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A Butterfly Effect A Fanfiction Written By SlyGoddess Volume 1 (Years 1 2)Table of Contents Preface Pg. 03 Prologue Pg.

. 05 The Zoo Pg. 21 The Seventh Month Dies Pg. 28 Beginnings Pg. 50 I Heard She Blew Up a Toilet Pg. 80 Holidays Pg. 105 The Darkness Rising Pg. 142 Higgery Piggery Porkery Pop Pg. 181 The Book From No One Pg. 218 The Grecian Pg. 260 Losing Time Pg. 282 Interlude: A Sound of Thunder Pg. 304 Nitwit Blubber Oddment Tweak Pg. 308 Happy Halloween Pg. 322 One Secret Pg. 338 To the Edge and Back Pg. 360 Whispers in the Library Pg. 388 Preface A butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and a tornado brews in Texas. A simple ch oice: Today or Tomorrow? Conceived a day earlier, the Boy Who Lived was never bo rn. He wasn't even a glimmer in his parents' eyes. But she was; Harriet Lily Potter... Harry; the girl that grew up in a cupboard; the girl with safety-pinned knickers; the girl that was never wanted by the only family she had left; the girl that would give anything for the slightest bit of love. With a lightning bolt scar, her mother's face, and her father's messy hair, Harr iet Potter has always been far less than welcome in the Dursley household. Ten y ears old, unloved and uncared for, Harry has already seen more hardship than mos

t will see in their entire lives. In fact, her life can't get much worse. Yet on July thirtieth, 1991, a strange letter is pushed through the Dursley's mail slo t, turning her miserable world upside down. Discovering her magical heritage, Ha rry finally finds a place to belong and, after a chance meeting in a train stati on, she just might have found someone to love her. What happens when the shoes of a hero are filled by the feet of a heroine? How d oes the world change? How do relationships change? How important can one person possibly be? Follow Harry down the familiar path. Follow her as she steps off it . Walk with her as she creates ripples of flux that grow and twist into massive tsunamis, changing the course of history as we know it... for better or for wors e. 'The Butterfly Effect' is a common trope in fiction when presenting scenarios in volving time travel and 'what ifs' in which one storyline will diverge at the mo ment of a seemingly minor event. Change will build between the two storylines ex ponentially, eventually resulting in two significantly different outcomes. Rating: M for violence, gore, language, sexual situations (17+ in select chapter s), and very sensitive themes (this story has some extreme dark bits as well as happy fluffy light bits) Genre: Action/Adventure; Romance; Drama; Hurt & Comfort Pairings: An overwhelming meal of H/G (Fem/) with a side-dish of H/R (Het), H/D (Het), H/L (Fem/), R/Hr, D/PP (main and final pairings are H/G, R/Hr, D/PP) My problem with the term 'pairings' for this story: I'm all for realism. In real ity, we don't have 'pairings.' The vast scale of human interaction goes far beyo nd a simple 'so and so has sex with so and so.' This story, even though fantasti cal in nature, is a realistic romance. There are multiple main characters, rathe r than just the two in the featured 'ship,' and Harry's relationships with all o f them are based on connections that run far deeper than sex, attraction, or rom ance. When you reach the end of the second book, you'll see exactly what I mean. If, however, you're the type of reader that immediately leaves a story when they don't see their favorite 'pairing,' or sees a 'pairing' that they don't like, t hen that's absolutely fine, but you'll miss out on what I've been told is a damn good story. PS Go read the Backwards with Purpose series by Deadwoodpecker and Harry Potter a nd the Wastelands of Time by Joe6991. These stories are filled with some serious imagination power which in turn sparked my own. They inspired me to pick up the pen and start writing after a year of dealing with some heavy shit. This story is nothing similar, but still, check them out. 'Shippers' of every type will app reciate them. PROLOGUE Today or Tomorrow ONE Lily stared hollowly at him, an expression of disbelief smeared across her beaut iful face. "So, James... let me get this straight. You're telling me that on October thirti eth, one day before our first anniversary" Her piercing green eyes narrowed and J ames instinctively took a step back, discreetly covering important parts of his anatomy. "you want us to go out for a few pints with the boys?" James gulped. They had been having a row for the past ten minutes and his wife w as clearly losing her patience. He was going to have to pull out the big guns. " Lils, sweetie, it's just for an hour or two. We can try when we get back. It's b een forever since we've been out. What's the point of life if we're too afraid t o live it?" The short redhead in front of him flared with anger. Despite Lily's small statur e, James could have sworn that she was swelling to what could only be described as twice her original height. "DON'T YOU DARE 'Lils sweetie' ME, JAMES THEODORE POTTER! I KNOW ALL OF YOUR TRI CKS AND I AM IMMUNE TO EACH AND EVERY ONE!"

The kitchen door banged open. "I'm telling you, Worms, they have a chance at the cup! Chudley's keeper has bee n unstoppable. Didn't you see that" Sirius and Peter, whom had just reentered the living room, froze in their tracks at the sight of the incensed redhead. Peter shot Sirius a knowing look and nodd ed back towards the kitchen. His best friend sighed resignedly, stuffed the pump kin pasty he was holding into his mouth, gave Lily a military salute, winked at him, turned, and marched right back into the kitchen... in a near goose-step fas hion. Peter rolled his eyes at Sirius' antics and, smiling fondly at James and L ily, followed the taller man out of the room. James looked back to his wife and was relieved to see that the corners of her mo uth had twitched upwards. He thanked God for Sirius. A little bit of nicely-time d humor was always the best way to diffuse the ticking time bomb that was Lily. It reeled her back in. The enraged woman seemed to shrink before his very eyes as her anger melted away . "Lils..." he said softly, "I'm sorry. I don't want to row... I just... I feel li ke we're trapped in this house." Folding her arms, she stomped towards him and, rather surprisingly, leaned into his chest, lightly touching her forehead to his chin. James raised a finger and tilted her head upwards. Up close, her sparkling emera ld-green eyes always took his breath away. "I am sorry." Lily wrapped her arms up and around his neck, releasing a heavy sigh into the co llar of his jumper. When she finally spoke, her tone was gentle... sad even. "Ja mes, you know I want to go out and have fun for a change. You know I do. But thi s is our second to last chance to try before my ovulation cycle ends. It's eithe r today or tomorrow that we make this happen. We both know for a fact that if we go out to the pub tonight, there is no way either of us will be able to manage anything more than a few kisses before we fall asleep." She cupped his cheek and continued. "We're sleepy drunks, James; you know it jus t as well as I do. And we also both know we're going to be tired tomorrow after dinner... and the match." James let out an indignant sputter and Lily smiled mis chievously. "Yes, I know all about your wonderful surprise dinner in the top box at the Harpies game. Honestlywhy you tell Remus anything secret is beyond me. He 's the largest blabbermouth in the worldwell, apart from my wayward sister that i s." James grimaced. He was going to kill Remus... and then kill him once more for go od measure. Lily buried her nose into his shirt and breathed him in. "James, I want a baby. I want a baby so bad it hurts. I want your baby. Our baby. I want to see him sta re up at me with those big chocolate brown eyes of yours and I want him as soon as possible. I'm on so many fertility potions that it's making my head spin. I d on't want to wait another month to try and conceive. I want him before one of us gets fed up with cowering from Voldemort and goes off to do something stupid an d brave for the war effort." James looked down into the eyes of the love of his life and said huskily, "I wan t that too, Lils." "Then please, let's stay in tonight." Raking her fingernails over his shoulders and his chest, Lily stood on her tip-toes to brush her lips against his. "Let's make a baby together." James grunted affirmatively, his body singing with want for her exquisite figure . As they embraced to share a soft, loving kiss, her words fully hit home. Grinn ing against her mouth he whispered, "So... I have you convinced that the Potter line only produces boys, do I?" Swatting his arm playfully, she whispered back, "Well, if it is a girl, we're bl oody well not naming our daughter Harold." James laughed and adopted the most pompous imitation of Lucius Malfoy he could m uster. "Harold is a most ancient and noble name for a young witch of pure-blood and upstandingstanding," he finished lamely. Lily giggled and sighed into his neck. "Him... Her... what does it matter as lon

g as it's ours? We can pick any name you want, love." James grinned. "Oh really? What about Petunia?" Lily moaned miserably into his shirt. "Kidding! I was only kidding!" he said with a chuckle, pulling her chin up for a nother good, sound snog. As their hands started to roam and their breath became heavy, Sirius, Peter, and Remus reentered the room. "The battle has ended!" cried Sirius exuberantly, breaking their kiss by pulling them both into a one-armed hug. "Huzzah! Let's get going before the Death Eater s drink all the rum!" Lily tore herself away from Sirius' embrace and flicked their friend squarely on the nose. "Ouch! What was that for, you menacing woman?" asked Sirius indignantly, rubbing at the spot. Remus slung an arm around Sirius' shoulder and flicked him in the ear. "Probably for being a wise-arse, Padfoot." Sirius swatted him away and retorted with his customary, "Get bent, Moony." Laughing wholesomely for the first time in week, James patted his friend gently on the shoulder. "Sorry, mate, but I think we're staying in tonight." Sirius was clearly unsurprised by this news. He let out a cough that purposely f ailed to disguise the sound of a whip-crack and shuffled resignedly towards the door of the cottage. "Redheads, Prongs. I warned you. I warned you." Peter let out a snort and replied, "This coming from the man who is oh-so-desper ate to get us out to the Three Broomsticks... which is obviously just an excuse to disguise his poor attempt at courting a certain rather... buxom redheaded barm aid?" Sirius Black rarely blushed, but the few times that he did were usually caused b y Peter's occasional bouts of lightning quick wit. "Ahyeswell, that's completely beside the point," stuttered Sirius. Lily giggled and stepped around James, giving the three departing men a quick hu g as they donned coats and walked out into the chilly autumn air. Remus called back, "Have fun at the match, you two." James pulled out his wand and thumbed it threateningly. "Honestly, Moony, you're a dead man." Remus laughed the threat off and waved jovially. Lily adopted her sternest voice, implying that what she had to say next was not a request, but rather, a subtly-disguised demand that would have serious consequ ences if not obeyed. "You three will come by for dinner on Tuesday, won't you? F rank and Alice are coming over. We can do a big sit down and catch up." Sirius halted on the doorstep and gave Lily another quick hug. "Of course we wil l, Prongslette. There isn't a force on this earth that can keep me from your coo king. James' cooking... yes... many forces. But yours? Not a one." James shot the man his best wounded puppy-dog face. "Oh come now, Padfoot... It isn't that bad!" Sirius grimaced as if he were remembering a rather painful memory. Lily cupped James' cheek and said overly sweetly, "I know you can make pancakes, Honey. It was entirely the pan's fault." Sirius buttoned up his coat and leaned forward to whisper into James' ear, befor e marching his ridiculous goose-step down the front path. He caught up to Peter and Remus, who were briskly moving towards the picket fence and past the wards. Lily called out, "Be safe, boys!" The three men raised their hands in parting and with loud pops barely audible in the wind, they disapparated. Lily shivered, patted James on the chest, and pulled him back inside. "So, what departing words of wisdom did Mr. Padfoot have for you this time?" she asked cur iously. Blood rushed to the lower part of his body as he turned to look at her. Raising his hand, he tweaked her nose, just as Sirius had. Lily glared at him in mock outrage, growling playfully, as if she knew what he w as going to say.

James let his hand linger, trailing it down her neck and over the sensitive spot on her collarbone. He knew this body better than he knew his own. The purring n oise she made whenever his lips found that spot drove him absolutely wild. Lily closed her eyes and stepped closer to him, pressing her hips into his groin , brushing feather light kisses on his neck. His hand went down... thumb swirling around the tip of her breast; down... pausi ng at the small of her back to have her arch into him with a gasp; down... finge rs finding the hem of her dress where silky fabric met the creamy skin of her th igh. He slipped his hand inside the lining of her lingerie and lightly pressed a t the flesh right behind her womanhood. Lily's knees gave out, as he knew they would. She slumped against him, moaning h is name under her breath, her green eyes half-closed in pleasure.. James' teeth found her earlobe as his free hand tangled into her sweet-smelling red hair. Whispering softly into her ear, he answered her lingering question. "M r. Padfoot tells me that make-up sex is the best sex." Chuckling, he dropped down, wrapped his arms around her upper thighs, and hoiste d her into a fireman's hold. Carrying a squealing Lily into the their bedroom, h e turned and used his foot to shut the door with an eager SLAM. PROLOGUE The Wreckage TWO BOOM! "No, Goggy, I jus' fed yah." BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! "Lemme sleep now; tha s a good boy." BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! "HAGRID!" screamed a frantic voice. "OPEN THE BLOODY DOOR!" BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! "FOR GOD S SAKE, MAN! HOW MUCH DID YOU HAVE?" BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! He opened a bleary eyelid. It took several long minutes for his vision to clear. There was such a throbbing in his temples that he found it difficult to sit up from his bed. "Good grief, me ead." With a tremendous grunt, Hagrid lifted himself off the mattress and stumbled thr ough the dark, feeling his way along furniture towards the front room of the hut . "OOMPH." He stumbled over something fleshy and round. There was a loud whine and a scuttl ing beneath his feet. "Oh sorry there, Fang didn see yeh." The pup was small; a runt really. Hagrid had spent many an hour trying to find t he dog amongst the hidey-holes around the hut. In the dark, it was nigh impossib le to spot his tiny black body. Careful of where he placed his feet, so as not to stomp on the tails of any of t he other pups from the litter, he slowly shuffled towards the door. "HAGRID, OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW OR I WILL BLOW THE DAMN THING DOWN!" "I M COMIN," Hagrid shouted back tiredly. "MERLIN S BEARD! KEEP YER BRITCHES ON! " He picked up his umbrella and tapped it against the door frame. There was a fain t shimmer and a soft hum. Hagrid grabbed the door bolt, slid it aside, and wrenc hed it open in a huff. It was pouring outside. The wind was howling over the treetops, blowing rain and fog in every direction. The man on his doorstep didn t speak, merely stared at him from beneath his sopp ing-wet hood. As he could only see ten or so meters through the fog and rain, Hagrid couldn t quite tell just who his visitor was. After a lengthy pause of silence, he raised

his umbrella and pointed it threateningly at the man s face. However, right as he opened his mouth to tell whoever this shady bugger was to shove off, a brief lightning flash lit both the sky... and the visage under the hood. "Si-Sirius?" gasped Hagrid, lowering the umbrella. He peered suspiciously out in to the storm to search for followers, before moving aside to leave a space wide enough for Sirius to squeeze through. "What r yeh doin ere? I thought yeh were su pposed ter be in hidin with Remus and Emmeline." Closing the door quietly, Hagrid turned around and immediately went cross-eyed a s the tip of a wand pressed right into the bridge of his nose. "Hagrid?" asked Sirius tentatively, speaking in a slow, dangerous voice that dri pped with a steely... something; a something that Hagrid had never heard before from the jaunty youth s mouth. "Who did you catch me snogging in your pumpkin pa tch five years ago this exact night?" Hagrid was dumbfounded for a split-second, before realizing why there was a thre atening piece of holly pointed at his face. "Oh er" he racked his brain. "Rosemerta, wasn t it? Didn she knee yeh in the bit s in surprise? Right spooky sort o place fer a Holloween kiss if yeh ask me." Hagrid grinned, expecting to see a similar expression break over the young man s face. However, when the only acknowledgement of his ribbing was a slump of the shoulders and a drop of the wand, he became extremely concerned . "Sirius," he whispered. "Wha s this all about? It s nearly" Sirius cut him off. "I need my bike, Hagrid now." Hagrid s eyes bulged. "Wha ? What r yeh on about? Wha s happened?" "Hagrid where is it?" The anger bubbling in Sirius voice shocked him. It was odd that a man half his size could chill him to the bone with naught but a few words. "Out in the patch," answered Hagrid apprehensively. Without a word, Sirius whirled around and threw open the door, stalking out into the rain. Hagrid followed closely behind him, all the while trying to glean why Sirius was so upset. As they made their way across the hundred meters to the muddy patch o f ground where Sirius bike lay hidden, he could not help but feel an overwhelmi ng sense of dread. Hagrid knew that the Death Eaters had been especially... active... as of late. "Sirius Did summit happen at Hogsmeade? Did summit happen ter Rosy?" Sirius growled and exploded a nearby pumpkin as he randomly disillusioned areas of the patch. Hagrid s sense of dread multiplied tenfold. Sirius found and mounted his uncovered bike, pressing his wand to the ignition. The headlight blazed and the engine roared into life. As the motorcycle began to pull away from the ground, Hagrid reached down and put a hand on the man s shou lder. Composing himself, he asked gruffly, "Sirius wha s happened? Sirius gazed hollowly at the fingers that were keeping him on the ground. The yo ung man took a deep, steadying breath. "He found them. He found them, Hagrid." Hagrid s hand slid off Sirius shoulder to fall limply at his side. He mouthed l ike a fish, searching for words. "Butno. He can t ave!" "The wards fell. There s an eighty kilometer anti-apparition field in every dire ction around Godric s Hollow. Find Dumbledore, I m sure he already knows." With Sirius last word, the bike shot into the air. A good fifty meters it had r isen before a monstrous blast of dragon s flame erupted from the rear exhaust pi pes. In a flash and a bang, Sirius and his black motorbike were gone. Hagrid stood rooted to the spot. He didn t know what to think. What to do? He looked up at the castle and saw a silver flash rush out of a tower window ove rlooking the Great Hall. it sped down the walls, Illuminating the many brilliant colors of the paned glass windows. Hagrid realized with a jolt that it was head ed straight towards him. When the light finally came to a halt at his feet, he heard four words from the phoenix patronus that confirmed everything Sirius had said was true.

"Hagrid? My office, please." Sirius Black rode like a man possessed, pushing the piece of muggle junk-metal t o its absolute limit. He had run out of charges for the dragon s fire a few kilo meters back. He was so close. Ten kilometerseight kilometersthreeone... And then... he saw it; the skull and the serpent, ghostly and shimmering in the rain. No! With reckless abandon, Sirius crash-landed the bike into the picket fence. Please, God! No! Throwing himself off the smoking machine, he raced across the yard to the front door, ripping his wand from its holster. Sirius paused in disbelief outside the frame. At the sight of the wood that was torn from its hinges, his Auror training went out the window. Barreling into the living room, he shouted so loudly that he thought his vocal chords would tear, "JAMES! LILY! WHERE ARE YOU?" Scorch marks and spell burns lined the walls; furniture was missing and upturned ; the lamps in the kitchen flickered from the ambient magic he could still taste in the air. The fight had taken place less than an hour ago. What frightened hi m most were the dead and bloodied corpses of animals strewn all over. Some were only half-transfigured. James... He saw the bedroom door ajar, covered in large holes. As he stumbled towards it in the shaky light, his foot kicked something in the shadows. It flew forward and Sirius gagged. A severed handwith a wedding ring. He stared at it numbly as it sat upon the red carpet. Red carpetRed carpet? The carpet in this house is white. Oh James... Sirius reached the bedroom and lit his wand. What he saw inside that room made h is heart break a thousand times and a thousand times again. The body lay propped against the dresser, deep wounds covering every inch. The eyes were burnednogouge d out; an arm was dripping blood from the severed wrist. Pain was on his face. H is wand was at his side. The shattered glass from the dresser mirror was spread around him, each piece tinged red. Sirius fell to his knees in front of the body. He dry-retched for a good five mi nutes before he could muster the strength to acknowledge James still form. Prongs... You did good, mate; you were everything I wasn t and everything I want ed to be. But this isn t goodbye... I ll see you again. His knees weak, he stood shakily. He said no words or prayers, merely placed a h and on the shoulder of his best friend... his brother... and gripped tightly. Ev erything that needed to be said had been said already before they went into hidin g. He picked up the wand next to the body, turned from James, and left the room beh ind. With a jolt, his eyes locked onto the ceiling above the living room. Lily! This fight took enough time for her to run. She must have gotten away! But the wards and the baby... No! Please be alive! Sirius hastily climbed the stairs, back against the wall, eyes darting frantical ly into every visible corner of the house. He didn t want to see it. He didn t w ant to see it but he had to know. He reached the landing. A solitary light shone from the farthest door in the hall. He couldn t yet see i nto the room, but he felt a cold breeze blowing down towards him. Maybe Lily took the baby and climbed out the window... yes... that could be it.. . a broom... surely she would have... Thoughts hammered through his skull at a million miles a minute. His own heartbe at echoed loudly in his ears. He could feel the blood pulsing quickly through th e arteries in his neck and chest. Sliding his back along the wall, he slowly crept all the way up to the door.

Silence... She surely ran... The sound of wind was whistling into the hall. Sirius took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. Threetwoone Now! He spun into the room, firing several Auror-grade, wide-range stunners. When his eyes adjusted to the light, the first thing he noticed was that his spells kept right on going... and going, and going until they slammed into the side of Bath ilda s chimney. The entire back wall of the nursery was blown out. The second thing he noticed was a complete lack of the gore and havoc he had wit nessed downstairs. The carpet and walls, apart from the missing one, were pristi ne. The third thing he noticed was a long, black cloak covering the prone form of a pale, balding man. He was lying face down on the carpet. There were three rather large stag horns sticking out of his legs and shoulders. Well done, James old boy. You and Lily did what thousands have failed to do. You brought the bastard down! Yet as soon as he spotted the other body in the room, half hidden behind the cri b, the pride he felt for James and Lily vanished. Grief that could only be compa red only to what he felt downstairs surged through him. Lils... Oh Prongslette. Her brilliant green eyes stared blankly up at him. Her full lips were slightly p arted and a familiar green bruise rested upon her left cheek. Surprisingly, her expression contained neither the shock nor terror that were smeared across the f aces of so very many victims of Voldemort s dreaded curse. No... she looks tranquil. Sirius bent down and dragged his fingertips over her ey elids, closing them forever. I should have been here. I should have died with yo u. When he could bare to look at her no more, he turned to the crib and flicker of hope flared within his heart. Had the baby died first? If not He stepped slowly towards the small wooden crib he himself had helped James buil d. And as he looked down into it... that little spark of hope died; snuffed out like a doused candle flame. Blood was cascading from the child s head. Sirius knees gave way and he fell to the floor once more, running his fingers th rough his hair in anguish. All gone. They re all gone. Resting his head against the side of the crib, Sirius cried. He cried for James; cried for Lily; cried for every last man, woman, and child killed in this helli sh war. He cried for himself for he had lost his only family; a brother, a siste r, and a godchild. And then he cried for Harriet. She was innocent; helpless. Little Harry, murdere d in her crib, would never know the joys of life. He let the sobs wrack his body as grief hit him like a freight train. His cried echoed loudly in the quiet nur sery. Sirius couldn t have been sitting there for more than a few minutes, but it felt like days... years... eons. But, eventually, even though he was still wallowing in his misery, numbness filled him to the brim. His breathing evened, his choki ng sobs slowed, and a fitting silence reigned over the small cottage. "Gurgle" Sirius jumped a foot in the air, hitting his head on the sharp end of the crib. Cursing and gripping his forehead in his hands, he stood and gazed once more int o the crib. "Coogurglebb" Blood was still everywhere, all over the child, but a pair of bright green eyes stared back at him. The emerald orbs were moving, following his face as he swaye d unsteadily over the small bed. Sirius beheld Harriet Lily Potter, alive and se emingly well... albeit lying in a pool of her own blood. She was the spitting image of her mother: same green eyes, same little nose, sam e petite mouth; well, she had the trademark Potter hair. It was jet black and st

icking up every direction. The last time he had seen her, she had been a tiny, fat, pink, hairlessthing. She had gurgled and grasped at his fingers as her father had held her for all to se e. The second her miniature hand had closed around his pinky, he became complete ly smitten with that tiny ball of pudge . The fact that she was lying here in her crib, frail, blood-spattered, parentless , looking exactly like Lily and James, and grasping once again for his pinky, sh attered the last little bit of his already broken heart. Picking up a nappie clo th from the bag beside the crib, he gently wiped the blood from her beautiful li ttle face. When he saw it, he almost screamed. A jagged cut, the shape of a lightning bolt, was carved into the left side of he r forehead, oozing a fresh coat of blood into her eye. Had it been a normal cut, he wouldn t have been so shocked. wasn t. The skin around the woun d was tinged a vivid shade of green; the same green as her eyes; the same green that rested upon Lily s cheek. Having served as both an Auror and Unspeakable, he knew the true nature of the K illing curse. It was the energy of the spell that killed, not the direct hit. A killing curse that contacted skin would leave a green bruise on the body for day s, while a hit one s hair or clothing still kills, but wouldn t leave a mark. For this little girl to have a bruise and still be alive... No. That s impossible. How is that possible? Sirius switched his gaze back and f orth with incredulity between mother, daughter, and the cloaked man that lay at his feet. No... that s... absolutely impossible! The little girl in the crib let go of his pinky and lay back on the coverlet of her crib, waving her feet in the air, gurgling happily. The blood from her cut w as slowly clotting. It was a rather deep wound and would surely be a horrible sc ar, even if a healer could get to it right away. He noticed that she was cuddling something beneath the blanket. Reaching down, h e pulled the cloth away. Sirius choked on what was both a sob of misery and a bark of laughter. It was the miniature plush broomstick that he had bought for her at the small st ore in St Mungo s. It looked thoroughly chewed on. Sighing sadly, he picked Harry up and cradled her in one arm. To his dismay, she gurgled in protest and began to cry. Hmmm... aha! Grabbing the chewed-up broomstick, he dangled it in front of her. The crying slo wed. A pudgy little arm reached for the stuffed toy and he let her hand close ar ound the handle. The tattered twigs of the plushie promptly found themselves in her mouth. As he rocked her slowly, she let out a tiny yawn and fell asleep in his arms. "Oh Harry... I m so sorry. You ll... You ll stay with me now." He brushed his th umb across her cheek and her head turned into his touch. "W-When you re older, I ll tell you all about them." Bending down, he picked up Lily s wand, shot the most powerful stunner he could muster into the obviously dead body of Lord Voldemort, and left the nursery behi nd. Through the hallway windows, he could see lights moving outside the house. They must be setting up the perimeter. Took them bloody well long enough. Sirrius walked down the steps and out through the front door. Several things hap pened all at once. Shouts from every corner of the yard echoed against the house . Shadows flanked him. Impediment jinxes flew from every direction. Standard aft ermath procedure after a Dark Mark site becomes secured. Freeze anyone not in a hood and mask. Cutters, stunners, and bone breakers for everyone else. Get on wi th it, you lot. "IT S JUST BLACK! STAND DOWN!" Dawlish strode forward and unfroze him, letting h is wand linger. "Sirius, you brewed me a love potion in our fourth year. To whom did I administer said potion?" On any other day, Sirius would have grinned. But today, on this horrible night.. . he found that he could not. "Narcissa Black," he wheezed in a tired voice. Dawlish relaxed, looking him up and down before asking wearily, "What are you do ing here? I thought you were stationed at Hogwarts."

"I felt the wards fall. I m keyed in." Dawlish gave him an apprehensive glance, "James? Lily?" Sirius shook his head. Dawlish looked down at the sleeping girl in Sirius arms. "You got here in time to drive them off then?" "No." "What? What do you mean no? How is the child alive?" "I didn t I didn t get here in time. Voldemort himself did the job." At this, Dawlish and the ten other Aurors in his brigade stormed into action, ra cing for the house, forming shields and flanking positions. Sirius called out, "There s no need. He s gone." Dawlish stared at him dubiously. "Gone? He just left without killing the daughte r? He was hell bent on killing the Potters... Merlin knows why." Sirius gestured absentmindedly, his eyes returning to the scar on Harry s forehe ad. "No, Dawlish. Gone. Dead. Upstairs, third door on the right." Dawlish spluttered incoherently while his thoughts seemed to be attempting to fo rm rational patterns. "But...But Black, how can he beif you got here too late? Di d James and Lily wound him?" Sirius considered the child in his arms before he spoke. "Well, James managed to puncture flesh... but nothing that seemed fatal. Lily I couldn t tell you. It al most looks like she went quietly in the nursery. Dawlish, this might sound crazy , but I think she did it." Dawlish looked at him strangely and asked, "Who? Lily?" "No... Harry. Dawlish, look at the bruise around the cut. It s a curse scar. I m sure of it." Dawlish was a smart man; not a powerful man, but definitely a smart one. You had to be vaguely intelligent to become an Auror Captain. What Sirius was trying to convey was not lost on him. "Black, what you re suggesting here is absolutely i mpossible. No one survives it! It can t be done. The spell is literally death; d eath in corporeal form. It can t be stopped; it won t stop until the wizard s en ergy from the spell dissipates or it absorbs enough life. It even kills those li ttle germs floating in the air that the muggles are so fond of. You re actually telling me that You-Know-Who s Avada Kedavra bounced off the forehead of a girl in diapers and hit him instead?" "Yes. I actually think I am," he said slowly, trying to convince himself as well . "Maybe this was it; the prophecy! Maybe it said she could end him. I knew he w as after them due to a prophecy...but I was never told what it said." Pacing bac k and forth with Harry in his arms, Sirius tried to make sense of it all. "What I really want to know is how the Fidelius broke in the first place. The keeper w as totally secure." Dawlish offered no reply to his muttered questions. The man was looking nervousl y at the house. "Black, are you sure he s dead? There isn t some kind of a trap waiting for us up there? Because if he s gone well, if he s gone, we can we can al l be free from this war. It means we ve won!" "We didn t win, Dawlish," spat Sirius venomously as a surge of anger coursed thr ough his body. "And if that monster isn t dead, then he s sure as hell in a coma after the stunner I" Sirius trailed off as he spotted a shadowy figure skitterin g around the corner a few streets down. "Oi, Sirius!" Hagrid came barreling down the road as fast as a broomstick could fly. "Dumbledore is ou side the Apparition wards tryin to take em down. He told me to come and find yeh. Not let yeh out of me sight he says." Sirius was paying little attention to Hagrid, however. His eyes were fixated on the corner. Oh no... Please, tell me you didn t. When his attention snapped back to the present situation, he realized he would n ot be able to do anything with Harry still in his arms. "Hagrid, Harry survived. I need you to take her to Dumbledore. Use my bike. Dawlish can fix it for you. I ll be back." Sirius shrugged off the sleeping child into one of Hagrid s enorm ous arms and ran off toward the street down which he had seen the shadow disappe ar.

Hagrid stared down at the sleeping girl in amazement. "Survived? But... how?" he asked confusedly. The black-haired man turned and darted away from him. "Wait! Sirius, come back!" But the Auror had already sprinted around the street corner at full speed and, w ith the girl in his arms, Hagrid could do nothing but let Sirius run. Dawlish barked orders to his brigade about clean-up and containment. "Abbot, McM illan, go after Black. He must ve been on to something." The two fittest Aurors of the bunch went jogging off in the direction Sirius had taken. "They ll watch him, Hagrid," said Dawlish, repairing the bike with a flick of hi s wand. "Well, best get on your way. You can reassure Dumbledore that Black is c overed. I imagine the Headmaster thinks he might do something rash." "Aye," agreed Hagrid, sighing heavily. "Tha I should." Hagrid straddled the bike and the seat magically expanded to fit his large size. He shifted the small girl from one arm to the other so he could fit her properl y in the sidecar. As he pulled away, her tiny hand tried to wrap around one of h is fingers. However, when she could not properly grasp his massive digits, she g runted unhappily and her bright emerald eyes flew open. She stared at him unrele ntingly, as if he had done her some great personal wrong. As he stared intently back into those big green orbs, a small plush broomstick m ade its way into the girl s mouth. Hagrid threw back his head and let out a great bark of laughter. Harry withdrew the broomstick from her mouth, smiled a wide three toothed smile, wiggled her feet, and gurgled. Hagrid found her smile to be infectious. Grinning at her, he said gently, "Hullo , Arry... or should I say Lily? I m Hagrid." She blew a raspberry and squawked happily as the bike lifted off the ground. Sirius threw himself down an alley, chasing after the short man that had just do dged into it. He was running as fast as he could and was gaining on his prey, fo r his legs were long and he was quite fit. However, the man running from him was quite a different story. Even though his slightly pudgy friend could still run bloody fast, the fear of being caught likely pushing his adrenaline levels to th eir limit, Sirius could tell that he was losing his energy. And yet... the rat kept running, no doubt searching for a safe place to collapse . That was always the case back at school. Whenever they were about to get caugh t performing some late night prank, the boy would always be the first one back t o the common room, yet he would be too exhausted to climb the stairs to their do rm. Sirius thanked his lucky stars that Voldemort had laced anti-animagus wards into the anti-apparition barrier. It was both a stag trap... and a rat trap. His pre y surely would have gotten away long since had this not been the case. Sirius screamed furiously at the man in front of him, accentuating his screams w ith stunners and bone-breakers. "GIVE IT UP, PETER! YOU CAN T GET ESCAPE WHILE T HE WARDS ARE UP! IT S AT LEAST FORTY KILOMETERS TO THE BARRIER S EDGE. SLOW DOWN , MY FRIEND! I JUST...WANT...TO...TALK!" Peter yelled nothing back, just dodged into alley after alley, using his magic t o thrust debris into Sirius path and block the oncoming spells. Peter, somewhat like Dawlish, didn t have the power to throw high powered stunne rs and curses around like baseballs. He had to rely on shield charms, conjuring, hexes, and his own resourcefulness. Peter was the type of duelist that would no tice that you were dodging most of the spells that he sent towards you, so he wo uld freeze the floor with a household freezing charm, throw a mass of nonverbal jelly-leg jinxes that you couldn t distinguish from stunners, and then conjure r opes to bind you after you had slipped on the ice while trying to dodge. He didn t need to overpower you. He was just more aware of his surroundings than other people were. Just like a rat, Peter had a strong survival drive that always gave him the edge. Of all the Marauders, only Remus, with his vast knowledge of spel

ls, could best him consistently. But tonight, of all nights, Peter wasn t going to best him or use a bit of cunni ng to slip from his fingers, for Sirius was driven by the rage and grief of a be trayal. They rounded the edge of a building and came out into a large, empty, suburban s treet. "PETER! I. SAID. SLOW. DOWN!" Four bone breakers left his wand. The first two we re wide by a foot or so and went sailing into a red tank that sat propped agains t the nearest house. But the second two... The second two hit home. Peter screamed in agony as his wrist and shin shattered. Tripping over his feet, he dropped his wand, landed flat on his face, and rolled nastily across the har d concrete. Before Peter could recover, Sirius caught up with him. He stomped down on the bl ack-ash wand the smaller man was scrambling for and was rewarded with a sharp CR ACK. Peter moaned in despair. Smiling in satisfaction, Sirius pulled back his leg and with an angry grunt, kic ked Peter in the stomach. He kicked out again and again, breaking down in anguis hed sobs as he did so. Peter curled into a ball, trying to shield himself from the blows. Eventually, h e was able to grab onto a leg and hold it in place to his chest. Losing his footing, Sirius fell on top of the smaller man with a thwump. They st ruggled, but he managed to free his arm. Pulling it back, he punched Peter in th e jaw as hard as he could and felt two of his fingers break. Peter groaned and c owered beneath him. Ignoring the pain, Sirius pulled back his fist and slugged t he little rat again. Sirius was about to let loose the next strike, when he heard the man s quivering voice say, "Padfoot please." He grasped Peter s collar and screamed venomously, "PLEASE? PLEASE? WE ALL SPENT A YEAR LOCKED UP JUST SO YOU COULD MAKE THE WRONG CHOICE! YOU DON T GET A SECON D CHANCE YOU SLIMY LITTLE BASTARD!" Sirius pressed on Peter s windpipe and the small man s face started to swell and turn blue. "Prongs,he gaspedwouldn t Sirius roared, dragged Peter upwards, and slammed him into the nearest lamppost. "YOU DON T EVER GET TO SAY THAT NAME AGAIN! YOU LOST YOUR GODDAMNED RIGHT! YOU R E NOT WORMTAIL! YOU RE A BLOODY DEATH EATER. YOU DESERVE WHAT YOU DEAL OUT! TRAI TOR! Sirius screamed that last word as loud as he could. Lights flickered on in many of the nearby houses, but he blatantly ignored them and threw Peter down to the ground. Sirius collapsed next to his once friend, wiping the sweat and tears fro m his own cheeks. Peter grunted softly as he arranged his broken body into a position in which he would feel the least amount of pain. "Why?" Sirius asked with sob. Peter looked at him contemplatively, but said nothing. "WHY?" he screamed. "How...How could you do it?" Peter remained silent. "How could you do it to James? To me? We treated you like a brother the second y ou stood up next to us when Malfoy called you a Mudblood on the train. How could you do it to Lily? The one person who would listen to your problems because she knew exactly what it was like? To Remus? The man taught you everything you know about magic. We both know you re dyslexic and can t read a textbook to save you r damned life. He spent months sitting with you in the common room, dictating de scriptions of spell after spell; potion after potion. His kindness and patience is the reason you re not the equivalent of a squib! How could you do it to Harry ? You re her uncle! Not in blood but by bond. You killed your own brother, your own sister! You betrayed us all and you deserve to burn!"

Gazing at him demurely, Peter whispered, "Yes... I do." He let out a small, dry chuckle and continued. "I never told you that the hat wanted to put me in Ravenc law first, did I? It saw my desire to learn; to succeed in this world of magic. Yet it also saw my disorder. I would never be welcomed in Rowena s house. Don t you remember how long it took the Hat to decide? I had traits that three of the four houses prized, yet the Hat could not decide for me. Finally it asked me whe re I d like to go. I saw you sitting at the Gryffindor table; I saw James behind me in line and I knew he would be sitting there soon." Peter shot him a sad smile. "So, I asked the hat to put me there as well. It yel led Gyrffindor even when I didn t have an ounce of bravery in my body. I knew I had no place there, but I chose to stay. You know the story after that. We all became great friends. You know, I had even convinced myself that you were my rea l friends, not just protectors and benefactors." "We were your friends, Peter! We always were!" Peter ignored him. "When you asked me to be the secret-keeper instead of yoursel f, I was so incredibly honored. Imagine that for once, the three great Marauders needed the fourth for more than just an extra body on prank quests. So, I took that honor and held it to the best of my ability. I hid in the Shack. I was goin g to wait out the war; sit and wait until Dumbledore finished him off for good. But he found me... well, Snape found me really. He and the Dark Lord were lookin g for ways into the school. Snape remembered the Shack and he noticed my rat for m as I slept." Peter shivered. "Snape summoned the Dark Lord. God... Sirius, he s terrifying. H e ripped the knowledge of the Fidelious from my mind, yet he could only learn Ja mes and Lily s exact location if I told him willingly. They tortured me for hour s and hours. I knew I would die if I didn t give them what they wanted and when the time came to either speak or die... I gave in. The Fidelious broke and I kne w James, Lily, and Harry would be dead within the hour. I am... I am glad the gi rl survived... and I am quite glad he is gone." Sirius growled at him. Peter winced and continued. "At that moment, I knew that I deserved to die. I m a weak man, Sirius. I cared not for my friends in that moment. I cared only abou t the pain inflicted upon my body. I cared only about continuing to live my meag er existence. It was always about me surviving. I chose Gryffindor that day beca use I wanted to be safe from thugs like Malfoy and his band of goons. But I m no t a Gryffindor. I m not a brave man, Sirius. I couldn t be brave enough to face my death. I don t belong in any one of the houses. I am not worthy of the magic I own. The only reason I appeared here tonight was to make sure Voldemort would not come after me had the Potters not been there." Monologue over, Peter gazed hollowly at him. Sirius raked his eyes over the bloody man and whispered fiercely, "You should ha ve died! Had it been you in their place... I would ve... we would ve... well, I think you should know that for a short time on this earth Peter, there were four people that would have risked their lives to save your own." He stood slowly and looked down the narrow street. Muggles were crowding at thei r living room windows to see what the commotion outside had been all about. Seei ng two men out alone in the middle of the night wearing shabby and strange cloth es usually meant a pair of quarreling vagrants. Many turned off the lights, yet a few lingered, peering out through their curtains. "That sounded much like something you would say at a eulogy, Sirius." Sirius bent down and pushed the wand tip into Peter s throat. "I should do it, y ou little rat!" Peter nodded. "You should. Although, I don t want you to. All I live for is the ability to live. But maybe... maybe I wouldn t feel so scared if it was you that did it." Sirius eyes hardened. "The ability to live? Spoken like a true Death Eater, Pet er." "Then do it. Kill me. I m a man that kills to survive and I m going to keep righ t on doing it. I will keep destroying families and lives if I must." Peter spat blood from his mouth onto the concrete. "I am ready. Are you?"

He killed James. He killed Lily. He killed our family. He as good as killed hims elf. But... Moving closer, Sirius leaned down and whispered into Peter s ear, "I would never ." "Then we re at an impasse." "No. You have two choices. One: stay here under my wand tip and wait for the Aur ors, who are sure to be closing in on us. You will be taken to a Ministry holdin g cell, await trial, be tried as a willing accomplice to murder, and receive a m inimum sentence of forty years. Two: I let you leave. Completely walk away. You leave the country. In two weeks without James and Lily, I will change my mind, h unt you down, and you ll go through step one anyway. In that time on the run... you might be able to find some peace of mind." "Those don t sound like very good options to me, Sirius." "The deepest circles of hell, Peter, are reserved for those that betray their fa mily. The Aurors are coming. I can see their wands. Your options are already sev erely limited." "But what about choice three, Sirius? I like my chances with choice three much b etter." His grey eyes narrowed, and then he grimaced. " The wards fell. You knew I was stalling. You should have killed me, Sirius, and I m sorry for this." Before Sirius could even think to cast a spell, Peter hurled one of the broken p ieces of his wand at the red tank several feet behind them. Nothing happened. He looked back at Peter who was glaring at him, face full of anger, blood drippi ng down his hand. The Aurors chose that exact moment to apparate to Sirius side . "JAMES! LILY! SIRIUS, HOW COULD YOU?" Realizing what Peter was doing, he raised his wand. His lips opened. His wand ti p flicked upward to form the rudimentary stunner... and the world itself explode d around him. It was if he was the conductor and the destruction of the entire s treet was his symphony s opening chord. Knocked off his feet, he landed on his b ack with his ears and temples pounding from the blast. Sirius groaned and tried to piece together what had just happened. He was... he was waiting for enough gas to rise out of that tank you smashed! Hi s wand core is Firecrab tail, he was waiting for the wards to fall, and waiting for witnesses. He framed you. He played you. A repeat performance of your school yard duels. You slipped on his household freezing charm, and he bound you tight with ropes. Rat: one. Dog: zero. Even with his entire life crashing down around him, even with the wands he felt pressing into the nape of his neck, Sirius threw back his head and laughed uproa riously. Peter Pettigrew had just pulled the greatest prank in the history of th e Marauders. It was really too bad that only he and Peter were in on the joke.

CHAPTER The Zoo ONE THUMP. She sat upright in bed so quickly, that her habitual ducking motion was forgotte n. With a heavy clunk, her forehead slammed against the coat rail that lay two f eet above her crib sized mattress. "Bol bollocks," she moaned quietly, tears well ing up in her eyes. Dudley cackled as soon as he heard the telltale clunk accompanied by her moan. S he heard his heavy footfalls clomp down the stairs and into the kitchen where he would consume his morning feast. Harriet Potter... Harry... lay back down, curling her knees up to her chest and clutching her head as she waited for the stars to clear from her eyes.

She glared up at the coat rail. Dudley and the coat rail. The coat rail and Dudl ey. The two were incomplete without the other. And together they were the bane o f her existence. There were many banes to her existence in the Dursley household , but Dudley and the coat rail... well, if she were to be found dead one morning in her cupboard, they would surely be the ones to blame. Dudley had taken a ser ious liking to waking up before she did just so he could creep to the ninth stai r from the bottom floor, jump, and crash with all his weight on the fifth. It was terribly loud, shook the whole house, and made her cupboard creek and gro an. Thus, her forehead was intimately acquainted with the coat rail. She knew th at one day soon, Whaleboy would leap from that ninth step, crash through the sta irs, and break something. Harry herself would, of course, be blamed and made to fix everything. Perhaps the coat rail, in a final showing of repentance, would i mpale her as Dudley fell and thus spare her from her fate. Brushing a small spider away from her ear, Harry gazed around at her cupboard in the faint light. She had truly loved it when she was younger. It had been her v ery own special place. It had been her palace tower; her cave of mischief and wo nder; her impenetrable fortress against the forces of Dudley. But... it was so small. Harry had a feeling that she d never get very big, but when even she could no lo nger straighten out as she used to, when Dudley tormented her every morning, she came to see that this cupboard wasn t a very special place at all. It was where the Dursleys had hidden her; out of sight and out of mind. Dudley h ad two large rooms, while Harry had only her sixteen square feet. She had never questioned before. She had never questioned why Dudley was smothered in hugs and kisses and comfort, while she had been pushed roughly away every time she had t ried to latch onto her aunt s hand. She had never questioned why Uncle Vernon ch uckled every time she had burnt her hand on the stove. She had never questioned why Dudley threw bits of pebble at her when she was on the monkey bars at recess , or why he punched anyone that talked to her. A few years ago, one boy in her class had offered her his juice box, as he had s een that she only had some toast for lunch. Dudley had seen and had dragged the boy out behind the school to set him straight. Piers had never been kind to her again. Harry had never questioned why her hurts had gone unhealed; why she had to wear ragged cut-offs of Aunt Petunia s old nighties; why her knickers were done up wi th safety pins to keep them to her thin waist; why the only family she had didn t want her. But now? She knew now. She wasn t theirs. Her parents, according to her Aunt, ha d been drifters; bums. When they died, drunk in a car crash, her Aunt and Uncle had taken her in, but... she wasn t theirs. Harry turned and buried her aching forehead into the mess of towels and pincushi ons that she called her pillow. She had been having such a good dream. She tried to remember it fully, desperately clinging to it as her mind became active and ready for the day. There had been a man with a beard who had looked down at her with such warmth. She had tried to grasp his large hand as it tickled her stomac h, but found she could not quite hold it. The man had let out a huge laugh and s aid well she couldn t remember now. Just like the man s hand, her good dreams wer e always things she couldn t hold onto. Harry sighed heavily and sat up, rubbing at her eyes. Opening the grill in her c upboard door, she glanced briefly at the pin-up calendar that hung across the ha ll. July 20th. It took several moments for her sleep ridden mind to realize why that date seeme d important. Oh bloody hell, its Dud"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DIDDYKIMS!" squealed Aunt Petunia shrilly. Harry heard several noises that resembled the sound of a suction cup releasing v iolently; Diddykims eleven birthday kisses she presumed. Getting up, she pushed open the small wooden door and made her way around and up the stairs to Aunt Pe tunia s bathroom. She turned on the light and closed the door behind her, prepar

ing to wash up. Aunt Petunia hated it when Harry used her bath. Ever since she could wash hersel f alone, she had been made to stand over the sink and use a small spunge to scru b away at her skin. She gazed longingly at the bathtub. Harry had had several op portunities to use it when Aunt Petunia headed out to the market while Dudley an d Vernon were waddling around in the backyard, attempting to play sports. Whenev er she was lucky enough for this to occur, she would rush up here to the bathroo m, lock the door, and run a steaming hot bath. She always had the time of her li fe; splashing around, making castles from soap, and really washing her hair inst ead of using a soapy comb. Without looking at her reflection, Harry scrubbed and dried quickly. Going to th e bathroom pantry, she pulled out the one piece of clothing that was hers and fi t. It was a simple summer dress; snow white with black, velvety lace around the waist. When Aunt Marge had gotten it for her last year, the first time Harry had ever met her, Uncle Vernon had pulled his sister aside to whisper heatedly in h er ear. Harry had only caught a few words along the lines of "give an inch" and "takes a mile." Suffice to say, Marge was especially chilly toward her after the conversation. Thankfully, the Dursleys had let her keep it so as to not insult Marge and Harry had cared for the dress like she would a child. She personally h and washed it, bleached it, and starched the collar. It was bit itchy at the wai st, but... it was hers and it fit. Looking to the mirror for a quick glance before she left the bathroom, Harry fro ze in her tracks. OH NO! She ran to the mirror and leaned onto the sink, running a hand through her long, black locks in disbelief. My hair... it grew back! Aunt Petunia will kill me! Her aunt had just yesterday cut Harry s hair into a bob that didn t even fall be low her chin. Harry had absolutely hated it; it made her hair stick up all over the place. At least when it was long it attempted to lay flat... well... flattis h. Maybe if I tie it back she won t notice. She attempted to lift it into a messy bun, but several shorter strands fell into her face and over her eyes. No matter what Harry did, she couldn t get them to stay up. Giving up the futile battle, she sighed resignedly and left the bathroom. Bring on the punishment. I bet I ll have to weed her weedless garden. Groaning, Harry marched back downstairs and into the kitchen. The mound of prese nts in front of her reached all the way to the ceiling. Dudley sat next to it, h is blubber falling over the edges of his chair. Already, her cousin had unwrappe d roller skates, video games, a bicycle, a computer, squirt guns, cap guns, and every other thing a boy of eleven could possibly want... and he wasn t even half way through the pile. As Uncle Vernon pranced around nearby with a camera, Harry stealthily crept to t he stove to put on the Kippurs and eggs. Thankfully, Aunt Petunia was much too o ccupied fussing over Dudley to notice Harry s hair. "So, Dudders, where would you like to go today?" asked Uncle Vernon jauntily as he danced about, clicking the camera furiously. Dudley thought... and it looked like he was in pain as he did so. "The Zoo! I wa nt to see whales!" Harry smirked at the bacon. You don t need to go to the Zoo for that, Diddykims. Her uncle clapped Dudley loudly on the back and chortled, "The Zoo it is. Why do n t you call up Piers and Malcolm and see if they want to join us?" Dudley waddled to the phone as Harry grimaced. Piers and Malcolm; Dudley s lacke ys. Malcolm was the brawn; dumb as a stump... but he was even larger than Dudley . He would grab her hair and arms as Dudley hit her. Piers was the brains; what he lacked in size he made up for with his sharp tongue. Ever since the Juice Bo x Incident, Piers had followed Dudley around like a lapdog, partially out of fe ar, but mostly because he had few friends. He would taunt her, Malcolm would hol

d her, and Dudley would hit her. If bullying was a sport, they would surely be o n the English Olympic team. "Malcolm says he s right sick, but Piers will come." Dudley sat back down and st arted shoveling his eggs into his mouth as quickly as a human being possibly cou ld; eggs that Harry had just taken off the stove. The satisfying squeal when the y burned his tongue made her grin. "I can t take her today, Vernon," Aunt Petunia said, nodding in Harry s directio n. "I m going to Garden Club and I absolutely won t have her and her... unnatura lness-" Harry missed this next bit because her thoughts were whirling. Good. I don t want to be there. Bunch of gossipy ladies talking about everything except gardening. At least I can play with Mrs. Figg s cats today. Even though Mrs. Figg was a barmy old woman, she did have a multitude of cats, w hose company Harry had come to love. She loved anything that would sit still lon g enough to let her hold it... or at least not run from her in fear like her sch oolmates. "Ah well, I ll call up Figg then." Uncle Vernon moved to the phone, but Petunia stopped him short. "Arabella is in the hospital, Vernon. Poor dear tripped on a cat and fell down the stairs." I hope she s alright. Bet it was Snowball. "Well... what about your friend?" asked Uncle Vernon slowly, sporting the same p ained expression Dudley adopted whenever he used his brain. "Yvonne?" Petunia shook her head. "No... no, she s in Majorca for the holiday." Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia shared a look and then glanced at Harry. Petunia s pluttered in anger at the sight of her hair, but said nothing in the tense silen ce. Dudley suddenly stopped shoveling Kippurs into his mouth and looked up at hi s mother pleadingly. Both he and Harry spoke as one. "I don t want her to go!" Dudley whined. "I don t want to go!" exclaimed Harry vehemently. I hate Piers. Uncle Vernon glared at her before turning to his son. "Dudley, we can t leave he r alone in the house. If you re a good boy and don t make a fuss, I ll buy you t wo more presents while we re out!" Dudley, after considering this, looked up at his father and said, "Three." And so, an hour later, after receiving a sound warning from Uncle Vernon to not ruin the day for Dudley with any of her mischief, Harry found herself standing in a cool underground room, surrounded on all sides by a glass tank full of wat er. She glared bitterly at Piers and her cousin as they ate their ice cream sund aes. Uncle Vernon had gotten her a cheap lemon pop. She was, of course, allergic to lemons. Harry leaned against the glass wall, angrily watching Dudley and Piers as they r an from tank to tank, making faces at the dolphins, banging on the glass, and ju st being generally obnoxious. Uncle Vernon and Mr. Polkiss paid their sons no at tention as they sat talking about drills. One of the dolphins sailed right behind her head. They were so beautiful. Round and round in circles they swam. It was mesmerizing. She closed her eyes and pict ured herself swimming with them. She was positive that they didn t have coat rai ls to dodge when they woke up every morning. "Budge over!" cried Dudley s familiar voice and Harry felt an elbow slam into he r ribs. She fell just as hard, glasses flying off her face. Pushing herself to her knees, she glared defiantly at the boys, daring them to g et close enough to kick. Dudley ran off, laughing at her misfortune. Her arm had a raspberry from where she had skidded across the rough carpet of th e building. Tearing a little at both the stinging sensation and the sight of blo od dripping onto her bright white dress, Harry got up. She was about to chase Du dley down to kick him in the bits as hard as she could, when Piers held out his hand. Harry ogled him. Clasped in Piers fingers... were her glasses. He had picked them up. It looked

like he wanted to do say something , but he merely stared at her, blue eyes glued to her own. Harry, realizing the awkwardness of this particular situation, tentatively took her glasses, shoved them roughly back onto her nose, muttered a polite, "Th-Than k you," and cast her gaze to the floor, her hair falling out of her bun as she d id so. "You re... You re welcome... Harry." Not Hairy Harry? Or Potty? She hadn t heard him say her name with kindness in years. Dudley sauntered back over to them after tiring from chasing the dolphin he had been taunting all over the room. He had apparently missed the entire exchange. H er cousin threw an arm around Piers shoulder and said cruelly, "That s what you get for getting in my way, orphan." At Dudley s words, Piers familiar, taunting smirk slid back onto his face. The blonde boy let out a cold laugh and turned his back on her. Harry realized, quite suddenly, that she had to get out of this room; had to be somewhere... anywhere... that Piers wasn t. Now. She ran for the exit. "GIRL! GET BACK HERE!" yelled Uncle Vernon, but Harry was already flying out the door. She ran to the next building over, wrenched open the door, and careened i nside. Down the hall she sprinted, turning whenever she could. She must ve passe d at least a hundred glass tanks before finally slowing to sit and catch her bre ath. I hate Piers. I HATE him. Harry leaned against the wall and closed her eyes, enjoying the brief respite sh e had from her cousin and his friend. It was wonderfully cool in this building a s well; almost dank. She distinctly heard a soft, tinkling humming all around he r. It sounded very much like elevator music and for whatever reason, Harry found it extremely soothing. They must be playing it on the stereo. After her breathing had slowed to its normal pace, Harry slowly pushed herself t o her feet and peered into the nearest tank. It resembled a flourishing jungle s etting. With her nose pressed against the warm glass, she searched for the anima l it held... but, unsurprisingly, it eluded her. "Yeah," she muttered under her breath. "I d hide too if I was on display all day ." Dudley and Piers came around the corner and shouted when they saw her. Uncle Ver non was right behind them, wheezing slightly. He said nothing in the presence of so many onlookers, but his purple face, along with death glare he was sending h er, promised an extremely long stay in the cupboard... without meals. Harry glared fiercely at Dudley and Piers as they banged on the seemingly empty tank. "Stop it, you stupid buggers! How would you like it if you were the one in the tank?" They both flipped her the bird before running off to find something more interes ting to taunt. Turning back to the jungle tank, Harry was surprised to find two large eyes, not four inches away from her face, staring right back at her throug h the glass. It was a snake; a threatening, black, extraordinarily large snake. Its eyes bored into her, drawing her closer. And then... it winked. Harry started in surprise and quickly cast her gaze around the hallway to see if anyone was watching. They weren t. She looked back at the snake and winked, too. The snake jerked its head towards Dudley and Piers, then raised its eyes to the ceiling. It gave Harry a look that said quite plainly: "I get that all the time. " "I know," she murmured through the glass, though she wasn t sure the snake could hear her. "It must be really annoying."

Her eyes widened as the snake nodded vigorously. "So... where do you come from?" she asked slowly, not quite believing that she was actually having a conversati on with an animal. The snake jabbed its tail at the wall beside the glass. There were a few signs o f varying sizes. One read: Boa Constrictor, Hog Island While another read: Boa Imperator, Peru. The largest sign, which happened to be the one the snake was pointing at, read: Boa Constrictor, Brazil. Harry sighed longingly. "I bet it was really nice there, yeah?" The boa constrictor jabbed its tail at the sign again and she read on: This specimen was bred in the zoo. "Oh, I see... so you ve never been to Brazil?" As the snake shook its head, a deafening shout from behind Harry that could have only been Piers, made the both of them jump. "DUDLEY! MR. DURSLEY! COME AND LOO K AT THIS SNAKE! YOU WON T BELIEVE WHAT IT S DOING!" Dudley came waddling towards them as fast as he could. "Out of the way, you," he said, elbowing her yet again in her already elbowed ribs. She slammed into the wall behind her. What came next happened so fast no one saw how it happened; one second, Piers and Dudley were leaning right up close to the glass, the next, th ey had leapt back with howls of horror. She sat up and gasped; the glass in front of the boa constrictor s tank had vani shed. The great snake was uncoiling itself rapidly, slithering out and on to the floor. People throughout the reptile house screamed and started running for the exists. As the boa slid swiftly past her, Harry could have sworn a low hissing voice sai d, "Brazil, here I come Thanksss, Chica." The keeper of the reptile house was in shock as he examined the tank. "But the g lass," he kept saying, "where did the glass go?" By the time they were all back in the car, Dudley was telling them how the snake had nearly bitten off his leg, while Piers was swearing it had tried to squeeze him to death. But worst of all, for Harry at least, was Piers calming down long enough to say, "Harry was talking to it, weren t you, Harry?" The car went silent. Uncle Vernon stared back at her through the rear view mirro r, a look of suspicion and growing anger on his face. Piers leaned over to her a nd said quietly, "You were talking to it, weren t you? I saw you." Harry offered no reply. "Harry?" Rolling her eyes, she turned and was met by his startlingly bright blue gaze. "W hat?" "Did you make the glass vanish?" asked Piers tentatively. Wondering that herself, Harry shrugged and whispered, "So what if I did?" Piers gulped nervously. "Do you Do you maybe want to come over sometime and you you could teach me how?" Harry thought about this. She thought about Piers; thought about how nice it was when he offered her his juice box; thought about the look he gave her this afte rnoon when she lost her glasses; thought about the kindness she had seen in his twinkling blue eyes; thought about his cold smirk whenever Dudley appeared; thou ght about his taunts; thought about every horrible thing he had ever said to her . Piers had been so cruel. He had participated avidly in Dudley s Harry Hunting game, even if it had been out of fear. Peering into his eyes, she shook her head no. Piers face fell. He seemed hurt... deeply. Somewhere in those blue eyes, a tiny light flicked out. Harry instantly wanted to change her mind, but before she could find the right w ords to say, Piers spoke, his voice laced with venom. "Fine. Be a freaky little orphan on your own." Harry closed her mouth and let her loose strands of hair fall into her eyes. For the first time, after all this time, she knew without a doubt that Piers Polkis

s had meant that one. Leaning her head against the window, she listened to the m otor whir as they drove on through the city. Uncle Vernon had waited until Piers was safely out of the house before starting in on her. He was so angry he could barely speak. He managed five words, "Go... cupboard... stay... no meals," before he collapsed into a chair and Aunt Petunia had to run to get him a generous glass of Brandy. CHAPTER The Seventh Month Dies TWO Harry awoke with a start. Her stomach was killing her and making the most misera ble racket. Although she could never really see anything in the dark of the clos et, she had a feeling that it was still night. The vent that led to the roof was quiet, so it definitely wasn t morning yet. There was a nest of birds somewhere inside it and every day without fail, when the sun peeked over the horizon, she would hear their sweet, twittering song. Harry strained her ears. Judging by the silence that permeated through Number Fo ur, she assumed that all the Dursleys were sound asleep. It was probably safe en ough for her to sneak into the kitchen for some food and water. Now s my chance. Uncle Vernon had been strict with her punishment. The cupboard door was watched like a hawk. She had been forced to stay in the small space day and night; allow ed no meals. She was only let out to use the bathroom once a day. Harry would wa sh, change into new pieces of her Aunt s pinned-up clothing, and drink from the sink, doing all of this under Aunt Petunia s harsh, hawk-like gaze. It had been at least ten days since she had truly eaten. Of course, every few nights when th e house was silent, she would sneak to the refrigerator and see if there was any thing she could skive out of the top of open containers. She opened the door as quietly and as slowly as possible. If opened too fast or too far, it would creak loudly and wake her Uncle. Given that his snores could o ften be heard through three doors, a floor, and three walls, he was a surprising ly light sleeper. When the opening was wide enough for her to slip through, she squeezed out, hopi ng her nightie didn t catch on the loose nails around the doorframe. If it did r ip, she would be in for it. Harry tiptoed slowly into and across the kitchen, hissing in annoyance as the fr eezing tile floor numbed her feet. Thankfully, finding some opened food in the refrigerator was a simple enough aff air. She took two pickles from a jar at the back, pulled some grapes from a few of the fullest looking branches, and nicked two slices of ham from what was appa rently left-overs. That seemed odd to Harry. Uncle Vernon and Diddykims never le ft anything over. She was eating her way through an opened bag of carrots with her head stuck half way in the fridge, when she heard a very odd noise. It was a sweet sound, very m uch like a hum, and it was coming from... right behind her. Harry straightened slowly, closed the fridge door, and with a hint of fear that Aunt Petunia had somehow managed to come down the stairs without her noticing, t urned around. But no one was there. The landing light outside the kitchen was still dark. The humming intensified. It was bright, tinkling, conveyed an air of extreme con tentment and was emanating from the kitchen table. Moving closer, her eyes slowl y adjusting to the dark, Harry saw a terrible mess on its surface. It seemed as if several bananas had somehow exploded out of their casings and onto the glass, looking like they had each been squeezed from one end. Harry drew still closer. Moonlight shone down on the table from the kitchen wind ow.

She inhaled sharply in surprise. In the middle of the banana goo sat a snake; a thin, white, two-foot long snake;a snake whose green eyes were following her every move; a snake that was... hummi ng. Harry slowly backed away, trying not to make any sudden movements. The snake hal ted its gentle melody, raised its head, and let out a soft hiss... but that wasn t what Harry heard. "Hola, Chica." Stumbling backwards into the refrigerator, Harry clapped her hands to her mouth to stop her scream of WHAT THE HELL? The little snake cocked its head, peering at her intensely with a beady green ey e. It looked almost like it was... waiting for her to speak. "Um, hello?" she whispered through her hands. Well, that s what she tried to whi sper at least. Instead of words, long, hissed syllables escaped from her mouth a nd in that moment, Harry realized that she had heard them before while at the zo o, but her brain simply hadn t processed it in her anger. I can UNDERSTAND snakes? Gods above, Piers was... Piers was right. I am a... a.. . freak. The snake s hums began again as it slithered slowly to a pile of banana and engu lfed it, swallowing the whole mushy piece. It was a very soothing sound. "Do you perhapss know where Alphonze iss, sspeaker?" the snake chimed curiously. "A- Alphonze?" asked Harry, incredibly perplexed as to why she was hissing to a snake. Snakes were dangerous... even banana-eating snakes. "Yess. He iss my mate. You sset uss free," the snake hissed happily, gliding aro und the table to another pile of mush. "When the clear wall vanisshed, I knew he would not wait for me, sso I sslipped into your dressss pocket. He will return to you... ssome day." "Oh wait. I think I think he went to Brazil," Harry said apologetically. As the snake struggled to move into the hole from which a banana had exploded, i t resignedly sighed, "Men." Harry giggled despite the odd situation and tentatively introduced herself. "Wel l, it s... it s nice to meet you. I m Harry." She noticed that Harry, in whate ver crazy language this was, sounded a bit like socks in English. The snake di dn t seem to really care what her name was, but Harry pressed on. "What s your n ame then?" However, the snake couldn t answer her as it seemed to have gotten stuck in the hole. It and the banana were thrashing wildly about the tabletop. "Here," Harry offered. "Let me." The snake stopped struggling. Harry took the banana and peeled it open. Licking her fingers, she placed it and the freed, banana-mush-covered snake back down on the tabletop. The reptile began to devour the leftover puddles of fruit. "Much appreciated, Ha rry sspeaker. To ansswer your quesstion I wass never ssired. I have no name. Alph onze called me ssmall one. " Harry frowned. "Well, that s not very a very kind thing to call your mate, is it ?" She noticed that the word kind came out in English rather than as a hiss. S he said it again, but achieved the same result. "Many of your human wordss do not exisst in our tongue, Harry sspeaker... sso I have been told. And if you sso wish... you may name me. It iss your right ass a sspeaker." "Name you?" giggled Harry. "Well, how about Snakey?" The white snake tore its gaze from its squishy prey and peered banally into her eyes. It didn t need to say anything for Harry to get the point. "Erm right. Well, how about a nice Al name to go with Alphonze... like... Alice ? Alphonze and Alice." The snake swallowed another pile of mush before replying plainly, "That will do, Harry sspeaker." Yet Harry didn t quite hear it s answer... for the upstairs landing light had ju st flicked on. Panicking, she hastily grabbed the snake, ignoring its hiss of protest as she pu

lled it away from the bananas. Making a quick run for the cupboard, she dashed i nside, closing the door as quietly as she could. She placed the snake beneath he r bed and held her breath as heavy feet thumped down the stairs. Uncle Vernon. Harry heard the hall lamps click on and their light flooded through the crack in the door frame. Her Uncle s footsteps padded past her door and into the kitchen . The fridge door opened, shut, and she heard a chair scrape against the tile. H arry huddled into the far corner of the cupboard and shut her eyes tightly. She knew what would happen when one of Uncle Vernon s punishments was not followed t o the letter and there was no way he wouldn t notice the mess on the table befor e she d had a chance to"POTTER!" Not good. There was a sound of heavy, thundering footsteps. The door was wrenched open and her Uncle s meaty hands came into view. "NO!" she cried, trying to evade him, but his fat hand grabbed her foot and he y anked her out of the cupboard into the light. Uncle Vernon pulled her up by the hair and he roughly shook her. His face was ra pidly turning to a bright shade of purple. "WHAT DID I SAY, GIRL? NO MEALS!" Tears welling in her eyes from the pain, Harry tried diffuse the bomb. "Uncle Ve rnon, I didn t d-" The right side of her face exploded with pain. The world spun around her. Her un cle s backhand sent her careening into the front door. No matter how often this happened, not once did she ever see it coming. Dazed, Harry slid down to the gro und. It took her a moment for her sense of balance to return and by the time she was physically able to get up and make a run for it, her uncle was once again l ooming over her. His thick sausage-like fingers tangled in her hair to pull her up for another hit. Miraculously, just before the blow landed... the mail slot opened, causing Uncle Vernon to pause in shock. Amazed at the form of her savior, Harry stared down at the letter that had just been pushed through the door. Miss Harriet Lily Potter The Cupboard Under the Stairs 4 Privet Drive Little Whinging Surrey A strange sense of excitement washed over her. Not once in her life had she ever received a letter. Hand trembling, she reached for it. Uncle Vernon made an angry grunting noise and he quickly slapped her hand away, snatching the letter up from the floor. As he read the address up close, his bri ght purple face rapidly lost its color. "PETUNIA!" he shouted. "PETUNIA, GET DOW N HERE! GIRL, GET IN YOUR CUPBOARD!" "But Uncle Vernon, its addressed" Harry was not allowed to finish as Uncle Vernon grabbed her by the arm, dragged her back down the hall, and pushed her roughly inside the small closet. The door slammed shut. Harry sat in silence, fuming indignantly. It was relatively clear that she would not be reading that letter tonight, so she curled up and listened to Aunt Petun ia and Uncle Vernon s heated conversation through the door, only catching small snippets. "thought we had how" "don t must be watching the house" "know where she sleeps" "move" Bloody hell. Her jaw was aching terribly. Putting her hand on her cheek, she closed her eyes tightly and focused on something other than the pain. Lily. Lillll-ly. I like that name. The thought filled her with a sense of warmth.

A soft hum interrupted her musing. It was emanating from the corner and Harry fe lt a movement by her feet. A small voice whispered to her in the dark, "I could kill him for you, Chica. It would be easssy... Jussst a little sssqueeze." "N-No..." she said weakly. Her breath was heaving from pain and exhaustion. "Tha t s not what That s not what I want." "Well... if you re sssure..." Harry nodded tiredly, her cheek stinging. "I m sure. I don t want anyone to..." She trailed off as a very strange thought suddenly occurred to her. "Alice?" she asked quietly. "You re a snake... so... why were you eating bananas?" "I grew tired of mice, Chica." Smiling, Harry slowly fell asleep to the tinkling song of Alice the snake, her h and clutching her face as she dreamt of bananas, letters, and lilies. THUMP CLUNK Dudley cackled and thundered down the stairs. Owww. I hate you, Diddykims. Cradling her forehead, she pushed open the cupboard door and made her way upstai rs. Just before she closed the door to the bathroom, she heard Dudley yell, "DAD ? HARRY S GOT LETTERS!" She glanced at the little clock on the bathroom wall as she washed. It read 8:45 . The two tabs in the middle read 07 and 30. July 30th. She had been eleven for eight hours and forty-five minutes. Harry gazed intently at the tiny mirror, examining her eleven year old self, sea rching for some sort of change. Her nose was still tiny, her skin was still pale , her black hair was still messy, and her emerald eyes were still sunken. Nope. Although, she had lost weight over the past ten days; so much so, that she looke d a bit like a skeleton. Not like I was trying. There was a large bruise on her forehead, and an even larger one on her cheek. S he prodded each gingerly. Not too bad, all things considered. Aunt Petunia s nasal voice drifted up from the kitchen. "GIRL! Get down here now and put the eggs on!" Harry sighed. Happy birthday to me. Resigned to her misery, she pulled her white dress over her head and tried to ma ke her hair do something other than flow around her head in an uncontrolled mess . Useless. As she trudged back downstairs, an acrid smell wafted past her nostrils. Is something... burning? Her question was immediately answered as she passed through the living room. The re was a roaring fire in the grate... and in that fire there were about forty, s ingeing, smoking envelopes. In the kitchen, Aunt Petunia was scurrying about, picking up envelopes off the p reviously spotless floor. Uncle Vernon, looking particularly annoyed and purple, was shouting "HOW CAN THEY JUST COME IN THROUGH THE WINDOW?" Harry made to pick up one of the letters, but her Aunt s foot got there first. I ncensed she glared around at her family and stalked over to the stove. A great gust of wind billowed through the kitchen, most likely from the open win dow. Banging the pots around rather loudly to express her anger, Harry began to make breakfast. "Dad!" cried Dudley anxiously, stumbling into the kitchen with his arms full of what must have been a stack of a hundred envelopes. "There s more! They were jus t... They were just sitting in the living room!" Uncle Vernon shook out his morning paper, saying curtly, "Toss them right in the fire, Dudley."

Harry had just finished the bacon and she was not going to let this stand. She s lammed the pot down on the stove and yelled to the surrounding kitchen, "They re my letters and I want to read them!" "Quiet, girl!" shushed her aunt. "Or it s right back into the cupboard with you! " Harry cracked an egg viciously on the side of the pot and pulled it open. Her jaw went slack. Instead of yolk, a crisply folded envelope fell out of the shell and into the ba con grease. Completely stunned, Harry gingerly picked up the bubbling letter wit h her fingernails, reading the address that was scrawled in loopy green ink. Miss Harriet Lily Potter The Cupboard under the Stairs 4 Privet Drive Little Whinging Surrey How on earth did they get it into an egg? Just as she was about to open it, her uncle saw her shaking the grease off the e nvelope. Lunging up and away from the table, he snatched it out of her hand. "AHHHGGG!" screamed Uncle Vernon, throwing the hot letter down on the ground. Cr adling his burnt hand, he spluttered, "That is... ENOUGH! Girl... go to your cupb oard, collect your things, and go up to the spare room. You will stay there unti l I open the door to let you out. Do you understand?" Dudley whined loudly. "But Dad, that s my-" Aunt Petunia shushed him immediately. Glaring at Uncle Vernon, Harry stomped out of the kitchen and wrenched open the cupboard door. She bent down, grabbed her towel, knickers, and nighties and was about to slam the door, when she remembered. Lowering her voice, Harry whispered into the dark, "Alice? Are you here?" "I am here, Harry ssspeaker." She held out her hand. "Come on. We have to go upstairs." Instead of simply sliding into her palm, Alice slipped up her arm and coiled aro und her bicep. Hoping her relatives wouldn t see her with the snake, Harry ran u pstairs as fast as she could. The spare room was small, but still much larger than the cupboard. The lack of s pace was mostly due to the junk Dudley had left littered around it. Toys, books, and games he had never used filled the shelves and closet. She placed her scant belongings onto the small desk by the window and held out her arm for Alice to slither down to the wood. The snake slid around her pile of ragged clothes and c oiled onto the desk lamp that Harry had just lit. "I hate it here," Harry muttered, rubbing at her eyes which had filled with angr y tears. "Why do you not leave, Chica?" Harry gripped the desk chair until her knuckles turned bright red. "Because becau se I have nowhere else to go." The snake said nothing in return, merely closed its eyes and rested its head und er the rapidly heating light-bulb. Harry sniffled, picked up one of Dudley s many discarded books, and flopped back onto the bed to let the day pass by in another room, but the same prison. She saw eyes. Red eyes burning with madness and hate. A flash of green light. BOOM Harry sat up quickly, wincing as she rose, knowing that the coat rail would do i ts dastardly deed effectively But it didn t come. Opening her eyes, she glanced around the small bedroom in co nfusion. Oh... Right. She looked at the clock. 4:00 pm. There was a huge amount of commotion coming from downstairs. It sounded almost as if a train was passing beneath her feet. Slightly excited, she jumped out of bed, raced to the door, a

nd rushed downstairs. The letters were everywhere: flying out of the chimney, sailing in through windo ws, and spilling out of the closet. Dudley and Aunt Petunia were cowering behind her Uncle as the envelopes shot around him in every direction. Harry reached ou t and deftly snatched one from the air. Miss Harriet Lily Potter The Smallest Bedroom 4 Privet Drive Little Whinging Surrey Uncle Vernon dove for her. "THAT IS ENOUGH! WE RE LEAVING! DUDLEY, PETUNIA, PACK SOME THINGS." He dragged Harry out the front door, down the driveway, unlocked the car, and threw her into the backseat. Within fifteen minutes they were packed and rolling down the road. Aunt Petunia sat stoically, staring straight ahead and occasionally tittering, "It s alright, Diddykims." Uncle Vernon was muttering to himself heatedly as he drove; nonsens e things like "Too right!" and "Can t catch us now!" Every so often he would get a bit too angry and swerve into the left lane. Dudley was crying loudly because Uncle Vernon had smashed his Nintendo as her cousin had tried to stuff it, alon g with his TV, into his suitcase. Harry, however, sat quietly, fuming at the inj ustice of it all, subtly kicking the back of Uncle Vernon s seat whenever they d rove over a bump. They re my letters! They drove for hours in no particular direction, taking random exits and pulling into parking garages or shopping malls. For dinner, they checked into a motel w ith a grungy looking restaurant. They most likely would have stayed the night af ter eating had the desk clerk not stopped them in the lobby and asked, "Excuse m e, is one of you a Miss Harriet Potter? I just got about a hundred of these deli vered a few minutes ago." He had held up a letter. Miss Harriet Lily Potter The Front Lobby 7:33 pm Railview Motel Cokeworth Uncle Vernon s eyes had bulged and he had herded them quickly back into the car. It was starting to storm. They drove south for about forty minutes and arrived at the beach. Her uncle par ked in an empty lot, left the car without a word, and disappeared into the heavy rain. When he returned a half an hour later, a grizzled old man in a yellow rai ncoat accompanied him. "Everyone out. I ve found us a place." Harry sat in front of the small hearth, shivering. The shack was absolutely free zing. The icy ocean spray stung her face as it blew through the cracks in the wa lls of the front room. Leaning forward, she attempted to dry her dress by fannin g it in the heat of the small fire that she had finally started with a few wet m atches. CREAK Harry jumped. The steps outside the shack moaned in what was clearly protest. CREAK Again. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! The tremendous knock shook the very walls and seconds later, Uncle Vernon, in hi s paisley nightgown, burst into the front room. He was holding what looked to Ha rry like a rusted, old, double-barrel shotgun. Aunt Petunia and Dudley hid behin d his bulbous bottom. "Who s there?" her uncle demanded. "I m warning you! I m armed!"

With a great smash, the door was blown inward off its hinges. Harry gasped. A giant of a man, at least ten feet tall, stood just outside the frame. He ducke d low to step into the cabin and a deep voice called out gruffly, "Sorry! Sorry! " He picked the door up and put it haphazardly back into its place. "Don know m e own strength!" The man turned, spotted Harry, and his round, bearded face spli t into a wide smile. He shoved past Uncle Vernon and into the light of the fire. "And ere s Arry!" the giant said with a happy laugh. The enormous man pulled off his large, many-pocketed overcoat and hung it on the coat stand, which promptly fell over under the weight of it. He sat down next t o her in the large moldy armchair across from the fire, staring at her with bead y, yet kind eyes. "Merlin s Beard, Arry! Last time I saw yeh, yeh was only a ba by! And now yer as right beautiful as yer Mum. Look just like Lily, yeh do. Well no... yeh got James hair I s pose. " Harry stared up at the large man in shock, her jaw hanging open. So many questio ns were running through her head that she was absolutely unable bring herself to utter a single word. Uncle Vernon however, managed to find his voice. He hoisted his gun. "Sir, I ins ist that you leave! You are breaking and entering and I... I am armed!" The giant guffawed loudly, reached around the arm chair, plucked the shotgun out of her uncle s hands, bent it in half as if it were piece of wire, and tossed i t back to him. "Pipe down, Dursley, yah great prune," said Hagrid. He turned bac k to Harry. "Oh Arry, I almost forgot. I got summat fer yeh." He reached into o ne of the largest pockets on his jacket and pulled out a flattish box. Handing i t to her, he chuckled warmly and said, "I might of sat on it at some point... bu t anyway, Appy birthday, lass." Inside the box was a slightly squashed chocolate cake, the icing of which read, Happy 11th, Harry. She was about to touch it, when she froze in fear of being slapped. She looked up at the man with a questioning gaze and he smiled down at her, nodding vigorously. Harry dipped her pinky into the thick icing on the side. She brought it to her m outh and touched it to her tongue. As the chocolate hit her taste-buds, every ne rve in her body cried out in joy and she shivered violently. "Oh no, too sweet is it? I don t usually bake yeh see and-" "NO!" shouted Harry. "No, it s wonderful I ve just I ve never had chocolate before ." She tried to give the man the most brilliant smile she could muster. "Thank y ou... so much. But but who exactly are you?" Harry thought the question sounded a bit rude as it rolled off her tongue, but t he huge man barked out a laugh. "O course! Slipped me ead, lass. The name s Rubeus Hagrid. Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts." He looked at her like this bit of information would explai n everything and held out his hand for her to shake. "Call me Hagrid, everyone d oes." "Hog-what?" asked Harry, confused. When she grabbed his large pinky and shook, H agrid smiled, clearly amused for some odd reason. "Hogwarts, lass! Didn t yeh ever wonder where yer parents learned it all? Albus Dumbledore sent me personally ter take yeh ter get yer-" The giant... Hagrid... abruptly stopped speaking mid-sentence, his expression twisting into that of gra ve concern. If it hadn t been for that affectionate look, Harry would have scutt led away from his hand as it reached out and lifted her chin into the air. He pu shed her hair away from her face and beheld the two large purplish bruises. " Arry who.. whaa -?" In the split second before she covered her face with a hand , Hagrid had seen Harry s eyes dart toward Uncle Vernon. And that had been enoug h. Hagrid seemed to expand and his eyes darkened. With a booming roar that shook the small house, he cried out, "DURSLEY!" Hagrid stood and marched towards her uncle, who was cowering as the giant advanc ed on him. He whipped out a large pink umbrella and brandished it like a sword, raising it above his head, then slashing it viciously downwards. At first, Uncle Vernon gazed fearfully at the large man. Nothing seemed to have happened.

Then, Dudley let out an unholy wail and clamped his hands to his backside. Befor e her cousin ran out of the room screaming, Harry was able to catch a glimpse of the long, curly-q pig s tail sticking out from the waistline of his trousers. A unt Petunia shrieked and Uncle Vernon backed away, dragging Petunia along with h im. Hagrid raised the umbrella threateningly and her relatives squeaked in terro r. They scurried into the back room, shutting the door firmly behind them. Hagrid huffed in satisfaction. "Sorry about that, Arry." "That.. That was THAT WAS AMAZING!" cried Harry, literally bouncing on the sofa a s she said it. "How did you do it?" Hagrid laughed heartily. "Why with magic o course! Although, ter be honest, I wa s aimin fer yer uncle and I meant ter turn im all the way pig!" Harry stared at him in confusion, not quite sure if he was taking the mickey out of her. "What do you mean by magic?" she asked slowly. "Like a bunny rabbit... and a hat?" "No Arry, o course not." Hagrid gave her a look that said he too felt that she was taking the mickey out of him. "Real magic." Harry giggled nervously. "Erm... but, magic doesn t exist." Hagrid seemed puzzled, before the answer slowly dawned in his eyes. "Yeh mean yeh mean ter tell me that yeh don t know anything?" he asked slightly desperately. Harry thought that was going a bit far. "Hey... I ve been to school! I m top of the class at maths... and grammar... and... stuff." Hagrid shook his head. "I don t mean that, lass! I mean about our world. Yer wor ld. Yer parents world!" Harry scratched her neck. "Erm... what world?" Hagrid leaned back and whistled, "Blimey. Arry... yer a witch." Offended, she asked, "I m a what?" "No, Arry... a witch." Hagrid made a gesture to suggest that he was wearing a t all pointed hat. "And a thumpin good one I d bet. James and Lily were about as p owerful as they come." "You knew you knew my parents before the car crash?" asked Harry, astonished. "O course girl! Yer mum and dad were wait a mo ... car crash? Wha car crash?" Harry s head was reeling. Does he not know? "The... the one that killed them?" she said tentatively. "WHAT?" roared Hagrid, causing Harry to jump back. "A CAR CRASH? KILL THE POTTER S! NOT BLOODY LIKELY!" Her heart soared. But... if there was no car crash, are they could they be? Hagrid must have seen the hopeful look on her face, for his expression darkened considerably. "Oh. No Arry, they were" he trailed off, gazing into the fire, and Harry s heart began to lose that small flare of hope. "Blimey," Hagrid whispere d to himself. "I never expected this. Growin up with muggles that tell yeh nothi n. I knew yeh weren t getting yer letters, but this" Hagrid shook his head sadly. "Ah Arry. I don t know if I m the right person ter be tellin yah this... but s omeone s gotta... yeh can t go off ter Hogwarts not knowin why every man, woman, and child knows yer name." Hagrid paused and it seemed like he was thinking where to begin. "I can t tell y eh all of it, Arry. Some of it I don t know me self. I suppose it begins with a man called" he ran a hand through his beard in hesitation. "A man called what?" Harry asked curiously. Hagrid s eyes darted to the door, as if someone was listening outside it. "Well, I... I don t like sayin the name if I can help it, lass." "Really? Why not?" "Blimey!" cried Hagrid. "Fear, girl! People are still scared. He was a wizard an d he went bad." The hushed, serious tone in Hagrid s voice made Harry hug her knees to her chest . "Bad?" she whispered quietly. "Dark, lass as dark as you can go. His name was" His eyes darted towards the door once more. Harry frowned and tried to help the man along. "Could you maybe write it down, H

agrid? The giant chuckled softly. "Nah, can t spell it. Alright, his name wasVoldemort." He shivered violently and the chair groaned in protest. "There! Now don t make me say it again! Anyway, he went dark, Arry. About twenty years ago, he and his followers started tearing the wizarding world apart. He was strong; impossibly strong. Dark days, lass... dark days. Thousands died." "Thousands?" whispered Harry, aghast. Hagrid nodded, took a deep shuddering breath, and continued. "He was after yeh a nd yer parents, don t know why. And well he found yeh. Ten years ago on Halloween. He found yer parents and he killed em. And when he turned his wand on yeh well he couldn t do it. He died, see?When You-Know-Who decided ter kill someone tha was the end of it. No one survived; no one cept Arry Potter and yeh was only a ba by. Tha s why yer famous Arry. Something special about yeh ended him; ended th e most powerful dark wizard ter ever live." "But I m not special I m just a... a..." Harry trailed off, closed her eyes to fo rget the blonde boy s harsh, biting words, and muttered weakly, "I don t think I m special. I don t think I m a witch." "Not a witch?" laughed the giant. "HA! Never made anything happen when you was s cared or angry? Things you couldn t explain?" Harry remained silent. Alice, a snake she had freed and could talk to, was sitti ng on the desk lamp back at Privet Drive. "Ahh" said Hagrid sagely. "Tha s what I thought. Now... I think it s about time yeh got yer letter, don t you?" Hagrid picked up his overcoat from the floor and rummaged around through its poc kets, spending more than a few minutes pulling out strange bits and pieces of al l sorts, all the while mumbling things like, "Now where did I put that blasted" At last, Hagrid pulled out a crumpled envelope. He leaned over and handed it to her. In loopy green script, it read: Miss Harriet Lily Potter The Floor Hut-on-the-Rock The Sea With trembling fingers, she tore it open. Dear Miss Potter, We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcr aft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipme nt. Term begins 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 July. Yours sincerely, Minerva McGonagall Deputy Headmistress Harry frowned. They await my owl? "Um Hagrid it says they need an owl and the deadline s today. What does that mean ?" "Merlin s Pants! I had almost forgotten!" Hagrid dug once again into his pockets searching for something. A few seconds later, he pulled out... a real, live, pu ffy, flapping owl; an owl that did not seem at all pleased to be pulled roughly out of a coat pocket. Hagrid scribbled something on a piece of old yellowing paper and gave it to the owl, which had perched itself on his shoulder. "Now, Archibald take this ter Professor Dumbledore. Understand?" The owl hooted a ffirmatively, bit Hagrid sharply on the nose, and flew out the window into the s tormy sky. Rubbing his nose, Hagrid muttered gruffly, "Ruddy bird." When his hand fell away , he smiled kindly at her. "Now, Arry wha would yeh say ter a nice cuppa tea?" Harry and Hagrid walked out of Gringott s bank into the bright sunshine. She was giddy with excitement from both the cart ride and the shopping they were about to do. Even though she was never allowed to choose or touch anything, Harry had

always liked shopping with Aunt Petunia at the local food market. They had just picked up what must have been her own weight in gold, now dangling from a small, bottomless, feather-light pouch on her wrist. She had never had s o much anything... let alone money. She was overwhelmed, not just by the mountain s of gold in her parents vault, but also by the peculiarity of... everything. I n the past hour, she had taken a cart ride through a tunnel that contained what she thought had been dragons, seen a banshee, met goblins, and shaken the hand o f what had to be hundreds of people... including one of her future professors. S he had seen actual flying broomsticks and three different hats that had live ani mals scooting around on top of them. It was by far the oddest and most wonderful experience she d ever had in her lif e. "Might as well get yer uniform first," said Hagrid, pointing over to the nearest shop. "Listen, Arry, would yeh mind terribly if I slipped off fer a pick me up at The Leaky Cauldron? I hate them Gringotts carts." Harry smiled up at the still greenish-looking man. He had been so kind to her; s o gentle despite his massive size. He feels like... like a friend. She shook her head happily and skipped straight into Madam Malkin s. His eyes roamed apprehensively around the shop. It s a bit gaudy. Mother won t approve of me shopping here. Draco Malfoy was bored; almost unbearably so. His mother and father were off buy ing his other supplies and Pansy was squirreled away somewhere in Flourish and B lotts, most likely reading the trashy romance novels that she was oh-so-fond of. They were all exactly the same; filled from cover to cover with poorly written stories of hunky, tanned, muscular wizards that would rescued damsels from drago ns or trolls and the like. Of course, after the silly tart was saved, she would engage the wizard in some magical, sexual encounter. He had yet to see one that varied from that exact plot. Pansy told him over and over that there were subtl e differences that made each book a new experience. Draco snorted derisively. Yeah... right. All he had to occupy his mind was the squat, mauve-clad woman that was bumbling away at the hem of his robes. His arms were aching terribly and every time he tr ied to put them down, the woman, even if she was not working on his sleeves, wou ld slap his shins and yell, UP! Draco stared out into Diagon Alley, looking at nothing, his mind buzzing with not hing. He needed people around; people that were interested in his life and what he had to say. Just when his brain was about to go numb from disinterest, a girl skipped throug h the door. Honestly, who skips? Madame Malkin walked away from him and over to the girl, asking, "Hogwarts Dear? " The girl opened her mouth, but Malkin interrupted her before she could speak. "Got the lot here there s a young man being fitted up just now in fact." What a completely infuriating woman. The girl looked toward Draco and her mouth fell open. She ran over to him and ex citedly asked, "PIERS? You re a wizard too?" Extremely surprised, Draco locked eyes with the girl. Her eyes they were green bu t Draco didn t think he had ever seen a green like that before; like a thousand g emstones sparkling in the light. The girl s excited expression slowly fell when she saw him up close and strangel y, this upset Draco. He looked away from her quickly, feeling his cheeks burn wi th an awkward indignation. "Oh I I m sorry," she said quietly. "I thought you were someone else." The girl allowed Madam Malkin to help her up onto a stool a few feet from his ow n. The magical measuring tape whirled around her body as Malkin went back to Dra co s hems. The girl seemed very flustered with the instrument s antics. At one p oint, Draco saw it go up her white dress and she had gasped, her cheeks turning

a bright, rosy pink. "Pay it no mind, deary," Malkin advised her and Draco chuckled dryly at the girl s embarrassment. Again they locked eyes. What the hell is the name of that green? It was going to drive him mad all day. She peered at him interestedly and when she grinned, Draco quickly looked away, fixing his gaze upon the maroon carpet. There was a tense awkward silence that stretched into several minutes, so Draco, being as bored as he was, decided to strike up a little conversation. "So... wh o is Piers? Your boyfriend?" Her face didn t even twitch. No reaction? This girl was either a very good actress... Piers really was her boyfriend... or she had completely missed the jibe. "No... Piers Polkiss. He was just a boy who was friends with my cousin. The two of you look rather similar; the resemblance is bit startling actually. But he has blue eyes. Yours are more of a... silvery gray." The girl gazed sadly out the window and Draco was able to glean a good look at h er without her notice. She was smaller than him and rakishly thin... unhealthily thin. Her handsome, albeit slightly old-fashioned white dress stopped just abov e her knees, which were a bit knobby. Even though she was overly skinny, her fac ial features were delicate and well placed... just like Pansy s. He could tell she came from wealth as she had a Gringott s weightless money-pouc h attached to her wrist. Those pouches were only given to families like his own; families with the oldest and largest vaults. Her hair was well, a bit indescriba ble. It was long, jet-black, stuck up at several inopportune places, and hung lo osely around her shoulders, the bangs covering her forehead and bits of her face from view. It wasn t straight but it wasn t curly. It wasn t bushy but it wasn t tamed. The best way to describe it would have been wavey-spikey-straitish-I-want -to-run-my-hands-through-it. Yes, that s an adequate description. And yet, standing out above all her other qualities... were the sizable bruises on her face. "What happened to your cheek and forehead?" he asked with a drawl. "Erm... bumped into a door," she muttered vaguely. Draco could tell from her tone that that topic of conversation clearly wasn t to be touched with a ten foot broomstick. He went for a quick subject change. "You know, I think I just might have a Polkiss way back down the family tree. Yes... yes I m quite sure of it. Bartholomew Polkiss was his name." She beamed at him, laughed, and smiled. Wow. She has a nice smile. Full of teeth. Her laugh tinkled in that same soft giggle as Pansy s and Draco suddenly felt th at this girl needed to know who he was; needed to know that he was a Malfoy. "I m Draco Malfoy," he drawled smugly. "Harriet," she replied quietly. "Well, it s just Harry, actually." Draco held out his hand and she took it, shaking gently. He probed on. "Play Quidditch at all?" "No," said Harry simply. "My Father says he might buy me a top-end broom for school." Harry s green eyes widened and she asked him excitedly, "Really? A flying broom? " Draco laughed. "No... a regular broom of course a flying broom!" "Wait a minute" Harry grinned at him and said in a hushed whisper, "Aren t first years not allowed to have brooms at school?" Draco smirked slyly. "Well, I ll have to keep it extra secret, won t I? You won t tell, will you?" Harry s giggle echoed over the shop and she promised him, "Nope." "Cross your heart?" Draco asked. Harry nodded and made an X across her chest. "Cross my heart." Draco smiled and asked her what House she thought she d be in.

Harry shrugged. "Well, that s alright. No one really knows what house they ll be in untill they get there, do they? I m almost positive I ll be in Slytherin though. All our fam ily have been. Imagine if-" Malkin interrupted him. "All done, deary." The squat woman took his money and he appraised himself in the mirror. A decent job... for a Mudblood. Draco walked toward the door, but before leaving, he turned back to Harry. The m easuring tape was still whizzing around her inappropriately. "Harry?" he asked rather hopefully. "Yeah?" "Would you like to come meet my friend Pansy? You two might get on." He watched as her face fell into a sweet, apologetic expression. It looked like she wanted to say yes, but she shook her head, smiling sadly. "I can t. I m waiting for someone here... and then I have to get all my shopping do ne. This was my first stop, you see." Draco was a bit disappointed. "Well... I suppose I ll see you at school then?" She flashed him a brilliantly white smile. "Definitely." He left the shop with a smirk on his face and ducked around a huge man who was w alking down the cobbled street, two ice creams dripping down his hands. Disgraceful. Letting a giant roam free? Honestly... Harry watched the boy walk out of the shop and around Hagrid s approaching form. She smiled and said to no one in particular, "He was a bit silly, wasn t he?" Madame Malkin slapped her in the shins and shouted, "UP!" Harry threw her arms back up to the proper spot. "Sorry erm, excuse me, Madame Ma lkin?" "Yes, dear?" "What s Quidditch?" "I know where you re coming from, dear. I grew up muggle. I ll tell you the same thing that a seventh year told me on my first day in Diagon Alley. Think footba ll, with a bit of cricket, and a hint of capture the flag. Roll it all up into o ne big game, raise it fifty feet in the air, and increase the speed of everythin g by a hundred miles per hour give or take. That s Quidditch." Harry breathed out excitedly. "Wicked and erm, Madame Malkin?" The woman answered her question before she even had a chance to ask it. "Gryffin dor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, dear. I myself, was in Hufflepuff." Harry blushed. "Oh and er is Slytherin a good House to be in?" Madam Malkin smiled sweetly at her and said, "As good as the rest, dear." Outside she could see Hagrid leaning down into the window, waving at her and hol ding up two huge ice cream sundaes. Jus yer wand left then oh and I have to get yer birthday present. What would yeh like?" Hagrid smiled down at Harry... but she wasn t there. He turned around. She had stopped a few feet back and was staring down at the ground, her hair shr ouding her face from view. Hagrid knelt down onto the street and placed his hand on her shoulder. " Arry?" "You don t have to get me anything, Hagrid," Harry whispered in a distressed voi ce. "You ve already done" she trailed off and looked back down at her feet. I should murder those ruddy Dursleys. "Oh, hey now..." He tilted her chin up to look into his face. "I know I don t ha ve ter lass. Tell yeh wha . I ll get yer animal. Not a toad. Toads went outta fa shion years ago." A corner of the small girl s mouth twitched upwards. "No cats either," Hagrid muttered. "Don t like cats, yeh see. Make me sneeze." The other corner twitched. "I know," he said, tapping her lightly on the nose. "I ll get yeh an owl... and this time, I won t pull it out of me pocket." A full smile broke across Harry s face.

Tha s better. Harry rushed at him, threw her arms around his neck, and gave him a tight hug. H agrid was surprised at first, but he smiled and patted the small girl gently on the back. "O course I expect yah ter send yer owl ter me hut with a letter at least once a week." Harry nodded rapidly. Hagrid stood and clapped his hands together. "Now let s get ter Ollivander s. Ho p ter it." As he couldn t fit through the small door, Hagrid waited outside the little shop while Harry went in alone. It didn t seem to be going very well on the inside h owever. He could hear a small explosion every few minutes. Hagrid sat outside th e shop for a good hour before Harry exited, wand in hand. She looked pensive and a bit frightened. "Blimey, that took an age. Alright there, lass?" Harry nodded, but said nothing. A cool breeze hit Hagrid s face as they entered Eyelops to get her owl. He enjoy ed this store; nice and roomy; lots of creatures; his type of place. He pushed H arry to the back of the store and into the Owlry, gave her a small pile of owl t reats, and left her to choose her new pet. He was browsing a collection of hinky punks, when the owner let out a loud squawk and shouted, "Hagrid, we have a prob lem!" The sight that met his eyes as he re-entered the Owlry was... peculiar... if not downright amusing. Seven owls were chasing Harry around the room while she laug hed hysterically. " Arry? Wha are yah doin?" "Watch, Hagrid!" Harry stopped running and turned towards him with a wide grin o n her face. All seven owls fluttered down and landed on her. Three on each arm, one on her head. She began running and the owls took off, resuming their chase. When she stopped again and raised her arms, the owls retook their seats. Hagrid chortled and rummaged around in his pocket. "Ah here we go." He pulled ou t a gold colored ball. "S got a mild compulsion charm on it. Use it ter catch Ni fflers." He raised it and every head in the Owlry turned to face him. He tossed it on the floor... and all the bird s flew down to chase after it, hopping aroun d and eying it suspiciously; all the birds except for one, that is. He laughed. "Looks ter me like yeh got yerself an owl, Arry." She glanced curiously up at the snowy white bird on her head, who looked back do wn at her rather... owlishly. "Hullo," Harry said. "Hoot." Walking out of Eyelops with her owl s cage in hand, Harry turned and tugged on h is sleeve, asking, "Hagrid... where can we get some bananas? "Bananas? Wha for?" "Oh," said Harry, skipping to keep up with him. "For Alice, my snake. She told m e she liked them." "She told yeh?" "Yeah. I can talk to her. Can you talk to any animals?" Hagrid s heart caught in his chest. " Arry, don t go" He breathed out heavily. Fear flashed through him; fear of thi s little girl he knew next to nothing about. He was sure she had seen it flash a cross his face too. "Jus ... don t go tellin everyone yeh can talk ter snakes." "So it s bad, then?" Her face was falling back under her hair. "No! No!" said Hagrid quickly. He didn t like lying to her one bit. "It ll... ju s start lots o gossip tha s all." She eyed him slightly sucspiciously and he put on the most convincing smile he c ould. "Oh okay. I just..." But whatever she just, Hagrid never found out because some pained expression f lashed across her face and then she was smiling again, marching towards The Leak y Cauldron with her hair flung back. Phew.

The four weeks until the first of September passed by quickly for Harry. The Dur sleys were much too afraid of the warning Hagrid had given them to bother her to o much. The giant had made it clear, pink umbrella waving in their faces, that H arry would be fed regularly, would not be touched, and would be escorted to King s Cross Station. If that did not occur, he warned that there would be consequen ces, which had made Dudley scamper from the room, clutching his overly large bo ttom. And so, for a month at the Dursley household, Harry had lived in relative peace. She read all her school books cover to cover. Wellshe had yet to finish A Histor y of Magic, seeing as she found couldn t read past the table of contents without falling asleep. The last day of August found Harry lying on her bed in nothing but knickers, sta ring at the clock, willing the minutes to move faster. I d be able to do something productive if it wasn t so bloody hot. To fully express how hot she thought it was, she said to the room loudly, "It s hot." "Hoot," Circe agreed. Harry listened for Alice s reply, but all she heard was the gentle humming comin g from the desk lamp. "Why are you so chipper," asked Harry, annoyed. "Becaussse I m cold-blooded, Chica. But more ssso becaussse tomorrow we will lea ve thisss place." "So... you re coming, then?" Harry had been asking the snake for weeks whether or not she would come or would wait here for Alphonze to follow the trail of the speaker that freed him. Alice had explained that any snake granted a boon by a speaker would be compelled to return the favor eventually. "Yesss, I think ssso. It isss rare for any one of usss to ssserve a ssspeaker. I t isss an honor." "I don t think I want a servant, Alice. I want a friend." Harry frowned when the word friend came out in plain in English. She tried again with "companion." English. "Partner." English. "Ally." "Very well, Harry ssspeaker. Alliesss." "But... speaking of services, do you think you could come sit on me and cool me off? Leach some of the heat out?" Alice made a noise that could only be describe d as a chuckle, slithered down the desk lamp, and slid onto Harry s outstretched arm. Alice coiled around and up the offered limb and nestled in the indent of H arry s collarbone. "Ahyou re a life saver." The snake said nothing, but uncoiled enough to dart it s tongue out against Harr y s cheek, before settling back into the crook of her neck. "Why can t you be cold-blooded too, Circe?" "Hoot." Oh Ouch! I m sorry about that!" Harry had walked right into someone coming out of the loo and they had banged heads. The boy she had hit was gingerly rubbing his temple. "S okay," he said with a sh rug. "Sorry again!" Harry had darted around him, dragging her cart towards Platform 9 . She saw the boy watching her go, scrunching his face as if trying to remember so mething important. That incident had been nearly an hour ago. "You sssmell... odd." "I bathed in a sink," muttered Harry in annoyance. "Cut me some slack." Alice was coiled tightly around her thigh a few inches above her dress hem. It w

as an odd sensation to have a snake on her leg, but she found it rather comforti ng in this large, noisy station to have a friend nearby. "Oh Alice," Harry moaned. "Where is this place?" She sat down on a bench in an exhausted slouch. She looked up at the two signs i n front of her, entirely perplexed. One read 9 and one read 10 . She had walk ed along each, up and down, up and down... but had found nothing. Nowhere in sig ht was there a platform sign that read 9 . The day had been going so well too. Uncle Vernon had dropped her off two hours b efore the train was scheduled to leave, because he was sick of her standing at the door looking ready to go all morning. And yet, how could she not have been? This was her chance at a Dursley-free life; a life with people like Hagrid and Draco; people that didn t shy away from her like she was plague ridden. This was her chance to be happy... and she was going to miss the train that woul d make it all happen. If there even is a train... Harry groaned. According to the station clock, the train to Hogwarts left in an hour and she couldn t find it. She put her head in her hands and moaned as a lar ge, noisy group of redheaded people walked past. She smelled it long before she saw it: cinnamon and strawberries. It was heavenl y. Sure enough, a few moments later, a girl in a black beret and blue jumper, ap proached the bench in a huff. She was only slightly smaller than Harry and in he r arms was a large brown bag that reeked of cinnamon. She sat down next to Harry and closed her eyes, breathing heavily. Harry watched intently as she kicked of f her little velvet shoes; as she clenched and unclenched her toes; as she sighe d in contentment and pulled both feet into a pretzel-position on the bench. She heard a voice call out across the platform area, "Ginny! Please don t eat al l of those! They re for your brothers too!" The girl... apparently named Ginny... yelled back, "I know, Mum!" Harry giggled, but looked pointedly away before Ginny opened her eyes and notice d that she was being watched. Harry heard her muttering angrily; heard her reaching into the bag, heard her ta king something out. She desperately wanted to look around and peer into the bag to see what smelled so extraordinary, but she didn t dare. Ginny ate in silence and Harry tried her very best not to pay any attention to her or the cinnamon co vered whatevers. "Do you want one?" Harry tensed up, gluing her gaze onto the far wall as if she hadn t heard. There was a crinkle of paper. Out of the corner of her eye, Harry saw Ginny hoist the bag off the seat and plop it into her lap. With it, she scooted all the way dow n the bench. Once they were knee to knee, Ginny pulled a neatly-wrapped sandwich -square out of the bag and held it out to her. "It s alright," she giggled. "Hav e one." Harry glanced nervously at the square, but couldn t bring herself to take it or look at Ginny. For whatever reason, her breathing was rather heavily and a knot was stuck in her throat. Ginny sighed and, giving Harry a cajoling nudge, whispered, "Oh come on, there s no use pretending anymore. I know you want one. I..." Ginny seemed to be search ing for the right words and then she smiled. "I... caught you in the act. They d o smell wonderful, don t they?" Ginny took Harry s hand in her own and placed it over-top the sandwich. "Please. Have one. My mum made plenty." Harry finally summoned the courage to look at the girl. She was so very close. H arry could see shiny, cherry-red hair spilling out from underneath the beret in a long plait. Ginny s smiling face was covered in light freckles and her large, amber, gold-flecked eyes were boring directly into Harry s own. She felt the spaces right under her cheekbones heat up. "I couldn t possibly-" s tarted Harry, but the little red-headed girl actually took a hand and covered he r mouth, saying with a laugh, "Just eat it already!" "I I m sorry," Harry spluttered as Ginny s hand moved away. "I was just trying no t to stare. They smell so good and I you know?" Ginny waved her off and leaned back. She was sitting right up against Harry s le

g as she resumed eating her sandwich with a satisfied grin. Harry looked down at the the little square and asked, "H-How did you know I want ed one?" It was the red-headed girl s turn to blush slightly. "Oh, I... erm... I was watc hing you. You were staring at that wall over there for about ten minutes straigh t while your nose was twitching like crazy. And my mum always says that people t hat avoid looking at you are the ones paying you the most attention." Harry nodded and unwrapped the small square. Holding it up to her eyes contempla tively, she asked, "So what is this thing?" Ginny popped a bit into her mouth. "My mum calls it monkey candy. Not sure if th at s because it has banana on it, or because our family is a little bit well wild. It s basically a toasted banana and marshmallow sandwich, with butter and cinna mon brown-sugar on the bread. Try it. It ll change your life." She bit down... and her eyes widened. Oooohh. That s that s oh my. It tingled all the way down. She looked over at Ginny to tell her what she thoug ht of it, but the girl was giggling at her. "I told you! Oh wow... your face! It went through about eight different expressi ons before you even swallowed." They ate in companionable silence. There was something that felt... right... abo ut the way they sat. For the first time in her life Harry felt comfortable; she felt at peace. Even when they had finished the sandwiches and there was no longe r a reason to sit together, Harry found that she didn t want this girl to leave. But that s what people do here, I suppose. They leave. It looked a bit like Ginny was nodding off because her eyes were closed and her head kept drooping down towards Harry s shoulder. Harry gave her a small, gentle nudge and said, "You shouldn t fall asleep. You m ight miss your train." Ginny s amber eyes popped open. Harry saw her eyebrows furrow in a V and Ginny picked at a run in her stockings. The freckled girl sighed heavily. "I m not well I m not getting on a train." "Oh?" asked Harry softly. "Why not?" Ginny was obviously extremely upset and Harry felt a very strong urge to make he r feel better. She took the redhead s hand and squeezed it in what she guessed m ight have been a comforting manner. Ginny looked away from her and said into her shoulder with quite a bit of contem pt, "Because I m not old enough! I turn eleven in two months and I m not old eno ugh. All my stupid brothers are leaving and I have to stay at home with Mum." Harry was a smart girl. It took her only a few short seconds to realize why a te n-year-old girl sitting at a bench between platform Nine and Ten would not be al lowed to get on a train. But... she had to be sure. She didn t want to ask the g irl if she was a witch or not, and then get into some sort of trouble if she was n t. However, Harry knew what could confirm her suspicion. "Hey. What s your name?" "Oh Gi-Ginny Weasley." Ginny smiled up at her with her hand still clasped in Harr y s own. "What s yours?" Harry, watching for change in the girl s expression, said slowly, "Harry Potter. " Harry knew it. Ginny had seized up and blanched, her hand involuntarily tighteni ng around Harry s own. Amber orbs mimicked the same flick upward to Harry s fore head that she had received by the eyes of about two-hundred people in Diagon All ey. " Har Harry Potter?" Ginny asked breathlessly. "Yeah. Does does that mean you re a witch too?" She had whispered it, partly beca use she didn t want anyone around her to hear, but mostly because she was appreh ensive of the answer. She wanted this girl to be a witch. She wanted this girl t o be her friend. Ginny gave a slight nod. Phew. Harry smiled widely at her and that seemed to knock a bit of reality back into t

he red-headed girl, because the death-grip on Harry s hand lessened and some col or returned to Ginny face. "Could... do you... do you think I could see it?" Ginny babbled, "Your... you kn ow... your scar?" Harry hesitated. She had begun to really dislike the looks she got when she intr oduced herself. They were all fearful, or ingratiating, or awestruck, Everyone w ould stare at her forehead like she was a circus attraction and Harry had decide d that she didn t like being famous for something she couldn t remember doing; s he didn t like being famous for having a dead mum and a dead dad. Ginny immediately saw her hesitation and began apologizing profusely, flushing b right red, her ears going pink. "Oh, Harry, I I m so sorry of of course not." Harry only vaguely acknowledged that their hands were still entwined. She didn t know why she did what she did, but Harry reached up and tucked as much hair as she could behind her ear, fully revealing her forehead. Ginny stared blankly at it. Here it comes. Thank you so much for killing him off, Miss Potter. We re fore ver in your debt, Miss Potter. You ve done the world a great deed, Miss Potter . Ginny was so very close and Harry felt a bit like she was under a microscope. An d then before she could even so much as react, Ginny raised a hand, traced the sc ar with a finger, and said in a very quiet voice, "I m sorry about your mum and dad." Harry didn t quite know what to say so she withdrew her eyes and began fiddling with the velvet on her dress. Ginny was the first to break the silence. "So so why haven t you gotten on the pl atform yet? The train well, it leaves soon you know..." "I don t know how to get on," admitted Harry with a shrug. Ginny giggled. "But I do, silly! Come on where s your cart?" The redhead jumped up, suddenly looking very excited. "If I can t go... at least I can help you go! " Harry pointed towards the cart where Circe and her luggage sat. Ginny released her hand, ran over to it, and maneuvered it back to the bench. "C ome on, you great lump! Let s get you on that train." She rushed off down the mi ddle of the Platform Nine towards a tall redheaded man who had his arm around a much shorter redheaded woman. Harry picked up Ginny s bag of sandwiches and followed. "MUM!" shouted Ginny, skidding to a halt. The short woman, who was fiddling with the collar of a slightly pompous-looking boy, jumped in surprise. "Ginny? What s wrong, dear? And whose cart is that?" She proudly patted the pomp ous boy on the cheek and whirled on her daughter. "Diddid you steal someone s car t?" The boy waved a farewell and walked behind a barrier. Harry almost didn t notice that the boy failed to reappear on the other side. "Yes, Mum," groaned Ginny sarcastically. "I stole someone s cart... honestly... steal a cart? Of of course not! This is Harry s. She needs to get onto the platfo rm. How much time until it closes?" Mrs. Weasley had just caught sight of her trailing along behind Ginny. "Oh hello there de- GOOD LORD!" Harry knew the woman had seen her scar. Her hair was still tucked back and she h astily shook it out to fall into her face. Mrs. Weasley obviously took the hint, smiled apologetically at Harry, and turned back to Ginny. "Oh, yes well about twenty minutes I expect, love. Why don t you g o with with Harry here and help her get onto the train? That way, you can give yo ur brothers their sandwiches." "Okay, Mum." Ginny grabbed Harry s hand and pulled her over to the barrier, stil l mumbling under her breath about stolen carts. "Do you see that wall, Harry?" "Oh, erm, yeah." Harry thought this was a slightly odd question. Ginny grinned and rocked back and forth on her heels. "Just close your eyes and run into it."

"What?" laughed Harry. "It s solid brick!" Ginny stepped up onto the rail of the cart so she was about five inches above Ha rry. She grasped the handles on each side so she didn t fall and turned to face her. "Do you trust me?" Ginny asked, grinning widely. Harry took in the girl s appearance. Her red plait hung down from the back of he r neck and was thrown over her shoulder to her chest. Her blue jumper was waving a bit in the wind and her bright amber eyes were looking down at Harry with war mth... real warmth. "Yeah." Harry tucked her bangs behind her ears. "I trust you." "Then close your eyes and run into it." Harry grasped the handles and she felt Ginny s hands wrap around her own. We are so going to crash. Ginny will go flying. The redhead leaned down to Harry s ear and whispered softly, "Do it." Circe will be smashed. Harry shut her eyes tight . And it will be all my fault. She ran. 3210 1? Harry opened her eyes and slowed the cart. A huge scarlet steam engine stood in front of her, billowing purple smoke up to the rafters of King s Cross. Hundreds of people were milling about and large, black sign above their heads read Platform 9 What? How? She could still see the station all around her. She could see all the businessme n and families rushing to their trains, oblivious to the monstrous one that had just popped into existence. She could see Mr. and Mrs. Weasley still standing on Platform 9. Ginny hopped down off the cart. "They can t see us. All sorts of charms and thin gs hide it." "It s amazing!" said Harry, noticing Ginny s face falling into a sad smile. "Yeah, it is. I so want to go as well. I asked my brother Ron if he would write to me about it all. The twins are always making up terrible stories about it, so I can t possibly know what to expect. They said you have to fight a mountain tr oll before you re sorted! I want to know what it s like. But Ron... well, he s we ll he s a prat." Harry watched Ginny s lips as she spoke. They re very small. Ginny seems to be very loud. I wonder how that works out? Harry heard the words roll off her tongue without really realizing she had said them. "I ll write to you, Ginny." Ginny opened and closed her mouth like a fish. "I ll write to you every week," Harry mumbled. "Really, Harry? You you don t have-" "I want to." Ginny shrieked in joy and threw herself at Harry for a hug. It was the first rea l hug that Harry had ever received and she returned it happily, inhaling a deep breath. Strawberries. There is a room, inside a room, inside a circular room. Inside this room are ben ches. The benches surround a pedestal. Floating above this pedestal is a rune su spended by nothing. And on September the 1st at 10:46 AM, the rune glowed red. CHAPTER Beginnings THREE Today isn t going to be a good day. I can feel it. What if I don t get in? His mother was still banging on the door. Ugh. Leave me in peace. "RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY, GET OUT OF BED THIS INSTANT! DO NOT MAKE ME COME IN TO G ET YOU!"

Pulling his pillow over his head, he said to the door, "Five more minutes, Mum." "DON T FIVE MORE MINUTES ME, YOUNG MAN! UP! NOW!" He heard her footsteps receding away down the stairs. That woman is a nightmare. Ron got out of bed as slowly as he could, keeping his head on the pillow until t he rest of his body was hanging over the edge of the mattress. The sunlight pour ing into his room was excruciatingly bright. He was the only Weasley in the hous e with a bedroom window facing east. Never would he be able to forgive the autho r of 101 Tricks to Birthing a Girl who had suggested that the orientation of a f uture child s nursery would somehow help to determine its sex. Not even Ginny ha d to experience this torture as Mum had given up on a daughter after his birth. Ron clumsily stumbled from the room, tripping over one of his many Chudley Canon s t-shirts on the way out. I don t want to go to school. I want to sleep, play some chess, and sleep some m ore. The bathroom was currently occupied and Fred, George, and Ginny were leaning aga inst the wall outside it. "One bathroom; nine people," Ron groaned out. "I think the one positive quality Dad lacks is the ability to plan ahead." "Well hello to you too, Ronniekins," said Fred... or maybe it was George... not that it mattered. Ron leaned against Ginny and put his arms around her shoulders. "Gin let me sleep on you." Ginny pushed him off and said angrily, "You can use me as a pillow when you agre e to write me letters every week." Now it s every week? It ll be every day by breakfast! "I told you, Gin, I m going be too busy to write you letters all the time. Can t you just wait until Christmas to hear about it?" Ginny adopted Mum s most effective I m furious at you glare. "Fine then. I ll just use this wall." "Fine," said his sister ambivalently. "Fine," drawled Ron. "FINE!" growled Ginny. "FINE," the twins chimed in. "Now both of you shut it," said Fred or George. "Because it s too early for shenanigans," said George or Fred. "Unless caused by us," they chorused in unison. Percy opened the bathroom door and trooped out. Fred, George, and Ginny struggle d to be the first one to get in next. Ron, being the master strategist that he w as, dove on the floor, crawled through George s legs, stood, and shut the door b ehind him as they all continued to struggle. After he had showered and changed, he clomped his way down to the kitchen. Mum w as already busy at the stove, frying away. Blegh. Monkey Candy. I hate bananas. Grabbing some toast with marmalade, Ron headed out the door and down the little path to his father s shed. He pushed his way through the piles of muggle stuff that didn t work and shouted, "Dad? Where are you?" "Here," said a grunting voice from behind the... refidgerotor? Walking around the tall, white cabinet, he found his father sitting on their rat ty old bean-bag whilst tinkering with bits and ends from the enormous motorbike that had been occupying their shed for years. "Hullo, Ron," said Dad cheerily. "All packed?" Not even close. "Oh yeah. Listen, Dad, can I can I ask you something?" His father laughed under his breath. "Didn t you just? What s on your mind, son? " Ron hesitated, dreading the answer to the question that had been eating at his n erves ever since the January morning that he had received his letter. "Well, Dad , what if I m not you know... in Gryffindor?" His father stopped his work and looked up at him with a penetrating stare. "What

do you mean by what if, Ron? Are you asking me what I d think?" Ron nodded slowly. Sighing, Dad patted the large bean-bag. "Come sit down, Ron." He sank down into the squishy chair and watched in silence as his father banged a large, silver-looking instrument all around the wheels of the bike. It didn t seem to creating any sort of change. After several minutes of haphazard banging, his father asked softly, "Ron, do you remember when you caught that huge fish d own in the stream without a line? How it just jumped right into your hands?" "Yeah. It was pretty big." "Do you remember how proud your mother and I were? Our son performed wandless ma gic at age five simply because he wanted fish for dinner. You re going to be a f ine wizard one day, Ron. Not being in Gryffindor isn t going to stop that from h appening." He ruffled Ron s hair. "Your mother and I will always be proud of you ... no matter what house you re in." "Even if I get put into Slytherin?" His father chuckled and said warmly, "Yes Ron, even Slytherin. But we both know that if you get sorted into Slytherin, you ll leave the school out of your own v olition." Too right I would. Dad patted him on the back of the neck. "Anything else?" Ron shook his head. "Good, glad I could help, son. Now, go pack." He always knows. An hour and a half later, Ron found himself smushed between the twins in the bac kseat of the Ford Anglia as they pulled into the Kings Cross parking lot. Merlin s balls. I have to pee. They made their way into the station with relative ease, despite Ginny somehow g etting lost twice. "Well, we have two hours," said his father slowly, gesturing around the large st ation. "Who wants what to eat?" Cries of "PIZZA" and "PASTIES" and "PASTA" all echoed over Percy s monotone, "Sa lad, please." They put their things down at a large table and Ron rushed as quickly as he coul d for the nearest bathroom. Ahhhh, sweet relief. He cleaned himself up and walked out. WHAM Ron collided into a small girl that must ve been running at full-speed with her cart. Well... not running... jogging... briskly. Well... maybe she was walking, but it still bloody hurt! "Ouch!" cried the girl, clutching her head in pain with her eyes shut tight. "I m sorry about that!" "S okay," Ron said a bit begrudgingly. He too rubbed his head where she had bump ed it and noticed that she had an owl. Must be going to Hogwarts too or maybe she s a bird watcher s assistant or maybe s he s just a nutter. Still clutching her head, the black-haired girl ran around him yelling, "Sorry a gain!" With a wave of her hand, she was gone. The black-haired girl seemed oddly familiar, yet Ron couldn t remember from wher e he knew her. He thought it might ve had something to do with... candy. Well, that could just be the toffee apple stand. Ohhh... toffee apple. A girl was eating one of the heavenly sweets just a few feet away from him. She had monstrous, bushy, brown hair and large chocolate-colored eyes. She looked a bit like an owl if anything and she was staring straight at him. "That looked quite painful," she said pointedly. "Are you quite alright?" Ron liked the tone of her voice. It was a bit like a sing-song. "Oh erm... yeah. .. m fine. That looks good," he said, pointing at the apple. "Oh yes, it really is delightful," agreed the girl exuberantly. She tried unsucc

essfully to obtain a tiny bit of caramel at the corner of her lip that was out o f reach for her tongue. "You should get one." He looked at the both the apple and the little bit of caramel on her lip longing ly. "Oh um, no... I can t." The girl walked towards him, leaned forward, and gazed quizzically into his eyes , as if he were a puzzle that she couldn t unravel. She tilted her head to the s ide and asked slowly, "Why not? Are you a diabetic?" "No! I just I can t afford it. A dia-what?" The girl didn t show him any pity, which he appreciated. Instead, she cleared he r throat and said in a scholarly, overbearing tone, "Diabetic: of or pertaining to diabetes which is a disorder characterized by the inadequate production of in sulin. My Uncle is a diabetic." Not understanding the wast majority of what the girl had just said, Ron simply r eplied, "Oh." Seeming satisfied, the toffee apple girl nodded finitely and walked away. When it was time to board the train, the Weasleys made their way over to Platfor m 9 in a large, noisy group and Ginny was getting extremely angry with him. "Bugger off, Gin," he said, swatting her head like he would a fly. "NO, RON, I WILL NOT!" she yelled in a rage. Ron scoffed. As fast as lightning Ginny switched her tactics. Clutching at his arm, she mumbl ed in a much softer, pleading voice, "Why won t you write to me, Ron? I m your s ister. Don t you love me? Just a few letters... please?" Her eyes got very big a nd she poked out her bottom lip. Ugh. "None of the others wrote us letters when we were home alone, Ginny. Why should I have to?" "Because I won t have anyone, Ron! It ll just be me and Mum." She paused and sta rted to sniffle. "And... And I want to know about Hogwarts! What if there really are mountain trolls at the sorting?" "Don t use those fake tears on me, Ginny. We all know you never cry for real. I already said no... now leave me alone!" His sister stomped her foot angrily and went back to stand by their mother, who bent down, wiped Ginny s eyes, glared at Ron, and gave her daughter the bag of s andwiches. Ginny ran off in a huff to a nearby bench. His mother called out to her, "Ginny! Please don t eat all of those! They re for your brothers too!" She turned back to Ron. "Ron, dear, I wish you wouldn t ups et your sister like that. You know how she can get. She ll be angry for days." Yeah, well, I wonder where she got it from? "Aren t you coming in?" he asked, preparing to charge through the barrier. "No, we ll stay out here until Ginny has cooled off a bit. Your father wants to show me how the eclectic lamps work anyway. You go on ahead." Ron nodded and ran. The large, familiar steam engine suddenly loomed in front of him. There were peo ple everywhere. There were students in robes, students in normal clothes, tearin g parents sending their children away for the first time, and parents that looke d exceedingly bored with the proceedings. Ron spent ages trying to find the twins in the mess. "Gran, I ve lost my toad again," said a round faced boy to his grandmother. "Oh Neville," he heard the old woman sigh. Ron saw a small crowd gathered nearby. Someone shouted, "Give us a look, Lee! Go on!" A dark-skinned boy bent down to open the box and a huge, hairy leg poked out fro m its depths. SPIDER! Jumping an entire foot into the air, Ron shrieked in an extremely high pitch tha t echoed all the way up to the rafters. As the platform went silent and the crow d looked up at him, he felt himself flushing all the way down to his toes. One of the twins appeared out of nowhere and clapped him on the back. "Well done , Ronniekins."

The other twin materialized and did the same, adding, "We ll remember that one f or years to come." "Get bent, the both of you," Ron muttered grumpily. The twins helped him load his trunk into a compartment and then went off to find Lee and his spider. Which I m sure is going to end up on my pillow tonight. Just as Ron was about to get on the train, his nostrils flared. He could smell i t long before he saw it. Toffee apple. Sure enough, through the crowd, walked the toffee-apple-stand girl, although she didn t seem to have any toffee apples on her person. Probably shouldn t call her toffee-apple-stand girl. Hullo toffee-apple-stand g irl. I m Ron. Have any toffee apples? Smooth. Very smooth. She was trying to lift her trunk into a compartment, but was only halfway there. Her knees were bent at odd angles and he could tell she was not going to be abl e to get it in by herself. He walked up to her and asked politely, "Do you need some help with that then?" "Oh no, I m fine," she huffed without looking up. Ron raised an eyebrow as he watched her struggle. I think it s actually falling further out of the door. "Are you sure?" he asked quietly. Breathlessly, the girl replied, "Oh yes, quite sure, thanks." Finally, after watching her battle with the trunk for a full minute, Ron could t ake no more. He grabbed on to the bottom and together, with a mighty shove, they heaved the heavy box into the compartment . The girl whirled on him with a belligerent expression on her face and started to say, "I told you... I didn t need your-" Her words failed her when their eyes met. "Hullo," Ron said with a cheery wave. "So that s why you didn t know what a diabetic was! Because you re a wizard." He was expecting a cheery wave in return, but she just stood there, observing hi m as if he were some sort of... odd experiment. "Oh, erm yeah, I am." The bushy-haired girl cocked her head, peering at him intently with her deep, ch ocolaty-brown eyes. It felt a bit like she was searching for something, even tho ugh her gaze never left his face. Ron scratched his head nervously and shifted from foot to foot. In a quiet, yet curt voice, the girl was the first to break the exceedingly awkw ard silence. "Thank you for helping me with my trunk. By the way, you have a bit of dirt on your nose. Just there." Before Ron could do anything about the smudge, she licked her finger and began t o ardently rub at his face. She was so very close and he was sure he could smell it in her hair. Toffee apple. "There," the girl said. "That s much better." Without another word, she nodded i n satisfaction, turned, and stepped onto the train, leaving him standing there f eeling a bit like a tornado had just passed through his brain. "Ron! Where are you?" He snapped back to reality when he heard his mother s voice echoing out above th e crowd. Venturing back down the crowded platform, he saw the large crowd of Weasleys sta nding by the compartment into which he and the twins had placed their luggage. G inny was back, handing out sandwiches to her brothers. She looked extremely happ y, which was odd given their family s tendency to let their tempers run wild for days. She smiled up at him as he approached, handing him two sandwiches. "Hullo," she said cheerily. Now that Ginny wasn t desperately clinging to his arm and asking him to write to her, Ron felt extremely guilty that he said no in the first place. Seeing her h appy and bouncing around made him feel wretched, because he realized that seeing her sad to see him leaving... well, it made him happy.

She s supposed to be sad! I m her big brother! But... Oh bugger this. "Ginny," he muttered apologetically. "Look, I m sorry about before. Of of course I ll write to you." She smiled and patted him on the chest. "It s alright, Ronniekins. You don t hav e to." Ron was utterly perplexed. Where did that come from? I m never going to understand what goes through her he ad. Girls are ridiculous. Percy opened his mouth to chime in, "Can t stay long, Mother. I m up front; the Prefects have got two compartments to themselves." Ron noticed that his brother s badge now read, Peefect, and he wondered how lo ng it would take Percy to notice Fred and George s handiwork. Probably not until Penelope Clearwater laughed openly at him. "Oh are you a Prefect, Percy?" marveled a twin giddily. "You should have said so mething!" "Hang on, I think I remember him saying something about it," said the other twin , dusting Percy s shoulders proudly. "Once" "Or twice" "A minute" "All summer" "Oh shut up!" said the Prefect, slapping their hands away. "Wait a mo ..." mumbled a twin indignantly, stepping closer to inspect Percy s c lothing. "These are new! Mum, why does Percy get new robes and we don t?" His mother gave the be-speckled redhead a sickeningly lovey, proud mum look. " Because he s a Prefect. Alright, dear, have a good term; send me an owl when you get there." Mum whirled on Fred and George as Percy walked off. "Now you two. This year you w ill behave yourselves. If I get one more owl telling me you ve you ve blown up a toilet or-" "Blown up a toilet? We ve never blown up a toilet!" "Great idea though. Thanks, Mum." "It is not funny, Fred! And make sure you look after Ron." Ron scoffed. Them? Look after me? Ha. "I m not Fred! I m George! Honestly wo" Mum wacked the protesting twin on the head. "You re Fred. You already tried that out at the barrier, dear. George had his hair parted in the other direction." Fred and George grinned, pulled out two combs, and slicked their hair in the opp osite directions. Smiling at Mum cheekily, they chimed in unison, "Are you sure I m Fred?" "Oh just get going... all of you." Mum patted Ron on the cheek and Ginny hugged him. "I promise, Gin... I ll write. I ll send you loads of letters." The twins laughed. "We ll send you a Hogwarts toilet seat!" Mum shot them a death glare. Climbing into his compartment, Ron was surprised to find someone already there, curled up on the bench, fast asleep. "Blimey," said one of the twins in hushed whisper. "Someone s been up all night. Alright, we re going down the end of the train, Ron. Lee has got... well... he s got a surprise." "I swear I ll kill you both if that spider ends up in my bed," he muttered angri ly. Fred and George chuckled conspiratorially and left the compartment. Ron sighed in exasperation and turned. The cloak that the girl was using as a bl anket had slipped away from her face. His eyes widened as he realized that it was the very same girl who had collided with him outside the bathroom I knew she was going to Hogwarts! Well, guess she s not a nutter then. Ron couldn t help watching her as she slept. Her fingers we re twitching and her eyes were moving rapidly under her eyelids.

Must be some dream. As if she had heard his thoughts, the girl moaned unhappily and her long, messy black hair fell into her face as the train jostled forward. Ron noticed that her trunk sat beneath her. scrawled upon the front of it were l ittle letters that said HLP . His trunk said BAW ; Bill s of course. He spent the next thirty minutes in silence, reading a Chudley Canon s magazine he had brought along for the ride... or at least trying to read it that is. His traveling companion was having terrible dream; he could tell. Occasionally, she would moan and cry out. Wanting to do something to help, Ron grabbed one of the blankets off the top rail of the compartment, unfolded it, and placed it over he r thin frame. His hand brushed across her hair as he did so and a pleasant feeli ng shot down his spine. Weird... it s spiky... but it s soft... although... I d wager that it s probably not as soft as toffee-apple-stand girl s. Hers looked like a big, silky marshme llow. The compartment door slid open. Well, speak of the devil. Toffee-apple-stand girl sidled inside, accompanied by the boy who had lost his t oad on the platform. But before either one of them had the chance to speak, a te rrible, heart-wrenching wail erupted from the sleeping girl s mouth. "AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHH!" Ron spun. The girl was clawing at her face; twitching and groaning. She raised her hands u p as if prostrating herself before them. She thrashed violently, screaming. To R on s horror, her body banged against the wall and a bloodstain remained where he r head had collided with the wood. She s going to break bloody her neck! Ron did the only thing he could think of that would help her. He sat down next t o her, pulled her to his chest, and hugged her tightly, restraining her arms and legs. She was still thrashing against him, crying in pain with her eyes shut ti ght, but she wasn t hitting anything... so that was a plus. "FOR GOD S SAKE," he cried out to toffee-apple-stand girl who was rooted to the spot, her chocolaty eyes wide with shock and fear. "GO AND GET HELP!" Toffee apple stand girl seemed to jump back to reality, nodded franticly at him, and ran off, taking the round-faced boy with her. The girl in his arms began to thrash so violently that she rolled them off the b ench and onto the floor. Merlin! She s not stopping. I I think she s getting worse! Blood from her wound was flowing everywhere. Ron could feel it; hot and dripping down onto his neck. She was screaming so loudly and he too was starting to pani c. He couldn t do anything; he was useless. He didn t even realize that he was s obbing along with her. "I DON T KNOW I DON T KNOW HOW I M SORRY!" Ron searched his brain desperately for anything that might help. What would Mum do? What... what would Dad do? Dad would... Dad would... right. He reached around the girl and pulled her on top of him, grabbing both of her ar ms with just one of his. He reached up with the other arm, took the back of her head, and pulled it down to his shoulder. He leaned forward, put his lips to her ear, and whispered in the lightest voice he could manage, "It s okay. Shhhh. Co me back to me, yeah?" Over and over he whispered one of his father s favorite calming mantras to use o n Ginny when she flew into a rage. Over and over and over. "Come back to me." And finally, slowly, the thrashing lost pace. Her arms snaked around his shoulde rs, holding tightly; holding him long after she had stopped seizing. Her head sn uggled into his neck and eventually they began to breath in unison. When he brea thed in, she breathed out. When he breathed out, she in. It must have been several minutes that they lay there, their chests rising and f alling together, before the girl sat back on her knees and opened her eyes. She pushed her hair back behind her ear. "You brought me back. Th-Thank you."

BLOODY HELL! The lightning bolt scar! The green eyes! I have her chocolate frog card! IT S HARRIET BLOODY POTTER! Flashback She was lying on the grass with a large piece of paper that she had rummaged fro m the garbage bin. Around it were several broken crayons. Humming a tune from a TV show that she had heard from her cupboard the other day, she picked up the re d crayon and started to draw. A shadow fell over her. "Whatchya doin?" "Dwawin." "Whatchya dwawin?" "My pawens." "But... mummy said you didn have any pawens." "I don." "Den how are you dwawin dem?" The shadow became larger and a boy sat down beside her, resting his chin on her shoulder while watching her draw. After a moment or two, the boy picked up a gre en crayon and helped her fill in the grass around the little house, in front of which stood three stick-people. When they were done, the boy pawed at her arm. "Hawwy? Will you dwaw me and my pawens?" "I can help dwaw dem, Dudwey." "Buh Hawwy" he moaned pawing at her arm. "I wan you to dwaw for me!" "Hey dat dickles!" The boy grinned and lunged at her, tickling her all over. She laughed and laughe d. "DUDLEY! GET AWAY DON T TOUCH HER!" The boy was wrenched away from her. She held out her hand, reaching for him, but in her hand... was her wand. There was a flash of green light. A boy held out his juicebox. She reached out to take it gratefully, but her wand was in her hand. There was a flash of green light. She was walking down a busy street and the large man pointed to a shop. He smile d kindly to her and waved as he walked away. She raised her arm to wave back, bu t her wand was in her hand. There was a flash of green light. A silver-haired boy stood on a stool. He held out his hand and she moved to shak e it, but her wand was in her hand. There was a flash of green light. A small girl stood in front of her, beautiful amber eyes boring into her own. Th e girl hugged her tightly. And yet... when they separated, her wand was in her h and, tip pointed right at the amber-eyed girl s heart. There was a flash of green light. She walked up the stairs slowly, not bothering to rush, for she knew that her pr ey couldn t escape. There was a light on at the end of the hall. She entered the room. A woman stood in her path. She raised the wand. There was a flash of green light. Red eyes saw green eyes. Green eyes saw red eyes. Green eyes saw green eyes and red eyes saw red eyes. She looked down her arm at her wand, pointing down into h er own face. There was a flash of green light. "AGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHH!" Pain beyond pain. Heat beyond heat. She died. She died a thousand times and a th ousand times again. She burned in the green fire. Her life flashed before her ey es. She was the old man lying at her feet. He was torn in two, trying to keep his st omach inside his body. She was the boy who stood alone, a knife dripping with blood. His parents and si blings surrounded him, throats slit and swollen. He raised the knife and plunged it into his own heart. He fell at her feet.

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm mmmmm mmmm. Sweet wonderful hums filled her ears. She reached ou t with her soul, but could not touch them. She was the girl, arms broken, naked, bound. Her love loomed above her. She plea ded with him; tried to reason with him. How could he do this? She screamed as he pummeled her; she screamed as he took her without love, his eyes blank and unse eing... without mercy. Beaten to her last breath, her heart slowing, her lungs f illing with blood, she watched as her love died, skin melting off his bones. She slipped silently away as her cold, clammy hand brushed the hair from her face. She was the man, kneeling over his daughter, hands around her throat, watching t he life drain away from her. She"Shhhhh. Come back to me, yeah?" She was an infant, roasting in a towering inferno of flaming horses. She could f eel"Hey. Come back to me." She was a woman, watching her children torn and clawed by the hands of the dead. She"It s okay now. Come back to me." The humming returned, wrapping around the angelic words. She reached out and gra sped something. Red eyes spun around her, closing in. A lifetime of rage and hate and pain. "Come back to me." She felt arms on her skin. Not choking or beating... just holding. Red eyes. "Come back to me." She felt a chest breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Flashback End Harry opened her eyes. She saw an ear... and Ginny s hair. No it s not Ginny. It was a boy... and his arms were embracing her tightly. She wrapped her own aro und the boy s shoulders and inhaled when he exhaled, exhaled when he inhaled. He smelled a bit like grass. It was nice. "Thiss grasssy red human brought you back, Chica. I tried to ssoothe you but coul d not." She felt Alice tighten on her leg as if to apologize. Harry hugged the redhead tightly, not needing the snake to tell her what he had done. Leaning back to her knees, she gazed intently into his sky blue eyes and smiled, tucking her hair back behind an ear to look at him better. "You brought me back . Th-Thank you." Jaw dropping in shock, the boy pushed himself onto his elbows, staring at her in credulously as she sat between his legs. "You You re... Harriet Potter" he stuttered after a stretching, dumbfounded silenc e. He was ogling her scar and Harry found that she didn t care in the slightest. "Y eah, I am. Just Harry though." Leaning back down, her hair dancing on his face, she pulled him close and lightl y kissed his cheek. Never having kissed anyone, she reveled in the sensation and trailed tiny kisses all along the boy s jawline, right down to his ear. Plantin g one last grateful peck on his ear lobe, she slumped against him, completely ex hausted, breathing out her relief into his shoulder. "Thank you." Harry could tell that he seemed to be getting over the shock that she was Harrie t Potter. He now seemed considerably more shocked that she was lying on top of h im and had just kissed him several times. "Erm no problem." He made to wiggle out from under her, but Harry held on for dear life. "What s your name?" she asked in his ear. "R-Ronald... Ron Weasley," he muttered, attempting another futile wiggle to remo ve himself.

HA! Ron? Ginny s brother? Well, the hair makes sense then! Wait... Ginny called him a prat. Harry might have thought more on this had Ron not just saved her from whatever w as at the end of that dream. He was warm and she couldn t help snuggling into hi s side. She knew it was a bit of an awkward situation, but she needed this... sh e needed to be touched; she needed to be warm; she needed to be safe from the de ath and the horrible eyes. Her body stung and hurt all over. I just need a little comfort. Harry smiled into Ron s neck and muttered, "I ve hugged two Weasleys in one day. " She scrunched up his jumper in her hands, pulling him closer. "You know, Ginny was right miffed at you." "How do you know-" but he wasn t allowed to finish. "AHEM!" Startled, Harry gaped at the newcomer. The girl was taller than her, yet surely not as tall as Ron. She had a large bush of brown hair and her dark, chocolaty e yes were studying Harry intently with a mixture of disdain and curious interest. She was quite pretty... albeit having rather large front teeth that made her lo ok like she was biting her lip. "Oh hello," said Harry nervously. The girl raised an eyebrow. A woman in a matron s outfit came bustling into the compartment, dragging a cart behind her. She kicked Ron s head by accident. "Good Lord! What are you two doing on the floor? Oh never mind. Come on, deary.. . let s have a look." Harry pulled Ron up with her and finally was able to let go of his jumper. She s moothed it down where her fingers had bunched it up thoroughly. "Mmm mild concussion its looks like," said the nurse, dragging her wand around H arry s skull. When the wand tip passed over the cut on the back of her head, the flesh repaired itself with a disgusting little slick. The matron tapped Harry s temple and she could suddenly think clearly. The nurse gave her cheek a little pat and asked, "So, dear... what happened?" "I I don t really know." "She was asleep," mumbled Ron. "She was dreaming," The nurse lit her wand and held it up to Harry s eyes. "Mmmhmm. I thought you sa id she was screaming, love?" she asked the brown-haired girl. Ron answered for her. "She she was screaming... and thrashing and" he trailed off, looking sadly at Harry. "Tch Tch Tch... I see... night terrors. Much worse in magical folk than muggles. The magic makes them real for the body and it can be quite serious... oh dear m e. You re only a first year! I ve never seen a case so young" The nurse let out a great sigh, the foreboding sound of which Harry didn t like one bit. "Well, I can give you some dreamless sleep potion for tonight of course, but I d like you to visit the Headmaster after the sorting feast. He is most adept in d ealing with magics of the mind. Here... a pepper up potion, a blood replenisher, as well as your dreamless sleep draught. They ll fix you right up." Harry took the vials, tipped two back and promptly spit them back out. BLEGH The nurse laughed, handing her two new vials. "That s everyone s reaction the fi rst time, love." She smiled and bustled out. Silence fell over the small cabin. Ron and the the brown-haired girl were sendin g her apprehensive looks... as if she was about to explode. The disapproving girl was the first to speak. "Well then I m very glad you re alr ight." It seemed that she wanted to say more, but after a moment s hesitation, s he turned and left Harry and Ron to themselves. Ron plopped down onto the seat and sighed, hand over his eyes. "Blimey." "Yeah," Harry agreed, examining the boy with curiosity. His bright red hair was shaggy, partly covering his blue eyes from view. His clothes well, they were all a bit worn down, but they were well-kept and looked comfy enough... just like he r dress. He had even more freckles than Ginny. All over his face and neck and ar

ms... his arms. There was blood all over them; blood which she assumed was her o wn. She sat down next to him and used the end of her already very bloody dress to wi pe him off. He raised his head, eyes giving her a thorough inspection. "You alright then?" Harry shrugged. "Think so... thanks to you." Ron s ears went pink. He tore his eyes from hers, mumbling weakly, "You should c hange out of that you know. It s covered in well its making me a bit queasy." He does look a bit green. Harry nodded and stood. Ron made to get up too, heading in the direction of the door, yet when she tugged her dress over her head he leaped backwards with a sur prised yelp. "OI!" shouted Ron, falling into his seat, his hands and arms covering his eyes f rom view. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" "I m changing," said Harry obviously, pulling her Hogwarts robes from her trunk. "NOT NOT" he spluttered incoherently. "NOT WHILE I M STILL HERE!" Harry giggled derisively as she stepped into her black skirt. "Oh... right. Well , that s very nice of you, Ron, but I really couldn t care about decency at the moment. Every nerve in my body is stinging. Besides you didn t see anything, did you? Bet you didn t even get a look at my knickers before you acted all well very nobly. Noble Ron Weasley. My savior." "THAT S COMPLETELY BESIDES THE POINT! AND AND WAS THAT A SNAKE ON YOUR LEG?" "Oh, yes. That s Alice. Don t worry; she s a Boa Constrictor and they re not ven omous. She likes to eat bananas. You can look now." She finished buttoning up he r white Hogwarts blouse and pulled her robe over top. "Do you think you could yo u do this for me?" she asked, holding out her tie. "I ve no idea how." Ron s hands slowly fell to his side. His ears were pink and he was very tense. A s he tied the tie around her neck, Harry noticed that every few seconds he would glance nervously at the hem of her skirt where the snake s coiled form was hidd en. When he finished, he retreated hastily to the corner. I don t want my savior to be afraid of me, now do I? She lifted the hem of her skirt and held her hand out to Alice, who slithered on to her fingers. When Harry moved to sit next to Ron, Alice started wiggling fiercely. "Harry ssp eaker! He hass them. Put me down. I want them!" Not daring to speak to Alice with Ron right in front of her, she placed the snak e on the seat between them. The little reptile slid quickly up to Ron s leg and stuck its head in his pocket. "HARRY! WHAT S IT DOING!" Now that she had calmed down, Harry could distinctly smell a bit of cinnamon in the air. "Erm... Ron, do you by chance have a sandwich in your pocket?" "W-What?" he whispered. The boy was as white as a sheet and sitting stock still as the snake wiggled on him. "A banana sandwich." "Oh erm... yeah I do, actually. Is... is that what it wants?" She nodded. "I suspect so." Alice hissed in protest as Harry dragged her out of the pocket. Ron retrieved the sandwich out and placed it on the bench. "Go for it. I hate th ese things." "Really? Ginny gave me one and I thought they were wonderful!" Harry opened the sandwich, took the bananas out, mushed them up, and laid the results in front of Alice, who devoured them greedily. "So you ve met my sister?" asked Ron, the corners of his lips actually twitching upwards at the snake s antics. Harry put the marshmallowy bread back together and took a bite out of it, purrin g in delight. "Ohhh... that s heavenly... but... yeah. I met her at the station. She was" Harry saw Ginny in her mind s eye, standing on a cart, asking for her t rust. Amazing? The most wonderful person I ve ever met? " very nice," she finished plainly. "She was right ticked at you though."

Ron grimaced, muttering meekly, "Erm... yeah. It s sorted now. I said I wasn t g oing to write to her, but I changed my mind." "Why wouldn t you write to her? She s your sister! If if I had a little sister" "I know, I know," said Ron guiltily. "But like I said, it s sorted now. Hey... d o you want to see my rat?" Harry snorted and choked on a bit of bread. "Your what?" "My rat Scabbers." The redhead went to his trunk and pulled out a small cage cont aining a fat, ragged looking ball of fuzz. He held the cage out to Harry. "He do esn t do much; just sleeps. Most interesting thing about him is that he s missin g a toe. I like to imagine that he lost it on some daring magical adventure... b ut... he probably just got caught in a mouse trap. He was my brother s rat, but now I ve got him. I m the youngest of seven apart from Ginny and well... we all s hare everything just about. Don t don t have much well..." Harry waved him off. "It sounds wonderful. I wish I had brothers." Ron laughed. "No you don t. Believe me!" Harry didn t think Ron realized who he was talking to... which was nice. She smi led sadly at him and said in a very quiet voice, "But I do, you know?" Ron blushed scarlet at his mistake. "Oh... right. Sorry." Harry shrugged and scratched the rat behind the ears as the silence stretched. Seemingly trying to redeem himself, Ron asked her, "Well... erm... what s your f amily like I mean, your muggle family that is. Mum and Dad were talking about the m once." "The Dursleys?" she asked. "They re well, it s a bit of a long story." Ron smiled warmly. "I ve got time." Grinning, Harry proceeded to regale him with tales of her bulbous uncle, her wha leboy of a cousin, and her gossip hound of an aunt. They laughed and talked for hours. When the discussion turned to school and magic, Harry asked, "Ron... will I be behind a lot of kids? Can you do magic already?" "Nah. Though I do know one spell. Fred and George taught it to me. It ll turn Sc abbers yellow. Want to see?" Harry nodded rapidly and Ron pulled out his wand. "Sunshine, daisies, butter-" He was interrupted as the compartment door slid open. The brown-haired girl had returned. "Excuse me, again. I meant to ask before. Have you seen Neville s Oh! Are you doi ng magic?" She had clearly seen the wand in Ron s hand and her eyes had widened in excitement. "Can you show me?" The redhead seemed a bit hesitant to be performing in front of two people, but h e cleared his throat, pointed his wand at Scabbers, and said in a robust, overly -grandiose voice, "Sunshine, daisies, butter-mellow, turn this stupid fat rat ye llow!" Scabbers squeaked weakly and fell asleep. "Hmmm... are you sure that s a real spell?" asked the girl, her skepticism obvio us. Ron s ears went pink again. "Well, Fred and George gave it to me so not really, n o." "I ve tried a few simple spells and they all worked for me. It was ever such a s urprise to find out I was magical, but I was ever so pleased. Hogwarts is simply the best magical school around you see, or so I ve heard. I want to do so well. I ve learned all the course books by heart of course. I do hope it will be enou gh." The bushy-haired girl said all of this very quickly, very proudly, and in o ne enormous breath. Ron was staring at the girl in a daze, his jaw slack. So did I. Don t see me blowharding about it well, History of Magic doesn t count. Harry shivered with disdain for the tedious subject. "I m Hermione Granger. Do you know what House you ll be in? I do hope I m in Gry ffindor." The brown-eyed girl stared at both Harry and Ron expectantly. "Oh uhh, Ron Weasley and I dunno." "Harry Potter." "Oh my are you really?" Hermione sat down next to her and pushed Harry s hair out

of her face. Her large eyes were openly and avidly ogling her scar and it made Harry very, very uncomfortable. "You know I ve read all about you, for backgroun d information of course. You re in Modern Magical History, The Rise and Fall of The Dark Arts, and Great Wizarding Events of the 20th century! Did you know that your Father lost his eyes in his duel against You-Know-Who? His eyes! Imagine a spell like that! How horrible!" Lost his... I don t think I like this girl. Ron caught the angry look on her face and said in a stiff and heated voice, "Her mione was it? I don t think Harry here wants to talk too much about her father s corpse. Bit upsetting I expect." Hermione sat back quickly, looking as if Ron had slapped her. "Well well yes I supp ose you re well very nice to meet you." She fled the compartment, face turning bri ght red. "Thank you, Ron. But that was bit rough, don t you think?" "Oh, well I owed her one. Met her before at the station. Made me feel like a righ t dunderhead." "Well, what if what if she s in your House? You ll be in a pickle." Ron paled and Harry giggled. "So what House do you want to be in?" "Gryffindor. Definitely. My whole families been in it." Ron puffed out his chest and said, "It was Dumbledore s house." "Is it good then?" "Good! It s the best! Blimey I can t imagine what would happen if they put me in Slytherin though. I d go bonkers." Harry frowned. "A friend of mine told me he wanted to be in Slytherin." "WANTED TO wanted to be in Slytherin? Are they mad? It s full of dark wizards and and muggle haters." "Draco didn t seem like that." Ron shook his head. "Trust me Harry, Slytherin is bad news. They say it was YouKnow-Who s house." It can t be that bad. Maybe he... maybe he just wants me to be in Gryffindor... with him. Harry smiled happily to herself. After a lifetime without friends, it was the st rangest thing to have suddenly have so many. "Don t you have to put your robes on, Ron? It can t be far now." Ron sat up from his lounging position. "Oh right could you erm you know?" Harry giggled. "Oh I dunno, Ron. Eye for an eye?" "Harry!" groaned the boy miserably, turning pinker than ever. She laughed and stood up. She slid open the compartment door but hesitated to wa lk through. Turning slowly on the spot, she looked back at Ron, who was gazing q uestioningly at her. Harry walked over and slid her arms around his waist. Ron froze up. She didn t w an t him to pull away so she hugged him tightly to her, resting her cheek on his chest. Her weight pushed him back to lean on window and she whispered gratefull y into his shirt, "Ron... it was just... horrible... the dream, I mean. So... th ank you for... you know... bringing me back." As the train jostled them softly, eventually, inch by freckled inch, Ron s body began to relax. She felt his chin sink into her hair when he finally hugged her back. "Ye- yeah. Anytime, Harry." Harry looked back at Ron standing in line. His sky blue eyes sent her a concerne d, questioning look. She had been sitting on the stool for at least fifteen minu tes, the tiny voice of the hat badgering her for a decision. How could he have said such a thing? In the robe shop he had seemed so kind She glared at the Slytherin table. The blonde boy was looking away from her, see mingly uninterested in the sorting. But... he was sitting very still... too stil l. Ginny s face appeared before her eyes. And my mum always says that people that avoid looking at you are the ones paying you the most attention. And then Ron s. Ye-yeah. Anytime, Harry.

And then Draco s. Because he s dirt poor! A hot tear streaked down her cheek to the corner of her lips. "Ron was right," she whispered to the hat. "Not Slytherin. Anything but Slytheri n." "Well... if you re sure better be" Draco sat in a large, green armchair, staring into the common room fire. Pansy w as leaning against his leg, reading one of her many contrived romance novels. He pulled out his wand and twirled it against the armrest. Tap Tap Tap Tap Why had she Tap Tap Tap Tap I didn t mean well I did mean Tap Tap Tap Tap "Draco" Tap Tap Tap Tap If she I ll make her life a living hell... Tap Tap Tap Tap Pansy sighed in exasperation and yanked the wand out of his grasp. He opened his mouth to protest, but she cut him off. "Stop being so moody. You re interruptin g a very good scene." "But she-" "I know. You ll get her back for it. Don t worry." He gazed blankly into the fire, glowering. Get her back for it Get her back I want to get her back I want her back. Flashback Draco was in a very good mood. He had already managed to make two very large, ve ry bulky friends. Well not friends really more like bodygaurds. He sniggered. I m going to rule this school... just like Father did. Vincent and Gregory cut a path for him through the crowd until he was right at t he front of the first years milling to get onto the boats. A booming voice cried out, "Four ter a boat! Don t push!" It was that disgusting giant from Diagon Alley. He heard Pansy groan from behind him. "UGH! He actually works here?" Draco, Vincent, Gregory and Pansy all climbed into a boat. They floated out onto the water and Pansy leaned back into his chest. "This is v ery romantic. Don t you agree, Draco?" He scoffed but one of his hands still found its way into her hair to play with th e little blonde ringlets. She had always let him mess with her hair when they we re on playdates at his mansion. It fascinated him; how it bounced and shone in t he light. He did care for her. She was his best friend after all. But her incess ant tittering about romance always made him uneasy. Girls... "Pans, if you don t get into Slytherin... will your father really transfer you t o Durmstrang?" Pansy sighed softly. "That s what he says." Draco twirled a ringlet around his finger. "I ll come with you, if you want me t o. Pansy said nothing, but her hand fell over-top his own on the rail of the boat. Even though his father had taken him to see the castle before, he still drew a s harp intake of breath as it came into view over the water. Hundreds of twinkling lights were shimmering in the lake s reflection. It looked as if there were two castles, one above and one below. A stern looking woman with a lantern awaited them at the shore. "Good evening st udents and welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You will proce ed up the front steps and congregate in the Entrance Hall. Walk promptly now. No

mischief." The Entrance Hall was enormous. Four giant hourglasses, filled with gemstones, s tood on either side of what must have been the Great Hall. There were ghosts eve rywhere, one of which caught his eye. The specter gave him a slight nod, then sh uffled off, chains clanking eerily behind him. Draco avidly searched the crowd until he saw a familiar girl with long black hai r talking to a ghost whose head was almost completely torn off. "Hey! Hey Harry! Over here!" She turned at her name and he waved at her. She looks much healthier. Must have put on fifteen pounds. Merlin, what is that green? Harry let loose that brilliant smile of hers, ran over, and caught him up in a h ug. Her magnificent hair rubbed on his cheek and he wrapped his fingers in it, j ust like he would Pansy s. "Draco! It s good to see you!" She leaned up and planted a light kiss on his che ek. He couldn t have stopped his face from heating up even if he wanted to. She must have had a damn good train ride. "I erm I tried looking for you on the train, but i couldn t find you. Did you hear that a girl at the back had some sort of sei-" Draco stopped short. A tall, redheaded boy in shabby, secondhand robes was standing right behind Harr y, looking interestedly in on what they had to say. Draco found this to be parti cularly annoying. In the best imitation of his father s signature drawl that he had ever performed , Draco sneered and said, "Yes? Can I help you, Ginger? If you re begging, well, I m sorry to say that I left my money in my other robe." He looked back at Harry, expecting to see her burst into a fit of laughter. However... she wasn t laughing... she wasn t even smiling. She was staring up at him with a slightly confused expression. "Draco this is-" He cut her off and put his arm around her shoulder, spinning her around, thinkin g that maybe she hadn t gotten the joke because she hadn t seen this buffoon. "Ha rry, look at the state of this chap, eh? He must roll with the pigs every mornin g. I I bet you re a Weasley. My father told me all the Weasley s have red hair, f reckles, and more children than they can afford. Now then run along Weasley, you re not welcome here. Maybe I ll spare you a galleon tomorrow if you leave quickl y." Weasley looked ready to murder him. He laughed and snapped his fingers. Greg and Vincent stepped up behind him. "Walk away. I can really make you-" Draco staggered as Harry threw his arm violently off of her shoulder. "Harry? Wh at s wrong?" Why isn t she laughing? Harry stepped away and glared daggers at him. "Draco? Is this some sort of joke? What are you on about?" Confused, he folded his arms and asked, "What do you mean?" It was right at that moment that Pansy came running up to him and whispered, "Dr aco! You won t believe what I just heard. That giant, the oaf, Hargidge or whate ver Draco he lives in a shack! What a savage!" Harry s eyes darkened. "Draco, who s this?" asked Pansy, gesturing towards the black-haired girl and cl utching his arm protectively. "Is she bothering you?" Harry stalked forward, her green eyes flashing, and pushed Pansy aside. She thru st her finger into his chest, glaring murderously at him. "Tell me you re joking ." Joking? I m completely lost. "Joking about what?" The girl in front of him seemed to lose control. Somehow, even though she was sh orter, she was towering above him; her stature did nothing to diminish her prese nce. "ABOUT ABOUT WHAT? ABOUT YOU BEING" Harry clearly lost the words she was looking for in her rage. She just stood the

re, huffing angrily. Weasley came up behind her and said, "It s okay, Harry. It doesn t matter. Let i t go." But Harry ignored him. "Draco. What makes you better than Ron? What makes him so incredibly inferior to you?" This isn t going well. Tell the truth. "Well because his family is bunch of muggle-lovers obviously. And come on, Harry, look at his clothes... because he s dirt poor!" SLAP His head spun painfully and he fell to the floor from the surprising strength of the blow. Pansy screamed. Cradling his cheek, Draco stared up in shock at the small girl that had sent him flying. She was enraged, her green eyes stormy and narrowed. Her face was flush ed and her hair blew around her in a fierce wind that stemmed from nowhere. When she spoke her tone was colder than ice. "And are you better than me, Draco? I ve been in the poorhouse since I was born. Throughout my entire life, I ve only had one piece of clothing that fit. I ate crackers for breakfast and cold soup for dinner." What? How is that possible? "You re not poor, Harry! I saw your Gringott s bag! They only give those to-" She shrieked in disgust and delivered a fierce kick to Draco s shin. "FOR ELEVEN YEARS I GREW UP WITHOUT THAT VAULT; WITHOUT MY FAMILY! I LIVED IN A CUPBOARD, Y OU BIGGOTED PONCE!" Weasley stepped in again and took hold of Harry s arm, dragging her backwards. " Harry stop please-" "NO, RON! GET OFF! I M GOING TO KILL HIM!" She stomped towards Draco, but Weasle y grabbed her around the waist, lifting her off her feet. She screamed and kicke d the air wildly, crying. Weasley held her tight, whispering in her ear. She stopped kicking. She stopped crying. She stopped screaming. Her hair stopped blowing. She leaned back into Weasley s arm, breathing heavily. "Come on, Harry. Let s go." Weasley tugged on her arm and without another word, she disappeared from Draco s sight. He lay there on the floor, staring at the spot she had just vacated. She she well! Pansy knelt next to him and stroked his hair. "Draco? Who was that terrible girl ?" Before he could answer, the stern woman came bustling into the Entrance Hall. "F irst Years! Line up please! That means you as well, Mr. Malfoy! Up!" The Hat sang its song; something about the founders. He didn t care. He was angr y. He wanted to punch something that was cute and fluffy. How dare she speak to me like that? I m a Malfoy! Who is she to HIT me? Hit me l ike some filthy muggle. Well she ll pay... Weasley too. Yet as he fumed, he couldn t help but think of her dark, messy hair blowing arou nd her, her entrancing green eyes wide with anger. Damn. What is that green? "Malfoy, Draco." He walked up to the Sorting Hat, not even thinking about where he wanted to go, still fuming over Harry. She was supposed to be my friend... "SLYTHERIN." Draco sat down at the table, ignoring the cheers of his fellow Slytherins. He gl ared a whole into his plate as the hat went through several more names before ge tting to the P s. "Parkinson, Pansy." "SLYTHERIN" Pansy sat at his side, looping her arm through his. Well, thank god for that. "Patil, Padma." "RAVENCLAW." "Patil, Parvati." "GRYFFINDOR."

"Perks, Sally-Anne." "HUFFLEPUFF." "Potter, Harriet." The hall went silent and he looked up in shock. No... that s not... Oh Merlin. Harry was indeed walking forward. No... it CAN T be! How did I not see that? She put the Hat on her head... but nothing happened. She just sat there... stari ng at... him. Draco looked away purposefully and did not dare raise his head again, for he cou ld feel her eyes on him. This must have gone on for twenty minutes. "GRYFFINDOR," the Hat finally shouted. The room exploded with cheers as her tie and crest turned red. Draco put his head down on his plate and moaned. Flashback End Phoenixes. Such amazing creatures. Albus Dumbledore was having the most engaging night. He had discovered that ever y time he shot blue sparks from his wand, Fawkes would sing a high note, and eve ry time he shot out red sparks, he would sing a low note. He had developed quite an amusing game trying to trip him up. Fawkes, however, had yet to miss a note. He shot off a large burst of yellow sparks. The phoenix sent him a look that quite clearly said, Nice try. "Ahh, quite right, old friend." KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK "Do come in, Harry." The heavy oak door swung outward and in walked Lily Potter... well, Lily Evans a t age eleven with James Potter s hair. "Good evening, Harry. I see that Hagrid was most astute in his description of yo u. You do look remarkably like your mother. Would you care for a Lemon drop?" He held out the bowl of the wonderful little candies he had discovered while vac ationing in Bermuda. Well the Bermuda Triangle well Atlantis. No matter. "Oh, no thank you, sir. I had about six treacle tarts." "Ah yes, quiet so you must watch out for those. They are a favorite amongst many students and thus, a prime target for many pranks from a certain pair of mischie vous twins." He rested his hands underneath his chin and looked down at the dimi nutive girl. "Now Harry let us discuss the reason you came to see me tonight." Harry nodded gravely and he continued. "I was alerted that there was a rather se rious event on the train regarding your health, but I was not informed as to the details of said event. Would you care to enlighten me?" "Oh right. I I had a dream." "A dream that resulted in your need for medical attention?" "Oh... yes Headmaster Dumbledore, sir. I hit my head you see, and-" "No extensive explanation needed, Harry. Madame Pomfrey has explained your situa tion as well. And please, it is Professor. Headmaster seems much too stuffy for a young man like myself." He chuckled and winked at the girl, who smiled wid ely in return. "Now... I believe that you have developed a case of what I like t o call The Petrifying Dream. In muggle culture, it is referred to as night ter rors, which is quite simply a rare case of rather intense nightmares that cause physical reactions. In wizards however, our magic, which is directed by the brai n, makes those manifestations real. It creates an experience which our actual bo dies live through; an experience that we cannot wake from until it is ended. In your case, given your violent reaction, I think it best if I know what the dream was before we proceed. Do you think you would be able to describe it for me, Ha rry?" The girl paled and shook her head no. "I see. Well... do you think you would be able to let me view it directly?" "View it directly, sir? "Yes I am what we call a Legillimens. With a simple spell, I may walk through y

our mind as if it is a corridor, viewing your memories as open doors that I pass by. I must warn you, however, that dreams are buried deeply in the subconscious . Thus, I would first need to view your entire memory to reach them. Would you a llow this, Harry? To allow me into your mind?" Harry shrugged. "Alright, sir." "Very brave of you, Harry. The Sorting Hat chose your house well. Many would ref use simply because they have things to hide memories they want no one to see." Al bus looked pointedly at her. "We ll there is one thing, sir that I d rather hide." "Then might I suggest you imagine placing the memory or memories which you would hide behind a closed door in your mind. I will see the door and out of courtesy , walk past it. We could indeed do this for all your memories, but Occulumency, which is essentially closing and locking each door, takes years to learn, and th us we would be here for a very long time. Instead, we are simply closing one doo r until I pass by it. Do you think you can do this, Harry?" The girl nodded and asked, "What do I have to do, sir?" "Nothing at all, Harry. You will feel me inside your mind. I am known to have a very light touch, but you still may find it... a tad intrusive." Harry s eyes set determinedly and she said, "I I think I m ready, sir." No one is ever ready my dear child... you will relive it all. He walked around his desk and wandlessly conjured a small armchair directly in f ront of the girl s. Sitting down, he withdrew his wand and placed it against her temple. Hesitating, he asked, "Are you quite sure you wish to go through with t his, Harry? It would be far easier to describe it." "Y-Yes, Professor." She seemed resolute. "Very well Legillimens." He moved through the spiraling corridor at a lightning swift pace, absorbing the images flashing all around him. Green light. Images of a girl being chased and beaten by three boys; images of a dark room and a small girl lying on a moldy co t; images of a woman s hands being torn out of her grip; images of a man s hands striking a girl on the cheek. There is the door. Well done, Harry. Surprisingly, he heard her reply, Thank you, sir. Images of a giant man with a kind smile. Images of a silver haired boy, a redhea ded girl and boy. Then, it was if he had passed through a veil of mist. Flashback He saw himself holding his wand in his hand. And he killed. And killed again. Ag ain and again. Red eyes. Green eyes. A flash of green light. Pain... blinding pa in, white hot and burning. Dead bodies, murders, a voice calling out to him. Co me back to me. Red eyes. And then... the scene shifted. Gellert was behind him on the soft bed, arms wrapped tightly around his chest, t hrusting slowly and surely into him. He was on fire, panting heavily as the blon de boy gripped his member andAberforth stood in front of the grave, eyes blazing. "ITS YOUR FAULT! YOU KILLED HER! YOU AND THAT FREAK! I LL NEVER FORGIVE-" "INCENDIOS GRATA!" The last of the Divine Reich Sorcerers was disintegrated in a mighty blast of fire. He rounded the corner at full speed and found himself sta nding in front of the large black gate. ARBEIT MACHT FREI. The cold, steel lette rs mocked him as he beheld his once friend, surrounded by the emaciated bodies o f the dead. The man turned to face him, opening his arms wide in welcome. "It is time to end this, mein liebster! Gekommen worden zu mir; taste the power of the Elder Wand! The Deathstick! With it I cannot be defeated! "That is true, Gellert. I admit, my defeat seems inevitable, for I know in my he art that I would not be able to kill you." "Then why fight at all, Albus?" The blond man turned from him and stared at the words above the wrought iron gate. "You who shared my dream? Why do you fight?" "Because it has gone too far. Because we were wrong EXPELLIARMUS!" He caught the wand deftly. Gellert turned and smirked at him.

"You will destroy our dream, Albus? You will destroy the greater good?" "No my love. I will renew it." "BUT YOU CANNOT! AS LONG AS I LIVE THERE WILL BE THOSE TO CARRY OUT OUR WORK!" "No, Gellert, your puppet leader is dead. I found his hideaway, broke through th e wards you placed around his bunker, and killed him myself. The hit wizards and allied muggle forces storm Berlin as we speak." The blonde man s face contorted with rage. He withdrew yet another wand, screame d his defiance, and lunged atFlashback Albus gasped and slumped against the side of the armchair. The girl in front of him was crying, bright green eyes wide and locked onto his own. "Sir! I m so sorry! I I couldn t stop I I" He held up a hand and she stopped speaking abruptly. Composing himself took more than several minutes. She penetrated my mind; broke through iron clad walls by simply walking through the door. "You Harry I believe you may just be the most remarkable young woman I have ever m et in my life." "Professor, I m so-" "It is quite alright, Harry. I believe I have just learned the hard way that a d oor, once opened, may be stepped through in either direction." He smiled as kind ly as he could, yet he was still reeling from the memories he had shut away, so he was sure the smile did not reach his eyes. Harry caught on to this and her charmingly angelic face became hidden beneath he r raven black hair. "Harry... I believe that we are both in desperate need of a Lemon Drop." He pick ed up a candy from his desk and placed it in her limp hand. "Please. Eat it. It will do you good." He popped one into his mouth. Ah calming draughts. Most ingenious Severus. Harry did the same and collapsed into the back of the chair, sighing deeply. "Professor who-" "Just a man I once knew, Harry; a man who lost his way." He tried to convey as li ghtly as he could that this was not a topic they would be discussing tonight. "N ow firstly, I believe an apology is in order, Harry. I myself placed you on the D ursley s doorstep all those years ago. You have suffered a great deal at their h ands and for that for that, my dear girl, I am truly sorry. Yet... it was necessa ry; a necessary evil to protect a young girl from the dangers of our war-torn wo rld. And it is still necessary that you return to them each summer." She frowned bitterly. "I didn t think I d have to go back, sir. Can t I stay her e at the school?" "It is necessary that you return to them, Harry, but I think no I am sure, that th e protections placed around you and your family will recharge before summer s en d. You will be able to leave every summer on your birthday." "I I understand, sir. Thank you." "Now, back to the matter at hand. I believe this a possible cause of the first p art of your dream is that you are afraid of using your magic. I wish for you to tell me why." "Well, because because my wand it came from the same phoenix-" "That donated a feather to Lord Voldemort s wand?" he interrupted. She looked surprised. "Do not be afraid to say the name, Harry. Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself." She nodded slowly. "Ollivander wrote to me saying that, at last, the brother wand had chosen you as its wielder. Harry, you must understand that it is neither the wand, nor the ma gic, that makes a wizard turn to darkness. It is what they choose to do with tha t wand. Voldemort s wand core was taken from the tail of a creature of great goo d and kindess. This creature in fact." Albus gestured towards Fawkes. "And yet, he chose to perform with his wand unspeakable acts of evil." He sighed heavily, as the girl did not look convinced. "You must not be afraid o

f your magic, Harry. Embrace it and choose to perform good." "Ye-yes sir." "As to the flashes of just a few of Lord Voldemort s many murders, I cannot unde rstand why you saw what you did. I can merely speculate. Perhaps he is reaching out to you." "He he s still alive then?" "Quite so, dear girl. I am sure of it. Voldemort fears his death above all else. I do not believe he would have started a war against the world unless he knew s omehow that he would not die yet that too is only speculation. What I do know is that experiencing the Petrifying Dream every night as you fall asleep is somethi ng that neither you, nor I, could bear. Therefore, I suggest this. There is a re mote form of Occlumeny that I myself have developed. It is not a method of shiel ding yourself from others. A Legillimens could as easily walk through it as if i t did not exist. It is rather a method of organization and focus. It consists of choosing one memory... a happy memory... and immersing yourself fully into it b efore you sleep. The memory will shield your mind to prevent dreams." The girl frowned. "I don t think I have too many happy memories, sir" Albus smiled fondly at the girl. "Might I suggest your experience with young Mis s Weasley this morning? It seemed to be a very bright one as I passed it by." "Oh... erm... yeah. I... I suppose that could work." He watched with amusement as her cheeks tinged red. Ah, well. Love knows no boundaries. "Very well, Harry. I would like you to return to me every night this week and I shall teach you the method. Madam Pomfrey will supply you with Dreamless Sleep p otion in the meantime. And now I relinquish you from an old man s wheezing. You m ay return to Gryffindor tower; I believe the password is Caput Draconis." "Thank you, sir." She got up to leave, pushing her hair back behind her ear as s he did so. She was almost to the door when she turned around and said sadly, "Si r I m I m sorry about your friend." Albus nodded appreciatively. "Thank you, Harry. Oh and just one last thing. Shoul d you slap or kick Mr. Malfoy again, make sure that neither I, nor any of my col leagues, are around to witness the event. We would be forced to take away house points." He winked at her. "Of course, Professor." She smiled softly and left his office. Yes... quite the most remarkable girl I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Hermione was in a state of complete and utter bliss. The bathroom was absolutely enormous. It had four shower stalls, four baths, four toilets, and four sinks. The baths themselves were large, ornate, and sank down into the floor. She playe d with the bubbles on the surface of the steamy water. Gryffindor. I can t belie ve it! Dumbledore s House. I can t Just wait until I tell Mum! She ll be ever so pleased. The bathroom door opened. Well... it must have because she could suddenly hear P arvati and Lavender s loud, gibbering voices echoing from their room. "And did you see her hair? Its like a wild shrub!" They cackled. I CAN HEAR YOU! Bints. Ohhhhh they are going to be the worst roommates. Prattlin g on about makeup and such. I bet they won t even do their homework. She saw feet padding beneath the stalls and Harry came around the corner. Oh no. I forgot about on the train "Oh hello, Hermione," greeted Harry, her tone stiff. "Hello, Harry." Hermione watched quietly as the black haired girl strode to the tub farthest from her and turned away. She started to undress and ugly jealously reared in Hermione as she did. How can anyone have skin that perfect? A face that perfect? Hair that perfect? I t s just not fair. She s going to be the one every boy drools over. Hermione remembered the girls in upper school; the pretty ones that all the olde r boys had ogled. None of them had a face like Harry s. The black-haired girl pulled off her shirt. Hermione saw that Harry, like hersel

f, wasn t packing anything up top, unlike Lavender who seemed to already have a medium-sized swell in her bosom. When Harry stepped out of her skirt, Hermione l et out a loud gasp. What in God s name is that! It s looks like chainmail! Rips all over; are are tho se safety pins? Harry had heard her and turned. "What?" she said simply. "I m sorry, Harry, but what what is that?" asked Hermione, pointing at Harry s mi ddle. "They re my knickers obviously," replied Harry, her eyes narrowing dangerously. "Why?" "But Harry, they re they re horrid!" "Yeah? Horrid are they?" spat the girl angrily, pointing towards the door, her v oice rising in a threatening crescendo. "First them... now you. I m so intereste d in what you think of the only pair of knickers I have. Please, go on. In fact, why don t you tell me some more about my Dad s corpse, or better yet, why don t you shut your fat mouth?" "Oh Harry, that s not-" "Get bent, Hermione," said Harry, cutting her off and turning away sharply. Hermione thought it wise not to make the situation any worse by protesting. Harry pulled off the undergarments, stepped into the tub, and didn t say another word to her. They bathed in silence, Harry with her back turned. Every so often , she would see the black-haired girl duck beneath the water and reemerge, giggl ing to herself. I have to make her understand I wasn t trying to "Harry," Hermione whispered tentatively, "about what I said on the train; I m ju st very curious you see and well-" Harry didn t turn to face her as she interrupted and hissed, "I don t care! Why won t you just leave me alone?" And that was that. Harry finished washing, got out, and gathered up her things. She wrapped a towel around herself and quickly left the bathroom. Well done, old girl. If I don t fix this, I won t have a single friend in our ye ar. Neville is afraid of me. Dean and Seamus are intimidated. Although that one boy Ron. He might talk to me. Not if he s friends with Harry, said a jealous little voice at the back of her mind. She sighed wistfully. Who would choose me over Harry Potter? Hermion spent an hour, soaking in the tub, thinking. When she returned to the do rm room, she found that Parvati and Lavender were asleep, but Harry was sitting up in bed with her lamp on. She had on a very ragged nightie that was tattered, ripped, and frayed. She was reading The Standard Book of Spells: Year 1, while p etting the little snake Hermione had seen her with on the train. I guess she s already read her books then. She s just skimming. A like mind! We have something in common and I don t mind snakes. They re very interesting creatu res. Plenty of medicinal purposes. The southern Ouomi tribe use snake venom to Go odness... I really do have to stop giving myself lectures in my head. Ohhhh... I really want this to work... "What s it s name, Harry? The snake?" "Why do you care?" Harry didn t look up from her book as she pulled her four-pos ter s curtains shut. Bugger. How can I fixAn idea washed over her; and idea that was a stroke of genius. I bet she did! I bet Mum packed them! She ran to her trunk, pulled it open, and dug around until she found what she wa s looking for. As an afterthought, she pulled out a nice pair of blue pajama bot toms and one of her father s soft t-shirts that he had given her to sleep in. Wa lking over to Harry s bed, she wrenched open the curtains and sat down on the ed ge. Harry glared furiously at her. "Excuse me! What do you think you re-"

Hermione interrupted quickly. "Here. I want you to have these." She stuffed an u nopened bag of rolled-up green underwear into Harry s hands, along with the pjs and T-shirt. "You look about my size... so everything should fit. My mother alwa ys buys an extra bag of knickers for me when we go traveling. I think she still believes her little baby is going to wet the bed." Harry s eyes flashed dangerously. "I don t want your-" Hermione cut her off again. "No! Shut up and listen to me! I m sorry for what I said on the train. It was cruel to you and and I m just a very curious person. To me, you were something I could question and observe to learn more about this wor ld. I m a Muggleborn you see. And in the bathroom just now I was just very shocke d to see that. They looked terrible and I can t imagine they must be pleasant to wear. So please... just take them. Even if you hate me, just take them... as an apology." Harry gaped at her, her lips parted slightly in an o . Eventually she gathered herself enough to say, "You know... you said all that in one breath. That can t be healthy." "Oh yes I I do that sometimes." She nodded back towards Parvati and Lavender s beds . "Listen I have a gut feeling that neither of us will get along very well with t hose two, so I d like to try and I d like to try and be friends with you. I ve I v e never had many friends and well I saw you skimming your textbook. I I do the sam e thing you see. I d like to get to know you. It would be nice to at least have someone that s civil with me, but if you re too upset about what I said before I understand. So so just think about it." With that said, Hermione got up, put on her pajamas, and crawled into her own be d, tugging the curtains shut. She lay there for a long time, staring up at the c eiling, listening to Lavender snore like a squealing rabbit. She was almost asle ep when she heard the crackling of plastic and much shuffling. She heard feet pa dding towards her bed. Harry opened the curtains and crawled in, sitting Indianstyle next to her feet. She was wearing the shirt, the pjs, and, Hermione assume d the knickers as well. Neither of them spoke. Eventually Harry pawed at her foot and said, without looking up, "Thank you for the clothes, Hermione. That was really nice of you. They they feel wonderful. I m sorry I was so mad at you. It s just, what you said about my dad on the train; that that he lost his It just upset me so much to learn that he didn t didn t die w ell. And you re right. Those knickers were horrid. I would I often wake up bloody because the pins pop open." Hermione nodded in understanding. "I would have been angry with me too." She noticed that Harry was rubbing her little snake s chin and it seemed to be t horoughly enjoying itself. "What s it s name then?" she asked curiously. "Alice. I found her in the garden." "Really? She looks like a jungle snake." Hermione held out her hand and the snak e coiled up her arm. "Oh wow. She likes you a lot," said Harry, smiling privately at the snake as if they had just shared a joke. "I like snakes, I suppose. I ve read quite a bit about them in my zoology books. They re very interesting creatures. Plenty of medicinal purposes. Did you know that the southern Ouomi tribe medicine men use snake venom to cure fever?" Harry shook her head, but actually seemed interested in what she had to say... w hich was a first. As Alice the Snake slithered around and around Hermione s tricep, Harry whispere d under her breath, "I heard what they said about your hair." She nodded back to wards Lavender and Parvati. "They were giggling at my nightie and Alice as well. Mean little bints." Oh. A like mind indeed. I like her already. Severus Snape stared bleakly around his classroom of Gryffindor and Slytherin fi rst years. Bunch of snotty-nosed brats. I do hate this job.

In the most menacing voice he could muster, he hissed softly "You are here to le arn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making. As there is little foolis h wand waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don t expec t you will really understand the beauty of the softly-simmering cauldron with it s shimmering fumes; the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins , bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses. I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death- if you aren t as big a-" SNORE A deadly silence fell over the room. Who dares? A black-haired girl had her head in her arms at the back of the class. She sat b etween a brown-haired girl and a gangly redheaded boy. The brown-haired girl see med petrified that his glare was upon them and she nudged the sleeping girl shar ply in the ribs. The girl grunted. She nudged again and the offending girl woke violently, shouting, "TREACLE TART!" The class burst into laughter. While he would have normally put an instant stop to the commotion, this time he found that he simply couldn t manage it as he sta red, transfixed at her face. Lily? no Ten years since she It must be "Potter," he whispered silkily. They look oh Lily why him you were mine for so long and then But Severus knew what had happened. He had called her that... and she had never f orgiven him. She went and shacked up with that ponce and produced this abomination. Potter s h air on her beautiful face. Disgusting. He took the girl s disheveled appearance in. She seemed to be dazed by sleep and her eyebrows and robes were singed. "Yes Harry Potter our new celebrity. Tell me, Potter, does this room look like a d ormitory?" The brown-haired girl next to her called out loudly before Potter could answer. "Please sir! It s the sleeping potion. She-" "SILENCE. Well, Potter?" "No, sir." Severus smirked vindictively. "Well then... you must know everything there is to know about potions since you feel the need to sleep in my classroom. Just as arr ogant as your father." "No, sir. I just..." Potter trailed off. She seemed to be angry at the jibe. Good. Now... make a fool out of her. "Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?" The brown-haired girl s hand shot up like lightning, yet Potter remained silent. He sneered. Got you. "Tut Tut clearly fame isn t-" "The Draught of Living Death, sir." She was staring right at him, Lily s eyes bl azing with a triumphant look. What? He tried again. "Potter, tell me, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?" The brown haired girl s hand shot into the air, but Potter calmly answered, "The stomach of a goat, sir." The class began to titter. "What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?" Potter looked at him, then at the brown-haired girl who was standing up, waving her hand in the air. "They re the same plant, sir... it also goes by aconite. But you really should a sk Hermione a question too, sir. She wants to answer more than I do." "Potter..." he breathed angrily. "What does Golpalott s Third Law state about po ison antidotes?" She glared at him. "That s not in the First Year textbook, sir. Maybe you ve for

gotten, but Magical Drafts and Potions only covers Golpolott s First Law, which states that the potency of any potion is dependent upon the motion the brewer us es to stir, as well as the heat of the flame upon which the potion sits. " How dare she she Lily s eyes and and her mind. Damn you, Potter. You took this chil d away from me. She was supposed to be mine. "Ten points from Gryffindor for your cheek, Potter. Well... why aren t you all c opying the answers down? CHAPTER I Heard She Blew Up A Toilet FOUR

GRINGOTTS BREAK-IN LATEST Investigations continue into the break-in at Gringotts on 31 July, widely believ ed to be the work of Dark wizards or witches unknown. Gringotts goblins today insisted that nothing had been taken. The vault that wa s searched had in fact been emptied the same day. "But we re not telling you what was in there, so keep your noses out if you know what s good for you," said a Gringotts spokesgoblin this afternoon. Harry threw down the article on Hagrid s wide six-legged table, jumped up in sho ck, and shouted, "HAGRID!" Ron, who had just taken a bit of tea, squealed loudly at the sudden movement and threw his teacup into the air in surprise. Harry understood why he was so jumpy. Fang, Hagrid s monstrous dog, had been sni ffing Ron intently from the second he walked in the door. Chuckling gruffly, Hagrid wiped the flung tea from his beard . "I told yah, Ron, Fang s right harmless. A big ruddy coward as well. He won t hurt yah one bit. P robably smells an animal or summat." Ron was just about to offer a reply, but Harry could no longer hold in her excit ement. "Hagrid! The break in was on the same day we went to Diagon Alley! To Gri ngotts! Hagrid, we emptied vault seven hundred thirteen! The vault that was sear ched had in fact been emptied the same day! That that little package you got for Professor Dumbledore; do you think they were after it?" She paced a hole into the hard wood floor, her thoughts whirling. I bet they were. They must have been. When Hagrid answered, he didn t quite meet her eyes. "Ohh o course not, Arry." The giant reached across the table and offered her another rock cake with a circ uitous look in his eye. Harry politely declined. I must have broken three teeth already. She got the suspicion that Hagrid was hiding something, because he immediately b egan prompting them to leave. "You two better be gettin back ter the castle. Get tin a bit dark. I ll get me lantern." Ron stopped his rather unsuccessful attempt to bite down on a cake and waved the giant off. "Nah, don t bother, Hagrid. We can do Lumos! Oh well I can do Lumos," he added with a quick look to Harry. Harry folded her arms and glowered at him. "Thanks, Ron. Rub it in." Ron laughed. "Oh come off it, Harry. You nearly blew up Professor Flitwick and I m dead sure that Quirrell s iguana will never grow back its tail. You have it o ut for the teachers, don t you? Make way, Hogwarts! Dark Lord Potter coming thro ugh! Make way! Ma-" He stopped his jovial ribbing as she involuntarily winced at the words. "H-Harry? I m sorry. I didn t mean to-" "It s okay, Ron," she interrupted quickly. "You just" You just hit a little close to home. "Whenever I try to do a spell, it s like I see" She trailed off again, trying to block out the horrific images of the mangled bodies that flashed before her eyes

. I see Ginny die. And then I see you die. And then Hermione. And Hagrid and Draco. And I m the one holding the wand that did it. Ron s expression turned to that of concern as he asked slowly, "You alright, Har ry? We could go to Madame Pomfrey if you feel sick." She smiled weakly at him and found his crystal-blue eyes boring into her. "No No, I m fine, Ron." Ron didn t seem convinced, but he blinked his concern away. His goofy smile retu rned with a vengeance. "We ll then, let s go get some dinner. I m bloody starvin g! Oh erm no offense, Hagrid." The giant man guffawed. "None taken. I do make em a bit chewy I s pose. I rememb er yer brother Charlie broke his jaw trying ter get through one. Always liked Ch arlie, I did." Harry was extremely grateful the subject had changed. "Alright then. I told Herm ione I d meet her in the Entrance Hall as well. She said she was going to go che ck out the Library. I bet it s marvelous!" "You said you d meet her?" asked Ron with an incredulous look on his face. "Real ly? She seems like a right nightmare! Didn t you see her in Potions? And the way she lectures to me? It s like she thinks I m a total buggering idiot." "Oh come on, Ron. She s very nice, just a bit blunt." Yes... that s definitely the right word. Ron grimaced, put his arm around her shoulders, and said with a shrug, "If you s ay so. Now, come on, mate. Dibs on all the treacle tart." Harry punched him in the arm and sped off out the door ahead of him, yelling bac k, "Not if I get there first! See you, Hagrid!" Laughing heartily, Ron chased after her. Dinner was a bit of an awkward affair for Harry. With Hermione on her left and R on on her right, she tried to maintain two conversations at once. I wish they weren t so bloody untoward with each other. Then again, everyone see ms to be untoward with Hermione. I certainly was. As Hermione started in on Ron about his eating habit, the redhead tore into her with plenty of uncouth language. Oh shut it, the both of you. Harry ate as quickly as she could, excused herself, and rushed to Professor Dumb ledore s office, relieved to be away from the bickering. "Crunchy Cauldrons," sh e mumbled to the imposing statue that blocked the passage. The Gargoyle sprang aside and she was allowed entrance to the moving spiral stai rcase. As the stairs drew her closer to the top, Harry was surprised to hear arg uing voices echoing down from the room above. "Albus!" pleaded a male voice. "It needs to be kept safe! You can t just put it in a Albus, you are the only person I know strong enough to keep it from our purs uers. Why can t you just keep it here with you?" "I promise you, Nicholas, it will remain untouched. The enchantments that I plac e will not allow anyone that wishes to use it, to retrieve it." "I hope you re right. Perenelle and I we re we re not ready damn t! We need more t ime! I need more time I I can t say goodbye to her yet." "Nicholas, my friend, you know better than I that it is not goodbye, but merely a temporary parting. I believe, however, that we must discuss this some other ti me as our conversation is no longer private. Come in, Harry." The tall middle-aged man that Dumbledore had been speaking to turned to face her and Harry stopped in the doorway, not wanting to interrupt. "Sir, would it be b etter for me to come back some other time?" Dumbledore beckoned her forward. "Of course not, dear girl. Harry, I would like you to meet Mr. Nicholas Flamel, Headmaster of the Institute for Experimental Al chemy, Grandmaster Sorcerer of the 7th circle, Supreme Warlock, Grand Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, and my very good friend." Flamel waved his hand in the air dismissively. "Meaningless titles, Albus. All e xcept the last." Dumbledore smiled. "Yes quite." Harry noticed something very odd about the man as Flamel strode forward to shake

her hand. His hair, which she had mistaken for platinum-blonde, was snow-white. Also, his eyes looked extremely out of place on his somewhat young face. They s eemed old. Too old. Impossibly old. "It is a pleasure, young Miss Potter. Albus was speaking of you just a few hours ago. I hear you have an astonishing gift for mind magic. There are not many in this world that can pass easily into the thoughts of Albus Dumbledore. Yes indee d a most astonishing feat." The man turned back to the Headmaster. "Albus, even t hough we do not agree I do trust your judgment. Farewell, my friend. I will remai n in touch." With a twirl of his cloak, the impossible-eyed man left the office. Dumbledore gestured for her to come and sit. "Now, Harry, over the coming weeks I will instruct you on how to immerse yourself magically in memory. We must choo se powerful memories; encompassing happy memories that consume all other thought and block out dreams. Let us begin." He placed his hands in a steeple and said lightly, "Can you to tell me what comes into your mind when you think of Miss We asley?" Harry didn t quite know how to respond to such a question. "I don t I don t under stand, sir." Dumbledore rephrased. "I mean, Harry, what emotions or senses do you experience when thinking back to your meeting at the train station?" I dunno. Having a friend? "Friendship, sir?" Dumbledore looked contemplatively at her over his half moon spectacles. "While t hat is a most excellent thing in itself, Harry, it is not quite what we need for this type of magic. Think back. When you were with young Ginny, what did you se e? What did you hear? What did you smell? What did you taste? What did you feel? What makes her her?" She was holding Ginny tightly. Her body was soft. Her jumper was cuddly. Her eye s were bright. She smelled of Harry grinned dazedly. "I smell strawberries, sir." Dumbledore clapped his hands. "Excellent, Harry! We will use that as our buildin g block, but first, we must attempt to find your magic s center." Do we have to do spells? What if I blow him up? "I don t think that s a good idea, sir." Dumbledore fixed her with a penetrating stare. "Ahh... yes... I have heard tales from Minerva and Filius that you have been having trouble with your wandwork. I f I may ask, Harry, do you know what it is that is keeping you from casting a su ccessful spell?" Harry nodded gravely and whispered, "I see them, sir; just like in the dream. I see myself killing them and" She shut her eyes tightly, shaking her head to free her mind of the grotesque pictures. Dumbledore sighed sadly. "I see. Harry, as I have said before, your magic is mos t strong. It is part of you and you must not fear it. Embrace it. Despite the tr agedies that have befallen you, you have a pure soul... a beautiful soul. I have seen into your mind, Harriet Potter... and I have faith; faith that you will al ways choose to use your magic for good. And yet, it is not I who must have faith . It is you." The headmaster smiled and placed his hand on her shoulder in comfo rt. "That is enough for tonight, I think. We will continue to meet each night to theorize about what we cannot yet put into practice. I fear I must warn you, Ha rry, that Dreamless Sleep potion is a most addictive substance. If you cannot fi nd faith in yourself and your magic, the consequences could be most dire." "II understand, sir." "I have faith, dear girl. So should you." Dumbledore held out a small dish. "Wou ld you care for a Lemon Drop?" Ginny lifted the enormous pot onto the stove with a grunt. She was exhausted. Sh e had de-gnomed the garden, dusted the furniture, swept the kitchen, done the la undry, and now she was helping her mother cook. Housework is so much easier with seven people to share it. Her mother bustled into the kitchen, her arms full of cabbages and potatoes. "Tu

rn that stove up to high, will you, dear? I ll light it in a moment." Ginny twisted the little gas knob to the red setting, then went to sit down at t he dining room table in a slump. "Mum? Why are we cooking so much? It s only me, you, and Dad. Who s all the food for?" "Oh, yes. I invited the Lovegoods over. Xenophilius needs a good meal every now and then. When Anne passed away last year Well, he hasn t quite been the same sin ce, has he? You like Luna well enough, don t you?" Yeah... I guess. Bit barmy. Ginny, not daring to say that out loud, agreed with a simple, "Yes, Mum, very mu ch." Her mother lit the stove and the flame exploded into the air, seeing as the gas had been on for a bit too long. "Good heavens! Oh dear me No, I m alright, love," she coughed, waving Ginny off and clearing away smoke. "Why don t you go out fo r a walk before dinner? Or maybe take a quick nap? You ve been working so hard t oday and without so much as a fuss. I ll finish up myself. Go on scoot!" Trudging out of the house, Ginny headed for the edge of paddock. Hoisting hersel f up and over, she made her way to the small stream behind the house. It was ver y nice out today; not quite chilly, but not at all hot. With a tired sigh, she p lopped down upon her favorite rock and dipped her bare feet into the cool water. I miss Ron... And Percy... I just might even miss Fred and George... How long has it been? Four days? Merlin! How am I going to get through a year of boringness? I wonder if no she probably just said that to cheer me up. Doesn t ev en know me, does she? I I hope she does though probably won t she said she would th ough and she was so she s Harry Potter she s not going to write to you but maybeHer topsy-turvy thought process was interrupted by a raucous bout of loud, horre ndously off-pitch singing. OH A PLIMPY ONE OR TWO OR THREE, A PLIMPY I WOULD LIKE TO SEE. A PLIMPY SMALL AND LIGHTNING QUICK, I LL CATCH A PLIMPY WITH MY STICK!" She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted to surrounding the forest, "Hu llo, Luna!" There was some rustling in the brush way down the stream... and then a girl hopp ed into the water. She was platinum-blonde, rail thin, and her overalls were hit ched up to her knees. The girl sprinted through the water and finally stopped wi th a mighty splash in front of Ginny. Leaning on her large, sharp stick, Luna st ared up at Ginny incredulously, as if she had quite lost her mind. "Hello, Ginny . What are doing without your Plimpy Stick? These waters are filled with them. T hey could get you at any moment, you know." Ginny reached over to the bank and picked up a stick. "Got one." Luna sat down upon the rock as well. They leaned against each other, back to bac k, enjoying the last bit of warm September sunshine that they would be likely to see for a good long while. After several long minutes of companionable silence, Luna asked dreamily, "Ginny , did a Kerbudgeon bite you? You seem a bit sad." What, in Merlin s name, is a Kerbudgeon? You know what? I don t want to know. "No, Luna. I just miss my brothers." The blonde girl replied in sing-song, splashing her toes in the water. "Don t wo rry. At least they ll come back!" Luna burst into laughter, but despite the cheery attitude, Ginny did not fail to notice the at least. Oh... right. "I m I m sorry about your mum, Luna. I never got around to coming to see you afte r" "Oh? Why are you sorry about that? She s right here." The blonde girl poked her head and heart simultaneously. Ginny didn t quite know how to reply to the surprisingly profound statement, so she simply nodded. As they sat, Luna began to hum to the tune of her Plimpy song, randomly darting

her stick into the water. Ginny felt herself dozing off on the girl s shoulder. And then... "Ginny?" She jumped awake. "I believe this bird would like to speak with you." "Wh-what?" Ginny turned and her eyes widened. Sitting on a nearby branch was the loveliest snowy owl she had ever seen. Tied t o the owl s leg was a small envelope with bright-green, overly-loopy scrawl on i ts front that read: To Ginny Weasley. Ginny reached over and untied the letter from the bird, her fingers trembling wi th excitement. The owl hooted softly, jumped from its branch, and promptly soare d to a better roosting spot: her head. Giggling, Ginny opened the letter. Dear Ginny, Ickle Gin Gin, That was Ron, not me! I hope the letter reaches you okay. If not Well, I guess it reached you okay or y ou wouldn t be reading it. Anyway, three days in! Hogwarts is simply amazing. Yo u re going to love it. There s moving staircases, and a giant squid, and And Treacle Tart! Shut up, Ron, you silly plonker! Come here and makeOuch! There is NOT a mountain troll at the sorting. It s just a hat that talks in your head and decide where to put you. It sat on mine for twenty minutes and my bum fell completely asleep. We re learning tons of magic Harry isn t! Ron, stop being lazy. Write your own damned letter. You promised you would. When you get here, Ginny, watch out for the Potion s Master; Snape. He s a right old bastard he is. Hates me simply because I m famous or some boll Ginny, there is a HUGE Quidditch Pitch! Ron, I swear! He s right though. I still don t really understand what it is. Ron says you re a great flier. I wish I could see you fly! Maybe you could teach me how someday? We have our first flying lesson this Friday. I m really excited ab out Hopefully your broom doesn t explode too. OI NOT THE EARS! I swear I m never using a dictation quill again. I d write another letter, but I have to get to the Headmaster s Office. I hope you re not too unhappy home alon e although, I d be happy to not have Ron around right about now. Wishing you were here, Harry You wish she was here? You hardly-GUGH... EW! Ron, you licked my hand! P.S. Don t let Circe sit on your head. Ginny s mouth fell open as she finished the letter. HARRY IS FRIENDS WITH RON? "Oooo my, she seems very nice." It seemed as if Luna had read the whole thing over her shoulder. The blonde rubbed cheek against Ginny s ear. "Do you think she might like to kis s me? I think I d like to kiss her." Ginny, not paying attention to a word Luna had said, hopped down off the rock. C irce squawked indignantly and clambered to get back on her head. "I ll see you at dinner in a bit, Luna. I want to write her back." She tore off up the hill back to the house, owl in hot pursuit. Hermione, could you pass the syr- OH! Circe, get off!" Harry pulled the owl down with a smile. It looked very proud of itself, having just delivered its first le tter. It hopped around on the table, knocking her bacon to the floor. Harry calm ed her down enough to retrieve the little white envelope tied to her leg. To Ha rry Potter stood out in messy chicken-scratch letters. She opened it, gave Circ e some bacon, and read: Dear Harry,

You re FRIENDS with Ron? What did he do? Follow you around, showing you your cho colate frog card and begging you to talk to him? He was always a bit obsessed wi th stories of you, you know. So was Well, I m glad you know each other, I guess. Maybe you could come around for Chr istmas! If you want to, that is. I would love Mum would be happy to have you, I m sure. Anyway, I m glad there aren t really t rolls. I was worried. As for Quidditch oh it s amazing, Harry... just you wait! I think you ll love it and of course I can teach you how to fly. You re the perfe ct build for a seeker too! I m getting on alright at home. I expect Mum s been k eeping me busy so I don t brood too much. Harry, I m really glad you wrote. I di dn t really think you would. Love Wishing I was there with you, Ginny P.S. I don t think you re going to be able to break Circe from head sitting. She s been on mine the entire time I wrote this letter. All of a sudden, Harry felt extraordinarily warm. Ron shoveled some eggs into his mouth and, spewing them everywhere, said, "I won der what the school brooms are like? What do yah reckon, Seamus? Cleansweep Four s?" "Nah not even. Silver Arrows I expect." A drawling voice said from right behind them, "I bet you re just dying to ride o n one of them, aren t you, Weasley?" Draco and his two goons had sidled up to them unnoticed. "Piss off, Malfoy," muttered Ron angrily. The boy smirked and continued. "Must seem like a Nimbus Two-Thousand compared to what you ve got at home. Do you all ride a family broom then? A Cleansweep One maybe? Father says he ll be getting me a Nimbus. He says it s a crime if I m not picked to play for the house team next year and I must say, I agree." Harry wanted to punch him. She wanted to punch his stupid, smarmy, smirk right o ut of her head. She hated that he would pop into her mind and make her spells ex plode. Every word she heard him say, infuriated her more and more. I hate him. I hate his stupid hair, I hate his stupid eyes, and I hate his stupi d fat mouth. I wish he would die Well, no... I I just wish he wasn t such a ponce. Restraining Ron s arm as he rapidly reddened, she growled dangerously, "Draco go away. It s too early for this and if you keep it up, I promise you that my foot will find your bits." Draco grinned at her. "Dreamless Sleep potion s got your knickers in a twist the n, Harry?" The blonde boy quickly reached out and snatched a small silver ball o ut of Neville s hand. "My my my this is a charming little thing I think I ll keep it." Harry, Ron, and Seamus all got to their feet, shouting respectively, "Draco, giv e it back right now; I ll pound you, Malfoy; WIZARD S DUEL!" Everyone head in the hall swiveled in their direction. McGonagall, who seemed to spot trouble miles away, was already quickly approachi ng. "What s going on here?" she said sternly, adjusting her tartan scarf and fix ing them all with a steely glare. Neville spoke up. "Malfoy s got my Rememberall, Professor." Draco tossed it back to him and said over his shoulder as he turned away, "Just looking." Harry fumed as the boy slipped away without punishment, but she felt a small sli ther on her upper arm and it calmed her considerably. "Chica, give me a banana." After breakfast, the Gryffindors made their way down to the pitch in a large gro up, all chatting happily about flying apart from Neville and Hermione, who both l ooked rather green. The Slytherins were already there, standing next to the long line of brooms. Madam Hooch arrived shortly after them and with a piercing blas t of her whistle directed them to move to the broomsticks.

Harry was giddy with excitement. She had shouted "UP!" with a little too much ze al and her broom had zoomed to her hand wildly, hitting Ron in the back of the h ead as it did so. "Oi Harry! Watch it! Up!" Ron s soared neatly up. She, Ron, Seamus, Dean, and Dr aco were the only ones who managed to get it on the first try. Harry and Ron lau ghed heartily when Madam Hooch told Draco he had been gripping his broom wrong f or years. "But my Father-" "Your father, Mr. Malfoy, still holds the Hogwarts record for falls from a broom during a Quidditch match. If you do not wish to follow in his footsteps, I sugg est you do as I say. Now everyone mount up. On the count of three, you will push off the ground, hover, then turn the nose down to land. On my mark Three Two" Neville pushed off the ground. Harry watched as he went up and up. Ten feet, twe nty feet, thirty feet. Madame Hooch was calling out to him. "Nose down, boy! Com e back down!" Right as the yellow-eyed woman hopped on her broom and took after Neville, he fell. Harry watched, horrified, as the boy hit the ground with a sic kening thud. She rushed over to him, as did the rest of the Gryffindors. Neville was dazed and clutching his arm in pain. Madame Hooch soared back down. "Mmmm broken wrist at least. Come on, boy it s al l right, up you get. None of you is to move while I take this boy to the Hospita l wing. You leave those brooms where they are or you ll be out of Hogwarts befor e you can say Quidditch! Come on, dear." Harry watched as Madam Hooch picked Neville up as if he were made of paper and c arried him out of the pitch. Parvati ran after them cooing supportively, but Mad am Hooch sent her back to the group with a few stern words. Once the pair was ou t of sight, Draco turned to them all and said loudly "Did you see his face? The great lump!" "Shut up, Malfoy!" Parvati s eyes were dark and she stuck her finger into Draco s chest. Well maybe she s not a complete bint after all. Pansy cackled loudly. "Oooo sticking up for Longbottom? Never thought you d like fat little crybabies, Parvati!" Parvati s caramel skin flushed to a much darker shade of brown. She was about to reply, but Draco cut her off. He had scooped down and grabbed a small shiny bau ble off the ground. "Look! It s that stupid thing his Gran sent him!" Harry stepped forward. He s such a stupid blighter. "Give that to me right now, Draco." The tittering group went silent, all eyes on herself and the blonde boy in front of her. Draco flashed her a wide grin. "Now Harry why would I do that when I could leave it someplace for Longbottom to find? Say, I dunno up a tree?" He laughed and hopp ed onto a broom, soaring off to the tree line. He did a few loops and corkscrews to show off to the crowd. "COME UP HERE AND GET IT, HARRY!" Infuriated, she stalked to a broom, but Hermione grabbed her arm. "Harryno." Turning to look at the girl, Harry was surprised to find a fearful look on her f riend s face. Hermione shuffled meekly. "If... If the teacher comes back out you ll be expelled and I" Harry understood. "I know, Hermione, but that... that thing is important to Nevi lle. Its from his... well, it s a present from his family. I ve got to do it." The girl frowned sadly, but let go of Harry s arm, nodded apprehensively, and st epped back. Harry UP! d the broom, mounted, and kicked off hard. The wind whistled through her hair as she shot upwards. Oh wow! Ginny and Ron were right this is fantastic! "I wissh to be on the grasss, Harry sspeaker." "Sorry, Alice. This has got to be done." Harry steeled herself and zoomed the br oom towards Malfoy. She was almost upon him when a flash of red light whooshed p ast her ear. Looking down, she saw another beam of light barreling toward her. I

nstinctively, like the broom was part of her own body, she looped her feet aroun d the tail of the broom and twisted. The world spun. She barrel-rolled over top the jinx and on the ground she could see Pansy lying on the grass with her wand arm wrench behind her back. Hermione and Ron were standing side by side above th e blonde. Thanks guys. Draco was waiting for her. "Nice moves, Harry. You re a natural flier." "Shut up, Draco! Give that ball to me right now or I swear I ll knock you off you r broom." "No," he drawled with a smirk. Harry rushed him, grabbing for the ball. Draco sl oth rolled underneath her and spun about face. As she came around for another ru n, she heard the crowd below gasp at the boy s risky broom roll. "Look, Harry, I just want to talk to you," said Draco Lazily. "WELL I DON T WANT TO TALK TO YOU! I HATE YOU! NOW GIVE THAT HERE!" "You don t hate me." Yes I Yes I do! I DO! I I do. He was smirking at her and she wanted to wipe that stupid grin right off his fac e. Harry prepared to rush him again, but he called out to her loudly, "Harry, st op! I only took it because I knew it would rile you up and you d come after me! Just Listen, meet me in the trophy room tonight. Midnight. There are... things th at need to be said." "SHUT UP, DRACO! I m not meeting you anywhere to hear anything! Your tongue is p oison!" Harry charged at him as fast as the Silver Arrow could take her. In his desperate attempt to get out of the way Draco dropped the little ball. Shite. It s going to shatter! And she dove; she hurtled straight down, urging the broom to gain on the glint o f falling glass. Not fast enough almost... almost... almost there GOT IT! With an unearthly cry of triumph, Harry pushed her feet down on the back end of the broom, pulled the handle up, and twisted back toward the sky. The broom went out of control. She corkscrewed along the ground for at least a hundred feet, h er hair loose and skimming the grass, before she finally managed to right hersel f. Gripping the ball tightly in her fist, she tilted upwards and soared back to the crowd of students Oh no. "HARRY POTTER!" screamed Professor McGonagall. The woman was out of breath and r ed in the face. "Never in all my times at Hogwarts- how dare you- could have bro ken your neck!" A loud clamoring from all the Gryffindors interrupted her tirade . " But Professor- Malfoy took Neville s- wasn t her fault- Pansy tried to killhe baited her," were just a few of the many simultaneous protests. "That is enough!" cried McGonagall loudly. "Miss Potter follow me." I m done for. Harry looked back at Draco who had landed nearby. He was helping P ansy up and cupping her cheek, speaking softly to her. The blonde girl was obvio usly crying from the painful spell hold either Ron or, more likely, Hermione had put her in. He put his temple to Pansy s and held her as she cried, but, over P ansy s shoulder, he was staring directly at Harry. The look in his steely-grey e yes seemed Apologetic? Harry numbly followed the stern Professor up the front steps and back into the s chool. I wonder... From which part of the castle will she expel me? Her office? Profess or Dumbledore s office? He won t be pleased, I expect. After a few minutes of climbing staircases and ducking behind tapestries, they a rrived at a Charms classroom. McGonagall stuck her head in. "Excuse me, Fillius M ay I borrow Wood? The Gryffindor dinner table was buzzing excitedly. She was surrounded by a milli ng crowd of people asking her questions. She was smiling and answering everyone in turn. Her eyes danced and twinkled in the light of the many floating chandeli ers.

Damn, what is that green? He had to get her back. He wanted her as his friend, not his enemy. This was his chance. He folded the tiny note, got up, and walked around the Slytherin table. As he pa ssed her by, he quickly, yet carefully dropped the sliver of parchment into the back of her collar. Her slouched posture suddenly became ram-rod straight and Draco knew that she ha d noticed. Good. As inconspicuously as possible, he slipped out of the Great Hall and returned to the dungeons, feeling relieved. Seeker, Harry! I can t believe it!" Harry s cheeks flushed. Despite the fact that he was making a rather ridiculous show of proudly presenting her to the rest of the table, Ron had his arm around her shoulders and it felt... nice. "Youngest house player in a century!" "Ronald, you re embarrassing her!" These were the first words Hermione had said to Ron in several days that didn t involve a lecture on the proper wand movement or intonation of a spell. Ron waved her off and replied triumphantly, "You wouldn t understand a thing abo ut it, would you?" Ron was rather proud of the fact that he knew everything there was to know about Quidditch and that Hermione knew next to nothing. However, when Hermione did no t reply and got up to leave the table instead of arguing, Ron looked downcast. "Ron, I know you want to get to know her. Stop being such a -" Harry would ve go ne on, but she felt something scratchy slide into the back of her blouse. "Get to know her?" cried Ron, stabbing a potato viciously. "I bloody well don t want to get to know her!" Harry, however, was not paying attention to his reply. She put her hand into her collar and pulled out a bit of rolled up parchment. Who-? She turned, casting her gaze about the Great Hall suspiciously. No one seemed to be paying her any sort of special attention or making a visible effort to ignor e her. Tentatively, Harry unfolded the note and scanned the single line of words writte n in a neat, sharp script. I m glad you re still here. Trophy room. Midnight. Please? Glancing nervously at the redhead beside her, she folded it back up and quickly stuffed it into her pocket. Had Ron seen? Harry couldn t focus on her homework that night, for her eyes continuously stray ed to the clock on the common room wall. 11:49. Should I go? I shouldn t goIt s a trap...He s setting me upBollocks I m goin g. Exiting the common room as quietly as she could, she tiptoed through the halls, dodging behind corners as the occasional ghost sailed through the walls doing wh atever it was ghosts did at night. The trophy room was just above the Charms cor ridor. The hall seemed deserted. She sprinted across the hallway and up the smal l marble staircase at the end. The large wooden door was open just a crack and a small flickering light could be seen within. Harry cautiously pushed it open. There on the window sill, wandtip alight, sat Draco Malfoy. So... not a trap then? She closed the door behind her. He had looked up when she came in, but when she turned around, he was back to staring out at the grounds. Harry could see the moon reflected in his eyes; a tiny speck of light in a sea o f grey. "What do you want, Draco?" she asked hotly. "What was so desperately imp ortant that you had to meet me here in the dead of night? What was so desperate that you risked getting both of us expelled by McGonagall this morning?"

Draco didn t offer a reply. "Well SPEAK UP, YOU PONCE!" The corners of his lips twitched upwards, but he still didn t answer. When Harry could no longer sit and wait for him to speak, she growled in a deadl y whisper, "Draco... talk now or I leave and blow something up so you get caught out of bounds." Lazily tilting his head toward her, he drawled casually, "Harry? Why are we not friends?" Harry laughed sarcastically. "Isn t it bloody obvious?" Draco s chest heaved with a bitter sigh. "We got on great in the robe shop. Then I insult the Weasel and you explode. Now you can t stand the sight of me." She scoffed in exasperation. "That s exactly why we re not friends, Draco! Becau se you call him Weasel, and beggar, and blood-traitor! Ron is amazing and you th ink that having money makes you better than him! I see the way you look at him at Hermione at Dean. You honestly believe that having money and being a Pureblood makes you superior? It makes me sick! You re just like my relatives completely i ntolerant. Maybe it s not your fault. Maybe your parents raised you to believe t hat sort of thing, but until you change we can t be friends. Until you change... I hate your guts." Draco seemed to deflate with every word of her tirade. Harry sighed, walked over to the window sill, sat down next to him, and mumbled softly, "I really liked that boy in the robe shop; I really like the boy who is so good to Pansy. But he wears this mask of hate and bigotry that I just can t s tand. Until he stops being such a ruddy ponce, I won t say a kind word to him." "But I want you back!" cried Draco angrily. "You were my friend first!" So now we get down to it. "Then change," she whispered, staring into his moon touched eyes. His dead lifel ess face flashed across her mind. I want him to change "Pl- please change, Draco." for me. The corners of his eyes welled with tears and he scrubbed furiously at them, sha king his head. "I am better! Mother always told me she always said" Harry backed off. She could tell he was having some sort of fight with himself a nd so she sat, quietly watching the clouds drift over the moon. It was a nice ni ght out. With Draco stewed, occasionally grumbling or mumbling something under his breath , Harry let her thoughts drift aimlessly; from future Quidditch practices, to ho mework, to Ron and Hermione not getting along, and to Ginny. I wonder what she s doing? Maybe she s awake too, staring at the same moon. It had been fifteen maybe twenty minutes before a hand fell lightly on top of her own. "I can try," Draco said sincerely, turning. "I won t say I ll- WEASLEY!" Harry whirled around. Standing in the doorway, dressed in their pajamas, were Ro n, Hermione, and Neville. Ron s mouth was hanging open as he stared at the two o f them sitting on the large sill. No one spoke a word. Sensing what Ron was thinking had become relatively easy for Harry over the last week. He was an open book. She could see that he was too overcome with shock to feel anything else at the moment, but she knew what would come next: anger; ang er that Harry needed to head off before the redhead exploded. Walking over to Ro n, she hugged him tight and whispered calmly, "It s okay, Ron. We were just talk ing." Her words seemed to jolt the redhead out of his shock. One of his arms slipped p rotectively around her waist, while the other drew his wand. "If you had hurt Ha rry I would have killed you, Malfoy. No questions asked." Draco sneered at him, but didn t reply. Ron sighed and let go of her. "I saw him put that note on you at Dinner. And I s aw you leave the common room, Harry. Neither of you were very subtle about it yo u know. I thought he must have blackmailed you or something. I would have been r ight behind you if these two buggers hadn t slowed me up. Sorry."

Harry smiled softly. Ron seemed to be less angry at Draco and more angry at hims elf. Hermione scoffed indignantly. "That s very unfair, Ronald. Neville just got lock ed out and I was concerned about where you were going. After all, you could have lost us so many points!" "I bloody well don t care about points, Hermione! I care about Harry! She s my f riend. I thought she was yours as well!" "But Ronald-" "Oh no!" squealed Neville in absolute dread. Everyone stopped speaking and turned to him. "Look," whispered the slightly-pudgy boy, pointing shakily into the corner of th e room. Peeking out at them from behind a tapestry... was Mrs. Norris. The cat meowed lo udly. Shite... Filch. Panicking, Harry whispered, "Everyone run!" They flew out the door, down the steps, past the statue of Barnabus the Barmy, a round the corner and froze. Peeves was hovering upside down, juggling several large glassy items that looked to be from the nearest classroom. When he saw them however, a large grin broke out on his face. "Ooo ickle firsties out of bed. Naughty naughty. Should tell Fi lch I should." Before Harry could reason with the little creature, she saw Draco draw his wand. "Get out of the way, you filthy geist!" "NO, DRACO!" But the hex was already off. The glass items Peeves had been juggling fell to th e floor with a tumultuous CRASH. "STUDENTS OUT OF BED! STUDENTS OUT OF BED! DOWN THE CHARMS CORRIDOR!" Peeves zoomed away, cackling madly, rattling windows, toppling suits of armor, a nd in general just making an astounding racket. The five of them bolted to the end of the hall and slammed into a locked door. "Oh no!" cried Ron. "We re done for!" whined Draco simultaneously. "Stop being idiots the both of you. Hermione take care of this, will you? I don t want to explode it." Harry stepped aside so Hermione could get at the door. Hermione whipped out her wand and said, "Alohomora." The lock clicked open and t hey ran inside right before the sound of footsteps pounded down the corridor. "Peeves! Where are they? Who was it?" Filch was saying loudly. "Was it those ter rible twins? Peeves don t you- come back here!" The yelling voice of Filch got s ofter and softer as he chased the poltergeist away. Alice was sliding about her bicep rapidly. "Thiss wass not a good place to hide, Chica. A demon lurkss." "Erm, Harry?" quavered Neville. Harry s eyes bulged. "Yeah. I see it, Neville." In the center of the corridor they had just entered, slept a giant, black, foul smelling, three headed, absolutely terrifying dog. Harry spread her arms and started walking backwards,. "Everyone back away slowly . Back through the door." "OUCH!" yelped Hermione. "Ron, my foot!" Six pairs of large, yellow eyes snapped open. "Go!" Harry cried, pulling out her wand. She felt the same tingling she would ge t whenever she was about to do magic. The dog scrambled to its feet and charged. Ginny dead. Ron...dead. Hermione dead. "ALOHOMORA!" she screamed. The discharge between her wand and the dog was enormous. It sent the massive thi ng flying into a wall and blew them all back through the open door. Neville had enough sense to get to his feet and slam the door shut, while the re st of them lay dazed. The rotund boy surprisingly took charge, albeit stuttering everything he said in fear. "Everyone up. C-come on! F-Filch will will have heard

that! We have t-to get out of here." They pushed themselves up. Well, except Draco who was moaning on the ground. Ron whispered harshly, "Malfoy, come on! This way." "I don t need your help, Weasley!" spat the blonde. Ron laughed coldly. "Suit yourself, you stupid blighter. You re on your own." The four Gryffindors ran as fast as they could back to the tower. "Pig snout!" shouted Harry. The Fat Lady jolted awake, but Harry swung her open before she could reprimand them. They launched themselves in and collapsed onto the sofas in front of the dying fire. After catching her breath, Hermione simply said, "Goodnight," gave Ron a good so lid glare, and left for their dorm room. Harry knew she would be getting an earful from the bushy-haired girl later. She and the two boys sat in companionable silence, watching the fire trickle dow n to a few glowing embers. Quite suddenly, Neville started chuckling... and then Ron joined him... and then Harry as well. In seconds, they were all laughing uproariously. Harry heard Percy thumping on the ceiling from his dormitory above the common ro om. There was a muffled, "Quiet down there!" Ron sighed dramatically. "Harry, next time you go off in the middle of the night to have a friendly chat with the biggest berk in school tell me so I can not foll ow you." She smiled, stood, kissed him on the cheek, and headed up to bed. Noble Ron Weasley. My savior. A bludger slammed into Harry s elbow. There was a loud crack and a burning surge of blinding pain surged upwards through her arm. "AGGHHH! DAMN T, FRED!" A sharp piercing whistle sounded in the air. Thank God. Rain pounding down upon her, Harry almost lost her one-handed grip on the finely polished handle of her Nimbus as she pulled it out of a dive. She steered the b room back toward the ground, cradling her arm to her chest. When the grass was c lose enough, she rolled off her broom and fell into the mud with a squelch. The rest of the team was landing, running toward the center of the pitch. Harry held up her good arm and waved, breathing heavily. "I m alright. I just Ow. .. fuck... I think I broke my arm! Blimey Fred you can hit like a freight train." She couldn t stop from shrieking in agony as Oliver knelt down, sopping wet, and abruptly straightened her arm. Fred sighed, pinching his eyes. "Merlin, Harry, I m sorry. I thought you were Ge orge and you d serve me back. Ollie we need to call this mess. None of us can see a thing! Angelina slammed into the stands not ten minutes ago. Why are we still at it?" Olliver grunted and stood. "Harry, do you think you can get up to Madam Pomfrey and back down here in twenty minutes or so? We have the pitch for another hour a nd-" Alicia moaned, "Ollie, how can you even ask that? Her arm is broken, it s Hallow een, it s seven o clock in the morning, and it s pouring!" "I KNOW THAT! But we have to practice! Our first game is in a week! ONE WEEK! I don t know about you lot, but I refuse to once again be taunted by Flint for an entire year." "Olliver" Harry shifted her weight onto her legs and stood. "I can t get out of t he Hospital Wing that quickly anyway. I ve been on Dreamless Sleep potion for ne arly two months. Pomfrey will insist on putting me through a full checkup." She watched as the fifth year paced back and forth. Angelina had to hit him in t he shoulder before he finally threw up his hands and yelled, "Alright alright! P ractice is over. Hit the showers. Harry go and get that arm fixed up." Madam Pomfrey did indeed put her through a full exam. After a half an hour of mu ttering to herself and dragging her wand along Harry s body, the mediwitch sat d own on the edge of the bed and grasped her hands. "The potion is making you weak er, deary. Another another week or so and then your body will start to need it to function. You ll have to go into withdrawal before then and and start experienci

ng the dreams. I don t know what else I can well, let s fix that arm up at least, shall we?" An hour later she was standing under a shower in the Gryffindor locker rooms. Have faith I just need to have faith. Closing her eyes and taking everything in, Harry leaned back against the cool sh ower tiles to let the water pump down over her chest. She had rapidly become the most infamous and talked about girl in school for three reasons. One because she was Harry Bloody Potter. Two, because she was the youngest student in a century to play on a house Quidditch team. Three, because she knew every one of her boo ks by heart, yet couldn t perform the smallest ounce of magic without something in the nearby vicinity exploding violently. For the past two months, whispers an d rumors followed her everywhere. "Did you see her scar?" "Did you hear she blew up a toilet?" "I heard she bought her way onto the team." "I bet she s just an overpowered squib." Harry slid down the wall, wrapped her arms around her knees, and let the shudder ing, weary sob she had been holding in free. In a few weeks... I ll be in St. Mungo s going insane. Life at Hogwarts certainly wasn t quite what she had thought it would be. She ha d expected fairy-tales, but all she had seen so far was just another hardened re ality, albeit fantastical in nature. In this world, she was a witch that couldn t do magic; she was still unnatural just like before. She was still... Piers face flashed before her eyes. Be a freaky little orphan on your own. Harry roughly rubbed away her tears. No... I m... I m not on my own. I have friends. I have Ron and Hermione. I... I have Ginny. God... what am I going to tell them? What am I going to tell the team? She could imagine Ron s expression: head cocked slightly to the side, mouth open , blue eyes wide with surprise. Hermione would most likely just forego shock and rush to the Library to look up anything that would help her. Olliver would of c ourse burst into tears as his dream of at last winning the cup slipped once agai n through his fingers. She didn t think she could tell Ginny in a letter. Harry didn t really know how the girl with whom she had gotten so close to through the ir near daily correspondence would feel when she stopped getting letters, but Ha rry was willing to risk that it would be better than reading that she would soon be a vegetable. Harry grinned as she pictured Ginny s smiling, freckled face. The redheaded girl s letters were filled with so much kindness and excitement for life; excitement which Harry lacked given her impending insanity. The warm water slid over her back, soothing her aching muscles while the thought of Ginny soothed her roiling emotions and eventually, despite the infinitely de pressing situation, Harry was able to pick herself up from the tile and carry on with the day. Her first class was Charms. They were trying levitation today. Ron, who had been paired with Hermione, was grumbling under his breath about where she could stic k the feather she was trying to show him how to levitate. Harry had, of course, been paired with Seamus. They were the two likeliest people to explode something and thus they were seated at a table far from the others. "Well, Harry? You ready?" "Nope." "Alright, good enough for me." Ginny lying at her feet, throat slit, amber eyes dull and unseeing. NO! "Wingardium Leviosa!" BOOM Harry and Seamus were thrown violently backward as the desk exploded. Professor Flitwick repaired it with a flick of his wand and sighed. "Ahh well. No need to try again I think, Miss Potter." And so she sat, bitterly watching the rest of the class levitate feathers for th

e whole hour, after which Professor Flitwick dismissed them with a sad glance in her direction. "I want a roll of parchment on some practical uses of the levita tion spell please; due Monday. Do enjoy the Holloween feast." Ron stomped over to her in a huff. He didn t say anything, but he did get steadi ly more annoyed as they walked out into the hall and down the staircases toward the dungeons. His steps got fiercer and fiercer before he finally exploded, "HOW CAN YOU STAND HER? She s bloody awful! Sitting there, telling me everything I m doing wrong in that bossy annoying voice!" He was gesticulating wildly, waving his arms a bit like a windmill. "I spent more time in that class getting bossed aro und than I did actually practicing the spell! Honestly, Harry, she s the biggest bloody know-it-all in the history of know-it-alls." Harry grinned slyly. "I m a know-it-all too, Ron. We re good to have around. We. .. know things. Besides, she was just trying to help you." She thought maybe some humor would ve lightened him up, but unfortunately it onl y seemed to fan the flame of his anger. "Yeah well at least you don t rub it in everyone s face! I mean, she s a nightma re! IT S LEVIOSA NOT LEVIOSA! Harry, why are you even her friend?" Ron had gotten l ouder and louder as he went on, voice echoing off the corridor walls. Harry heard a sob from right behind them and Hermione pushed roughly into Ron s shoulder as she ran past. Harry sighed heavily. "Oh Ron she heard you! Look, I know you re angry, but I thi nk she s just trying to be your friend. She just doesn t understand that everyon e isn t as brilliant as she is. You go on ahead I m going to go after her. I ll m eet you in Potion s." Even though Ron scoffed at her words, his eyes suggested that he did feel rather guilty that Hermione had heard him. Harry chased off after her bushy-haired friend. She knew where Hermione was head ed: the library. As she rounded a corner and approached its doors, she could hea r Madam Pince s loud shushing echoing out. Harry darted into the ante-chamber just as Madam Pince was returning to her cler k s desk. "Excuse me, Madame Pi-" "Biographies, I believe, Miss Potter." Madam Pince pushed up her glasses and ruf fled the papers on her desk. "Thank you, Ma am." Harry walked quickly through the large double doors on the r ight of the chamber and up the spiraling staircase to the 4th floor. She stalked hurriedly through the aisles, looking down each one for Hermione. Finally, Harry heard soft crying coming from the Y-Z stack. She peeked in to see her friend sitting on the floor, sobbing gently into her knees. "Hermione" "Go away, Harry. Please... go away." Harry didn t go away; she couldn t. Walking over to Hermione, she sat down and p ut her arm around the girl. As soon as she did, Hermione s head hit her shoulder and the intensity of her sobs increased tenfold. Harry sat with her in silence, giving what comfort she could. When the choking sobs had slowed to sniffling, H arry felt brave enough to ask, "Why do you want him to like you so much, Hermion e? And I know you do. You lecture him so much more than everyone else." Hermione shrugged, mumbling brokenly with interspersed sniffles, "I... I don t k now... I just... I just do. I want him to... to smile at me like he smiles at yo u. No one has... has ever..." Harry put her arms around her, hugging tightly, and the girl leaned into the emb race. "He ll come around. He doesn t know you like I do. In fact... I m sure he ll be looking to make friends when I m..." Harry only barely caught herself. Erm... Do you want to go to Potions? I think we have a few minutes left before class." Hermione shook her head and Harry said cheerily, "Detention with Snape. Always a good time." Hermione let out a half-sob half-laugh and stuttered, "You You g-go, Harry. I ll b-be fine alone." "Hermione, I m not just going to le-"

The bushy-haired girl cut Harry off. "No... Harry... go. I n-need some time by m yself." Harry bit her lip. "Are you Are you sure, Hermione?" "Yes, I ll be just fine." Harry gave her one last hug and left the library, making her way to the dungeons . Snape, of course, being the miserable old bat that he is, gave her detention t he second she entered three minutes late. "Detention tomorrow, Potter. Perhaps so me honest work scrubbing the excess potion off the floors will resize your overl y large ego." The Slytherins all tittered with giggles all except Draco, who continued his work as if nothing had happened. Maybe he s finally no. He s still a berk to Ron and Hermione when I m not around; he s a berk to everyone really. He s just putting on a show but he is trying, I suppose. She glared at Snape as she sat down in the empty seat next to Neville. Ron turne d around but before he could ask whatever he wanted to ask, Snape swept down on him. "Eyes front, Weasley. You may flirt with Potter on your own time but not on mine." Ron flushed scarlet and turned back to his cauldron as the right side of the cla ssroom snickered. Harry began to worry when Hermione did not show up to Transfiguration, Defense, or Herbology. It was definitely not like her to miss a lesson, let alone four. H arry had gone back to check the stacks in the library, but the girl was nowhere to be found. Hermione was off brooding by herself in places unknown and Ron was being shirty about it. "Ron, you really upset her. She s not in the Library I I don t know where she s go ne off to." "So? Ser.. serves her right." Harry could tell he didn t mean it and that he felt guilty for even saying it. He s so damn stubborn. They both are. "Hermione?" asked Parvati. She had come up behind them, clearly having eavesdrop ped on their conversation. "I heard her in the bathroom outside of Transfigurati on, crying. She s probably still there." "Thanks, Parvati. We need to go look for her after dinner, Ron. You need to apol ogize." Ron ran his hand though his hair, sighing with annoyed frustration. "I I know. Bo llocks. How do you say you re sorry without actually apologizing?" Holloween dinner was a spectacular event, but Harry wasn t really in the mood fo r festivities. She was about to go insane after all. She was about to get trucke d off to the loony bin. She was about to start reliving Voldemort s murders for a month, until she came out of the withdrawal and could get back on the Dreamles s Sleep potion. However, Dumbledore had essentially told her that neither her mi nd nor her body would be even remotely the same after a month of the Petrifying Dream. She leaned over and grabbed Ron s hand under the table, squeezing it. He looked up at her from his very large bite of meat pie. "Harruh? Was -ong?" He swallowed his bite. "What s wrong?" Harry scooted over on the bench and whispered under her breath, "Ron, there s the re s something I haven t been telling you. I m well, I m going to have to leave s chool in a bit. The potion it s it s taking its toll. I m going to have to start h aving the dreams." Ron s brows furrowed. "No Harry... I I won t let you. I ll come with you! I ll wak e-" "You can t stay with me every night to bring me back from it, Ron. I d die from sleep loss." Harry brushed her thumb over his knuckles. "Harry, don t say that! There s another way isn t there?" He squeezed her hand, ey es searching her face rather desperately. Harry nodded and said shakily "There is, but I can t do it without doing m-" The doors to the Great Hall burst open violently. Everyone swiveled on the bench es to see a deathly white Professor Quirrel come charging down the length of the

hall shouting, "TROLL IN THE DUNGEONS!" He ran up to Dumbledore, and gripped th e edge of the head table before saying in a small voice, "thought you ought to k now." Quirrel fainted. There was a moment of silence, and then chaos broke loose over the hall; people were running, screaming... Fred and Geroge were dancing on top of a table. BANG BANG BANG Purple fireworks exploded from the tip Dumbledore s wand and everyone froze inst antly even the twins. The old man stood and said in a very calm voice, "Prefects , please escort your Houses to their common rooms, inside which, you will contin ue the feast. Teachers, to the dungeons if you please." The staff of Hogwarts, m arched out of the hall with the exceptions of Quirrel who was unconscious and Sn ape, who she had seen slip off into an antechamber. What a coward. Ron was tugging at her sleeve and she turned to him. He was as pale as a ghost a nd very slowly he groaned, "Harry Hermione she she doesn t know about the troll!" They were being marched out of the Hall by Percy, who was shouting at everyone t o remain calm and reminding them of his status as a Prefect. Out in the Entrance Hall, as soon as Percy turned his back on them, Harry grabbed Ron s hand and pu lled him away down the closest hallway that led to Transfiguration. She vaguely heard Neville cry out, "Oi! Where are you two going then?" I hope Percy didn t hear him. They rounded the corner to the Transfiguration corridor and heard a very high pi tched scream as well as a loud SMASH from inside a room down the hall. Ron dashed forward. "That was Hermione! Harry, come on!" Before she could protes t, he had darted down the hallway and into the room. "Ron, wait!" She ran in after him. She saw Hermione cowering in a corner as the huge troll towered over her. Harry found it hard to take in the massive thing, m ainly because she was too occupied with its large spiked club, blood dripping fr om the end. "HERMIONE! MOVE!" The troll began to lift its club to swing at the c owering girl, but Ron, foregoing his magic, in what seemed to be the bravest or stupidest thing Harry had ever seen him do, latched on to a spike and rose off t he ground. The troll noticed and began shaking the club wildly, trying to throw the boy off. After five or six massive shakes Ron went flying and smashed into a mirror above the sink. He fell and lay still. NO! RON! OH GOD! The giant creature raised its club, focusing once again on Hermione. Harry leveled her wand. Ginny had a large gash across her chest blood pooling at Harry s feet. "WingardiWingar" Hermione screamed as the club started advancing downward. Harry saw it happening in slow motion. Ginny s lifeless eyes She saw Ron s prone form on the tile; Hermione s fearful face They were going to die! Here! Now! Dumbledore s voice echoed through her mind. I have faith faith that you, Harry, will always choose to use your magic for good . Harry felt her body tingling and she cried in anguish, "WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!" She had been aiming for the club but she missed. She hit the troll instead. It ro ared and flailed wildly as it soared into the air, bellowing it s rage. Electricity hummed through Harry s veins. Her blood pounded in her ears. She fel t alive. She felt wonderful. Ginny was smiling at her; Ron was laughing with her ; Hermione was reading with her; Draco was smirking at her; Hagrid was patting h er shoulder. Dumbledore s voice echoed through her mind once more. Do not be afraid of it, Harry. Embrace it. And Harry did just that. She sank into the sensations and the world became brigh ter, more vivid. The very air she was breathing crackled with energy... her ener gy. Her nostrils tingled with fresh electrified ozone. This is This is GREAT! A giant piece of the ceiling was smashed away by the trolls club and very nearly flattened Hermione.

Oh Right. Harry grabbed her wand like a cricket bat, drew it back, and swung with all her might. The troll had moved with her wand, sailing headfirst into nearest wall. T here was an earth-shattering boom, a sickening CRACK, and the troll fell to the ground, unmoving. Harry saw the giant club levitate rise into the air and come d own with a thud on the creature s head. Hermione was standing now, wand out. She grinned at Harry and said shakily, "Jus t for good measure." They stood in the wreckage of burst sink pipes and shattered glass, steadily bec oming wetter and wetter as water sprayed all over them. Her body was still hummi ng and she couldn t really see the room around her. I have to do more! "ALOHOMORA!" All six bathroom stalls flew open with a bang. "AGUAMENTI!" Water s hot out of her wand like it would from a fire hose. "EXPULSO!" The mirrors explo ded violently. Spell after spell she cast, every bit of magic she knew was burni ng through her mind like a wildfire. Her wand was vibrating from the energy of t he constant casting. She laughed with overwhelming joy, while at the same time c ried her eyes out. They were tears of sorrow, of happiness, and of pure unblemis hed relief. This was how Professor McGonagall found her; sobbing, pulsing with energy, makin g rainbows, conjuring bubbles, transfiguring rubble into chairs, and levitating toilets, making them zoom around her head. It must have been an odd sight becaus e Professor McGonagall screamed out "POTTER? What are you-" Her eyes widened. Sh e had just caught sight of the giant troll lying dead at Harry s feet. "Potter, did you-" She gestured to the creature. "Yeah. We did." Ron groaned and Harry ran to his side. Hermione was already there, holding his h ead in her lap. McGonagall shot a silver light out of her wand that raced out th e door and zoomed away down the corridor. Ron s eyes fluttered open. "Wha s happened? Did Did I get it?" Hermione laughed, bent down, and kissed his cheek. "Yes, Ronald, you got it." "Oh good." His arms wrapped around Hermione s leg and he cuddled her, much like one would a teddy bear. He closed his eyes and after a moment s hesitation, bega n to snore loudly. Hermione giggled and poked his head, "How can he be sleeping?" Harry smiled down at the boy. "Silly bugger always gets sleepy after he eats. Bl imey. I thought I thought he was" Hermione nodded and brushed the shaggy hair out of Ron s eyes. "Me too," she sai d softly. It was at that moment that Professors Dumbledore, Snape, Quirrel, and Sinistra e ntered the bathroom. "Minerva, what has happened?" asked Snape while glaring at Harry. "Did you subdu e it? Professor McGonagall shook her head. "It was not me, Severus. It was-" Professor Dumbledore stepped forward and interrupted them. "Miss Granger, would you please accompany Mr. Weasley to the Hospital wing? Sylvia, would you be kind enough to escort them? Severus, Quentin, Minerva, I trust you can take care of the body. Miss Potter, if you could follow me to my office please; that would be lovely." And without another word, he strode out of the bathroom. Harry gave Hermione a quick hug, patted Ron s cheek, avoiding the small bit of d rool upon it, and then ran after him. "Professor, I did it!" "Yes, Harry, most excellent! May I ask how you are feeling?" Dumbledore strode p urposefully and Harry, with her moderately short legs, found it hard to keep up. Jogging along with him, she jabbered exuberantly, "Wonderful, sir! I feel alive and.. and oh I can t explain it!" The Headmaster chuckled, "Yes I suspected as much. Two months of pent up magic i s trying to release itself from your body all at once. If you could, Harry, woul d you light your wand?" She pulled it out and whispered, "Lumos!" A light as bright as the sun exploded from her wand tip. Shielding her eyes, Harry quickly put it out.

Dumbledore merely "Hmmmmm d," and walked on. Once they were in his office, the H eadmaster folded his hands and said simply, "Very well, Harry, you know what to do." Flashback Dumbledore sat across from her, his eyes closed and his wand held to his chest. Harry could feel the magic in the air, flowing around her. The man was breathing deeply; in and out on a steady count of seven. Harry watched as his eyelids flu ttered, as if he were dreaming. And then, without warning, his eyes popped open. His pupils were gone as were the whites of his eyes. It was as if his irises had e xpanded and filled up his entire eye with their shade of deep twinkling blue. He smiled at her awed expression. "Magic Augmentation, Harry. We locate our magica l core by finding the thread of magic connecting it to our wand. We find the cor e s connection to the mind and picture an hourglass; the sand at the bottom is o ur magical core, while the empty glass at the top is our mind. Using that one po werful sensation that we can experience physically in our happy memory, we flip the hourglass around it. The magic flows into the mind like the sand. It fills y our thoughts and fills your dreams, leaving no space for the nightmares to come to you. It will protect you as you sleep, making the need for the potion nonexis tent. We cannot do magic without flipping the hourglass back to our core. Do you understand in essence what I m telling you, Harry?" "Yeah yes, sir. I think so." I don t have a clue. But I ll figure it out. Flashback End Harry placed her wand to her chest and began to breathe deeply on a count of sev en. Pheonix feather. Pheonix feather. Pheonix feather AHA! There you are. Harry walked along the thread to the large white sun burning majestically in fro nt of her. She looked at the top of the sun and saw another thread extending upw ard, which she immediately found herself walking on. There was another sun up ah ead, but smaller, cooler, touchable. And she stepped inside it. Ginny was staring at her, amber eyes sparkling in the sun. She opened and closed her mouth like a fish. "I ll write you every week." "Really, Harry? You you don t have-" "I want to." Ginny shrieked in joy and threw herself at Harry for a hug. It was the first rea l hug that she had ever received and she returned it happily, inhaling a deep br eath. Strawberries. Harry clung to her, breathing her in. Her hands tangled in the hair at the base of Ginny s neck and she flipped the hourglass. She could taste strawberries in he r mouth; could smell them in the air. "Ah, well done." Harry opened her eyes. The world had a green tinge. No longer could she feel the power humming through her. But she saw it in her mind. A blazing sun. Raging an d burning. She was acutely aware of everything. She could hear Fawkes and Alice b reathing. She could feel the students walking along the corridor outside. She co uld smell the grass of grounds though the open window. She could sense everything . Dumbledore passed her a small mirror. Looking into it, she no longer saw her mother s eyes, but rather an all encompas sing green. The Headmaster smiled proudly. "You, Harry, are now the only person besides myse lf to ever master this technique. I must say, I am impressed." However, Harry didn t quite hear him. Her body was tingling. She felt the intens e heat of the sun in her mind. She smelled strawberries. She could feel the warm th rushing down Ohhh oh my... oh God... Harry moaned and clenched her legs together tightly. There was so much heat. "I quite understand, Harry," chuckled Dumbledore. "Perhaps you could flip the ho

urglass back?" Harry did so quickly. After the heat left her and the humming of her magic retur ned, she knew she had turned bright red. The headmaster smiled and gestured vaguely. "Merely a temporary reaction. I beli eve that, within a few short months, you will no longer feel the heat of your co re. That at least, was my own experience." "O-Okay sir," Harry panted heavily, catching her breath. Dumbledore offered her a Lemon Drop which she gratefully took. After she had calmed, she ventured a que stion that she had been thinking on for quite some time. "Professor Dumbledore, sir? Does this mean I don t have to come to your office every night?" The old man laughed and gazed questioningly at her over his half moon spectacles . "Yes, I believe it does, my dear girl. Are you asking me this because you tire of an old man s gasbagging, or because you wish to return to my office still?" "The- the second, sir. I want to I was wondering if you would teach me more magic. Real magic." "All magic is real magic, Harry... but I do understand what you mean. And no I m very sorry, Harry, but I cannot." She deflated miserably, but Dumbledore said qu ickly, "You misunderstand, Harry. It is not that I do not wish to. It is that I cannot. I am a Grand Sorcerer of the Seventh Circle. It is forbidden, by the anc ient contracts of our order, to take a personal apprentice younger than fifteen years of age. You are an extremely talented young witch, Harry. I have seen into your mind and your heart is truly pure. In the future, if you still wish it and you have not yet tired of my quirks, you may become my apprentice." Dumbledore smiled warmly at her. "Now I believe there is a feast waiting for you in your common room. You should hurry back, Harry, for I don t expect the treacl e tarts will remain uneaten." Severus had been so close; so close to catching Quirrell red-handed. He had foll owed him into the third-floor corridor. But there had been a monstrous beast gua rding the entrance. Hagrid s protection no doubt the stupid oaf. While he was trying to deal with the beast, Quirrell had slipped away, right thr ough his fingers. "GODDAMNIT, ARGUS. THAT STINGS! BE CAREFUL!" The balding man growled at him. "If you don want my elp, Severus, I ll gladly leave yeh and yer poisoned wound in peace." Severus was about to reply when Lily cried out, "OH! Professor Snape I I have det ention..." His head snapped up at the voice he had missed for so long. But it was not his Lily. Harriet Potter stood in his doorway, staring down at his bloody leg in shock. Severus quickly threw his robe back down. "Potter! Get out of my sight. Your detention is canceled." He watched as his Lil y ran like the wind out his door, black hair flying wildly behind her. Damn you, James Potter. Damn you to hell. She really is amazing, isn t she Draco," said Pansy. "I thought she had bought he r way onto their team but I don t think Victor Krum could have pulled off that la st move." She said it in a way that made him think agreeing with her was a poor idea, especially if he wanted to look at her Charms essay tonight. Oh dear. She s jealous. He said nothing, but scooted closer to her and gripped her hand. He b rushed a thumb across hers and watched as her face softened. The November air wa s freezing; a terrible day for Quidditch. A terrible day for Slytherin as well; they were being slaughtered and the score sat at 240 to 60. Draco turned his attention back to the game and watched as Harry flipped under h er broom to avoid an oncoming bludger Amazingly, she then turned the movement in to an upside down dive to avoid Marcus, who attempted to Blatch her by accident . Harry had been Blagged, Blatched, Blurted, and Cobbed the entire game, yet st ill she remained on her broom, pulling off truly spectacular moves to avoid the Slytherin team s dirty playing. Flint was a truly terrible captain. His gameplan seemed to consist of take the seeker out of the game, wait till we re only dow

n by 140, then attempt to find the snitch. The Gryffindor chasers had been rack ing up penalty shots like it was their job Well, it was their job. The crowd gasped as Harry, black hair and scarlet robes whipping wildly around h er, shot toward the teacher s booth. He saw the snitch hovering right above the highest flag. The Slytherin seeker was miles away from it. Flint and Bletchley b oth tried desperately to grab Harry s broom tail, but she corkscrewed around bot h of them. She makes it look like it s as easy as breathing. Harry caught the little thing in seconds and the game was over. She really is amazing, Pans. He watched her fly high up above the grounds, clenching the little ball in the a ir. Everyone started to leave the stands, but Draco s eyes were glued to Harry. Her broom was jerking violently from side to side. He held up his binoculars and saw that Harry s green eyes were open wide in fright. She she isn t controlling it! People started to gasp and point up at her. Her broom was bucking, weaving, and flipping; it was absolutely amazing that she hadn t fallen. There s only one thing that can do that to a Nimbus! He searched the Slytherin crowd wildly; frantically. And then... Draco saw him. Professor Snape, four rows over, was muttering rapidl y under his breath, eyes locked onto Harry. A jinx. What s he playing at! I know he hates her but Saying he had to visit the bathroom, he excused himself from Pansy and rushed do wn the row. This is going to hurt. When he got close enough to Professor Snape, he purposely tripped over his own feet, and slammed into the Potion Master s bac k. Snape fell forward and crashed into Professor Quirrell, who squealed girlishl y, gripping his turban as he too fell. "I m so sorry, Professor! I tripped!" Snape got up, looked up at Harry who had regained control and was flying quickly back to the ground, then rounded on Draco. "Idiot boy! Ten points from Go away!" The slimy bastard. He really was jinxing the broom. He waited up outside the Gryffindor Locker room. Many of the celebrating Gryffin dors were giving him very odd looks as they passed. Her hair wet and sticking to her face and neck, Harry came out alone in her regu lar robes. Busy buttoning up the last few notches of her blouse, the girl jumped when she saw him standing right outside. Damn, what is that green? "Dra-Draco? What are you doing-" Draco cut her off. "It was Snape, Harry. He was jinxing your broom. I saw it. I fell on him and a second later you got control of your broom." She looked shocked, but not skeptical. "Are you Draco, are you sure?" It looked like she was thinking hard, as if workin g on a puzzle. "Positive, Harry." The emerald-eyed girl solved whatever puzzle she was working on and grinned. Even though she was smiling at him as if she knew the answer already, she slowly ask ed, "Draco? Why did you fall on Snape?" "Oh I" Draco tried to tell her he would have done it again and again but no words came to him. Harry laughed, flashed him the smile he so longed to see, punched him in the arm , and said sincerely, "Thanks, Draco." Ron was speechless as he watched Harry pace back and forth in Hagrid s cabin. Malfoy had saved her? But... that s... that s my job! Hermione was shaking her head. "I saw Snape doing it, but by the time I got over there, Harry was already back on the ground. I still can t believe a teacher wo uld do something like that." Harry scoffed. "Oh come on, Hermione. He hates my guts and he knows I saw his wo und from that giant three-headed dog. He was trying to off me so I wouldn t tell anyone!"

There was a tinkling sound of breaking china. Hagrid had crushed the teacup he w as holding in his hand. The giant sputtered, " Arry, ow do you know bout Fluff y?" "Fluffy?" gasped Ron. "You mean that horrifying thing has a name?" "Course he does!" said Hagrid, sopping up the spilled tea. "He s mine. He s a ri ght sweetheart and a great guard dog." Harry asked quickly, "What s he guarding then? That little package? Nicholas Fla mel wanted Professor Dumbledore to guard something. Hagrid what is it? Snape s t rying to steal it! I know he is." In a tone that was very final, Hagrid said, " Arry, I m not tellin yer nuthin. I t s fer yer own good." Harry sighed dissapointedly. Ron knew she was frustrated. She had a fierce need to know everything that was g oing on. "Hey, Harry, let s go flying, yeah? I ll use a school broom." "Ron... she was just nearly chucked from her broom, I m sure she doesn t-" Harry cut Hermione off. "Yeah, Ron. Let s go. Hermione come fly with us." Hermione spluttered. "Oh I was going to go to the... but well I can t fly." Ron laughed. "I ll teach you, Hermione. Come on." I love watching her blush. Circe flew up to them while they were walking to the pitch. The snowy owl droppe d a letter in both his and Harry s hand. Ah... Ginny. Dear Favorite Brother, Please come home for Christmas. I m going out of my mind. Mum s mothering me all over the place. Come home. Share the load. Invite Harry as well. Mum s fine wit h it. Don t tell Harry I suggested it! She might think I m obsessing over her or something. Love, Ginny "Harry, Ginny wants to know if you would like to come over for Christmas break. She doesn t want you to know she said it because she s worried you ll think she s obsessed with you." Harry giggled. "Ron you re the worst brother ever, you know that? Well do you want me over for Christmas, then?" He shrugged. "Yeah, course I do. You re my best mate after all." She slipped her arm around him and leaned into his side. "Yeah, Ron. I d love to ." Ron noticed Hermione stalk ahead of them rather fiercely. Weird. What s got her knickers in a twist? CHAPTER Holidays FIVE BOOM "OUCH!" Hermione cried, pulling back her burnt hand. "Oh I do hate this game! Wh ichever madman thought exploding cards would be enjoyable needs to be locked up in St. Mungos! Well, I guess I m out then; a knut on Harry to win." She sat back against the comfy seat, terribly amused at Ron s hurt look, and opened her book . "Oi!" Ron scoffed huffily at her, throwing down his next card. "Just because she s got fast Quidditch reflexes doesn t mean" The troll card exploded and Harry sl ammed her hand down on the pile, shouting out her triumph. Ron moaned. "No fair, Harry! There was an unlawful distraction by Hermione. I want a redo." Hermione was sharing a compartment with Harry and Ron on the way back to King s Cross and she had been losing rather horribly to both of them at Exploding Snap. She discreetly observed her two best friends over the top of her thick book. Ha rry had stuck out her tongue playfully, so Ron had jumped on her, viciously tick ling her sides.

They re they re so Hermione let out the tiniest of sighs, heard only to her own ears. She knew full well that she would always be their third wheel; the odd one out; the one Harry turned to when Ron wasn t around; the one Ron would joke with when Harry wasn t in the mood for jokes. The one that doesn t get invited to Christmas with Ron... The one he doesn t tic kle Oh shut up, brain! Hermione knew she was blushing so she raised her book even higher. She heard, qu ite clearly from the squeals, that Harry had lost the tickle-fight... badly. The black-haired girl lay on the floor giggling and gasping for air as Ron stood ov er her, hands raised in glorious victory. You know, you could just ASK him to tickle you, suggested a small voice at the back of her mind. I SAID SHUT IT! Ron stretched and his stomach let out a low growl of protest. "Merlin s beard, I m starved. Harry, lets go find the food cart, eh? We ll badger the old lady til l she gives in and lets us buy snacks early. Do you want anything, Mione?" She looked up, floored, her cheeks heating rapidly. Mione?... Mione? He just called me Mione. Do I like that? Ohh... yes I think I lik e that. "Oh, um no, thank you, Ron. I m fine." She buried her head in her book as Harry a nd Ron left the compartment, hoping to God they hadn t seen what felt like a ver y deep blush. She leaned her head against the train window, embracing the chill of the glass on her hot cheeks. After the troll He s so warm now and he called me Her toes curled in delight. The rest of the train ride was relatively uneventful and before she knew it, the y were pulling into King s Cross. They unloaded quickly and she saw her parents standing over on Platform Nine, waiting for her to come out of the barrier. Harry came up to her and enveloped her in a hug. "See you soon, Hermione. I hope you like my present." Hermione patted her on the back and started to pull away, but Harry held on tight and said, "I ll miss you a lot. Write to me, okay? I kn ow it s just three weeks, but that s a long time not to see a sister, isn t it?" Oh Harry... Hermione hugged Harry back as tightly as she could, grinning into her best frien d s shoulder. Maybe maybe I m not the third wheel after all. After parting with Harry, Ron too sidled up to her and bade his own farewell, al beit much less eloquently. "See you then, yeah?" Hermione nodded. "Yes." The awkwardness of the silence that followed threatened to overwhelm her. But then... Ron slid his arms around her waist, embraced her in a large clumsy hug, and whis pered into her hair, "Have a Happy Christmas, Mione." Her heart fluttered wonderfully. Oh. He smells nice, doesn t he? Grass and something. His shampoo, I suppose. Hermione stepped back, picked up her trunk as best she could, and made for the b arrier. "Bye Harry, Bye Ron! Happy Christmas," she called out, waving behind her as the platform disappeared. Harry hugged Hermione tightly and whispered into her ear, "I ll miss you a lot. Write to me, okay? I know it s just three weeks, but that s a long time not to s ee a sister, isn t it?" She pulled away, rubbed Hermione s shoulders as they par ted, and began to look for the Weasleys while Ron said his goodbye. Mr. Weasley, Fred, George, Percy, and someone that looked like an older, larger, muscled and to use Lavender s favorite word, dishy looking version of Ron, wer e all standing by the barrier. She giggled to herself and searched the rest of t he platform. No Ginny. Wonder why she didn t come? After Hermione had departed from the barrier, the older Weasley she didn t know

came over to them. He picked Ron up and threw him over his shoulder saying, "Alr ight Ron? Merlin, you re a heavy bugger. I think you might actually be growing. Well, either that or you need to lay off the pumpkin pasties." Ron pounded on his brother s back. "Charlie, you bloody pillock! Put me down." Charlie ruffled Ron s hair and said in a warning tone, "Oi, don t let mum hear y ou talking like that. You ll get a Scourgify in your mouth faster than you can say Quidditch." Lowering his little brother down to the ground, the muscled man took a good look at her. "Is this Harry then? Well, course it is, isn t it? She looks just like what you and Ginny described." He winked at her. "Ron and Ginny don t quite ever shut up about you in their letters. I feel like I know you bet ter than my own- Ow!" Ron had punched him in the arm. "Shut it. Can you levitate our trunks over to Da d then?" Charlie waved his wand and all the luggage around them hopped into the air. Dodg ing hurrying parents, they made their way over to the rest of the Weasleys, exch anging farewells and Happy Christmas s with their classmates. Mr. Weasley clapped Ron on the shoulder and smiled warmly at Harry. "Let s be of f then. The train was a bit late and we really don t want to worry Molly." While in the Weasley s car, Harry must have dozed off onto Ron s shoulder; one m inute they were pulling out of the train station, the next they were jostling do wn a tiny country lane. The trees around them had a light covering of snow that made them sparkle in the fading sunlight. They passed through a small village and behind a large tower-l ike house that was surrounded by fragrant banana trees. There was a little slith er on her upper-arm and she heard a small hiss that could only be described as a moan. Harry nudged Ron and pointed with a raised eyebrow to the odd house. He chuckled, saying, "Oh, that s the Lovegood s place. They re a riot they are. I think Mum said they re in Australia for the holidays though." The car trundled on down the path and she could just make out an oddly-shaped si lhouette against the sun-touched horizon. It looked like a very tall, very crook ed something. As they drew closer Harry saw that it was a farm house. The house h ad rooms sticking out of its roof at every possible angle. She was absolutely fl oored when she heard Ron say, "Well, this is it: The Burrow." He noticed her sur prised look and muttered, "I know it s not much, but-" Harry shook her head and cut him off. "Oh, no, it s wonderful, Ron! Where s your room?" Ron pointed to the roof of the house. "That little window there, right at the top ." "Will I stay with you?" Harry asked. Ron rubbed the back of his head and laughed nervously. "Oh no, you ll be with Gin ny probably that window there." He pointed to a room that stuck, unsupported, out of the tower leading to Ron s room. She could see a large Quidditch poster thro ugh the window. The room was overlooking the orchard next to them. I bet she has a beautiful view. Mr. Weasley pulled the car into a large shed filled with broken electric applian ces. Before she could even turn to question Ron, he leaned over and whispered in to her ear, "Dad s a bit muggle obsessed. He pulls this stuff apart, enchants it , then puts it all back together again. Drives Mum bonkers. She says he ll have to arrest himself soon. He works in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office at the Ministry." Harry opened the car door and there was a loud crash. Mr. Weasley chuckled and c ut her off as she started to apologize profusely. "Don t worry about it one bit, Harry. That bike hasn t worked in years." She nodded, but apologized anyway and looked down at the large motorbike she had knocked over. It was black and rusted, but familiar. Isn t that the same "Mr. Weasley," she asked curiously. "Is this Hagrid s bike by any chance?" "What? Oh no well, yes actually I suppose it is now. It belonged to to your godfath er before that. He gave it to Hagrid, who in turn gave it to me."

"My my godfather? I have a godfather? Well... Well... Where is he?" Harry was bur sting with excitement, but when she caught the somber look in Mr. Weasley s face , she deflated considerably. "Sirius isn t Well, he s not around anymore." Mr. Weasley looked away quickly and began marching their luggage up to the front gate. Oh dead... Tearing her mind from thoughts of non-living godfathers, Harry walked slowly up the stone path to the open front door of the house. She heard loud voices exclai ming their happy greetings from just inside. When she walked into the warm sitti ng room, there was a squeal, running footsteps, and then a redheaded blur slamme d into her, knocking her down to the snowy ground outside. It took her a moment to realize that she was being hugged tightly. Strawberries. Ginny! Ginny pulled back and Harry saw that she looked a bit different. Her freckles we re much darker and her hair was loose and long around her shoulders. Harry didn t know why, but her breath hitched in her chest. "Ohhh Harry!" whispered Ginny excitedly. "It s so good to see you! I would have gone to the train station, but I had to help Mum with dinner. Come inside! You l l stay in my room!" Before Harry could even utter a greeting in return, she was being yanked out of the snow and hauled up the stairs. Her room is very Ginnyish. The walls, at least what she could see of them, were a whitish pink. Quidditch p osters and moving photographs of the Weasleys were everywhere. Gwenog Jones took a prominent place over the headboard of Ginny s cozy-looking bed. Colorful laun dry hung off the dresser and was strewn here and there in small piles, which Gin ny hastily kicked into a corner. A nice cot bed lay parallel to Ginny s on the f loor. The redhead tossed off her shoes, ran across the room, and jumped into her bed. She lay there, giggling into her large pillow. Harry smiled, took off her shoes as well, and walked across the soft, deep carpet to sit next to her. She pulled her feet up on the bed and hugged her knees to her chest, watching her friend gi ggle away. Harry poked Ginny in the side of her belly with her foot. "Hey Gin?" Amber gold-flecked eyes met her own questioningly. "Thanks for inviting me." Ginny groaned and stuffed her head back into her pillow, mumbling words that sou nded like, "Ron ponce kill him." Harry poked her again with a toe. "He s the good kind of ponce though, isn t he? " She poked once more and Ginny wiggled away, shaking with a small laugh. "Oh... a lright, I suppose he s the good sort of ponce. There will, of course, be retribu tion." Harry nodded primly, saying, "Oh yes, of course." She poked Ginny directly in th e center of her tummy this time and the smaller girl let out a wheeze of giggles , pushing her foot away. "Don t challenge me, Potter," said Ginny with a smirk. "Ron told me all about yo ur knees." Harry retracted her foot quickly. "You wouldn t dare!" Grinning, Ginny sat up and scooted toward her, wiggling her fingers threateningl y. "I just might" And she lunged. Harry shrieked, jumped off the bed, and ran from the room with Ginny hot on her heels. They bolted down the stairs and into the sitting room, laughing loudly al l the way. Harry ran behind Ron, who was just starting a chess game with his fat her, and used him as shield between herself and Ginny. She clutched him, panting . But Ginny, instead of trying to get around her brother, jumped on him, and rea ched around his chest to tickle Harry mercilessly. "No- No- FAIR!" Harry gasped as fingers dug behind her legs. Ron was swayed dangerously on the spot with the weight of both Harry and Ginny.

With a loud thump, they all toppled to the ground. "Oi!" Ron pushed himself out from between them. "You nutters almost messed up th e board!" As, Ginny and Harry giggled from the floor, Ron sighed and muttered, " Girls..." under his breath, before sitting back down to his game. After their laughing subsided, Harry pulled Ginny into a soft hug. Leaning into her ear, she said sincerely, "Really, Ginny, this is the best." Ginny s freckled face broke into a wide, toothy smile and she tugged Harry to he r feet. "Come on. Let s go help Mum. We might be able to knick some turkey." Dinner that night tasted even more amazing than it smelled. Harry had never had food this good. Ever. Charlie was watching her open-mouthed as she loaded helping upon helping onto he r plate. When she reached for her fourth serving of potatoes he chuckled and sai d, "Honestly, Harry with your size, where do you put it all? You eat more than Bi ll." Blushing as the handsome redhead smiled at her, she grinned and replied meekly, "Quidditch. Olliver puts us through hell." Charlie laughed loudly. "Olliver? So Wood is captain, eh? I remember when he mad e the team second year. He lives and breathes the game. How many dive runs does he put you through each practice?" Harry groaned into her potatoes. "About a hundred." Charlie whistled in shock. "Blimey. That s rough." He patted her sympathetically on the shoulder and asked the rest of the table, "Does anyone fancy a game tomo rrow?" A bevy of loud cheers shouting Yes! and Absolutely! almost drowned out Percy s curt No thank you. Harry was on her fifth helping before she finally started to feel full. She sat back happy and content, listening to the idle chatter of a close family: Mrs. We asley was mothering Fred and George about cutting their hair; Mr. Weasley was as king Charlie about the dragon reserve in Romania, Percy was lecturing Ron about his school habits. And Ginny Ginny was watching her. The redhead gave her a very warm smile, which Harry retu rned in full force. The Weasleys talked late into the night, joking and laughing merrily. There was so much warmth in this house; the happiness and compassion was palpable... infec tious even. They re all so... They re so... Flashback Dad, where are Harry s presents?" asked Dudley, not sounding too concerned as he zoomed his new toy airplane around his head. Uncle Vernon ruffled Dudley s hair and shoved a large package into his hands. "N ever you mind Dudders. We gave her a present." Harry thought of the nice wooden coat-hangar they had given her for her dress. It is nice... Dudley ripped open the next present and squealed with delight at the sight of th e shiny firetruck that lay inside. Harry gazed longingly at the toy. Maybe... Maybe I ll get a firetruck too. Uncle Vernon waved at her dismissively as he watched his son play with his gifts . "Girl, give Dudley his next present." Harry walked to the large pile of presents, picked up a smallish one, and brough t it back to Dudley, who snatched it greedily out of her hands. She knelt down n ext to him, looking over his shoulder as he pulled back the wrapping. "Out of the way," Uncle Vernon grunted. A meaty hand found Harry s shoulder and pushed her roughly. She flew backwards i nto the sharp edge of the mantle, the flesh of her shoulder tearing open. Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon were too involved with Dudley to notice that she w as bleeding out onto their pristine rug. Flashback End loving. They re so loving. Harry must have started to cry because her cheeks felt decidedly wet. Quickly ex

cusing herself, she rushed up the stairs to her cot bed. After throwing herself into the safety of the covers, her tears were able to flow freely. They should have loved me. I loved them, but they why couldn t why didn t theyHer bed sunk with a weight that was not her own and a soft hand gently brushed h er hair back behind her ears. Mrs. Weasley s concerned face swam into view. "Are you alright, dear?" the woman asked kindly. Nodding vigorously, Harry tried to assure the readheaded matriarch that she was. .. but her tears betrayed her. Mrs. Weasley sat her up and pulled her to her chest. A woman who barely knew her was showing more kindness and compassion than any of her family ever had or eve r would, embracing her like... like... Like Aunt Petunia should have... Mrs. Weasley sighed and stroked her hair. "Shhhhh it s alright, dear. Whatever it is it ll be alright." Harry felt another weight sink down on the bed. "Harry mate, anything I can do?" Ron s arm slid around her shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. Harry shook her head no and leaned into his side. Mrs. Weasley stood, saying she d go make a cup of tea. Ron and Harry remained silent after she had left, yet nothing really needed to b e said. He knew what she was upset about and she supposed he understood. And even if he didn t, his presence was comforting nonetheless. Harry sighed into Ron s shoulder as her tears slowly abated. "Ron, you don t you don t have to come running every time I start to blubber you know." Ron grinned and scratched his head. "Well, actually Harry I kind of have to, you know? Ever since the train ride I dunno. I just feel like I have to be there. Don t ask me to explain it, yeah? It s funny like I m not myself when I see you upse t. It s like I start channeling Dad." Harry nodded, sinking into his arms. His breathing was slow and calm. Quite with out purpose, she found her own breath matching his, just like she had done on th e train. There was a soft knock at the door. Ginny sidled into the room with a fragrant, steaming mug of what had to be vanil la tea. She sat down on the cot and wordlessly handed the hot cup to Harry. Ron stood and stretched. "I don t know about you two, but I m knackered." He tur ned, squeezed her shoulder, and nodded towards the ceiling. "I m one room up if you need me, yeah? I ll ask the ghoul to keep it down tonight. See you two in th e morning Oh and dibs for second ride on the Nimbus." Before Ginny could protest, he dashed from the room. Harry let her hair hang into her face as she drank the delicious tea. She didn t want Ginny to see her all teary-eyed and a mess; the girl didn t seem like the crying type. Although they sat on the bed in silence, Ginny kept fidgeting and Harry was sure she wanted to say something. Eventually, the girl tugged at her midsection. Ginny s eyes were downcast and she was fiddling with the black lacey velvet on H arry s dress. "We should we should go to bed then, Harry. It s late." Harry nodded and went to her trunk, pulling out Hermione s T-shirt and pajama bo ttoms. She wiggled into them quickly and got into the cot bed. Ginny, however, undressed excruciatingly slowly. Everything about her movement w as filled with hesitation. There was quite obviously something on her mind. I wish she would just say it. As Ginny s clothes peeled away, Harry noticed, even in the dark, that her freckl es went everywhere: across her shoulders, down her back, into her purple polka-d ot knickers, up her legs, over her chest everywhere. The redhead pulled on a long white nightgown and spent a good ten minutes brushi ng her hair before she made for bed. The quilt and sheets magically peeled back and allowed Ginny to clamber in above Harry, after which they re-tucked themselv

es. They lay there for what seemed like ages, both knowing the other was still awake . Finally, in a voice so quiet that Harry almost missed it, Ginny broke the sile nce. "Was it... me?" "Was what you, Gin?" Harry asked, a bit perplexedly. Ginny s next words were pained. "I m sorry alright! I just I know I was a bit obs essive today but I ve just I ve just never had a friend as close as you, Harry. I m ust have told you everything about myself in the fifty or so letters I sent. So I m sorry if I came on too strong or something..." Catching on, Harry sat up quickly and crawled onto Ginny s bed. The covers peele d back and allowed her entry as well. "Gin, no! Of course it wasn t you! You re w onderful! Your entire family is wonderful." "What what was it, then?" stuttered the redhead, her body visibly tensing as she waited for an answer; she clearly didn t believe Harry s reassurances. As the girl was turned away from her, Harry wiggled into the redhead s back, lay down, and wrapped her arm around Ginny s waist. Ginny grunted softly and pushed her bottom snuggly into the curve of Harry s hip s. Harry liked the feel of her. She was so soft and warm... and the heavenly scent of her shiny red hair tickled her nose. Oh Strawberries. Harry let her forehead fall to the back of the girl s neck. "I... well, I never said in my letters... but... the Dursleys they didn t treat me so well. When I sa w all of you together it just it just made me realize that I ve never had that; th at I ve always wanted it. The Dursleys they hate me! They really hate me, Ginny! They think I m a a freak! They made me sleep in a four by four by four coat cupbo ard! The dress I have it s the only one I have! My knickers are Hermione s becaus e my old ones were half-safety pins! My uncle and cousin, they they would hit me. .. so hard! My aunt, she- mmph." Ginny turned over and placed a hand over Harry s mouth. It was only then that Ha rry realized she had been loudly sobbing the words into the redhead s neck; loud enough to rouse the whole house. She closed her eyes tightly to squeeze out the last of the tears and pushed her cheek into Ginny s cupped hand, trying to calm herself. "I Gin I-" She couldn t put words together. "Shhh. It s alright," Ginny said comfortingly, cutting into Harry s mumbling. Her eyes searching Harry s face wildly, the redhead quietly whispered, "Harry, w hy don t you just Why don t you just tell me everything, yeah? From the beginning . I think it might help." And Harry did. She spilled everything out. The flood gates of her brain opened a nd she told Ginny about her entire life with the Dursleys; things she could neve r explain in letters; things that she hadn t even told Ron. Once she had finishe d, she felt lighter, sleepier, and happier. "Oh Harry" Ginny had pulled away and was lying on her back, staring up at the cei ling. "No one should ever have to live like that. To never have anyone to" she tr ailed off. The girl suddenly sat up on her elbow, leaned down, and planted a silly, wet, ra spberry-kiss on Harry s cheek. Harry squealed and wiped at her cheek. "Ewww, Ginny!" Ginny grinned at her. "There your very first kiss. You can tell allllll the boys. " Harry s heart did a little flip at that grin and she giggled... which in turn le d to a huge, involuntary yawn as she realized how tired she was. Seconds later, Ginny did the exact same thing and said, "They really are contagious, aren t the y?" Harry nodded into the pillow and closed her eyes. "I m so tired. I don t think I can move. Can you just roll me off onto the cot?" In a small, slow voice, the redhead groaned out, "Nope too tired. Just stay here." "Okay," sighed Harry.

"Okay," agreed Ginny, tapping her lightly on the nose. Harry grinned, flipped the hourglass, and snuggled into the covers. Unh." Ginny s eyes flew open as she awoke from a terrible dream. She had been wearing a white dress with black, lacy velvet around its middle. Shadowy figures danced around her, lashing out and drawing blood. She had been shoved into a small room that was slowly shrinking down around her, the loose nails from the walls burro wing into her skin as the space tightened. "Unh oh." It took her several moments to realize why there was someone else, besides herse lf, in her bed. Harry was sleeping against her side, almost on top of her, her legs clamped tigh tly and writhing around one of Ginny s own. She could feel hands gripping at her waist. The black-haired girl s skin was burning up and her small chin was wedge d into Ginny s neck. She could feel her friend panting softly into the collar of her nightgown. Ginny sat up. Harry not having anything to hold onto, gripped the sheets tightly where Ginny s arm had been. Her face was flushed red and her long hair was spla yed wildly over the pillow. Ginny watched, horrified, as Harry moaned loudly int o the bedding. The girl s groin pressed into Ginny s hip and she could feel Harr y s body trembling. Oh no! She s having the nightmare again! Ginny shook her roughly. "Harry! Harry wake up! Please wake up!" It s no use! She told me the dreams would last until RON! She was about to shout for her brother but Harry s eyes fluttered opened. However, it wasn t Harry s eyes that she saw. There was no iris left; no white l eft. It was just green. Emerald had flooded in, filling every bit of surface und er her eyelids. Ginny screamed and flattened herself against the wall. "HARRY! WHAT S WRONG WITH YOUR EYES?" Realization dawned upon Harry s face and she mumbled tiredly, "Oh... I forgot." The girl rubbed the sleep from her eyes and when she removed her hands, her norm al bright-green orbs had returned. "It s alright Gin," Harry said reassuringly, getting out of Ginny s bed to sit back down on her cot. "I m fine." Ginny unflattened herself, crawled to the edge of the mattress, and asked cautio usly, "Harry what on earth was-" BANG The door to her room slammed open and in filed every Weasley in the house. Her m other and father had their wands out and were pointing them wildly about the roo m. Dad, his eyes wide with panic, panted out, "Girls! What s happened? We heard a s cream!" Harry, hair falling into her face, offered no explanation, so Ginny tried to exp lain as best she could. "I woke up and Harry was groaning and and panting! I thou ght she was having the dreams so I shook her and and her eyes were all wrong! They were gone! They I can t explain it! Harry what was it?" Ron laughed and yawned. He seemed to know what had happened already. "I woke up for this? You explain, Harry. I m going back to bed. Sleepy time." He trudged he avily back up the stairs and Ginny heard his bed thump as he collapsed into it. Harry sighed. "I m sorry I woke you, Ginny. I thought my reactions had stopped, but something made it really intense again. As for the eyes well, it s magic Prof essor Dumbledore taught me to help protect my mind from the Petrifying dream. I move my magic from my core to my brain and my eyes go all wonky." "You did magic without a wand?" Charlie asked, sounding very impressed. Harry shook her head. "No no it s mind-magic. I don t need my wand anymore to fin d my core." Ginny frowned. "But Harry why were you groaning and I thought you were really hurt ." Harry s flushed face became, if possible, redder still. "It s not that, it s...

well..." Quite suddenly, Mum let out a little "oh" of understanding and bustled everyone out of the room. "Back to bed, the lot of you! Out! Harry, dear, why don t you c ome with me? I have just the thing." They all left, including Harry. Ginny s mind was fixated on the image of her friend as she had moaned. Her lips had been parted in a little oval shape. Her hairline had been glistening with sw eat. I m so confused. She was... she was in pain! Wasn t she? What happened? Harry slipped back into the room carrying a little bar of chocolate. The girl s wavy, wild hair was pushed back behind her ears and Ginny could still see the sw eat glistening along her neckline. Their eyes met and Ginny almost lost herself in Harry s bright emeralds, but the girl quickly looked away and sat down next to her on top of her quilt. She brok e the chocolate in two and handed her the slightly larger half. Ginny didn t really know what to think, but she certainly wasn t going to push H arry to tell her something she didn t want to. Munching on her chocolate, she pu t her head down on the girl s shoulder and closed her eyes. "You scared the pant s off me you know." Harry giggled. "You re not wearing pants." "Exactly my point." Ginny finished the chocolate and flopped back down onto the bed, holding the quilt open for Harry. "Oh um I d better not, Gin," breathed Harry, avoiding her gaze. "Don t want to wa ke you up again." Ginny caught Harry s arm before she got back into the cot and pulled her down fo r a tight hug. Harry laughed and hugged her back just as tightly. They rolled wi ldly on the bed, giggling and of course, inevitably, fell off. Ginny burst out la ughing as they landed with a small thwump on the cot below. Ron pounded on his wall up above them and shouted, "Oi! Shut it, the both of yah ! Bloody buggering hell!" A faint shrill yell echoed up the stairs. "Ronald Bilius Weasley! Do not let me hear you talk like that again or so help me I ll Scourgify your tongue away!" Ron s answering grumble couldn t be heard through the ceiling, but it was surely rife with even more colorful language. Ginny breathed deeply into Harry s neck. She smells like... broom polish. "Harry?" "Yeah?" Ginny nuzzled the girl s shoulder. "I m really... I m really glad you came over. " "Me too, Gin." Merlin s pants, Harry. Just move a piece!" Ron was lying face down on the floor, moaning at her. He had one eye on the board in front of him, the other buried in the shag of the carpet. Harry was concentrating fiercely on the game. Ron had h er mated in the next six moves or so and she was desperately searching for a way out. Ginny sat behind her, leaning against her back, running a brush through Harry s hair. "You know, Ron, the sooner you finish this game the sooner we have to go to the village for shopping... and I know how much you love to shop," she added sa rcastically. "And then we have to decorate by hand!" Ron groaned. "You know what? Take as long as you need, Harry." Ginny s brushing, Ron s groaning, and the little pieces screaming at her, did no thing to help her concentration. Maybe if I pressure his Queen no he ll box me in even faster. Knight to the corner no Bishop to his rook AHA! She took her pawn and captured the one Ron had jumped a space behind her own at the very beginning of the game. All the little pieces on the board let out a col lective gasp of, "En passant." Harry smirked. She had an open path to get another queen.

Ron sat up quickly and glared at the board with incredulity. He fiddled with the top of a Bishop, then his Knight, then his King. He sat there for what must hav e been half an hour, mumbling under his breath, fondling the tops of each piece. She knew he was playing out entire games in his head, most of them ending with her winning. Harry had long since leaned back into Ginny s knees. She had almost entirely los t herself in the feel of the brush pulling lightly against her scalp when Ron sa id quietly, "Knight to E4; your move then, Harry." Harry sat up, peering down at the board in shock. Ron was watching her intensely. Knight to E4? But she could just Harry slid her Queen to his Knight. He moved his Bishop to check her King. She m oved a pawn to protect it. He moved back. She moved her forward pawn a space clo ser to his back line. He repositioned his Rook. She moved it a space closer. One more! He repositioned his Knight. She slid the little pawn to the back line and it magically grew into a Queen. "Check" she said excitedly. He used his Queen to defend. She took it triumphantly with her Knight. She was about to trap him. Ron grinned and slid his Rook across the board. "That s Mate, mate." All her pieces groaned miserably. Harry did a double take and wailed. "NO! I was so close! How did you How did I no t see that? "You took the bait and lost focus. Ten moves ahead Harry ten moves ahead. But Mer lin, that was the best game I ve ever had! You re better than Bill I expect." She would have kept right on being miserable if Ginny hadn t leapt up and shoute d, "CHRISTMAS SHOPPING!" Mrs. Weasley jumped and ripped her knitting. "Oh Sorry about that, Mum," mumbled the redhead. "Come on, Harry. Get your your oh. .. erm... well, you can use my spare coat and snow stockings." Ginny pulled on H arry s arm and she was hauled up the stairs. Ginny s old clothes were a bit small, but very warm; warm enough to keep her toa sty in the heavy falling snow. Devon in the snow, while not pleasant to trudge t hrough, was absolutely beautiful. The moors were coated in white and Ottery St. Catchpole looked like a gingerbread village in the distance. The Weasleys walked in a group, laughing and teasing, stepping in each other s f ootsteps in the snow. Charlie was bemoaning the fact that they would be having a white Christmas, as they wouldn t be able to fly until the snow died down. Ginn y was piggybacking him, asking all about his dragons and if she could come to Ro mania to see them. Harry watched them all sadly. This is what a family should be like. This is what-" A snowball hit her in the side. Ron grinned at her. "Don t get into that again, eh, Harry?" Harry grinned right back, scooped up a good chunk of snow, and pelted it at him. Ron ducked beneath the frozen missile and dove for her. He got the edge of her coat and they fell into the snow, laughing. The rest of the Weasleys slowly pull ed ahead of them. Ron sat up and brushed the snow out of his hair. "I know what you re thinking ab out, you know. I know we haven t actually known each other for more than a few m onths but feels a bit like years, doesn t it?" Harry nodded, smiling in agreement. The redhead shuffled shyly, his ears turning pink. "What I m saying is that to m e you re well, you re as good a part of my family as any of these nutters." He ges tured at the departing group of redheads. "So just... just forget about those... the muggles." Harry felt her heart soar. "Oh Ron that s-" He stood, cutting her off. "True; a hundred percent true and I bet the five galle ons and however many of these wonky pound things I ve got to my name, that Ginny feels the same. Merlin, I bet Mum does too. She thinks you re the greatest thin

g since since mashed potatoes! Didn t you see her puttering about a few nights ag o, loading food onto your plate?" He pulled her up. "Blimey, I expect she favors you more than Fred and George... well... no... bad example, but you get what I mean. Now, up you get" He hauled her up onto his back and she clung to him just l ike Ginny did Charlie. "I might not be as big as any of my brothers yet, but you re a bit of a runt, you are." Harry slapped him on the chest and muttered, "Git," into his ear. She placed her chin on his shoulder as he trudged quickly through the snow to catch up with th e rest of the group. The village was small and muggle, but very lively considering its size. The litt le corner-stable pub was ringing with laughter and some very drunken singing. St eams of people were flitting in and out of the little shops in the center of tow n. Mr. Weasley waved to three people coming out of the pub, the youngest of whic h she recognized as a popular fourth-year Hufflepuff boy, whose name she could n ever remember. It was an odd name; something like Hadric. Ginny hopped down from Charlie s back and asked her father, "Dad, do you know wh ere I can buy some copper wire?" Mr. Weasley suggested the general store just across the square and Ginny ran off , Mrs. Weasley yelling after her to be careful. Ron patted Harry leg and pointed excitedly to a shop that had a sign depicting a steaming mug and a slab of chocolate. "Oi Harry. The Chocolatier!" Before she c ould say a word, he was carrying her quickly towards the sign and into the small shop. It smelled absolutely wonderful. The glass case in front of her was filled with chocolate swans, peanut butter truffles, chocolate peanut brittle, and just abou t every chocolate confection you could ever want. There were little stools where you could sit at the counter and order coffee, tea, and... Hot chocolate! Harry immediately went to the smiling old woman behind the counter and ordered t wo of them. Ron started to protest but Harry cut him off. "Oh shut it. I want to. I need som eone to share my first ever hot-chocolate with." Ron smiled begrudgingly at her and tweaked her nose. "Thanks, Harry." He then pr oceeded to press his own nose up to the glass whilst trying to decide what he sh ould get. "Here you are, dears. Bit hot, they are." The clerk was holding out two mugs of sweet-smelling bliss. Harry and Ron each took a mug and sipped carefully. Harry shivered in delight, warmth spreading to every corner of her body. Ron looked at his cup appraisingly. "Oh wow... that s good; better than Auntie M uriel s. Maybe I ll splurge this year and get everyone a bit of chocolate. Excus e me, Miss, how much for those swans?" "A pound each, dear." Ron counted out his notes. "Oh good. I ve got twelve. Can I get eight of the lit tle swans then? Wait nine. Gotta get one for Bill too. Who knows if he ll show up . Harry, do you think three pounds is enough left over for a battery?" She shrugged. "Why do you need a battery?" Ron waved it off. "For Dad. It s tradition drives Mum mad too." Harry also bought nine chocolate and caramel turtles, one for each Weasley. She already had presents for Ron and Ginny, but she wanted to give each of the Weasl eys something. They had all been so welcoming. After half an hour or so of shopping, Ron and Harry met the rest of the Weasleys in front of the little pub and they all made their way slowly back to the house . Charlie and, surprisingly, Percy had both gotten a bit sloshed at the pub. The y were supporting each other as they sang a loud, rousing, very off-pitch rendit ion of A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love. "They re going to regret that tomorrow morning." Ginny had come up next her and linked her arm through Harry s own. "Mum won t give them a hangover potion, I m sure of it. She likes tough love." Harry noticed that her cheeks were pink and she was stumbling a bit. Laughing, s he pulled Ginny s arm up around her shoulder. "Looks like Charlie gave you a few

sips then?" "Shhhh." Ginny pushed a finger to Harry s lips and giggled. "Only a few." Harry and the Weasleys piled into the sitting room where Mr. Weasley had lit a r oaring fire. Mrs. Weasley plopped down into an armchair and resumed her knitting , humming the tune her sons had poorly tried to recreate. Ron and Ginny took a s eat on the couch while Harry sat down at its foot, resting her head on Ginny s t high. The family sat comfortably, lounging in various places as they listened to the crackling sound of the fire and the soft music coming from the wireless. Harry felt hands in her hair and she smiled. Ginny seemed to love playing with i t. All morning she had braided it, making little elegant knots and such. This ti me, Ginny took a few long bangs from both sides of her face and pulled them to t he back of her head, where she proceeded to braid them together. Mrs. Weasley smiled at her. "Oh my, Harry that looks quite beautiful. It suits yo u well. Ginny, I think you may just have a gift Ooo look at the time! I should ge t started with that roast, shouldn t I?" She bustled off to the kitchen, steppin g expertly over Fred and George who were wrestling on the rug. Harry slowly began to doze off on Ginny s leg, only somewhat aware of the hands fiddling with bits of her hair. CRACK She jolted into alertness as the front door opened. "I bid you a Happy Christmas, Weasleys!" A tall, slim redhead with a ponytail an d a short goatee stood smiling in the doorway, arms open wide. Ginny and Ron lea pt up and ran to the stranger, jumping into his embrace. He picked both of them up and whirled around like a top. Mr. Weasley and Charlie stood and greeted the newcomer with tight one-armed hugs . "It s good to have you home, son. We didn t expect you back." "Aye. It s good to be home. This assignment in Egypt has been rough. The flies th ey re bloody murder." The pony-tailed man grabbed both Fred and George and gave them severe knuckle rubs on their matching heads. After the twins had swatted hi m away, he clapped Percy on the back. "Prefect, eh? Well done, Perce. Fancy a jo b as a Cursebreaker?" Mr. Weasley called out, "Molly Bill s home!" There was a gasp and a clatter of pans from the kitchen and Mrs. Weasley came hu rrying around the corner to hug her son. "Ohh, Bill! It s wonderful to see you, dear! We didn t expect you back at all. Oh my- Just look at the state of your ha ir!" "Oi, Mum." Bill dodged away from the hand that was reaching for his ponytail. "W hen I heard that everyone was coming back, I couldn t resist. First full Weasley Christmas in a good few years." He spotted Harry standing off to the side. "And who s this then?" "Harry Potter," Ginny replied, a bit too exuberantly. Ron gave his sister a scat hing look, as Bill s wide eyes flicked upward to her scar. "Good lordso it is." Bill recovered from his shock rather quickly though and held out his hand to shake hers. "Well very nice to meet you, Harry." He gestured tow ard her braid. "Anyone brave enough to let a Weasley woman near their hair is ac es in my book." Ginny harrumphed loudly as Harry shook Bill s hand. Ron came up to them and said , "What s more she almost beat me at Chess, Bill. Really She had mate in a hundred different ways except one." This seemed to cause the man more shock than finding out she was Harry Potter. " Did you really? That s more than anyone in this family can say. Not even Great U ncle Algie could beat Ron! I m still convinced their last game drove him insane. I sure would have lost my marbles, if I had been seventy and was trounced by an eight year old." Harry decided immediately that she liked Bill a great deal. His personality was a bit like a cross between every Weasley sibling. He only gawked at me for a few seconds too; always a plus. Charlie threw his arm around Bill and pulled him off to a corner where they bega n to whisper to each other, wide grins on their faces. She supposed they were ta lking about girlfriends and the like; things older boys talked about.

Mr. Weasley clapped and rubbed his hands together. "Well, who wants to help with the tree this year? I saw a nice grove of little pines just down the road." The re was a great scrambling as every redhead in the room made themselves scarce. Harry stepped forward. "I will, Mr. Weasley." "Alright then, Harry, get your things on. We might have a rough job of it. Snow will be deeper. Are you sure?" She nodded excitedly, pulling on Ginny s clothes. "The Dursleys had a fake tree. I want to do it properly." The snow was much higher as they stumbled out into the cold; at least halfway up her thigh. She made sure to follow in Mr. Weasley s footprints. They walked aro und the shed that held the car and Hagrid s motorbike... no... her godfather s m otorbike. She tugged lightly on the tall man s sleeve. "Mr. Weasley?" "Yes, Harry?" He took large loping steps through the snow and she was having tro uble keeping pace. She fiddled with the white powder, drawing a squiggly, swirling line next to her as she walked. "You knew my godfather by name. Did you know Did you know my pare nts as well?" "Ahhh. I had a feeling that might crop up at some point. Yes Yes I knew Lily and James very well. They were first years when I was in seventh. I was a Prefect fo r Gryffindor, you know? Never had a moment s peace, what with your father and hi s friends making mischief. They were good boys though." He paused and sighed dee ply. "I met the two together when they joined the O-... joined the war effort. J ames and Lily and I went on several missions together. All they ever talked abou t was each other. James even showed me the ring he bought to propose. I gave a t oast at their wedding right after your godfather. They were wonderful people, Ha rry." "Oh. That s that s" she trailed off. This man knew her parents better than she did . Everyone in the entire wizarding world knows them better than I do. Mr. Weasley placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Lily was a brilliant witc h. From what Ron tells me, you have the second highest marks in your year. And J ames would have been ecstatic that you made the Quidditch team! You saved my son s life on Halloween. I reckon that wherever they are they re quite proud of you, Harry." He pointed off to the side of the road. "There s the grove. Which one lo oks like a good one?" Harry ran over to the trees. They were thick and smelled strongly of sap. She pa ced around each one, trying to find a perfectly symmetrical tree of good height. "Mr. Weasley! How about this one?" The tree she had found was fat and you couldn t see the trunk through the branches. Mr. Weasley came through a gap between two tall dogwoods. "Oh yes. That s the on e. Stand back, Harry." He waved his wand sharply in a horizontal line and the tr ee was sliced off at the stump. Mr. Weasley caught the top before it crashed. He thumped it down on the ground a few times to shake off the loose needles, then handed the top of the tree to Harry. "Weasley tradition to carry it in by hand. S why none of the others jumped to volunteer. Just haul an end up on your should er that s it. I ll get the heavy end." The tree was twice her height, but they managed to get it back to The Burrow aft er quite a bit of readjusting and resting. The Weasleys cheered as the tree was squeezed through the front door and placed on a stand near the fire. Harry sighed softly and pulled Mr. Weasleys sleeve once again. "Thank you for for letting me help, Mr. Weasley. Mr. Weasley smiled widely. "And thank you, Harry. Goodness knows, you were a muc h better assistant than any of these wayward children of mine have ever been." H e pulled out his wand with a flourish. "Now Weasleys let s decorate!" There was an explosion of activity and magic. Mistletoe sprang from the ceiling at the flick of Bill s wand. Charlie grew garlands up the railing of the stairs. Mr. Weasley waved his wand and twinkling snowflakes began to fall around the tr ee. Harry reached up to touch them and was shocked to find that they passed righ t through her hand.

"Ah. I m quite good at illusions, if I do say so myself." Mr. Weasley waved his wand again, causing Harry to gasp in wonder. Twinkling fairies appeared to burst from all the decorations the men had just put up. They swooped around their hea ds, lighting up the room and landing on whatever they pleased: the sofa, the arm chairs, the tree, the mantle, and even in Ginny s hair. Harry thought she looked a bit like one of the characters in Dudley s fairy tale books, hair glittering with light. Good at illusions he wasn t kidding. Some of the illusion fairies must have landed on her as well because Ginny march ed over and flicked at Harry s hair. "I bet they ll get lost in there. We ll jus t have to give it a thorough brushing!" Ginny beckoned Ron over. "Come on, Harry come help Ron and I with the ornaments. The box is enormous and the ghoul will n eed to be distracted. He gets so mopey when you take things out of the attic." In the attic, Ron distracted the ghoul with a bit of juggling. The slimy thing c lapped and banged loudly on the pipes whilst Ginny and Harry discreetly lowered the box down the step ladder. Harry called up to him, "All clear, Ron!" She heard the ghoul wail as Ron s feet appeared on the steps. "Bugger. He ll be rattling the pipes for days now." Ron sighed heavily. "No slee p for me tonight then, eh?" Harry grinned. Yeah right you ll snore right through it. When the box of ornaments was opened in the sitting room, she was a bit surprise d. Instead of shiny baubles and miniature candy-canes, it was filled with small, framed, moving pictures of Weasley family members performing various happy acti vities: Fred and George playing in mud, a small Ron and Ginny chasing little pot ato shaped men, a young Bill and Charlie wrestling, seven shots of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley holding babies, Percy sucking his thumb and holding a blanket, a toothy old red-haired man wearing a real duck for a hat, and that was only to mention a few. Hundreds of happy redheads were smiling and waving up at her. Someone shouted out, "NOW!" A body jumped onto her back and someone slid on their knees in front of her, arm s flung wide. There was a flash of a bright lightbulb and Harry went blind. Harry heard Fred and George say simultaneously, "Oh that s a keeper!" Sight retu rned to her slowly. Ginny was hanging off her shoulders and Ron was down on the floor in front of her laughing. Bill and Charlie were clutching a very old-fashi oned camera. Bill tapped it with his wand and a little photograph appeared in mi dair. Charlie grabbed it, took one look, and burst out laughing. He handed it to Bill, who had a similar reaction, who then handed it to Harry. Photo Ron was sliding through the bottom of the frame, side to side, over and ov er again, making a very strange face, eyes crossed and arms flung wide. Photo Gi nny was on her shoulders, laughing and resting her chin on Harry s head. Photo H arry was windmilling her arms and looking dazed. Harry laughed as they fell and Photo Ginny rolled out of the picture. Photo Harry would stand up, brush herself off, look down at the box, and then out of nowhere Photo Ginny would run and ju mp on her again, starting the chain over and over. "Yeah," she said quietly, roughly wiping a drop of budding moisture from the cor ner of her eye, "definitely a keeper." Charlie took the picture from her and transfigured the white edges of the image into a delicate brass frame with a hook at the top. He handed it back to her, sa ying warmly, "You brought in the tree, Harry, so you get the honor of putting up the first ornament." Harry walked over to the fat tree, watching Ron and Ginny jump into the little p hotograph. She hesitated. She liked to think that her outstretched arm was hover ing over the foliage because she was looking for a suitable branch... but that w asn t the case. I don t deserve this. I m I don t belong-" An arm slipped around her and fingers linked with her own. Amber gold-flecked ey es glittered up at her. Ginny was leveling her with a blazing look; a look she t hought she d never forget; a look full of something.

The warmth in the redhead s gaze unfroze Harry s outstretched arm and she hung t he little ornament on the nearest branch. The rest of the Weasleys cheered and d ove into the box. Decorating the tree took no time at all with nine sets of hands to do the job. A s they were pulling the last few pictures out of the box, Mrs. Weasley came back into the sitting room. "That looks absolutely lovely, dears!" She hugged her husband. "Ohhh. You do kno w how I love your fairies, Arthur." She leaned up and gave him a good sound snog . Even though several of the children groaned and covered their eyes, Harry foun d she couldn t look away. Their embrace had been short, open, and decidedly publ ic, yet there was more intimacy in that kiss than she had ever seen in her life. Not even the sappy romance movies Aunt Petunia loved so much contained anything as passionate as what she had just witnessed. Mr. Weasley s face was bright red and Mrs. Weasley patted him on the cheek. "Din ner s ready everyone and Happy Christmas Eve!" The serene space around her suddenly flared with unimaginable fire. She burned, rejoicing in the heat. She felt alive. She felt the searing white light lick her skin. Down Down Down So far down. Bliss! Ambers and golds and cherry reds exploded before her eyes. She could smell strawberry; she could taste it in her mouth. I t was everywhere. Harry? Cradling her senses. Haa-rryy. She couldn t "Harry!" Something was pressing down on her waist. Oh lower. Please. She shifted, trying to make the weight slide backwards. "Harry! WAKE UP! IT S CHRISTMAS!" Fingers wiggled into the undersides of her kne es and Harry jerked awake, shrieking with uncontrollable laughter. She was lying in her cot and Ginny, who was tinged green, sat on her stomach. The redhead was staring into Harry s eyes with an apprehensive look. "Oh, right." Harry flipped the hourglass. "You know I can t decide if that s amazing or terrifying." Ginny smiled down at her and shook her excitedly. "IT S CHRISTMAS! Ohhhh, did you get me anything?" B ouncing on Harry s stomach, Ginny blushed at her words, but met Harry s gaze squ arely. "Course I did, silly. Diddid you get me anything?" she asked slowly. Ginny bounced again, smiling excitedly. "Course I did, silly." Harry sat up and Ginny fell backwards onto the coverlet. "I I ve never had Christ mas gifts before! Well I got a hangar once. It was a good one, I suppose." She wa s bouncing excitedly now too. Ginny pawned at Harry s pajama bottoms. Her hair had fallen into her face, just like Harry s did when she was "Oh. Ginwhat s what s wrong? Did I say-" Ginny shook her head fiercely. "No no no I just I wish you didn t have to live wit h them. Can t you I m sure you could well, you could live with us." Ginny looked up , eyes shining with hope. Harry was shocked, but she didn t let the silence stretch. "Professor Dumbledore says I can t. He He says my protections have to charge or something. I wish I cou ld." "Protections?" Ginny asked curiously. Harry shrugged and leapt to her feet, holding out her hand to pull Ginny up too. "Presents!" Ginny laughed, grabbed her hand, and they raced down the stairs. Mr. and Mrs. We asley were already sitting on the sofa with cups of tea, watching Ron as he pace d around the tree, nudging presents with his foot. "Oh, Happy Christmas, dears." Mrs. Weasley stood and smothered them both with a hug. "I ll just kip upstairs and wake the boys." Harry and Ginny sat down at the edge of the tree, impeding Ron s pacing. He plop ped down next to her and gave her a friendly nudge. "Happy Christmas, Harry. I h ope you like what I-" "CHARLES PERCIVAL WEASLEY!" Mrs. Weasley s yell shook the house. There was a squ

awk and two loud thumps. Mrs. Weasley came rushing back down the stairs and fled into the kitchen. She banged around pots and pans and Harry could distinctly he ar her angry muttering. A few minutes later, Charlie came down the stairs, face very red and trailing be hind him was a girl a very pretty girl with Pink hair? They were both blushing fiercely. The girl made for the door, but Charlie reache d out and grabbed her arm saying, "Nym, wait, I changed my mind. I I don t want t o-" The girl whirled around and caught Charlie s lips in a rough heated kiss. She wa s mashed up against his body and Harry could see tears trailing down from her ti ghtly shut eyes. They kissed desperately, hungrily, and then quite suddenly the p ink-haired girl pulled away. She cupped his face and whispered into his ear. Cha rlie nodded, closed his eyes, and placed his forehead on hers. They muttered qui etly and shared one last rough kiss, before the girl turned and fled out of the house. Charlie stood there, staring after her. Harry could tell he was upset but he als o seemed resigned. After a few minutes of silence in the sitting room, Charlie tu rned and marched into the kitchen. She heard a pot bang on the stove and Mrs. Weasley yell, "Charlie! I can t belie ve you! There are children in this house!" Charlie s voice was calmer, quieter, but it still carried clearly to the sitting room. "Mum, please, we were saying goodbye." "Goodbye? GOODBYE? That did not look like saying goodbye to me! What if they d s een? They d be scarred for life!" A cabinet door slammed. "Scarred for life? Bill and I walked in on you and Dad plenty of times and we re just fine thank you. Look Mum it it won t happen again. We ended things." "That is not the... wait ended things?" Mrs. Weasley s tone changed completely. H er anger was gone, replaced by concern. "Oh Charlie why? I thought you wanted to g et married." Harry heard Charlie s voice break. "We did but but the long distance is Even with portkeys we can t Neither of us wants to stop doing what we re doing. We realized that if we were choosing our jobs over each other, then we we shouldn t be getti ng married. We d resent each other. So we we said goodbye properly." "Charlie, I m I m so sorry. You ll you ll find someone else one day that you love just as much. Why don t you go upstairs and wake your brothers while I make you a nice cup of tea, hmm?" Ginny, who had found her way behind Harry to play with her hair, leaned forward and rested her chin on Harry s shoulder. As Charlie went upstairs with a glum lo ok on his face, Ginny said sadly, "That was Nymphadora Tonks, Charlie s girlfrie nd from school. I was sure they were going to get married. I well, I m sad to see they broke up. I really liked her." Fred and George tumbled down the stairs, hair in matching cowlicks. They collaps ed on the couch next to their father and resumed sleeping. Percy came down short ly after fully dressed and groomed, unlike the rest of the family who was still in their nightwear. It was a good half hour before Bill and Charlie came back do wn the steps. They were laughing good-naturedly and Charlie s glum look had disa ppeared. The kettle whistled from the kitchen and when Mrs. Weasley returned to the sitti ng room, she carried a tray full of teacups and chocolate biscuits. Ron moaned. "Mum there s no time for tea! We have to open gifts!" Mrs. Weasley clucked. "Be patient, Ronald. Here you are dear." She handed the la rgest teacup to Charlie and cupped his cheek. Again, Ron moaned impatiently and Mrs. Weasley sighed. "I suppose we could start opening while we drink. Arthur, w ould you hand them out please?" Mr. Weasley waved his wand, making every gift under the tree rise into the air. They sailed over to him and he read each label, banishing the gifts to their rec ipients. "Oh, Harry, these are great! I hope the swans are as good." Ron had not waited f or all the gifts to be distributed and was already munching on his unwrapped tur

tle. Harry found Ron s poorly wrapped box amongst her pile and pulled the swan o ut of its container. Oh wow. "It s got chocolate cream inside! It s excellent!" She broke off a piece and han ded it to him, who in turn gave Harry a bit of the little turtle. Mrs. Weasley began to badger her husband about the seven batteries he had unwrap ped, one from each child. Ginny opened up a present and she gripped Harry s arm tightly. Harry had gotten Ginny a magnificent set of ten peacock-feather quills, enchante d to suck the ink back off the page when you scratched something out. Ginny whispered under her breath, "Harry how much did these cost?" Harry shrugged. "Dunno, got them by owl order and they took the money right out of my vault. I know you scratch out a lot so I thought they d be good. Do do you not like them?" Harry quickly added, "Because we can send them back and I can ge t-" Ginny cut her off with a lunging hug so strong they rolled backwards into the tr ee. "They re perfect, Harry. Open open my gift now. You ll see." Ginny s gift was circular and light. She eagerly ripped off the paper. Inside we re two very delicate looking bracelets. They were made from elegant coils of bra ss and thick copper wire, braided together and twirled in a mesmerizing pattern. Ginny hugged Harry s arm. "They re they re friendship bracelets. Dad helped me ma gic them together. And these," she said, pulling out two small silver objects on hooks, "are the charms." One was a small quill, and the other was a tiny snitch. Ginny gave her a glowing smile. "They were both pairs of earrings once I think. I found them in Great Grandma Weasley s jewelry box. And look, Bill carved a few runes on them for me, so when they hang like this, they swing toward each other. So eventually, if you walk far enough in the direction it points, you ll find m e." Harry watched in wonder as the little things tried to touch in mid-air like magn ets. "They re beautiful, Gin I" Harry held out her wrist and Ginny s smile grew ev en wider. She attached the quill charm to one of the bracelets and slid it on to Harry s arm. "Dad can tighten it for you." Ginny fiddled with the snitch charm, but Harry rea ched out and stopped her. "Gin, let let me. I want to do it." Ginny held out her hand and Harry attached the snitch, sliding the bracelet onto her wrist. The little charms forcibly spun the bracelets, clinking together, cr eating a line between their wrists. "So," Ginny said, smiling. "Friends?" Harry grinned at her. "The best." "Everyone, I don t want to be a Christmas buzzkill, but there s a snake on the f loor." Charlie was pointing to the ground besides Harry. Alice had, at some poin t, gotten off her arm and was currently rolling languidly through a great tangle of ribbon. The rest of the room went silent, but Ginny and Ron laughed. Ron waved the rest of his family off. "Don t worry. She s Harry s; totally and c ompletely harmless. Give her a banana and she s sweeter than a kitten." Harry picked up the ribbon and Alice whined to her ear and her ear alone. "Chica . I wass not finisshed. Give me the sshiny ssnake." Harry stroked her head and placed the ribbon back down. Alice curled around her fingers, darting out her tongue onto Harry s wrist. While most of the Weasley s had gone back to their presents, Bill continued to s tare at the snake intently, watching its every move. The man seemed quite unsett led, so Harry picked up the snake and excused herself to the bathroom. Once safely inside, she whispered, "Alice, I think Bill has a phobia. You should stay hidden if you can. I don t want you to get hurt by accident." "But the sshiny ssnake-" "If I get it and put it in my trunk, will you stay there?" "Yess, Harry sspeaker." The snake slid back up her sleeve and Harry walked out. Upon returning to the si

tting room, she saw Ron poking at the marble, muggle chess set she had gotten hi m. "Blimey! This is so weird! They don t even yell at you! Amazing, Harry!" Harry smiled and sat back down at her pile, pulling Ron s real gift open. Inside was "Ron! You can t give this to me! You love this shirt!" Harry ran her fingers ove r the faded orange lettering on the jersey that read, Chudley Canons. He shrugged and said, "I ve got plenty and that s my smallest. Getting a bit tig ht it is. Besides, I thought you might like it." She nodded and pulled it on over her T-shirt. It was worn in and the seams were soft. "I love it." Harry tore into the next two gifts. Hagrid had sent her a carved wooden flute. I t was very ornate and when she blew it, she heard Circe hoot loudly from upstair s. Hemione had sent her two pairs of blue jeans with a note attached. Dear Harry, Thanks for the spell books. I ve already read both cover to cover. My mum says t hat these jeans are very stylish. I wouldn t know. I just thought of you in that dress all winter and had to send you something warmer. I miss you and Ron terri bly and it s only been a few days. Maybe we could meet at Diagon Alley for a day . I m desperate to go to Flourish and Blotts to find an alchemy book with Flamel in it. I have no idea why the name is so familiar, yet I can t remember where I read about it. I m sure you and Ron wouldn t say no to a trip to Quality Quiddi tch Supplies either. So send me an owl. "Ron Hermione misses you terribly." Ron was unfortunately eating his way through a very large box of chocolates from Hermione when she said it and choked, his ears reddening to the shade of his ha ir. She giggled. The last parcel was soft and thin. Harry was just about to open it when Mrs. Wea sley shoved yet another gift into her hands. The rest of the redheads were all receiving similar gifts. Fred and George tore theirs open and held up matching blue jumpers with the letters F and G stitched on the front. They laughed and exchanged sweaters. "Aw mum maroon again?" said Ron under his breath. Every member of the family had received a knitted sweater. Ginny s was red, Perc y s was white, Bill s was black, and Charlie s was orange. So this is... this is... mine? The jumper Harry unwrapped with trembling fingers was a bright bottle-green. It was wonderfully soft and had a large H on the front stitched in white. Mrs. Weasley beamed at her. "To match your eyes, dear." Harry let out the breath she didn t know she had been holding. "Thank you, Mrs. Weasley." She placed the sweater lovingly on the carpet beside her, and opened t he last present. A long, shimmering, silver something spilled out across her han ds. It felt like liquid. A little note was attached that read: Your father left this in my possession before he died. It is time it was returne d to you. Use it well. A Very Merry Christmas to you. "What s that then, Harry?" Ron asked. "I dunno. Cloak I think." She found a hood and pulled it around her. The sitting room erupted with screams of "HARRY!" and "BLIMEY!" and "MERLIN S SA GGY LEFT NUT!" They were all staring at her. She looked down at herself to see if there was som ething on her, only to find that she wasn t there. "That s an invisibility cloak!" said George, using a hand to physically close Fr ed s mouth, which was drooling. Mr. Weasley smiled at her. "That was your father s cloak, Harry. He took it ever ywhere, stuffed in his pocket." It was This is Dad s? She pulled it off and ran it through her fingers. She didn t really know what he

r father looked like, but she imagined a tall grinning man, with hair just like her own, handing her the cloak and cupping her cheek. In her mind, he spoke in a lighthearted, kindly baritone. "It s yours now, love. Use it well." "Who is it from, Harry?" asked Ginny. "Doesn t say. Someone who Someone who knew my Dad." Ron was waving his hand underneath the fabric, watching it disappear and reappea r. "Blimey. Harry, we can get into the erm ah..." He trailed off as Mrs. Weasley s tared him down, but Harry knew exactly what he meant. The Restricted Section. They hadn t been able to find anything useful on Flamel in any of the available library books involving alchemy. Harry wondered if Snape was trying to get past Fluffy right at this very moment. She sighed and lay back onto the carpet as the Weasleys chatted and opened the rest of their gifts. She clutched the invisibility cloak to her chest. I wish I could stay here. Ginny s freckled face appeared above her own, red hair blocking out the light of the room like a curtain, tickling her nose. The red-head poked her in the belly . "What s with the mopey face? Come on. Put on your jumper, Harry. Together we m ake Christmas colors!" The rest of the day passed like any other day, with the exception of having the best food she had ever tasted. After a long night of exhausting celebration, she climbed back into bed wearing her pajama bottoms and her new Weasley jumper. Maybe Dumbledore will let me leave before my Birthday next summer. "Your mopey face is back." Ginny was looking down at her from the edge of her bed, her arm dangling down of f the side. The little snitch on Ginny s wrist was straining to get to her quill . Harry reached up and took Ginny s hand. The charms clinked together. "I don t want to go back to the Dursleys ever." Harry let go of her wrist and tur ned over. "Not when Not when there are people like you and Ron that that want me a round." She heard the cover s rustle above her and felt Ginny slide into the cot, nestli ng up against her back. The redhead hugged her tightly and whispered, "Friends?" Harry choked on a half-sob half-laugh. Turning in Ginny s arms, she nodded into the girl s shoulder. "The best." Ginny was amazed. Harry was corkscrewing around Charlie s broom with quaffle in hand. If she s this good at chasing, I wonder what she s like as a Seeker? Harry soared towards Ron s hoops. Ginny was right behind her, watching the girl s hair blow wildly about in a messy halo. Fred, Charlie, and Percy were barrelin g toward her from all sides. Harry pulled up wildly as they got close and did a loop, dropping the quaffle as she soared above Ginny. who caught it deftly. The boys followed Harry as Ginny sailed beneath them. By the time they realized Harr y no longer had the ball, she had shot it cleanly through the far right hoop. "THAT S GAME!" cried George. She, Bill, George, and Harry had slaughtered Charli e s team 200 to 40 in four-a-side Quidditch. Even though Harry s broom was far s uperior to anything else they were riding, Ginny was positive that Harry still w ould have outflown everyone. "Merlin s pants," moaned Charlie. "Next game we split the two of you up." "Never!" she shouted back to Charlie. Harry laughed and soared over to Ginny, throwing an arm around her. They played another game with Bill and Percy, the weakest fliers, on their team. The score still wasn t even close. "Blimey," moaned Ron as they landed. "It s like you read each other s bloody min ds!" Harry and Ginny giggled all the way back to the house. Neither of them were goin g to admit to the boys that they were using their charms to know exactly where t he other was on the field. Her mother was out in the garden washing away snow with a bit of warm water from

her wand. When they approached, she called out "Boys, if you could start de-gno meing the garden that would be lovely. Ginny, Harry, there s a bellows out in th e shed. Get it and we can blow the little pests right out of their tunnels." Harry laughed as they took turns sticking the fanlike contraption into the groun d and pumping it, making hundreds of little potato shaped men run out of holes a nd bushes. Ron yelped as the one he had just caught bit his finger. He chucked t he gnome violently over the fence and it fell into a faraway haystack with a lou d plop. Harry leaned over and asked her quietly, "Isn t the chucking a bit cruel?" She shook her head poking one the little creatures as it tried to kick her hand. "Nah. I think they enjoy it. They keep coming back for more. Anyway, it s blood y hard to actually hurt a gnome, so Dad favor s them instead; he puts out little bits of bread here and there as encouragement to not eat the vegetables." Once all the gnomes were out, they sat back and watched the boys hold a contest to see who could hit the haystack the most. The snow was melting quickly and it was a rather warm day for December. They wer e both dressed warmly in jeans and their jumpers. Harry sighed contently as they leaned against the edge of the house. Her eyes were half closed, but Ginny coul d clearly see through the girl s thick eyelashes that she had changed them. Ginny had grown relatively accustomed to it over the last week. It s rather pretty actually. Scary but pretty. Ginny nudged her gently. "Why are you doing that then? I thought it was just for sleeping." Harry jumped and switched her eyes back quickly. "Oh I I just sense things better when I do. I like it." "Really? Like what?" she asked curiously. Harry waved her off. "Smells, hearing, touch that sort of thing." "You want to smell garden gnomes?" Ginny asked flabbergasted. Harry let out a small laugh. "No, I can t smell anything when yo-" But the black -haired girl stopped herself short. "Their... Their scent is overpowered by... b y..." "By what?" "By strawberries," said Harry softly, looking away from her. "Do you... Do you ha ve some nearby, then?" "Oh, yeah! I forgot! Come with me!" She grabbed Harry s hand and pulled her out towards the far side of the garden. They reached the hedge and ducked around it, emerging into her strawberry patch. "This is where I come to hide when Mum want s me to do the really awful chores. I grew them all by-" Harry s fingers suddenly tightened around her hand in a vice-grip. "Ouch! Harry, what-" The girl was panting heavily, her face red, her eyes fully green. Her mouth was moving in little o s and she was clutching her other arm to her chest. "Sorry, Gin. I I ll be back in a bit; don t feel so good." Ginny watched, baffled, as Harry sprinted off towards the house and, at a much s lower pace, she followed. Mum was bustling about the kitchen, making corned beef sandwiches for lunch. Ron will be unhappy. Ginny heard the shower turn on upstairs. "Ginny, dear, would you slice up those potatoes for dinner tonight? I d like to get it started. Your father is coming back from work early today and I m sure he ll be starved. That ministry food is no good and I don t want him picking apart my kitchen looking for snacks." Ginny sighed. She wanted to make sure Harry was okay, but she dutifully picked u p a knife and set to chopping. Harry came back down with her hair wet and sticking to her face. She sidled up t o her at the counter. "Sorry. Felt a bit nauseous. Can I help?" Ginny passed her a knife. "Do you feel better now at least?" Harry smiled. "Loads." They chopped in comfortable silence. Harry would occasionally nudge her with her hip and Ginny would nudge back. By the time they were finished chopping the pot

atoes, they were pushing hard against each other, laughing wildly, trying not to be the first to give in. Mrs. Weasley clucked, not in anger, but in amusement. "Girls, stop that sillines s. For goodness sake, you ve got knives in your hands. Out. Shoo. Go bring the boys in for lunch." The corned beef was delicious and enjoyed by all except Ron, who sat poking his sandwich miserably. She watched as Harry reached around and tapped him on the op posite shoulder. When he turned, she stole the sandwich off his plate. "Oi! Harry!" Ron didn t seem too angry though, so Harry put her head down on his shoulder, mu nching happily on her sneakily acquired second helping. "Oh alright. I was just going to poke at it anyway." "There s some ham leftover from Christmas, Ron. The fixings are still out for th e sandwiches." Mrs. Weasley patted him on the head. She watched as Harry nearly inhaled the second sandwich. I don t know if I want to be on the Quidditch team anymore if it makes me that h ungry. Harry took a finger and trailed it through the mustard on her plate, licking it up. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Bill freeze, sandwich halfway to his mouth. He was staring in shock at Harry s plate. Ginny too observed it interestedly, y et saw nothing but smeared mustard. Bill coughed and spoke up. "So Harry, what subjects interest you at school? Anci ent Runes was always my favorite. Fascinating class." "Oh I dunno. Not potions," Harry said shrugging, swinging her dangling feet happ ily from the chair. Ron snorted from the kitchen. "I like Defense and Charms a lot," continued Harry. "Quirrell doesn t teach us m uch, but the defense book is my favorite. And I like Charms. Professor Flitwick told me my conjuring is the best he s ever seen for a first year." Bill nodded. "You should try Runes when you get to start choosing your classes. It s very much like Charms, but you don t use your wand. The first year or two i s study, then you get to apply them, and at the NEWT level you get to create the m. I think you d like it." He gestured towards her plate. "I see you already kno w one rune quite well. I don t recognize it. Where did you see it? One of your o ther textbooks?" Harry looked down at her plate. Ginny leaned over and saw that the trails of mus tard had formed several shapes that looked like wonky crisscrossing spirals. Har ry seemed tongue-tied. "N-no. I ve never seen it anywhereAre you are you sure they re runes? I didn t even realize" Bill seemed concerned. "Yes yes I m quite sure. Those mustard trails of yours are giving off a faint magical aura. Can t you feel it?" Ginny couldn t feel anything but she saw Harry s eyes change. After a moment the y changed back and she nodded at Bill. "Yeah... but how can I make a rune that I don t know? "Well, you can create them when you put enough power behind it... but you need a shape and an action in mind. The strange thing about this is that I saw your sna ke coiled in that exact same pattern on Christmas giving off the same aura. I ve never heard of a rune acting like that. But it doesn t seem to be doing anything. Just radiating magic, I suppose. You might ask Professor Babbling at Hogwarts, i f you ever decide to take the class." Harry nodded, but cautiously wiped up the mustard with her napkin whilst eying t he last bit of Ginny s sandwich. Ginny quickly put her hands in a protective circle around her plate and smiled i nnocently at Harry. The black-haired girl poked her in the ribs and Ginny squeal ed, hugging her arms back down to her sides. When she looked up, her last two bi tes of sandwich were gone and Harry was running up the stairs giggling madly. Hermione sat with her father under a large, pink, singing, floating, slowly revo lving umbrella. The Fortescue s Hot Fudge Sundae she was sharing with him was qu

ite excellent. She loved ice cream, even on cold afternoons like this one. "Herm ione!" yelled a loud voice from behind her. She jumped in surprise and the littl e scoop of ice cream on her spoon sailed off to land upon the head of a stuffed vulture that occupied the rim of an old woman s hat. Thankfully, she didn t noti ce. Ron, Harry, and a red-haired girl covered in freckles, with her arm linked throu gh Harry s, were walking toward her. I bet that s Ginny. Several other Weasleys were following further down the street. Hermione waved an d turned to kneel in her seat. She gave Harry and Ron a hug, then turned to the red-haired girl. "Hello, I m-" "Hermione Granger!" The girl s red hair bounced with her excitement. "Ron and Ha rry talk about you a lot. I m Ginny." Harry smiled and Hermione noticed that Ron s ears were turning an unusually brig ht shade of pink. From the cold obviously. She beamed at them all. "Well Happy New Years Eve, everyone! This is my father." Dad gave the three newcomers polite, yet withdrawn Hello s. She knew he was st ill a bit new to the idea of magic and the giant singing umbrella was not likely putting him at ease. "So... where should we go first?" Harry, Ron, and Ginny smiled, pointing at Quality Quidditch Supplies. Oh honestly. After an hour of following the three around the store, watching them press their noses against the displays, she convinced them to head to Flourish and Blotts. As they opened the door, the wonderful scent of aged parchment flooded over her. Hermione headed straight to the magic theory section and started to poor throug h the select few tomes on alchemy for Nicholas Flamel. Ron eventually wandered into the aisle she was perusing, trailing his fingers al ong tomes both old and new, uninterested in the knowledge they withheld. He sat down next to her, reading over her shoulder. "Find anything?" She sighed exasperatedly. "Yes, Ronald. I found several in depth references on F lamel and I m pouring through this rather dull index for fun Of course I haven t found anything! All anyone knows about him is that he s a young alchemist that w orked with Dumbledore on his experiments with dragon s blood." "Oi, no need to get shirty." Ron pulled down a book and flipped through it lazil y, humming a tune she didn t recognize. Hermione felt a bit disheartened. She had expected Ron s ears to go pink and for him to start arguing fiercely, but it didn t come this time. She had to admit t hat she liked to bicker with him. He was so stubborn sometimes. He was like a cha llenge. "You seem to be in a good mood today then," she probed gently. "Well it s New Year s, isn t it? Can t get angry on New Year s s bad luck. Come on , Mione, let s get out of this dusty old shop. There s nothing useful here. I me an look at this, five hundred pages of blabbering about equivalent exchange and unsuccessful attempts to turn metal into gold. Says here some bloke named Barnab us lost his teeth when he turned nickel into copper. Useless tripe. We can get i nto the restricted section at school with Harry s cloak. Bound to be something i n there." Hermione sighed and nodded. He was right. Ron stood, picking up all the books she had taken off the shelves, and shoved th em haphazardly into a bookcase. Hermione was about to protest, but when the redh ead took her hand to pull her out of the shop, she promptly forgot that there wa s a problem. Ron s father was busily entertaining her own with mad questions about eckletric ity, so she followed the boy over to where Harry and Ginny sat ready to watch t he fireworks. "No luck, then?" asked Harry. "Not a thing. Equivalent exchange this, equivalent exchange that. Only one very

recent book even mentioned him and it says about as much as we knew already. How could he be such a well established wizard without any record at all? A headmas ter, a Grandmaster Sorcerer, Supreme Warlock, Grand Mugwumpand the only record of him is that he s a young alchemist that worked with Dumbledore on" Hermione froze, eyes widening with realization. Could it be that simple? "There have to be records of "I ll be right back!" she shouted, tearing back down the street and into the boo kshop. She darted to the history section and rapidly scanned the shelf. Immediat ely, she found what she was looking for. She pulled down this year s copy of Gre atest Wizarding Schools of the Second Millennium and flipped through the book un til she found the Institute for Experimental Alchemy. She searched frantically t hrough the description. Current Headmaster: Jackson Smith. The portrait beside the name showed a very old man with a toothy grin and lopsid ed spectacles. Jackson Smith, age 137, is the longest lived headmaster the school has ever seen . He is most renowned for his discovery of one of the transmutative properties o f dragon s blood, with his partner Albus Dumbledore, in 1956. He holds The Grand Mugwump s seat in the International Confederation of Wizards, as well as the Su preme Warlock s seat on the Wizengamot. This isn t Flamel! Well, that s something at least. Receiving a very annoyed look from the shop s clerk, Hermione rushed out of the shop and back down the street to Harry, Ron, and Ginny. "Harry!" she cried excit edly, gasping for breath. "He s not the Headmaster! Jackson Smith is; age one hu ndred thirty-seven; partners with Dumbledore; discovered an alchemical property of dragon s blood! He holds the same positions that Dumbledore said Flamel did. Do you do you think Flamel is really Smith? He could be using glamours or a potio n to look younger. He could be hiding in plain sight!" "I dunno maybe. Why would Dumbledore not tell me the truth about Smith then?" Hermione shrugged, "Maybe it s to protect whatever he wanted safe. Flamel could just be a cover name. Maybe that little parcel had something to do with dragon s blood!" Harry shook her head slowly. "I don t I don t think so. Dumbledore was calling hi m Nicholas, even when they thought they were alone." Ron spoke up. "Sorry to break this theory roll you lot are on, but if Flamel is Smith, why would they put a giant dog over a trapdoor to guard something like dr agon s blood? That bloke over there is selling it for twenty galleons a pint." "Well I don t know," admitted Hermione. "But at least we know that something isn t right about Nicholas Flamel. That s more than we knew before. Harry seemed very puzzled and Hermione knew that very few things could puzzle Ha rriet Potter. "Hermione how old did you say this Smith fellow was?" "Oh erm... age one-hundred-thirty-seven," she said slowly. "Why?" "Well Flamel didn t look a day over forty. So if they are the same person, it def initely would have to be a disguise. Although... his eyes..." Harry sighed and p ulled her hands through her bangs. "I just don t know anymore. We really need to get into the Restricted Section. If we can t find anything there, then I say we drop this whole business and let Snape kill himself trying to get past that dog ." "Hear, hear," said Ron joyously. The fireworks that night were spectacular. Ron s face lit up with delight when o ne of them exploded hundreds of fairies that zoomed around the square. He threw an arm around her, pointing them out excitedly. Hermione didn t think that the boy had realized he d done it, so she leaned into him as inconspicuously as possible. Having friends is nice. Ginny was staring down at her shoes. "I don t want you to leave. Quit school and go next year with me." Harry knew Ginny wasn t being serious, but for a second, as her eyes met amber, she seriously considered it. "Will you be at the station

at the end of term?" "Of course I will, silly." Ginny grinned at her. "Will you write to me?" She leaned out the window of the compartment and gave Ginny a bone-breaking hug. "Of course I will, silly. I m missing you already." The train started to move and their charms clinked together as they drew back. "Bye, Harry." Ginny eyes flashed with that same unintelligible look that she d s een on Christmas. "Bye, Gin." The train ride back was slow; excruciatingly slow. Harry stared into space numbl y as she listened to Neville prattle on about Herbology. She had no idea how he found it so interesting. All they did in that class was sit in a circle in the d irt as Professor Sprout showed them drawings. They hadn t even touched a magical plant yet. Dinner that night was good, but she missed Mrs. Weasley s food. She missed corned beef sandwiches. She missed garlic potatoes, she missed rhubarb pie. But most o f all I miss Ginny. It felt so strange not having the girl next to her as she ate, or as she walked back to the dormitory, or as she sat by the fire in the Gryffindor common room. They had spent every second together over the holiday and it felt a bit like she had lost an arm. That night, they were going to try and get into the Restricted Section, but they couldn t leave until the common room was empty. It was a long wait. Before he w ould leave, they had to convince Percy that they too would soon be going to bed, so they got into their pajamas. Hermione was in an armchair by the fire, reading one of the books Harry had gott en her for Christmas. However, it seemed as if she was dozing off. Harry and Ron, dressed in pajama bottoms and their Weasley jumpers, were lying o n the rug in front of the bushy-haired girl, lazily playing a game of chess. Har ry wasn t paying much attention to the game though and Ron was slaughtering her. Her thoughts were far away; back at The Burrow. "Cheer up, Harry. You can write to her all you want the next few days. No classe s until Monday." Ron must have been reading her mind... Either that or I look miserable... The boy chuckled as Hermione began to snore loudly. "Besides you still have me ar ound." Harry laughed, but only half-heartedly. Ron s face flickered in unhappiness for a split second. Even though the look had been quick, Harry didn t miss it. She sighed, sat up, a nd punched his arm. "Don t be like that." "Be like what?" he asked, his voice stiff. "Like that, you stupid plonker. Ginny and I I dunno. It s just a different kind o f best friend. If I had to stop seeing you every day, I d feel just the same and you know it. It s hard to even think about it." Ron looked a bit like he was winded. "I m I m not jealous of Gi-" "Yes, you are." She punched his arm harder. "And I m telling you not to be!" Ron ears went very pink. "I m not well" He trailed off. Harry scooted forward, knocking pieces off the board as she clambered over it. R on sat back and looked away from her, face flushing red. This needs to be nipped in the bud. She slid up onto his lap and wrapped him in a giant hug. "I m telling you not to be, Ron." Harry felt him heave with a sigh, before he returned her embrace. "I I just didn t want" "I know." She sat back and smiled. Ron scratched his head. "I know you know. Why are you so perceptive all the time ? It s bollocks that s what it is." "Why do you smell like grass all the time? Even when there s no grass? These thi ngs can t be answered," she answered sagely.

"Do I?" He held his jumper collar up to his nose. "Oh that is weird. Maybe Mum d oes it." Hermione woke up quite suddenly and shouted, "NOT A DREADFUL!" causing the few s tragglers left in the common room to send her odd looks. When a sixth-year finally finished his Arithmancy essay and went to bed, they we re at last the only ones left in the common room. Hermione stood up and quietly said, "I have a good feeling about tonight. Hurry up and get the cloak." The large sweeping cloak hid all three of them, but only if they walked back to back. Hermione yelped as Ron stepped on her foot. "Shhh! Be quiet!" whispered Harry sharply. "If we get caught in the Restricted S ection, we re done for." She pulled open the library door and they all slid in s oundlessly. The Library looked eerie at night, lit only by moonlight through the glass roof. The tall book shelves that stretched to the ceiling loomed like gia nt, shadowy sentinels. As quietly as possible, they crept to the gate leading to the Restricted Section . "Alohomora," whispered Harry. The lock clicked and the gate swung inward. The Restricted Section was small... only two stacks and twelve separate bookshel ves... and yet something about it seemed not quite right. It was if the very air was polluted with filth. Harry walked in cautiously, Ron and Hermione at her heels. Her eyes swept over a shelf of books off to her right. She gagged. They were dripping with what had t o be blood. "Alright," said Hermione shakily. "Lets split up and find alchemy books. Lumos." Hermione s wand tip glowed softly, illuminating the books around them. "You tak e that side Ron. Harry you get that shelf." Harry lit her wand and her miniature sun exploded from the tip. She could never control the illumination spell. "Oi! Shut that off," Ron cried, shielding his eyes. "Harry, just just stay with m e in my light." Stupid bloody Lumos. Grumbling, she stuck to Ron s shoulder and observed carefully as his wand light illuminated the rows of books upon the eighth shelf. She saw various titles that made her cringe, the tamest of which was The Art of Torture: Knives and Where t o Put Them. The wand light fell across several untitled green tomes. Ron kept walking, but H arry froze in her tracks. These books were whispering. Harry. You misss her. We can give her to you. Jusst open uss "Do not lisssten, Chica." Your parentss live. We can sshow you the way "Liesss ssspeaker! Do not lisssten! They lie." Love iss yourss. Open uss and take it. Feeling dazed, Harry reached toward them. "Sspeaker do not!" She felt neither the tight squeezing on her arm nor the teeth digging repeatedly into her flesh. I just want to seeRon s hand grabbed her wrist and he whispered fiercely, "Are you crazy? Those bo oks are hissing!" Harry came back to herself. Her arm was searing with pain. Once Ron had turned a way, she rolled up her sleeve to reveal Alice slowly circling several small woun ds that were bleeding lightly. There was a large bruise in the shape of a coil a s well. "I am ssorry, Harry sspeaker. You would not lissten. The red Ron human hass ssav ed you again when I could not." Hoping Ron wouldn t hear her, or would mistake her for the hissing books, Harry whispered under her breath. "It s okay. You tried." She rubbed the little snake under its jaw and rolled her sleeve back down, now fully understanding that the Restricted Section was indeed restricted for a reason. They were searching the seventh shelf intently, when Hermione let out a soft gas p from across the room. They rushed to her side. She was holding the oldest look

ing book Harry had ever seen. It seemed to be a bit singed and the title was bur ned partially away, but Harry could make out the words "old" and "magic." Hermione stroked the cover lovingly. "This is the oldest book in the Library. Th ey say it s the only history book that survived destruction when Salazar Slyther in lit the original Library on fire. It s written in Latin, but all the library books are magically translated to modern English. I wanted to take it out for a bit of light reading before Christmas. I was sure Madame Pince would have let me remove it from its preservative case. But then you pulled me off to Hagrid s, H arry. We went flying afterwards Do you remember? When I came back the next day to ask Madame Pince if I could borrow it, she told me it was unavailable." Harry rubbed her glasses on her shirt. "Hermione, that s wonderful but what on ea rth does this have to do with Flamel? That book would have to be a thousand year s old! That s far too early for him, even if he is one-hundred-thirty-something. " Hermione was flipping the pages of the book delicately. "Don t you understand, H arry? Madam Pince said it was unavailable, so I logically took that to mean that someone had checked it out. It s a non-restricted book. Thousands of students h ave read it. It s not dark... and it s not at all dangerous so why is it suddenly in the Restricted Section?" The girl quickly searched the page she was on and tr iumphantly slammed her finger down upon a line. Harry leaned forward. The Ancient Study of Alchemy is concerned with making the Philosopher s Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinke r immortal. There have been many reports of the Philosopher s Stone over the centuries, but the only Stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicholas Flamel, the noted alchemist and opera lover. Mr. Flamel, who celebrated his 665th birthday last ye ar, enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (658). "Hermione!" Harry hugged her. "You re a genius! That s what Fluffy is guarding, I m sure of it." Hermione nodded rapidly. "That s why he looks young, Harry! He is that young but he s been that way for well over 1600 years! I d bet anything that he founded th e Institute for Experimental Alchemy and he s been using different glamours to b e the Headmaster ever since. Hiding in plain sight. He probably cast off his nam e hundreds of years ago and just started to use it again, thinking that enough t ime had passed that he had disappeared from the history books." Ron spoke up. "Blimey no wonder he s been hiding. I d hide too if I had a stone l ike that. People would be after it all the time. Bet that s why he got it out of Gringotts and gave it to Dumbledore. Probably knew someone was about to-" BANG They heard the Library doors fly open. Hermione and Ron frantically Nox d their wand tips. Harry grabbed the cloak from where she dropped it, threw it over them hastily, and they crept out of the section. They were halfway to the door when Filch and his eighteenth-century lantern stepped around the corner. They froze. Filch stared right through them to the Restricted Section s gate. Oh no... We left it open! "I knew it! Students in the Restricted Section!" Filch held his lantern high. "I saw yer lights. I know yer in ere! Come out, come out, wherever yeh are" Harry nudged Ron under the cloak and tilted her head to the door. Ron took Hermi one s hand and, together, the three of them sneaked as quietly as they could to the entrance. Unfortunately, the door opened with an echoing creak and they hear d Filch s footsteps pounding back towards the atrium. "Run!" whispered Harry frantically. Filch exited the library just as they rounded the corridor corner. They heard hi m shouting, "Where are you? Is that you Peeves? I ll send you to the Baron, I wi ll!" They hurtled down the hall, yet the corridor was a dead end. Another voice could be heard conversing with Filch.

"Oh no," Ron moaned. "Snape!" The only way out of their present situation was escaping into an empty classroom , or walking back towards Filch, Snape, and likely expulsion. Harry chose the cl assroom, dragged Ron and Hermione inside, and shut the door softly behind them. She could hear Filch and Snape s voices fading as they moved further and further away. Hermione squeaked softly and Harry turned around. Leaning against the far wall o f the musty, deserted classroom, standing as tall as the ceiling, was an enormou s, gold-framed mirror that seemed extremely out of place. Odder yet, in front of this mirror stood none other than Albus Dumbledore in a purple nightgown and purp le woolen socks. He was drawing his wand along the mirror and speaking in a tong ue Harry had never heard the likes of. "Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi." At the top of the mirror s frame, the strange words Dumbledore had just recited erupted in golden light. "Ecna lig ivoteri fym evigi." These words flared upon the glass, before soaking into the mirror s surface. Dumbledore flourished his wand and commanded in a mighty voice, "Eci rava ot ton t surt." These words too flashed and faded. "Suo utri veht ot edec." Professor Dumbledore fell silent as the words upon both the mirror and the frame faded from view. The Headmaster sat down upon the floo r and stared into the mirror s depths, reaching out his arm to stroke its smooth surface lovingly. "You know, Harry I have found that silence, while blessed at times, is often quit e displeasing to my ear." Bollocks. Harry threw off the cloak and walked forward. Hermione and Ron squawked loudly a nd made to cover themselves back up. "I m sorry, sir. I I didn t-" Dumbledore waved her off. "No matter. I trust there was a most urgent emergency in the Library that needed your immediate attention or else you would have not de emed it prudent to break curfew. Let us make a deal. I shall not inquire as to y our business there, if you do not inquire as to my business here. Harry grinned. "That s a very generous deal, Professor Dumbledore sir." He winked at her. "Quite. Come sit. Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger, you may join us if you wish. The floor, while a tad chilly for an old man s bottom, is quite spaci ous and accommodating." Harry heard Hermione moan nervously. "There is no need to fear, young Hermione. Your thirst for knowledge is admirabl e and I assure you that, if you sit, I will attempt to quench it. Besides, I don t think it would be very Headmasterly of me if I expelled students whilst weari ng my jim-jams." Ron laughed loudly and ducked out from beneath the cloak. Shortly after, Hermion e followed. "Most excellent. Now let us observe this fascinating mirror. Look there at the t ext on the frame. What do you see?" Hermione entered into classroom mode and her hand shot up. Ron laughed and pulle d her hand down. She blushed, but gave her answer anyway. "It looks like an earl y form of Latin, sir. It lacks structure and syllabic unity." "Alas, Miss Granger, it is not." Hermione looked a bit sullen, but Dumbledore went on to say kindly, "I myself th ought the same when I encountered it for the first time. Harry, what do you thin k it is?" "Dunno French?" Dumbledore chuckled. "If only. And you, Ronald?" Ron seemed surprised that the Headmaster was addressing him directly. "Ohh... er m... I couldn t tell you, sir. I only know English; poor English at that. Looks like gibberish to me." "Correct." Hermione spluttered. Professor Dumbledore smiled and said, "Without knowledge of the Mirror s secrets

, it is, quite literally, gibberish. It is, as all mirrors are, a reflection. It is a reflection of the idea of the mirror s power itself. For if you were to st and before it and view its images without knowing the meaning of those words at the top, you will not understand what it is you are being shown. In essence, we must first understand the gibberish, to understand the images. To understand the gibberish we must first understand the essence of all mirrors: reversal and ref lection. Miss Granger, would you please reverse and re-space the mirror s engrav ing?" Hermione began to mutter rapidly under her breath. "Erised stra ehru oyt ube caf ru oyt on wohsi. Ish... ownotyourfacebutyo urhearts... desire. I show not your face , but your heart s desire!" "Ah, well done! Now knowing how to understand what you are shown, are any of you fine young Gryffindors brave enough to step before it? To truly know our heart s deepest, most desperate desire has driven many far beyond the brink of sanity." No one moved. "No volunteers?" "I ll I ll go," said Ron finally. He stood and resolutely walked up to the mirror . His body went slack. "Bloody Hell! That s that s me!" Ron turned from side to s ide, flexing his nonexistent muscles. "I m Quidditch captain! And Head Boy! And I won the House and Quidditch cups! Hey look! You guys are there, cheering... my family too! Harry, Mione, come look!" They got up and crowded around him. "I can t see anything except us," said Hermione slowly. "Me neither," Harry agreed. Ron pulled Hermione into the center. "Here look at it properly. See. Look at tha t! Mum and dad are- Mione?" The bushy-haired girl had turned away rather quickly and had her hand over her f ace. "Oh my God! That s that s not me! That can t be me!" Hermione collapsed on the floor and hid her face in her knees. "Miss Granger?" asked Professor Dumbledore, waving his wand. A piping hot cup of tea appeared before Hermione, floating in midair. "Would it be to bold of me to ask what it was that you saw?" Hermione weakly shook her head. "It was me and Harry, and Ron. We we were we were d oing to Sally Pews what she used to do to me but we re using magic! I was just I wa s just standing there... laughing at her. Oh God, that s not me!" Peering knowingly at Hermione, Professor Dumbledore removed his half-moon specta cles to clen them gently upon on his nightgown. "Are you quite sure? Ronald, ove rshadowed by his brothers and insecure in his self-image, sees himself as the mo st accomplished of the lot. And you, Hermione, picked on and tortured by the str onger, more popular children at your former school, now find yourself stronger t han they could ever wish to be. You, who now have friends that believe in you an d would protect you at all costs, feel safe enough to dole out what you once rec eived. I did say deepest and most desperate... but sometimes these desires are o ur darkest as well." Hermione and Ron flinched at his every word. "I do not mean to be cruel. Drink your tea and think on what I have said. If you truly believe that that girl isn t you; that you do not wish to return the pain that was inflicted upon you, then look once more into the mirror. Our deepest d esires can change with the simplest thought or realization. Our desire evolves a s we ourselves grow. Ten years from now, I highly doubt any of you would see the same vision." Hermione stood up, steeled herself, walked back in front of the mirror, and, aft er a long moment, smiled widely. She turned to Harry and gave her a large hug. S he did the same to Ron. And then again to Professor Dumbledore, who seemed a bit shocked, but nonetheless placed his hand on the girl s head and lightly patted her hair. "I take it you did not see Sally Pews?" Hermione pulled back and smiled at him. "No sir. And thank you." Silence fell over the classroom as the attention fell to Harry. "I I don t think I want to find out," she whispered slowly. Ron spluttered. "Oi! We did it! S only fair"

Harry sighed deeply, stepped before the ornate mirror, and gasped in shock. Beyond the mirror s surface lay the classroom, but instead of being empty, it wa s filled to the brim with people; at least twenty. She immediately recognized Mr . and Mrs. Weasley in the back, as well as Bill, Charlie, and Percy. They waved to her, smiling kindly. Fred and George shot fireworks out of their wands that r ead, "Welcome to the family." They all looked so much older. She stared around at the other people in the mirror. Some were redheads while so me had hair exactly like her own... jet-black and wild. Aunt Petunia stood in th e far corner with a little-black haired toddler that was clutching her hand and hiding shyly in the folds of the woman s dress. Petunia lovingly cupped the back of the little girl s head and they both waved at Harry. At the front of this group stood a tall handsome man with messy black hair that stuck up wildly right at the back of his head. He wore wire-frame glasses and hi s face was settled into a warm smile. The man had his arm wrapped around a very pretty, shorter woman with wavy, blood-red hair. She was leaning snuggly into th e man s embrace. Her nose and mouth were small; delicate. Her cheekbones were hi gh and pronounced. Her chin fell in a soft point. Harry saw that she had large, familiar, bright-green eyes. It was as if Harry s own face stared back at her through the mirror; the same... yet completely different. "Mum?" asked Harry in breaking, breathy voice. "Dad?" She reached out to touch them, placing her palm flat against the silver surface. The man raised his hand as well, touching it to the spot where her own rested. James Potter s tanned hand dwarfed her own, their palms only separated by the gl ass. Give them to me... Harry s fingers balled into a fist. Give them to me! She slammed her fist against the mirror. Give them back! Her knuckles collided with the glass over and over until Ron rushed forward to r estrain her. She fought wildly against his body, trying to get back to the mirro r, but his hold was too strong. She pounded on his chest, sobbing into his robe. Her head was throbbing furiously. She felt wind whistling past her ears and thr ough her hair. A loud crash rang out as several desks toppled out of their stack s. Ron held her tighter and whispered into her ear, "Harry. Come back. Please?" His words bounced around her brain like a rubber ball. The wind subsided and the pounding slowed. Her breathing evened and Ron s hold on her lessened. Hermione had her hand on Harry s shoulder. Reaching up, Harry pushed the glasses out of h er face and wiped at her eyes furiously with the sleeve of her Weasley jumper. She waved off their questioning glances and nodded shakily to indicate that she was alright. "I m I m not done yet." Walking back to the mirror, her gaze swept over the last four people that were s miling and waving back at her. They were terribly familiar, yet looked like comp lete strangers. To her mother s left, stood another redhead, but her hair was st raight and cherry-red. She was several inches taller than Lily, her face was cov ered in freckles, and her intelligent, amber, gold-flecked eyes stared straight back into Harry s own. They were eyes that she knew as well as her own hand; eye s that flickered through the peaceful serenity of her mind augmented. Ginny? The young woman in the mirror, her gaze blazing with warmth, winked. She watched with fascination as the older Ginny slid her arms around the waist o f another woman next to her. They were the same height. This woman looked exactl y like Lily, but she had hair just like Harry s; longer, straighter, but essenti ally the same. It even fell into her eyes in that frustratingly annoying way. Harry s eyes bulged at the matching bracelets on both of their wrists. If that s Ginny, then this is me? Harry moved to get a closer look and saw that there was a small glowing mark shi ning just above each bracelet. She squinted to try and make it out... but the ma rk vanished.

A reflection maybe? A tall, lean man with shaggy red hair and sparkling blue eyes, reached around Mi rror Harry and tweaked her ear. She punched him in the arm playfully and leaned into his shoulder. Standing in the crook of the man s other arm was another pret ty woman with thick, frizzy, brown hair. She was a few inches taller than the ot her two girls and had legs that seemed to go on for miles. She seemed confident, sure of herself, and was rolling her eyes at the man beside her as she grinned and waved at back Harry through the mirror. It was the four of them... and they seemed... happy; far happier than Harry felt as she stared around at what she wanted to be her family. "Harry?" Professor Dumbledore came up beside her. "You must understand that what The Mirror of Erised has shown you, what all of you have seen, is not the futur e. None of these things are certain, but knowing what you truly desire may lead you down the path to achieve it. Harry nodded and felt brave enough to ask "Professor Dumbledore, sir, what what d o you see in the Mirror?" "I? You, Harry, who have seen into my mind; you, who have viewed the memories th at are always lurking in my thoughts, cannot fathom what I might see in the mirr or?" Harry shrugged. The Headmaster smiled and placed his hand on her shoulder. "Then let us say, for convenience s sake, that I see myself holding a nice pair of thick, woolen sock s." He wiggled his toes. "One can never have enough socks you see. Another Chris tmas has come and gone and I didn t receive a single pair." Harry grinned up at him and said, "I ll be sure to send you some next year, Prof essor." "That is most kind, Harry most kind indeed." Molly picked up Ginny s and Arthur s plates and went to wash them in the sink. D inner had been far too quiet that night. Her daughter, usually loud and boistero us, had sat picking at her food; not eating anything. Her eyes had been puffy an d her cheeks red from where she had been rubbing them on the long ride home. It was strange her daughter so rarely cried. She didn t even cry as a newborn. Arthur s hands slid around her waist and his lips pressed a light kiss to her ea r. "Mollywobbles, what s wrong?" She continued to scrub the plates fiercely. "I don t know, Arthur. It s Ginny sh e I ve never seen her so upset. Not even when we told her she couldn t go with Ro n to school." Arthur leaned back against the counter and crossed his arms. "She s never had an yone but her brothers and that odd little Lovegood girl that pops around occasio nally. She s certainly never had a friend like Harry before, Molly. They were at tached at the hip for nearly three weeks. Now they won t see each other again for months. And even then it will only be for a few minutes. After that they can t see each other until the end of July. That s more than half a year, dear." "I know. How did it happen, Arthur? Three weeks and they re closer than Fred and George." "Not for the life of me could I tell you that, Molly. But it s the way is. Why d on t we take her somewhere? Get her out of the house. Maybe a Harpies match?" "Arthur, we barely got by this year there s no way we can. We ll have five childr en in school next year. We need to save up." She turned to him and leaned into h is arm. "You know I could I could ask around at work. Plenty of people in Games and Sport s owe me favors." She couldn t help but sigh. "Ask away, but Weasleys aren t beggars, Arthur. Neith er are Prewits." Finishing with the plates, she pulled her husband out of the kitchen to the edge of the dining room. She peered out into the sitting room where Ginny was sittin g in an armchair, staring into the fire. She wasn t crying, but her eyes glisten ed with moisture. "I hate seeing her like this. Arthur, go and see what you can do. I ll put on so

CHAPTER The Darkness Rising SIX Her fingers peeled eagerly at the little wax seal with the Hogwarts Crest. Harry! HarryHarryHarry! HARRY! Ginny, her heart pounding with excitement, wrenched open the large piece of fold ed parchment. Dear Ginny, We won! Snape was refereeing and we won! And in about two minutes too! Circe, who had resumed her customary perch, hooted indignantly as Ginny jumped u p, whooping loudly. I saw the Snitch lose its invisibility charm right over Snape s greasy head. I c aught it and no one had even put the Quaffle between the posts! It was the short est match in Hogwarts history. Even Olliver was complaining about the win; he t old me that next game I should, Keep my knickers on and give the rest of them s ome play time! It was bloody fantastic. Oh! Ron and I both socked Draco! Whenever I m not around, Draco is still such a berk to Ron and Hermione. He said something to Ron during the game and then your brother decked him. I heard from Neville that he d never seen anything more bea utiful than Draco falling on top of Pansy with a bloody nose. Ron s still in the Hospital Wing because Crabbe and Goyle went to work on him, but he said it was worth it. After the game, Draco came back up to me and was back to his friendly, yet annoyingly arrogant self. Hermione came over and told him to shove off. He called her something and she ran off crying. Mud-blood was the name I think. He must have realized he slipped up in front of me, because he looked all guilty-li ke. Then I decked him! Punching people hurts. Poor Draco. Two bloody noses in on e day... and one from a girl. Four days later and he still looks like a raccoon. Snape s been awful since the match. He gave me detention because my cauldron was bubbling loudly. I had to scrub out the excess potion in the NEWT Level dungeon . Without magic. My knees were stinging and changing colors the entire next day. What a stupid bugger. What s more is that I ve seen him all over the place, swo oping like a bat after Professor Quirrell. I think he s threatening him. Hermion e reckons there s more guarding the Stone than just Fluffy. The fact that he s o nly after Quirrell for information must mean he can get past everything except t he dog and Quirrell s defense. But Fluffy is still in there. We check every time we go past the door. Fred and George have been torturing Snape. They put all sorts of little tricks o utside his office. They put a little tube of shampoo right outside his door too. It said, don t forget to wash behind the ears. It was good fun to watch him g o ballistic. I wish this year was over though. It feels like it s inching by. Ho w are things at the Burrow? Missing you, Harry Ginny flopped forwards onto her bed. The owl on her head was thrown off into the

me tea." When Molly reentered the sitting room with the tea, she found her husband in the armchair with Ginny asleep on his lap. Putting the tea tray down on the coffee table, she knelt down next to them and brushed the hair out of Ginny face. Placi ng a soft kiss on her angel s temple, she whispered, "She looks so much like Gid eon and Fabian, doesn t she? Much softer and feminine of course, but the face is the same. I love her so much, Arthur. It it it just kills me to see-" Arthur shushed her and wiped her cheek. "I know, love. We just need to be here. That s all we can do." Molly nodded and kissed him fiercely, their only daughter sleeping soundly betwe en them. Before she had closed her eyes, she thought she had seen a small glowin g light on Ginny s arm, but when she opened them, pulling away from her husband s kiss, there was nothing but smooth freckled skin.

air. It fluttered madly about the room, before settling on her bottom. She sigh ed into her pillows, losing herself as she listened to the fat droplets of March rain pound against the glass of her window. I miss you too. She lay there for what seemed like hours, stroking the head of Harry s beautiful owl, until her mother called up the stairs. "Ginny, dear! I need you." With a tremendous groan Ginny pushed herself off the bed and gave the owl one fi nal pet. "Stay here, girl." Mum was, as usual, bustling about the kitchen preparing dinner. The woman really did love to cook and she was brilliant at it. Ginny, on the other hand, had no talent whatsoever in the kitchen. She had inherited the Weasley clumsiness for p reparing food, not the Prewitt genius. Her mother raked a tired hand through her frizzy hair and asked, "Can you start chopping those vegetables for the stew? There s a good girl." Mum paused in her bustling, squinting at Ginny s midsection. "Oh my, your father s illusions do la st, if anything. I keep seeing little bits of leftover light on your arm from th ose Christmas fairies. "Harry did say they stuck to me like glue." Ginny had a sudden vision of Harry s miling brilliantly and brushing fairies off her shoulder. Mum nodded softly. "How is Harry? She and Ron not getting into too much trouble I hope. I do wish that boy would write more... Well, perhaps not I don t think Er rol would be up for the trips." "She s good. Professor Snape s giving her a rough time of it and she well, she wan ts the year to be over. So do I." As Ginny drew it absentmindedly across a carrot, the knife she was holding nicke d lightly into her thumb. She didn t know why, but that little cut hurt more tha n a little cut should. It sliced deep; straight to her heart. Ginny tried and fa iled to muffle the sob that bubbled up from her throat. "Oh dear... My baby girl." Mum s arm slipped around her shoulders and Ginny was pulled into a warm embrace. "It ll be alright. Before you know it, you ll see ea ch other again and it will be all the sweeter because of this." Her mother knelt down on one knee and wiped the trail of tears away from Ginny s eyes. Their for ehead s touched gently. "I love you so much, Ginevra. I m so happy you found a fr iend that finally understands you; that you care about this much. You go ahead a nd cry, darling; my only girl of seven. You ve held it in for so many years, bab y. I m right here. We Weasleys put on a brave face, but sometimes, we just need to let it all go." In the middle of the kitchen floor they sat, Ginny didn t know for how long, her face buried in the apron over her mother s dress. She didn t even hear her fath er come back from work, only smelled his light, sandalwood aftershave; only felt him sink down next her, his large arm draping around both her and Mum. When the pot on the stove started to bubble over, her father stood, holding out his hands for both of them. He picked Ginny up and carried her in one arm, just like he used to when she was small. "An evening alone with my two favorite girls there isn t a luckier man in the world." Ginny couldn t help but squeal and squirm when he tickled her bare feet. As they walked out of the kitchen, Mum squealed like she too was eleven, blushin g as red as her hair. "Arthur!" she cried, rubbing her bum. Ginny gagged. The following weeks passed by at a snail s pace. Her life was as exciting as wat ching paint dry. Between chores, sleeping, reading Mum s books, and tending to h er strawberry patch, she did very little. And even the last was dull. You could only pull out so many weeds. She would go for a fly every now and then, but found that it didn t have as much appeal alone as it did when she flew with Harry or her brothers; that and the br oom she used was about eighty years old. Visiting Luna or getting a letter from Harry were the most exciting parts of her weeks. Luna was rarely around; always off with her father as he collected stories for his newspaper. And Circe well, no t even the strongest owl in the world could manage more than two or three trips a week from the southernmost tip of England to the upper regions of Scotland. Es

pecially not during this time of year; it was all rain not even warm rain; freezi ng pneumonia inducing rain. Harry tried to keep her as up to date as she could about the goings on at Hogwar ts; her letters always long and fat. Ginny herself could never write more than a half a roll of parchment before she had covered every interesting bit of her li fe. After that, she would ramble for a roll or two. Harry told her of how she was studying all hours of the day due to Hermione s ex am zeal; how Hagrid was keeping a dragon egg in his wooden hut; how Quidditch pr actice was a nightmare now that they were in the lead for the House cup; how Dra co Malfoy could be such an arse one second and then so friendly the next; how Ro n and Hermione never stopped bickering; how History and Herbology were less inte resting than watching paint dry; how Pansy Parkinson had seen the dragon in Hagr id s hut and had told Draco, who was dangling the information over Harry s head to get her to talk to him; how Harry missed her. Every letter she sent had those words etched at the bottom. It was late Wednesday night as she sat in bed, reading Gilderoy Lockhart s Troub le with Trolls, when Harry s most interesting letter arrived. Dear Ginny, We need to get rid of Norbert. He s getting much too large to hide in Hagrid s c abin. It even bit Hermione! Her leg is all swollen and green. We were thinking C harlie could help take him off our hands in secret. If anyone finds out Hagrid h as a dragon, he ll get sacked. There is an attached letter to Charlie with yours . Could you send it on? I told him to send Circe back to you, and then you can s end her back to me. Missing you more than ever, Harry Ginny quickly took out the attached note and tied it to Circe s leg, who surpris ingly hadn t sat on her head. It seemed to know that these letters were urgent. "Take this to Charlie, girl." The owl hooted, nipping her finger affectionately before it took off into the ni ght. There s no way I ll be able to sleep tonight. She spent the next two days with her head elsewhere... far away... at Hogwarts. On Friday morning, Mum had decided she d weed the garden and instead of lying in bed for hours like she usually did, Ginny got up to help her. It was a breezy April s day; the beginning of spring, so the garden needed a goo d weeding. She was absentmindedly pulling out plants when a familiar voice made her jump. "Aren t you supposed to pull out the weeds, rather than the strawberri es?" Her plants were indeed mangled, but she didn t care. She hopped up into her brot hers arms and yelled happily, "Charlie! What are you doing here?" He twirled her around before setting her back down. "Special chore at Hogwarts. I was going to stay in Romania and let my friends take care of it, but since thi s beautiful bird here was coming back to you, I thought I d Portkey over with he r for a visit and go up with them. She didn t like the ride I can tell you that. " Circe was stamping around Charlie s head indignantly, pecking at his ears. "Oi ! Bloody bird. I ve got to send a reply to Hogwarts." She looked over at Mum who had yet to notice that her son was home. "Sooo will yo u bring the dragon back here?" Charlie spluttered in shock. "How do you know about- wait- of course you know. H arry would ve told you. Closer than peas in a pod you two are. But no we ll head straight back to Romania with the Ridgeback. Can t very well have a lizard that breathes fire at the Burrow," he said lightly, gesturing at the wooden house. "Can I co-" "Charlie! You re home! Whatever for dear?" Ginny watched lamely as her mother grabbed Charlie and pulled him into the house , fussing over his scruffy chin and long shag of hair. She couldn t get her brother out from under Mum s eye for the rest of the day an d ever since their mother had barged in on him at Christmas Charlie had been loc king his bedroom door at night. Saturday was the same and when Charlie s friends

arrived at the Burrow that night, she knew she would have to resort to drastic measures. Her plan was flawless. She excused herself from the rowdy dinner with Charlie s companions, saying she didn t feel well and was going to bed early. She grabbed a pinch of Floo Powder from the mantle and rushed upstairs to her bedroom. Pulli ng out one of her new quills, she scratched out a quick note. Dear Mum, Gone to Hogwarts. Following Charlie. You can punish me all you want when I get b ack, but I m going to see Harry. No, she didn t ask me to come. I ll take the Fl oo home tomorrow morning. I ve got a little pinch of it in a napkin. I ll be bac k just a few hours after you wake up. I know you re angry reading this note, but please don t make a fuss and get Harry into trouble. I just need to see her for a bit. Love, Ginny She put the note on her pillow and watched through the window as Charlie and his friends spilled from the house, pulling out their broomsticks. Ginny opened the window as quietly as she could and crawled out. There was a fat ledge just outs ide it that she could drop down onto the roof from, along with a trellis down to the ground just below that. Sometimes Ginny thought her father had known she wo uld be the kind of person that did things like this and that he had built her ro om here just to make it easy for her. Climbing out like a cat, she slid belly first along the grimy, slimy ledge. I m going to be filthy. Unfortunately for her, the trellis down to the ground was soaked from yesterday s rain and she lost her footing halfway. Tumbling through the briar, she landed with a loud thud on the muddy ground. Ow. There was no time to dwell on pain. Ginny could still see Charlie s group in the distance, but they were just tiny specks. She pulled herself up and ran to the broomshed as fast as her legs could carry her. Wrenching out her father s brooms tick, she leapt on and soared up into the night. Ginny followed Charlie and his friends at a distance, but never far enough to lo se them in the darkness. They flew for hours and hours. On any other day, she wo uld have been exhausted staying up this late, but tonight she was wide awake, he r body tingling with adrenaline... with excitement. Charlie drifted beneath a cloud and when she too passed through it, her heart ca ught in her chest. The castle had come into view; it was large and black against the starry skyline. The group in front of her sailed to the top of the tallest tower. She followed them, but cautiously flew around the length of the castle so they wouldn t see her approach. Ginny landed on the roof behind a giant telescope. "Oh wow, Charlie. Look at the serrated fangs. Gorgeous! Rare on a Ridgeback. I t ake it it s venomous then?" "Oh Aye." Ron! "It poisoned our friend Hermione last week. She only just got out of the Hospita l wing." Harry! I m here. Creeping to the edge of the telescope, she slowly peered around the corner. Char lie and his four friends were laughing and joking loudly as they rigged a large thrashing cage into a harness between their brooms. There she is. Ron was poking the cage with a toe, his arm resting on Harry s shoulder. She looks older with her hair up like that. Harry, it seemed, had attempted to recreate the look Ginny had tried on her at C hristmas with her bangs tied back behind her head in a braid. Ginny giggled. Nice try, Harry. I ll do it for you properly. Charlie and his friends thanked Harry and Ron and flew off into the night.

Ron let out a great sigh as they turned into a tiny speck against the moon. "Nut ters. The lot of them." "You can say that again." The sound of Harry s tinkling giggle made Ginny smile. Her laugh was so infectio us. I ve missed that laugh. She was about to leap out and shout for their attention, but before she had move d an inch, the door to the tower swung open with a bang. Ron and Harry whirled around to face a sweaty balding man in a trench coat, acco mpanied by a mangy black cat. He was carrying a lantern that looked as if it had n t been cleaned or polished in centuries. "Oh dear little Gryffindors are ou for a stroll under the stars. What will McGon agall think? Come on the both of yeh Get." He pushed them down the stairs. After the door was safely closed, Ginny darted out from behind the telescope, gr abbing Harry s invisibility cloak up off the stone floor. Throwing it over her s houlders, she hastily ran after them. Ginny was amazed by the castle. She found herself stopping to stare at the movin g staircases and the dueling suits of armor and the ghosts floating through wall s. She lost track of Harry and Ron several times and she had to run wildly throu gh the halls to find them again. They stopped at last next to a painting on the ground floor and entered a small study. Already inside was a stern-looking woman accompanied by a slightly chubby, brown -haired boy. When Harry and Ron arrived with the bald man, the woman s face turn ed bright red and she shouted, "MORE? Four first year students out of bed in one night? This is unacceptable!" After they received what was, judging by Ron s desperate pleading, a very seriou s punishment, Ginny followed them back to a cozy room inside a painting; what sh e supposed was the Gryffindor common room. "One hundred and fifty points," moaned Harry. "We re going to be murdered in our beds." "At least we ll be in bed though," Ron argued wryly. "I m bloody exhausted. Than ks for trying to help us out, Nev. But in hindsight walking around in plain sight at night wasn t the brightest idea." The chubby boy... Nev... gave a small laugh and shrugged. Harry bid them goodnight and Ginny followed her up the stairs. Everyone else in the girl s dorm seemed to be asleep. Ginny saw Hermione with her leg up, wrapped in bandages. Harry yawned tiredly, threw off her robe, and slouched into a magn ificent bathroom off the side of the dorm. Ginny slipped inside, closed the door softly behind her, turned, pulled off the cloak, and dove. "HARRY!" Unfortunately, Harry had been pulling off her skirt, one leg in and one leg out, so, as Ginny collided with her in a hug, they both toppled unceremoniously into a tub with a tumultuous splash. Coming up for air, Harry s hair was everywhere as the girl spluttered with shock. Reaching over, Ginny parted the soaked, black curtain with two fingers. Green eyes stared back at her incredulously. "Hey, Harry," said Ginny nonchalantly, unable to stop a ridiculous grin from spr eading across her face. Harry s expression rapidly morphed from shock, to happy surprise, to absolute jo y. "Gi- GINNY!" The girl surged through the water and crushed into her body, squeezing her tight ly. As Harry s arms wrapped around her, Ginny s heart did flips. It felt like she ha d just come home after a very long and exhausting day. Harry pulled back, shaking Ginny s shoulders with uncontrolled excitement. "How did you why did you oh Gin!" Her friend pulled her back through the water and onto her lap. Sighing with exhaustion, Ginny wrapped both arms and legs around her and they sa

t quietly, embracing in the warm bath. Ginny, who was nuzzled into Harry s neck, was the first to break the silence. "I was going crazy at home. So I I followed Charlie. You left your invisibility clo ak up on the tower and I used it to follow you back here." She ran her fingers g ently through the hair at the back of Harry s neck. "With you gone, it... it fel t like I had lost a leg." Harry giggled, pushing her back to look into her eyes. "Only a leg? It felt like I had lost an arm! Arms are much more important than legs." "Nunh unh. You can t barrel roll over a chaser without a leg." "Yuh hunh. You can t catch a snitch without an arm. I missed you more. So there. " Harry splashed her. "Nunh unh." She splashed Harry back. "Yuh HUNH!" Harry said, jumping on her to resume their still undecided Christmas tickle fight. They thrashed about in the water, laughing madly and quite litera lly flooding the bathroom. Ginny eventually managed to gain the upper hand, straddle her, and go for the in stant win button. Harry s shrieks and sobs of laughter echoed about the tile as Ginny dug her fing ertips behind her friend s knees. "NO," the black-haired girl squealed loudly, "NO FAIR!" Ginny shook her head bemusedly. "Oh Harry all s fair in love and tickle war!" Harry squirmed and trembled with such intense giggles that her glasses flew off into the bath water. Deciding to show just a little mercy, Ginny relented in her assault, long enough for Harry to find them again. This turned out to be a very bad idea. With surprising deftness and strength, the older girl flipped on top of her and reversed their positions, holding Ginny s arms pinned above her head. Their charms clinked together and Harry leaned down to pant against her neck. "You ll pay for that one, Gin," breathed Harry shakily, lips tickling Ginny s ea r. Ginny shrugged. "Hmmmmm worth it." Harry s hands slid down her arms and encircled her at the shoulders. She felt Ha rry s body sag against her own and they floated upwards. When Harry spoke, her v oice quavered with relief. "Ginny, I I missed you so much. There would be entire da ys that I would just stare at my charm, watching it always point south. I can t believe you came I" Harry went rigid on top of her and moaned miserably. "GIN! You r Mum is going to kill you! Then she s going to kill me! And then she ll kill yo u again!" Ginny nodded her agreement into Harry s shoulder. "Hmmmmm again worth it." It was true. Harry made her feel so happy. To Harry, she wasn t a little sister she was a best friend a partner an equal. Before she could stop herself, she turned her he ad and placed a soft kiss on her friend s cheek. "I d do it again." Harry sat up quickly, causing water to rush onto Ginny s chest to occupy the spa ce where her body had just been. She was rubbing her cheek lightly; green eyes o pen wide with shock, staring into her own. "You You kissed me." Harry s voice was unsure, as if she questioned the reality of the situation. "No one s no one has ever well" She trailed off. Ginny realized the significance of what she had just done and said nervously, "O h yea I I guess I did." She raked her mind for something to say... then grinned. " I I told you that you could tell all the boys I kissed you first and Well, I I misse d you, Harry." With the water sloshing between them, Harry s eyes searched her face wildly, loo king for something. Whether she found it or not, Ginny didn t know, but Harry nod ded, leaning back down to give her a return peck on the cheek. And it was at that moment that the bathroom door swung open. Harry quickly pushed down on Ginny s shoulders so her head fell beneath the rim of the tub. She clam bered on top of her, black hair tickling her face, obstructing her body from vie w. "Oh you re up late, Harry," said an unfamiliar voice. "Hey, Parvatiyeah Potion s essay. I want to get it perfect so the greasy git doesn t feel the need to rip it up in front of the whole class again."

Ginny heard one of the stall doors shut, her face pressing into Harry s shirt. Smells like burnt charcoal. "I don t know why he treats you like that. It s ridiculous. You re brilliant at Potions." When the stall door opened again the voice asked, "Say why are you still in your clothes?" She felt Harry s body tense. "Oh um I fell in not used to skirts and all." Parvati giggled. "Understandable. Well, goodnight, Harry." "Night." The bathroom door opened and closed. "That was close." When Harry sat b ack, she seemed contemplative. "It s strange, separately Lavender and Parvati ar e so nice but together, they can be bigger bints than Pansy Parkinson if that s po ssible." Ginny shrugged. "You smell like burnt hair, Harry. Take a bath." She splashed so me water up onto Harry s face. Harry smirked. "You should talk; you re covered in dirt and your clothes are all ripped. What, were you attacked by birds?" "Er no I climbed off the roof Well, actually I fell off the roof... through the th orn bushes." "Smooth." Harry giggled and stood, stripping off her clothes with impunity. "Shut it," Ginny said, poking her in the belly. "It hurt." She too stood and pul led off her tattered clothing. "Ouch Gin you re all cut up." Harry s hand brushed lightly across her leg. Looking down, Ginny saw that she did indeed have several thin scratches across h er torso and legs. "I didn t even notice." "Sit down let me clean up the ones on your back." As Harry s hands gently ran the soap across her skin, Ginny began to realize her exhaustion. The soap stung, but Harry s touch was soothing and she slumped agai nst the side off the tub. "I m so tired. Do you know what time it is?" She groan ed as the soap passed along her lower back. "After three I expect. Why?" Harry got some shampoo from the tap and started to run her hands through Ginny s tangled hair. "I should be back home by eight so Mum doesn t go ballistic. I ve got some Floo powder with my broom." "What s Floo powder?" Harry asked curiously, the tips of her fingers scrubbing l ightly behind Ginny s ears. "It s... oh Merlin... that feels great It lets you travel by fireplace. Can t use it to get to Hogwarts though. The fireplaces here are only one way. Although I t hink you can appeal to the ministry for a special connection." Harry s hands paused. "Could I could I do that? And then you could visit all the t ime." "It s usually for emergencies so probably not." She made little concentric rippl es in the water. "But I could sneak out again. I could just follow the charm." She wanted to do it. She knew Harry wanted her to do it as well. But Harry slowl y shook her head, her wet hair slapping lightly against Ginny s neck. "No, you r e going to be in enough trouble as it is. Your Mum is probably going to lock the brooms up." Harry finished with her hair and Ginny turned and did the same for her. "I ll fi x your hair proper when we re out. You made a right mess of it." "Oi it wasn t that bad," Harry cried in mock hurt. Ginny grinned. "Yeah okay. Hey Harry, where s Alice?" Harry tilted her neck so Ginny could get at the roots of her hair. "I let her ex plore the school at night. She stays in the shadows but I m secretly hoping Mrs. Norris tries to attack her. That cat has it coming." Ginny couldn t help but giggle. "Harry, that s terrible." "You won t think so next year," laughed the black-haired girl. "She s a nightmar e, turns up wherever you don t want her to be." "Maybe you shouldn t be out of bounds so much then, huh?" Harry gestured around the room. "You ve seen this castle how could I stay in boun ds with so much craziness going on? I love it here almost as much as your house. Also Alice Well, if snakes can be gossip hounds then that s what she is. She told

me that she found a red twin boy human in a closet with a black tall girl hum an and that they were both on the Quidditch team. She was so proud of herself. If only I could figure out if it was Fred or George with Angelina I d have blackm ail material for ages. That is if any of them ever speak to me again. One hundred and fifty points! I hate Draco so much right now; the bugger ratted us out." "I thought he was desperately in love with you," Ginny teased. "Ew gross." Harry slapped her lightly on the knee. "No I don t know what he s pla ying at. Maybe revenge for giving him a black eye? Let s finish up I m getting al l pruney." After they washed thoroughly, Harry stepped out of tub and picked up her discard ed wand. "Tepido," she said, pointing at Ginny. A great rush of warm air swirled around her, drying her body completely. Repeating the charm on herself and their clothes, Harry sighed happily and said, "I love magic." Harry s voice had grown quieter while they lay in her bed, talking softly about nothing in particular. They had lain there awake for at least an hour; Ginny fid dling with Harry s hair, braiding it into tiny patterns and weaves. I think she fell asleep. When Harry squirmed underneath her hands, Ginny drew the curtains and lay down n ext to her, listening to her soft moans and pants. "Harry" Ginny said, softly shaking the girl s shoulder. Harry didn t respond so she shook her again, harder. "Mmmm?" Harry pushed the small of her back into Ginny s stomach and stuck a leg between her knees. "Wuzwrng?" "Harry?" she asked, squeezing her friend s waist. "What can I do to help? You re you re moaning again. "Huwhuh?" Harry turned to face her. Her eyes were only open halfway, but Ginny c ould see deep pools of emerald filling the whole space beneath her lids. When th eir eyes met, Harry seemed to wake fully. "Gin?" "Harry, you re panting and groaning. It s scaring me." Ginny brushed a little ha ir from Harry s face, which was glistening with sweat. Harry sighed heavily and looked purposefully away from her. "I forgot about that. " She raised a hand and placed it palm first on her forehead. "Merlin Look, it is n t it isn t a bad feeling. I promise." She cuddled into Harry s side and tugged at her ear, getting the girl to look ba ck at her. "Why does it only happen when I m around?" Harry shook her head fervently and placed a hand over top her own. "Gin can this c an this be our one secret? I just don t want to You ll hate me if I tell you. I c an t lose you. Ginny clenched Harry s t-shirt and pulled her all the way round. "Harry, I could never-" But Harry cut her off, cupping the back of her neck. They were nose to nose. The girl s irisless green eyes were wet with tears. "Please, Ginny just this one thi ng; the only thing... I promise. Besides, you ll you ll figure it out anyway event ually." Ginny couldn t argue with Harry s pained, pleading look. After several moments o f internal fighting, she nodded. "Okay, but will you tell me when I figure it out anyway?" Harry held out her pinky. "I promise. If you still want to be around me that is. " Ginny took it with her own and they shook. "Don t be an idiot of course I will." Harry however, did not seem convinced. She opened the curtains and looked at the grandfather clock standing up against the dormitory wall. "Almost five. Do you d o you think you can sleep through it? If not, we can just stay awake." "Yeah, I think I can. Mum says I can sleep through a thunderstorm if I m having good dreams." Harry giggled lightly. "I ll stay up until you fall asleep then." Ginny turned over on her side, pulled Harry s arm around her, and whispered so s oftly that she didn t think the black-haired girl had heard her. "I could never hate you."

Closing her eyes, she sank into the warm bed and the even warmer embrace. Within what seemed like minutes, she was awake again. Light streamed in through the crack in the curtains. It took her a second to recognize the bed she was in; to recognize the arm wrapped around her; to recognize the leg draped over top h er own; to recognize the heavy panting breath on her neck; to recognize the hips that were sliding softly and slowly against her bum. Smirking, Ginny reached behind her and wiggled her fingers in Harry s knee. With a great heave and a squeal, her friend jumped awake, nearly throwing Ginny out of the small bed. Ginny turned and rolled over onto the girl s stomach, laughing. "Shhhh. I m sorr y," she whispered into her best friend s ear. "I couldn t resist." Ginny watched as the green of Harry s eyes was sucked back to the center, as if it was water flowing down a drain. Pupils faded into view. Harry was doing her b est to glare at her. "I ll get you back. Just you wait. Can you get my glasses? They re on the dresser." Ginny reached out of the curtains and plucked them off the little wooden set of drawers. She froze at the sight of the grandfather clock. Eight fifteen! "No I do n t want to go yet," she moaned, as she pulled her head back into the bed. Harry s face fell sharply. "Then don t go." "I want to stay!" she cried out. "Then stay." "But I can t!" Her shoulders slumped as she said it. "I know. She dove on top of Harry, hugging as tightly as she could. Hands wove their way into her hair and she was hugged just as tight. She knew the longer she stayed h ere, the more likely her mother would kill her. She pawed at Harry s neck and buried her nose into the soft cotton of the T-shir t beneath her. She didn t want to move. "I ll miss you, Gin." "Yeah." She nodded fiercely against the cotton. "I miss you already." The Burrow was quiet when she returned. Her mother was sitting in an armchair ac ross from the fire as she did a bit of knitting. She didn t look up as Ginny app roached. Ginny braced herself for the certain explosion. But it didn t come. "Er hello, Mum. I m-" "I will say this one thing, Ginevra, since you will bear any punishment I dole o ut with pride on your face." The tone of her mother s voice was like ice down he r spine. "If you ever do something like this again, you will never be allowed to go to Hogwarts. If you ever do something like this again, I will not allow Harr y in this house and you will never see her again. Do I make myself clear?" Her heart almost dropped out of her chest. "Yes, Mum." "Good. Now go to your room. I don t want to see your face again until your fathe r gets home." Ginny turned on the spot and dashed up the stairs as quickly as her feet could c arry her. Ron was furious. His fists ached to pound the smirk off Malfoy s face, but he di dn t think beating the stuffing out of the poncey little bastard in front of Fil ch would be the best idea. What infuriated him the most, is that ever since Malf oy told her about Snape jinxing her broom, Harry had started to tolerate this ars e. My Harry would have jinxed him into oblivion ages ago. "Why d you bloody do it, Draco?" whispered Harry heatedly. "You knew you d get c aught as well. You re every terrible thing I can think of but you re not stupid. You lost us one hundred and fifty points." "Oh yes, Harry" Malfoy drawled, "because I so care about Gryffindor s chances for the House Cup. Well for several reasons I suppose. One, your loss of points will most likely put Slytherin in the lead for the House cup. I ll be regaled as a h ero. Two, I had to pay you both back for the punches." Malfoy leaned down to Harry s ear but Ron still heard him. "Three, because I wan ted to spend time with you away from Pansy s nattering."

He straightened back up and said loudly, "And four because there s nothing I enjo y more in this world, than pissing off Weasel here." Ron spun and raised his fist, but Harry stepped between them and shook her head fiercely, nodding at Filch. He lowered his fist and Malfoy sneered at him. "Cont rol your dog, Harry." Before he could retaliate properly, Harry had her wand out and was pressing it i nto Malfoy s neck. She whispered fiercely to him as she pulled him along after F ilch. "Just try me, Draco. Try me. I don t know why you ve stopped making an eff ort to do what you said you d do and I don t know what started this little bastar d streak you have going on, but I ve just about had enough. One more word in fro nt of me about any of my friends and as soon as I ve learned the cutting curse, your bits will be gone. Do you understand me, Draco? Gone." Malfoy retained his composure, but Ron was happy to see that he d gotten just a bit paler... if that were possible. There s the Harry I know. Filch led them down to Hagrid s hut, lecturing them about how he used to punish students that he d found out of bounds and that the good ol day s had long since ended when they banned torture. "About time." Hagrid called out through the darkness. "Wha took yeh, Filch?" In the dull lamp light, Ron could just make out the man s enormous shape against the treeline. Filch snorted angrily. "Never you mind, Hagrid. Just take these whelps off me ha nds. I ll be back at dawn for what s left of them." He said the last bit rather n astily, before heading back up to the castle. "Alrigh Harry? Ron?" "Yeah. Thanks Hagrid," Harry said cheerfully. "M okay," he agreed. Hagrid unslung his giant crossbow and knelt down to look the four of them in the eye. "Alright now listen up and listen good. It s dangerous wha we re doin to night and I don t want no one taking any risks in the forest. Malfoy choked. "The forest? I m not going in there!" "Scared Malfoy?" asked Ron nastily, his voice almost breaking with his own fear. Malfoy glared at him. Ron stuck up two fingers and peered into the depths of the woods, yet all he cou ld see was fog and more thick threatening trees. "Look here," said Hagrid, walking to a thick trunk and running a finger down a s mear of silver. "Tha s unicorn blood tha is. There s one in there thas been hu rt bad by summat and we got ter find it, see? There s blood all over the place, so it might still be staggerin around." Harry spoke up. "Hagrid was it a werewolf, do you think?" "Nah not fast or strong enough ter catch one. Right powerful beings unicorns are. We need ter find it and help it... or we might have ter put it out of its miser y. Right then. We ll split into two groups ter-" "I want to go with, Harry," Malfoy said quickly. "Uhh alright. Draco, Harry, Neville, you take Fang. Ron you come with me and hold me quiver." Quiver holder great. "Now if anyone finds the unicorn, send up green sparks and if yeh get inter troub le, send up red. Alright? Yeah... just like tha , Neville. Let s go." As Hagrid entered the forest with his back turned, Ron grabbed Malfoy s collar a nd slammed him into a tree. "Get off-" Ron cut him off and whispered intensely, "No. You listen to me you piece of shit e. If you hurt Harry" Malfoy laughed in his face. "Yeah, yeah, I ve heard it all before, Weasley. Pain , beatings, you ll kill me I get it. Now get your dirty hands off me." Ron let him go, roughly shoving him as he did so. As he stalked after Hagrid, he felt a light touch on his arm and fingers entangling with his own. Harry was st aring at him pointedly, as if to say I can handle Malfoy. "I know sorry."

She squeezed his hand and stood on her tip toes to kiss his cheek. "Thanks, Ron. " Shortly after they entered the forest, they reached a fork in the path where the y split up. Ron hoisted Hagrid s quiver, which was almost as large as his own bo dy. After about five minutes of walking down the path, they heard a loud crackli ng of dead leaves in front of them. Hagrid held out his hand for him to stop. "Ron give me a bolt and get behind me sl owly now." Ron peered into the fog through the crook in Hagrid s arm. Something was moving a head of them. They stood stock still, frozen in place, listening. Then quite suddenly, through the brush beside them, burst two large horses. One of Hagrid s bolts went singing into the darkness as he jumped. Upon closer inspection he found that these two horses, were not horses at all the y were centaurs; real centaurs. Not like those bloody kelpies out in Devon. "Oh. Hullo, Bane Ronan," said Hagrid, reslinging his crossbow. "Almost hit yah." "No matter, Hagrid. Your arrows would not penetrate our hide," said the black-ha ired centaur. "Uh o course this here is Ron Weasley a student up at the school. Ron, this is Ron an and Bane." Hagrid gestured to each respectively. "Say do either of yeh know wh a s been attacking the unicorns? We re tryin ter find one tha s been hurt." Bane cocked his head to Ronan and said, "Always the innocent are the first victi ms." Ronan only nodded. Cantering towards Ron, Ronan stopped and tilted his head back , gesturing up at the sky. "Look, boy Do you see it? Mars is bright tonight. Unus ually bright." The centaur s voice was deep and twanged rather roughly. Ron saw a tiny red star where Ronan was pointing. "Ermmm... yeah. I sort of-" Wh en he looked back down, Ronan s grizzled face was not two inches from his own. H is whinnying breath stank of fish and dirt. "Ronald Weasley, born under the Knight You ring like the shield while she sings l ike the blade. Neither will break in the same hands." Ronan s widely separated h orse-like eyes were wide, staring at him staring through him. The centaur s words were ringing meaninglessly throughout Ron s head. Ron didn t quite know what to say. "O-Okay then." By the time Ron regained control of his reeling mind, the centaurs had gone as q uickly as they had come. Hagrid patted him on the shoulder. "Odd creatures centa urs. Can t make sense o half wha they say ter yeh." "Yeah, that was-" Ron froze as red light shot into the sky. Red sparks! Harry! He burst into motion, running as fast he could towards the light. He crashed thr ough undergrowth, dodging trees, jumping roots, moving full speed through the fo rest. He saw Harry in a clearing up ahead and she Well, she was absolutely fine. Harry was standing in front of Malfoy, wand drawn and yelling at him. Ron pulled out his own wand and for the first time, successfully cast the most p owerful curse available in the first-year curriculum. "EXPULSO!" he yelled, poin ting at Draco s head. Unfortunately, the explosion curse didn t work on animate objects, but the resulting shockwave knocked Draco right on his arse. Ron follow ed up the curse and dove on the smaller boy. He pulled back his fist and slugged Malfoy as hard as he could, right in the jaw. Malfoy groaned and rolled over, holding his head. Ron pulled back again, but Harry caught his arm and dragged him over to her. "Ron, no! He just scared Neville! It s alright." He tried to pull away from her to get back at Malfoy, but Quidditch seemed to ha ve made Harry s grip surprisingly strong. "Let me go, Harry. I ll only kill him a little bit." The corners of her mouth twitched upwards, but she didn t relinquish her hold on him. Hagrid arrived moments later, wheezing slightly. "Wha Wha s happened?" Neville whimpered, but admitted in a small voice, "Malfoy grabbed me from behind

and I I panicked." "R-Right," said Hagrid. "We re changing groups. Malfoy, Neville, come with me. I ll keep an eye on the both of yer. Harry, Ron, you go with Fang." After they had left, Ron turned to Harry. "You should ve let me stomp him." Harry nodded. "Yeah, but his father is on the school s board of governors. If yo u beat Draco to a pulp, you d get kicked out for sure." She grabbed his hand and grinned. "I d miss you too much." He felt his ears heat up. "Yeah well okay." Talking softly, they walked through the forest hand in hand for what seemed like hours. "I d play for the Harpies if I could though. They ve been at the top of the Engl ish league for what ten years? "Aww! Come on, Harry. You could go pro right now! The Canons need you! All they really need is a good seeker." Harry giggled and said, "And a Keeper..." "Well yeah." "And three chasers and two beaters" "Alright alright!" grumbled Ron. "I get it! They re rubbish. Hey, did you finish that essay for Po-" Harry s arm had crossed in front of him and she whispered sharply, pointing to a clearing up ahead. "Ron, look there." Forty or so paces ahead of them stood a large, shimmering, white horse with a si ngle white horn protruding from its head. It was leaning its body into a thick t ree. Ron could see, even at this distance, a large splotch of silvery liquid dri bbling down its hindquarters. Harry raised her wand and a swirling tower of gree n sparks shot into the air. She ran towards the unicorn and Ron followed her clo sely. The creature whimpered as they approached. Harry had her hand out in a calming, friendly gesture. "It s alright," she whisp ered. "We re here to help." Out of nowhere, Ron s left arm exploded with pain and he fell to ground screamin g. Opening his eyes and trying not to hyperventilate, he saw a large gaping hole in his bicep; blood was pouring quickly from the wound. He heard Harry cry out, "Fang! Come back!" Harry was staring at him, her eyes wide with panic. Before she had even taken a step towards him, five flashes of light sailed past her and slammed into the uni corn. In every place they touched, silvery blood exploded in a shower from its f lesh. The unicorn twitched violently then lay still. Ron watched from the ground, horrified, as Harry whirled around with her wand ou t, only to be blown back into the corpse of the unicorn. He tried to get up to h elp her but he couldn t move a muscle. He couldn t even open his mouth. Harry was in a similar situation. Ron could see her eyes moving frantically while her bod y lay still. From behind them, there was a high cold laugh that made Ron s soul quaver with f right. Out of the corner of his eye he could see a cloaked figure walking slowly toward them out of the mist. It looked like... a man; face shrouded in shadow, but a man all the same. It gli ded toward Harry and the unicorn, bent down, and put its head over one of the ho rse s wounds. Ron heard a sick sort of sucking sound. He would have screamed if he could have. When the man had finished, the unicorn had lost its shimmer and the horn on its head had seemingly crumbled into ash. It looked like a regular horse; a regular, dead horse. The man let out a low feral laugh, reached towards Harry, and growled, "So tasty ." A different, high-pitched voice cried out, "Save your perversions!" Both voices emanated from the cloaked figure. The shadowy hand seemed to halt, but after a moment, it continued downward. Ron felt harsh wind whipping around his body.

The man laughed and slammed his wand down at Harry. What was clearly a bludgeoni ng spell hit her in the stomach and the wind died immediately. Ron fought with every ounce of his will against the magic restraining him. NO! PLEASE! Harry s eyes were screaming at him. In fear... in pain. And he could do nothing. He could only watch as spidery hands grabbed at her chest; as they clenched at her through her skirt; as they lifted it and grabbed her knickers tightly. Soft tears were sliding from Harry s eyes; eyes that were fixated on Ron; eyes that s aid only one thing: Help me HARRY! I CAN T! PLEASE! His own tears were pouring hotly down his face. He was l osing so much blood. An unholy scream echoed from underneath the man s hood when he touched her skin; both of the terrible voices screaming together in unison. The man, this horribl e man, lurched backward and raised his wand. Ron s vision was going hazy. A large shadow jumped clean over Ron s head, charging towards the cloaked man. R on watched with relief as he fled into the trees. I m so tired. And he knew no more. ... ... ... Harry s eyes were pained, darting about in fear. "I M SORRY. I CAN T," he cried out. She closed her eyes in disappointment and disappeared underneath a black cloak. "NO! COME BACK! PLEASE!" Toffee apple. Ron opened his eyes, squinting from the bright sunlight. He was lying in a Hospi tal bed. Someone was gripping his hand and brushing the hair out of his eyes. He recognized her large mess of hair and dark chocolate eyes. "Mione?" The hand tightened. "Oh Ron. I m so glad you re okay. You lost almost half of yo ur blood. In a normal human muggle, a class four hemorrhage is described as fort y percent blood loss. Anything after that will most likely result in-" Ron raised his hand and placed it over her mouth. "Mione... shush." She flared up, ready to start one of their fights, but Ron gave her his best att empt at a smile and her eyes softened considerably. "Where s Harry?" he asked her. Hermione s face fell sharply. "She she hasn t been out of the dorm since" She cast her eyes downward and played with his thumb. "Well, she sat with you all night until Madam Pomfrey got you stable. Then she she went back to her dorm and hasn t come out since. What happened out there, Ron? I can understand avoiding the res t of the school s questions, but she she won t even tell me. If I try to touch her , she screams." He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "How long?" "Two days. I ve brought her food and water, but she won t touch it. She just she just lies in bed. I wrote to Ginny to to tell her and McGonagall has tried to- Oh no, Ron, you mustn t!" He had hopped down off the bed. "Are you going to stop me, Mione or are you going to help me?" She seemed torn. "Madame Pomfrey will be furious Oh alright let s go. But you won t be able to get up the stairs anyway. Boys aren t allowed up the girl s stairca se." "You just watch them stop me." They rushed back to the Gryffindor common room. He had gotten five steps up the girl s staircase, when a loud bell sounded and the floor beneath his feet collap sed into a slide. After sliding to the bottom, he got back up and glared at the reforming staircas e. "Mione go open the first year girl s door for me. Its right around that corner , yeah?" "Yes but what are you-"

"Just do it. I m gunna use the railing." Hermione sighed, but trouped up the staircase. "You ll kill yourself, you prat." I don t rightly care. Ron ran towards the staircase and jumped onto the handrail, grabbing a torch abo ve it for balance. After a few failed attempts and bruised elbows, he reached the top of the stairs , jumping from rail to rail, torch to torch. Hermione was staring at him open mo uthed. "Ron that was "Yeah. Is she still in there?" Hermione nodded. He jumped off the rail and into the dorm. He found her curled o n a bed, still wearing the clothes he had last seen her in; clothes that were dr enched in silver blood. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "Harry?" She flinched under his touch, but didn t scream, nor did she pull away. Taking off his shoes, Ron sat down on the bed. He put his hands under her arms a nd lifted her up to sit between his legs as he leaned back against the headboard . She didn t protest; she simply placed her cheek upon his shoulder and lay stil l. Hermione entered the room as well and sat down at the foot of Harry s bed. "Mr. Weasley!" yelled Professor McGonagall, storming into the room. "What is the meaning- Oh my... She s Very well, I ll just I ll be in the common room." The three of them sat for hours; Hermione occasionally reading passages aloud fr om her books; Ron just holding Harry, rubbing his thumb along her arm. Madame Po mfrey came into the dorm and after giving him a very stern talking to, handed hi m a blood replenishing potion and left. Lavender and Parvati came and went, giving the three of them very odd looks. At dinner time, the two actually brought them some food. Bread and cheese. but it w as still the kindest thing Ron had ever seen them do. "Thanks Lavender, Parvati, that was great of you." Parvati nodded gravely while Lavender s cheeks flushed the tiniest bit red. Professor McGonagall returned a few hours later and said quietly, "It s time to leave, Mr. Weasley." The second she had said it, Harry moaned loudly and grabbed tightly onto the sle eves of Ron s shirt. McGonagall sighed and pursed her lips. "Mr. Weasley may I have your solemn oath t hat you will not leave this bed until I come to get you in the morning?" Ron was stunned. "Yeah- Yes, Professor McGonagall mamn." "Very very well. Not a step, Mr. Weasley." She flicked the curtains shut with a w ave of her wand. Hours after McGonagall had left, Hermione asked him quietly, "Ron, do you do you think she s catatonic?" "Catawhat?" Harry stirred beneath him and said feebly, "I m not catatonic." Ron squeezed her tightly and whispered into her ear. "You okay?" Harry shook her head no and pushed herself into him. "My scar hurts... so badly. " "Your your scar?" asked Hermione, shocked. Harry nodded. "Can you get me some water, Hermione?" Hermione nodded and ran from the room, returning a few minutes later with a larg e glass of water. "Can you freeze it?" Hermione took her out her wand and tapped it against the glass, whispering, "Gla cius." The water froze over and Hermione gently placed it into Harry s hands, wh o held it to her forehead. Harry didn t speak again until the water inside the glass had melted completely. Hermione had long since fallen asleep on the edge of the bed and Harry started to cry softly into his shoulder. "Ron he he touched-" Ron cut her off before she could say anything more. "I tried, Harry! I tried so hard. But I couldn t I tried so hard. He was too strong! I ll I ll get stronger. It ll I ll never let anyone" He squeezed her waist and buried his head in her neck.

"I m so sorry." Harry said nothing, but her chest heaved with silent sobs. Ron closed his eyes and breathed with her. He must ve fallen asleep, because when he opened his eyes again, the tiniest bit of light shone through the curtains. Harry was turned over, her cheek resting o n his belly; they had somehow slid down so they were lying flat. Noticing that Harry was awake, he slowly sat up. Harry turned her head with him. "I know you tried, Ron. I saw it in your eyes. Bu t you you wouldn t have been Ron, it was Voldemort." He flinched. Her voice was weak, tired but when she said the name, it was as if s he had shouted it in his ear. "It can t be no." "Firenze told me it was Voldemort and I I recognized his voice from from my dream. He s after the Stone. Snape is probably trying to get it for him." "We ll go to Dumbledore." Harry sat up on her knees and shook her head. "No I I can t tell anyone about" "We could lie," he suggested hopefully. "Dumbledore would know. No... this this has to stay with us." "What about Hermione? Harry, we can t just leave her in the dark." "You tell her. I I just can t." "Okay." After a moment of silence, he pulled her to his chest and hugged her. They fell back into the pillows and he valiantly tried not to avert his gaze as her eyes b ore into him. "Harriet I m I ll never let anyone hurt you again... ever." Harry ran a hand softly down his arm before she punched it squarely in the fleshi est bit. "Don t call me Harriet Ronald." The corners of her mouth twitched upward s and she hugged him back tightly. That wasn t too bad at all." Ron said cheerily as they exited History of Magic. Hermione scoffed. "Obviously. You know revision does actually help. You really b uckled down these last few weeks. I wouldn t be surprised if you do quite well o n all of your exams." Harry nodded her agreement. Neither would I. He s been trying really hard, hasn t he? Ever since "Oi! Thanks for that insult wrapped in a compliment, Mione. Really, I m right ch uffed." "So what did you put down for the essay question on the back?" Hermione asked Ro n innocently. Ron stopped walking. He had gone white as a sheet. "Essay on the ESSAY ON THE BAC K? PROFESSOR BINS, WAIT!" Harry giggled as Ron dashed after the ghost. "Ohhhh, that was horrible, Hermione ." "I know, but I had to take him down a peg or two." Hermione put an arm around he r shoulder and Harry couldn t help but flinch. Hermione pulled her arm away quic kly and said, "Oh Harry, I m sorry." "It s fine. It s just with everyone except Ron it just happens. It s not you. Here ." Harry grabbed her arm and slung it over her shoulder. "See? It s just when pe ople reach out at me I kind of flash back." Hermione s eyes moistened. "I understand Harry, you don t have to explain" She si ghed and put her head on Harry s shoulder. "I should have been there with you." "What? So he could have gotten at you too? No, I m happy you weren t there, Mion e." Hermione smiled widely at Harry s use of Ron s pet name for her. "I do ever so l ike it when you both call me that. It it makes me feel" Harry hugged her tight. "Yeah." They heard Ron yelling around the corner long before they actually saw him. "Mio ne! That wasn t bloody funny!" "Au contraire, Ron!" Hermione pulled back and wiped at her eyes. "I m still laug hing!" Ron stalked back towards them in a huff. "Well, that was a cruel way to suddenly develop a sense of What s this then?" He gestured towards Hermione s wet cheeks.

Hermione patted him on the chest. "Nothing to worry about," she said and walked away down the hall. When Ron turned to Harry for an explanation, she grinned and mimicked Hermione. They spent the rest of the day down by the lake, lounging against a thick oak tr ee as they watched a group of students tickle the giant squid. While Ron and Her mione were bickering about the importance of revision, Harry wrote a letter to G inny. She still hadn t told her yet. Ever since the forest, her letters to Ginny had g otten shorter, less descriptive. How could she write about trivial things when a ll that was ever on her mind was a pair of spidery hands clenching and tearing a t her? How could she tell her what had happened in a letter? Harry felt horrible as well. She had promised that they d only have one secret. Dear Gin, Soon we get to see each other again. Just one more week. And then a few more wee ks after that, we get to spend an entire year together! I want to explain why my letters have been so short, but I can t, not on paper. I need you to be there w ith me when I talk about it. So this summer I will. I made a promise. One secret only. Exams went well. I think Ron did better than I did in bloody History of M agic. I was just staring through Professor Bins for half the exam. Hope you re n ot doing too many chores. I miss you, Harry She folded up the letter and put it in her bag to send later that night. It was a nice day out. It wasn t hot enough to be uncomfortable and there was a very nice breeze running across them from the water. Harry flipped the hourglass and the tangy scent of oak was replaced by strawberries. It warmed her heart. The light breeze buffeted strongly against her face. Alice s soft humming turned into an opera. Ron and Hermione s heartbeats sounded like that annoying popping that Seamus did with his lips while he was reading. She closed her eyes, listening; feeling everything. She was walking slowly up to the Owlry. She knew that tonight was the night. Wit h Dumbledore gone, she would have a clear path. She had learned the secret of th e dog; music it was so simple. She had found Snape s answer to the potion riddle. .. everything else would be child s play. Tonight, she and her master would beco me invincible. On last time, she skimmed over the parchment in her hand, marveling at the wonde rful craftsmanship of her forged letter. Cher Albus, Some troubling Veela uprisings are taking place all over my country. There will soon be blood in the streets. Please, I would greatly appreciate your help in ad vising the French Government on the proper course of action. If you could meet m e at the Ministry, I would be ever grateful. Cordialement, Franois Delacour Yes Obscure enough to draw him out Perfect. To her increasing delight, as she pushed open the Owlry door, she found a small girl standing just inside. Her hair, tied back with a little pink ribbon, was lo ng, blonde, and slightly curly; her skin: light, pink, and delicious. Oh how she wanted to tear it off her; to watch the girl s eyes as she flayed the flesh fro m bone. She vaguely recalled that the girl s name was Brown. Perhaps a little snack in celebration. I ll just hold off on the flaying Well, I l l try to, at least. The girl sent off her owl and turned towards her. "Oh hello, Professor Quirrell. How are you today?" She shut the door with an unbreakable locking charm. The girl s eyes widened slightly. She stalked forward and hit the precious little thing with the strongest body bi nd she could muster. "Quirrell not now," cried her master. "There is little time. You will have your f

ill after we obtain the Stone!" "Please, Master," she begged. "Just this one. Look at her fear! It s so tasty." The little girl s eyes were darting about the room searching for escape. "Very well, Quirrell, but make it a partial bind I do enjoy their screams." She threw a silencing charm on the door and flicked her wand at the girl, who im mediately began to scream, crying out for help that wouldn t come as her body la y still as stone. She pounced on the girl, ripping her clothes eagerly. She frowned at the girl s developing bust line. It was much too big for her usua l tastes, but she would take what she could get. She roughly trailed her hands all over, pinching and grabbing every little delic ious bit of the girl. She wanted to cut her. She wanted to tear her, but there w ould be questions if she did. The Brown girl s pathetic high-pitched screams aroused her so very much; the pus h of her weak accidental magic, even more so. She didn t waste time. She pushed aside her robes, released herself, and plunged into Brown s tiny, tight, undevel oped entrance. The flesh inside the girl tore around her length and the little b arrier snapped with the force of her entry. Ahhh yes. She withdrew and saw the vast amounts of blood glistening all over. Her heart fl uttered with pure joy and she slid back in. The girl had stopped screaming. Her eyes had rolled into the back of her head; s he had clearly gone into shock. She felt her master sigh disappointedly. She finished quickly and stood, heart still racing. She tidied both the girl and herself, repaired the girl s clothes, and healed what she could. There was no r eason to not observe the niceties. "Ennervate." The girl s blue eyes rolled back into place and she again began to scream shrilly at the sight of her. "Obliviate." The girl s face went slack. She removed the memory, released the body-bind, unlocked the door, and bent down to shake the girl awake. "M-m-Miss Brown. Miss B-b-b-Brown. Are y-y-you quite a l-alright?" The girl came back to herself. She looked around, totally confused. "Miss B-b-Brown you had a t-t-t-terrible f-fall. D-do you n-n-need me to escort y-you to the H-h-h-Hospital Wing?" "Oh oh no, Professor, but thank yoHarry was jerked awake by a splash of cold water. Her scar was burning like it n ever had before. It was like a white hot knife plunging into her skull. as she s creamed and clutched it. A cacophony of voices assaulted her ears, all talking a t once. "Sweet Merlin! Did you see her eyes? Freaky." "Harry! Harry! What can I do?" "Harry, let us help you." "Is that Potter?" "What s wrong with the crazy bint now?" "You shut your bloody fat mouth, Flint." "Merlin! Look her head is bleeding." "How long has she been screaming?" "Serves her right, after losing those points." "Don t make me deck you, Ernie." "And after he hits you-" "We ll hit you too." "It ll be great fun. A Weasley family beating. Fred, grab her other arm; Ron, ge t her legs." When the pain finally died down to a searing ache, Harry found herself staring u p at a starry sky. She could just make out a red star that was particularly brig ht, shining from behind a darkened cloud. Great Hall nighttime QUIRRELL!

Harry sat up sharply and found Hermione s bushy hair right in front of her. She grabbed her friend and shouted at the top of her cracked, weak voice, "HERMIONE! " The girl jumped and turned to Harry, her eyes wide. "Oh, Harry, thank g- mmph!" Gasping for breath, Harry smothered Hermione s mouth with her hand, looking deep ly into her brown eyes. "Mione, Not Snape Quirrell forest Quirrell Lavender." Harry looked around, still panting. Only a few students were in the Great Hall, playing cards, gobstones, chess and all of them were staring at her. "Where s Ron?" Harry asked frantically "Right behind you," Ron said, tapping her shoulder. She stood and pulled them both up with her. "Where s Lavender Brown?" "Up in your room I expect," said Ron slowly. "Why? One minute you re screaming i n your sleep and the next minute you need Lavender?" Harry what the bloody hell is going on? What happened?" She ran down the length of the Great Hall and yelled back at them, "Follow me!" Professor McGonagall was in the Entrance Hall, cleaning up sapphires from a brok en Ravenclaw Hourglass. Harry skidded to an abrupt halt. "Professor! Has the Headmaster gone to the Mini stry?" "Potter What on earth-" "Has he?" she yelled frantically. The stern woman nodded slowly. "Whyyes, Potter, he has. How did you-" Harry dartied up the stairs towards the common room, Ron and Hermione following behind her. She tore through the portrait hole and up to her dorm. Lavender was in her bed, intently reading Witch Weekly. "Lavender!" Harry tore across the room and grabbed the girl by the shoulders. "L avender please tell me you didn t meet Professor Quirrell in the Owlry today. Ple ase." The girl s eyes widened with shock. Harry shook her roughly. "Lavender! I swear, this is important! Tell me!" "Oh um yes, I did, actually. He helped me up after I fell. How could that be impor tant to anything?" Harry moaned miserably. This really happened. She looked up at the blonde girl, who was staring at her quizzically. Do I do I tell her what happened to her? Lavender put down her magazine and placed a hand lightly over Harry s own. "Harr y, you look like you ve seen death. Your head is all bloody too!" Ron and Hermione finally caught up with her. "Harry, what in the blazes?" wheezed Ron. I can t tell her. She ll go mad. Harry leaned over and hugged Lavender tightly. "I m so sorry." Leaving Lavender stunned, she got up and went over to her trunk, pulled out her invisibility cloak, and walked out of the dorm. "Ron, Hermione, come on, I ll ex plain." Down in the common room she found a corner and sat on the floor. Ron and Hermion e sat on either side of her. "Okay. Here s how it is. When I augment my magic an d go to sleep, I can t dream. It s absolutely impossible. I just float in my mag ic. I fell asleep by the tree and I had a dream. Except, it wasn t a dream! It wa s a vision of what was happening at that exact moment, because the things I drea mt about have actually happened! Quirrell he he is Voldemort. They share bodies. They talk to each other! Quirrell he he did things to Lavender; things he didn t have a chance to do to me in the forest. He made Lavender forget and think that she merely fell over. He sent a fake summons to Dumbledore from the Ministry! It wasn t Snape at all. It s been Quirrell all along! Do you both understand what I m saying?" Hermione nodded quickly while Ron nodded slowly. Harry breathed out heavily. "He knows how to get past Fluffy. He lured Dumbledor e away. Tonight is the night and I m going to stop him. "Harry, no! We have to go to a teacher!" cried Hermione.

"They won t believe us, Mione! Quirrell helped protect the stone! We have to get it." Hermione was shook her head. "But, Harry, how are we going to stop him? How are we going to beat him? He s a Hogwarts Professor!" Harry ran a hand through her hair in frustration. "I I don t know. But I m going anyway!" Ron squeezed her arm. "Me too, Harry." Hermione bit her lip. "I hate this but Well, I can t very well let you both go off without me again, now can I? So, how do we get past the dog?" Harry took her hand reassuringly. "With music and I ve got just the thing." She rushed back upstairs to her trunk and dug around for Hagrid s flute. Alice slid down her arm, tangling into her little bit of ribbon from Christmas. "You are a mosst fretful misstresss, Chica. Alwayss the running and the sscreami ng. It makess me mosst upsset." Harry rubbed the little snake under its chin, leaned down, and whispered, "Stay here. If I don t come back, find Ginny. She ll Well, just go be her ally, okay?" The dormitory door closed behind her with a soft click and Harry whirled around. Lavender was leaning against it, hands behind her back, eyes cast downward. "Ha rry," she muttered quietly. "I was I was eavesdropping... downstairs." Oh bugger. Lavender looked up and her dark blue eyes bore into Harry s own from across the room. "What What did he do to me then?" Harry sighed and walked over to her, taking Lavender s hand in both of hers. "La vender please. You you don t want to-" "Don t I have the right to know?" "You do but I don t want to tell you." Harry tried to convey the absolute horribl eness of what she knew down through her hands. "Please Lavender don t make me tel l you. I can t tell you. You saw what I was like after after the forest. How I st ill flinch. What he did to you was was so much worse." Lavender gave her a stoic look. "It was awful," whispered Harry, shuddering. "Look, he he did you a favor with th at memory charm." The blonde girl folded her arms and asked slowly, "Does it have to do with Is it why I hurt so much?" Her eyes flicked downward. Harry couldn t bring herself to answer her, but Lavender seemed to figure it out on her own. She stepped aside. "Oh. That s Harry, are you going after him?" "Yeah." Lavender s eyes, filling with tearful shame, flashed dangerously. "Kill him." Harry was floored. "Lavender, I can t-" Lavender put her hand over her face and sank down to the ground, crying softly. Can t I? He deserves to die. Harry knelt next to Lavender, who leaned into Harry s body, mumbling, "He should he needs to bastard. I want you to kill him!" "Lavender, I have to go." Harry stood and Lavender made no move to stop her. The girl merely sank back aga inst their doorframe with her eyes closed. The common room emptied slowly. Eventually, the only people left were themselves and Neville. The boy was watching them closely. With her back turned, Harry whi spered to Hermione, "How do we get rid of him?" Hermione pulled out her wand, stuck it through the crook in her arm, and muttere d under her breath, "Really sorry about this, Neville Petrificus Totalus." Neville went slack, his eyes darting about in confusion. Harry gasped. Hands were reaching towards her, grabbing her, tearing at her. Her scream of anguish was muffled by Ron s hand. The boy pulled her to his chest, c radling her. NO! PLEASE! LET ME GO! "Mione!" Ron whispered fiercely, struggling to keep Harry in his hold. "What did you do to him?" "What? It s just a simple second-year spell Oh! Oh no. Harry... I m so sorry." He rmione s hand reached towards her and Harry panicked. She swung her legs up, kic

king at the offending hand, which caused Ron to lose his balance. They fell to t he floor with an almighty crash. Harry couldn t stop the screaming sobs from escaping her throat. The whole house would ve woken if Ron s hand hadn t been clamped tightly over mouth. Eventually, with his soft tenor whispering soothingly into her ear, she calmed. Hermione was sitting next to them, her forehead resting on Harry s arm. "Harry, I didn t think. I m sorry." Giving Ron the most grateful look she could manage, Harry sat up and wrapped an arm around Hermione s waist. "It s alright, just Maybe a different spell next tim e?" She pushed herself to her feet and walked over to Neville s armchair. Sitting on the chair s edge, she placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Neville, Look at me." His eyes darted up to meet her own. "Don t be afraid," said Harry. "It has to be this way. You d either try to stop us or follow us. Either way you d get hurt. Voldemort is in the castle, Neville. I have to find him and stop him. When this spell wears off, if you still feel l ike you need to do something, go to McGonagall. Tell her that someone is after t he stone and that I ve gone after them. Sorry again, Nev. Alright. Let s go." When Harry saw the open door on the third floor, the reality of the situation cr ashed down upon her. Quirrell was somewhere below them, perhaps already in posse ssion of the stone. "We need to hurry." Fluffy collapsed in slumber as soon as Harry played the first note on the flute. Ron shoved the dog s rather large paw out of the way and pulled open the heavy t rapdoor. Peering down into it, he paled and said, "Well... ladies first." Harry handed the flute to Ron and before anyone could protest, she jumped down i nto the pit. She hit something soft and moving. Hermione and Ron landed next to her with loud THWUMPS. Ron laughed loudly. "Oh. A terrifying drop onto a marshmallow. How is that even remo-MMPH" Something was creeping up Harry s leg. She leapt up and darted for the barely vi sible wall. Hermione had sensibly done the same on the other side of the room. "LUMOS" Harry cried. The blazing sun exploded from the tip of her wand and what she saw made her legs tremble. Giant vines were wrapped around Ron, covering his face. They were inch ing towards Hermione and herself as well. The vines slowly pulled at Ron s torso and limbs. Harry could just make out his muffled scream of pain. Hermione gasped. "Oh no! This is THIS IS DEVIL S SNARE! WE LEARNED ABOUT IT, HARR Y! REMEMBER?" The vines had Ron completely entangled. There was a sickening popping noise as h is arm was wrenched violently behind him and his yelling intensified tenfold. Hermione was panicking and screaming at her from across the chamber, "HARRY... W HAT DO I DO?" Harry shrieked as a vine wrapped itself up her leg and pulled her down to the gr ound, dragging her slowly toward the main mass of plant. She cried out overtop o f Ron s muffled cries, "I DON T PAY ATTENTION IN BLOODY HERBOLOGY, HERMIONE! KIL L IT OR ITS GOING TO RIP HIM IN HALF!" Harry tried to crawl away from the vine, but another wrapped around her midsecti on and violently jerked her backwards. Her wand flew out of her hand and clatter ed across the stone floor, thrusting them once again into darkness. Harry heard Ron s other shoulder pop out of its socket and her heart lurched mis erably when she heard his much softer weaker cry of pain. "HERMIONE PLEASE. RON! Hermione was muttering to herself frantically. "I Devil s Snare I don t it I can t r emember!" Wind was swirling around them in the darkness. Harry s magic was pulsing, her bo dy was burning. There was a loud THWUMP, a few moments pause, and a sudden cry of, "INCENDIO!" A great burst of flame lit up the chamber. Harry shielded her eyes in the bright

light, but she could still see him; Neville; pudgy bumbling Neville; Neville, w ho could barely manage a levitation charm, was driving back the Devil s Snare. Hermione echoed Neville s spell and Harry watched as the plant slithered away fr om the flame, retreating into a corner. Harry and Ron were both released from the vines, the latter dumped unceremonious ly onto the stone floor. Harry jumped up and ran to him. She grabbed his arms an d pulled him into the tunnel beyond. "Come on!" she shouted to Hermione and Nevi lle, who were still shooting fire at the plant. Harry pulled Ron s heavy body all the way down a sloping tunnel. When it flatten ed, she laid him on the ground and hugged his chest tight. "Oh Ron I thought for a moment" Ron s body heaved and he sobbed softly in pain. "Harry my arms" "Hush," she whispered, cupping his cheek. "I know. Dislocated. Happened to me th ree times in Quidditch practice. Easy fix though; pops right back in. Neville, c ome help me." Ripping off a part of her shirt at the seam, she directed Neville to press down on Ron s shoulder and said in her best bedside manner, "Ron, bite down on this, because Well, this is going to hurt alot. "Ey" he said through the cloth, "ken be wors den-" She wrenched his arm upward. "AGGGHHHHHHHHH! MUHWIN S BWOODY BAWWS!" His face scrunched in horrific pain as t he ball slid back into its socket. She straddled Ron s waist. "Neville, other arm quick." Ron huffed heavily. "No... don... Wai a mo- AGHHHH!" Panting, Harry brushed her hair back behind her ear, kissed Ron s cheek, and fel l back against the floor. If Neville hadn t come Cradling Ron s moaning head in her lap, Hermione asked. "Neville, how on earth d id you get down here?" Neville laughed nervously. "Well I I overheard you in the common room saying you were going somewhere. I I was going to stop you, but when you said you were going after Voldemort Well, I know I m not good at most things, but I had to help. Almo st got nicked by Filch. And I I sang to get past the dog." Harry couldn t stop the laugh that bubbled up and out of her chest. Hermione grabbed the pudgy boy and pulled him down into a tight embrace. "Oh Nev ille you just saved all of our lives. I m so sorry about the body-bind." Neville rubbed the back of his head bashfully. "N-No worries. Gave me time to th ink about what I wanted to do, I suppose." Ron weakly held out his arm to Neville who gripped it with his own. "Nev I can t even tell you how grateful I am." He grinned slyly. "Next time Malfoy gives you trouble, you come to me and I ll deal with him. I ve decked him enough that he a ctually flinches when I move my arm too suddenly. I ve made a nice little game o ut of it." Harry crawled over to them and took Neville s hand. "And next time Snape gets on your case, I ll charm his hair pink." She stood and wiped off her skirt, saying resolutely, "After that I I don t want to go on, but we have to. Ron, can you st and?" Ron grimaced. "Oh sure I just can t feel my arms. Help me up, would you?" The four of them walked down the long tunnel and emerged into a brightly lit roo m. The ceiling, as high as the Great Hall s, could almost not be seen due to the mass of birds flying below it. Hermione, with her eyes on the birds, cautiously walked across the room to the d oor on the other side. She turned the handle. "Locked. Alohomora!" The lock jiggled, but the door remained sealed. The birds above them flapped gracefully around the high ceiling, tinkling softly . Wait a moment tinkling? Harry flipped the hourglass and suddenly the birds or rather, flying keys, were r ight in front of her eyes. "They re keys! I bet my Nimbus one of them unlocks th at door!" She spotted the broomsticks on the ground and grinned widely. "Cake."

A broomstick flew into Harry s hand as she ran at them. Laughing madly, she leap t into the air and pulled the broom beneath her mid-jump. Soaring upward, immers ing herself amongst the keys, she easily found one that stood out. It was loopin g around a torch, wing bent, and trying to hide. She dove for it and the key sho t off in the opposite direction. However, the battered old broom didn t quite se em up to the chase. Desperate measures then. Harry chased it wantonly, watching its every move. As the key tried to reverse d irection around a beam, she put on a burst of speed, lowered a leg, and latched her foot onto the support. Using her foot as leverage, Harry spun around the bea m, slingshotted out of the risky turn at a phenomenal speed, and caught the litt le thing with a shout of triumph. Back on the ground, Ron was staring at her open mouthed. "A BALLENTINE TURN! Are you kidding me, Harry? Please won t you play for the Canons?" Turning the key in the lock, Harry smirked and punched him in the arm. "Ha! Didn t feel a thing! Devil s Snare: One; Potter: Zero." The room beyond was pitch black. Hermione tried to light her wand, but the black haze seemed to suck in the light. They slowly walked forward into the dark, pla cing their feet carefully in front of them. As soon as they were all inside, the door behind them slammed shut and the room was flooded with light. A giant chessboard lay before them; black on their side, white on the opposite. Another door, just like the one they had passed through, lay beyond the white se t. Harry ran toward it, but right when she reached the front line of white pawns , the pieces came alive. The pawn in front of her swung his stone shield vicious ly into her chest, knocking her back a good ten feet. Winded, she coughed and spat crimson onto the smooth, white, marble square she h ad landed in. "Bugger." Ron s hand fell on her shoulder. "You alright, mate?" Harry nodded, coughing up the last of the blood, and wiped her mouth. "Well," said Ron. "I guess we play across. Alright my turn I suppose. We ll need t o take the places of pieces and I ll need to keep all of you active so right Welsh Gambit. We ll all get on the same side. Mione you take that Rook, I ll take the Knight, Neville the Bishop, and Harry, you take the Queen." As soon as he said it, the four side-by-side pieces walked off the board and Har ry felt a heavy something fall softly on her hair. She reached up and felt cool thick metal. Hermione giggled. "Nice crown, Harry. This is obviously McGonagall s and Flitwic k s. I ve seen them playing together every now and then." When they took their squares, a white pawn slid forward two spaces. Ron furrowed his brow and Harry saw his face morph into that of Chess Ron s. "Right then," said Chess Ron. "Here we go." When the other black knight took the first white piece, they all gasped in shock . The knight had drawn his blade and lopped off the head of the smaller white pa wn. The game became increasingly brutal after that. Harry tried to keep up with Ron s thought process, analyzing his rapid orders and attempting to play out gam es in her head, but she was always behind him. Ron s moves made no sense to her. "Harry, B4." "Knight to E3" "Pawn to C4" "Neville, G5 yeah. That space there." "Mione, D1 Yup, that one." The game dragged on and on. Ron kept them all from being taken, but they were bl eeding pieces, and Ron s moves became much slower. He was most likely playing ga mes to the end in his head. A guarded pawn loomed ever closer to her square. It slid into the space diagonal from her own, its blade gleaming in the light. She cried out to him from across the board. "Ron, I m about to get taken!" He smiled at her sadly. "No, you re not, Harry. Look at the board." Harry stared around at the pieces, playing out games as far as she could. And th en she saw it. Sinking down to the floor she moaned at him. "No Ron, you you can t

! I almost lost you already. Please." Hermione cried out, "What? What is it?" Ron s twinkling crystal blue eyes bore into her. "I made a promise, didn t I? Ne ver again." You stupid noble bugger! Harry wanted to slap him. "Ron, just try with the other Rook! It it might work." "No I have a feeling they won t take the bait. It s too obvious." He gave her his manic I just won at Chess grin. "But this way, we win and you all stay safe. Good way to go out." Hermione had caught on. "NO! Don t you dare, Ronald Weasley! Let s just start ov er. We can-" The pawn next to her suddenly had its knife to Harry s throat. Every piece on th e board had drawn their weapons and was pointing it at one of them. Ron laughed hollowly and said, "Yeah, thought that would happen." He yelled to t he surrounding room, "It s alright! We re staying to finish." The pieces replace d their blades as one. "Besides, the Queen has just been smashing pieces with he r fists. I might be okay." Harry couldn t look at him anymore. "Ron please I" "Yeah me too, Harry; Hermione, you as well. I m sorry I was such a bugger to you at first. Neville, sorry I didn t get to know you better. Harry you... you look after Gin for me." "Ron, stop! Please! We can Oh godI can t watch you do this!" Ron stepped out of his square, moved forward, and said, "Check." Harry shut her eyes and covered her ears, but she still heard Hermione s scream and Neville s yell. It was torment to her ears. With her eyes still closed, she said in a quavering voice, "Hermione! Take the Queen and and say check. " The Queen s crown clattered against the marble. "Check. She heard the white King slide into the only place it could. "Neville. Move diag onally to the left and forward three. Say check. " "Check." Harry opened her eyes, keeping them trained on the floor. She walked past the pa wn to the edge of the board and cried out in anguish, "Checkmate!" The White King s crown sailed to her feet. Harry ran to Ron as fast as she could and slammed into his prone form. His head was oozing blood in a steady stream. "No Ron please come back to me please please Ron we have to go back to the Burrow" Shaking him lightly, she pleaded, "We have to g o flying, yeah?" She pawed softly at his neck, crying into his chest. "Please Ro n come back." He lay still and her heart broke. My parents my best mate... oh Ron. Red eyes bore into her soul. A high cold laugh echoed about in her mind. Trying to keep his stomach inside his body. A knife dripping with blood. Bleeding, beaten to her last breath, her heart slowing. Hands around her throat, watching the life drain away from her. Roasting in a towering inferno of flaming horses. Her children torn and clawed by the hands of the dead. "So tasty." "Make it a partial bind I do enjoy their screams." "He should he needs to bastard. I want you to kill him!" I hate you. I hate you. I hate you! I HATE YOU! I LL KILL YOU! Harry screamed in rage, angry tears streaming down her face. Gale storm winds bu ffeted Hermione and Neville to the ground. Her core raged and seethed; her skin burned with white fire; her heart pumped a million times a second. Turning around, she barreled through the now open door. She hurtled over the leg of a dead troll. The next door blew apart before she even reached it. She ran d own a tunnel of searing hot black flame. It burned, but only just; the wind batt ering it down to the ground.

Bursting into the open, Harry saw a familiar very mirror resting upon a raised p latform; saw the man standing in front of it; saw the familiar turban and knew wh at lay beneath it. Quirrell turned to her, "Ahhh, Potter. How absolutely delicio-" Whipping out her wand, she cried out with all pain she felt in her heart; with a ll the pain of those she had watched Voldemort murder. "EXPULSO!" The bright sun within her rushed down her arm and the shockwave that exploded fr om the tip of her wand rocked the entire chamber. Quirrell, too slow to react, w as blown off the platform. He flew backwards into the hard stone wall twenty fee t away. She ran forward and cried again, "EXPULSO!" Quirrell was crushed into the ground. She heard several satisfying cracks. Both the man, and the monster, screamed in pain. She cast the spell again, pointing a t his face but this time he was ready for her. "Protego!" he yelled out. A shimmering wall of air erupted in front of him and Harry was thrown backwards by her rebounding curse. She landed hard, but her tumultuous anger toward this m onster spurred her to get up and fight. "LOCOMOTOR MORTIS!" she screamed. Quirrell swatted away her leg locker curse as if it were an annoying gnat. His f ace was curled into a twisted smile as he strode purposefully toward her. Dismayed, Harry s rage flickered to fear and she cried out desperately, "Incendi o!" Again, Quirrel didn t speak, merely flicked his wand, dissolving the flames into nothingness. This exchange continued for some time. Quirrell never tried to come close enough to grab her, he simply stayed in close range, smiling at her and knocking away or reflecting all of her spells. When Quirrell spoke, his voice was laced with sickening laughter and showed no t race of his signature stutter. "Really, Potter? First year curses and jinxes aga inst Quentin Quirrell, Vassal to Lord Voldemort? The Dark Lord whispers his terr ible knowledge into my very ear. What next? Charms?" Good idea, you bastard! She focused her mind on a simple sharpened arrow and heatedly whispered, "Apparo !" With a sharp twist of her wand, the conjured arrow flew toward Quirrell, burrowi ng deeply into his right shoulder. He growled in pain, but her victory was short lived. She was horrified as Quirrell vanished the arrow and drew his wand across the wo und. The flesh slid shut with a soft slick. Quirell s smirk returned to his face and he hissed menacingly, "Ah yes, I forgot. Flitwick s newly found prodigy. A master conjurer at the age of eleven. Well, girl, since you insist, we shall play rough NOX ARGENTUS!" Harry only just barely managed to dodge; a black streak of lightning singing her hair. The curse bore the smell of acrid smoke. Quirrell followed up with a red curse that slammed into her shoulder. White hot knives pierced every inch of her skin. Her bones burned. Every nerve i n her body was screaming in agony; screaming as she did. And then it was gone as quickly as it had come. Harry fell to her hands and knee s, body still twitching from the curse. Leaning against a pillar, Quirrell twirl ed his wand lazily between his fingers and asked breathily "Did you enjoy that, Potter? I did." Harry got up and ran as fast as she could around the Mirror, conjuring four more arrows. Quirrell, batting the arrows away as he had done her jinxes, slashed his wand do wnwards. An arc of purple light flew towards her face. Harry dodged back behind the Mirror, which trembled with the impact of the spell , glowed, and shot it right back at Quirrell. He only just managed to move out o

f the way. A high cold voice echoed out from the turban, "Do not hit the mirror, fool! Ceas e your game." Harry heard Quirrell snap his fingers and ropes sprang around her body. He was He was toying with me She rose up and flew through the air. It was as if a large hand had grabbed her and pulled her to Quirrell s side, holding her an inch off the ground. The man ran a finger across her shoulder and down her chest. He pinched her nipp le roughly and Harry screamed in protest as she flashed back to the forest and t he Owlry. Quirrell moaned with sickening delight. "Ahh, your scream is so sweet; I can tas te the fear. It drips with it. Perhaps, a little more" His hand drifted downward to her skirt and he grabbed at her sex roughly through the cloth. Harry s choking, screaming cries were met by pitiless ears. She fiercely fought against the ropes, but to no avail. Quirrell s face was inches from her own, his merciless black eyes boring into he r own tearful ones. "Cease Quirrell! There is no time!" Quirrell moved his lips close to her ear and she shivered in fear as once again, she felt his breath on her neck. "It s a shame I cannot touch your skin without feeling pain. I could do such wonderful things to you. It is also a shame we ha ve so little time together, Potter. I must examine this Mirror. Perhaps we can p lay more after. Now sit." He waved his wand and something invisible and thick sla mmed into her stomach, knocking her over off the platform. Quirrel stepped in front of the mirror. "I see myself holding the stone; present ing it to you, Master. But I cannot reach it" As Quirrel muttered to himself, Harry lay on the ground shivering, her mind shif ting hopelessly from each terrible thought to the next. No one is coming to save me. Quirrell is going to get the stone. Voldemort is going to live forever. Qui rrell will touch me. He ll torture me. I m going to die here. Quirrell will make it painful. Ron is gone. I ll never see Ginny again. A hand clamped over her mouth and a voice whispered in her ear, "Don t scream. D on t speak." Oh thank God. Hermione! She s got the cloak! Harry was intensely glad Quirrell was turned or he would have seen part of her h ead disappear. Hermione s voice became even quieter. "Ron s alive. I sent a letter to Dumbledor e. Stall him. I ll be here." The hand lifted. She could only process two words of what Hermione had just said. Ron s alive. Ron s alive? Ron s alive! RON S ALIVE! A large piece of her heart soared back into its proper place. "Master! My deepest desire is to find it! Why can I not?" Harry flashed back to an overheard conversation and to a mirror covered in blazin g gold gibberish. "I promise you, Nicholas. It will remain untouched. The enchantments I will plac e will not allow anyone that wishes to use it, to retrieve it." I don t want to use it In her mind, she felt a creeping tendril retract quickly. Voldemort s voice whis pered to Quirrell through the turban. "Use the girl. She knows the truth." Bugger. Quirrell snapped his fingers and the ropes disappeared. "Yes Potter, come here." Harry obediently got up and walked toward the mirror. "Tell me what you seem" said Quirrell, pushing her in front of the golden clawed feet. Harry didn t see her family. She didn t even see the Weasleys. She saw two people. One was her own reflection. Her pale face was cut; stained w

ith dirt and blood. Her slightly pointed chin had a severe burn that she only ju st now started to feel. Her hair, as messy as ever, was limp with grime and swea t. Everything about her screamed "dead girl walking." Everything except her eyes. They were twinkling and staring down at a dark-red stone resting within the cup ped palm of the other occupant of the mirror. Ginny had her arm around Harry s shoulders. Oh Gin. I have to see you again. Please let me see you again. Help me. Ginny gave her a radiant smile and winked. She leaned over and gave her reflecti on a long lingering kiss on the cheek whilst slipping the blood- colored stone i nto the side-pocket of Harry s skirt as she did so. Something heavy slid against Harry s thigh. Oh Merlin. Right stall him. Harry put on her most convincing voice and said softly, "I I see myself, with my family alive." "Lies," whispered the turban. Quirrell grabbed her hair and wrenched upward. "Potter, tell the truth, what did you see?" Harry said nothing and felt the tendril enter her mind once again. Desperate, no t knowing if it would work, she pictured her mind in the form of a hammer and sl ammed it down on the end of the intrusion. It withdrew and Quirrell flinched awa y from her. Voldemort laughed cruelly. "Ahhh, yes, girl. Crude in method yet effective. You a re most gifted at mind-magic for one so young. Dumbledore s would be apprentice, indeed. Quirrell I will speak with her face to face. Unveil me!" "Master, you are not yet strong enough." "Do not question me. I have strength enough for this." Quirrell unwrapped his turban. Had Harry not been expecting this horrible visage with burning red eyes, she would have screamed. For it was, if anything, horrib le, sinister... and evil. When their eyes met, Harry felt another, much thicker tendril creep into her min d. She looked away quickly and tried to hammer on it like before, but the tendri l remained, worming its way into her memories. She closed doors left and right; doors with her friends, doors with her magic, doors with her past. Voldemort, ho wever, didn t seem the least bit interested in any of this, for he was only look ing for one thing. The Stone... might as well give it to him. She brought it to the forefront of her mind and the tentacle retreated. Harry sa w the open door... and stepped through it. Kill her, Kill her, Kill Her, Kill Her! Voldemort hissed softly, "Most appreciated, girl; so like your mother. I killed your father first. He put up a courageous fight. I will even go as far as to say one of my greatest. Your mother, however, did not resist. She begged me to take her life instead of your own. How foolish of me" His snake-like face contorted into a gleeful smile. "I will spare your life Harr y, if you only give me the stone that lies in your pocket." Harry backed away slowly. "That s a lie. You re an evil bugger and you ll kill m e anyway. A far greater wizard than you told me that a door once opened, can be stepped through in either direction. And that thought Well, it s sitting right on your welcome mat!" "True... Kill her!" Quirrell spun and raised his wand. "AVADA KEDAVRA!" Harry saw the flash of green in slow motion. She dived to the side, tucking into a roll, and screamed, "MIONE, NOW! EXPULSO!" "PETRIFICUS TOTALUS!" Quirrell quickly shielded her explosion curse, but Hermione s body-bind hit home from behind. Quirrell toppled face first and when he hit the ground, Harry hear d the sharp satisfying crack of his wand snapping. Harry conjured some ropes and tied Quirrell s frozen hands behind his back. Voldemort s enraged, frozen face glared up at her as she stood over him. Harry leveled her wand squarely between the sickening eyes.

"H-Harrywhat are you doing?" questioned Hermione hesitantly. The Red Eyes they were manic; filled with hate. She had only seen eyes like that in one other place: Dumbledore s memory. The man. The crazed man. Harry knew the spell. It was in her mind as clear as day; how to cast it; how to speak it she had lived it. All she had to do was gather her nearly exhausted mag ic, mutter the words, and Voldemort would disappear in a colossal wave of fire. Her hand shook. Do it. He s helpless So were you. Ron s alive. Your parents aren t. I can t! Quirrell deserves it. They both do. I just can t. Do it I ca Do it Do it Do it "Do it" she mumbled to no one. "INCENDIOS GRA" Her wand flew out of her hand, sailing across the room to be snatched deftly out of the air by none other, than Albus Dumbledore. His eyes crinkled as he gave h er an understanding smile. "Harry, while you more than anyone deserves to finish that spell, I do not wish for you to become a killer today. These jobs are ulti mately best left to old men, like myself." He strode over and placed a comfortin g hand on her shoulder. As soon as he touched her, her body let go of every litt le bit of adrenaline she had left. Every pain, ache, burn, cut, scrape, and bruise on her body suddenly made itself known. She sagged against the Headmaster and he caught her, holding her to his hip. "He touched me tortured me I need to" "Quirrell and Voldemort will assuredly meet their end tonight, Harry, but it wil l not be by your hand. Revenge is a most dangerous road, one I urge you not to v enture down." He pointed his wand down at Voldemort and gave the monster a disap pointed look, as if he were chastising a student. Voldemort s eyes bulged in wha t could have been rage, but looked more to Harry like fear. Dumbledore spoke soft ly, "Till next time then, Tom. Incendios Grata." The spell did not explode like in the Headmaster s memory, but rather, fell soft ly and calmly, bathing Quirell and Voldemort in fire as hot as the sun. She want ed to look away, but she needed to see them burn; needed to see the dying face o f the one that had caused her such pain. There was no scream. Silence reigned as the flame burned away the gleaming red s tare. Harry closed her eyes in relief. You destroyed me. You killed us. I should kill you where you stand." Harry awoke with a start. The world was blurry. Someone had removed her glasses. She could see nothing except that she was in a hospital bed with the partitions drawn. It was dark. Still night then. "Alas, you will not. You are a good man. And even if you did try, I do not think you would succeed. If you attempt such an act then you are more a fool than the Stone s seeker." That s Dumbledore. Harry made to sit up, but found she couldn t move a muscle; it was dreadfully pa inful to even try. There was a slapping sound of flesh hitting flesh; a sound she was intimately fa miliar with from her time at the Dursleys. A backhand. "Do not speak to me that way, boy!" The man s angered voice echoed with waves of

power that she could feel in her bones. It pulsed with a feel of impossibility; timelessness. "I am Nicholas Blaise-Flamel! Merlin Ambrosius suckled at my wife s teat! I, his teacher, beat him for words of such insolence!" "You re being-" Flamel s cutting tone cresendoed to a mighty roar that felt like it shook the wa lls of the castle. "NO! I RAISED THE GREAT TEMPLE OF STONEHENGE WITH A WAVE OF MY STAFF! I SAW THE RISE OF ARTHUR; SAW HIS BLOODY FALL AT MORDRED S DARK BLADE! I HAVE TOUCHED THE BARK OF YGGDRASIL ITSELF; BASKED IN ITS UNHOLY LIGHT! I AM THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD RIC GRYFFINDOR! SALAZAR THE BLACK DIED BY MY WAND! I DO NOT CARE IF YOU ARE THE MOST POWERFUL WIZARD IN THE WORLD, APPRENTICE! I AM THE ONCOMING STORM AND YOU WI LL SHOW ME RESPECT!" Silence and then "I am sorry, Nicholas." Professor Dumbledore s voice was quiet, almost cowed. "I spoke out of turn. But you must see reason. It had to be destroyed. The world c annot survive a Dark Lord that truly is immortal." Flamel spoke somberly, rage and impossibility lost in mere seconds. "You ve kill ed me; killed Perenelle. How could you, Albus? You were like a son to us." "I do not believe you are afraid to die, teacher. You glimpsed the white shores of eternity when the Elixir first touched your lips. No a man that has lived for seventeen hundred years does not fear death; he embraces it. You have lived on b orrowed time; time that was never yours; time soaked in guilt. You both of you cra ve death for I know you wish to see them again." It was a long time before either man said a word. Harry thought they had left fr om her bedside. "I am afraid, Albus; afraid of what they will say to their father to their murder er." "You made a mistake, old friend. How could you have known of the exchange? You o nly discovered the terrible price of Alchemy after you lost them." "Why do you think the stone is blood red, Albus?" Flamel cried out in an anguish ed voice, "It s because it s forged by blood! Life for life! It drained my child ren dry! Even my unborn child! They died a terrible, painful death! My wife was left barren, delivering naught but ash and bone! You have condemned me to face t heir judgment!" "Mistakes are easily forgiven, Nicholas; especially mistakes that are regretted with every fiber of your being. Really it is long since time for you to start you r next adventure with your family at your side." There was another long silence. "Will you be there when when it is time?" "Nothing would stop me, but my own end. But that is years away yet. You have eno ugh doses of Elixir to last another decade. Take Perenelle away. Do the things y ou have never done. Travel the world go to Cabo." "Ahh Cabo." Flamel said wistfully. "Yet, I do not think I could with another war on the horizon. The darkness rises once more." "Nicholas, you have fought the dark wars for millennia. It is time to lay down y our wand and leave the battles to we sprightly young folk." Dumbledore wheezed po intedly. Flamel actually chuckled. "Of all those throughout the centuries that have born my knowledge, Albus, of you I am proudest. You are a greater man than I; a great er man than Merlin, although mind you, he was an arrogant little snot rightfully so, but still." Harry heard receding footsteps. "Nicholas?" The footsteps paused. She heard Dumbledore sigh softly. "For what it is worth I am sorry." "Ah. Well, no matter. It had to be done. And you are right, Albus. It has been lo ng since time and I am so very tired." "I will write." She listened to the sounds of his feet fading into the distance. "So Harry I am most glad that you are awake."

How does he do that? A purple and white blur parted the curtain and sat on the edge of her bed. Her g lasses slid onto her face. Professor Dumbledore s smiling visage was the first thing she noticed. The secon d was the rather large pile of sweets and toilet seats stacked behind him. "Tokens from your well wishers. The events that transpired between yourself and Voldemort are a complete secret, so naturally the whole school knows. Several stu dents throughout the school are fond of the notion that you are quite keen to bl owing up toilets, and thus, have taken the liberty of doing so in your stead. It has caused Argus no small amount of heartache." Harry wanted to laugh; she did. But "Sir he is gone, right?" Dumbledore smiled at her sadly. "I believe you already know the answer to that q uestion, Harry. You have seen him; seen how he so desperately clings to life. Th is isn t the end of Voldemort, but for now yes, he is gone." Dumbledore paused an d curled a finger into his beard. "I wonder, Harry, may I once again step into y our mind? I will not walk down the corridor. I will merely graze against your su rface memories. I would like to see the events that transpired throughout your v enture down the third floor corridor." "It doesn t matter to me," said Harry slowly. "I trust you completely, Professor ." Professor Dumbledore was speechless for a moment, but then he smiled and his han d reached out to lightly clasp her shoulder. Surprisingly she didn t flinch away. "To know that you feel that way, Harry, is, to me, the greatest honor I have ev er been bestowed." While Voldemort s touch in her mind had been repulsive, Dulmbledore s was light, delicate, and friendly. She relived the whole day as if she was watching one of Dudley s many movies on fast forward. When he withdrew, they both gasped slight ly, as if they had come up for air. His hand slid off her shoulder and up to cup her cheek. His palm was wrinkled, soft against her burned and bruised skin. The Headmaster s face was filled with remorse. "My dear girl I must apologize. It was my fault. I have realized that this school is where I truly belong and where I will remain from this point forward. No more will I be tempted to involve mys elf in political affairs. I will keep a much closer watch on your well being, Ha rry." She nodded and muttered her thanks, before a question popped into her head. "Pro fessor Dumbledore, do you know why I could see into Quirrell s mind? Why I had t he vision? "Alas Harry to that question, I cannot give you a straight answer. I can only th eorize and speculate." Dumbledore scratched his thickly bearded chin and continu ed, "Perhaps you are mentally linked to Voldemort; perhaps in your augmented sta te you broke into his mind or perhaps Voldemort broke into yours; perhaps you ar e a seer; perhaps fate is sending you warning signs. When your mother sacrificed her own life to save yours, a most mysterious and powerful magic was forged bet ween you both. Your mother s love saved you from death, but we do not truly know what magics occurred that night; what occurred when death met love." "And Sir Lavender-" Dumbledore sat back and waved her off. "I will have words with her, Harry. You d id the right thing." Harry s mind was buzzing with questions. "And the Stone W-Why couldn t it just be put back into the mirror? Quirrell couldn t get at it could he? Nicholas he he de served to live." Dumbled sighed and said wearily, "I did what I had to do to protect this school; this world. The enchantments I placed on the Mirror throughout the year were me re tricks; extensions of its secret. Do you remember what I told you as we sat b efore it? Those who do not understand the secret, will never understand its imag es. Voldemort saw into your mind, Harry; saw the secret of the Mirror." Dumbledo re raised his wand and wrote in the air as if he was chalking on a board. Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. Ecna lig ivoteri fym evigi. Eci rava ot tont surt.

Suo utri veht ot edec. With a flourish of his wand, the letters rearranged themselves. I show not your face but your heart s desire. I give my fire to vigilance. Trust not to avarice. Cede to the virtuous. "So you see, Harry, knowing the secret, Voldemort would be able to unravel my en chantments on a whim. The Mirror of Erised was no longer a safe place for the St one." "So it s it s my fault that-" Dumbledore chuckled and quickly cut her off. "Of course not, dear girl. Long hav e I tried to convince Nicholas to pass on. Tonight I made the choice for him. You may call me a monster if you wish, but death is not to be feared. Nicholas knew this perhaps more than any other. You heard from his own mouth that he cared no t about living, but was afraid of what awaited him beyond death." Harry sat in silence, trying to absorb it all. Dumbledore got up and walked over to the candies, browsing the selection and mut tering something about passwords. "Ohhh yes. Quite the horde you have here, Harr y. Do you mind?" he asked, gesturing to a package of Bertie Bott s. "Help yourself, sir." Dumbledore brought the box back to the bed, pulling out a yellow bean. "Ah a most intriguing cheese flavor," he said, chewing it slowly, holding out the box to H arry. She picked out a red bean out and popped it in her mouth. Strawberry. A soft moan escaped her lips as the sweet flavor flooded her senses, soothing he r. "Do you have any more questions for me, Harry?" She didn t swallow the jellybean, but rather, kept it under her tongue until it had dissolved completely. "Quite a few, sir, but I m a bit" "Exhausted? Yes, I quite understand. You have known more pain, fear, and heartac he tonight, than what many experience in an entire lifetime. It is time for a wel l deserved rest. We will find answers to your questions another day. My office d oor is always open... and I mean that quiet literally. My gargoyle has taken qui te a liking to you. He has been in a foul mood ever since our daily sessions end ed." Dumbledore smiled, stood, and, with a little pat on Harry s hand, swiftly l eft the Hospital Wing. The next morning, she awoke to the sight of a familiar shag of red hair and twin kling crystal blue eyes; eyes she had thought she would never see open again. She raised a hand, wincing with the pain, and Ron clasped it tightly within his own palms. "Hey Harry." "Ron I can t believe you re I had thought" Harry closed her eyes, his blood soaked forehead flashing across her mind. "I thought I lost you. "Nah, look just a bump on the head. Can t get rid of me that easily, can you? Wea sleys are only allowed to go out in a blaze of glory, not playing a wonky game o f chess." He joked, but she saw the emotion right under the surface. Harry reached up and pulled him down for a hug. "Ron don t you ever do anything l ike that to me again," Nuzzling his neck, she added, "Or I ll tell your mum." "Oi! Weasleys don t tattle!" Ron cried in mock outrage. Harry grinned. "Not a Weasley." He gave her hair a good ruffling and it all fell into her face. "Yeah you are." Move faster train! Ginny sat quietly on a bench with a small bag of banana sandwiches in her lap, s taring intently into each compartment as the scarlet engine inched further into the station. She picked nervously at the hem of her yellow sundress. This mornin g, for some unexplained reason, she had felt she had to look her best. A week ago, Mum had told her that Harry had been severely injured and was recove ring in the hospital wing, but didn t bother to tell her how, or why, or where. She knew next to nothing. Ron had sent her the last letter Harry had written on the day of her injury. Ginny had memorized it by heart.

Dear Gin, Soon we get to see each other again. Just one more week. And then a few more wee ks after that, we get to spend an entire year together! I want to explain why my letters have been so short, but I can t, not on paper. I need you to be there w ith me when I talk about it. So this summer I will. I made a promise. One secret only. Exams went well. I think Ron did better than I did in bloody History of M agic. I was just staring through Professor Bins for half the exam. Hope you re n ot doing too many chores. I miss you, Harry In the last six weeks or so, she hadn t really gleamed anything at all about wha t Harry was up to, and when that letter came, a thousand worse case scenarios pl ayed out in her head. She found a loose thread in the hem and twirled it between her fingers. Ginny s heart flipped when she found them at the very back of the train. Hermion e, Ron, that boy Nev, and Harry were all chatting and laughing in their small compartment. Their mouths moved but she heard nothing with the window between th em. The Hogwart s Express slowed to a stop with a huge burst of purple steam. Th e four stood, gathering up their belongings, and exited the compartment to haul out their trunks Ginny stood, calmly watching her from across the platform. Harry s shiny raven b lack hair, gleaming in the sunlight, was pulled back into a low ponytail that da ngled in a wild mess over her shoulder; long bangs hanging every-which-way. Her still perfectly pearl white dress, with the little sash of black lace, swirled a bout her knees in a flurry. As Harry turned to say goodbye to Nev, Ginny shivered. Her eyes had changed sinc e she had last seen her. They were darker, harder fiercer. After goodbyes, the round faced boy was pulled away by a very stern looking old woman. Harry, Hermione, and Ron remained by their compartment, not yet seeking t heir families. The three stood close, so close that they almost seemed attached. Harry was hugging Hermione when her dark emerald gaze met Ginny s amber. It was as if a veil had suddenly been lifted. Ginny saw the hardened look disappear; sa w her face soften, pink lips parting slightly as she drew a sharp intake of brea th. Ron s goodbye was longer much, much longer. They talked quietly, leaning against the train, occasionally bursting out in fits of laughter that carried all the wa y to her ears. Not even Ron s loud tenor could stop Harry s soprano tinkle from reaching her. She felt so warm when Harry laughed. A few weeks ago, she asked he r mum if she had felt the same way when she heard it. Mum had hugged her and nod ded saying, "the laughter and smiles of people who ve had a hard life does that. " After they had hugged tightly, Ron walked over to Mum and Dad, where he was inst antly pulled into tight embrace and fussed over. The next thing Ginny knew, hands were sliding around her waist and up her back, a body was melding with her own, and soft hair was tickling her cheek. The faint est scent of sweet-smelling broomstick polish drifted past her nose. Harry s lips tickled her ear as she moaned out in a dulcet tone, "Oh Gin I can t even describe I missed you so much." Ginny threw her arms behind Harry s neck and squeezed her tight, lips and chin r esting on the girl s bared collarbone. "Harry, I me too. Don t don t go back with the muggles. Just please come with us. I need you to come with us. You just can t go back to that place." "I have to, Gin," Harry said, slowly pulling back to lean her forehead against h ers. She took one of Ginny s hands off her shoulder and put their wrists togethe r. The charms clinked softly, spinning to meet in midair. "But look we re always around each other, yeah?" Ginny pulled away and was about to agree when she saw the large red burn on the underside of Harry s chin. "Oh Harry! What happened?" "What? This old thing?" she asked jokingly, rubbing at it with a finger. "Just a little temporary souvenir from the worst day ever."

Ginny brushed her fingers across it and Harry closed her eyes. "Does it hurt?" "Nope. Madame Pomfrey said magic burns can be healed easily, but the magic kind of soaks into your skin and leaves the mark or something. It ll be gone in a few weeks." Ginny took her hand, picked up the bag of sandwiches, and dragged her back to pi ck up her trunk. "Did it happen last week? When you got hurt?" Harry s brow furrowed in frustration. "Look, I promise I ll tell you about everyt hing when I come over. If you re desperate and have to know Ron can tell most of it. But I d really like it if I could be the one that explains it all." Ginny picked up Circe s cage and put it on Harry s cart. "I can wait. Although Ro n will probably blab about it anyway." Harry giggled and said fondly, "yeah he probably will. Knowing Ron, you ll know a ll about it by the time you-" She froze, gaze fixated on a spot behind Ginny. "O h no they re here the Dursleys." Ginny spun around to find herself staring at a rather odd looking family of thre e standing over on Platform Ten. There was an enormously rotund man with blonde hair and a large handlebar mustache. He was looking around as if he was embarras sed to be there. The boy next to him was the man in miniature without the mustac he. Ginny thought they looked a bit like a pair of Russian nesting dolls. Clutching the man s arm was a tall rail-thin woman that had her blonde hair up i n what had to be an uncomfortably tight beehive-bun. Her neck was rather long an d her skin rather pale. Her small nose and full lips were exactly the same shape as Harry s. Ginny supposed she would have been somewhat attractive for an older middle aged woman, had it not been for the disdainful look on her face that twi sted her visage into something horse like. "Harry I don t want you to go." "I don t want to go either." "I want you to stay!" "I want to stay too." "But you can t?" "Nope." Ginny sighed and dragged her over to the rest of the Weasleys, where they all ex changed final farewells with Harry. Ginny handed her the bag of Monkey Candy. "I made these for you, Harry all by myself. They re for the ride back to Surrey." Her mum smiled and patted her on the back of the head. "Yesshe almost blew up the kitchen as she did it too." Ginny shooed her hand away. "Muuum. Leave off." Harry hugged her tight once more and pecked a light kiss onto her cheek. "Thanks , Gin they smell divine. I ll write whenever I can. Bye." "Bye, Harry. See you in two months." Harry squeezed Ginny s hand, punched Ron in the arm, and walked through the barr ier. Ginny saw her reappear on Platform Nine and she walked slowly over to the D ursleys, pushing her cart and looking utterly miserable. The Dursleys didn t see m too happy to see her either. She couldn t hear the heated conversation that passed between them. But it ended with her uncle grabbing the little brown bag out of Harry s hands and promptly throwing it into the nearest bin. She saw Harry cry out as she ran after the bag , but the large man roughly grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the exit. The entire family had seen the exchange. She took her father s large hand in her small one and leaned against him for support. "Dad why why do they treat her like that?" His father frowned after the muggles. "I don t rightly know, GinBug. I ll never understand why Dumbledore put her with them. We offered to take her in after the attack. While he did want to give her to us, he said it was necessary for Harry to live with the Dursleys. Perhaps, in a different life, she could have been yo ur sister." Ginny tried to imagine a life with Harry as her sister. It wouldn t be all that different from the way things are right now.

CHAPTER Higgery Piggery Porkery Pop SEVEN I tell you, Lucius, Dumbledore is running that school into the ground! He s even pressuring the Ministry s financial offices to start sending support to underpri vileged students; to riffraff like the Weasleys and the Midgens!" "Do tell me, Rose, where did you get that beautiful pendant? It looks goblin mad ehand-cut too!" "I do what I can, Cassius; pulling strings and breaking bridges. The other membe rs on the Board of Governors hold Dumbledore in the highest regard. When public opinion shifts, more options will be open to us. We need a setback that will cri pple his image before I canconvince them. I have a few half-hatched ideas." "Oh it is! It s wonderful of you to notice, Cissa. It was such a find. I was wan dering around the Place de Sorcellerie on my last trip to Paris and I found the most charming little jewelry shop. The owner didn t realize what he was selling and I got it for two-hundred galleons!" Draco stirred his shellfish stew with disinterest. There had never been two more boring conversations in the history of spoken word. Pansy stomped on his foot underneath the table, giving him a look that quite cle arly said, I want to leave. He nodded his agreement and interrupted the sparkling dinner chat. "Mother, Fath er, Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson, may Pansy and I excuse ourselves for the evening?" His father nodded. "Very well, Draco. Think on what we talked about this morning . I d like you to accompany me tomorrow." "I will, FatherDobby! Don t touch me!" He backhanded the disgusting little elf th at had been tugging on his pants leg. Taking Draco s hand, Pansy pulled him from the Dining Hall and out to their favo rite spot on the manor s Spanish veranda. She picked up her book, which had a ha lf-naked man on the front, and sat down in one of his mother s extravagantly cus hioned porch swings. Draco couldn t help glimpsing her pink knickers as she folded her legs up onto t he seat. Pansy flicked her eyes to the empty cushion beside her. Draco felt his face heat up and he quickly made an excuse not to obey. "I m goin g to go for a fly before it gets dark. I need to practice." A flash of what looked like disappointment crossed her face, but it vanished as quickly as it came. She shrugged ambivalently, her ever-present mask of aloofnes s sliding back into place. Up in the air, on his brand new Nimbus Two-Thousand and One, he flew avidly arou nd their private pitch, attempting to rid his mind of that little pink triangle up his playmate s skirt; up his best friend s skirtwell, as best a friend as any Slytherin could have. They both had birthday s in September; Draco s on the 10th and Pansy s on the 28 th. In a little over two months, they would be thirteen. If he had been born ele ven days earlier, they would have been in completely different years at school. He was older, she was older; and he had startednoticing things; like the way her chest had bulged outward an inch at the end of the school year, almost overnight ; like the way her hips had slimmed at the waist whilst thickening below; like t he way her blouse rode up every time she reached into the air; like the way her straight, black hair rose and fell with her breath. Her black hair. Draco just couldn t get used to it. As soon as they had returned home for the su mmer, Pansy had gone to Diagon Alley, bought hundreds of galleons worth of magic al hair products, and had come to the mansion the next day looking like a comple tely different person. All his life, she had had little, blonde ringlets. Now it was silky, straight, and jet black... permanently, from what she told him. It r eminded him of Harry s, but it was smooth, shorter, and tamed of course; Pansy w ould rather die than let herself have messy hair. Draco had to admit, he missed the ringlets, but now she waswell, she was gorgeous.

Blue eyes, black hair, button nose. Any man would agreethat s just mean. Draco soared around the hoops aimlessly, unable to focus on flying. It was only last week that he d had his first vivid dream about Pansy and he couldn t get he r out of his head. Well, Pansy andand Harry. Harry hadn t spoken to him since the forest, but he simply couldn t let her go s o easily. The thought of her name alone would cause him to flash back to the dre am. The two much older looking girls were on top of him; one on either side, their l ips raking across his chest and neck. They moaned softly as their large dream-en hanced breasts brushed against his skin; groaned as his hands roamed their bodie s freely, drifting across smooth, flawless skin. Pansy smashed her lips against Draco s and reached down to squeeze him lightly. Both girls giggled at his gasp of pleasure. Pansy slid back, while Harry slid up, positioning herself above him and looking down at his face with those beautiful green eyes. He raised his han ds to cup her perfectly rounded arse, pulling her to his mouth. Reveling in Harr y s tinkling moan as his tongue dipped into her sex, Draco felt Pansy s warmth s ink down Draco shook himself roughly and muttered, "Stop it. You ll never replace Higgs i f all you think about at tryouts is her arse. She doesn t even have an arse to t hink about. She s skin and bones." Skin you wouldn t mind seeing, said an annoying little voice in his head. Draco sighed heavily. "Gods, I m talking to myself." He brought his Nimbus aroun d fiercely to face the far posts. He had been flying for hours every day since h is father had bought him the broom; training hard. He wanted to be as good as sh e was at something she loved. He wanted to be her equalsimply so she would speak to him again. His father had bought six more brooms so that Draco could bribe the team into ta king him on as a Seeker. He had thought it had been a grand idea at first, but n ow Harry s disapproving face swam into view. She d despise him for essentially chea ting his way into her most favorite thing in the world. No, Draco had to make th e team on his own. He would give them the brooms afterwards. Draco rushed toward the hoops as fast as the sleek broomstick could carry him. T he day before the leaving feast, Harry had gone flying with the Weasel. He had w atched from the stands in utter astonishment as she performed the turn consisten tly. There were only a handful of Pro Seekers and Chasers in the entire League t hat could do the same. As he approached the hoop, he dipped a leg down. I m so going to die. His foot latched around the top rim; he pushed downward on the broom handle; he started to spin! Instead of slingshotting through the hoop and corkscrewing off in the direction he had just come from, he shot straight down, the nimbus handle catching on the lower rim of the ring. It flew out from under him and he plummeted towards the ground at a horrendous speed. Land was closing in. Screaming, he collided into it andbounced to a halt. Oh rightpractice pitch charms. Head reeling, he saw Pansy running towards him across the lush grass. "Draco! Are you alright?" Draco slowly stood up only to have her crash into him, knocking them both back d own to the grass. Pansy was on top of him, her small breasts heaving against his chest as she hugged him tightly. He suddenly became distinctly aware of every p lace their bodies were touching. "I m alright," Draco said quickly, pushing her back as he felt his erection grow . "Get off!" He blushed, hoping to God she couldn t feel it against her stomach. Pansy redden ed and quickly removed herself. Bollocks, she did. Draco sat up to hide the tent in his pants. He couldn t look at her; couldn t sa

y anything as she hovered over himjustwatching. He could almost feel her pale-blue eyes trying to bore their way into his skull. Quite suddenly, without a word, Pansy spun and marched back to her book. Draco g roaned miserably into his knee, pounding his head down upon it to better accentu ate his thoughts. Shite! Bollocks! Motherfucker! Feeling apprehensive, Draco stood, picked up his broom, and strode slowly across the field and onto the veranda. The cooling charms on the house washed over him as he collapsed into the hanging swing. It took him ages to finally say sincere ly, "I m sorry, PansIt just happened." Pansy ignored him and continued to stare down at her book. He noticed however, t hat her eyes weren t moving across the pages; pages that she wasn t turning. She sat painfully still as his eyes raked over her body and pretty face. Pansy smashed her lips against Draco s and reached down to squeeze him lightly. Both girls giggled at his gasp of pleasure With a heaving sigh, Draco spun the swing so they could look out at the peacocks strutting across the front lawn. A rather large one was sitting right at the ed ge of the veranda, its enormous multicolored plume spread upwards. Fate was laug hing at him it seemed. Peacock mating season He really didn t want the year to continue this way. After a half an hour of sil ence and watching the sun sink below the tree line, he managed to gather enough courage to drawl, "Look, Pansy it didn t mean" She cut him off in a harsh whisper, her mask of indifference falling away. "It me ant something to me!" Draco froze in fear, the beating of his heart increasing tenfold. Pansy bit her bottom lip and closed her book, sitting it softly in her lap. Eyes cast downward and away from him, she hesitantly asked, "Does itDoes it mean you think I m pretty then?" While his brain cowered in the corner of his skull, Draco heard the words tumble out from his mouth of their own accord. "I ve always thought you were pretty." "Even though I look" Her moistened gaze rose to meet his and she gestured at her face. "Terry Boot said II looked like a pug andyou didn t do anything." Bugger. "Honest, Pans, I didn t hear him. I would ve done something about it." Her eyes flashed dangerously. "I know you didn t! You were too busy staring at P otterNoDon t you dare give me that," she said angrily as he tried to deny it. "I s ee how you look at her when you think no one s watching. It s like you re a todd ler and she s a toy that got taken away from you. I hate her Draco! I hate her a nd I hate that youII see how you look at her and it s made me realize that" She tra iled off, huffing. Draco gazed at her apprehensively and asked, " Made you realize what?" Pansy took her sweet time to answer. She fiddled with her shirt; flipped through her book; scratched her leg. Eventually, she gathered herself and whispered hea tedly, "That II don t like it." He thought he knew what was coming andWell, he wanted to help it along. "Why don t you like it?" Pansy looked away and scoffed, saying huffily, "Because she s too prettyPrissy Pr etty Potter. She thinks she s so great with her Quidditch and her grades and her stupid little friends." "What does that have to do with me looking at her?" "Well, because III like you, Draco!" Pansy glanced nervously at his face before he r gaze returned to her shoes. "I have sincesince I saw you so upset over herafter the sorting. Do I? I think I do. My body certainly does. "I like you too, Pans." When her head rose again, she was smiling widely. "Do youdo you mean it?" she ask ed anxiously, her black hair glittering and bouncing in the now risen moonlight. "You don t think I look like aa pug dog?" Draco laughed and replied weakly, "Of course I don t think you look like a dog.

You re prettier than every girl in" Harry slid up, positioning herself above him and looking down at his face with t hose beautiful green eyes. Draco reached his hand over to Pansy s cheek and brushed his thumb down between her eyes to the little sharp tip in the middle of her face. "Your nose is small and it turns up a bit, but itit suits youvery well." She turned her head into his palm and held it to her shoulder. Pansy was so much closer nowseeing as they had been steadily inching towards each other. In what was likely his bravest voice, he continued. "But that s not the only reason why I like you. I like you, because you re mymy best friend, Pans. Th e looks are just a bonus." Pansy was raising herself up off the cushions, gazing intently into his eyes. "D o youDo you like Potter?" Draco knew he wouldn t be able to lie to her while she stared at him like that. "I" Pansy frowned and paused. "Do you like me more than you like her?" Her eyes were sparkling with hope and Draco could tell exactly what answer she needed to hear . Thankfullyhis answer to that question was the truth. Draco slowly nodded. A life without Harry isWell, what I ve been living for a year really. But a life without Pans "Yeah, II do, Pansy." He leaned down. She leaned up. Their lips met softly innocently awkwardly clumsily but it felt nice; it felt right. The kiss was cut short when Pansy suddenly pull ed away. She was crying. Bugger! What did I do? "Draco, I veI ve been meaning to tell you all weekand now I" She seemed to steel he rself and said quickly, "Father hashas entered into negotiations for a contract w ith the Notts." Draco sat back, totally floored. Is that coincidence? Well, this makes things easier! We could justswitch. "Pansymy Father opened negotiations with the Greengrass familyjust a few days ago. I was going to tell you, butI didn t really know how." Pansy stood up quickly. "I don t want to marry Theodore. He has terrible body od or." Draco got to his feet slowly and placed a hand to her waist. "And I don t want t o marry Daphneor her baby sister for that matter. Neither of them can ever stop g ibbering. So thendo you?" "Draco?" Pansy asked huskily, stepping closer and pressing her body into his. "A re you asking me what I think you re asking?" "Yeah, PansI am." He drew back and nervously placed a little kiss on her nose. "E ven if this doesn tyou knowworkWell, I d rather be arranged with you than with some one else." She nodded avidly in agreement. "Do you think we can convince them?" "I don tI don t know. Father so rarely changes his mind. Hopefully." Pansy put her arms around his neck and kissed him again. This time it was less c haste; fiercer. Their bodies molded together. It was still awkward, but equally as nice as the previous. She smelled divine like roses. Draco knew she liked to u se all sorts of fragrant oils in her bathwater, as she had so frequently told hi m, always making him smell her when she found a new one. He used to think the sc ent was a bit too strong and a little ripebut nowhe found it intoxicating. Her lips massaged his own softly. Draco tried to match her, but was ratherclumsy in his attempts. I wonder if Harry kisses like this? Probably, won t ever know. He got rid of the thought quickly, giving Pansy his full attention. When he slid a hand down to the small of her back, she whimpered quietly, opening her mouth

just the tiniest bit. He could taste the strong wine they had sampled at dinner; it was lingering on her tongue as it darted out just quickly enough to brush hi s bottom lip. Pulling away, Daco asked in a curious drawl, "Where did you learn to kiss?" Eyes still closed, mouth still moving, Pansy blushed fiercely and mumbled, "I wo uld practice on my pillowpretending that it was you." Draco smirked at the solid ego stroking. "Sorry that I m not any good." "MmmmmBetter than my pillow," Pansy moaned dazedly. Draco s heart began to beat a little faster, increasing from a quick pounding to a steady roar of heavy thuds. "Let s go ask them." He dragged her back into the mansion and led her to the drawing room where his parents and the Parkinsons mo st likely now resided. Hearing laughter inside, he pushed open the door. The room quieted when he and Pansy entered. His Father s steely-grey eyes immedi ately trained upon their clasped hands. "Yes?" he drawled slowly. "What can we h elp you with, Draco?" Draco s breaking voice quavered as he stood under the penetrating gaze of the fo ur adults. "Father, I have I have thought about what we discussed. I wish forfor b oth my own and Pansy s marriage negotiations to cease. I wish for the Malfoy and Parkinson families to engage in new contractstoto each other." While Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson s faces lit up with delight, for the Malfoy family was far wealthier than the Notts, his father laughed in derision. "Cassius and I have already aligned the families through business and friendship. There is no need for further bonds. I have told you time and time again that this is what ma rriage is for Draco; to cement the bonds between the old families. You will marr y a daughter of the Greengrass line." Mrs. Parkinson said hastily, "Come now, Lucius. You ve seen how they dote on eac h other. It would be a fine match." Draco knew the woman didn t truly care about how they doted on each other. Her face betrayed her greed. He supposed his own face would ve done the same if he suddenly was on the verge of receiving hundreds of thousands of galleons. Mrs. Parkinson went on to say, "We are just as, if not wealthier than the Greeng rass family, and certainly less closely related to your own. Belvina Black, daug hter to Phineus Nigellus and sister to Cygnus, married Herbert Burke, one of Cas sius Great Grandfathersso they re fourth cousins on Narcissa s and Cassius sidei f I m remembering the Black family tree correctly. I m sure there are no other c onnections between the other lines for at least ten generations." Draco s father was glaring daggers at him. "You shame me, Draco, by bringing thi s matter to my attention in the presence of the proposed party." "Father, pleaseLet this be the last favor you ever grant me." Pansy squeezed his hand and he said resolutely, "Truly, Father, the last." "It is fine by me, Lucius," Mr. Parkinson said happily, standing to pour Daraco s father some more whiskey. "I do, however, understand your hesitation. Talks ar e not so easy to breakI imagine the Notts will be most displeased. But think of i t my friend, the last completely pure lines of the two oldest and wealthiest fam ilies, united as one." His mother patted his father on the arm. "Lucius, dear it is a different age. We have no real need for an alliance with the Greengrass family. Let him have the w oman he wants. Their children will be most beautiful." His father sat down in his large leather armchair and took a swig of the Firewhi skey. Leveling his angry gaze at Draco, he drawled heavily, "Very well, Dracothe last favor. You will accompany me to the Greengrass residence to break off the t alks." His father turned to Mr. Parkinson. "Cassius, please accompany me into my study. We can discuss terms." Draco pulled Pansy from the room and back to the Veranda; back to their swing. They sat quietly and watched the shadowy peacocks trotting through the yard, eac h trying to absorb what this now meant for them. Pansy leaned up against him, en twining her fingers with his own. "You just sacrificed so much, Draco." She kiss ed his cheek soundly. "When we re married, I ll always remember this. I ll I ll b e the perfect wife just like your mother." "It was a fair sacrifice to avoid Greengrass." He joked dryly, but brushed his t

humb across her knuckles to reassure that there was more to it than that. "I don t need you to be the perfect wife, or like my motherespecially not like my mothe r. Just be your normal self and thatWell, that will always be enough for me." Did I just say that? Pansy giggled at his cheesy line and got up, grabbing both of his hands to pull him back into the house. She lead him down the long richly-carpeted south-wing c orridor to Oh nonot this. Pansy pushed open the Great Ballroom s doors and ran inside with a squeal of lau ghter. Draco moaned as the girl tapped her wand against the bandstand and the fu ll orchestra of instruments jumped into the air to tune themselves. She twirled over to him like a ballerina, arms out in a circle in front of her. "Dance with me, Draco!" "You know I hate to dance." "I know you hate to dance with Madame Truvotski." Pansy grinned at him as she to ok his hand and placed it around her waist. "Dance with meto celebrate." Draco groaned, "Must I?" The orchestra started to play and she fell against him, planting a little kiss o n the side of his mouth. "Yes." The strings started to pluck and the horns alighted into a Spanish trill. Salsa? Really? How... muggle. As they started to step and twist hips in time to the beat, he whispered into he r ear, "You know, you didn t have to dye your hair like hers to get me to notice you. I ve always liked yours." Pansy smirked and grabbed the back of his neck as he dipped her. "Parkinson wome n always get what they want. This was what you wanted and I wanted you." She closed the car door and put on her belt. "Dad do you think she s okay?" "I m sure she s fine, GinBug," her father said rationally, firing the ignition o f their Ford Anglia. Ginny fiddled nervously with her sunhat. "But why hasn t she written? Circe could make the trip from Surrey to Devon in an hour or two. It s not like her we wrote a letter to each other at least once a week, even when she wassick if that s actu ally what she was, Ron." "Oi," moaned Ron from the front seat. "Harry wants to tell you herself. Pipe dow n already. And I bet there s a perfectly normal reason for why she hasn t writte n. Besides, it was Errol that delivered our letters so she probably hasn t gotten any either!" He tried to smile at her reassuringly, but she could tell he was j ust as worried as she was. Ginny sat back and tried to relax as the car trundled off down the country lane. She found some small solace in picturing Harry s face when she arrived at her f irst ever birthday party. Ginny had iced the chocolate cake with strawberry crea m, made with the juice of berries right from the patch. The icing, which she had made herself, was surprisingly goodaccording to Ronwhich unfortunately didn t mea n that much as he would avidly eat anything besides corned beef and bananas. For a present, she had helped Mum make Harry a new dress. It looked very much li ke the one her friend wore already, except that it was light green and had littl e shoulder straps instead of sleeves. Ginny had tried it on and they had fixed a ll the little uncomfortable bits until it was absolute heaven to wear. Ginny s charm started to move after about an hour of driving. They were close en ough that when the car shifted directions, the snitch would spin ever so slightl y. She stared excitedly out the window at the cookie cutter suburban houses that all looked exactly the same. How odd. They only have one chimney. Her father spun the wheel. "Ah, lovely. Here we are then." They passed by a little stone sign that read Privet Drive. Ginny saw the fourth house; she couldn t take her eyes off it as they drove in slow motion down the l ittle road. The house had a red brick front, white siding, and a chicken-free pe rfectly maintained lawn. Ginny opened the car as it was still slowing to a stop, jumped out, smoothed dow

n her yellow sundress, and ran up the sidewalk to Harry s front door. There was no knocker, but there was a little button on the door frame. Her hand hovered ov er it. What if she doesn t want to see me? What if she didn t write because No I I won t b elieve that. Ginny pressed it. A bell rang out inside the house. There was a few moments pause before the curta ins next to the doorframe-window parted. A familiar, bony face peered out at her . Harry s Aunt. The locks clicked and the door swung open. The woman in a blue apron smiled down at her. "Yes May I help you, young lady?" "Oh, yes, Hello My name is Ginny Weasley," she said nervously. The woman nodded. "Very nice to meet you." She doesn t seem too badnot like Harry described her. "Oh yes. Thank you. You as well." Harry s aunt nodded again and gazed at her exp ectantly. "Well, you see, today is Harry s Birthday and we ve come to pick her u p. She hasn t been returning our letters and I ve been we ve been very worried." As soon as Ginny uttered Harry s name, the woman went sheet white and her kind s mile turned into something rather ugly. "ThereThere isn t a Harry Potter in this house," she spat venomously. "Good day to you." What? Why would she lie? Harry s Aunt started to close the door but Ginny put out a hand to stop it. "You re lying! We saw you pick her up at the train station!" she said incredulously. Her charm bracelet was pointing into the house. "I know she s hereI always know where she is!" The horse-faced woman tried to slam the door on her, but Ginny threw her whole b ody-weight behind it, digging her toes into the ground. "And II never said Potter !" The woman was frightened and pushing on the door with all her strength. Something isSomething s wrong! "What have you done to her?" Ginny asked fiercely. She called out into the house , "Harry?" "I said good day!" Harry s aunt shoved Ginny backwards and slammed the door with a great BANG. "NO!" Ginny ran back to the door and pounded on it. There was no answer. Harry She cried out frantically to the parked car behind her. "DAD!" Ron and her father got out and sprinted to her. "Dad, they won t let me in! Harr y s in there and and they said she wasn t! They ve they ve done something!" Her he art was pounding heavily. Her father placed his wand to his temple and said quietly, "Dumbledore, problem at Privet drive. Hurry." Releasing the wand from his head he pointed it skyward, closed his eyes and cried, "Expecto Patronum!" A blast of silver light shot int o the sky and sped off. "Move out of the way Ginny." Her father pushed her behin d his body and tapped the door with his wand. It flew open and he strode forward into the house, wand pointing into every corner of the front hall. Harry s large uncle barreled out into the hallway. He took them in, his beady ey es fixating on her father s wand. His face rapidly turned a bright shade of purp le. "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?" Dad pushed Ron in the direction of the staircase. "Ron, check upstairs." Her brother darted up and into one of the several rooms on the second floor, cal ling out fervently, "Harry! Where are you?" Her father leveled his wand at the man and growled in the angriest voice she had ever heard him use, "Where s Harry? What have you done with her?" The fat man advanced on them, gesticulating wildly with his pudgy hands. "SHE S NOT HERE! SHE RAN OFF!" Ron s cry echoed down the stairs. "DAD! FOUND HARRY S OWL! IT S LOCKED UP!" Her father strode forward and pressed his wand into the man s bulbous chest. "Lo cked up?"

Harry s Uncle backed away quickly, shaking a meaty finger at them. "I DEMAND THA T YOU-" It seemed that Dad had had enough. "Stupefy!" The bolt of red light slammed into the man and he collapsed on the floor with a mighty boom that rocked the whole house. Harry s Aunt shrieked and ran to his si de. Ginny, who had been cautiously standing on the door frame, strode into the house , her eyes on her wrist. She walked down the hall and when she passed through th e hall into the living room, the snitch charm swung around to point back to the staircase. There was a small door, about three fourths of her height, right in t he middle of the wall that supported the stairs... and... it was padlocked shut. A truly ominous feeling was emanating from the little door. Harry s cupboardwhere she spent her whole life. "Dad! Look" Her charm was pointing right at it. "She s in the cupboard!" Her father pointed his wand and said harshly, "Alohomora." The door sprang open. He father ran toward it, getting down on a knee to peer inside. "Sweet Merlin!" he cried in shock, turning away his head and putting a hand over his mouth. What Ginny s legs moved as if made of wood. Her eyes were fixed upon the edge of a ra tty mattress and two little black shoes. She got to the frame. The smell emanati ng from the tiny space was absolutely horrid; it was like rot and sweat and excr ement put together. She knelt down at the side. Her father reached out, trying to close the door. "Wait. Don t" Vomit instantly rose in her mouth when she saw Harry curled up in a fetal positi on. She was thin; too thin; almost skeletal. Her skin was dry and cracked in a l arge spider web of gashes; her blackened veins clearly visible through the flesh . Her dress was covered in what could only be her own waste. Her arms were bruis ed and resting by her head; one hand swollen to twice the size of the other and out of alignment with her wrist. Her lips were parted, deformed, as if they had shriveled. But the worst was Harry s eyes; dull and half open; the lower lids cr usted with white buildup; green orbs staring blankly back at Ginny. No! "Oh myHarry?" Ginny frantically tugged at the mattress, pulling it out of the cup board and down onto the floor. Harry s limp body rolled into her arms, flopping like a rag doll. Her hair, caught in the cracks of her skin, lacked the silky fe el that made Ginny want to play with it all day long. She clutched at the matted messy black tresses, shaking Harry lightly, pleading with her. "Harry" She brushed a trembling hand over Harry s little round glasses; over the dry tip of her nose, over her cracked and bloodied lips. "wake up." She didn t wake. You can t be. Ginny caressed the girl s cheek and shook her harder. "Oh Harry, talk to me pleas e HARRY?!" Ginny buried her head into the familiar crook of Harry s neck, her sob s bubbling up from her chest as her best friend in the world her sister lay still. She moaned in a weak voice, "Daddy she s not breathing!" You can t be dead! Harry Her father s hands fell around her waist and started to pull. Ginny screamed as she was parted from Harry, anguish and denial flooding through her body, suffoca ting her. She latched onto Harry s arm and the girl was pulled off the bed. "She s not no!" Let me go! He shushed her softly, kissing her head and whispering soothingly into her ear. "She s gone, baby. There s there s nothing we can do. H-Hush now. She s in a bette r place." He pulled the limp arm from her grasp. As soon as she no longer felt H arry s skin against her own, realization and all consuming despair hit her body like a freight train. She went weak, her heart dropped out of her chest. She s dead. She s dead. She s dead. She s dead. She s dead. Harry s dead. They t ook she s gone my only oh God! Harry! At her scream, Ron had come thumping back down the stairs, arms containing Circe

, Alice, a wand, books, and some clothes. Everything clattered out of his hands when he saw her body. He walked stiffly toward her, sank down, took Harry into h is arms, and was silent. Ginny stared blankly around the room at the pictures of Harry s life or rather, t he lack of pictures of Harry s life. Not anywhere did she see a beautiful white smile. Not anywhere did she see black hair. Not anywhere did she see a pair of b rilliant green eyes. All were filled with the same three people: two fat, one th in. They don t love her like we do. Like I do. They don t they didn t deserve her! Harry s aunt was still kneeling over her stunned husband. She didn t even have e yes for her dead niece. Ginny heart started to beat again, growing in strength u ntil her whole body was pulsing with its rhythm. She struggled against her fathe r, screaming, "YOU! YOU KILLED" Ginny was suddenly free from her father s grasp. He cried out and dove for her legs. "Ginny, no!" She dodged around him, ran down the hall, and slammed into the bony woman. YOU KILLED MY HARRY! Ginny s small fists beat into the woman s flesh. Her fingernails tore at the dul l eyes and horselike face. Her hands pulled at blonde hair, slamming the woman s head into the ground. Petunia shrieked and tried to push her off, but Ginny, de spite her smaller size, battered the offending arms away in rage. Although Harry s Aunt was bleeding heavily, Ginny didn t feel the least bit of satisfaction. She got in another six good solid punches to the face before a soft, yet command ing voice called out, "That will do, Miss Weasley." Her body froze in place. She rose into the air, soaring backward to hover right next to a very old man in purple robes. She couldn t speak; she couldn t move. S he could only cry. The old man took Ron by the shoulder and attempted to gently pry Harry s body fr om his arms. Her brother shrieked and flailed out wildly, throwing his body over Harry s and clutching her tight. The old man sighed and did the same to Ron as he had done to Ginny, saying in a slightly wheezing voice, "I apologize sincerel y to both of you." The man knelt down and gently took Harry s head in his hands. He placed his wand to her temple, muttered, and was silent for what seemed to Ginny like hours. Sh e couldn t see his face, but when he stood and turned to face them, he was smilin g. "Harry lives." There was a great pressure on the sides of her head; a mighty roar in her ears. She suddenly found that her eyelids were much too heavy to keep open any longer. She sat in a small space on a ratty mattress, knees to her chest, hand broken, s tarring at a little light in the shape of two bent spirals that connected to bec ome one. It was so so so squiggle No, that wasn t it squiggly? No Coiled? No complex? o Intricate? No Elaborate? No Elegant? No evocative? No It s so... beautiful. Ginny snapped awake. She moaned at the sudden burst of white, almost fluorescent light and threw up an arm to shield her eyes. When her vision adjusted, the fir st thing she noticed about her surroundings was that she was neither at Number F our Privet Drive, nor The Burrow. She was in a chair; a chair in a hallway; a ha llway that smelled obscenely clean. The second thing she noticed was the rather large, brightly colored, eyesore of a logo that sat directly in front of her. In its center, were a bone and a wand, crossed like swords on a coat of arms. At the top, were large neon green letter s that read: 6TH FLOOR: EMERGENCY CARE. At the bottom, there were much smaller l etters that read: ST. MUNGO S HOSPITAL FOR MAGICAL MALADIES AND INJURIES. The third thing she noticed was the presence of a head on her shoulder; Ron s he ad to be exact. He gave an almighty snore right in her ear and Ginny rolled her eyes. The fourth thing she noticed was a door in front of which both of her parents pa ced. And then she realized why she was sitting in a chair in a hall that smelled obsce nely clean in the St. Mungo s Emergency Ward. Harry lives.

Ginny s heart flipped. "HARRY!" She jumped up, waking Ron violently, and bolted toward the door. Her father, however, caught her in his arms before she could ge t to it. "NO! DAD LET ME GO!" "They re still working, Ginny! Calm down." She squirmed violently, but his hold on her did not relinquish. "No! I have to s ee her now! Daddy, please! Let me go. I-" As if the universe heard her cries, the door beside them opened and three healer s in green robes walked out, talking of impossibilities and miracles. Ginny saw her. Her naked body was in a single solitary spotlight in what was otherwise a p itch black room. The old man from the house stood beside her bed. He gestured th em in, pulling up the covers to hide all but Harry s head from view. Her father carried her into the room and sat her on the edge of the bed. Harry s skin was once again, flawless alabaster; her weight: healthy; her arm: w hole; her lips: full. Her chest rose and fell softly. Her eyes fluttered beneath closed lids. She s she s really alive. Ginny crawled forward to embrace the girl, but the old man held out his arm. "No t quite yet, my dear. Harry hasn t fully recovered. The magic is still clearing toxins from her body." "Good lord, Albus," said her father in astonishment. "What happened to her? She wasn t breathing when we found her. Her heart had had stopped. How on earth is sh e alive?" The man, who she assumed was Albus Dumbledore, leaned back against the wall. He looked very old, very sad, and very tired. "Alas, Arthur, I do not think I could bring myself to tell you the whole of it." Ginny turned to fully gaze into his eyes and said quietly, "Tell me please." Dumbledore leveled her with an appraising stare and, after a moment s hesitation , nodded. "Harry was isolated from you since the beginning of the summer. Her ow l was locked away, and, for unknown reasons, she did not receive any of the lett ers that were sent to her." Damn t, Errol! "Two weeks ago she was attacked by her cousin and his friends, one of whom broke her wrist. When he did so, her magic reacted most violently. When the news reac hed Petunia s and Vernon s ear, I m afraid to say that they responded in kind, l ocking her in the cupboard for fifteen days I believe. Thankfully, dehydration is not too painful. The brain releases a chemical that acts as a natural anestheti c. Harry s death was quiet." "HER DEATH?" cried Ron. "But but she s" He trailed off gesturing towards Harry. The man nodded and smiled. "Yes quite and thank Merlin for that. Harry s death was in body only. We easily restored the physical damage. I cannot say for sure how she managed to save her mind. I do not believe she knows or if she was even resp onsible for it. While her veins and heart dried out, her brain ran on magic; her soul ran on magic; she existed only in magic. I could go into a very long, whee zing explanation about magic augmentation and mind magics and willpower, but I t hink it is easier to simply say that Harry here had a very strong will to live an d too strong of a connection to this world to let it go so easily. In short, she was either saved or she saved herself." Dumbledore reached out a hand to pull th e covers up to Harry s chin, whispering softly to her, "Indeed you are quite the most remarkable young woman I ve ever had the chance to meet. I promised I would keep a closer watch on you, Harry, and I m afraid I have already utterly failed in that regard. I hope, one day, you will forgive me for causing you such a tru ly unhappy birthday." "I m sure she already does," said Ginny, smiling softly at Harry. Dumbledore straightened and gave her that same appraising look. "Thank you, Miss Weasley. That is most interesting of you to say." Ginny didn t quite know what that meant, but she wrote it off. He is getting on a bit, after all. Dumbledore clapped his hands together. "Very well. The Dursley family and I are long overdue to sit down for some tea and have a nice long chat. I will return i n the morning, but for now, I leave Harry in the very capable hands of friends."

He walked around the bed and placed a hand on Ginny s shoulder. "Miss Weasley, it is vital that she not be touched for several more hours until the magic repai rs her kidneys and liver. Can I trust you to not act rashly?" Ginny nodded rapidly. "Yes sir." "Then I bid you all a warm farewell. Arthur, walk with me if you would." Dumbled ore and her father left the room swiftly. Ginny sat down in the closest chair next to Harry s bed, whilst Ron sat in the n ext. Her mother sighed heavily. "Don t get too comfy. We need to head home soon. It s quite late." "I m staying!" said both Ginny and Ron simultaneously. Mum scoffed. "You most certainly are not! Come alo-" Ginny cut in. "Mum, you are either going to let me stay, or stun me and take me home over your shoulder. I m I m not leaving. No punishment on earth will change my mind." Ron nodded his agreement. Mum spluttered a bit and gave her the oddest look. "Oh oh alright. Your father wa s going to stay anyway." She sighed and left the room as well. Ron took Ginny s hand in his, squeezing tightly. He gave a great yawn and lay ba ck to close his eyes. Ginny, feeling her own exhaustion creep up on her, put her head down upon his sh oulder to try and get some rest. But the hours passed slowly for her. Trying to sleep was useless, seeing as every fifteen minutes Harry would make little mewling noises that had Ginny up and at her bedside in a flash. Sleeping in the chair wasn t very comfortable and Ron s snores didn t help matters either. She wanted nothing more than to get up on th at bed with Harry but she wouldn t; she promised. CRACK I was so close to sleep! It took a moment for her eyes to readjust to the light. When they did, however, she was met by a very strange sight. On Harry s bed, not two feet from Ginny s h ead was a house-elf. It had large green eyes the size of tennis balls, was dresse d in what had to be a pillowcase, and it was reaching out a finger to touch Harry . "No! Get away," she whispered heatedly, diving for the little creature. The elf s hand was not but an inch from Harry s face when there was an almighty shriek. Ginny froze. I know that voice Harry s deep, emerald-green eyes, bright and fully alive, were open wide, starin g right at her as she dangled the elf by a leg. Her friend reached up and brushe d the palm of her hand against Ginny s cheek. "Gin?" Harry asked weakly. Leave me alone, Dudley." "I shan t until you clean my room." "I mean it." "Oooo you mean it, do you? What are you going to do if I don t?" "Higgery Piggery Porkery Pop!" "YOU CAN T! DAD SAID-" "FIGGERY BIGGERY DORKERY SLOP!" "MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMMM!" Harry watched with satisfaction as her cousin run back down the path, his meaty hands covering his bottom. "It ss pleassant outsside today." Harry snorted. The month of July had decided to be extremely ill-tempered this y ear, and thus it was hot. It was, in fact, disgustingly hot. Little Whinging look ed like a shimmering mirage in the haze of refracted light through hot air. Harr y trooped morosely down the well-trod dirt path, bangs sticking to her face, her chest almost visible through her dress from sweat. I need to buy some clothes. One white dress for the rest of my life just isn t g

oing to cut it. Especially if there s another summer like this one. Harry held out a hand, letting it brush through the tops of the tall wild orchid s that ran along either side of the path. Thankfully, Privet Drive s playground was abandoned. Harry walked over to her fa vorite swing and plopped down, clutching the hot sun-baked chains tightly for su pport. The little quill on her wrist brushed through her hair as it spun to face east. Four weeks Harry dragged her foot through the dirt as the swing rocked her gently back and forth. Four bloody weeks and not a single letter from anyone. Maybe she s not maybe they re not writing, because I m not either. Uncle Vernon had padlocked Circe into her cage the second they had arrived home. After she had retrieved her clothing, he had then locked away her trunk, books, wand, and broomstick into the cupboard. A few days later, Harry had used one of her rare use Aunt Petunia s bath opportunities to deftly pick the lock with a bobby pin. She had retrieved Alice, her wand, and a few important books she d n eed for her summer homework. Or maybe Errol is sick or- or maybe they ran out of ink! Yeah "Why doesn t she write to me, Alice? Why don t Ron and Hermione?" Alice slid out of the dress pocket that Hermione had expanded for her on the ins ide. Harry was so glad that she had given the girl The Standard Book of Spell s grades two and three for Christmas. I should start reading ahead too. He he was just playing with me. Harry let the snake curl onto her fingers. "Perhapss they have gone to Brazil." "Yeah perhaps," she said, rubbing Alice s chin. The little reptile hummed lazily as it coiled about her hands and Harry couldn t stop from smiling. "Do you miss him then?" Miss. Yet another word to be added to the list. Despite the English word, Alice seemed to understand and hissed, "I often wissh he wass pressent, Chica. Alphonze wass my mate for sseveral birthing sseasonss. I had many eggss. He wass my ally. Yet, we do not mate for life and I have found a new ally to replace him; one who will not leave me behind." Alice s tongue darted out several times onto her thumb. "Never." Harry raised Alice to her face, planting a soft little kiss on the top of her head. "Wow, Potty. You really are a freak, aren t you?" said a drawling malevolent voi ce from right behind her. Harry jumped and whirled around, smoothly pulling out her wand with her right ha nd while Alice raised herself and hissed menacingly from her left. The boy was leaning against one of the poles that held the swing-set. Draco blue eyes nastier smirk. I hate you. She remembered the last comment he had made to her, which was, unsurprisingly, a long similar lines. "Go away, Piers." He cracked his knuckles threateningly. "Now now, I just want to catch up with an old friend." In an impressively accurate imitation of Draco, Harry drawled, "It s so nice to see that you ve learned how to bully without Malcolm and Dudley around." Piers smirk vanished and Harry boldly continued. "You re such a coward. You used to be a good person, Piers. Now you re exactly like them, because you re scared they ll treat you like they used to. Tell me, as Dudley beat you senseless out behind the school that day, did he use the hand on your throat, fist to the gut , or the sits on your chest and pummels your jaw? " Piers eyes widened for a split second before narrowing in anger. "Shut it, you s tupid cunt. You don t know jack. Besides they ll be along shortly. We ve missed p laying our favorite game." He laughed and pushed himself of the pole, sneering a s he advanced on her. Quirrell swatted away her leg locker curse as if it were an annoying gnat. His f

ace was curled in a twisted smile as he strode purposefully toward her. She backpeddled quickly, an explosion curse on the tip of her lips. "Get away fr om me! Now!" Piers sneer became feral. "Or what? You ll poke me with a stick? You ll sick yo ur tiny snake on me? I could rip it in half. Would you enjoy that, Potty?" Leaning against a pillar, Quirrell twirled his wand lazily between his fingers a nd asked breathily, Did you enjoy that, Potter? I did. Harry growled in a deadly voice; a voice dripping with all the malice she felt f or Quirrell and Voldemort. "Get the bloody hell away from me, Piers." Great gusts of wind swirled past them. Piers laughed coldly and his blue eyes blazed with rage. "Oooo I see. Harry s a Potty-mouth now. How fitting." Harry frowned. The boy was angry too angry. He had the same look on his face now as he did when she rejected his invitation last summer. Furious... and hurt. Harry almost laughed almost. "So that s what this is about? You stupid berk! Mayb e if you had been nice to me more than twice in six years, I would have said yes !" Peirs reeled back as if he d been slapped. Harry would ve ranted more, had Dudle y and Malcolm not just appeared over the ridge behind them. Stuffing Alice and h er wand hastily into her pocket, she turned and ran as fast as she could back do wn the dirt path. Malcolm s slow, breaking voice cried out, "GET HER!" Harry bolted down the road as fast as her worn-out patent shoes could carry her, looking for anything that she could use to escape. She was almost back to Prive t Drive, when a hand latched onto her wind-tossed hair and pulled sharply backwa rd. Quirrell grabbed her hair and wrenched upward. Potter, tell the truth, what did you see? Harry cried out as she was wrenched down to the ground. Someone kicked her hard in the stomach. Spidery hands pinched her body, roughly grabbing at her knickers. Invasive finge rs pushed at her folds. Sobbing, she grabbed frantically at the hands that held her hair. "You deserve it," whispered Piers hotly, throwing her down to the ground and sto mping on her chest. No I- I don t! Harry s core was pulsing; her skin was burning. She curled into a ball to avoid more blows, pleading with him. "STOP IT. PIERS, PLE"Freak!" His foot collided with her hand and it snapped backwards unnaturally. Her magic exploded with her scream. Three loud squeals echoed out from around her. There was a bang of something hit ting metal trashcans, a jangling of a wire fence, a dull thud... and then silenc e. Crying steadily from the pain of her broken wrist, Harry opened her eyes. The th ree boys were all groaning in pain twenty feet away; Piers by the trashcans, Dud ley by the fence, and Malcolm face down in the dirt. Cradling her wrist, Harry got up and ran before they regained their bearings. Sh e sprinted the half-mile back to Number Four, threw open the door, and darted up to her room. Panting heavily, she pulled out Alice and her wand. "You okay?" sh e whispered. "A little bruissed but I will live." Alice darted her tongue out against Harry s rapidly swelling wrist and oddly bent hand. "What of you?" Wiping her eyes with her good arm, she hissed back softly, "Don t talk about it. I m... I m trying to ignore it." She wrenched open the loose floorboard under h er bed. "You need to hide. I don t know if Dudley saw you or not." Mere seconds after she had replaced the floorboard over-top Alice and her wand, Uncle Vernon burst into the room with a mad gleam in his eye. He thrust an open letter into her hands and said harshly, "Read it." Dear Miss Potter,

We have received intelligence that you used a powerful wandless knockback jinx o utside your place of residence this evening at fifteen minutes past seven. Given your age and its magnitude, we have concluded that it was accidental. A magic r eversal squad will arrive shortly to remove the memories of two Muggle witnesses , not including your cousin as his direct relation to you and previous knowledge of magic, exempts him from the process. As you know, underage wizards are not permitted to perform spells outside school , but as this incident was accidental, we ask you only to remember that any magi cal activity that risks notice by members of the non-magical community is a seri ous offense under section 13 of the International Confederation of Wizards Stat ute of Secrecy. We also ask you to remember that directly performing spells outside of school, m ay lead to expulsion. (Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery , 1875, Paragraph C) Enjoy your holidays! Yours Sincerely, Mafalda Hopkirk -IMPROPER USE OF MAGIC OFFICE-Ministry of MagicHarry looked up from the letter, trembling at the sight of glee on her uncle s f ace. "You didn t tell us you weren t allowed to use magic outside school," he said fi ercely. "Forgot to mention it Slipped your-" "DAD! DAD! HARRY USED MAGIC ON ME!" She heard Dudley s pounding feet racing up the stairs, quicker than she ever tho ught he could move. He rushed into the room, wheezing, his blubber shaking and h eaving. "DAD! SHE BLEW ME BACKWARD, I SWEAR!" Uncle Vernon s large sausage fingers clamped down around Harry s neck. His face was turning a bright shade of purple. "You magiced my Dudley?" Despite his rage, hi s voice was very quiet, which made Harry absolutely terrified. "You saw the letter, Uncle Vernon! I m sorry! They broke my wrist! It was an acc i-grch." Uncle Vernon s hand cut off her windpipe as he picked her up by the throat and d ragged her out of the room, down the stairs, and past a worried looking Aunt Pet unia. Not worried for me of course. Her uncle wrenched open the cupboard door and threw her roughly inside. Her head slammed into a familiar foe Coat Rail. The door was closed behind her; the key turned in the lock. Locked in the cupboard. That s not half as bad as I was expecting. The first day without food or water or the ability to go to the bathroom wasn t too bad. She had opened her trunk and dug around for the left over gift candy th at she, Ron, Hermione, and Neville had not been able to consume on the train. Th e second day wasn t too bad either, but she needed water. On the third day she h ad screamed; banged; yelled. On the fourth day she had knocked; pleaded; cried t ears of salt; called out to God, Merlin, and whatever else was out there. On the fifth day, Harry realized that they weren t going to let her out. Harry in the cupboard. Out of sight and out of mind. She would never see her friends again. She would never see Ginny again. She trie d to use her magic to open the door, but she was too weak, too hungry, and too t hirsty to do anything more than make it rattle. On the sixth day, Harry lost con trol of her muscles, including those around her bowels. And on the seventh day sh e lost track of time.

Harry stood on white shores. Wind blew, the moon shone, the sun rose, and the st

ars twinkled. The beach was calm it was infinite it was the entire world forever a nd ever. Crystal pink water swirled at her feet; water that called to her pulled her down into the sand and foam. A thousand-thousand voices whispered in listles sness. She couldn t think, she couldn t move, she couldn t breathe; she just was. She spent her milliseconds and splitseconds and seconds and minutes and hours a nd days and years and eternities looking at a small light on her arm. It consumed her; she existed in it; she danced in its warmth with wild abandon. It s squiggle. It s so so so so squiggle. It s so so so so squiggle


"Yes May I help you, young lady?" "Oh, yes, Hello. My name is Ginny Weasley." quill "Very nice to meet you." "Oh yes. Thank you. You as well. Well, you see today is Harry s Birthday and we ve come to pick her up. She hasn t been returning our letters and I ve been we v e been very worried." "There There isn t a Harry Potter in this house! Good day to you." "You re lying! We saw you pick her up at the train station! I know she s here. I always know where she is! And I I never said Potter! What have you done to her! Harry?" "I SAID GOOD DAY." "NO! DAD!"

"GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?" "Ron, check upstairs." grass... "Harry! Where are you?" "Where s Harry? What have you done with her?" "SHE S NOT HERE! SHE RAN OFF." "DAD! FOUND HARRY S OWL! IT S LOCKED UP!" "Locked up?" "I DEMAND THAT YOU-" "Stupefy!" "Dad! Look She s in the cupboard! "Alohomora." "Sweet Merlin! Wait. Don t-" "Oh my Harry? Harry wake up. Oh Harry talk to me please HARRY?! Daddy she s not breat hing! She s not No!"

"YOU! YOU KILLED" "Ginny, no!" fruit

She stepped from the water onto a sandstone path. The stones wound through a mas s of begonias and lilies to a little white door. The wood was cool against her h ands. It opened slowly, releasing a pleasant, well-worn creak. She heard music p laying inside; a light jazzy number with a bass line that seeped into her bones, creating an urge to tap her feet in time to the rhythm. It beckoned her forward , welcoming her into the small hallway with white shag carpet that tickled her b are feet. The hall led into a cozy living-room with blue walls, covered in paint ings and moving picture frames. One such little frame beside her, showed herself t aking her white dress from Aunt Marge. The eyes of her younger visage sparkled w ith delight as she ran her hands over the fabric. She saw pictures all around the room that contained bits of her life. She saw he rself sitting on the bench with Ginny at King s Cross for the first time; saw a picture of Ron with his arm around her; saw herself huddled next to Hermione as they shared a book. Her whole life sat before her. Her whole life and two people two very familiar people. They were dancing and laug hing in the center of the room, embracing tightly. She had thought on their face s often since that night with the Mirror of Erised. When the short redheaded wom an spun to face her a pair of familiar green eyes widened in shock. She patted th e tall messy black-haired man excitedly on the back. "James! She s she s here!" "Who s here?" he asked in a rolling baritone. "Harry, you silly prat!" She forcibly turned James around to face her. A wide smile broke across his face and he beamed at her warmly. "Hullo, love." Harry s sob caught in her throat as she squeaked out, "M-Mum? Dad?" Here they are right in front of me happy to see me. Her mum ran forward, kneeling down to pull her into her lap and squeeze her tigh t. "Oh my baby! I ve missed you, darling! Look at you now! You re so grown up." Tears fell from Harry s eyes, partially from joy and partially from anguish. She was overwhelmed; her knees gave way and she collapsed against her mother s soft body. "H-How? Am I dead?" Her father said quietly, "I don t think so... you re just Well, I think you re si tting on the line. Don t worry about it, love. We re together for now." Harry nodded rapidly. "Together. We re we re together now." She pulled back from her mother and reached out cautiously to touch her face. When her fingers reache d her mother s skin, she pulled back as if electrocuted. The skin was solid; it was there. You couldn t truly touch in dreams could you? Her mother grabbed her hand tightly and held it to her lips. But wait this this isn t they re gone. "Oh Mum. Why did why did you have to leave me behind?" Her mother s startlingly g reen eyes moistened and Harry rubbed her fists fiercely against her own. "Why di dn t you just We could have been together here we could ve been a a family." Shaking her head, her mother pulled Harry tight. "No, love, don t say that. I ga ve my life for you gladly. Being able to watch my little girl grow up, even if i t s from here, is worth a thousand of my lifetimes. And it was cruel what was don e to us, but we re still a family, Harry, even though we re apart." Harry pawed at her neck, sobbing into her mother s blouse. "But I- I miss you!"

Dad knelt down beside her, wrapping his arms around the both of them. His large hand cupped her cheek, thumb wiping away her tears. "Harriet we re so sorry for a ll the pain you ve been through; that we couldn t be there for you. It kills me p un intended that I couldn t take care of you; that I could only sit on the side l ine and watch." Mum slapped him lightly on the arm in chastisement. "James, that one was truly h orrible." Harry couldn t help but laugh amongst her violent sobs. Mum leaned down to rub her nose on Harry s. "Oh, Harry... We love you so much. T o see you here, it it warms, yet breaks my heart. I ll never forgive my sister." Harry shook her head, tears and hair flying all over. "It It doesn t matter. Mumm y Daddy I can t believe" She nuzzled her mother s neck. "I I love you too!" Dad stood and picked Harry up from her mother s embrace. He brushed Harry s hair back behind her ears and smiled at Mum. "You look just like your Mum when we me t on the train; full of that same fire." Grinning, he searched her face wildly a nd said under his breath, "Merlin! You are a beautiful little bugger, aren t you ? Certainly didn t get it from me. I hate that I won t be able to embarrass you in front of all your would-be suitors. Maybe Sirius will be up for the job, if h e ever gets out of that hellhole." His fingers dug into the back of her knees. T hat was the end of her tears. She shrieked in laughter, squirming, and her fathe r mercifully relented. "Ah yes the Potter knees. Woe to you if anyone ever finds out about them." "Ginny and Ron already torture me," she said breathlessly, raking a hand along h is forehead and poking in certain places to make sure he was actually there. He is. Harry grinned and took off her father s glasses, switching them for her own. Lau ghing to herself, she said quietly. "Wow, Dad! You re blinder than I am No wonder you were a Chaser." Her mum snorted and her father s mouth went slack. "OHO! Someone s britches are a bit big, aren t they? Not five minutes pass and y ou already think you re better at Quidditch then your dear ol Dad. Young people these days. Honestly, what is the world coming to?" He sighed overdramatically, grinned, and kissed her cheek. "There s no doubt about it, Lils. She s mine alr ight." "No one else s." Mum said lovingly, leaning up on her tiptoes to kiss him. Harry s heart lurched a little as her parents lips touched. Their kiss looked g entle, well practiced, and passionate. It was beautiful but she still felt slight ly embarrassed to be witnessing them snogging. Now I know how Ginny feels when Mr. and Mrs. Weasley get into a moment. She felt her cheeks heat up as their kiss became more intense. "Hey quit." They smiled against each other s mouths and pulled away. "Well, at least we get to embarrass you a little," said her father happily with an infectious grin. "So Harry how about a fly?" Mum tutted him. "Really, James? However little time we have with her and you wan t to spend it flying?" "I don t mind," said Harry enthusiastically. Her father grinned even wider, looking triumphantly at Mum. Her mother gave a little gesture of defeat, but smiled, leaning up to kiss Harry s nose. "Of course you don t. You re definitely your father s daughter Well, alr ight." Dad whooped. "But really be quick about it, James. There are things that need to be said." The sky and land stretched uninterrupted as far as the eye could see. Clouds dri fted lazily, birds sang sweetly, and Harry flew circles around her father. When they were back on the ground, he picked her up and whirled her around, shouting excitedly, "MY DAUGHTER WILL PLAY FOR ENGLAND!" As they marched back toward the house, Harry, piggybacking on her father s shoul ders, felt happier than she had ever been in her whole life yet also just as sad. She whispered into his neck, "Dad is this real?" Her father sighed heavily and hitched her higher up onto his back. "Who s to say

, Harriet? It s a question I ve always pondered; one that I ask Lily constantly. I d like to think the answer is yes. I d like to think that you re my little gi rl. I d like to think that the beautiful woman in that house is my Lils. But the truth is I could be a figment of your imagination just as easily as you could be a figment of mine. For all I know, neither of you are really here." She clutched at his collar. "No, Dad... I m here! I promise!" He had started to cry, just as she had. "That s the same thing your mother tells me. The same thing my father and mother tell me when they come round. But it do esn t matter. All that really matters is that it s real to us; that we know in o ur hearts that we loved each other in life; that we still love each other and we feel that love in our bones. Who s to say that the love I feel for you right no w here in this place is any less real than what I felt for you when we were alive. You know that we loved you; that we still love you, even though we re gone. You can feel it can t you?" She could. "I love you too, Daddy... and... and I think it s real. It has to be! " Her father wiped his eyes with his shirt. "Me too, baby. Me too." Her tears were heavy both on her eyes and on her heart. "I saw you in the Mirror and you looked just the same as you do now just the same as you did in the photo album that Hagrid gave me. How could you not be real? And Dad you saw me in the c upboard, didn t you? And then I came here! When if I wake up I ll I ll wave to you s o so next time next time we see each other we ll know this was real that it s all re al won t we?" They sank down to the ground just outside the little cabin. Her father swung her around to his front and hugged her tight. "I don t I don t know, sweetheart. Who s to say?" His eyes were closed; a pained expression smeared across his handsom e face. He held her forehead to his own, soothing her and stroking her hair. It had the opposite of the desired effect. Harry s tears built into hysterical sobs. She ne eded to know this was real; that these were indeed her parents; parents that tru ly loved her. Pounding on his chest his real solid chest, she cried out, "BUT IT IT HAS TO BE! I MISS YOU SO MUCH! I WANT YOU TO BE REAL! PLEASE!" Another hand fell softly on her head. "Then it s real, Harry." Her mother had co me out of the house. "Don t let your father get you down into one of his are we here, are we there rants." She kissed Dad solidly again. "I do love you, Prong s but you can be so melodramatic sometimes. It must be a Potter thing." Her mothe r tweaked their noses and cupped her father s cheek. "Heaven, the afterlife, the great beyond whatever this is it wouldn t be so cruel as to keep me from you, Jam es. Whatever this is, it wouldn t be so cruel as to force us to watch our daught er going through such terrible pain if it wasn t truly happening. It s absolutel y real as I tell you every time we make love." She smirked impishly. "And come on doesn t that seem pretty realistic?" Harry s tears had trailed off as her mother s smooth voice calmed the both of th em, but when those last words came, her eyes widened with shock. "Um Ewww? I m s itting right here." Her mother ran her hand down through Harry s hair. "No one but our daughter woul d say something like that to us, James. Not even a figment of your imagination." They kissed once again and fell backwards, hands roaming all over. Dad ran his p alm over Mum s breast and they both moaned heavily. Scandalized, Harry squeaked nervously and covered her eyes. "Love you," said her mother quietly. "Love you too, Lils. I understand, but like Harry, I just I want this to be real. I can t bear the thought of not being with you." "Then it s real. Harry, come here, baby." Harry uncovered her eyes and crawled t o the spot where they had fallen in their passion. Mum took her arm and pulled h er between them. "I love you both so much. You know it in your hearts and that s all that matters." She wrapped all of their hands together and held them tight. "Harry I think your time here is almost up. So we need to talk. I have so much m otherly advice I never got to give you. So... here goes We ll always be with you, sweetie, and don t you ever doubt it. Be true to yourself. Be true to your frie

nds." Her mother, grimacing slightly, said, "Don t take grief from anyone, Harry unless you know you deserve it." Her father cut in. "Don t settle for someone you don t love and don t let anyone stop you from pursuing someone that you do. Trust your friends even even if they re not trustworthy. Forgive their mistakes. Forgive their faults." Her parents s hared an intense look that Harry didn t understand. "And Harry, listen to Sirius . His story needs to be told." "Sirius wait! Do you mean my Godfather? Mr. Weasley made it sound like you know." Her father nodded solemnly. "Technically, he s as good as. When the time comes ju st listen. He loved you as we did. And he could again." Her mother hugged her tight. "Almost time. Work hard in school. Go easy on Well, don t hold it against Severus. He s a troubled man. If you ever if you ever have a chance, tell him that I forgive him. That girl, Ginny, be good to her. She dep ends on you so much, looking to you for strength when she can t find it within h erself. Brush your teeth more often. I know you ve been skipping in the morning, young lady. Those pearly whites won t last forever if you don t. Don t let Petu nia push you around. She was always doing it to me. Oh and very importantly strin g side down you ll know what I mean. Anything else, James?" "Lots more but there isn t enough time in the world to get through it all. Let s see Practice your Transfiguration. Make plenty of mischief. Get sloshed at least once while you re at school. Quidditch is always more important than schoolwork. Scrub behind your ears. Don t mix asphodel and powdered bat wing. Buy plenty of socks. That money in our vault will last lifetimes so go crazy." He winked at he r. "And Well, be happy. There s always a brighter side of life, even when things are at their worst. Oh and Harry? Promise me that you won t underestimate Peter. " Harry felt very strange. It was as if she was in two places at once; as if she w as teetering on a tightrope. Mum grabbed her shoulders. "We love you, Harriet forever and ever. If you meet Hi m again tell him Lily and James Potter are waiting for him on the other side... a nd we re not happy." She watched miserably as her parents started to fade. "No wait! Mum! Dad! I don t want to go yet!" Her mum reached out to brush the hair out of Harry s face. "We ll we ll see you a gain." Her father wiggled her big toe with his fingers. "Proud of you, Prongslet." Everything went fuzzy. The green specks that were her mother s eyes grew to the size of dinner plates. Harry shrieked. A tiny little man with bulbous green eyes and bat-like ears was dangling upside down, right in front of her face. His feet were held by a hand; a freckled, pale hand. Her eyes followed the arm, up to the shoulder with a litt le yellow strap that held up a yellow sundress. Two amber, gold-flecked eyes gaz ed down at her in shock. She raised an arm to touch the girl s soft cheek. "Gin?" Her voice was weak, lik e a croak, a moan, and a whisper all rolled into one. "Harry!" Ginny dropped the creature onto the floor. There was a loud CRACK, but Harry only barely registered it as her best friend clambered up onto the bed. Ha rry suddenly found herself being thoroughly squeezed in the tightest hug the gir l had ever given her. Ginny s hair tickled her nose and she could feel tears dri pping onto her neck. A terrible ache somewhere deep in her chest disappeared. "Hey Ginny. I missed yo u." Harry snaked her arms around Ginny s waist, sinking into the embrace, bathin g in the warmth of her body and the scent of strawberries in her hair. This was the first friendly touch she had received since they last hugged at the station. And Ginny s Well, Ginny s was the touch she desired to feel above all others. Th e redhead s body heaved against her own. She depends on you so much. Harry squeezed back reassuringly and whispered into her ear, "What s wrong, Gin? I ve never I ve never seen you cry before." Slowly, the girl on top of her pushed herself up, her nose dragging against Harr

y s cheek. Their faces were inches away and a little tear fell on Harry s lips. Ginny brushed the tip of her nose on Harry s, just like just like Mum did. "Harry you were dead! We-We found you and youyou were dead. I held you in my arms! I thoug ht I d never oh Harry!" She crushed herself back down to give Harry a fierce hug. Harry had died. She remembered dying. She remembered when her heart had slowed t o a halt. She remembered when the veil fell away and the little coil of light ha d consumed her. She remembered the white shores and their cottage. It was real Dad It had to be. Raising a hand from Ginny s back, Harry waved at the spotlight shining down at h er. Till till next time. Harry let the hand fall back into Ginny s hair and she whispered softly, "Yeah, but I m here now. Ginny nodded into Harry s neck but couldn t stop crying. Like a yawn, her heavin g sobs were contagious. "Gin" Harry moaned through her own tears. "Don t don t cry. We re together again, yeah?" She turned her head and pressed her lips into the red hair. "I I know thou gh. I used to I used to see you everyday when I was afraid of my wand and my magi c. Whenever I cast spells, I would see you hurt dead and I was always the one hold ing the wand. So I know you know?" Cuddling into her, Ginny muttered something unintelligible, face pressed into th e pillow. Harry pulled her over so she was lying directly on top of her body, on ce again face to face. "What?" Ginny s eyes were puffy and red. Her bottom lip trembled with shuddering breaths . When she spoke, her words were interspersed with little hiccupping sobs. "I lov e you Harry. Don t you ever die again." Although it was spoken platonically, Harry s stomach still did flips. Her heart still raced. No one had ever said those three words to her. Not once in her life . Except except Mum and Dad It was real. It was real. It was real. It had to be. Ginny s breath fell heavily on her cheek. Harry found her hand and entwined thei r fingers. "Gin, I I love you too and I ll try not to die again. I promise. I coul d come haunt you as a ghost, if I do though." Ginny sat up, the corners of her mouth twitching upward. That s better. The redhead wiped her eyes and shoved Harry in the shoulder. "You d better," she demanded in a half-laugh half-sob, her breasts jiggling lightly as she Jiggling? "Oi! What s with these?" Harry poked her in her chest and Ginny giggled, slappin g her hand away. "You re bubbies are bigger than mine! That s not fair! I m olde r!" Ginny slid off of her waist and lay down next to her, placing her freckled chin on Harry s shoulder. "It s not my fault. You ve seen Mum... blame her. Besides, you re only three months older than me!" Harry grumbled and raised the cover to observe her still relatively flat chest. "Still." Ginny peeked in and said, "hmmm, yours are better shaped. Mine are bigger, but t hey go all pointy." Harry snorted. Ginny smacked her arm. "Don t make fun! It s it s been terrible actually. Mum s n oticed and I just about died when she asked me if I have any hair down there? I well I do and now I have to go with Mum to The Witching Hour in Diagon Alley. I hate that place. Everything is violently pink and smells like it s been soaked i n perfume." "Thought you liked pink?" Ginny gestured wildly and said, "You don t understand violently pink!" She grinne d slyly. "Mum will probably drag you into the shop too." Harry would have replied, but just at that moment, a tremendous snore from the c orner of the room made her jump and she pulled the covers up higher. Ginny patted her arm. "It s just Ron getting his beauty sleep."

Harry laughed; really laughed. She hadn t laughed all summer. Turning to face he r, she scooted into the redhead s body. "I missed this I missed you." Ginny smiled and closed her eyes, placing an arm around her. "Mmm missed you too. I m going to fall asleep now, okay?" "Okay," said Harry, moving over so the other girl could get on the pillow. She w asn t tired at all as she had just woken from the last and best sleep a person i s ever supposed to have, but she lay quietly all the same, letting Ginny s last words bounce about her head. She says that but she didn t she never wrote. After a few minutes of silence Harry had to ask. "Gin?" Ginny breathed into her neck, "mmmmmquaffle." Harry giggled and placed a hand on the redhead s shoulder, shaking lightly. "Gin ?" Ginny moaned and placed a finger to Harry s lips, shushing her sleepily. Grinning, Harry nipped it with her teeth. Ginny smirked into the pillow and cracked open an eyelid. "Whaaaat?" Harry didn t really know how to ask the question without being blunt. She looped a finger into Ginny s hair, twiddling it between her thumb and forefinger. "Wel l, I I couldn t write to you because the Dursley s locked Circe up, but why why di dn t you write to me?" As soon as she said it, before Ginny could answer, there was another loud CRACK; one Harry could not ignore. At the foot of the bed stood the ugly green-eyed cr eature that had been dangling in front of her face just minutes ago. Harry and Ginny sat up, staring in shock. Its batlike ears were turned downward and its huge bulbous green eyes were fille d with shame? Nervously shuffling its feet, it stuttered in a ridiculously high-p itched voice, "Harry Potter and her Wheezey witch mustn t be angry Dobby hoped if Harry Potter had thought her friends had forgotten her Harry Potter might not wan t to go back to school, miss." The little thing brought out from behind its pill owcase shirt, a large thick stack of letters. Harry gasped. She could see about fifteen envelopes that read Harry, in Ginny s choppy script, as well as a few in Hermione s, Ron s, Neville s, and Hagrid s. Ginny growled at the creature. "You stopped our letters!" The creature Dobby as it had called itself, nodded its head apologetically, great ears flapping like windsocks in a hurricane. "Dobby had to, Miss Dobby must not l et Harry Potter go back to Hogwarts this year. It isn t safe." Ginny s voice crackled with ferocity. "You you ve been stopping them all summer, though!" Dobby nodded his head even harder, bursting into tears as he did so. "Dobby thou ght Dobby thought it would make Harry Potter safe." Before Harry could stop her, Ginny lunged at Dobby. He vanished with a crack and reappeared on the nightstand next to the bed. "No, not the Marshmallows, Mum!" shouted Ron. "It s Devil s..." *SNORE* Harry added that to her mental list of things that she could tease Ron about and caught Ginny as she lunged for Dobby once more. "Gin, stop!" Ginny s amber eyes were wild and enraged, flooding with tears. Harry pulled her down into her lap, holding tight as her friend struggled to get at the little creature. "It s just a couple of letters." Ginny s fingernails clutched at her bare back. "No, but Harry! That means he knew you were in the cupboard! He s a house-elf! He could have unlocked that door wi th a snap of his fingers!" Harry leaned back, shocked, and the sheet fell off her. She scambled for it. Had it just been Ginny in the room she wouldn t have bothered but this little elf-th ing unnerved her tremendously. She glared at Dobby and asked, "Is is that true?" The elf nodded. "Then give me a good reason why I shouldn t let her at you?" "Dobby did it to protect you, miss!" squeaked the elf frantically. "Protect her?" snarled Ginny. "She died! She literally died! If that s your defi nition of protection I d prefer it if you piss off! Whose elf are you anyway?" The elf s eyes widened with fear. "I I cannot say, Harry Potter s Wheezey."

Harry sighed and held out her hand. "Dobby why don t you give me my letters sit do wn explain what you re on about, and answer Ginny s question... or I won t listen to a thing you have to say." The elf, once again, burst into tears. "Sit sit down? Never has Dobby been asked to sit down by a witch! Like an equal!" Dobby wailed at the top of his lungs and fell over onto the nightstand, hugging a small potion bottle to his chest. How is Ron still asleep? "Oh, honestly" she said, reaching out to gingerly pick up the elf. She plopped hi m down on the bed and took her letters. Even though Ginny was right here, sittin g between her legs, Harry desperately wanted to tear them open, just so she coul d silence that tiny voice in her head that was questioning whether or not she st ill had friends. "Now," Harry said calmly. "Answer Ginny s question. Whose elf are you... and why are you trying to stop me from going to Hogwarts?" The house-elf stopped its sobbing and gripped the potion bottle tightly. "Dobby is Dobby belongs to the to the bad they- they hits Dobby will be punished!" It whimp ered, flipped the bottle upside down, and started to beat itself about the head with the glass. "Bad Dobby! Bad Dobby!" "What are you doing?" Harry cried, wrenching the bottle out of its hands. Ginny answered while Dobby flopped about in the sheet, twisting his ears violent ly. "House Elves are Well, they re bred to be obedient slaves, Harry. I haven t s een many, but I know that they re never supposed to speak ill of the family they serve. And they they punish themselves if they do really violently. Our Aunty Mur iel had an elf that committed suicide just because it told one of her neighbors that she had a horrible singing voice and she does, mind you. The fact that this one is even trying to tell us is odd." Harry s anger and disdain for the little thing vanished instantly. "That s that s barbaric," she whispered, watching the elf squirm. Ginny nodded into her neck. "Yeah. Muriel tried to give us an elf, but Mum shout ed her down. She refuses to have one in the house." Harry placed a reassuring hand on the elf s shoulder and it stopped thrashing. " It s alright Dobby you don t have to tell us." Dobby s eyes widened. "Harry Potter touches Dobby in kindness. Never has any wiza rd or witch done so! So good is Harry Potter so great so noble" He pawed at her leg with his tiny hands and she was reminded of what Mrs. Figg s cats would do to the upholstery. Never been touched with kindness I I remember that. "Why don t you run away, Dobby? If you re concerned about my safety, you could We ll, you could stay with me and keep me safe. I won t hit you." Harry wished she hadn t said it. The elf went bonkers. It sobbed. It wailed. It punched itself. It bemoaned her k indness. "Harry Potter is a great witch far too good to-" "Dobby!" Harry held the elf down to the sheets. "Calm down!" His little heartbeat slowed beneath her fingers and she let him up. He shook his head and said sadly, "Dobby would like nothing less than to be Harry Potter s e lf, miss. But a House elf must be set free. Dobby s family will never set Dobby free, Miss." "Oh. Well" Harry trailed off. She didn t know what she could say or what help she could offer without having the elf wail again. "Okay. Well, why why is Hogwarts not safe?" The elf looked around as if he thought others were listening in. Dobby stared at her with his tennis ball eyes and whispered, "There is a plot, Harry Potter a pl ot to make most terrible things happen at Hogwarts." Harry laughed to herself. That s it? "A plot what kind of plot?" asked Ginny. "Can you tell us what s happening?" The elf began twisting its ears and moaning, but Harry pulled Dobby s hands away . "Dobby why come to me? Why not go to Dumbledore?" "Dobby cannot Dobby cannot Dobby cannot. It is it is Dobby must keep Harry Potter sa fe from the dark! She is too great to lose!"

Harry sighed heavily. "Dobby, if you won t tell me, I m going to have to take my chances. I d rather snog Voldemort than go back to the Dur... Dobby?" The elf was vibrating, a bit like a ringing telephone still on the hook. "Dobby must leave, Harry Potter! Dobby s mistress calls." The elf got right up into her face. "Harry Potter will not go back to Hogwarts!" CRACK "They want me to tap-dance!" yelled Ron sleepily. The elf vanished and Ron s snores resumed moments later. "I d like to see him stop me," said Harry. "He s not even a foot tall." Ginny clutched her arm. "Don t say that, Harry. House-elves are Well, there was a reason wizards enslaved them in the first place. They re they re really powerful . All the old horror stories about Leprechauns and Gremlins they re all really ab out malicious House-elves." "What old horror stories?" Ginny scratched her head. "Well I don t know any but still." Harry laughed and lay back into the pillows, pulling the covers up to her chin. Ginny scooted off her lap and they resumed their former position. "If you have to stay home from Hogw arts," said Ginny quietly, twirling some of Harry s hair around her index finger , "then I ll stay too." "You don t have to-" "I want to." Ginny took her hand, sliding up the pillow so they were at eye-leve l. "I lost you and it hurt so bad, Harry. When I saw your body it was I can t even" Ginny s eyes were filled with anguish and she traced a hand down Harry s jaw lin e. Harry s brain was flooded with the scent of strawberry. They had cuddled, snu ggled, kissed, and hugged yet this one little touch was... Harry didn t know what it was. It felt so squiggle. "Gin?" asked Harry softly. "What s what s wrong?" Breathing deeply, Ginny closed her eyes and said, "I see your eyes now and all I can think about is how they looked when you were dead. I touch you and all I ca n remember is how it felt to touch the bloodied cracks in your skin. I feel your hair and all I can picture is how dry and brittle it was. Harry, you re my I don t even know what you are anymore but I lost you and I can t do it again. Even now , with you right here beside me, I m upset and and angry really angry I ve never fe lt like this. If Dumbledore hadn t stopped me, I... I probably would ve killed y our Aunt." Harry grabbed her arms, pulling her closer. She rubbed her nose on Ginny s and s miled. "Wish you had finished the job and saved me the trouble." Choking on a laugh, Ginny wiped at her eyes. When her freckled hand fell away, H arry reeled back. She was suddenly miles away, at the Burrow, hesitating to put her ornament on the Christmas tree. Ginny s amber gaze had been hard, stubborn, serious, affectionate, heartbroken, angry, ecstatic, and determined all at once; it blazed with fire and emotion and recklessness; it was the look she couldn t d efine; it was the look that embodied Ginny; it was the look that was boring into her at this very moment. "How do you do that?" asked Harry. "Make your eyes go all" She made a complicated gesture with her hands. "Eyes go all what?" Ginny asked in mock offense, poking Harry in the belly. Harry put her hands to her face and tried to force her brow to imitate it. "I ca n t explain it. It s pretty yet intimidating yet kind. It drives me mad. I tried t o do it in the mirror over the summer and I just ended up crossing my eyes." Ginny giggled and shrugged. "I was actually just thinking about when we ran thro ugh the barrier last year; no specific look intended. Remember?" The hourglass flipped of its own accord. Harry turned her face into the pillow, nodding, cheeks flushing. "Yeah." I think about it every night and you re going to hate me when you Well, this is a problem for future-me. Future-me can handle it. Ginny s slow heartbeat hammered in her ears; her pulse was thudding against her hand; her breath was a heavy wind on her neck. Strawberries exploded in her mout h.

Ginny twiddled with Harry s hair and when she spoke, Harry could pick out every note in her voice; heard the waves of sound entwining together to create her lil ting smooth alto. "That was a good day. You know I m glad Ron was being a prat or I wouldn t have come over to that bench I bet." Harry didn t really want to think about that. She closed her eyes as Ginny ran h er thumb over her knuckles. When her ministrations ceased, Harry opened her eyes , thinking Ginny had maybe fallen asleep. She had not. "Harry," Ginny said in a tiny voice, "what was what was it like?" Harry knew from her tone what she had meant. Entwining their fingers, she said i n what she thought was a reassuring voice, "It wasn t bad. Painless. Quiet even. I just sort of slipped away." Ginny scrounged up her eyes and squeezed her hand. "Honest, Gin. Everything just fell away. Like going to sleep. I saw a beach; this impossibly beautiful beach. And I I saw my parents." Ginny s eyes snapped open. "You what?" Harry quickly continued, not wanting her to think she was crazy. "Or I think I di d. It was it was so real, Gin. I I flew with my dad. My mum she s she s wonderful. I don t know if it was possible but I hope it was real. I hope that they that they really love me as much as they said. I hope they re watching. It s it s nice know ing you have a family that s-" "You do have a family," Ginny said fiercely. Harry thought it might have just slipped out of the redhead s mouth, but Ginny r epeated herself purposefully, her eyes once again smoldering. "I m your family, Harry. You re you re a Weasley! You were almost a Weasley officially Dad said. Ju st like the rest of the world, they offered to adopt you but Dumbledore" "Said that I have to be a Dursley" Harry muttered dejectedly, "That I ll have to be a Dursley for another five years." Ginny gaped at her. "He won t send you back! He wouldn t not after-" "Yes he will I know he will." Ginny pressed her stomach into Harry s and held her tight. "I won t let him! I w on t let you!" Harry knew it was pointless to argue. Dumbledore would send her back, and there was nothing she or Ginny could do about it. She nosed Ginny s cheek as affection ately as she could. "Thanks, Gin." Ginny made a little satisfied grunting noise. She pushed on Harry to roll her ov er onto her side and slid up behind her. Her bum slid back into Ginny s waist. T hey fit together like spoons stacked in a drawer. While Harry liked this, she wa s somewhat dismayed at what it meant. "You bint! You re taller than me too!" Ginny swatted Harry s hip. "Only because I get to eat properly, while you ve bee n eating crackers and toast for three meals a day. A month at home and you ll be taller than Ron. At home oh Gin... Harry grabbed her arm and pulled it around her. "Ginny about last year" Ginny sighed and squeezed her hand. "I don t want to hear about it right now, Ha rry. We re already over the limit on the bad things that have happened to Harry , scale. I know it s bad too. Every time I managed to get Ron to talk about it, his eyes would go all cold and he d make bad jokes." "It Well, yeah it s bad." Ginny buried her face into Harry s hair. "Then tell me later. Let s just" she yaw ned widely in the middle of her sentence. "I need to sleep." "Tansy cakes," Ron sighed happily from his corner. Ginny sat bolt upright, nearly dislodging Harry from the bed. She was grinning. "I forgot! Be right back." Without so much as another word, she ran from the roo m. Harry was left puzzled and slightly chilly without Ginny s warm body to hold on to. When Ginny returned to the room, she was holding in her hands a chocolate cupcake . Harry laughed. "You needed a snack at four in the morning?"

"It s not for me you silly twonk... although, I wouldn t mind a bite." Ginny got back up on the bed and promptly sat on her. "It s for you! Happy Birthday we ll have your real cake at the Burrow when you get out here of course." Harry sat up, sheet falling to her waist, and rolled Ginny off her stomach. "It s it s my birthday? I was in there for-" "Half a month," said Ginny morosely, but a bright smile returned to her face jus t as quickly as her frown had formed. she shoved the treat into Harry s hands. " Now eat your stale cupcake." Harry bit down. It was indeed stale... and rather disgusting. Harry handed it to Ginny, smirking as the girl took a rather large bite. Harry giggled when Ginny s face fell in a disgusted expression. "Blegh! Harry! Y ou could ve warned me!" "How would that be any fun for me?" Harry asked coquettishly as Ginny tossed the cake into the bedside bin. Ginny pounced on her, growling playfully. "Commencing knee tickling in five seco nds five four three" Harry squealed and pulled the covers up over her head, curling into a ball to pr otect herself. But the tickles never came. Harry peeked out over the top of the sheet. Ginny was just sitting there, smiling at her. "What?" Harry asked, grabbi ng her arm and pulling her back down to the pillow. Ginny shrugged. "Nothing. I m happy." "Me too." Albus sipped his tea as the three Dursleys moaned and twitched on the couch in f ront of him, reliving all of Harry s most terrible memories in vibrant detail. N ever in his one hundred and ten years had he used Legilimency to educate someone u ntil now. In this case, however, he thought it was warranted. In the words of hi s father, before he was sentenced to Azkaban, It was a necessary evil. Yes... It was a necessary evil to break through their bigotry, to make sure that the re pugnant deed committed in this house would never be repeated He had ripped into each of their minds, finding the truths of their hate for the girl. In Petunia, it was the jealousy she felt for her sister. Burning deep dow n, repressed by a lifetime of ordinary, was a deeply seeded need to be extraordi nary. Of the three, hers was by far the most petty. In Vernon, it was fear and shame. Vernon s father was an abusive drunk and a pett y criminal. His continuous stints in prison were always the talk of the town and his family was ridiculed endlessly. Vernon, shamed by his father, committed him self to being a perfect member of society, shunning anything that would make him self standout. Thus his fear of magic. Albus thought it was somewhat ironic that this fear had twisted Vernon Dursley into an even more dishonorable and out of the ordinary man than his father. The son was not to blame. There was no true hate towards the girl. His actions w ere driven only by his bullying nature, the ideals he had learnt from his parent s, and the inability to determine right from wrong that so often accompanied you th. Now was as good a time as any to teach this boy the repercussions of his act ions. Despite his drive to right a wrong, he had still felt dirty tearing apart their minds. He was dancing upon the line between projection and possession. After making them relive each of the ten horrible days Harry had survived in the cupboard without water, he relented his grip. They slumped back, panting. "Now then, I believe we have an understanding? The Dursley Family nodded and Albus waved his wand, sending all of Harry s belon gings to the Burrow. He stood and just for dramatic emphasis, made the house rum ble with thunder as he disapparated. Upon his return to the Emergency ward of St Mungo s, Albus sighed with content. To see its halls so quiet soothed him. The ward had seen such hubbub in the last war as Tom had been particularly vicious i n his attacks towards its end. He passed Arthur who was sleeping in a chair out in the hall, doing exactly as A lbus had asked him to do. Despite his rather mischievous Hogwarts career, much l ike his twin sons, Arthur was a good man; a man he had made Head Boy. Albus had

been pressuring the Ministry for months to start a support program for those lik e Arthur s children, powerful young magic-users that couldn t afford the necessi ties that would allow them to become confident witches and wizards. He knew that the youngest son, Ronald, was using a hand-me-down wand. The boy would never re ach his potential, nor achieve satisfactory grades with a wand that had not chos en him or that he had not won. When Ronald had saved Harriet on the train, the b oy had shown his family s true worth; worth that could no longer go unnoticed by the world. And thus the scholarship program; it would donate just enough to cov er the essentials like wands and books, without hurting Arthur s pride. He took down the ward Arthur had put up over Harry s door and swept inside. The sight that met his eyes was startling, yet not altogether unexpected. The two gi rls were embracing, spooned together snuggly and fast asleep. The sheet covering Harry from view had fallen away. She was as naked as the day she was born. The Weasley girl, Ginevra, had thrown a leg over Harry s hip and her hand was firmly planted on one of Harry s breasts. The black-haired girl was panting in her sle ep. Albus himself had never been able to experience the effect of his augmented magi c in the presence of the person that he used as his leverage for the hourglass. Yet perhaps that was a good thing. It would have been most unsettling to become a roused when he thought of Ariana and the smell of her daisies; of the little flo wer chains she would make and place on his head. Even though it was a simple rea ction to one s magic, he assumed it would have been unsettling all the same. But the embrace these children shared it was most assuredly from real love. It wa s a feeling he missed dearly and was truly a beautiful thing to behold. He wonde red just how long it would take the girls to realize their passions. He tapped o n a portrait hanging from the wall next to him. "What do you think, Phineas? Two years? Three?" Phineas Nigellus groaned. "From the way they were touching and gibbering on abou t feelings I d give it a year." Harry let out a rather intense culminating groan that made even Albus, old and w ithered as he was, blush ever so slightly. Ah to be young Although a bit too young in this case. Molly would be most startled if she were to witness such a scene. He flicked his wand and the girls separated inch-by-inch, sheets rising to once again cover Harry s body. They both clutched at the other as they drifted furthe r apart. He was satisfied when only their hands were touching, but as soon as he released his spell they turned toward each other and ever so slowly inched back together. Instead of fighting what he knew would be a losing battle, Albus conj ured some basic clothes onto Harry s body and let them resume their embrace. The clothes would last a few days before vanishing. He would have to remember to re mind her of this so as to prevent any surprising and inopportune moments of nake dness. Harry s panting began again. Albus thought back on the shocking truth he had lea rnt this morning. A parseltongue. A gift most assuredly bestowed to her by Tom. I wonder she close d that particular door to me. It s disturbing surely but not shameful. I want her to know that. Yet the talk he needed to have with Harry could wait. It was far too early to wa ke them; they seemed so at peace. Albus remembered what it was like to be so uni nhibited by love. It was such a powerful emotion. It could start wars and move m ountains; could blacken stars and tempt fate; could blind truth from even his ey es. I do miss him Perhaps I could no. It has been too long and far too many lives were lost due to my affections. It it would not be right to see him again. And yet I do miss him. He disapparated with a soft pop. Albus reappeared on wet rock. He gazed up at the foreboding black tower of shale -stone, wincing as the icy water of the Baltic Sea blew into his face. FOR THE GREATER GOOD

The words scrawled over the gates mocked him as he passed beneath it; mocked his entire life. What is the point of me? There was a light at the top of the gargantuan structure, flickering in the cell of Nurmengard s only occupant. Albus touched the control stone at his side, visualizing his destination. The sc enery around him faded and rematerialized before his very eyes. In seconds, he w as outside the cell s bars. There he was as old and shriveled as Albus himself, lying on the moldy cot. The floor of his magical, steel cell was filled with books. Small, blood-red flo wers grew from every inch of the cold metal, their petals gleaming in the torchl ight. "Alchemy?" he questioned the man softly. "Whatever did you sacrifice?" The man held up a hand missing all but two fingers. "Albus at last you come." His gravelly deep voice, thick with a Polish accent, still sent shivers down Albus spine. "Yes, Gellert. I felt it was time enough for a visit at least," he said simply. "I thought you would have freed yourself long ago." Gellert shook his head. "I stopped attempting to navigate the maze forty years ag o. I saw too many of their faces. Of all my magics, I am most proud of this plac e. It was designed far too well for even me to crack, mein liebster. I suppose i t is fitting that I meet my end inside it." Albus stroked a flower on one of the bars. "I am not here to end you, Gellert. I could not then. I will not now." "Then leave me, Albus. I beg you. To hear your voice after so long; to feel the power of the wand in your hand it pains me greatly." "Not yet" Albus sighed heavily and sat down, leaning against the wall. "Not yet. I have missed you these long years, Gellert." Gellert s good hand was suddenly reaching through the bars. "And I you, Albus. Y et I know that is not the only reason you came." He took the withered hand in his own and rubbed it softly. "It was the reason th at brought me over the tipping point I think. But you are, of course, correct. I t alone was not enough." He paused for a long moment before he could say it. "Ge llert I found the shroud." The man s hand tightened around his own. Gellert s withered face appeared from t he shadows to press against the bars, his blue eyes wide with the same boyish tw inkle Albus had fallen in love with all those years ago. "You found it! Where? W ho? What family?" He hesitated to tell him. "Come now, mein liebster. I cannot free myself nor do I even wish to. Give me som ething to occupy my mind for the few years I have left." Albus had never been able to resist him when he was excited. "The Potters nee Pev erells." "Ignotus?" Albus nodded. "I knew it!" Gellert shouted gleefully. "Let let me see it, Albus." "I cannot. I returned it to the youngest Potter." "YOU WHAT?" cried Gellert in anger. "Why?" "Unlike you, my love, I am no thief. It was loaned to me and I returned it to the only living rightful owner." "Spare me your snobbery, Albus. I know you wanted to keep it for yourself. You h ave always been so easy to read. You must have felt a tremendous amount of guilt to return it willingly." "I I did, yes. The parents died by the wand of the man that followed your footste ps. It could have helped them escape. I was ashamed to have kept it for so long. " "Ah yes. Riddle. Young Karkaroff boasted to me of his Master s rise. HA! Power t hrough obscure ritual what a talentless hack." Albus froze. "What rituals?" Gellert shook his head, chuckling. "That is for me to know and you to find out...

and if you touch my mind again, Albus, I shall possess you and tear apart your soul." Albus smirked. It was a threat they had often used to intimidate the other when they first met. They had shared their first kiss after just one such an occasion . "Forgive me." Gellert smiled. His teeth were grimy. Albus sighed and conjured a tube of paste and a toothbrush, handing it to him. The man laughed and took it gratefully. "My thanks. I am afraid prison food has not been good to me nor my gums." He picked at his ribs and said in an apprehensive voice, "Albus what of the stone? If the t hree brothers of legend were truly-" Albus interrupted him. "I I have stopped my search. I no longer wish to bring her back." Gellert frowned. "I am sorry for my part in that. I have spent many years thinking on it. Look at my flowers. Daisies." Albus smiled wistfully. "Yes I did notice." "I have thought on much in my time here; much that I now regret. You were right; you re always right. We We were wrong and I led you astray." "It is good to hear you say that, Gellert. Perhaps, when we leave this life we ma y start anew." Gellert grinned. "I would like that very much, Albus. Now please leave me. Take th at accursed wand away from this place." "As you wish." He reached into his pocket, put several Lemon Drops into Gellert s hand, and left the cell without another word. Harry woke to sunshine on her face and a hand on the skin of her belly. She flip ped the hourglass back to normal before she gave in to the urge to push the hand down to her center. Gin. Ginny s arm tightened around her as Harry tried to sit up. The redhead let out a little mewl of protest and her hand slid further up Harry s shirt. Where did I get a shirt? It s a good shirt so it can t be mine. Pulling Ginny s hand out exasperatedly, she put her lips down on her friend s ne ck and blew a loud raspberry. Ginny shrieked and flailed, rolling off the bed. Ooopsies. Harry leaned over the side and saw that Ginny s chest was heaving. Oh bugger. She jumped off and got down on the floor, saying in a small voice, "Shite, Gin, I m sorry. I was just having a laugh." Ginny turned over to face her and she was laughing. She pulled Harry into a hug. "I had a nightmare that last night was a dream and that you were gone. Knowing t hat you aren t is definitely worth a slightly bruised bum." She slowly stood up, dragging Harry with her. Harry s eyes were only level with Ginny s nose. She put a hand on her own head a nd then stepped away. The hand was at Ginny s eyebrows. "That s rubbish that is, " said Harry moodily. Ginny took her hand. Their charms made their familiar sounds as they spun togeth er. "Promise me that you ll be around long enough to catch up." She was smiling b ut it didn t reach her eyes; the worry blocked it out. Harry slipped her arms around Ginny s neck, trying to make that promise with tou ch alone. "Do I get a hug?" said a breaking, yet familiar voice. She whirled around. "Ron!" He was awake, face adorned with his signature goofy g rin. Running to him, she threw herself into his arms and he whirled her around l aughing and holding her tight. Ron had gotten taller too and Harry was back to b eing below his shoulders. "Thought I lost you mate," said Ron softly, returning her to the ground, brushin g a little lock of hair back behind her ear. "Nah," Harry said, sighing into his shirt. "Little thing like dying in a cupboar d? Can t get rid of me that easily, can you? Potters are only allowed to go out in a blaze of glory."

Ron chuckled. "Cheeky today are we? Ah well lets me know you re really here." He ruffled her hair affectionately. Harry tilted her chin to look up into his crystal blue eyes. Another ache in her chest disappeared. Cupping his cheek, she muttered, "I missed you, Ron." "Missed you too, Harry." His stomach grumbled loudly. "Er you two want anything f rom the caf? I m starving." Professor Dumbledore strode into the room, wearing robes of an obscenely bright orange, smiling benignly as if his sudden appearance was a normal occurrence. "W hy don t you scrounge up some food, Mr. Weasley. I need to have a chat with Harr y here." Ron nodded and left. Professor Dumbledore looked pointedly at Ginny who started towards the door, but Harry caught her hand. "No. Stay with me, Gin." "Much of what we have to discuss is of a sensitive nature, Harry," Professor Dum bledore warned. Ginny gazed questioningly into her eyes and said, "It s alright, Harry. I don t mind leaving." Harry shook her head and pulled the redhead back towards her. "Only one secret." Ginny grinned. "Very well," Professor Dumbledore said, flicking his wand to conjure a rather la rge armchair and a comfortable looking couch. "First, let me say how happy I am to see you fully recovered." He sat down in the armchair, which sighed happily a s if the Headmaster had just done it a large favor. Seeing Harry s bug-eyed look , he explained lightly, "Happy Chairs, one of my most brilliant ideas if I do sa y so myself. There is nothing more gratifying than a chair that lets you know ho w much it appreciates you sitting in it. Do you like them?" Harry and Ginny sat down on the couch, which shrieked in fright. "Ah yes still a work in progress." "They re very nice, sir," said Harry, trying to restrain her laughter. Dumbledore nodded appreciatively and folded his hands in a steeple, face falling into a serious expression. "Harry, I must ask Were you aware of your actions whe n you protected you mind?" Harry ogled him. "When I what? I don t understand, sir." "Then I shall take that as a no. Hmmmm most intriguing Harry most intriguing." The old man scratched his bearded chin and adjusted his half-moon spectacles. "Sir I saw my parents." Dumbledore smiled widely. "Oh! That is most wonderful, Harry; the most wonderful thing I have heard in years in fact. It warms my heart to know that some little bit of them still exists somewhere. "It it was wonderful, sir. I brought it up though because... Well, they told me t hings that I didn t understand. I was hoping maybe you could help me explain some of them and then, that way I I could know for sure" Dumbledore fixed her with a penetrating stare. "I will do what I can. Yet you may not like the answers. Believing, Harry, is often far more satisfying then knowi ng. That being said fire away." "Well my mum said to tell Snape-" "Professor Snape, Harry." "Er right. Well she told me to tell him that she forgives him. Did he do something to her?" Professor Dumbledore sighed heavily. "Severus Snape and your father were rather u nfriendly towards each other much like yourself and Miss Parkinson. Even after yo ur father saved Severus life and his resentment dwindled, Severus held on to hi s anger. Your mother, however, she and Severus were close friends while at schoo l." Harry s breath caught in her chest. "WHAT?" "Yes, as surprising as it may seem, they were quite close up until their sixth y ear. It is not my place to tell you why they had a falling out. So do not ask me . But you should be happy, Harry There is no way you could have been privy to suc h information. The woman that told you that was indeed your mother, in some shape or form." Yeah it was. Harry looked up to the ceiling and Ginny cuddled into her side.

Love you, Mum. "Sir there s more. My Godfather, Sirius where is he?" "Sirius? Why he... he currently resides in the wizarding prison Azkaban." "W-Why?" "Well he Goodness me, I never thought I d be telling you this, my dear girl. Siriu s Black betrayed your parents to Voldemort and proceeded to kill thirteen people , which included another of your parents friends, Peter Pettigrew." Harry gasped. He killed but but what? "Professor my father told me to listen to Sirius and that his story needed to be told. He made me promise to not underestimate Peter. What does that mean?" Dumbledore sank back into the chair, closing his eyes. "This is most unexpected. I cannot answer you yet, Harry. But I assure you I ll look into it." "Al-Alright, sir. Do you think I could Would it be possible to see him?" The Headmaster s eyes popped open and he said with hesitation, " I believe that m ight be possible. It will raise many questions amongst the community as to why y ou are visiting him but yes it would beWell, I will see what arrangements can be ma de. However, it may take quite some time before a request to see such a high pro file prisoner can be processed." "Thank you, Professor." Dumbledore nodded. "There is something else I d like to talk about, Harry. It in volves the memories you placed behind the door." Harry froze, eyes flashing apprehensively to Ginny. What if she what if she runs? What if she hates me? Ginny s heartbeat was fluttering lightly against her shoulder. Harry squeezed her hand and ambers met her emeralds. "Gin?" she breathed heavily . "Do you trust me?" Ginny s shimmering hair fell into her face as she cocked her head, smiling radia ntly. "Yeah. I trust you." Harry placed her head down upon Ginny s shoulder and whispered into her ear, "Th en please don t leave me." She turned to Professor Dumbledore. "Yes, sir. What a bout them?" "I felt your shame for the ability, stemming from Hagrid s warning," Dumbledore said with a wheeze. "But I assure you, Harry, even though the information would be best kept secret to avoid general panic, being a Parselmouth talking to snakes is nothing to be ashamed of. As I have told you before, magic is not to be feare d rather, only what one does with it." Harry had heard the words roll from his tongue as slowly as honey dripping from a spoon; she had felt Ginny s sharp intake of breath against her neck; had felt the hand she was holding tightly tear violently away from her grasp; had felt th e warm body lying against her shoulder retreat to the far side of the couch. Har ry slowly turned to her, dreading... knowing what she would see. Ginny s eyes were filled with fear and mistrust. Harry reached out and Ginny scooted away. An overwhelming feeling of despair swept over her. Harry let out a soft sob and cried, "Gin please! I m still me!" Ginny squeaked in fear as Harry again reached for her. Gi-Ginny Harry had to get out of here; out of this room; away; far away. She jumped up... and ran; sprinted down the hall, fleeing from the one person she cared for most in this world. She knocked into Ron on the staircase and the food in his arms f lew everywhere. Ignoring his questioning shout, she darted down the steps with n o idea where she was going. It didn t matter; nothing mattered. The halls were e mpty save for a few people in green robes here and there. They yelled after her, but their voices were buzzing in her ears. There was sunshine ahead. She thrust herself into it, bursting out into open air , bare feet slapping against the concrete of what had to be London. Passersby se emed to be too busy to notice that a small girl with no shoes had just materiali zed through a solid glass window and Harry was too upset to care if they had. Sh e darted down and across the street, almost to be hit by a double-decker as it c

ruised around a corner. Her feet hit grass and she sprinted across a wide open field to a small path tha t led into a rather dense growth of foliage. Harry turned down the path winding, scattering the ducks that littered it, and emerged into a small abandoned clear ing. In its center, was a bronze-cast statue of a boy playing a long pan-flute. Harry found that she could run no more. Her legs gave out and she collapsed agai nst the statue in tears. Uncontrollable sobs racked her body, her eyes and nose leaking fiercely. "You deserve it," said Piers hotly. But she loves me! "No she doesn t you re a nasty little freak. Why would anyone love you?" She said she she she told me she did! "She lied, Potty." Harry went numb. Her tears waned, her breath evened, and her mind emptied. She s at there, blank as a fresh roll of parchment, absorbing the scenery with disinte rest. The only emotion she felt was surprise for another statue had appeared in t he clearing. It had not been there moments before. The statue was of a woman, tw o men, and five boys that sat between them. The woman was quite beautiful, even in bronze. There was a large inscription on the base of the statue that read: For the woman I loved, the friend I envied, and the children I cherished. -J.M.B. "Oi! You done sulkin on me stump?" said a loud voice with a Cockney accent. Harry jumped. There was no one else in the clearing. Looking around the edge of the statue she called out nervously, "Hello?" "Up ere, luv." Harry looked up. Had she not spent a year at Hogwarts and had she cared about anything at the mom ent, she might ve been frightened. The bronze boy was staring down at her and ha nging lazily off the bronze-wood stump he had been standing on, his flute dangli ng from his hand. A bronze girl, roughly three/fourths the boy s size in every d imension, was kissing and licking his ear intently as her metal wings flapped li ke a hummingbird s. The boy swatted at her. "Keep it in your pants, Tink. We av e a guest." The fairy-girl moaned in a high squeaky voice, "We always have guests, Peter. Ju st because this one can see us doesn t make a difference. Come on I need a good h ard shag. I ll let you put it in my-" "No means no, ya orny little bugger. Later yeah? Blimey, Ol Barrie must ave be en in a right foul mood ter magic ya the way he did." The fairy harrumphed loudly, punched him in the head with a clang, and flew out of sight on the other side of the monument. Peter gestured down at Harry. "Now Wi tch what s wit all this ere racket? Woke me up ya did. Plus, yer snottin all ov er me brass!" "Sorry," said Harry, offering nothing more. "Ahhh," Peter said knowingly. "Boy troubles, is it?" Harry couldn t laugh. Within her mind, there was nothing; she was empty. "Hardly," she said shortly. "Leave me alone, please." "Mmm, yeah," said Peter the Statue, ignoring her dismissal. "Bit of a runt fer t hat, aren t ya? So family troubles?" Harry didn t respond. "No? Hmmm lost someone?" Harry s heart lurched. There must have been some physical reaction as well, for Peter asked, "Who died then?" "No one I just lost them." Peter chuckled. "This person you lost was she, by chance, a cute little ginger gi rl?" There was another loud clang as Tink the Fairy most assuredly clobbered the boy s leg. Harry was a bit shocked at the statue s perceptiveness. "How d you know that?" "Well, she s right over there, luv starin at ya." Harry looked up and there she was. Ginny, eyes blazing, holding her charm, follow

ed by Ron and Dumbledore; Ginny face no longer showing fear; Ginny running towards her. She fell into Harry, grasping her shoulders, pulling her into her body. Ha nds tangled into her hair, lips brushed her cheek, and a nose rubbed against her neck. "Harry I m sorry!" cried Ginny frantically. "I was so stupid Forgive me. Please. I need you to forgive me!" Forgive me? Forgive her. Forgive who? "You deserve it," said Piers hotly. But she loves me! "No she doesn t you re a nasty little freak. Why would anyone love you?" She said she she She told me she did! "She lied, Potty." No she didn t. "You re just a freaky little cunt." No I m not. "She hates your guts." PISS OFF, PIERS! Everything that made her who she was flooded back into her. "Gin" she said quietl y. "Do you still love me?" Ginny nodded hurriedly into her shoulder. "Forever and ever, Harry. All my life people told me that it was evil magic... and I just... reacted. I don t care if you re a Parselmouth. You told me before that you could talk to Alice and I I did n t even think twice about it. Remember? In the tub?" Ginny pulled back and smil ed, roughly wiping away a tear. "You re Harry. That s all that matters to me." Harry put her head down on the redhead s neck, crying lightly into her hair. "I I was so" Her heart was flipping continuously in her chest. "Don t do that to me a gain, Gin please." "Never again." When they had both calmed, Harry took her hand and asked hopefully, charms clink ing, "Friends?" Ginny squeezed her tighter. "The best."

CHAPTER The Book From No One EIGHT Luna opened the set of wooden drawers and ran her hand over the soft fabrics, re membering This was unbearable. Curiosity getting the better of her, Luna turned the door h andle and pushed, peeking in through the crack to watch her mother work. Her bre ath caught in her chest as she beheld the contents of the almost always closed w orkroom Hovering in the center of the room was a swirling, spiraling rune of multicolore d light. Her mother stood on its far side, pouring spells into its center. Oddly the rune was absorbing each one. Luna couldn t look away. It was fascinating... mesmerizing. Her mother seemed to think so as well, for her eyes were alight with glee. After several minutes of casting, she halted, wand hovering over the center of the spirals. She bit her l ip Luna could tell she was on the verge of something; she was hesitating arguing w ith herself. But something changed in her mother s visage, something that twisted her hesitat ion into determination. She muttered a spell that Luna couldn t hear. There was a flash of green light. The rune swelled and distorted violently. Her mother s determined look faltered in dismay. Their eyes met from across the room as the light of the rune, now a v

iolent green, shot up her mother s arm. A loud scream, violently cut short, echoed into Luna s ears. Something wet splat tered across her face through the crack in the door. "We do miss you, Mummy. Daddy is very unhappy. He doesn t eat his Plimpy stew. H e s especially bad today because it s your anniversary." Luna glanced at the pic ture of the beautiful blonde on the dresser and said to her fondly, "I m I m alri ght though; I know you re here with me." She dug around in the messy drawer curiously and gasped when she found a lacy, b lue, see-through bustier and a decidedly racy pair of matching knickers and gart ers. Luna cocked her head, trying to imagine her mother wearing something so obvi ously not for daily wear. In another moment of impulsive curiosity, she took off her own clothes, slid the lingerie on, attached the garter stockings, and stepped in front of the full le ngth mirror. The undergarments hung loosely off her thin frame, but Luna rather liked them; the silk brushed against her skin in a most exhilarating manner. "Th at s interesting. I feel older" Turning sideways, she ran a hand over the corset s cups; cups that she wasn t even close to filling. "I feel like I m you just les s pretty. I wonder do you think I ll be pretty, Mummy?" Luna walked back to the drawer and pulled out a Ravenclaw blouse, slipping it on over the corset. It was wonderfully soft, albeit several times too large, resti ng on her chest like a potato sack. "Wrackspurts have made your shirt their nest for the summer season, Mummy. It s much softer than I remember." She could stil l smell her mother s perfume on the collar. "You know, I find your scent often a round the house. You did always smell so nice. Pine with a dash of hazelnut a bit like broom polish." The Ravenclaw skirt unfortunately wouldn t stay on her hips, so she pulled out o ne of her mother s ties and wrapped it tightly around her waist to keep the skir t up. "Hmmmm something s missing," she said, once she was back in front of the m irror. Luna poured through each drawer, looking for that little something that would ma ke Daddy smile when he saw her. She found it amongst the jewelry; her mother s n ecklace and favorite pair of earrings. "Oh yes," she said, slipping the hooks th rough the holes in her ears. "That looks simply wonderful." The butterbeer corks and the little radishes made the whole thing just perfect. It would surely chee r him up. "Daddy!" She trouped down the circular staircase into their living room where he r father was writing an extremely groundbreaking article about Gernumbly venom. "Daddy, look! I m Mummy." Daddy turned around slowly. Daddy didn t laugh. Daddy didn t smile. Daddy s eyes didn t twinkle like they used to. Daddy was blank. "Take that off, Luna," he said wearily, returning to his writing. Luna frowned. "But Mummy didn t mind that I m wearingHe cut her off sharply, his quill scratching furiously across the page. "Of cour se she didn t mind she s gone, you silly child! She s dead. Stop trying to bring her back." Her father didn t raise his eyes as he said it, which hurt Luna all t he more. Standing abruptly, Daddy quickly gathered up his papers while she whispered unde r her breath, "Mummy isn t gone, Daddy. She s with us wherever-" He left the room, slamming the door of his study behind him. "we go." Luna sighed heavily and picked up her Plimpy stick. The sky through the window was bright and cloudless. "It s an excellent day for plimping, Mummy. Dad dy doesn t like to come with me anymore, because your song makes him cry." She walked out of the house and across the rolling fields towards the forest tha t concealed her favorite stream. Just beyond those woods was the Weasley s home. "Perhaps I ll visit with Ginny. She s very pretty, isn t she, Mummy? I like the way her hair sparkles in the sun. You know, her brothers are quite pretty as we ll especially Ronald." Ginny s smiling face swam before her eyes. "I do like her

very much I think she might even be my friend. Do you think she might kiss me soo n?" Luna reached the stream bank and unhooked her garters, rolling them up to st uff into her skirt pocket. She jumped into the water with a great splash, trilli ng loudly to ward off any Kelpies. When Luna reached the deepest part of the stream, she sang at the perfect off-ke y pitch to lure the plimpies out from their mud-palaces. "OH A PLIMPY ONE OR TWO OR THREE, A PLIMPY I WOULD LIKE TO SEE. A PLIMPY SMALL AND LIGHTNING QUICK, I L L CATCH A PLIMPY WITH MY STICK!" Luna saw a movement out of the corner of her eye and she slapped her stick down in the water. "Yes!" The little round fish struggled to free its long stringy le gs from beneath the wood. She picked up her catch proudly. "Oh my this one is exc ellent. A fine" There was a large brown spot on the underside of the plimpy s belly. "Drat! It has babies." Luna released the fish into the strong current and resume d her song as she trudged through the water. "OHHHH A PLIMPY IS SLIPPERY AND OFT EN WET; YOU LL NEVER CATCH ONE WITH THAT NET! A PLIMPY STEW IS MILD AND SWEET; A PLIMPY STEW JUST CAN T BE BEAT! She rounded a bend in the stream, closed her eyes, and embraced the joys of plim ping. "OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH A PLIMPY ONE OR TWO OR THREE, PLIMPIES COME AND PLAY WIT H ME. SO RAISE YOUR STICK AND SING ALONG TO MY SPIFFY PLIMPY CAAAATCHIIIIIING SO OOOOOOOOOOONNNG!" As Luna finished the final verse with her hands raised in celebration, she heard a tinkling giggle over the babble of the water. It sounded very much like the w ind-chime that hung outside her bedroom window. Perhaps I am still in bed. Opening her eyes, she found the tinkling s source and gasped. Lounging on the rock where she often found Ginny, was the most breathtaking girl Luna had ever seen. Her long messy jet black hair fell into her face. Her raven locks rolled in waves over her shoulders, sticking up in several odd places and blowing about in the soft breeze. She wore a red one-piece bathing suit that ac centuated what little curves she had most effectively. Her body was athletic and toned, rippling with catlike muscle that wasn t visible until she moved. Her sk in was a tan creamy color and completely unblemished. Her eyes wereWell, Luna wou ld never forget that color. They were exactly the same shade as the last spell M ummy had cast before she died. The girl cocked her head, smiling widely. As Luna looked at those very full, very pink lips, she felt odd and warm and... tin gling. The girl before didn t seem mortal. There was an odd glow about her; a glow that didn t belong in this world. She was beyond life. She was ethereal and irresistib le. Luna bowed low, awed to be in the presence of a real goddess. Her voice quavered when she spoke, "It is an honor to meet your acquaintance, Goddess. I am sorry to disturb you with my song. It is required for plimping." She darted her stick into the water, picked up the freshly caught plimpy, and held it out in offering to the deity. "For you, Goddess." The Goddess reached out, took the fish gingerly by its foot, and with a laugh, s aid to Luna, "This thing is intriguingly slimy and why are you calling me Goddess ?" The Goddess voice was soothing and smooth, very much like the piano music Mu mmy so liked to listen to. She handed the fish back to Luna, who frowned sadly a s her offering was rejected. "Surely you know, Goddess." She dropped the plimpy back into the water. "One mus t address the Gods with the proper respect or they will smite your houses with t heir terrible wrath. I m very sorry my offering doesn t please you." The Goddess spluttered. "I mwait what? I m not a goddess!" Not a goddess? How odd... "Are you a water nymph?" Surely she was at least a water nymph. "Erm no" the not-a-goddess-nor-nymph said shortly. Luna backed away, brandishing her stick at the thing. "You re a kelpie, aren t yo u? ULULULULULULUU!"

Her kelpie trill didn t scare the not-a-kelpie away. "What are you?" asked Luna, fascinated. "Are you a new species of magical creatu re? Oh Daddy will be so excited!" "What are you talking No! I m just I m a girl!" yelled the girl in complete and ut ter confusion. "A girl? You mean a human?" asked Luna in shock. "You re far too beautiful to be a human," she said matter-of-factly. The girl s lips parted in a little gasp. Luna wanted to touch her very much; to bask in her glow. "And you re glowing. Ar e you perhaps a Veela? Although no that seems unlikely I ve never heard of a Veela that glows." The girl held up her hands to her face, turning them over in front of her terrib ly green eyes. "I m not glowing," she said pointedly. "Oh but you are! It s all around you. I can see it plain as day. It s certainly not of this world." Curious, Luna jumped up onto the rock and sniffed at the gor geous black-haired girl. She smelled strongly of pine and hazelnut. Broom polish. Mummy s smell "Oh my are you Mummy, is is that you? Have you come back to us from the dead?" Luna asked hopefully, brushing a hand against her mother s cheek. "I m Harry!" said Mummy in exasperation. "You don t seem very hairy to me," Luna said, trailing her raised hand down Mumm y s collarbone. "Quite hairless in fact except for your gorgeous head of hair is t hat what you meant?" Mummy shuddered as Luna s finger reached the tip of the bone. "I mean my name is Harry Harriet Potter." Harriet Potter s beautiful eyes searche d her face. "Back from the dead What did you mean when Can you really see an other worldly glow on me?" "Oh yes, Harriet. It s wrong somehow. It s rather alluring you know. I find myself wanting to touch you very much." Harriet blushed and said softly, "Oh that s well I think I I think I understand wha t you mean then about the glow. I wonder why only you see it" She fiddled with the straps of her bathing suit. "What s your name then?" Luna felt very silly. "Oh my I did forget to introduce myself, didn t I? I though t you were a Goddess, you see." "Erm yes I noticed," Harriet said, staring at her strangely. "Well, my name is Luna Laurelia Louisa Lovegood. It s very nice to meet you Harr iet." "It s just Harry, actually." Harry waved her hand dismissively. "Harriet is a bi t too stuffy." Luna nodded. "To each their own although, I find Harriet to be a very nice name. It rolls off the tip of my tongue pleasantly. Harriet. Haaaaaaaarriet. Harriiiii iiet. Yes quite nice. Do you visit this rock often, Harry?" Harry shook her head. "No I m I m staying with my friends: Ron and Ginny. Luna smiled at the rather interesting coincidence. "That s amazing, isn t it? I know a girl named Ginny that lives just over that hill there. She too has a very good friend named Harry that sent her several letters. I read one. She was very nice and I thought I might ve liked to kiss her." "Oh erm I think I m the Harry you mean," Harry said nervously. "Yes that does make sense, I suppose." To Luna, Harry instantly became several ti mes more beautiful than she was already if that were possible. Her eyes locked on to those full, pink lips that were parted in a slight o. "You know you have ver y nice lips, Harry. They look so soft and inviting." "Um that s thank you?" The girl must have realized how close they were for she lea ned back onto her elbows to create space. Luna followed her movement, never remo ving her gaze from the small mouth. She was entranced. Luna knelt between Harry s legs; their faces mere inches apart. She couldn t stop herself. Leaning forward, she closed her eyes and captured the perfect lips with her own. Electricity shot down her spine; her brain exploded into mush; her nerves screa med out in joy.

Oh yes this is very nice. They re just as soft as they look. Harry gasped against her mouth, but didn t pull away, which Luna greatly appreci ated. The kiss was far too enjoyable to stop so suddenly. Harry moaned, arching her back upwards. Luna leaned into the girl s toned body a nd they fell back against the rock, their lips still locked together. She liked how Harry s mouth bounced as her lips moved against it; she liked how their hips sat on top of each other; she liked the feel of Harry s skin rubbing against he r own. She let her fingers slide up the girl s chest, tangling them into the sil ky raven hair at the back of her neck. Feeling like asking politely for entry wa s the proper thing to do, Luna opened her mouth to press her tongue against the tender lips. That seemed to be the end of it though for the girl suddenly squealed, pushing o n her shoulders. Luna sat back, disappointed. Harry s eyes were wide with shock and her hand was touching her lips in disbelief. "What what was that?" she asked breathlessly. Luna shrugged, unsure herself. "It was a kiss, I think." "Yes, but we we can t kiss!" Luna was very confused. "Oh... why not? I liked it very much and I d like to do it again." "We re we re girls!" Harry cried indignantly. "Girls aren t supposed to to kiss ot her girls like that!" Really? "Oh my I never knew that." Luna felt extremely guilty that she had broken the rul es. "I m terribly sorry. I shan t kiss you anymore, Harry." The girl ogled her, still panting heavily. "Luna!" cried a familiar voice to their left. Ginny sauntered over to them throu gh the trees, carrying a large tray of sandwiches. She was wearing a fetching bl ue bathing suit. "Hullo! Nice earrings. How have you been?" "Very well, thank you, Ginny. Just yesterday I saw a whole nest of Kerbudgeons. I should be going though. I m afraid I ve upset Harry here. I kissed her on the mouth... and that s against the rules you see." Guilt-ridden, Luna picked up her plimpy stick and rushed away from the pair, splashing back through the stream a s quickly as she could. Back in her room at the top of their tower, Luna explored the new and interestin g warmth that seared between her legs. There was a spot that felt very nice to t ouch. Rubbing it vigorously, she felt a building tension, almost as if the spot was going to explode. When her mind drifted to Harry and the kiss they had share d, she shuddered in pleasure as her toes curled and spasms flooded her muscles v iolently. "Oh my" she said to her pillow after the twitches had subsided. "I do wish kissin g her wasn t against the rules." We could go flying." Harry thumped the back of her head on Ron s stomach and he grunted in protest. "Ron we ve flown four times today." Smirking, Ron poked her in the temple. "So?" "So we re tired!" Harry said exasperatedly, running her fingers through Ginny s hair. "Blimey, I hope you re never the Quidditch Captain. You re more of a fanat ic than Ollie." "Why thank you," Ron said happily, laying back down into the lush grass, arms fl opping to his sides. Ginny laughed heartily causing Harry s belly to jiggle. "Don t give him complime nts, Harry. His head is much too large as it is." "Oi!" Ron tore away a fistful of grass and chucked it at his sister. The grass, of course, caught in the breeze and blew right into Harry s yawning mouth. "Yeugh!" She spat out the dirt and grass, giving Ron another good head-thump on his stomach, before settling back down into his T-Shirt. It depicted Marcus Bode , Captain of the Canons, spectacularly catching the snitch as he dangled from hi s broom. There was wide speculation that the photo was a fake. They had been lying upon the ground for the past half hour, trying to think of s

omething to do as they used each other s bodies as pillows. Save for Ron. No pillow for Ron. Ron He looked more and more like Charlie every day. Harry would often catch herself staring slack-jawed at his broadening shoulders after which she would blush down to her toes and mentally slap her brain repeatedly. Harry breathed him in; breathed Ginny in; breathed the Burrow in. She let out a happy sigh as the summer sunshine caressed her skin. I m home. Turning her head toward the garden, she fondly remembered the events of the prev ious night It was the first night in her life that she truly felt she had a famil y. Flashback The blindfold fell away and Harry gasped. HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY The magnificent banner hovering over the long table was painted in Gryffindor co lors, and would, much to the consternation of Mrs. Weasley, occasionally emit gr eat bursts of Have a Bloody Good Birthday, a song of Fred and George s own com position. Mr. Weasley had conjured his fairy lights for the party and they were flitting about in the air above them. The tables were sinking with the weight of the food, around which sat the Weasleys, Professor Dumbledore, Hagrid, Neville, and Hermione. Dinner had been delicious. Harry told Mrs. Weasley this at least six times and w as rewarded on each occasion with more helpings. She thought she might ve eaten more than Ron Might ve being the operative word. The rest of the evening was spent laughing and joking... and bickering if your n ame happened to be Ron or Hermione. When Hermione arrived through the fireplace she had first made sure that Harry was completely recovered, and then immediatel y started in on Ron for not answering her letters. Harry was only half-listening to their current argument. It was better to just s tay out of their little spats. When they got into it Well, it was a bit like a tr ain leaving the station; slow at first, but building speed and ferocity as it ch ugged along. Anyone standing on the tracks when the train was at full speed woul d meet a brutal end. "Honestly, Ron, chew or you re going to choke!" "Sto esterin muh oman." "I m serious, Ron, you ll hurt yourself." He swallowed the very large bite of chicken. "Mione let me eat in peace. Go read something." Hermione swelled up like a balloon inflating. Harry knew that wasn t going to end well and diverted her attention elsewhere ar ound the table. A bonnet had somehow found its way onto the Headmaster s head as he entertained the twins by transfiguring their ears into those of different an imals. Percy seemed scandalized that one of his mentors had the same sense of hu mor as his brothers. Charlie and Hagrid were having a very loud, very drunk conv ersation about dragon mating season. Alice sat next to her plate, humming loudly , occasionally stealing cherries from atop the candied yams. Bill regaled his mo ther with tales of the Nile and Egyptian Art. Mr. Weasley was dozing in his chai r, hands folded, hat tipped down into his eyes. Neville was swatting at fairly l ights that for some odd reason, were sticking to him fiercely even more so than t hey did to Ginny, who at the moment looked like her head was on fire. Their eyes met and Harry tried to mentally convey to her just how happy she was. Ginny smiled and nodded, pulling her down the bench for a hug. Quietly enough so only Ginny could hear, Harry whispered contently, "I love this and all of you," Ginny swung a leg over the bench and slid forward so that Harry s back was up ag ainst her chest. "We love you too," she replied softly, snaking an arm around he r waist. "Weasleys love each other unconditionally." Harry sighed and sank back into the embrace, but Ginny shook her head. "No time

for snuggling, Harry. Time for cake and presents!" Her eyes were bright with rabi d excitement. "Wait," Harry pleaded. "Just Gin can you just hold me for a second? I m I m positiv e that I m going to start crying when all of this sinks in." The redhead s bounces tapered off and she sank her chin down upon Harry s should er. "Oh Harry" Ginny stood and announced to the table, "back in a mo " She grabbed Harry s hand and dragged her into the house, climbing the steps to their room. Ginny s room not our room. Ginny leapt onto the bed, bouncing twice before flopping down into the covers. S he held out a hand. Harry ran across the deep carpet and jumped, landing on Ginn y with a great BOING of the mattress springs. They curled up. It had been five days before Harry was cleared to leave the hospital. Ginny spen t every one of those nights holding her just like this; spooned against her back with an arm wrapped tightly around her tummy. Harry would wake up in the mornin gs with the taste of strawberries fresh on her tongue, skin still tingling from the waves of pleasure that pulsed from her sex all through the night. She was a little ashamed that her magic made her react like this but she had to ad mit she liked it. She liked it not only because it made her body feel good, but b ecause it made her heart feel good. Despite everything that had happened, knowin g that she had people that she completely trusted with the wellbeing of her mind and her body made her feel better than she ever had in her life. Harry sniffled softly. Ginny nosed at the back of her neck. Shaking Harry s hips lightly, she whispered in a cajoling voice, "What s wrong?" "Nothing s wrong. I just" Harry grabbed Ginny s hand and placed it over her heart . "This is my first Birthday party I m happy." Ginny giggled and draped her knee around Harry s thigh. "One" Harry didn t quite know what that meant until lips pressed softly on her shoulde r. "Two." Again. "Three." Ginny proceeded all the way up to twelve and then sque ezed her tightly. Wiping her eyes, Harry muttered into the pillow, "You re you re so good to me, Gi n. You re all so good to me. He told me they they told me I deserved what I got." "No! Harry, they didn t deserve you," Ginny said obstinately, pulling Harry s ha ir back from her neck so they could look one another in the eyes. "I m just not used to it," she said with a little shrug. "Yeah well you d better get used to it! My pillow has gotten all soggy this past year from the waterworks we ve been putting it through." Ginny rolled Harry over onto her back and brushed a finger across her forehead, tracing her scar lightl y. "Besides you re good to me, Harry. How would it be fair if I wasn t just as go od to you?" Ginny plopped her chin down onto Harry s chest and fiddled with the neckline of the once again pearl-white dress. "You re my best friend and I love you. We all do." That was the third time Ginny had said it. To not have the words said once in he r entire lifetime... it just felt so odd to hear them now wonderful yet odd. Harry stroked a thumb across her shoulder. "Shall we go eat cake?" "Yes Harry I think we shall." Ginny bounced up, grinning widely. "Right," she sai d, beckoning with her arms open, "come on you! Harry stood and leapt off the bed, right into her arms, wrapping her legs around the redhead. She giggled maniacally as Ginny stumbled around trying to hold her weight. "Harry, I didn t bloody mean it like that!" "Sorry" she said happily. "I m in a bit of a food coma. I think I had at least se ven helpings of garlic potatoes." "Mum loves you for that you know." Ginny put her down and pulled her back downst airs. "She just throws food away that we don t manage to get through if it sits around in the icebox for too long. But with you around it s like she has three mo re children to feed. Problem solved." "Yeah, well, I missed food," said Harry mulishly. "Excuses" Ginny poked her belly. "Piggy." "Oi!" Harry cried, slapping her lightly on the bum. "Don t you mean Oink Oink, Madam Piggykins?"

Ginny squealed as Harry dove at her and she rushed out into the yard, laughing m adly as Harry got up to give chase. She took refuge behind Mr. Weasley s chair, which Harry felt was quite against the rules of chasing. "Alright you two," Mr. Weasley said, amused. "Calm down and let s get to that cake." It was brought out to a deafening and off-key rendition of song from the overhea d banner. The cake Ginny and Mrs. Weasley had made was absolutely fantastic, eve n after five days under a preservation charm. The hourglass flipped on its own w hen she took that first bite. Harry moaned involuntarily as the strawberry and c hocolate mixed together in her mouth. Nothing this bad for you should be allowed to be this good. "Present time!" shouted Ron once they had all finished. He grabbed her hand and pulled her over to the end of the table where several packages sat. Everyone clu stered around her. Ginny nuzzled her arm, entwining Harry s fingers with her own. "Happy Birthday. Just wait until you see mine!" Her amber eyes were bright with excitement. Some of it must ve leeched onto Harry because within moments she too was bouncing on the balls of her feet as Ron passed her the first gift. She opened it... to find a small cactus. It was staring up at her with oversized p ink puppy-dog eyes. Neville laughed at her gasp. "Yeah that was my reaction too. I convinced my Uncle Algie to let me fiddle in his Greenhouse and two days later about thirty of these little guys had sprung up. No idea what I did though. My u ncle was right chuffed he was. Said we should breed them and make a fortune sell ing them to the potions and pet shops. Got about two hundred growing right now al l different eye colors. All you gotta do is keep them in the sun. Don t even hav e to water them." The cactus winked at her. "Wow, Neville this is bloody amazing!" Mrs. Weasley tutted loudly. Harry grinned guiltily and yet she felt pleased that she had someone to tut at h er. She nudged Ginny. "What should I name it?" "Frances," said Ginny with absolutely no hesitation. "Frances?" asked Ron with a laugh. Ginny nodded finitely. "Yes Frances. It looks like a Frances." "Frances it is," said Harry. She rubbed the top of its un-needled head? Frances s quinted in what Harry hoped to be happiness. Hermione gave her three books on mind-magic; one theory and two practical: The I nfinite Mind by Miranda Featherworth, A Beginner s Guide to Occlumency by Thaddi us Shmelk, and Legilimency: The Grey Art by she looked up at Professor Dumbledore questioningly. Eyes crinkling under half-moon spectacles, he smiled at her and said with a pointed wheeze, "Yes, my dear, it may surprise you due to my spright ly and youthful appearance but I have been around long enough to write a book or two." Fred and George had brewed her a potion that would turn her hair Weasley red for a whole week So they say The identical Cheshire-cat grins they wore on their face s as Ron handed it to her made her very nervous. She brought it to her lips, wat ching them out of the corner of her eyes. Their grins widened and they leaned fo rward intently. Harry promptly put the stopper back on the vial and said to thei r disappointed faces, "Nice try, boys." "Oh come on, Harry, give it a go! We-" "don t think it will hurt much." Mrs. Weasley reached over and smacked them both on the top of their heads. Hagrid gave her a nice blue overcoat. It looked quite a lot like the moleskin on e he currently wore, but it was made out of cloth, had fewer pockets, and flared outward at the hips, ending on the ground rather than the middle of her thighs as it would on a woman of say Professor McGonagall s height. It was large, but sh e d grow into it hopefully. Hagrid thumped her on the back. "Everyone needs a good coat Arry, yeh mark my w ords. I got this one off a nice peddler chap that owed me a favor." Ron gave her every chocolate frog card that he had more than one copy of which wa s actually every card in his collection. Throughout the year, Ron had continuous ly grumbled to Harry that he always got the same ones. Hermione would remind him

every time, that only ten wizards in the country had a full collection and that Ron himself was only seven cards short. She would then remind him to stop eatin g so many chocolate frogs. Surprisingly, Professor Dumbledore gave her a gift as well. He handed her a litt le blood-red flower with a black stem. It was cool, hard, and heavy like metal, but it swayed gently in the breeze, just like a real flower. It reminded her of the statue of Peter and Tink; how their bronze hair had blown in the wind. "Professor Dumbledore, sir it s beautiful, but why-" He cut her off with a sad smile, placing a wrinkled hand on her shoulder. "I do not normally give gifts to my students, Harry. It won t become a regular occurre nce. Think of this daisy as an apology of sorts." "Professor you you don t have anything to apologize for." He spoke in a normal voice, but she had an odd feeling that only the two of them were privy to this conversation. "Oh Harry if you only knew how many things I ne ed to apologize for perhaps you would not be so forgiving. Please, accept this gi ft. It is from both I and a very old friend of mine. He wishes you the best of l uck in your endeavors." The headmaster squeezed her shoulder lightly, and Harry thought she knew who Dumbledore was speaking of. "He he found his way then?" she asked, brushing her fingertips across the small p etals of the flower. "Yes," Dumbledore replied simply. Harry nodded and smiled. "Thank you, sir. It really is beautiful." Ginny slid her arms around Harry s waist from behind. "My turn." She pointed thr ough the gaps in Harry s arms at the larger of the last two presents on the tabl e. It was a hat box. "Is it a hat?" Harry asked her curiously. "Yes," said Ginny shortly. "Really?" "No." Ginny pushed her toward the box and sank her chin down on Harry s shoulder . "Open it." Harry lifted the lid and pulled away the tissue paper. "Oh!" Harry lifted the dress from the box. "Merlin Gin, this is gorgeous. Where d id you buy it?" Ginny nuzzled her shoulder. "I made it with Mum." Harry gasped, running her hands down the smooth light green cloth and the dark l acy stripe in its middle. "You you made it?" "Yeah. So you you like it?" Harry nodded vigorously. "Can I put it on?" Ginny laughed. "It s yours, isn t it? Let s open the last one first though." Mrs. Weasley picked up the rather small package and mothered at Harry s hair bef ore saying quietly, "This is from all of us, Harry." Harry unwrapped it slowly, carefully, so as to not to damage whatever was inside . The Weasleys were all holding their breath. Harry pulled from the wrapping a sp iky, black something with a hole at the bottom. She didn t understand. Ginny squeezed her belly and whispered, "Flip it." On the other side of the spiky object was her name and her picture. Her knees wob bled as she whispered faintly, "For for the clock?" The family of redheads nodded all around her. Mrs. Weasley was tearing and she p ulled Harry into a tight hug. "You should have been ours from the beginning, dea r. Now... you really are." Flashback End Harry sighed sleepily as she twirled Ginny s hair around her finger. I have a fa mily alive here. Ginny nipped at her hand playfully. "Thesse brown creaturess are mosst amussing to chasse, Chica. You sshould join m e." Harry laughed. "Maybe later, Alice." Ron and Ginny jumped. Now that they knew and hadn t abandoned her, she sure as h ell wasn t keeping being a Parselmouth secret anymore. Dumbledore had explained to all the Weasleys that it was Voldemort s power and not her own. Mrs. Weasley

had cooed and fussed over her misfortune, but Harry had already said that if the re was one thing she liked about the bastard, it was this gift he had given her. She had a great friend because of it. "Merlin I know it s not bad per se. But it s still creepy as all hell." "Thanks Ron, love you too." Ginny flipped over, resting her chin on Harry s waist. "So what does Folosscsse th efisssa ossass mean?" "It meant Maybe later, Alice. She wants me to chase gnomes with her." "At least Alice is coming up with ideas" Sitting up with a start, Ron cried exube rantly, "Oh! Speaking of chasing Snidget Hunt!" Harry s head fell into his lap with a plop. "I thought they were all in protecte d reserves." Ginny sighed exasperatedly. "Ron swears he saw one in the woods." "I did!" "From a distance," replied Ginny with a laugh. "Well yeah alright," Ron said begrudgingly. "But how many birds are round and gol d?" "Plenty, you twit." "Oh shut it. You think of something, Ginny." "What about the stream," suggested Harry, "are there any deep bits? We could go I dunno splash around?" "I d be up for that," said Ginny, sitting up onto her knees. "I have a suit you could use, Harry." "I m not going in there!" Ron imitated a spider with his fingers and said disgus tedly, "There are too many crawly things. Come Snidget Hunting with me, Harry." "No!" Ginny moaned. "Let s go swimming, Harry." "I will ssearch for brown creaturess," Alice hissed happily. For some strange reason, Harry couldn t make up her mind. She wanted to do both. But some primal instinct was telling her that if she chose one she wouldn t be d oing the other. She looked up at Ron and she looked down at Ginny. Strawberries overpowered the grass. "I Come swimming with us, Ron please?" A familiar expression flashed across his face. She had seen it before on the nig ht they had returned to Hogwarts from Christmas hols when they were playing chess by the fire. Oh Ron... not again. "Er no. I ll I ll just go see what the twins are doing." Ron gently pushed her off his lap, got up, and walked back toward the house. "I love him," said Ginny laughing, as soon as Ron was out of earshot, "but what a ninny. Afraid of spiders, honestly." As the words rolled off her friends tongue, anger Harry had never felt for the r edhead sparked violently. Whirling on her, Harry yelled, "Don t you bloody dare say that again, Ginny!" Ginny reeled back, face still half cracked in a smile, as if she thought Harry w as joking. "Harry? What-" "Ron is the bravest person I ve ever known," she said fiercely. "A hundred times braver than the both of us put together. You ve never had to You ve been shelter ed! For you to to insult him" Harry trailed off, her fists clenching. Amber eyes filled with angry tears. "I didn t- I m sorry! I was just having a bl oody laugh!" Ginny s mouth opened and closed trying to say more. But it seemed li ke she couldn t and so she ran, crying into her hands, her cherry red hair flying behind her. Harry s heart flipped unpleasantly and she chased after her. Catching up at the strawberry patch, she threw her arms around Ginny s waist and they fell to groun d. Trying to talk first would have just fanned the Weasley temper. "I m sorry, G in," she whispered quickly, nuzzling her shoulder. "Piss off," Ginny choked through her tears, turning her head away from Harry s. "No I won t. I m sorry. I m sorry times a thousand. I I didn t mean to go off at y ou." She held Ginny tightly and planted a small kiss on her neck. "You just you d on t understand. I haven t told you what happened last year. What he s done for

me what he was willing to do what he did do for all of us." Ginny, still sniffling but anger seemingly dissipated, wrapped her arms around H arry s neck and muttered, "Then tell me tonight." Harry nodded and wiped away the wetness on Ginny s cheeks. "I have to go talk to Ron. I ll meet you in your room." She rubbed her nose on Ginny s and sank into the hug. "Oh Gin I m so sorry," she whispered just for good measure. "It s okay" Ginny touched her forehead to Harry s temple. "Now we re we re square for what I did at the hospital." "Completely square," Harry said with a grin. They got up and walked back to the house hand in hand, their charms clinking together lightly. At the top of the stairs that wound through the Burrow, in the messiest of all t he rooms, she found him. Ron sat on his bed, petting Scabbers with that miserabl e look on his face. She closed the door with a soft click, stepped over a pile o f laundry, and lay down next to him on the Chudley Canons comforter. Harry put h er head on his shoulder. "I ll go Snidget Hunting with you whenever you want Ron even if it is illegal." Ron snorted and pressed his nose into her hair. "It s not that." "I know Look, I ll tell you the same thing I said on hols. It s different, Ron. Y ou know it is. You re my best mate. Ginny s my best friend." "That doesn t even make sense," Ron replied exasperatedly. "They re the same thi ng!" "No Ron they re they re two equal parts of a whole; two parts of what I need; two p arts of what I ve never had until now. You don t really want to paint your toena ils, talk about boys, and cuddle with me do you?" "No I bloody well don t but you like her more than me, Harry!" "Oh Ron you stupid wonderful prat. It s just different as different as my right arm is from my left arm. Just don t do this it doesn t matter." Harry picked Scabbers up off the bed, set him on the table, and then straddled Ron s waist. "You re no t getting up until you realize how ridiculous this jealousy is." Ron turned away his gaze and said sadly, "You ll always choose her over me. I ll always be second." "Bollocks," said Harry obstinately, pulling his chin back round to face her. "So metimes I need you. Sometimes I need Ginny. Right now after everything I need her the most." She leaned down and kissed his cheek, letting her lips linger long af ter the time limit for a friendly peck had expired, sending a little thrill up her spine. Ron was blushing to the roots of his flaming orange hair, rubbing the spot where she had kissed him. "What was that for?" Harry punched him in the arm hard. "Ouch! Bloody hell what was that for?" "You needed them both," Harry replied nonchalantly. "Now stop sulking and come s wim with us." "No I I really don t like spiders, Harry. They re everywhere down there. Water cr awlers and stuff." He shuddered. "I ll be here. You go." Harry giggled. "So you ll protect me from You-Know-Who, but not from spiders? "Yeah sounds about right," Ron said shrugging, still rubbing his arm. You know you re scarily strong." Harry flexed mockingly. "Make the Quidditch team in fourth year and you can be f it like me." "Shut it. Go splash with bugs." Harry kissed him again right next to his lips. Giggling madly, she ran from the r oom, bolted down a flight of steps, and flung herself into Ginny s room. Ginny was halfway into a blue two piece bathing suit. Freckles were everywhere. It always amazed her how many Ginny actually had. We should count them one day. Harry noticed that she did indeed have some strawberry curls in a little patch b etween her legs. Harry felt a flutter in her stomach, but she had no idea what i t was from. Too much breakfast probably... Too many Kippurs at least. How many d id I eat? Five? "Harry," Ginny said, slipping into the bottoms, "can you tie me up?" She looked up, holding out her top. "Merlin! You re beet red! What did you two do?" When Ha

rry didn t answer Ginny gasped and ran over to her, searching her face frantical ly. "Harry! Do you do you like-like Ron?" "What? No!" she said quickly. Ginny folded her arms and smirked knowingly. "Well only just a tiny bit," Harry mumbled in a very quiet voice. Ginny squealed excitedly, jumping up and down on the spot. "You can get married! And have lots of babies! Little red-haired green-eyed babies! And we ll be sist ers!" Harry s face heated up and she grabbed Ginny s waist to stop her from bouncing. "Oh lay off I think he likes no I know he likes Hermione. You ve seen how they bick er. Like a married couple. And he has this fierce obsession with toffee apples. Hermione uses shampoo that smells just like them. I m counting the days until th ey start snogging in the middle of Potions." "Well, then it s obvious. You ll just have to snatch him first," Ginny said slyl y. Harry shook her head, tying up Ginny s top. "I well it would be nice, but I don t I don t think I could do that to Hermione. I remember when they weren t even fri ends and she she cried for hours when he well when he wasn t civil to her. She s ob sessed with him. Everyone can see it I ve got a five galleon bet going with Seamu s on when they both realize it." "But I want green-eyed nieces and nephews, Harry!" she whined playfully. "Well I could go for Charlie. What do you think?" Harry asked, waggling her eyebr ows. Ginny giggled. "You re not a dragon. He d never pay you a moment s glance." "Bill?" "Has a serious thing for blondes," Ginny said, gesturing dismissively. She tosse d Harry a red one-piece suit. "Put that on." "Ta. So Fred and George?" she asked coyly." Ginny snorted. "And?" Harry shrugged. "Whichever one isn t snogging Angelina in broom closets. "Knowing the twins... they re probably taking turns." "How about good ol Percy?" Ginny shook her head. "Same problem as Charlie you re not a textbook or a sheet o f rules." Harry sighed over-dramatically and stripped, slipping into the slightly tight su it. She wrapped an arm around Ginny s belly, patting it. "Well I happen to know y ou don t have any boy bits. So I think we re out of Gin what s that on your arm?" Ginny held up her arms, flipping them over. "What s what on my arm?" It was gone. "I dunno," said Harry, examining a forearm closely. "I saw a light on your arm." It looked like the same one. "Oh yeah. Mum saw that too at Christmas. They re just left over from Dad s fairie s." "Weird" Harry muttered, slightly unconvinced. "Come on, let s go." Ginny grabbed her hand and hauled her out of the house, all the way down to the stream. There was a large rock on which they could sit and dangle their feet in the wate r. Harry jumped right into the knee deep stream. Ron was right. There were quite a lot of little water striders floating on surface tension. But they were tiny and rushed by quickly in the strong current. She took a big handful of water and threw it at Ginny, who was still testing the water with her toes. "It s fine, y ou big twonk. Come in." After an hour of splashing, Ginny sat down against the rock, submerged in water up to her chest. "I m exhausted," she said weakly, beckoning to Harry for a hug. Harry sat down between her legs and slid backwards into her body. Leaning her he ad into Ginny s shoulder, she let the water cradle her as she relaxed completely , flipping the hourglass to take everything in. Harry knew what would happen she was ashamed it would happen but she did it anyway . Ginny was brushing her fingers lightly over Harry s arm. Their hearts pounded to

gether in unison. The thrashing currents of the water massaged her muscles. Ginn y s breath cascaded over her shoulders in a strong wind. The scent of strawberry was intense so intense. It made her skin tingle; made her legs weak; made her ce nter throb violently. Harry reached down into the water, slipped a finger under the red cloth, and dragged it across the nub. She gasped at the wave that shot t hrough her body, electrifying her every muscle. Ginny s other hand was resting on her stomach. Harry flipped her magic back befo re the urge to grab it and grind it against her sex became too strong. She reall y didn t think that would go down well. Shuddering in pleasure, Harry sat up and pressed her nipples flat so Ginny would n t notice her pointy-ness. Ginny moaned, reaching for her, pulling her back into the embrace. She was eithe r asleep or half-way there. Her red hair was floating in the water all around Ha rry, tickling her arms and neck. Ginny s legs wrapped around her waist and she s ighed happily into Harry s hair. You ll always choose her over me. I ll always be second. Looking at Ginny now, feeling her and breathing her in a teeny-tiny voice in her head agreed with Ron, suggesting that maybe those two parts of the whole weren t quite equal. Harry, however, silenced that voice immediately, beating it to a p ulp with her mental hammer. Ginny woke up about a half an hour later when her stomach gave a mighty Ron-size d growl. "Let eat. I m starved." "Mmm me too." "Mum made some cucumber sandwiches," Ginny said, untangling herself from Harry a nd standing up. "Stay here, I ll get them." Harry clambered up onto the rock, laying back to enjoy the sunshine as Ginny dep arted for the house. And then... She heard it echoing through the trees; the strangest and most tone-murdering so ng she had ever heard in her life. "PLIMPY IS SLIPPERY AND OFTEN WET; YOU LL NEVER CATCH ONE WITH THAT NET! A PLIMPY STEW IS MILD AND SWEET; A PLIMPY STEW JUST CAN T BE BEAT!" Whoever was singing was splashing upstream, drawing ever closer to her. "OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH A PLIMPY ONE OR TWO OR THREE, PLIMPIES COME AND PLAY WITH ME. RAISE YOUR STICK AND SING ALONG TO MY SPIFFY PLIMPY CAAAATCHIIIIIING SOOOOOOOOOO OONNNG!" During those last few extended and ear-splitting words, a girl came around the b end. She looked pretty yet odd. Her long scraggly dirty-blonde hair was as messy a s Harry s, perhaps more even more so done up in what could have been a bun... bu t most likely wasn t. She was willowy and wore a Ravenclaw uniform that was obvi ously not her own. A Ravenclaw tie was wrapped tightly around her waist, securin g her overly large skirt. The girl had on the oddest jewelry. Radishes... real r adishes... hung from her ears and a necklace of bottle corks was draped around h er neck. Harry couldn t stop herself from giggling. The girl looked up at her. She had blue eyes of a shade Harry couldn t really de fine. They were large and gave the impression that she was daydreaming. The girl bowed to Harry so low, her hair dipped into the water. Her voice, like her eyes , was dreamy. "It is an honor to meet your acquaintance, Goddess. I am sorry to disturb you with my song. It is required for plimping." What? The girl slammed the large stick she carried down into the water. She reached in and pulled out an odd looking green fish with long pencil thin legs. "For you, G oddess." Harry took it gingerly. It was disgusting to touch and yet enjoyable at the same time. "This thing is intriguingly slimy and why are you calling me Goddess?" Harr y handed the fish back to her. The girl s face fell. "Surely you know, Goddess?" She dropped the fish back into the water. "One must address the Gods with the proper respect or they will smit e your houses with their terrible wrath. I m very sorry my offering doesn t plea

se you." Harry spluttered in shock. "I m wait what? I m not a goddess!" "Are you a water nymph?" "Ermno" The girl backed away, brandishing her stick. "You re a kelpie aren t you?" The g irl opened her mouth and made a very odd guttural call. Harry was so confused. The girl looked at her with excitement. "What are you? Are you a new species of magical creature? Oh Daddy will be so excited!" A a creature? "What are you talking No! I m just I m a girl!" Harry yelled exasperatedly. "A girl? You mean a human?" asked the girl, cocking her head in appraisal. "You re far too beautiful to be a human," she said matter-of-factly. Harry stared slack-jawed. She s a bit... blunt. "And you re glowing. Are you perhaps a Veela? Although no that seems unlikely I ve never heard of a Veela that glows." Harry held up her hands to her face, turning them over, searching for a glow. "I m not glowing," she said pointedly. "Oh but you are! It s all around you. I can see it plain as day. It s certainly not of this world." The girl jumped up on the rock and got very close; close enou gh to sniff Harry s hair. Her vacant blue eyes widened hopefully. "Oh my... are you... Mummy, is... is that you? Have you come back to us from the dead?" The st range girl touched her cheek. Harry was surprised she didn t flinch away... but this girl seemed so... innocen t. "I m Harry!" "You don t seem very hairy to me." The girl s hand ran down her cheek and onto h er chest. Harry was still rather aroused from earlier and she gasped as the fing er swirled around the tip of her collarbone. "Quite hairless in fact except for y our gorgeous head of hair. Is that what you meant?" "I mean my name is Harry... Harriet Potter." Have I come back from the dead... wait... "Back from the dead..." said Harry slowly. "What did you mean when... Can you re ally see an otherworldly glow on me?" The girl nodded and said, "Oh yes, Harriet. It s... wrong... somehow. It s rathe r alluring you know. I find myself wanting to touch you very much." Umm Harry blushed and said softly, "Oh, that s well I think I I think I understand w hat you mean then about the glow. I wonder why only you see it" It must have left a trace. Harry fiddled with the straps of her suit nervously. "What s your name then?" "Oh my I did forget to introduce myself didn t I? I thought you were a Goddess, y ou see." Harry didn t quite know if this girl was serious or joking. "Erm yes I noticed." "Well, my name is Luna Laurelia Louisa Lovegood. It s very nice to meet you, Har riet." "It s just Harry, actually." Harry waved her hand dismissively. "Harriet is a bi t too stuffy." Luna nodded. "To each their own although, I find Harriet to be a very nice name. It rolls off the tip of my tongue pleasantly. Harriet. Haaaaaaaarriet. Harriiiii iiet. Yes quite nice. Do you visit this rock often, Harry?" Harry shook her head. "No I m I m staying with my friends, Ron and Ginny. Luna smiled. She had very pleasant smile. "That s amazing isn t it? I know a gir l named Ginny that lives just over that hill there. She too has a very good frie nd named Harry that sent her several letters. I read one. She was very nice and I thought I might ve liked to kiss her." Kiss me? "Oh Erm I think I m the Harry you mean." Luna cocked her head and stared at her hungrily. "Yes that does make sense I suppo se. You know, you have very nice lips. Harry. They look so soft and inviting."

Luna s face was inches away from her own. Harry leaned back hastily. "Um that s th ank you?" Before she could say anything more, before Harry could stop her, Luna Laurelia L ouisa Lovegood leaned forward and pressed her lips to Harry s. She gasped. It was It was It was soft; nice. Harry moaned, her back arching involuntarily as Luna s lips massaged her own. Th e girl leaned into her body, pushing her down to the rock, fingers sliding up he r chest and tangling into her hair. Harry s brain went fuzzy... until a tongue slid across her bottom lip. A tongue A tongue A GIRL S TONGUE! Harry squealed, pushing on Luna s shoulders. The blonde girl sat back looking disappointed. Harry panted out heavily, "What what was that?" Luna shrugged. "It was a kiss, I think." "Yes but we we can t kiss!" Can t we? "Oh... why not? I liked it very much and I d like to do it again." "We re we re girls!" Harry cried indignantly. "Girls aren t supposed to to kiss ot her girls like that!" What about Dumbledore he s you know. Luna seemed very distressed. "Oh my I never knew that." Wringing her hands togeth er, she said quietly, "I m terribly sorry. I shan t kiss you anymore, Harry." Well alright then. "Luna!" cried Ginny. She was trudging back toward them carrying the sandwiches. "Hullo! Nice earrings. How have you been?" "Very well, thank you, Ginny. Just yesterday I saw a whole nest of Kerbudgeons. I should be going though. I m afraid I ve upset Harry here. I kissed her on the mouth," Luna said, her blue eyes cast upon the ground. "And that s against the r ules, you see." Without another word, the girl picked up her stick and darted aw ay down the stream. "She she snogged you?" gasped Ginny. "I yeah." Harry caught her breath and ran a hand through her bangs. "She just lean ed forward and did it. I I m still a bit confused." "Yeah that sounds like Luna. Confusing. You just have to let most of the things s he says and does go over your head." Ginny sat down, placed the sandwiches on th e ground, and checked her over as a doctor would. For her diagnoses, she said fl atly, "You snogged a girl." "I didn t snog her! She kissed me!" "Blimey, Harry... What- what was it like?" asked Ginny fervently. Harry had to think about it. "It honestly it was weird but a bit nice." Ginny gazed at her in disbelief. "How can kissing a girl be nice?" Harry shrugged. "I I dunno. It it just was. Boys like it don t they?" Ginny nodded and said slowly, "Yeah, but didn t it feel wrong?" It did didn t it? "I yeah no. I don t know! I can t explain it Gin." Ginny held out her hand. "Can you show me on my hand you know, kiss like she did?" Harry laughed. "I I wouldn t even know how." Ginny scooted closer to her. "Try! I want to know what it s like." Harry took her hand hesitantly. Ginny was giving her the blazing look and she, o f course, gave in. She nervously pressed her lips into Ginny s palm, eyes locking on to her friend s gold-flecked ambers. Ginny giggled as Harry moved them awkwardly against her s kin, trying to imitate the movement of Luna s lips. It felt very strange to be k issing a hand. Harry opened her mouth as Luna had done, closing her eyes. Strawberries bubbled on her tongue. The hourglass flipped and suddenly Harry was really kissing her han d. Ginny s giggles ended abruptly and Harry could hear the heartbeat in the redh

ead s chest quicken dramatically. Her own matched it. The taste of Ginny s skin was doing wonderful things to her body in her augmented state. She had trailed passionate kisses halfway up Ginny s arm before the rational par t of her brain realized what she was doing. Quickly dropping the arm, completely embarrassed, she flipped her magic back and muttered, "Sorry. I I got carried aw ay." Ginny took her hand, squeezing it. "No, I asked you to do it, Harry. And you wer e right it was a bit nice." There was a sound of thunder. Ginny awoke with a start as it shook the house. It was still quite dark and rela tively quiet apart from the pitter-patter of fat raindrops falling on the roof a nd windows. Gin Quirrell was sick. In the forest and by the Mirror... he touched me touched her e and here and he tortured me; bound me so I couldn t fight. I was helpless and and he was merciless. Just from thinking about it, Ginny shivered and covered her intimate places with her hands. Voldemort s eyes they were so terrible. Slit like a cat s and completely inhuman. Ginny felt terrible too for saying what she had said about Ron. She d never be a ble to look at her brother the same way again. He was like some mythical hero. Ron he he sacrificed himself to protect us... so we could get past the chess set. I thought he was dead. He almost was. I was so so angry. That s where I got my b urns. I ran through fire to get at the bastard that as good as killed him. I dep end on Ron so much, Gin and Voldemort Voldemort took him from me. And even then I couldn t really fight them. Quirrell just just toyed with me. Ginny reached for Harry in the darkness, needing her comfort, needing her streng th. I m sorry I couldn t write to you like before. I was such a mess. I m still a m ess. Harry wasn t with her under the covers, so Ginny dangled over the edge of her be d and felt around in the cot. It too was empty. "Harry?" she called out sleepily . No reply. Ginny got out of bed, stuck her feet into a pair of white fuzzy slippers, and le ft the room. The stairs creaked loudly as she descended to the first floor. Ginn y found her in the living room. She was curled up in an armchair with a cup of t ea in her hands, staring blankly at the wall. Ginny climbed into the chair with her. Latching on to the grey men s T-shirt tha t Harry always wore to sleep in, she whispered, "Come back to bed, Harry. I slee p better when you re with me. You don t want me to look all puffy tomorrow, do y ou?" Harry didn t respond to her joke, but did at least acknowledge she had heard by nestling her head into the crook of Ginny s neck. They snuggled in silence, list ening to Ron s snores echoing all the way down from the top floor. Even with the snores, the house seemed quieter than normal. The ghoul wasn t clanging; Fred a nd George weren t exploding anything; Charlie and Bill were back at their jobs; Mum and Dad were actually sleeping instead of Yuck! Don t go there! It was as if the house was reacting to Harry s mood. She fought You-Know-Who twice and lived so who knows maybe it is. The small clock on the mantle chimed four. Ginny had to find a way to stop this. It was basically her fault. "Harry, if I h ad known retelling it all would make you like this. I wouldn t have asked. Pleas e be happy. They re both dead. You won. You avenged yourself, yeah?" When Harry spoke her voice was tired defeated. "Voldemort isn t dead, Gin." Ginny flinched. "Oh don t say the name." Harry groaned exasperatedly. "Voldemort. Voldemort! Voldemort? Voooooldemort. Vo ldeeeemort. Voldemoooort. Vol. De. Mort. Voldemort. Voldemort has Moldy Shorts." Ginny had stopped flinching after the fifth time and said giggling, "Are you qui

te done?" "Almost. Voldemort. Voldemort. Vollll Deeeee Moooooooort. There done." Harry s ch est heaved with a laugh. "His name is the one thing about him I m not afraid of. It s just a name." That s better. "So if he s not dead where do you think he is then?" Harry sat up, her eyes sparkling with mirth. "Hopefully, somewhere he can get st ruck by this lightning." As if on cue, a lighting flash lit up the room through the windows, and a few se conds later, its thunder rolled over them. "I like lightning," Ginny whispered, staring out at the stormy black sky. "I lik e the clean smell it leaves in the air." "I don t like it. It s loud and-" Ginny cut her off. "Tattooed on your forehead?" Harry squeezed her knee. "Twit. No I like thunder. I like how it rattles my body and makes my hair stand on end." Ginny grinned. "Your hair does that already." Harry moaned and attempted to smooth her hair. "Stop being so feisty, Gin." "I have to be feisty, Harry. We can t all be Miss Grumpy-Face." Harry snorted and finished off her tea, leaning back into the chair and sliding her toes under Ginny s bum. Ginny giggled and asked, "Any more of that tea left then?" "Yeah still hot, I expect." Ginny got up and padded into the kitchen. Harry followed her. She didn t say anything, simply slipped her arms around Ginn y s waist, leaning against her as the tea poured itself. Ginny turned slowly in her embrace and jumped up to sit on the counter. "Harry?" she asked, anguish flooding into her voice, "Will Will you fight him again if he comes back?" Ginny s gaze fell into pools of twenty different shades of green, pools that wer e staring back at her; weighing her; measuring her. Nodding, Harry confirmed her fear. "Yeah. Suppose so. I have to relay a message to him." "Then I ll be with you when you do; I ll be right next to you." Ginny paled at th e prospect of fighting a dark wizard, but she would follow Harry anywhere. "Forev er and ever." Harry leaned into the counter between her knees, placing her cheek onto Ginny s chest. "That s a long time," Harry replied happily. "I ll hold you to that, Weas ley." "And I ll stick to it, Potter," Ginny said cheekily, smiling into her tea. "Hey l et s go out onto the porch and watch the storm." They left the kitchen with fresh cups of tea, heading towards the front door, ar ms looped together. When a lamp beside an armchair clicked on, they both yelped, sloshing a good bit of tea onto the ground. Mum was sitting there, knitting away as if it was compl etely normal to be awake at this hour. Knitting in the dark? Really Mum? You re usually so subtle. "Oh um hullo, Mum." "Ginny Harry," said her mother shortly. "I couldn t help but overhear your intere sting conversation in the kitchen, dears." Ginny could feel a rant coming on. Her mother s eyes flashed and her voice inched upwards on the volume dial. "I ll say this once. Making pledges to fight You-Know-Who is not something twelve and eleven year old girls should be doing at four in the morning! You will both giv e me your word that you won t act on the pact you just made." Harry fidgeted, but said nothing and Ginny followed her example. Her mother swelled up and grabbed them both by the shoulder. "Swear it! Any figh ting to be done, will be done by adults!" Harry continued to remain silent. Ginny took her hand and stood next to her well behind her. She had seen her mother in a full rage and it was not something she wanted to face unprotected. Ginny s

till winced when she thought of the time the twins almost made Ron make the Unbr eakable Vow. Her parents fury had been tumultuous. Her mother s face flushed with anger and she directed her steely gaze at Harry. "Merlin, you re as hard-headed as your mother! You must understand, Harry, dear, especially after what you experienced last year! Children can t fight fully gro wn wizards. To do so you d be throwing your life away. I m not going to lose eith er of you because of a rediculous decision like this, do you understand? Promise me!" Harry looked away from Mum, closing her eyes tightly. Her face disappeared under her bangs as it always did when she was truly upset. Ginny courageously stepped out from behind her and planted her body between Harry and her mother. "Mum Stop. " Her mother huffed and folded her arms, but stood back. Harry looked up at Mum and said in a wavering voice, "I m sorry, Mrs. Weasley I I can t make that promise. He killed my parents. He ll come back. Dumbledore knows it and I I can feel it." Harry grabbed the side of her head, running her fingers through her hair, pounding lightly on her skull with her knuckles. "I can still feel him in my mind; feel him in my scar. He ll come back and I ll fight." Her mother scoffed. "You most certainly will not!" Harry sighed with fatigue. "Mrs. Weasley I m It makes me really happy that you car e enough to want to stop me, but I made my choice." She pointed at her scar. "It was made a long time ago." Without another word, Harry turned and walked upstai rs with her tea. "Come back here young lady, we are not finished!" Her mother moved to follow Har ry, but Ginny stepped in front of her. "Really St-Stop it, Mum," Ginny said bravely. Her mother whirled on her, throwing up her hands in ire, voice laced with that m otherly I m disappointed in you tone. "And you! How could you pledge yourself to her like that? What if your magic recognized it as a vow, Ginevra? You know v ery well what could happen! Forever and ever indeed. How could I have raised suc h a foolish child?" "Who cares if I did make a vow?" Ginny said in a stand-offish manner. "I meant i t." Mum s jaw went slack. Ginny spun and followed Harry up the stairs. Once inside her bedroom, she closed and locked the door with a heavy sigh. Mum could open it with a wave of her wan d, but Ginny thought that maybe her mother would take the hint. Harry was already in her bed and under the covers. They had returned from the ho spital six days ago and the cot had yet to be slept in. Ginny gulped down the re st of her tea and slid into the sheets. "Don t mind Mum, Harry. She s just worri ed." Harry mumbled, "She has a point though, doesn t she? What if you get hurt? I I wo uldn t be able to" she trailed off. "Since I highly doubt You-Know-Who is hiding out in our shed, I think it s safe to say that tonight is not the night to be worrying about this." Ginny refused t o venture into morbid topics once again. "I want to be the little spoon tonight s o budge over." Harry giggled into the pillow and turned, pulling Ginny to her chest. "Okay. I l l bet you a Knut that your hand still ends up in my shirt. What s up with that a nyway?" Ginny shrugged and entwined their fingers. "Dunno I like that shirt. But make it two Knuts and you have a deal." The next morning, to Ginny s delight, her hand was not inside Harry s shirt rathe r it was snug in the waistline of her blue pajama bottoms. Ginny listened to Harr y s soft panting that steadily increased in volume. She squealed when the girl l et out a very long drawn out moan and pressed her body into Ginny s back, rollin g them towards the edge of the bed. "Harry! Wake up! We re going-" THUMP They landed on the cot bed with a bounce. Harry woke, spluttering as Ginny laugh ed madly. "You re a terrible big spoon, Harry and you owe me two Knuts."

Ginny watched with amusement as the all-consuming green of Harry s eyes was suck ed back into her irises and her face fell into a sad smile. Harry dug into her trunk and grabbed two Knuts from her bottomless money pouch. "Gin?" she asked quietly, handing her the copper coins, finally relenting after playfully pulling them back away from her hand several times as Ginny grabbed at them. "Would your parents let me share my vault with them?" Ginny sighed heavily and flopped backwards onto the cot. "No I don t think so. Th ey don t even accept money from Aunty Muriel." "Oh," Harry said disappointedly. "It s just My dad essentially told me I could be a spendthrift all my life and the vault still wouldn t run out. I d rather just I just want to share it with all of you. Ron told me he uses Charlie s old wand E veryone should have their own wand you know?" "Yeah but we get by, Harry. And we re happy." Harry scratched her head, leaving a large poof of bed head sticking out at a rid iculous angle, and lay back into Ginny s lap. "Yeah I know." She slipped her feet into Ginny s slippers and her face softened in content. "Ohh. I like these" Harr y said, wiggling her feet. She turned her head upwards and fixed Ginny with rath er large puppy-eyes. "Can I steal them?" "No you may not!" Ginny poked her in the nose. "Buy your own." "Mmmm I think I might have to or else you ll find these disappearing a lot." Harr y nuzzled her lap and smiled up at her. "I love you, Gin." Ginny grinned and brushed the hair out of Harry s face. "Love you too." Harry s smile widened and she closed her eyes, shivering lightly. It happened every time Ginny said those words to her. "You know I think you might just be saying that s o you can hear it said back." Harry giggled. "Who me? Never!" She sat up and wrapped her arms around Ginny, dra gging her down to the ground for a fiercely tight hug. "I love you so much. I do ." That bit of her brain that told her she would never be good enough to be Harriet Potter s friend, screamed in agony as it grew a little smaller. Ginny breathed out and closed her eyes. "Do you do you really mean that, Harry? I mean I m I m no thing special." Harry nodded against her neck. "You are too, times a thousand no take-backs. And of course I mean it." Harry let go and Ginny sat back, staring intently into her green eyes, searching for truth in the words and she found it. Harry grinned and stood up, clapping her hands together and rubbing them in anti cipation. "What should we do today?" "We should probably go Snidget Hunting with Ron... you know... to make up for ye sterday. It ll be more fun in the rain." "Alright." Harry said as she wandered aimlessly about the room. "I want to fly a fterwards too. I ve thought of a great move a little too dangerous to test out in a game though." Ginny bounced up and pulled out a comb from her dresser, running it several time s through her red hair. If there was one thing she really liked about herself, i t was her hair. "I can t wait to see you play in a game. When did you say positi ons would open up?" "Oh um Ollie will graduate next year. So we ll need a keeper your third year. Can you play keeper?" "No. Ron s the keeper. You ve seen him. He s great when he thinks no one is watch ing him." "Well, you both should come out for reserves next year," Harry said with a wave of her hand, fiddling with Ginny s Gobstones set. "We ve only got Lee Jordan and Natalie Fairborn on the second roster and Natalie will graduate with Ollie." "I don t have my own broom. I use Dad s to practice with," Ginny replied sadly. "Your birthday is November Second, right?" Ginny gasped. "Harry! You can t just buy me a broom for my birthday! Mum would go spare!" Harry gave her a coy grin and winked. "What Mrs. Weasley doesn t know won t hurt her. And I never said I was going to get you a broom did I? I just asked when y our birthday was" She marched over to Ginny s small bookshelf and scanned the ten

or so tomes, most of them having to do with the Harpies. "I d like to be on the Harpies, wouldn t you?" Ginny squealed and took a flying leap onto her bed. "Oh Merlin it would be a drea m come true. Three of the players on last year s National Team were from the Har pies. They have the best trainers in the league. Harry come here, your hair is ma king me cringe." "Oi!" Harry cried with a laugh. She pulled out a purple volume from the shelf an d sat down, leaning into Ginny s chest. "So who s Gilderoy Lockhart and why has he put little hearts all over the front of a book called Voyages with Vampires?" Ginny laughed heartily and ran the comb through Harry s hair. "Oh he s such a po nce, but Mum loves to read his books. Every single one is a tribute to how fanta stic he thinks he is. And you know, I read in there that he says he was fighting off vampires in June of 1987, and then in Troubles with Trolls he says he was f ighting trolls at the exact same time. Makes me think it s all a load of bollock s." "Sounds like a git." Harry turned the page and the ridiculously winning and hand some face of Gilderoy Lockhart was suddenly staring up at them. "Oh wow he is a g ood looking git though, isn t he?" Ginny sighed dreamily. "Yeah. It s why Mum is such a fan. I find myself staring at that picture quite a lot too." "I can understand that I mean just look at his bum," Harry said, giggling as she s hut the book. "Trust me I ve seen it." Ginny held up a handful of silky black hair. "What shoul d we do today? French braid?" "Noooo." Harry bounced on the bed. "Hair loopies, please!" "Ugh again?" "What?" Harry asked in a callow voice. "I like hair loopies." "You re smothering my artistic talent," replied Ginny with a moan, but she resig nedly pulled Harry s hair back into a loosely braided ponytail, then braided her bangs into two long strands, which Ginny let hang loose under Harry s ears. She tucked the tips of the strands back into the ponytail, creating little loops. G inny had to admit the whole thing suited Harry very nicely and contained enough of her hair to give the appearance that it wasn t messy. She tied all the braids off with little, red, elastic bands. "All done," she said jovially. Harry got up and ran to the mirror, flipping the loops with her fingers. The mir ror, which Ginny had fondly named Martha, gasped and squealed, "Oh yeh look beau tiful, luv!" Harry giggled and spun to face Ginny. "Do you want me to do yours?" "Absolutely not." "Awww, come on, Gin." "Nope," replied Ginny in defiance. Harry stepped toward her, fingers twitching. Ginny backed away. "Harry, you stay away from my hair." But Harry had a mischievous glint in her eyes. Uh oh. Ginny squealed and bolted for the door, wrenching it open and darting upstairs. Harry was hot on her heels. She threw open Ron s door and dove for him, pulling him over-top her body as a shield. "RON! SAVE ME!" He squawked and flailed at the sudden awakening. "Huhwha! Whas whas goin on?" Ron was suddenly sandwiched between both Harry and Ginny, as Harry tried to get at her through Ron. "Oi!" he cried loudly. "Gerroff! Gerroff you barmy besoms!" He sat up, holding Harry back, and extricated himself while he glared at Ginny. "I was going to have a lie-in today!" He let her go and left his room, muttering about bloody girls and nutty littl e twits. Ginny shrieked, squealed, and squirmed as Harry tickled her and trussed up her h air. She eventually just stopped trying and Harry cackled madly in victory, befo re she jumped off the bed and rushed out of the room. Despite the fact that she now had to re-comb her hair, she felt happy; inexplicably happy. She got up and made her way downstairs.

When she entered the dining room for breakfast, Ginny playfully gave Harry the s tink-eye, trying to promise in a glare an abundance of knee-tickling as soon as they were back in their room. Harry shoveled porridge into her mouth and grinned at her, safely ensconced in a seat between Ron and Mr. Weasley. Mum was still rather upset with the both of them, but her anger over last night was smothered with the arrival of the morning post. Dad fingered through it. "Ah Hogwarts letters. Here you are, Ginny. Ron. Harry. P ercy. Where are-?" A loud explosion from upstairs accompanied by raucous guffaws answered the quest ion he had just started to ask. Ginny s fingers trembled as she took the letter from her father. It was addresse d in red ink with a neat and loopy scrawl. Miss Ginevra Molly Weasley The Second Highest Bedroom The Burrow Ottery St. Catchpole Devon As she read through her acceptance letter with glee, Ron moaned. "Gilderoy Lockh art! We have to read all his books? I d rather die." In a rarely seen act of humor, Percy nodded, and handed Ron his knife. "Here you are then. And I have them too, actually. Father, this won t come cheap." "We ll we ll manage, Percy," Dad said, smiling and patting his son on the back. Ginny could tell, however, that he was disheartened. Harry squeaked. Ginny turned to her and shook her head. No don t"I ll pay for them, Mr. Weasley." The table went silent. Ron was staring at Harry in shock, a piece of kipper half -way to his mouth. Percy s eyebrows were raised high above his horn-rimmed glass es. Mum was pouring tea onto the floor, completely missing the cup. Dad went sto ny faced. Ginny slapped her hand to her eyes in defeat. There was a long tense silence and then the entire table burst out into loud simu ltaneous conversation. "Wow! Harry that s Bloody Hell Harry, that will cost hundreds of-" "That s most unethical, Harry. It s just not proper to-" "Oh that s very kind, Harry, dear, but we just can t accept-" "No, Harry, I can t allow you to do that. Weasley s don t take-" Ginny sighed heavily. "I told you, Harry! No one ever listen s to Ginny, do they ? Just once I d-" "ALRIGHT!" Harry screamed over the din and the table again went silent. "Look I I get it. I do. But I just want to help. You ve all been so good to me and and I l ove you all of you. Please let me help." Dad pinched the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up onto his forehead. "I know you want to help, Harry. It s a wonderful gestureit really is. But we don t accept charity or expect payment for-" "It s not charity or payment!" Harry cried. "I It s me sharing with the only real family I have left." She put her head in her hands and her chest heaved silentl y. Ron rubbed her back as Dad said slowly, "It s just a matter between what is righ t and what s easy, Harry. I m sorry, but we just can t accept money that we don t earn from outside the family." Harry let out a heart-broken sob and vanished with a soft pop. Mum screamed and dropped her teacup, which shattered with a mighty crash on the kitchen tile. Ginny s brain went numb. What? Where Where s my Percy gasped and, all his proper mannerisms forgotten, yelled, "SHE JUST BLOODY APPARATED!" The room exploded into action. Her father pulled out his wand and started mutter ing over the spot Harry had just vacated. Percy started to flap around, shouting about the impossibility of an untrained twelve-year-old witch apparating. Fred

and George came downstairs confused, but reveling in the general state of chaos. They set off several fireworks to celebrate the occasion. "Fred George not now! Molly, floo Dumbledore," Dad said frantically. "Ginny" She felt hands on her shoulders. Harry? "Ginny!" She snapped to attention as her father shook her roughly. "Ginny. Your charm which way did she go?" "I North." "Alright Alright let s not panic." "How can we not panic, Arthur? She apparated! To Merlin knows where! She s only twelve! She s probably splinched herself!" Mum searched around the chair Harry h ad sat in, but thankfully found no body parts. "Oh the poor dear the last thing I said to-" "I know where she went." Everyone in the room went deadly quiet, staring in shock at Ron, who had his arm s crossed and was glaring at Dad. "Ronald?" asked Mum slowly. "How could you possibly know where she went?" He scoffed. "Because I know Harry." Ron walked over to the clock and pointed at the hand they given to Harry. "I don t think any of you realized how important this was to her; how important we are to her. The second we put this on the clock, it spun to Home. Home, Dad. Harr y thought of The Burrow as home. She thinks of us as her family." "But why would-" Ron cut him off angrily. "Bill and Charlie send home money, Dad! Harry knows tha t. When you said, we just can t accept money that we don t earn from outside th e family, you excluded her. Now she thinks she isn t a Weasley. And maybe she s not to the rest of you but she is to me. I know Harry and you just broke her heart !" Oh Harry "But it still says Home Ron," Ginny said slowly. "Is she still here?" "No. The Burrow isn t Home for her now" Ron spat bitterly. "The hand went to T raveling, then went back to Home. " "The Dursleys?" gasped Mum apprehensively. "No" Ron said sadly. "The only home she has left. Her real home. Godric s Hollow. " Harry landed on her knees and threw-up as she exited the tube of flashing images and twisted scenery. She found that crying and vomiting at the same time was ex tremely unpleasant. She grasped onto the little gate in front of her for support . The ground beneath it was familiar, for she had walked on it once before. Rais ing her head, a new wave of tears washed over her as she beheld the derelict two story cottage. Home. She had wanted her home the home she had seen with her parents dancing in the liv ing room. This was not that home. It was overrun with ivy and its windows were b roken. She could see that on the side of the house, part of the wall was blown a way. It wasn t warm and welcoming. It was cold; dead. There was a large sign next to the gate upon which she leaned. On this spot, on the night of 31 October 1981, Lily and James Potter lost their lives. Their daughter, Harriet, remains the only witch ever to have survived the Killing Curse. This house, invisible to Muggles, has been left in its ruined st ate as a monument to the Potters and as a reminder of the violence that tore apa rt their family. Sobbing softly, Harry trailed her fingers over her parent s names. The Killing Curse There was a flash of green light. Harry flinched violently and almost fell back into the puddle of her own sick. Quirrell used that spell bastard. She stood, shaking away the tears and memories, and pushed open the gate. Protec tive wards buzzed all around her, but after a moment, allowed her entry. The gra

ss was knee high and the path no longer visible. She walked towards the front do or, torn clean from its hinges, but stopped abruptly on the porch as her slipper ed foot met something soft. Harry looked down. Sitting on the wood underneath her feet, was a tiny stuffed b roomstick. Her heart gave an almighty wrench. She absolutely knew deep down that t his little toy had been hers; that it was a toy she had lost; a toy she had love d. Harry picked it up. The stuffed twigs looked thoroughly chewed, and she had a very strong urge to place them into her mouth, feeling that it would bring her some form of primal comfort. However, seeing that it was filthy, Harry forced he rself to resist. The living-room was exactly the same, yet entirely different. The white shag carp et was stained a dark burgundy in large spots all over the room. Thankfully, wha tever made those spots had been removed. There were pictures, but not of her lif e. They were of her parents life: their wedding, their honeymoon, their anniver saries, nights out at a pub, picnics, a beach, and her father and mother holding her as a newborn. Looking at her body now, it was a wonder she had ever been su ch a fat little ball of Dudley-ish pudge. She grabbed every picture in the room and sat them, along with her little brooms tick, on the least stained part of the blue couch. There was an old fashioned gr amophone sitting directly to her left with a chipped record still on its turntab le. Harry placed the needle on an undamaged ring and switched the machine on. Th e record s song scratched into life; it was a smooth jazz number with a steady b ass line. She knew it; she d never forget this song. Harry walked numbly to the center of the room and rotated slowly on the spot whe re her parents had danced. She could see them; feel them with her. We ll always be with you sweetie and don t you ever doubt it. "I love you, Mummy," she whispered to the still air, her voice hitching. Harry s grief built slowly. It started as a little knot in her throat. Then, her chest started to heave; her eyes began to moisten; her ears started to burn; an d her head began to pound. Then came the sobs. They racked her entire body, forc ing her to her hands and knees. Fat tears fell from her eyes into the carpet, wa shing away a few spots of brown stain. Then came the silence. She closed her eye s, curled into a ball, and listened to the trombones that wailed for her when sh e no longer had the strength to do it herself. "Harry," wheezed a very familiar voice. "What are you doing down there on the fl oor?" "I m" What am I doing? " moping, sir." "Ah I see." Harry heard his footsteps come up beside her and there was a rustle o f cloth. She opened her eyes. Professor Dumbledore had lain down beside her and was staring up at the ceiling, twiddling is thumbs. "Oh yes this is a fine place to mope." Just like her grief, the laughter built slowly and soon she was clutching her st omach, laughing so hard she thought that her spleen would burst. And then she was crying; great heaving sobs that deprived her of breath. "Harry." A wrinkled hand gripped her own, providing much needed comfort. "It is quite alright. In time you will rise from this grief stronger, better, and happi er than you ever were." The old man patted her fingers with his other hand. "I w as at this one you know Look, there I am, right there. Oh dear me I did have severa l glasses of Firewhiskey that night." Harry sat up, still blubbering fiercely, and looked at the picture the Headmaste r was holding. It was one of the pub pictures. Her mother and father and a hands ome black haired man she supposed was her godfather, as he was in a majority of all the pictures she had of her parents, were clapping and laughing as the minia ture Professor Dumbledore, who was clearly sloshed, danced a jig on top of a tab le. Harry giggled through her tears and looked up at him questioningly. He chuckled. "Ah well I had just found out that my brother Aberforth had been bles sed with a Great Granddaughter. Even though we are not on friendly terms, I was quite happy for him as you can see. You may know the girl, a Miss Susan Bones, wh o is completely unaware of her relation to me, or to her Great-Grandfather for t

hat matter. It saddens me, but it was necessary to sever contacts I m sure you ca n understand why." Harry nodded, wiping her eyes with her t-shirt. "I like your dance, sir." "Thank you, HarryI have received many such compliments from those who remember th e night." He placed the picture down upon the pile and folded his hands in his l ap. "Harry, may I ask why you apparated here tonight?" Apparated? "I don t really know, sir. When Mr. Weasley Well, he made it rather clear I wasn t really I I just wanted to be with my own family at my own home. And then I was he re." "And are you satisfied with this home?" "No not really. It s empty." Professor Dumbledore smiled. "Do you know where home really is, Harry?" Harry slowly raised her hand and touched the flesh above her heart. "Here, with Ginny and Ron and my parents." "Indeed." Harry picked up the little broomstick from the pile. "Sir, could could you clean this off for me?" Dumbledore looked at her pointedly. "I believe you know the Scourgify charm. Giv e it a whirl." "But I can t-" He cut her off. "Due to your recent encounter with danger in your place of summe r residence, I have procured for you special dispensation to use magic outside o f school as long as it is not performed in the presence of Muggles that are not your relatives. Surely you noticed that we are not being swamped by Ministry Owl s screaming for your expulsion from Hogwarts after an unlawful apparition." Harry looked down at the plush broomstick and muttered, "Scourgify!" The dirt sh ot off of it with a little poof, along with a cloud of dust and several bugs tha t had made it their home. Harry placed the twigs of the now sparkling clean broo mstick into her mouth and chewed softly. She choked back a sob at the soothing f amiliarity of its taste. "Sir I assume this means I ll be going back to the Dursl ey s at the end of the year?" Dumbledore sighed heavily. "Why ask me a question to which you already know the answer, Harry? However, fear not. I have made several conditions for your return and will accompany you back to your home to make your living arrangements more hospitable. On the assured threat of living the rest of their lives as slugs sho uld the Dursley s harm you even once, they have agreed to attempt to right wrong s and live peaceably. I believe your cousin even wishes to apologize. I will lea ve you several emergency Portkeys that will take you wherever you wish to go. I have also destroyed the cupboard under the stairs which reminds me. I have a gift for you." He pulled out a long metal object from the smallest pocket of his rob es. The Coat Rail. Harry glared at it. "Perhaps, Harry, you would like to release some of that frustration and grief wi th a much needed game of Explode the Coat Rail." She grinned predatorily. "Yes please, sir." Dumbledore created a shield around them, conjured twenty more coat rails, and st arted to shoot them into the air. "EXPULSO!" she cried, picturing Dudley exploding violently. "EXPULSO!" "EXPULSO!" The last exploded with a mighty boom. "Oh this is fantastic, sir. Thank you. Wou ld you like to try?" Dumbledore chuckled. "I wouldn t mind a shot or two to keep my aim sharp. One ca n t be called the greatest duelist in a century if he can t hit a flying coat ra il." Harry levitated one of the coat rails and started to zoom it about the room furi ously. Dumbledore took careful aim and muttered, "Confringo." A bolt of yellow l ight sailed out of his wand and slammed into the silver object, not only did it

explode, but it shattered and then each little piece blew apart with bursts of f lame. Harry clapped happily and Dumbledore lowered the shield. He waved his wand and s everal more portraits and photographs sailed into the room from around the house . "Now Harry. Are you ready to return Home?" Harry clutched the many frames and photos to her chest, picked up her little bro omstick, and nodded. "I think so, sir." "Take my arm then, Harry. As impressed as I am that you apparated on your own, I do not think it wise to try for a repeat performance." She grabbed his sleeve. The tube was less intense this time and when they arrive d at The Burrow s front gate, she thankfully was able to keep the contents of he r stomach. Professor Dumbledore squeezed her shoulder. "Farewell Harry, I shall see you at Hogwarts." "Goodbye sir and... thank you for coming to find me." "Oh don t thank me Harry. Thank young Mr. Weasley. I believe he knew where you w ent before you had even left." The Headmaster winked and popped away. As she entered the house and put down her things she experienced the strangest s ense of dj vu. There was a squeal above the many loud voices, a blur of red, and s he was knocked to the ground. Instead of snow they landed on hard earth. Harry gr oaned but opened an eye and grinned at her. "Gin, you re going to break me in ha lf." "Harriet Lily Potter! Don t you ever do that to me again or I ll Hey! You took my slippers with you!" Ginny rubbed her nose lightly on Harry s cheek. "Sorry," whispered Harry, inhaling deeply. I ll never get tired of strawberries. "I brought them back though... see? I ll I ll always bring them back." Ginny lifted her head and her eyes sparkled. She knew what Harry meant. "Come in side." They got up and walked through the house into the kitchen. After being checked o ver by Mrs. Weasley, patted on the back by Fred and George for creating so much chaos, and warned by Percy about the dangers of underage apparition, Harry made her way over to him. Ron was leaning against a counter with his arms crossed, and a moody look on his face. However, the sour expression vanished when their eyes locked. Harry rushe d over to him and sank into his arms. "Hey," she said tenderly. "Hey," Ron grunted, rubbing the small of her back with his thumb. "You alright n ow?" "Yeah because of you. My savior." Harry kissed his chest. "S nothin Harry. I ll always you know." "I know. Thanks Ron." Harry tilted her head and beamed up at him. Ron ruffled he r hair, messing up Ginny s handiwork. "Oi! My hair loopies!" He grimaced. "Oops sorry. Listen, Dad wants to talk to you out in the shed. Come on." Ron grabbed her hand, Harry grabbed Ginny s hand, and he pulled the both of them out of the house towards the large appliance filled shed. Ron pushed open the door and led Harry through a maze of broken microwaves, refr igerators, car batteries, blenders, televisions, and more. Mr. Weasley was at th e back of the shed, sitting on a tattered beanbag, banging a wrench along the se at of her godfather s motorbike. He gestured for her to come and sit down, and R on and Ginny left them in private. "Hand me that crowdiver would you, Harry?" Harry assumed he meant screwdriver and picked up the only one she could find. He used the wrong end to bang on the engine. She was more than a bit perplexed. "Erm Mr. Weasley? What are you doing?" "What?" asked Mr. Weasley. Harry pointed to the wrench and screwdriver. "Oh yes pe rcussive maintenance, Harry. A Muggle once told me that the only way to fix anyt hing ecklectic is to hit it soundly or swear at it." Harry giggled. "Sir that Muggle He was taking the mickey out of you. Percussive ma intenance is a Muggle joke." Mr. Weasley was horrified. "R-Really? All this time So so what are these for?" He held up a wrench, a screwdriver, a hammer, and a hand drill.

"Well you have the right idea with the hammer." Harry demonstrated the uses of t he tools on bits of appliances around the shed while Mr. Weasley looked on happi ly, heralding the brilliance of Muggles and their gadgets. As Harry showed him h ow to use the hand drill on a bit of wood, she asked quietly, "Mr. Weasley, didn t you want to talk to me about something? Not that I m not enjoying this or anyt hing." Mr. Weasley chuckled weakly. "Yes, I did, Harry I suppose I was putting it off." He ran a hand through his thinning red hair with a sigh. "I m quite sorry about earlier. It was tactless as I can so often be. My sons did get it from my side of the family, I suppose." "It s alright, Mr. Weasley. I shouldn t have imposed." He waved his hand dismissively. "Nonsense and I owe you an explanation. When you first visited us last Christmas, you etched yourself into the hearts of Molly an d I. We know how much Ginny and Ron care for you and how much you care for them. When I saw you in that cupboard, Harry I will admit I felt as devastated as I wo uld have had I lost one of my own. You are a part of this family and this mornin g I treated you differently than I should have out of my own pride and my own sha me." "That means a lot to me, sir but ICutting her off, Mr. Weasley took a deep breath and continued, staring at a fixe d spot on the roof. "My great-great-great-great grandfather became a blood-trai tor the second he saved the life of several Muggles that had killed a witch of the Malfoy line. They would have been tortured into insanity by the angered fami ly, but my forefather felt that no crime deserved such punishment. When it was l earned that he spirited the Muggles away, the Weasley family was cast out into t he streets, stripped of their status and money. Even though he was a good man, h e was a Pureblood through and through; he was attached to the comforts of high s ociety and wealth. To the family s shame, he thieved, begged, and conned to rega in some of his former affluence. His sons and daughters made a vow to never foll ow in his footsteps. No matter what state of poverty a Weasley lives in, we don t steal, we don t beg, and we don t con to get money. All our wealth comes from what we earn and from leading good, honest lives." He sighed lightly. "And that, Harry, is why I myself cannot accept the vast weal th of the Potters. It is I and I alone who would not be able to live with taking money I have not earned. When Bill and Charlie send money home, I send it back to their accounts unbeknownst to them. I m a proud man, Harry and I have passed that pride onto my children. I don t think any of us could, in good conscience, dip our hands into gold that is rightfully yours, no matter how much you wish us to have it. I hope you can understand. It was never about you not being part of the family." The little hole in Harry s heart slid shut. "I understand, sir Thank you." "And no more sir please, Harry. You re making me feel much too old. Arthur, or if that is too informal for you, Mr. Weasley will suffice." Harry nodded happily. "Do you would you let me buy Ron and Ginny new wands? I hat e that Ron uses Charlie s. It s holding him back. He s really good at Defense whe n he pays attention," she added fondly. Mr. Weasley was hesitant, but he nodded at the pleading look Harry gave him. "Thank you, s-Mr. Weasley, good luck with the bike." She waved and half-ran half -skipped out of the shed. Ginny and Ron were leaning up against the wall with th eir ears pressed to the wood. "Could you two be any more obvious?" Harry asked w ith a laugh. Ron s ears went pink. "Harry, you don t have to get us new-" Harry cut him off with a poke to the stomach and said airily, "Shut it, Ron. You re getting a new wand whether you like it or not. Now let s go hunt Snidgets." Pansy sighed exasperatedly as she climbed the bookshelf s ladder. "Draco, stop l ooking up my dress." "Why?" he said in that husky drawl that made her shiver. "We re engaged, aren t we? I ll be seeing you starkers as soon as we turn seventeen maybe sooner," he ad ded slyly.

Definitely sooner. Pansy smirked and put the thick book of dark hexes back on the shelf. "That s no t the point, Draco." She climbed back down and as soon as her foot hit the groun d he pulled her around and slammed his lips into hers. The rest of the books she was holding tumbled out of her grasp as her arms and knees went weak. He s getting so good; so dominant. Draco pushed her back against the bookcase and bit her bottom lip lightly, whisp ering in a low growl, "What is the point, Pans?" Pansy s mind went blank as his mouth moved to her neck and his hand slid to her arse. "I don t what?" He grinned against her neck and started to trail little kiss es and bites across her collarbone as he squeezed her bum deliciously. Gasping, she moaned out, "Oh Merlin Draco y-your mother is is in the antechamber." "So?" He slid his finger under the strap of her dress and pulled it off her shou lder. Her left breast almost popped free. Pansy tangled her hands in his hair and whispered, "Think with the head on your shoulders, Draco. I m not ready for this. Don t want to end up like the Weasleys , now do we?" Groaning, Draco slid the strap back up her shoulder. "Sorry." His erection was throbbing against her leg and she grinned. She loved that she c ould do this to him, but they had their whole lives to explore that level of bei ng together. Pansy reached down and patted him through his jeans. "Good boy." Smirking, he gave her rear another little squeeze as payback. "I ve had enough o f studying. Let s slip out the back." "Your mother will be furious." Pansy spoke the words, but she wanted out as much as he did. "Mother is far too full of wine to notice we ve even left. Come on." Draco pulle d her towards the dragon statue that concealed the secret passage to the grounds , but he froze as they passed a small glass case. "Draco? What s wrong?" "My Great-Grandfather s journal; it s gone." "A house-elf is probably dusting it. Let s go." It s too early. Harry put her head down on Ginny s shoulders, hugging her warm body for support and yawning heavily. "Gin" she said in a small voice, "I m going to fall asleep o n you okay?" Ginny giggled. "You and Ron are almost the same person, you know that? Better wa ke up though you don t want to be sleepy when we Floo." Ron moaned. "Can t I stay home? Hermione s going to make us stay in Flourish and Blotts for ages. Ginny patted his arm. "Don t worry, Ron, we ll have plenty of time to not buy a full set of Canons robes at Quality Quidditch Supplies. Besides, there s a new Adventures of Martin Miggs out. You can spend the whole time reading it." Mrs. Weasley took a flowerpot off the kitchen mantel-piece and peered inside. "W e re running low, Arthur," she sighed heavily to Mr. Weasley. "We ll have to buy some more today. Alright, Ginny, Harry, you two can fit together. Waste not, wa nt not." Harry barely heard the words, just held on to Ginny and tried to doze standing u p. Ginny grabbed a bit of Floo Powder from the pot and pulled Harry into the firepl ace. She threw it down and shouted clearly, "Diagon Alley." Harry only barely felt herself spinning. Sleepy sleepy sleepy sleepy. She closed her eyes and cuddled the soft neck into which her nose was currently buried. "Harry, wait we re not-" All of a sudden she was fully awake as pain seared through her ribs. Ginny moane d from a spot nearby. They had fallen... hard... onto the reflective marble floo r of some sort of atrium. Sunlight streamed through a large open doorway across

from them, while a roaring fireplace lay behind them. Harry groaned as she pushed herself up to her knees. Her glasses were snapped in two, hanging off each ear. With a flick of her wand, she repaired them and aske d Ginny, "What happened?" Ginny waved her arms dramatically. "You fell asleep in the Floo, you dolt! We fe ll out too early." "Oh shite." "Yeah shite but wait! I think" Ginny got up and walked over to the fireplace. The fl ames were green. "It s an open Floo link, look." She stuck her hand into the fla me and waved it about. "Let s go." Harry nodded and stood, but something out the doorway caught her eyes. "Oh Ginny! Wait! It s beautiful." She ran across the atrium and out into the warm sunshine , feet pounding across the lush grass of the enormous circular courtyard. A magn ificent white fountain stood before her. Water levitated above it, dancing and t wirling in great sloshing arcs. Behind the fountain was a massive white building with steps that seemed to go on forever before they disappeared between two of the buildings seven, large, marble columns. The fountain was what fascinated Harry, however. The many long strands of water that sailed through the air unsupported, were weaving about in intricate images. She saw dragons, unicorns, sea serpents, gryphons all shimmering in the dancing water. Ginny sidled up next to Harry with her mouth agape, staring in awe at the fountain. Harry tentatively reached out her hand to touch the dancing water, but as soon a s the cool fluid made contact with her skin the images disappeared. In their plac e, the water formed two large interconnecting spirals, flowing and rotating in m idair. Harry gasped and clutched Ginny s arm. "Gin it s it s the rune." The mustard trail rune the light on my arm. It s so so squiggle no, I mean "Harry I don t I don t think we should be here." "No you shouldn t," replied a wheezing voice from behind them. Harry spun to behold a very old man with lopsided spectacles and a magnificent s now-white beard. He was leaning on a twisted staff with seven concentric rings a t the top. He had a toothy grin and his eyes his eyes were old; impossibly old. I t was the face of Jackson Smith It was the disguise of Nicholas Flamel. Frightened, Ginny mumbled, "Yes we re very sorry, sir. We came here by mistake an d we were just leaving weren t we, Harry?" Harry didn t answer her. She cocked her head and asked the man, "So you didn t g o to Cabo then, sir?" The man barked out a laugh and that same bone-shaking roll of power she had felt in the Hospital wing washed over her as he spoke. "Oho! Quite the little eavesd ropper, aren t we?" In the blink of an eye, he was Nicholas Flamel in flower-patt erned, orange swim-trunks. "I did in fact go to Cabo, Miss Potter. I am still in Cabo." He lashed out at her with his staff and it passed right through her. "You see? I felt someone physically enter this place and I thought I d check in. And to my great surprise I find two little girls, neither of whom are members of the Circles. Tell me, how did you find yourself here?" Harry pointed back at the atrium. "Through the fire, sir." "Oh my that is most interesting; quite impossible not for centuries terribly intere sting. Although" Flamel s eyes flicked to the rotating spirals. " making impossibi lities possible seems to be a habit of yours, Potter. That fountain hasn t shown a single thing other than magical creatures in twelve hundred years. Now it sho ws the rune it s been so long since My My, how terribly interesting. I wonder if I should tell you? No no that would be most unwise. It could bungle things up for the two of you." He seemed to be talking to himself more than to Harry and Ginny . Harry shuffled her feet, feeling completely at a loss. "I m afraid I don t under stand, sir." "No you wouldn t, would you? Nor should you, for that matter. Now off you go." He shooed them towards the atrium. "Perenelle and I were just about to go snorkelin g and I can t very well leave you here alone, now can I?"

He herded them all the way back to the fireplace. Ginny, still scared out of her wits by this seemingly-insane impossible-eyed man, grabbed Harry s arm, pulled her into the fire, and yelled loudly, "Diagon Alley!" Harry was aware of it this time. It felt like she was being pulled down a drain, spinning rapidly as green flames whirled about her. It sounded like she was sit ting in the middle of a gigantic bonfire, flames roaring and crackling around he r, burning all other sound away. Cold hands slapped her face; bile rose in her m outh; her brain juices sloshed about in her head as they spun and then she fell, f ace forward onto wood. Her glasses snapped again. "Oh for heaven s sake Reparo." The familiar sounds of a busy Leaky Cauldron met her ears; she heard Tom the Bar tender tell a rather poor joke about trolls and small loincloths, which earned a raucous bout of laughter from the most sloshed of his patrons. Hands gripped her shoulders and pulled her up, brushing her off. Crystal blue ey es twinkled at her. "Oi where ve you two been? Mum s having kittens!" Ginny sighed. "We fell out at the wrong gate, Ron. We Well, it took us a moment t o get back. It s only been a few minutes, hasn t it?" "Yeah, well, Mum is being Mum. Come on, they re out in the alley." He led them o ut the back door and tapped the bricks with his wand to materialize the entrance way. After Harry and Ginny had thoroughly apologized to Mrs. Weasley for giving her s uch a scare, the Weasleys made their way down the street to Gringotts. Harry cou ld see Hermione sitting on the bank s steps with the tall, brown-haired, bookish -looking man that she recognized as the girl s father along with a tall woman th at looked very much like a blonde Hermione. Harry jumped up and down waving, try ing to catch her friend s attention over the heads of the families that were mil ling about the alley. Despite the fact that she had grown nearly an inch in two and a half weeks of solid eating, she was still too short for her hand to reach more than a fingertip s length above the crowd. She squeezed through the bodies and ran up to the bushy-haired girl, engulfing her in a hug. "Hello, Mione! Thos e books you gave me were amazing! I ve been going through them every night." "Yes they are fascinating, aren t they? Especially the book that Professor Dumble dore wrote. I bought copies for myself, you see. Projection is especially intere sting. These are my parents, Harry. You ve met Dad, of course. Mum this is my fr iend Harry Potter." Hermione gestured vaguely towards the man and woman who were waiting nervously behind her, while her eyes were locked onto a spot behind Har ry. "It s very nice to meet you," she said to Hermione s mother, knowing exactly wha t the brown-haired girl was looking at. Stepping closer to her friend, Harry whi spered in her ear, "Yeah he does look rather fit, doesn t he?" Hermione s eyes retreated from Ron and she spluttered indignantly, "I I have no i dea what you re talking about, Harry." The look in Hermione s eyes said otherwise. Harry smirked and threw an arm aroun d her shoulder. "Right." Hermione parted with the Weasleys to exchange muggle money to galleons. Mr. Weas ley was, as always, absolutely fascinated with the Grangers and insisted that th ey go for a drink after returning from the vaults. A tiny spark of jealously fla red in Harry s chest when she saw that Ron was just as fascinated as his father e xcept he was only interested in Mrs. Granger, who was rather attractive and extr emely curvy. She was at most in her mid-thirties and looked even younger; she co uld have been Hermione s much older sister. Mione is going to look just like that. I don t have a chance, do I? Harry enjoyed the breakneck journey down to the Weasleys vault, that is... unti l it was opened. Her heart fell out of her chest. There was only one galleon, a few Sickles, and a handful of Knuts in the small chamber. Mrs. Weasley swept the lot into her purse with a small sigh. Harry was barely listening to Ron and Ginny s Quidditch talk as they sped down t o her vault. Rather, she was listening intently to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley s hushed conversation. "-only have eighty-six galleons altogether. We won t have enough for five sets o f Lockhart books, let alone Ginny s things, even if they are secondhand."

"We ll manage, Molly. I ll call in some favors." "Arthur, why not just let her?" "You know why, Molly I just can t I can t take Lily and James fortune in good con science." "She wants to be a part of this family so much. She is in spirit. You re paychec k comes in soon we can pay her back. Arthur, we need-" "Listen to yourself!" "I y-you re right" Harry felt disgusted as she walked into her large vault which was filled to the brim with hundreds of waist-high, miniature mountains of gold, silver, and bronz e coins. She covertly gathered more than she would have taken for herself. I m paying for whatever I can get away with. Ron was making a snow angel in a pile of gold coins. "Enjoying yourself, Ronald?" Ginny asked. "Immensely. Thanks, Gin." Harry pulled him up and flicked his nose. "Git. Come on, new wands await." Ron s ears went pink. "Really Harry, you don t have to-" Harry cut him off with a laugh. "Ron you were just able to make a snow-angel in a pile of my money. Do you really think I m going to hesitate buying something yo u need?" "Er right." Back outside the bank on the marble steps, they separated. Percy went off to par ts unknown; Fred and George saw Lee Jordan and headed straight for Gambol and Ja pes; Harry and Ginny started to run for Quality Quidditch Supplies, but Mrs. Wea sley caught their arms. "Not so fast girls," she said, pointing to a tiny shop d oor nestled between an apothecary and the Daily Prophet headquarters. A little p ink sign above the archway read, The Witching Hour. Ginny moaned. "Oh no! Mum, do we have to?" "Yes, you do. Now, march." Harry gagged and flinched as they walked into the shop; gagging from the overpow ering haze of perfume and flinching from the ridiculously pink color of the stor e s interior. There were knickers, bras, perfumes, lingerie, hoserie, love potio ns, hair potions, candy make-up charms, clothing accessories, hair accessories, purses, shoes, hats, jewelry They had just about everything under the sun that wa s made specifically for a women. Harry might have been impressed with the shop i f she hadn t been gagging on her tongue from the overly-sweet stench. Mrs. Weasley made them pick out bras; Ginny in the B-cup section, Harry in the A -cup. She picked up two; one green, in honor of Hermione, and one white. As her current shoes had several holes, she grabbed a new pair. They were green with pr int snitches that actually moved. Ginny thoroughly approved of them. Rather guil tily, Harry also found a large packet of candies that were charmed to apply eith er pink strawberry-flavored lipstick or dark-red chocolate flavored lipstick for an entire week. The witch behind the counter was wearing just as much make-up as Daphne Greengra ss could smother on her own face which was quite a lot. Mrs. Weasley walked up to woman and asked for the standard education course and kit. The witch led them into the back room, sat them all down in comfy pink armchairs , and flicked her wand, causing the room to darken. The education course was a bit like a Muggle film, but it floated in midair in three dimensions. It was a terrifying educational film entitled A Witch s Body and How to Manage It. Leaving the room a few minutes later, she felt completely disgusted that sometim e soon she would start bleeding all over her knickers and had to stick a little enchanted ball of cloth into her folds to stop it. String side down. Yeugh but thanks anyway, Mum. Ginny moaned into her ear, "I don t want to do that every month." "Me neither," she whispered, paying for her purchases. When Mrs. Weasley went to pay the four galleon total for Ginny, Harry slipped fo ur galleons back into older redhead s purse. Ginny was about to object. but Harr y glared at her and shook her head fiercely.

They headed next for Tweed s Titillating Treasures, the only store in the alley that sold secondhand goods. Harry found several skirts, shirts, jumpers and pant s of various colors that looked nice on her. The clothes weren t high Parisian f ashion like Pansy and Cho Chang insisted on wearing. They were simple; basic; ex actly how Harry liked things. It didn t matter that they were secondhand. All sh e wanted was comfortable clothes that fit and she could call her own. She also f ound a green belt with a tiny fluttering snitch on it, which matched her new sho es perfectly. Again, when Mrs. Weasley paid for Ginny s robes, Harry snuck an equal amount bac k into her purse. Ginny whispered into her ear as they left the shop. "Stop, Har ry. Please? Mum and Dad will find out." "No," Harry muttered. "I want to do this and it ll be too late when they do find out. We might even be back at Hogwarts by then. When they try to pay me back, I won t accept it just like they wouldn t accept my money." Ginny sighed unhappily, but she entwined their hands and mumbled, "Thanks, Harry ." Harry did it in every shop. When only Ginny s wand and books were left, Harry tu gged on Mrs. Weasley s sleeve. "Mrs. Weasley? Mr. Weasley said I can buy Ron and Ginny their wands. Do you think we should split up and meet at Flourish and Blo tts?" "Oh yes, good idea, Harry. I should go find Arthur and the Grangers before he sca res them half to death." Harry and Ginny found Ron and Hermione still in Quality Quidditch Supplies. "Honestly, Ron! What would you do with a full set of Chudley Canons robes?" ask ed Hermione in frustration as Ron ran his hands over the broomstick signed by Ma rcus Bode. "I d wear them!" said Ron indignantly. Harry came up behind him and patted him on back. "No you wouldn t." "Well no I wouldn t. But I d have them to look at everyday, instead of once a year ." Harry bought new bracers at the shop as hers had cracked. Like many of the Leagu e Seekers, she had taken to batting away bludgers with her guards instead of dod ging. It was more dangerous than dodging or rolling away, but it allowed you to keep your eye on the snitch. It of course had taken its toll on her gear. She al so bought a Harpies poster to hang in her dorm. When the four of them entered Ollivander s, there was a brilliant flash that bli nded Harry s vision. "Oh wow! Harriet Potter! Can I have your autograph?" "Colin! Leave that poor girl alone!" Harry heard the bell above the door ring and assumed Colin s mother had pulled h im from the shop. "Ah" said a familiar soft voice. "Wands for the youngest Weasleys, is it? Miss Gr anger, how is that Dragon Heartstring for Transfiguration? I ve always thought i t was one of my best Transfiguration creations." Mr. Ollivander stood before them, his wide, pale eyes shining like moons through the gloom of the shop. "It s quite excellent, sir, thank you. I have top marks," said Hermione proudly. Mr. Ollivander nodded appreciatively. "And Miss Potter. I see you have mastered y our wand. That is excellent news. I was afraid my words might have scarred you t oo deeply, but you have learned the truth of magic, yes? "Yes sir." Harry grinned. "Excellent. I expect great things, Miss Potter. Well then let s get to it. Mr. We asley your wand arm?" Ron raised his right arm and Ollivander walked over to a sh elf, pulling out a long box. "Try this one. Willow and unicorn tail-hair. Fourte en inches. Nice and springy. Give it a wave." Ron waved and nothing happened. "Hmmm, that s most curious. I thought for sure that would be the one. Come here, boy." Ollivander grabbed Ron s cheeks and pulled him close, tilting his face fr om side to side. "Ah yes I see. A divergence How very curious. Try this One of my r arer creations. Whomping Willow and Ashwinder Ash. Ten inches. A stout wand, qui te excellent for defensive magics."

As soon as Ron took the wand, a golden wall of mist erupted from the tip to hove r between himself and Ollivander. "Oh yes that s the wand for you, boy. But it will cost you thirty galleons. It is one of my best. We could select another less suitable wand if your funds are not sufficient." Ollivander peered at Harry knowingly. Doesn t miss a trick, does he? Harry handed him the coins and the old man deposited them into an old fashioned register. "Excellent excellent." Ron was rolling the wand between his fingers. He muttered excitedly under his br eath, "This wand it it feels good. I can t explain it. For some barmy reason it s reminding me of centaurs centaurs dunno. Weird, eh?" Harry shrugged and Ollivander moved on to Ginny. "Wand arm?" Ginny held up her l eft. "This one Holly and unicorn tail-hair. Eight and a half inches. A wand simpl y divine for hexes and jinxes." Ginny went through at least forty wands with no reaction. Ollivander peered at her stonily and then he peered at Harry and then back to Ginny and then to Harry once again. Walking around the counter, he beckoned them both toward him. Ollivander grasped their forearms; Ginny s left and Harry s right. T heir charms spun together. He stared and he stared and then"How curious I I don t have a wand for you, girl," Ollivander whispered, his eyes almost glowing. Ginny gasped. "W-What? What do you mean you don t have a wand for me? I m I m a w itch!" "Patience, dear girl. I simply said that I don t have it but I can make it." Olli vander was overly excited. "Give me an hour. I must contact the Headmaster." And they waited and they waited and they waited some more. Ron was moaning that th ey could be in Gambol and Japes but neither Harry nor Ginny were moving from the spot. Mrs. Weasley came to check up on them several times. She was incredibly s hocked that Ollivander didn t have a wand in stock that would suit Ginny. Harry s mind was whirring fiercely. Ollivander looked at our forearms. Did he see something there? I saw a light on Ginny s left arm. Was it a fairy? Or was it the rune? He has to talk to Dumbledor e what does that mean? I m in the mood for ice cream. The rune what is it? Flamel knew of course he knew he s 1700 years old. He probably knows everything there is to know about anything. The fountain what was that fountain? Why do I keep making impossibilities possible? I could really use some ice cream strawberry ice cream . Mr. Ollivander slipped back into the front room after roughly an hour and a half . He carried in his hand a light-brown wand, twirling it between his fingers. "H olly and phoenix feather, freshly plucked from the tail of a very special phoeni x belonging to the Headmaster of Hogwarts. Eleven inches. Very supple." That s that s theGinny brought the wand down in a swishing arc and red and gold sparks shot out o f it like a whip. That s the same as my wand! Ollivander fixed Harry with his piercing gaze. "Never have I made a duplicate wa nd until now." Ginny turned to look at Harry, mouth slightly agape. Harry had told her of the c onnection, between hers and Voldemort s wands; a connection that now had a third member. Voldemort, Harry and Ginny. Harry pulled out her wand and handed it to Ginny, who gave hers to Harry. Ginny swished and sparks flew. Harry conjured a teacup. It was exactly the same wand. It had the same feel between her fingers; the same gentle warmth. They returned the wands to their owner. Would it even matter if we traded? "I think we can expect great things from the two of you," whispered Ollivander r ather intensely. Harry was still a bit too shocked to acknowledge the old man. Ginny took her han d and shrugged, grinning, twirling the wand between her fingers. She echoed Ron

s words. "Weird eh?" "Very," sighed Harry heavily. "I think I need some ice cream to restart my brain ." Harry paid Ollivander the seven galleons for the wand plus ten extra for the sho rt notice special order and they left the shop. Trying not to think on the oddit y of the day s events, she bought them all strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice crea m sundaes from Florean s and the four of them slowly idled back to Flourish and Blotts; slowly only because there was a huge crowd, five store fronts wide, in e ither direction outside the shop. "What s this then?" asked Ron in confusion. Ginny pointed at a large sign stretched across the upper windows of the shop. GILDEROY LOCKHART Will be signing copies of his autobiography MAGICAL ME Today at 12:30 PM to 4:30 PM Harry snorted, flipping the hourglass back to normal as she finished her ice cre am. "He wrote an autobiography? I read Travels with Trolls AND Voyages with Vamp ires. There s more biographical information in those books then there is story." "But Harry," squealed Hermione excitedly. "We can actually meet him! I mean he s written almost the whole booklist!" Harry giggled and leaned into her ear. "Yes because that s why you want to meet h im." Ron heard her and gagged purposefully, pointing his finger at his mouth in disgu st. Hermione blushed fiercely and swatted Harry away. Even though she teased, Harry had to admit that while Gilderoy Lockart was a bit of a self-serving ponce in his books, she too was excited to meet him for exact ly the same reason Hermione was. They entered the shop and found the Grangers and the Weasleys halfway up the lin e. "Oh, there you are, good," said Mrs. Weasley breathlessly. She was patting he r hair and smoothing down her dress. "We ll be able to see him in a moment." As the group anxiously waited for a glimpse of the man Well, as the women of the group waited anxiously, including even Mrs. Granger who seemed swept up by the b uzz of feminine excitement, Harry saw a familiar head of platinum-blonde hair en ter the bookshop. He found her gaze so quickly, it was as if their eyes were att racting magnets. Draco winked at her and grinned that annoying grin of his that Harry both hated and enjoyed seeing upon his face. He looked much older; all of his babyish features now those of a young man. She didn t like to admit it, but h e looks good. Not as good as Ron though... She smiled fondly at the boy who was swatting at Hermione as she tried to rub dirt off his nose. A black-haired girl wrapped her arms around Draco s waist and he leaned over to kiss her temple. Harry s stomach gave a little envious lurch. She looked a bit l ike a taller, prettier, and far bustier version of Wait no it can t be! Parkinson? It was definitely her. Even though the blonde ringlets that the little bint love d to bounce ostentatiously were gone, that same I m better than you smirk lay beneath her pointy, little, upturned nose. Ponce and Bint- Together forever. How sweet. She s probably erased any progress he s made towards becoming a decent human being. Harry looked away and leaned on Ginny, hoping Parkinson didn t notice her. She r eally didn t want to get into it with the girl in front of all these people. It had been a long morning and she was far too bloody tired for something like that . The redhead, with whom she was once again equal height, took Harry s hands and wrapped them around her stomach. Harry sat her chin on Ginny s shoulder and ask ed softly, "Can we take a nap standing up?" Ginny giggled and drawled sarcastically, "Yes, Harry, because that worked out so well for us the first time. Who was that man anyway? You knew him." "Nicholas Flamel," mumbled Harry. If Ginny was shocked by this news, Harry didn t find out, for at that moment Gil deroy Lockhart came into view, seated at a table surrounded by large pictures of

his own winking, smiling, gorgeous face. The witches in the line around Harry a ll inhaled sharply. Harry was looking at his eyes; his forget-me-not blue eyes. She didn t know why, but she thought there was something not quite right about them. She couldn t put a finger on it. Dumbledore said in his Legilimency book that the eyes are direc t connections to the mind. It was definitely not her imagination. There was some thing in his eyes something false. Well maybe he doesn t want to be here signing all these books and he s trying to hide it. I certainly wouldn t want to be doing this. A camera man was that was dancing around Lockhart, much like Uncle Vernon had da nced around Dudley during his eleventh birthday breakfast, bumped into Fred and yelled, "Watch it, Scruffy! This is for the Daily Prophet!" Smirking rather evilly, Fred placed something into the man s coat pocket while h is back was turned. Harry thought she might have been the only one who saw, beca use Fred winked at her. A split-second later, there was a very high-pitched shri ek, several squeals, more than several giggles, and a large overwhelming surge o f laughter. The photographer s clothes had become completely see-through. He was essentially dancing around with his camera in his skivvies and socks, seemingly none the wiser. Gilderoy Lockhart looked up at the screams of laughter and blanched when he saw the nearly nude man. Mr. Weasley gave Fred a very stern look, and tapped the pho tographer with his wand. The reporter s clothes returned. He hadn t noticed a th ing. Harry s eyes returned to Lockhart... whose own eyes... were on Harry. She felt h er cheeks burn as the celebrity leapt to his feet and positively shouted, "It ca n t be Harriet Potter?" Suddenly, hands were upon Harry, pulling her away from the Weasleys. Ginny, howe ver, was latched to her tightly and no matter what the photographer did, she wou ldn t let go. The redhead swiftly kicked the man in the shins when he tried a se cond time. He hopped around on one foot, gave up his attempts to break them apar t, and shoved them both towards Lockhart. "Nice big smile, Harriet and friend. Together, we ll make the front page." He lev eled her with a wide smile of gleaming white teeth. The photographer was clicking the camera shutter like no tomorrow and the flashe s were making her woozy. She only just barely heard Lockhart announce that he wa s going to be replacing Quirrell as the defense teacher at Hogwarts. A stack of books was shoved into Harry s hands and she was pushed away from the flashing ca mera; back towards the Weasleys. She stumbled into Mr. Weasley. "Are you quite alright, Harry? You look like you re about to vomit." "M fine. What just happened exactly?" Ron s hand slid around her shoulders. "It s called being handled, mate." They swiftly picked up the rest of the books they needed for school and when the y reached the section with the hundred or so copies of all of Lockhart s books, Harry dumped the ones she carried into Ginny s cauldron. "A gift for you, Madame ." Ginny opened her mouth to protest but Harry whispered, "Honestly, Gin, we have t he same bloody wand. If there were ever two people that could be peas in a pod i t s us." Harry picked up another set of Lockhart books and walked to the cashier . "What s mine is yours and I ve decided to buy another set of books just for kick s, see. And since we basically share everything, we ll share those two sets of b ooks." She kissed Ginny s cheek. "See how convenient that is?" "Wow Potter didn t know you were a dyke," cackled a snide and pompous voice. "You just wait till Millicent finds out. Hope you re not a femme. She ll tear your c unny to bits." Harry reddened considerably and turned to face Pansy. She didn t really know wha t had just been said, but she assumed it was bad. Pansy never partook in the phy sical bullying of Hogwarts students that many of the Slytherins so enjoyed. No sh e was just like Piers. She would sit on the sideline and taunt you until you wer e in tears. Her favorite target was of course Hermione. Harry was her second and

Neville was her third. Harry spat venomously, "Parkinson, did words just come out of your mouth? I only saw shite dribbling down your chin. Go away." Pansy laughed cruelly. "Aww, Prissy Potter got her feelings hurt. Why don t you have this little Weasley slag kiss it all better? You d like it, wouldn t you? Y ou know, since you re a big lezzy bull-dyke and all." Harry knew what slag meant and she knew Pansy meant Ginny. Her wand was out so q uickly the girl didn t even have time to react. "Go away now." Pansy put her hands on her rather accentuated hips and drawled, "Or you ll what? You can t use magic outside of school. You ll get-" Harry s hex slammed into her face and fat, blistering boils sprang up everywhere . Moaning, Pansy clutched at her skin and ran away in pained tears. "God, I hate her so much." Ginny giggled. "Harry you defended my honor. You even beat Ron to the chase." "Yeah, well, I won t say I didn t enjoy it." Harry took her hand and rubbed it. "What s a dyke do you think?" Ginny shrugged. "Dunno." "Harry!" cried an angry voice. "What did you do to Pansy?" Draco was stalking over to them, face red and fists clenched. Ron quickly stepped in front of her. "She taught that evil little bint a lesson that s what she did." "Don t you dare call her that, you filthy blood-traitor!" Draco yelled, lunging at Ron. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley caught up with them after paying for the rest of their chil dren s books. They seemed puzzled that they had so easily afforded everything. D ashing forward, Mr. Weasley wrenched the two brawling boys apart and shouted, "R on, stop it! It s too crowded in here for this! Boy, go back to your parents." H e pushed Draco away from them. "Do not lay your hands upon my son, Arthur," said a smooth drawling voice that r eminded her of Draco. Mr. Weasley let go of Ron and stepped out in front of his family, just as Ron ha d done for her. He replied in an icy tone. "Perhaps you could control him better , Lucius. I know how very fond you are of controlling people." "Tut tut, Weasley," Lucius Malfoy said softly, stoic face falling into a small s neer. "You don t want to go spreading accusations that could cause complication f or you at the Ministry. I hear you ve been busy as of late. All those raids I hop e they re paying you overtime?" Mr. Malfoy reached into Ginny s cauldron and pul led out her secondhand copy of A Beginner s Guide to Transfiguration. Laughing u nder his breath at the state of the book, he muttered nastily, "Hmm, obviously n ot. Tell me what s the use of being a disgrace to the name of wizard if they don t even pay you well for it?" Mr. Weasley grimaced. "We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of Wizard, Malfoy. How is your arm by the way? I hope it has recovered from that terrible business with a rather stubborn... tattoo... was it?" Mr. Malfoy s lip curled. "You speak foolishly, Weasley. Perhaps when I have conv inced the Minister that the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office is a waste of budg et, you will be singing no begging to a different tune." Mr. Weasley was quick. Harry watched in shock as he drew back his fist and decke d Mr. Malfoy as hard as he could in the jaw. The silver-haired man flew back int o a bookshelf, which sent several tomes tumbling down onto his head. Mr. Malfoy recovered quickly, but instead of retaliating physically, he drew his wand and s lashed it down in an arc. Familiar, sickly purple light shot out of it in slow m otion. Quirrell bastard. Wand still in hand and knowing that she could, Harry conjured a solid brick wall in front of Mr. Weasley, who didn t have his wand out. Harry was horrified to see that the light cut into the brick for several inches and that the stone around the gash had melted. It was only conjured brick but sti ll. That curse surely would have

Every single Weasley, and even some of the onlookers in the crowd had their wand s out, ready for another attack. Mr. Malfoy s angered face very quickly returned to its stony position. "You will regret that one day, Weasley. Here, girl take y our book... it s the best your father can give you Come, Draco." The pair left the shop quickly. Mr. Weasley turned to her. "Thank you, Harry Never would I have thought Lucius wo uld Well, anyway, I am in your debt." "No, y-you re not," stuttered Harry, still extremely surprised at the lethal for ce of the spell Mr. Malfoy had used in his fury. "Surely he ll he ll be punished for attacking you won t he?" Mr. Weasley smiled and patted her shoulder gently. "Sometimes Harry, it is easy to forget that you didn t grow up in this world. No Lucius is Well, there s no oth er word for it he s rather slippery. I doubt an incident report will even be file d with the Aurors." He removed his pointed cap, using it to clean his glasses, a nd said to the group, "Let s head for home, shall we? It s been a long day." Harry let out a small sigh of relief. Finally. That night, a rather chilly night for the end of August, the Weasley s lounged a bout the sitting room as a fire crackled merrily in the hearth. Harry felt rather wonderful at the moment, snug in her new clothes and her Weasl ey jumper; so wonderful, in fact, that she found it slightly difficult to concen trate on the chess game that levitated above her lap. It wasn t the clothes that were doing the distracting, however. It was Ron or rather where Ron was. Instead of sitting on the other side of the board, he sat behind her with his head over her shoulder and his stomach pressing into her back. She had always enjoyed his embrace; this specific embrace as she would lean on h is broadened chest. But today, it was different better. She pushed herself back i nto his arms. "Give up?" asked Ron with a laugh, taking her knight and rubbing her shoulder co nsolingly. Harry only had three pieces left to his five. "Not yet." I lost but I think I m going to sit here for just a little bit longer. She let her head fall back onto his shoulder and entwined their fingers, smiling up at him. The way he had stepped in between Draco and herself it just meant mor e than it had before. My savior my knight my best mate my very handsome best mate. Harry dragged his arm around her waist. Ron tensed, looking apprehensive and nervous as she stared into his crystal-clea r sky-blue eyes. A butterfly flapped its wings in her stomach. Her eyelids flutt ered closed and she slowly inched forward. Ginny s voice echoed down the stairs from their room. "HARRY! COME HERE!" Ron pulled away, unclasping their hands. Harry muttered quickly, "Oh I I m sorry. I I was having a moment." She blushed beet red, got up, and ran upstairs faster than you could say Quidditch. Oh God, I almost kissed him. Oh God. Oh Merlin. Oh God, I almost kissed Ron. I a lmost kissed Ron! He s going to think I m barmy! He likes Mione. Oh god, Harry, you IDIOT! Harry bolted into the room, slammed the door, and slid down the wood onto the fl oor. She tried to hide her heated face from Ginny, but the redhead seemed to int rinsically know what had happened. Ginny gasped and rushed over to her, urgent m atter completely forgotten. "Did you kiss him? You ve been ogling him all day! W hat was it like? Is he a good kisser? Ew... wait... no... don t tell me that." Harry blushed even harder. She could feel its heat on her neck and on her should ers; her ears felt like they were on fire. "I almost did. I wanted to. I m not I m not sure if he wanted to kiss me though. He went all stiff." Ginny raised an eyebrow playfully. "Yeugh! Ginny come on you know what I mean." "Yeah." Ginny pulled her up and dragged her over to the bed. "Come here look at t his book I found in my things." She held up a thin black completely normal looki ng book.

"What am I supposed to be looking at?" asked Harry perplexedly. "This" Ginny opened it and flipped through its blank pages. "It s a diary." "How do you know? It s blank, isn t it?" "No it s definitely a diary." Harry laughed. "Doesn t look like much diary-keeping went on. Whose is it?" "Well, its second hand... belonged to some bloke named Tom. But look, Harry this is amazing!" Ginny picked up one of the quills Harry had given her Christmas las t. "I ve always wanted a diary, but Mum said writing down how I feel everyday is a waste of parchment and well, you know waste not, want not. So I never got one . But then this was in my books. No idea how it got there." Harry waved it off. "The clerk probably gave it to you by accident It definitely looked like it was his first day on the job." "That s what I was just thinking. So I said, Hey, lucky me... empty diary, and then I wrote in it." Harry stared at her and said slowly, "Gin this thing is completely blank." "I know! Watch." Ginny dipped the quill in her inkpot and scrawled into the diar y. Hello. I m Ginny. Harry gasped. The words, like water in a sieve, sunk into the page. Different wo rds reappeared seconds later in a completely new handwriting. Hello Ginny. Tell me... Who are you? "Wicked," Harry breathed, amazed. "Is it is it a joke, do you think?" "I don t know. It keeps asking me who I am; to tell it about myself. Maybe it s a diary that talks to you; helps you work through your feelings or something like how our mirrors talk to help you pick out outfits." "Hey, yeah I bet your right." Harry jumped onto the bed. "Talk to it. See what it says." Ginny lept onto the bed after her. Crawling into Harry s lap, she began to write while Harry peered intently over her shoulder. I m Ginny Weasley. I m eleven-years-old. Do you have a name or should we just ca ll you Diary? My name is Tom Riddle. I knew a boy named Weasley once. Septimus Weasley. Ginny gasped and scribbled furiously. My Grandfather s name was Septimus! He died in the war against You-Know-Who. You-Know-Who? Tell me, Ginny Weasley Who is You-Know-Who? Ginny s hand trembled as she tried to write the name. "Here, Gin," Harry whisper ed, taking the quill from her. "Let me do it." You-Know-Who is a murderer. His real name is Voldemort. Tell me... Who did he murder? Everyone including my parents. You are not Ginny Weasley. Tell me Who are you? Harry Potter. I m twelve-years-old and a friend of Ginny s. Who are you, Tom? I am your friend, Harry Potter. Tell me about yourself. Tell me everything. Why did Voldemort kill your parents? Harry suddenly didn t feel well. Her scar was stinging terribly and her stomach was doing nauseating flips. She gave the book back to Ginny and excused herself to the bathroom. CHAPTER The Grecian NINE Ron slid open the heavy door to the last cabin Hermione had assigned him to sear ch. "-can t believe you like Neville, Vati!" squealed a voice with a slight Desi acc ent as the silencing charm fell away. A similar voice retorted bitingly, "Just because he never played with you when w e were-" The compartment s occupants, Lavender, Parvati, and Parvati s rather reserved lo

oking twin-sister that Ron could never remember the name of, abruptly stopped th eir conversation at the sight of him. "R-Ron," stammered Lavender, cheeks turning pink. " Ummm" She threw him a wonky li ttle smile and leaned forward, folding her arms tightly across her large chest. "Hi there," she said heavily. For some odd reason, Parvati and her twin burst into giggles. What s that about? "Oh hullo. I just wanted to ask Have either of you seen Harry or my sister?" Ron h eld his hand up at a spot just below his shoulder and said, "She s about yea hig h bright red hair freckles all over amber-brown eyes? Hermione, Neville, and I can t find either of them anywhere." The girls shook their heads, grins fading at his rather frantic tone. Ron sighed , slumping against the doorframe. Harry Gin where the bloody hell are you? "Ron, are you alright?" asked Lavender with genuine concern. "What? Oh yeah, I m alright; just worried." Ron took a good look at the girl that Quirrell had destroyed and restored. She seems okay. Good, even. "H-How about you? Is everything okay you know, since" He trailed off and felt his ears burn. Not a great thing to be asking. "Er sorry; none of my business. Well, thanks anyway." He let the door slide shut and walked back down the narrow hall of the train. A few steps in the opposite d irection later and the compartment door he had just shut banged open. "Ron, wait," cried Lavender, hurrying over to him. In a moment of what Ron would later call fuzzy haziness, he found himself bein g snogged. Thoroughly. After a few seconds of devouring his lips, Lavender pulled away, blushing furiou sly. "I just I just wanted to say thank you for helping Harry get him. I heard wh at you did down there. I was really amazed. You re you re a hero." Ron mouthed a bit like a fish out of water, staring blankly at the girl in shock . She nodded decidedly and rushed back into her compartment. He managed to pick his jaw up off the floor to head back to his own cabin. Even though Harry had told him she hadn t done it on purpose, Ron still hadn t b een able to forget about the other day when she had almost kissed him; when he h ad almost kissed her back. Adding this on top of it Well, it was making his brain ache. Ron slid into the small room. Hermione had returned to the compartment as well... without Harry and Ginny. As he sat down next to her, she sighed heavily and muttered, "No luck then?" "I just got snogged." "What does that have to do-" Hermione s eyes suddenly bulged and she screamed ou t, "YOU WHAT?" Ron nodded and sank down into the chair, his mind reeling. "Snogged." Hermione s face went through various expressions of shock, denial, disappointmen t, and anger before she flew into a rage and proceeded to scream at him at the t op of her lungs for not caring about finding Harry, and being a typical male. Now, as much as he liked her singsong voice, being screamed at for something t hat he had had no control over was not going to be one of the things that kept h er angry at him for days. And so he stood up, grabbed her by the shoulders, and p ulled her into a hug, whispering into her hair, "Calm down already it wasn t my f ault." Hermione beat against his chest, struggling to free herself from his embrace, bu t Ron held on tightly. He would have let her go had she still been screaming at him but she wasn t screaming anymore she was crying. "M-Mione," he said nervously, placing his chin on her head. "What s wrong?" Merlin, she smells good. Toffee apple. Hermione shook her head once her tears had slowed to a light stream and stuttere d, "N-Nothing. I don t I don t know why I m..." She pawed at his chest gently, lo

oking up at him with a trembling lip. "Wh-Who?" "Oh Lavender. She Well, she was acting a bit odd and then she just... snogged me. I didn t snog her back mind you! She said she wanted to thank me for what I did against You-Know-Who even though we both know that was you and Harry." Hermione, tears abated, touched his chin. "No You made the biggest sacrifice that day, Ron. I-I thought you were dead." She squeezed his waist. "I missed you and Harry so much this summer. You re my Well, two days together It wasn t enough." Ron let go of her and sat back down. "Do you want to come over next summer then? For a little bit or or however long you want to stay or something?" Hermione nodded rapidly and sat down next to him, her big chocolaty eyes fixed u pon his own. "I m sorry I yelled." Ron shrugged, grinning. "Used to it." "Hey!" He raised his arms in defense and added quickly, "Only joking! Only joking! Alth ough, we do argue a bit, I suppose." Hermione nodded. "Recent studies show that couples who have light arguments gene rally have happier relationships than those that don t." "Couples?" asked Ron, his ears heating rapidly. Is she Does she "Oh! Oh no! No no no no," she said in embarrassment. Five No s? Hermione continued, her tanned skin flushing red. "I meant it in in terms of comp atibility for for friendship of course." "Oh well, you could have sad that." Five No s honestly! "Well I I didn t, did I?" Hermione muttered stubbornly. "Why not?" "Because that wasn t the study, Ron." "Well, the study is a bit of bollocks then, isn t it, Mione?" "Just because-" But Hermione stopped herself short. Breathing deeply, she straig htened out her annoyed expression and said to him rather curtly, "I assume you d idn t find Harry and Ginny?" Ron felt a little deprived when she brought their argument to a close. It was li ke she had ended a chess game early. "No I didn t. I can t stop thinking about th em either." Hermione fidgeted and smoothed down her school skirt. "What if something happened, Mione?" Before she could answer him, the compartment door slid open. Neville slouched in side, shoulders slumped. "Couldn t find them anywhere." Heavy sickening dread filled Ron s chest. "What if What if You-Know-Who got them? " Oh Merlin. Harry Gin please, be alright. Hermione touched his arm lightly. "I m sure they re fine, Ron. They probably jus t missed the train. Your parents will take care of them." "Y-yeah," Ron sighed in resignation, "probably right." He sat back and watched t he bluffs roll by through the window. The train ride was relatively uneventful. Hermione had fallen asleep on his shou lder, Neville had gone off to talk to a seventh year about Herbology, Seamus and Dean had popped in for a quick gab, and Parvati had walked by the compartment f ar too many times for it to be a coincidence. Yet that was it. He spent the ride thumbing through his chocolate frog cards. He, like all good c ollectors, had them alphabetized. Gondoline Oliphant (1720-1799) was a witch made famous for studying the life and habits of trolls. In 1799, she was clubbed to death in the Cotswolds while sket ching. Gregory the Smarmy was a medieval wizard. He invented Gregory s Unctious Unction , a potion that makes the drinker believe that whoever gives them the concoction is his or her best friend. Gregory allegedly wormed his way into King Richard s confidence and thus made his fortune. Gwenog Jones (b. 1968) is the famous captain and beater of the Welsh all-female Quidditch team, the Holyhead Harpies. Ron s heart gave a little jolt as he pulled out the next picture. You better be alright.

Harriet Potter (b. 1981) is the first witch to have survived the Killing Curse, thus earning her the title "The Girl Who Lived." Heathcote Barbary (b. 1974) is a rhythm guitarist for the popular band The Weird Sisters. Professor Helga Hufflepuff was a witch of Medieval times. She popularized the us e of the wand over the staff and was one of the four founders of Hogwarts School of Witchraft and Wizardy. She gave her name to one of the school s four houses. The students of her house are described as loyal and hard-working. It is unknow n when she died. Helga s portrait remains at Hogwarts. Hengist of Woodcroft was a medieval wizard. Hengist founded the village of Hogsm eade in medieval times after being driven from his home by Muggle persecutors. P opular rumour suggests that he used the Three Broomsticks Inn as a home and fort ress. Herpo the Foul was an Ancient Grecian Dark Wizard. He is one of the earliest kno wn Dark Wizards and his work is still a lasting aspect of dark magic to date. He is best known as the first wizard to hatch a Basilisk. Herpo is reputed to have invented many vile curses and is the first Parseltongue in recorded history. It s it s You-Know-Who s magic not hers. Ignatia Wildsmith (1227-1320) was a wizarding inventor and the creator of Floo P owder. They pulled into Hogsmeade Village and Ron gently tried to shake Hermione awake. She moaned and whacked weakly at his offending hand, still clutching to the edge s of sleep. "Five more minutes, Mum." Ha. I do that too. "Mione wake up. We re here." Her chocolaty eyes opened halfway and she smiled at him suggestively, leaning fo rward and then her eyes opened all the way. Awake, alert, and two inches from his face, Hermione let out a mighty shriek and pushed him back roughly into a wall. "Oi!" he cried indignantly rubbing his head where it had hit the seat. "You fell asleep on me, you mad bat!" Her face fell. "Oh Ron, I m sorry," muttered Hermione guiltily. "I didn t mean t o. I was just startled." Girls. Are. Ridiculous. They made their way out of the train and over to the carriages. The second the h orseless buggies came into sight, Hermione screamed and grabbed his arm. "Ron! D on t go any closer!" She was staring in terror at the carriages. "What? Why not?" Hermione danced around the clearing, pulling people away from their transport to the school. "There are monsters all around us! Everyone! Stop! What are you doi ng? Can t you see-" Susan Bones came over to Hermione and put a consoling arm on her shoulder. "Calm down," she said. "They re harmless. I don t think anyone here but you can see t hem." "What?" gasped Hermione. "How is that possible?" "My Aunty Amelia told me about the creatures that pull the carriages. They can o nly be seen by people who ve witnessed a death first hand. They re supposed to b e wonderfully gentle though or at least, that s what she says." Hermione saw Quirrell die. Ron put his arm around Hermione s shoulders and guided her to a carriage. Despit e Susan s explanation, Hermione shied away from whatever it was that invisibly pu lled them. "What did it look like?" asked Ron with an arm still around her as they trundled up towards the school. Gripping his shirt tightly, Hermione shuddered and pushed her body against his s ide. "Like death." When they arrived at the castle and entered the Great Hall, Ron s sense of dread grew. Harry and Ginny weren t sitting at the Gryffindor table as he had hoped t hey would be. Please, please, please be okay. The sorting was agonizingly slow. When McGonagall finally reached the end of the

list and called out Weasley, Ginevra, no one approached the stool. The studen ts in the hall started to titter with rumors and speculation. There was a small directed cough from the head table and Professor McGonagall walked over to the H eadmaster. He whispered into her ear and the woman nodded, sitting down in her c hair beside him. Professor Dumbledore stood to give his customary beginning of term speech. "Welc ome students to another year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I am rather sure this year will be a most splendid one. I d like to remind everyone that the Forbidden Forest is off limits to all students. Professor Snape would l ike me to convey to you all fair warning that should his hair turn pink at any p oint in the year, he will exact most serious consequences on the entirety of his students. I ask you not to fret over our missing first-year and her companion. She will be arriving shortly to be sorted. "That being said, I would like to off icially welcome our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Gildero y Lockha-" Girlish squeals and shrieks from all around the hall cut the Headmaster off as L ockhart stood and bowed with a flourish. Hermione was clapping avidly. Ron glared at Lockhart. What a ponce. "Yes yes!" shouted Professor Dumbledore, waving his arms for quiet. "A most avid welcome to you, Gilderoy. So, before we tuck in to our welcoming feast, I bid y ou all to remember: Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus!" On his final word, the entire foundation of the Great Hall rumbled violently and split second later, a massive swirling pillar of multicolored flame erupted in front of Dumbledore with a BOOM. It was magnificent, the bluest blues twirled ar ound the reddest reds. Orange danced with green. Pink sung with white. Ron could feel the heat of the fire from his seat all the way at the back of the hall. So ng like he had never heard before echoed about the stone. It was a most beautifu l and uplifting song. It filled his head; touched the fire of his heart; lifted his very soul. And then it was gone as quickly as it had come. Harry and Ginny, their windswept hair smoking lightly, stood in the exact spot w here the column of flame had dissipated. A giant red bird sat on the black-haire d girl s shoulder, trilling the beautiful song up to the ceiling of the Great Ha ll. He would have been relieved had it not been for the large red stains that covere d their bodies from head to toe. Ron leapt up and ran. Oh! Sorry!" said Harry as her cart lightly bumped into the ankles of a businessma n who was hurrying rather recklessly for his train. He glared at her as if she h ad just committed some terrible offense, but bustled off without a word. For some reason, neither Ginny nor Harry had slept well over the last week and H arry was extremely tired; she could hardly keep her eyes open and thus, she was overly clumsy. She had fallen down the stairs this very morning, almost snapping her neck. A step had simply vanished and Harry hadn t seen the hole. Mrs. Weasl ey suspected it was the work of the ghoul, thinking that perhaps it had gotten a bit frustrated with the attic and ventured downstairs to make mischief. Ginny too, was suffering from bouts of clumsiness. She had a large burn on the i nside of her hand where she had placed it on a searing hot pan. Mrs. Weasley had healed it as best she could, but it was still bright red and slightly swollen. Ten minutes into their drive to the station this morning, Ginny had also realize d she had forgotten the diary. Harry and Ginny had both pleaded that they g