The next four days at the Burrow were somewhat depressing for Harry. Transforming into a stag every night had many disadvantages: he missed out on dinner a couple nights because Mrs. Weasley couldn’t get it prepared in time, he had to sleep outside in a small den from a transfigured tree (the wand work had been done by Hermione), and he felt as if everyone was staring at him whenever he was in stag form. It also hadn’t helped that he’d had to learn how to walk all over again since the muscles when he was a stag were so different from the ones he was used to. Harry was very grateful for his father who was very patient in giving him explicit instructions. Through his tutelage, Harry was able to master the art of simply walking after three days effort (although his speed wasn’t very fast just yet).
It was the day before the return journey to Hogwarts and Harry had just transformed out in the yard. He didn’t like it when the others watched him endure the painful process (they all witnessed it the first night he arrived) but Ginny would never leave his side when he phased. He’d gotten used to the horrible pain enough that he didn’t scream anymore. He merely expressed gritting his teeth really hard as his bones melted and his muscles twisted. It was a process he was unfortunately getting used to.
Harry shook his head as he looked up at Ginny who was sitting on the steps leading into the house. She smiled at him with sadness in her chocolate brown eyes. Harry knew she was silently blaming herself for his misfortune but whenever he’d brought it up with her she blatantly denied it.
Ginny stood up and gave him a hug. “You may not believe this but you still look really handsome as a stag, Harry.”
Harry’s nose picked up her wonderful scent. To distract himself, he managed to chuckle. “I guess I can take that as a compliment.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?”
Harry nodded. “I need to stretch these legs anyway.”
Ginny rested her hand on his neck – something Harry surprisingly enjoyed – and the two of them headed away from the Burrow into the trees leading to the Weasleys own Quidditch pitch. The cover of the thick tree branches plunged them into a darkness so thick Ginny couldn’t even see her hand in front of her face. Harry, on the other hand, had keen senses as a stag and was able to see everything in detail and sense things further in the woods that he couldn’t see with his eyes.
Ginny pulled out her wand. “Lumos.”
Harry blinked rapidly from the sudden bright light. “Ouch.”
“Sorry; it’s just so dark, I can’t see a thing.”
Harry shook his head a little, blinking furiously. “Warn me next time.”
“Sorry,” Ginny apologized again.
Suddenly, she surprised him by kissing one of his ears. Harry felt like his whole face was on fire. The ear Ginny had kissed twitched a little after she pulled away.
She giggled. “Awww, Harry, what a cute reaction!”
“Ginny,” Harry muttered, exasperated.
The sound of his thought only made her laugh even more. “I think that’s how I’ll kiss you when you’re a stag.”
And before he’d prepared himself, she kissed his ear again. It twitched like mad. Ginny giggled furiously.
“I don’t think it’s that funny,” Harry mumbled, embarrassed.
“Oh, lighten up,” said Ginny pleasantly, pushing against his shoulder.
Harry narrowed his eyes and made a decision. He twisted his neck around, brought out his tongue, and licked the side of her face.
“Ewww!” Ginny exclaimed. “Harry!”
Harry looked smug. “If you get to kiss my ear, I get to kiss you stag-style.”
Ginny pursed her lips, her chocolate brown eyes narrowing. “But you used your tongue!”
Harry rolled his eyes and started walking again. He heard her trying to catch up. “That didn’t seem to bother you before.”
He glanced back and was satisfied to see her blushing scarlet. She looked away, becoming flustered. “Yeah, but that was when we were kissing mouth to mouth.”
Ginny looked at the ground, fiddling with her wand. As quiet as a mouse, Harry twisted around and brought his face inches away from hers while saying, “That can be arranged.”
Ginny looked up and leapt backward, surprised to find him so close with his tongue sticking out playfully. “Not on your life, Harry!”
Harry laughed before turning around again, stepping over a fallen tree. Ginny crawled over the log and straightened her clothes looking mutinous.
“You were teasing me!”
“And if I was?”
“Oh, you…you…! UGH! Fine, whatever! You can lick my cheek; BUT ONLY MY CHEEK! And I can kiss your ears. Fair?”
Harry smiled. “Yeah, I guess that sounds fair.”
“You’re horrible,” Ginny muttered as she rejoined his side, placing her hand back on his neck.
Harry laughed. The two of them made their way passed the Weasley’s Quidditch field and ended up coming to a small clearing with a pond and a few fallen trees. Fireflies glided across the pond’s glossy surface and through the tall weeds surrounding the area. Dandelions glittered like they were covered in specks of gold and bullfrogs in the darkness were having a battle with the crickets to see who could make more nighttime music. Ginny walked over to the largest fallen tree and sat down. Harry followed after her and folded his legs beneath him, leaning slightly against her legs. Ginny rubbed his head; Harry closed his eyes in pleasure.
“That feels good.”
Ginny laughed and planted yet another kiss on his ear. “So tomorrow we’ll be going back to school. Doesn’t it seem a little weird?”
“Yes, especially after everything that’s happened in the last couple months.”
“Do you think you’ll be an attention magnet again this year?” Ginny asked with heavy sarcasm.
“Nah, I’m old news,” Harry replied. “I only killed the most powerful evil wizard two months ago. I’m sure there are other juicy stories captivating the Wizarding World’s attention.”
Ginny snorted. “I’m going to shove quills down any reporter’s throat that tries to snoop around.”
Harry chuckled at the imagery. “I’m sure you will but don’t do anything that will land you a cell in Azkaban.”
“Oh yes, because assaulting a reporter merits to that kind of sentence.”
The two laughed lightly before becoming quiet, staring at the pond, and watching the fireflies dance. They definitely had deeper thoughts but both didn’t want to voice them. Silently they were wondering how Harry was going to deal with his situation once he reached Hogwarts. He couldn’t sleep in Gryffindor Tower; the others would definitely notice a large white stag lying in Harry’s bed. He’d also have to skip out on dinner in the Great Hall. He wouldn’t have to do homework but he had to practice the spells they were learning in class; how else would he pass his N.E.W.T.S?
Ginny sighed. “I suppose Dumbledore will have answers to what to do about your problem.”
Harry sighed too. “I suppose he will. We should head back soon. I don’t want your mum to wonder where we ran off to.”
“It’s not like I have to worry about you trying anything,” Ginny joked.
Harry tried to laugh but his chuckle came out sour. Even though her words were true, it still hurt his pride. He was a man after all. It was only natural to be with the girl you loved, to hold and caress her. Yet he couldn’t do anything like that at night anymore. And he had to be honest with himself; being alone holding Ginny during the day was way less satisfying than holding her at night. It sounded like a stupid thing but Harry felt like the romance between them seemed sharper, more intense, during the nighttime. This stupid curse had seriously rained on his parade.
Ginny realized that she’d said something offensive. “Harry, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
Harry waved her apology away. “It’s fine. I’ll just have to find time in between classes to catch you. Since I don’t have homework to worry about I can spend my time building Ginny Traps.”
This made her laugh. “Well, before you set them, keep in mind that I still have homework.”
Harry shrugged. “You can do homework with me.”
She kissed his ear. “Only if I want you around.”
“I’m afraid my presence isn’t optional.”
Ginny launched herself on top of him, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I suppose I can deal with that,” she said in his ear before kissing the tip.
Harry stood up with her still on his back. This was the first time he’d ever let someone ride him. Since it was Ginny, he didn’t mind in the slightest. Her legs resting on either side of him actually satisfied the craving to hold her.
“Am I heavy?”
She swatted his neck. “Harry!”
“You set yourself up for that one,” he laughed.
“I just wanted to see how strong you were,” she said, trying to recover her pride.
“Sure,” muttered Harry, not buying this excuse at all.
“Really though,” Ginny said in a much gentler, even slightly worried tone, “am I too heavy?”
Sensing her stress, Harry decided not to rag on her again. “No,” he answered sincerely. “I actually like this. A lot.”
“You’re just saying that.”
“No, honest! I feel…excited…”
He felt a little embarrassed admitting this. He was basically saying that he felt aroused by her sitting on his back. Was that weird? He remained silent, waiting for her reply, hoping that this didn’t freak her out.
Ginny understood what he was getting at. She figured it must be hard for him, not being able to cuddle with her anymore after sunset. She’d harbored similar feelings of longing to be held in his arms. She too felt closer to him at night, more excited, than during the day. When the sun was out, everyone else always seemed to be around, watching them. The only moments truly alone that she and Harry experienced were during evening hours; that is, until the stupid curse.
Realizing that Harry was embarrassed by what he’d said, Ginny decided to ease his worries. “I like this too.” She leaned against one of his antlers. “I like this a lot.”
His scent was still the same as when he was human. It was entirely intoxicating. Ginny was having a hard time controlling herself. She’d done quite well in making sure their relationship remained on safe ground. She was bound and determined to wait until after they were married to go any further. Not only for the sake of moral standards but also because her mother would murder them both. Maybe Harry being a stag at night was a good thing in this case. Still, Ginny was having a hard time keeping her thoughts occupied with other things as she sat on his back, intoxicated in his scent.
Harry led them through the woods and back out onto the Burrow’s front lawn. As if she knew exactly where they would emerge, Mrs. Weasley stood in the doorway of the kitchen, her eyes locked in on their precise location. Ginny slid off Harry’s back but kept her hand resting on his neck.
“Thanks for the ride.”
Harry lightly licked her face. They’d been in the forest longer than they’d thought; it was time for bed. Mrs. Weasley waited until Ginny was on her way up the stairs to her room before heading out of the house to Harry’s transfigured tree-den.
The inside looked like a large dome shaped room with a soft carpet floor and a large pad covered in a thick quilt. Harry was already inside, sitting on the pad. Mrs. Weasley moved over and picked up a warm blanket before throwing it over Harry’s back.
“Are you sure you’ll be warm enough?” she asked, like she had every night since he arrived.
Harry nodded. “It’s a pretty warm blanket, Mrs. Weasley. I should be fine. Thanks.”
She patted his head. “I just don’t want you to freeze,” she muttered.
Harry smiled. “I’ll be fine, I promise.”
She still looked concerned but she nodded. “Alright. Well, good night, Harry.”
She left the den, closing the round door behind her. Harry looked over at the Gate Frame propped against the wall near his bed. His parents, Sirius, and Remus hadn’t been able to see him ever since he’d first come to the Burrow. Apparently they had things occupying their attention on the other side because every time he’d tried to ask them to come visit, letters in gold had appeared in the Frame, each time the same words: CAN’T COME TODAY. TRY AGAIN TOMORROW.
Harry sighed before blowing out the candle next to the frame. He closed his eyes, praying that tomorrow wouldn’t be as hectic as he feared, before falling to sleep.
Harry woke up in his den back in human form, a sliver of sunlight attempting to give light to the darkened dome. He stretched, got off the pad-bed, and opened the door of the den. His eyes watered from the sudden exposure to sunlight but it felt wonderful to be out in the open air. He went back into the den to retrieve the Gate Frame before heading to the Burrow.
Once inside, Harry became conscious of the chaos that had ensued within the Burrow’s walls; Ginny was running up and down the stairs, trying to make sure she had everything, Ron had lost his wand somewhere and was blaming George for swapping it with a fake, Hermione was flinging sofa cushions onto the floor in the front room apparently desperate to find some book she’d misplaced, Mrs. Weasley was up to her elbows in trying to do too many things at once, and Mr. Weasley and the older boys were getting ready for work.
Harry flattened himself against the wall as Ginny came flying by with her arms loaded down with laundry her mother had just given her. As Mrs. Weasley shouted that everyone had ten minutes before they had to apparate to King’s Cross, Harry was silently thankful he’d had Kreacher magic his trunk to Hogwarts yesterday afternoon – he’d already had everything packed before the Egypt trip.
Ginny stomped back down the stairs and finally noticed him. She looked frazzled, her hair in tangles and her clothes askew, but she managed to give Harry an exasperated smile. She wrapped her arms around him.
“I just need to calm down,” she muttered.
“Because it’s been cr-”
“Ginny, you can hug Harry later!” shouted Mrs. Weasley as she came around the corner with another armful of laundry. “I need you to take these to Ron and Hermione.”
Ginny groaned. “Why can’t they get their own laundry?”
Mrs. Weasley’s eyes swirled with anger and frustration. “Ron is still getting his things packed and Hermione’s out in the garden chasing Crookshanks. Since you’re fully packed the least you can do is help them finish packing!”
She thrust the laundry into Ginny’s arms and marched back into the kitchen.
Ginny turned to Harry and scowled. “I can’t wait to get on the train. Then I can have a moment’s peace.”
“Let me take care of Ron’s stuff,” Harry offered, taking the clothes from her.
She looked at him gratefully before kissing his cheek. “Thanks. I’ll see you in a bit.”
Harry climbed the stairs to Ron’s room. The redhead was in the process of chucking a stack of things on his bed into a rather beat up trunk. Harry added the folded laundry to the other contents. Ron threw the last couple of books in from a pile next to his window and slammed the lid shut.
Huffing and puffing, he turned to Harry and said, “Thanks mate.”
Harry grinned. “You know, you could have just magicked it all into your trunk.”
Ron looked crestfallen. “Why didn’t I think of that?! Getting all worked up for nothing.”
Ron sized him up. “I see you’re not running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
“For once I decided to pack my things early,” said Harry, shrugging. “I guess it came in handy.”
Ron nodded. “You think after six years I’d learn to do the same thing.”
The two friends shared a smile before they heard Mrs. Weasley yelling at them to come down. Ron snatched up his wand (which apparently had been taken by George but was now safely returned) while Harry pulled out his own wand to magic Ron’s trunk down the stairs. The two rushed down the steps as fast as they could and arrived in the kitchen thirty seconds later, gasping for breath. Harry guided Ron’s trunk over to the others before Mr. Weasley reduced their size and put them in his pocket.
“All right, let’s be off!” Mrs. Weasley shouted, shooing everyone out the door. “You’re going to miss the train!”
“I don’t see why we can’t just apparate to Hogsmeade,” Ron grumbled as they left the house and marched across the lawn.
“This is your last chance to ride the Hogwarts Express,” snapped his mother. “It’s a tradition to ride it to Hogwarts every year!”
“Harry and I broke that tradition in our second year. Why can’t we break it again?”
“Don’t argue with your mother!” Mrs. Weasley retorted. “I’d better see you at King’s Cross or else!”
Ron scowled. “Alright, keep your head, mum.”
Mrs. Weasley looked ready to wallop her youngest son right on the head but thought better of it before disapparating. The others followed her example and apparated outside the station a second later.
“Hurry!” ordered Mr. Weasley.
The group rushed inside and made it to the secret location to platform nine and three quarters. Taking turns in twos and threes, the group leaned against the barrier between platforms nine and ten. Two seconds later, Harry was standing on a large platform filled with witches and wizards. Students were saying their goodbyes to their families while others were gathered in small clusters catching up on things they’d done for the summer. Harry spotted a few reporters mucking about near the entrance and exit of the platform, their eyes darting from one section of students to the next. Figuring they were on the lookout for him, he ducked behind Ron and Hermione, asking them both to shield him from any reporter’s eyes.
After their group had successfully evaded the bundle of Daily Prophet reporters, a woman standing closer to the train caught Harry’s eye. She was tall and thin, about the same in height as Harry, with ridiculous curly long hair the color of green, pink, and blue. Her eyes were a deep colored brown reminding Harry of the color of dirt shortly after it rained. She wore light blue robes accented with a brilliant pink sash and black combat boots along with a pink choker necklace and arm bracelets.
She sent him a dazzling smile before picking up her suitcase and heading in his direction. Most of the Weasleys were staring at her the same way as the rest of the crowd; wide-eyed and slightly alarmed. She stopped in front of Mr. Weasley and grinned.
“Arthur, good to see ya!” she said in a pleasant yet enthusiastic voice.
“Gretelle?” said Mr. Weasley in bewilderment.
The woman’s brown eyes immediately stirred like churning mud. “Don’t call me that, Arthur! I told you, it’s Elle.”
“Sorry,” Mr. Weasley apologized, still not over his shock. “You just look so different. I wasn’t sure it was you.”
Elle smiled. “It’s the new me, Arthur! You may not know this but I used to be this way back in school. Tonks and I were always trying to compete against each other!”
“You’re a friend of Tonks?” George asked.
Elle turned her attention to him. “Sure am,” she said proudly, “Her best friend, in fact! I should introduce myself. My name’s Elle Merrylow. I’m the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.”
The Weasley children and Harry and Hermione continued to stare at Elle Merrylow with interested expressions. It was hard for any of them to think of her as a teacher from her appearance. But then again, Harry hadn’t thought Remus would be up for the job when he’d first met him either.
“Well, I must say it’s good to see you, Elle,” said Mrs. Weasley. “We had wondered where you ran off to after the Last Battle.”
Professor Merrylow’s eccentric aura seemed to dampen. “I had a few things to sort through,” she muttered.
Harry guessed that she had probably disappeared from society to deal with the loss of her best friend. He tried to clear the air. “It’s good to meet you, professor.”
Professor Merrylow shot Harry a grateful look before saying, “Likewise, Harry. I’ve got a letter for you from Dumbledore. He wanted me to give it to you before you got on the train.” She rummaged through a couple of her pockets before pulling out a crumpled envelope. “Here.”
“Thanks,” Harry muttered before opening it.
I figured that since you will still be on the train by the time the sun sets I should prepare a special compartment for you to stay in until Hagrid can come to get you. I’m sorry you’ll have to miss the feast but I promise that the substitute meal I will have ready for you will make up for the loss of fun you would have so very much enjoyed.
Harry immediately felt like a lead balloon had encased his chest. He’d completely forgotten about having to miss the feast. Folding up the letter and pocketing it, he looked up at Professor Merrylow who was smiling at him sadly.
“I’m sorry to learn about your problem, Harry,” she said sincerely. “Dumbledore wanted me to make sure you got on the train safely.”
Harry nodded while trying to hide his depression. He should be very grateful to the Headmaster for being so thoughtful but he couldn’t help feeling miserable. He would have to stay in a compartment separated from everyone else. Stupid curse, he thought angrily.
A train whistle blew signaling that the Express was about to leave. Mr. Weasley gave Ron, Hermione, and Ginny their trunks while Mrs. Weasley made sure to wish everyone farewell. Harry shook the older Weasleys hands before rushing to get on the train with the others. Professor Merrylow was attracting a lot of attention as she headed down the train. Harry’s presence behind her didn’t help either. Every kid on the train had their eyes glued to him as he passed.
Harry tried to ignore them as he followed the professor down to the very last compartment. Professor Merrylow pulled out her wand and tapped the door which slid open. One half of the compartment consisted of the usual seats but the other housed a nice large pad with a couple of pillows. Ginny had followed after Harry, refusing to leave him alone. Professor Merrylow made sure none of the other students were looking before issuing all three of them inside.
“What do you think, Harry?” she asked as he surveyed the compartment.
Harry tried to mask his disappointment with gratitude. “It’s great, thanks.”
Professor Merrylow sighed. “I know it can’t be fun to be secluded back here by yourself but it’s the only thing Dumbledore could think of to make sure your secret remained a secret.”
“I understand,” Harry replied firmly. Now was not the time to be whining like a child. He had asked for this curse and he needed to grow up and deal with the hindrances that came with it.
Professor Merrylow nodded. “Okay. I’ll be in the next compartment to keep a lookout for anyone trying to make their way back here. They can’t get in but it’s better to not draw attention.”
“I’m staying with Harry,” said Ginny as Professor Merrylow waited for her to join her.
The professor sighed. “Alright but you need to be with the other students before we reach Hogwarts.”
“Do I have to stay back here the whole ride?” Harry asked her.
“Dumbledore was emphatic about you being in here an hour before sunset. As long as you keep to that, I’m fine with you mingling in other compartments.”
“I’ll set an alarm,” Harry promised.
The three of them left the compartment and journeyed further up the train. Professor Merrylow disappeared into an empty compartment but Harry and Ginny decided to try to find their friends. People immediately noticed Harry and nudged their friends, pointing at him as he passed. Harry wished they’d stare at something else. Just when he was beginning to contemplate spending the entire ride in the last compartment, Ginny spotted Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood sitting in a compartment with a stranger.
The girl sitting next to the window appeared to be the same age as Harry and Neville but Harry had never seen her before. She wore a simple linen tee with jeans but was decked out in golden jewelry from large hoop earrings to arm bracelets. Her curly hair was as long as Professor Merrylow’s except it was a natural shade of copper and her skin was slightly darker than an American Indian. Her bright green, almond-shaped eyes looked over at the door as Ginny opened it.
“Hey Neville, Hi Luna!” Ginny greeted enthusiastically.
Neville and Luna exchanged greetings with both before inviting them to sit down. Harry noticed that Neville was holding Luna’s hand. He smiled. Harry couldn’t think of two people better suited for each other.
Their relationship didn’t escape Ginny’s eye either. She looked from Neville to Luna, positively thrilled. “When?” she demanded.
Luna grinned. “Over the summer Neville came to visit. I wanted to show him the nargle nest near my house and while we were trying to hunt them down, he asked me to date him.”
Neville’s cheeks darkened a little. “I’m just glad she said yes.”
“Why wouldn’t I have?” Luna asked, kissing his cheek.
Ginny and Harry grinned as Neville fidgeted, embarrassed.
Trying to change the subject, Neville introduced the compartment’s last occupant. “This is Alexandria Write.”
Alexandria smiled warmly at them. “Pleased to meet you,” she said with a slight accent.
“Alexandria is a transfer student,” said Luna. “She was just beginning to tell us.”
“Really?” asked Ginny. “You transferred from another magic school?”
Alexandria nodded. “I was studying at the Egyptian Academy of Enchantments but my mother decided to move back to England this summer. I wrote a letter to Professor Dumbledore who met with me over the summer and arranged for me to finish my schooling at Hogwarts. Since I am half English I was able to get permission from the Ministry of Magic to do so.”
“Wow,” Harry muttered. “So you’ll have to get sorted and everything?”
Alexandria nodded. “I suppose it’s going to be weird for everyone to see a seventeen year old lined up with the first year students.”
“Yeah, well, Hogwarts is known to produce things that are out of the ordinary,” Ginny joked. “I’m Ginny Weasley, by the way, and this is Harry Potter.”
They shook hands.
Alexandria stared at Harry with interest. “You are a very famous wizard, Harry. Your fame is known all over the world. I’m honored to meet you in person.”
She was incredibly sincere. Harry had suspected that she would act like some rabid fan but she was simply paying him a compliment. He knew from her relaxed reaction of learning who he was that they were going to be friends.
“I hope you’re a Gryffindor,” said Ginny as she leaned against Harry’s shoulder.
“Being sorted into Ravenclaw wouldn’t be so bad either,” added Luna.
Alexandria chuckled. “I don’t mind which house I’m put into. I’m sure that all of them have promising qualities.”
The others were slightly impressed with her maturity on the subject but Harry felt the need to caution her.
“The houses can be extremely competitive,” he said. “Gryffindors and Slytherins, for example, are total enemies.”
Alexandria seemed a little sad by this. “I know of the feud between the houses. I read up on Hogwarts over the summer while moving to England. It’s truly a pity that such a grudge exists.”
Harry and Ginny looked at Alexandria as if she were nuts but Luna seemed to agree. “I too think their grudge is silly. It’s just over exaggerated rival competition.”
Alexandria sighed when seeing the expressions of the Gryffindors. “I don’t mean to offend you or your house. I speak from experience when I say that such feuds can bring about great destruction.”
Her green eyes darkened, plagued with unspeakable suffering.
Harry felt uncomfortable. He decided to change the subject to Quidditch- always a safe topic. Alexandria knew everything about the game and joined in enthusiastically as she described plays she’d witnessed back at her old school. Ron and Hermione joined their compartment after dealing with prefect duties and were introduced to Alexandria. She fit in so well with the group that Harry felt as if he’d known her for years instead of a few hours.
After the lunch trolley had come and gone the door to the compartment door burst open to reveal Draco Malfoy. Harry vaguely noticed that he was alone. The last time Harry had seen him, Draco had looked a little sickly but now he seemed to be in perfect health. His gray eyes were filled with an emotion Harry had never seen before: pain and loneliness?
“So you four have decided to finish your last year too?” he said while crinkling his nose. “I should have realized that you’d want to come back.”
“Didn’t you actually graduate last year, Malfoy?” Ron asked.
Malfoy shrugged. “Dumbledore offered me the choice of returning since last year’s curriculum didn’t include the necessary classes to graduate. If you’d noticed, Weasley, half the kids in our year have decided to come back too. But I suppose you were too busy eyeing Granger to perceive anything else.”
Ron’s ears turned pink.
“Get out!” Harry snarled.
Malfoy shrugged. “Just stating the obvious, Potter.”
Then his cool gray eyes landed on Alexandria. They seemed to widen and for once Malfoy was speechless. Alexandria stared at him with interest and then smiled.
“I suppose you would be in Slytherin House?” she asked calmly.
Malfoy shook his head, getting his bearings. “Yes, I am.” He didn’t seem to be proud of it. The lack of emotion caused a little concern for Harry but he let it slide. What did he care if Malfoy wasn’t feeling up to boasting about being a pureblood?
“I figured as much,” Alexandria replied pleasantly, “seeing as the way the Gryffindors are eyeing you with desires to stab daggers down your throat. I can see you feel the same way about them.”
Malfoy seemed a little taken aback by her forwardness but he nodded. “Well, duh. Gryffindors and Slytherins hate each other.”
Alexandria sighed before standing up. “Would you excuse me, Luna? You guys?”
The others nodded.
Alexandria approached the compartment door still occupied by the young Slytherin. She smiled at him and whispered in his ear. Malfoy leapt back in surprise, his face on fire. Alexandria giggled lightly before saying over her shoulder, “I’m going for a walk.”
The others stared as she shut the compartment door and disappeared. Malfoy stood there, obviously staring after her for a few seconds before disappearing too.
Ron turned to Hermione. “What in Merlin’s name was that about?”
Hermione shrugged. “How should I know? From what I could tell, it appeared as if Alexandria has some kind of dirt on Malfoy. Did you see him blush?”
Harry sighed. “I’d give anything to know what kind of dirt it is. The last time Malfoy blushed that dark was when Moody turned him into a ferret.”
There was a round of laughter from the memory. Shortly after, the silent alarm charm that Harry had set went off in his head. Dread overcame him as he looked out the window. The sun was definitely setting. Turning off the alarm with a wave of his wand, Harry stood up.
“I need to get something,” he muttered for Neville and Luna’s benefit. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny knew they wouldn’t see him again tonight. Ginny stood, saying that she had to go to the bathroom. Ron and Hermione looked sad as they waved goodbye before Harry and Ginny exited the compartment.
Ginny took his hand. “Don’t worry. I’ll be there until Merrylow kicks me out.”
They made their way down the train, passing compartments packed with students that were already changed into their Hogwarts robes. Several people were lingering in the hallway, chatting pleasantly, their lives perfectly normal. Harry envied them. Professor Merrylow was waiting outside the door to the last compartment. She checked to make sure the coast was clear before letting them inside.
“I’ll come get Ginny in a little bit,” she said.
She shut the compartment door and the blinds whipped in front of the glass, blocking the interior from any eyes that may try to pry from the hallway. Harry sighed and pulled out the Gate Frame.
“Who are you going to call?” asked Ginny.
“Well, I was thinking of just my Dad and Sirius this time.”
Ginny nodded, sitting down next to the window. “I’m still trying to get over that reunion with Fred. I think it tore up mum and dad pretty bad.”
Harry smiled sadly. “Yeah, but it was a necessary get together. I think seeing him again really helped George.”
Ginny agreed. “It really did. He was like his old self again after talking to him alone for three hours. We all needed to see him.”
Harry put his arm around her. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Ginny sniffled. “I just really miss him, you know?”
“I know,” Harry muttered, rubbing her shoulder. “I know. But if you ever want to see him, just ask and I’ll see what I can do.”
Ginny kissed him. “Thanks, Harry. I’m so grateful.”
Harry looked down at the Gate Frame. “So am I.” Ginny suddenly surprised him by sitting in his lap. “Ginny?”
She kissed him lightly. “Can I be selfish for a little bit?”
Harry grinned. He wrapped his arms around her before kissing her. She moved her arms around his neck while he cupped her cheek, caressing it with his thumb. This intense snog session lasted for fifteen minutes and Harry was having a hard time controlling his feelings. He wanted to touch her more but he was out of time.
He started to pull away but Ginny locked her fingers together behind his head and forced their lips to remain connected. She slid her tongue along his bottom lip. It took every ounce of Harry’s will to push her away.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, breathing heavily.
Harry looked into her eyes; they were dancing, swirling like melted chocolate. He wanted nothing more than to snog her again but he needed to control himself. He rested his head back while Ginny leaned into his chest, still sitting in his lap.
“I went too far that time,” she muttered, chiding herself.
Harry chuckled. “Well, I can say I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Ginny slapped him playfully. “You’re supposed to stop us from getting that far.”
“Ginny, I hate to admit this but I’m never going to be the one to back out. If anyone’s going to keep my emotions in check, it’s going to have to be you.”
Ginny snorted. “Don’t make that excuse. You stopped the kiss just fine. I wanted to keep going.”
“I only stopped it because I’m running out of time,” Harry said, pointing out the window. The sun was touching the horizon.
Ginny sighed. “Leave it to you to be the responsible one.”
Harry laughed. “Well someone has to be, Ginny.”
She slapped his arm again. “Oh, shut up.”
Harry continued to laugh as he pulled out the Gate Frame and spoke the names of his father and godfather. He was sure he would see the golden letters, telling him to try again tomorrow but to his surprise, the Frame began to glow and James and Sirius appeared in the compartment.
“I wondered why you hadn’t already tried to call us,” said Sirius while eyeing Ginny in Harry’s lap. “I guess you were a little busy.”
Ginny blushed but managed to keep her voice strong as she retorted, “At least he has someone to be busy with, Sirius.”
James burst out laughing. “Ouch! She got you good, Padfoot!”
Sirius scowled. “Shut up, Prongs.”
James continued to chuckle with mirth as the two sat down. Harry gestured for Ginny to get off him so he could move over to the pad. He was already beginning to feel his bones tingle (the first sign that they were about to catch fire).
“Did Dumbledore arrange this?” James asked.
“Yeah,” Harry answered.
Sirius let out a low whistle. “This has got to be the nicest compartment on the train. The seats look totally new.”
“That’s probably because they are,” James pointed out.
Harry shuddered. The sun’s last ray was about to disappear. Ginny knew Harry didn’t like it when other people watched him transform but she wasn’t about to avert her eyes. Neither were James and Sirius. Harry gritted his teeth as the pain sprung up, engulfing his entire body. His limps bent and twisted, slowly transforming into the stag.
Three seconds later he was laying on the pad, breathing heavily, his muscles aching like crazy.
“So, are you excited to be going back to school?” James asked as if nothing had even happened.
Harry was silently grateful that his dad didn’t ask him if he was okay. James obviously knew Harry suffered every time he changed but he also understood that Harry was uncomfortable with having to describe the pain every single time. It was easier to just pretend that nothing major had happened. The other followed James’ lead; they didn’t pester Harry about the pain.
Harry nodded. “It feels kind of weird though.”
“I bet,” said Sirius. “You were just here two months ago experiencing the biggest battle of your life.”
“I suppose Hogwarts looks brand new by now,” mused James as he leaned back in his seat. “They can’t be teaching students in ruins.”
“Maybe Professor Binns requested for it to be left the way it was after the Last Battle so he could use it as an object lesson,” joked Sirius.
All four of them laughed. Professor Binns was the History of Magic teacher. His subject was the most boring out of all the studies more than likely because he droned all the way through his notes. He also was the only teacher who was a ghost but Harry was sure if he were still alive his teaching would still be as boring and drone as it was now.
They made small talk for a good half hour before Professor Merrylow appeared.
“Time to go, Ginny,” she said, after closing the compartment door. “The train should be arriving in Hogsmeade in fifteen minutes. You still need to change into your school robes.” She then turned to Harry. “I know you might not like this Harry but you’re a really handsome stag.”
“Thanks, professor,” Harry muttered while James chuckled.
Harry was silently grateful she couldn’t see or hear James and Sirius. Ginny got up and kissed Harry’s ear. It twitched six times before growing still. Ginny laughed softly before kissing the other one to see the same reaction.
“Would you knock it off?” Harry asked as he shook his head.
Ginny winked. “I had to say good night, Harry.”
Harry licked her face in retaliation.
“Harry!” she said, wiping her nose. “I said only the cheek!”
Harry smiled. “Sorry. I guess my aim was a little off.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You’re gonna get it tomorrow.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Harry replied cheerfully.
She rolled her eyes before disappearing from the compartment with a grinning Professor Merrylow.
“Well, that was…interesting,” said Sirius while grinning. “You two seem to be quite the happy couple. But a kiss on the ears? Come on; why didn’t you go straight into French snogging?”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “Don’t make me skewer you with these antlers, Sirius.”
James laughed heartily. “I’d pay to see that!”
Sirius punched James lightly in the arm but he too was grinning. “Sorry, Harry. But ragging on you is part of my job as Godfather.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Funny, you never ragged on my romantic relationships when you were alive.”
Sirius shrugged. “Darker times, Harry. There wasn’t time for that sort of thing. Besides, we rarely had time to spend together anyway.”
Harry’s ears dropped a little as he looked out the window. James looked at Sirius as if to say ‘nice going’. Sirius silently responded with an affronted look as if to reply ‘Hey, don’t get mad at me! I didn’t think saying that would make him depressed’.
Harry looked over at his dad and godfather. They seemed to be having a silent argument; probably about him. He hadn’t meant to bring it up and he didn’t mean to look depressed over Sirius’ words but they spoke the truth. Harry could count on one hand the happy moments he had with his godfather that weren’t tainted with disaster and news of hardship. It was a rather dismal revelation.
But now he had the Gate Frame and at this moment he was experiencing being with his godfather without having to worry about Death Eaters or killing Voldemort. That was definitely something to be happy about.
Sirius gave Harry his full attention. “Yes, Harry?”
Harry smiled. “I’m glad you’re here.”
Sirius looked slightly surprised but then he smiled and Harry was reminded of the photograph of his parents wedding when Sirius looked healthy and completely happy. His godfather at this moment looked exactly like he did in that picture. Harry hadn’t really noticed before but Sirius didn’t look like he’d suffered for years in Azkaban; his appearance was handsome and vigorous, full of eternal life. Seeing him like this, cheerful and bantering with his father, made Harry happier than he’d been all those times with Sirius when he was alive.
James looked from Harry to Sirius and coughed. “Should I leave to give you two a private moment?”
This comment only rewarded him a good punch from Sirius and a slightly bruised arm. The three of them laughed. Harry spent the rest of the time listening to his dad and Sirius talk about some of the pranks they pulled in school during their first couple of years. As he listened, Harry was secretly thankful that Fred and George had never met Sirius and James together; those four would have been a force that probably would have blown Hogwarts Castle to smithereens. Although, part of Harry was curious with the idea of introducing all of them; maybe allow them to play a small prank….Harry shook his head. No, that was a very, VERY bad idea.
The Hogwarts Express twisted around a few more bends before it began to lose speed. Harry could hear the hallways filling with hungry students who were eager to get to the feast. A pang of remorse filled his stomach. What he wouldn’t give to be sitting with the rest of them, enjoying conversation, and filling his stomach with the best house elf foods! His mouth watered with the very thought of treacle tart. He was terribly hungry. Dumbledore had said he had a meal prepared for Harry but what did it entail? Harry’s nose wrinkled with the sudden thought of having to eat grass.
James noticed his son’s look of distaste. “What’s wrong, Harry?”
Harry groaned. “Dad, what does a stag usually eat?”
James sighed. “I should have realized you wouldn’t be able to attend the feast. Well, let’s see…they like nuts, grasses, ferns, mushrooms, clover, alfalfa, corn, winter wheat, oats, soybeans, peas, sweet potatoes, apples, and if there aren’t any of those foods around, they’ll turn to branches from trees.”
Sirius gave him a look of concern.
“What?” said James, defensive. “I thought I should learn as much as I could about a stag seeing as that was what I turn into.”
Sirius snorted. “I guess it’s good to be that prepared.”
James shoved him. “You don’t have to worry about what you eat, Padfoot, since dogs will eat anything.”
Sirius grinned. “I’m not complaining. While you have to chew down on nuts I can have all the food Lily puts her love and hard work into.”
James snorted. “Anything Lily would feed you would more than likely be spiked with some kind of potion or poison. She still hasn’t had her revenge from the last prank you pulled.”
Harry managed to pull himself from the miserable idea of having nuts and grass for dinner out of curiosity. “What prank was that?”
James face darkened while Sirius grinned like an evil Cheshire Cat.
“I thought it would be humorous to have little clumps of Lily’s hair fall out every time she snogged James,” Sirius explained.
Harry looked at him, horrified. “You didn’t.”
James, glowering at his best friend, nodded. “He did. And it was horrible! Lily was in tears! She went completely bald after the fiftieth snog, right in front of everyone.”
“All her hair grew back right after it fell out,” Sirius defended. “Besides, you were the one who came up with the idea.”
James looked outraged. “I didn’t want to try it on Lily! I was aiming for Snape, you git!”
Sirius looked slightly crestfallen. “Darn, I guess we should have used it on him, huh?”
James continued to remain mutinous. “And now, because of YOU, I have to sleep out on the couch for a week! A FULL WEEK! Do you have ANY idea how torturous that is?!”
Sirius’ eyebrows rose. “She pulled out that punishment? But, she hasn’t done that since-”
“I KNOW!” James snapped.
Harry couldn’t contain the urge to pry. This was something that happened to his parents after all. He had a right to know. “Since when?” he asked.
James turned brick red. “Since I…since I…”
“Since he forgot about their wedding anniversary the year after they got married,” finished Sirius while trying to keep a straight face.
Harry’s eyes widened. “You really didn’t, did you?”
James put a hand over his eyes, nodding. “It is terribly unfortunate but, I did, Harry. It was an absolute nightmare.”
“I’ll say,” muttered Sirius. “I came over for dinner the next day and found a butcher’s knife at my throat with Lily threatening to run me through if I didn’t leave the house immediately. Needless to say, I told Remus and Peter and the three of us didn’t come by until James contacted us a couple weeks later with the assurance that it was safe to visit.”
Harry shuddered. He tried to imagine his mother’s anger but he could only compare it to Mrs. Weasley’s; her anger episodes could cause third degree burns if one wasn’t careful. From what Sirius had just explained Harry was sure his mother could cause similar injuries if pushed.
“If Sirius pulled the prank why is mum punishing you?” Harry asked James.
“Because I technically came up with the idea for the prank,” James answered. Then turning to Sirius he added, “And this idiot had to blab that to my wife right after the incident.”
Sirius looked guilty. “I’m real sorry, Prongs. I didn’t think she’d blow this big of a gasket.”
Harry sighed. “Sirius, not to say that I’m an expert on girls, but one thing I’ve learned from Ginny is that hair to the opposite sex is sacred and should be treated with the utmost delicacy and concern.”
“There,” said James, pointing, “even my own son knows this secret. You’ve dated more women than both of us put together and you don’t even know that?! What is wrong with you?!”
Sirius, looking rather putout, muttered, “I just didn’t think, James. I’m sorry. I’ve already said I was. What do you want me to do, beg on my knees for forgiveness?”
James’ anger dissipated. Putting a hand on his dejected friend, he sighed. “I forgive you, Padfoot. I’m just a little frustrated is all; being locked out of my own bedroom is no fun.”
Sirius continued to look distressed. “Maybe I can ease Lily’s anger. Give her flowers or something.”
James made a small smile. “She might calm down from that.”
“I think you should invite her to prank you, Sirius,” said Harry. “Let her get back at you in any way she wants.”
Sirius paled. “‘Any way she wants’? Do you realize what kind of death sentence that would be?”
Harry shrugged (or at least tried to; it was a little hard to execute the gesture as a stag). “I don’t see what the big deal is. You’re already dead and not to mention you deserve it.”
James nodded though he looked rather grim. “Harry’s right, Sirius, you have to reap what you’ve sown.”
Sirius gulped. “I’m going to die…again.”
Before James or Harry could provide him with any kind of comfort, the train came to a stop. Harry’s ears immediately picked up the increased chatter of his fellow students as they lumbered out of the train onto the platform. Once more he longed to be out there with everyone else. James and Sirius watched him in silence, both completely forgetting about their own problems out of concern for him. It seemed to take hours before the train became completely quiet but it was really only less than one. Harry remembered in his sixth year that shortly after all the students were gone, the train had started to leave the station. So why was it staying put? Harry began to wonder and then the answer came to him. Dumbledore had probably given special instructions for the train to stay in Hogsmeade.
His suspicions were correct when about a half hour after the train and its surrounding area had become completely dead, the compartment door was ripped open by a man that Harry, despite his depressed mood, was delighted to see.
“Hello Harry,” greeted Hagrid with a large, kind, half-giant smile. “Best be off, shall we?”
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