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Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch by SophieWeasley

Format: Novel
Chapters: 24
Word Count: 75,516
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 12+
Warnings: No Warnings

Genres: Romance, Angst, Mystery
Characters: Harry, Hermione, Ron
Pairings:

First Published: 05/16/2004
Last Chapter: 08/04/2004
Last Updated: 08/04/2004

Summary:
The summer holidays are as boring and depressing as usual for Harry, who is coming to terms with Sirius’s death. That is, until Hermione invites him to stay at her house. Do things that happen there subconsciously lead to him developing feelings for her? Harry’s in store for another difficult year, with Snape turning up everywhere at Hogwarts, challenging Apparition lessons, and prescient dreams haunting him. After an attack on Grimmauld place, Harry decides to take matters into his own hands and face his destiny, but Voldemort already has plans of his own…


Chapter 1: Saved By Hermione
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*Chapter 1*


SAVED BY HERMIONE


The houses in privet drive were filled with an unnatural silence, one which could only compare to the times in the previous year when drought had forced the inhabitants of Little Whinging to stay inside. This summer, however, a cool breeze shook the trees in the abandoned park and clouds floated around happily in the clear blue sky. On a day like this, normally one would expect people to be outside. But no, the start of this summer had started in a peculiar manner that only a teenage boy, sweeping the lawn on Privet Drive nº 4, could explain.

The boy wore round glasses, had messy black hair, and wouldn't have looked uncommon if it hadn't been for the crooked scar on his forehead and his bright green eyes. But he was nowhere near ordinary; he was Harry Potter, the wizard chosen to defeat He Who Must Not Be Named.

"Boy! Are you done yet?" Aunt Petunia stuck her head out of the living room window, looking suspiciously at Harry as if he couldn't possibly be left alone this long with the broomstick without trying to fly away on it.

"Yes, Aunt Petunia," Harry said dully, and waited for his Aunt to open to kitchen door before following her inside.

"Eat this!" she said, handing him some butter and a piece of stale toast. After the events of the previous summer Harry's aunt was doing her best to be completely nasty to him again.

"What about lunch?" Harry asked, looking down at the minuscule toast and feeling his stomach churn from the work and the hunger.

"Dudley's bringing his girlfriend here for lunch, and he doesn't want you here making a bad impression."

Harry dropped down onto one the chairs and began buttering his toast, feeling irritated at his cousin. Dudley didn't dare insult Harry to his face anymore after what had happened with the Dementors (he was still convinced Harry had conjured them there) but he still managed to make his parents bully Harry from time to time.

Harry sighed, and took a bite from the toast while watching Aunt Petunia bustle around cleaning the kitchen for the umpteenth time. He wondered how someone could be this calm, in light of everything that had happened in the last four weeks.

Muggles disappeared all over the place, many were found dead from unexplained causes and dozens of people reported to seeing things no one had ever heard of! Not to mention the huge foot-like gaps that had been found in some mountain villages to the north of France.

This was what he could make out from several sources, Muggle news, the Daily Prophet and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s frantic conversations when they thought he couldn’t hear. He had to admit, if he was anyone else he wouldn’t be pleased having The Boy Who Lived in his house at a time like this. He understood why the Dursleys didn’t care; they didn’t understand the scope of what Voldemort meant as well as he did. They believed in coincidences and in the unreliability of the witnesses (more like insanity).

But what about Mrs. Weasley, for example? She’d always been very kind to him, but would she still be willing him to come to their place for the summer now that it was clear that anyone who came close to Harry, like Sirius, died?

Harry’s heart sank as he bit more ferociously into his toast. Another month with the Dursleys wasn’t something he thought he could stand…. Sure, they’d been nicer, more careful around him because of Moody’s warning at the end of last year- Harry almost choked on his toast swallowing an overlarge piece- but when Dudley brought some stupid girl home he couldn’t even have a proper meal.

The bell rang, and Aunt Petunia scuttled to the front door whilst removing her apron. “Out of sight, boy!” she hissed, and reluctantly Harry stood up to make his way to the stairs.

* * *

Entering the hall, he curiously cast a sideways look to the girl in the open doorway, wondering who would possibly fall for the bullying hippo that was his cousin. Sure, with all the wrestling and dieting he looked more intimidating than ever (not to mention his recent love for Metal, meaning he had purchased a ridiculous number of chains and spikes) but that was who he was in the end, a cowardly bullying git.

“Let’s go in, D, I’m starving,” a high-pitched Umbridge-like voice drawled from behind Dudley. He walked into the hallway, and Harry saw a trashy version of Fleur Delacour following him.

Harry rolled his eyes, climbing up the staircase to his bedroom. He could just hear the girl hissing “That’s your delinquent cousin from St. Brutus’s, isn’t it?” before he closed the door behind him.

Harry grinned, wondering how anyone in their right mind could think he looked like a delinquent compared to Dudley.
Just when Harry thought he’d take a nap, for there really wasn’t much else to do, he heard a pecking noise on his window and hurried to open it.

Pigwidgeon flew in, carrying two letters tied to his minuscule legs. Two was apparently more than he could hold, because the little owl slumped down on Hedwig’s cage, who hooted disapprovingly.
Harry tied the first letter from Pig’s leg, recognizing Ron’s handwriting.

Dear Harry,

How’re you doing? I hope what my dad said at the train station helped, are the muggles treating you okay? Anyway, this is going to be a short letter. I just wanted to say I’m staying at Grimmauld Place for the moment, it’s easier that way because half the family’s in the Order. I’ve asked Hermione to stay already, but she said she’s got to study for her N.E.W.T’S (can you believe her?). Well, write back pronto saying if you can come.
Ron.

Ps. I’ve sent Pigwidgeon past Hermione because I know she hasn’t got an owl and she might want to write.


Harry laughed, putting the letter away and pulling the second one off Pigwidgeon’s leg. It was what he had expected; Hermione’s neat handwriting at the top of the piece of parchment.

Dear Harry,

I’m glad Ron let me use Pigwidgeon even though he was a bit mad at me. I think he’s insulted that I’d prefer to study for my N.E.W.T’S rather than go stay at Grimmauld Place with him. I’m sure he’ll get over it, but that’s not the point. I told him that because I actually want you to stay at my place for the next couple of weeks. I’ve already written to Dumbledore and he says it’s okay, he doesn’t think anything can happen to you there and besides, he’s keeping my place watched too. I don’t think he reckons it’s safe for you to be hearing all the Order’s discussions with you-know-who listening in. But anyway, that’s not why I want you to stay. I know it’s dreadful at the Dursleys, and at Grimmauld Place you’re only going to be reminded of Sirius. I don’t want you to go through that. But if you don’t mind it, then I’ll write to Ron and say I’ve changed my mind and we’re both coming. Unfortunately I can’t invite Ron to my house because my parents say one boy is more than enough.

Love, Hermione


Harry looked over the letter again, frowning. He folded it up and dropped down onto his bed, thinking hard of what to do.

It was true, Grimmauld Place would make him feel terrible thinking of Sirius, remembering his death over and over again. But Ron would be upset if Harry didn’t come either, he was sure of that.

On the other hand…. Ron had a bunch of brothers and a sister there, and Harry had never seen Hermione’s house. Her parents were muggles, but they didn’t seem the Dursley types. It would be nice staying with Hermione for a while, not worrying about the war-torn wizarding world. But could he really be alone with Hermione that long without telling her about the Prophecy?
Harry stared at the two letters, wondering what he could do. Then Sirius’ face popped into his mind, that sunken, hollow face which had once been handsome. He imagined Sirius giving his bark-like laugh…
Harry stood up resolutely, and grabbed his quill and a parchment.

Dear Hermione, he wrote.

Alright, I’ll stay at your place. I’m not really looking forward to going to Grimmauld Place after what happened. I hope Ron won’t be too mad. But on the other hand, he did keep me in the dark all last summer so he deserves a little of that too I suppose. So when can I come?

Harry


Harry folded the letter up and tied it Pigwidgeon’s leg. He decided to send the letter explaining to Ron that he wouldn’t come with Hedwig; he didn’t think the tiny Pig could take another double trip, and besides, Ron wouldn’t be able to murder Hedwig in anger, she was too strong for him.

With this in mind, Harry slumped onto his bed again and fell into a long, deep sleep.

* * *

The next morning Harry was woken up by his uncle, who was thumping on the door with all his might, and yelling:

“HOW MANY TIMES BOY, HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I TOLD YOU THEY SHOULDN’T CALL??!”

Harry sat up in his bed, squinting at the door. What had gotten into uncle Vernon? What was he talking about?
Harry got up quickly and ran to open the door. Uncle Vernon stood in the hallway, the face under his huge moustache purple. That was never a good sign.

“What is it?” Harry asked, a politely puzzled expression on his face.

Uncle Vernon didn’t answer, but instead dragged him across the hall to a table in Vernon and Petunia’s bedroom. Aunt Petunia was sitting up in bed, staring at them wide-eyed and muttering about the noise and what the neighbors must think.

Uncle Vernon flung the telephone to Harry, who caught it and picked up the horn, having some inkling of what this was about.

“Hello?” he asked hesitantly.

Hermione’s anxious voice answered him at the other end.

“Harry, are you alright? I’m sorry, I just didn’t want to send Pigwidgeon back again and this seemed easier. Is your uncle very mad?”

Harry looked up to see Uncle Vernon fuming, towering over him and looking as if about to strike.

“No, it’s okay. So you got my letter?” he realized it was a stupid question, but this was really the first time he’d had a proper conversation over the phone so he wasn’t used to it.

“Yes, Harry, I can’t wait to see you! I’m coming by around noon to pick you up, is that alright?”

Harry grinned widely.
“Yeah, that’s more than alright.”

Uncle Vernon cleared his throat impatiently, and Aunt Petunia’s muttering got louder.

“I’ve got to go now,” Harry said in a hurry, “I’ll see you later!”

He waited for Hermione to say good-bye and hung up, feeling happier than he had in weeks.

* * *

Harry explained in detail to his aunt and uncle that the Grangers were muggles, dentists and that they certainly didn’t carry wands.
This wasn’t enough for Dudley, however, who left in a great hurry to meet up with his girlfriend just before noon. Harry didn’t care, in fact; the less Dursleys the better.

“Are you sure it’s not that dreadful man with the blue eye and that rebellious pink-haired woman?” Aunt Petunia interrogated him nervously.

Harry shook his head at that amusing description of Moody and Tonks, tired of all the questions and just hoping Hermione would come soon.

Just as he thought this, a car honked on road outside and the Dursleys sped to the window as one to see who it was. Harry sighed, dragging his previously packed trunks and broomstick outside with him. He was glad to see the Granger’s car was an ordinary purple Volvo, and even gladder to see a girl with bushy brown hair leaning against it, waving.

Harry smiled, and carried his trunks to the car. He dropped them on the sidewalk, and caught Hermione who had lunged forward to hug him.

“Harry! Harry, I’m so happy to see you!”

Harry smiled into the mass of bushy hair, and loosened Hermione’s grip to take some air. She looked him over from head to foot, smiling warmly.

“Wow, Harry, you’ve grown at least a foot since I last saw you! I shudder to think of how large Ron’s gotten.” She picked up one of his trunks and they walked to the back of the Granger’s car, where Mr. Granger opened the trunk.

“Hello Harry, I believe we’ve met before?” Harry nodded, and helped lift his belongings into the car.

Then they all sat down inside, Harry missing a shrieking Crookshanks by a few inches.

“Oops- sorry Harry, didn’t know she was still in here.” Hermione scooted over to make room for Harry, who closed the door behind them.

“Shouldn’t I go inside to meet your aunt and uncle?” Mr. Granger asked, looking into the rear view mirror.

“Um… That’s okay, they’re… rather busy at the moment,” Harry said awkwardly, looking at the Dursley’s faces pressed up against the living room window.

“Alright then,” Mr. Granger said amicably, and started the car.

Hermione’s place was about an hour away, and Harry did plenty of catching up with Hermione on the way there.

“So, what’ve you done so far this summer?” he asked her, noticing she seemed rather pale as opposed to tanned which one usually was in the summer. He remembered how brown Hermione had been after her trip to France. Perhaps she’d been skiing again?

“I-“ Hermione hesitated.

“Go on, I won’t laugh,” Harry said.

Hermione’s father answered for her.
“Didn’t you know? Hermione went to visit her friend Victoria in Bulgaria up until last week.”

Harry snorted, but fell quiet at a threatening look from Hermione.

“Really? Victoria?” He said, highly amused.

“They wouldn’t let me go if they knew it was a boy,” Hermione said in an undertone.

“What about all those times you’ve stayed with Ron?” Harry whispered.

“That was different, my parents met the Weasleys. Victor’s in a whole different country and they don’t know his parents. Plus he’s older…”

Mr. Granger looked into the rear view mirror again curiously, to see what they were doing.

“So, how old is this Victoria anyway?” Harry asked, loudly so her father could hear.

“Twenty. Mature friends I have, don’t I?” Hermione replied with a grin.

Harry imagined the look on Ron’s face when they told him Hermione had spent three weeks in Bulgaria with the twenty-year old Viktor Krum.

“You know Harry, I don’t think we should tell Ron yet,” Hermione added, guessing his thoughts. “You know how much he likes Victoria. He’d probably just go rambling on and on about how smart and pretty she is..” Harry smirked.


* * *


Upon arriving at Hermione’s house, Harry, Hermione and Mr. Granger got out of the purple Volvo and unloaded the trunks, broomstick, and Hedwig’s empty cage. Harry hoped Hedwig would have the sense to come here instead of to the Dursleys. She always had in the past.

“Nice place you’ve got, Hermione!” Harry said, staring up at the large, square house in front of him. It was proper enough for the Dursleys to have felt comfortable in, but lacked the cold orderliness of privet drive.

The Granger’s house was detached, painted a cool blue color and had several verandas and tall, open windows. The yard in front of it looked inviting, with many trees, garden-gnomes (the Muggle ones that Ron would have laughed at) and swings.

Hermione smiled shyly and took over Hedwig’s cage to carry inside.

“So where am I sleeping?” Harry asked, thinking this would probably not be as simple as staying at the Weasleys.

“In the guest bedroom,” Hermione replied, as they stood waiting for the front door to be opened.

“Hello, nice to see you again Harry!” Mrs. Granger said, taking some of his trunks from him.

She and Mr. Granger carried them away to a back room.
Now Hermione and Harry were left alone in the hallway, and for the first time in his life it felt a bit odd to be standing there like that, just the two of them. Suddenly Harry wished Ron could have come as well.

“Er… Have you had lunch yet?” Hermione asked, and Harry smiled thankfully.

“Yesterday I had a bit of toast, and half an orange this morning, so yeah I’m hungry,” Harry admitted.

Hermione looked shocked, as if it dawned on her for the first time that the Dursleys might actually treat him badly.

“Come into the kitchen! I’ve got sandwiches and milk. It’s no pumpkin juice, but my parents… Dentists you know, very healthy people. Can’t even bring soda into the house without them complaining.” Hermione looked anxious, as if determined to prove Harry’s family wasn’t the only horrible one.

It didn’t really help, though. Harry would’ve given anything for some over-worried parents.

* * *

The days passed by, and Harry got worried when Hedwig didn’t return. Grimmauld Place wasn’t that far away, after all.

When she finally did come back, there was no answer, and Harry’s fears of Ron being upset were confirmed. He tried not to worry, though, and rather spent his time with Hermione watching television, using the computer (devices which Harry wasn’t allowed to touch or come near to at the Dursleys), playing Exploding Snap, going out to the city or to restaurant’s with Hermione’s parents or playing football with her neighbours.

Harry had never interacted with Muggle boys and girls in Little Whinging; those that weren’t part of Dudley’s gang were afraid that they might beat them up for hanging out with him, or simply thought he was a mad delinquent. Therefore Harry wasn’t exactly the amazing athlete he was in the Quidditch field, but he did alright. Keeping was what he was best at; unsurprising since it also meant grabbing a flying ball.
Hermione didn’t participate in the football matches, she preferred to read thick volumes or scribble long letters that Harry presumed were to Krum.

All the while, Hermione helped Harry every night when he got to bed to clear his mind, empty it of all thought as Snape had taught him so he could get to sleep without seeing images or feeling that searing pain in his scar.

* * *

One night when Harry was lying in bed and Hermione was kneeling next to him on the floor, he felt it was hard feeling drowsy again after what had happened.

Earlier that day the Daily Prophet had arrived, reporting another huge Muggle killing not far from where Hermione lived. Harry wondered what would happen if a giant were to step on Privet Drive nº four, squashing the Dursleys as they slept. Not that he would mind too much. He would have given anything for their lives to be traded in with Sirius…

“Harry, you’re not concentrating!” Hermione said annoyedly. “I know when you’re thinking of something, your eyebrows get into a frown.”

Harry heaved a sigh and sat up, leaning against the wall. He heard Hermione sigh exasperatedly through the darkness.

“Well, I’m sorry, but you try doing Occlumency when there’s a million things going on inside your head!”

He saw Hermione’s expression change in the moonlight, and she held his hand sympathetically.

“I know it’s not easy. Being you when all this is happening… And after last year, with what happened in the department of mysteries… But you can’t keep feeling guilty about Sirius’s death and going over it again and again.”

“I’m not feeling guilty!” Harry snapped, pulling away his hand. He hated it when people felt sorry for him, especially Hermione. “I blame that stupid slimy git Kreacher, you know I do. And don’t start defending him!” he threatened, raising his voice slightly.

The last thing he wanted now was to hear Hermione’s SPEW ramblings, saying he wasn’t right in his mind, that it was Sirius’ fault for mistreating him.

“It’s okay, I won’t defend him,” Hermione said quietly.

Harry sunk down onto his pillow again, and fidgeted with his glasses. Finally he took them off and put them on his nightstand. He could still feel Hermione’s eyes on him, observing him.

“Is there something else on your mind, Harry?” she asked carefully. Harry wanted to shake his head, but turned it into a half-nod.

“D’you want to tell me about it?” Hermione went on tentatively.

“No,” Harry said, rather briskly.

Hermione grabbed his hand again.
“Please, Harry, I might be able to help! We need to get it out of the way to clear your mind properly.”

Harry let out a short laugh, which reminded him unpleasantly of Sirius’ bark-like laugh.

“You can’t help.” He said, and added miserably, “No one can help.”

“Just tell me, Harry, I promise I’ll keep it to myself,” she pleaded. That was really the least of Harry’s worries. But maybe he really would feel better telling her about the prophecy? She’d find out in the end, anyway.

“I…” Harry hesitated.

Hermione looked up expectantly, but said nothing.
“Last year’s prophecy… I never told anyone, but Dumbledore had heard it before and he told me what was said.”

Hermione gripped into his hands so hard it was almost painful.

“What did it say, Harry?”

“It said… It said…” there really was no way to make it sound better than it was, so Harry decided to just be straightforward about it.

“It said I was the only one with the power to destroy Voldemort-“ Hermione gasped “-and that he would.. mark me as an equal.. I reckon that’s what the scar’s for… and-“

Harry didn’t want to make Hermione look anymore worried than she already did. But suddenly he felt overwhelmed with the burden of his secret, and it was as if it spilled out of him:

“and one of us would ultimately have to die for the other to live.” Harry’s words echoed in the long silence that followed.

It was only broken by Hermione’s distressed gasps and sobs, which Harry took closing his tired eyes and waiting for her to finish.

“Oh, Harry!” to his bewilderment, Hermione crawled into the bed next to him and put her arms around him tightly, pressing him close and sobbing into his shoulder. Harry looked down at the bushy head in astonishment, and patted her back somewhat awkwardly.

“I’m.. I’m fine, Hermione,” he said, but Hermione just lifted her tear soaked face at Harry and cried harder.

“How- how are you ever going to kill V-v-voldemort?”

“I dunno, I s’pect it’ll be the other way round,” Harry said dully.

To his surprise, Hermione stopped crying and stroked Harry’s face carefully. “No,” she said in an oddly calm voice. “I know you’ll win in the end, you always do.”

She kissed him on the cheek and curled up next to him, falling asleep quickly. Harry watched her, not able to do the same. His heart sunk when he thought of letting her down and how much it would hurt her if he was gone…

* * *

Harry woke up in a very comfortable position. He was lying under Hermione’s soft weight, her bushy hair fluttering up every time he took a breath. Without moving, Harry cast a sideways glance on the clock on his bedside table. It was almost seven o’clock.

Suddenly Harry realized it probably wasn’t a good idea for Hermione’s parents to barge in right now and find them like this. He moved Hermione carefully, and she rolled off him.

“Wha-?” Hermione looked up groggily. Harry laughed. Her hair was even bigger in the morning, apparently. How she combed it was a mystery.
Footsteps echoed outside in the hallway, and Hermione stood up in a flash, looking horrified.

“My parents!” she cried, still managing to keep her voice down.
Harry grinned as Hermione made a strange maneuver and climbed out the window. Luckily the guest bedroom was on the first floor.

Hermione’s parents didn’t seem to have noticed anything. Although Mrs. Granger looked at him in a rather odd way at breakfast…

Nevertheless, nothing more was said and another week passed smoothly without any events. Harry found it a bit strange being around Hermione, however. It was as if what had happened that night would never go away. Harry cared about Hermione very much, and he couldn’t stand her being so worried about him. Now whenever she saw him she’d be reminded of what was still to come…

After a long football match Harry returned to the house, sweating profusely and panting. He went straight up to Hermione’s room, wondering why she hadn’t come to watch. Maybe she didn’t even stand the sight of him anymore?

Harry went into her room, and his mouth opened wide when he saw who was sitting on the bed…



Chapter 2: Fiery Fletcher
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*Chapter 2*


FIERY FLETCHER


“Ron?!” he yelled, and the tall, red-headed boy stood up, with a half-grin on his face.

“How did you get here?”

Hermione stood hovering in a corner of the room, torn between happiness and disapproval.

“Took the train,” Ron said, still with that odd smile on his lips. “I figured it couldn’t be much harder than the Hogwarts Express, and boy was I wrong!”

A girl Harry had never seen before stepped forward to shake his hand.
“Yes, he was! We must’ve been on a hundred stops before we got here!” said the girl, who had long black hair to her waist and was chewing gum. “I’m Josephine, by the way.”

Harry grinned broadly.
“They let you come? All by yourselves?” His stomach filled with happiness at the sight of his best friend.

“After a whole lot of pleading!” Hermione said. “And I don’t know how my parents will react to this, Ron, I just don’t.”

Ron scowled.
“Ah, cheer up, Hermione. After all, I didn’t complain when you sent me some bad excuse about why you couldn’t come. I should’ve known you two didn’t want me here.”

Hermione frowned.
“What are you talking about? I wrote you to say why Harry is best off away from that place, and I wanted you to come, honest!”

Ron ignored her, and turned instead to Harry.
“Good to see you, mate! I hope you don’t mind, I brought along my friend Josephine, she’s Mundungus Fletcher’s daughter.”

Harry nodded his head to Josephine, glad she didn’t fuss over his scar the minute she saw him. Ron had probably prepared her and told her he didn’t like it.

“Have you finished school already?” Harry asked her, although she didn’t look older than seventeen.

“No, I’m still at Hogwarts. I’m a Slytherin seventh year.”

Harry raised his eyebrows and Hermione frowned.

“A Slytherin? I’m surprised you even want to stay here, I’m Muggle-born, you know,” she said rather acidly. Harry wondered what had gotten into her. Josephine, however, didn’t seem the least bit bothered by this comment.

“Oh, I’m way above all that purity-of-the-blood nonsense. Not all Slytherins are like that, you know.”

Ron half-grinned again, beaming as if proud to show off his most recent accomplishment.

“Us Weasleys just figure Josephine got into her house because of her trouble-making and ambitiousness,” he said. Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Oh, not only that,” Josephine said amicably. “I wanted to get in because I had a huge crush on Montague back then, when he still looked fairly cute.” Ron snorted, and Harry wondered how anyone could find that bulldozer ‘cute’.

“Well,” Hermione interrupted coldly. “Now that we’ve all gotten acquainted, let’s go downstairs and kindly explain to my parents that two more people will be sleeping here.”

* * *

Hermione’s bad mood lasted for a couple of days. Then she went back to normal and started being friendlier towards Ron again, but that friendship didn’t totally stretch to Josephine.

Harry figured it was probably because of Hermione’s instinctive hatred towards all Slytherins, who had bullied her for as long as he could remember. Or perhaps because she had just stopped by uninvited.
The Grangers didn’t seem to mind whatsoever. In fact, Harry suspected them of believing that with two more people, one of which (Josephine) was sleeping in the room with Hermione, nothing could possibly happen anymore between Harry and Hermione.

It was a lot more fun with Ron and Josephine there at the house, partially because Ron didn’t have a clue of what went on in the Muggle world and it was fun to watch him struggling with things he didn’t understand, and partially because Josephine kept pulling pranks that sent everyone into stupors of laughter.

“You’re-hick-too-hick-funny!” Ron said one day, as they were all lying under a big oak tree on the football field, after Josephine had Apparated continually behind a fat little boy, saying she was haunting him.

“I can’t wait till I’m seventeen! Teaching the Dursleys a lesson once I can do magic outside school…” Harry said dreamily, feeling quite drowsy from the bottle of firewhiskey he, Josephine and Ron had just shared. Josephine had pulled the bottle out of a trunk full of other questionable items. Hermione was sitting in a corner, looking sulky.

“You sure you don’t want some, Hermy?” Josephine called over to her, speaking a bit funny herself.

“No thankyou,” Hermione snapped. “Frankly, I don’t know what’s gotten into the lot of you! Drinking firewhiskey, Ron, what would your mother say? And you’re a prefect!”

Ron just laughed, taking another swig from the bottle.

“Come off it… Your boyfriend Vicky's twenty years old now, surely you don’t control him like this as well, do you?”

Hermione’s eyes spun to Harry, whose grin froze on his face.

“You told him? You told him I went to Viktor this summer?” Hermione’s voice became increasingly high-pitched and she went red in the face.

Harry paled.

“I’m sorry, Hermione, I-“

Hermione got up and stamped away angrily, to which Ron laughed and hiccoughed some more. Josephine also seemed to find the whole scene very amusing.

“Blimey, what’s gotten-hick- into her?” Ron asked.

Josephine suddenly rolled over the grass to where Ron lay. Ron got up on one elbow and leaned in to kiss her, brushing the black hair out of her face. Harry cleared his throat, and got to his feet with difficulty. He really didn’t want to witness more of this.

Harry ran after Hermione, staggering from the firewhiskey.

“Her-Hermione!” he called, and Hermione turned around briskly, her arms folded on her chest.

“What?” she asked coolly.

“I’m sorry, Hermione, I didn’t mean to tell him, he would have found out-hick- anyway!”

Hermione’s lip trembled.

“It- it doesn’t matter anymore. He doesn’t care anyway, what I do.”

Harry staggered again and leaned against Hermione’s shoulder for support.
“I’m still-hick-sorry. You know I don’t mean to hurt you,” he said.

“I know, Harry. I… Let’s not fight anymore.” Hermione hugged Harry, who was unprepared for this and lost his balance.

Tripping, he fell back and rolled over, Hermione under him.

Hermione laughed, trying to get out from under him. “See what happens? You’re so drunk now you can’t even get up! Silly git…”

Harry grinned, but didn’t try to get up. Under him Hermione looked beautiful and for the first time in six years he noticed something different in his feelings toward her than friendship. He didn't know whether it was him, or the drink, or the fact that it was a glorious sunny day, but Harry suddenly felt compelled to lower his face so they were almost touching....

Hermione lay still for a moment, lifting her face up to Harry’s, but suddenly her eyes widened and she struggled to push him off her. Harry stood up, confused by her and by what he had almost done.

“Hermione, what-?”

Hermione pushed her bushy hair back and raised a trembling hand. Without another word, she hurried away in the direction of her house. Harry watched her go, a sinking feeling in his stomach as he realized that what he had just done could easily ruin a six-year friendship.
What was he thinking? He didn’t even like her that way! Why did he always have to be so stupid?

Harry gritted his teeth angrily, feeling the desire to talk to Sirius come back strongly again.

He would have known what to do. Who else could he talk to? Not Ron, he was too busy with Josephine Fletcher at the moment to care. Besides, Harry felt he would rather kiss Snape than let Ron find out about this… Harry’s stomach churned uncomfortably again.

* * *

That night Ron and Harry went to bed rather early, feeling drowsy from the firewhiskey and not wanting Mr. and Mrs. Granger to find out what state they were in.

Looking back on it, as Harry lay in bed twisting around in the sheets, it hadn’t been a very nice thing to do. Hermione had invited him to her house as a friendly gesture, out of concern for Harry’s feelings involving Sirius. What had he done? He’d rampaged around with Ron and his impish girlfriend, causing trouble in Hermione’s neighbourhood, and then basically assaulted Hermione under the influence.
Guilt swept over Harry and he felt his cheeks burn red with anger at himself.

Turning around to face Ron, who was sleeping peacefully in the bed at the opposite wall with his mouth slightly open, Harry wondered if he felt bad about what had happened as well. Although, Ron hadn’t actually tried to attack Hermione, Harry thought, pummeling his pillow.

When he couldn’t take it anymore, Harry slipped out of bed and tip-toed to the door. Trying as hard as he could not to make any noise, Harry turned the handle slowly and left the room, closing the door behind him.
He carefully swept through the hallway, passing Hermione’s parents’ bedroom and a bathroom. Finally he stopped, and as quietly as he could, entered the room where Josephine and Hermione slept.

Once inside, he realized he didn’t have to be all that careful with the noise anymore since Josephine’s snores would outdo even the screaming of a banshee.

“Hermione!” he whispered softly, crouching down by Hermione’s bed. The lump under the blankets moved slowly and a bushy brown head came up to the surface.

“Harry? What are you doing here?”

Hermione squinted through the darkness, her eyes falling on Harry’s face. Harry sat down at the foot of Hermione’s bed, and she got up in a sitting position.

“I wanted to talk,” Harry whispered.

“About what?” Hermione asked, fidgeting with the blankets.

“About… what happened earlier. I just- well, I’m sorry about it,” Harry said, looking a bit embarrassed. “I wasn’t really myself,” he added hastily.

Hermione took him in thoughtfully, and then distractedly patted Crookshanks, who had leapt onto her lap. “It’s alright,” she said finally, but her voice sounded oddly brisk.

“I just hope it teaches you a lesson, not to go doing any underage drinking in the future,” Hermione went on. “And to find out, finally, that Josephine really isn’t such a good influence.”

She was starting to sound a bit like Mrs. Weasley now, who showed great dislike to Josephine’s father, Mundungus Fletcher.

Harry nodded, if only not to get to the wrong side of Hermione again.

“I wonder what Ron sees in her?” Hermione asked, but seemed to be addressing herself.

“Well,” said Harry, happy to be on a different subject, “I suppose he’s always liked the outgoing, pretty ones…” Hermione snorted; they were both thinking of Fleur Delacour. “…and her nose is dead-centre,” Harry added vaguely.

* * *

It was the last week of August and Harry, Hermione, Ron and Josephine were just back from the public swimming pool (Ron gloating over the way Josephine looked in a bikini) when four big tawny owls flew in with their letters from Hogwarts.

Hermione, who was wrapped in a towel and had been about to take a shower, shrieked with joy.

“Harry, you know what this means, don’t you?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me.”

“It’s our O.W.L results!” she cried, her hands shaking as she tore open a thick envelope with her name on it, her eyes almost bulging from their sockets.

“Oh no!” Ron exclaimed, turning a nasty green color. He and Harry exchanged horrified looks. They hadn’t given the O.W.L.S a single thought since the exams had ended the previous year.
Josephine grinned peevishly, unrolling her own letters that only contained the beginning date of Hogwarts and her booklist. “I’m right in-between O.W.L.S and N.E.W.T.S, luckily for me,” she said.

Harry nervously opened his own envelope and pulled out a wad of what looked like certificates for each of the classes he took at Hogwarts. Meanwhile, Hermione was already jumping up and down with glee at her own results, and Ron looked as if he was going to be sick.

“…Outstanding Arithmancy! Outstanding History of Magic! Outstanding Transfiguration!”

Ron groaned, and looked at his own results through squinting eyes, as if not wanting to see them properly.

Harry grinned, and turned to his first diploma.

Charms, Exceeds Expectations, it said. Harry felt his stomach do a back-flip, and quickly pulled out the next diploma. Astronomy, Acceptable. History of Magic, Acceptable. Well, no surprises there; he’d been distracted during both of those exams.

Harry gasped as he read the next diploma: Potions, Outstanding. Harry was dumb-struck for a moment and then laughed out loud. He couldn’t wait for the look on Snape’s face!

Reluctantly moving on, and more confident now, Harry turned to some other diplomas. Care of Magical Creatures, Exceeds Expectations. Transfiguration, Exceeds Expectations, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Outstanding.

“I can be an Auror!!!” he cried, throwing his diplomas into the air, and doing a victory dance. Hermione looked up at him, beaming. “Good for you, Harry!”

Harry sighed contently, and picked up the diplomas realizing he hadn’t been through all of them yet. The last two were less satisfactory; Herbology, Acceptable, and Divination, Poor. Harry put them down, not really caring about these last two subjects. Instead he turned to Ron and Hermione.

“Well? How did you guys do?”

“I got an Outstanding for almost everything!” Hermione exclaimed, apparently surprised at this. “Except for Astronomy and Defense Against the Dark Arts, those were Exceeds Expectations. I told you you were better than me, Harry!”

Harry grinned at her, and turned to Ron.

“How about you?” he asked, more carefully. Ron certainly wasn’t stupid, but the look on his face wasn’t promising. Ron was staring ahead into oblivion. Finally he raised he head, an appalled expression on his face.

“I got a T in Divination! A T! I thought Fred and George were just pulling my leg when they told me the lowest was Troll!”

Hermione suppressed a snort, and Ron shot her a deadly glare.

“You think it’s funny, do you? I’d like to see you react if you got a Troll in something.”

Harry picked up Ron’s other diplomas.
“Ron, you didn’t do too bad on other things, look! E in Defense against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Transfiguration, Astronomy, A in Charms, History of Magic… I think you did better than me almost.”

Ron looked up, slightly more cheerful.
“What did I get in Potions?” he asked, apparently not having looked at any of his diplomas after the dreadful divination one.

Harry glanced over the parchment. It was an A.
“Oh, um.. You got an Acceptable,” he said, expecting this would bring Ron down.

“Yes!” Ron did a victory dance of his own. “An A! I passed, but I don’t have to be in Snape’s N.E.W.T.S class! This is like a dream come true!” Hermione and Harry exchanged amused glances.

Scarcely half an hour had passed by since receiving the O.W.L.S results when Errol, Ron's family owl, flew in through Hermione's window. Most of them were changed now, except Ron who was still in his swimming trunks waiting for Josephine to unoccupy the bathroom.

"What are you doing here?" Ron asked, pulling a letter from under Errol's limp and exhausted body.

He read through it quickly, and then scribbled a reply.

"What did it say?" Harry asked him, after he had tied the letter to Errol's leg and set him off through the window again.

"Me mum, she says Ginny's received the booklist and things too and she's picking us up in the afternoon to go get our stuff in Diagon Alley."

"How are they getting here?" Hermione asked suspiciously. Harry had told her all about the Floo powder incident two summers ago that had ended in the near-destruction of the Dursley's living room.

"A ta-ky," Ron said, and grabbed the pile of his clothes as Josephine made her way back into Hermione's room, fully dressed.

"I think you mean taxi," Harry said with a grin. Ron shrugged, and headed for the bathroom to take a shower and get dressed.

"Who's using a taxi?" Josephine asked curiously, as she sat onto Hermione's and started combing her long black hair.

"We are," Hermione replied. "Ron's mum is taking us to Diagon Alley to buy our school supplies."

Josephine put down her brush and started applying mascara to her eyes. Harry saw Hermione surveying her hatefully.

"Oh, she doesn't need to take me. I'll just Apparate there, in fact..." she took a quick glance at her watch and stood up.

"I think I'll go right away, Millicent is probably there as we speak." There was a loud crack, and Josephine Dissaparated from the room.

"She's friends with that hag?" Harry asked, remembering Millicent Bulstrode from the 2nd year dueling club. Hermione snorted derisively.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she left just because she doesn't want to meet Mrs. Weasley again. You know how she is to Mundungus..."

Harry couldn't help thinking Hermione was right. And if Ron's mum was just as jealous of her son's girlfriends as Ron was of his sister's boyfriends, then Josephine was probably making a clever move.

"Where's Josephine?" Ron's voice came from the doorway. His red hair still had shampoo in it and he had a towel draped carelessly around his waist. Harry could tell he'd come out of the bathroom as soon as he heard the loud crack.

"She's Apparated to Diagon Alley," Harry told him. Ron's face fell and he could tell his friend had been hoping to show Josephine off to everyone.

"Oh! Well..." Ron stood wallowing in the puddle on Hermione's floor, and then went straight to the bathroom again without another word.

"Poor Ron..." Hermione said thoughtfully, when he was well out of earshot.
"Huh?" Harry raised his eyebrows.

Hermione sighed. "Boys never notice anything!"

"What are you talking about, Hermione?" Harry asked.

"Well, it's pretty obvious Ron's only with this girl to show off to everyone," Hermione said briskly. "You know, especially to us since we've both had, well... Sort of relationships and he hasn't had any before... And now here goes his girlfriend, leaves him without even bothering to say goodbye!"

Harry realized Hermione was probably right, and suddenly he liked Josephine a lot less.

* * *

When all the trunks and things were packed and sitting in the driveway, Harry, Ron and Hermione went to have lunch with the Grangers for the last time and then stood outside waiting for the Weasleys to come.

After about fifteen minutes, Ron started checking his watch very often and muttering under his breath.

"Maybe your mother had trouble finding a taxi," Hermione suggested, but Ron continued to mutter darkly.

"Ginny's combing her hair, more like."

But finally, a loud honking noise and the hooting of owls told them the Weasleys had arrived.

Ron, Harry and Hermione jumped back to let a yellow taxi pull into the driveway, and Mrs. Weasley and Ginny got out to greet them. "Good to see you all again, dears!" Mrs. Weasley said bustling over to them and giving each of them a hug. "How was your summer, Harry dear?"

"Better than usual," Harry said with a grin.

He said hello to Ginny, who had grown a lot this summer and was now just as tall as Hermione. She had her hair differently, somehow, and looked much more grown-up.

"Mum wouldn't let me come!" she said, loosening herself from her brothers arms. "I wanted to come with Ron and Josephine, but she said I was too small! You have no idea how dull it was in that house, with no one else my age," she said crossly.

"What about Fred and George?" Hermione asked. They started to put their trunks into the taxi, Hedwig complaining loudly. The last time she'd been in one things hadn't ended too well.

"They're staying at the Leaky Caldron," Ginny replied, slamming the trunk shut and getting into the taxi. The rest of them followed suit.

"How come?" Harry asked, closing the door behind them.

"Grimmauld Place is too far away from Diagon Alley for them to go there everyday," Ron said, pulling a hyperactive Pigwidgeon out of Hermione's hair. "They need to stay close to their shop."

Harry expected Mrs. Weasley to groan or say something disapproving, but to his surprise she remained silent.

"She hasn't been very keen on the idea of them joining the Ministry after all of last year," Ron told Harry in an undertone. Their car pulled out of the driveway again and rode off through the suburban houses, Hermione waving at her parents.

Suddenly Harry realized a large barn owl was sitting on Ginny's shoulder. Not knowing her ever to have had an owl before, Harry asked: "Who's owl is that?"

Ginny beamed proudly, stroking the owl over the head.

"This is Hercules, Fred and George gave him to me for my fifteenth birthday," she said. Pigwidgeon, as always wanting to be the center of attention, flew out of Ron's hands and landed on Hercules' head. Hercules didn't seem to mind in the least.

"They get along wonderfully!" Ginny said, and Harry wondered how Hedwig would get along with this new owl, when she saw he was friends with her arch-enemy.

* * *

Diagon Alley was more crowded than ever. It seemed that all of Hogwarts was there, having decided to do their shopping all on the same day.
It was suffocatingly hot, and Harry treated everyone to ice-creams at Florean Fortescue's ice cream parlour.

"What are we doing first?" Ron asked, laying back on two chairs, his stomach rather rounded. Mrs. Weasley gave him a disapproving look.
"I'd say we get our books, that's something we all need to do together," Hermione suggested, pulling her booklist out of her pocket.

They got up and walked over to Flourish n' Blotts, on the other side of the street. Inside they met many of their fellow Hogwarts students, like Neville Longbottom with his grandmother and Dean Thomas.

"Neville, hi!" Hermione gave Neville a hug, and his grandmother's eyes widened. Clearly she thought it was a miracle that her son had become close friends with any girl.

Neville smiled sheepishly around at them.

"I'm getting my books, just bought my new wand." He raised a short, pale wand not unlike Neville himself.

"Cedar, 9 inches. But not as good as me dad's," he added gloomily.

They walked on through the store, and as Ginny was picking up a new Defense against the Dark Arts book she saw Dean standing at the other side of the shelf.

"Hello, Dean!" she said, and hurried over to give him a kiss on his cheek. Ron growled menacingly but uttered a sulky 'hello' to Dean as well.

"Let's see... Wow, I don't think we've ever needed this many books..."

Hermione went over her list, looking very pleased. "One for every class, I think. Potions is over there... Arithmancy..."

Mrs. Weasley looked slightly queasy at the length of Ron's booklist.

"That many? Well... At least Fred and George have left school, a lot less to worry about..."

Ron quickly joined Harry and Hermione in search of his new books.

"For most subjects, you need above Acceptable to get into the N.E.W.T.S class," Hermione observed (looking at Ron and Harry's list, she'd gotten into each of her classes).

"So Ron, no Potions book for you and no divination for either of you." She seemed to be trying to hide a satisfied smile.

"What? I was just starting to like Divination with Firenze!" Harry cried in indignation.

Hermione shrugged. "Trelawney's made two good predictions now, I doubt she'll come up with anymore."

Harry looked up from the bookshelf quickly.
"How'd you know it was Trelawney?"

"The initials on the prophecy... They seemed familiar," Hermione said vaguely. She stacked some more spell books into her cauldron and they went to pay for it at the register, where Mrs. Weasley stood waiting for them.
Ginny had only needed to get two new books.

"I'm thinking of going into Fred and George's shop next, what do you say?" Mrs. Weasley asked. She seemed even more ok with this than Harry had thought, if she was willing to set foot in there.

"Sure," Hermione said brightly. "I think I'll buy some of that amazing fireworks... I just can't get it out of my head."

Ron looked surprised, and then he said quickly: "Yeah, maybe you'll even get a discount. Friend of the family, and all.."

"I don't think they consider me a friend after threatening to write to their mother last year," Hermione said in an undertone, as they were leaving the store. Harry thought she had a good point. He stood a better chance than her there.

Fred and George's shop was right next to Gringotts, and they decided to refill their money bags before visiting them.

"Oooh, it looks so nice!" Hermione exclaimed, as they stood under a brand-new, shiny purple sign that said:


THE WEASLEY'S WIZARD WHEEZES



The window to the shop showed a display of all kinds of items, some of which they had seen (or been tricked into using) before.

As they opened the door to the shop a bell rang and a horde of Hogwart's students stampeded out.They recognized Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet, who uttered a quick 'hello' and left carrying heavy bags full of stuff.

"Ronnie!" Fred came out from behind the counter, where George was still attending a long line of people. He messed up Ron's bright red hair and clapped Harry jovially on the back.

"Mum, sis!" He said, beaming around at them. Hermione looked as if deciding to overlook the fact that she'd been ignored.

"Busy day today, it is!" Fred said. "I can't speak to you for too long, George'll have himself another breakdown."

Harry looked around at the shelves and shelves of canary creams, fake wands, Ton-tongue Toffees and Skiving Snackboxes, just inviting to be picked up and tried out. Fred seemed to guess what he was thinking, because he said with a grin:

"Most kids can't keep their paws off it. Dennis Creevey came in a while back, and took a bite out of a Boil-Booster. His poor mother was in fits..."

Lee Jordan, was casually slung over the counter, nodded. "Yeah, we're keeping them stacked in the back now. Except for when Zacharias shows up, I wouldn't mind seeing him trampling around like a giant bubotuber."

Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips.

"I wouldn't like hearing any complaint, boys. Behave yourselves, please."

She glanced around the shop one more time, as if itching to take all hazardous objects away and scrub the place clean, but said nothing. Instead she turned to go, Ginny hurrying after her.

"We're fetching me some new robes at Madam Malkin's," she called back, and the bell rang again when the door closed behind them. Harry gazed at a pack of Ton-tongue toffees, thinking back fondly of Dudley's four foot tongue. His money bag weighed heavily in his pocket, and he thought... Maybe just one...

By the time Harry, Ron and Hermione had left the store, they were carrying bags full of things.

"What will you use your fireworks for, Hermione?" Ron asked.

He was probably thinking the same thing as Harry was: There was no way she'd open them at school, risking a detention. And opening them at home, surrounded by Muggles, was even less likely.

"Oh, I don't know..." Hermione said, her eyes shining brightly. "I just like knowing I have them, I'll find an occasion."


Chapter 3: Castle Revelations
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A/N: Yet another chapter... I'm getting them all up quickly, don't worry 'bout it.... Oh, and what do you think of the new banner, à la Anamarie? By the way, Voldemort is officially pronounced with a silent "t" like in French, in case you're reading that awful and sadly short Sorting Hat song...
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*Chapter 3*


CASTLE REVELATIONS


All of a sudden Harry, Ron and Hermione found themselves face to face with a gang of Slytherin girls, among which were Josephine, Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode. Before they could turn away and slip into another one of Diagon Alley's busy streets, Pansy's loud taunting voice rung into their ears.

"Well, if it isn't scarhead, weasel and chipmunk!" Pansy cried, to loud giggling from her friends. Harry wondered darkly why she had to copy off Malfoy's insults. Couldn't she find her own?

"Take a walk with your boyfriend, son-of-a-convict, why don't you?" Hermione snapped. Harry saw her staring darkly at Josephine, who was hovering rather uncomfortably in the background.

"Hey, Josephine," Ron said to her, expecting a familiar greeting or something. Josephine just nodded shortly, and pretended to be vaguely interested with something in Mr. Ollivander's shop. Ron's smile faded, and he turned rather red when Pansy shrieked with laughter.

"Ah, weasel's in love! Haven't you learnt from Potter and Granger's fiasco relationships that losers just aren't appealing?"

Harry held Ron back by the hem of his robes, and wondered why Pansy had mentioned Hermione as well. He let the thought drift as they hurried on past the Slytherins. Ron didn't, though.

"What did she mean, your 'fiasco relationship'?" he asked, still rather red. "I mean, I understand about Harry and Cho..." he stopped talking at the look on Harry's face.

Hermione sighed, pushing back her bushy brown hair. She looked as if she'd been fearing this conversation.

"Oh, I suppose it's out already... But how does she know? Why does he have to be so famous?" she muttered. Ron raised his eyebrows.

"Are you talking about Krum?"

They sat down on a bench in front on Madam Malkin's Robes, waiting for Mrs. Weasley and Ginny to come out.

Hermione blushed.
"I, well, I didn't tell you, but..."

Ron's eyebrows went up even further. "Spill it, Hermione!"

"I broke up with Krum over the summer," Hermione said quickly. "I mean, technically I didn't because we weren't even going out-" Ron rolled his eyes"-but he thought we were, so I had to tell him I didn't like him that way, and..."

Hermione fell quiet, looking embarrassed. Ron's expression was hard to read, like a mixture of surprise, happiness and fury all at the same time.
Then finally he let out a strange moan.

"Hermione, you broke up with Viktor Krum? The famous, the best, Quidditch player in the whole world?" he asked in disbelief.

Hermione looked as if she was going to fall off her bench in shock.

"What? Ron, what happened to 'fraternizing with the enemy'? You hate Viktor!"

Harry grinned and watched the two bickering as usual, only this time, he couldn't put his finger on it, but something was different. Finally Ron fell silent, and resigned to ruffling up his hair as had become a habit of his.

"I just don't know why you wouldn't tell us," he said in a sulky voice.
Hermione sighed.

"Why do you think? I don't want to have to listen to your whining, I never know how're you're going to react!"

Harry decided to change the subject. "So who were you writing all those letters to then?" he asked.

"To Neville," Hermione said casually. She took out her Potions book and began reading.

Ron's eyes widened again.
"Neville? You- he-"

Hermione shot him a withering look.

"Don't worry, Ron. I was just corresponding with him because he's a friend of mine, just like you two. And he needed someone to talk to. It wasn't easy for him, facing Bellatrix Lestrange last year, you know?"

Ron let out a breath of what sounded like relief.
"Good... The last thing we need is for you to be made out as a scarlet woman again."

Hermione opened her mouth either to laugh or protest, but at that moment Mrs. Weasley and came out from the shop, and they fell silent.

* * *

The Weasleys, Harry and Hermione spent the remaining days of summer vacation in The Leaky Cauldron, since Mrs. Weasley said that Dumbledore thought the Burrow wasn't safe enough under the present circumstances.
Harry had to admit, a flock of Death Eaters could easily fly into that house and kill him without the slightest effort, since there was no mystical protection for him there. (Although, Harry had to admit, even the protection at the Dursleys was flawed since Dobby, a large group of Aurors and recently Dementors had made it in into the house).

Fred and George stayed at the Leaky Cauldron as well, but they didn't see much of them since they got up early every morning to go to work. Ginny spent her days walking hand in hand with Dean, who lived in London and could therefore visit her often.

Harry, Ron and Hermione wandered through Diagon Alley from dusk to dawn, hanging around the Weasleys Wizard Wheezes or exploring the many shops. Mainly, though, they sat at Florean Fortescue's ice-cream parlor while Ron copied off Hermione's homework.

* * *

At last it was the morning of their return to Hogwarts, and as always things went wrong and they were late.

"Hurry up, please!" Mrs Weasley urged, looking as though on the verge of a breakdown. Ginny was in front of the mirror in the girls' room making herself a complicated hairstyle, so Hermione had to brush her teeth in Ron and Harry's room.

"Ron, get your clothes on!" She said, spewing out a mouthful of toothpaste. Ron was sitting stubbornly at the foot of his bed in his too small pajamas.

"Not until you leave!"

Meanwhile, Harry was already dressed and packing his belongings into his cauldron.

"Oh, alright!" Hermione rinsed her mouth with water and left their room. Ron, however, still didn't look in the mood to dress and was polishing his prefect's badge.

"Ron, I'd hurry if I were you," Harry said to Ron. Mrs. Weasley's screaming to Ginny were echoing through the halls.

Ron sighed, putting down his badge, and changed into his clothes. He crammed his things into his cauldron and put the school robes on top. They were changing in the train, as usual.

"All set here?" Mrs. Weasley poked her head through the doorway. "Good! Take your things downstairs, we're leaving right away. There's no time for breakfast, you'll have to eat these on the Hogwarts Express."

Mrs. Weasley put a bag of squashed sandwiches on Ron's bed and left, missing the amused looks Harry and Ron shot each other. They both knew Ron would just stuff himself with chocolate frogs on the way.

"Ginny, put down that brush now and come on!"

Ron and Harry picked up their trunks and owl cages quickly and headed for the stairs. When they had said goodbye to Fred and George and squeezed themselves into their cab, Harry saw there was a small, fat witch sitting next to him with thick-rimmed glasses.

He almost mistook her for professor Umbridge until she opened her mouth and said, "Wotcher, Harry!" with a broad grin. Harry raised his eyebrows.
"Sorry-?" he glanced at Ron, who was looking utterly unsurprised of a complete stranger sharing their cab.

"Hey, Tonks!" Ginny cried, waving at her from the other end of the car. Suddenly Harry understood. How could anyone get used to this metamorphmagi-thing?

"I'm just standing guard over you until you get on your train, Harry," Tonks said. "Standard procedure from now on, I'm afraid."

Harry nodded. He'd expected someone from the order to come before now. How could he not, when Voldemort was out there and everyone knew it?


The taxi arrived quickly at King's Cross. There weren't as many cars on the road these days, not with all the Muggle killings.

"D'you really want to be disguised as that?" Harry asked Tonks quizzically, as the cab pulled into the station and they all got out. "I mean, if a student thinks you're Umbridge we could start some sort of panic."

Tonks laughed, and led the way to platforms nine and ten. Hermione, Ginny, Ron, Harry and Mrs. Weasley followed with their trolleys.

"I don't think you should worry about that, Harry," Hermione replied. "Everyone who reads the Daily Prophet knows that Umbridge is in Azkaban."

"What?" Harry gaped at her.

"It's true, mate," Ron said with a grin on his face. "First she was in St. Mungo's to recover from her shock, but after Fudge heard of what she wanted to do to you, the Cruciatus curse, she's been put in there for a couple of months."

Harry's stomach churned uncomfortably when he remembered performing crucio on Bellatrix last year. Would they lock him away too if they found out?

Tonks snorted angrily.
"He has to look in favour of you again, being the Boy Who Lived and everything."

Hermione and Ginny disappeared into the barrier between platforms nine and ten, Mrs. Weasley following them closely.

"Well, this is where I leave you. Good luck on your new year, Harry," Tonks said sincerely, and Dissaparated. Harry thought she probably meant, 'good luck trying make it through this year alive'.

"Alright, let's go," Ron said, glancing behind him. Harry saw Mundungus Fletcher and Josephine approaching them, and thought Ron probably didn't feel like facing her after the awkward encounter at Diagon Alley.

They ran into the barrier with their trolleys, and came out at the other end into a steam-filled platform 9 3/4. After saying goodbye to Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, Ron, Harry and Hermione got onto the Hogwarts express and walked to the back of the train trying to find an empty compartment.

"In here!" Neville's voice called, and they walked into his compartment, which was occupied by him, Luna Lovegood and a girl that they had never seen before.

"Patricia?" Ginny asked in disbelief, and she ran up to give the girl a hug. She had short black hair in two ponytails, and was looking nervous but anything but shy.

"Hey, Ginny! Nice to see you again. I was hoping to find a familiar face, my sister shunted me out of her compartment," she explained, looking slightly disgruntled.

Ron and Harry raised their eyebrows, and dropped down next to Neville after stacking away their luggage.

"Where do you two know each other from? I don't think I've seen you around at school," Hermione said, sitting down beside Luna.

"It's my first year," Patricia replied. "I've been looking forward to it... My sister and Ginny told me so much about Hogwarts! We met at the Quidditch world cup," she added. "I was supporting Ireland... Well, just because Katie forced me into it because she likes their seeker. I'm Katie Bell's sister, you know. She told me a lot about you," she said to Harry.

He raised his eyebrows again and exchanged glances with Ron. They were both thinking the same thing: This girl just wouldn't stop talking.

Luna spoke up for the first time.
"Would you keep it down, please? I'm reading a very interesting article about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks."

Ron's eyes widened, and he turned to whisper in Neville's ear.
"What were you thinking, sitting here with these two?" he asked urgently, and Hermione coughed because it was perfectly audible.

Neville blushed.
"I enjoy Luna's company very much, thank you," he answered in a dignified sort of way. Ginny giggled, and Hermione sent her a repressive look.

* * *

The train trip passed virtually without any events, except the usual lady with her trolley bringing food, and, of course, Draco Malfoy dropping by to say hello.

"Potter, how lovely to see you again," he sneered, strolling in with Crabbe and Goyle.

The two oafs appeared to have reached their maximum height but were now growing to the sides in fat and muscle. Harry and Ron tensed, their faces snapping up to meet Malfoy's.

"And I see, hanging out with such fine company again!"

Malfoy's eyes passed lazily over Luna, Hermione and Neville.

"A nutter, a half-squib and a mud-"

Ron stood up sharply and pointed at the door with his wand.

"Get out, Malfoy. No one asked you to come."

Malfoy ignored him, and his eyes fell on Patricia. "Well well, the newest acquirement to an assortment of riff-raffs? Good luck with that, I'm sure The Dark Lord will have all of Potter's friends killed first," he spat.

Patricia winced, and for the first time she said nothing in return.

"Oh yeah?" Ron asked heatedly. "I can't believe you're still this confident, your father locked up in Azkaban and all..."

Malfoy's expression darkened and Crabbe and Goyle growled beside him.

"Just leave!" Hermione muttered some strange words, and an invisible hand grabbed Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle by their collars and flung them out of the compartment.

Everyone was temporarily speechless except Luna, who got up to close the doors.

"Good. I really can't read the Quibbler and listen to them at the same time," she said.

"Hermione, that was amazing!" Ron finally cried, taking her in proudly. "Where did you learn something like that?"

Hermione blushed, her chest swelling as it usually did when McGonagall praised her in Transfiguration classes.

"Oh, I just memorized some things from our new Charms book, that's all," she said. Harry grinned. Hermione never ceased surprising them with her knowledge of spells and hexes.

A shrieking sound outside told them the Hogwart's Express was coming to a stop, at Hogmeade station where the carriages awaited them.

"Oh, I'm so excited!" Patricia squeaked, peeking through the window. "I'm leaving you now, to cross the lake, right? I can't believe this is happening!"

They all started getting up, and unloading their luggage.

"Actually, Ron and I are prefects so we're coming to help you and the other first years," Hermione said, and Ron shot her an angry look. Harry could tell he didn't want to spend another minute with the rocket-mouth.

* * *

At Hogsmeade station the group split into two: Ron, Hermione and an excitedly babbling Patricia headed for Hagrid and the first years ("Firs' years! Firs' years over 'ere!") and Ginny, Neville, Harry and Luna got into one of the hundreds of carriages.

A thestral stared eerily at Harry, but knowing how useful and kind thestrals could be in times of need, Harry didn't mind anymore.
They settled inside the suffocatingly hot carriage and began to talk longingly of the feast and soft beds that were waiting for them at Hogwarts.

"I'm so glad I'm not going over the lake, that takes much longer!" Ginny said. Harry realized she wasn't wearing a Prefect's badge.

"Didn't they make you prefect?" he asked. Ginny grinned.

"Me? Nah, I take too much after Fred and George." She stared out of the window as the carriages started to ride off, past the lake.

"You know, Patricia's really nice once you get to know her," she said. "and an amazing Quidditch player! Even better than her sister, imagine that!"

They turned to Luna for a second, who was humming a strange tune and bobbing her head up and down. Harry saw Neville smiling fondly from a corner of his eye before turning back to Ginny.

"D'you know who'll be the chasers this year? I mean, Angelina and Alicia have left school, so there are two openings."

Ginny grinned.
"I don't think Ron will like it, but Patricia and I are filling in," she said.

Harry raised his eyebrows.
"A first year can't be on the team!"

"Didn't stop you, did it?" Ginny pointed out. Harry chose to ignore this.

"We don't know what house she'll be sorted into yet, though," Neville said vaguely. Harry grinned, in part because they had arrived at Hogwarts, and in part because there was still hope.

* * *

Harry, Neville, Ginny and Luna huddled together amongst the other Hogwarts students as they all filed up the great front doors into the Entrance Hall. Harry felt a thrill of excitement as he realized he was back in his favourite place in the whole world, away from the Dursleys and where Voldemort couldn't get him.

"Harry! Over here!" Hermione's voice called out, and Harry looked over the heads of the other students (who all seemed incredibly small to him now, he'd grown quite a bit over the summer) to see her bushy head in the Great Hall.

Harry dodged the second and third years and followed Hermione and Ron to Gryffindor table, where they sat down in their usual seats.

"I'm so glad we're finally rid of Patricia, I hope she drowns in that lake!" Ron said in a strangled sort of voice. Hermione shot him a dirty look.

"I wonder which teachers we've got this year," Harry said, his eyes moving over the staff table.

Ron and Hermione turned to look as well.

"That's strange..." Hermione mumbled.

"What is?" Ron asked quickly, trying to cover up the noise that had just escaped his hungry stomach.

"Well, there are only two seats empty. One's for Hagrid, he's on the lake, and the other's for Proffesor McGonagall who's fetching the Sorting Hat. But shouldn't there be..."

"A Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher?" Harry said, reading her thoughts. It was true, now that Umbridge was gone there ought to be someone new, but Harry didn't see a single unfamiliar face among the teachers.

Then Professor McGonagall walked in with the stool and the Sorting Hat, and they were distracted from thinking of anything else. The stern woman put down the stool, straightening the lop-sided and extremely patchy looking hat. A gap in it’s brim opened and a loud, sing-song voice echoed through the Great Hall:

Welcome back to another year
Of Witchcraft, and Wizardry here
At Hogwarts where the founding four
Join against Lord Voldemort
Gryffindor gives students
Which are brave of heart
Ravenclaw delivers us
With those who are smart
Hufflepuff offers those
Loyal to the cause
And Slytherin endeavors
To amend it’s past flaws
So regardless of which house
I choose to put you in
Embrace it with spirit
And in the end we shall win!


Harry grinned. Slytherin definitely had some mending to do. But what was the hat referring to? Voldemort, the heir of Slytherin, probably. He saw shivering first years approaching the Staff Table, and wondered what Ron had told them. Probably that they were to combat a mountain troll or kiss professor Snape.

"Wish me luck!" Patricia hissed, as she walked by with the other first years. She didn't look remotely as nervous as they did.

"Good luck, Patricia!" Hermione said sincerely, and Ron looked as if he'd rather smell Crabbe's feet than do the same.

Luckily there were only two other people before Professor McGonagall called: "Bell, Patricia!" and they weren't left in suspense any longer.

Patricia skipped over to the staff table, beaming, and hopped onto the stool. She crammed the Sorting Hat onto her head and waited. A split second later the brim in the old hat shouted out "Gryffindor!" and Patricia raced over to their table greeted by enthusiastic applause.

She didn't seem to notice Ron's groaning as she sat down next to him and enveloped Ginny in conversation.

When the last person had been sorted Professor McGonagall came to fetch the stool and the Sorting Hat again, and the level of noise in the Hall increasing considerably. Everyone was hoping Dumbledore's usual speech would be short, so that they could eat quickly.

"Students of Hogwarts," Dumbledore's voice called out, and as he stood up everyone fell silent. They all watched his old, weary face and friendly eyes that sparkled behind his half-moon glasses. Suddenly Harry remembered how fierce those eyes could be, like last year in the Department of Mysteries.

"I want to welcome you to another year at Hogwarts. Now, I know that many of you have had difficult summers, but it will be nothing compared to this year now that Voldemort has returned." Several people along the hall flinched, it was like a chain of shudders. Dumbledore, ignoring this, continued.

"The basic self-defense handbooks the ministry has handed out to all of your homes will be important, but nothing is as crucial as sticking together. We are only as weak divided, as we are strong united."

Harry saw Hermione give a tiny, sub-conscious nod.

"Now, without further ado, tuck in!"

Their golden plates and goblets filled magically with all sorts of food, and everyone began to eat, although not as enthusiastically as they normally would have done.

"You know," Luna said, slurping her pumpkin juice noisily, "I wouldn't follow those handbooks if were you."

They looked up curiously.

"Why not, Luna? I found some things very helpful," Ginny said.

"Well," Luna went on, with an air of supreme knowledge, "who made those handbooks? The ministry. Where does Fudge work? The ministry. And everyone knows Fudge works for you-know-who!"

Harry raised his eyebrows. "Since when?"

"Since always! Fudge has been torturing goblins and turning them into pies for ages, it's all part of you-know-who's plan!" Luna exclaimed. Ron snorted into his soup, spraying it everywhere.

"Ron!"

Hermione pulled a meatball out of her hair, looking disgusted.
Ron's ears turned red, and he quickly busied himself with his cabbages, mortified.

* * *

After the feast Harry was glad to go up to his common room again, into his dormitory and falling fast asleep into his four-poster bed...

"Harry, are you awake?"

Harry's eyes snapped open, and he groaned at the sound of Ron's voice next to him.

"I was before you woke me up!" he said in a strained voice. There was a short pause where Harry could hear nothing other than Neville's snoring, before Ron answered softly:

"Sorry, never mind."

Harry sighed, and rolled over in his bed to look at Ron. His freckled face looked insecure and thoughtful in the moonlight.

"Just get it over with, I'm wide awake now."

Ron sighed, fidgeting with his blankets.
"It's just- d'you reckon it's smart, me being with Josephine?" he asked.

Harry raised his eyebrows. "What d'you mean?"

"Well..." Ron turned a bit red, although Harry could barely see it in the darkness. "She's really pretty, almost as much as Fleur was. But... She does treat me like rubbish around the Slytherins, doesn't she?"

Harry propped up on his elbow.

"I s'pose... There's a lot of pressure on her, though. Maybe things will get better," he lied. He'd just heard Josephine telling her friends Ron had a pathetic crush on her in the Great Hall, so he doubted it was true.
Ron stared up at the ceiling of his dormitory.

"I hope so," he said miserably. Harry, not really wanting to continue the conversation, laid down on his bed again.

"Goodnight," he whispered. The was no answer, and after a while Harry fell asleep again.

He dreamed peacefully about Dumbledore. "You must unite!" Dumbledore yelled, pushing Ron towards Josephine. A large group of students laughed behind their back, most of whom were Slytherins. "She doesn't want you!" Patricia cried. She giggled and her black pigtails bobbed up and down.
Suddenly the pigtails fused together to form a long, white beard that grew to the floor. Patricia's girly face turned to an ancient one, monkey-like and familiar to Harry somehow...

"Three ingredients... The Green Flame torch will light up with three ingredients..." the old man said in a hoarse voice.

Harry laughed, but it wasn't his own laugh. It was a high-pitched, cold laugh that he'd heard so many times before... Then Harry grabbed his forehead with both hands.

His scar was aching, throbbing on his head. His brains seemed to be spilling out of it, hot coals applied to it... Harry was in so much pain he screamed...

"Aaaargh!" Harry fell right out of his bed and onto the floor. He panted, still clenching his forehead. Looking up, he saw Ron still lying in his bed. He hadn't noticed anything.

Harry was about to climb back into his bed when he heard Ron muttering something in his sleep.

"Hermione..."


Chapter 4: Snape The Stalker
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*Chapter 4*


SNAPE THE STALKER



Harry froze to the floor, and shot a quick glance at Ron's face. There was a slight and unmistakable smile around his mouth that Harry had seen Hagrid use before on Madam Maxime.
Could it be...?

Harry quickly jumped back into his four-poster bed, careful not to make a sound. If it was him he'd be very embarrassed to be overheard... Did Ron fancy Hermione? Harry asked himself. Suddenly he started putting things together. The Yule Ball. Ron had been so jealous of Krum then, hadn't he? And wasn't he always irritated when Hermione found a boy handsome, like Lockhart or Cedric Diggory? Harry's stomach churned uncomfortably. If it was really true then things were going to get very different with the three of them.

Harry had an odd vision of Ron and Hermione snogging while he was sitting dejectedly in a corner.
Soon he fell into a restless sleep again, and when the next morning Neville woke him up at seven he didn't feel rested at all.

"C'mon, breakfast!" Neville hissed.

Harry stuck his head out of his hangings and saw all the boys in his dormitory getting changed. Grunting something, Harry got up and put on his school robes. He shot Ron a strange look, but the tall red-headed boy was too busy humming cheerfully to notice.

"I'll wait," Ron said, as Neville, Seamus and Dean traipsed out of the dormitory and he was left alone with Harry.

Harry tucked his wand into his pocket and tried to flatten his hair. In the meantime he wondered nervously if he should say something to Ron. Oddly enough, they never really talked about girls amongst themselves. And talking about Hermione would just make it a hundred times weirder...

"OK, let's go," Harry muttered. He followed Ron down the spiral staircase and out of the portrait hole, choosing to take what he'd heard to the grave.


Harry and Ron met up with Hermione in the common room, and the three of them headed for the Great Hall amongst many other animatedly chatting Gryffindors. Harry kept shooting odd looks at his two friends, but when he didn’t notice anything out the ordinary he decided to just forget about the whole thing. Maybe Ron was just dreaming of asking Hermione to quit with SPEW, or something along those lines.

Instead Harry told them about the dream he had had last night.

“Forget about it,” was Hermione’s immediate response.

“What do you mean? If we can have insight on Voldemort’s plans-“ Harry said, but he was cut off by Hermione.

“Forget it!” she interrupted sharply. “The last time you had a scar-channeled dream about V-voldemort it was a trap and you almost got killed!”

There was a painful silence as the three of them thought of Sirius.

“But maybe it was just a silly dream of your own,” Ron said hopefully. “I mean, all that business about Patricia’s hair…”

“I was having a stupid dream but it was interrupted!” Harry cried impatiently, as they walked past the House table and sat down in their usual spots.

“I can tell when it’s real, my scar was hurting and everything. And don’t worry,” he reassured Hermione. “I’m not doing anything rash like flying out of the castle again.”

Hermione opened her mouth to argue, but was suddenly too distracted by the schedules that were being handed out to press the matter any further. Picking up a spoon to shovel porridge into her mouth, Hermione’s eyes flew over the piece of parchment and she looked up to see theirs as well.

“I’ve got Potions this morning, what about you, Ron?” Harry and Ron put down their toast and stared at their own schedules.

“Uh… I’ve got a free period, because I don’t do Potions. How brilliant is that?”

Harry saw that he had Potions as well, and following that were Defense Against the Dark Arts and Care of Magical Creatures.

“Yeah, and we get to see who our new teacher is after that,” he said, sipping from his pumpkin juice. He looked up to see Hermione staring thoughtfully at the staff table.

“There still no one new, isn’t that a bit odd? Perhaps they’re not here yet, or…”

“Maybe they’re waiting for Umbridge to get back from Azkaban!” Ron cried with an appalled look on his face. Hermione snorted dismissively.

“Sure Ron, they’ll re-hire a madwoman with a criminal record to boot! No, I’m guessing maybe it’s a ghost… Professor Binns is never at the staff table either is he? We’ll just have to wait and see.”

She drained her glass of juice and stood up.
“Come on Harry, we don’t want to be late.”

Harry sighed, getting up and flinging his bag onto his back. He almost wounded a haughty-looking Parvati Patil, but ignored it since he was too busy worrying about how Snape would react once he’d found out Harry was in his NEWTS class. He wouldn’t be surprised if he took it out on him for the rest of that year.

***

The entrance of the dungeons was, to Harry’s surprise, not filled with only Gryffindors and Slytherins. Besides Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson, Harry recognized Ernie Macmillan, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Anthony Goldstein and Padma Patil.

“That’s two from each house,” Hermione hissed into his ear, “Just students who got Outstandings. I can’t believe that thick cow Pansy got one!”

Harry leaned against the dark dingy wall uncomfortably. Here he was, with probably the smartest students in his year. What on earth had he done to deserve that O?

Then another thought crept into his mind. What would Snape think of all this? With Crabbe, Goyle and Neville gone Harry was the worst student in the class. He’d be the laughing stock, Snape would make sure of that.

“Potter?” Malfoy’s unpleasant sneer woke him up from his ponderings. He looked up to see the pale, blond-haired boy staring at him in disbelief.

“I can understand that the Mudblood got in, but you of all people? You took remedial Potions last year!”

Pansy shrieked with laughter at this, and Harry was surprised she didn’t know already.

“Yeah well, I guess they paid off,” Harry replied grimly. “And don’t call her that!” he added sharply. He felt a pang thinking of how Ron would have reacted just now and cursed his friend silently for not making the class.

“Yes, the classes paid off indeed,” Snape’s cold voice came from behind them. They turned to face him, his black hair as oily as usual and his mouth curling with hatred towards Harry.

“Now enter the classroom before I collapse at the shock of finding you here, Potter.”

Malfoy sniggered and they followed him into the gloomy room with tall, unpolished stone walls. The Potions class was arranged differently than the last time Harry had been there, and now the were only five sets of tables. Harry sat down next to Hermione at the back of the class, as far away from Malfoy and Pansy as possible, who were sitting at the front.

“Don’t be bothered and good luck, Harry!” Ernie Mcmillan said pompously, sitting down at a table beside them with Justin Finch-Fletchley.

Harry gulped and and swore to himself he’d pay attention as Snape started to write down the ingredients for their Youthening Potion on the blackboard.

***

“Snape was picking on me, he was, Hermy!” Harry’s high-pitched voice called out as Hermione led him out of the classroom by his hand. Her Youthening Potion had worked so well on Harry that he was still talking and thinking like a toddler after about two hours. As a result his Potion had had no effect on Hermione whatsoever and she was in fact looking more mature and responsible than ever.

“Come on, Harry,” Hermione said gently, urging him up the stairs. “We’ve got Defense Against the Dark Arts next, you like that, don’t you?”

“Yes, I like that!” Harry cried, and skipped past Padma Patil who was throwing a tantrum because she’d lost her hair band. Ernie Macmillan was dragging her away, looking apprehensive.

By the time they’d reached the old Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom Harry’s voice had turned again and he found himself wondering why he had Chocolate Frogs dribbled all down the front of his robes.

“Couldn’t you just keep that stuff away from me?” Harry asked annoyedly, as Hermione was performing a scourging charm on his robes. She sighed derisively but abstained from comments as they came face-to-face with Ron, who was looking extremely cheerful.

“I took the free time to practice my Keeping skills out on the pitch!” He said, and looked puzzled when Hermione reached out to flatten his wind-swept hair.

“You don’t have to do that!” Ron stammered, his ears turning red and backing away from Hermione’s hands.

She shrugged and hurried into the class, occupying some front-row seats. Harry and Ron sat down next to her, expectantly awaiting the arrival of the new teacher.

Harry was pleased to see that at least this lesson had remained the same, just the Gryffindors. Apparently no high standards were expected for this class since everyone, including Neville, was there. Or perhaps, the Hogwarts’ staff pitied them for their varying teachers and lessons, since in the past six years Harry’s classmates hadn’t really learnt all that much.

Suddenly the classroom door opened, and everyone fell silent as Snape walked into the room.
“In the future, I’d prefer it if you waited outside until I arrived,” he said slowly, and walked to the front of the class. There he sat down at the desk and sent cold, sadistic looks to Harry, Ron and Hermione.
“What the-?“ Ron whispered. Harry could see him turning a nasty green colour as it became apparent to them that Snape would be this year’s teacher. He looked around saw similar expressions; Neville looked positively horrified.

“Put away your quills and take out your wands,” Snape said lazily, and there was a flurry of movement since everyone, after the year before, hadn’t bother to take out their wands for this class.

“As you can see, I have finally been granted the pleasure of teaching you this subject. I daresay, we don’t want any other Ministry workers filling in, do we? Now, today we will be practicing counter-curses and strong shield charms to more dangerous and rare curses, such as the Flagrantius Curse.”

Snape paused and aimed his wand at some ugly brown curtains. He made a swishing movement, called out “Flagranti!” and a purple flame shot out of his wand. The curtains fell to the floor in a sissing heap, and Harry heard Hermione gasping beside him. He knew what this was; the curse that the death eater had used on Hermione the year before in the Department of Mysteries.

“This curse is fatal if applied properly,” Snape carried on, pocketing his wand, “and although its use is punished in the same way as the Unforgivable curses, it can be stopped. Therefore I’m here to teach you how. As soon as you stop whimpering of course, Longbottom.”

Heads flickered to stare at Neville, who was very pale and staring at Snape as if he were Grawp about to pick him up.

“This class is going to be very amusing,” Ron said to Harry and Hermione in an undertone. They sighed and glared back at Snape gloomily.

* * *
After lunch Harry, Ron and Hermione set off to their care of Magical Creatures class, looking very forward to seeing Hagrid up close again, although the idea of a double lesson with the Slytherins didn’t exactly thrill them.

It was very hot when they reached Hagrid’s cabin, and it was an odd sight that greeted them. Hagrid was standing in a group in students, who were all helping him to dig holes in the ground. Harry saw to his delight that it wasn’t the Slytherins, but the Hufflepuffs.

“Harry Potter! We meet again,” Ernie Macmillan panted, as he planted a long wooden perch into a hole he had just dug.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “What’s going on here?” he asked, and Hagrid turned around to face him, a huge shovel in one hand.

“Hey, ‘Arry, Ron, ‘Ermione! Come on, don’t just stand there, get to work!”

The huge grin on Hagrid’s bearded face meant nothing good, since they all knew that Hagrid was always this cheerful with the prospect of working with a particularly dangerous Magical Creature.

Hermione looked apprehensive, therefore, when she asked him: “What are all these perches for, Hagrid?”

Hagrid shook his head and handed the three of them a shovel.

“Yeh ask too many questions, ‘Ermione. Just dig!”

Hermione hesitated a bit, but then stuck her shovel into the brown dirt and began to dig along with them. When finally all the perches were placed firmly into the ground, Hagrid stood back and watched them all wiping the dirt off their hands.

“Righ’ then, who knows what a Harpy is?” Hagrid asked them, but his eyes turned immediately to Hermione as if she was the only one who could possibly know this.

“They’re huge, black birds with human heads that feed off wand trees,” Hermione replied.

Hagrid nodded, grinning, and walked off to the back of his cabin. They watched him disappearing in his Pumpkin Patch and wondered what terrible beasts he’d return with.

“They’re friendly little tykes, don’ worry abou’ nuffink. But better ter watch their teeth…” Hagrid’s muffled voice told them, from under a huge cage with a Harpy in it. He set the cage down to the ground, and opened it.

Hannah Abbot stumbled over her own feet and almost fell on top of Harry in her haste to get back. They watched the gigantic, horrible bird fly over their heads making an awful screeching noise and land on one of the perches. There it sunk it’s long sharp teeth into the wood and started to gnaw at it, its beedy red eyes watching them.

Hermione seemed to have guessed that there were many more Harpies where this one came from, because she pointed her wand at the back of Hagrid’s cabin and cried: “Accio cages!”

They all backed away as a dozen or so of the same cages zoomed at them, and landed at Hermione’s feet with a dull thud.

“Fanks, ‘Ermione,” Hagrid said, grinning sheepishly.

He opened the rest of the cages and each of the Harpies flew to one of the perches. Soon the sound of teeth rasping on wood filled the air.

“Now, today we’re goin’ ter learn the Harpies behavior, and the magical properties of their feathers. You migh’ ‘ave used them before in Potions or such, they’re really good fer…”

But what the Harpies’ feathers were really good for Harry never found out, because he was too busy staring at Ron who gazed at Hermione in admiration while she answered each of Hagrid’s questions.

* * *

The next few days passed without many events, since the first week of classes was always relaxed. However, Harry noticed that all his lessons were steadily more difficult and most of them lacked Crabbe, Goyle or Neville.

Apart from the Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons, the rest of Harry’s classes were pretty much the same as they had always been. The only changes were Herbology that they now took with the Slytherins, and Transfiguration which was now a mixed class like Potions. The fact that they had never shared lessons with the Ravenclaws before was odd, but Harry found he didn’t care much since Cho had given him a bad reputation there and the students didn’t seem to like him at all.

Apart from Anthony Goldstein and Michael Corner, who he could get along with quite well (besides Ron was warming up to Michael after they had broken up). Padma was virtually the same as her sister, so that simply added a third giggling girl to their Transfigurations lessons.

One day after Ron had finally managed to transfigure his hand back from a claw (Hermione and Harry laughing at him saying he looked like Captain Hook, who he didn’t know, only adding to his moodiness) the three of them headed for the Quidditch pitch. It was a glorious sunny afternoon, and Harry filled his lungs with the happy air of Quidditch when he walked onto it and saw his fellow players assembled there.

“I’ll watch from here,” Hermione said, sitting down in the stands beside Luna Lovegood who was muttering something to herself.

Ron and Harry walked up to Katie Bell, the two dreadful Beaters from the year before, Ginny and an excitedly beaming Patricia.

“Hey, have you two met my sister?” Katie asked them, putting her hand on Patricia’s shoulder. They nodded grumpily, Ginny laughing at their faces.

“Alright then, now that Angelina’s gone I’m the new captain,” Katie said.

She picked up her broom and opened a crate of the four Quidditch balls.

“I think we should just practice our new Chasers, trying out new stuff like the Hawkshead Formation or the Sloth-grip-roll. At the same time we can test you Ron, to see if you’ve still got that flare that you showed off in the last match.”

Ron nodded, grinning broadly, and they took off. Harry flew around the pitch totally at ease, watching Ron guarding over the three goalhoops lazily and enjoying the feel of his Firebolt again.

He also watched the Beaters thoughtfully, particularly Sloper who’d just slipped off his broomstick and dangled from it by a few fingers. Harry shook his head, sighing. They’d really have to replace those two.

* * *

If Harry had thought that this year would be trouble-free, he soon changed his mind when that Friday he was cornered by Snape after a particularly boring History of Magic lesson. Harry was still quite drowsy as he walked up the marble staircase, but when Snape grabbed him by the collar of his robes into the staff room, he was wide awake.

“Listen, Potter,” he hissed, glaring down at the surprised Harry ominously. “After you so courteously stuck your fat nose into my Pensieve last year, I didn’t think I’d ever have to go through this again. However, Professor Dumbledore is concerned about the wonder-boy, so I’m obliged to give you Occlumency lessons again.”

Harry’s stomach felt as if it was filled with lead. First Snape in Defense Against the Dark Arts, and now this.

“We don’t want you to run off doing the hero-act again, do we?” Snape spat, sneering unpleasantly.

Harry flinched.
“No, sir,” he growled. “At six on Mondays again?”

Snape nodded shortly, and held open the staff room door again. Harry stalked out of it, grumbling furiously from frustration and disappointment. Did they really think he’d let Voldemort trick him again? He wasn’t that thick!

Soon he was swallowed by a crowd of fifth years bustling off to the Great Hall, and he followed them. All this annoyance was making him very hungry.

“Hey Harry, what’s up with you?” Ginny asked him, walking beside Harry with Luna Lovegood.

“Troubles with Cho Chang again, hm?” Luna asked knowingly.

“As a matter of fact, no!” Harry snapped back angrily.

Luna didn’t seem startled at his bad mood, but just kept nodding her head with a vague smile on her face.
He was glad when she left them to sit down at the Ravenclaw table, and Ginny and Harry sat down facing Ron and Hermione with the Gryffindors.

“What is it then?” Ginny asked again. Harry pretended not to hear and busied himself with his chicken. Ginny shrugged, and turned to talk to Dean.

“Are you alright, Harry?” Hermione asked softly. He looked up, hating her for always reading his mood.

“It’s Snape. He wants to resume Occlumency,” Harry muttered.

Hermione nodded happily.
“That’s nothing but good news, Harry. It was stopping those lessons last year that contributed to-“

Harry slurped up his pumpkin juice noisily and ignored her, letting all her words flow over him without them.

“That stinks, mate,” Ron agreed sensibly. Hermione shot him a cold look.

It looked like they were going to have one of their usual bickering sessions when a seventh year bent down over them, handing out bright orange leaflets.

“Tickets to the Chuddley Cannons?” Ron asked excitedly. His face fell when he saw what was written on the leaflet.


GRYFFINDOR HALLOWEEN PARTY

Place: Gryffindor Common Room
Date: October 31st, after the feast till midnight.
Rules: Wear a costume, be from Gryffindor (but you can invite a date from another house)

PLENTY OF BUTTERBEER, HONEYDUKES’ GOODS and Firewhiskey (don’t leave this leaflet lying around or we’ll hex you).



“Not another ball!” Ron cried out in disgust, staring at the leaflet in hands.

Hermione snatched the piece of parchment away and looked it over.

“Not a ball, Ron, a party! You don’t even have to bring anyone if you don’t want to.”

Harry sighed in relief.
“Thank god, I haven’t got a clue who I’d ask.”

Ron was looking slightly happier, as he said: “Well, I do. And even if it was a ball, I’ve got nice dress robes now, don’t I?”

Hermione shook her head, and put the leaflet away to keep eating.

“I don’t think this is a very good idea. I bet people will be making noise till really late, I don’t know how I’ll ever get to sleep and classes the next day…”

Ron snorted.
“C’mon Hermione, live a little! I wonder what I’d wear…. What are you going as Harry?”

Ron, Harry and Hermione spent the rest of dinner naming suggestions for Halloween costumes, Harry remembering the time he was nine and went trick-or-treating as a wizard. Dudley beat him up and stole all his candy… Boy were times different now.

* * *

The month of September passed smoothly and blurred into October, bringing with it more NEWTs classes, Quidditch practice and Occlumency lessons. However, Harry was used to all this from last year and simply set to work determined to make this year better than the last one.

He practiced his Occlumency every night, fighting off Snape’s attacks into his mind faster every time. He did this not to please Snape of course, but rather to quench the guilt of Sirius’ death that had been present with him since June.

He told himself he would be stronger, Voldemort wouldn’t be getting into his head anymore, and this way he successfully repressed any more dreams about old men or green torches.

The NEWTs classes were more demanding. Harry tried to follow Hermione’s studying system, even using the dreadful homework agenda, but it just wasn’t easy. Lessons were now full of hard spells, potions or curses. They were doing human transfiguration now, and Harry found it difficult not to remember Professor McGonagall’s promise the previous year every time he looked into her disapproving eyes.

Potions was unspeakably hard, especially since the class lacked students like Crabbe and Goyle, so the rhythm was impossible to keep up with. Not to mention Snape’s determination to vanish every single potion that he ever concocted. Nevertheless, Harry did the best he could, annoying Ron when he even begun to take notes during the soporific History of Magic lessons.

“I feel like you’re betraying me, mate,” Ron said to him one day, as they were leaving Greenhouse Five.

There Professor Sprout had been teaching them about mutating Devil’s Snares, making Harry feel as though he was in one of Hagrid’s lessons.

“I mean, when you started naming all those effective ways of re-potting I really thought… Blimey, this bloke’s more obsessed with Herbology than Neville is.”

Hermione caught up with them half-way through the grounds, having been delayed when a particularly deadly Devil’s Snare pulled her and Lavender Brown into a fatal embrace.

“I think it’s wonderful, the initiative Harry’s taking in his classes,” Hermione said, smiling up at Harry fondly.

He felt a surge of pride, and heard Ron grumbling something beside him.

“Yeah, well I think that energy should be put into something more important. Like the match tomorrow, for example?” Ron said meaningfully.

Hermione sighed, rolling her eyes.
“Of course, I’m not saying Quidditch isn’t important. It just shouldn’t come first, you really should follow his example Ron. Ron!”

Harry looked to his other side, where Ron was singing “Weasley is our King” with his fingers in his ears. Hermione huffed something about prefect duties, and stamped off, fuming.



Chapter 5: It’s all about Quidditch
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*Chapter 5*


ITS ALL ABOUT QUIDDITCH



The following morning Harry woke up early and ate a hurried breakfast with Ron in the Great Hall. It was Saturday, and the first Quidditch match of the year would be held against Ravenclaw.

At nine o’clock they started feeling nervous, Ron especially, and headed for the changing rooms after hurried goodbyes to Hermione, Ginny and Luna who wished them luck. Luna was wearing her traditional hat, a huge blue bird to represent her house.

“Alright, people, I want to win this,” Katie told them sternly, as they stood on the pitch in their Quidditch gear, broomsticks in their hands and the Ravenclaw team opposite them.

“That means, you two,” she addressed the Beaters, “no hitting your own team members or getting distracted. I won’t rest until beating Ravenclaw…”

“What makes this so important?” Harry asked, puzzled, as Madam Hooch walked into the pitch with a large wooden crate under her arm. The noise-level in the stands was rising.

“My ex-boyfriend, Michael Corner, is on that team,” Katie said darkly.

Ron’s eyebrows went up.

“How many girls has that bloke been with?” He asked, but they were distracted by the referee blowing on her whistle and kicked off into the air, four magical balls zooming after them.

Harry flew high above the ground, doing laps around the pitch. Not far away, he saw Cho Chang doing the same thing. Harry felt a slight flipping in his stomach, but found he really didn’t care anymore and rather fiercely decided to beat her at all costs, just as Katie wanted.

It felt great to be in the air again. They’d had plenty of Quidditch practices of course, but it really didn’t compare to a real live match like this. He hadn’t had one since the start of his fifth year, thanks to Umbridge.
Suddenly Harry heard a high-pitched, unpleasant voice echoing through the stands.

“And Katie Bell’s got the Quaffle, she passes it to her younger sister Patricia Bell. We all know she wouldn’t be on that team if it weren’t for her sister…”

Harry spotted Pansy in the crowd, commentating with a Sonorus spell on her voice. Of course, after Lee Jordan left they needed someone to fill his shoes, but her of all people? And a Slytherin?

“And Patricia Bell scores! Aaargh, who blames the Keeper? No one can see a little midget like that approaching. Come on, Ravenclaw!”

Harry’s eyes narrowed, but he had to admit he liked Pansy calling Patricia a midget. Although, she really was playing very skillfully. And Ginny too, dodged Bludgers and sped over the pitch at top speed.

After about half an hour Harry started feeling bored and decided it was high time to find the Snitch. The score was already fifty to nothing for Gryffindor though, so it wasn’t of vital importance. Unless Cho saw it first…

Suddenly Harry spotted a tiny gleam of gold around one of the three goalposts that Ron was guarding. He appeared to be dozing off, no one having come near him in such a long time.

Harry flew slowly over to the goalposts, pretending to go have small chat with Ron. From the corner of his eye he saw Cho was much too far away to act, in fact she hadn’t seen anything.

“And the Ravenclaw Chasers finally get a hold of the Quaffle, speeding to the other side of the pitch!” Pansy called out, causing Ron’s head to jerk up abruptly.

Harry saw Cho turning to look the way her team’s Chasers were going… She’d see the Snitch any second now…

Harry sped forwards, diving down to the central goalhoop. Ron eyed him warily.

“Out of my way, Harry! I can’t see the Chasers!”

Harry ignored Ron, and kept flying towards him. He heard the sound of many broomsticks coming after him, the Ravenclaw chasers and Cho…

“Aaah!” Ron yelled, swooping sideways to avoid what he thought was an attack from Harry.

Harry saw the Snitch clearly now, it was right inside the goalhoop…

Stretching forwards, he let go of his Firebolt with both arms and reached for the Snitch. In a matter of seconds he caught it, felt the wings flapping against his fingers- BAM

Harry was knocked from his broomstick and fell to the ground, vaguely aware of a sharp pain at the side of his face.

“Ah, no! Harry Potter catches the Snitch, blocking a Ravenclaw Chaser’s Quaffle in the process. Gryffindor win, by two hundred points to nothing.”

The last thing Harry thought was: to nothing? To ten, that Quaffle had definitely come out at the other end… before he hit the ground and lost consciousness.

* * *

“Harry! Harry, can you hear me?” a voice echoed, and Harry recognized it as Hermione’s.

He opened his eyes slowly, and found himself lying on a bed in the Hospital Wing, surrounded by his friends. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna and Neville were all grouped around him. Ron moved aside a bit, and Harry saw Patricia standing behind him.

Harry groaned loudly, and made attempts to sit up.

Hermione pushed him back down gently. “Don’t strain yourself!” she said.

“We won, mate! Thanks to you!” Ron cried, shaking his shoulder excitedly so Harry was painfully aware of the throbbing on his left temple.

“I know…. Couldn’t you have stopped that Quaffle? I’m getting a bit tired of always waking up in here after a match.”

Ginny snorted.
“Ronnie jumped aside as soon as he saw you coming, it looked like you were trying to flatten him. You should have seen Cho’s face afterwards, she was so mad… Crying again and everything.”

Despite the pain Harry managed a small grin. “Yeah?”

“I scored three times!” Patricia piped. “That’s more than anyone else! You should have seen me, I almost got hit by a Bludger but then I did that Sloth-grip thingy and it missed, hitting Sloper instead! He’s also in here, a few beds further away!”

Patricia pointed at a bed to their left excitedly, and kept rambling on.

“My first goal was easy, it was like that Slytherin girl said, he didn’t see me, but after that it got harder and I had to avoid all these other Chasers and I almost did a foul and-“

“Well, Harry, we must be going again,” Ron said loudly, looking at his wrist as though there was a watch there.

“Hogsmeade visit, you know. It’s too bad you can’t come. Let’s go, Hermione. HERMIONE!”

Hermione jumped, she’d been looking down on Harry worriedly and was now brought to her senses.

“Oh, yes, Hogmeade visit, right… Well, goodbye Harry, we’ll see you tonight.” She kissed him on his cheek and turned to follow Ron, who looked as though he wouldn’t mind a kiss of his own.

* * *

When Harry recovered after being force-fed some incredible (and disgusting) potions by Madam Pomphrey he left the Hospital Wing as good as new and spent the rest of the weekend celebrating with other Gryffindors, or finished his endless amount of essays and homework assignments.

Snape alone had given him three on truth Potions, then there was Professor Flitwick’s about Conjuring Charms, and even Hagrid had added to the workload by sending them to the library to do research on Aquatic Magical Creatures.

“Oh, I hate this!” Hermione screeched one Friday afternoon in Herbology, throwing down her Dancing Daisy in disgust where it’s pot crashed to a thousand pieces on the floor.

The Gryffindors and Slytherins around her looked up in shock and shot worried glances at Professor Sprout. She, however, didn’t seem to mind much, and cleared up the mess quickly with a wave of her wand.

“There there, Miss Granger, why don’t you go to the Hospital Wing for a while and have Poppy give you some Calming Draught?” She said softly, ushering Hermione out of the Greenhouse.

Harry and Ron watched her go with worried expressions on their faces.

“What’s wrong with her? She’s been acting like this all week,” Ron said, carefully placing a Pixie on top of his Dancing Daisy. He watched it scurrying around, collecting pollen, and then zoom off to another flower.

“I think she’s more stressed than she cares to admit,” Harry replied.

He was nursing a pretty bad Pixie bite on his thumb and was too distracted to think of much else.

“You don’t think she’s using a Time Turner again, do you?” Ron asked sharply.

Harry sighed, shaking his head.
“Nah. I’m guessing it’s just she’s got more classes than us at it is. And with that wish to get an Outstanding on every piece of work anyone would be slightly barking.”

They heard the bell ring far away, at the castle, and started putting the Pixies back into their cages. It was a sticky job because some of them were execrating honey droppings on their hands, something that would have stung had they not been wearing Dragon-hide gloves.

On the way out they spotted Josephine, who was heading up to the castle from a Care of Magical Creatures lesson with Millicent Bulstrode. Ron hurried to catch up with her, Harry straying behind but still catching every word.

“Hey, Jo! Nice to finally see you again,” Ron cried, missing Millicent’s repulsed stares.

Josephine smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.
“Erm… Hey, Ron. What’s up?”

Harry could see Ron’s ears turning slightly pink from behind.

“Well… You know, there’s a party in our common room after the feast, if you want, I mean, would you want, would you like, to come with me?” he stuttered. Harry held his breath and crossed his fingers. Please don’t let Josephine say no just because there’s a Slytherin standing next to her… He felt Malfoy brushing his shoulder and turned to see him passing with Crabbe, Goyle and Pansy.

“Aaah, Josephine! What on earth are you talking to Weasley for?” Malfoy asked loudly, putting an arm around Josephine and looking at Ron’s diminished face sadistically.

“Uh… I… Josephine?” Ron turned to look at Harry for help, and he sped up to catch up with them.

“Why don’t you take your paws off her, Malfoy?” Harry snarled at Malfoy, who was looking very pleased with himself and whispering something in Josephine’s ear. She didn’t seem to mind, he noticed. Malfoy sneered innocently at Harry.

“Really, Potter? She your girlfriend too? I’m sorry, but Josephine’s with me now, and she doesn’t want to go.” Pansy looked very angry at this indeed.
Josephine nodded and Ron flushed bright red.

“Well- fine then, I don’t like you anyway,” he said rather lamely, and ran off to the castle before Harry could stop him. Harry threw Josephine the dirtiest look he could muster and followed Ron.

***

“I can’t believe Malfoy! This time he’s gone much too far. I mean, I knew Josephine Fletcher was no good…” Hermione ranted, as they sat at the Gryffindor table eating their Halloween Feast. The food was delicious, although Ron hadn’t eaten a bite and was staring into space gloomily.

“Yeah, she’s proven herself to be a true Slytherin alright,” Harry muttered angrily.

He felt very upset for Ron, who looked nearly three times as bad as he had after the first and dreadful Quidditch match of the year before. Harry looked over at the Slytherin table, were Josephine and Malfoy were looking extremely cozy with each other.

“You’re better off without her, Ron,” Hermione said softly, squeezing Ron’s hand.

He sighed and toiled unenthusiastically with his apple pie. Hermione looked so sorry for him she even forgot to make her usual speech about house-elves that she saved for every feast.

Harry threw down his fork onto his golden goblet.
“Come on, let’s go and get changed for the Halloween Party. I’m not too hungry anyway.”

Ron and Hermione got up and followed him out of the Great Hall. They hurried up to Gryffindor Tower and muttered the password to the Fat Lady, who was sitting in her portrait with Violet, in a sea of tissues.

“Happy Halloween,” Ron said dully.

“It is not!” Violet screeched in a high-pitched voice. She dabbed tissues at her tear-stained eyes violently. The Fat Lady put an arm around her, and as she swung forward to let them pass mumbled: “Sir Cadogan’s cheated on her.”

The common room was bustling with students getting the place ready, mainly seventh years stalling out food or bickering with each other over the right decorations. Harry and Ron said goodbye to Hermione, who took off to the girls dormitories and they climbed the spiral staircase up to their own one.

Inside they found Neville, Dean and Seamus already changing.

“What on earth are you wearing?” Ron asked in disgust at Neville, dropping his sad-look.

Neville turned to smile sheepishly at them, from under a large stuffed-vulture hat that they’d seen so many times before. He was also wearing an unmistakable green dress.

“Borrowed it from me grandmum. Luna’s the one who came up with the idea,” he said, straightening the hideous hat. Ron mouthed silently in awe.

“What are you supposed to be?” Harry asked Seamus. He wore long black dress robes, and his face was painted eerie-white. Harry hoped he wasn’t going as a Dementor, that’s what he wanted to do.

Seamus stuck out an arm, and pulled up it’s sleeve. A black skull with a serpent protruding from its mouth was drawn skillfully on his arm.

“I drew it,” Dean said proudly. Harry noticed he wasn’t wearing a costume.

“So you’re a Death Eater then?” Harry asked uneasily.

Seamus put away the Dark Mark and nodded. “I’m going with Lavender, she reckons it’s sexy,” he muttered, looking slightly embarrassed. Ron’s eyes widened.

“So we are supposed to take dates then?” He asked.

Dean’s voice was muffled when he answered, since he was changing into long purple robes.

“You don’t have to, but we all are,” he replied.

Squatting down to put on some boots with buckles on them, he added: “I’m taking Ginny.”

Ron made an effort to make his voice sound even when he asked: “What about Neville?”

“Luna,” said Neville quickly, not looking at any of their faces.

Harry tried not to laugh as he changed into his own long, black robes. Hermione had stolen them for him from the laundry room, as she had in their second year to change them into Crabbe and Goyle. Then he put on some slimy black gloves, made to resemble a Dementor’s hands. He also wore a mask.

Of course, the real effect of a Dementor was to make you feel miserable and cold, so this costume would be nothing compared to the real thing.

“What are you doing?” He asked Dean, as he added the finishing touch: placing the hood over his head. It was very hot as it was still summertime and Harry wondered how the Dementors could stand it. Well, that had to be easy being a walking refrigerator.

Dean drank the contents of a small black bottle and waited, not answering.

They all stopped what they were doing and gazed at him expectantly. After a few minutes Ron became impatient, staring at his reflection in the mirror and straightening his dark blue dress robes.

Harry was just about to ask Ron what he was supposed to be, when he noticed Dean was beginning to change.

His smooth face became steadily older and more wrinkly, his back stooped and he sprouted a long, white beard.

“I’m Dumbledore,” he croaked, placing a tall purple hat on his head. All the boys laughed as they stared at the effects of the Ageing potion on him.

“I can’t go down like this,” Ron said flatly. “Everyone’s got an incredible costume and all I’ve got is this.”

He placed one of Fred and George’s Headless Hats on his head and after a split second the red hair and freckles were gone. Suddenly Harry felt very tall, with Ron one head shorter and Dean stooped so low.

“It’ll be fine,” he reassured him.

Nevertheless Ron tucked his headless hat back under his arm, which Harry preferred since now he could look him properly in the eye. They left their dormitory and went down the spiral staircase again to their common room, at exactly seven.

It looked as if in the half hour that they were changing the seventh years had managed to turn everything around. The common room was dark but filled with the eerie orange light that came from dozens of carved pumpkins, and the couches and armchairs (that had been turned black) were littered with fake spiders which Ron eyed with unease.

Tables everywhere were stacked with Honeydukes candy, Chocolate Frogs, butterbeers and countless other things. The walls had been covered in spider webs, forming thick barriers that you had to get through by using your hands or a strong Diffindo spell.

“Wicked!” Dean and Seamus cried in unison, running off to fetch butterbeers.

Harry saw them meeting up with Lavender, who represented a Veela by wearing a long blond wig and frilly white dress. Parvati was with her in an equally girlish costume; she wore a long scaly mermaid’s tail and had come with the Ravenclaw seventh year Eddie Carmichael.

Mermaids aren’t like that at all, Harry thought to himself. He stopped thinking, however, when he saw Hermione coming down the staircase and over to greet them.

“Hermione, where did you get that?” Ron asked, forgetting all else and staring at her.

Hermione had obviously used Sleakeasy’s Hair Potion again, because her hair was shiny and smooth and falling past her shoulders to her waist. It looked much longer than when it was so bushy.

She was wearing scarlet and gold Gryffindor Quidditch gear, although it looked much different on her than it did on Harry, he thought uncomfortably.

“I snuck up to your dormitory and took it from Harry’s closet before the feast,” Hermione said with a grin. “Why d’you think I threw a tantrum in Herbology?”

Ron was staring at Hermione in awe, taking her in from foot to toe.

“I thought it would be fun to go as a Quidditch player,” Hermione continued with a smile, “Even though I may not know everything about Wonky Faints and such, it’s still an interesting sport.”

Ron’s mouth snapped shut.
“Wronski Feint, Hermione!” She rolled her eyes and strolled off to one of the tables, chatting with the other students and grabbing some Cockroach Cluster.

“Hem, hem,”

Harry and Ron spun around abruptly but laughed when they saw it was just Ginny, doing one of her remarkably accurate impressions. She wore frilly pink robes and a Alice band that clashed horribly with her bright red hair, as well as thick rings around her fingers. They didn’t have to ask who she was supposed to be.

“I’m holding a poll,” she told them, showing them a piece of parchment with scribbles on them. “Would you like fast songs from the Weird Sisters first or some slow ones from Celestina Warbeck?”

“The Weird Sisters,” Ron replied immediately.

Harry nodded in consent and Ginny hurried off to meet Dean. A few moments later the air was filled with a quick, rhythmic tune coming from a wireless radio that hovered over their heads.

“Come on, let’s dance!” a voice yelled, and Harry looked down to see a small yellow bird dragging him to the center of the common room.

“Er… Who are you exactly?” he asked, and the canary pulled the bird’s head off her shoulders.

“It’s me!” Patricia squealed, while moving around wildly to the beat of the music. Harry swayed from side to side awkwardly, looking around at the other people who were dancing.

Dean, Ginny, Lavender, Seamus, Parvati and the seventh year had formed a long chain and were running through the common room singing loudly. Neville and Luna were also swinging to the beat. Luna, Harry noticed, was wearing a bright red wig and had drawn big spots on her face with a marker.

“I’m you, Ron!” she yelled at Ron gleefully, and he looked as though wanting to be sick.

Meanwhile Jack Sloper had asked Hermione to dance, and Harry watched them thinking vaguely if perhaps Hermione would be a better Beater than he was. It was probably the Quidditch player outfit that played tricks on his mind.

Suddenly the portrait hole swung open and there stood Katie Bell, next to a pair of beaming Weasley twins.

“I told them the password!” Katie said, grinning around at them. Everyone paused in mid-dance and cheered loudly.

“I figured it was about time we made an appearance again,” Fred boomed. He held up a crate of Firewhiskey. Eddie Carmichael whooped.

“Katie was so courteous as to inform us of this party,” George filled them in, “so we couldn’t stand the thought of not coming. That secret entrance from Honeydukes is all cleared up and back for us to sneak through!”

They all cheered and applauded again, and soon the dancing begun again and everything calmed down.
When Harry finally got rid of Patricia he struggled his way through the thick crowd and settled down into an armchair, next to Ron who was looking grumpy. It seemed as though he still hadn’t gotten entirely over Josephine.

“Having a good time?” Ron asked him bitterly.

“Not really,” Harry said truthfully. “Patricia’s stalking me and dancing’s not really my thing anyway.”

Suddenly the Weird Sister’s loud and fast song died down to make place for another, much slower one sung by someone that Harry recognized as Celestina Warbeck.

Several people groaned and broke away from the dance floor, sitting down or getting drinks. However Jack Sloper, Harry noticed, was hanging over Hermione like a sack of potatoes and she looked very disgusted.

“Help!” she mouthed at them, making gestures behind Sloper’s back.

Ron sprung up from his armchair and pushed an excitedly hopping Patricia off her feet.

“Excuse me,” he said, tapping Sloper on his back. “I’m sorry, but I promised Hermione I’d dance with her and I’ve got a detention in a few minutes, so it’ll have to be now,” he lied.

Sloper looked up at him dimly, and then let his hands slip down ever so slowly. He nodded, grunted something, and took off in the direction of some butterbeers.

Hermione obviously saw Sloper glancing back suspiciously, because she quickly grabbed Ron’s hands and started to dance with him.

He stared down at her in an appalled way, but finally seemed to get used to the idea and moved along with her. Harry watched them boredly, eating some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans at the same time.

Hermione was leaning her head on Ron’s shoulder, making Ron’s ears go very red. Harry saw Ron’s hand resting ever so slightly on Hermione’s waist, and when he bit into a Vomit-flavoured bean he didn’t even notice.


Chapter 6: Malfoys Prevail
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*Chapter 6*


MALFOYS PREVAIL


At some point around eleven o’ clock Fred and George set loose Hermione’s fireworks, and set a spell on them to keep them from multiplying or flying out of the common room.

However, people soon started getting tired and the Hovering Charm on the radio wore off at mid-night, meaning it dropped onto the heads of some terrified second years. After that Professor McGonagall stormed in looking very harassed, and sent them all off to their dormitories (she dragged the twins back out of the castle by their ears as well).

“This was fun, wasn’t it?” Ron asked Harry sleepily as they were lying in their four-poster beds an hour later, with Neville’s steady snoring in the background.

Harry mumbled an agreement. He was a bit too groggy to think straight and his eyes were drooping shut. Not only that, his scar twinged slightly and he preferred to be sleeping when that happened.

“Luna’s really strange though… I can’t believe she went as me. D’you think Neville fancies her?”

Once again Harry answered with less than a grunt. He wasn’t really in the mood for one of Ron’s one-sided conversations. Why couldn’t he just be quiet? …

“Hermione looked nice, didn’t she?” Ron whispered, barely audibly. Harry opened his eyes. Was this some sort of confession?

“Yeah, she looked okay, I suppose,” Harry replied.

“I like it when she straightens her hair…” Ron mumbled into his pillow. Harry considered the fact that Ron didn’t really know what he was saying.

“Uh-huh.”

She did look nice when she used the potion, but Harry preferred Hermione’s hair the bushy way. It was just what he was used to.

“Ron, do you like Hermione?” Harry asked abruptly. It was out before he could stop it. He suddenly received a strong pang in his scar, but ignored it. There was so much hanging on to Ron’s answer…

Harry listened for a long time, but then, finally realizing that Ron was asleep, rolled over in his bed and buried his head in the sheets. Really, how annoying. The only time he actually wanted Ron to talk he had to be sleeping…

* * *

A week later Ron seemed to have forgotten all about the night after the party, and they were all rather busy with homework and other things to focus on what had taken place. Katie pushed them on new Quidditch tactics, Professor Sprout had moved them up even more to the dangerous Greenhouse six, and Occlumency took valuable efforts that Harry didn’t possess. On one Tuesday morning however, something happened that changed their lives for good.

Harry was feverishly shoveling down cereals and scribbling the finishing lines on a Potions essay at the same time, while Hermione gave a speech on the importance of house-elves in the fight against Voldemort.

“Oh my goodness!”

Harry looked up still holding his quill, to see Hermione’s face had gone stark white. She clenched an alarmed post-owl in one hand, and an issue of the Daily Prophet in the other.

“What is it?” Harry didn’t wait for an answer, but snatched the paper from her clasping knuckles. He scanned the first page, growing steadily more worried.


MASS OUTBREAK AT AZKABAN DESPITE MINISTRIES’ EFFORTS

Jeremiah Stelth, Daily Prophet reporter, writes: Last night at nine o’ clock a total amount of twenty-one feared Death Eaters broke out of the wizard prison of Azkaban, despite the efforts of several highly-qualified Aurors to keep them there. Azkaban has been under their authority since the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge, ordered the removal of the Dementors at the end of the previous year
(Here followed two paragraphs on each of the Aurors, which included Tonks, Shacklebolt and Dawsley, and the escaped Death Eaters).

The Order of the Phoenix, a recently re-established defense group, and the Ministry of Magic, are working together to ensure that these dangerous individuals are captured. However, the whereabouts of the fugitives are unknown since two ministry representatives, Isadora Jones and Percy Weasley, that had managed to track them down are currently recovering from strong Memory Charms.



Harry lowered the Daily Prophet to look into Ron, Hermione and Ginny’s anxious eyes.

“Percy’s back on our side now?” Harry asked. “Since when?”

But before they could answer an Umbridge-like cough made them look up.

Harry saw Malfoy leaning over them with an unusually pleased sneer on his face. He was hiding one hand in his robes, and at first Harry thought he’d pull out his wand to curse him.

“What do you want, Malfoy?” Harry asked him through gritted teeth. “Coming to gloat over your father’s escape, have you?”

The rest of his friends were also eyeing Malfoy with suspicion.

“Oh no, I just wanted to congratulate you on you excellent performance in the match against Ravenclaw, Potter. Can’t I even do that?” Malfoy drawled innocently, and stuck out a hand across the table.

Harry and Ron exchanged appalled glances, but then Hermione gave Harry a reassuring look and he reluctantly shook Malfoy’s outstretched hand. Had he gone completely bonkers?

Harry thought he saw Malfoy’s other hand tipping something into his pumpkin juice as he moved back, but then it disappeared back into his robes and Harry was sure he’d just imagined it.

“Well, I’d better be off then,” said Malfoy with an ill-disguised smirk. He turned on his heels and strolled back to the Slytherin table, followed by a hundred eyes.

“What’s gotten into him?” Ginny hissed.

“He’s obviously following Dumbledore’s instructions for unity, and I think it’s very noble of him!” Hermione exclaimed, very pleased.

“You mean he’s lost his marbles,” said Ron, looking so distraught he picked up Harry’s pumpkin juice instead of his own.

Harry’s eyes narrowed with suspicion as Ron raised the glass to his mouth and drunk from it.

“Wait, don’t drink that!” he cried, snatching the glass from Ron’s hands. Ron raised his eyebrows, startled, and then wiped some juice from his chin with the back of his hand.

“Sorry, didn’t know you were so fond of it,” he replied, watching Harry as if he were mad.

“No, it’s just… I think Malfoy tampered with it…” Harry muttered. Hermione sighed loudly.

“You mustn’t distrust him when he’s trying to be nice!”
Nearly everyone at the table rolled their eyes.

“Whatever…” Ginny said, and turned to look at Ron.

“So Ron, how come you didn’t take Josephine to the Halloween Party last week? Didn’t you fancy her?”

Ron shook his head slowly. When he spoke, it was in a voice very unlike his own.

“I’ve never fancied Josephine. And she didn’t come because she’s with Malfoy now.”

Ginny’s eyes widened. She shot Hermione a cold look for not telling her this. Hermione, however, was watching Ron strangely.

“What do you mean, Ron? You told us all you liked her, and you were really depressed when she turned you down!”

Ron’s blank eyes still stared straight ahead. Harry started getting a feeling of unease…

“I told you that because I didn’t want to seem pathetic. I didn’t want anyone to know that who I really fancy is Hermione,” he said, in the same expressionless voice.

Hermione dropped her spoon and splattered Neville with milk and cereal. He nor anyone else was bothered by this, but simply stared at Ron with their mouths wide open. I knew it, Harry thought. But why on earth was Ron saying this? What was wrong with him? Had the impact of the article messed with Ron’s brain?

“What? Is this a joke?” Hermione asked, her voice shaking.

Dozens of eyes now flicked from her to Ron’s face. It seemed as if the entire Gryffindor table was listening, Harry thought uneasily. There was a palpably expectant silence around them.

“No,” Ron answered. “I’ve liked Hermione for ages. Not in the beginning, but when Krum took her to the ball in our fourth year, I realized I was jealous. I’m ashamed of these feelings, so I buried them. It’s getting worse. I used to have just a crush, but now I fantasize about kissing her every night, feeling her body next to-”

A chair shot backwards and toppled over as Harry flung out his hand and covered up Ron’s mouth, barely stifling the last words. Ron didn’t seem to mind whatsoever, but just kept staring ahead of him in a zombie-like way, oblivious of what was happening around him.

“Come on, let’s get him out of here!” Harry yelled, and immediately Neville and Seamus shot up to help him drag Ron up to Gryffindor common room.

They passed the Slytherin table, where everyone was laughing and jeering at them, Malfoy prominent among the lot.

“The Dark Lord will prevail over Muggle-lovers, Weasley!” he yelled to the stunned looks of students and teachers.

“D’you think it was him?” Neville asked anxiously, tripping over his feet in his haste to get Ron out of the Great Hall.

“Yep. How Malfoy got his hands on Veritaserum though, I have no idea,” Harry replied grimly.

He was actually more busy glancing back at Hermione, who was white as death and frozen in her seat, a dozen girls whispering excitedly in her ears.


Chapter 7: The Realization
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*Chapter 7*


THE REALIZATION


Ron still hadn’t recovered when the four of them stumbled into the common room.

“I’ll take it from here,” Harry told them, “you go to Transfiguration, you know how McGonagall gets when you’re late.”

Seamus headed back through the portrait hole, but Neville didn’t move.

“I don’t do Transfiguration, remember?”

Harry nodded shortly, and they led Ron up the spiral staircase up to their dormitory. Ron didn’t say a word, as they put him down onto his bed and Harry paced the circular room restlessly.

“Poor Ron,” said Neville gloomily. “This will be all over school before third period.”

Harry shook his head angrily.
“There has to be something we can do. That prat Malfoy can’t get away with this. Can’t we say someone was performing an Imperius Curse on him or something?” It sounded stupid even to his own ears.

“Maybe we can do a memory charm on Hermione,” Neville suggested hopefully.

Harry shook his head, dispirited.
“It would all come out sooner or later. I should have known Malfoy was up to something! He was after me, this is all my fault!”

Harry slumped onto his four-poster bed, and banged his head repeatedly against the wall. There was no way out. No matter from what angle he looked at it, he didn’t see any kind of solution. In a few minutes, or maybe even sooner, Ron would wake up from his trance and remember everything. Harry could only imagine what that would feel like.

Something like, if he had confessed to Cho that he liked her in front of everyone… But no, that didn’t really compare. Ron and Hermione had been friends for years, and at least Cho had liked him back…

Harry stopped banging his head against the wall and glanced at Neville, who was playing with some Exploding Snap cards on the floor.

What if Hermione did like him back? Harry suddenly felt like a horrible friend. If Hermione did like Ron back they’d get together eventually, or maybe even really soon because it had all been laid out now. Shouldn’t he feel happy for Ron if something like that happened? Ron rarely got anything… He’d said it himself, he was always competing against brothers at home and at school Harry always got the attention… So wouldn’t he be lucky to find someone that liked him?

Harry was momentarily distracted when the cards Neville had been holding exploded in his face.

He tried to go over things that had happened in the past, finding a moment when Hermione had shown in some way that she liked Ron. The Yule Ball, maybe… Didn’t she say she wanted Ron to ask her before he asked anyone else? And she was awfully mean to both Fleur Delacour and Josephine, wasn’t she?

Harry swallowed as a lump rose in his throat. Harry, Ron and Hermione. That’s how it had always been. But he could just picture Ron and Hermione getting all cozy together, Harry forgotten on the side…

Suddenly an image popped up in Harry’s mind. That day at Hermione’s house… When he had run after Hermione to apologize… And he had almost…
Hadn’t Hermione lain very still underneath him? Harry wondered. Why would she do that, if she liked Ron and not him?

Harry tried the shake the thought away, by staring at Neville who was brushing ashes out his hair.

Then another picture crept into Harry’s mind… He was leaning down… He was almost there… That was it. He had kissed her. He had pressed his lips onto Hermione’s mouth, and she wasn’t crying like Cho had cried. She was kissing him back…

“Harry?”

Harry jumped up and bumped his head against the wall, by accident this time.

“Huh? What?” He turned to face Neville distractedly, and saw he was pointing at Ron’s fourposter bed. Something was stirring the curtains inside.

“You know…” Neville glanced at his watch, “We’ve got Defense Against the Dark Arts next, I really don’t want to be late.”

Harry nodded absent-mindedly, and waited for Neville to shut the door behind him. He knew that this was just an excuse; however great Neville’s fear was for Snape, the awkwardness of being present when Ron woke up was greater.

“Ron?” Harry asked, cautiously stepping closer to Ron’s bed. He reached out a hand to open the hangings, but then heard Ron’s muffled voice yelling: “Imperturbus!”

Harry’s hand bounced back as an invisible force-field surrounded Ron’s bed. He heaved a sigh, kneeling on the floor.

“I just want to talk, Ron,” he said softly.

There was no answer, and after a while Harry got to his feet, sighing.

“I’m going to class, come down when you feel like being normal,” he said hotly, and trudged down the spiral staircase to the common room.

* * *

“That’s a detention, Potter,” Snape hissed at Harry, as he opened the door to the Defense Against the Dark Arts class.

“What? But-” Harry began, but Snape’s forbidding eyes told him the punishment would be worse if he protested, so he slumped down next to Hermione. She still wasn’t her usual color and her lips were pressed into a thin line rather like McGonagall’s.

“Now, as I was saying before that rather unfortunate interruption… the Fidelius Charm permits a restricted area, such as a house, to be hidden from outsiders. The only way an outsider can have access to this house would be after being informed of it’s whereabouts by the Secret Keeper. The Fidelius Charm was used in 1943 to hide a large number of Jewish wizards who…”

Snape’s eyes shot to Lavender, who had shakily raised a hand.

“Yes, Miss Brown?” Snape asked swifly.

“Is Hogwarts also hidden by a Fidelius Charm, sir?” she asked.

Snape seemed to hesitate for a moment.

“No… The charms on Hogwarts are similar, but not entirely the same. They are designed so Muggles won’t find it, since until recently, they were our only threat,” he replied ominously. There was a pressing silence in the air and several people glanced at the Boy Who Lived. He exhaled loudly.

Snape began to write the theory and incantations surrounding a Fidelius Charm on the blackboard and soon the air was filled with the scratching of quills on parchment. Harry was about to finish copying it down when he felt Hermione tapping his hand under the table.

“What?” he mouthed, turning to look at her but watching Snape from the corner of his eye at the same time. He didn’t want another detention.

“How’s Ron doing?” Hermione whispered. She turned a bit pink.

“He doesn’t want to talk to anyone,” Harry replied. He saw Snape coming over and quickly bent down over his parchment.

“What are you going to do?” he asked her, as Snape told off Dean for drawing an unflattering cartoon of him.

“I don’t know…” Hermione said sadly. She stared fixedly at the notes in front of her. “Maybe I should try to talk to him, we really need to sort this out.”

Just then a Harry felt a shadow looming up behind him and braced himself, expecting the worst.

“I think you’re doing enough talking as it is,” Snape snarled, and they looked up fearfully at his sadistic face.

“You can join Potter in his detention on Saturday, Miss Granger. At three, no tardiness.”

He turned away from them again, his robes swirling behind him. Harry groaned miserably. Saturday was their Hogsmeade visit. Could this day get any worse?

The rest of the day passed as horribly as it had started. Ron didn’t show up for any of their lessons; he missed both History of Magic and Charms in the afternoon. They didn’t see him at lunch either, and when he didn’t show for dinner Harry started to get worried.

“He didn’t try to kill himself or something did he?” he muttered to Ginny as they were heading back up to their common room in the evening. Harry had avoided Hermione for most of the day, for some reason everything that had happened at breakfast and the fantasy he’d had were making it uncomfortable to be around her.

“I dunno… My brother’s a real prat, but I can’t help feeling sorry for him,” Ginny said, sounding very much like one of the twins.

“Warthog,” Harry said to the Fat Lady, and she swung forward to reveal the common room. It was almost empty; most people were still at dinner.

“Well, I’m tired I think I’ll just head off to bed,” Ginny muttered, taking off for the girl’s dormitories.

Harry headed up the spiral staircase with a slight feeling of foreboding. What would Ron’s mood be like now? It couldn’t possibly be any worse than this morning, right after it happened.

As he approached the door which said 6TH YEAR BOYS, Harry could hear voices at the other side. He opened the door as quietly as he could and peeked inside.

Harry couldn’t see anyone, but there was definitely someone at the other side of Ron’s bed. Over won by curiosity, Harry spotted his Invisibility Cloak and whispered: “Accio Cloak!”

The cloak flew right into his hands, and Harry was relieved to see no one had noticed it. Feeling very guilty, he slipped the cloak over his head, and tip-toed into the room. He kneeled down right in front of Ron’s bed, and saw that the person sitting beside it was none other than Hermione.

“Just talk to me, Ron,” she was saying. Harry could see her face was streaming with tears and fought the impulse to go and give her a hug.

“I swear, I don’t care about what you said today. I know it was just the potion, you-“

“It’s a truth potion, Hermione!” Ron’s voice came harshly from behind the hangings.

Fresh tears welled up in Hermione’s eyes and she brushed them away fiercely with the backs of her hands.

“Let me in. Please, I need to talk to you properly.”
There was a long pause and finally the hangings opened. Harry saw Ron’s red eyes staring right through him.

“Oh, Ron!” Hermione launched herself on top of the bed and threw her arms around the stunned Ron. Harry watched Ron burying his face in Hermione’s bushy hair uncertainly, and felt something boiling inside of him.

Hermione pulled back, and wiped away the remaining tears. She smiled at Ron.

“I love you, you know.”

* * *

It was just like those few moments after the Quaffle had hit the side of Harry’s head. He was stunned, too overwhelmed to think.

“I love you, you know.”

Those simple words seemed to have opened an abyss before Harry’s feet, endless and black, that he fell into without stopping. The only time when he had come close to feeling this way was when he’d asked Cho to the ball and she’d said no. No, Harry realized, it was more like the time when he had thought Hermione was dead in the Department of Mysteries.
He should have known then that the concern he felt wasn’t normal.

And as he came to this realization, Harry’s face grew red hot with jealousy under the Invisibility Cloak. His eyes shot to Ron’s face, as astounded as his or maybe even more so, and the tips of his ears a bright red color.

“Hermione, y-you… you love me?” Ron stuttered. His face was now completely undistinguishable from his hair.

Hermione nodded, smiling warmly again.
“Of course I love you, Ron. How couldn’t I, after everything we’ve been through together? We all love each other, you, me, Harry. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Harry almost forgot to be quiet as he heaved a sigh, a wave of relief rushing through him. She’d just meant as friends, it was nothing to Ron in particular.

But Ron’s face didn’t look happy, nor relieved.
“Right, of course,” he said, with a strained lop-sided grin. It was more of a grimace.

Hermione reached out for Ron’s hand, and squeezed it tightly.

“Look, Ron. I know you’re very embarrassed about this morning. I would be too, and I understand. If you want me to just forget it, and never mention it again, that’s what I’ll do. Things don’t have to get weird between the two of us.”

Ron pulled back his hand and got to his feet, almost tripping over Harry as he trudged out of the dormitory.

“That’s fine with me,” he replied shortly, one hand on the door and not meeting Hermione’s eye. Without saying anything else, he shut the door behind him and left Hermione sitting alone on his bed.

Harry watched her folding her hands on her lap and looking down at the floor dispiritedly. From a corner of the room, Ron’s owl seemed to notice her loneliness and flew down onto her shoulder. She picked it up and carefully patted it’s diminutive head.

“Oh, Pig. What was I saying? How are things not going to be weird between us? He has dreams about me!”

Pigwidgeon hooted loudly in response.

* * *

The following days passed like some sort of strange dream. Or nightmare, in Ron’s case. Winter was approaching fast, and that was most noticeable when you were wading through feet of copper and golden leaves on the way to Care of Magical Creatures.

Harry and Hermione were reluctant to visit Hagrid’s cabin one Thursday night, since it was very chilly and he was likely to have brewed some odd sort of thick tea for them to drink. But on the other hand, they hadn’t been down there for a long time, and so they put on their cloaks to walk down through the grounds to his cabin.

“What was Ron’s excuse again?” Harry asked Hermione, after they had knocked repeatedly on the door and heard Fang barking eagerly on the other side.

“He’s got…” Hermione screwed up her face to remember. “Oh yes, he had to finish an assignment on Animating Charms for Flitwick.”

Harry scoffed skeptically, just as Hagrid opened the door and beamed down on them.

“I knew yeh’d come! Where’s Ron?” He peered around as if expecting Ron to jump out of one of the bushes.

“Homework,” Harry said shortly. He followed Hermione into Hagrid’s cabin as he stood back to let them in.

The one-roomed house smelled familiar, and Harry gladly sunk into one of the chairs underneath the ceiling that was lined with the smoked carcasses of small animals. It was all as he remembered it; the enormous bed with the patchwork quilt in the corner and the boarhound Fang bounding excitedly around Hagrid’s legs.

“Been busy lately, ‘Ermione?” Hagrid asked, bustling around in his cupboard for cups and saucers. He clumsily filled them with tea and sat down to watch them drink it.

“Not really,” said Hermione truthfully. “The classes are getting more challenging, but without Umbridge or the DA meetings to worry about, I’m doing alright.”

“I liked DA meetings!” Harry cried defensively. He actually missed passing on knowledge to his other students, not to mention it felt good to be listened to and admired.

Hermione sighed, sipping thoughtfully from her tea.

“Yes, well… It was stressful, though, wasn’t it? Preparing and sneaking around, and everything? I’m just glad I have more time to focus on other things now, like S.P.E.W. for example.”

Harry rolled his eyes and sighed loudly.

“Hermione still hasn’t given up on house-elves,” he told Hagrid. “She’s actually been making huge posters now to put up on our next trip to Hogsmeade.”

Hermione pursed her lips.
“It’s a shame we can’t go this Saturday. Snape’s given us detentions.”

“Wha’ did yeh do this time?” Hagrid asked apprehensively.

“Nothing, you know Snape,” said Harry, irritated.

For some reason he was in a very bad mood. It probably had something to do with the fact that he had Occlumency again that night. Snape seemed to think it was necessary after discovering the dream about the old bearded man that Monday. Harry had almost forgotten about him and was surprised when Snape uncovered the memory.

“Hermione,” he said abruptly. “Have you ever heard of a Green Flame Torch?”

Hermione put down her cup, turning to eye him suspiciously. “No, why?”

Harry realized he hadn’t told her about it, since she had interrupted him so fiercely when he explained the dream.

“No reason… Professor Binns mentioned it last lesson and I’ve forgotten what it was,” he said casually. Hermione’s eyes widened, appalled at the thought that she’d missed something in their History of Magic lesson.

“Oh, that was Tuesday, wasn’t it?” she muttered distraughtly. Apparently the day Ron had made his confession was the only time she ever let her mind wander in class.

“Green Flame Torch?” Hagrid asked, as he offered them both Rock Cakes which Harry politely declined.

“I dunno ‘bout no torch… But I’ve seen a green flame before. I gave it ter those giants, remember?”

Harry nodded absent-mindedly. He decided to go check in the library later that week, it couldn’t hurt to learn more could it? It wasn’t as if he’d ever fly out of the castle again, he’d learnt his lesson. Suddenly Hagrid’s face lit up.

“Would yeh like ter see what I’ve got in me pumpkin patch? The Harpies ‘ave laid eggs, it’s really interestin’ ter look at…” Harry and Hermione exchanged nervous glances.

“Well,” said Hermione, glancing down at her watch, “Harry’s got Occlumency in a few minutes, we’d better go. It’s been nice seeing you again, Hagrid.”

Hagrid nodded, though looking slightly crestfallen.

“Yeh should do it more. An’ tell Ron from me hello.”

* * *

Harry and Hermione headed back up to the castle in silence, occasionally tripping over the many leaves everywhere. Harry felt very drowsy from Hagrid’s tea, and thought happily that Snape would have no chance with him whatsoever tonight, his mind was as sleepy and blank as could be.

Out of the blue Harry felt a searing pain in his scar, so sharp that he lost his balance and collapsed onto the ground. He’d been completely unprepared for it, and rolled over in agony. This was worse, much worse than he’d ever experienced… Voldemort was laughing like a maniac, it echoed in his ears. He was so… so happy….

Harry retched and let himself crawl into a ball, shuddering continuously as his head seemed to crack open, a thousand daggers stabbing into it.

“He got in… He got in!” The high pitched voice screamed into his ears, until it faded away and Harry panted heavily from the after effects of the pain.

“Harry, are you alright?” Hermione asked him, looking very shocked. She grabbed him by the shoulders, and Harry made a massive effort to control himself and stop the shaking.

“Yes, I’m… I’m fine,” he managed to say.

That was a downright lie; he had to grit his teeth not to be sick again, and Hermione’s face was swimming before his eyes. When it cleared up he saw her staring at him, her eyes very worried.

“Let’s get you to the Hospital Wing,” Hermione said briskly. She made as if to lift him up from the ground, but he pulled back.

“No, I’m fine, really. Just… need to rest for a moment.”

Harry laid back again in the soft crunchy leaves, feeling his breathing become regular again. He heard Hermione vanishing his vomit somewhere beside him, and suddenly felt embarrassed that she had to see him in this condition.

“Let’s go back,” he stammered, getting to his feet. Hermione walked beside him silently, her eyebrows furrowed in concern.

“Who got in?” she asked finally, as they were walking through the Entrance Hall. Harry had obviously been screaming the words himself, if she knew about it.

“I… don’t know,” Harry said blankly.

It was the truth, he had no idea. Mumbling a good-bye to Hermione, he turned to the left, to the staff room where Snape was expecting him. Bitter and shaky, he entered the room, now expecting the worst. After this attack all his defenses were down and Snape would surely make it into his mind much further he had before. He might even see the kiss Harry had pictured with Hermione…

Harry turned back resolutely, and headed for the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomphrey’s disgusting potions were always better than seeing the satisfied smirk on Snape’s face.


Chapter 8: You Have To Mean Them
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*Chapter 8*


YOU HAVE TO MEAN THEM


Saturday morning Harry woke up early from rain splattering against their dormitory window, and he was immediately glad that they didn’t have Quidditch practice. They usually did on Saturdays, but today there would be a Hogmeade Visit so that had been called off. Good thing too, because there was nothing more exhausting than flying through wind and rain, or plowing through the mud on the floor.

Harry got up eagerly, putting on some jeans and a t-shirt hastily (he couldn’t find the right sleeve and almost broke Neville’s Mimbulus Mimbletonia trying to get free) until he realized that he couldn’t go to Hogsmeade that day. Ron brought him back down to earth in his usual, grumpy fashion.

“You’ve got detention with Snape,” he told him shortly. “Guess I’ll just have to go with Seamus…”

Ron didn’t know that Hermione had a detention too, but apparently he was already unprepared to spend the whole day alone with her in the village. Harry groaned thinking of the horrors in store for him, although nothing could possibly be worse than the scars that Umbridge had made him inflict on himself.

“But the detention isn’t until three…” he protested weakly.

“Yeah, but carriages from Hogsmeade return at five. Sorry mate, you’ll just have to live through this one,” Ron pointed out, looking sympathetic.

Harry huffed crossly, going over solutions in his mind as they headed down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Harry noticed Ron speeding up while they passed through the common room, even though they usually waited for Hermione.

“Hey…” a light bulb suddenly lit up over Harry’s head, and he turned to Ron, illuminated.

“Didn’t Fred say that one of the passages to Hogsmeade was cleared up? I can slip back through there just in time for the detention, no one would know!” he was so excited he almost tripped over Colin Creevey in the Entrance Hall.

“I mean… I’ve missed the last Hogmeade Weekend because I was stuck in the Hospital Wing and this one’s the last before the Christmas Holidays!”

A smile broke out across Ron’s freckled face.
“Yeah… I reckon that shouldn’t be hard to pull off!”

Suddenly his expression grew uncertain.
“You don’t think Hermione will expect to spend the rest of the day with me, do you?” he reddened a bit.

“I doubt Hermione will want to go through the passage with me. She’s got detention too,” he explained. Ron became immediately more cheerful.

“Ah, so she’ll just stay here, then? Alright.”

They sat down at the Gryffindor table, and noticed almost instantly that Luna Lovegood was crying. It was a very odd sight, because she’d never done it before and was always the calmest of all of them. Harry remembered Luna’s peaceful air when they had entered the Department of Mysteries, and that image was clearly contrasted with this Luna; her bulging eyes filled with tears and her shoulders shaking with constant sobs.

Ginny had an arm around her and Patricia was also doing her best to comfort her. Everyone else was hovering around, clearly uncomfortable.

“What’s wrong with her?” Ron hissed audibly at Neville, who looked very distressed.

“She… They sent her a letter. The ministry.”

He fidgeted nervously with his fingernails. Harry was irresistibly reminded of Wormtail that day in the shrieking shack, his eyes watery and flickering from place to place.

“It said her father was killed,” Neville said quickly, biting on his lip. Ron and Harry gasped, and Harry had an odd sinking sensation in his stomach. He didn’t need to ask who had killed him.

“It wasn’t You-Know-Who… It was a Death Eater, that Antonin Dolohov. He didn’t suffer though, they didn’t use cruciatus or anything,” Neville went on sadly.

“Why did they kill him?” Ron asked hoarsely.

Harry stared at Luna with glazed eyes, her body still racked with sobs and clutching a piece of parchment in her hands.

“There was… there was a message,” Neville whispered with difficulty.

Harry and Ron looked at him expectantly.
“It said…. ‘Behold the wrath of Lord Voldemort on those that aid Harry Potter’.”

Harry’s stomach lurched painfully. He remembered the article that Mr. Lovegood had published in the Quibbler the previous year, and understood. That had helped him, that had let the world know Harry wasn’t lying and Voldemort was really back. So Voldemort took his revenge…

He felt tears welling up in his eyes. This was his fault, all his fault. Another death caused by him. Would it ever stop?

* * *

The atmosphere was gloomy when they arrived in Hogsmeade. Hermione had stayed at Hogwarts; in part to console Luna, in part to do her Arithmancy homework, and in part because she didn’t want to be late for the detention and didn’t approve of using the passageway to get back on time.

So it was just Ron and Harry who arrived at The Three Broomsticks at a quarter past eleven. Harry noticed immediately that things were different. Namely; there were huge trolls scattered everywhere with clubs in their hands, glaring dangerously at them.

Harry jumped back, startled, as one of them grunted at him just as he was passing, and entered the bustling pub.

“What are those doing here?” Harry hissed sideways at Ron, who looked very comfortable with all this as usual.

“Oh, they’ve been put here by the ministry to guard Hogsmeade. As if it does any good,” said Ron sarcastically.

Indeed Harry doubted a troll would stand a chance against Voldemort. Although, as Hermione had said, trolls were very difficult to stun. Harry had a brief image of Voldemort dangling upside-down from the hands of a troll, and let it cheer him up.

He felt a lot better as they ordered two butterbeers, and drank the warm fuzzy drink. After a while they took off with a large group of former DA members and trouped around the many shops, chatting animatedly, and succeeding in letting Harry push Luna’s father to the back of his mind.

Even as Harry headed back to Honeydukes with the prospect of detention that afternoon, he felt alright. It was seeing Sirius Black’s hollow eyes staring back at him beside a group of other Death Eater posters that brought back the horrible, empty feeling.

It was him. Everything was his fault. And even so, Harry knew he was the only chance the world had of being saved. Why did they have to choose such a useless stupid git like him? Harry threw down his bag of candy angrily and didn’t bother to pick it up or react to the astonished faces around him.

He made his way to the back of the shop, and there found back the entrance that he hadn’t used for three years.

* * *

The trip back to the school was longer than he remembered, and more exhausting. By the time Harry arrived at Hogwarts, he was sweating profusely, covered in dirt and even more ill-tempered since along the whole way he’d let depressing thoughts run through his mind. He hurried away from the statue of the one-eyed witch and made his way down to the dungeons.

“I’m glad you decided to join us, Potter,” Snape’s voice said, as he entered the Potions classroom and saw Hermione already sitting there.

Harry dropped down next to her, grumpily uttering an excuse for his tardiness to Snape, who was leaning down over a piece of parchment behind his desk, his oily hair hiding his face.

“Alright Harry, we’re brewing Allergy Potions so I suggest you wear some gloves,” Hermione said to him, stirring fervently in one of the many cauldrons surrounding them.

Harry slipped on his dragon hide gloves obediently and helped her by mashing the beetles in front of him into powder. It was quite an enjoyable activity because of the crunching sound it produced, but Harry still thought he’d prefer to be purchasing things in Zonko’s right now.

Hermione worked in silence, and when after an hour the only sound was still the scratching of Snape’s quill and the crunching of Harry’s beetles he was certain the lack of noise would kill him soon. Harry let his mind wander off again, as he would have done in a Divination lesson…

He was walking through the long dark corridor… He knew he mustn’t, but still he did. Behind the door was a circular room, with blurred lights all around him…

Opening one of the doors, Harry walked into another familiar room. Completely empty except for that black, fluttering piece of cloth. He had to see what was behind the veil…

Harry stuck out a hand longingly. If Sirius was there, then… He had to see him, talk to him about everything. His ears were filled with whispers as he pulled back the veil.

Looking back at him wasn’t Sirius’s long, sunken face, but Hermione. He stared straight into her soft brown eyes and his heart stopped. What did this mean?

“It’s too late,” she whispered, but Harry grabbed her hand. “What are you saying? Why are you here?”

Hermione’s hand evaporated in his and he felt himself grasping nothing but air.

“Too late…”

Suddenly Harry felt the stabbing pain in his forehead again, the excruciating throbbing in his scar. It was enough to wake him up from his daydream, right back to the reality where he was sitting beside Hermione in Snape’s classroom.

“Harry, are you alright?” Hermione whispered, meeting his eyes worriedly. Harry gritted his teeth and nodded, but the mashing stone slipped out of his trembling hand onto the floor.

Snape’s head jerked up to the sound, and Harry thought for sure he was a goner then. Luckily at that exact moment the door burst open and Dumbledore came swiftly into the classroom, ignoring Harry and Hermione completely and stooping over Snape’s desk.

“What is it, Dumbledore?” Snape asked, getting up in alarm. Hermione and Harry watched curiously as Dumbledore whispered something urgently into Snape’s ear, his expression extremely serious.

“You two stay here until I get back,” Snape told them, and followed Dumbledore out of the class. When the door was shut Hermione sighed in relief and stopped stirring.

“I wonder what’s happened?” she asked thoughtfully. “Something with the order, or… Goodness, I hope no one else was killed.”

She bit her lip, her eyes staring ahead of her distantly. Harry stared at Hermione with his heart sunken to his shoes. Whatever had happened in the order wasn’t important really, it was his dream that bothered him.
He was confused and scared by it.

“It’s too late…”

The words echoed through his head. Why had he dreamt this? Was it another one of Voldemort’s traps?
But Hermione was right here beside him. So it made no sense… Unless it had just been one of his own dreams. Or was it like a sign, into the future?

Harry’s mind was racing with dark thoughts and scenarios. Perhaps this was a warning from Voldemort… Was Hermione going to die?

Harry panicked at the thought. He stared back into Hermione’s soft brown eyes, like he had in his dream.

“Hermione…” the words choked in his throat. What was he supposed to say in the first place?

“You know, I spoke to Ron,” Hermione turned back to her cauldrons, and stirred inside them, sighing. Harry was relieved; she hadn’t noticed anything.

“I think he understands that I’m fine with what he said to me. But… I don’t know why he’s still so distant…”

Hermione stirred more slowly, looking sad.
“I miss him, you know? It’s like he treats me in a different way now. I wish he hadn’t told me, I wish this had never happened.”

She looked truly miserable now. Harry’s mind suddenly shot back to his thoughts of kissing her… He could never tell her that, either. Imagine if she knew what he felt, or what he thought he felt… It was all so confusing now.

Hermione paused, and held his hand with a smile on her face.

“I’m glad things haven’t changed between us. I don’t know what I’d do otherwise.”

Harry gulped. Yes, he was certain of what he felt now. Why else would he turn so red, why else would it be so hard for him to look into her eyes?

* * *

It was during a History of Magic lesson during the first week of December that Ron finally talked to Harry properly about what had happened. Professor Binns was reciting texts from ‘Quidditch through the Ages’, which would have been quite interesting had it not been for his monotonous voice that put everyone to sleep.

“…for that reason it is believed that Bludgers were invented by an old Scottish player…”

Harry’s eyes begged to be shut, but he forced them open again. Whenever he dozed off, it seemed, some horrible dream would haunt him. No matter how hard he worked at Occlumency, it just wouldn’t go away. Harry sincerely doubted if that skill was any good.

“Harry!”

Harry’s head jerked up, and raised an eyebrow as Parvati Patil handed him a piece of parchment. What on earth…

Harry unfolded the note and saw it was from Ron.
D’you want to come to the Burrow for Christmas?
Harry wondered why he couldn’t have just asked him in the common room, or at lunch. Or maybe this was some new way to combat boredom?

Sure. Why send this note?

Harry waited patiently for the giggling Parvati and Lavender to hand the parchment back to Ron, who scribbled on it fervently with his quill.

I don’t want Hermione to overhear.

Harry sighed, scratching his head thoughtfully as he surveyed Ron’s reply. That explained it. But was Ron really thick enough not to realize that Hermione would find out eventually that she wasn’t invited?

Just invite her, what’s the big deal? You two are still friends after all.

Harry watched Ron’s expression turn aggravated as he read what Harry had written. Professor Binns, in the middle of a sentence about Queerditch Marsh, watched Ron vaguely.

“Please put that away, Welling.”

He continued his lesson, and didn’t seem to notice that Ron hadn’t bothered to do as he said and had thrown his note to Harry in the form of a paper airplane. Unfortunately it fell at the feet of a curious Neville, and Harry had to use a summoning charm to retrieve it.

What! You’re bonkers if you think I’m spending two weeks with her in my house. It’s embarrassing enough seeing her in classes.

Harry grumbled and took some new parchment from his bag, because he’d run out of space. On it he wrote:

It’ll be worse if you don’t. Just do it to prove that you’re really just friends. She misses you, you know?

Harry saw Ron looking hesitant as he went over what Harry had written. Maybe I’ve got him convinced, Harry thought. He didn’t find out yet though, because the bell rung and they left the classroom in a hurry to avoid Professor Binns leaving them any homework. The essays for Transfiguration and the charms they had to practice were more than enough, without having to write up things on the origins of Quidditch as well.

“So, will you do it or what?” Harry asked Ron, coming to walk next to him as they headed to the Great Hall for lunch.

Ron shrugged gloomily. He evidently wanted to change the subject now because he stuck up his long nose and sniffed the air, saying, “Yuch, I hope they don’t give us sprouts and spinach again.”

This comment gave Harry an idea. He certainly didn’t want to eat that, and at lunch the library was usually empty. Why didn’t he go and research that Green Flame Torch now?

“I’ll see you at Transfiguration,” he told the startled Ron, and raced back the way he had come.

* * *

As he had thought, there was no one in the library when he got there. Conveniently Madam Pince was muttering hysterically to herself, stooping over some food that had been dropped onto the ground. So Harry was able to slip past her into the Restricted Section, and once he found himself safely behind the shelves he no longer had to hide.

Green Flame Torch… For some reason Harry doubted there would be a book with that title. Had things ever been easy in the past? Still, he picked up as many books that made reference to the words ‘torch’ ‘green’ or ‘flame’, in the hope of finding something.

After half an hour he still wasn’t any wiser. ‘Green flame’, as Hagrid had already told him, was found in the perpetual fire that Dumbledore had given the giants. It was officially called the Fire of Dis, not the name that Harry was searching for.

“The boomslang snake is of a green colour…”

Harry groaned as quietly as he could, staring at the useless page of text in front of him. This was certainly no good. Bored senseless, Harry amused himself doodling a snake on the margin of the ancient book. It was curved to look suspiciously like the letters HG.

Harry watched the twisting snake and remembered that day in Myrtle’s bathroom, when he had spoken Parseltongue to the figure on the sink…

Suddenly Harry sat upright in his chair. That huge statue in the Chamber of Secrets, of the old man with a monkey-like face and long beard… He knew he had seen it before. Or after… Which was it?
Of course!

The dream he had had in the beginning of the year, the one that first told him about the torch… It had been an ancient man with a monkey-like face speaking those words, speaking them to Voldemort…

But how could Voldemort have been speaking to Salazar Slytherin? How could he be speaking to his supposed great-great-great grandfather, who’d lived a thousand years ago and was most certainly dead?

Footsteps passing by the shelves forced Harry to hide underneath a table, and when Madam Pince had disappeared he returned the books to their places. He didn’t need these, he needed books on the founders of Hogwarts…

As Harry moved his finger over the old dusty volumes, another title caught his eye: A Methodical Study of the Unforgivable Curses.

Bellatrix Lestrange’s words echoed in his ears…

“Never used an Unforgivable Curse before, have you boy? You have to mean them.”

What if he learnt how? What if he studied them, in a way that he could finally have his revenge on the woman that had taken Sirius from him? Or at least, if he was to kill Voldemort in the end, it wouldn’t hurt to learn how…

Feeling extremely guilty, Harry slipped the book into his bag and decided he would come back another time to research the Green Flame torch. Lunch had ended and students were coming back into the library, he could leave now and just filter into the crowd… And so he did.


Chapter 9: New Members In The Order
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*Chapter 9*


NEW MEMBERS IN THE ORDER


The train trip back to London was a rather boring one. It was also freezing in the compartments, and Harry wished briefly he could just be a girl to huddle together with Hermione and Ginny as they did to combat the cold. Or just be himself, huddling next to Hermione… Harry quickly bit down onto a chocolate frog to stop him thinking any further.

“How come Luna’s not coming?” Ron asked vaguely, staring out of the window at the misty landscape outside. Hermione, Neville and Ginny exchanged glances. Harry thought he had a fairly good idea of why she didn’t come.

“There’s no one for her to go home to,” Hermione answered softly.

“She’s staying at Hogwarts for the holidays until they figure out what to do,” Neville added, “because she hasn’t got any family apart from her dad.”

Harry glared at the floor. Why did he have to feel so guilty now, why? It wasn’t him who killed Luna’s father. And yet it was, in a way. He thought of the book lying under his four poster bed in his dormitory, and decided to work on it when he got back to school. For these two weeks he’d just try to think of other things, to be normal…

“If they can’t find a solution she’ll just have to stay at Hogwarts for the summer,” Neville continued. Harry’s head jerked up.

“What? Why can’t I do that, instead of staying with those horrible Dursleys?” he cried, and seconds later remembered what Dumbledore had told him; of the protection that ran through Aunt Petunia’s blood as long as he lived in her house. Isn’t Hogwarts safe too? Harry thought grumpily.

Suddenly he felt even more guilty, at his selfishness when Luna’s father had just died a couple of weeks ago, and because of him.

“Well, I don’t think it’ll have to come to that…” Ginny said slowly. “If they can’t track down anyone that knows her, I’m sure Patricia and Katie’s family will take her in. Or our mum, she’s always nice about those things.”

Ron’s eyes widened, but he wisely kept his mouth shut.

* * *

When they arrived at King’s Cross darkness had set in and they could barely distinguish Mrs. Weasley, who was standing on the platform beaming at them.

“Oh, I’m so happy to see you all here again, alive and well!” she pulled Ron, Ginny and Harry into a suffocating hug.

“Every time I say goodbye I’m afraid that you…” the chubby red haired woman broke off, smiling around at them with tears in her eyes.

“How yeh doing, Potter?” Mad-Eye Moody’s normal and magical eyes rested eerily on Harry, who untangled himself from Mrs. Weasley’s embrace.

“Didn’t Tonks come along?” Ginny asked them, looking over her mother’s shoulder at a fat man with a toothbrush moustache.

“No dear, I’m afraid she’s been in St. Mungo’s ever since the outbreak from Azkaban,” said Mrs. Weasley softly. “It’s a shame, last summer she was stuck there for a quite a while too after the Department of Mysteries...” her voice faded away again.

Harry saw Hermione glancing at him and avoided her eyes.

“How are we getting to the Burrow?” he asked quickly.

“Not the Burrow, Potter, Grimmauld Place,” Moody replied gruffly, turning around and limping towards the barrier. Suddenly he stopped in his tracks, his magical eye swirling in each and every direction.

“Yeh don’t think someone heard, do you?”

Harry was far too busy being miserable to search for some spy of Voldemort hanging around at the train station. He just couldn’t believe that after the lengths he’d gone to avoid Sirius’s house last summer, he’d still have to go there now. He should have just stayed at Hogwarts…

“Come, Harry,” Hermione said swiftly, taking him by the hand and pulling him through the barrier to platform 10. This was so distracting that Harry forgot to feel sorry for himself for a moment. It was as if Hermione always knew exactly what he was feeling. Well, not always. Thank goodness for that.

“Alright, no Muggles anywhere…” Moody mumbled, and stuck out his wand.

The place was indeed strangely empty for a train station. It was as if even Muggles could feel something was wrong.

Suddenly a loud BANG echoed through the street and Harry’s vision was blinded by the headlights on a huge, purple triple-decker bus that had come seemingly out of nowhere. He groaned, remembering his last two trips on the Knight Bus and wishing he hadn’t eaten all those Chocolate Frogs.

* * *

It was a relief to find that the portrait of Mrs. Black had finally been taken down. Overall The Noble House of Black was much cleaner, more cheerful, and lacking the gruesome dark objects that Harry had seen there last. But for him it was even more depressing, walking the same halls as Sirius had… Reminded of him in every corner. It was even worse to hear Buckbeak pawing away in the room above Harry’s…

The only thing that stopped Harry from being a miserable puddle of tears was the fact that Kreacher had apparently died, the night Sirius’s mother was finally stored away. If he’d seen that elf one more time he didn’t know what he would have done… Strangled him with his bare hands, probably.

They spent last Christmas here too… Harry felt tears prickling behind his eyes as he unpacked his things with Ron in silence. They had the same one as before, only that the walls had now been painted blue and the curtains were also different. As if Harry cared about that. Sirius was still dead.

“So what do you reckon we’re going to do with all our time now that everything is clean?” Ron asked abruptly, bringing Harry back to earth.

He shrugged indifferently. What Ron chose to do was his decision; he planned to sulk in this room for the following two weeks. Christmas had never looked brighter.

A short knock on the door forced Harry to move from his spot on the bed and let Ginny in.

“We’re having dinner in a minute, are you coming?” she asked them.

“I’m not hungry,” Harry lied. Truthfully he wanted very much to recover the food that he’d lost on the Knight Bus.

Ginny sighed, giving Ron a meaningful look.
“Mum expects you down there, so don’t take long.”

She shut the door again and Harry found himself preferring the times when she was too shy to talk to him. He grudgingly followed Ron downstairs to the living room, and was painfully reminded of the first night he had spent there; when he was still eating with Sirius. Everything here was connected to Sirius, no matter how differently it looked to the last time.

“Is half of London coming to dinner?” Ron hissed at Harry, and he saw around twenty people gathered in the dining room. The Weasleys were there, of course, and so were a dozen wizards of the Order of the Phoenix.

Moody was deep in conversation with Mundungus, Shacklebolt and some other people that Harry had seen before, and meanwhile Fred and George were looking very smug talking to the younger members of the order.

Fred’s voice especially, rung out over the others as he boasted about something to a girl sporting braids very similar to Angelina’s.

“Who are all these new people?” Harry asked Bill, after greeting the ones he knew.

“Well, now that the news of you-know-who is out there, people are a lot more eager to join us,” Bill told him in a undertone.

“That includes my brothers, of course.”

He glanced meaningfully at Fred and George, and someone Harry hadn’t seen as he came in; Percy Weasley.

“Percy joined….?”

Harry didn’t need to finish his sentence; the glazed eyes with which Percy was watching Lupin speak said enough. So he’d changed sides, had he? It had taken him long enough.

Harry still wasn’t over his resentment of when Percy had sent Ron a letter telling him to stay away from Harry.

“Dig in, everyone!” Mrs. Weasley’s voice called out cheerfully, in a way reminding Harry of Dumbledore, and soon the room was filled with the sound of chairs scraping over the floor and wizards sighing contently at the sight of Mrs. Weasley’s delicious food. She’d made quite a feast of it as always, and not even Moody’s magical eye falling into the pudding could spoil Harry’s appetite.

“So, Percy, what exactly are you doing for the order now?” Harry asked Percy, who was sitting opposite him at the long table.

He faked an interested smile. Truthfully, Harry couldn’t give a flying ferret what Percy was doing, as long as it was something nasty that he didn’t enjoy.

“Well, it’s a bit of everything, really…” Percy said, in his characteristically slow and pompous voice.

“I can’t give you the details, of course, but I work as a link between the Order and the Ministry.” He returned to eating his beef without waiting for Harry’s reply.

Harry saw Hermione watching Percy thoughtfully, and assumed she was just as uneasy about his presence as Harry was. The Weasley’s were certainly treating Percy differently; Ron watched his brother with distaste, and the twins in particular ignored him completely.

“Ginny, please ask Weatherby to pass me the salad,” Fred said loudly.

Ginny rolled her eyes and said nothing, and neither did Percy. Several minutes of this passed. Finally Hermione, looking annoyed, grabbed the bowl and gave it to Fred.

“Thank you Hermione. At least someone’s civil in this house.”

Which led to Mrs. Weasley giving them another one of her customary speeches, about how they should be glad that their brother had finally come around and that they should treat him with the respect he deserved.

All the while, though, Harry noticed Mr. Weasley’s expression was dark and he hadn’t spoken a word to his son the whole night. Clearly not everyone was as intent on welcoming Percy back as Mrs. Weasley was. This made Harry feel just a tiny bit better.

* * *

On Christmas morning Harry woke up early from the sound of tapping on his window. Sleepily he untangled himself from the bed sheets and looked to see who it was. Or what, would be more accurate.

Harry opened the window and felt a blast of cold air and snow sweep his hair askew. The eagle owl that had been waiting impatiently outside immediately flew into the room and perched itself gratefully on Harry’s shoulder.

“Who are you?” He asked aloud, and moved his hand to the owl’s leg to untie the piece of parchment attached to it.

It seemed the letter wasn’t for him, because the owl hooted loudly and flew down to the lump on Ron’s bed.

“Aaargh! Geroff, geroff!”

Ron swatted wildly at his head, and then calmed down when he realized it was just an owl.

“Who is this from?” He asked Harry stupidly, rubbing his eyes.

“Christmas present, I suppose,” Harry replied.

He knew he wasn’t getting any owls this morning; everyone who could possibly give him something was staying at Grimmauld place. Unless you counted the Dursleys. What would they give him this year, toothpicks or napkins?

Ron unfolded the letter and his eyes swept over it quickly. Then he squashed it into a ball and threw it out of the window with an angry gesture.

“Sorry, indeed!” he muttered angrily. “And to use his owl…”

Harry raised his eyebrows curiously but didn’t ask. He knew Ron would tell him if he wanted to.

The door flew open and Hermione ran into the room, looking excited. Ron quickly got back under his covers.

“Merry Christmas!” Hermione chimed, throwing packages at both of them.

“Um… Yeah, you too,” said Harry distraughtly, unwrapping his and seeing it was an ordinary football.

“What on earth is that?” Ron asked, holding brand-new Keeper gloves in his hands. Harry grinned at Hermione, remembering all the afternoons of playing football in her neighborhood during the summer.

“This is like a Muggle Quaffle, Ron,” Harry replied. He pulled out Hermione’s gift and handed it to her. “Here you go.”

He’d bought her a collar for Crookshanks in Hogsmeade, one that had a spell on it to hum the tune of ‘Jingle Bells’ whenever the cat couldn’t be found. He didn’t know yet, but he’d soon come to regret that loud and severely annoying present.

Hermione thanked him and turned expectantly to Ron. He, however, was staring resolutely at the ceiling and the smile faded from Hermione’s face.

“Well, um… Shall we go down, then? I’m feeling quite peckish, and your mum’s made an incredible job of it as always.”

Harry and Ron followed her out of the room, the former resisting the urge to kick Ron firmly in the shins.

* * *

The Christmas breakfast was spectacular; it succeeded in even cheering Harry up. There was just something about seeing the bright lights on a Christmas tree and feeling tiny, dry, magical snow falling continuously on your face, while Mrs. Weasley handed out eggnog and Fred and George boomed the lyrics of their newest commercial advertising Never-ending Candy Canes.

“Here you go, sweetheart,” Mrs. Weasley thrust a pile of mince pies into Harry’s face and he obediently took one.

“Fanks,” he said, with his mouth full.

Searching for a place to sit at the over-full table, he soon spotted Hermione in deep conversation with Lupin and took a seat next to her.

“Hey, you’re wearing a Weasley sweater!” cried Harry, for the first time noticing the maroon piece of clothing that had ‘Mrs. Weasley’ written all over it.

“Yes of course, why aren’t you wearing yours?”

Hermione asked. Harry shrugged, he wasn’t about say he wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the sweater in front of her. But it didn’t look all that bad on Hermione, in fact this morning her cheeks were slightly pink and there was a big smile on her face that made her even prettier than she was already.

Am I thinking that? Harry thought to himself. He wondered if wizards had some sort of additional boost of hormones in them or something that made them act even stranger than Muggles in their teens.

He definitely hadn’t ever observed Hermione’s face like that before, taking in every strand of bushy brown hair and dimple around her mouth. He must look so stupid, not mixing into the conversation around them at all but just gazing at Hermione, taking a whiff of the sweet air she was giving off…

“You smell really nice today, did you finally take a bath?” Harry asked her. He felt like slapping himself for the incredibly bad joke. Hermione rolled her eyes.

“Actually, I’m wearing that perfume Ron gave me last year. It’s nice, isn’t it?”

Ron, sitting opposite them at the table, seemed to have heard and busied himself with his toast, grinning. Suddenly Harry didn’t like the way she smelled all that much anymore. Quite plain, really.

“You know, Hermione, that reminds me, I haven’t given you your gift yet. It’s in my room, would you come see?” Ron asked rather rapidly, and stood up from his place.

Hermione nodded, her face lighting up. She left Harry staring grumpily ahead of him, at the fat new member in the order who had shifted to sit on Ron’s chair with half of his massive behind.

Why hadn’t he just given her the present before breakfast, like anyone else? They already knew he fancied her, there wasn’t any need for special treatment.

Why did he have to fancy her in the first place? Ron always liked stunning tall girls with the brains to fill an eggcup, and Hermione didn’t exactly fit into that category. Perhaps he liked her just to annoy Harry?
No, he didn’t even know about Harry’s infatuation yet. Harry doubted he would like it, though. Ron was always jealous of everything Harry had, he was sure he’d go miles to get at least this for himself.

Harry grumbled furiously, crushing the omelet in front of him into a pulp. Ron hadn’t done anything to him yet, but it wasn’t long before Harry had convinced himself that everything he did was to purposely harm him.

“Who’s helping me to clear the table?” Mrs. Weasley asked brightly, as everyone except the fat new member had put down their forks and were chatting animatedly.

Fred and George immediately jumped up and muttered something about having to feed Buckbeak.
Harry didn’t feel much like helping either, and he swiftly followed the twins out of the room.

“So Harry, how d’you feel about a game of exploding snap?” Fred asked, as they were climbing the moldy staircase. Harry nodded, and turned left.

“I’ll just go fetch the pack of cards, hold on a sec,” he muttered, and opened the door to his bedroom.

Harry froze.

Standing close together right in front of him, were Ron and Hermione. Ron’s red hair was shielding their faces but Harry could see his mouth was covering hers- they were kissing.

He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even think, or look away as he desperately wanted to. All Harry could muster was stare at his lip-locked best friends and feel the ground crumbling beneath his feet.

The nightmare lasted only a split second, and then Ron’s head shot up to face him, leaving Hermione’s exposed; there was an expression of petrified confusion in her eyes.

Harry stumbled backwards, feeling everything turn black before his eyes.

“I’m…. sorry…” he muttered, so distraught that Ron’s pink face and Hermione’s pleading stare went unnoticed.

Harry felt so confused that only a high-pitched scream brought him back down to earth.




Chapter 10: Gryffindor Common Room, Hogwarts
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*Chapter 10*


GRYFFINDOR COMMON ROOM, HOGWARTS


“Eeeeeeeeeek!”

The woman’s voice was swiftly silenced by a harsh man’s, who had performed what was unmistakably a stunning spell.

“What was that?” Ron cried, color draining from his previously reddened face.

Harry, still too shocked to think properly or move, suddenly mustered up what his friends didn’t have; alertness in times of danger. Or as Barty Crouch liked to say, “Constant vigilance”.

He quickly pushed Ron and Hermione back against the wall, so that they wouldn’t be seen from anyone standing at the foot of the staircase.

“Quiet!” he hissed, listening in all his might to sounds coming from the first floor. However, when the man’s voice started speaking words again, he couldn’t help but be intrigued and curious as to who it was.

Stooping low and motioning for his friends to stay where they were, Harry tip-toed to the top of the stairs and peered through the wooden railing.

A few feet below him, standing in the hallway over the sprawled silhouette of Mrs. Weasley, was a tall, hooded man wearing long black robes.

Harry felt his insides turn to ice.

Was that Voldemort? Was that Voldemort standing right there in the hallway of Grimmauld Place?

A sigh of relief escaped him when the man pointed his wand at the doors to the living room and the kitchen, and snarled, “Colloportus”- it wasn’t a cold voice, it wasn’t him.

But who was it? And why had he just stunned Mrs. Weasley?

Fear gripped cold hands around Harry’s heart. A Death Eater, here, in the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. What on earth was he to do? If he was seen, he’d be dead. Ron would be dead. Hermione would be dead.

So Harry stayed frozen to the spot, watching as the wizard below him aimed his wand, now at the floor, and growled indistinct, harsh words that made the hair on the back of Harry’s neck stand up.

“Non aparitio hechizis motum casaetus.” And again. “Non aparitio hechizis motum casaetus. Non aparitio hechizis motum casaetus.”

Harry panicked. What did this mean, what was that man doing?

He felt Hermione nudging him in the back with her foot, and it was as if he was suddenly waking up.
Whatever spell that man was performing on the house, it couldn’t be good. He had to stop it, he had to warn the others! How could they not have heard that scream?

His breathing shallow, Harry pulled out his wand and pointed it at the door to the kitchen. People were still in there, cleaning up, eating…

“Alohomora!” Harry screamed.

The door flew open and Harry shrunk back from his place at the top of the stairs. The hooded man had already seen him, he whirled around to face Harry. He was a goner….

All of a sudden the ground shook under their feet, and it was as if an invisible wave rippled through the room. It completely unbalanced the Death Eeater, causing him to stagger backwards, but when Harry saw the face appearing from beneath his fallen hood he saw the man was smiling…. His spell had worked…

“Stupefy!”

Harry exhaled in relief when he saw Mad Eye Moody, followed by Lupin and Mr. Weasley, run into the hallway and corner the Death Eater. Their unanimous stunning spells shot bright red across the room and caused the intruder to collapse into a heap onto the ground.

Mr. Weasley bent down over his wife, and then stared up at Harry, his red hair wildly askew.

“Harry! What happened?”

Harry shot up out of his crouching position and hurried down the stairs, followed by a hesitant Ron and Hermione.

“A… Death Eater… He muttered some odd words… An incantation, I think it worked…” Harry said breathlessly. Moody and Lupin exchanged worried glances.

“Harry,” Lupin said, very seriously, “What exactly did he say?”

Mr. Weasley straightened up, and aimed his wand down at Mrs. Weasley.

“Poor Molly, she’s just been stunned. Nothing I can’t fix with an easy-”

A loud crack cut off Mr. Weasley’s last words, and a second hooded wizard materialized in front of them, out of thin air. Hermione let out a shrill gasp.

“Protego!” The man cried, blocking the swift reactions of the three members of the Order. Harry instinctively grabbed Hermione and pulled her down.

“Duck!” he yelled at Ron, who also bent down to avoid the beams of light crisscrossing around the room. From his place on the floor, Harry was vaguely aware of three consecutive cracks following the first one. More of them were coming.

Not again… Not again!
Harry peered through narrowed eyes at the scene before him. More people had come to meet the noise, George, Ginny, Bill, others he didn’t know… All of them appalled at the sight that greeted them and pulling out wands, falling…

“C’mon,” Harry hissed at Hermione and Ron, who lay sprawled on the floor beside him, “we have to get out of here.”

Without waiting for an answer, Harry dodged the limp body of the unknown Death Eater on the ground and crept up the stairs on all fours. He heard a muffled yell behind him when a curse shattered a window above Ron’s head, but kept moving.

Even when the sight of Ginny hovering over Mrs. Weasley in a corner compelled him to run back down and help, something stronger than himself was telling him to go up those stairs.

“In here!” Harry got to his feet and ran into the first room that he could find, shutting the door behind them. Ron and Hermione’s breath came in gasps, like his own.

“How… on earth did they get in here?” Hermione asked, almost inaudibly. Her voice was uneven and her lip trembled.

“You saw them, they Apparated!” Ron cried. His eyes darted fearfully to the door, behind which disturbing sounds met their ears.

“I know they did…. But it isn’t possible! The same spells are on this place as they are on Hogwarts!” Hermione protested weakly. She looked at Harry, seemingly for answers.

Harry had been pacing the room but now stopped in mid-step.

“No. The first Death Eater did some sort of counter curse… That’s what it was for. But he must have gotten in some other way.”

“So they just do that counter-curse thingy on Hogwarts and kill us all in our sleep?” Ron’s voice was etched with panic.

Hermione sighed, and shook her head.
“The curses on Hogwarts are much stronger, and they go back for a thousand years. Magic is strengthened by time. But that's irrelevant now, we’re wasting time!”

Harry caught her eye and nodded.

“We need to warn Dumbledore,” they said simultaneously.

Ron was still very pale and mouthed silently. But suddenly awareness dawned onto his face and he lit up.

“I’ve got it! We can go by Floo!”

He pointed at the fireplace, crackling so merrily despite the horrors occurring only feet away. Hermione furrowed her eyebrows.

“D’you have…” Ron motioned a small bowl standing just on top of the fireplace…. “some Floo powder?”

Hermione’s voice faded, and she nodded briskly.
“That’ll do. Harry, do you want to go alone, or should we come with you?”

Harry was rendered speechless for a moment.
“What do you mean, go alone? Why should it be only me?”

Uncertainty flickered behind Hermione’s eyes. She opened her mouth, but didn’t seem to know what to say.

“Well… You know, I mean… We can’t lose you, Harry, not now.”

There was an awkward silence, in which Ron raised both his eyebrows. It was interrupted by loud banging and cries from downstairs. So that’s what she meant, Harry thought. They couldn’t lose he who the prophecy had named the one who’d vanquish the Dark Lord.

“We’re all going,” Harry replied briskly. He grabbed the bowl and handed it to Ron.

“Go on, do it.”

Ron shook his head, and passed it to Hermione.

“No, you go first.”

Cold, high cackling sounded just outside their door and Harry froze, recognizing Bellatrix Lestrange’s laughter. Hermione immediately noticed this, because she took the bowl and didn’t leave before saying:

“Harry, don’t do anything rash, d’you hear me? Please, don’t try to… play the hero.”

Harry gritted his teeth. That was the last thing he needed to hear, and Hermione knew it. She hurriedly threw some Floo Powder into the fire, that turned instantly green and rose up, into a flame that swallowed her whole as she stepped into it.

“Gryffindor Common Room, Hogwarts!”

Hermione disappeared and the fire died down again, until Ron threw in his own portion of Floo Powder and stepped in.

“G-“ Ron coughed from the soot. Harry hoped fervently he wouldn’t end up somewhere completely different. “Gryffindor Common Room, Hogwarts!”

Harry found himself standing, utterly and wholly alone, in a room at Grimmauld Place with half a dozen Death Eaters just outside the door. He couldn’t understand how he was this calm, how it could seem so surreal.

It’s because Voldemort isn’t here, Harry realized. The prophecy had already told him that Harry would be murdered by Voldemort, so… his absence meant that Harry wouldn’t die tonight. He couldn’t die.

For a strange reason this made Harry feel powerful. It hit him fully for the first time, that he was the only one who could ever vanquish Voldemort. No one else, he was their last hope. And he was fleeing for Voldemort’s sidekicks?

Harry shook the thought away and grabbed a fistful of Floo Powder. Thrusting it into the fireplace, Harry stepped in and cried, “Gryffindor Common Room, Hogwarts!” before the whole world swirled before his eyes.

* * *

When the world finally stopped spinning around him, Harry saw the Gryffindor Common Room swimming into focus and he gratefully let himself roll out of the fireplace, coughing.

“Thank goodness, you were taking so long!”

Hermione jumped up out of one of the armchairs, and Ron helped him to his feet. Harry cleaned his glasses on his cloak and tried to dust off the worst of the soot.
The common room was completely empty apart from them, Harry was glad to see. He didn’t feel like explaining anything to anyone.

Of course, all the students remaining at Hogwarts were still at the Christmas Feast… Harry recalled the lazy, cheerful atmosphere of only an hour before and wondered angrily why those Death Eaters couldn’t have chosen a different day to break in.

“Should we go straight to Dumbledore’s office or the Great Hall?” Harry wondered out loud, as they were rushing through a very shocked portrait hole.

Hermione stopped in her tracks and took a left.

“You’re right, Harry, he’s still at breakfast!”

Harry ran as fast as could, following Ron who thundered down the marble staircases with legs longer than any of them. Hermione was clearly struggling to keep up; her breath was coming in gasps and when Harry turned briefly to see where she was there was a huge distance between them.

“Hurry up!”

Harry didn’t bother waiting, this was far too important. Who knows what was going on in Grimmauld place at the moment, to all the Weasleys and Moody and Lupin… They needed Dumbledore, he was the only one who’d make everything alright.

Turning a corner, Harry raced into the Entrance Hall and felt chills run down his spine as he ran through that felt like an ice-cold shower.

“N-Nick!” Harry gasped, jumping aside quickly. The Gryffindor ghost, Nearly Headless Nick, stared at him with disapproving eyes.

“Harry Potter! What’s the rush on a day like Christmas?”

Harry muttered an off-hand apology and tore into the Great Hall with Hermione, who had now caught up with him and was panting, her cheeks slightly pink.

“He’s not here.”

Harry stared into Ron’s dismayed face, and with a glance at the staff table could see that he was right. Dumbledore’s tall, ancient and confidence-inspiring presence was nowhere in the Great Hall, but Harry saw Professor McGonagall in her accustomed place and hurried up to her.

“Professor! I need…to talk to you…” Harry panted, annoyed when the stern-looking woman in front of him didn’t show the slightest sign of emotion.

“Yes, I know Potter.”

Harry let out a exasperated sigh.

“You don’t! Professor, there are Death Eaters at Grimmauld-“

“Sssshh!”

McGonagall’s cold eyes widened for the first time behind her glasses, and they darted around at the handful of students sitting at the House tables.

“I know, Potter, but this is not the place to talk.”

Excusing herself to the astonished teachers around her, Professor McGonagall rose up from her seat and swiftly led the way to a chamber at one side of the Great Hall. Harry recognized it as the one the four champions had been told to enter.

Hermione shut the door behind them, and turned to face them.

“They’ve gotten in the headquarters, Professor! They’re in there, fighting as we speak!” she said urgently.

Ron gulped nervously, he was very pale.
Professor McGonagall folded her hands and sighed, shaking her head.

“The portrait of Phineas Nigellus has already told us this, Professor Dumbledore was informed moments before you three so rashly tore into the Great Hall setting off suspicions. But…” her tense lips relaxed a bit. “I’m glad you came to help.”

Hermione let out a sigh of relief.
“So Professor Dumbledore is already at Grimmauld Place?” she demanded.

McGonagall nodded, and Ron relaxed visibly.

“Everything will be taken care of, there’s no need for you to worry. Now… I’ve been told to give you this.”

To their surprise, McGonagall pulled a roll of parchment out of her robes and handed it to Hermione. Her eyes scanned the text briefly, and she nodded. Ron edged closer in his curiosity to see what was written, but Hermione handed the piece of parchment back to Professor McGonagall.

“You shall be pardoned for this one time of course, Miss Granger, but only because it was an emergency in special circumstances. You see there is a need for these precautions.”

Hermione nodded again, but didn’t say anything. Harry wondered what on earth they were talking about.

“I suspect you will have a lot to talk about?” Professor McGonagall opened the door to the Great Hall again, and let them out with strange expression in her eyes.

* * *

“Will you just tell us?” Ron whined for the fifth time, as they finally sunk back into some armchairs in the Gryffindor common room.

Hermione sighed, laying back slightly and closing her eyes. Harry knew she was exhausted and had been very silent the entire time, but now he also wanted to know what the parchment had been.

“Yeah Hermione, what was it?”

Hermione opened her eyes again, and raised her shoulders in a half-shrug.

“It was… A letter, from Cornelius Fudge.”

Ron raised his eyebrows.

“There are new safety measures on the school…”

Hermione went on, “No one’s supposed to be able to Floo in here, if that were possible…It’s what you said, Ron, we could all be killed in our sleep.”

“So how did we get in then?” Harry asked.

“Well… Although Fudge isn’t happy about it, Dumbledore has a control on these things too. Anything concerning the school is back under his authority, not just the Ministries. So when Dumbledore was warned of what was going on… I suppose he opened the network to Hogwarts for just an instant, as a precaution.”

Ron whistled.
“If you’d taken any longer, mate, you could have been locked out!”

Harry tried to ignore this comment, but uncomfortably thought back of his desire to stay and fight, wondering what would have happened if he had.

“Fudge goes on to say that we should never try using Floo to Hogwarts again… Or to anywhere, in general,” said Hermione.

“Why not?” Harry asked her, lifting an eyebrow.

“You-know-who is watching the Floo network now. Or so the ministry thinks… But they’re right; if they can watch it, so can he. It’s not safe for him knowing about our whereabouts,” she explained.

“How the bloody hell did they get in, in the first place?”
Ron voiced the question that had been on all their minds, but was yet to be answered. Hermione sighed, pulling a hand aloofly through her hair.

“There are many new members in the order… Who knows, there could be a Peter Pettigrew among them.”

Ron furrowed his brows.
“Yeah, that girl Fred was talking to looked a bit dodgy.” He stared thoughtfully ahead of him for a second, and then bolted upright in his armchair.

“Snape! He knows where the headquarters is, doesn’t he?”

Hermione sighed, long and derisively.
“Would you stop accusing Snape once and for all? Where has that ever gotten us in the past?”

Harry tried to conceal his grin.

Ron rolled his eyes.
“You always think anyone Dumbledore trusts is alright. But what about that fake Moody, huh? Was he trustworthy?”

Hermione pursed her lips but didn’t say anything further. Harry abstained from any comment, not feeling the need to enter their bickering. For a strange reason, he was enjoying it.

“You know, I really think Snape could have pulled it off. He wasn’t at the-“ Ron stopped in mid-sentence and left his mouth sagging open. There was a horrified expression in his eyes.

“Harry, the letter!” he gasped.

“We’ve covered the letter,” Hermione replied grumpily.

But Harry realized Ron wasn’t talking about the one Cornelius Fudge had sent, but the one that the eagle owl had brought.

“I threw it out of the window! I can’t believe it, there was an address on it and everything! She wrote: Grimmauld Place, number twelve, and I threw it out of the window...” Ron’s voice faded, he was looking as pale as before.

Harry understood. The letter had been from Josephine. She knew the address, she’d written it down. And that piece of information had been thrown onto a bustling London street, for anyone to see…

“I’m sure… It couldn’t have been…” Harry didn’t know what to say, and Ron was looking worse by the minute.

“It was all my fault!” he exclaimed. “Who knows if someone died in there, and all because of me!”

Hermione apparently captured something of what he was talking about, because she stood up and slipped into his chair, putting an arm around him.

“No Ron, don’t think that. And even if it was true, You-Know-Who would have been watching the street before, otherwise there’s no way he could have spotted the letter…”

Ron seemed to feel slightly better, but still on the verge of being sick. He buried his face into Hermione’s shoulder. Harry suddenly felt very unnecessary, almost invisible.

“If it was my fault, I dunno what I’d do…”

Hermione stroked Ron’s red hair softly, bringing back the scene in the room at Grimmauld Place in a flash. Harry suddenly remembered what happened exactly before the attack, and felt his stomach churning.

“Don’t worry about it, Ron…” Hermione brought her face close to his, and Harry jumped up out of his armchair.

“You know, I’m…I think I’ll head up to the Owlery, write a letter to Lupin… See what happened,” he stammered.

It was only behind the closed portrait of the Fat Lady that he could give voice to what he really felt.


Chapter 11: The Contrary To A Patronus
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*Chapter 11*


THE CONTRARY TO A PATRONUS


On the first day of January Harry was surprised to find Ginny, sitting comfortably in the Gryffindor common room with Crookshanks curled up in her lap.

He hadn’t expected to find anyone there, much less her. The students that had stayed at school for the holidays were still at dinner, including Ron and Hermione. Harry underwent a strange feeling of remoteness when he was around them these days; as if they lived in two separate worlds. On one side there was them; sending each other furtive looks when they thought he wasn’t looking and talking to each other in soft tones very unlike their own; and on the other side there he was, alone and miserable. Nothing to think of but memories of Sirius and wondering whether the members of the Order were alright.

Harry had come to the common room, as on other days, to be alone, nevertheless the sight of Ginny was welcoming and cheered him up a great deal. Not only finding that she was alright; but also hearing about the others.

“Ginny! How did you get here?”

Harry settled down onto the rug, allowing Crookshanks to jump down on top of him.

“I’ve just arrived, by train. It was really odd being the only one…”

Ginny sighed, and handed Harry a package of mince pies.

“This is from mum. She seems to think pies will make everything better…”

Harry took a bite out of one, and felt that it was at least partly helpful.

“She’s unharmed, then?” Harry asked. He remembered the awful sight of Mrs. Weasley lying at the hooded man’s feet.

“Oh yes, not a scratch. She got off a lot better than some…” Ginny’s voice trailed off, and she shook her head, gazing at the floor.

Harry swallowed his pie with a bit of difficulty.

“So… There were people hurt worse?” He found it hard to keep up this calm exterior, really he just wanted to take Ginny by the shoulders and shake the information out of her.

“Oh yes… No one died, thank Merlin, but many wizards were injured and some of them went missing…”

“Missing?”

Ginny nodded solemnly.
“We couldn’t find Percy and Fred anywhere for a while… Mum panicked, you should have seen her, screaming hysterically all over the place…”

Harry’s eyes widened. He didn’t care for Percy at all, but Fred was a different story altogether.

“Then someone decided to check in rooms and closets…” Ginny continued, ”Turns out Fred hadn’t been kidnapped at all, he was just feeding Buckbeak and forgot to bow. The little bugger kicked him in the head, he was out for a good three hours!”

Harry suppressed a laugh. It was nothing like Fred to have missed all the excitement; he was sure the redhead would be very annoyed about it afterwards.

“And Percy?”

Ginny stuffed a mince pie into her own mouth and swallowed it before speaking again.

“He was found too… Stunned, in a broom closet. Mum’s just glad they didn’t hurt him any worse…And I suppose dad’s warming up to him as well.”

Harry nodded briefly. He wondered what his reaction would have been if Percy had died. Would he really care? Harry shook the thought away.

“What exactly happened after we left?” he asked.
Ginny shrugged.

“Dumbledore saved the day as usual… You should have seen his face, he was livid… Quite understandable, really. They had the perfect headquarters and now they have to search for a new one… Everyone hiding at Grimmauld Place has to find a new place to live, as well…”

“You mean people actually lived there?” Harry’s eyes widened. He’d noticed members entering and leaving everyday of course, but no one actually stayed there permanently apart from Sirius.

“Oh yeah,” Ginny replied. “Previous members are all suspicious of course… The ones that You Know Who’s spies know about. Lupin for example… He’s been staying at the Burrow, with us. It’s rather crowded in there… Thank Merlin Fred and George have gone back to Diagon Alley.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully. He was relieved that no one had suffered any bad injuries, and from what Ginny had told him everyone seemed to be doing alright. But he still couldn’t help the feeling of concern nagging at the back of his brain… Telling him that once he’d just done as he was supposed to, nothing like this would ever happen again…

There had been moments in the past five days when, lying in his four poster bed and listening to Neville’s steady snoring, Harry had ached to reach for the book lying under him and read it. But a guilty feeling had stopped him, until now… It wouldn’t hurt to take a look, after all.

Harry got up, shaking the pie crumbs off his lap.

“You know Ginny, I’m a bit tired. I think I’ll go up to my dormitory and…”

Ginny raised an eyebrow.
“You’re not afraid of Ron and Hermione coming back, are you?”

Harry froze.
“What do you mean?” he asked cautiously.

Ginny hesitated, looking as if she’d wish to take back what she had said.

“Nothing, never mind.” Harry narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Had she noticed anything? But she’d just come back!

“Look, Hermione wrote to me about the morning of the attack,” Ginny sighed. Harry tensed. He had a feeling this wasn’t going to be about how heroic he’d acted.

“Really? What did she say?” Harry asked through gritted teeth.

“Just…You walking in and everything. She’s pretty uncomfortable about the fact that you don’t accept her being with Ron… You know, she wants your approval.”

Harry felt like he had just been punched. ‘Don’t accept her being with Ron’. So she was really with Ron, then?
He’d thought it was just a phase… Just a stupid moment in time of Ron focusing his puppy-eyes on Hermione…Saying sickening things to each other…

Harry heard noise coming from outside the portrait hole and turned around brusquely.

“Hermione doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Ron can date Rita Skeeter, for all I care.”

He stomped off up the spiral staircase, fuming. The last thing he wanted was for Ron and Hermione to him in this state. Would Ginny gossip about him again with Hermione behind his back?

Let them. Just let them. Who cared what they thought?
Harry slammed the door behind him as hard as could, sending a scandalized Pigwidgeon soaring into the air. Harry sent him a deadly glare, wondering if his wish to rip the owl’s head off was healthy.

“I’ll show them…They’ll see…”

Harry pulled the thick dusty volume from under his four-poster bed and laid down onto his bed to read it. He shut the drapes and muttered a quick “Lumos”, to see what he was reading. Quickly flipping through the yellowing pages, Harry found one titled “The Avada Kedavra curse for beginners”.

In order to perform the Avada Kedavra curse it is necessary to distance oneself from thy own thoughts and feelings. A truly powerful wizard can extracte the darker side to his essence, and channel it into the curse (see page 435). But inexperienced wizards must not try this since they shall irrevocably fail.
The recommended method for beginners is to imagine that they are someone else as they apply the curse. Unless someone is truly evil they cannot muster enough hate from within themselves to take the life of another human being. Therefore picturing someone else can help to distance oneself from their own mind and emotions. If necessary distorte thy voice, or use someone else’s wand the first few times.
The subsequent step is to picture something that is the cause of thou anger, or frustration. In many ways this curse is the contrary to a Patronus, which is based on pure happiness. Therefore this must be removed from one’s mind completely.
As a wizard gains skillfulness, he will be more efficiente in the procedure. The foremost kill is always the most difficulte. Thus practice is essential. The flicking of the wand is similar to that of Expelliarmus and other simple hexes, but must not be prolonged, otherwise a curse can be deflected (see the case of Sir Arthur Dublin on page 205, where his curse was deflected upon his brother).


Harry closed “A Methodical Study of the Unforgivable Curses”, and laid with the book in his hands, thinking hard. The book hadn’t described anything too difficult, although Harry knew that this could be just an appearance and it would really be hard. He wondered what was meant by ‘imagining to be someone else’. Who could he possibly imagine?

Harry sighed and rubbed his hand over his scar, it had been aching a bit again. Voldemort couldn’t sense what Harry was thinking and feeling, could he? Or what he was planning to do?

A fly zoomed tentatively before Harry’s eyes. He slipped his hand into his robed, tightened his fingers around his wand… No. He wouldn’t go that far.

To speak the words…That would be something he could never take back.

* * *
“Harry. HARRY!”

Harry’s head jerked up to meet Hermione’s eyes. They’d just come back from a visit to Hagrid’s cabin and were now having lunch, but Harry was too distracted stirring thoughtfully in his soup to listen to his friend’s conversation.

“Er… I just dozed off, Hermione, don't bite my head off.”

Hermione exhaled loudly.

“Fine. But you were the one saying you had trouble with Multiplying Charms, don’t blame me when you get a Poor in the final exams!”

Harry raised an eyebrow; he’d been so busy thinking of other things he hadn’t even noticed that was the topic of Hermione’s words. He thought it was just another house-elf speech.

The Unforgivable Curses book was bothering him. It had been bothering him for a while now. The other students would soon return from their holidays, but in the meantime Harry had nothing to do with his time but read that horrible book. It made him feel sick inside. He knew it wasn’t the right thing to do; Dumbledore would never have wanted him to.

Gulping up another spoonful of soup, Harry thought angrily, but what did he expect him to do? Just sit around waiting for another attack?

The truth was, Harry felt so guilty he thought the best way to be at ease with himself was to rid himself of the book. It would mean another trip to the library of course, but that would actually come in handy.

Harry still hadn’t found out anything to do with the Green Flame Torch, and he was actually quite curious now that he had discovered it was something linked to Salazar Slytherin.

“You know what, Hermione? I really don’t give a ferret if I fail those exams. I’ll probably be dead before I ever find a job,” Harry replied nastily, and got up from his chair. Ignoring Hermione’s shocked eyes, he turned abruptly to leave the Great Hall.

The second time that week, a feeling of ice cold water drenching him sent shivers through Harry’s body.

“Nick!”

Nearly Headless Nick quickly hovered away from where Harry was standing, putting his partially severed head back on to his shoulders. Tightening the collar around his neck, he scoffed, “I’m five-hundred years old, can’t you be the one who looks out?”

Harry shook his head, grinning.
“Sorry, Nick. It’s just not a very pleasant feeling.”

Noticing there was still a scowl around the ghost’s pearly white lips, Harry wondered what was wrong. Nearly Headless Nick wasn’t the one to be in such a grouchy mood.

“Is everything alright? You don’t look too cheerful.”

The ghost shrugged, pouting and staring sulkily over to the Ravenclaw table.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just…Well, I’ve always fancied the Grey Lady just a bit, and last week with he mistletoe I thought…Really.”

Harry tried very hard not to laugh. Then he remembered his own mistletoe incident and he didn’t need to try anymore.

“She’s silly to turn you down, Nick,” Harry reassured him.

“That’s not it, Galloping Gargoyles, she didn’t turn me down! My head… My head came off…” Nearly Headless Nick wore a mortified expression in his eyes.

Harry tried to control the laughter that was bubbling up inside of him. He focused his mind on Ron’s face, that seemed to help a bit.

“Well Nick, I need to be getting to the library…” Harry begun awkwardly. He didn’t really feel at ease comforting the depressed ghost; how did you pat him on the shoulders?

“Of course… Go on, leave the five-hundred year old Sir Nicholas de Mimsey-Porpington to wallow in his own misery,” Nearly Headless Nick replied bitterly.

Harry turned to go, but something that Nick had said made him stop and turn back around again.

“Five hundred years old?”

“That’s right, no need to rub it in. Five hundred years old and too silly to remember to tighten his collar before meeting a lady…”

Harry wondered in annoyance when the ghost had turned into such a Moaning Myrtle.

“D’you know of any ghosts who have been… Around for longer than that?”

Nearly Headless Nick stopped sniffing and nodded.

“Yes… Well, Peeves isn’t a ghost, but he’s seven hundred years old…”

Harry, who didn’t think he’d enjoy himself hanging upside down from a chandelier or being called ‘crackpot’ for half an hour, shook his head.

“Anyone else?”

Nick sighed.
“Let me see…Not the Grey Lady, she’s no day older than a hundred and three,” he huffed up in pride, “but the Bloody Baron…Well, no one really knows his age. He’s been around before any of us, some say he saw the beginning of Hogwarts…”

Harry’s eyes widened, and he nodded excitedly.

“That’s exactly what I need! Nick, where can I find him?”
Nearly Headless Nick looked as if he’d never been asked such a question before, and the shock almost cost him his head again.

“You want to talk to… the Bloody Baron?” he shuddered.

Harry rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, I want to talk to him. Where is he?”

Nick shuddered again.

“He’s at the Slytherin table of course…At least, he usually is.”

Harry nodded, and headed for the Slytherin table. Suddenly an icy hand grabbed his arm and he pulled it away quickly.

“Nick!”

“I’m sorry… Galloping Gargoyles… But please don’t mention my name, he won’t like it at all…” Nick pleaded, and Harry nodded again.

“Don’t worry, I won’t.”

* * *
“Um… Sir? Bloody Baron?”

Harry stood nervously before the eerie silvery white ghost, that looked a thousand times more menacing than Nearly Headless Nick did with blood stains covering the whole of his transparent body.

The Bloody Baron looked up at him slowly, and almost as fiercely as the Slytherins around him were. However, most of them were first years, and didn’t seem like they would say anything. Everyone watched the ghost expectantly.

“Yes?”

The ghost’s voice was low and hoarse, sending chills up Harry’s spine. He could instantly see why the other ghosts of the castle respected and feared him so much.

“Er… Well, I’m Harry Potter,” Harry said stupidly. The Bloody Baron stared at him with unblinking eyes.

“I know who you are. Speak up, boy.”

Harry cleared his throat.
“Well, yeah, and I was wondering if I could speak to you, in person, sir?”

The Bloody Baron floated away from his spot at the Slytherin table slowly, but didn’t answer. Harry followed him to the dark Entrance Hall, tripping over his robes in the hurry to catch up.

The Bloody Baron whirled around to face him abruptly, and Harry skidded to a halt. He tried to slow the pounding of his heart; he couldn’t imagine what it would be like to make contact with a ghost like this.

“Now, Harry Potter. You need my help? An order to Peeves the poltergeist, perhaps? He is bothering you?”

Harry shook his head.

“No, sir, he’s not, I-“

“Good. I do not help anyone.”

Harry smiled sheepishly, wondering if this was such a good idea. Suddenly talking to Peeves seemed a lot more appealing.

“Well, I was told you are over a thousand years old, sir, so I thought-“

“You were told?” The Bloody Baron interrupted. “By who?”

Harry hesitated. He remembered Nick’s fervent pleading and didn’t wish to put his friend into a bad situation.

“Peeves told me,” he replied abruptly.
The Bloody Baron narrowed his eyes.

“That is a lie, Harry Potter, Peeves would never disobey me. He knows well not to spread information concerning myself.”

Harry’s eyes darted nervously to the staircase.

“Yes, but… He was going on about how amazing you are, you know, and it sort of escaped him…”

This was so stupid. And pointless. He wanted to know more about the Green Flame Torch, not an interrogation.

“Alright, Potter. How is my age relevant in any way?”

“Well, er, I need to know something about the time when Hogwarts started… The founders-“

“You remind me of your great-grandfather, Aurelius Potter,” The Bloody Baron cut in again. “The same weakness in character, inability to express himself…”

“THE FOUNDERS TALKED ABOUT A GREEN FLAME TORCH, AND I NEED TO KNOW WHAT IT IS!”

The Bloody Baron jumped back in shock, his eyes widening. Harry thought he was dead for sure, but the anger and frustration boiling up inside him had prevented him from thinking straight, as usual.

“I’m sorry, sir, I…I don’t know what came over me…”

The Bloody Baron’s face broke into a more frightening, if possible, cold smile.

“The same temper as your father? How lovely. I shall tell you what you need to hear, Potter, but also know that you are extremely lucky to be a student of this school and I have laid an oath to the headmaster not to harm any of it’s inhabitants.”

Harry gulped. He pushed back his glassed, that were slipping off his sweaty nose. The Bloody Baron cleared his throat, and begun to speak in a low, rumbling voice.

“Over a thousand years ago, when I was still alive, Godric Gryffindor hired me to be the first caretaker the school ever had. Eventually I also became the head of the Slytherin House, but…That wasn’t before the previous head, Salazar Slytherin, was forced to an untimely departure.”

The Bloody Baron paused, piercing his eyes into Harry’s face.

“You might have heard the story before, Potter… Slytherin wisely chose for purity of the blood, which wasn’t accepted by his co-founders. He built the Chamber of Secrets for his heir… But that was only one of the many things he left behind for posterity.”

The Bloody Baron flashed Harry a crooked grin that didn’t suit him at all.

“What many people do not know, is that the fight over purity of the blood wasn’t the only thing that caused Slytherin’s expulsion. Godric Gryffindor, a foolish mud-blood loving man, thought that he could create a way to change the minds of dark wizards of that time. He thought he could unite Muggles, Mudbloods, Half-bloods and Purebloods alike. If I remember his exact words correctly, he said his creation emitted green flames that destroyed anything of an evil nature and restored all good natured things, bringing them together to form one. He created the Green Flame Torch.”

Harry’s eyes widened. He was so anxious to hear more of the Bloody Baron’s tale that he had to stop himself from urging the ghost on. He certainly wouldn’t like that.

“However, just as today, Hogwarts was a place of gossip and rumors that spread like wildfire… It wasn’t soon before Slytherin heard of Gryffindor’s plan. Obviously, he didn’t wish to find himself submitted to a creation that bound him to scum like Muggles and Mudbloods…So he tried to destroy it.”

The Bloody Baron’s face became somber again.
“Gryffindor threw him out of the castle. It isn’t known whether Slytherin managed to destroy the torch or not, but likely he did…For it was never heard of again. Until… You mentioned it. How did you, boy?”

Harry took a step back. His mind was racing with everything the ghost had just told him, he didn’t want to give explanations at the moment.

“I… Read something,” he muttered, backing away and running into the Great Hall. Screw everything, Hermione and Ron had to know about this.


* * *

“Harry, I can’t believe you went through with it!”

Hermione was positively bristling with anger and Harry almost felt sorry about telling them. But he always had in the past, and to tell the truth he wanted Ron and Hermione’s opinions on the matter. Therefore he’d told them as soon as he had found them (not soon at all, since he’d been everywhere from the common room to the library, finally encountering them at the Owlery). Ron’s reaction was shrugging and feeding Pigwidgeon another owl treat, whereas Hermione acted thoroughly upset.

“I told you to forget that dream, not go on an investigation! Harry, you know what you should do, don’t you?”

Harry thought he knew what was coming, but remained silent.

“Go to Dumbledore. Sirius would have wanted you to.”

Harry narrowed his eyes and Ron dropped Pig, who bounced off the stone floor a couple of times and seemed to find it highly entertaining. It had suddenly gone even chillier in the drafty tower.

Sirius’s name wasn’t one that any of them used often, on the contrary- it was almost more avoided than Voldemort’s. All of them knew how badly Harry felt about what happened, he didn’t think they needed to go and make him feel even more guilty.

Hermione’s eyes dropped.
“Look- I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant, but really, you need to talk to him. He needs to know about these things.”

Harry knew very well that Dumbledore needed to know. Neglecting to tell him things in the past, as with the voices in his second year or the visions last year, had only led to trouble. But the truth was Harry couldn’t forget Dumbledore’s expression in June when he’d told him he thought Harry had too many responsibilities…When he said he felt awfully sorry for him, and didn’t think he could handle all of it…
Harry wanted to prove him wrong.

“I don’t think I will, thanks.”

Hermione stopped with her mouth slightly opened. Then she shut it with a snap.

“Fine. Have it your way. But promise me you’ll leave this Green Flame Torch alone!”

Ron let out an aggravated sigh that Harry hadn’t heard in days.

“Why don’t you leave Harry alone? Blimey, it’s just a Torch, and one that turns people good! What’s the harm in that?”

Hermione’s eyes widened
“Ron! You know what happens when Harry goes on his… his… hero missions!”

For the second time that day Harry couldn’t believe what she was saying and shot her a poisonous glare.

“You know what, Hermione?” he begun hotly, “You’re not always right! And my ‘hero missions’ have saved you in the past!”

Ron cleared his throat, breaking an uncomfortable silence between the three of them. Even the owls looking down on them from their perches seemed to feel the tense atmosphere.

“Look, what I’m saying is…” Harry ignored Hermione’s McGonagall-like expression. If he ever thought those lips looked kissable in the past, the thin line they were reduced to now certainly didn’t.

“…This is important. Don’t you remember the Philosopher’s Stone? What would have happened if we hadn’t found out about it, and went searching for it? This is exactly the same.”

Ron shot Hermione a cautious glance, as if she were Mrs. Weasley about to launch one of her tirades.

“You know, Harry has a point,” he said feebly.
Harry suddenly had an illuminating thought.

“What if Salazar Slytherin didn’t destroy the Green Flame Torch? What if it’s still out there, and it’s the only way to destroy Voldemort for good?”

Ron raised his eye brows in agreement and looked to Hermione for confirmation, but she shook her head dismissively.

“Only you can do that, Harry.”

Harry sighed, and shot a ‘he doesn’t know yet’ look at Ron.

“What do you mean?” Ron asked sharply. Hermione turned slightly pink; she’d let it slip, for the second time.

“You said something like that in Grimmauld Place too, what do you mean, only Harry can destroy You-Know-Who?”

There was a painful silence, until Harry cleared his throat.

“You know, it’s probably time I told you. You’d find out anyway, eventually,” he said miserably.

“Dumbledore told me what was in last year’s Prophecy. I’m the only one who can kill Voldemort, but he can kill me first, of course. Either way this scar you’ve always wanted so much brings me nothing but trouble,” he said bitterly.

Harry looked up to see Ron’s face had gone very white, and he made an involuntary movement as if wanting to put an arm around him. Suddenly Harry felt his anger seeping away and he longed for the friendship that had been so strong before Hermione got in the way.

*

When the Christmas holidays were finally over Harry was glad to have the castle fill up gradually as the students returned for classes. However, the snow wasn’t subsiding, on the other hand, it only got worse, and the second Quidditch game of that year was played in some of the worst conditions Harry had ever experienced.


Luna Lovegood was the only person who looked properly warm that day as she stood out in the stands, wearing an entire furry lion costume instead of just a hat. Her manes were flecked with snow and children sitting behind her looked grumpy due to the fact that they wouldn’t be seeing much at all.

“Good luck, Ronald!”

Ron turned his broom away in revulsion but grinned again as Hermione waved at him, beaming.
Katie Bell’s face was hardened and dead serious as she instructed Harry on how many points exactly Gryffindor had to be up by before he caught the Snitch. Harry noticed she was looking even grimmer now than when they had played Ravenclaw.

“There isn’t another ex-boyfriend of yours on the Hufflepuff team, is there?” he asked, but Katie didn’t return his lop-sided grin.

“Actually, Zacharias Smith is the seeker. I don’t know if Fred and George told you, but I have matters to settle with him as well…”

Harry made a mental note never to get to the wrong side of Katie. He was startled by Madam Hooch’s shrill whistle but quickly recovered, and kicked off into the air. He suddenly remembered the spell Hermione had taught him to clear his vision and tapped on his glasses with his wand, muttering “Impervius!”. It didn’t help much; snow and hail were splattering down hard on his face and Quidditch gear, seeming determined to steer him off his course.

The rush of the wind and stormy snow was keeping him from hearing clearly; even Pansy Parkinson’s magically amplified voice was barely distinguishable and the scarlet and yellow crowds beneath him were blurred.

For some reason the only person Harry could see clearly through all of this was Hermione. He caught himself staring at her rather than concentrating on taking laps around the pitch, or following the score closely as he was supposed to.

“…And Fawcett scores! Better luck next time, Weasel.”

Harry suppressed his grin and an immature thought of showing off to the fullest this match came into his mind. Catching the Snitch quickly would look very impressive, contrasted with Ron who had already let in three goals.

Something heavy zoomed past him and Harry swerved it, watching the Bludger that had just grazed his shoulder throw a screaming Zacharias Smith off his broomstick.

Harry chuckled, shaking his head at the Hufflepuff beater who was now looking very ashamed at himself.
If it weren’t for Ron they would have beaten Hufflepuff ages ago. They’d certainly gotten worse since Cedric Diggory had left the team. Even so, the score was now 40-30 to Gryffindor…

Harry groaned. Katie had told him they needed to be up by at least 50 points before he caught the Snitch, but Harry had seen the golden glint ahead of him through the mist, and his hands were aching to grab it and put an end to this freezing cold match.

“Argh, Weasley saves! A stroke of dumb luck, if you ask me.”

Harry couldn’t agree more. He gritted his teeth as he watched Ron beaming with the Quaffle in his hands, and gazing sheepishly at Hermione in the crowd.
However, Harry was grinning again when seconds later an infuriated Hufflepuff Chaser scored, and moments after that they won the penalty that Jack Sloper had caused by throwing his bat at the Chaser.

“We’re losing. LOSING!” Katie shrieked as she tore past him through the air, and Harry wondered seriously whether to follow her order or to just go after the Snitch now. It couldn’t hurt, really…Not that much depended on this match. If they won by a few points less, they’d still easily win the cup.

“Harry, catch it now, if you have to!” Katie’s voice came hysterically into his ear, and Harry tightened his grip on his firebolt. He zoomed around the pitch avoiding Bludgers and concentrating in all his might on the Snitch…

“Well done, Ron!”

Harry was distracted by Hermione’s voice coming from the stands, and saw that Ron had finally saved a goal again. He glared angrily down at her, hating the pink blush on her cheeks and snow-flecked bushy hair, but loving it at the same time.

He felt an unbecoming desire to kill Ron with his bare hands rising in his chest, and was suspended, immobile, in the air for a few seconds before remembering what he had to do.

Swerving around again, he realized that those seconds had been precious. It was too late now. Not Zacharias Smith was racing, arm-outstretched, to the golden glint on the far end of the pitch, but Patricia Bell.

“NO! Don’t touch it!” he heard Katie’s voice shriek, but Patricia had already grabbed the shining winged ball and held it up, beaming.

“I caught it! We won!” she cried out, and Harry let the shock inside him turn to horror when at last, Madam Hooch’s whistle cut sharply through the air.

“Foul! Gryffindor Chaser, Patricia Bell, catches the Snitch and so disqualifies her team and ends the match!” Pansy’s voice echoed through the stands, sounding sickly delighted. “Hufflepuff win 50-40, thanks to the first Snitchnip of our Hogwart’s history!”

Harry buried his face in his hands and only looked up again to see Patricia’s face uncertain and no longer happy.

“What? Why is it a foul?” She still had her fist raised above her head rather stupidly.

Harry followed his miserable teammates to the ground, trying to ignore the taunting shouts and laughter from the crowd.

“Only the Seeker can catch the Snitch, Patricia! But apparently he was too busy daydreaming to do so!”

Katie’s voice shook as she stamped off the pitch, and Harry felt his insides turn to ice. It wasn’t his fault that the stupid rocket-mouth had made such an idiotic mistake. They didn’t need to blame him for it!

He shot Ron beside him a cold, questioning glare, but saw that he didn’t seem at all disturbed with the outcome of the match and wore a rather goofy smile on his face.

“C’mon, let’s get changed,” Ron said with a grin, and it made Harry boil even more inside.

“I don’t think I will, thanks,” he snarled, and headed for the castle without bothering to enter the changing rooms.

He needed to vent his anger, he needed to let it out, and he knew exactly how.






Chapter 12: The Unforgivable Curse
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*Chapter 12*


THE UNFORGIVABLE CURSE


“Bladvak!” Harry snapped hotly at the Fat Lady, causing her to peer down at him disapprovingly before swinging forward.

“Think I’m here to serve you, do you? Just another house-elf, that’s what you think?”

Harry ignored her and stepped through the portrait hole. Luckily the common room was completely deserted; even in this weather Quidditch was such a popular sport the whole school showed up for a match. The whole school had seen him make a big prat of himself…

The anger inside Harry rose in a way he hadn’t thought it could, any further. None of the things that happened to him were his fault…The stupid prophecy, Sirius dying, and a stupid match like this to make everything worse…It was the second time in his life he’d lost one, he could only imagine what a laugh Malfoy would get out of it… And Ron hadn’t cared at all. No, he’d been more busy staring at Hermione in a sickening way.

Harry slammed the door to his dormitory shut behind him, glad to find Hedwig and Pigwidgeon were still in the Owlery. He didn’t want anyone to see what he was planning to do…

Glancing around the circular room, Harry spotted a small black beetle scuttling over the stone floor. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. It was just a beetle…No one would miss it…

Harry aimed his wand at the beetle, that scurried around frantically in its corner as if it knew what was coming.

“Avada Kedavra!” Harry cried, in a cold, hollow voice. He did exactly what the book had told him to; he summoned up all of the anger that he had felt at the Quidditch match and the day when Sirius died, pushing back all of his other emotions. Seeking something that would cause him even more anger, Ron’s face stood out clearly in his mind. The thought of him was enough for Harry to grit his teeth and feel red heat creep up his face.

All of a sudden his wand arm shuddered, and Harry felt an invisible force rush through the room as a flash of green light ended the beetle’s life, instantly.
Harry gasped, and he let his hand fall limply to his side. His wand rolled over the floor and came to a stop at the door, that was throw open.

“Harry!” Hermione’s bushy, snow covered hair obscured his vision as she lunged forwards and put her arms around him.

“Oh Harry, I thought…I heard…” her eyes were shining with tears, and suddenly Harry shrunk back with the guilt and shame of having been found performing an Unforgivable curse.

He felt it was something dark, below him somehow, using the same words that Voldemort had used to kill his parents. Not only that, he had used Voldemort’s voice. It was as if he was betraying everything he thought he stood for.

Hermione stepped back from him uncertainly. Her cheeks were still pink from the cold; she had apparently rushed straight back to the common room after the match ended. To see if he was alright?

“But who… Harry, I heard the words!”

Harry saw comprehension dawning behind her intelligent eyes, but she didn’t seem to want to accept it. Harry sighed, and slumped downheartedly onto his four-poster bed.

“It was me,” he said, avoiding her eyes. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”

Although Harry couldn’t see Hermione’s face, he was calmed down by the fact that she didn’t immediately lecture him or say she was deeply disappointed. But Harry knew she must be.

He filled the awkward silence by staring gloomily at the up-turned beetle.

Finally Hermione sat down next to him, and said, very quietly: “You know, I had many sleepless nights after you told me about that Prophecy.”

Harry hadn’t expected her to say that. He now fixed his gaze on the ceiling.

“And… I understand, if you feel you need to do something.”

Finally Harry answered.
“You don’t have to worry about me,” he said gruffly.

The last thing he wanted was for her to feel sorry for him, like Mrs. Weasley.

“But I do. I feel awful about this… About how you must be feeling and coping with such a responsibility…” Hermione’s voice faded. Harry hated seeing her so sad.

“I don’t want you to have sleepless nights over a stupid git like me.”

Hermione smiled softly, and edged closer to him. Harry felt almost uncomfortable with that proximity.

“Will you be reassured if I tell you that that night, when you told me, was the best I ever slept?”

Harry felt heat creeping up to his face, and was afraid to look up. He didn’t want to get his hopes up, didn’t want to believe what Hermione had just said. He must have heard wrongly. Recalling the night at the Granger’s house however, sleeping against a curled up Hermione that felt very warm and soft to the touch, Harry went even redder. Doing something like that now, would seem almost out of the question.

When Harry finally looked up, his eyes met Hermione’s and he felt her drawing awfully close. He could already feel her warm breathing on his face, any closer and they would be touching…

Just as their noses brushed, Harry felt alarm bells going off. What was he doing? Hermione didn’t want this, she was just confused! And she probably felt sorry for him, the boy who’d have to save the world…She didn’t like him, she liked Ron… She was with Ron…

“It’s getting late, that match wore me out,” Harry said abruptly, getting to his feet. Hermione’s eyes widened, she looked appalled and confused at his reaction.

“Wh-what? Well yes, I suppose you need to…” At that moment Ron, Neville and Seamus’s voices were audible coming from the staircase.

Hermione stood up quickly, and said, just as the boys came in: “Don’t beat yourself up about it, Harry. It was Patricia’s fault, not yours.”

Ron, who’s grin had worn off a bit as the knowledge that they had lost had slowly dawned on him, nodded gloomily.

“It really was, Harry, that irritating brat couldn’t even get a simple rule like a Snitchnip right…”

He dumped his broomstick down onto the floor of the dormitory, wisely leaving out the part of him letting in all those goals.

“Well, I’m off to bed, goodnight,” Hermione said, avoiding Harry’s eyes, and kissing Ron swiftly on his cheek before leaving the dormitory. Harry didn’t think he had ever felt that miserable about something like a kiss. The one he couldn’t have, and the one he had to witness.

***

Harry’s foul temper took quite a few days to subside. Luckily, the weather was changing again. The last snow fall wasn’t a strong one, and the start of February was announced by Hagrid who celebrated Grawp’s birthday, be it from a distance since Dumbledore had removed him from the Forbidden Forest the previous summer.

“I’ve sent ‘im a mug of butterbeer he likes, must ‘ve bin over a hundred pints,” he told Harry, Ron and Hermione when they visited his cabin at sundown one day.

“How did you get that all the way to France, Hagrid?” Hermione asked, and Harry had a strange vision of Pigwidgeon struggling with a load the size of an elephant.

“Had one o’ me thestrals do it, but had ter get an invisibility spell over the butterbeer first o’course. Don’t want them Muggles seein’ a dirty great bottle flyin’ over their heads.”

Harry glanced at Hagrid’s pink umbrella in the corner of his cabin and didn’t ask who’d cast the spell.
For the rest the two weeks that had followed the match were so busy for Harry that even he had to put his misery behind him for once and work hard, along with Hermione who was slightly hysterical. Apparently Professor Vector had fallen ill and her substitute Arithmancy teacher set them enormous amounts of homework.

Katie Bell wasn’t easy on them either, since she still believed Gryffindor had a chance at the cup if Slytherin beat Ravenclaw in their upcoming match. She pressured them even further after receiving a Howler from Oliver Wood one morning, who screamed at her for ‘not assuming the responsibility to teach her teammates all the rules’. Her sister Patricia, unsurprisingly, was rather subdued and it made for a nice change not to hear her voice rattling at them non-stop.

Harry, meanwhile, tried to put everything behind him and be friendly to Ron and Hermione again, something that was extremely difficult when Valentine’s day was a week away and Peeves sung taunting (and inappropriate) love songs at them from the inside of suits of armour.

“Is something up, mate? You’ve been awfully quiet this week,” Ron said uncertainly, one Transfiguration lesson.

He prodded the bowl they were supposed to turn into a person repeatedly with his wand. Finally Hermione let out an irritated sigh and snatched it away from him.

“Not like that! You need to say the incantation first.”

She had been increasingly short with Ron ever since the match, and Harry had the feeling it wouldn’t be long until they broke out into one their old bickering sessions. They’d never lasted this long without fighting. Only that this time he’d sadistically enjoy it.

Hermione’s own miniature person was already sitting on the table, swinging his legs over the edge and making rude gestures to the Slytherins.

“Oh, nothing… Just that match still bugging me I suppose,” Harry replied, avoiding Ron’s eyes. “You know how Malfoy gets, he won’t quit bothering me.”

He busied himself trying to flatten his person’s stomach, that was suspiciously round and bowl-shaped. He hid it from view as Professor McGonagall passed by their tables, tutting at Ron’s efforts.

“Well, just try to forget it. Quidditch isn’t the most important thing in the world,” Hermione said vaguely, from behind the thick book, Perpetual Magical Entities, that she had just opened.

Harry scowled at her. She should know that Quidditch wasn’t the only, the real reason he was upset. He accidentally/on purpose smacked his miniature person in the stomach with his wand, watching it gasp for air.

“That is not the accurate procedure, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall remarked sourly.

* * *

Add two ounces of grinded bezoar, a few joberknoll feathers and half a pickled toad, and let them simmer in the rosewater. Stir clock-wise, until they are completely dissolved and the solution has turned green.

Harry let out a disgruntled moan as he watched his own Bad Luck Draught turn slowly to a sickly brown colour in the cauldron in front of him. The worst of it was that Malfoy, sitting in front of him and clearly finished, kept twisting around in his seat to smirk at Harry’s efforts.

“Harry, that toad looks like just a quarter to me! Where is it’s head?” Hermione whispered urgently from his side, her own solution bubbling happily. Harry shrugged.

“Er… It’s dissolved I suppose.”

He unsuccessfully attempted to cover up the frog’s head that was still lying on his desk. However, not only Hermione, but Snape who came prowling by at that moment saw it too. He stared down his long hook nose at the contents of Harry’s cauldron and grimaced. In his case it made his lip curl with loathing and the satisfaction of being able to reprimand Harry.

“Potter, are you trying to give the consumer a full day of bad luck, or simply an early death? This Draught looks like you fished it from a house-elf’s toilet.”

Malfoy and Pansy snorted with ill-concealed delight and Harry saw Hermione swelling with anger. He was annoyed too, but not necessarily due to the house-elf comment.

At that moment there was a knock on the door and everyone’s eyes turned see who it was.

“Come in,” Snape called in irritation. Harry had a fleeting image of Colin Creevey storming in with his camera but shook it away as Ron entered the room, looking slightly fearful.

“Um, Professor Snape?”

“I know who I am, Weasley,” Snape retorted. Ron’s eyes met Harry’s and briefly he could read his frustration.

“Sir, Professor Dumbledore needs you to make a potion or something, he says it’s urgent…”

Snape hurried past them without uttering a word and with a swish of his cloak he was gone. The students left behind exchanged surprised glances and started talking in low, hushed voices.

“What d’you reckon happened?” Justin Finch-Fletchley asked them, casually taking a seat on top of his table.
Malfoy and Pansy also got up from their seats and started to walk around as if they owned the place.

“I dunno… Something with the Order I guess,” Harry replied.

He still found it difficult to accept that everyone knew about the Order of the Phoenix now. Eddie McMillan whispered excitedly in Hannah Abbott’s ear and she nodded conspiratorially.

“How come Dumbledore sent you?” Harry asked Ron, turning to him. He was still standing in the doorway, apparently not entirely confident since it wasn’t his class.

“I was just heading for the Owlery, it’s my free period, you know, and I just bumped into him… He looked pretty upset about something.”

Hermione looked thoughtful.
“Did he say what Potion he wanted?”

Ron shook his head. His eyes went over the classroom and stopped at Malfoy, who abandoned his conversation with Pansy to glower back at him.

“So this is where the git got that Veritaserum from, huh? From the dungeons, his pal Snape just handed him some?” Ron muttered under his breath. Harry raised his eyebrows.

“What? C’mon Ron, that was ages ago-“ he was pushed aside rather roughly by Malfoy, who seemed to have realized they were talking about him and came over to face Ron.

“What’s the matter, Weasley? Feel intimidated in a room full of people with at least half a brain?” Malfoy grinned at Harry as if saying he was the obvious exception.

Ron’s expression darkened and he took a step forward, scowling.

“I’m sure you haven’t got any more brains than I do, Malfoy, except you buy your way into things.” It seemed like the wrong thing to say because Malfoy’s grimace became even wider.

“And what if I do? You wouldn’t be able to pay your way into a pigsty, I reckon. Wait, don’t you already live in one?”

Harry and Hermione had to hold Ron back by his robes, but he flung himself forward so hard, and he had grown so much, that they couldn’t stop him and he pounced insanely at the bewildered Malfoy. They heard an alarmed shriek and Pansy came running to save her fellow Slytherin from the other side of the room, while the rest of the students simply watched in trepidation.

“I’ll— get— you— for— Aargh!” Ron was kicked off by Malfoy, and landed right on top of Harry’s table.

Draught of Bad Luck splattered everywhere and Ron’s robes were dripping with it, when he got up a moment later.

“What is the meaning of this?” Came Snape’s voice sharply from the entrance. Every head turned to the doorway again, fearfully this time. Harry was amazed at what met Snape’s eyes- potion spilled all over the class, Ron pulling a cauldron off his head and Malfoy lying on the floor.

“He attacked me, sir!” Malfoy whimpered, looking up at them in feigned pain through his platinum blond hair.
Harry held in his breath, and thanked his lucky stars he wasn’t Ron, as Snape finished helping Malfoy to his feet and towered over the boy that was soaked to his skin. Unlucky, indeed.

***

The Gryffindor table was buzzing with the Potions incident that night at dinner, and the disgruntled Ron looked as if he was pretending not to hear them.

“A weeks worth of Detention! And with Filch! I don’t even want to know what that bloody Squib has waiting for me…”

Hermione glared at him disapprovingly, but she still looked sorry for him and patted his shoulder softly.

“You really shouldn’t have gone after Malfoy, you know that. If you’d just control those impulses Gryffindor wouldn’t have lost 50 points either…”

Ron glared mutinously at his plate, and Harry didn’t think Hermione was doing a very good job cheering him up.

“Aren’t you going to eat anything?” she urged, and he let out a derisive sigh, as if eating was the last thing on earth he ought to be doing now.

“Fine…” Ron picked up his fork and was about to bring it to his plate, when- PLOP

They stared at the blubbery white mass on top of his chicken in disgust, and Ron pointed at an owl that was hovering over their heads in mid-air.

“Hermes! Percy sent his owl to lay his droppings in my food!” Ron cried out indignantly, throwing down his fork.

Hermes swooped down onto the table and stuck out it’s leg, offering Ron what was clearly a letter.

“This better be good…” Ron muttered. He untied and unrolled the piece of parchment, reading it out loud so they could all hear.

“Dear Ron,

I’m afraid Errol passed away this morning, on a trip to deliver your letter. Your father has already Apparated to the place he was seen falling, not far from Hogsmeade, and he’s been properly buried. Percy was nice enough to let me use his owl to resend you your letter, this time including some things that I didn’t know before.
I would have sent you a Howler for what you have done- attacking another student and vandalizing a classroom! But I have more things to tell you. Don’t think this will be forgotten, Ron, I will have a very long word with you when I see you again. I can hardly believe a Prefect would do such a thing, your behaviour is shocking. No matter how low the Malfoys can be, that is no excuse to act the way you have.
Furthermore, I think you will by now have read in the Daily Prophet that the Order has found a new headquarters, but of course I can’t tell you where. However, you should know that the family has temporarily moved to the headquarters since the Burrow isn’t entirely safe for us anymore.
I was very worried about you and Harry after what happened in the last headquarters, I hope he’s alright. Please send him my best wishes.

Love, Mum.“


Ron looked up from the parchment, even more miserable than before.

“A week’s detention, I’m going to ‘have a word’ with my mum, and on top of it Errol’s dead! What’s wrong with this day?”

Harry knew Ron must be upset, as he always was over his pets. Personally he didn’t think he’d really miss Errol very much, the last time he’d seen him he had already seemed far from alive and resembled an old mouldy rag.

“Wait- can I see that again?” Hermione scanned the letter, and bit her lip.

“Of course! I completely forgot to show you the Daily Prophet this morning, I was so worried about my Ancient Runes exam, there’s something you should see.”

She pulled a rolled up edition of the Daily Prophet out from her bag, and Harry and Ron joined their heads together to read what was written on the front page.

JUDGING FUDGE

Penelope Clearwater, Daily Prophet reporter, writes: Over the last month the wizarding community has finally reached a question we have all asked ourselves more than once- should we judge Fudge? The Minister for Magic has announced He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s return only a few months ago, when brave wizards such as Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, and the Boy Who Lived himself made his return known over a year ago. It appears that the Ministry is now hard at work to make up for previous blunders, working over-time in the search for more Death Eaters in it seems, every corner. Fudge is mirroring the man he himself called a paranoid lunatic, Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody, in his frantic quest for the Dark Lord’s supporters in the most unlikely places. Yesterday Chudley Cannons fans were outraged when Fudge arrested their captain and seeker Charlie “Catch-it” Hatchet. He was released earlier today, since as in many other cases, the Ministry’s accusations were entirely unfounded.
Lucius Malfoy, however, a renowned Death Eater in the first war and the second, was never once questioned, presumably thanks to the generous ‘donations’ he made to the Ministry. This is not the only questionable confident of Cornelius Fudge, since the High Inquisitor he appointed at Hogwarts the previous year used many unconventional methods with her students- threatening them with the Cruciatus curse, for example.
Witches and Wizards would clearly be more wisely inclined to follow the true opposition of You-Know-Who; the Order of the Phoenix. After the attack on their previous headquarters the Ministry is providing members of the Order of the Phoenix with a new headquarters, whereabouts unknown. As hard as the Ministry may attempt to right wrongs of the past, however, many of us will certainly keep a suspicious eye to any of its future actions.



“Arrested Charlie Hatchet?!” Ron repeated slowly, an appalled look on his face. Harry ignored it, and grinned happily at the fact that Fudge was finally getting a taste of his own medicine.

“That was what Mrs. Weasley meant, the Ministry’s helping out the Order with a new headquarters!” Hermione explained, stuffing the newspaper back into her bag. She glanced down at her watch, and said in a hurry:

“It’s nearly seven, Ron. You need to get going so you’re not late for your detention with Filch.”

Ron groaned, and lifted himself up from his seat ever so slowly.

“Two hours with that horrible man… And his dretched cat…”

He shuffled away from the Gryffindor table, followed by Hermione who quickly caught up with him.

“Are you going too?” Harry called after her, and she replied, “No, I’m just returning a book to the library.”

She raised her copy of Perpetual Magical Entities and disappeared from sight with Ron.

Harry sighed gloomily, prodding his chicken unenthusiastically with his fork. Hermes’s droppings had put him off his appetite a bit. Neville, sitting next to him, seemed to have the same problem.

“I think I’ll pass,” he said, shoving his plate away from him and looking slightly green.



Chapter 13: The New Headquarters
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*Chapter 13*


THE NEW HEADQUARTERS


As the first, courageous flowers popped up from soil of Hogwarts grounds, a fervent desire to make the students succumb under the heavy work-load seemed to come over their teachers. Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts of course, had never slacked off, certainly not around the holiday period since Snape was resolute in making this time as unpleasant as possible for everyone.

But also less demanding subjects like History of Magic and Herbology became increasingly difficult, and Proffesor Binns had them hold expositions on ‘the affects of 1848 revolutions on European wizards’, something rather disturbing since it required actually researching and learning.

The only teacher who hadn’t really caught the mania of work with the sixth years was Professor Flitwick, who had apparently received a Valentine’s card from a Veela and could be seen humming happily in the corridors.

Nonetheless he had them working on a different charm every lesson, as was the case of one Tuesday afternoon.

“You aren’t reversing the procedure accurately, Miss Patil. What you have just performed on Miss Brown is a Cheering Charm,” Proffesor Flitwick squeaked, hovering to the girl’s side and peering disapprovingly at a loudly giggling Lavender. The rest of the class also shot Lavender dirty looks, in part because the Saddening Charms affected their mood so that any laughter at all was unbearable.

“I suppose you’ll give me a detention, then?” Parvati asked gloomily. She slumped back on her chair, throwing down her wand.

“No, dear, we can all make mistakes-“

“But I seem to make them constantly! I’m useless!” Parvati cried out, and buried her head in her arms, sobbing.

Professor Flitwick’s eyes widened, and he looked even more distressed when a few moments Seamus Finnigan and Dean Thomas broke out in contagious howls as well.

“I don’t like this Charm at all…” Neville gazed at the floor, pale faced. Harry’s Charm had apparently worked fairly well on him, because he looked just as depressed as all the people around him.

Nothing could beat Hermione’s charm, however, since Ron, her partner, had looked on the verge of tears ever since the start of the lesson. Luckily Neville wasn’t doing too well himself and the feeble bit of wand work he had performed on Harry wasn’t showing in the least.

“Yeah, well, please don’t start crying,” Harry said uneasily. He could already imagine himself with a wailing Neville in his arms.

“I won’t, it’s just…” Neville’s round face looked very unhappy. “Being this sad brings me back all these memories of me mum and dad, you know, and the Department of Mysteries…”

Harry coughed and gazed at the ceiling awkwardly. He wished he’d been able to bury his pride and paired up with Ron at the start of the lesson, instead of Neville.

“I’ve been feeling a bit guilty, because I actually imagined performing the Cruciatus curse on Bellatrix myself to teach her a lesson…” Neville shook his head, and Harry’s stomach churned uncomfortably.

He knew what he’d like to do to Bellatrix, in fact he was more eager to murder her than Voldemort. And not only that, he had been practicing for it…

“Anyway, I’m sure you don’t want to hear this,” Neville went on miserably, “you have your own problems.”

He directed his wand at Harry again and muttered, “Trasfiticum!”

He jabbed his wand halfheartedly into the air and Harry wasn’t surprised to receive even the slightest increase in moodiness. He was depressed enough as it was.

“Not Trasfiticum, Tristificum!” Hermione’s clear voice came from behind them. Apparently her own depression didn’t stop her from wanting them all to get the incantations right.

Harry watched Hermione perform a circular, swishing motion and repeat the words, and almost instantly he was filled with something inexplicable. It was as though a breeze of glacial air streamed from the tip of her wand into Harry’s chest, flowing through his whole body, icy cold. Harry remembered the only other times he felt like this; when he was near a Dementor.

But he’d been able to fight Dementors… What he felt now was even worse because he didn’t know how to get rid of it. It was as if everything, all his anger, frustration and loneliness had found a way out of him and were screaming to come out.

Harry staggered back, trying to control the emotions that stirred violently inside him. Flashes of things that had happened to him burst into his mind, as if he were in an Occlumency session with Snape. Uncle Vernon locking him inside his broom cupboard… Cedric’s wide, blank grey eyes staring at him, Voldemort’s high-pitched laughter…his laughter as he killed Harry’s mother… Bellatrix’s laughter as she murdered Sirius, his body falling slowly through the veil...
And Harry couldn’t control it any longer.

“I-DON’T-LIKE-THIS!” Harry yelled, startling Hermione and Neville, who seemed to forget his own misery when he saw Harry gritting his teeth and practically giving off steam from the anger.

Professor Flitwick glided fussily to their end of the classroom, and put on what he seemed to think was a soothing smile.

“Now, now, no reason to get upset. Are you sure you got the incantation right, Miss Granger?”

Hermione opened her mouth looking insulted, when Harry interrupted their discussion by furiously kicking his desk away from him. It crashed loudly against the wall, met with startled cries from Harry’s classmates.

But he didn’t bother to wait for their reactions. Without another word Harry spun around and tore out of the classroom, slamming the door behind him.

***

Even as Harry raced, blindly, through the halls, he couldn’t stop the images that clouded his mind. The prophecy… Ron’s red hair shielding Hermione’s face… The horrible Quidditch match… Everything stormed at him at the same time, haunting him. He didn’t even know where he was going, all Harry knew was that he had to escape the sadness and depression that lingered in every corner of the school.

“Look out!”

Harry dodged a startled second year as he stormed up the marble staircases, stumbling over his own feet and panting from misery and exhaustion. He had to get away, he had to escape. Everything was wrong, it was all so wrong…

Harry barely realized where he was until he ran into the Owlery and hundreds of owls sleeping on their perches flew up in alarm, hooting and looking scandalized.

“…either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...”

No, he wouldn’t let Voldemort murder him…He couldn’t let him have that satisfaction… Even if that meant doing it himself…

Gasping, Harry raised himself up onto one of the high, glass-less windows in the cold stone walls of the Owlery. He shivered as the cold air wrapped it’s icy fingers around him…Cold, frightened hands gripped his heart and his throat.

Harry stared down at the hundred feet of castle wall that stretched out beneath him, at the last bits of snow left on the ground that would be stained scarlet with his blood if he fell…

Just as Harry leaned forwards, feeling sick, a white-hot surge of pain in his scar threw him backwards and he lay, spread-eagled and gasping, on the cold straw-colored floor.

“Your mother’s coming... She wants to see you… it will be alright… hold on…”

Harry opened his eyes to see Hedwig had landed silently by his side, and stared at him solemnly with her large melancholic eyes. Harry quivered suddenly, and broke out in a bitter flood of tears.

* * *

Harry didn’t know for how long he had lain on the cold floor of the Owlery, strewn with straw and owl droppings, when suddenly a voice pulled him out from his musing.

“Erm… Harry?”

Harry scrambled up to his feet, pushing back his glasses. He was faced with Josephine Fletcher, who held Malfoy’s eagle owl on her arm. She looked him up and down, her dark eyes lingering on his face and arms that were covered in dirt. He turned slightly red, but forced a determined smile.

“Hello Josephine. I’ve just been… thinking a bit, this is a good spot.”

Josephine raised her eyebrows in a way that Harry could see she didn’t believe a word of it.

“Have you been… crying?” she asked him cautiously. Harry wiped furiously at his eyes, and muttered, “No, it’s just the dust… I’m a bit allergic.”

He wisely left out the part of why someone who was allergic would choose to lie down in the midst of dust and owl feathers.

“Well… Alright then, I’m just going to send a letter… Shouldn’t you be a dinner?”

Harry nodded swiftly, making his way out of the Owlery. He noticed Hedwig staring at him reproachfully as he went out.

“Yeah, I’m going right now…”

Glad to get away from Josephine, Harry quickly hurried to Gryffindor tower, that was deserted except for a house-elf that disappeared from sight as soon as he climbed through the portrait hole. He had no intentions of going down to dinner. After the scene he had made in the Charms lesson he’d wait some time before he showed his face again…

Once he was inside his dormitory Harry dropped down onto his four-poster bed, and buried his face in his hands.

He couldn’t believe what he had tried to do. Just thinking back of the endless abyss that opened under him as he has stood in the window frame made Harry feel sick again… All because of some stupid charm. What would have happened if he had really done it? If he had jumped, and ended his life? That would be the most selfish thing anyone could do… There would be no one left on earth to destroy Voldemort.

And yet… Harry remembered the sharp pain in his scar as he had leaned forwards. What did that mean? Was it possible that he couldn’t be killed by anything other than Voldemort? Did it mean that facing him was the only way Harry could ever die?

Harry got down to his feet, searching for the trunk under his bed in which he kept most of his belongings. From inside he pulled the thick photo album that Hagrid had given him so many years ago. He traced his finger over the picture where his parents and Sirius Black waved back at him happily, beaming, not knowing that all their lives would end in only a few years. Had Sirius hoped to marry some day? Had he wanted to have a life, a family of his own?

Harry imagined what it had been like, to finally escape from twelve years of Azkaban and then die shortly afterwards… The man who had been like a father and a brother to him had only known such a short happiness…

What if the same happened to him? If Voldemort got his way he’d be gone long before he could ever grow properly old. He would die before he knew any sort of joy…

Harry sighed and threw the book back into his trunk. Suddenly something under his bed caught his eye. Harry gasped- the one-way mirror was still there! He remembered throwing it down angrily the year before, after staring into it and calling for Sirius as if that would change anything…

He reached out and swept his hand under the dusty bed, retrieving the mirror. It was shattered in the centre, and so dirty Harry couldn’t make out anything at the other side. Slowly, Harry passed his already filthy sleeve over the glass. What stared back at him moments later made him throw the mirror down in shock.

Something had stirred within the shards- a pale, sunken face. He had seen it move, briefly, but too much of a haze to make out. All Harry knew was that it wasn’t his own face.

Picking the mirror up again cautiously, Harry climbed onto his four-poster and shut the hangings around him. Ron would be returning soon.

“Sirius?” Harry whispered at the mirror, but nothing within the pieces of glass moved.

He laid back onto his bed, staring at the mirror in his hands. He had seen something. He knew it, and he would prove it.

* * *

Harry’s eyes opened and he sat up, startled. Neville had snored particularly loudly somewhere beside him, and it had woken him up. He hadn’t even realized the others had come in for bed. Glancing at his watch he realized he had fallen asleep at some point – it was 12:42.

Getting up as quietly as he could, Harry grabbed his Invisibility Cloak and the Marauder’s Map. He had been waiting for a long time for the perfect moment to return A Methodical Study of the Unforgivable Curses, and at this hour there would certainly be no one in the library.

As he descended the spiral staircase of the dormitories, Harry slipped the Invisibility Cloak over his head. He tip-toed through the common room as quietly as he could, jumping slightly when a loud hick-up coming from somewhere by the fireplace startled him.

“Please, Winky…You is having to put that away now… We need to do our jobs!” Dobby’s squeaky voice put Harry at ease. He saw the diminutive house-elf covered in items of clothing, patting a clearly tipsy Winky on the shoulders.

“No… This is not Winky’s job. Winky’s job is with Master Crouch.”

Winky, looking slightly batty with a tea-towel pulled over her blouse and skirt, was speaking in a whiny voice again and personally Harry felt very glad he wasn’t Dobby.

“Winky, we is going over this… Master Crouch is dead…” Dobby said very softly, trying to pull the bottle of butterbeer out from Winky’s tiny hands. She put up quite a struggle.

“NO! MASTER CROUCH IS NOT DEAD! And you is giving that BACK!” She snatched the bottle back and took a swig from it.

“Winky, please stop drinking,” Dobby whispered exasperatedly. “You is waking up all the students and Dobby is having nowhere to take you… The room of requirement is being busy…”

In response to this Winky threw her empty bottle onto the floor with a crash, and Dobby hurried to clean it up.
Without waiting to see any more of what poor Dobby had to go through, Harry climbed out of the portrait hole. He made his way through the corridor swiftly, ignoring the curses that the Fat Lady garbled randomly into the darkness.

The way to the library went fairly smoothly (not counting when Sir Cadogan heard him and chased him for fourteen portraits on the sixth floor) but suddenly, just as Harry was descending steps that led to the library, was was face-to-face with Filch’s horrible sneaking cat.

“Mrs. Norris…” Harry gasped, and apparently this was the wrong thing to do because the cat’s ears pricked up and she took a few steps forward, sniffing the air just feet from him. As Harry well knew, wherever Mrs. Norris was, Filch couldn’t be far. So he stumbled back up the staircase, taking them by three at a time.

“Oh no…” Harry cursed as the marble staircase he was on started to move, as they often did in Hogwarts. He only hoped that it wouldn’t take him too far from the library.

Reluctantly climbing the stairs again, Harry walked on into a badly-lit corridor. He only had to glance at a rather ugly painting of Barnabas the Barmy teaching trolls to dance ballet to know where he was- the seventh floor.

Suddenly Harry heard sounds coming from the opposite end of the corridor, and he quickly stooped down in a dark corner. If someone were to trod against him now they’d think it was merely some sort of decoration in the darkness.

“I know that Dumbledore, but are you sure it wouldn’t be somewhat rash to think that he… I mean, he seems reliable enough-“

Harry froze as he recognized Lupin’s voice, and squinting, he saw two dark outlines a few feet away from him. What was Lupin doing here?

“We’ll talk about it inside,” Dumbledore replied sharply, and Harry blinked as a second later, they had disappeared. They couldn’t Apparate inside the school, where had they gone?

Harry waited until he was safely back inside the confines of his four-poster bed before he muttered, “Lumos!” and rolled out the Marauder’s Map onto his pillow in front of him. Tapping it with his light-giving wand tip, Harry whispered:

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

Harry watched tensely as thin black lines criss-crossed over the old parchment, and held his breath while he searched for the seventh floor with his finger. Barnabas the Barmy - and next to that, Room of Requirement.

Harry’s mouth fell open when he saw how wide the room had grown. It looked as if it was at least four times as wide- and had several floors within it. But that wasn’t what amazed him the most. It was the names that accompanied the little dots inside the room: Albus Dumbledore, Alastor Moody, Percy Weasley, Nymphadora Tonks and many, many more…




Chapter 14: Bloody Lollipops
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*Chapter 14*


BLOODY LOLLIPOPS


Ron and Hermione were oddly subdued around Harry the following day, as if he were a time-bomb that could go off at any given moment. He let it slip past him with slight irritation; both of them had been under the Charm as well, but neither had tried to kill themselves.

Looking back on it, from every angle he could think of, Harry certainly thought he’d acted like an idiot. Why did it always have to be him who showed his weaknesses at moments like that? It had been the same with the Dementors.

When Hermione had cautiously asked him where he had gone for the remainder of that day, he told her he’d slept it off in his dormitory. She seemed to be satisfied with that answer, but Harry was sure she’d interrogate Ron later on about whether he had indeed been in the dormitory at that time or not.

Harry hadn’t told them about his discovery yet either; they’d want to know why he was walking around the school at midnight. Not only that, Harry found himself increasingly introverted, as he had been in the weeks after Sirius had died. They seemed to sense what was going on and didn’t press the matter any further.

However, Harry still wanted to talk to someone about what he was feeling and that was why he was so anxiously waiting for their Care of Magical Creatures lesson, one Monday afternoon. Harry hadn’t talked to Hagrid privately in a while, nor had he seen the huge man in his moleskin overcoat anywhere around the castle, and he missed the sober advice that Hagrid could sometimes give. Not only that, he was someone that Harry could question about the Order, since Hagrid could always pick things up here and there.

However, as they trudged across the newly green grounds to Hagrid’s cabin, Harry felt his heart sink when he recognized the elderly witch that usually substituted for Hagrid; Professor Grubbly-Plank.

The Hufflepuffs were already gathered around her when Harry, Ron and Hermione arrived; they were wearing the same looks of confusion and uncertainty.

Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown’s faces lit up and they sprinted the last few feet to the group.

“Professor! Ooh Professor, what are we learning this lesson?”

Harry exchanged glances with Ron, and saw that his face had fallen too. Hermione, however, seemed to be trying very hard to hide her own cheerfulness.

“Good of you to join us, now come along! Today’s creatures won’t be visible for very long… You’ll see what I mean…” Professor Grubbly-Plank trudged off to Hagrid’s pumpkin patch, followed by the curious Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors.

“Not again! What do you reckon Hagrid’s up to this time?” Harry murmured to Ron through gritted teeth. He shrugged grumpily.

“Out searching for worse than dragons or giants, I’ll bet.”

Suddenly the air was filled with more 'ooh's and 'aahs' and Harry wondered irritably whether Professor Grubbly-Plank had brought unicorns again. But when he and Ron approached the cluster of students they saw they were bending over large, rather ugly birds.

“Not Harpies again!” Neville, who had suffered from two weeks of nightmares following those lessons, whimpered.

“Those aren’t Harpies, they’re Dodos,” Hermione cut in matter-of-factly. “You can tell clearly from the tufted tail feathers, and the large rounded beak -“

“Very good, Hermione, you answered the question I was about to ask,” said Professor Grubbly-Plank, and Ron rolled his eyes. “Five points to Gryffindor!”

But Hermione wasn’t beaming as she usually would have.
“Professor, haven’t Dodos been extinct for over two hundred years?”

Just then one of the Dodos quacked loudly and disappeared into thin air. It reappeared again inches from Parvati’s feet, and the girl squealed shrilly.

“Now, now, calm down,” Professor Grubbly-Plank called, and added to Hermione, “You’re right, that’s what Muggles are used to thinking. But the truth is the Dodos evolved a defensemechanism when they were hunted and almost wiped out. Now they’ll disappear almost instantly whenever there’s a human near them. But… Hagrid’s got these ones well trained not to fear us as much. They can stay visible for over a minute if you’re lucky.”

By now nearly all of the Dodos had disappeared, and Harry didn’t feel he was unlucky not to have them there. Instead he piped up:

“Where is Hagrid, Professor?”

Professor Grubbly-Plank gave him a diminishing glare as if he was always the one disrupting her lessons, and replied, “He is indisposed.”

Harry gave an annoyed snort.
“But where is he? He’s not sick or anything is he?”

Hermione made a shushing sound and pulled him back. Harry and Ron exchanged bewildered glances.

“He could be doing something for the Order again! Why would you draw attention to that? Just leave it be, we’ll just have a proper lesson for once.”

Ron breathed out angrily.
“Keep your mouth shut if you’re going to make comments like that! You sound like you don’t even appreciate Hagrid.”

Hermione looked genuinely hurt.
“Look, I’m sorry, but you know what I mean-“

“You have no business telling her to shut up!” Harry blurted out, and Ron turned in surprise, regarding him strangely.

“What? She’s the one insulting Hagrid, mate!”

Harry felt a surge of anger rising in him again. It was as if lately he had no control over his temper at all.

“You’re the one insulting Hermione!” Harry said hotly, avoiding Hermione’s pleading gaze. He was sick of it. Sick of their bickering when they had what he wanted. Couldn’t Ron just be happy and get on with it?

“It’s not as if you don’t tell her to shut up every now and then!” Ron yelled back. He didn’t seem to realize why Harry was angry, but he was pink around the ears nonetheless.

“Yeah, but I’m not with her!” Harry shouted, ignoring the stares of his fellow classmates, with the exception of Lavender who was helping Professor Grubbly-Plank feed the Dodos.

“Look, why don’t you two calm down?” Hermione protested weakly. But Harry and Ron stayed where they were opposite each other, their faces red.

“You know what I think?” Ron spat, “You’re just jealous because I have something for a change, you don’t want me to be getting any attention-“

Harry’s arm shot out and he punched Ron square in the face, as hard as he could.

He heard Hermione let out a shrill cry and saw Ron stagger back, his hand covering the place Harry had hit him. When he lowered it, there was blood streaming from his nose.

“HARRY POTTER!”

Harry spun around guiltily to meet Professor McGonagall’s piercing cold eyes, her mouth reduced to a thin line. It couldn’t mean anything good.

Meanwhile, however, Professor Grubbly-Plank didn’t appear to have realized anything was going on, and she stood prodding a Dodo under its wing, watched intently by Lavender.

“P-Professor?” Harry muttered, staring down at the ground. He heard Ron moaning beside him, and wondered if he couldn’t have waited a few moments to vent his anger.

“Despicable behaviour, Mr. Potter! I can barely believe it…A Gryffindor…” she directed her shrewd stare at Ron, and said sharply:

“Mr. Weasley, Hospital Wing. Mr. Potter, come with me.”

She shot back one last furtive look at Proffesor Grubbly-Plank as if wondering how on the earth the woman could keep teaching when something like this occurred, and then lead the way back up to the castle with brisk steps.

Harry followed her with a guilty churning in his stomach, expecting the worst. What would it be? A week’s detention, like Ron? Or maybe even a suspension? Harry panicked at the thought of returning to the Dursleys. No, they couldn’t do that to him. Not when Voldemort was out there.

“Professor? Where are you taking me?” Harry asked hoarsely, trotting slightly to keep up with McGonagall, who marched decisively through the halls.

“To Professor Dumbledore, Potter. I expect he’ll want to hear of this.”

Harry felt even sicker, and when McGonagall left him after uttering the password, “Bloody Lollipops,” he passed the stone Gargoyles and went up the rotating staircase with his heart in his shoes. What would Dumbledore think of him? He’d already said he thought Harry had too many responsibilities, and that he cared for him more than as just a student, how would he react when he found out Harry had acted so immaturely? He’d certainly be disappointed.

Harry took a deep breath as he stood in front of the large wooden doors leading to Dumbledore’s office, and knocked. He heard a scuttling sound on the other side and a moment later a voice called, “Come in!”

Harry entered the office shuffling his feet slightly, and he tried to keep his eyes fixed on the objects in the circular room rather than meeting the old man's eyes.

He’d always been fascinated by it all; Fawkes the Phoenix, barely larger than a chick, scrambled around in the ashes in his cage, the Sorting hat and Gryffindor’s sword leaned against the wall, and a few feet further away the Pensieve stood glistening on a cupboard. It looked like it had just been moved, as the silvery liquid that was usually inside now hovered a few inches over the edge and was slowly retreating into the bowl.

Dumbledore, following his gaze, spoke softly.

“It does not do to dwell on the past, Harry, I know. But sometimes it is good to refresh certain things that shouldn’t be forgotten.”

Harry cleared his throat to fill the silence after this cryptic comment, and closed the door behind him after Dumbledore motioned for him to do so.

“Professor, I-“

Dumbledore pointed at an empty chair in front of his desk, and Harry took a seat. He waited expectantly for Dumbledore to talk, even though he usually took his time. However, the wizened old man took only a few moments now to stroke his long silvery beard and stare at Harry intently, before he began again.

“Harry, Madam Pince has brought it to my attention that a book from the Restricted Section has been missing for several months now. Would you happen to know where it is?”

Harry felt as though a bucket of ice cubes had just been emptied over his head. The last thing he had wanted was for Dumbledore to find out. He didn’t think he’d ever know…And Harry had wanted to return the book, but he had, more than once, missed the opportunity to.

“Er… I don’t know, Professor. What’s the book called?”

Harry tried his best to look innocent, but he knew that Dumbledore could look right through him over his half-moon spectacles.

“Well, I’m sure to know the whereabouts of the book you’d know its title. That is all I wanted to ask you, which is why I told Professor McGonagall to bring you here. But I daresay there is something else you wish to tell me?”

Dumbledore smiled quietly, bringing his fingertips together above the desk.

“I know where the headquarters is,” Harry blurted out. He thought he saw something stirring behind Dumbledore’s eyes.

“Really? I should have known that Barnabas wasn't to be trusted.”

Harry raised an eyebrow.
“But isn’t it dangerous to have it right here in the school? I mean, won’t that make Voldemort want to enter the castle even more?”

Dumbledore smiled gently.
“I see what you mean, Harry. Not only are you here, but the Order of the Phoenix is here now, too. But… You have to remember, Harry, Voldemort doesn’t know how the Prophecy ends, nor does he know that the headquarters is here. So the castle is less appealing than you make it sound.”

Harry considered this for a moment. Voldemort certainly wanted to murder Harry, that was already clear. But he didn’t know the Order was at Hogwarts. How could he not know? Dumbledore seemed to guess what he was thinking.

“The Daily Prophet was helpful enough to inform the Wizarding world that the Ministry of Magic provided the Order with a headquarters. You see, Harry, after the events concerning the school and the Ministry last year Voldemort will never expect it to be here. The Ministry has no control over Hogwarts any longer, and thus it cannot offer it for the use of anyone.”

“So it was a lie?” Harry asked.

“Not a lie… The Ministry did provide us with a license to expand the Room of Requirement, after all… It couldn’t be stretched for more than a few feet before, whereas it now contains several floors, as you must well know.”

Harry nodded guiltily, and wondered if he should still tell Dumbledore about the blow he had given Ron moments ago.

“Is there anything else you wish to ask me, or tell me?” Dumbledore inquired, his eyes friendly as he surveyed Harry. Harry swallowed, remembering the dreams he'dhad… Of the Green Flame Torch, and Hermione’s death… Voldemort saying “he got in", and his own efforts at learning the killing curse…But Harry knew that if he told Dumbledore, everything he said would worry or disappoint the Headmaster in some way, and he couldn't bring himself to confess just yet.

“Nothing, Professor. Um… I should be getting back to lessons.

Dumbledore nodded shortly as Harry stood up and left the office again, both of them knowing perfectly well that lessons had long since ended. Just as Harry was going down the staircase again, he heard Dumbledore mutter:

“Remember, Harry, you can only fight fire with water.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

When Harry climbed through the portrait hole moments later, he was exhausted and didn’t want to do anything other than go up to his dormitory and collapse into bed. But the crowd of students in the common room told him that something was going on and he wouldn’t be able to do that, at least not yet.

“What’s going on?” he asked Colin Creevey, who was just leaving the cluttered group of Gryffindors, shaking his head. At these words the room went very quiet, and every head turned to stare at Harry.

Then Ron spoke, his voice cold and hard as it cut through the silence.

“Yeah, that’s him. The git who’s supposed to defeat You-Know-Who.”

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*wipes forehead* I reposted EVERYTHING! guess you know what that means? chapter 15 (30 in previous years) will be up in no time! PLEASE review

-your beloved and extremely exhausted Sophie



Chapter 15: Old People, New Places
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

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A/N: Finally! I think you’ll agree that was somewhat of a record for the longest wait… At least for me. I’d love reviews after this, may they be bad or good. From now on chapters are down to the regular size, and I’ll try to post chapter 16 in about 2 days. (Just had my wisdom teeth pulled, most painful operation of my life, don’t EVER do it!) so I’ve got time on my hands because I’m stuck home all weekend healing. Have fun!
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Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Harry punches Ron in jealous rage and is pulled away by Professor McGonagall, thinking he's about to be punished. Instead he has a long talk with Dumbledore, and when he returns Ron has uncovered his greatest secret...
"Yeah, that's him. The git who's supposed to defeat You-Know-Who."


*Chapter 15*


OLD PEOPLE, NEW PLACES


Harry felt something ice cold plunging into his stomach. He held his breath, dizzy for an instant as the curious faces in the common room swam around him. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t want to believe it. Ron was his best friend. As badly as they had got along that year - even Harry punching him a moment ago - he’d never thought Ron would go so far as to betray him like this. Harry would never do the same to him.

“What are you talking about?” he managed weakly, conscious of twenty pairs of eyes glued to him.

Ron’s face contorted into an ugly smirk that very much resembled Malfoy’s, and looked like it was partially caused by the swelling around his nose.

“The Prophecy… Or have you forgotten? Too many things happening in famous Harry Potter’s life?”

Ron’s voice dripped with sarcasm, and Harry flinched. The others were still cloaked in deadly silence, until Colin Creevey jumped forwards, shaking Harry’s hand excitedly.

“Wow, Harry! You’re going to save the world! I knew you had it in you!”

Harry pulled his hand back, watching the rest of the Gryffindors and starting to feel sick. It was clear that not everyone shared Colin’s opinion on the matter. In fact, the only ones who looked quite as eager were Patricia Bell and Colin’s brother, Dennis. Not exactly the kind of support Harry was looking for. The rest wore skeptical, even frightened, expressions.

You have to save us?” A third year asked, looking Harry up and down as if he were a nasty insect.

“He’s just a boy!”

“We’re dead for sure if he’s our only chance!”

Harry gritted his teeth, shooting Ron the dirtiest look he could muster.

“Are you happy now?” His voice shook. Harry stumbled through the crowd, and it parted as he passed.

“DO YOU THINK I ASKED TO BE THE ONLY ONE THAT CAN KILL VOLDEMORT? HE CAN MURDER ALL OF YOU AND YOUR FAMILIES FOR ALL I CARE!”

Harry took the spiral staircase up to the dormitories by three steps at a time, desperately trying to block out the whispers that came from below.

* * *


Barely two hours had passed when the door to Harry’s dormitory creaked open once more. He buried his face into his pillow, never more grateful for the privacy of the hangings around his four-poster bed.

“Harry?”

Luckily it was Neville’s voice, and not Ron’s, that met Harry’s ears.

“What?” he asked gruffly. Faintly he heard the sound of Neville changing into his pyjamas and getting into bed.

“I’m glad it’s you, that’s all.”

Harry opened his eyes again, holding his breath. Well, at least Neville supported him. He felt a funny jolt in his stomach when he realized things could very well have been the other way around; Harry telling Neville that he supported him. But, on the other hand… Harry did consider himself more capable of defeating a dark wizard than Neville.

“Anyone who knows you agrees with me,” Neville went on, “Ginny, other DA members…”

The door opened again and Neville fell silent as Ron, Seamus and Dean trudged into the dormitory. Harry rolled back into his pillow, and wondered in frustration when he had ever felt so miserable.

* * *


On Saturday morning Harry stayed in bed much longer than he needed to, waiting patiently for the others to leave before he got up. It annoyed him to see that the weather didn’t reflect his gloominess; outside the sun shone brightly and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Harry would have liked very much to visit Hagrid on a day like this, but he knew the gigantic man wasn’t back yet from wherever it was that he had gone.

After getting dressed ever so slowly, Harry considered what to do next. Normally he would now be having breakfast with Ron and Hermione, but that wasn’t the least bit appealing to him the way things were at the moment. However, having skipped dinner the night before, Harry’s stomach protested at the idea of not having breakfast at all.

Then Harry had an idea. He quietly left the dormitory and crossed the common room, stopping when he saw a large new announcement on the notice board:

APPARATION LESSONS

All sixth years and seventh years interested in receiving their Apparating license by the end of this year must meet Professor Marchbanks in Hogsmeade on the 24th on April. The licenses will be received upon turning seventeen. Please sign up on the sheet below.


A smile crept slowly across Harry’s face. He imagined Apparating right out of the Dursleys’ house the next summer, going wherever he wanted. He quickly scribbled “Harry Potter” on the sign up form.

Remembering how hungry he was, Harry left the common room and made sure he took a less frequented route to the Entrance Hall in which he turned a sharp left at the bottom of the marble staircase. He made his way down the flight of stone steps which led to a brightly lit corridor decorated with paintings of various kinds of food. He followed the corridor until he stood face to face with a painting of a large silver fruit bowl. Harry reached out a finger to tickle the pear, waiting patiently as it giggled, and the door swung forwards.

The kitchens were exactly as Harry remembered them. The huge, spacious area underneath the Great Hall was, at the moment, buzzing with activity. Harry watched the house-elves scurrying around, slicing bread and serving pumpkin juice, until he saw one he recognized.

“Dobby!”

Dobby turned around wildly, nearly dropping the platter of sausages he was carrying.

“Harry Potter! How good of you to visit Dobby!”

Harry smiled sheepishly. That was of course not the true purpose of his visit.

“Dobby,” he began tentatively, “is it alright if I have some breakfast here?”

Even over the noise of clattering plates and cutlery Harry’s question had been overheard and an instant later half a dozen house-elves rushed to his aid. Harry backed away, a grin on his face, as they set down tray of food and steaming drinks on a table in front of him.

“Thank you!” Harry exclaimed, and the beaming house-elves returned to their work after bowing deeply.

“Dobby is very pleased to see Harry Potter! After last year Dobby is thinking you is not wanting to see him again…” Dobby looked down at the floor while he pulled over a chair for Harry to sit on.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, taking a seat.

“Dobby is getting you in trouble last year with the room of requirement,” Dobby whispered timidly. His large bat-like ears drooped.

“That wasn’t your fault!” Harry protested, helping himself to some waffles. Dobby shook his head down-heartedly.

“Harry Potter is almost getting expelled. Professor Dumbledore is leaving because of Dobby!” His tennis ball eyes were round and fearful.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Harry reassured him. He swallowed his toast and started a new slice.

“Because of you Dumbledore now has a great new headquarters,” he pointed out. Dobby smiled.

“You is knowing about that?” he asked curiously, pouring Harry some tea.

“Yeah, in fact…” Harry sipped from his cup and put it down again. “I think I’ll pay it a visit.”

He hadn’t considered doing so before, but now the curiosity and longing to see members of the Order again made him wonder why he hadn’t done it before.

“Dobby is knowing how to get in,” Dobby whispered mysteriously.
Harry raised an eyebrow.

“I suppose you just wish to enter the Order of the Phoenix’s headquarters?” Dobby shook his head, ears flapping wildly.

“No, Harry Potter, that would be too easy…” he lowered his voice. “To get in you is having to wish for a place to defeat You-Know-Who, and really mean it.”

Dobby’s eyes widened again as if he thought it was the most ingenious invention of the universe. Harry grinned, getting up out of his seat.

“Thanks a lot, Dobby!” He hurried out of the kitchens, being careful not to step on any of the diminutive house-elves, his stomach pleasantly rounded.

* * *


As Harry approached the place where the Room of Requirement usually was, he could have sworn he saw Barnabas the Barmy winking at him. Shaking his head, Harry walked before the door three times, fervently thinking… I want to defeat Voldemort… I want to defeat Voldemort…

All of a sudden a familiar wooden door with a silver door handle materialized out of nowhere, pushing two other doors aside. Harry opened it eagerly, not really knowing what to expect.

Inside was a gleaming, spacious hall with marble walls and a scarlet carpet on the floor. Like Dumbledore’s office, portraits of famous witches and wizards blinked down at him from all sides and torches lining the room gave it a warm light.

“Harry, is that you?”

Harry spun around, faced with an exhausted looking Lupin who had just come out of one of the many doors.

“Er… Hello, professor,” Harry said hesitantly. Lupin glanced around quickly with narrowed eyes and then shut the door behind Harry.

“How did you find it?” Lupin asked sharply. Harry felt a bit hurt. He’d have thought his favourite teacher would have been a bit happier to see him.

“Well… The Marauder’s Map showed me where it was.”

Lupin’s expression softened.
“Ah, our legacy continues to help the new generation,” he said lightly, and motioned for Harry to follow him. They descended a staircase, past a room that was darker than the others and held a long table fit for over twenty people. Harry noticed the absence of occupants.

“Where is everyone?” he asked. Lupin took him to a room with squashy armchairs and they took a seat.

“There aren’t many of us here at the moment, just those that live here, such as myself. Tonks is at home with the Weasleys. The rest are on… ‘assignments’.” He sat back, closing his tired eyes for a moment. Was it the full moon?

“I know what you’re thinking,” Lupin carried on, “but it’s mostly busy here at night. When the students...ought to be sleeping.” He winked at Harry. So he had noticed him that night? Harry opened his mouth to say something when Lupin spoke again.

“Sirius...left something for you.” Harry’s eyes widened.

“Really? What was it?” he asked eagerly.

“You were supposed to have his house but as it is currently indisposed…”

Harry sank back into his seat. “Oh, that.”

Lupin shook his head, and pulled a shiny object from his robes. Harry recognized it at once - the one-way mirror.

“I suppose he’d like for you to keep it, perhaps give the spare to a friend…” Lupin suggested. Harry took the mirror into his hands, staring at it briefly and recalling his moment of hope when he saw a face appearing in the glass. It had been Lupin’s face, not Sirius’s.

“I’m short of friends at the moment,” Harry replied bitterly, putting the mirror away. Lupin wisely chose to remain silent.

“So, Professor, d’you know where Hagrid is?” Harry asked quickly. He saw Lupin acquire his dreamy look again.

“Many people seem to be missing these days…”

Harry wondered what he meant by this, but didn’t ask. Lupin didn’t seem to be himself, and Harry decided not to stay much longer. Being there with him reminded both of them far too much of the friend they had shared but was now gone.

* * *


If Harry had thought that by hiding out in the library he’d be safe from his friends, he was wrong. This was made apparent when he caught sight of Hermione’s bushy hair amidst towering piles of books. All the other tables were also full for some reason, except one where Colin Creevey scribbled away fervently at rolls of parchment.

“Hullo, Colin.” Harry stared down soberly to meet Colin’s delighted eyes.

“Harry! Sit down, sit down!”

Reluctantly Harry dropped down onto a chair next to his, making sure he had his back to Hermione. It seemed everyone except her had abandoned their reading to gawk at him, and he avoided their piercing stares in annoyance.

“Harry, you’re a sixth year, right?”

Harry nodded slowly, raising his eyebrows. He didn’t know why Colin would ask such a thing, he already seemed to know more about Harry’s life than he himself did.

“Brilliant!” Colin shoved his rolls of parchment under Harry’s nose. “You can help me to prepare for my OWLS! I know they’re two months away, but…”


Harry’s eyes trailed off through the library. He felt slightly dazed, as if it were one of Professor Binns’ lessons. All of a sudden he saw Hermione leap up from her seat, dashing over to their table and smashing down her books in front of him as if to emphasize her words.

“Harry! I’ve got it! I’m becoming an Animagus!”




Chapter 16: Rats and Reunions
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Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Harry punches Ron and meets up with Lupin in the Headquarters... after which Hermione tells him she is to become an Animagus.


*Chapter 16*


RATS AND REUNIONS


As the month of April drew to a close the students of Hogwarts could gradually be seen discarding their cloaks and loosening their ties. Summer seemed to have kicked in earlier than usual; even Professor Trelawney was affected by it, as could be seen by the wafts of heavy fumes leaving the Divination Tower’s open windows in the afternoons.

For Harry this had come as a relief. Excepting Quidditch practice, he could now stay inside undisturbed while everyone else strolled around the grounds in their leisure time. However, on the morning of the 24th, he was forced outside again.

“We’re missing Defense Against the Dark Arts!” Neville cried out in excitement, as they stood huddled in the common room under the notice board.

It was common knowledge that Neville hated and feared Snape, so it didn’t come as a surprise that he’d be relieved to skip a period with him due to the Apparation lessons that they were going to take. Harry would miss both Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts, but he secretly thought the idea of spending the whole morning with Ron out in Hogsmeade would be worse.

“So, you’re going then?” Harry asked Neville.

He’d confided in him the week before that his grandmother had wanted him to take the Apparation lessons in his seventh year, because she didn’t think he would be capable yet.

“Yeah, she came around in the end,” Neville replied with a smile.

Harry noticed Neville’s round face was rather nervous, as if he was half expecting to fail, but Harry knew how well he could work when he was determined.

At eight O’ clock the crowd of Gryffindors started to shuffle towards the portrait hole, and Harry stood back waiting for them to leave.

“Harry, are you coming?” Hermione asked him uncertainly, turning a delicate shade of red.

After Harry's incident with Ron she had made half-hearted attempts to talk to him again, and Harry had caught her staring at him when she thought he wasn’t looking. However, Harry resisted her peace-making attempts, partially out of embarrassment and partially out of pride. He hadn’t wanted to lay his heart on his sleeve.

“No, you go ahead,” Harry muttered, pretending to read something on the notice board.

It was another one of Filch’s lists of forbidden items, not something he’d usually be caught looking at. Harry waited for Hermione’s footsteps to fade into the distance before he followed suit.

* * *


“Good morning to you all! I daresay you remember me from last year?” The elderly Professor Marchbanks called out over the crowd of assembled students, of which only two were seventh years. Apparently they had failed to obtain their licenses the year before. Harry was pleased to recognize a member from the Slytherin Quidditch team.

A few people muttered a “good morning” back, but most were staring uneasily at the Shrieking Shack, which was only a few feet away from them. Professor Marchbanks wrung her hands in anticipation, and pointed at an alarmed Neville.

“You!” She barked. “Why are we learning to Apparate out here in Hogsmeade?”

Neville reddened.
“Er…” He looked around wildly at the others.

Hermione came to his aid, raising her hand eagerly.

“Yes?” asked Professor Marchbanks.

“We need to learn it here because it isn’t possible to Apparate at Hogwarts, according to Hogwarts: A History.”

Professor Marchbanks's expression softened.
“Very good. Now,” she went on, addressing all of them, “over the course of the following two months we shall come down here at different times until I think you are sufficiently trained. Of course, some of you could take longer than others.”

She gave Neville a meaningful look.

“Apparating is no easy business, I highly doubt any of you will make the slightest progress over the fisrt few lessons. You see, it is different for each and every witch and wizard. One must personally discover how to to do it, but in the end all of you are magical beings and capable of Apparating. However, it is wandless magic and therefore more difficult.”

Neville paled at the words ‘no easy business’ and ‘difficult’, whereas Hermione seemed pleased at the thought of such a challenge.

“Please form into pairs so that we can begin.”

Before Harry could move safely next to Neville he was startled to find Hermione grabbing him by the arm, whispering, “You’re not getting away that easily!”

Harry stared.
From the corner of his eye he saw Ron clenching his fists, and nodded. They moved to an empty spot, and listened to Professor Marchbanks calling out instructions.

“I want you all to now focus on finding your centre.

Harry blinked. Finding his centre? He shot Hermione a questioning look, but saw she already had her eyes closed and brows furrowed in concentration.

* * *


After two pointless hours of standing on the hillside like idiots, Professor Marchbanks dismissed them and said they had half an hour in Hogsmeade before the carriages took them back to Hogwarts.

As far as Harry was concerned, he’d never be able to Apparate if every lesson went like this one. He wasn’t even sure what was meant by ‘centre’, let alone where that was in him. Hermione had squealed a couple of times and asked him if he noticed anything different about her, but apparently she still needed to find hers as well because on the walk back to the busy street of Hogsmeade she’d looked very disgruntled.

Harry was about to slip into Dervish and Banges unnoticed when he saw a familiar figure in a moleskin overcoat approaching them.

“’Arry!” Hagrid boomed, grinning at the sight of them.

Harry’s face broke out into a smile for the first time in weeks.

“Hagrid! Where have you been?”

“I’ll tell yeh inside, c’mon.” Hagrid beckoned Harry, Ron and Hermione into the Three Broomsticks. Harry saw Ron shooting him a sideward glance before hesitantly following them in.

The Three Broomsticks was much calmer than usual, Harry assumed this was because of the surly-looking trolls outside the entrance, and because it was Monday morning. Madam Rosmerta even looked slightly surprised when they walked in.

“So, what've yeh been up to?” Hagrid demanded, dropping into a chair that creaked dangerously under his weight.

“What have we been up to? Hagrid, you’ve been away for almost two weeks!” Hermione cried.

Hagrid coughed, scratching his bearded chin sheepishly.
“I have? Didn’ seem ter be that long.”

Hermione shook her head.
“You were visiting Grawp, weren’t you?” She sounded very disapproving. Hagrid raised his shovel-sized hands in a frustrated gesture.

“Wha’ did y'expect? It was bad enough leavin’ im on ‘is birthday, I had ter see he was alrigh’! Besides, Dumbledore gave me permission fer it.” He looked very pleased with himself.

“You took less time than when you last went,” Harry observed. Hagrid’s grin widened.

“He let me use a portkey. Great man he is, great man.” He probably knew that Hermione would be happier to accept his absence if it involved Dumbledore, and he was right. She looked more understanding already.

“What did you do when you were there?” Hermione asked. She took a sip from the fizzing butterbeer that Madam Rosmerta had just placed on their table.

“Oh, jus’ teachin’ Grawp some new words. Dumbledore’s put him with a family o’ giants more like ‘im, the short uns. He seems to like it, but I think he misses Hogwarts a little. He’s really improvin’, even makin’ full sentences. Hermy this and Hermy that…”

Hermione raised her eyebrows, blushing.

“Yeh know who I saw when I was there?” Hagrid turned to Ron, who hadn’t spoken a word and looked rather grumpy.

“Percy! Said he was givin’ them giants another try fer the Order, makin’ ‘imself useful.” Hagrid chuckled.

“If Olympe and me couldn’ do it, I don’ see how he could!”

Predictably, at the mention of Madame Maxime Hagrid’s eyes glazed over and he sat smiling dreamily for a full minute before turning to them again.

“Yer awfully quiet today! Somethin’ happened? A rat or a broomstick?” He winked, and Harry found himself wishing it could be that simple. Luckily Hagrid cleared his throat, getting to his feet.

“Got ter be getting’ ter me cabin! I don’ trust that Grubbly-Plank woman wi' me creatures…”

He gave them an off-hand wave and stamped out of the Three Broomsticks, passing Madam Rosmerta a few sickles on the way out. Almost immediately Ron got to his feet.

“Hermione, are you coming?” He avoided looking Harry in the eye. Hermione hesitated.

“I’ll stay here for a while, you go on,” she replied softly. Harry saw Ron’s ears turning slightly pink.

“Fine. I’ll see you at the castle.” Ron stormed out of the pub, a bit too dramatically, in Harry’s opinion. He fidgeted with his glasses, searching for something to say.

“Are you sure about wanting to become an Animagus?” He asked finally.

After her revelation in the library he had been thinking about what she had said, wondering why she had said it. It wasn’t the first thing he’d expected her to tell him after what had happened. Furthermore, why would Hermione want to be an Animagus? Hadn’t she seen what things came of it? Peter Pettigrew was a rather fine example. Perhaps she was just following her eternal idol, Professor McGonagall.

Hermione looked startled at his question, as if her thoughts had also been elsewhere.

“What? Oh yes, I’ve already decided.” An excited gleam filled her eyes. “I’ve already read all about it. I’m not allowed to be one yet, of course, seventeen is the youngest - it says so in Revised Magical Rules and Regulations, But it can’t hurt to start studying it, and then practise seriously once I’m overage!”

She sounded as if the prospect of so much studying was too good to be true.

“What d’you want to turn into?” Harry asked. For some reason, a chipmunk jumped into his mind.

“You don’t choose what to be!” Hermione replied seriously. “D’you think Peter Pettigrew chose to be a rat?”

Harry grinned. That served the dirty traitor just right. So the animals reflected traits of the wizard’s own personalities?

Suddenly Hermione looked sunken into thought.
“You know, something Hagrid said… Perpetual Magical Entities…” She jumped out of her seat, startling Madam Rosmerta who’d been dozing off at the counter.

“I’ve got to go Harry, I’ll see you at lunch!”

* * *


When Harry arrived in the staffroom after dinner, Snape was already there.

“Thought you’d be rid of me for the whole day, did you Potter? We’ll start right away, as you’ve been kind enough to show up late.” He looked murderous. Apparently being deprived of the pleasure of torturing his sixth year students that morning had made him livid.

“I’m not late, it’s barely even six,” Harry shot back, calmly shutting the door behind him and facing Snape. This was clearly the wrong thing to say. Snape’s wand arm shot forwards, and he hissed: “Legilimens!”

But Harry was ready. Two ears of training constantly had let him control his emotions, no matter how strong they might be. Even if he wasn’t capable of keeping Voldemort out of his head, the same didn’t count for Snape.

Before even the first image had escaped from Harry’s mind, he yelled: “Protego!”

Snape hadn’t been prepared for the swift response, and staggered back. Perhaps his own fury at Harry had betrayed him and strengthened the curse, leaving him vulnerable at the same time. Harry watched as everything turned black. As though watching a film, two cloaked figures appeared out of thin air walking side by side into the Forbidden Forest.

Snape raised his wand to stop it, but Harry yelled: “Legilimens!” and the images kept flowing, faster and faster every time.

A young man, surrounded by stooping servants, whispering, “You’ve done well bringing him to me, Severus…”

The scenario changed as quick as it had come, and Harry watched in shock as a seventeen year-old Sirius yelled:

“You killed Regulus!"

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A/N: Sorry it took long again.... I guess by now you're already suspicious of my "it'll be up in two days" promises, huh? My beta has gone on holiday for a week so I'll just post the scrappy version next time without waiting for her. (I think Anamarie knows what I mean, don't we share the same one?) Anyway, I hope you enjoyed yourselves, till next time and please r/r! I'll post after ten reviews
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Chapter 17: Violent Euphoria
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Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Hermione has decided to become an Animagus. Harry, during an Occlumency session with Snape, enters his memory and sees a sixteen year-old Sirius yelling: "You killed Regulus!"


*Chapter 17*


VIOLENT EUPHORIA


Sirius’ snarling face vanished into thin air as everything returned to normal, but his voice echoed over the walls of the staffroom and sent chills down Harry’s spine. When it had faded away the silence was even worse, interrupted by Snape breathing heavily through his nostrils.

“Using a shielding charm to defend yourself is one thing, Potter,” Snape hissed dangerously, “but to use the same spell on myself… I don’t know what to think. I can’t imagine where you learnt Legilimency, or how how long it took, but I do know that the Headmaster certainly didn’t intend for you to use it on me and he will not be happy to hear about this at all.”

Harry recoiled. He was as shocked with himself as Snape was, although when he performed the spell he hadn’t really thought of what he was doing. It was something that had come naturally to him, as though it wasn’t even himself – and Harry had a nasty feeling that the ability hadn’t come out of his own talent.

“I didn’t mean- I didn’t think…” Harry stuttered, trembling slightly as Snape loomed over him with an expression of intense loathing on his face.

He had seen Snape’s wrath when he’d uncovered his secrets before, but this had been almost unintentional. And what about Snape himself? He’d been poking around in Harry’s memories for almost two years!

“You didn’t think?”

Snape pointed a stiff arm at his desk, and Harry hesistantly took a seat. He was slightly apprehensive of the scolding that he’d receive.

“Not that it’s any of your business, Potter, but Sirius Black wasn’t as holy a person as you may like to think.”

Harry fought to control himself. He didn’t want to stay there and listen to a long Snape-speech about how nasty Sirius had been, and he was pretty sure that it could end with something worse than a dead beetle.

“Black pestered me from the moment he caught sight of me at Hogwarts, him and your big-headed father.” Snape’s lip curled into an unpleasant smile.

Harry imagined hitting him.

“Why do you think it was? For your father it was only a diversion to feed his ego, as you may well have seen last year, but Black hated me because I was so much like his brother.”

For once Harry was on the edge of his seat to hear what Snape had to say. He’d never spoken this openly about his life before; his life as Snivellus…

“Regulus Black, a weak, spoiled little boy, followed our group of Slytherin friends almost instantly, which only added to your godfather's loathing of him.”

Harry frowned. Snape had friends in his school days? It didn’t seem possible.

“When I was driven into service for the Dark Lord- ”

Snape’s voice faltered, as if he was only just realizing how much he was giving away. He shook his greasy head, and continued.

“Regulus wanted to join us of course. At first I was reluctant, but he wanted to get away from his brother’s bullying and become part of something powerful…”

Snape’s lips curled into a bitter smile that Harry had never seen on him before.

“Sirius Black placed all the blame of his foolish brother’s death on me, Potter, for recruiting him to the Death Eaters, but it wasn’t I who taunted him constantly, whether he was at school or at home. However, the memories of the mistreatment of his brother seemed to magically fade away when Black could hold me responsible - and make me pay.”

Snape’s face had recovered it’s old furious air, and his dark eyes flashed.

“Of course you know very well what happens next, don’t you Potter? Your godfather thought it would be amusing to take revenge by feeding me to a werewolf. Thankfully the tables are now turned, and I’m the one still alive to enjoy the pleasure of your company.”

Harry’s hands tightened around his wand. But as he saw the smirk on Snape’s face he decided it wasn’t worth it, and this was nothing more than a sad old man with a childhood grudge.


* * *



Weeks sped past, and with the new warm weather and the end of the year came something all the students at Hogwarts feared - the end of year exams. They were now less than a month away and this could be felt clearly under the heavy workload their teachers set them to - and the enormous pile of books that Hermione flipped through into late hours of the night.

Harry struggled with his Potions and Transfiguration, even more so because he had set himself to the task of not copying off Hermione’s homework. Whenever he wrote an essay of eight rolls of parchment or memorized the names of three hundred and eighty-two Ministers of Magic, Harry imagined what Ginny was going through with her upcoming OWLs and it made him feel slightly better.

As Hufflepuff had lost to Slytherin in their last match, Gryffindor still had a chance at the cup and Katie was fanatical about the practices. Their upcoming game against Slytherin was the last of that season, and it would define who won the cup. As expected Malfoy and his gang used the opportunity to bully Ron whenever they could. As the term ‘Weasley is our king’ no longer applied in their favour, they invented new ways of frightening him.

“…I’d watch out if I were you! Goyle’s beater’s bat isn’t one to be messed with, and if you come too close… POP! goes the Weasel.”

When it was finally Saturday morning and the scarlet and green crowds had assembled in the stands, Harry felt the familiar sensation of nerves thumping him in the stomach.

He lined up beside the other members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, returning Ginny’s encouraging smile.

“You know the rules,” Madam Hooch said shortly, “I want to see a clean game. No dirty tricks from any of you.” She sent the grimacing Slytherins a threatening glare.

It looked as if the Slytherins in the stands were actually hoping for a rough match, as could be heard from the catcalls and jeering in Harry’s direction. His flushed face swept over the crowd, and he recognized Professor Snape glaring back at him from the front row. Hastily Harry looked elsewhere, at the other people in the crowd. He noticed Luna, who he’d expected to wear her usual lion-costume, was missing.

“Hey,” he whispered in Ginny’s ear, “where’s Luna?”

Ginny shook her head sadly.

“It’s all over school,” she replied, “Nowhere to be found, for quite a while now. Merlin knows where she is.”

Harry frowned. He remembered what Professor Lupin had said, “many people seem to be missing these days…” Was that what he meant? Or was it someone else?

But at that moment Madam Hooch’s shrill whistle cut through the air, and Harry kicked off alongside his team members and the four magical balls.
Quidditch conditions were excellent, in contrast to their match against Hufflepuff. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but on the other hand, it was nowhere near peaceful.

“Watch out, Potter!” Malfoy jeered, zooming past Harry on his Nimbus Two Thousand and Three. It looked like a version of the original that had been severely tampered with because, as he flew alongside Harry, a row of sharp pointed spikes shot out from his broomstick and badly grazed Harry’s left leg.

“Ow!”

Harry swerved out of reach, clutching his injured leg in frustration. Madam Hooch was too busy telling Crabbe off for attempting to knock Patricia Bell off her broom to pay attention.

It looked like it was turning out to be a foul match indeed. Ron defended the three goalhoops bravely, and the Chasers were also giving their best. Patricia especially, was desperately trying to make up for her last blunder. Nevertheless, the Gryffindors were badgered with Bludgers wherever they went, and their own Beaters weren’t much help. Sloper and Kirke looked almost frightened at the rate with which the heavy, metal balls sped through the air.

“Pucey ties with a spectacular goal for Slytherin, the score is now 30-30! All we need now is for handsome, popular Draco Malfoy to catch the Snitch and the game is ours…”

Malfoy flashed Pansy a lazy grin from his sloth-like position on his broomstick. Apparently it came with shields as well as weapons, and everytime a Bludger came his way it would bounce off without even touching him.

“Im positive that’s not allowed…” Ron muttered bitterly, and Ginny shook her fist at Madam Hooch.

The elderly witch, however, had her hands full pulling Pucey off Katie- he’d stuck himself to her with a Permanent Sticking Charm.

With Katie out of the running and two useless Beaters, Gryffindor was soon straggling behind.

“70-30! Go Slytherin!” Pansy called out gleefully in her magically amplified voice.

But she suddenly spotted something that made her constant rattling comments stop. Malfoy had caught his robes in one of the spikes that protruded from his broomstick, and apparently lost control of it. He spiralled down to the ground, shrieking something to Crabbe and Goyle - but it was lost in the deafening thud as he hit the ground.

“Nooooo!” Pansy yelled, and threw herself out of the stands (she was on the front row) onto the pitch.

“Draco!” Her voice boomed, and some of the Gryffindors began to giggle nervously.

Through all the confusion and sounds that filled the air, Harry had managed to focus on finding the one thing that wasn’t apparent to anyone else: the Golden Snitch.

He saw it hovering close to the ground, not far from where Pansy stood at the goalposts, and urged his Firebolt forewards. Then everything happened very quickly. Goyle, in a stroke of genius no one would have expected from him, saw Harry diving for the Snitch and sent a Bludger soaring his way.

“Harry! Duck!” Ron called out, and Harry pressed himself tightly against his broomstick.

He felt something grazing the top of his head, and watched through blurred eyes as Ron spun his Cleansweep around and hit the Bludger with the back end of it as hard as he could.

What happened next Harry wasn’t sure - all he knew was that the brightly shining Snitch was suddenly safely in his fist, and he heard something colliding with someone with a sickening crunch.

“I’ve got the Snitch!” Harry yelled, raising his hand high in the air and beaming down at the crowd.

Suddenly he saw what was causing the moans from the Slytherins. Squashed against a wall at the end of the pitch, with what was unmistakeably a Bludger lodged in her stomach, was Pansy Parkinson. But the next moment the Gryffindors had caught wind of Harry’s catch, and screamed and applauded in delight.

A wave of happiness washed over him, one that he hadn’t known since his third year. He flew slowly to the ground, where his team members cheered and threw their arms around his neck.

“Harry! Harry! Harry!”

Their chanting filled the stands, and Slytherin’s attempts to drown it out with booing was unsuccessful. Harry grinned broadly from ear to ear, watching Malfoy and Pansy squirming on the ground and feeling the heavy golden cup in his hands. Nothing could spoil the moment.

Katie dragged herself to him, with Pucey unconscious, still attached to her back.

“Harry…” she panted, tears of joy in her eyes, “You did it! You won us the cup! I’m making you next year’s Captain, Harry.”

In the fervour of the moment that followed even Ron clapped Harry on the back, and he fell quiet to assimilate how incredible he felt. He had won the Cup again, the whole school cheered him on. But, most importantly, Ron had saved him from that Bludger.



Chapter 18: Finding Your Centre
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Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Harry discovers that Snape is willing to deal out information from his past, as long as it can make Harry miserable- but he's cheered up soon enough when Gryffindor wins the Quidditch Cup.

*Chapter 18*


FINDING YOUR CENTRE


Harry’s euphoric feeling lasted for at least two weeks, excluding the times when he was bent over books in the library or helping Hagrid tame his new Doxies to take the weeds out of his pumpkin patch (their efforts simply resulted in the ruination of a couple dozen pumpkins).

But whenever he entered the Gryffindor common room or sat down at their table in the Great Hall, the floaty, happy sensation returned to him. It was simply impossible not to smile when people clapped or cheered his name, and the feeling of having beat the Slytherins at the Cup of the second time was just too good to be true. Ron, far from showing any jealousy, seemed to have warmed up to him slowly and was beginning to acknowledge his existence again; that was at least something.

There was also the fact that no one had time to spare for petty arguments- the common room was quiet those days, other than occasional frustrated sighs or the slamming of books on Hermione’s part. She stated that she “had relaxed too much that year and was now paying the consequences”. Harry hadn’t exactly noticed her relaxing at any point, but he wasn’t about to argue since that could be met with a snappy response these days.

Twice a week the elderly professor Marchbanks added to their stress, when the sixth years grouped on the edge of Hogsmeade (Hermione still muttering the ingredients of a Youthening Potion under her breath) to practice Apparition. As it had been over a month since their first lesson, some people were making an improvement and Harry now understood more or less what was expected of him.

Hermione frustrated the others by disappearing into thin air every once and again, returning after a few minutes – still muttering things like “…add three ounces of powdered Frezelbush and stir clockwise…”

Harry was greatly annoyed at the fact that he was the only one, apart from Neville, who still hadn’t found his centre. This feeling increased when one afternoon Neville shocked everyone as his stomach started glowing a deep red colour. It was visible even through his robes, and the horrified look on Neville’s face showed that he didn’t know what was happening any more than they did.

“That’s fine, no need for the commotion,” Professor Marchbanks soothed, patting Neville on the shoulder. His glowing belly faded slowly.

“It’s happened before, in very rare cases, that the centre of a wizard shows itself if it feels there’s no possibility for it to be discovered otherwise…” She gave him a small smile. “Longbottom’s centre is clearly his stomach.”

Parvati Patil giggled.

“That leaves only you to find yours, Harry,” Ron pointed out, rubbing the end on his long nose.

Harry groaned miserably, watching the other students with their faces screwed up in concentration, occasionally cheering if they thought they had come close to Apparating. They probably wondered why on earth he, the one from the prophecy, was the only one that still hadn’t found his centre. Even the bulldozer from the Slytherin Quidditch team had found his!

A sharp pang in his scar made Harry tumble backwards and nearly fall onto the ground. Just what he needed; Voldemort feeling happy again. Who had he killed this time? But Harry realized that the pain didn’t carry any of his emotions; he didn’t seem to be feeling anything at the time. Except maybe… hope?

Harry shook the thoughts away, closing his eyes and concentrating on himself again. He had already tried every bodypart he owned from his toes up to his hair. It was useless…Maybe he was part- squib…

It was hard to focus when his scar was twinging so much. It felt like a dozen needles pricking him in the head, and Harry muttered irritably through gritted teeth: “Go away…”

Something seemed to shift inside him, as if his insides had been removed and he was feather-light. The pain in his scar stopped abruptly, but only for an instant. Then Harry opened his eyes, forgetting to breathe.

The warm summer air washed into his face, and he saw that the hill with the Shrieking Shack that had overshadowed him was gone. Hogsmeade was gone, and so were his classmates. Instead, he was faced with a single, derelict, house. It stood a long way from the pleasant village below, of which Harry could make out rooftops and the low rumble of a Muggle tractor. He was somewhere in the countryside.

The initial shock gone, Harry turned back to the house in front of him and pulled out his wand, feeling steadily more suspicious of the situation. It reminded him uncomfortably of the time he had been transported to a graveyard with Cedric, and returned with a corpse.

But this was different. Hermione had told him that the first time she’d Apparated she had also landed in the middle of nowhere, only to discover that it was beach where her family would go when she was little. Apparently your first trips were entirely at random or subconscious.
But how on earth was he supposed to get back? He had no idea how he had landed here in the first place, and even less how to return. It was an uneasy sensation; here he was, all alone in some remote Muggle village, and his scar was still twinging.

Suddenly the house caught his attention again. It had the looks of having been a fine place a long time ago; there were flowers in the overgrown yard and a colourful mailbox, with a sign that he couldn’t make out. But the house itself was in ruins.

A side of it looked as though blown to pieces, shattered glass and bricks littering the floor. The other side, however, looked oddly intact. There was still a front door and a single window beside it, unharmed in the rubble. A faint green glow emanated from it…

Harry squinted. The house was several feet away, and he couldn’t see clearly, but a moment back he’d thought he had seen someone moving behind that window…

A chill crept up Harry’s spine. He was away from the Dursleys, away from Hogwarts and Dumbledore. Completely vulnerable. The feeling of sharing his thoughts with Voldemort in some way that entire year came back to him more strongly than ever. What would happen to him if Voldemort caught wind of his presence in this isolated place?

Closing his eyes again, Harry concentrated with all his might on getting back. Back to Hogsmeade… But how? He didn’t know his centre. The only thing he had been doing at the time he Apparated was cursing his stupid scar- did that mean his scar was his centre?

In frustration Harry kicked the pile of pebbles infront of him. His foot was left suspended in the air, the sensation of emptiness sweeping over him again. He was going back…

* * *


Professor Marchbanks, rather than having been pleased at his progress, was furious.

“You know that you had to inform me as soon as you found your centre, Potter! You needed to be tagged, and monitored, on your first Apparition! Could have been splinched… If the Ministry hears of this…”

Harry had kept a deaf ear and nodded mutely while the witch’s ranting washed over him. He was too pleased with himself to care much for what she had to say. Not only was he no longer the class idiot, but now he had the reassurance of popping out of the Dursleys house whenever he wanted, regardless of what Dumbledore had to say about it. That feeling was almost better than winning the Quidditch cup.

Hermione disapproved of his Apparition exploit as well, of course. But he hadn’t received a speech from her, as he would have expected. She was sinking deeper into her books day after day, and seemed to be avoiding Ron and Harry. She’d answer in monosyllables when spoken to, and could be heard saying things like “…three bonus points for the side effects of Shrinking Powder…Three…” It gave her a slightly mad look, a little bit like Sirius when he had left Azkaban.

Ron would watch her from afar with raised eyebrows, shake his head, and tell Harry about the Chuddley Cannon’s position in the league. They were careful never to mention Hermione, or Harry’s punch, in eachother’s vicinity. Things still didn’t feel the same.

One unbearably warm night Harry woke up in cold sweat, and lifted himself up from his fourposter, deciding have one last look into his books. The final exams started the next day, and he still wasn’t entirely comfortable with his knowledge on Transfiguration. The human-animal spells they’d been performing were extremely difficult and Harry thought that it wouldn’t hurt to go over them again.

Not wanting to wake anyone up, he grabbed his books and descended to the common room.

“Hermione?”

A tangled bushy head raised itself up from a table. Harry carefully removed the piece of parchment that was still stuck to Hermione’s face.

“You really should get some sleep,” he said uncertainly.

She shook her head in a daze, slumping onto the couch.
“I can sleep all summer if I want to. At moment I really should…” Whatever she had to do was interrupted by a long yawn. “Perhaps you’re right…”

Harry grinned, sitting down next to Hermione. He pulled the books out from her hands and pushed her back gently.

“You probably won’t make it up the stairs. Just sleep, I’ll put a Silencing charm on myself while I study if that’ll help you.”

Hermione leaned back into the cushions uncertainly. She glanced at him with an expression of fear and unease on her face. Was she afraid to be alone with him? She probably knew he fancied her. Of course she did, it was obvious.

“It’s actually rather late, I think I’ll manage with these Homorphus Spells without studying any more…”

Harry lifted himself up from his seat, but felt Hermione tugging at the back of his robes.

“Wait… Didn’t you tell me you were having problems turning your hand into a spider?”

“Er… Yeah.”

The only reason he had problems with that particular spell was because Ron’s whimpering and shivering at the sight of the spider was far too distracting to get anything done.

“I’ll help you, then.”

Harry sat back down and they went through a series of wand-waving excercises and Incantations, until Harry got it right.

“Thanks a lot, Hermione,” Harry said, “Now go to sleep.

Hermione stared down at the floor, a frown on her face. She was being very strange; opening her mouth and then closing it again.

“Er… Do you want to tell me something?”

Hermione blinked. She shook her head, and then nodded. Harry’s eyebrows went further up into his forehead.

“Alright then… But promise you won’t laugh at me…” She hesitated. “I think- I know it’s very selfish of me, but I think I was almost happy when you hit Ron that day… I really hate myself for it, but I was just so glad that you liked me… I had no idea.”

Harry turned crimson. He thought he could actually hear his own heart pounding in his ears.

“You were… glad?”

Hermione was rather red herself.
“This should never have happened… We were fine, last year. I should have just…Even Viktor would have been better than all this…”

What was she going on about?

“I don’t know what I want, Harry. That Rita Skeeter woman was right, I really do play with your affections, don’t I?” A tear rolled down her cheek and Harry felt miserable. “I don’t want to tell Ron that I don’t like him anymore… Because that wouldn’t be true. But at the same time you… Why do you have to be so brave and heroic all the time? That makes it impossible for me to-” Hermione shook her head abruptly, slamming a book open in front of her.

“Enough of this, I’ve got to study.” Even she could tell that her voice lacked conviction.

A/N: Leave a Review, please! And make nasty comments such as 'this sucks' or 'I've had better' if you can- thanks!




Chapter 19: Godric's Hollow
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Author’s Note:

As you might have guessed I’ve reached a critical point in this story… the “climax”. It’s a scary part for me, and I’m sure for all fanfiction authors out there, because I don’t know if it’ll be good enough, if the plot fits correctly, or if you’ll all hate it… *shudders*. That’s frightening, if you ask me.

However, I’d like to thank all of you for the reviews I’ve gotten for the last chapter (40, wow!) and I hope you’ll keep helping me… Constructive criticism always helps, I like to know when I’m doing something wrong… Please point it out, even though most things will be sorted out in the end.

That brings me to the reason for this note- I’m moving, from Peru to Vietnam, on the other side of the world. That means I won’t have regular access to a computer for 2 months, while I'm on holiday in Europe, searching for a house, etc. My plan is to write as much as I can now although I doubt I'll finish- and save it on a diskette. Then I'll update whenever I can push my relatives away from the screen.

I'll post the remaining 6 chapters whenever I can.. I can't guarantee anything... If you check my story every two weeks, I'll post or leave an Author's Note, I promise. I'm sorry about this.. I don't like it either, believe me.

But when things are back to normal I'll get back on track and possibly post a sequel: Harry Potter and the Forest of Shadows.
I love you all!

-Sophie

ps. Want something to read while I'm gone, from the boredom of not having me? (mwuaha) these are some of my personal favs:

The Love of the Damned by Scarlet
Ancient Runes: Secrets and Lies by Scarlet
Harry Potter and the Darkest Abyss by felidae
Harry Potter and the Second War by Anamarie
The Road not Taken by TomFoolery


__________________________________________________________________________________

Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Gryffindor has won the Quidditch Cup and Hermione has revealed her feelings for Harry. In other words, he's a lot happier than he has been in a long time.


*Chapter 19*


GODRIC'S HOLLOW


Harry didn’t get much sleep that night. He went over Hermione’s words again and again, wondering why he didn’t feel happier about it and what they were supposed to do next. She hadn’t said that she liked him better than Ron, or that she wouldn’t be with him anymore. All she had done was put him into a more difficult position that made it harder for him to face Ron, just when they seemed to be getting along again.

He considered the possibility of forgetting about Hermione completely, but as he twisted and turned in his fourposter he also knew that he wouldn’t be able to if that meant he’d never know what it was like to kiss her.

He was astonished at how different this situation was from his farcical relationship with Cho - remembering that awkward kiss made his insides churn, but surely this situation was very different. He and Hermione had been friends for years… If possible, it would be even more embarrassing.

Harry buried his head in his pillow. What if he really was bad at kissing? What if he was…worse than Ron?

The thought was almost too embarrassing and horrible to bear. Harry tried to push it to the back of his mind and sleep, but the thoughts kept coming.

On Monday morning Harry dragged himself down to breakfast, along with the other Gryffindors who weren’t looking very bright and cheerful either. The fifth and seventh years especially looked rather green and barely touched their food, in light of the OWLs and NEWTs that awaited them.

“Crumple-Horned Snorkacks love bacon,” said a squeaky voice beside Harry, and he turned around in surprise.

“Luna?”

It wasn’t Luna sitting next to him, but Patricia Bell, heartily munching her breakfast. Of course, Ravenclaws weren’t allowed on their table in the first place.

“No, she’s still missing,” Patricia replied gloomily. She swallowed her food and added, “I just like to remember her by repeating some of the things she’s told me. I suppose some of her wisdom rubbed off on me.”

“Some of her madness, more like,” Ron muttered to Harry in an undertone. He seemed to be in an especially good mood since he would be missing the first exam of that day, Potions. Harry envied him beyond words and wished, once again, that he could be Ron.

The dungeons were unspeakably hot and stuffy, and Harry felt he had never been happier to leave a place before. Snape had been insufferable for the whole two hours, accusing him twice of cheating and moving him to a desk all the way at the back of the class, miles away from Hermione. It was probably thanks to Snape’s desire to prove his hatred of Harry again, and also because Harry had left Snape’s favourite student, Malfoy, in the Hospital Wing.

The idea of Malfoy and Pansy stuck with Madam Pomfrey for all that time, feeding them disgusting rememedies, was one of the few things that kept Harry going.

That afternoon was spent in a slightly more relaxing fashion; with the Hufflepuffs at their Care of Magical Creatures exam. Hagrid had devised a special (but unpleasant) cross-country for them, right through the Forbidden Forest. They had to find their way through, occasionally aided by or avoiding the creatures that Hagrid had placed at strategic places. Apparently he and the Centaurs were back on good terms, after he’d cured their herd of a Doxflee infestation.

Tuesday and Wednesday’s exams were a lot less exciting, since Charms was depressing (performing Saddening Charms) and History of Magic was simply History of Magic. Luckily Harry had already read ‘Quidditch Through the Ages’ out of interest, so he scored well on that section of Binns’ exam. At midnight they all trouped to the North Tower again for Astronomy, but unfortunately there were no thrilling intervals involving break-ins into Hagrid’s cabin.

Herbology was easy since Professor Sprout was caught by a mutant Devil’s Snare in the middle of the exam and Neville quickly whispered all the answers to Harry, but Transfiguration, which came right after, was a complete nightmare. They had to turn themselves into sheep, but Harry’s hands never completely transformed into hooves and Ron’s wool was bright red.

The last day of their final exams was Thursday, and luckily all they had was Defense Against the Dark Arts. Harry didn’t think he’d done too badly - with the exception of mixing Grindelwald’s name up with Gryffindor for some reason and having to cross out half a scroll of parchment. Harry was sure Snape would use it as an excuse to fail him.

The last hours of that day were spent exactly the way Harry had wanted them to be spent. He and Ron laid casually under a tree next to the lake, commenting on how one of the clouds looked like Umbridge and not thinking about Hermione or anything else. She was away taking her Ancient Runes and Arithmancy exams, which both sounded very difficult, and they were glad not to be a part of them.

Unfortunately on Friday, a day that they had thought would be untouched and free for them to do as they wanted, the sixth years were called to assemble at the Transfiguration classroom. Nobody knew what they were doing there, but they stopped their enquiries abruptly when McGonagall swept into the room. Harry suddenly spotted Malfoy in the crowd, looking oddly pleased with himself considering that he’d looked like a complete idiot just a week before. Luckily, Pansy wasn’t with him, meaning that she was probably still in the Hospital Wing.

“Good morning, students,” McGonagall began, “I’m sure you’re wondering why we have deprived you of your precious day off, but this shall be explained momentarily. Please take a seat.”

There was a brief rumble of chairs scraping over the floor, then everyone watched the stern witch in anxious silence.

“It is not common for Hogwarts to implement new material into the curriculum, but in light of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s return Professor Dumbledore has decided that seventh years will take an additional course, the CAT.”

Parvati giggled and Padma nudged her with an elbow.

“Cat?” Ron mumbled, an expression of disgust on his face. Harry was sure that he was thinking of Crookshanks.

“It is not, as you may assume, a Defense Against the Dark Arts course. The Critical Aid Team has been designed so that once a week, seventh year students will assemble at Hogsmeade and from there Apparate in small groups to areas of need.”

McGonagall paused, and Harry thought he saw something that resembled disapproval behind her square glasses. Didn’t she agree with Dumbledore on this?

“By this we mean Muggle residences that are under attack, or have been attacked, by Voldemort and his helpers.”

People around Harry stirred uneasily and he watched their faces fill with concern. It certainly sounded dangerous, going out to fight Death Eaters and help Muggles, but Harry couldn’t help but smile. It was just the sort of thing he’d been wanting to do.

McGonagall tried to look sympathetic but failed miserably.

“You will be accompanied by a professor at all times,” she said, but no one looked too happy about this. What if they assigned someone like Lockhart or Quirrel?

As if trying to ease the tension that filled the classroom, McGonagall waved her wand and sent pieces of parchment soaring over their heads, onto their desks.

“In addition to the obligatory CAT classes, please choose a minimum of five and a maximum of seven NEWT classes for your seventh year.”

Harry looked down at his parchment. He and Ron exchanged apprehensive glances, then grabbed their quills.

Transfiguration

Potions

Charms

Arithmancy

Muggle Studies

Herbology

Care of Magical Creatures

Defense Against the Dark Arts

Ancient Runes

Divination

History of Magic

CAT

Please do not elect any new courses.


Harry automatically ticked Defense Against the Dark Arts, and then he paused. A minimum of five…He needed Transfiguration and Potions to become an Auror, so he ticked those too. Then he chose Care of Magical Creatures, out of support for Hagrid, and Charms. That was better than History of Magic or Herbology, anyway.

“What have you got?” he asked Ron, glancing sideways.

Ron had exactly the same things as he did, except that instead of Potions he had ticked Herbology.

“We won’t have any more Binns, mate,” Ron said with a grin.

Hermione looked as though she was having a hard time choosing. She already had Arithmancy, her favourite subject, Transfiguration, Potions, Defense Against the Dark Arts, Ancient Runes, Herbology and Charms, but then she paused. Her quill was stuck half-way between History of Magic and Care of Magical Creatures.

“What are you waiting for?” Harry asked. “That’s not a difficult decision, is it?”

Hermione took a deep breath.

“No,” she said, “it isn’t.”

She ticked History of Magic, and rolled up her piece of parchment. Ron and Harry watched her incredulously.

“Hermione,” Ron said, slowly and loudly, “what are you doing? Abandoning Hagrid?!"

Hermione avoided his eyes.

“I’ve just thought… In order for me to dedicate time to the freeing of house-elves, it’s more important for me to learn about the history of certain Ministry laws and policies rather than how to feed a Flobberworm.” She shrank back, as if afraid of their response.

“How can you leave Hagrid’s lesson for… for… that boring old ghost? We never learn anything in his class!” Harry cried.

“Really? Maybe if you paid attention instead of sleeping, you’d see that we do learn a lot more from him than from Hagrid… Half the time he’s absent…and- and-" Hermione stammered, finally getting to her feet and running out of the classroom.

Ron tapped his finger to his forehead.

“Exams have made her bonkers, if you ask me.”

* * *


Hermione appeared even more 'bonkers' when the following day, Saturday, she celebrated their last Hogsmeade trip by taking with her a large stack of posters that read things like “Free the Unfortunate” and "Good Wizards Fight for a House Elf's Right".

Along with her had come a very unhappy Dobby, who hadn’t been able to refuse when she’d asked him to help her promote her house-elf campaign. He did a very good job indeed looking like a mistreated elf, as Hermione pasted the house-elf posters over the grim faces of the escaped Death Eaters. All the while Dobby buried his face in his hands, murmuring something about his reputation.

Luckily for him the campaign was interrupted when professor McGonagall came to pull Hermione away.

“We need to discuss your exam results, Miss Granger,” McGonagall said sternly, and Hermione paled.

Harry was rather sure she’d beaten some sort of record with her score and that McGonagall was going to congratulate her.

“No… You… Not going, Miss…” Dobby squeaked, shaking his head. His large, bat-like ears flapped madly.

“You… Not…” He banged his head against the wall repeatedly, shrieking and shredding one of the posters that Hermione had just carefully placed there.

People paused to stare at Dobby, and Harry pulled him back by the shoulders. Professor McGonagall, looking alarmed, motioned for Hermione to follow her.

“That was really… weird.” Ron panted, while helping to restrain the frenzied Dobby. When they finally let go of him he ran all the way down the street of Hogsmeade, and into Madam Puddifoots. Ron shook his head.

“Poor thing. I s’pose Hermione made him go mad, with all her house-elf ranting.” He looked around cautiously.

“Hey Harry, now that it’s just the two of us, what do you say we go into the Hog’s Head for some Firewhiskey? Hermione doesn’t have to know about it…”

Harry grinned, shrugging.

“Sure, whatever suits you.” He was far too happy that Ron was speaking to him again to argue.

As they crossed the street, a couple of Slytherins pointed at him and sniggered. Harry caught the word “prophecy”, and flushed.

“I’m… Sorry about that,” Ron began awkwardly, avoiding his eyes. To his surprise, Harry burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing… I’m sorry I gave you a bloody nose.”

Ron grunted darkly in response, though he looked slightly amused, and they entered the Hog’s Head. There they were met with the bartender - whose eyes narrowed as they came in - and a group of Slytherins.

“Oh no,” Ron muttered, spotting Josephine and Malfoy amongst them, “d’you reckon we’d better go?"

Before they could answer Josephine had stood up and walked over to them, looking uncomfortable. Ron looked positively frightened at what she had to say.

“Ron, I need to talk to you… I need to apologize. Would you come with me?”

Ron and Harry exchanged appalled glances, but finally Ron followed Josephine out of the Hog’s Head and into the light outside. Harry glanced around uncomfortably at the Slytherins and the brooding bartender, not sure of what to do with himself. He hoped Ron and Josephine would hurry up.

As if in answer to his plea, Hermione’s bushy head popped around the door of the pub and she entered hesitantly.

“I thought you’d be here…Where’s Ron?”

She glanced at the Slytherins without much interest and sat down on a mouldy couch next to the fireplace.

“He’s gone with Josephine… What did McGonagall say? Are you alright?” Harry asked, noticing that she was rather pale and had dark circles under her eyes.

“Oh, nothing… I passed all my exams…” Hermione replied, looking disinterested on the subject of Ron going somewhere with Josephine. “And I’m a bit tired, that’s all.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. If that was all McGonagall had to say, why had she taken her away in private? Maybe her wool wasn’t fluffy enough in the exam, as she’d been telling everyone?

“D’you want a drink?” the bartender growled.

Harry turned to shake his head at the elderly man with a silvery moustache. “No, thank you.”

The bartender furrowed his brows and continued to wipe the butterbeer glasses. Harry never felt very much at ease in the Hog’s Head, and he wished Hermione would finish what she needed to say. He was extremely grateful when the bunch of Slytherins got up and passed them, talking in loud voices and sneering at Harry.

Hermione’s expression remained the same.

“I’m sorry about this whole year, Harry.”

Harry flattened his hair, smiling nervously.

“It was…stupid of me, to be with Ron, when you’re the one I really like,” Hermione went on, in an odd voice. “So I’ve decided…I’d rather be with you.”

Harry blinked, flustered. He felt heat rising to his cheeks and glanced at the nosy bartender, who was still watching them.

“With me?” he asked stupidly.

Hermione nodded slowly, standing up and taking his hand. Harry shuffled his feet in discomfort, thinking desperately of something to say. He was so happy, but so uncomfortable at the same time. Hermione had changed her mind very quickly about not liking Ron. If only she weren’t acting so strange…

“And I have something to show you…” she said, pulling him closer to the fireplace. “Will you come with me?”

Harry recognized a small pouch of Floo powder in her other hand.

“By Floo? But Fudge said… If Voldemort is watching the network-”

“Who are you going to believe? Fudge, or me?” Hermione asked.

Finally her expression softened and she smiled.
“Just come with me. This is very important. Don’t you want to be with me?”

Harry stood motionless, staring into her eyes for a moment, and then took the Floo powder that she put into his hand.

“Follow me…” Hermione whispered, and stepped into the fireplace that now glowed green.

“Godric’s Hollow!” she cried out, and Harry stepped back, startled. He watched as the flames rose and swallowed her into nothingness.

What could Hermione possibly have to show him at the place that his parents died?

From a corner of his eye he saw the bartender sweeping out of sight and into a door behind the counter.
He was all alone… He had to follow her… She’d said it was important, and what else could he do but believe her? She’d always been right in the past.

Imagining Hermione’s warm smile as he came out from the other end, Harry threw his Floo powder into the flames, stepping inside. They danced around him happily, as if to give him the strength for what he needed to do.

“Godric’s Hollow!” Harry yelled.

Just as the world around him started to swirl, he saw a heated Ron racing to the fireplace, panting and madly waving his hands. What was he trying to do?

Harry frowned, but kept his arms firmly by his sides and closed his eyes to protect them from the soot. Finally the dizziness stopped, and Harry looked up. Staring back at him were two red, snake-like eyes.

* * *




Chapter 20: Too Late
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A/N: SORRY!!!!!!!! You have no idea how much trouble I went through to write this chapter! I have no time, there are computers with viruses surrounding me, internet falling out, cousins on msn all day, my beta is on strike (!) and lots of stuff was lots. Therefore this is not the best Ive ever written and I sincerely apologize, for the crappy work and the unspeakably long wait. This will all be re-edited!

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Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Exams are over, but things are only beginning for Harry and his friends when they spend a day in Hogsmeade that is much stranger than it already seems... Harry is led to the Hog's Head by Hermione, and follows her by Floo Powder to a place where red eyes stare back at him...

*Chapter 20*


TOO LATE


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Harry fell out of the fireplace, slamming onto cold, stone floor face-first. His glasses skittered out infront of him, and he hurriedly slipped them back on.

The room came into focus. Dusty brick walls enclosed the small dark space and Harry saw a single door and window opposite the fireplace. A long crack ran through one of the walls, ending in a crumbling hole at the top. And in the centre of it all, leaning against the only object in the whole room, was Lord Voldemort.

“How predictable,” he said softly, fingering his wand with his long spidery hands and taking a step forwards.

Light fell through the crack in the wall onto his face, and Harry shuddered as he recognized the pale man with slits for a nose and piercing red eyes.
He’d been trapped, once again.

Voldemort smiled, and Harry realized he looked slightly different from what he remembered. As if he was… Younger, somehow.

Knowing that in these situations talking did little to help him, Harry remained silent. He watched Voldemort step away from what he had been leaning against, revealing a tall, marble statue of some kind, with a hollow basin at the top.

Where is Hermione? Harry wondered to himself, staggering to his feet. Before he could draw his wand, Voldemort had already waved his own and Harry felt as if pulled by an invisible force, onto the marble object. The situation was strangely familiar…

“Bind him, Nagini. Him and the Mudblood too. ”

Harry struggled, but found that he was still incapable of moving, and panicked when he heard Voldemort’s enormous snake sliging over the stone floor towards him. It wrapped it’s scaly body around Harry, suffocating him and crushing his ribs. Someone whimpered at the other side.

“Hermione?” Harry whispered through gritted teeth.

The moments before in the Hog’s Head, that seemed so far away now, came rushing back at him.
Voldemort’s cold, high-pitched laughter echoed off the walls.

“Still worried about your Mudblood? A true son of your foolish father.”

Harry recoiled. Voldemort knew about Hermione. He’d been too obvious, too outspoken about his feelings for her and now he knew. And he would kill her.

“At least I’m not a coward!” Harry cried out.

He had to stall for time, so that he could find a way out of that place. He had to keep Voldemort talking. And the best way to do that, was hurting his pride.

“A coward?” Voldemort stiffened.

“Why else would I be tied up here?” Harry demanded. “You’re afraid of me. You’re afraid I’ll kill you, like the Prophecy says.”

He only knew about the first part of it, after all.
Harry felt a hand squeezing his arm.

“Don’t make him angry!” Hermione whispered.

But Voldemort was smiling again. He circled them slowly, his long black cloak trailing over the floor. Whenever Harry lost him from view, he felt chills creep up his spine.

“Do you really think I don’t know?” he asked softly. “You can’t lie to Lord Voldemort, foolish boy.”

Harry was drenched in cold sweat. He had to clear his mind, so that Voldemort wouldn’t know what he was thinking. But how could he practice Occlumency when he was moment away from a sure death?

“Closing your mind to me won’t help…” There was a hint of satisfaction in his cold voice. “The connection that I have long cursed, your scar, are things I’ve realized recently are useful. Without them I wouldn’t know what you are thinking, what Dumbledore is planning…”

Voldemort paused, piercing his eyes into Harry’s. His scar burned violently, but the snake held him in place and he could do no more than grit his teeth and bear it.

“Ever since I possesed you in the Department of Mysteries, it seems, the connection has only gotten stronger… I manage to keep you from reading my thoughts most of the time, but yours are as easy for me to access as Wormtail is to cry…”

His scarlet pupils flicked to Hermione and back onto Harry's face.

“That includes the Mudblood, of course, as well as the Prophecy.”

Harry’s heart sank. Not only was he mortally humilliated and frightened by the idea that Voldemort had been looking into his head for the entire year, knowing about Hermione and things that were far more important, but he now knew about the Prophecy.
This time he wouldn’t escape.

What Voldemort was saying did make sense, it explained why at crucial moments throughout the year, talking to Ron about Hermione, or Apparating, he had felt his scar burn. As a reminder that Voldemort was watching? Or was it because he was pleased to uncover things important to him?

But why, then, had his scar prevented him from falling off the stone windowsill in the Owlery that day? Voldemort had to want him dead- unless he still needed him for something else…

What about his strange dreams? Harry remembered the two that had left the geatest impression on him, one of Hermione’s face behind the Veil, and the other one, of the Green Flame Torch…

Voldemort sneered, and Harry knew that he could see exactly what he was thinking.

“I must admitt, I never counted on there being another person to use as bait that would prove as efficient as Black.”

Harry felt a surge of anger within him.

Voldemort wouldn’t stop until he murdered everyone that Harry cared about.

“Let Hermione go… You’ve got what you wanted, I’m here, you don’t need her anymore…”

Something about the look in Voldemort’s blood-red eyes told him he was wrong.

“I doubt you’re in a position to be ordering anyone around, Harry Potter,” he laughed.

“Unfortunately two years ago, I realized that you could not be placed under the Imperius curse easily… I couldn’t take you to this horrible house on your own. The Mudblood, however, was easy to place under a faithful Death Eater’s curse… And, using the information so generously provided for me, it was even easier to let her lure you away under false pretences…”

Harry fought for air. Worse, even, than being spied on continually, was to be so painfully tricked… Voldemort had planned everything, and nothing of what Hermione had said was true… No wonder she had been acting so strangely. He should have seen right through it, the real Hermione would never have said the things she did.

“I’m sorry Harry…” Hermione whispered behind him. “I don’t think Professor McGonagall was herself either…” Her voice shook.

Harry recalled Dobby banging his head wildly against the wall of Hogsmeade, as he always did when he wanted to tell Harry something but couldn't. But how could McGonagall possibly be a loyal Death Eater? It didn't make any sense. And Harry was tired of Voldemort's games.

"Why are you wasting your time talking? Just kill me and get it over with, Tom!"

There was a brief moment of satisfaction after Harry addressed Voldemort in the way that Dumbledore had done.

Suddenly he felt very stupid. He wasn’t Dumbledore, and he was no match for an enraged Voldemort. He had to watch his words.

But Voldemort was unmoved. His mouth had twitched slightly at the mention of his Muggle name, but other than that he showed no signs of anger. He had, however, stopped pacing and faced Harry alone. There was a deadly silence in which he could hear the beating of his own heart.

“That is not the sole purpose of this visit, Harry Potter,” Voldemort said softly. “I could have murdered you as soon as you rolled out of that fireplace, but instead I have chosen to fill you in on what your last moments will be spent doing, and why. I would have thought you’d be at least a bit more grateful.”

One of Harry’s hands sneaked down slowly into his robes, but was stopped by a crushing spasm of the giant snake.

“The reason I brought you here is one you should already be familiar with. Haven’t you done your occasional research on it?”

What was Voldemort talking about?

“What else do you think you’re tied to, a simple statue placed here as decoration?”

Suddenly, it hit him. But why? It couldn’t possibly be…

“The Green Flame Torch. I daresay you don’t know the full story behind it. Created by Godric Gryffindor, his creation emitted green flames that destroyed anything of an evil nature and restored all good natured things, bringing them together to form one… Or so he said. In truth, the Torch was no more than an attempt to bring the Wizarding world under his command, and force it to live in a way that the fool Dumbledore would have adored. Muggles, Mudbloods, and Purebloods, all united under the Torch…”

Harry didn’t like the sarcastic tone in which Voldemort spoke of Dumbledore at all.

“My ancestor, Slytherin, found out about Gryffindor’s plan and searched for it… Where other than in his own home?”

Harry needed only to glance out of the room’s window for an instant to understand what this meant.

Gryffindor’s house. Godric’s Hollow.

“Slytherin added an element to the Torch that changed it for good... His own blood. Now, the Green Flame Torch no longer united the people it cast light upon under good, but under the holder.” Voldemort sounded as though he was savouring each of his own words. His eyes shone a bright colour.

“Do you see, Potter? The brilliance of it… Once I relight this torch I will be the most powerful man to walk on our world, without the need of Death Eaters or Imperius curses… Everyone will belong to me. Including Dumbledore. Including you.”

Harry felt his breathing come faster as he panicked, his eyes darting around the room. This was worse than he had thought. No wonder Voldemort had been
so interested in the Green Flame Torch... Not to destroy it, but to use it to his own advantage. If he managed to light that Torch, everyone and everything would become his slaves... Once that happened, Voldemort could even order Harry to kill himself. He had to leave, to warn someone...

Voldemort seemed to sense his fear as his nostrils dilated and a self-indulging smile crept across his face.

"This is where the Mudblood comes in."

Harry felt all the air sucked out of his lungs. He heard Hermione gasping behind him, and the snake loosened its grip for a brief moment. Then it tightened it's hold of Harry again, and he watched, horrified, as Hermione floated over his head and onto the floor. She was even paler than before, and seemed nailed to the floor from the shock of standing right next to Voldemort himself- she had never seen him before.

"NO! DON'T TOUCH HER!"

Harry yelled, struggling furiously against the thick, scaly body of the snake. He couldn't understand why Hermione was just standing there.

"RUN!"

With a shock of recognition, he suddenly understood the meaning of one of his many dreams.

He was pulling back the veil, staring straight into Hermione's soft brown eyes...

"It's too late..."

Flashing back to the reality of Godric's Hollow, Harry watched in horror as Voldemort raised his long, spidery hand and aimed his wand at Hermione.

"Crucio!"

* * *



Chapter 21: A Matter Of Blood
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A/N: *SOBS* no longer featured!! lol. I dont really mind, incredibly talented people like Agatha O' Grady have taken my place.... *stabs Agatha's vudu-doll* just kidding. Anyway, here's chappie 21. I'd love some reviews for this... As confusing and strange as the chapter may be. After this, three more till the grand finale... (Still on holiday, *yawn*. Couldn't be more bored.) Hope you like it! If there are things you still dont understand, please mention them. Some things are rather complicated, and I'll explain them in the chapter after this.

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Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Harry has arrived in Godric's Hollow with Hermione, faced with none other than the Dark Lord himself. Some mysteries unravel, while others are added. Voldemort puts Hermione under the cruciatus curse...

*Chapter 21*


A MATTER OF BLOOD


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An odd ringing filled Harry’s ears, impeding him from hearing Hermione’s frantic screams. But he could still see her. Her mouth was gaping open endlessly, like her eyes that were wide and bulging with fear. The pain that passed through her limbs racked over her body in a chain of spasms.

“Stop it…” Harry groaned, through gritted teeth.

He closed his eyes to block out his own pain, overwhelming from Voldemort’s closeness, but suddenly he could hear her again.

Hermione screamed unstoppably, while her body writhed over the floor. Voldemort’s laughter mingled with it to create a surge of anger that Harry had never felt before.

“LET HER GO!” he bellowed, over and over.

In a flash he remembered Neville’s parents, and wondered how long it took for a person to go insane. It already felt as though a lifetime had passed.

Slowly, Hermione’s screaming faded away. She still moaned softly, but her eyes were closed and the only thing that assured she was still alive was her body, continueing to twist in every possible position.

“Oh, come on Potter, be a sport and laugh. Don’t you find it amusing?” Voldemort asked innocently, his arm still steady and pointed at Hermione.

“JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT!” Harry yelled out of control, tears burning behind his eyes. The frustration of not being able to do anything, of seeing Hermione tortured in front of his very eyes, had become too much for him.

Harry’s vision was blurred and he felt the tears rolling down. He’d sworn he would never let Voldemort see him in this way, but now he didn’t care. Nothing mattered anymore.

Suddenly, he felt it. The change.

Opening his eyes without daring to breathe, Harry saw that Voldemort had lowered his wand and was staring at him with a more disconcerting look than before. His red eyes were narrowed and bore an unfathomable expression.

“Very good… Nagini!”

The enormous snake lifted its head and opened its large, dangerous jaws. For a moment Harry was afraid it would attack him. But Nagini simply flicked out its tongue and licked Harry’s face. It was an unpleasant, rasping sensation, drying Harry’s face of his tears.

Dazed, Harry stared at the snake as it rose above him, uncoiling slightly but still maintaining a firm hold on Harry. He watched it slip onto the brim of the Green Flame Torch, and spill something into the hollow stone. Soon afterwards the snake slithered down again into its original position.

Voldemort paced briskly towards it, and Harry perceived badly hidden eagerness in his stride. The anger inside him flared up again when Voldemort kicked aside Hermione’s limp body carelessly because she was in the way. Was she still alive?

“Weasley! Bring it in!” Voldemort ordered, raising his voice.

Harry looked up, bewildered. A hooded man hurried in from the only door in the room, briefly letting in light. He couldn’t be identified by his appearance, but his voice gave him away.

“Here it is, Master,” he said enthusiastically, carrying in a large stick of what appeared to be ordinary firewood, except for the fact that it was lit with a dazzling green fire. Only one Weasley had a voice like that when speaking to an authority. Harry realized grimly that it was none other than Percy.

“Surprised, Potter? I would have thought you’d carry suspicions on the black sheep in the Muggle-loving family all along.”

Harry glared at Percy furiously while he overhanded the burning piece of wood to Voldemort. He had hated Percy before, but this just went too far. To betray his family, the Order, everything they stood for… He’d always been ambicious, but enough to turn in to the Dark Lord? Suddenly Harry couldn’t take it any longer.

“How can you help someone who tried to murder your father? WHO MURDERED MY PARENTS!”

The idea that his mother and father had died in this very place almost sixteen years ago, was too much to bear. This had been where Voldemort ruined Harry’s life… And his own.

Percy simply stared at him vaguely, as if he was being somewhat of a nuisance.

“All the rest will follow soon enough, Potter, including yourself. I wouldn’t worry about this one. He’s not too much of an aqcuisition, although infiltrating the Order of the Phoenix was quite something.” Voldemort smirked.

Harry recalled Ron’s desperation when he had thought the break-in was his fault. Now he realized it hadn’t been Ron at all, but his brother. Why did they trust him in first place, after what he had done the year before? How could Dumbledore have been so stupid to accept him?

Voldemort placed the burning stick onto the Green Flame Torch carefully, and took a step back to admire his own cunning. He usually let his servants do the dirty work. This had to mean very much to him.

“Oh yes, Potter, Weasley has proved himself helpful. He even brought back the Fire of Dis for me… One of the three things that I needed to let my plan succeed.”

Harry boiled inside. So that was why he’d been missing. And that was why Hagrid had seen Percy in the mountains of France. He hadn’t been trying to convince the giants of anything, he’d simply stolen from them the eternal fire that they’d been granted by Dumbledore.

“You see… When Slytherin changed the Green Flame Torch, he was stunted by that fool Gryffindor. He had placed his own protective spell over the Torch, making sure that no one could light the Torch but he himself, or one of his heirs. And that heir, Harry Potter, is you.”

Harry felt dizzy for a moment. It had to be a mistake. He couldn’t be the heir of Godric Gryffindor! He didn’t even know the heir existed… But what did he know about his father’s family? And hadn’t Dumbledore himself said, “Only a true Gryffindor could pull his sword from the Sorting Hat”? Voldemort wouldn’t make a mistake… Otherwise his plan would fail… For the first time that night Harry felt a glimmer of hope.

“But I have taken what I needed from you, Potter, and now all I need is the final ingredient… One given to me by Salazar Slytherin himself!” Voldemort laughed, approaching the Green Flame Torch even more. Harry wondered what he could possibly mean. Slytherin was long dead, wasn’t he? But how else had he been able to see him in one of his dreams?

“Acutus!” said Voldemort, holding his wand up expectantly. It lengthened by a few inches, sharpening and gleaming a silvery colour.

Without showing the slightest sign of pain, Voldemort made a small cut in the palm of his long pale hand. Dark red blood began to well up in the wound, and Voldemort held it over the dancing fire. When the first drops started to spill, Harry knew it was too late. And he knew what Voldemort had meant.

He was Slytherin’s heir, and only his blood could light the Torch. Now it would be in his power forever, and they would all be lost. Feeling profoundly miserable, Harry waited for the Torch to show signs of change. But instead, he heard something he would never have expected.

“THE BLOOD IS IMPURE!” A low voice rumbled, echoing through Godric’s Hollow. It brought dust particles off the walls and a look of intense fear in Voldemort’s eyes. He glanced around him for help, meeting only the dazed eyes of Percy Weasley. Harry was sure he had heard the voice somewhere, but he couldn’t remember.

“YOU ARE TAINTED WITH THE BLOOD OF GRYFFINDOR. THE TORCH WILL NOT RECEIVE SUCH FOUL OFFERING.”

Voldemort was definitely starting to panick now. Harry didn’t think he’d ever seen him in this way before. All dignity forgotten, he had turned to the wall containing the fireplace, where the rumbling voice seemed to originate.

“I am the heir of Slytherin! I have opened the Chamber of Secrets!” Voldemort shrieked, his black robes billowing behind him.

In all the excitement, Nagini had loosened its hold of Harry, and begun to slide in Voldemort’s direction. He knew he only had one chance, before Voldemort could sense what he was thinking and put a stop to him forever. He needed to take the chance, and take it now.

Pulling out his wand, Harry aimed it wildly at Voldemort and needed no effort to conjure thoughts of hatred. Hermione lay on the floor as enough evidence to what Voldemort had done to him. He killed my parents, kill him! Harry screamed at himself, while Voldemort started to turn. He still held his wand shaped as a knife in his hands, but before he could do or say anything, Harry had yelled:

“Avada Kedavra!”

* * *




Chapter 22: And Thus, With A Kiss, I Fly
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Hey again! Two updates in one day!!! lol, thats quite a record, especially for me. But I decided to post this since I'll probably be going to Germany for a while, without any possibily to write. In other words, only two chapters to go after this one. And then, who knows! I hope you like it, I did my best on this chapter... And once again, many truths are revealed.

* * *


Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Voldemort has revealed his plan, and that Harry is Gryffindor's heir. However, he fails to light the Torch and Harry seizes the moment to cast the Avada Kedavra curse...


*Chapter 22*


AND THUS, WITH A KISS, I FLY


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Harry held his breath, his heart beating fast and everything about him tingling with anticipation. The moment he had always dreaded, but known would have to come, was now. If he had succeeded, if the curse had finally ended Voldemort's life - they would be free of them forever. Harry would never have to worry about his life or that of others, ever again. Sirius, his parents, and so many others, avenged.

This is what ran through his mind in the split second following the infamous words, "Avada Kedavra."

The invisible force that seemed to surge right from Harry's wand shot forwards, straight at Lord Voldemort. He had surprise etched in every line of his face, red pupils contracting in fear. The flash of green light hit him right in the chest.
Harry lowered his wand, anxiously awaiting the outcome. He had seen Cedric killed, and knew how fast the curse killed its victims - but Voldemort was still standing. His lipless mouth was open in an inaudible cry, and blood streamed out of his nose. Finally, he stumbled, and collapsed onto the hard stone floor.

Harry could hardly believe it.

What did this mean? The Avada Kedavra curse wasn't supposed to do any outside physical harm, it simply killed you instantly. Voldemort was bleeding, and it had taken some time for him to fall. Was he dead? Maybe it was because he had taken so many measures to protect himself from death, as he had said two years before. Fear gripped Harry's heart. What if he couldn't die at all? Would he rise again, more infuriated than before?

"Where am I? I demand an answer!"

Harry jumped. He turned to see Percy Weasley looking around the room curiously, and finally setting his eyes on Harry.

"What is it we're doing here, Potter? Is this some sort of intricate scheme of Dumbledore's to harm the Ministry? I'm warning you, Cornelius Fudge-"

Percy caught sight of the fallen Voldemort and his jaw dropped. Straightening his glasses, he asked: "Who on earth is that? Is it-? It's not..."

Harry calculated the situation in a matter of seconds. Percy hadn't been following Voldemort at all, at least not in free will. Like his unfortunate boss, Barty Crouch, he'd been put under the Imperius Curse. And now that Voldemort was down, he had come back to his senses. Either that - or he was a very good actor.

Harry surveyed Percy suspiciously. He decided to take his chances.

"Listen," he said hurriedly, "I need you to Apparate to Hogwarts- I mean, to Hogsmeade, and contact Dumbledore from there. We need to get help, as soon as possible!"

Percy looked as though he'd never been so insulted in his entire life.

"Go to Dumbledore? To that lunatic? Is that the only answer you can provide?"

Harry felt himself growing angry. They didn't have much time, Voldemort could wake up at any moment.

"Listen to me, Percy! This is Voldemort we have here! Try to put aside your love for Fudge for a moment, and get us help!"

Harry heard the desperation in his own voice.

"I'd Apparate myself, but I can't leave Hermione here on her own!"

Percy scowled, his face red.
"Don't think you can fool me, Potter. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is dead, and as for you Apparating anywhere, I doubt you have the license for it."

Harry balled his fists.

"DON'T BE SUCH A STUPID GIT AND LISTEN! WE DON'T HAVE ANY TIME! IF THIS ISN'T VOLDEMORT, THEN WHAT IS THAT DIRTY GREAT SNAKE DOING THERE? AND HERMIONE LYING ON THE FLOOR, POSSIBLY DEAD! YOU'LL BE DEAD TOO IF YOU DON'T HURRY!"

Percy looked taken aback for a moment. He paled at the sight of the snake, slowly slithering away from the Green Flame Torch and circling Voldemort protectively.

"Don't you go anywhere!" Percy shouted heatedly, and after a loud CRACK he was gone.

Harry was all alone.

It was one of those moments where you could hear yourself breathing, acutely aware of everything around. Nagini peered eerily at him, as though saying: "You'll be dead soon enough." In fact, he did say it, and Harry answered back in Parseltongue.

"Shut up, or you'll get the same as your master," he snarled. The snake said nothing.

It was right, though. As soon as Voldemort arose, he would murder both of them. And there was nowhere he could go, all he could do was wait for help to come. How long would Percy take? Would he even listen to what Harry had said?
He considered quickly Apparating to the Burrow or to Hogsmeade to raise alarm, and then return. But looking at Hermione, immobile on the floor, he knew he could never do it.

"Hermione?" he whispered, approaching her slowly.

She was lying only a few feet away from Voldemort, her feet and arms at strange angles. Harry bent down over her, and felt a stab in his heart when he thought of all the pain she must have felt. Would she ever be the same again? Would she ever wake up?

He slid his arms under her back and knees, carefully hoisting her up off the ground.

"Don't die..."

Hermione's eyes were tightly closed, her face a deadly white. But her lips were slightly parted, and she was still breathing. Harry stared down at her, ashen-faced. He was so confused, he could hardly think.

Should he run? Perhaps he could leave through the door leading to the Muggle village, and hide there. But what if Dumbledore couldn't find him anymore? He could be on the way, arriving in a matter of seconds. At least he would know where to find him here. And if Harry did run, Voldemort would catch him anyway. Maybe they were destined to die here... In this run-down, horrible place where his parents had met their end...

Thinking that he would want to do it at least once before he died, Harry lowered his face and kissed Hermione.

He wished he could imagine a completely different place for it, where they were alone and where Hermione was awake and happy, but that would probably never happen. He would have to take what he could get.

All of a sudden, a huge crash interrupted what he had barely started. Staring up in shock, Harry realized that a gigantic animal had flown right through the crack in the wall opposite the fireplace. It was the biggest thing he had ever seen other than Grawp, and covered almost entirely with fur. The only bare spots were its gleaming yellow eyes and a squashed-looking bulk somewhere over the snout. All in all, the creature vaguely resembled an incredibly hairy rhinoceros.

"Harry! Climb on!" A muffled voice cried, somewhere in-between the short lumpy wings.

Harry couldn't believe his ears.

"LUNA?!" He would never have expected anything like this. It was almost beyond his wildest imagination.

"What are you doing here? And what is - that?!"

Luna giggled, and stuck out a muddy hand. It was the only part of her that he could see. Harry looked around him, where Voldemort still lay without stirring on the floor. Without thinking twice, he took Luna's hand and lifted himself up onto the furry animal with Hermione still firmly in pressed against him.

When they were seated safely in the cushion-like back, Luna said in a clear voice: "Turn, Phlydorus! Out the way we came!"

To Harry's amazement, the animal did exactly as it was told, and took off again through the now widened crack in the wall. It let out an enormous belch, as though announcing it's departure.

"Thankyou so much for coming, Luna! I think you just saved our lives!" Harry exclaimed, breathless.

Under him Godric's Hollow was steadily shrinking, and the rest of the valley and the Muggle village came into view.

"Oh, you're welcome. I couldn't have done it without Phlydorus," Luna said in a sing-song voice, patting the thick fur.

"Er- Who is this Phlydorus exactly?" Harry asked.

He'd never seen a creature like this before, and all he knew was that it was a much more comfortable means of flying than Thestrals or Hippogriffs.

"He's a Crumple-Horned Snorkack, can't you tell?" Luna seemed to think he was being stupid. "I named him after my father."

Harry supressed a grin. Ginny had been worried sick about Luna. All the while, she'd been hunting down Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. He couldn't wait to tell Hermione that she'd been rescued by what she considered to be a fictional creature. If she awoke.

"Where do we go, Harry? Crumple-Horned Snorkacks aren't at all like Thestrals- No sense of direction whatsoever. I doubt we can get to Hogwarts, I don't know where it is."

Harry suddenly felt apprehensive. He didn't really know the location of any magical place from overhead. And it had to be a magical place- somewhere they'd be safe. Voldemort could still come after them.

"I don't know... Where did you come from?"

"Hogsmeade," Luna answered, leaning slightly to the right. Phlydorus swooped to avoid a church tower by inches.

"Ronald told me where you had gone. He couldn't come along himself, poor chap. Some tart named Josephine gave him a Sleeping Draught, he fell asleep seconds after he saw me."

"If you have no sense of direction, how did you know where Godric's Hollow is?" Harry asked logically.

Luna shrugged. "I had a map. But Phlydorus was hungry."

Harry let out an exasperated sigh. How would they ever find their way back now? The Crumple-Horned Snorkack was still soaring straight ahead, but without any sense of a destination.

Suddenly Harry recognized something, and pointed down.

"I know that train station, I've been there! We're in Surrey!"

Luna peered down. "You want to go here?"

Harry shook his head.

"No, no! I mean, I know this place, I live here! It's not very far until we get to Little Whinging, and we'll be safe there! Voldemort can't hurt me there..."

He remembered what Dumbledore had said the year before, about the protection in Aunt Petunia's veins. For once in his life he was happy to be going to Privet Drive.

After nearly thirty minutes of flying, Harry saw the park on Magnolia Crescent underneath him. It wasn't far anymore. He could even see the tiny figure of Mrs. Figg out with a long line of cats following her where she went.

"Down here!" Harry cried, holding onto Hermione tightly.

Luna steered Phlydorus so that they descended more every time. Soon the identical, tidy houses were growing more and more, and Harry could see horrified faces in the windows. It dawned upon him what a shock it had to be for the Muggles, to see the 'delinquent from St. Brutus Institute For Incurably Criminal Boys' arriving on the back of an animal never seen before. For once, he could understand their faces as they gaped at him.

"I don't like your neighborhood," Luna commented vaguely. She was one of the people that Uncle Vernon warned his son Dudley about.

Phlydorus landed neatly on the Dursleys' front lawn, letting out another loud belch.

"Thanks, I don't either," Harry said happily.

It took a full minute for his Aunt, Uncle and Dudley to realize Harry's presence with the girls and the strange creature. Once they did, the air was filled with loud, and strangely satisfying, screams.

* * *


A/N: I would really, really, really, really, appreciate a review for the last chapter as well as this one. Don't punish me for updating quickly... *tries to look cute, but fails* I'm on my knees here! ~Sophie




Chapter 23: The Curse
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A/N: Second-to-last chapter, hope you like it! Please please review, I'll love you for it............... Oh, and tell me if you don't understand something, I'll be happy to explain.

* * *


Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Harry and Luna have flown out of Godric’s Hollow and into Privet Drive safety, on the back of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. The Muggles don’t know what’s overcome them…

*Chapter 23*

THE CURSE


* * *


“I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! A BLOODY RHINO ON MY FRONT YARD! PUTTING ITS DROPPINGS ON MY NEW CAR!” Uncle Vernon bellowed, more furious than Harry had ever seen him.

Clearly the unexpected nature of the situation had taken his uncle completely by shock. He had been enjoying his last week without Harry, knowing that he would have to return for the summer holidays. But for him to return early – and exposing his magical friends for everyone to see – it was enough to drive him over the edge.

“GET – OUT – OF – MY – SIGHT!” He shouted, saliva spraying everywhere.

Luna pulled some out of her dirty blond hair, looking disgusted.
“I don’t like your neighbours, either,” she stated.

She had the leash restraining Phlydorus firmly in one hand, and was now observing the people in the street curiously.

“It’s not my neighbour, this is my uncle,” Harry muttered hurriedly, feeling embarrassed.

He climbed/fell off the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, still clasping Hermione tightly.

“Let’s get into the house!” he urged, running over Privet Drive, number four’s front lawn and pushing it open.

“Oh no you don’t!” Uncle Vernon hollered, blocking the way as Luna tried to pull her gigantic animal after Harry.

“Alright then,” Luna said, shrugging. “But just so you’re warned, Phlydorus is hungry.”

Without pondering on what that meant, Uncle Vernon ran back into the house where Harry was watching the developments outside. He had set Hermione down on a chair in the hall, and anxiously witnessed the Crumple-Horned Snorkacks devouring Aunt Petunia’s beloved orchids.

“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?” Uncle Vernon shouted, towering over Harry.

“And who are those people? Have you finally been expelled from that horrible place?”

Aunt Petunia rushed in from the living room, and shrieked when she saw what company they had.

“Who is this girl?! And what are you – EEEEEK!!!”

Horrified, the horse-like woman galloped outside to save her orchids.

“Look, I only need to be in the house for a few more minutes,” Harry explained, trying to dodge Uncle Vernon’s loose hands. “We’ll be gone before you know it.”

A voice behind them brought a look of increased shock on Uncle Vernon’s face.

“In fact, they’ll be leaving immediately.”

Boots, robes, and beard, Albus Dumbledore was entirely present. His formidable and intimidating stature brought a look of fear into Uncle Vernon’s eyes. He hadn’t been at the Dursleys for sixteen years now.

“Harry, we need to get out of here right now,” Dumbledore said sternly.

“We’ll discuss what happened to you later. Please hold on to miss Granger’s hand now, and take this Portkey back to Hogwarts. You are to leave miss Granger at the Hospital Wing and wait for me in my office. Don’t go anywhere else.”

Dumbledore waved his wand at some china on the coffee table and muttered, “Portus.” Before Harry could say anything, he had walked out the door in firm steps and reached Luna.

Phlydorus was now rearing on its hind legs, fending off a crazed Aunt Petunia with a hose.

Harry turned back to his pale uncle, a diminished version of his former self.

“See you in a week,” he mumbled, and took the piece of china in his hand. A strong pull behind his navel was taking them away…

* * *


Madam Pomfrey looked very displeased.

“That poor Granger again! Everything seems to happen to you and your friends, doesn’t it?”

She laid Hermione on a bed next to Pansy Parkinson’s, and pulled the hangings around her. Harry hovered anxiously, not wanting to leave. But when the nurse shot him her disapproving look, he headed back to Dumbledore’s Office.

The hallways were almost deserted; clearly the students still hadn’t returned from Hogsmeade. How would Ron be doing?

Harry remembered what Luna had told him. Josephine gave him a Sleeping Draught… Did that mean she was in league with Voldemort? It had to be, otherwise why would she have pulled Ron away just when he was carrying out his plan? Harry was furious. When he got his hands on her…

And McGonagall too, Harry remembered. She’d been described by Voldemort as a ‘loyal follower’. It made no sense, but on the other hand, so many people had betrayed him in the past… It was difficult to know who to trust altogether. Professor Quirrel, Professor Lockhart, Moody, Peter Pettigrew, Percy… None of them were what they seemed.

Harry quickened his pace. He sprinted up the marble staircases and dashed through the hallways, ignoring catcalls from the several portraits. Suddenly everything in the castle seemed dangerous… Who knew what followers of Voldemort were still hidden there? Maybe McGonagall would even be back, lurking in the halls…

It seemed like an eternity until Harry reached the gargoyles that protected Dumbledore’s office.

“Bloody Lollipops,” he muttered, and the spiral staircase came into view.

Harry hurried up, and pushed open the large wooden door. Panting, he sat down on the floor and leaned back against the wall. He was completely exhausted, and closed his eyes.

“You again?”

A voice awoke him from the distance. It was a croaky, familiar voice with an inhuman quality. The Sorting Hat.

“Yes, me. I’m waiting for Dumbledore,” Harry said shortly.

Not that it was any of the Hat’s business. Suddenly a thought occurred to him.

“When I was Sorted… Why did you say I would do well in Slytherin?”

The hat heaved a sigh, that made its brim flutter. It looked dirtier and patchier than ever.

“Haven’t you asked me this before? I told you, you would have done well. But you chose Gryffindor, and I couldn’t refuse.”

Harry frowned. If he was really the heir of Gryffindor himself, wouldn’t the hat have put him in that house immediately? It would have been the sensible thing to do.

“You know everything about the people you sort, don’t you?” Harry inquired.

The Hat tipped forwards in a nod.

“And I remember everything…” It said.

“So… You would know if I was the heir of Gryffindor?” Harry asked, and felt his heart beating faster again. If the hat said yes… He didn’t even know what that would mean.

“Yes, I’d know,” the Hat replied. “But a person’s ancestry has nothing to do with who they are. Even if you were descended from Merlin himself, that doesn’t guarantee you have the qualities he possessed.”

Harry felt slightly annoyed. The Hat hadn’t really answered his question.

“Am I the heir or not?” he demanded.

The Sorting Hat was silent for a moment, as if wanting to keep the suspense. Then it’s brim opened wide again.

“I knew the heir of Gryffindor once… A rather annoying boy, if you ask me. Not unlike yourself. He had all the true qualities of what Slytherin would have cherished… Pure-blood, ambitious, quite a trouble-maker… Not a Parseltongue like you, but I still thought he belonged in Slytherin. However, he chose to be placed in the house of his great-great-great… I’ve lost count. And he had the most important quality of a Gryffindor. He was brave. Died protecting his son… So yes, Harry Potter. You are the only remaining heir.”

Everything was quiet in Dumbledore’s office, for a long time afterwards. The only sounds were those of the whispering Headmasters and Headmistresses in the portraits on the wall. Harry wondered what else could possibly be in store for him… It all seemed to make sense now, though. An ordinary boy like himself, chosen to defeat the most powerful wizard of all time…

The only way it could ever make sense was if he had earned that right through blood. But it didn’t feel like a blessing, it was a curse.

Voldemort had chosen Harry’s blood in his fourth year as the one to bring him back to life, unknowingly inheriting something from Gryffindor too. It was the one thing that had saved them tonight, and Harry supposed he had to be grateful. He didn’t know what to think anymore, it was all so confusing.

The creaking of a door brought Harry from his musings once again, and Dumbledore entered the circular room quietly. He offered a hand, and Harry hoisted himself to his feet awkwardly.

“You have been through an ordeal, once again,” Dumbledore said, sounding profoundly sombre.

He didn’t look at Harry as he took a seat behind his desk, and summoned his Pensieve to the table.

“I think it would be best, if you showed me what happened here, so that you will not have to relive it again. And it will make the burden less.”

Too tired to protest, Harry placed his wand against his forehead, the way he had seen Dumbledore do before. Without the slightest bit of effort, a long silvery string of thought left his brain and floated into the Pensieve. Smiling in a comforting way, Dumbledore nodded, and lowered his head into the bowl.

Minutes went passed, and Harry found himself uncomfortable, staring at the back of Dumbledore’s silver head. His eyes wandered along the rest of the room.

He didn’t know whether Dumbledore had seen the events in the Hog’s Head with Hermione. To his own surprise, that didn’t matter very much to him. He felt lighter, in a way; and for some reason he knew that Dumbledore could understand.

Finally, the elderly man lifted his head up again and surveyed Harry earnestly.

“I believe you will want to know what happened to you, and I long to explain. Please, ask me whatever you need.”

“Is Professor McGonagall a Death Eater?”

Dumbledore shook his head grimly.

“She is nothing of the sort. I’m afraid Lucius Malfoy’s son took advantage of his position at the school to remove a few of her hairs… And deliver them to his father.”

His blue eyes flashed behind the half-moon glasses. Harry wondered how Malfoy had ever managed to get hairs from the tight bun that McGonagall always wore.

“What you saw was not Minerva McGonagall, it was Mr. Malfoy.”

Harry slapped his forehead in recognition.

“I should have known! That’s why Dobby was acting so strange. He couldn’t say anything because of that old spell that still binds him to the Malfoys.”

Dumbledore nodded sternly.

“I also wanted to ask you… Why is it that Percy could become a member of the Order of the Phoenix so easily?”

It looked as though he had hit a nerve. The Headmaster lowered his gaze to his desk, and shut his tired eyes for a moment.

“That mistake lies with myself. After the announcement of the second war, we were happy to receive as much help as we could get. Percy has good connections in the Ministry, not to mention his family that were happy to have him back. So I accepted him willingly.” He paused. “Do you remember a break-in at Azkaban, early in the year?”

“Yes, sir.” It was when the Death Eaters had escaped.

“Percy was present, carrying a message for some Aurors from the Ministry. After the attack, Percy’s memory had been modified. I believe that is when he was placed under the Imperius curse.”

Dumbledore looked gloomily into the distance, as if Harry was invisible.

“I gave Percy the address to the Headquarters, welcomed him in. All along he was acting under Voldemort’s orders. However, if he had been simply under the Imperius curse he wouldn’t have been able to reveal the location. Only the Secret-Keeper can disclose it, and only the person the information is meant for can receive it. This means, Harry, that at the time Percy was being possessed by Voldemort. I gave the location to Voldemort himself.

Harry shuddered. He remembered having dinner that night, half a year ago. Was he sharing Christmas with the Dark Lord in person?

“I meant to tell you,” Harry said hurriedly, “Josephine Fletcher fed Ron a Sleeping Draught. I think he might have been working on Voldemort’s orders, as well as Malfoy.”

The information called no surprise to Dumbledore’s face. He simply looked even more miserable than before. That year had been a difficult one for him, Harry decided. It couldn’t be easy, when everyone thought they could rely on you, and the world practically rested on your shoulders. He knew very well how that felt.

“Er… Professor?” Harry hesitated, and Dumbledore looked up.

“Will Hermione be alright?”

“She has suffered quite a shock, Harry. But From what I saw she wasn’t placed under the curse for long enough to leave any lasting damages. She is very lucky to have a… Friend like you.”

Harry realized he must have watched him kiss her in Godric’s Hollow. Colour rose to his cheeks. That had been a very wrong thing to do – when she wasn’t even awake. How could Hermione be lucky to have a friend like that? Someone who took advantage of her and put her in situations where she could very well die…

“I have spoken to miss Lovegood. She will be staying in the Burrow from now on, sharing a room with Ginny. The Crumple-Horned Snorkack has a place in the back yard… Molly seems to quite like the idea, now that most of her sons have left home. Miss Lovegood has promised she won’t try to escape Hogwarts again, now that she has attained her goal. I daresay Mr. Lovegood would have been proud.”

Harry forced a smile. He was glad that Luna would have somewhere to stay. He still had to return to the Dursleys… Even after the scandal they had made.

“Professor, what did you tell my neighbours?”

Dumbledore suddenly regained some of his playful mysteriousness.

“Oh, I told them a new sort of Rhinoceros had been discovered in Britain. They found it a suspicious matter altogether, but when I agreed to send a repairman and a gardener to fix the damage they were satisfied. It’s time Muggles started noticing things…”

Harry raised his eyebrows. He was sure the Ministry wouldn’t agree with leaving the Muggles wandering around without their memories modified. The thought of the Ministry brought him back to Percy.

“Did Percy warn you about where I was, Professor? I sent him to get you.”

Dumbledore heaved a sigh.

“Yes, I received a message from Cornelius Fudge not long ago telling me to stop my pranks. Luckily my brother, Aberforth, was more helpful and told me of your whereabouts as soon as he could.”

Harry frowned.

“Was that… The bar-tender? I thought he was rather suspicious looking, and he did resemble you a little bit.”

Dumbledore chortled, stroking his beard.

“Oh, you must agree I’m far better looking.”

Harry wisely kept his mouth shut.

“Yes, he saw you Flooing from the Hog’s Head. Unfortunately he couldn’t reach me until it was too late, you had already left Godric’s Hollow and so had Voldemort. I’m afraid I was… distracted.” Dumbledore looked angry again.

Suddenly he seemed to remember something.

“Harry, you did real damage to Voldemort tonight. But, you have to promise me that you’ll never, ever, do it again. The use of an Unforgivable curse is something nobody should ever turn to. Only the foulest and weakest beings on earth use magic that was invented only to destroy. And you must promise me never to tell anyone what you did.”

Harry nodded, suddenly feeling ashamed.

“But… How? How else am I supposed to defeat him?” He cried, feeling desperate. There really didn’t seem to be a way.

“You will know, when the time comes,” Dumbledore replied gravely.

“We, who are lost, will help you.”

Fawkes let out its beautiful, calming cry, and flew down onto Harry’s shoulder. He stared at it, not knowing what Dumbledore could mean. As he stroked the long gleaming feathers, he only wished that that time would never come.

* * *


A/N: Dumbledore is throwing a hint for next year's book.... Who knows what it means? (If you know for sure, don't ruin my entire plot by saying it. lol)


Chapter 24: When The Time Comes
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Author’s Note:

*pulls out a hankerchief* I’m afraid it’s time to say goodbye. Please, don’t make a scene. (lol). It’s been great posting this, because when you’re writing on a site with reviews it’s a lot easier to be motivated then writing at home, where no one sees you. So thanks for all the reviews!!!!!!!! Everyone who stuck with me reading until the end, if I had chocolate I’d share it with you!! And for everyone who flamed me, please keep going, it’s very amusing! Anyway, before this becomes a Kodak moment, I’ll just be quick about it. If anyone’s interested in a sequel to this, be sure to check out Harry Potter and the Forest of Shadows. I’ve got most of the plot done, but I want it to turn out better than this one so I won’t start writing until I’m all settled in Vietnam. I would really appreciate it if I got looooooooooooooooooooooooooooong reviews for this last chapter. D’you think you’ve got it in you? Alright, buckle up for the last bits of Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch….

~Sophie



* * *


Previously on Harry Potter and the Green Flame Torch: Dumbledore comes to Harry and Luna’s aid, taking them back to the safety of Hogwarts. The Sorting Hat confirms Harry’s worst fears, and Dumbledore provides a few more explanations…

*Chapter 24*


WHEN THE TIME COMES


* * *


The last week of school inched past, as though it would never end. The weather was still pounding in on them insufferably, and with OWLs, NEWTs, and the final exams behind them, Hogwarts students had time to spare. They strolled lazily through the grounds, seeking shade under beech trees or going for the occasional dive in the lake. It wasn’t until the Giant Squid had catapulted Dennis Creevey out of the lake with one of its tentacles, that visits became less frequent.

Katie Bell was sad to be leaving the following year, although she told whoever would listen that Fred Weasley had offered her a place in their apartment. Of course, she didn’t know that the twins had asked Angelina Johnson first, and had been turned down.

She spent her last days following Harry around, shouting instructions into his ear anxiously for the following year, and asking him to please get rid of the useless Beaters.

Harry let everything wash over him. He tried to put Voldemort into the back of his mind, tried not to think of Godric’s Hollow. Dumbledore seemed to think that when the time came, he’d know what to do. Although Harry doubted this, he sincerely hoped it was true.

For the rest, he had little to worry about. The sixth years had been told that all of them, without exception, had passed the final exams and had qualified for their Apparition licenses. Other than Pansy Parkinson, of course, who was still stuck in the Hospital Wing.

Harry saw her one day as he decided finally to visit Hermione, long after Madam Pomfrey had given him permission to. The truth was that he was afraid, but he couldn’t let it wait much longer.

“Come to greet the Mudblood, Potter?” Parkinson sneered.

Hermione heard what she said and threw back the hangings.

“Harry! I’m so glad you came to visit, I started to wonder if something was wrong…”

Harry came to stand nervously next to her bed, closing the hangings again to shield off Pansy’s prying eyes.

“I was a bit busy…” he lied, flushing.

Hermione nodded, although unsure.

“How are you feeling?” Harry asked quickly, to change the subject.

He tried not to look into Hermione’s eyes. She was still very pale and her bushy hair was draped around her face in a rather depressed fashion. Harry noticed that when Hermione moved one of her hands, it trembled slightly.

“Oh, I’m doing much better,” Hermione replied, trying to sound cheerful. “The book you gave me through Ron was a big help coming through these past days… It’s so boring in here, with no one other than that cow for company.”

Pansy was apparently spying on them because they heard someone huffing outside.

“I’m glad you and Ron are friends again,” Hermione said softly. She looked embarrassed about something.

“Harry…” Her voice sounded like a plea for help.

Harry turned to Hermione’s bedside table, pretending to look at the cards she had received. He nervously flattened his hair.

“I’m so sorry about everything, Harry… V-Voldemort used me, as a means to get to you… But only because I was stupid, and I let him. I’ve been hurting you this whole year, not knowing what I wanted and acting like a stupid little girl. I should have known that you had more important things on your mind. It was so wrong of me to act that way…”

Hermione fell silent for a moment, and Harry hardly dared to breathe.

“I don’t know anyone who deserves to be loved more than you…”

Harry didn’t know what to say. Did he deserve to be loved? What was that supposed to mean? Of course, it meant that his parents and Sirius were dead, and that he’d never gotten affection from anyone… It meant that whatever Hermione said to him, it was out of pity. She could even try to be with him, pretending to like him, and die in the process. He couldn’t let that happen.

“I’m glad you’re alright, Hermione. I was scared that you’d be… I thought you would die. The truth is, I don’t deserve to be loved, because everyone I get close to will end up in a grave. So I think we should just leave things as they are. You’re well off with Ron.”

His voice sounded harsher than he meant it to, and he was angry to see that Hermione looked even sadder than before. She would only pity him more, the last thing he needed.

“Ron and I have decided we’re better off as just friends. He’s had a crush on me for ages, but I think that’s worn off now that he’s realized how hopelessly annoying I am. He missed you so much, although he’d never say so. If you were to, well… I you and me… He’d be fine with it.”

Harry felt himself growing angrier by the minute. Ron and Hermione had already gone their separate ways because of him… But that wasn’t what he wanted at all!

“I think we’re all better off as friends,” Harry replied shortly, and left the Hospital Wing. He knew it was the right thing to do.

* * *


The End of Year Feast came and went, with the usual air of cheerfulness until Dumbledore delivered his speech. He once more urged the students to stick together in the year to come, now that Voldemort had proven what he could do now that he was free and amongst them. He also surprised everyone by announcing that there would be a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher the following year, because Professor Snape had resigned from that post.

“Resigned! If Snape resigned, I’m a Hippogriff’s uncle,” said Dean Thomas loudly.

Everyone in the compartment nodded their agreement. They had been discussing the events at the Feast on the train ride home, with a group of largely former DA members.

“I heard from my sister that he was sacked,” Patricia said mysteriously.

They all looked up, including Neville who was immersed in a Quibbler.

Patricia carried on, enjoying the attention.

“Apparently, Snape allowed his Slytherin students full access to his supply cabinet. Draco Malfoy took Veritaserum from that place and used it on Ron Weasley, including the ingredients for a Polyjuice Potion. Then last week, Josephine Fletcher took a Sleeping Draught, which she also used on Ron!”

Loud laughter followed her words, and Ron’s ears turned red.

“Serves that Snape just right! It’s too bad he wasn’t sacked from being the Potions teacher as well… Anyway, I’ll be rid of him completely!”

Harry was following the conversation with half a smile on his face, not really able to put his whole heart into it. Snape losing his job was a reason to celebrate, of course, but he had more important things to worry about. He would soon be returning to the Dursleys, immersed in months of boredom. And after that, there was only one year left of Hogwarts. What would he do when he finished? Would he even finish? Voldemort could kill him whenever he wanted. Dumbledore had found no trace of him in Godric’s Hollow, which obviously meant he was unharmed and on the loose.

As the talking quieted down, a game of Exploding Snap distracted most of Harry’s classmates for the rest of the journey. He was glad for the peace and quiet, wanting some time for himself. He even turned down the witch with her trolley when she offered him free Chocolate Frogs, although he was feeling rather hungry.

The events of the past week kept running through his mind, haunting him. He couldn’t forget Hermione’s body, writhing on the floor… And he didn’t want to hurt her again. But at the same time, it had been so painful to reject her.

“Harry,” Ron said suddenly, turning to him from his game of Exploding Snap. “I think there’s something you should see… Out there, in that compartment.”

There was something strange about the way he said it, but it was reinforced with a smile.

“Alright,” Harry said uncertainly, getting up from his seat.

He opened the door to the door to the next compartment, and shut it behind him.

“Harry?”

Hermione looked up, hiding a trembling hand behind her back. Her eyes were a bit red.

“I’m sorry, I’ll leave,” Harry said, confused. Why had Ron sent him?

“No!” Hermione jumped up, looking determined.

“I won’t let you leave until you listen to me. I’m not afraid to die, Harry. If I have to be put under the Cruciatus curse all over again – if Voldemort kills me – that won’t matter as long as I can be there for you. You’re the only one that really matters… To me, to everyone. Of course I’m afraid. What if you die? What will I do then?”

Tears streamed down her cheeks.

“I’ve always thought, if I fall in love with you I’ll lose you eventually… Everything happens to you, Harry. You could have died a thousand times. But I’ve decided… I won’t let you die. And I won’t let Voldemort take you away from me.”

She grabbed the bewildered Harry’s face and pulled him down, kissing him. Harry was so shocked that he didn’t even close his eyes at first. Then he gave himself over to it, hardly daring to believe that it was really happening to him. He brushed his lips over Hermione’s, feeling her hand that still trembled resting loosely on his shoulder.

A blinding flash made both of them turn.

“Wow, Harry! That was quite a picture!” Colin Creevey exclaimed, lowering his camera.

* * *


When the Hogwarts Express finally came to a screeching halt, the students began to unload their luggage noisily. Harry, Ron and Hermione pulled out their trunks to the smoke-filled station, waving goodbye to the several students that were greeted by their parents. Harry recognized Mrs. Weasley in the distance, and turned to Ron.

“Erm, Ron, I want you to have this…”

He dug in his cauldron and retrieved one of the two-way mirrors, handing it to his best friend.

“What does it do?” Ron asked curiously, examining himself in the mirror.

He ruffled up his bright red hair, watching his reflection do the same.

“This way you don’t need to write letters, you can just talk to me through the mirror. I have one just like that.”

Ron nodded, smiling.

“Thanks, mate. D’you think you can come as soon as possible this summer? I don’t think I can stand being the only man in the Burrow, with Loony staying there now… I’m sure she and Ginny will gang up on me…”

Harry laughed, partly because he felt pleased and partly because Ron had just referred to himself as a ‘man’.

Mrs. Weasley looked as though she was becoming impatient, and Ron hurried off to meet her.

“Bye!” Harry called after him.

Suddenly he saw uncle Vernon, looking very shifty and uncomfortable. Remarkably, he even seemed to have lost weight. The anxiety?

“Come!” Harry cried, grabbing Hermione by the hand.

She followed him, surprised, as they went to greet uncle Vernon. He turned his usual colour purple, when he saw who Harry was bringing along.

“This is my uncle, Hermione,” Harry said, and she smiled at him nervously.

Uncle Vernon looked as though someone had just introduced him to a beluga whale.

“This is my girlfriend,” Harry went on, feeling intense happiness surging through him. “Beats Dudley’s, doesn’t she?”

* * *


THE END


A/N: Read the sequel, Harry Potter and The Forest of Shadows.

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