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Author Notes:

The ripples are starting to spread, and some things change for the worse...

Harry kept a low profile with his meddling after that.   He enjoyed Oliver’s enthusiasm for the game and their prospects for the new season. The congratulations from Fred and George particularly warmed his heart. He hadn’t seen much of the twins lately – they were no doubt up to the eyebrows in some mischief – but that would change once they started practicing together. He concentrated on the here and now, and not on what he knew was coming.

Even with his desire to avoid tempting fate, Harry refused to rise to the bait when Malfoy tried to trick him into agreeing to a duel during dinner.

“I’d take you on anytime on my own,” he declared.

“Really, Draco? Then let’s suggest we have a duelling tournament to Professor Quirrell! Let’s get some extra credit for it!” Harry’s grin widened as he saw Malfoy’s sneer falter.

The little sneak was planning to set me up with Filch all along!

He stood up from the table and glared at the Slytherin, ignoring his bodyguards. “Make no mistake, Malfoy. When I kick your arse I want the whole school to see it,” he hissed.

Then he promptly sat back down and went back to his steak and kidney pie. He smirked at Ron, who abruptly began laughing.

“I don’t see what’s so funny,” Hermione said crossly.

“Oh, just the look on that Malfoy’s face,” Ron replied.  “He didn’t know whether he wanted to roar or cry.”

“I don’t know why you and Harry keep taunting him,” she warned. “Nothing good will come of this.”

“Well, we couldn’t let him get away with what he called you,” Ron said seriously. “You’re a Gryffindor, and we take care of our own.”

Hermione blinked and Harry almost smirked as a slow flush crept up her cheeks. “We need to finish eating and go see Neville,” she said and took a quick drink of water. Ron just grunted and continued eating.

Madam Pomfrey revived Neville fairly easily, but decided to keep the boy in the hospital wing overnight for observation. He had, after all, sustained a light concussion. They found him sitting up in his bed, just finishing his dinner as they walked in.

“You just missed my Gran,” he said, smiling. “At first she thought I’d fallen from my broom or something silly like that. When she found out Crabbe rammed into me, she Flooed over and demanded he be expelled!” Neville’s grin faltered a little. “Unfortunately, Madam Hooch was looking the other direction when they supposedly lost control, so it was ruled an accident.”

“That’s bloody ridiculous!” Ron all but shouted, earning him a sharp look from Madam Pomfrey at her desk.

“That’s what Gran said, er, almost, anyway. But Madam Hooch is making both of them wax and re-tune all the school brooms!”

“Blimey, I’d do that for a free shot at Malfoy!” Ron protested.

“You… you’re just impossible!’ Hermione fumed. “I’m glad you’re okay, Neville,” she said, smiling at the boy, then walked out in a huff.

“What’s her problem?” Ron groused.

“I don’t know,” Harry said thoughtfully. “Maybe she likes you?” he asked innocently.

Ron turned pink. “You’re mental, you are!”

“What do you think, Nev?” Harry said, carefully winking at his friend.

“Well, I don’t know,” Neville said cautiously, picking at a thread on his hospital pyjamas, as Ron looked even more outraged. “Looks like true love to me,” he said, absolutely deadpan. Harry blinked.

Did he actually look a little sad when he said that?

Then he remembered that the ‘old’ Neville had actually worked up the courage to ask Hermione to the Yule ball, and felt abruptly ashamed. He didn’t get the chance to say anything else, though, because Ron’s outraged shouting caused Madam Pomfrey to eject them from her ward. As they walked back to the Gryffindor tower, Harry smoothed the front of his robes, reassured by the crinkle of parchment that his letter was still there.

As if reading his mind, Ron looked sideways at him as they walked. “Er, that letter, the one Malfoy nicked…?”

Harry sort of expected this. “Yes?”

“It was from my sister, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was,” Harry answered.  Expecting it didn’t mean he was going to make it easy for Ron to cross-examine him. “You know I’m writing to her about Wizarding household magic. I’ve even given copies of her answers to Hermione.”

“Well, I’m just asking… Well, you got really angry at Malfoy today for taking one…” his voice trailed off uncomfortably. “Just seemed kind of odd, you know.”

Harry stopped next to one of the suits of armour around the corner from the portrait of the Fat Lady. “Ron, if it seems kind of odd, well. Let me put it this way. Do you know how many letters I’ve received in my life?”

Ron shook his head.

“Three: my Hogwarts letter and two letters from Ginny. I suppose that is a little odd, but when you’ve never had something before, and someone tries to take it away… well…” his voice trailed off, and Harry realized he wasn’t just talking about letters.

Ron looked horribly uncomfortable, and Harry felt a stab of guilt for how he’d evaded Ron’s real question. It would be easier for him to leave Ron thinking as he did now, but would it be right?

Harry took a deep breath. He’d been hoping to put this off for a while. “Ron, I’m not going to lie to you. I think Ginny is pretty special. She was nice to me and helped me at Kings Cross, before anyone noticed this ruddy scar. I think… it helps me to have someone to write to who isn’t in the middle of things here. I know she misses having someone to talk to. She said you’d promised to write her, and she sounded pretty lonely stuck at home with her Mum, and missing all her brothers.”

Ron’s face had gone a little pale again. “I’m still working on a letter,” he muttered, sounding a little guilty.

“It doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece,” Harry said, a little exasperated. “She just wants to know you haven’t gone off and forgotten her.”

Ron nodded for a moment. He looked up at Harry again, his expression a little horrified. “You don’t… like… her, do you?”

I must not tell lies. “I don’t know,” he stalled. It wasn’t precisely a lie – this Ginny could turn out to be far different than the one he remembered. “Why don’t we just wait and see what happens, all right?”

Ron, bless his heart, still looked a little queasy. Harry held back his laughter with great effort. “You’re really being weird, Harry.”

“I’ve never been normal, Ronald,” Harry replied, mimicking Hermione’s voice.

Ron laughed out loud, and they eased past an uncomfortable moment as they re-entered the Gryffindor common room.

~+~

Harry’s determination to avoid meddling was sorely tested over the next few weeks. The first time around, he remembered being consumed with trying to figure out what Hagrid had retrieved from Gringotts. This time he knew what it was and where it was, the only question was what he should do about Professor Quirrell.

Malfoy spotted the Nimbus 2000 being delivered again, only this time Harry yanked it back out of reach when he grabbed for it. Ron and Neville sized up Crabbe and Goyle like they really wanted to take them to pieces. Things were getting a little tense before Hermione caught Professor Flitwick’s eye. Harry couldn’t help but smirk at the gobsmacked look on Malfoy’s face when the Charms professor confirmed that Harry was supposed to have the broom.

“…and it’s really thanks to Malfoy here that I’ve got it,” sounded just as sweet the second time around.

During the initial Quidditch practices, Harry had to remember that he was still supposed to be a neophyte. He sat patiently through Oliver’s explanation of the game, and tried not to get too creative when catching the golf balls. He started off slowly in the team practices as well, but soon he checked Quidditch Through the Ages out of the library and made a big show of reading it in the common room. The first time he practiced a Wronski feint he nearly gave Oliver a heart attack, but at least he could say he’d been reading up on it.

Ginny was very excited when he wrote her about making the team. So much so, that the next letter from her was spattered with ink and her usually neat script was reduced to a hurried scrawl. Harry could almost picture her in his head, bouncing in her chair at the Weasley’s scrubbed wood table, writing as quickly as she could. She also told him that Ron had finally written her, but she phrased it like she was thanking him. She evidently figured out that Harry had said something to her occasionally-thick brother. He wondered how long it would be before Ginny got as good at reading him as she was in his former life.

They were writing each other nearly twice a week now. Hedwig seemed to be enjoying the exercise. Obviously, Harry did not have to study very hard to pass his classes, something which annoyed Hermione to no end. He’d recently taken to hauling a textbook up to bed with him. He claimed he liked to read before sleeping, and instead worked on his letters there and after his dreams woke him up. New letters from Ginny still gave him a break from the nightmares, which was rather odd to him. He supposed it gave his imagination something to work on besides dredging up the most horrific scenes from the war.

He also noticed that her narratives were starting to talk more about herself and less about what was going on at The Burrow. He smiled when he read her rant about being treated like a helpless infant by her older brothers, except for Bill. When she talked about Quidditch, she mentioned having to practice flying by sneaking out after dark and pinching her brothers’ brooms. This gave Harry a very warm feeling, because he knew she’d never mentioned this to her family. Ron and the twins only found this out in his fifth year, the first time around.

She was slowly becoming a friend, and hopefully not someone who wouldn’t be able to speak in his presence next year. If fate tried to screw that up, he was going to have words with the bastard.

~+~

Harry was very much on edge the day of Halloween. He knew that Quirrell was going to sneak a mountain troll into the castle to cover his attempt at the Sorcerer’s Stone. He was halfway tempted to track the possessed professor down and finish him off, but he couldn’t come up with a sufficient pretext. The man seldom left his chambers, and always stayed away from Harry in class. His nervous, fear-stricken persona was perfect for keeping everyone at a distance – a handy thing if you have a Dark Lord sticking out the back of your head. No, the best time to take him down might actually be when he made his attempt on the stone.

Besides, Harry was fairly certain he could handle a mountain troll if he had to. A cutting or bludgeoning curse to the head should drop a troll as readily as a human. Besides, if he kept his friends together, they could just let the professors handle it as they wanted to. Unfortunately, his nervous tension was apparent to his friends as well. Neville and Ron pulled him aside after their morning run to ask him if everything was all right. Harry knew he shouldn’t have been surprised, given how much of him they saw throughout the day.

Their morning runs had become a little more respectable and Harry had begun showing Neville and Ron some basic fighting stances again, taking it slow for now. As it was, the three boys spent a lot of time together, and Harry wondered if Hermione was feeling left out at times. He tried to compensate for it in other ways, though he wasn’t sure how effective it was. From his psychology books, he knew she was likely to be a little uncomfortable as the only girl in their little group. Lavender and Parvati were okay people, but they had always been a little too flighty for the kinds of trouble Harry’s friends tended to get into. Next year might help the gender balance, but that would be a while off.

There were other ways to support her as well. Hermione was a born overachiever, and Harry was doing well in his classes for other reasons. When they had to pair off for class work, Harry tended to grab Neville, or ‘Nev’. Harry’s accidentally applied nickname had started to stick, but Longbottom didn’t seem to mind. He intentionally left Ron to work with Hermione, all in accord with Harry’s ‘cunning plan’. While they still bickered about schoolwork, Harry was a little more supporting of Hermione’s scholastic agenda, especially in areas where he could see some practical applications. He knew what they might be facing in the future, and he wanted them as ready as possible.

Unfortunately, other people had noted the formation of their little clique.

Harry insisted that they all go down to the Halloween Feast as a group. Ron and Neville looked at him a little oddly. When they’d asked him that morning why he was so on edge, Harry used the only thing he could think of.

Both boys knew of his nightmares. Even with the silencing charms, they would sometimes wake as he left the dormitory at two or three in the morning. The occasional cramming student pulling an all-nighter would see him in the common room as well. It was common knowledge in Gryffindor that Harry Potter was an insomniac who only got one or two good nights sleep per week.

So he claimed he’d had a nightmare about something awful happening during Halloween. He said it a little sheepishly, and the blush on his face wasn’t entirely feigned. They’d seen through him like a pane of glass, and his excuse was lame at best; his only consolation that it was a little less unlikely than the actual truth. It was gratifying that they chose to humour him, rather than question him too closely about the dream.

In Professor Flitwick’s class, when they were studying the Levitation Charm, Harry’s feather shot into the air and hovered, quivering, six feet off the ground… despite their best efforts to get it back down again. Ron, who despite Hermione’s coaching couldn’t even get his feather off the desk, rolled his eyes at Harry. As omens go, it was less than favourable.

When they came down the stairwell into the entry hall, Harry held them back and let a pack of Slytherins who’d just ascended from the dungeons pass in front of them. He’d feel far more comfortable with them in front than behind. As they slipped behind the students heading for the Great Hall, they could hear some of them talking.

“I think it’s all pretty suspicious, how they all are always together,” said Pansy Parkinson, Draco’s sycophant in training.

“You think? Aren’t they a little young yet?” an older Slytherin girl asked.

“Well, I hear the lower sorts start young, all the better to start squeezing out litters,” Draco spat. “Besides, can you imagine someone actually wanting a filthy Mudblood like Granger around? She probably spreads her legs for all of them and then does their homework too.”

The robes in front of them rippled with crude laughter as Harry’s pulse began to pound in his ears. He was reaching for his wand when he heard a gasp and footsteps receding behind him. He turned and saw Hermione half-way up the stairs. All three of them followed her to the second floor, where she dove into the girl’s bathroom.

They followed and knocked on the door, but she wouldn’t answer. Faint sobs could be heard coming from the crack under the door.

“C’mon, Hermione, you’ll miss the feast!” Ron called out.

“Hermione, it’s okay. You shouldn’t ever listen to people like that,” Neville said.

Harry was almost frantic. History was trying to repeat itself again. “Hermione, come out or we’re coming in after you!”

“You most certainly will not, Potter!”

Harry spun to see his least favourite professor stalking towards them. “She’s upset, sir,” he said, trying to stay as formal as possible to rein in his temper.

“Granger’s emotional tantrums are her own responsibility, Potter,” spat Professor Snape.  “Now all three of you, return to the Great Hall! Now!”

To their credit, Ron and Neville didn’t immediately leave. They looked at Harry, which infuriated Snape even more. Harry had never felt more helpless since he’d returned to the past.

“Mr. Potter, what are you and Mr. Weasley and Mr. Longbottom doing here?” McGonagall’s voice cut through the tension in the air.

“It’s Hermione, Professor,” Ron spoke up. “She’s really upset.”

“She overheard some people,” Neville added glaring at Snape, “say some really horrid things about her.” Under different circumstances, Harry would pay good galleons to see Neville snarling at Professor Snape.

Professor McGonagall looked from her house members to her colleague and back again. She pursed her lips in annoyance. “It would be best if you left her alone and allowed her to regain her composure. If she has not rejoined us in half an hour I will come up here myself and talk to her.”

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but then shut it. There really wasn’t anything he could say, except “Thank you, Professor.”

Harry led his friends back down to the Great Hall. When they entered, Harry ignored the live bats and the intricately carved pumpkins. He did, however notice many of the Slytherins looking up at them and laughing.

They bloody well did that on purpose, didn’t they? he snarled to himself.

They sat down at the Gryffindor table, and his friends waited for the feast to start. Harry was waiting for something else. No sooner had the plates filled than Quirrell stumbled in. As soon as the word ‘Troll’ left his lips, Harry was out of his seat. Ron and Neville, perhaps primed by Harry’s admission that he had a bad feeling about the day, were only half a step behind him when they hit the doors.

They distantly heard Dumbledore calling for the prefects as they pelted up the stairs. The circumstances are a little different; he thought desperately, we might not have as much time as before. Thankfully the daily running had paid off, because as they topped the stairs, a very familiar voice screamed. As they turned down the corridor, they saw the backside of a very large troll forcing his way into the girl’s bathroom.

Harry had his wand out in an instant, screaming “Reducto!” The bludgeoning curse knocked a piece out of the doorframe, which bounced off the troll’s stony hide. An angry roar echoed from within the bathroom as it backed through the narrow doorway and back into the hall.

Diffindo!” Harry’s cutting curse dug a groove into its shoulder as it emerged. The gigantic club in its left hand would soon be clear of the doorway. Hermione screamed again. Either my magic is weaker than I thought or that thing is magic resistant! Harry thought, his mind racing, trying to remember a curse he could use.

When it finally got clear and turned toward them, Harry’s heart stopped. Its right hand was dragging Hermione, the great dirty fingers tangled in the hem of her robes. She scrambled on her hands and knees, trying to find something to hold onto, but the troll’s strength was not to be denied.

Harry willed his arms to move, bringing his wand up again, both hands on the smooth wood. He took careful aim, and called out “Conjunctus!” A purple beam of light shot out of the end of his wand and struck the mountain troll directly between the eyes. The troll roared and rubbed at its eyes with its hairy left forearm. Harry sighed in relief.

If the Conjunctivitis Curse will work on dragons, I guess it almost had to work on a troll.

Neville was trying to disarm the troll, but his “Expelliarmus!”  did little more than anger it. Ron was edging toward Hermione, nervously eying the blinded troll.

Harry was gathering himself for another curse when the troll let out a roar and whipped its right hand up with surprising speed and hurled Hermione at him. Harry spread his arms and tried to brace himself, but she was moving like she’d been shot out of a cannon. Harry closed his eyes and prepared for a bone-crushing impact when he realized someone was shouting.

Wingardium Leviosa!” Ron finished the spell and Hermione floated to a halt a few inches in front of Harry. As she opened her eyes again, which she’d screwed shut when was being thrown, she began to rock from side to side as she drifted back toward Ron.

Harry was breathing a sigh of relief when the world suddenly tilted and the wall decided to slam into him. He heard a loud snap at the same time and his right arm went numb. He was gasping for breath, the wind knocked clean out of him, as he felt his wand slide out of his fingers.

The massive wooden club that was holding him up against the wall was suddenly withdrawn and Harry sunk to his knees. He felt ill as blood poured down his arm. He stared. A sharp point of bone was sticking through the sleeve of his robe.

Rictusempra!” Neville screamed. The troll, which had been drawing back for another blind swing, stopped dead in its tracks. Its mouth hung open and it began to make a peculiar moaning sound as the tickling charm took hold and made it laugh.

Harry, on his knees, eyes fixed on the troll, felt around on the floor with the fingers of his left hand until they closed on his wand. He raised it slowly, even as the tickling charm faded, sighting in on the monstrous creature’s mouth.

Neville saw what Harry was doing and screamed Rictusempra!” again, his voice going hoarse. The troll began laughing again.

Diffindo!” Harry growled, and the cutting curse shot trough the Troll’s open mouth and blew out the back of its neck in a spray of dark blood.

Harry blinked.

Suddenly, there were a lot more people in the corridor. Harry realized Neville was crouched next to him. The boy had his robe wadded up in his hand and was pressing it firmly against Harry’s upper right arm. Ron and Hermione were in front of him. Hermione’s face was filthy, smeared with dirt from being dragged, and tracked with tears; he didn’t think she’d ever looked quite so beautiful before. Ron stood next to her, his face pale and serious. Harry held out his left hand realized he still had his wand in it. Wasn’t he right-handed?

Ron seemed to read his mind, because he reached down and gripped Harry’s forearm, helping him to his feet. That was Ron, always helping people pick themselves up again; he was such a Weasley.

That was when Harry’s ears seemed to turn back on and he realized that people were shouting all around him.

“This is yet another example of complete disregard for--”  the loudest voice of course belonged to his least favourite professor.

Can’t settle for just killing the headmaster in a few years, he’s, got to make everyone else miserable as hell first.

“Snivellus, shut your trap,” Harry slurred.

The sudden silence was blissful. Snape limped a little as he turned toward Harry. Then those furious black eyes were boring into his, trying to tear through defences weakened by shock and pain. Harry glared back, his defences slowly eroding. Then he brought his wand up and he heard Hermione gasp.

“’m not gonna hex him ‘Mione, geez. Protego.” he whispered. The glowing shield appeared again and the battering stopped. He saw bits and pieces of other peoples’ memories, probably Snape’s, but he was too weak and unfocused to make any sense of them. “Thas better. Knew you were doing something to me.”

“Severus,” Professor Dumbledore said quietly, giving the Potions master a look Harry was too tired to interpret.

“You are right, headmaster. Perhaps Potter should be escorted to the infirmary while we discuss the appropriate disciplinary action,” Snape drawled as he turned a gimlet eye on a furious McGonagall.

Harry felt a pulling on his right arm and realized that Neville had secured the wadded up cloth to his wound using his own belt. It was a crude, but effective pressure bandage. He let the shield drop as he smiled blearily at Neville. “Thanks, mate.”

Then Harry turned toward McGonagall and Dumbledore, taking a deep breath. “Maybe you feel we should have waited for you to arrive, Professors,” he said evenly. “But the fact of the matter is that the troll already had hold of ‘Mione when we got here. Any later and who knows what could have happened. When it comes to my friends, I prefer not to take any chances.” He could have sworn he saw a glimmer of respect in Professor McGonagall’s eyes.

“Ah yes, Miss Granger,” Snape said smoothly, his eyes glittering dangerously. “If you were not out of bounds, then none of this would have occurred. Your emotional outburst nearly killed yourself and three other students; do you have anything to say for yourself?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry could see Hermione’s face go white, like it had been slapped. She shook Ron’s hand off her arm and started to leave. Unfortunately, her path took her past a smirking Draco Malfoy. He whispered something to her as she passed and she stopped dead in her tracks. She spun on her heel and slapped Draco across the face. She evidently got her whole body into it because Draco’s head, neck, and shoulders were all displaced by the impact and he fell to one knee.

Harry would have laughed as she marched off, but his eyes were getting heavy again. He turned and nodded thoughtfully to McGonagall. “He really shouldn’t have called her a Mudblood whore,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice.

He heard a few people gasp, but couldn’t tell who they were.

Another blink.

~+~

“…I don’t know what those so-called adults were thinking. You were obviously in shock, a compound fracture sticking out of your arm, bruises all up and down the other side. Do they take you to the infirmary? No, let’s hold an inquisition on the spot. Don’t mind the people bleeding on the floor,” Madam Pomfrey grumbled in an all too familiar way.

Harry opened his eyes. The healer was rubbing a foul-smelling liniment on his left arm – the good arm—which was also covered with bruises he’d received from smashing into the stone wall of the second floor corridor. It hurt a bit, but the warmth starting to spread there melted the pain away. She wiped off the excess and jumped when she realized her patient’s eyes were open. “Oh hello, Mr. Potter. I didn’t realize you were awake.”

“Don’t let me stop you. I happen to agree,” he whispered.

The school nurse had the good grace to blush a little. “It’s still not entirely professional to rant at patients. Though I do wonder what possessed you boys to take on a full grown mountain troll.”

Harry caught himself before he made the mistake of shrugging. “He had hold of a friend of mine. Neville was really the clever lad. He figured out a way for me to get past that ruddy thick hide.”

“Is he the one that bandaged your arm?”

Harry nodded.

“Good job, that. Not often you find someone who can think on their feet that quickly. He probably saved your arm, you know.”

Harry let out a low whistle. “I didn’t know it was that bad,” he admitted.

“You were in an advanced state of shock when you were brought in here. I also made sure the Headmaster was made aware of that.” Did the corner of Madam Pomfrey’s mouth twitch, or was that his imagination? “I understand you said a few things while you were under the weather.”

Harry looked confused for a moment, and then began to blush. I didn’t just call him… oh bloody hell.

“Ah, good. Your colour is improving so the blood restoratives must be working. The break was bad, but clean, and it’s already knitting. I will allow you to return to classes tomorrow, but you are to stay here for the night.” The nurse’s voice was back to her brisk no-nonsense tone, and Harry knew from long experience that it would be useless to argue with her. He just nodded.

“I don’t think anyone took what you said too seriously, though. Professor Snape even supplied me with a sleeping draught so you can be assured of a good rest after your ordeal,” She said as she brought over a vial containing a thick purplish liquid.

Harry tensed. He did not want to drink anything the man had brewed especially for him. He knew some sleeping potions had the side effect of lowering one’s mental resistance, and were thus useful for Wizarding con-artists and swindlers. He wouldn’t put it past Snape to slip him one to get his Occlumency barriers down. “Er, that’s all right,” he said quickly.

Madam Pomfrey bristled slightly. “Mr. Potter, while you are in my ward, I am the one responsible for your care.”

“It’s just that… well, I have nightmares. Pretty bad ones too. It’s okay if I wake up, but a couple of times I wasn’t able to and, well, bad things happened,” Harry said quietly, hoping he could leave it at that, hoping she wouldn’t press for details. He didn’t like lying to the woman who’d cared for generations of Hogwarts students, including himself. ‘Bad Things’ could include Snape finding out the truth as well as accidental magic such as setting the beds on fire.

“Very well,” she said after a moment’s thought. “If you wish, we can discuss this at a later time. Have you had these nightmares for very long?”

Harry shrugged. “Long enough; honestly, I’ve sort of learned to live with them.”

She nodded thoughtfully. “I want you to come see me if they persist, Mr. Potter. Chronic nightmares are not a normal condition in someone your age, and excessive fatigue can affect your magic as well. On that note, I will let you get some rest.”

Harry laid his head back as the lights dimmed. His body was still a little sore as he did his Occlumency exercises, and weariness rolled over him like a warm blanket.

~+~

Harry missed his run the next morning, but made it down to the Great Hall for breakfast. He was so relieved that everyone survived that he was practically skipping down the halls. He stumbled as he entered the Great Hall, realizing that everyone was staring at him.

The faces around the Gryffindor table were particularly unhappy. His friends wouldn’t even look up at him, and the older students were quiet.

Except for the twins, of course.

“Oi! Potter! What’s next?” one twin asked jovially, making several people around him jump.

“Going for a giant next?” the other one prompted.

Harry plopped down in his seat looking thoughtful. “Nah, I think I’ll save that for next year,” he answered, deadpan.

The twins looked at each other for a moment and then began laughing. “Our ickle Harrikins is growing some fangs,” they chuckled as the mood broke.

Harry groaned. It looked like that particular nickname would dog him forever. Ron and Neville had at least stopped staring at their plates, though they wouldn’t meet his eyes. Hermione still had her chin tucked into her chest, looking down. He sighed. He had a pretty good idea why they were being so quiet. Best to deal with it now. “Alright, guys?”

Ron swallowed and cleared his throat. “Harry, er, we’re all really sorry that you got hurt.”

“Why? I’m the fool that hexed it.”

“Yeah, while we stood around like--” Neville began, but Harry cut him off.

“While Ron saved me and Hermione with that levitation charm, and you sussed out how to make it open its gob so I could finish it. Oh yeah, you two didn’t do anything. . .” Harry said as he rolled his eyes.

Hermione let out a loud sniff, but it wasn’t her usual ‘I’m being bossy’ sniff, but more of an ‘I’m about to cry’ sniff.  “And none of you would have been there if I hadn’t been such a fool.”

“Maybe,” Harry allowed, “but you couldn’t have known. Malfoy said some fairly offensive things and it’s perfectly natural to want to get your composure back before the feast.” He thought what he’d said was perfectly reasonable, but Hermione looked at him suddenly. “Besides,” he added, smiling, “it was worth it all just to see you slap that arrogant prat in the face.” She bristled a little, but her eyes kept boring into him. Does she know something?

“But you got hurt!” Ron said.

“Nothing permanent,” Harry insisted. “And I’m fine today.” Why is everyone so upset?

“Madam Pomfrey was very angry after we brought you to her. When she came back out she said, she told the headmaster you almost died,” Neville said in a sick voice.

Oh hell, they shouldn’t have heard that. No wonder they’re so upset. ”But I didn’tdie, Neville,” Harry said firmly. “Though Madam Pomfrey told me you did a first-rate job wrapping up my arm,” he added. “I supposed you saved my life as well.”

Neville nodded but he didn’t look totally convinced.

Harry sighed. Looking back, the fight with the mountain troll was an event that solidified his friendship with Ron and Hermione. No one had been hurt, but they proved something, to themselves and each other. Maybe it would be easier to try and work with fate than against it this time?

“All right you lot,” Harry snapped. It was hard not to crack a smile when they all jumped and looked up at him. “I’ll admit that was an ugly scene yesterday, and we all discovered that Hogwarts isn’t always as safe as we thought it might be. That’s not a pleasant thought either. But I led you up those stairs knowing there was a Troll running around, and I wanted to fight it without waiting for the teachers. If anyone is at fault, it’s me. And I’m not mad at myself. Well, except for that whole ‘not ducking’ thing.” He was relieved when he saw Ron’s lips twitch a little. “I’m completely fine now, so there were no lasting effects. All right?”

The boys relaxed a little more, though Hermione still looked upset.

“Actually,” Harry continued thoughtfully, “It did have one long-term effect. I know you three will stand by me, and I’m not going to forget that any time soon. All three of you proved why you were sorted into Gryffindor,” he said, but Hermione was still shaking her head, eyes getting red, “and that includes you Granger. You stood up to Malfoy in front of everyone, even the Professors.”

“She got docked twenty points too,” Neville added proudly.

“And it was worth fifty. The twins said that too when Percy started in on her,” Ron added. “I just wanted to hex him,” he growled. Hermione flashed him a shy smile, but Harry didn’t think he noticed.

“Good,” Harry said. “Now, can we all eat before any more of this touchy-feely business ruins my appetite?” They all laughed and Harry felt such a deep sense of relief that he wanted to fall backwards out of his seat. He speared a couple of sausages off the platter while Hermione passed him the fried potatoes.

Things were looking up.

~+~

The next morning dawned very cold and blustery. When Harry led Ron and Neville down the stairs for their morning run, they’d bundled up as best they could. They stopped when they saw Hermione sitting in the common room, wearing sweatpants and a bulky sweatshirt, waiting for them.

She stood up as they approached. “You were right, what you said yesterday. Hogwarts isn’t completely safe. Do you mind if I join you, or is this for boys only?” She bit her lower lip, something Harry remembered she only did when she was really nervous about something.

“Not at all,” Harry replied. “We’d be happy to have you, right guys?”

Ron and Neville both nodded groggily. Harry’s nightmares guaranteed he was usually up before the alarm, but they were still half-asleep.

It was quite dark as they went outside, so Harry just led them in a slow run around the grounds near the castle. Hermione was red-faced and puffing by the end, but all of them were reddened from the cold and glad to be back inside.

It’s getting too ruddy cold to do this outside. I wonder if I should accidentally stumble over the Room of Requirement. How can I make that look like an accident though?

Harry thought about this as he waited for the shower.

After a while he sighed and pulled out his latest letter to Ginny. He’d been debating with himself about how much to tell her regarding the incident with the mountain troll. His first impulse was to minimize the whole thing, both to avoid alarming her, or worse, Mrs. Weasley. On the other hand, there were so many things he couldn’t tell her that he wondered if he was destroying any chance he might have with her. I have to be as honest as I can be, he thought miserably, or she’ll never forgive me when she does find out. Is it fair to ask her to trust me if I don’t do the same for her? He sighed again. When the voice of his conscience put it like that, he didn’t really have any choice.

…Ginny, something kind of scary happened on Halloween, and I don’t mean Ron’s snores waking everyone up. I’ll tell you what happened, but I want you to be careful what you say to your Mum, especially until Ron has a chance to owl her. Everyone is okay, but we just had a close call. It all started as we were heading down to the Great Hall for the Halloween Feast…

~+~

After Harry reassured him that his arm was one hundred percent recovered, Oliver really stepped up the practice schedule. This time around, Harry was too happy to be playing again to complain about the pace. Truth be told, he even missed his captain’s fanatical rants about his beloved game. Being the captain his sixth year and feeling that load of responsibility also gave him a lot more sympathy for the fifth-year boy.

Maybe he won’t have to wait for his seventh year to see his name on that ruddy cup, Harry thought as he practiced a Sloth Grip Roll. It was hard to make sure you slung your body off the broom with enough force to swing up the other side… mainly because if you slung yourself too hard, you might lose your grip on your broom.

Harry knew he could catch the Snitch. Bludgers, on the other hand, had given him issues over the years. After a few practices he’d taken to playfully taunting Fred and George, trying to get them to knock him off his broomstick. At first, they were a little leery of damaging their Seeker and invoking the wrath of Wood. After a while they realized Harry would not be an easy mark and really got into it. Soon dodging their Bludger work became a full time job.

The first time his friends came to watch a practice; Harry had to stop Ron from telling off his brothers for trying to kill Harry. After that, Harry noticed that at least one of his friends was sitting in the stands every time they had a practice. Harry finally cornered Hermione in the library and asked her what that was all about.

“Well, if you must know, Ron… well, Ron was a little concerned.”

“Concerned?”

“He talked to us about the practices. He, well, we agreed that one of us should be there, just in case - with our wands. You know, just in case…”

“…just in case Fred or George knock me off my broom, is that it?”

She nodded, perhaps a little fearfully.

“That’s… well, that’s really…” Harry swallowed. Having someone watching out for him was something he’d learned to do without for well over a year, ever since Ron died. “I appreciate that,” he said thickly.

Hermione looked up sharply when it seemed to sink in that he wasn’t going to get mad. Her eyes bored into him again. “Harry,” she said quietly, “there’s something I don’t understand.”

“Well, it isn’t hard to explain;” he said bitterly, “my aunt and uncle would throw a party if I fell off my broom and broke my neck. It… it feels sort of odd to know you guys are looking out for me. I know that sounds weird, but…”

“Harry,” she said softly. “Ron said you were almost certain something bad was going to happen on Halloween. How did you know that?”

Harry looked up at her and his stomach contracted into a small, hard ball. He fervently wished he’d approached Neville, or Ron, about the practices.

“I… I can tell there’s something you’re holding back, Harry. I don’t want to pry, but I can tell it’s bothering you. It’s bothering you a lot. Sometimes you look at us and you seem so… old and lost, I guess.” She swallowed and her face went pink. “It’s not just Ron that worries about you. I’d like to help,” she finished in a small voice.

He should have remembered how smart she was and realized it was only a matter of time before she caught on. He sighed. “That means a lot to me, more than you probably know. But I can’t. Not yet. It’s just too big.”

Hermione looked thoughtful for a moment, then slowly nodded.

“Can I owl you over the summer holidays?” Harry asked.

She nodded again, more sure this time.

“Okay, can we put this conversation on hold until then?”

“Yes. I think… I think I understand, Harry. At least a little.”

“I’m sure you do,” Harry said, cracking a smile.  “You are clever, but that’s all I can say for now.”

Harry’s pulse pounded in his ears as he left the library. He hoped he’d done the right thing. It wasn’t surprising that Hermione figured out something was going on. He just wished it hadn’t been that quick.

I supposed I’m not quite as subtle as I thought I was, he thought ruefully. At least I know Hermione understands the need for discretion.

He chuckled as he remembered the cursed sign-up sheet she’d created for the Defence Association. He had to admit it had also been lonely in some ways as well. He hadn’t had anyone to talk to about changing fate and the future, not since he’d left Albus’ portrait. He chuckled a little at the imagined look on her face when she realized exactly how many rules he’d broken.

~+~

Harry chose to avoid the still-limping Snape, since he had no interest in the man’s activities this time around. Since Halloween night, his behaviour toward Harry had gone from hateful to downright chilling. Potions was proving to be an ordeal, and Harry was growing used to feeling random attacks on his defences as he tried to chop ingredients or stir his cauldron. At least while the man was obsessed with discovering Harry’s secrets he would leave the others alone.

Of course, the reasons for his increased hatred were no mystery. After enduring a seemingly endless lecture from Percy regarding proper student behaviour, the prefect gave Harry the details of what happened after he was hauled off to the hospital wing. Professor Snape wanted them each docked fifty points and all four expelled. Professor McGonagall wouldn’t hear of it, and once they learned of Draco’s role in the whole mess, she said that if anyone should be expelled, he was the one that had committed a deliberate offence. In the end, given that Harry’s words were uttered while in deep shock, the headmaster decided they should just ignore the entire incident as far as punishments went. He said that Harry’s injuries were more than sufficient to chastise both himself and his friends. Professor Snape went livid at that and began shouting, at which point Professor Dumbledore led them to his office for ‘further discussions’… some of which reportedly had the gargoyles wincing.

After promising Percy one more time that he would try to stay out of trouble, Harry went back to his dormitory considering the story he heard to have been worth the lecture.

At least seeing the potions teacher limping implied that he had tested the defences surrounding the stone… so that was still on track.

Harry didn’t get a lot of sleep the night before his first match, but it wasn’t pre-game nerves this time. He jerked awake after enduring a vision of the ruins of Diagon Alley, and the massive crater that had once been the Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes shop. Panting, he stared up at the canopy over his silenced bed and waited for his pulse to stop racing. He wearily dragged himself down to the common room and worked on his latest letter to Ginny.

When the winter sun finally crept over the mountains, Harry’s nerves were settled from the nightmare. He was surprised to notice a mounting excitement as he ate a light breakfast, ignoring the concerns and jeers from his classmates. He was just bloody happy to be playing Quidditch again. There were too many random factors that went on during a game for Harry’s foreknowledge to spoil things. The first swerve he made differently would change the course of events; even if his greater confidence during the practices hadn’t already done it. The big difference was that Harry wasn’t going into this as a rookie – in some ways he had more playing experience than some of his team-mates. He could simply stop worrying and catch the Snitch – and maybe see if he could do it a little faster than the last time.

There was one event that he knew was probably inevitable, and for that reason he had his wand shoved up his sleeve, secured to his wrist by a knotted cord.

Oliver’s pre-game pep-talk brought a feral smile to Harry’s lips. The twins nudged him as they left the locker rooms and headed out to the pitch.

“Don’t worry, Harrikins –“

“—we’ll keep the Bludgers off you--”

“-though we know you can dodge them-“

“-as you are so apt to demonstrate—“

“We’re veering from the topic oh brother of mine.”

“Er, right. Anyway, we got your back—“

“Because if we don’t,”

“-Ronniekins has threatened to thrash us-“

“-and I think he bloody well meant it!”

Harry let out a laugh that had his team-mates looking at him oddly. He shrugged “It’s just Slytherin,” he said.

“Er, mate,” one twin began.

“You know they crushed us last year, right?” the other asked.

“Maybe,” Harry smirked, “but this isn’t last year, is it?”

Harry smiled and waved to Ron, Neville, and Hermione when he spotted them in the stands. Their home-made banner flashed in the sun, changing colours wildly. They waved back excitedly and Harry felt his heart soar. It was a great day to be flying.

The minute Harry kicked off from the ground he somehow knew this game would be different. He couldn’t resist doing a loop as he took his station high above the pitch and began looking out for the Snitch. He couldn’t suppress a smile as Lee Jordan started calling the plays. His obviously biased commentary was just like he remembered; on the other hand, trying to hit a target as agile as Harry had been good practice for Fred and George. They attacked the Bludgers with a will, and pursued the Slytherin Chasers, as well as Terence Higgs, their Seeker, with lethal abandon. Minutes into the game, their Chasers were on the run and Angelina, Katie, and Alicia were scoring almost at will.

The first time the Snitch appeared, the Slytherin chaser was a lot closer than Harry. He leaned forward into a steep dive, but dumb luck was favouring Higgs. Harry poured on the speed, trying to catch up, when a twin-struck Bludger made a direct hit, knocking Higgs halfway off his broom. Unfortunately, the impact also made the Slytherin swerve into Harry’s flight path and he had to veer off to avoid a collision. By the time he’d come back around, the Snitch was nowhere to be seen. They circled, waiting while the Slytherin captain called a time out to check his injured seeker.

“Sorry about that, Harry—“

“—bit of bad luck on the rebound!”

“Never mind,” he shouted back to the twins. “That was brilliant work. He’d have beaten me to it otherwise.”

After play resumed, Harry felt his broom lurch. Before it could throw him off, he had his wand out. He tapped it against the broom, saying Finite Incantatem,” as he did so, and the bucking stopped.

Nice try, Quirrell, you two-faced bastard, he snarled silently.

As high as Harry was hovering, no one seemed to notice. They probably think I’m just waiting for the Snitch to appear, especially since Higgs is too banged up to fly very fast. He kept his wand close to hand, and had to dispel the jinx twice more before the Snitch finally appeared.

Harry wheeled his Nimbus 2000 into a steep dive and was closing his left hand around the fluttering metal wings before people had even started to react to its appearance. Ron and Neville were jumping up and down on each side of Hermione as Lee Jordan announced the final score, two hundred and seventy to twenty. Slytherin had been crushed.

~+~

Harry and his friends visited Hagrid after the game for a quick spot of tea, before heading back to the common room for the evening’s post-game celebration. He hadn’t been able to see very much of his first wizard friend since the term started, for which he felt a little guilty. Thinking back, he realized many of his prior reality’s visits to Hagrid seemed to involve pumping him for information about the mysterious goings on at Hogwarts. This left him feeling even guiltier.

Instead of arguing about jinxed brooms, or pumping him for information, they spent the afternoon hearing stories from when the Weasleys, Longbottoms, and Potters attended Hogwarts.

Ron turned purple when Hagrid innocently mentioned covering for Arthur and Molly when they’d almost been caught in the Astronomy tower after hours. Evidently Hagrid wasn’t aware of the reasons why the older students like to spend time there… in pairs. Harry supposed having five older brothers meant knowing more about that sort of thing than you really wanted to at the age of eleven.

Neville never suspected that Hagrid knew his parents. The groundskeeper told how they ended up dating after placing first and second in a school duelling contest. By the time he finished the story, Neville was almost too choked up to speak.

Harry had the opportunity to hear a few stories about his parents over the years, but he was still laughing by the time Hagrid finished The story he told was about how second year Lily Evans, enraged by one prank too many, hexed James Potter so hard that every single hair fell out of his head, including his eyebrows and eyelashes. She’d been horrified afterwards of course, but James thought it was funny, and covered for her, telling his head of house it was a potions accident.

Hermione looked a little wistful, so Harry asked her to tell them about her parents. The workings of Muggle dentistry were as arcane and bizarre to Wizarding folk as magic was to Muggles. Her audience was quite enthralled and asked tons of questions, which had her quite pink by the time they had to head back to the castle.

Yeah, things are looking up.

++++++++++++

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