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“I think you’re enjoying your freedom far too much,” Tonks observed. She, Charlie and Tom were sitting on the balcony of the boys’ little house in the Romanian Highlands, on the outskirts of the reserve. Mad-Eye had give her the last week of August off, and she’d Portkeyed to Romania to surprise them.

Charlie’s hair was shorter, and he wasn’t quite as chubby as he had been – still stocky, but with more muscle. He also had quite a few more freckles than when she’d last seen him, and several burns that had been acquired in the last year. Tom had had a haircut too, had filled out a bit – he’d been lanky in school - and was looking very tanned. He also seemed to have taken better care of himself; he didn’t have any burns, or at least not where Tonks could see them.

Charlie and Tom shared a glance and then raised their butterbeers in a toast – probably to freedom.

“Maybe a bit,” Tom drawled. “When we’ve got it, anyway. Our hours are probably just as long as yours.”

“Although ours are set,” Charlie said, a little too smugly.

“Yours are,” Tom said, sharing a long suffering look with Tonks. “We-” He gestured to himself and then at her. “-don’t have that luxury.” Charlie did a lot of research, but he operated during reasonably normal hours. Tom – like Tonks – had to be available whenever he was needed; he was a dragon healer.

“You chose it,” Charlie said, grinning.

“We’re selfless,” Tom said haughtily. “Serving others, even at our own expense.”

“He’s fond of saying that,” Charlie said. “It’s like he doesn’t think him thumping around in the unsociable hours of the morning is enough of a reminder.” He gave Tom a pointed look. “It is.”

Tom chuckled, and Tonks glanced between them, amused. Several hours and several butterbeers each later, they were still out on the balcony, having not moved, except to fetch scarves. Tonks had shared some of Mad-Eye’s funnier moments – which usually occurred at her own expense – and Charlie and Tom had shared some of their own stories in return; Tonks learned the stories behind several of the burns on Charlie, and Tom showed her the detailed tattoo (it was, a dragon, of course) on his shoulder, that Charlie had persuaded him to get one night after a few too many firewhiskeys.

She also learned that they’d both had haircuts after one of the other dragonkeepers had her hair set on fire by a grumpy hatchling. Tonks thought that was rather sensible of them.

“So what’s happened with Black?” Charlie asked. “We hear a bit through the wireless, but the translation was dodgy. It was either innocent, or guilty; we couldn’t tell if they said ‘nevinovat’, or ‘vinovat’-”

“He’s innocent,” Tonks said, and that of course, led to all sorts of questions about the trial, and how he’d been caught, and that led to Tonks sharing the story of Ron and Ginny sneaking into Bones’ office to meet Harry. Charlie didn’t seem to know whether to be more embarrassed or impressed. Tom just clapped him on the shoulder, and snorted.

“Oh, come on; if we were there age, don’t you reckon we’d have done it?” Charlie shook his head, in a way that didn’t manage to convey whether he agreed or disagreed with Tom, and gestured for Tonks to keep talking.

“All right,” Charlie said, when they’d temporarily run out of things to talk about, “I’ve got to ask: what’s happening with you and Lupin?”

“What do you mean?” Tonks asked, blinking at him.

“Are you dating, or-”

“Dating?!” Tonks exclaimed. “No, we’re just good friends.”

“Good friends?” Tom repeated dubiously. Tonks felt her hair change colour; she thought it was probably a reddish pink, for embarrassment, and anger.

“Yes, good friends,” she snapped.

“We’re your good friends,” Tom said, “but I don’t reckon you talk about us quite as much as you talk about this Lupin bloke.”

“How would you know?” she asked, but she knew he was probably right. “Besides, that doesn’t mean anything; he just happens to have been there a lot this past year, because he was involved with the search, and with Greyback, and with the trial.”

“Oh, obviously,” Charlie said, grinning at Tom, who nodded in a rather condescending way.

“I don’t fancy him,” Tonks told them, blushing. “He’s just a-a good friend,” she finished lamely. Perhaps not her longest friend – the way Charlie and Tom were – but this year in particular, Remus had probably been her best friend. And that’s all they were. Friends. She nodded.

“Yeah, it sure sounds like it,” Tom agreed, in a voice completely devoid of any drawl. That in itself made Tonks think he was making fun of her. “So tell us more about him, this good friend of yours.”

*                        *                         *

Harry and Padfoot entered a brightly lit classroom. They were early; the classroom’s only other occupants were a middle-aged, motherly sort of woman, a dark skinned man with an easy smile, and a tall boy that was probably the man’s son. Like Harry, he was wearing pair of dark blue shorts, and a lighter blue jumper. Peeking out from underneath his jumper, however, was a green polo shirt; Harry’s was blue, for his House: Pippin.

“Hello there!” the woman sang, bustling over. She dodged a cluster of desks with all the ease of experience and offered her hand to Padfoot, who shook it. “I’m Julie Phelps – Mrs Phelps to you, love - and I’ll be your teacher this year.”

“Er, hi,” Harry said, blinking as she patted his head. Next to him, Padfoot was watching the woman with a combination of shock and amusement.

“Patrick Evans,” Padfoot said, getting control of his expression. They’d decided on different names and simple disguises – Harry had blue eyes, and hair that resembled Moony’s – just to be safe. Padfoot had asked around to make sure his name was clear in the muggle world and had been assured that was, but just in case it hadn’t been, and also because Harry didn’t want to be recognised as the Boy-Who-Disappeared-From-Surrey, they’d opted to take precautions. “This is my son, Harry. He’s new-”

“Of course, of course,” she said, with a nod that made her blond curls bob up and down. “Emmanuel told me you’d be coming.” The man over by the desk smiled at Harry, and Harry smiled back. “So Harry Evans, is it?” Harry nodded. “You’re not related to Oliver, are you?” she asked. “I taught him last year. Not very bright, but a nice boy and good at sports-”

“Er, no,” Harry said, beginning to feel a little overwhelmed by how chatty this woman was. He glanced at Padfoot, who shrugged, but put a reassuring hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“A bit nervous, are you, dear?” Mrs Phelps asked, blinking at him through her thick glasses. “That’s quite all right,” she said, before he could answer. “It’s your first day, so it’s to be expected.” Still lost for words – absently, he wondered how badly Draco would mock him if he was here to see this – Harry smiled at her. “Oh, excuse me; I think that’s another one of mine that’s arrived.” Harry watched as she bounced over to a girl in green, who’d come in alone.

“Harry, wasn’t it?” the man asked, approaching Harry and Padfoot. His son had gone off to greet a boy who’d just walked in with his mother.

“Hi,” Harry said.

“Emanuel Benson,” he said, offering Harry his hand. Harry shook it, recognising the name – Mr Benson was the Headmaster - and then Mr Benson offered it to Padfoot. “I thought I’d come and say hello.”

“Thank you,” Padfoot said, when Harry found himself wordless for the second time in as many minutes. Padfoot added a bit of pressure – very gentle pressure – to Harry’s shoulder, probably to tell him to calm down.

“You’re lucky with Mrs Phelps; she’s been a teacher here for a long time, and she’s a bit of a favourite with the kids.”

“She seems nice,” Harry offered, and Mr Benson smiled.

“It should go without saying that we want you to settle in as quickly and easily as possible,” Mr Benson said, kindly, “so if you’ve got any problems, feel free to bring them to Mrs Phelps or myself, and we’ll see what we can do to help out, all right?”

“Yeah, thanks,” Harry said. Mr Benson seemed genuine enough, but – other than Mrs Baddams – he’d had a fairly lousy run of teachers and couldn’t help but feel a little wary. Mr Benson smiled at him again, and then glanced around.

“Blaise!” he said, waving his son over. The boy – Blaise – glanced over, muttered something to his friend, and then walked across, giving Harry a curious look. “This is Harry.”

“Hey,” Blaise said.

“Hi,” Harry said back, trying not to feel too daunted by how tall the other boy was. Harry’d grown quite a bit since coming to live with Padfoot, but Blaise was still a whole head taller than him.

“Blaise is my son,” Mr Benson said, unnecessarily. “Why don’t you show Harry where he can put his bag, and help him find a desk?”

“I don’t want to be any trou-”

“It’s fine, kid,” Blaise said, gesturing for Harry to follow. Mr Benson smiled at them both, and then excused himself to talk to one of the other parents.

“I s’pose that’s my cue to leave,” Padfoot muttered, giving Harry’s shoulder another squeeze.

“I s’pose,” Harry said, reluctantly. He lowered his voice to make sure that Blaise – who was hovering a few feet away – wouldn’t overhear and then said, “Couldn’t you just transform and hide under my desk or something?” Padfoot chuckled and hugged him.

“I’ll meet you by the school sign at three,” he said. “And I’ll bring Moony.” He looked a little guilty for a moment, which made Harry feel bad in turn. Padfoot and Moony both thought school was a good idea, but they hadn’t forced him into it. He’d agreed.

“Brilliant,” Harry said, determined to put on a brave face, at least until Padfoot left. Then, he’d have no choice but to be brave, because it would just be him. In fact, it’d probably be easier once Padfoot was gone.

“And maybe we’ll mess around in Moony’s garden this afternoon,” Padfoot added, a little apologetically. The promise of flying that afternoon put a genuine smile on Harry’s face. “And-”

“You should go, before you promise anything else,” Harry said, laughing. “I’ll be fine, really.” Padfoot smiled and then he ruffled Harry’s hair and slipped out of the classroom. Harry watched him go, smile fading, until Blaise came over and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Sorry,” Harry muttered, and followed him over to a line of hooks that were obviously supposed to hold their rucksacks; they’d used a similar system at St Grogory’s.

“You can go next to me, if you’d like,” Blaise said, gesturing to a hook. Harry, who’d been eyeing off the end hook – that way, he’d only have one person next to him, and couldn’t be sandwiched and elbowed from both sides – glanced at the one Blaise was offering.

“Thanks,” he said, and put his bag down. Blaise adjusted his hold on his own things while he waited for Harry.

 “Do you want to sit anywhere in particular?” Blaise asked, gesturing around the room.

I can sit anywhere? Harry wondered; Mrs Baddams and all of his earlier teachers had believed firmly in seating plans, and Mrs Peterson hadn’t, but had always put him next to Dudley, because Dudley was used to his supposed naughtiness and knew how to handle him.

The boy Blaise had been talking to before he’d been assigned Harry-duty, had found two others and claimed three of the four seats in a cluster and was trying – rather unsubtly – to catch Blaise’s eye. Blaise pretended not to notice, which Harry both appreciated, and felt guilty about.

“I think they-”

“It’s fine,” Blaise said, glancing at them; one waved and patted the seat beside him.

“You can go,” Harry said.

“Don’t be silly, Evans,” Blaise said, looking offended. “We’ll find somewhere-”

“Seriously,” Harry muttered. “It’s fine.” Blaise stared at him for a moment. Harry wasn’t sure what he managed to get out of his expression, but eventually he nodded reluctantly.

“At least sit nearby,” Blaise said.

“Yeah, sure,” Harry said.

“Are you-”

“It’s fine,” Harry told him. Blaise gave him a helpless sort of look and shuffled over to his friends. A little relieved – because as much as he appreciated the help, he didn’t want to draw attention to himself by monopolising anyone – Harry deposited his things onto a cluster of four desks, none of which were occupied.

He’d hardly had time to tuck in his chair when the one beside his was pulled out, and a green blur dropped into it. It was the girl who’d come in alone. She gave him a nervous, almost apologetic smile, revealing rather large front teeth, and then started to arrange her pencil case and books.

“I’m Harry,” he said, a little uncertainly, when she didn’t introduce herself.

“Hermione Granger,” she replied, looking surprised and pleased that he’d talked to her. She hesitated, and then, apparently unable to help herself, said, “Are you new?” Before he could reply, she shook her bushy head. “You must be, because you weren’t in Mr Ashby’s class last year.” She paused to breathe. “Where did you go to school la-”

“I think we might get started for the day,” Mrs Phelps announced, to the room, saving Harry from answering; Hermione turned away from him at once, pen poised to write. “Put your bag away if you haven’t already,” Mrs Phelps said, making her way over to the blackboard, “and choose a seat – anywhere will do for today.” The last few parents trickled out the door – Mr Benson waved at Blaise as he left – and those students left standing were quick to find seats.

It didn’t escape Harry’s notice that the chairs opposite him and Hermione were the last to be taken, or that the pair that took them – a squat blond girl with a red collar sticking out of her too-small jumper, and a girl with glasses who wore blue like Harry – didn’t seem overly impressed about the seating arrangements. Neither, for that matter, did Hermione, whose shoulders had slumped when they sat down.

“I recognise a few faces,” Mrs Phelps said, peering over the top of her class list, “but most of you are unfamiliar, and I know for a fact that one of you is new-” At this point, she bestowed Harry with a bright smile. He lowered himself into his seat a little, as twenty pairs of eyes landed on him, not sure where to look. Eventually, his eyes found Blaise, who gave him a sympathetic smile. “-so be patient for the first few days, while I learn names.” She called out the class list, marking off who was there and who was missing, and had each of them tell her one thing about their holidays.

Harry’s last two months had been quiet, but his time since he was last at school had been anything but; he’d found out he was a wizard, been ‘kidnapped’, learned magic, fought Inferi, spent a week in hospital, reconnected with one of his dad’s old friends, learned to fly a broom, been arrested, sat through a criminal trial and visited Hogwarts. He would, however, be breaking several hundred laws if he mentioned any of that.

“I... er got a dog,” he said, instead, when his turn came. “He’d been in the shelter for ages because there was a mix-up with his papers and people thought he was dangerous, but he’s actually really friendly.” Everyone seemed to find this appropriately interesting, and Harry was relieved when the next name – Hermione – was called to take the attention away from him. She said, rather timidly, that she and her parents had gone camping in the Forest of Dean.

Other students had done exciting things too; a round-faced redhead named Matthew had gone to Disneyland, an Asian boy, Colin, had gone to visit relatives in Korea, and a tall boy named Jack had gone to France with his football club.

The class list let Harry put a few names to faces; Blaise’s friends were Ryan, Sacha and Paul, and the girls opposite him and Hermione were Ruth and Leanne respectively. The class disintegrated into noisy chatter after a girl named Bonnie mentioned her sister’s wedding – with a few exceptions, most of the girls were cooing, and the boys were making gagging noises – and Mrs Phelps took the opportunity to fetch a stack of papers from her desk.

“Settle down,” she called, waving her free arm. Next to Harry, Hermione sat straighter, her eyes fixed interestedly on the teacher, but she was the only one. It took several other calls – each a little louder – to get the class’ attention again. “Thank you. Now, I’ve put together a little test to see how much you’ve remembered from last year.” She beamed around at them all, as she hugged the papers to her chest, and then tinkled a laugh; the majority of the class had groaned (Harry amongst them), although Harry could have sworn Hermione’s eyes brightened. “Oh, come on, it won’t be that bad!”

“I’ve heard that before,” Harry heard Blaise mutter to his friends, who all laughed. Mrs Phelps waggled a finger at him and started handing out tests.

“I’ll give you half an hour, but I doubt you’ll need that long. You can start as soon as you get one... and please try your best: there are house points on offer if you do well enough.”

Harry pulled out a pencil and looked at the sheet of paper on the table in front of him, feeling cautiously optimistic that he would pass at the very least; Moony was too good a teacher for him to fail, unless the questions were particularly obscure.

That cautious optimism was shaken a little when he reached the first dotted line (Name) and almost wrote the wrong thing. Harry smiled wryly as he wrote ‘Harry Evans’ across the top of his test. Next to him, Hermione Granger was already on Question 4. Question 1, Harry read, assign the following Roman Numerals their relevant values. He baulked, reasonably sure that he and Moony had never covered that!

Then he read the next part of the question (X) and his eyes widened. Hang on... that’s Latin! Harry thought, and laughed to himself as he wrote the answer down.

The test wasn’t as bad as Harry had feared; he was confident about his answers to most of the Maths questions and the Spelling ones were fairly easy too, though upon reflection he was fairly sure ‘Professor’ didn’t have two f’s. He’d known – thanks to living there for seven-and-a-half years – that Kent, Sussex and Hampshire were three counties that bordered Surrey, though he’d had no idea what county neighboured Cornwall. The last question had truly stumped him; it had been a riddle and he’d always been bad at those so he wasn’t expecting good results from that question.

“How did you go?” Hermione whispered as soon as Mrs Phelps had collected their tests. Harry shrugged.

“Well enough, I think. How about you?”

“I don’t know!” she said, looking upset. “I could only name two counties that neighboured Surrey and I didn’t know what the Roman Numeral ‘D’ meant!”

“Oh,” Harry said. Then he blinked, realising she was expecting a longer answer. “I, er, I’m sure you did well anyway.”

“Yes, but what if I didn’t?” she asked anxiously. “Mrs Phelps will think I’m stupid for the rest of the year!”

“Maybe you just had a bad day,” Harry suggested.

“Maybe,” she said absently. A moment later her eyes came back into focus and she frowned. “What did you put for ‘D’?”

“Hmm? Oh, fifty,” Harry said, examining a strand of his brown hair. He still wasn’t entirely used to the feeling of it lying flat.

“That’s what I put!” Hermione said. “Is your answer right?”

“I think so, yeah,” Harry said.

“How do you know?”

Because I’m teaching myself Latin so my wizard godfather can teach me how to transform into a wolf. “We covered this stuff last year.” This seemed to appease Hermione who shifted in her seat so she was facing the front again. All right, then, Harry thought, bemused.

“There you are, dear,” Mrs Phelps said a moment later, passing him a test.

“This isn’t mine,” he said, confused. “This is Hermione’s.” Hermione jumped and peered over at the paper.

“Yes, dear, I know,” Mrs Phelps said with a laugh that the rest of the class joined in with. “I’ll read the answers and you’ll mark them. Haven’t you ever done this before?”

“Er... no,” Harry said. Mrs Peterson had never trusted him to do that and before then, he’d been too young. Hermione sighed and Harry would have bet the contents of his Gringotts vault that it was because she didn’t think him capable of marking her test.

“We’ll go slowly then,” Mrs Phelps said, passing Hermione a piece of paper. They went through the answers, a process that took almost twice as long as doing the test had, and by the end, Harry was thoroughly fed up; because she’d known he had her test, Hermione had been constantly checking to see whether her answers were right. These not-so-subtle-glances were more often than not accompanied by comments like, ‘Oh, good, I wasn’t sure about that one!’ or ‘I got lucky; that was just a guess!’ When the marking was finally finished they were told to tally the marks and give the test a score out of twenty.

“How did I go?” Hermione asked, craning her neck to see around Harry’s hand.

“Nineteen,” he told her shortly.

“Where did I lose a mark?” she said, pulling the test toward her.

“Counties surrounding Surrey,” he said, letting her have the piece of paper. “Thank you,” he said to the boy who passed him his test – Ryan, he thought his name was.

“How did you go?” Hermione asked, trying to see over his shoulder.

“Sixteen out of twenty,” he told her as he scanned the page; ‘Professor’ did indeed have one f, Devon was beside Cornwall and the answer to the riddle (worth two marks) had been a telephone box.

“You can keep those,” Mrs Phelps said cheerfully, “to refer so you know where you can improve. You’ve got recess now, until the bell and then we’ll have our assembly – can someone make sure Harry finds his way there, please?” There was a murmured assent, and Harry felt his face warm up a little. She beamed around at them all for a moment. “Off you go then, you lot,” Mrs Phelps said fondly, seating herself at her desk.

Hermione gave Harry a nervous look and then scurried off to her hook; Harry noticed she’d chosen the end one he’d been eyeing earlier. Harry joined the mob – Blaise was kind enough to leave space for him to get to his rucksack – and managed to grab his recess and extract himself from the crowd reasonably quickly, and then headed for the classroom door.

He unwrapped his recess and was cheered to see that Kreacher had packed him a slice of treacle tart – Harry’s favourite – and a few slices of apple. They hadn’t even started to brown yet, which made Harry suspect there was a charm of some sort keeping them fresh, but he wasn’t about to complain. He grinned and set off down the hall, enjoying the luxury of making it out to recess – usually, he’d been kept in for ‘misbehaving’ – and that he was blissfully alone; Dudley and his gang were nowhere in sight.

Harry’s wanderings took him to the school library, which he figured was as good a place as any to wait until recess ended. Inside was bigger than he’d expected, with rows of standard metal shelves that were filled with – unsurprisingly – books. The covers of these were brightly coloured and more often than not accompanied by a picture. Harry found himself missing the large, dark-covered tomes in the library at home.

There were circular tables with plastic chairs distributed evenly around the room, and there were a few armchairs against the walls. In one corner was a games area; Harry could see a pair of students playing chess, four huddled around a Monopoly board and a pair of students - who couldn’t have been older than six - arguing over building blocks. In another corner of the room there was a newspaper and magazine section and without being able to see their faces, Harry knew the occupants were girls; boys simply didn’t giggle like that. The other side of the room was packed with students from his class who were all crowded around two computers, no doubt blowing up aliens like Dudley had used to.

Harry found his way to a small circle of couches near the back of the library which were unused save for one, where Hermione Granger was sitting, deeply engrossed in her book: Maths for Secondary School. She stiffened as Harry sat down and her brown eyes peered over the top, doing a sweep of the general area. She relaxed when she noticed it was just Harry.

“Hi,” he said, gesturing to the other couches. “Is anyone else-”

“No,” she said. “But if you’re going to sit here, you’ll need a book. This is the quiet reading section.” Harry blinked. “And you really shouldn’t have food in here.” With that, Hermione’s attention drifted back to her book. Harry stood there, not sure if he was welcome to sit down after that, or if he should just leave. Thankfully, he was interrupted only seconds later, by Blaise’s arrival.

“Oi, Evans!” Blaise was loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to incite the wrath of the dumpy, bespectacled librarian on the other side of the library. Hermione made a quiet noise and hid her face behind her book, as Blaise wandered over, his friends trailing behind him. “I turned around and you were gone.” Blaise looked curious, though Harry didn't think he'd push for an answer.

“I'd heard the library was good,” Harry said, shrugging. It was a lie - Harry thought Blaise's friends knew that, if their doubtful looks were anything to go by - but Blaise accepted it without question.

“You did well to find it,” he said. “This-” Hermione looked up at the pair of them, eyes narrowed, and opened her mouth. “Yeah, yeah,” Blaise said. “Keep your hair on, kid.” Harry glanced at Hermione, who he suspected had been about to tell them off. Blaise grabbed two books off a nearby shelf - his friends groaned and skulked over to watch the students on the computers - and passed one to Harry, who accepted it.

“Thanks,” Harry said. Blaise nodded sagely.

“You never know when you might need to know your beetle species,” Blaise said, gesturing to Harry’s book. Harry chuckled; Blaise had a book on spiders. Hermione gave the pair of them a withering look, and Harry flicked his book open and pretended to read. “So, how are you coping?” Blaise asked. “A test on the first morning was pretty rude, if you ask me-”

“I think it was a good idea,” Hermione interrupted, apparently deciding that if she couldn’t silence them, she might as well join them. She looked a little self conscious when she realised her statement had drawn both boys’ attention. “Holidays are over and a test is a good way to remind-”

“I like school as much as the next kid,” Blaise said, cutting her off, “but a test on the first day was harsh, Granger, even you have to see that.”

“I don’t have to see anything,” she told him, rather coolly. “I think it was necessar-”

“What do you think, Evans?” Blaise asked, cutting her off again. Two pairs of dark eyes affixed themselves on Harry, waiting for an answer.

“I don’t really like tests on any day,” he said, shrugging.

“Of course not,” Hermione muttered, and once again, buried herself in her book. Harry thought she looked disappointed, which made no sense at all.

“So you got a dog, huh?” Blaise asked, after a short pause.

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Padfoot.”

“I’ve got a dog too, but she’s really old,” Blaise said. “Maid Marian.” He grinned, but his face fell quickly. “Oh, come on, you must have seen it!” Harry gave him a blank look. Blaise gaped at him. “What rock did you crawl out from under this morning, kid? Don’t you have a television-”

“Er, no,” Harry said. Blaise blinked, and even Hermione looked a little surprised; he caught her eyeing him over the top of her book. Harry pretended to be interested in a fat beetle on the cover of the book that Blaise had given him.

“So what do you do?” Blaise asked, looking equally repulsed and fascinated. Harry shrugged, and was saved from answering both Blaise and Hermione – who looked like she’d been about to say something – by the bell. The three of them jumped, startled, and Harry’s hand twitched toward his pocket, before he remembered he didn’t have his wand.

“We should go,” Harry said; while Blaise and Hermione were more used to school bells than he was, they’d been on holidays for two months. He, on the other hand, had spent the better part of two years becoming accustomed to loud, unexpected noises.

Blaise leaped to his feet, his consternation at Harry’s lack of knowledge about television temporarily forgotten; he and Hermione put their – and Harry’s – books away, and then Blaise led the way out of the library, toward the assembly hall. Hermione trailed alongside – not quite next to Harry, but close enough that an outside observer would know she was with them – in silence; out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw her open her mouth a few times, as if she wanted to say something, but then she’d glance at Blaise, and seem to think better of it.

He couldn’t yet say that he was enjoying school, but, for the first time ever, he was able to say that he wasn’t hating it.

Baby steps, Harry thought, feeling hopeful.

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