go talk to Dumbledore every time he told them his scar hurt. He’d found it annoying then and he found it annoying now. Lily looked like she wanted to argue but James stopped her.

“Leave it, Lils,” he muttered. “If there are any changes then we’ll call Dumbledore. Understood, Harry?”

His tone made Harry dare not to disobey. He nodded before closing his eyes again, instantly falling asleep.


Chapter 18: Christmas Brings Surprise, Love, and Heartache
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Harry was woken from sleep by a loud bang resulting from his door being burst open. Sitting up from his pad by the fireplace, he looked around. “Wazzamatter?” He said disoriented.

Ron stood in the doorway. “Why are you still in bed?” he asked incredulously. “It’s Christmas!”

Harry found his glasses and put them on. Spying the clock on the wall, he pushed his blankets aside and stretched. “Ron, it’s six in the morning. Can’t we wait a couple more hours?”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Everyone else is already up, Harry.”

“You can’t be serious,” Harry muttered, scratching his head and yawning.

“Well, okay, mum and dad are still asleep along with Bill and Fleur and Andromeda and Teddy and Charlie and Percy but everyone else is up.”

Harry groaned. What possessed the others to be up at the crack of dawn? He was positive he’d just transformed back into a human judging by how badly his muscles burned. Since the start of the break, the transformations had been more intense than they had while he was at school but Harry didn’t feel that this was something the Headmaster needed to immediately know about. He would be arriving sometime today anyway.

“Ron,” Harry began exasperated, “can you wait a couple more hours? Please?”

Ginny pushed Ron out of the way. She looked just as tired as Harry felt. Her dressing gown was lopsided, her hair in tangles, her eyes half closed. “Ron, I already told you that the rest of us want to sleep in for a couple more hours,” she said angrily. “It’s dawn for Merlin’s sake!”

“Exactly,” Ron retorted. “It’s the perfect time to be up on Christmas day, Ginny.”

“Did it even occur to you that Harry just barely transformed back to normal?” Ginny snapped. “And if you haven’t noticed, these transformations the last few days have been even more painful than usual. Show your best friend some sympathy and let him get a couple more hours sleep!”

Ron looked crestfallen at the realization of her words. Before he could say a word of apology however, Ginny pushed him from the room and slammed the door in his face. Turning around, she sighed and leaned against the door for support.

“I’m exhausted,” she muttered. “Do you mind?” She pointed at one of the spare beds.

“Not at all,” said Harry. “You came to my rescue anyway. I owe you.”

Ginny smiled. Harry settled back onto his pad, covered himself once more in his blanket, and closed his eyes. Ginny’s lips lightly brushed his forehead.

“I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” she muttered.

Harry, half asleep, nodded. “See you.”

He drifted off. In no time at all, it seemed, the door to his room was thrust open again, with Ron standing in the doorway, wide awake. He didn’t even seem the least bit upset about being kicked out two hours ago.

“Happy Christmas, Harry!” he shouted happily, bounding into the room.

Harry sat up and found his glasses again. Feeling like he was experiencing déjà voo, he looked up at Ron and managed to smile. “Happy Christmas, Ron.”

Ginny sat up from the bed she’d occupied. Ron looked surprised. “What are you doing in here, Ginny?”

Ginny looked annoyed. “I decided to sleep in here instead of heading up to my room. I thought if I stayed here you would be less likely to barge in again since I yelled at you earlier.”

Ron looked bemused. “What are you talking about?”

Ginny eyed him with suspicion. “Don’t tell me you don’t remember waking us all up at the crack of dawn?!”

Ron scratched his head. “I did?”

Harry nodded. “You did.”

“Hmmm, I don’t remember that at all,” Ron muttered more to himself than to them. “I guess I must have been sleepwalking or something.”

Ginny looked mutinous. “You mean you woke me up and you weren’t even awake?!”

Harry, sensing danger, came to his feet and gave Ginny a hug. “Don’t get angry, Ginny.”

“Why aren’t you upset?” she asked, turning on him.

“It’s Christmas,” he replied simply. “Ron always gets over excited about this holiday.” He leaned in and kissed her. “Cut him a little slack?” he whispered in her ear.

Suddenly dazed, Ginny turned around and eyed her brother. “Oh, alright. I’ll forgive him. Happy Christmas, Ron.” She gave him a hug.

Ron, looking over her shoulder, mouthed a thank you to Harry who shrugged.

“Come on, let’s open some gifts,” Harry said.

There was definitely a great deal of commotion in the Weasleys living room when the three of them came around the corner. The Gate Framers were sitting in chairs along the wall, watching as the Weasley children ripped open packages and thanked their parents and each other for what they’d received. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, along with Mr. and Mrs. Granger (who had arrived two days ago) sat on the couch, smiling at the kids’ enthusiasm. Hermione was surrounded by a small pile of presents and had just unwrapped her gift from Harry, a cook book filled with a lot of meals that Ron seemed to really enjoy. She looked up at him and smiled as he sat down next to her.

“Thanks, Harry,” she said, giving him a hug. “I’m definitely going to need this.”

She flicked through a couple of the pages. Ron leaned forward and gasped. “Oh, man! I just want to eat the page the pictures look so good! You’re not going to make this kind of stuff are you?” he asked Hermione.

Hermione looked amused. “And who did you suppose would do the cooking after we get married?”

Ron’s face turned pink. “Oh…right.”

Harry laughed, picking up his first present. It was from Ron. Ripping off the paper, he smiled. “Wow, thanks, mate,” he said, holding up a compass that was in the shape of a snitch.

“Thought it would be useful when you have to travel a lot as an auror,” explained Ron.

“Good thinking,” Harry murmured before turning to the rest of his pile.

Several minutes later, packages and bundles of tissue paper littered the floor as Harry observed his presents. Hermione had given him a new traveling cloak; the Weasleys, the traditional handmade jumper and a wallet; a box of the latest Weasley Wizard Wheezes products came from George; and Ginny had decided to go out of her way to knit a Gryffindor scarf for him. She was incredibly embarrassed about it since it was her first attempt and several of the stitches were incorrect. Harry kissed her gently before wrapping it around his neck to show his appreciation.

The Gate Framers had gone out of their way to give him incredible gifts. From Tonks and Remus, Harry received several books that would be very useful once he’d become an auror. Sirius had surprised Harry with a set of Two-way Mirrors, similar to the ones he and James used to have when they were in school. But the gift from his parents nearly caused tears to fall from Harry’s eyes.

They’d given him a book, a book of pictures and words, beginning with their childhoods all the way up to their deaths. Harry couldn’t understand how they’d had so many pictures of their experiences or how they were able to remember them in such detail but he suspected that they’d used some serious magic to look within their minds and write every life detail down on paper.

He looked up at his mum and dad, trying to put his gratitude into words. Thank you didn’t seem to be enough. They both smiled, understanding perfectly what he couldn’t bring himself to say. James wrapped an arm around Lily and squeezed her tightly as they silently agreed that this was the best present they could give to their son. Harry kept the book in his lap, cherishing it too much to set it aside.

He broke away from looking at his parents because Professor Merrylow -or Elle as she asked him to call her whenever away from school- had just let out a squeal. Everyone’s attention turned to where Sirius knelt, holding out a small open box with a wedding ring inside. Elle apparently had just said yes because Sirius was leaping to his feet, kissing her intently.

As they wrapped their arms around each other, Andromeda and Draco let out a gasp. Harry realized from their expressions that all of a sudden they could see the Gate Framers. He found this odd since he hadn’t asked permission for them to see them; maybe Elle kissing Sirius had somehow placed a spell upon the place. It wasn’t every day that a dead man got to ask a living woman to marry him after all.

“Oh my stars,” Andromeda gasped, holding her heart. “Nymphadora?”

Tonks jumped. Her attention had been occupied by the newly engaged couple to notice that her mother was now looking right at her. Her eyes widened. “You can see me, mum?”

Andromeda looked ready to faint. “What is going on here?” she asked desperately.

“I’d like to know that same thing,” Draco demanded, eyeing Sirius and then Harry’s parents with wide-eyed disbelief.

Harry cleared his throat. “It looks like the H.U. s have given Andromeda and Draco permission to see you guys.”

Sirius finally broke away from Elle’s embrace. “What?”

James grinned. “Welcome back to the present situation, Padfoot. Although, congratulations, mate! When’s the wedding?”

Sirius grinned. “We still have to plan that. But what’s this about Andy and Draco being able to see us?”

“Well, take a look,” said Remus, pointing. “Either they’re staring at the wall with wild expressions or they’re actually seeing a bunch of dead people in the Weasley’s living room.”

This caused a general round of chuckling. Draco and Andromeda had finally slipped out of most of their shock and were now eyeing the Gate Framers with a mixture of awe and trepidation. Harry cleared his throat. “Allow me to explain since it’s because of me they’re even here.”

He then went into a brief story of how the Gate Frame came to be in his possession and its strict laws and limitations. “I guess you two have made the cut with the Higher Ups so you can see them now. But you can’t tell anyone about them, right dad?”

James nodded. “That’s right, Harry.”

“So I guess I have to be silent too, huh?” said a subdued voice behind them.

Everyone twisted around. In the doorway to the living room stood Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore. Aberforth was looking at the Gate Framers with slight interest but also apprehension.

“You didn’t tell me that we would also be spending the holidays with spirits, brother,” Aberforth grumbled. “I thought Potter would be bad enough.”

Harry grinned. “Good to see you too, Aberforth. How are you professor?” Standing up he went over to shake Dumbledore’s hand.

The Headmaster smiled. “I’m wonderful, Harry. I’d wondered whether to knock but seeing as everyone was rather enthralled with your Gate Frame tale, I thought it reasonable to let ourselves in. I hope that’s alright, Arthur.”

Mr. Weasley shrugged. “I couldn’t keep you out anyway, Albus.”

Dumbledore smiled. “I suppose you don’t feel the need to secure that I am in fact Albus Dumbledore?”

Harry narrowed his eyes playfully. “And if you weren’t?”

“Then I would say that the man next to me is not Aberforth but a fellow Death Eater here to kill you, Harry,” Dumbledore said cheerfully.

Draco rolled his eyes as everyone in the room suddenly turned to look at him. “They’re definitely not Death Eaters,” he said flatly, returning to the book on potions that Harry had given him for Christmas.

“Incredible likeness you have to Severus, Draco,” Dumbledore commented kindly. “Completely blunt but also incredibly honest when dire demand asks to know the truth.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment, sir,” Draco said, smirking.

“As you should,” said Dumbledore as he sat down in an empty armchair. “Come, Aberforth, we don’t want you standing in the entranceway like a decoration.”

His brother seemed a little apprehensive but he rolled his eyes and defiantly replied, “I was just trying to find a vacant chair, thank you.” He bustled over to the couch and plopped himself down on the last empty cushion.

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled. “Well…Happy Christmas everyone! So sorry we were a tad late.”

Shortly after, everyone made their rounds of congratulating Sirius and Elle before becoming busy once more in their own conversations. As Dumbledore went over to speak with the Gate Framers, Harry inched closer to Ginny who seemed to be trying to appear happy to see him though her face held obvious disappointment.

“Why the long face?” he asked her. “You got some great stuff.”

“Yeah,” she muttered, looking at her pile of possessions, “But I thought that you’d…”

“That I’d what?” Harry prompted because she’d stopped.

She was obviously extremely upset. Eyeing the scarf she’d given him, it appeared as if she were imagining strangling him with it. Harry waited for one full minute, wondering how long he should continue to fake ignorance.

“You didn’t get me anything,” she finally muttered, her face betraying her inward anger and hurt.

Harry suddenly grinned. “Sorry,” he muttered, “but I really wanted to give this to you in person.”

Ginny’s brow furrowed. Harry pulled out a small rectangular box wrapped in simple paper.

“Merry Christmas, Ginny.”

Ginny lifted the box from Harry’s outstretched hand and ripped the wrapping off, slightly flustered. “You could have told me you were going to give it to me in person!” she grumbled.

Harry merely chuckled. She was so cute when she fussed over things. He propped his head on one hand and waited. She pulled the box open and out fell…

“A key?” Ginny asked incredulously. She eyed him questioningly, demanding an explanation.

“Well, I couldn’t actually fit your real present into a box,” Harry responded.

Ginny’s eyes lit up. “What does this open?” she asked, suddenly excited.

“Ahhh, now you asked the right question,” said Harry, hardly containing his smile. “Look again in the box.”

Ginny, perplexed now, looked and a small piece of paper suddenly appeared. Pulling it out, she immediately recognized that it was an address. Her heart hammered loudly as she stared again at Harry.

“This isn’t what I think it is,” she whispered.

Harry finally couldn’t contain his grin. “What do you think it is?”

Ginny shook her head. “I don’t want to say,” she muttered. “It sounds too good to be true…you couldn’t have anyway. Where would you have gotten the money?”

Harry laughed out loud. “Let’s just say the Ministry asked me if there was something I wanted as payment for defeating Voldemort.”

“You’re giving me a house?” she said so loudly that all conversation stopped.

Harry shrugged. “Technically the house is in my name but, seeing as I only planned to live there once married, I thought I’d give my fiancée the key for safe keeping.”

Ginny looked down at the key and then at Harry. “You’re serious.”

“If you don’t want it, I’ll take it back.”

“NO!” Ginny leapt into his arms, kissing him fully on the mouth. “Oh, Harry! Thank you! Thank you! When can we go see it?”

“I thought maybe sometime over the break,” Harry suggested.

Ginny turned to her parents who both appeared completely stunned. “Can we go see it, mum? Dad? Please!”

“Wait…Harry gave Ginny a house?” asked Ron, completely baffled. “Are you for real?”

Harry grinned. “I thought it a good Christmas present.”

“Well, I can’t say this was unexpected,” Hermione muttered.

Ron twisted around. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, Harry’s going to marry her right after they get out of school, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Therefore it’s only natural for Harry to give her a house,” Hermione explained.

“Oh,” muttered Ron, suddenly appearing to be worried about something.

“That’s a wonderful gift, Harry,” said Dumbledore. “May I inquire as to the home’s location?”

“Where else?” said Harry, looking at his parents. “Godric’s Hollow.”

James grinned. “Well, I wonder why on earth you’d want to live there, Harry. Terrible place I’ve heard.”

“Filled with strange folk,” insisted Sirius.

“Indeed,” muttered Remus. “There’s even a rumor that a major murder mystery happened there. Have you heard about it James?”

“You mean those nutters, the Potters?” he guessed.

“Yeah that’s them!” said Sirius. “I heard they were always causing trouble for the neighbors… especially their noisy son. What was his name? He used to drive the neighborhood crazy with his constant crying at three in the morning.”

“Don’t remind me,” James shuddered. “The kid had a natural alarm clock set for that exact time for four months. Nearly strangled myself with my own trousers, the noise was so obnoxious.”

The three marauders laughed hysterically while Lily rolled her eyes. “Alright, you three knuckleheads, that’s enough. Harry, I think going back is a great idea. Godric’s Hallow is a very peaceful village.”

“That reputation is going to change once Harry moves in,” George interrupted loudly.

Ginny glared at him playfully. “At least it’s spared your presence George. The neighbors would hightail it to the next country if they found out you were planning on living on the block.”

“Why thank you for the wonderful compliment, my dear favorite sister,” said George, grinning.

“This is very generous, Harry,” said Mrs. Weasley. “It almost seems like too great of a gift.”

Harry looked at Ginny. “What do you think? Are you going to bail out on our engagement anytime soon?”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Sure am,” she replied sarcastically. “I’ve already been cheating on you for five months with some fifth year in Ravenclaw.”

Harry snorted. “That’s the best you can come up with?”

She shrugged. “I’m not up to par at the moment, I guess.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Harry.”

Harry blushed as several of Ginny’s brothers wolf whistled (along with Sirius and his father).

~*~*~*~

It was just after noon. Harry had planned to go to Godric’s Hollow to show her the house but Mrs. Weasley asked if they could hold off until tomorrow because she wanted Christmas day to be spent entirely with all her children. After much bickering between mother and daughter, it was determined that Mrs. Weasley’s suggestion was for the best. But nothing was preventing Harry from going. He actually had another reason to go, one that he hadn’t been entirely comfortable sharing with everyone that morning.

He wanted to spend a couple of hours just with his parents at Godric’s Hollow. It was an entirely selfish decision but it was something he’d been wanting ever since the Christmas Season had drawn closer. Harry stepped out of the living room, making the excuse of needed to use to bathroom. As he stood, he thankfully caught his mother’s eye. She immediately stood up and followed after him. Once in the empty kitchen, Harry leaned against one of the counters as his mother appeared.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, coming closer, her eyes filled with concern.

“I…it’s kind of stupid, really,” Harry muttered.

Lily smiled kindly. “Harry,” she said gently, “what is it?”

Harry sighed before looking up into the eyes he’d inherited. Searching them, he said, “I want to go to Godric’s Hollow with you and dad.”

Lily considered him. “Do you want to go today?”

Harry nodded. “I really, really want to. I’ve never spent the holidays with…”

“Your own family?” Lily provided.

“Well, yeah,” answered Harry. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said quickly, “The Weasleys have been great! But…”

Lily put her arms around him. Rubbing the back of his head, she whispered, “I understand, Harry. You don’t have to explain.”

Harry’s stomach felt like it was twisting in knots. His eyes burned slightly as he held on to his mother’s embrace. Suddenly he didn’t feel like a grown up. He felt like a little child, longing for nothing but to stay within his mother’s arms, safe and sound. The comfort -the security- it brought was something Harry had desired his whole life. He’d longed for this more than anyone knew, more than what anyone around him could completely understand.

“It’s alright, dear,” Lily soothed, holding his head. “It’s alright.”

Just then the door to the kitchen opened and James stepped inside. Beholding the scene, he shut the door quickly and came forward. “What’s going on?”

Luckily Harry’s back was facing his father. He hurriedly got rid of any traces of threatening tears before stepping away from his mum. Lily put her hand in his and squeezed.

“Dear, Harry wants to go home,” she said.

James’s brow furrowed. “He wants to go…” But then a light filled his eyes. “Oooh!”

“Would that be okay?” Harry asked.

Lily surveyed James. “Well?”

James blinked. “I don’t see why not.” But then he hesitated. “Except…”

“What?” Harry asked, trying not to sound too desperate.

“Well…” -James rubbed the back of his neck- “I’m just concerned about a possible Death Eater attack. If I was them, I’d have Godric’s Hollow monitored because it’s more than likely that you would visit there, Harry.”

Harry felt like a flat tire. Dejected, he let out a long sigh. “I guess you’re right,” he mumbled.

James, seeing the distress of his son, felt terrible. He’d seen Harry depressed like this in the past when he occasionally would check in on him but seeing it in person tugged deeper on his heart strings than those times had. He bit his lip.

“Harry, let me talk to Albus. I’ll see if something can be done.”

Harry perked up. “Really?”

James smiled. “Yeah. Stay here; I’ll be right back.”

The second the door of the kitchen closed, Lily grabbed Harry’s shoulders. “Harry, can I ask you something?”

She sounded unsure, like what she wanted to ask seemed to be crossing some kind of line. Harry eyed her nervousness with curiosity as well as concern. “What is it, mum?”

Lily let out a long sigh. “I know you want to spend the rest of the afternoon with just me and your father but I was hoping that you could allow a guest to join us later – before you become a stag.”

At first Harry was slightly irritated but then he stamped out his selfish desires. This person, whoever they were, apparently was extremely important or else his mother wouldn’t be asking him to sacrifice part of their family time.

“Who is it?”

Lily bit her lip. “Severus,” she muttered. Harry blinked. Of all the important people he’d been thinking of, Severus Snape was not on his list. His mother saw his surprise and decided to elaborate. “Since our conversation about him, Harry, I’ve tried several ways to summon courage to tell your father the truth but I haven’t been very successful on my own. So I thought that maybe, if you were there to support me, that I’d be able to tell him.” She was wringing her hands as she finished the last of her explanation in a rush.

Harry sighed. “Well, this is going to be a fun afternoon, that’s all I can say.”

Lily, sensing his slight sarcasm, looked up. “You’re not mad?”

Harry shook his head. “No. This needs to be taken care of. And then you and dad can support each other when you tell Sirius and Remus.”

Lily closed her eyes. “Let’s pray this goes well.”

The door to the kitchen opened again and James reappeared, followed closely by Dumbledore. The professor surveyed Harry silently and Harry suddenly felt something trying to probe his thoughts. On instinct Harry’s mind occluded, shutting the intruder out; Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. The prober returned, smashing against Harry’s defensive wall, but Harry only strengthened it tenfold. Pushing with all his might, Harry thrust out the intruder. Dumbledore actually took a step back.

“Well, well,” he said, his voice filled with obvious delight. “You’ve finally mastered it.”

Harry smiled sheepishly. “Yes, sir.”

“May I ask how?”

Harry explained that when he was captured by snatchers and taken to Malfoy Manor, Voldemort’s mind kept interfering with his own. “Because we were in such a dangerous situation,” said Harry, “I felt it explicitly important to block him out and stay focused on what was going on to me instead of him.”

“And in the process you mastered Occlumency,” Dumbledore finished, looking positively thrilled. “Well, I must say, I am pleased! This is simply wonderful, Harry! Truly wonderful!”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re quite welcome, my boy! Now, concerning your desires, I find them appropriate.”

“You do?” asked Harry, surprised.

Dumbledore nodded. “I wanted to see how deeply you felt about this Harry by looking in your mind but you blocked me magnificently. I suppose I shouldn’t pry on this matter. Forgive an old man’s concerns.”

Harry smirked. “I guess I could, just this once.”

Dumbledore’s beard twitched. “Yes, just this once.” He smiled. “I have no problems with you going but I want you to apparate, diapperate, and travel around the town in your invisibility cloak. You are not to take it off for any reason. If you accept these terms, I’ll permit you to leave.”

Harry frowned. “I was planning on going to my house. Do I have to leave the cloak on even while there?”

Dumbledore tapped his chin. “No, I suppose that won’t be necessary. However, I do want you to check to make sure the house is free of all persons. You know the spell, I presume?”

Harry nodded.

“Very well,” said Dumbledore. “I want you back here one hour exactly from sunset. If you are late, I will be forced to come fetch you. Are we in agreement?”

Harry nodded again. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now, off you go. And Harry?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Enjoy yourself.”  The old man smiled, his blue eyes twinkling with fatherly fondness.

Harry returned a smile. “I will, sir. Thank you.”

And with that he slipped out the back door, his parents’ right behind him.

~*~*~*~

Harry threw on the Invisibility cloak just outside the gate of the Burrow. His mother and father gently grabbed onto his arms. Counting to three, Harry turned on his heel, twisting into the small compacted space, his parents’ right beside him. With a small pop, the three Potter’s reappeared on the same street Harry had landed upon when visiting here last year. It was only after they had arrived that Harry realized that last Christmas Eve, he had been here with Hermione. Trying to dispel the memories from his mind, Harry looked around.

The street was almost the same as in his memories except it was daytime and the snow covering every surface was brilliantly white and sparkling like glitter. Cottages lined the road, twisting around a bend to the left which Harry remembered would take him to the main part of town where the memorial statue of him and his parents had been placed. Children were outside, testing out new sleighs given to them for Christmas, having snowball fights, making snowmen, and creating snow angels. Their laughter echoed around the street, carefree and unaware that they were being watched.

Harry started moving forward. His parents, still holding on to him, began to walk as well.

“I came here last year.”

“We know,” said Lily.

“You do? How?”

James decided to explain. “Though separated from our bodies, we can sense things close them. The moment we felt your presence, Lily and I left Paradise to come see you.”

“It was terribly difficult to make the arrangements in such a short time to visit you,” said Lily. “But the H. U.s seemed to be informed of our situation and they allowed us to pass without incident.”

“I don’t understand everything you’re getting at mum,” Harry admitted.

Lily smiled. “Sometimes, Harry, spirits are allowed to visit the living. You usually have to set an appointed time way in advance, since there are so many people, you see.”

Harry tried to understand but he was having a difficult time comprehending this. He supposed it should have been easy to grasp the concept but for some reason it was being rejected by his brain.

James noted his conflicted expression and sighed. “Lily, I don’t think he’ll be able to understand that until he reaches the other side.”

Lily smacked her head. “Darn it, I forgot. Sorry, Harry. I shouldn’t have tried to explain it. When we do try to clarify ways of the afterlife to those still alive, they can’t seem to comprehend our words.”

Harry felt like he was getting a slight headache. Deciding to give up on trying to understand his mother’s earlier comment, he shrugged and pushed the thoughts away. Immediately the headache vanished.

“I guess the main point I’m trying to make,” said Lily, “is that we were able to be here last year.”

“I couldn’t see you then,” Harry muttered.

“Yes,” his father said quietly. “But we could see you.”

“It was the first time we were able to actually look at you,” Lily sighed. “We’ve only ever been able to look at you in a mirror,” she explained upon Harry’s confused expression. “Seeing you in person for the first time, Harry…”

“We were so proud,” finished James, smiling.

“But I was disguised with Polyjuice Potion,” said Harry as they turned the corner leading into the main part of town.

James chuckled. “We were able to see the real you underneath the mask, Harry.”

“How?”

“That’s another thing about the afterlife that you’ll learn when you get there yourself,” said his mother gently, squeezing his shoulder.

The three of them drew closer to the memorial. Christmas lights were once more spread all over the surface along with the rest of the town. All the shops were closed for the holiday but their individual decorations in the windows and over the doors twinkled merrily and bright. James approached the war memorial.

“This wasn’t here before,” he said, looking it over.

Lily joined his side but Harry hung back a little bit. He wanted to fully see his parents’ reactions to the statue dedicated to their family. As the two Potters curiosity over the monument grew, the statue transformed. Lily gasped.

A hand came to her mouth. “Oh…”

She looked at James who in turn looked around to Harry, who stood invisible. Finding where his tracks stopped in the snow, James’s eyes rose to Harry’s invisible eyelevel. “Do you know who made this?” he asked.

“No,” said Harry’s voice.

James swallowed, trying to battle with some silent emotions. “Well, at least they got my nose right.”

Lily managed a laugh. “And my face.”

“Harry looks all wrong though,” James muttered. “They made him look too good. He wasn’t that cute as a baby.”

Snow scraped up off the ground. The small ball soared through the air and smacked James in the side of the head. Though just pelted with a snowball, James merely laughed. “Only kidding, son!”

Though invisible, Harry still rolled his eyes. “Whatever, dad.”

“So, what do you want to do first Harry?”

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Is it okay to visit your graves?”

James and Lily glanced at one another. James shrugged.

“Of course,” Lily answered.

Harry’s footprints moved towards the graveyard. The kissing gate stood open, leading into where the tombstones sat in rows upon rows of solid stone. Harry stopped at Ignotus Peverell’s along with Ariana and Kendra Dumbledore’s graves. He magicked a wreath for each of them, placing them with care over the tombstones before moving on to his parents’ final resting place.

James and Lily watched as Harry stopped. Last year, many tears had been shed here. But today, there was only a smile on Harry’s face. He conjured another wreath for their grave and then sat down in the snow.

“I always pictured coming here,” Harry muttered, “talking to the two of you and wondering if you could hear me.”

“And now you can talk directly to us,” said Lily, coming over to her own grave and sitting down directly on top of it.

James did the same. The two of them sat staring at their son, their pride and joy. He had been through more than they had thought possible, more than they had even comprehended. As Harry sat there in the snow, staring at his parents’ graves and his parents themselves, his mind drifted backward through his life. There had been so many times he had wished them to be there, to be able to tell them his fears, to share his triumphs, to comfort him through his trials. Even though they were here with him now, his heart ached. He supposed it was because that now that he did have them, he wished more than anything that things had been different, that he could have had them in his childhood too.

His life would have been here, in Godric’s Hollow. He would have grown up with loving, caring parents, knowing everything about the magical world, getting decent meals, plenty of attention, friends, family, a loving godfather, no fame, and most importantly, no heartache.

Harry rubbed his eyes. He didn’t regret everything about his life. There were several things, drastic things, that he would have loved to change, but there were also many blessings that he should be thankful for. Voldemort may have destroyed the life he could have had but he hadn’t touched nor would he ever be able to touch Harry’s future. And that was the glorious thing that Harry looked forward to: a life free of Voldemort, a life where he could live with Ginny, raise a family, and continue to save the wizarding world from dark wizards.

Harry stood up. Brushing the snow off himself, he said, “Come on. Let’s go.”

The three of them left the graveyard, moving down a side street that took them to the end of the village. James and Lily already knew where Harry was going. How many times had they taken this same path? Soon, at the end of the row of cottages, stood the remains of the Potters home. James and Lily couldn’t believe the destruction of the house. Tears actually sprung from Lily’s eyes as they drew closer. James put an arm around her shoulder in comfort.

Harry stepped right up to the gate and placed a hand on the rail. Once more, just as it had done before, a sign sprung up from the ground. New graffiti had been added to what already was there. Multiple praises to Harry were written for defeating Voldemort along with gratifications, all written in permanent ink. James read the official golden letters upon the wood before chuckling.

“It looks like people thought it appropriate to graffiti the sign.”

Lily sighed. “At least all the messages are positive.”

“Yeah,” James muttered. “Too bad none of the Death Eaters wrote something like ‘The Dark Lord Forever’ or some other nonsense.”

Harry snorted.

Lily leaned against the rail. “It’s too bad it was destroyed,” Lily muttered, wiping a tear away. “It was such a lovely home.”

James squeezed her tightly. “Yes it was, Lils. But it was just a house. A home is where your family is.” He placed his other arm around Harry and drew him close. “This…these two wonderful people in my arms, make up my home.”

Lily twisted around, pulling Harry with her. She pulled her husband and son into a warm embrace. “You’re right, James,” she whispered. “This is my home.”

“And mine,” Harry whispered, holding his parents tightly.

Pulling herself together, Lily stepped away and said, “Alright, let’s see this house of yours Harry.”

Harry led the way back down the street, away from the Potters ruined home. Five cottages down, Harry stopped. “Here we are.”

The house itself was similar to the one belonging to the Potters except this structure didn’t have half the roof in shambles. A small group of bushes huddled beneath the front windows, their tops covered in snow. A small cobbled path (at least one assumed it was cobbled since it was buried under the snow) led up to the front door. A brass knocker was placed in the center at the top of the deep mahogany wood. Opening the gate, Harry made his way up the path towards the light colored cottage. He pulled a key from his pocket.

“I thought you gave the key to Ginny,” mused Lily.

“I gave her the spare,” Harry replied. “I needed one so I could get in to check on how things are being kept up here.”

They stepped inside.

On the other side of the door was a long hallway that led down to a staircase. An open room branched off to the right, the living area; a full set of brand new black leather furniture filled most of the space. Thick deep green carpet covered the floor, transforming into neatly laid tiles three feet away from a glorious fireplace.

On the left side of the hallway were three doors. The first one was a coat closet and the second, a bathroom without a shower. The third actually turned out to be an open doorway leading into a dining room. A beautifully carved black table stood in the center, the surface a pane of glass skillfully framed into the wood. Six comfortably padded black chairs sat around the table matching in wood and color. There was another door in the corner of this room that led down to the kitchens. Everything was remarkably low to the ground, leaving James and Lily the impression that this was a room designed for a house elf.

Harry crossed the kitchen to another door which opened up to a hallway containing a storage room and a spare bedroom with a small winding staircase that ascended to the first floor level. The door was located at the end of the house’s main hallway across from another door placed directly underneath the staircase.

“I’m not technically happy with this room’s location, seeing as it reminds me too much of life back at the Dursleys. But I wanted a study put in and there was no other location to put it.” Harry sighed before pushing the door under the staircase open.

A magnificent study was revealed inside. Another fireplace, smaller than the living room’s, stood in the farthest wall from the door, a built-in bookshelf was on the left, the first three out of ten rows already filled with books, while a desk with drawers and a tall-backed chair sat against the opposite wall. A large yellow and gold rug had been laid in the middle of the floor over the deep blue carpet and a couple of arm chairs and a small table had been placed near the bookshelf.

“Let’s check upstairs,” said Harry after giving the room a once over.

The upper floor consisted of four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The landing was also carpeted the same color as the downstairs living room. Two smaller rooms and one bathroom were on the left side of the house while on the right were one more small room and the master bed and bath rooms. The master bedroom was the only room upstairs that held any kind of furniture. A king sized mattress stood against the wall in the middle of the room, a nightstand on either side. A thick deep red quilt had been laid out on the bed with intricate patterns that swirled and curled.

A closet occupied the entire right hand of the room, empty cupboards on either side with a long bar extending from one end to the other, complete with hangers ready for use. The master bathroom was on the other side of the room. A built-in-the-floor bathtub was in the center of the room, an empty wicker cabinet for towels and other necessary bathroom supplies stood against the wall next to the toilet and cupboard containing two separate sinks. A shower had also been built in to the far wall if one desired to take that instead of an actual bath.

After briefly overseeing the top floor, Harry led his parents back to the main level, where they entered the living room area. A fire had been started while they were perusing. James and Lily were apprehensive at once but Harry was totally at ease. Before either of his parents could ask who had started the fire, Kreacher appeared from the dining room entrance way, his hands carrying a tray with biscuits and a cup of tea. He placed the tray on the table and bowed.

“Thanks Kreacher,” said Harry, before taking a sip of the tea. “I appreciate you getting the fire started.”

Kreacher bowed again. “Master Harry had told Kreacher to expect him at the new house on Christmas Day. Once Kreacher felt master’s presence at the house, he apparated here immediately and set to work.”

Harry smiled. “I really appreciate you taking care of this place, Kreacher. I promise that soon we’ll have more company once school is over.”

“Ahhh, yes!” Kreacher said enthused. “Mistress Ginny will be here then, yes?”

Harry nodded. “Yes, she will. Actually, tomorrow we’re coming to check out the house. I’m planning around lunch time. Do you think you could have something prepared?”

Kreacher bowed. “Of course, Master Harry.”

Smiling, Harry thanked the elf again before dismissing him to other duties. Harry let out a sigh after the elf disappeared. James and Lily had watched this exchange in silence as well as Harry’s current expression. He seemed exasperated. Harry, picking up a biscuit, noticed their stares.

“What is it?” he asked.

James shook his head. “I’m just still finding it odd how much you appreciate your house elf, Harry. It’s so different from all the other house elf owners I’ve ever met.”

Harry noted that his father wasn’t trying to be condescending. He was simply baffled. Harry grinned. “I kind of like to see other people’s reactions when I do that – makes a pretty great laugh. Mind you, I don’t do it for show. I just naturally act that way.”

“We know, Harry,” said Lily. She looked around the room. “This house is wonderful! I’m sure Ginny is going to love it.”

“I have noticed one thing, son,” said James.

“What’s that?”

“There’s nothing on the walls. No pictures, no posters, no mirrors; it’s kind of creepy.”

Harry laughed. “Well, I told them to keep the walls bare since I thought Ginny might like to fill them herself. Although…there is one picture I already possess that’s going to hang in the study over the fireplace.”

James’s brow furrowed. “I didn’t see any picture frame in there.”

“That’s because it’s the second portrait of Dumbledore,” Harry explained.

His parents stared.

“You get the sister portrait of Dumbledore?” James asked, shocked. “I thought they would have hung it in some room in the Ministry.”

“To be honest, I thought that as well,” said Harry, “but apparently the old man wanted me to have the other picture; said so in his will. Probably so he can continue to watch over me even though he should be enjoying the afterlife.”

Laughing at Harry’s sarcasm, James shook his head. “It makes sense. I suppose you don’t have it yet because he’s still alive?”

“Actually, the Ministry is planning to give it to me as a wedding present,” Harry explained before sipping more of his tea.

Lily raised an eyebrow. “You mean this house isn’t it?”

Harry shook his head. “No, the house is a thank you for destroying the most powerful dark wizard of all time. They wanted and expected me to want more than that but I told them this was enough. Although they did say that I was already given a sure pass into the auror’s program. I insisted that I wanted to be accepted like everyone else, you know, getting good grades on my N.E.W.T.s, passing the training tests, and all that but they didn’t listen. They handed me the acceptance letter anyway.”

Harry sighed, appearing truly upset about this.

“Why does that bother you?” James asked, wanting to understand. He silently envied his son. The training had been grueling work and extremely taxing in some areas. He would have traded all that for a free pass any day.

“I just want to be like everybody else,” Harry muttered. “I want to try to accomplish things on my own, without anyone’s help, without anyone holding my hand as if I were still a child. I just want to prove that it’s all me and me alone. Not some highly rich or respectable wizard pushing me through the ranks simply because I’m The Boy Who Lived.”

He took a bite from one of the biscuits and let out another sigh.

“If they handed you the acceptance of being an auror, why did you return to school?” asked Lily, more to keep conversation going.

Harry smiled. “I think you of all people can understand wanting a fair grade, mum. I’ve heard all about how you were always shooting for the top grades and gaining as much magical education as you could.”

Lily chuckled. “I suppose that’s about right.”

“It’s way more accurate than that,” muttered James. “Sometimes she’d stay in the library for six hours on the weekends. It used to drive me crazy.”

“I didn’t do that in seventh year,” Lily defended.

“No, I’m talking about your first five years,” James elaborated.

“How’d you know I used to do that?”

“I spied on you.”

“James!”

“What? I liked you, Lils. It was only natural for me to spy on you back then. Besides, the second you saw me you’d turn tail and run in the opposite direction. The only way I could get a good look at you was when I spied.”

Harry cleared his throat. “Anyway, the point is I’m going to finish school and then start auror training.”

Lily still seemed to want to converse about James spying on her but her husband seemed totally enthralled with Harry’s conversation. Sighing, Lily let it go. The family talked for a couple more hours before Lily managed to somehow bring the conversation around to Severus Snape.

“James,” she whispered, breaking the short silence that had spread up around the family.

“Yeah, Lils?”

Lily swallowed. “T-There’s something…I need to talk to you…about…” her voice became smaller and smaller as she finished her sentence.

James looked up from his chess game with Harry to fully look at his wife. “What’s up, Lily? Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong,” Lily replied hurriedly.

James’s eyebrows rose. “Lily…”

“Yes?”

“You’re stuttering and talking fast.”

“So?”

“That always means you’re nervous about something. What’s wrong?”

Lily let out a long sigh.

“Go on, mum,” Harry encouraged.

James looked at him and then to Lily, obviously feeling left out because Harry seemed to know what was disturbing his wife so much.

“Okay,” Lily muttered, “here goes…”

Lily explained everything, starting at the beginning when she’d first met Severus Snape. James’s nose wrinkled when he realized the topic of this conversation was a man he had detested his whole life. He tried to interrupt Lily at first but she adamantly insisted that this needed to be discussed. It wasn’t until Harry joined her side that James conceded to listen.

Harry had to help his mom in certain parts of the story: the prophecy Snape overheard, his conversations with Dumbledore in private, and any other small details he felt like adding in to his mother’s account. The tale came to an end. Lily had tears in her eyes once more, Harry was having trouble staring at either parent, and James was in shock. He came to his feet and paced away to the fireplace before leaning on the mantle.

“So he was the one…” he muttered more to himself than to the other two. “He warned Dumbledore…he made sure we went into hiding…because he…because…”

He looked at Lily.

“He loved you his whole life, didn’t he?”

Lily nodded, tears trailing down her cheeks. “Yes, James. He did.”

James sighed. “Did…did you...” – he swallowed painfully – “Did you ever love him?”

“I loved him as a friend, James. That’s all. And when he started following after the ways of Voldemort, I couldn’t agree with his choices. Ending our friendship was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

James frowned.

“He was my first friend, James,” Lily said. “He introduced me to magic. We looked out for each other. He helped me so many times, in so many ways. I know you’ve never wanted to talk about it but you need to realize that Severus is part of my past. He always will be. And though his intentions of protection failed, he saved our son. We owe him, James.”

James clenched his fists. “It was all for you. Your tears prove you care about him.”

Lily stood up. She came over and grabbed James’s hands, desperately trying to make him understand her feelings. “James, I love you. I chose you! I married you! Not him! Severus will always be my friend but he isn’t my best friend. My best friend is someone who has always watched out for me; even when I didn’t want him to. He was annoyingly handsome, he was incredibly smart and hotheaded, he thought everyone worshipped him, he went out of his way to make my early years miserable, he made my seventh year in school the best of all years, he took care of and nurtured my pains, celebrated my joys, shared in my sorrows, gave me a wonderful home, love, and a son. You are my best friend.”

James looked into her eyes, studying her intently. It had been years, almost a lifetime ago it seemed, that he had to concern himself with the emotions he was now once more experiencing. Gently removing Lily’s hands from his own, he stepped away.

“I need to be alone,” he muttered. Turning on his heel, he left the house, closing the door and stepping out into the winter chill.

Harry looked at his mother. She was standing in the same place, her hands still outstretched, almost as if waiting for James to come back and fill the empty space. Harry couldn’t truly explain what he was feeling. He wasn’t angry with his father for walking out. He was nervous. This revelation of Snape wasn’t going to tear their family apart, was it? Harry prayed it didn’t.

He looked at his mother. “He’s going to come back, isn’t he?” even to him his voice sounded like a child.

Lily looked at him with furrowed brows. “Oh, Harry,” she muttered, coming over to join him on the couch. She put an arm around him. “I’m not sure what he’s going to do.”

“But he’s going to come back!” Harry said, pleading for reassurance. “He’s not going to abandon us, is he?”

Lily kissed his head. “We’ll just have to have faith in him, Harry,” she whispered. It was obvious that she was trying to reassure herself just as much as her son. “He’ll come back…..he’ll definitely come back.


Chapter 19: James's Final Decision
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

AN – this chapter will take place in James point of view

James didn’t really know where he was going. All he knew was that his feet were propelling him forward. He wanted to get away from the revelations that had just been voiced. To James, they felt like multiple slaps in the face.

James crossed a small bridge over a frozen stream. The bridge led into a children’s park. Back in his mortal days, it was this location that he sought out whenever he was troubled. The park was vacant at the moment. Sighing heavily, James sat down on a snowy park bench and put his head in his hands. His mind wandered through the conversation he’d just endured…

“James, he overheard the prophecy about Harry and tried to protect us by asking if Dumbledore would make us go into hiding. He agreed to remain a Death Eater so as to keep Harry safe….”

Harry’s words rang in his ears, replacing Lily’s…

“Before he died, he asked me to look at him. I found out afterword that his request was so he could see mum’s eyes one last time….”

James groaned. “Why?” he whispered aloud. “Why do I have to deal with this?”

These emotions were like scars, scars that refused to heal. After he’d secured Lily’s hand, James had been sure that he could bury these emotions forever. But now they had returned. The horrible thing was, he was dead and he still had to deal with them! Didn’t death usually promise to bring relief? Why was he still suffering then? Just admitting to the emotions ripping him up inside caused his heart to burn. But he needed to be honest with himself.

He had been jealous of Snape when he was at school and he was jealous that the man still obviously held a place in his wife’s heart.

The first day James had seen Lily on the Hogwarts Express back in their first year, he had been completely smitten. He’d thought she was an angel. And then he saw that the angel had a small gorgon trailing along behind her, a gorgon that would never leave her side. And the angel seemed to be completely fine with having the foul creature around! In fact, she even enjoyed his company! And to add salt to the wound, she enjoyed the gorgon more than she enjoyed James, who clearly was the knight.

Every time James saw the two of them together, he would feel his stomach tie up in uncomfortable knots. The constant pranking of Severus Snape had mostly been a way to satisfy those feelings. Not to mention the guy had had a natural desire to follow the dark arts. James had known this about him from the start. Perhaps that had been another reason he wanted Lily away from Snape; he didn’t want her to get affected by the same nonsense.

But now Lily and Harry had shared a story about him turning his back on the Dark Arts and sacrificing everything out of love. Yes, it was disturbing that Snape loved his wife. James would have outright denied it was true except everything that had just been revealed to him pointed to the actions of one who truly was in love. If James put himself in Snape’s position (which caused him to cringe just thinking about the idea), he would have done the same. Loving Lily, if he had overheard anything that would have caused harm to come to her, he would have done everything in his power to keep her safe.

Although James hated admitting it, Severus Snape had shown explicit bravery. But actually admitting this was not enough. There was something further that James needed to do, something that would ensure peace to his mind. He only now realized that until this was taken care of, he would never experience true, complete paradise.

Sighing, James lifted his head and gasped.

A man stood at the other side of the park, right by the entrance. He was wearing a deep black cloak, obviously to protect himself from the bitter cold, as well as a silent calculating expression. It was Severus Snape. James raised his eyes towards the heavens kind of thinking that their timing was obvious: they wanted things to be settled between the two men now.

James rubbed a hand behind his neck, sighed, and made his way over to where Severus stood. The previous Potions Master stiffened slightly, as if he were anticipating some hidden attack. James kept his hands at his sides, hoping that by so doing Snape wouldn’t think he was trying to go for his wand.

James stopped right in front of Severus and stared at him. The man looked as pale as he had when he was alive though his ‘greasy’ black hair appeared to not be in the same state as from James’s memories. His black eyes were narrowed, slightly suspicious, and a frown was clearly displayed on his lips.

“Severus, can’t say I’m surprised to see you,” said James.

Severus’s eyebrows rose. “Really, Potter? You look as if you have been expecting me.”

James sighed. “Well, to be honest, I’m a little shocked but not altogether surprised either.”

“And why is that?” Severus asked with a sneer.

James tried to keep the bitterness from his demeanor and tone as he invited Snape to join him on the bench he’d previously been occupying. The Potions Master studied him intently before following him past the playground equipment. Once seated on the snowy bench, James tried to find a way to speak his thoughts. An awkward silence descended upon them along with new flurries of snow fluttering down from the sky.

“Good Merlin, Potter,” Snape muttered, “Your silence could cause a skeleton to shake its frame in irritation. What is it that you wish to discuss with me?”

Hearing the bitterness and slight anger in Severus’s tone, James tried to start by asking a simple question. “How did you get here?”

Snape scowled. “One of the Higher Ups knocked on my door and told me I was going somewhere. Next thing I know I’m getting kicked out of Paradise and finding myself in a muggle children’s park with my least favorite person in existence sitting on this miserable bench.”

James pursed his lips. “Look, I’m sorry you were unceremoniously chucked out of your house -”

“–Obviously your doing –”

“–but there’s something that I need to get off my chest,” James finished despite the interruption.

Snape sneered. “And why in Merlin’s name do you need me to listen to you so you can get whatever it is off your chest? Why not get one of you little marauder friends to listen? I’m sure they’re more than satisfactory for this purpose.”

“The thing I need to discuss, Severus, is you,” James snapped angrily.

Snape blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“You! You! For the love of snitches, it’s you, dang it!”

James stood and began pacing back and forth, occasionally kicking the snow under his feet. Severus’s eyes followed him back and forth.

“As much as I love to see you having a nervous breakdown,” Severus said, interrupting James’s silent pacing, “I hate to admit that I’m curious as to why I’m a problem for you.”

James looked at him mutinously. For a moment Snape thought he would draw his wand but then the marauder sat down and let out a heavy sigh. Deciding to keep his comments to himself, Snape waited for James to speak.

“Do you know why I hated you so much, Severus?” James asked, looking Snape right in the eye.

Severus scowled. “I think I have a pretty good idea.”

“Care to share it then?”

“I was always trying to get you in trouble, to blame things on you. And you also obviously hated my disgusting fascination with the Dark Arts.”

James studied him. “Well, the last one is right. But do you know why I started pranking you specifically?

Snape became agitated. “You thought I was annoying? Ugly? Not as popular? A freak? I don’t know!”

James’s eyebrows rose. “Seriously? You thought I found you all those things?”

Snape’s annoyance reached its paramount. “Obviously,” he spat. “What else would have caused you to act so cruelly towards me?”

James actually let out a small chuckle of disbelief. To him it had been so obvious! Had Snape really not known the true emotion behind his bitterness?

Snape’s face blotched angrily. “Is that what this is? The Higher Ups just thought to send me here so you could laugh?” He stood up. “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.”

He began walking towards the park’s entrance and exit. Part of James wanted him to keep walking but another part, a greater part, told him that now was the time to tell Severus the truth.

“I was jealous,” James said loudly.

Snape stopped. His back had gone ridged. Snow danced between the two men, swirling around in silent, chilly breezes. The swings creaked lightly back and forth. Snape turned around slowly. “What?”

James closed his eyes. “I was jealous. That’s why I pranked you. That’s why I ridiculed you, hurt you, made fun of you. I was jealous.”

Snape stared at him with disbelief. His mouth slightly open, his black eyes wide with surprise, he said, “And why in the world would you be jealous of me?”

James breathed in deeply. “Because Lily was always with you; because she always liked you! From first to fifth year I was jealous of how I wasn’t the one by her side. It was always you. You always got to be near her, laugh with her, cry with her, comfort her, everything. I wanted that more than anything. That’s why I was jealous. A small fraction of the pranking was because you were into the dark arts but the major part was done out of jealousy.”

Snape blinked several times. James stood still, waiting for his laughter to begin, waiting for a gloating sneer to spread across his face. But none came. Snape looked pained.

“You were jealous of me…because I was with her all those years?”

“Yes,” said James, slightly irritated. “How many times do I have to say that?”

Snape’s black eyes moved back and forth, taking in James’s expressions. “I never would have thought that you would be jealous of me, Potter. Since, for me, I harbored the same feeling towards you.”

James made a pfft sound. “Why would you be jealous of me?”

“Hmmm, let’s see…” Severus said with heavy sarcasm, “Pureblood, both parents love you, most popular in school, magnificent magical capabilities… Must I say more?”

James blinked. “Why does any of that stuff matter? You had Lily. To me, that’s all that matters.”

It was Severus’s turn to be surprised. “You mean to say you always had feelings for her? Despite everything else? Despite all those other girls who obviously loved you?”

James rolled his eyes. “I didn’t notice or care about any of that, Snape. I thought it was obvious how much I loved Lily.”

“Well, I hate to break it to you but it wasn’t obvious,” Snape confirmed.

“Hmmm, guess that explains why Lily never really believed me every time I confessed to her.”

Snape rolled his eyes and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like “git”. James eyed him warily. The two stared at each other for a long moment and then Severus sighed.

“This entire conversation doesn’t matter. Lily chose you.” Snape’s voice was filled with so much pain and anguish over this that James merely gaped at him. How could he not have noticed before? It was so obvious now.

“Severus,” he muttered, feeling awkward, “I didn’t know you loved her too.”

Snape’s head snapped up sharply. “What?”

James blinked. “You loved her, right? That’s why you warned Dumbledore about Voldemort being after us and why you protected Harry the whole time.”

Snape looked like he could spit venom. His eyes flashing dangerously, he stood up. “Your son needs to learn to keep his mouth shut!” he spat with malice. “I should have known; Potter was a spitting image of you.” He looked James up and down with revulsion. “He always meddled in everything, sticking out his neck, always needing to be rescued. Thinking he was the greatest thing in the world, strutting around the castle the same as you.”

James became defensive. “Harry is very different from me! He’s not as arrogant and prideful! True he does have some of my qualities but if your blind eyes would just look passed the flaws he inherited you’d see he has a lot of his mother in him! Besides, Harry wasn’t the one who told me the truth.”

“Who was it?” Snape asked angrily. “Albus?”

James shook his head. “No. It was Lily.”

The anger faded from Snape’s face. “What?”

“She saw everything, Severus. She was watching over Harry when he entered the pensieve and witnessed your memories. She figured everything out the same time Harry did. And you know what? She cried. She cried, Severus! She was devastated over what happened to you! She was bawling as she told me everything! Can you believe that? After all these years of being married to me she still cares about you! Imagine how that feels! The jealousy I thought I had buried at our wedding resurfaced like an angry dragon ready to spit fire.”

“She cried?” Severus asked, bemused. “Why?”

James shrugged. “I don’t know,” he snapped. “I guess you’re still special to her somehow.”

Snape looked as if someone had shocked him with a thousand volts of electricity. He didn’t seem elated by this news. He was intently surprised. James observed him in silent loathing, hating that he had to explain this aloud. It had been bad enough in his head.

“But…how could she still care for me? I became what she hated, what she detested. She never spoke to me again after that. Ever. She married you, she forgot about me. Why would she cry?”

“Why don’t we go and ask her?” James asked savagely. He was hating this discussion even more than before, especially since part of him wanted to comfort the gorgon before him.

“Could we?” Snape asked, suddenly sounding hopeful.

James scowled. “If we have to. But first, there’s still something I have to do.”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “And what might that be, Potter?”

James closed his eyes and turned around. “Give me a minute,” he muttered. “This needs to be heartfelt and I don’t want to have to repeat myself.”

Snape, slightly alarmed with the words ‘heartfelt’ coming from James directed straight at him, took a couple steps backward. Thinking that James was going to pull out his wand and blast him to relieve some of his anger, Snape found his wand pocket and waited, tense.

James turned around, perfectly calm. Holding out a hand, he said with perfect sincerity, “Thank you for warning Dumbledore and protecting Harry til the end. I know you did it all for Lily but I still feel like I need to express thanks so…” he continued to hold his hand out.

Severus glanced at it then at James’s face several times before accepting the handshake. “Don’t think this changes how I feel towards you, Potter.”

“I hate you still too,” James replied, except for some reason there was no hatred in his tone. “Come on. Lily and Harry are back at the house.”

After a split second of indecision, the Potions Master followed after James who led the way back to Harry’s place.

*~*~*~*~

 Harry and Lily were still in the living room when James reentered the house. Severus was reluctant to step inside but after one backward look from James, he came in and closed the door behind him. James came around the corner. Lily rushed over and gave him a kiss the moment she saw him.

“Missed me, Lils?” James asked, grinning at the obvious passion displayed in her kiss.

Her green eyes filled with silent frustration but melted into relief as she put her head on his chest. “I didn’t know what to do,” she muttered. Then she looked up and noticed Severus watching them wearily. “Severus!”

“What?” Harry called from the living room.

Lily let go of James and stepped over to her  childhood friend. “Severus,” she said again, her voice filled with mixed emotions. “I…I don’t know what to say…”

Harry appeared around the corner. “Professor!” he said.

The tone of his voice completely surprised Severus. It lacked every hostile emotion. Stunned, Snape nodded in his direction, trying to keep his sneer. “Potter.”

Harry grinned. “It’s good to see you again, Professor.”

Snape cocked an eyebrow. “Really?”

Harry nodded. Then he shuffled his feet. “There was a lot that was left unsaid after you passed,” he muttered.

“And what unarticulated words from the famous Potter must I be tortured into listening to this time?”

Lily cracked a smile. “You really hate him as much as James, don’t you, Sev?”

Snape’s cold demeanor melted a little as he heard the old nickname she’d given to him all those years ago. Trying to ignore the look of derision on James face, Snape managed to shrug. “He’s a spitting image of him, Lily. Hard to ignore that, I must say.”

Lily rolled her eyes before returning them to his face. She smiled kindly and to Snape’s alarm tears started to form in her eyes. “Oh…Sev…”

James came over and put an arm around Lily. “I told you, Snape. You made her cry.”

Severus took a step forward as if he wanted to be the one to comfort Lily but James tightened his hold on his wife and gave a pretty direct warning of “hands off”. Severus sighed and lowered his hands.

“Do you want to come in and sit down, Professor?” Harry asked, pointing to the living room.

Grateful for a little distraction, James redirected this a second time when Snape didn’t automatically answer.

Snape shuffled his feet. “I’m not sure I’m welcome here.”

Harry blinked in disbelief. “Why would you not be?”

James rolled his eyes. “Come in Snape. If I didn’t want you here I would have slammed the door in your face.”

Slightly peeved, the Potions Master accepted Harry’s invitation and sat down in one of the arm chairs close to the fire. Once the three Potters sat down together comfortably on the couch, Lily decided to be the first to speak.

“How have you been?” she asked innocently.

Severus shrugged. “Not too bad. Living in Paradise without having to worry about Voldemort manipulating you is a pretty restful afterlife in my opinion. I figure that Potter is also grateful for the relaxation.”

Harry grinned. “It’s nice not being Undesirable no. 1.”

Snape snorted. “Yes…now you must deal with the increased fame; how tragically unfortunate.”

Harry grimaced. “You may still believe that I enjoy the attention, professor, but I can definitely assure you that’s the last thing I want.”

“Then, out of bored curiosity I must ask, what is it that you do want, Potter?”

“To be left alone,” said Harry, “To make my own way in the wizarding world without being pampered or spoon-fed from anyone. Oh, and getting this blasted curse off. Speaking of which…” he glanced at the clock and sighed. “My times up.”

Severus was about to ask if it was the same curse as the one he’d witnessed back in Dumbledore’s office when Harry landed on all fours and gasped in pain. James and Lily looked on sadly. Harry’s whole form shuddered. James winced inside as his son cried out; they felt like icicles stabbing his heart. For the hundredth time James wished he could find whoever had done this and wring their neck with his own hands.

James glanced at Severus. The man’s face held slight surprise as he witnessed the terrible transformation. Harry gasped several seconds later, breathing sharply.

“Son, are you alright?” James asked as the stag shuddered violently.

“Yeah,” Harry mumbled. “Sorry you had to see that, professor.”

Snape continued to stare at him. After a long pause, “That transformation was worse than the one in Dumbledore’s office, wasn’t it, Potter?”

The stag look over at him and nodded reluctantly. “Yes.”

Severus looked to James. “Why have they gotten worse?”

James shrugged. “We haven’t been able to figure that out yet. Albus has been doing some research but so far we’re hitting dead ends.”

“Hmmm,” Snape muttered, observing Harry again.

There was a sudden knock on the door. James looked down to Harry. “You want me to get that?”

Harry nodded. “Please. I hope it’s not a neighbor.”

“I’ll scare them off if they are,” James promised.

He got up and went to the door. Opening it, he was surprised to find Sirius, Elle, Tonks, Remus, Aberforth, and Albus standing on the doorstep.

“What are all of you doing here?” he asked, perplexed.

“We figured that Harry had transformed so we thought we’d invite ourselves over,” said Sirius. “The Weasleys wanted to join us but Molly put her foot down and shot the idea. So, can we come in?”

James bit his lip. “Look, Sirius, Remus, you two need to make me a promise.”

Remus’s brow furrowed. “What is it, James?”

“Promise me that you won’t attack anything inside the house,” James said, his voice almost pleading. The last thing he wanted was a magic fight to destroy his son’s new home.

Sirius put a hand on James’s shoulder. “Relax, Prongs. I’m sure there’s nothing in there that will make me go ballistic.”

He tried to sidestep him but James didn’t move. “Sirius, promise me.”

Sirius frowned. “Fine, if it’s that imperative, I promise.”

Albus gave James a questioning glance. James shook his head before opening the door. “We have company,” he called.

“Who is it, honey?” Lily asked.

Everyone filed into the living room entrance way. A collective gasp echoed off the empty walls as Snape stood up.

“What is he doing here?” Sirius demanded, going for his wand.

“Sirius, your promise,” James warned.

Sirius bristled. “You’re kidding, right?”

Albus stepped forward and, surprising everyone in the room, wrapped his arms around Severus in a brief warm embrace. “It is good to see you again, Severus.”

Snape took a step backward. “What was the hug for?”

Albus grinned. “An old man’s display of gratitude. You followed my instructions to the letter, Severus. And in doing so you ensured Harry’s victory.”

“I failed in your last instructions, Albus,” Severus muttered. “He killed me before I could complete them. I don’t expect praise for failure.”

“You didn’t fail.”

Snape looked down at Harry who was staring at him intently. “What?”

“Your intentions were to come find me to tell me the truth,” said Harry, straightening his neck. “But Voldemort wouldn’t let you go no matter how insistent you were. He was too driven by the false notion of owning the Elder Wand. Thinking that you were the only one who stood in the way of getting that power, he killed you.”  

Snape stared at him. Everyone stood frozen. Harry kept his gaze locked on his professor. Snape leaned against the wall. “How did you get there, Potter?” he muttered. “How did you know where Voldemort and I were that night?”

“I only had the snake left to kill so I looked into his thoughts and found him in the Shrieking Shack. When I got there, you were discussing what I just explained. I watched as he gave the order for Nagini to kill you. I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Snape demanded defensively.

“For not saving you,” Harry whispered, looking at the floor. “I wish I had…now that I know the truth…”

“What truth?” Sirius asked, stepping forward.

Snape growled. “When will you learn to keep your mouth shut, Potter?”

James turned to Severus. “Do you want me to explain this?”

“I’d rather you left it alone, Potter,” Severus snapped angrily.

Dumbledore smiled. “My dear Severus, don’t you think they have a right to know your story?”

“No I do not, Albus. I told you my opinion on the matter when I was alive and it is still the same in death.”

“But your story is so tied in to Harry’s history,” said Albus. “It will be made known one day, Severus. You’re already dead. You can’t stop someone from sharing what they know in a certain biography about themselves.” His eyes twinkled as they landed on Harry.

Snape stepped forward. “Don’t you dare, Potter!”

The stag stared up at him. “But Professor, you are part of my life story. And I’d been repeatedly told throughout my fifth year that I must not tell lies.”

Snape snarled angrily, spinning around on his heel to face the wall where he could fume in silence.

“Is someone going to elaborate on what exactly is going on here?” Elle asked.

Sirius looked at James. “You’d better start explaining.”

James sighed. “Actually, Lily and Harry will have to share the story with you. They know it better than everyone…besides Severus anyway.”

Snape huffed indignantly in response.

Albus chuckled. “Come, Severus, Lily can’t give all the details.”

“Please, Sev?”

Snape stiffened. Then he let out a heavy sigh and turned around. “Fine.”

“Take a seat everyone,” Albus invited. “This is one of my favorite tales.”

Severus glared at the Headmaster. James tried not to smile. Settling next to Lily on the couch, he put his arm around her and waited once more to be told the story that would leave his insides tangled in knots.

*~*~*~*~

“That could have been worse,” Lily muttered.

She and James had decided to take a late night stroll now that things had settled down back at Harry’s place. Sirius and Remus hadn’t taken the news very well. They were in complete shock, the same as James had been the first time he’d heard it. They still harbored a type of odium to Severus but, like James, they couldn’t bring themselves to hate him in the amounts that they used to.

Harry had fallen asleep shortly after the account. Everyone decided to stay the night, finding spare bedrooms to sleep in. Albus had insisted that Severus stay the night though the man had been obviously thinking of sneaking back to Paradise. It was only after Lily insisted that he stay that Severus gave in.

“I don’t know what to think,” James muttered. “It’s obvious that Harry holds him with respect.”

Lily lifted one half of her lips. “Yes, he does. Severus showed an incredible amount of bravery and that really speaks to him since he had to display it his whole life.”

James sighed. “He never saw me being brave.”

“Yes he did.”

“When?” James asked, doubtful.

“When Voldemort came to attack us,” Lily reminded. “Harry saw you stand up to him, remember?”

James was not assured by this. “I didn’t have a wand though. I’d been a complete git and left it sitting on the couch in the living room. What kind of father does that?”

“James, I didn’t have my wand on me either,” Lily said. “I left it in the kitchen. We were living in what we thought was a safe environment. How were we supposed to know that Peter would betray us?”

James growled, “The foul, lowlife scum.”

Lily squeezed his hand. “He was scared, James. He never was strong like you or Sirius or Remus. He flocked to those with the most power. Some people are like that.”

James sighed. “Yeah, I know. Hey, Lils?”

“Yes?”

James stopped under a streetlamp. He pulled her close to him, feeling her warm body against his own. Lily buried her face in his neck and snaked her arms around his back. James closed his eyes, savoring the smell of her hair, the softness of her touch, the warmth of her heart.

“You’re never going to leave me, right?” he whispered into her hair.

Lily pulled away just enough to kiss the bottom of his chin. “Why would I do that?” she asked gently.

James tried to fight the insecurities stirring beneath the surface. “You get along really well with him. He was your first best friend.”

Lily sighed. “James, I can’t believe you’re still afraid about something as trivial as that. Sev is my friend.”

“You never gave me a nickname.”

“How about githead?”

James snorted, his nerves relaxing some from the joke. “Not funny, Lils.”

“You laughed.”

“Yeah, I suppose I did.”

Lily looked up at him with her brilliant green eyes. They swirled like liquid emeralds, glittering brilliantly in the light of the lamppost. James cupped her cheek.

“Such beauty,” he whispered, “It’s only natural for me to be worried that I won’t be able to keep it all to myself.”

Lily blushed but firmly replied, “Well, I hate to break it to you but my beauty has been captured forever.”

James tensed a little. “By whom?” he asked.

Lily leaned up on her tiptoes. Putting her lips right at the base of James earlobe, she whispered, “It has been captured…by a stag.”

She pulled away, displaying a genuine smile, before kissing him passionately on the lips. “I love you, James,” she said softly.

“I love you too, Lils.”

He held her tightly, sending a thankful prayer to the heavens for this wonderful woman who had quieted his fears, who loved him for who he was, and had decided to stay by his side forever.

 ~*~*~*~

The next morning, James woke before Lily. He watched her sleep for a while before finally deciding to get out of bed. Pulling the covers up around her, he kissed her forehead and slipped from the room. The landing was still dark, the brightness of dawn just barely creeping upon the horizon. James stretched, sighed, and descended the stairs. If memory served him right, Severus was sleeping in the basement bedroom.

James glanced in the living room briefly to check up on Harry. Harry was sweating profusely, his breathing sharp and painful. He’d just changed back. James magicked a cloth with his wand, stepped over to his son, and wiped his brow. Harry’s skin felt like ice. He shivered from the warmth of James touch. Pulling Harry’s blanket securely over his shoulders, James looked down on his son. Normally he wouldn’t have done this but he’d been deprived of so many things. He bent down and kissed Harry’s forehead.

Ruffling his son’s hair, he stood up and continued on his way down to the basement. Reaching the door to the spare room, James hesitated. Would Severus be up this early? Spirits didn’t necessarily need to sleep; they rested out of habit. Still, there was a possibility that Severus could be sleeping. Only one way to find out. Swallowing the lump in his throat, James raised his hand and knocked three times.

Severus came to the door at once. “Potter?”

“Can I come in?”

Severus eyed him suspiciously before stepping aside. After closing the door he asked, “What do you need?”

James decided to get right to the point. Looking him right in the eye, he said, “I came to apologize.”

Snape’s eyes widened. “I beg your pardon?”

“I’m sorry,” James repeated. “I’m sorry for all the things I did to you in school, I’m sorry for hating you, and I’m sorry for being jealous.”

Severus blinked. “Are you ill?”

“No.”

“Are you sure? You don’t need a potion or anything?”

“No.”

“Huh…” Severus suddenly began to smirk. “Well, I must say this is different. What brought about this change in you?”

James tried not to grit his teeth. In a voice of forced calm he said, “Snape, I came to apologize. Do you accept my apologies or not?”

Severus studied him. “You’re being serious,” he muttered. It wasn’t a question. James waited. Severus sighed. “I forgive you, Potter. And now I must ask something.”

“What?”

“Will you forgive me for becoming a Death Eater and practicing the Dark Arts? I hope I made it clear how much I detest them in my explanation earlier.”

If previously asked this, James would have said no. But now, since they had finally decided to put their childhood hatreds aside, James nodded. “I forgive you. Thank you for everything you’ve done…Severus.”

Severus stared at him. “Thank you…James.”

Somehow, it didn’t seem weird now for Snape to be calling him by his first name. James suddenly realized that now he’d said and done what he’d set out to do, he had no idea what to say next. Thankfully Severus helped him out.

Sneering, he asked, “Are you going to bunker down here? Because I can leave the room if you want.”

James rolled his eyes. “No thanks. Why would I want a bed you’d just spent the night sleeping in anyway?”

Severus, still sneering, asked, “Then what are you doing here still?”

“I have no idea.”

“Allow me to show you to the door?”

“No, that’s okay. I can find it myself.”

Severus smirked. “Good day, then.”

“Yeah, see you,” James said before turning around and exiting the room.

As James headed back upstairs, he realized something. For the first time in his afterlife, he felt completely at peace.


Chapter 20: A Day in the Rafters
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The day before Harry and the others were supposed to return to Hogwarts, a surprise visitor showed up at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley answered the door. Standing on the steps, wearing white jeans, a white tee shirt, and tons of gold jewelry, was Alexandria Write.

“Can I help you?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

Alex swallowed but tried to smile pleasantly through her nerves. “Hello. I’m looking for Draco. I was told he was staying here.”

“Oh, yes, he is.” Mrs. Weasley looked her over once more with a curious expression before inviting her inside.

“What are you doing here?” Draco demanded the second he saw her.

Alex stared at him smugly. “I came to see you, snakehead.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Snakehead?”

“Keep out of it, Potter,” Draco muttered before standing up to give Alex a hug. “Seriously,” he said, looking her up and down, “I thought you said your dad wouldn’t let you visit me over the holiday.”

“I told him today was the day that school started again,” she explained, shrugging. “He doesn’t need to know all the details. Besides, after you wrote about what happened here I wanted to make sure everything was alright. Are you okay Harry? Ginny?”

Both nodded. “We didn’t get hurt,” Harry promised.

Alex seemed to relax. “That’s wonderful news. Have there been any Death Eater sightings since then?”

Mr. Weasley shook his head. He was about to go into work. “Nothing at the Ministry has been reported.”

“And nothing from the Order members either,” Dumbledore supplied.

Alex jumped. “Professor! I didn’t see you there.”

Dumbledore smiled over his plate of scrambled eggs. “That is quite alright, Miss Write. When one’s gaze is strictly focused on their beloved it is hard for them to see much else.”

Both Draco and Alex’s faces turned as red as the Weasleys hair. Everyone tried not to laugh. Alex cleared her throat. “Yes, well, you are right, of course, sir.”

“Do you fancy a walk?” Draco asked, clearly desperate to leave the house.

Alex nodded.

“Stay within the barriers, Mr. Malfoy,” Dumbledore called as the two headed out the front door. After it closed he said to no one in particular, “Getting along quite nicely, those two.”

Aberforth frowned. “And why the sudden interest, Albus?”

“You know I always have an interest in my students, brother.”

“Where their education is concerned,” Aberforth pointed out.

Albus shrugged. “You of all people should understand the joy I experience of seeing love blossom.”

Aberforth snorted into his mug of coffee. “No comment,” he muttered.

Harry found Ginny staring out the front window, her brown eyes following Draco and Alex with slight caution. Leaning over to speak lowly, he said, “You’re being a little overprotective, don’t you think?”

Ginny jumped and turned to focus on Harry. “I just want to make sure they stay in the boundary.”

Harry, perceiving that there was more she was leaving unsaid suggested that they go up to her room. Smacking George in the back of the head over a small joke involving the suggestion to leave the door open, Ginny followed Harry up the stairs. Harry made sure to purposefully shut the door before occupying the chair in front of Ginny’s desk. “So,” he said, “what’s the real reason for staring at them so intently, Ginny?”

Ginny bit her lip. “For some reason I don’t feel exactly comfortable around Alex.”

Harry’s attention perked at this. “What do you mean?”

“That’s just it,” Ginny sighed, obviously frustrated. “There’s nothing suspicious about her at all and yet I feel uncomfortable around her. I feel like she’s hiding something.”

Harry studied her silently. She noticed and fidgeted uncomfortably. “Am I overreacting?”

Harry wanted to tell her. He wanted to share what he’d witnessed in the forbidden forest, everything about Great One and a plot about Alex nurturing a Sacrifice; but he couldn’t bring himself to tell her. He didn’t want her to worry. Forcing his face to remain neutral, Harry shrugged. “It’s never a bad thing to be weary of others. Our past experiences prove this true. But I think Alex is a good person.”

“I do too,” Ginny said, desperate to quell her doubts. “So I am overreacting then?”

Harry smiled. “Perhaps a bit.”

Ginny’s shoulders slumped. “Maybe that’s why she feels uncomfortable around me. I have to admit I feel like I haven’t been a very good friend.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, when she’s needed someone to talk to, I’d try to make excuses to avoid conversing,” Ginny admitted. “And I haven’t wanted to study with her so I’d ask you if I could study in your common room all the time.”

“So you only studied there so as to hide?” Harry asked, trying to mask his hurt.

Ginny gasped. “Harry, I didn’t mean it like that! Of course I wanted to see you too. Sometimes I’d study at your place just to be with you. Honest!”

Harry pursed his lips and then sighed. “Let’s talk about something else.”

And so they changed the subject to school, trying to predict how terrifying the lessons and homework were going to be when they got back. Two hours before sunset Harry left Ginny’s room to pack his things together in his trunk. He was amazed how all of his things had managed to scatter themselves all over the Weasleys home. After much searching and a couple of stubbed toes later (from walking into his trunk), Harry had all of his things packed. Sighing, Harry called for Kreacher.

The elf appeared with a crack. After instructing him to return his trunk to the school, Harry slumped over to his pad and collapsed onto it. He felt absolutely exhausted and he hadn’t even transformed yet. Already dreading the unavoidable pain, Harry secretly wished he could be asleep when he changed. No sooner had he thought this, his eyelids closed and the exhaustion he’d felt outweighed his consciousness.

*~*~*~*~

Harry awoke with a start moments later to find that he’d turned into the stag. He thought he’d woken from the intense throbbing of his muscles but a sudden BOOM convinced him otherwise. Wishing he hadn’t shut the door, Harry came to his feet just as another BOOM sounded and the whole house shook. Using Obscurvirgum, the door clicked open and expanded, allowing Harry to step into the hallway. Shouts were coming from out on the lawn. Harry went into the kitchen where he could look out the window.

His eyes widened. What met his eyes was a full scale wizard battle. Dumbledore’s all powerful indestructible barriers had been completely demolished. Fragments of the spells floated through the air like strange green snow, mixing with the natural white flakes already occupying the sky. Out on the lawn, battling furiously through the snow with Harry’s loved ones were twenty black robed wizards and witches with masks. At first Harry thought they were Death Eater masks but upon closer inspection he discerned that the masks were silver, covering every inch of the face. There were no defining noses or mouths but there were slits for eyes; though a veil of darkness covered the wearers actually irises. Then Harry noticed the symbol.

A bright golden ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life, covered most of the mask’s surface, the two short ends cutting through the eyeholes with the top loop resting on the forehead. The longest part sloped down like an odd nose, the base stopping at the chin. Each mask held this symbol and each one burned into Harry’s retinas like neon signs.

The masked figures were engaged in furious battles, fighting two to one, with all the Weasleys, both Dumbledores, Draco, Alex, and Andromeda. Harry wondered where Teddy could possibly be but then he heard the little one crying in the living room. Torn between running out to help his friends or checking on his godson, Harry chose the latter. Turning around, he bounded into the sitting room and came over to the pen where Teddy had been left.

The baby’s face was brick red from crying but upon seeing Harry, he seemed to calm a little. Harry lowered his head and Teddy immediately latched onto it, holding it tightly.

“It’s okay, Teddy,” Harry whispered.

The baby looked at the stag. If he was surprised to find it talking to him, Teddy didn’t let on. Harry continued to offer words of comfort though to him they sounded halfhearted. His thoughts were too preoccupied with what was occuring outside. What in the world was going on? Who were these mysterious people? Harry maneuvered himself a little so he could glance out the window. Ten feet away, Dumbledore was dueling four masked people at once. Once more Harry was reminded of the power of his headmaster.

Dumbledore’s wand seemed to move on its own, twirling and swirling around in the old man’s grip as if it were made of water. Spell after spell shot from the tip, ranging from flames, to blasts of pure energy. As Dumbledore managed to catch one of his opponents with a fiery barbed net, he stepped out of Harry’s line of vision. That’s when he noticed Ginny.

She twenty feet away, dangerously apart from the others, and it appeared as if the two people she was dueling were trying to push her farther and farther into the road. Harry looked down at Teddy. He couldn’t leave his godson but his fiancée needed help. Mind split with indecision, Harry looked up again. Ginny was definitely being pushed back.

Randomly, Harry shouted out, “TONKS!”

She magically appeared at his side, no Gate Frame required. “Go!” she said.

Harry didn’t need telling twice. He bounded out of the room, smashing the front door apart with his antlers. Leaping into the night, he dodged countless spells flying through the air. Harry felt like he was part of a firework show, bright oranges collided with deep purples, pops and bangs rattled his eardrums. Yet he kept running. A masked figure materialized in his path.

“What’s this? A wild animal deciding to join the party? Or perhaps an animagus? AVADA KEDAVRA!”

Harry cast a powerful spell that collided with the curse. A flash of brilliant blue light temporarily blinded the masked man giving Harry just enough time to slip out of his gaze and continue running to Ginny’s aid. She was at the edge of the trees now on the opposite side of the road. Harry was rushing towards her, desperate to stop her from disappearing into the forest. Then he saw a figure just within the trees’ shadows.

He was tall, six - no - seven feet. A mask similar to the others in black robes covered his features. Somehow the gold mixed in with the red of his robe made him have the appearance of fire shrouding his head. Usually the thought of someone with their head on fire would seem highly humorous but Harry had no desire to laugh. He actually was experiencing the opposite emotion: terror. He felt that this red robed man was capable of bursting into flame at any given moment.

A chilling, deathly voice filled the air. “Hurry!” it commanded. It was muffled behind the silver mask but it didn’t stop a shiver from crawling down Harry’s back. It was the same voice as Great One.

Harry picked up his speed, lowering his head, his antlers directed towards the attacker on Ginny’s right. Two seconds later, the man let out a scream of pain as Harry’s antlers collided with his back, ripping though his robes to pierce his skin. The impact caused the masked man to fly three feet before landing in the snow with a crunch. His head appeared to have smacked into the base of a tree.

Ginny’s other attacker ignored the state of their friend and grabbed Ginny by the arm, dragging her closer to where the red robed figure stood waiting. Ginny punched and kicked but this only lead to her captor casting a freezing charm on her. Ginny’s limps became completely immobile. But in the split second the captor had decided to use this charm, Harry had cast a spell of his own. The unspoken incantation caused the desired affect: the captor immediately lost consciousness, dropping to the snow infested ground.

Casting a shield charm over himself and Ginny, Harry lowered himself to the ground. In two seconds he’d managed to get her onto his back (looking back he had no idea how he’d done it) and was cantering off towards the Burrow away from the red robed figure. Harry looked over his shoulder once but to his surprise and confusion found he was not being pursued. Instead the red robed man had stepped out of the shadows and was staring at him in contempt.

Then he raised his hand and snapped his fingers together. The sound was like a shockwave. The black robed followers rapidly burst into red and gold flames, leaving nothing, not even ashes, on the wind. Right after they’d all disappeared, their leader followed after them in the same fashion except his flame-filled exit was ten times brighter, the fire climbing twenty feet before dissipating into oblivion.

A surprising shockwave from the man’s exit smacked into Harry from behind and he went flying several feet into the air. Ginny rolled to his left, performing several summersaults while Harry tasted snow face-first before rolling end over end a few feet. His front right leg slammed into something hidden in the snow and Harry experienced excruciating pain as a horrible crack rent the air. He cried out, gritting his teeth as tears sprung to his eyes.

Ginny, finally free from the binding curse, rushed over to his side, spraying snow everywhere. “Harry! Oh my gosh...HELP! Harry’s hurt!”

Dumbledore seemed to materialize out of thin air next to them. His beard was slightly smoking as he peered over Harry with silent scrutiny. Several others gathered round, including Ron and Hermione. Harry tried to breath normally – that is until Dumbledore touched his injured leg. Harry gasped, trying hard not to cry out again. Dumbledore sat back. “Clearly it’s broken,” he muttered.

“How can you tell?” Percy asked, standing behind Charlie and Bill.

“Well, as the bone is clearly visible I would say that’s an obvious assumption,” explained George.

Percy scowled. “I couldn’t see that,” he muttered.

“Aberforth, can you get Madam Pomfrey?” Dumbledore asked over his shoulder.

His brother came into view, limping slightly. “Sure,” he grunted. His ankle, Harry guessed, must have been hit somehow. Harry heard him grumble through the snow before he disappeared inside.

Dumbledore took off his cloak and threw it over Harry.

“Thanks,” Harry managed to say, trying to keep his mind focused on anything else but the pain coursing through his leg. “What happened? Who were those guys?”

Mr. Weasley’s face darkened. “It would appear that the Death Eaters have changed their dress code.”

*~*~*~*~

Harry had passed out right after Madam Pomfrey had fixed his leg and given him a sleeping draught. He assumed that someone had either carried or hovered him into the living room because he woke up there in the morning. Opening his eyes, Harry suddenly realized that the thing he was using for a pillow was his mother’s lap.

“I’m sorry,” Lily muttered. “Did I wake you?”

Harry shook his head, rubbing his eyes. He would have sat up but for some reason his limps wouldn’t respond. Sighing, he instead relaxed where he was on the sofa. “How long have you been here?”

“All night,” James answered somewhere to Harry’s left.

Harry managed to turn his head. His father, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and to Harry’s surprise, Severus Snape, were all sitting around the living room. The light from the window was not very bright, giving Harry the impression that it was an hour after dawn. Feeling like he’d just been kicked in the head by a hippogriff, Harry reclosed his eyes and breathed deeply.

“Are you alright?” his mother asked.

Harry nodded. “My head hurts.”

“I’ll say,” Snape muttered. “That sleeping draught Pomfrey gave you was meant to keep you under until late this afternoon. You’re experiencing a headache because you’re fighting the potion.”

“Severus, do you have anything that will cancel it out?” Lily asked.

Snape put a hand into his robe. “Here,” he said, handing it over.

“Do you always keep a wake up potion in your pocket?” Sirius asked, slightly mocking.

Snape frowned. “It just so happens Dumbledore summoned me first so as to ask me to bring the potion as a precaution. And to stop your next taunt, I was brewing one this morning for someone else in Paradise and I happened to have extra.”

Sirius rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

James accepted the offered vial and handed it over to Lily who in turn gave it to Harry. Harry mustered enough strength to lift the liquid to his lips and drink. The potion was slimy and left a bad aftertaste but Harry still thanked his previous professor for providing it.

“Try not to thank me, Potter,” Snape muttered.

Harry sat up and stretched his stiff muscles. “I thought I was the only one who could summon you guys.”

“Albus has special privileges in dire circumstances,” Sirius explained kindly.

“Where is everyone?”

“Asleep,” answered Remus.

“Except me of course,” said Dumbledore as he came into the living room holding two mugs of hot chocolate. He smiled at Harry as he passed him the other mug. “It’s good to see you awake, my boy.”

“Thanks,” Harry murmured. He took a sip of the cocoa, which slightly burned his tongue. It warmed him immediately. “Professor, what exactly happened last night?”

Dumbledore set his mug down on the table in between them, threaded his fingers together, and sighed. “I’m afraid that the Death Eaters have found a new master to serve, Harry.”

“What?! You’re joking!”

Dumbledore shook his head. “I wish I were,” he muttered sadly.

Harry felt like a deflating balloon. Not really looking at anything in particular, he stood up and went over to the window. Leaning against the sill, staring out at the welcoming sight of the morning sun, he felt a weight of despair sink into his visage.

“I get rid of Voldemort,” he muttered, “and now, before I can get rid of all of his stupid followers, another maniac manifests himself. I understand that there will always be dark wizards to fight – that’s why the auror’s program exists. I just didn’t think there would be another one this soon.”

The others felt very sympathetic towards the young wizard. Being part of the war, they understood how he was feeling to some degrees. They had all longed for peace and thought that there would be a substantial amount of time before a new evil rose. And now they were realizing that this wasn’t the case. It was a hard pill for all who had suffered to swallow.

“Do we know who it might be?” Tonks asked.

Dumbledore shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

Harry however, scuffled his feet. He had a deep suspicion, almost plain conviction, that Great One was Sephtus. The key to finding out the truth laid with Alex. He was convinced that the two were linked. But he couldn’t tell anyone about Sephtus without invoking the maniac’s wrath. He was stuck in a terrible situation with no current way to escape.

“Harry?”

Harry looked up at his mother. Apparently he’d just been asked a question because everyone was staring at him. Feeling slightly sheepish, he said, “Sorry, what was that?”

Snape snorted. “Even when he’s not in the classroom he doesn’t pay attention.”

James frowned while Sirius looked at Snape like he was a dirty rag. But Harry somehow recognized that the malice that used to be in the Potions Master’s tone was not present in this ribbing. Trying not to grin from the realization that Snape was being sarcastic towards him, Harry shrugged. “My thoughts were occupied, sir.”

“Hmph…obviously,” Snape muttered, sneering.

Lily smiled, recognizing Snape’s sarcasm easily. “Now, Sev, that’s enough,” she said pleasantly.

Snape rolled his eyes.

James looked from his wife to Snape and back again. Brow furrowed, he muttered, “Did I miss something?”

“Sev’s just being sarcastic is all,” Lily explained gently.  

“What?” James cried, looking at Snape like he was some alien life form with three heads. “Snape? Joking?”

Snape snorted. “Did you think you were the only one capable of cracking wise on others, Potter? My, your head is still as large as it was when you were alive.”

“You’re being sarcastic right now, aren’t you?” James said.

Snape rolled his eyes. “And apparently he developed a small amount of brains – Lily’s doing no doubt.”

Dumbledore, chuckling from the stunned expressions of the three marauders, turned to Harry. “I asked if you suspected who might be our new enemy, Harry.”

Harry stiffened. Looking into the old headmaster’s bright blue eyes, he immediately closed his mind and shook his head. “No, sir,” he muttered, looking away. Even to him, his words sounded false. He knew the others were all staring at him.

“Harry,” James prompted, “you know something, don’t you.”

Harry swallowed. “Excuse me.” And he set his mug down and left the house, praying no one would follow after him.  

Ginny found him an hour later leaning against the far garden wall just inside the barriers that Dumbledore had remade after the battle was over. “You really shouldn’t be outside,” she muttered.

Harry stood up and hugged her tightly. “Are you alright?” he demanded, looking her up and down.

She nodded fervently. “I’m fine. It’s you I’m worried about. You broke your leg last night. It was terrifying, watching you in so much pain and knowing I couldn’t do anything. I felt….completely helpless,” she muttered.

Harry took her hands and kissed them gently. “Nobody there knew how to mend a broken leg, Ginny. There’s no reason for you to feel that way.”

“Dumbledore can,” Ginny muttered, sniffling slightly.

Harry half smiled. “Well, he’s Dumbledore, isn’t he? He’s not human.”

Ginny cracked a smile. “Yeah, I guess so.” She hugged him again. “Thanks for coming after me, Harry. I didn’t even realize what was going on.”

“I’m just glad I got to you before anything terrible happened.”

“Me too.”

The two of them were silent for a while.

“Do you know when they attacked last night?” Harry asked.

Ginny nodded. “It was an hour after you’d transformed. I was about to come in and wake you when the first attack occurred. It sounded like George’s loudest set of fireworks going off and then a horrible hissing noise comparable to a kettle on the stove. Dumbledore was the first out the door, yelling that we were under attack. I didn’t know who the masked people were until I heard Avery’s voice under one of the hoods. He tried to disarm Andromeda when she wasn’t looking. Dumbledore stepped in and caught him in this fiery kind of net. After that I started dueling two others and lost track of where everyone was.”

“So Avery was taken to Azkaban then?”

Ginny looked stricken. “I’m afraid not, Harry.”

“What? But I thought you said Dumbledore caught him.”

“He caught three but all of them disappeared the same as the others. It was as if Dumbledore’s capture spell had no effect.”

Harry did not appreciate hearing this. Dumbledore’s detaining spell worthless? If Dumbledore couldn’t capture them, what were his chances of doing so? The Death Eaters hadn’t been able to flee from him before when he’d caught them in Harry’s fifth year. How did they escape? Did it have something to do with Great One? Were his powers greater than Dumbledore’s? Harry shuddered just thinking about it.

Ginny, mistaking his trembling for the cold, wrapped an arm around him and said sternly, “You should be inside. It’s too cold and you’re still recovering.”

Instead of arguing Harry allowed himself to be led back inside. Breakfast was in full swing when they came back into the kitchen though the mood was very grim. Conversation was plentiful but it seemed to have the reoccurring questions of whom this new enemy was and why had the Death Eaters joined forces with him. Harry kept a discreet eye on Alex but the girl didn’t give away any guilty expression. She played with her food in a dejected manner but it was the same action as what everybody else was doing. Frustrated but still determined, Harry decided to keep a sharper eye on her from now on.

After breakfast, Dumbledore stood up and cleared his throat. “I hate to leave the Burrow after such a terrible attack last night but the school term starts today and I must return. Those of school age must return as well.”

“Don’t worry about us, Albus,” said Mr. Weasley. “We’ll be fine.”

Dumbledore looked at him critically. “I will contact some of the Order members to stay here, Arthur, just in case another attempted attack occurs. The last thing I want is to put your family in any more danger than they’ve already experienced.”

Mrs. Weasley smiled, trying to be strong. “Thank you for your concern, Albus.”

“Your servant as always, Molly,” Dumbledore replied, taking off his hat. He turned to Professor Merrylow. “We’d best get these students off, Elle. You go first to make sure they return to the castle safely while I stay here to make sure all is well until everyone is gone.”

Professor Merrylow nodded. “Alright, come on you lot!” Heading over to the mantle, she pulled out a small bit of floo powder, shouted “Great Hall, Hogwarts!” before disappearing into a flare of green flames.

Draco and Alex went right after her, followed by Hermione, Ron, Ginny, and finally Harry. Aberforth had been asked to stay behind to be with the Weasleys until further help arrived before Dumbledore followed in Harry’s wake. Right after Dumbledore stepped out of the hearth in the Great Hall he turned and sealed the fireplace.

At Harry’s questioning look, he said, “The other students are coming back to school by the Hogwarts Express. I had the Great Hall connected to the floo network this morning so we could arrive back here quickly and safely.”

“Good thinking,” Harry commented. “But will the other students be safe, sir?”

Dumbledore nodded. “The Death Eaters will know that I never would let you travel on the train, Harry, especially after last night’s attack.”

Reassured by his headmaster’s words, Harry nodded and turned to follow the others out of the hall.

“Harry,” Dumbledore called.

“Yes, sir?”

Dumbledore stared at him intently. “Do not, under any circumstances, go outside or travel anywhere alone.”

Harry sighed. “Yes sir,” he muttered, dejected. He turned and followed the others, his head hanging low with the realization that once again he had to experience hiding like a fugitive.

*~*~*~*~

Understandably, the next month Harry had a hard time concentration on his studies. He had a lot to think about but timing was not doing him any favors. His N.E.W.T.s were creeping up faster than the Yule Ball back in his fourth year and Harry was not doing as well as the other students. He didn’t have sufficient strength in the evenings to truly experiment new spells even with his Obscurvigrum skills. Practicing just one advanced spell zapped too much energy away, sometimes even leaving him breathless on the ground. His teachers tried to be lenient with him but he could tell that even they were slightly disappointed.

It was the middle of February when Harry finally cracked during Potions class, Monday afternoon. Slughorn had just stopped at his table and peered into his cauldron. Taking one whiff, he shook his head and stepped away, muttering, “I really expected better from you, Harry.”

Already being chewed out by Professor McGonagall that morning, Harry’s anger finally snapped. Standing up, he kicked his cauldron, sending the contents of the acidic potion all over the dungeon floor. There was a terrible hiss as the concoction connected with his bag, the acid eating everything in a matter of seconds.

“Harry, my boy, why did you –?”

“I’m done!” he shouted and giving his cauldron another kick, he left his half eaten bag on the dungeon floor and stormed out of the room. His mind whirled as he stormed passed the Great Hall, up the marble staircase. What he really wanted was to run away outside, to feel the open air, but he’d been stuck in the castle under Dumbledore’s strict orders. He felt like a caged animal, suffering abuse in the form of disappointment from his teachers.

Stalking past several classrooms and moving up many floors, Harry found himself heading up to the owlery. He hadn’t visited Alomier in a long time. If there was enough room, maybe he could become a gryffin and occupy his thoughts with chasing the owls around the tower. It was a rather appealing idea, especially since he was still fuming about what had just occurred.

By the time he actually reached the owlery, he’d already made up his mind that he was going to do as he proposed. Once inside the tower, he immediately transformed, not even bothering to check if there was enough room for him. To his great fortune, there was.

The owls looked down on the strange visitor, some hooting a tad warily. Harry let out a loud squawk, snapping his beak and flapped his wings, trying to stir the birds up a bit. It worked. Several took off in alarm. Harry immediately leapt into the air, dodging the rafters to fly towards a hole in the roof. Unfortunately it was a little small and his lower half got stuck. Using his extremely sharp talons, Harry scraped around until he found secure holds on the roof before beginning to wiggle. After many squawks and breaking of tiles, Harry managed to get his lower half out of the hole. By now there were no owls to pursue but the blast of cool winter air had chased the birds from Harry’s mind.

Bird vision was a tad different from human. Everything was in sharper focus and every small thing that moved caught his attention, from the trees of the forbidden forest to swirls of snow drifting around in patterns of the wind. Harry’s brain in gryffin form seemed wired on trying to focus his attention on all of these movements in rapidity. As a small bird flew below the grey clouds Harry had a wild desire stir in his gut to go chasing after the animal. His wings were already unfolding from his body when the warning words from Dumbledore to stay within the castle settled into his brain. Squawking longing at the bird that he wouldn’t be able to play tag with, Harry turned around and gave common sense his attention.

Scrambling back inside, his talons connected with a large rafter. Once the owls perched upon it saw him, they took off in a flutter of multicolored wings, leaving the whole wooden beam up for grabs. Balancing on the rafter, Harry found, was completely natural. Walking across it until he was in the middle, he lay down on his belly, crossed his front talons, let his tail dangle, and lowered his head in between his claws. It was strange but laying there, letting the cool air from outside sweep around him in spurts from the many holes and windows, Harry felt himself calming down.

A flutter of wings disturbed him and he opened on large eye to find Alomier walking along towards him somewhat hesitantly. Harry lifted his head and clicked his beak in a friendly way. Alomier let out a soft hoot and picked up his pace. He leapt into the air only to land on Harry’s head. Hooting happily, the owl jumped up and down twice before settling in right where he was, completely content. Harry almost shook his head but refrained from allowing himself the satisfaction. He was happy that his owl had recognized him and it was nice having a friend hanging around, even if he was perched on his head.

Harry and Alomier stayed in this same position for a long time until the owlery door opened and two first years came in. Harry was glad to be up on one of the higher rafters because he was sure his presence would have freaked out the small boys.

“I still don’t understand why I had to come with you just so you could mail this to your mum,” one was saying. He had bleach blond hair and wore a Hufflepuff scarf.

His friend, possessing a particularly large amount of overly curly black hair, pushed the blond. “You owe me. I came with you last time.”

“That was different,” Blondie said. “It was at night and the castle was dark.”

Curly scoffed. “Whatever. You know I’m afraid of birds. That’s why I asked you to come with me.”

Blondie shook his head as he took the letter from his friend’s hand and began to look for a school owl to use. “I still can’t believe you’re afraid of birds, especially owls. Wizards use them for everything.”

Curly shuddered. “I know. Just pick one out, fast.” He was looking antsy, gripping his Hufflepuff scarf tightly in his hands.

That’s when Blondie decided to look up. “Wow!” he exclaimed, his eyes turning as big as moons. “Thomas, look!” he shouted, pointing up at Harry.

Curly, or Thomas, looked up. The color seemed to drain from his face. “W-What is that?!”

His friend continued to look up in awe. Harry had an idea. It was his last year; he was entitled to a little fun. Besides, his mood would definitely improve by scaring a couple first years, right? Shaking his head to get Alomier’s attention, Harry slowly stood up, making sure to keep his eyes focused on the two students.

Thomas gulped. “Bert, what do you think it’s doing?”

Blondie, or Bert, shrugged. He was mostly expressing awe but a part of him looked to be a little fearful. “I don’t know.”

Harry let out an earsplitting squawk and expanded his wings in less than a second. Leaping from the rafters, rocketing towards the two petrified kids, Harry clawed at the air, shrieking like mad. Thomas and Bert screamed, turned around, and ran out the door. Harry flapped backward to stop himself from colliding with the wall. He could hear the two first years screaming bloody murder as they ran down the steps of the Owlery. Clicking his beak happily, Harry returned to his rafter, thinking how fun it would be to scare other students. Alomier decided to settle next to him instead of on his head. Harry was just beginning to doze when the door to the Owlery opened again.

Harry stiffened in dismay. Professors McGonagall and Sprout came into the room, immediately looking up into the topmost part of the tower. Realizing that he’d never told his professors that he was an animagus, Harry looked down at them uneasily.

“I honestly didn’t believe those two were telling the truth but there you are,” Sprout muttered, staring up at Harry. “A gryffin in the Owlery; this is one I’ve never heard of. How are we going to get it out?”

“I’d like to know how it got in,” McGonagall muttered, her eyes scrutinizing the many holes in the roof. Then she noticed the large one that Harry had slightly dug himself through and she pointed. “There’s my answer.”

“Gryffins don’t eat owls, do they?” asked Sprout.

“I highly doubt it Pomona,” McGonagall said.

“Then why is it here?”

McGonagall stared out the window at the winter storm that had started to rage ten minutes ago. She looked a little distracted, worried even. “What ill timing this creature had,” she mumbled more to herself. “We have other pressing matters to attend to and yet it decides to grace us with this problem.”

She looked up at Harry with a firm scowl, reminding him of how she always looked at any rule breaker.

“Should I get Hagrid?” Sprout suggested.

“He’s too big to fit up those stairs,” McGonagall pointed out. “No, I’m afraid we’re going to have to coax it out of the hole that it came from.”

“You mean use magic against it?” Sprout asked, aghast.

“Yes,” McGonagall replied firmly. “Don’t be so afraid, Pomona.”

“It’s just… gryffins are known for being extremely powerful creatures, Minerva.”

“I’m not afraid of a giant bird-lion,” McGonagall snapped. She pulled out her wand.

Harry, suddenly immensely grateful that he was capable of using Obscurvirgum, remained in a leisure state as his professor advanced.

“Diffindo!” Professor McGonagall shouted.

Harry, thinking the spell was aimed at him, was not prepared when the beam underneath him split in half. Squawking and flailing around, he managed to get his wings open before hitting the ground. Flapping upward to another rafter, he perched on his haunches, now very aware of his teachers movements. McGonagall used a repairo spell to fix the beam she’d just broken.

“Careful, Minerva,” Sprout muttered as she took out her wand. “We don’t want to demolish the Owlery.”

McGonagall kept her eyes on Harry. “I’ll repair any damage that we do. Look, it’s already closer to the hole.”

Harry made the mistake of taking his eyes off his attacker to look at where she was pointing. The next spell hit him right on the side. It was silent, so it was completely unexpected. It felt like someone had set a red hot poker to his body. Letting out a terrible squawk, Harry looked at where his side burned. There was no mark. He rubbed his beak against his fur and the scratching up and down somehow made the pain lessen. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw McGonagall raise her wand again.

Ready this time, he waited for her to wave her wand before putting up a powerful blocking curse. The spell slammed against it and a noise like a gong echoed off the walls. Both professors covered their ears. After the noise died, Professor Sprout looked at her colleague.

“Did it just stop your spell with a blocking curse?”

Professor McGonagall looked stunned.

Harry couldn’t help it, he squawked mockingly.

McGonagall froze. “It’s laughing at us. It’s laughing at us!”

She raised her wand and sent another curse at him. Settling down on the rafter in complete comfort, Harry flicked his tail before sending up another powerful block. Interestingly enough, he couldn’t believe he wasn’t even tired. Obscurvirgum always left him exhausted yet right now he felt as if he could take down an army of Death Eaters.

After ten minutes of throwing curses, charms, and various spells with no results, both professors looked at each other in complete befuddlement. Deciding to add another blow to the fact they were being whipped by a magical creature, Harry sent them each an Expelliarmus. Both wands flew out of their hands and up into the rafters. Harry caught them with his lion tail.

McGonagall looked like she was about to faint. “It-It just –!”

“Stole our wands!” Sprout shouted.

Harry decided to be a little mean. Standing up, he spread his wings and flapped them a few times, shrieking just like he had to the two Hufflepuffs. Both professors backed up to the Owlery’s entry and exit, eyeing him fretfully.

“What are we going to do?” Professor Sprout asked. “We can’t just leave it here unguarded. It might chuck our wands out the window! Or worse, use them as chew toys!”

“Don’t give it any ideas,” Professor McGonagall said back. “Here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll go get Albus. You keep an eye on it.”

“Me? I don’t have a wand anymore!”

“Fine. I’ll get Aurora up here and she’ll keep an eye on it. But you stay here until I get her.”

“Okay.”

Ten minutes later, Professor Sinistra arrived behind Professor McGonagall to relieve a wandless and slightly frazzled Professor Sprout. Harry had decided to mess with her a little bit by squawking at her whenever she took a step forward.

“I’ll be back with Albus in a moment,” Professor McGonagall assured the astronomy professor. “Try not to cast any spells at it and don’t move.”

Professor Sinistra didn’t look too happy about having to play babysitter but Harry was kind. The fun was about to end anyway. Dumbledore would figure things out in a less than a minute, he was sure. Fifteen minutes of silence later, footsteps were heard and then Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore arrived. Dumbledore glanced up at the gryffin, eyeing the situation as well as the wands that were gripped in Harry’s tail, swishing back and forth.

“I’ll take it from here, Aurora,” Dumbledore said. “Minerva, go back to searching for Harry. We need to find him before sunset.”

“Alright, Albus, if you’re sure,” McGonagall mumbled but she hesitated.

“Don’t worry. I’ll get your wand back,” Dumbledore promised.

Only after this reassurance did the deputy headmistress finally decide to leave with Professor Sinistra.

Harry and Dumbledore played a silent staring contest for a few minutes. Then Dumbledore straightened, pulled out his wand, and cast a spell so fast that Harry didn’t have time to block it. A net made of silvery light wrapped around him in a matter of seconds. Harry, squawking and wriggling, lost his balance and fell off the rafter. But instead of plunging to the floor with a loud crunch, he was lowered slowly but the hand of Dumbledore’s wand.

“My, my, my,” Dumbledore muttered, coming closer. “Aren’t you a fine looking creature.”

One of Harry’s wings didn’t feel right against his side, like it was slightly bent. Struggling to get into a position so as to fix this discomfort, Harry fought against the net binding him. After several attempts he was able to straighten himself. Looking up at Dumbledore, he saw that the old man had lowered his wand. Taking a few steps closer, Dumbledore inched around him to where his tail was. Striking like a cobra, Dumbledore snatched it. Surprise alone caused a loud squawk to escape Harry’s beak. Dumbledore stepped back a moment later holding both Professor McGonagall and Sprout’s wands firmly in his grasp.

“Sorry but magical creatures are not supposed to take a witch’s or wizard’s wand,” Dumbledore said gently. “Though I must say I am curious as to how you managed to get them. Minerva told me that it appeared as if you used magic to disarm both her and Pomona. I wonder…”

He waved his wand and the net disappeared. Harry stood up and ruffled his feathers while stretching. He hadn’t realized it before but the net seemed to have drained a lot of his energy. His whole body felt like it had been though an attack with the Whomping Willow; he could barely stand. Deciding to sit on his haunches, Harry turned his sharp yellow eyes onto Dumbledore. The old man raised his wand and waved it with a flourish.

Harry felt the spell more than he saw it. Throwing up a shield, Dumbledore’s spell crashed into it, shattering it instantly. The force knocked Harry backward. Squawking indignantly, Harry tried to regain his balance. He was ten feet away from the headmaster now. Dumbledore looked perfectly calm as he sent another spell in Harry’s direction. Tiny fireballs flew through the air, hissing and spitting. Harry, alarmed that his professor would cast such a spell in a wooden environment, managed a transfiguration spell that transformed all the tiny fireballs into flowers.

Dumbledore stored his wand. His eyes were twinkling and a smile tugged at his beard. “Most impressive.”

Harry chirped in thanks. Dumbledore’s eyes sparkled. Chuckling slightly, the old man completely relaxed. Just then footsteps echoed up the stairs and three teachers came into the room; Professors McGonagall, Sprout, and Merrylow.

“We can’t find him anywhere, Albus,” Merrylow said, clearly distraught. “We searched every inch of the castle.”

“And the grounds,” said Sprout.

“We don’t know where he could have run off to,” McGonagall said, her expression filled with worry. “Sunset is in an hour. You don’t think he’s been kidnapped do you, Albus?”

Dumbledore looked from his professors to the gryffin with an amused expression. “You can rest your worries, professors. I’ve found him.”

“You have? Where?” Professor Merrylow asked, looking around. Then she saw the gryffin. “Wow! What’s a gryffin doing here?”

Dumbledore waved his wand and a silvery phoenix shot into the air. After whispering in its ear the phoenix flapped its wings and disappeared down the stairs. Harry assumed it carried a message to cease the search for him.

Professor McGonagall looked confused. “Why did you call off the search, Albus? Where is Harry?”

Dumbledore looked at the gryffin and sighed. “I think he wanted some alone time and decided that the owlery was a good place to cool his head. Honestly Harry, storming out of Potions class, giving everyone a fright…highly irresponsible.”

The professors noticed he was talking to the gryffin who had lowered its head as if in shame.

“You’re joking,” Professor McGonagall muttered.

“Harry, would you mind?” said Dumbledore.

Harry clicked his beak in resignation before transforming. Putting his hands in his pockets and trying to ignore the stunned expressions of his professors, Harry muttered an apology.

“Sorry?” Comprehension dawned on McGonagall’s face. “Harry Potter! You’re an animagus?!”

Harry would have smiled but the fire coming from his teacher’s eyes didn’t merit the invitation. “Yes,” Harry replied.

“When?” McGonagall demanded.

“Before Christmas,” Harry answered. “I’ve been studying about it and trying it out since the beginning of the school year.”

“You’ve been researching how to become an animagus in your free time instead of focusing on your studies? No wonder you’ve been failing classes!”

McGonagall’s words stung like scorpion venom. True he had researched the animagus thing more than he’d studied but he hadn’t failed the first semester. He’d passed with exceptional grades. Letting his anger get the better of him, Harry retorted, “I’m only failing this term, Professor.”

McGonagall breathed deeply. “Yes, you are. And you have the nerve to leave class and come up here to terrify first years and disarm your teachers.”

“You were casting curses at me,” Harry argued back. “I’m sorry I’m hardwired to disarm any opponent that poses a threat, professor. It’s kind of a reflex reaction from all the past duels I’ve had to face.”

“We weren’t trying to kill you, Potter, and you know it!” Professor Sprout snapped. “We were just trying to get you to leave.”

Harry shrugged feeling sulky. “I guess I thought differently.”

“Putting us aside, you terrorized Mr. Shepherd and Mr. Douglas,” Professor McGonagall stated.

“That wasn’t my intention, professor,” Harry replied honestly. Then he grinned. “I just wanted to stir things up a bit is all.”

Professor McGonagall stomped her foot. Turning to Dumbledore she said, “This merits a detention, don’t you think?”

Dumbledore studied Harry. “I’m afraid it does, Harry. Your actions today have not been very sensible.”

Harry tried not to be hurt by the disappointment in his headmaster’s voice. Pride wounded, he muttered, “I’ve just been really stressed lately.”

Dumbledore nodded. “Quite understandable, Harry. Come, we will discuss your detention as we walk. We need to get you back to your room before the sun sets.”

Harry grimaced and looked out one of the windows. Though there was no hint that the sun was sinking in the sky (the clouds were too gray and snow drifted in thick waves) Harry felt a tugging in his gut. Shoulders slumping, he walked passed his professors dejectedly. He knew they were all watching him but he didn’t meet their eyes.

Anger pulsed under his veins as he thought about his situation; stuck in the castle, unable to even step out the great oak doors, confined to a small space in the evenings with nowhere to run around and stretch his legs, forced to change into an animal all night, failing his studies because he couldn’t practice like the others, limited in his time to be with Ginny.

Ginny…this was all her fault! If she hadn’t left the group and picked up that stupid ancient artifact Harry wouldn’t be in this mess.

Unconsciously he kicked a suit of armor. His anger wasn’t enough to stop the pain from pulsing in his big toe. Cursing under his breath he trudged down the corridors and staircases, feeling his teachers following behind him. Harry could just imagine the worried looks they were giving each other over his sour behavior. Thankful that he couldn’t see behind him, Harry marched passed the Great Hall’s open doors and threw the tapestry aside. Only Dumbledore followed after him.

After giving the password (Bludgers cause bones to moan), Harry stomped inside. A mess of bright red hair blinded his vision as Ginny thrust him in a hug. Harry stiffened. At the present moment the last thing he wanted was to see her. Cutting the hug short, Harry pushed passed her, ignored his other concerned friends on the couch, and slammed the door to his room.

“Harry?” Ginny called.

“Go away,” Harry said loudly.

A pause. “Are you alright?”

“I said, go away, Ginny!”

“Fine!” Ginny snapped. “The next time you disappear for hours I won’t bother worrying about where you are!”

Harry rolled his eyes, turning his attention to the wall. “Whatever.”

Five minutes passed. Then Harry’s door opened and Dumbledore stepped inside. Harry tried to suppress the urge to curse the old man out of his room. Dumbledore closed the door before conjuring a stuffed armchair beside Harry’s bed. Once settled, the headmaster gazed at him with his piercing, x-ray stare.

“I hate that look,” Harry muttered after moments of silence.

Dumbledore didn’t smile. “What’s wrong, Harry?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Harry snapped.

“Then I’m afraid I’ll be sitting here for a very long time,” said Dumbledore. “Because I’m not leaving until you speak your mind.”

Harry clicked his tongue angrily. “Don’t you have other things to worry about, sir?”

“Not at all.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed.

“By all means, Harry, if you feel like having a duel, then let us begin,” Dumbledore invited. “It would be a good way to release all that anger inside you.”

Harry balled his hand into a fist and punched his pillow. “Why is it that you always have to see me when I’m angry like this?” he mumbled more to himself than to Dumbledore. “The fates are laughing somewhere.”

Dumbledore managed a small smile. Harry was calming down. “Harry, I know you better than anyone, except Ron and Hermione of course. And Ginny.”

Harry sighed. He already felt guilty for shouting at her. “I didn’t mean to treat her that way,” he muttered. “I was just so mad…”

“About your situation?” Dumbledore guessed.

Harry nodded. “…It’s just difficult… I’m frustrated and restless and it feels like I can’t do anything to change that. It’s driving me crazy.”

“Go on,” Dumbledore prompted. “There’s more than that, I’m sure.”

Harry sighed and then decided to share all his thoughts. He had to leave out the part about being angry with Ginny for picking up the Ankh of Death because of Sephtus’s warning but he told his headmaster everything else.

“Hmmm,” Dumbledore said. He appeared to be very sad as he continued, “I am sorry you have to stay inside the castle, Harry. I know that was one of the reasons you went up to the Owlery. It has the most open viewing to the outside world within the castle.”

Harry nodded. “It felt nice, being up there.”

“I’m sure it did. Harry, you know I’m only concerned for your safety. I did not sacrifice my life just to see you destroy Voldemort and then die shortly after. I want you to live a full and prosperous life, maybe even live longer than I.”

Harry smiled. “I won’t have a beard as cool as yours though.”

Dumbledore laughed. “I’ll bet on that one, my boy.” He then sighed. “This new enemy is rather elusive. There’s not much known about him, though how he managed to find the Death Eaters and recruit them to his cause is terribly alarming. Most of them had been captured right after the war but that night at the Burrow I’m sure that all of them were present. There has been a jailbreak. I will go to the Ministry and speak with Shacklebolt. Precautions need to be taken.”

“Sir, what about Alex?”

Dumbledore sighed. “She is young, Harry.”

“But she knows something!” Harry persisted. “She’s the key to figuring this out, I know it!”

“Or she may be in a similar position as Mr. Malfoy,” countered Dumbledore, “forced into serving this Great One in order to protect her loved ones.”

Harry faltered. He hadn’t thought about that. “Still, someone should be keeping an eye on her. We might be able to get a lead on the enemy.”

Dumbledore shook his head. “She could very well be being watched, Harry. No, I don’t want endangering her life even if she may know the information we’re seeking.”

Harry wasn’t satisfied with this. “What about Draco? What if she’s told him?”

“Do you think he would keep the information secret?”

Harry pursed his lips. “No,” he said finally, suddenly deflating. “Not if it was life-threatening information. Especially if the Death Eaters are involved; he wants them dead just as much as I do.”

“Do you really feel that death is the only resolve?”

Harry stared at his headmaster and sighed. “I suppose not. There are several ways to punish a human being. But…I want to bury Voldemort and anything to do with him in the ashes. I want to put it all behind me. I don’t want to have to keep facing the same enemies over and over again. I want them gone, rotting in Azkaban forever, suffering the Dementor’s Kiss, anything to keep them locked up and away from me. I’ll fight any dark wizard that does cross my path but Voldemort, I feel, is in the past and I want to keep it that way.”

Dumbledore nodded. “I understand, Harry. But it is important to remember that death is not always the answer.”

Harry suddenly thought of Grindelwald. “You could have killed Grindelwald.”

“Yes,” Dumbledore muttered, suddenly looking very weary. “I could have.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No, Harry, I didn’t. It was not my right to take away life. It is vitally important Harry to remember that. We may have power to do so but it does not make it right to kill another person. You should understand this very well. I know you will become an auror one day but one thing I want you to promise me is that whenever there is a choice, you will choose to let those live who you capture instead of killing them straight off. Promise me this.”

Harry, determined, firmly replied, “I promise.”

Dumbledore studied him intently for a long time before sitting further back in his chair. “Good,” he sighed. “Now, to other things. Perhaps we can make an exception for you to take the N.E.W.T.s during the summer. I’m sure the Ministry won’t mind if we bend the rules for you. After all, everyone owes you for saving the Wizarding World.”

Harry stiffened. The last thing he wanted was special treatment. He shook his head. “No. I’ll take the exams the same as everyone else.”

Dumbledore displayed a small smile. “I thought you’d say that,” he muttered. “Very well. The least I can do is ask your professors to leave you alone in classes. If they have something to speak to you about, they can save it after the lesson is over.”

Harry sighed. “That would be helpful. I feel stupid, falling behind. Everyone else seems to know every spell like the back of their hand.”

Dumbledore placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Harry, listen to me. I don’t want you to compare yourself with any of the others. Every student learns at a different pace. You have more potential than you yet realize. At this present moment you’re limited by what you can accomplish because of a curse that you unfortunately stumbled upon. But I can promise you that if you try really hard to study during the day, in between classes, and continue practicing Obscurvirgum that when your exams come you will have the best results out of the seventh years.”

Harry looked up doubtfully. “How do you know that, sir?”

Dumbledore smiled gently. “Because I know you, Harry.”

Harry shook his head. “You expect too much, professor. I’m not that superb when it comes to exams.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Don’t doubt yourself. If you do, you will fail. Look deep inside and you’ll come to find my words are true.” The headmaster stood up. “It is ten minutes til the sun sets. I’ll make sure you get a decent meal, Harry, and I’ll do my best to find where the Death Eaters are lurking.”

“You’ll let me know, won’t you?” Harry asked, trying not to sound too desperate for information.

Dumbledore read him like a book but didn’t let on to Harry’s anxiety. “Of course, Harry.”

He turned and shut the door, leaving Harry alone.    


Chapter 21: Valentine's Day
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It was with great misfortune that the next day was Valentine’s Day. Harry woke early, having spent the night alone, to a strange humming sound. Looking around, he found the noise was coming from the Gate Frame. Three names were displayed in the middle of the flat surface.

“James, Remus, and Sirius,” Harry read aloud.

The air shimmered and the marauders appeared. They smiled at Harry though he could see they were silently concerned.

“Are you alright?” Sirius asked. “You didn’t call any of us last night.”

“I had a hard day,” Harry muttered.

The three men looked at each other, silently understanding that last night must have been one of those nights when it was better to be left alone.

“Did you need something?” Harry asked.

James nodded. Trying to keep a straight face, he explained, “We have a mission, Harry.”

“What kind of mission?”

Remus’s face broke out into a large grin. “Our mission to make sure a certain old man knows with a surety that today is Valentine’s Day.”

Harry began to smile. “Time for a prank?”

Sirius nodded. “Time for a prank.”

*~*~*~*~

Harry met up with Ginny and the others at the Gryffindor table an hour later for breakfast. Right after Harry sat down, Ginny sent him a glare that would have frozen his blood. Huffing silently, she got up and moved three persons down from him and struck up a conversation with a sixth year.

“What’s up with her?” Harry asked, hurt.

Hermione looked strained. “Honestly, Harry, you don’t know?”

“No.”

Hermione sighed. “Well, you were really rude to Ginny last night. She’d been on the verge of tears with worry over your disappearance and then you stormed in, rejected her, slammed the door in her face, and shouted for her to go away. She cried herself to sleep last night.”

“Perfect timing, mate,” Ron muttered darkly. “Valentine’s Day, Harry? Really?”

Harry grimaced.

“You forgot,” Hermione gasped.

“Of course I didn’t!” Harry snapped. This was true. He hadn’t forgotten. He just had such a stressful day yesterday that he forgot everything else.

Hermione looked at him, skeptical. With pursed lips, she said, “Then you’d better go and make things right, Harry.”

Sighing, Harry stood up. Making his way down the table, he stopped behind his fiancée and took a deep breath. “Ginny?”

She ignored him.

“Ginny?” he tried again.

No response.

Harry sighed. “I apologize in advance for embarrassing you,” he said forcefully.

This caught Ginny’s attention. “What are you -?”

Harry scooped her into his arms and held her firmly as he began walking out of the Great Hall. Every eye turned to watch as he carried her princess style. A camera flashed but Harry ignored it and made his way into the entrance hall.

“Harry Potter put me down!” Ginny snapped angrily. “NOW!”

Harry looked down at her and smiled. “No.”

“Put me down!” Ginny shouted, pounding her fists against his chest.

“No.”

Ginny’s eyes were filled with fire. Folding her arms, she remained in Harry’s arms, sulking. Harry contemplated letting her go but there was the possibility she would run away.

“I wanted to apologize.”

“Whatever.”

“Seriously, Ginny, I’m really sorry. I’ve been terribly stressed as of late and my temper’s been short on everyone. I didn’t want to spend Valentine’s Day fighting with you so I’ve come to make amends.”  

“Oh I get it! If it wasn’t Valentine’s Day you’d still be cross.”

“What? No!”

“Whatever, Harry.”

Harry closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “Ginny, I was going to clear things up as soon as I saw you – and I plan to always do that. I won’t let a grudge spring up between us. When we fight, I’ll go cool off somewhere and come back to make amends. And when I come, I’ll bring you flowers” – as he said this, he set her down and conjured a fresh bouquet of deep red roses – “and chocolates” – he conjured a large box full of Honeyduke’s specials – “and a forgiving expression.”

He looked at her, holding out the two items. Ginny eyed them for a moment, studied Harry intently, and sighed. Finally she smiled, accepted Harry’s gifts, and planted a kiss on his lips.

“I can’t stay angry when you do that,” she grumbled. Then more gently, she add, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Harry.”

“I love you, Ginny,” he muttered, holding her tightly.

“I love you too. Now, let’s go back and get some breakfast.”

She took his hand and led the way back into the Great Hall. Harry was halfway through his scrambled eggs when a collective gasp made its way around the room followed by fits of stifled laughter. Harry grinned, trying to not look at what had caught everyone’s attention.

“Merlin’s beard,” Ron muttered. He turned to Harry and grinned. “Your doing?”

Harry grinned back. “Well, I’m part of the Marauders so I guess I can say yes.”

“Bloody brilliant!” Ron shouted, clapping Harry on the back.

Hermione looked exasperated. “You didn’t. Oh, Harry!”

Finally Harry turned and his eyes nearly watered from the brilliant bright pink hue of Dumbledore’s hair and beard. The headmaster appeared to be in good spirits despite the fact he’d been pranked in his sleep. He even had the nerve to accessorize himself with bright red robes and a white pointed hat that had little glittering hearts dangling off its brim. Harry shook his head, trying desperately not to snort into his eggs.

Dumbledore had a bounce in his step as he made his way over to Harry with twinkling eyes. Harry remained in ignorance to his approach until the Headmaster tapped him on the shoulder. Harry dared to look up. His eyes blinded by the obnoxious combination of red, white, and pink, he tried to look past them by focusing on Dumbledore’s eyes.

“Good morning, Harry,” he said pleasantly.

“Morning, sir.”

Dumbledore fingered his beard. “A great amount of magic, my boy. However did you get into my office without Fawkes sounding an alarm?”

Harry grinned. “Sorry sir but one of the policies of being a Marauder is not to give away the secrets of the prank.”

Dumbledore’s beard twitched. “Yes indeed.” Leaning in closely, he patted Harry’s shoulder and said, “I think this will be suitable for your detention. Have a great day, Harry.” Standing straight, he stepped away and headed down to the teachers’ table.

Harry felt a strange shiver trail down his back and upon looking at Ron’s and Hermione’s expressions, he knew the Headmaster had done something terrible. “Give me a mirror,” Harry demanded.

Laughter burst from the Gryffindors as Hermione handed one over. Holding it up, Harry looked at it and had to stop himself from crying out in shock. His hair was the exact same shade as Dumbledore’s, bright pink and blinding to the eyes. But this wasn’t all. The Headmaster had taken things to another level; the color of Harry’s eyes had turned a mixture of pink and red. He looked up at Dumbledore who was chatting with an appalled Professor McGonagall. He caught Harry’s eye and grinned.

“This is war,” Harry muttered, looking back at the mirror.

Ron couldn’t help himself; he joined in the laughter. “You look great in pink, Harry.”

Harry cracked a smile. “You think so? Do you want the same hair color?”

Ron’s laughter faltered. Clearing his throat, he shook his head. “Thanks but no thanks. I don’t think pink would look as good on me as it does on you.”

Harry went back to his eggs, surprisingly okay with Dumbledore’s prank. Supposing that it had to do with the fact that Dumbledore also had to be subjected to ridicule, Harry smiled and finished his breakfast in good spirits.

Throughout the day, people went out of their way to ask for pictures. Harry tried to ward them off but several overly excited first and second years managed to sneak a couple shots of him in between classes. Groaning over the thought that those pictures would probably be in the Daily Prophet or some other stupid wizard magazine for women, Harry tried to ignore the giggling by paying attention to Ginny.

Surprisingly, his girlfriend loved what Dumbledore had done to his eyes. “They’re so cool looking,” she said as they waited outside Professor McGonagall’s class. “Dumbledore did a really good job.”

Harry smiled. “It is pretty wicked. I’m not saying that I want the change to be permanent but for today it’s appropriate.”

“Watch out,” Ginny warned. Another cluster of third years were shuffling closer, their hands holding several cameras.

Harry sighed. “How much do you want to bet several of those pictures are going to be in the Prophet?”

Ginny giggled. “Four at most. They might be merciful and stick a tiny picture of Dumbledore with them, to make you feel better.”

“For some reason, that’s not entirely comforting,” Harry muttered as several flashes affected his eyes.

Luckily for him, Professor McGonagall opened the door and ushered them inside. Taking his usual seat in the middle of the classroom, Harry pulled out his books and waited for McGonagall to begin her lecture. The professor closed the door, turned around, and gasped.

“What in the name of great Merlin’s ghost do you think you’re doing, Potter?!” she demanded angrily.

Harry, completely surprised by her severity, responded rather carefully, “May I ask what you mean, professor?”

“Well I would think that was obvious,” McGonagall snapped.

Harry blinked, completely oblivious.

McGonagall, irritated with what she thought was a charade, slapped her wand in her hand. Red sparks flew out the end. “I am referring to your hideous appearance, Potter.”

Immediately enlightened, Harry grinned. “Is it distracting, professor?”

McGonagall breathed deeply. “Are you asking for another detention because that is exactly where you’re headed.”

“Professor, can I ask a question?”

“Yes?” she said with forced calm.

“Do you think I purposefully did this?” Harry asked curiously, trying hard not to laugh. He was imagining her running off and chewing out Dumbledore for casting such magic on a student.

“Of course, Potter,” McGonagall stated, a deep scowl tugging at her thin lips.

“Well, then it’s my honor to correct you,” Harry stated. At his professor’s confused expression, he explained, “In retaliation for pranking the Headmaster, he saw fit to inflict this little amusement upon my appearance.” Harry gestured to his hair and eyes. “I’m afraid I have no control over cancelling out the spell, professor. Believe me, I already tried.”

Professor McGonagall looked as if someone had slapped her in the face. “Are you to tell me,” she breathed, trying to compose herself, “that Professor Dumbledore cast this spell over you?”

Harry nodded. “I’m afraid so.”

Professor McGonagall breathed deeply, closing her eyes. “Potter, can I have a quick word? Everyone else open your books to page 235 and start reading the beginning of the chapter.”

While the rest of the class flipped to the appropriate page, Harry stood and followed McGonagall out into the corridor. Shutting the door behind her, she looked around before addressing Harry. She could have spit venom, her expression was so fierce. Harry took a step back.

“Potter, you were the one who pranked Albus?”

Harry swallowed. “Do you want the truth?”

“Of course,” McGonagall snapped.

Harry remembered his father telling him that one of the duties of being a Marauder was to not rat anyone else out. If only one got caught, he would take all the blame. And as a reward for doing so, the other Marauders would subject themselves to any punishment the blamed would demand. Grinning at the punishment of what his dad, Sirius, and Remus would have to endure, Harry looked firmly at his professor and nodded.

“I did it,” he stated.

McGonagall looked extremely disappointed. “Why?” she asked desperately. “Why did you do it, Potter? You knew you’d be punished for it.”

Harry grinned. “With all due respect, professor, it’s my last year. I want it to be as memorable as possible. Besides, a friendly little prank with a man I highly respect and soon will lose from my life seems worth any punishment.”

“So you’re doing this to create a fond memory between you and Albus?” she asked faintly.

Harry nodded. “Most of the memories I have of Professor Dumbledore are extremely serious and vigorously depressing. I think I’ll cherish this memory a lot after he’s gone.”

Professor McGonagall sighed, her sternness finally seeming to disappear. Sighing, she let her hands fall to her sides. “I understand what you’re trying to do, Harry. But you still broke into the Headmaster’s office and performed some really serious magic.”

“So what’s my detention?” Harry asked.

McGonagall surveyed him in silence. Harry fidgeted. Blinking a few times, she finally said, “Well, you already have detention to clean up the Owlery without magic for the fiasco you pulled yesterday. I suppose that Albus has already inflicted you with enough punishment with that hideous hair and those strangely fascinating eyes. Do you have any idea when it will wear off?”

Harry shrugged. “He didn’t say. His hair will be pink until midnight though. I think he probably did the same for me.”

Professor McGonagall nodded grimly. “It makes sense.” Then she sighed. “Try not to be too much of a distraction today, Potter. It’s hard enough to keep classes under control during this ridiculous holiday.”

Harry tried to remain somber as he replied, “I’ll try not to, professor.”

She pursed her lips before issuing the two of them inside. The class seemed to snap back to looking at their books; Harry suspected they’d been talking the entire time he and McGonagall were absent. Professor McGonagall drove them hard. Her lesson was about difficult transfigurations of disguise. Not only were they supposed to change their hair color but also their faces. Harry was unable to perform any transformations the entire lesson. No matter how many times he tried to change his facial features, they remained normal.

Harry wasn’t sure whether to blame this on his current behind-the-class magical skills or Dumbledore’s spell. Praying that it was the latter, Harry tried three more times to transfigure his nose. It didn’t change. Next to him, Ginny had managed to make herself a pixie-cut blond with an alarmingly sharp nose, upturned grey eyes, and thin twig-like lips. She looked delighted with herself as she admired her wandwork in the small mirror that she’d been given at the beginning of class.

Hermione had transformed not only her hair, eyes, and nose, but also her skin. It had a much deeper tint, like she’d had the world’s darkest tan. Straight black hair hung in beautiful folds around her darkened face, her eyes a stunningly bright green. Ron, who’d only managed to transfigure his nose to something that resembled a smashed tomato, stared at her with his mouth wide open.

Harry tried to ignore the squeals of delight from his fellow students as they shouted out their achievements and displayed them to their friends. It really was embarrassing that he hadn’t managed to change his appearance one iota. He almost wondered if Dumbledore had read McGonagall’s mind and discovered what today’s lesson was. This was a very ideal punishment, Harry muttered silently in misery, having him look like an idiot by being unable to transfigure himself.

“Harry, are you alright?” Ginny asked, looking over at him with crystal blue eyes. Her hair was now straight and a stunning shade of caramel.

Harry tried to hide his misery. “I’m fine.”

Ginny looked at him skeptically. “No you’re not.”

Under her scrutiny, Harry’s defiance crumbled. “No, I’m not,” he admitted quietly.

“What’s wrong,” she muttered, leaning closer to him.

Harry was suddenly grateful to McGonagall for planning such a distracting lesson. Checking to be sure that Ron and Hermione and everyone else were heavily distracted with their wandwork and their mirrors, he explained his discomfort.

Ginny frowned. “Harry, I don’t think Dumbledore would punish you this way. He probably didn’t even know what McGonagall had planned for today. He would never desire to really hurt you, you know that.”

Harry sighed. “Still feels like he has.”

“That was not his intention,” Ginny assured. She placed her hand in his. “For what it’s worth, the wandwork he did on you is the best in the class. Every piece of your hair from your head to your eyebrows is perfectly pink down to the roots. And your eyes” – she looked into them and smiled – “they’re wonderfully original.”

Harry half-smiled. “I didn’t perform the work though. Dumbledore did.”

Ginny, trying to make him feel better, searched for something to say. Her face suddenly brightened. “He may have done that to you but I saw what you did to him.”

“The other Marauders helped,” Harry said, downgrading himself.

“Who did the wandwork to change the color, Harry?”

“I did,” Harry said. “My dad broke the lock spells on the door, Sirius put Fawkes to sleep, and Remus made sure the coast was clear downstairs while I went upstairs to do the dirty work.”

Ginny smiled. “There, you see? Your wandwork in this area is exemplary!”

Harry still remained unsure. “But my dad told me the spell.”

“So? Anyone can describe a spell, Harry, but until it is cast, it’s just a bunch of words. And you cast a perfect spell – on Dumbledore of all people! I suspect his beard and hair are going to be that horrific pink until tomorrow?”

Harry grinned and nodded. “Thanks a lot, Ginny,” he said, feeling much better.

Ginny looked around to make sure McGonagall wasn’t looking their way before giving Harry a quick kiss. “That’s what I’m here for,” she said, pulling away.

Harry smiled. Suddenly, the fact that he couldn’t perform any self transfiguration spells didn’t bother him. He held Ginny’s hand under the table the rest of class, firmly aware of the little monster purring contentedly in his chest.  

The rest of his classes were a blur. After the last lesson, Defense Against the Dark Arts, came to an end, Harry walked up to Gryffindor Tower so Ginny could put her bag away. While waiting for her to come back down the stairs, Harry was accosted by several people, some asking for an autograph, others, a picture. Harry refused anyone who made a request with a camera but he did, grudgingly mind you, sign some of the items shoved under his nose. Ginny managed to rescue him before a line could fully form. Several groans escaped a cluster of first years as the two seventh years brushed them off, heading for the exit.

“Thanks for saving me,” Harry muttered, looking behind him to make sure they weren’t being followed.

Ginny giggled. “Not happy with all the attention?”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I’m thinking that I’ll have to send Dumbledore flowers for making sure I had my own dorm this year. If I had to deal with that every day, I would have committed suicide by asking Draco if I could take up residence in the Slytherin common room.”

Ginny snorted. “Like the others would have let you stay there.”

Harry laughed. “That’s the point; better to be killed than deal with all that every day.”

Ginny chuckled at his sarcasm before wrapping her hand comfortably in his. “So, where are we going?”

Harry looked over at her. “I’m going down to my dorm to practice what we learned in class today. Where are you going?”

Ginny, trying to hide how hurt she was, shrugged. She was obviously surprised by Harry’s comment. Deciding to let her stew for a few more seconds, Harry glanced at her several times. Noticing this, Ginny sniffed. “Perhaps I’ll go back up to Gryffindor Tower.”

She turned to do this when Harry caught her arm. They were standing by a fairly large window. Harry backed Ginny into it and began to furiously kiss her. With his fiancée reasonably distracted, Harry unlatched the window. After several snogs, Harry took a step backward.

“Well, that was…” – Ginny paused – “unexpected.”

Harry shrugged, turning to look out the now unlatched window. “I just thought I’d kiss you good night since we may not see each other later.”

Ginny’s shoulders sagged considerably but she tried to remain upbeat. “Oh…right. I–I guess I’ll see you later, Harry.”

She turned…and Harry pounced. It only took one second to transform into his gryffin form and another to snatch Ginny up in his talons. She gasped as Harry whirled around and leapt out the window. Naturally Ginny was screaming as they fell three, four, five, six feet towards the ground. Winter air whipped through Harry’s feathers and fur, livening his senses. With a flourish he spread his wings, caught an updraft and shot into the air, carrying a distraught Ginny with him. Thinking that she was already traumatized, Harry threw her up into the air.

A scream pierced the winter sky as she swirled around. Harry, calculating her position perfectly, swept underneath her and she landed on his back, straddling him. Immediately Ginny’s hands latched around his neck, her face burying itself into his feathers. A loud squawk of laughter leapt from Harry’s throat as he flapped his wings, cutting through the air while soaring over the castle.

After a few moment’s Ginny’s trembling lessened and she unburied her face to stare at their surroundings. Rays of stray sunlight managed to cut through the wintry gray clouds, lighting the Hogwarts grounds in natural light similar to a strobe light at a night club. Harry swooped around the castle’s tallest towers several times before landing on the Astronomy Tower. Ginny clambered off and stood a few paces back from Harry so he could fold his wings without hitting her in the face. Transforming back to normal, Harry pulled out his wand.

A silver liquid erupted from the wand tip. It shot upward, ten feet above them, before tricking down, spreading rapidly, interweaving together until it encompassed them in a domed shape. The chilling wind immediately stopped cutting into their robes, relieving both of them from shivers. Harry waved his wand again and the temperature around them rose to a comfortable seventy degrees. One last wave conjured a table for two complete with silverware and a small vase containing a single rose.

It had only taken Harry seconds to cast all the spells. He stepped back, admiring his handiwork. Turning to Ginny, he smiled. “What do you think?”

She held no expression as she came towards him. Then, out of the blue, she punched his arm.

“Ouch!” Harry exclaimed, rubbing the spot. “What was that for?”

Ginny’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Don’t you ever surprise me like that again Harry! You could have told me you were going to take me for a joyride on your back! You could have warned me that you were going to toss me recklessly into the air! What made you think I’d be fine with that?”

Harry stared, utterly stunned.

“Well?” she demanded, folding her arms.

Harry swallowed. “I just assumed that since you were fine with Quidditch that you’d be fine with this.”

Ginny’s nostrils flared. “You are such a git sometimes!” Twisting around, she stomped away several paces.

Harry’s shoulders slumped. He hadn’t meant to startle her. He thought it would be a lot of fun to whisk her away, gryffin-style. Apparently he’d been wrong. Mentally beating himself up for messing up for the second time in less than twenty four hours, Harry conjured another red rose and stepped over to Ginny.

“I’m really sorry, Ginny,” he muttered to her back. She still refused to turn around. “Look, I really didn’t think it would startle you.”

Ginny sighed, finally twisting around to look at him. Eyeing the rose, her fierce expression evaporated. “Oh, Harry,” she muttered, stepping up to him and taking the rose away. “You’re cute when you’re trying to apologize.”

Harry grimaced. “Was this another one of your selfish ploys?” he asked, a tad hurt.

Ginny shook her head. “Of course not! I’m just speaking my mind at the moment. Thanks for this,” – she gestured to the table behind her – “and this.” She held up the rose.

Harry smiled. “You’re welcome. I thought having an early dinner together would be best.”

Gesturing for her to take a seat, Harry helped her to the table before setting down himself. Unfolding her napkin, Ginny asked, “So, where’s the food?”

Harry waited for a moment before there was a loud crack and Kreacher appeared holding a tray with a meal for two. After placing the dishes in front of them, he pulled out a bottle of mead and set it on the table. “Thanks, Kreacher,” Harry said.

The elf bowed before disappearing with another crack. The dinner Kreacher had brought was a wonderful potato based soup in a wheat bread bowl. A side of steamed vegetables sat next to the bowl along with a small dinner mint. From one spoonful, Ginny’s eyes lit up. “This is delicious!” she exclaimed, taking another large bite.

Harry vigorously agreed. The soup held a hearty blend of spices and the sauce was superbly mixed with the various vegetables and meat. As they enjoyed their meal, the two of them had a wonderful time simply talking. It seemed like a lifetime ago since they were able to have so much uninterrupted time together. They spoke of school, Harry’s difficulties with the coursework, Ginny’s stresses with homework, and a rather heavy topic: their honeymoon plans.

“I want to go somewhere nice,” Ginny said after ripping off a portion of her bread bowl.

“Where did you have in mind?” Harry asked.

Ginny tapped her chin. “I’m not entirely sure. I thought maybe somewhere out of the country would be best.”

“Why?” Harry asked.

“Well, my main reason is I don’t want it to be a photo shoot honeymoon.”

Harry grimaced. The last thing he wanted was to have Daily Prophet reporters chasing after him and Ginny when they were experiencing something so special. But there was a slight problem. Though he would deeply love to whisk Ginny away to some other country, he didn’t have the funds to do so. His parents had left him with a considerably large inheritance but it would definitely be unwise to spend all of it on a vacation to Italy or France. Harry picked at his bread bowl.

“I’d love to take you somewhere secluded, Ginny,” he muttered, feeling terribly about voicing his dilemma. “But I don’t have the funds right now.”

He peeked up at her expecting to see a scowl or severe disappointment. What he saw surprised him. Ginny was glowing with pride. Smiling deeply, she said, “I’m glad you’re being honest with me, Harry. I understand completely what if feels like to not spend money frivolously.”

Harry, eyes wide with surprise, asked, “So you’re not mad?”

“Not in the least,” Ginny assured.

“Or disappointed?”

“Nope.”

Harry felt like a dragon had leapt off his shoulders. “Great,” he sighed, relieved.

Ginny giggled. “So, where would you like to go?”

Harry thought for a moment. “Let me look around a bit and I’ll get back to you.”

“Okay,” she replied. “Harry? Don’t think about it so much that you slip even more in classes. That’s the last thing I want.”

Harry looked at her gratefully. It did ease his mind to know that Ginny was so lenient on this matter. That was one of the good things about her: he didn’t have to buy her love. She would be comfortable with any place he decided on, of that he was sure.

After their plates were cleaned, Kreacher appeared to take away the empty dishes. Harry looked at his watch. Sunset was in fifteen minutes. Sighing, he stood up and indicated for Ginny to do the same. Occupied with cancelling out his spellwork, Harry didn’t realize that Ginny had pulled out a camera. He turned around and found her holding it out sheepishly.

“I thought we could take a picture together,” she said, suddenly sounding nervous. “I know how much you don’t like them though.” She fidgeted with the camera, her cheeks flushing. “It was a stupid thought. I’ll put it away.”

Harry gently took her hand. “I don’t mind taking a picture if it’s with you, Ginny.”

She looked up at him, searching his eyes. “Are you sure?”

“We’re going to be spending the rest of our lives together,” Harry pointed out. “We might as well start making a scrapbook for our kids’ sakes.”

Ginny’s hand slipped as she tried to take off the lens cap. “Yeah,” she muttered, her face flushing terribly, “for our kids.”

Harry grinned. They’d talked about having children before on several occasions. Every time, Ginny’s face would turn bright pink and she’d become incredibly flustered. Harry was the exact opposite, cool and collected. He supposed the idea of children didn’t seem scary to him since he’d greatly desired a family of his own his whole life. It wasn’t that Ginny didn’t want to have kids; it’s just the idea seemed to embarrass her a lot. And Harry loved seeing her reaction so he mentioned it at odd moments; usually when he was in the mood to see her squirm.

“You said that on purpose,” she muttered as she saw his grin.

“No I didn’t.”

She pursed her lips. “Sure you didn’t,” she grumbled, successfully pulling off the lens cap. Coming over to his side, she held out the camera. “You’d better not make a funny face.”

“Of course not,” Harry said through smiling teeth.

“Three, two, one,” Ginny warned before pressing the button. A flash temporarily blinded both of them. “I hope it turns out okay,” Ginny murmured.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Harry said before wrapping her up in a kiss. He wanted to stay up there with her forever but the sun was sinking fast. He pulled away, sighing. “Sunset,” he muttered in response to her questioning look.

Ginny grimaced. “Stupid sunset.”

“Come on,” Harry muttered, taking her hand. “The least I can do is take you back to Gryffindor Tower.”

“But Harry, you don’t have time to get down to the ground floor,” Ginny said.

“I’ll make it.” And before she could protest, he whisked her to the Astronomy Tower’s exit. They shared another kiss in front of the Fat Lady (“How sweet!”) before Harry rushed away, running as fast as he could down the stairs. He made it to the third floor before his body trembled.

“That can’t be right,” he muttered. He looked out a window as he ran and to his dismay saw that he had miscalculated. He hadn’t had fifteen minutes; he’d only had ten. And now those ten minutes were up.

Looking around desperately, he found an empty classroom. Rushing inside, he pulled out the Gate Frame and summoned his loved ones just as pain started to skyrocket through his limps. Crying out, Harry fell to his hands and knees, his blood bumping through his veins, his heart banging uncomfortably against his chest. His limps felt like they were on fire as they twisted and bent, reshaping into his stag form. Several moments later, Harry gasped, opening his eyes.

His parents were right beside him. Lily looked incredibly concerned but also the emotion of bewilderment was etched into her face. James also looked worried but he seemed to be having a hard time keeping a straight face. Harry, a little perturbed that his father would find this situation even remotely funny, shook his head.

“Harry,” Lily began, “first off, are you alright?”

“Those are always the first words you say,” Harry muttered weakly. His bones creaked and groaned with every movement he made. “I’ll be fine in a couple minutes, mum.”

Lily nodded then asked, “If you’re sure you’ll be alright, then I want to know why in Merlin’s name are you pink?”

James couldn’t hold it in anymore; he laughed. So did Sirius. Remus tried to keep his laughter limited to chuckling but it was apparently very difficult. Tonks had a smile on her face but mostly she was concerned just like Lily. Harry finally looked down at his body and with terrible dismay realized his entire coat was pink.

He sighed. “Curse that old man.”

“Who, Harry?” James asked, his laughter faltering. “Did someone do this to you?”

Harry nodded. This caused the laughter to die from Sirius and Remus. They began to look angry as they once more looked Harry up and down.

“Look at his eyes,” Sirius exclaimed. “I didn’t notice that before. Did they do that too?”

“Apparently Dumbledore took a step up from us,” Harry muttered.

The Marauders froze.

“He didn’t,” muttered James.

“He did,” said Harry.

Remus and Sirius locked eyes. “He’s declared war,” Remus pointed out.

“You’ve got that right,” said James, coming to his feet. “But, how did he figure out that it was us?”

Sirius looked a little dismayed. “James, who else would be so bold as to prank Dumbledore?”

James paused. “Nobody,” he sighed. He looked at Harry. “So you took the heat, huh?”

“Sure did.”

Sirius’s lips thinned. “And not only did he curse you to suffer along with him but now we have to endure a punishment from you.”

Harry felt quite elated by this news. Trying hard not to grin too much, he replied, “It’s a pretty fair deal, I suppose. Even though his curse has been pretty humiliating; I’ve had people trying to take pictures and get autographs all freakin’ day.”

James sighed. “I suppose we’ll have to avenge Harry. Any ideas?”

“I think you should let this one go,” Lily advised. “I told you not to do it James but you didn’t listen. Now look what’s happened to Harry! He’s had to deal with ridicule and screaming annoying fans all day long.”

“Doesn’t he usually have to deal with that last part?” Sirius muttered.

Lily scowled. “Don’t even start, Sirius. The three of you need to grow up! Still pranking everyone like you were back in school.”

“Lils, you were totally fine with the pranks before.”

“Yes, James, but now that I’ve seen that Harry get’s the blame for them, I think you should end the silly games.”

The last thing Harry wanted was his parents fighting over him. He was touched that his mother was so protective but he had to side with his dad on this. He liked pranking people, being part of his dad’s schemes, being a Marauder. He needed to voice his thoughts before his dad ended up having to sleep out on the couch for a week.

“Mum,” he said.

She didn’t answer, still too consumed with her tennis match with his dad.

“Mum!” he tried again, louder this time.

Lily stopped. “Yes, Harry?”

Harry stood on his hooves. He still felt shaky but thankfully he didn’t show it. “Mum, promise me you won’t get mad?”

Lily’s eyes narrowed. “From that question I don’t think I can promise that.”

“Mum, please.”

She looked into his pleading eyes and her sternness melted. “Even if they’re a different color I can’t resist those eyes,” she mumbled. “Fine, Harry.”

“Thanks mum.” Harry rubbed his head against her shoulder before stepping back. “I don’t want the pranks to stop. I like them.”

James looked at Harry with pride while Lily appeared to be conceding to something she already knew. Smiling despite herself, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed his cheek. “Alright, fine. You two win.”

James clapped Harry on the back. “That’s my boy!”

“What am I going to do with you two?” Lily muttered, though she was smiling.

“You made the decision to marry him, Lily,” Sirius pointed out, grinning.

“I remember well, Sirius,” Lily said rather testily. “I haven’t forgotten.”

Tonks, finally speaking for the first time, looked around. “Why are we in a classroom Harry?”

Harry’s elation dampened as he remembered his predicament. “I lost track of the time,” he said truthfully.

“What were you doing?” Remus asked.

Harry swallowed and pawed at the classroom floor nervously. James caught Sirius’s eye and the two of them stepped closer, trying not to grin.

“Why so nervous, Harry?” Sirius asked. “Something happen?”

“I was just up in the Astronomy Tower,” Harry hedged.

James grinned. “With Ginny?”

Harry tossed his head a little. “Perhaps.”

Lily smiled. “There’s nothing wrong with that, Harry. If it’s alright, can I ask what you did together for Valentine’s Day?”

Avoiding the marauders gazes, Harry decided to tell his mom how he gave her a bouquet of roses, a large box of chocolates, and a nice dinner. His mom nodded with approval. “That was a great date, Harry,” she praised. “Wish I had one like that.”

“Me too,” Tonks sighed.

James and Remus shuffled their feet uneasily. Sirius tried not to smirk as he muttered, “Busted.”

“Shut up,” James snapped quietly. “I bet Elle would want the same. What are you doing with her tonight anyway, Padfoot?”

Sirius made a motion as if he were zipping his lips together. “I’m not saying a word.”

Remus looked at James. “You haven’t done anything yet?”

James shook his head. “I made plans but…” he looked at Harry.

Not wanting his dad’s date with his mom to be cancelled on his account, Harry said, “Dad, you don’t have to stay with me tonight.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, worried.

Harry nodded. “I’ll be fine on my own. I have to study anyway.”

“At least let us get you downstairs,” said Lily.

“I’d be really grateful if you did,” Harry muttered truthfully.

After small discussion, a decision was made on how to get Harry down to his dorm. Harry wasn’t a big fan of what had been determined. Sirius disappeared while everyone else waited. Harry sighed and trotted around a little bit to stretch his muscles. He looked out the window, wishing with all his heart that he could be out on the grounds, running around. Hogwarts was starting to feel like a terrible prison, something Harry never would have believed possible. Sirius returned five minutes later accompanied by Professor Merrylow.

“Wow,” she said the second she saw Harry. “I thought you were exaggerating about blindness, Sirius; you’re quite the sight Harry.”

“I have Dumbledore’s handiwork to thank for that,” Harry muttered.

Professor Merrylow smiled gently. “I heard what you did from Minerva. I can’t help saying you deserve it.” Taking out her wand, she said, “Are you ready?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Harry grumbled.

“Reducio!” Professor Merrylow said, waving her wand with a flourish over Harry’s antlers.

Harry immediately began to shrink. He was the size of a dog, the size of a cat, the size of a mouse. He looked up, his parents, Sirius, Merrylow, and the Lupins resembling giants.

“Wow, he’s like a figurine,” James said.

His voice was so loud, Harry’s ears flatted against his head. “Ouch!”

“What is it, Harry?” his mother’s voice boomed down at him. “Are you alright?”

“Stop shouting!” Harry replied loudly.

His parents looked confused. “Nobody’s shouting, Harry,” said Sirius, his voice rattling Harry’s eardrums.

Harry winced. Understanding lit up Tonks’ face. “Harry,” she whispered, “is this better?”

“Finally,” Harry muttered, “one of you is talking normal.”

Tonks laughed quietly. “To him,” she explained to the others in a whisper, “we’re comparable to giants. Our voices have probably been hurting his ears. Right, Harry?”

Harry nodded.

“But Harry doesn’t sound any different to us,” James whispered.

“Thoughts probably only have one volume,” Professor Merrylow guessed.

“Interesting,” Remus muttered quietly.

“We’d better get him to his dorm though,” said Lily. “I don’t want to come across an army of loud kids while he’s like this.”

James’s face filled with worry. “You’re right. Come here, Harry.”

His dad lowered his hand to the ground. Feeling ridiculous and slightly embarrassed, Harry cantered over to it, stepping awkwardly into his dad’s palm. Walking on human flesh was comparable to walking on pudding. With every step, Harry felt the skin press down around his hooves, making him feel like the surface was about to slip underneath him. James lifted him up slowly but Harry felt like gravity was slamming into his back. He lost his balance and his body smacked into his dad’s palm.

“Ouch!”

“Sorry,” his dad whispered fervently. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Harry muttered.

“What happened?” Sirius asked.

“Gravity,” Harry grumbled simply.

“Can I hold him?” Lily asked.

James’s face strained. “He’s not a toy, Lils!”

Harry grimaced. His mother had a strange fascination in her eyes. Harry suddenly found himself praying that his dad would make sure to keep him away from her.

“I know he’s not,” Lily muttered, “but he looks so cute!”

Harry felt he could die of humiliation. The corners of James’ mouth twitched as he tried not to laugh. “He may be but I think I’ll hold on to him,” he whispered.

Lily looked disappointed but she nodded. “Alright,” she mumbled.

Harry looked up at his dad with a silent expression of gratitude. James only nodded. “Let’s go,” he muttered.

“I thought I was going to hold him,” whispered Merrylow. “That’s why you got me, isn’t it?”

Sirius nodded. “We thought it would look weird for a small stag to be floating around on its own. James, hand Harry over.”

James didn’t seem to like the idea of letting Harry go but he placed him delicately in Elle’s hands without complaint. Merrylow grinned. “You do look really cute, Harry.”

“Please,” Harry muttered, “stop saying that.”

She chuckled softly before leading the way out of the room. Several students passed them in the corridors, their voices causing Harry to shudder and long to cover his ears. At least Professor Merrylow was nice enough to cup her hands to help block out the noise. They were just about to slip down the marble staircase when someone called Professor Merrylow’s name.

“Elle, there you are. We’re about to have a staff meeting.” It was Professor McGonagall. She marched over and then noticed how Merrylow was cupping her hands. “What have you caught?”

Professor Merrylow, speaking in a whisper, simply answered, “Harry.”

“I beg your pardon?” McGonagall’s voice was incredibly loud in Harry’s ears. He tried to flatten them against his head.

“Professor,” he called, “please speak in a whisper. You’re hurting my ear drums.”

Professor McGonagall faltered. “Potter?”

Professor Merrylow opened her hands. Harry was lying down, his legs tucked comfortably underneath him. “Hi, professor,” he said, trying to sound as if this was no big deal.

Professor McGonagall blinked a few times. Whispering, she asked, “Why on earth are you so small, Potter? And why are you pink?”

Harry sighed. “I’m small because I had to figure out a way to get myself down to the Entrance Hall without people noticing a stag wandering around the halls. As to the pink thing, I blame Professor Dumbledore and the spell he cast on me this morning.”

Just then the man himself seemed to materialize next to Professor McGonagall. Merrylow leapt a foot in the air, her hand rocking Harry back and forth uncomfortably.

“Watch it,” Harry complained, trying to right himself.

“Oh, sorry, Harry,” Merrylow whispered.

“My, my,” Dumbledore muttered quietly, silently eyeing the Gate Keepers and Harry, “didn’t make it all the way down the stairs tonight, huh, Harry?”

Trying to ignore the bright pink of his Headmaster’s beard and the Marauders riotous laughter at the sight of it, Harry admitted, “No sir.”

“What on earth were you doing that made you unable to return to your dormitory?” asked Professor McGonagall.

Harry was suddenly grateful he was already pink; he was sure that he was blushing. “Do I have to answer?”

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. The old man was wise enough to put a few things together. Smiling, he turned to Professor McGonagall. “Even the best of us sometimes forget the time when we are enjoying ourselves, Minerva,” he said in a whisper. “Come along; we’ll meet you in the staff room, Elle, after you drop Harry off.”

Professor McGonagall tried to protest but Dumbledore led her away. Harry made a mental note to thank Dumbledore later as Merrylow carried him down the staircase.

“Did you see his beard?” James exclaimed happily.

“Brilliant!” Sirius returned.

The three marauders congratulated Harry on his excellent spellwork amidst more rounds of laughter. Lily looked them over disapprovingly. “I’m surprised he didn’t cast a spell on all of you! You should be grateful.”

“He couldn’t because Minerva was right there,” said Remus. “It would have been odd if he pulled out his wand and cast a spell at nothing.”

Lily pursed her lips while Tonks joined in laughing with the others. “I’m sorry,” she giggled, “but that was completely priceless! I seriously hope they put his picture in the Prophet!”

“It’ll probably be right next to mine,” Harry muttered as they disappeared behind the tapestry.

“Probably,” said Sirius. “And then you’ll have tons of students asking you to sign their copy over breakfast. Perfect publicity.”

If Harry were bigger he would have kicked Sirius in the head; not literally of course… well, maybe a little…

 Merrylow gave the password and they stepped inside. Draco was lounging on the couch, reading a book. He noticed the Gate Keepers and nodded in welcome. Then he noticed Merrylow.

“Professor Merrylow? What brings you here?”

“Hello, Draco,” Merrylow smiled kindly. “I’m just dropping Harry off.”

That’s when Draco noticed the pink stag in her hands. He blinked, obviously shocked by what he saw. Merrylow set Harry down on the ground and backed up a few paces while taking out her wand. “Engorgio!” She waved her wand over Harry’s antlers and he found himself growing to his usual size.

“Thanks,” he muttered.

“Don’t mention it,” Merrylow smiled before turning to Sirius. “I’ll stop by after the staff meeting.” She kissed him gently before leaving the room.

“Try not to drool all over yourself, Padfoot,” James snickered, “It’s embarrassing.”

Sirius scowled. “Shut up, Prongs.”

Everyone laughed. Draco’s laughter was deeper and lasted longer than anyone else’s. Tears filled his eyes as everyone looked at him. “I’m sorry,” he gasped between breaths, “but this” – he gestured to Harry – “is too much!”

He laughed harder. Harry’s ears turned down. “You know, I’m really good at ramming my antlers into things, Draco.”

Draco saw this as an empty threat because his laughter only doubled. “I saw Dumbledore curse you at breakfast but I never thought that it would continue in your stag form! This is hilarious!”

“I’m glad you think it is,” Harry snapped, pride wounded.

Draco tried to stifle his laughter as he noted the exasperated expressions of the Gate Keepers. He looked over at Harry, whose head was hanging a little lower than normal. Draco suddenly felt bad for being so rude. “Sorry,” he apologized hastily, all hilarity devoid in his voice.

Harry stepped over to the fireplace and plopped down on his pad. “It’s okay. I would have laughed had it happened to you.”

“Gee, thanks, Potter.”

His snide tone lightened Harry’s mood. “No problem,” he bantered back.

“Are you going to be alright here, dear?” Lily asked.

“I’ll be fine, mum,” Harry assured. “Go and have fun.”

Lily looked around until she spotted a comforter in the corner. Bringing it over, she thrust it over Harry’s form before bending low to kiss his forehead. “Stay warm,” she advised, “and sleep well. We’ll be back in the morning.”

Harry nodded. “I will.”

James, Lily, Tonks, and Remus all left together but Sirius stayed behind since he had to wait for Elle to return.

“Where are they off to?” Draco asked.

Harry shrugged. “Not sure. It’s Valentine’s Day.”

“Ahhh, yes,” Draco murmured, sour, “no need to explain further.”

Harry looked over at him. “Shouldn’t you be with Alex?”

Draco fingered the pages of his book. “Why would you say that?”

Harry blinked. From Draco’s tone, he appeared to want to close the conversation. But Harry couldn’t let it go. Not when something was obviously bothering Draco. “Is everything alright between you two?”

“Everything is fine, Potter,” Draco snapped. “Merlin, don’t you have anything else to do?”

“No,” Harry replied, completely unfazed by Draco’s sharpness. “I’ve got all night. Want to talk about it?”

“No,” Draco retorted, opening his book and burying his nose in it.

Sirius chuckled.

“What?” Draco snapped, looking over at him.

Sirius smiled. “Oh, I was just reminded of a similar situation to this one that happened between James and me.”

“Then keep it to yourself,” Draco spat. “The last thing I need is to take a trip down your memory lane.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “I could force it out of you Draco. What are you trying to hide?”

Draco glared at him angrily for a full minute before tossing his book aside. “Alright! Fine! Nosy, inconsiderate, concerned gits.”

Harry and Sirius grinned at each other.

Draco sat up and sighed, exasperated. “She didn’t want to spend the day with me,” he admitted. “Said she had other matters to attend to.”

Harry blinked. “Seriously?”

Draco nodded, suddenly looking quite distressed. It was an expression Harry had never seen on him before.

“Does she know that today’s Valentine’s Day?”

Draco looked at him as if he had asked, ‘Does she know the sky is blue?’

“Well, think about it,” Harry said, defensive. “She’s not from around here. What if they don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in Egypt?”

Draco’s brain seemed to start clicking. He looked as if he was trying to squash this hopeful thought. “I’m not sure if they do,” he muttered.

“Why don’t you ask her?” Sirius asked.

“She’s in Gryffindor Tower.”

“Leave that to me,” Harry said.

Draco scoffed. “And what are you going to do, Potter? Run up all the stairs?”

Harry smirked. “Certainly not.” Using Obscurvirgum, he concentrated and produced a silvery stag patronus. “Alex, Draco needs to see you right now,” Harry said to it. The stag leapt through the air, disappearing through the ceiling.

Draco’s mouth was slightly open. “Now just wait a moment,” he said hollowly. “Since when can you do magic in that form without a wand, Potter? I thought what you did in the forest months ago was a quirk.”

“Looks like the secret’s out,” Sirius muttered.

Harry explained the process he endured of researching and practicing Obscurvirgum. “It’s really difficult to make spells that last for a long time,” he explained, “but with minor spells, it almost comes naturally for me.”

Draco shook his head. “Once again you perform magic at higher levels that I thought you capable of.”

“Thanks…I think.”

Several minutes passed. “I’d better go,” Harry muttered, suddenly realizing that Alex was on her way. He knew that she was obviously aware about his curse but Draco didn’t know that. It was best to keep him in ignorance. Standing, Harry retreated to his bedroom. Sirius opened and closed the door just as the portrait hole opened.

“That was close,” Sirius muttered.

“Yeah,” Harry agreed. “So, while you’re waiting, wanna play a game of chess?”

Sirius set up the pieces. They were halfway through the game (Sirius was losing) when there was a quiet knock on the door. Sirius glanced at Harry before getting up and opening the door a crack. “Are you alone?” he asked.

“Yes,” Elle answered. “Draco and Alex went for a walk. I passed them as I was coming down the hall. Lucky for me, I put on a disilluminating charm.”

“Good thinking,” Sirius muttered, letting her inside. “How was the meeting?”

“Terribly boring,” Elle sighed.

Sirius grinned. “Well then, are you ready to be woken up?”

Elle’s eyes sparked. “You bet!” She looked over at Harry, suddenly concerned. “Will you be alright here, Harry?”

Harry assured her that they could go have fun. He honestly didn’t mind; he had a lot of practicing to do. Elle still remained anxious as Sirius led her out the door. Once they were gone and the silence had descended, Harry used Accio to bring his schoolbooks towards him. He used a little bit of magic to turn each page as he read and researched all the lesson material that had been covered in his classes that morning as well as the lessons that were bound to come up in tomorrow’s classes. He made it through all of the DADA chapters, plus the practiced spellwork, as well as Transfiguration and Potions before he finally gave up. Exhausted from his overuse of Obscurvirgum and the amount of information he was trying desperately to cram into his head, Harry fell asleep without even putting his books away.

*~*~*~*~

Shortly after Harry had fallen asleep, he had a visitor. Dumbledore peered into his room and surveyed his favorite student. Waving his wand, the books around Harry snapped shut softly before flying back into his schoolbag. After assessing that everything was put away, Dumbledore covered Harry with his comforter, and sat down next to the bed in a conjured armchair. He surveyed the stag for several moments before letting out a sigh.

“Oh, Harry,” he murmured, putting his head in his hands, “how long will you have to suffer this curse? I can’t find a solution; I’ve tried everything.”

Dumbledore took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. All of his leads had hit dead ends. He’d traveled several times to Egypt only to return to England empty-handed. Being in such a predicament was new to him; he always had a solution to the problem.

But not this time.

The realization that he had reached a point where he couldn’t help the young man before him felt like a festering wound in his heart. Harry was like the son Albus had never had. Seeing him like this, having to suffer so much, was almost as bad as the haunting memories of his little sister’s death. And yet Harry once again surprised him by putting up with the curse, never completely rebelling as most others certainly would have.

“He’s suffered so much already,” Albus muttered to himself, “why does he have to suffer more? Shouldn’t he be able to rest?”

He found himself placing a hand on Harry’s head between his antlers. The stag breathed deeply. Dumbledore continued to watch over him for over an hour, his thoughts swirling around his head. There was only one thing left to do but he did not want to take that path. Any path that would jeopardize his students was never even considered an option…until now.

Alexandria Write knew more than she was telling and Albus silently agreed with Harry: she was the key to figuring out the curse. But how could he possibly approach her, he argued with himself, when she may be being watched? What if she -or even worse- her loved ones, became endangered because he had spoken with her?

All year he had avoided contact with her for her safety. But things needed to change. Harry could not possibly graduate and move on with his life in this current state of affairs. But could he really sacrifice the safety of another student for Harry? Would his love for the boy lead him to act carelessly? Albus stared at Harry intently and let out another sigh.

“What would you do, Harry?” he muttered. “If you were in my situation, if you possibly held the safety or destruction of someone in your hands, would you forego the possibility of destroying them to get what you desire? Would you?”

Dumbledore rubbed his eyes again.

“No, sir, I wouldn’t.”

Dumbledore blinked and looked up. The stag was fully awake, staring at him intently. “Harry! I didn’t mean to wake you.”

The stag yawned. “That’s alright, sir.”

Dumbledore tried to regain his composure but Harry read right through him. “Don’t try to hide your anxiety, sir,” he said. “I know you’re worrying about Alex. I suppose that’s because you can’t find a way to break the curse?”

Dumbledore stared at him, surprised. Blinking several times, he said, “It appears I can no longer hide anything from you, my boy.”

Harry laughed. “I beg to differ. I’m sure there are a lot of things you’re still keeping secret. I just had a feeling that you’ve reached a dead end in the counter curse search.”

Dumbledore hung his head, his expression suddenly incredibly pained. “I’m so sorry, Harry,” he whispered. “I’ve failed you.”

“No you haven’t,” Harry said, trying to comfort his headmaster. Seeing him like this, so old and frail, rattled Harry more than anything he’d ever faced. “I hope you haven’t thought that you alone had to find a countercurse, sir. If so, that was rather selfish of you. Everyone’s been trying to find something.”

This was true. Not only was Harry looking through all the books in the library, he had taken to looking for any book in the magical world about ancient Egyptian spells. Hermione, in her spare time, had owled her parents, asking them to send any information from the muggle world to see if there were any hidden clues she could dissect. The Weasleys were asking around, the Gate Keepers were keeping their ears open; everyone was doing something.

Dumbledore still looked depressed. “I still can’t believe I haven’t been able to attain any information concerning this.”

Harry couldn’t help grinning. “It’s quite frustrating, isn’t it? Not having all the answers?”

Dumbledore chuckled despite himself. “It would appear that I have forgotten what this could feel like.” They both shared a laugh before Dumbledore became silent. Staring at Harry until he made the young man feel slightly uncomfortably, he said, “Thank you, Harry. You have made me feel better.”

Harry, a little surprised by this, merely shrugged. “I just couldn’t take seeing you depressed, professor.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “No indeed. So, you really think we should not question Alexandria?”

Harry shook his head. “I want to but I don’t think it would be wise. Like you’ve pointed out in the past, we might hurt her or someone she loves by doing so. We’ll just have to keep observing her. Have you found anything out about the Death Eaters?”

Dumbledore shook his head. “The same mysterious force that is blocking me from grasping any leads about your curse seems to be shielding them as well. Even though the prison break has been reported in the Daily Prophet there haven’t been any sightings of the Death Eaters. Although I will say that once more the Wizarding World is stumbling into a panic. If we don’t figure things out soon, Harry, we’ll have a third wizarding war to overcome.”

Harry sighed. “I was afraid you were going to say something like that.” His eyes drooped a little.

“You need to rest, Harry. I’m sorry I woke you.” Dumbledore stood and waved his wand. The armchair vanished. “I will keep up my efforts to find any trails the Death Eaters have left behind.”

“And I’ll continue to keep an eye on Alex,” Harry offered. “If either of us finds out anything, we’ll discuss it. Agreed?”

“Agreed.” Dumbledore stepped away to the door. Before closing it, he heard Harry let out a soft peel of laughter. He turned back. “Is there something amusing you, my boy?”

Harry’s eyes were bright as he replied. “I think this was the best Valentine’s Day I’ve ever had. You’re beard being the biggest highlight of the day.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “You make a very nice pink stag yourself, Harry.”

Both laughed a bit before Dumbledore finally bade him goodnight. “Sleep well, Harry.”

“You too, professor.”   


 


AN: For anyone who is extreme (like me) and looked up the year this story is supposed to be taking place (1998) you’ll find that Valentine’s Day was on a Saturday. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this and therefore had Harry technically going to classes on the weekend. Oops! Well, nobody’s perfect. In order for the story to flow, I can’t change this chapter so please ignore that they’re going to classes on a Saturday (maybe an obliterate spell would be handy in this situation?) and find it in your heart to pardon a fanfiction author for her silly mess up. Oh! And reviews would be greatly appreciated if you have some spare time! Thankies, Thankies!!


                                                                                                            Gryffindor Soar


Chapter 22: A Dangerous Quandary
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

At the end of February, on the weekend, Harry had his detention. It was a beautiful Saturday morning. A snow storm had blown through, leaving plenty of ammo for the students to make snowballs for vicious snowball fights. Harry heard their laughter echoing even from up in the Owlery. Part of him desperately wished he could be down there, tossing snow around with his friends, building a snowman with Ginny, and enjoying the weekend. Instead he was stuck up in a tower, cleaning owl droppings and mice remains from the floor without the use of magic.

Filch had left him to the dirty work half an hour ago with nothing but a scrub brush, a bucket of water, and Mrs. Shower’s All Purpose Cleaner. Filch also wanted to take away his wand but Harry refused to part with it. Only after he threatened to turn Filch into a tea cozy did the horrible old man leave him alone.

Sighing, Harry got down on all fours and started scrubbing away. At least he didn’t have to do the job alone…

“I can’t believe you won’t let us use magic,” Sirius grumbled, scrubbing the floor alongside him.

Grinning, Harry shrugged. “That’s the punishment, Padfoot. Deal with it.”

“Yeah, Padfoot,” James grunted, scratching a severely large dropping with a flat putty knife. “Your complaining isn’t helping the situation.”

Sirius frowned. “Complaining makes me feel better.”

“Well it leaves the rest of us with grated nerves,” Remus pointed out. He had come over to help James with the overloaded dung heap.

About an hour later, Sirius grumbled again. “This is going to take hours.

Nobody felt like communicating with him; the smell was terrible and it was better to keep their mouths closed as much as possible. At least the Owlery is closed the whole time we’re up here working, Harry thought to himself. It would have been humiliating to have other students coming up and laughing their heads off at the sight of him. Sure, chilling out as a gryffin in the rafters had seemed like a good thing at the time but now… Harry sighed.

The sun continued to drift across the sky, slightly warming the tower though the chilly air still attempted to nip at Harry’s nose. After scrubbing and cleaning for three straight hours, Harry decided to take a short rest. The other Marauders joined him wholeheartedly.

Groaning, Sirius conjured a stool and plopped onto it. After using a cleaning charm on his hands, he rested his head in them. “This has got to be the worst detention ever. I never remember anything being this terrible, do you?”

“I don’t know,” Remus muttered. “I still haven’t forgotten having to clean all the toilets on the fifth floor.”

James grimaced and shuddered. “That was a nightmare.”

Sirius nodded, suddenly remembering. “Oh yeah; I guess that was worse than this.”

“What did you do to deserve that?” Harry asked curiously, leaning back against a window. The cool breeze felt good against the back of his neck.

“We made them all explode,” said James simply. “Right in the middle of classes. It was quite a messy scene. Filch didn’t look too happy about having to clear a path down the middle so the students could still get to the rest of their classes throughout the day.”

Sirius chuckled dryly. “Despite the smell, it was fun to watch.”

“Remember how he wanted to chain us to the ceiling when he found out it was us?” Remus asked, grinning.

“How could I forget?” James laughed. “Luckily for us, Dumbledore decided that being maimed for the rest of our lives wasn’t in everyone’s best interest.”

“So instead he punished you by having you clean up all the muck?” Harry guessed.

Sirius nodded. “Merlin, I remember taking fifteen showers and three baths that night in the prefects bathroom.”

“That bad huh?” Harry asked, grinning.

“Believe me, Harry,” said his father, “cleaning up dry owl droppings is much less likely to make you smell as bad as cleaning up fresh sewage.”

Harry wrinkled his nose. “I’ll try to remember that,” he muttered.

Remus looked down at the floor. “You know, I’ve never realized the floor to the Owlery was so vast.”

“Me neither,” Sirius muttered, checking out the floor as well. “We’ve only done half the room. Harry’s going to be a stag again by the time this is done.”

“Not to mention the possibility of the owls above us leaving fresher piles to clean up,” James pointed out.

“Thanks for bringing that up,” Sirius grumbled, looking up at the birds. Speaking to them directly, he said, “If any of you dares to land a dropping on what we just cleaned, I’ll eat you for dinner.” In response to this threat several large ‘presents’ fell from the rafters onto Sirius’s robes. “Ugh! Gross!” He cried. The other Marauders howled with laughter.

Chuckling still, Harry turned around so as to let the cool air hit his face. He was just about to close his eyes when something in the Forbidden Forest made him freeze. Standing just in the shadows of the trees stood a figure cloaked in red. Harry started. He was just thinking about leaping out of the window and turning into a gryffin when he saw another figure, this person clad in black, trudging through the snow towards the red figure’s location. Even from the Owlery Harry recognized that curly caramel colored hair. He watched as Alex reached the edge of the forest and then disappeared into the trees with Great One walking right beside her.

Harry decided to follow his first instinct. He leapt onto the window sill. It was a very tight fit.

“Harry, what are you doing?” James asked in alarm.

“I’ve got to check on something,” Harry said over his shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”

And he leapt from the window into open air before his father or the others could stop him. Plunging twenty feet downward, Harry concentrated and transformed into the gryffin. Stretching his wings, he spun end over end a few more times before finally managing to stabilize. Flapping furiously, he gained several feet before turning his gaze towards the forest.

Even with his sharper gryffin vision he could no longer see either Great One or Alex. Deciding to put a disillusionment charm over himself, Harry performed the spell and then flew off towards the trees, praying that he would be able to pick up Alex’s position. Circling three times over the tree tops, he finally managed to catch a glimpse of red through a gap in between two trees. Diving silently, Harry shot like a rocket towards the branches. With cat-like reflexes, he landed on the topmost ones without a sound.

Lucky for him, Great One had decided to stop. Peering down, Harry noted that the ground was devoid of snow although there was no sign of green life; brown, dead branches littered the ground along with the same earth tones of leaves. Most of the snow appeared to have collected on the branches above. Harry made a note not to move so as not to disturb the snow beneath his paws and talons and give away his position. Grateful for his keen sense of hearing, Harry directed his head to the side so as to catch everything being spoken.

“It is good to see you are being trusted so, Alexandria,” Great One was saying in a pleased sort of tone.

“It has not been easy,” Alex admitted.

“Quite so,” Great One muttered. “Tell me, how is the Sacrifice?”

“She is weakening,” Alex reported.

Great One nodded. “That is to be expected. Has anyone noticed?”

“No.”

“Not even the One of Prophecy?”

“No. He has been further occupied with his own studies,” said Alex.

“That’s good,” Great One muttered. “We cannot have him interfering now. Not when we are growing closer to the appointed time.”

“But, Great One, shouldn’t we be welcoming his help?” Alex asked hesitantly.

A chill far greater than the surrounding air corroded the atmosphere. “No, we should not!” Great One snapped. “He is to remain out of commission. Have you forgotten his curse?”

“No, sir,” Alex muttered.

“His fate has been determined already,” Great One went on, “he should not meddle in our affairs.”

“But the Sacrifice-”

“Does not concern him!” Great One interrupted. “No, I will hear no more of this, Alexandria. The One of Prophecy was cursed so as to stay out of the way. I do not want you to keep bringing this up.”

“But when will the curse on him disappear, my lord?” Alex asked.

Great One paused. “You seem to be concerned,” he whispered. Disapproval lurked within his tone as he circled around the young girl. “Tell me, have you grown feelings for him?”

“No!” Alex replied defensively.

Great One did not relent. “Your retort tells me otherwise. You cannot hide things from me. Tell the truth!”

The way Great One said these words reminded Harry of Tom Riddle from Dumbledore’s memories. They were cold and demanding. Alex winced as if she’d been burned.

“He…is my friend,” she whispered.

Great One growled. “Alexandria,” he said with forced calm, “when you accepted this mission you made a solemn oath. Have you forgotten?”

“No, I have not,” Alex muttered.

“You cannot afford to get close to him,” Great One replied. “Especially not at this time.”

“But-”

“NO Alexandria.”

Alex swallowed. Hanging her head, she nodded. “Yes, Great One.” From her tone Harry could somehow tell she had tears in her eyes.

“Good,” Great One breathed. “Your mission is still the same.”

“The Sacrifice?” Alex guessed.

“The Sacrifice,” Great One repeated, nodding. “She has not been tainted?”

“No.”

Great One paced. “It is vitally important that she remain pure. You must ensure this, Alexandria. Do whatever you must to make sure she stays the way she is.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex muttered, though she did so unhappily.

Great One stopped pacing to study her. “Do not bring up the One of Prophecy again, Alexandria. I will not withhold my wrath again if you do.”

Alex’s voice was full of pain. “I won’t, Great One.”

The red robed figure turned as if to walk away but then paused. “Alexandria?”

“Yes?” she asked, suddenly nervous again.

“You are not to be distracted by that treasure of yours either. I have been merciful but if he proves to be a distraction…”

“He won’t be,” Alex said, as if desperately praying this treasure of hers would prove her promise true.

Great One huffed. “We shall see, child.”

And with that he turned on his heel and a golden glow surrounded his form. The light grew until it was too blinding to behold. Harry turned away and when he dared to look again, both Great One and Alex were gone.

*~*~*~*~

Harry wanted to land back inside the Owlery but the window was too small for him. He flapped over to it anyway, letting out a piercing squawk. His father appeared at the window, looking a little stern.

“Harry, you scared the heck out of us,” he complained. “What were you thinking, jumping out the window?”

“Squawk!”

“I don’t understand bird, son,” James muttered. “Look, when you didn’t come back after fifteen minutes, Sirius went down to get Dumbledore. They should be here any minute. Can you get inside?”

Harry came closer, clawing at the window, but his body was too vast. Remus came to it, assessing the problem. “Only one thing to do, I’m afraid,” he said. “Stay back for a moment, Harry.”

“What are you going to do?” James asked.

Instead of answering, Remus took out his wand and pointed it at a small opening in the Owlery’s roof. “EXPULSO!” he said loudly. Once hit with the spell, the roof’s small opening exploded, sending chips of wood and old shingles flying in all directions. Harry flew backward to avoid the debris but several small chucks hit him in the head. He squawked in protest. So did owls inside. More than fifty different types of owl burst forth into the sky, shrieking angrily and looking murderous.

“Sorry,” Remus called.

“You just blasted the roof!” James exclaimed, stating the obvious.

“Yes, well, it was only so Harry could get back inside,” said Remus. “He should not have left the castle on his own. We’re going to be in trouble when Albus shows up. Now, get inside, Harry.”

Harry flapped his wings a few times to gain enough altitude to reach the large hole. Fortunately he didn’t meet any angry owl on his way in. Landing on top of the rafters, Harry folded his wings. Remus immediately set to work repairing the roof while James looked up at his son in disapproval. Before he could say anything the door to the Owlery opened.

“Is it going to become a habit to find you up in the rafters, my boy?” Dumbledore asked, looking up.

Harry clicked his beak. Stretching his wings, he leapt off the wooden beam and plunged towards the ground. Five feet from impact, he transformed back into himself, flipped once, and landed perfectly on his feet, feeling extremely elated.

“Show off,” Sirius muttered.

Harry grinned. “Sorry. I just wanted to see if I could do that.”

“Highly reckless,” Dumbledore opined. “If you hadn’t landed perfectly you could have seriously injured yourself.”

Harry noted the disapproval behind Dumbledore’s light tone and sighed. “Sorry,” he muttered, suddenly feeling stupid.

“Harry, why did you leave the castle,” Dumbledore asked, his disapproving tone becoming more apparent with every word.

Harry swallowed. Going after Alex and Great One had seemed like a good thing at the time. “Nothing happened,” Harry said defensively.

“Thankfully that is true,” Dumbledore replied, “But I asked why you disobeyed my orders, Harry.”

Harry scuffed the ground with his shoe. “I saw something worth investigating.”

He suddenly felt a presence trying to break into his mind. Harry threw up his defenses but then he looked at Dumbledore and saw the old man holding an expectant expression. Feeling a little anxious, Harry slowly let down his mental brick wall and allowed Dumbledore in. Harry relived leaping out the window, transforming, and flying towards the Forbidden Forest. He witnessed once more Great One’s conversation with Alex and then returning to the Owlery.

Dumbledore ended the Legilimency and Harry staggered. “I’m sorry, Harry,” he muttered gently, “I’m afraid I was probing an awful long time.”

Harry swallowed; his mouth felt like it was full of cotton and his legs like jelly. When Legilimency had been practiced on him before he’d never experienced fully reliving everything in detail; mostly it was just flashes. But to experience everything all over again in such detail…he felt extremely weak.

“Are you alright?” James asked, stepping forward.

Harry tried to take a step but swooned. James caught him. “I’m okay,” Harry muttered.

Dumbledore apologized again. “I had to see what you saw, Harry. I’m sorry it was such a deep inquisition.”

“I understand why you did it,” Harry said, straightening up. “What should we do now, sir?”

Dumbledore studied him silently for a few moments before coming to a decision. “Come with me, Harry. James, Sirius, and Remus, I give you permission to finish up Harry’s detention with magic. He won’t be able to complete it in the state he’s in.”

Sirius ecstatically replied, “With pleasure!”

Dumbledore chuckled. “I’ll see that Harry meets you back in his dormitory in about an hour.”

James nodded. “Alright. Is there something we should know, Albus?”

“Not at the present moment, James. I would pray you understand that this is something that only Harry and myself must know.”

James looked putout but he took the news well for being rejected. “Alright.”

Dumbledore turned back to Harry and grasped his shoulder gently. “We’ll go slowly.”

Not wanting to be babied, Harry stood straight and forced his nausea away. Dumbledore chuckled lightly, completely reading though Harry’s intentions. He allowed Harry to walk on his own but remained close just in case the boy began to stumble. They walked in silence, both immersed in their own thoughts about the conversation they’d overheard. Several teachers passed them in the hall but none stopped to talk. Harry was grateful for this because despite his stubbornness, his body was beginning to break it down. By the time they reached Dumbledore’s office, Harry was sure his face was green.

“Good grief, Potter,” Snape muttered from his portrait, “you look like you’re about to pass out.”

“Sit down, Harry,” Dumbledore commanded, pushing him into the chair in front of his desk.

Harry groaned. “What did you do? I’ve never felt like this after Legilimency before.”

“I must confess I took it a step further than anything you’ve ever experienced,” Dumbledore admitted, rummaging through a cabinet in the corner. “Usually when practicing Legilimency, one only manages to see glimpses of another’s mind. I basically relived everything that happened to you, except in a much faster time span. Having someone’s presence in your mind, experiencing what you already have seen, causes great exhaustion and mental stress. Also you feel extremely nauseous and clammy.”

Harry muttered, “Definitely feeling those.”

Dumbledore stepped away from the cabinet holding a vial. “Here, drink this.”

Harry accepted the small glass without complaint and doused the liquid in one gulp. It tasted like sour dough and left a horrific aftertaste similar to grapefruit. “Ugh, that’s disgusting,” Harry shuddered.

“Not all potions are meant to taste like candy, Potter,” replied Snape’s portrait snidely.

“You’d think they’d change that after hundreds of years,” Harry muttered, smacking his tongue several times. “Ugh, that was terrible.”

“How do you feel?” Dumbledore asked, suppressing a chuckle.

Ignoring the appalling taste in his mouth, Harry realized that his nausea had dispersed and his clamminess had disappeared. “Much better,” he admitted. “Thanks, professor.”

Dumbledore sat down in his armchair and sighed. “No problem, Harry. Now, to business.”

Harry set the vial down. “Right.”

Dumbledore threaded his fingers together and stared at his desk. His silence lasted for several uncomfortable minutes and Harry, no longer able to suppress the urge, cleared his throat. Dumbledore looked up. “I’m sorry, Harry,” he sighed. “It seems my thoughts have carried me away again.”

“That’s alright, sir,” Harry replied. “Sir…is it alright for me to ask what you were thinking about?”

Dumbledore smiled. “You just did, my boy; I have no problems sharing my thoughts. I’ve been attempting to gather all the scattered data Great One has supplied in all the conversations he’s had with Alex that you have managed to overhear.”

“And?” Harry prompted.

“Well, one thing is now certain,” said Dumbledore, stroking his beard. “The Sacrifice mentioned is a she, which eliminates half the school populace.”

“I guess that’s good news,” Harry muttered, silently relaxing knowing that his fears about Draco could now be put to rest. But his relief was short lived; he had several female friends.

“Harry, have you noticed Alex hanging around anyone specifically on a day to day basis?”

“No. I’m afraid I’ve been rather…distracted,” Harry admitted lamely.

Dumbledore observed him over his spectacles. His blue eyes held slight disappointment but the Headmaster was able to keep the emotion out of his tone. “I see…well, I suppose we now have a very good reason to be more observant of her. We don’t want any of your fellow students ending up dead at the end of this year, do we?”

“No, professor.”

“One who has lost loved ones can understand the pain and torment of those who may hear the death of a family member. Knowing of a plot that can result in the loss of a life leaves us responsible to make sure that life never falls into the hands of ill-will. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then I would hope that from now on, no matter how distracted you may seem, you’ll be extra vigil in finding time to spend with our transfer student,” said Dumbledore kindly.

Despite his tone, Harry felt as if he’d been stabbed multiple times with ice. It was true; he hadn’t done that great of a job at observing Alex and now he was sitting before his professor getting lectured for his neglect. Trying to bury his feelings of guilt, he looked firmly into Dumbledore’s penetrating stare and promised, “I’ll do my best, professor.”

“Your best is all I ask for, Harry.” Dumbledore paused, tapping his chin. “To the next point of data collecting, once more you were mentioned in the conversation, Harry.”

“Yeah, except Alex wanted to involve me in the plot,” Harry said, his brow furrowed. “I don’t understand that. If I was cursed to be kept out of the way of stopping this sacrifice from happening then why would they want to involve me in their plans?”

“Why indeed,” Dumbledore mused. “I must admit that to this, we are both in a state of supposition, Harry. Maybe Alex is regretting the job she has undertaken and wished to involve you so as to ask for your help. But, because she is fearful of Great One, she decided to first ask his permission. Or maybe there is a hidden meaning behind their words that we simply have not been able to grasp. I’m afraid there is too much information still missing from this puzzle.”

“So we haven’t moved forward at all,” Harry muttered, dejected.

“On the contrary,” corrected Dumbledore, “we have found that the Sacrifice is a girl and that Alex cares about you.”

“How does that help?” Harry grumbled.

“It means that you may be able to get close enough to Alex to allow her to open up to you,” Dumbledore enlightened. “You need to strike up a better relationship with her, Harry, without her suspecting that you know her true reason for attending Hogwarts.”

“Great,” Harry sighed, feeling hopeless, “that’s going to be impossible.”

Dumbledore smiled gently. “You doubt yourself too much.”

Harry glanced at him. Why did he have so much faith that he would succeed? All Harry could see were lots of fights with Draco and Ginny accusing him of trying to cheat and steal other people’s girlfriends. Just imagining it made Harry wince. But Harry had to do something! If any one of the students were to get kidnapped and killed he would feel guilty for the rest of his life. Dreading the anger he could very possibly encounter with his friends and fiancée, Harry sighed. “Alright, I’ll get close to her.”

“Don’t worry, Harry, Ginny and Draco will forgive you if any misunderstandings arise.”

“How did you… did you read my mind?”

Dumbledore smiled. “I don’t need Legilimency all the time, Harry. Expressions can be powerful traitors to what one is trying to conceal in the mind.”

Harry sighed. “I just hope the others aren’t as good at reading my face as you are, professor.”

Dumbledore checked his watch. “You still have some time before sunset, Harry. As it is the weekend, I suggest you go and enjoy yourself. I will be checking in on you from time to time to see how things are progressing.”

“I’m to assume that I’m still confined to the castle?” Harry asked, feeling like a visit to Hagrid’s would be wonderful.

“I’m afraid so, Harry,” Dumbledore sighed. “I need to keep you safe and the safest place for you is inside the castle.”

Harry’s shoulders deflated. “I understand.”

Dumbledore frowned. “Your disappointment is rather tempting me to throw all caution to the winds.”

Harry laughed bitterly. “It’s still not strong enough to change your mind though.”

“Thankfully not,” Dumbledore replied. “For now.”

*~*~*~*~

Over the next few weeks, Harry tried his best to get to know Alex with every opportunity that arose: in the library, at meals, in the afternoon, in between classes. At first Alex was rather guarded but her cold exterior melted once she discovered there was something Harry possessed that she greatly desired.

Harry was sitting in the library, looking up some of the coursework spells that McGonagall had hinted would be on the N.E.W.T.s when Alex plopped down beside him in an armchair. “You’re early,” Harry pointed out, setting the book aside.

“Well, I’m eager,” Alex complained. “I hate that you’re bottling up so much and only feeding me tiny spoonfuls at a time.”

Harry tried to suppress a grin. “So, what would you like to know today?”

“Draco’s sixth year, of course,” Alex revealed, “Since we finished going over everything from his fifth yesterday.”

Yes, Harry had blackmailed her into becoming closer friends by sharing every little thing that happened between him and Draco. The girl was like a vacuum, sucking up the information but still demanding for more. Her memory was as sharp as a tack too. Everything Harry had explained, even little spats the two boys had during their earlier years (including the one when Harry had first met Draco unofficially in Diagon Alley), were stored somewhere in her brain.

By using this tactic, Harry managed to branch out to other subjects, learning things about Alex he was sure that most of the other students did not know. He found out her parents died from a tomb raid when she was twelve; they were both magical and specialized in uncovering secret tombs from ancient times. Alex had come home from school one day to an empty house. It wasn’t until two days later that authorities found her parents half buried in the desert sand. She’d been taken in by an old friend of the family, an old man named Anakies whom she referred to as her father.

Harry was also surprised to find that Alex didn’t really have any close friends at Hogwarts (excluding Draco of course). She flittered between multiple groups and even multiple houses. Harry was tearing his hair out trying to find out who might have been marked with the terrible fate of being the Sacrifice. Thinking that perhaps she would be a little more inclined towards her fellow Gryffindors, Harry decided to start studying in Gryffindor Tower. He would always wear his invisibility cloak though because he didn’t want to have to deal with any fans getting in the way of his observing. This proved to be a little more fruitful and Harry had discovered with some alarm that both Hermione and Ginny seemed to get along with Alex better than the other girls. But still Alex didn’t hang around them any more than she did anyone else. If the girl was suspecting that someone might be on her trail, she did a pretty good job of hiding it.

“Hello? Harry? Are you there?”

Harry blinked, slipping out of his thoughts. “Sorry, what?”

Alex rolled her eyes. “Did you stay up too late last night?”

“No. Why?”

“You looked like you were falling asleep with your eyes open. It would have made a pretty great picture, actually.”

Harry grimaced. Since the Daily Prophet had been kind enough to print both his and Dumbledore’s pictures on the front page the day after Valentine’s Day sporting their pink hair, he had no love for cameras. “Don’t even joke about that,” he grumbled.

Alex laughed. “So,” she said after being able to control her giggles, “sixth year.”

“What would you like to know?” Harry asked. He’d been somewhat dreading this conversation because of the terrible predicament Draco had to deal with all year.

“Well, why don’t you start with how you met up with him that year?”

Harry’s face darkened slightly remembering Draco stepping on his face, breaking his nose, and leaving him on the Hogwarts Express. “It wasn’t pretty,” he glowered.

Alex’s eyes flashed with excitement. “I’ve seen that look before,” she said. “You always look that way when you’re sharing a time that Draco did something humiliating to you.”

“Believe me, this definitely tops the humiliation list,” Harry admitted.

Alex looked at her watch then rubbed her hands together. “We’ve got ten minutes before we have to get to lunch. This is going to be good! Start talking!”

So Harry went into rushed details of that terribly humiliating day when he’d followed Zabini into the Slytherin compartment and climbed up into the luggage rack to spy on Draco. Alex was kind enough not to laugh when Harry explained the humiliating parts to which Harry was grateful; that was one of things he noticed about her right after striking up these conversations: she never laughed when terribly things happened to him.

Harry had just finished the tale when the bell rang signifying lunch.

“Right on time,” Alex complimented. “Come on, I’m starved.”

Harry picked up his school bag. “Promise you won’t tell anyone?”

Alex rolled her eyes and shoved Harry playfully. “You know my lips are sealed when it comes to Draco’s secret past. I’m sorry he humiliated you so much though.”

Harry shrugged. “We were enemies. It was natural to humiliate each other. I got him back plenty of times.”

“Yeah you did,” Alex laughed. “Like the Ferret Incident.” She giggled. “That one still cracks me up!”

Harry grinned too. “I didn’t inflict the spell though.”

“But it happened because he was picking on you and you got to see it!” Alex sighed as if she’d just missed out on a real treat. “I’d give anything to look into his memories to see that.”

“Why don’t you just ask him about all this stuff?” Harry asked for the hundredth time.

“Harry, we’ve been over this,” Alex complained dryly. “Of course I’ve listened to his side of the story but I love hearing other people’s opinions of him. Anything that has to do with Draco, good or bad, I love to hear; as long as the story’s about him.”

“You’re obsessed.”

“Thank you. Why’d you ask again anyway?”

“Just checking to make sure your reason was still the same.”

“It hasn’t changed,” Alex replied, grinning. “But I’ll let you know if it ever does.”

They got all the way down to the Great Hall before Alex laughed again over Draco’s ferret story. Even though they had gone over it a long time ago, every time Alex brought it up it was still as humorous as it had been the first time Harry had given the account. He suspected it was one of her favorite stories about her boyfriend because it was something Draco had refused to discuss with her. Poor Draco, Harry thought to himself as they entered the hall laughing.

Just then an angry blond and a smoking ginger crossed their path.

“Having fun?” Ginny snapped, looking at Harry angrily.

Harry’s grin faltered. “Hi,” he said.

Ginny’s ears turned red. “Hi? Hi?! Why didn’t you tell me you were going to meet Alex in the library? I thought you were going there to check out a book.”

“I did check out a book,” Harry replied, holding up the volume he had indeed checked out before he and Alex had made their way downstairs.

This didn’t seem to curb Ginny’s anger one iota. “It doesn’t take fifteen minutes to check out a book, Harry.”

“It does if you don’t know where it’s located and you have to ask for assistance,” Harry hedged.

Ginny rolled her eyes, scowling deeply.

Now it was Draco’s turn. “Why were you in the library, Alex?”

“I was checking up on a spell we learned in Defense and I ran into Harry,” Alex replied smoothly.

Draco remained suspicious. “You two seemed awfully chummy when coming into the hall.”

“Alex had just told me a joke,” Harry lied.

“Really?” Draco sneered. “What joke would that be Potter?”

“How many Slytherins does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Alex asked.

Draco’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What’s a light bulb?”

“Exactly,” Harry snickered.

Alex joined in and the two of them were soon laughing rather hard.

“I don’t see what’s so funny!” Draco snapped, looking between the two indignantly.

“A light bulb is a muggle invention,” explained Alex. “They use light bulbs instead of candles for light.”

“And that’s the point of the joke,” Harry further explained. “Since you don’t know what a light bulb is, you can’t change one.”

Draco scowled. “This is ridiculous. Come on, Alex.” He took her hand a little forcefully and led her over to the Gryffindor table.

Harry turned to Ginny. She still looked angry but the greater part of her expression was hurt. Harry felt his insides shriveling but he shook the feeling away. He couldn’t afford to stop hanging out with Alex. Not even for Ginny.

“Are you alright?” Harry asked.

“Fine,” Ginny sniffed.

Harry swallowed, feeling a little awkward. “You want to get something to eat?” he asked, gesturing to the Gryffindor table.

Ginny eyed him with obvious disappointment. “Sure,” she muttered.

Harry took her hand (more gently so than Draco had done with Alex) and led her over to the table. The atmosphere at breakfast was terribly dismal yet Harry plowed through attempting to be cheerful. Ginny’s mood was so sour that even Ron had problems being upbeat.

“Ginny,” he grumbled, “will you lighten up? Even my bacon looks depressed.”

Harry glanced at it. It was true; the meat didn’t look as wavy as it should. 

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Do you ever not think about food, Ron?”

The two siblings began a bickering match back and forth, mostly arguing over all the times Ron’s appetite had struck sore cords with the rest of the family. After five minutes Hermione had had enough. “Will you two shut up?!” she shrieked so loud that half the hall fell silent.

Professor McGonagall materialized out of thin air. “Miss Granger! What is the meaning of disturbing the morning?”

“I’m sorry, professor,” Hermione replied, not sounding sorry at all. “I was trying to silence these two idiots who were disturbing my morning.” She pointed at Ginny and Ron who both looked red in the face, shooting each other menacing looks.

Professor McGonagall eyed the situation. “Mr. and Miss Weasley, may I speak with you in my office.”

Ron shoved his food away and stood up. Surprisingly, Ginny glared at Harry before rising from her chair and following the professor and her brother out of the hall. Hermione sighed in frustration. “Those two,” she grumbled, spreading too much marmalade on her toast, “they can be so aggravating these days.”

Harry blinked. “What do you mean?”

Hermione looked at Harry as if she’d just barely noticed he was there. “Harry? How long have you been there?”

Harry stared. “I’ve been here the whole time.”

Hermione’s expression suddenly darkened. “That explains their bickering then,” she grumbled.

Feeling defensive, Harry retorted, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, like you honestly don’t know,” Hermione snapped, rolling her eyes.

Angry and hurt, Harry replied, “I don’t know what you’re on about Hermione so why don’t you care to tell me?”

Hermione studied him and then for some reason glanced at Alex who was deep in conversation with Draco further down the table. Focusing back on Harry, she set down her unfinished toast and stood up. “Come on, it’s best not to talk here.”

“Why?” Harry inquired, rising to his feet.

“Too many ears,” Hermione muttered quietly before grabbing his arm and leading him out of the hall. Glancing around twice, Hermione yanked him behind the tapestry leading to his private chambers and didn’t say a word until they’d crossed the secret corridor, opened and shut the door, and were nestled on the couches opposite each other.

“Oooo-kay,” Harry murmured, “why all the secrecy, Hermione?”

“You honestly don’t have a clue, do you?” she asked, exasperated.

Harry shook his head, annoyed.

Hermione sighed. “Harry, you are so hopeless.”

“Would you mind telling me what it is that makes me so?”

“Apparently I’ll have to since you’re too dimwitted to see it for yourself.”

They both glared at each other, arms folded. Harry hadn’t had a row with Hermione in a long time. Usually she was always the sensible one, avoiding conflict as much as possible. Harry had more than half his mind made up to chuck her out of his dorm but the curiosity buried beneath his anger kept the urge at bay. “Alright,” he said, trying to keep the anger from his voice, “tell me what’s going on. Please.”

Hermione eyed him a moment longer before sighing. “Ginny’s jealous and afraid you’re cheating on her with Alex. When she tried to confide her suspicions to Ron, his loyalties to you kicked in and he defended you, causing a rift to grow between them. Now do you get it?”

Harry felt like the couch was swallowing him. How could Ginny possibly believe he was cheating on her? He loved her, didn’t he? They were engaged! Shouldn’t that prove how serious he was about their relationship?

Hurt and frustration nearly blinded him but then Harry remembered this was one of the risks he had to face when given the task to get closer to Alex. Sighing, he put his head in his hands.

“It isn’t true, is it, Harry?” Hermione asked quietly, fearfully.

Harry looked up at her. “Of course it isn’t true.”

“Then why do you look so guilty?” Hermione asked.

“I suspected this might happen,” Harry muttered aloud. “But I can’t say that it doesn’t make me upset.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know what to do about it, Hermione.” Harry sat up and looked at her fully. “I’ve been keeping something from you.”

A shadow passed over Hermione’s face. “I know.”

Harry stared. “You do?” he asked, surprised.

Hermione nodded. She seemed to be having a hard time keeping her eyes from rolling. “Harry, I’ve known you for a long time. I’ve had years of practice learning how you act when you’ve got something to hide. Ron’s suspected something was going on too. In fact, we were going to force you to give us details after classes ended today. I suppose this is a good time though.”

So his two best friends had found him out. Why did this not surprise him? Harry felt uncomfortable. He’d meant to tell them everything he knew about Alex but he hardly had a chance to spend time with Ron and Hermione this whole year. Yet, even though their time together had been limited, Ron still remained loyal to him - even when he was accused of cheating on his little sister! Feeling like an absolute jerk, Harry tried to apologize.

“Harry,” Hermione interrupted, “we’ve been just as guilty. Ron and I have spent a lot more time alone this year.” Blushing furiously, she cleared her throat. “I’m sorry we’ve been lousy at keeping up with you. I guess you’ve had your dad and Sirius and Remus for company.”

“It hasn’t been bad having them around,” Harry insisted but then he paused. “It’s just…”

“Not the same as hanging out with your two best friends?” Hermione finished.

“Well, yeah.”

Hermione nodded. “Don’t feel guilty about that, Harry. It’s wonderful that you’ve been able to spend so much time with your loved ones. If I had the Gate Frame and were in your situation, I’d spend most of my time hanging out with the dead too.”

“Even so,” Harry said, “I haven’t spent as much time with you and Ron and I feel bad for it. You two don’t even know what’s really going on.”

Hermione cocked an eyebrow. “What’s going on, Harry?”

“I’ve been keeping you and Ron in the dark for good reasons,” Harry admitted, “but I don’t think its right to keep you there any longer.”

Hermione sat forward, concerned and intrigued. “Then start talking.”

“I don’t want to have to repeat myself,” Harry muttered. “I’d rather tell both of you together.”

Hermione stood up. “Alright then. I’ll go get Ron. We’ll meet you on the seventh floor in the Room of Requirement.”

“That sounds good but, Hermione, wasn’t the room destroyed in the Fiendfyre?”

Hermione had a strange glint in her eye as she smiled. “Something amazing about Hogwarts: it tends to rebuild itself through a magical means that few are capable of understanding. See you in the Room of Requirement in ten minutes. Don’t be late.”

And with that, she left.

*~*~*~*~

Harry looked back and forth down the corridor twice to make sure the coast was clear before walking back and forth three times in front of the Room of Requirement’s secret entrance. Closing his eyes on the third turn, Harry thought: I need to enter the room to speak to Hermione and Ron privately. Opening his lids, to his pleasure and slight disbelief the door appeared. Glancing back and forth one more time, he pushed it open and went inside.

Ron and Hermione were sitting in a most comfortable setting; a roaring fireplace containing a magnificently warm glow sat in the background of two extremely stuffed, elaborate couches. A large rug lay in between them with a small cherry wood table standing on its surface. Harry looked around the rest of the room. The walls were covered in several gorgeous tapestries depicting what Harry thought might be the founding days of Hogwarts along with several portraits of the four Hogwarts mascots.

His footsteps echoing dimly on the stone floor, Harry made his way over to his two best friends who were sitting on one of the couches. “Hi.”

“You’re a little late, Harry,” Hermione greeted cheerfully.

“Sorry,” Harry muttered.

“You doubted it was still here too?” Ron guessed.

“Yeah,” Harry admitted, sitting down opposite his two best friends.

“So, what is it that you’ve been hiding from us, Harry?” asked Ron, his expression turning a little sour.

Harry didn’t like to enter a conversation with Ron is such an obviously foul mood but it had to be overlooked; it was only natural for Ron to be acting this way after all. “It’s about Alex.”

Ron’s face filled with dismay. “You’re cheating on Ginny!” he shouted, leaping to his feet.

“No!” Harry retorted. “So before you start throwing insults and punching me in the face for something I didn’t do, sit back down and listen.”

Hermione took Ron’s hand and lowered him back onto the couch. “Come on, Ron, calm down.”

Harry took a deep breath, trying to keep his emotions in control. “This is top secret, understood? No one is to know - especially Draco.”

Ron and Hermione looked perplexed but they didn’t argue against his demand. They’d come to know over the years that when Harry made such a request that it usually was for good reason. Harry waited for them to nod their consent of being silent before beginning. He told them of both encounters in the forest between Alex and Great One and the realization that the Death Eaters were now working for Great One. Both were stunned by the end of the account and remained quiet for so long, Harry was beginning to drift off from the warmth of the fire.

Hermione was the first to break the silence. “So you were cursed because this Great One thought you would thwart him from getting his hands on this Sacrifice?”

Harry nodded. “From what he was telling Alex that seems to be right.”

“But who is the Sacrifice?” Ron asked.

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “The only lead we have is that she’s weakening in some way.”

“So we just have to look for a sick girl,” said Ron.

“I don’t think so,” interjected Hermione. “To be weak could mean multiple things. She could be weak in the mind, weak in the body, weak in magical skill, anything.”

“Great,” Ron grumbled, “Thanks for narrowing down the field, Hermione.”

“I’m only trying to give our options,” Hermione argued.

“But then why would Alex want to get you involved, Harry?” Ron asked, slightly changing the subject. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

“No it doesn’t,” Harry agreed.

Hermione looked a little peeved about the subject change but instead of trying to reinstate the conversation, she simply ran her fingers through her bushy hair. “The facts just don’t add up,” she muttered. “But you’re right, Harry. Alex is the key.”

“That’s why I’ve been trying to spend time with her,” Harry confided. “If I can get close enough maybe she’ll confide in me despite Great One’s warning.”

“So there’s nothing romantic going on between you two?” Ron asked.

“No,” Harry said with forced patience.

“Okay, just checking,” Ron grumbled, detecting Harry’s irritation despite his attempt to hide it.

“Why can’t Ginny know about this?” Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head. “I don’t want to get her involved. I didn’t want to get you two involved.”

“Why?” Ron demanded. “We could have helped you out!”

“It’s complicated.”

“It’s complicated?! What’s so complicated about sharing a few details with your friends?”

Harry couldn’t look Ron in the eye. Focusing on the table, he muttered darkly, “I don’t want anyone else suffering from a curse. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that any of my friends had to suffer from something this painful, knowing there was nothing I could do to help them. I’d rather suffer myself. I didn’t want to tell you guys because I was afraid that just by saying something you might be cursed too. I was cursed because Great One didn’t want me meddling in his plot. Just having Dumbledore know makes me uneasy. For the safety of my friends, I’d rather try to figure this one out myself. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”

Ron sat back in surprise. Hermione’s face lit up with understanding. She reached across the table to take Harry’s hands. Her eyes held certain sadness. “Your fatal flaw,” she sighed, smiling sadly.

Harry’s brow furrowed. “What are you talking about?”

“You suffer to protect your friends, Harry. You’re always running off rescuing people, showing the true colors of Gryffindor’s loyalty. I understand that you don’t want ill will to befall us but you can’t always take the world on your shoulders. You need help. I thought you’d learned that from the last battle we fought.”

Harry sighed, slightly angry. He knew Hermione was right. That ‘saving people’ thing was engrained into his very being. It wasn’t something he could simply get rid of. He wanted to protect his friends and keeping things from them was the best thing to do but Hermione’s words seemed to nag at him. He did need help; perhaps that’s why he had finally cracked and confided in Ron and Hermione.

Ron looked uncomfortable. “Look, mate,” he muttered, “I want to say I’m not angry you tried to keep everything to yourself but that would be a load of dung. How could you keep this to yourself? Hermione’s right! We helped you every step of the way hunting down Voldemort’s horcruxes. Shouldn’t that count for some confidence in us?”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Harry snapped, his anger flaring once again. “All I wanted was to protect you! Can you blame me for that?”

“And you didn’t think we wanted to do the same for you?” Ron retorted back. “Did it ever occur to you that we’ve been feeling like helpless saps because we feel we’ve failed as your best friends?”

“What are you talking about?” Harry demanded.

“We haven’t been able to help you with anything this year, Harry,” Hermione answered, her eyes shining. “We’ve looked up every source we could think of and yet we’ve come up with nothing to stop that stupid curse you’re under. We failed to protect you when the Burrow was attacked. We haven’t been there for you when it’s obvious you’ve been struggling with your assignments. We’ve – ”

“Alright, that’s enough!” Harry found himself on his feet. “You two need to stop blaming yourselves! You’re sounding just like Dumbledore! He feels like he’s failed me too. That’s not true! There’s no way I could have survived as long as I have if I didn’t have you two to help me along the way. So stop feeling guilty!”

“If Dumbledore is feeling guilty then why does that mean we shouldn’t feel the same?” Ron snapped. “We haven’t been able to do anything! Do you realize how that feels, Harry? To feel like you’ve failed those you care about?”

“Yes, I do,” Harry snapped. “Look, I’m tired of this! All of this! Let’s just forget the guilt trip already and move forward.”

Ron didn’t look encouraged. He sat dejectedly on the sofa almost as if he were wishing he could disappear into the cushions. Hermione sighed and took his hand. “Harry’s right, Ron. We need to stop beating ourselves up. It hasn’t changed anything.”

Harry nodded, approving of her attitude. “Hermione’s catching on. What about you, Ron? I need you to stop blaming yourself. The curse wasn’t even your fault. If you’re so worried about getting rid of it, help me focus on cracking Alex’s shell instead of wallowing in misery. The time I spend with her is limited to during the day. And if you haven’t noticed, Ginny doesn’t like the fact that I’ve been ignoring her for Alex. The last thing I want to do is have a row with Ginny. I need you and Hermione to help me. Can you do that?”

Ron rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s going to be difficult, Harry.”

“Why do you say that?”

Suddenly, Ron grinned. “I don’t think Malfoy is going to be too happy with both of us talking one on one with his girlfriend.”

Harry suddenly found a smile tugging at his mouth. “He’ll have to deal with it.”

The bell rang throughout the castle, signifying that classes were about to start. “Come on,” said Hermione, standing up. “We’re going to be late for Charms.”

“But we still haven’t figured out how we’re going to keep things from Ginny and Draco,” Ron protested though he stood up to follow her.

“It’s simple,” Hermione replied, pushing the door open, “we keep our mouths –and our thoughts– shut.”

“She thinks it’s simple,” Ron muttered to Harry as they walked down the corridor, “But I can’t help but think every time we plan something it blows up in our faces.”

“Pray this time that it doesn’t,” Harry muttered back.

Ron sighed. “I’ll try."


Chapter 23: Letting Go and Moving Forward
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Besides getting close to Alex, Harry had been drilling his Quidditch team to the limits of their abilities three practices a week for the last three weeks. Their match with Hufflepuff was approaching on Saturday and even if they didn’t seem like much of a threat, Harry wanted to be sure his team destroyed them. He’d made a vow with himself to win the cup this year and nothing was going to stand in his way of winning, not even his silly curse.

Harry pushed the practices until a quarter to sunset, something that alarmed the Gate Framers when they began attending the practice sessions. After every practice, Harry would stay behind in the locker rooms with the same excuse: I’ve got to write down the plays and mistakes we made before I forget them. Satisfied with this answer, his team would usually leave him to his work. He would scribble down a few things he found worthy of writing but mostly he would chat with the Gate Keepers until sunset. Then he would be escorted back up to the castle and confined to his room.

Harry wouldn’t have to keep this routine if it didn’t take longer than fifteen minutes to get back up to the castle. Sometimes the Gryffindors would like to take a leisure stroll or decide to goof around, all of which took out time that Harry didn’t have to spare. Sighing dejectedly as he’d watch his team walk up to the castle without having to worry about changing into stags at sunset, Harry found himself rather envious. He constantly had to remind himself that he’d chosen this so as to protect Ginny; if he didn’t he was sure to lose it completely.

It was Thursday, two days before their match with Hufflepuff, and Harry had nearly lost track of the time. If Ginny hadn’t shouted his name and pointed at the sinking sun Harry was sure he would have continued flying around shouting instructions to his team until he’d felt his body start to convulse. Nodding a silent thank you to Ginny, Harry lifted a whistle to his lips and blew. The shrill noise got his team’s attention and they flew over to him.

“Alright,” Harry said, glancing at the sunset, “this has been a really good practice. I have all confidence that we’re going to cream Hufflepuff this weekend. Just practice the way you have and everything will be just fine. Good work, everyone. Let’s hit the lockers.”

With lightened hearts, the team made their way into the locker rooms where they changed out of their Quidditch robes. Harry pulled out his parchment and quill to jot down a few plays that occurred today that he’d like to use later while frequently glancing out the window. The sun was sinking fast. Praying his team would leave before he transformed, Harry looked up to see them heading towards the exit, talking excitedly about nonsensical things. As they walked out, the Gate Keepers walked in.

James was about to speak when he stopped in his tracks.

“What’s wrong?” Lily asked but then she saw what he was looking at.

Ginny was still lacing up her shoes, obviously taking her time. She looked up at the five adults. “Could you give us a minute?” she asked, trying to keep her tone light and friendly.

James wasn’t fooled. Lily had used that overly sugary sweet tone with him whenever he was in trouble and he knew his son was in for an argument. Glancing at Remus, he knew his friend had experienced something similar with Tonks.

“We’ll be outside,” Remus said, taking Tonks by the hand. “Come on, honey.”

Tonks looked over at Harry in worry. “I hope he survives,” she muttered softly.

Lily and James shared a glance before following Remus and Tonks’s lead. Sirius was reluctant but he left along with the others. Harry watched them go, eyeing Ginny warily. Setting aside his parchment and quill, he stood up.

“Did you need something?” he asked, trying to keep his voice level.

Ginny looked out at the sun. She had a minute. “Harry, what is going on?” she asked, her voice so full of pain that Harry’s heart nearly split in two. “I’m so confused. You tell me nothing is happening between you and Alex yet I always see you two together. Did I do something wrong?”

“What? No! Of course not!” Harry grabbed her by the shoulders. “Ginny, nothing is going on.”

“How can I believe you?”

Ouch. Stung, Harry dropped his hands. “How can you doubt me?” His voice came out weak, frail, not at all what he wanted it to be.

Ginny tried to keep the tears from forming in her eyes. “I doubt you because of what I’ve been seeing, Harry!”

“You can’t possibly be jealous of Alex?”

Ginny folded her arms. “Of course I am,” she snapped. “You’re always with her, Harry! Every time you have a free moment, you’re with her. In between classes, at meals, during breaks, after school; I’m not an idiot! You’re spending all the time you could be with me with her!”

Harry’s body began to burn. Gritting his teeth, he asked, “Can we continue this in a second?”

Ginny turned on her heel. “I don’t have anything else to discuss!”

Harry used Obscurvirgum and froze her in place. “I do! I’m afraid…I can’t…let you leave yet…Ginny.”

He doubled over in pain as his body forcefully transformed, twisting and bending all his bones, reshaping them into a stag’s skeleton. Harry’s legs wouldn’t support his weight and he fell to the ground, trembling. Gasping, trying with all his might to keep the spell cast on Ginny, Harry forced his eyes open.

Even though she was frozen, Ginny’s eyes were filled with unspoken guilt as she watched Harry struggle to his hooves. Breathing heavily, Harry stumbled forward. The spell on Ginny collapsed but she didn’t turn and run; she grabbed Harry by the neck to steady him. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” Harry replied, though even now he felt like his body had been tortured a thousand times by the Cruciatus Curse. Shoving the pain away, he said, “Ginny, I need you to understand…I need you to trust me. I’m not infatuated with Alex in any way.”

Ginny whimpered before hugging him tightly.

Harry pulled his neck out of her embrace to look into her face. Her freckles complimented her gorgeous eyes even though they appeared bloodshot. Her long red hair was tied into a ponytail but a few short strands had broken loose to hang under her chin. Her cheeks flushed, skin slightly pale, and her expression full of so many painful emotions Harry didn’t know which one he should be most concerned about. “Ginny, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she mumbled. But staring into Harry’s large stag eyes caused her defenses crumble. She sniffed and sat down on the bench Harry was standing next to. Leaning her head against his warm side, she sighed heavily. “I’ve been so stressed, Harry. It’s our final year, of course I’m stressed. The classes and homework are difficult and I spend so much time up in Gryffindor Tower and the Library that I hardly get to see you. But Alex does. I see her finish her homework faster than Hermione sometimes. She comes over to help me out but recently I’ve been refusing her help. I thought she was being spiteful, see, since she’s been hanging out with you so much.”

Harry put his head in her lap. “Ginny, I’m sorry. I want to tell you so many things but I can’t.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice strained.

“Dumbledore has forbidden me from saying anything to you. I know it’s horribly stressful having people hide things from you – the old man did it to me my whole fifth year – but I need you to be patient. In time, I’ll explain everything.”

Ginny grumbled. “I already knew you were hiding things from me, Harry. I just wasn’t sure what it was. I’m still not sure. But I suppose it has something to do with Alex, right?” Harry didn’t say anything. His silence was enough to confirm her words. Ginny chuckled bitterly. “I knew it. Did Dumbledore give you the assignment to date her or something?”

“What?! Of course not! You know how passionate he is about love. He won’t ask me to do anything that steps on that.”

Ginny sighed. Standing up, she took Harry’s head gently in her hands and raised it until his eyes were level with hers. “Harry, I want you to swear on your parents’ graves that you are not cheating on me.”

“You know I’m not,” Harry began.

Ginny closed her eyes. “Harry, please, this is for me, okay? I need to throw away all the doubts that have been shoved in my head over the last few weeks. This is the only way I can dispel them. Please.”

Realizing that what he said now would determine whether Ginny stayed with him or not, Harry held a firm gaze and did as she requested. “I swear on my parents, Sirius, Remus, Tonks, and Severus’s graves that I am not nor will I ever cheat on you, Ginny.”

She searched his eyes and he physically saw all the tension leave her face. A smile, a genuine, beautiful smile, spread across her features. He hadn’t seen that smile since Valentine’s Day (which seemed like a thousand years ago). Hugging him tightly, she kissed his ear. It twitched uncontrollably. “I love you, Harry,” she laughed, kissing his ear again. “Thanks for easing my mind.”

Harry ignored the desire to lick her face in retaliation. “You’re welcome. Now that I’ve said that, will you not get jealous anymore when you see me with Alex? This is important, Ginny.”

Frowning, she folded her arms. “I don’t like it but it’s obvious now that this is something Dumbledore put you up to. Last time he asked you to do something nobody else knew about, it was for everyone’s benefit. I trusted you keeping secrets from me then and I can trust you keeping secrets from me now.”

Harry nuzzled her cheek against his. “Thanks, Ginny.”

“I suppose I’m going to have to tell Draco to back off wanting to hex you.”

Harry froze. “What?”

Ginny grinned guiltily. “He’s planning to hex you since you’ve been hanging around Alex and she hasn’t told him what you two are doing when you’re together.”

“Great,” Harry grumbled, “just perfect. I can’t tell him anything! How am I to explain?”

“Leave it to me,” Ginny replied, kissing his ear again.

Ignoring the insane twitch, Harry said, “Are you sure you can handle it?”

Ginny nodded. “Don’t worry, Harry. When you get back up to the castle I promise Draco will be sober about the whole thing.”  

And with that, she stood up, kissed his ear one more time, and left. Harry sighed. He felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Ginny wasn’t angry with him. She wasn’t angry with him! Harry felt like leaping around in ecstasy but he managed to control his urge just as the door opened and his Dad and Sirius stepped in.

“How did it go?” James asked.

“Fine,” Harry replied cheerfully.

Both men relaxed. Sirius came over and rubbed Harry’s head. “I’m glad you didn’t have to deal with a break up, Harry.”

Harry shuddered. “Don’t even say such a thing, Sirius. I think I’d die.” James began putting Harry’s parchment and quill away while Sirius sat down beside him. “Where’s mum?”

“She, Remus, and Tonks decided to take Ginny back up to the school,” Sirius answered. “We didn’t want her walking alone.