Content Harry Potter Naruto
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Things calmed down a bit after the match. The school was abuzz the following Monday of course, but the upset of the feared Slytherin house team seemed to have deflated them considerably. Even Draco Malfoy had pulled in his horns, to Harry’s silent relief. He wasn’t afraid of the pureblood boy so much as alarmed at how quickly their antagonism had heated up, even compared to their past history. Harry wasn’t as easily confused or intimidated as he was before, and his refusal to back down at all seemed to infuriate the boy.

Harry also admitted to himself that it was not completely one-sided either. That conversation on the way to the Halloween Feast had been a well-rehearsed act of deliberate cruelty. He was honestly a little afraid of what he might find himself doing if the spoiled Slytherin pushed him too far. It simply wouldn’t do for a first year student to be casting Unforgivables, he grumbled to himself.

At least the morning exercise sessions gave him a way to relieve his stress. Ron was picking things up quickly, though Neville and Hermione weren’t far behind. Harry had to start using the books he’d purchased over the summer to find new techniques and exercises. Of course, once Hermione saw the books, she was all over borrowing them. Soon she was as conversant with the dry facts as Harry, but she still had to work on making her body do the movements correctly. Neville just worked his arse off.

Snape, of course, was as unpleasant as ever. Harry was sorely disappointed when Professor McGonagall called him to her office and informed him that there was currently no one available to take his place. He almost asked her about Horace Slughorn, but remembered that it had taken all of his and Dumbledore’s persuasiveness to coax the round little man out of retirement. Now Harry could only hope that word about the search didn’t get back to the ill-tempered potions instructor – though he didn’t really imagine things could get any worse. Potions was becoming a torture.

At least once a class, he would feel the professor prying at his mental shields. To avoid arousing too much suspicion, Harry tempered his reaction. The first couple of times, he just flinched as he repelling the attack. Then he began looking up when Snape struck. Finally he began responding with glares and by pushing back a little with his own Legilimency. He started off slowly, with little fitful bursts of it. Harry wanted to stay in character as someone who was a natural Occlumens, and starting to slowly develop a bit of Legilimency in response to the constant probing. The constant sparring wasn’t so much interesting, as just irritating. Though he supposed after blocking out Voldemort for years, not much else could be challenging.

And so November passed nervously into December. The castle turned drafty and cold, and the humidity in the dungeons made it even worse. Professor Flitwick, after Harry asked him about it, took a few minutes to show them how to do a warming charm. The tiny professor beamed when he saw how eager the students were to learn this particular bit of magic.

Professor Snape, on the other hand, pounced on Hermione the following Friday when he saw her using it. She’d cast the warming charm on her hands, which were stiffening from the cold and chopping dandelion roots. No sooner had she finished than he took away five points and confiscated her wand.

Hermione’s cheeks burned with humiliation, while Ron chopped the remaining ingredients so violently that it was a wonder he didn’t dice up a finger. Malfoy said something Harry couldn’t make out. Ron whirled around so quickly, stained knife clenched in his fist, that Malfoy jumped back in surprise. Fortunately, Ron turned back around and was working again before Snape could find another excuse to dock house points.

When the class was over, Hermione was one of the last to turn in her vial. Harry, Neville, and Ron loitered near the doorway. Professor Snape, now reading a tattered old manuscript, pointedly ignored her.

She waited a moment, and finally cleared her throat. “Er, Professor?”

Snape looked up from his reading, dark hooded eyes glaring. “Yes, Granger?”

Hermione took a half step back, but then seemed to gather herself. Raising her chin, she simply said, “My wand, sir.”

He sat there for a moment, his eyes boring into her, and Harry’s stomach clenched. He knew the bastard was rummaging around in her memories while he stood helpless and watched it happen. He hoped none of the oblique hints he’d made to Hermione would seem significant to Snape.

After a moment, Snape stood. He reached into a drawer and pulled out Hermione’s wand. He held it for a moment in both hands, fingertips barely touching the polished wood. He stared down at the bushy-haired witch, and they seemed frozen in place as Harry’s teeth began to grind.

“I’d be doing you a favour if I snapped this,” he said softly. “There are many with far less tolerance for precocious Mudbloods than I.”

Harry clamped down on his emotions, even as he saw Hermione stiffen. From the corner of his eye he saw movement. Neville and Ron were in the doorway, Neville’s fingertips sinking into his friend’s shoulders as he held him back.

“I appreciate your concern, Professor,” Hermione said frostily. “Though I imagine I will be forced to deal with people like that all my life.”

Professor Snape just sneered, and tossed the wand at Hermione’s feet with a negligent gesture. She stepped forward and snatched it out of the air with an uncharacteristically quick motion. She spun on her heel to leave.

A rich coppery taste flooded Harry’s mouth, and he realized he’d bitten his tongue. A low musical tinkling filled the potions classroom as the jars, vials, and assorted glassware all began to vibrate. Snape’s eyes moved from Hermione’s retreat to Harry’s furious glare. Instantly, he felt the man’s mind picking away at his barriers again.

At first, Harry intended to merely use his own magic to push the man back. However, he was too angry to completely hold himself in check, and his Legilimency engulfed and dispersed the potion master’s thrust. Harry’s counterstroke tore at Snape’s Occlumency shields, and suddenly his mind was flooded with images.

Snape talking to a man in black… white-haired but not old… news of a fight on the train… a heavy bag changing hands… find out everything you can, Severus… I can be quite generous… 

An instant later his vision cleared. Snape had taken a couple of steps back from his desk and his sallow skin was very pale. Harry remembered the role he had to play, so he clapped his hands to his temples and fell to his knees. “What the hell did you just do to me?” he cried out and let his temper go. His pulse throbbed in his temples as half a dozen bottles suddenly shattered.

Ron and Neville half-dragged, half-carried him out of the lab, and Hermione slammed the door behind them. Harry was unresisting as he let his friends hustle him back to the Gryffindor tower. Controlling himself today had left him far wearier than if he’d actually vaporized the greasy git.

Begging off with a headache, he stretched out on his bed for a bit of a lie-down, as his friends went to lunch. His pounding headache slowly eased and he began sorting through the bits and pieces Snape had let slip.

I’d be wiling to bet that white-haired man is Lucius Malfoy. Had he… hired… Snape to investigate me? Bloody hell. Did he do that before? Or did he do it because I stood up to Draco on the train?  

Questions with no answers chased each other around his head until he dropped off into an exhausted sleep.

~+~

Malfoy Manor was a blazing ruins, the roof and two walls gone. Harry knelt on the scorched grass outside, amongst the black-robed bodies of more than a dozen Death-Eaters. Tonks lay with her head propped up in his lap. Her stomach was a red ruin and her legs were bent at odd angles.

“Wotcher, Harry,” she mumbled, the shock dragging her down even as it numbed her pain.

“Wotcher, Tonks” Harry whispered. He felt her hand tighten on his.

“You got him, yeah?”

“Ron did. Took his head off, just wished we’d been a little faster…”

“Don’t worry, luv, I’m off to see Remus and Sirius now,” Tonks said, smiling dreamily as her eyes began to glaze over.

“It should be quite a party by now,” Harry said, unable to mask the bitterness in his voice.

“It will be, Harry. Just make sure you send Tom on ahead before you try to catch up, will ya?” She coughed a little and paled.

“Don’t worry, I will,” he assured her.   Her grip loosened and he felt his throat close. He could tell she was almost gone. “Tell Ginny I’ll be along soon,” he whispered.

~+~

Harry felt hands shaking him and sat up, twisting to try and throw them off. Ron and Neville jumped back beyond the canopy. He could see their mouths moving, but no sound came out. Harry sighed and swung his feet out onto the floor and leaned his head forward until it was beyond the silencing charms.

“My goodness, Harry, that must have been an awful nightmare,” Hermione gasped. She was standing behind Ron, a concerned frown creasing her face.

“Snoring. Right,” Ron said flatly. “You’re still having those ruddy nightmares, aren’t you?”

For a moment, Harry was so disoriented that he couldn’t keep up with his lies, with what he could and couldn’t tell people. He just nodded, staring down at his shaking hands.

Seeing Lucius in Snape’s memories must have triggered that. I dreamt about the night Ron killed him, the man responsible for Arthur’s death. Harry took a deep breath and looked up at his friends.

Ron still glared at him in an accusing fashion. “Why didn’t you tell us, mate? We’re your friends, aren’t we?” Harry opened his mouth to answer and then closed it.

“Ronald, please,” Hermione said firmly. “Harry,” she continued in a gentler tone, “what were you dreaming about?”

Harry looked at her helplessly.

“L-leave him alone, Hermione,” Neville said, stepping around the bed. ”M-maybe he doesn’t want to talk about it.”

Ron just sighed and walked out of the room.

Hermione stood her ground. “Something has to be bothering him to have dreams like that,” she insisted.

“If something bad happens to people you care about,” Neville said slowly, “it can give you bad dreams years later.”

Harry knew Neville meant more than he was saying.

“Hermione, I’ll be fine,” Harry said, collecting his thoughts. “I wonder if that nightmare had something to do with Snape. I think he did something to me.”

“Harry, he didn’t have his wand out,” she objected.

“Are there any types of magic that don’t always require a wand to use?”

She looked thoughtful and nodded.

“Maybe you could check into that?”

Hermione got that maniacal gleam in her eye that Harry remembered so well. She turned to go, probably straight to the library, but stopped at the doorway and looked at him. “How did I get volunteered to do this?” she asked with a slight smile.

“Because I’m knackered,” Harry replied. “And because you’re smarter than I am.”

Hermione smiled and her face went red again. “Just checking,” she said as she closed the door behind her. If she puts it together from the facts she’s been given, even Snape digging all the details out of her can only conclude that I’m clueless and she’s effing brilliant.

Neville moved to follow her out. “I’ll talk to Ron,” he said.

Harry called out and the boy halted. “Thank you, Neville. For everything.”

Neville just shrugged and looked down at his feet.

Harry cleared his throat. “I read about the Lestrange trial in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts. There’s a whole chapter in there.”

Neville froze in place, staring at Harry.

Harry met his gaze. “We have a lot in common, don’t we?”

The boy nodded thoughtfully.

“I’m glad you’re my friend, Nev. It’s good to have a Longbottom standing with me, yeah?”

Neville Longbottom swallowed then drew himself up straight. He set his jaw and nodded curtly to Harry, then stepped through the doorway.

Harry stared after him a moment, wondering at what a handful of words can do. He shook himself and dug into his bag, pulling out his latest letter. He scanned the last page, tapping a self-inking quill against his chin, and then began a new paragraph.

~+~

Harry was looking forward to what he anticipated would be the best Christmas he’d had in years… either way you wanted to count it.

Ginny wrote that she was excited to see her brother Charlie in Romania, but she seemed a little wistful when she asked Harry what his holiday plans were. He wrote back that he didn’t really have any, and was staying at Hogwarts with Ron and the Twins. She didn’t ask why he was staying, but Ron wasn’t as circumspect. Harry finally told him flat out that the Dursleys didn’t want him around, and when he was there he wasn’t part of the Christmas celebrations anyway.

Harry resisted the urge to snap at his friend. It wasn’t so much that he was being thick as that he couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that people like the Dursley’s existed. He didn’t disbelieve Harry, but he couldn’t understand why anyone would treat a family member like that. The Weasleys were not a tribe of red-headed saints, but they were a loving family and stood by each other. Percy’s estrangement after the Tri-Wizard Tournament had upset them terribly.

Not unexpectedly, Malfoy made a few cracks about Harry not having any proper family. Harry responded by smiling at the Slytherin, thinking maybe not yet… Draco seemed to find that rather disconcerting, and dropped the subject after a couple of days.

Hermione and Neville both felt an inexplicable need to apologize to Harry for leaving for the holidays. When they brought the matter up at the last dinner before end of term, Harry just blinked in confusion.

“I talked to my Gran, and she wouldn’t hear of it,” Neville said mournfully. “Uncle Algie is planning a family reunion after Boxing Day, and she wants everyone to be there…”

“I don’t really have an excuse, Harry,” Hermione cut in, “It’s just, I’m an only child, and my parents miss me terribly. They said so in their last letter and I couldn’t even bring myself to ask.”

Harry looked at each of them, and then at Ron, who sat there stony-faced, chewing a mouthful of roast chicken. “Wait, I don’t want you lot to miss time with your families,” he said.

“Yes, but you’re going to be stuck here-“ Hermione said, but was cut off.

“With me, yeah?” Ron said disgustedly.

“Ron, I didn’t mean it that way,” Hermione sniffed.

“…and they’re off!” Harry muttered to Neville.

Ron seemed to have picked that up, because he bit off his reply and looked over at Harry.

Harry held up his hands. “Besides, we’ll have the Twins chaperoning, what could possibly go wrong?”

That made all four of them laugh, and drew a few looks from two red-headed blokes sitting further up the table.

Hermione shook her head. “I, well, we just didn’t want you to think… we…”

Harry snorted. “Just keep training you two… I may not be there to work on the next kata, but you could both use some endurance work. Just keep running and we’ll catch up when you get back, all right?”

Harry thought about that conversation as they returned to their common room and the students began packing. Neville wasn’t that close to their group last time around, but he didn’t remember Hermione apologizing for going home for the holidays. What brought that on?

He and Ron picked a quiet corner and settled down for a game of Wizarding chess. He asked Ron about the game months earlier this time around because he remembered that playing it always put Ron in a good mood. Harry also suspected that Ron’s skill at chess had something to do with some of the skills he displayed during the war. Ulterior motives aside, his friend also loved chess nearly as much as he did Quidditch.

The quiet logic of the chessboard also helped Harry think, even if his game play was rubbish. After several moves he had an inkling of what might have happened before dinner. He looked across at his friend who was frowning down at the board.

“Ron?”

“Yeah?” he replied as he took Harry’s bishop.

“Did you say something to Hermione and Nev about the winter hols?”

“Maybe... Look, I just don’t get it. Those Muggles took you in. Why would they do that if they hated you, mate?”

“I don’t know. Maybe someone made them. Maybe they were worried what it would look like if they refused. I’m past wasting energy trying to figure them out.”

Ron looked up, a sickly grimace on his face.

“Look mate,” Harry said firmly. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve almost won. I now spend nine months out of the year at Hogwarts. I just have to get past the summers now. In a few years I’ll be totally shed of them and I’ll never have to see a Dursley again. “

Ron just sighed and they let the conversation drop as they watched Ron’s pieces annihilate Harry’s defences. Some things never change, Harry thought with a resigned sigh as they set up the pieces for another game.

~+~

The break from classes was pretty relaxing, even if they weren’t as idle this time around. With most of the non-Weasley students gone, Harry and Ron pushed some furniture aside and practiced their martial arts in the common room. Though the floor was a little harder than the frozen ground outside, the room was much warmer.

Fred and George wandered down that first morning, blinking and yawning to see their brother and his friend sparring. They ran down there to break up the fight, only to have both boys start laughing hysterically. They were a little put out, thinking they’d been pranked, until Harry explained about Muggle martial arts.

The twins thought the whole thing was barmy, once they realized why the “ickle firsties were getting up so sodding early every morning”. They started looking thoughtful though, after Ron said they could learn a thing or two from Harry. Ron offered to spar with either of his brothers, with Harry refereeing, and promptly put George in a submission hold. Ron was still shorter than his brothers, being two years younger, and was much lighter in build… a fact which was not lost on the twins.

After that, the Weasley twins started sitting in on their practices in the common room, sparring with each other, though not without a goodly measure of horseplay. Harry wondered, a little morbidly, if something he taught them might help when the Death Eaters marched on Diagon Alley.

On Christmas Eve, Harry stayed up later than usual, hoping his shortened sleeping habits would at least let him last until morning. He worked on another letter for Ginny as he tried to banish the tension building up in his stomach. He’d done some things a little differently this time, and he was worried about spoiling things. If Mrs. Weasley didn’t feel the same way about him this time around, tomorrow he’d know when no jumper arrived. She hadn’t heard him ask how to get through the barrier at King Cross, and her daughter had helped him instead. Now her only daughter was exchanging letters with a boy she’d only met once in passing. The whole thing probably made Molly Weasley very uncomfortable. She’d probably also have severe misgivings about ever having such a strange boy over at The Burrow, whether he was friends with Ron or not.

Harry pushed those thoughts aside before they drove him mad. Instead he wrote to Ginny about his day, letting the scritch-scritch of quill on parchment quiet his mind. She knew about the martial arts they were practicing in the mornings, but he knew she’d appreciate hearing about Ron getting the better of one of his prankster older brothers. Harry sat, chewing on the end of his quill for a moment, then continued writing. He mentioned in passing that of course she’d be welcome to join them once she came to Hogwarts. He wrote about how Percy avoided his brothers to sit with the other prefects who stayed for the holidays, and how that annoyed Ron as well as the twins. He bit his lip for a moment, and then wrote about how much he enjoyed her letters and was glad she’d written them. He also told her he hoped she enjoyed the book he’d ordered for her from Flourish and Blotts, as it was one of his and Ron’s favourite library books.

Harry signed off and closed the letter, folding it up and sealing it before he lost his nerve. He slipped out of the dormitory without waking Ron. His friend had insisted, after the ambush near the Owlery, that Harry not travel alone through the castle. While Harry didn’t fault his logic, he knew that Malfoy and his cronies had left for the winter holidays, so the castle should be safe.

Nonetheless, Harry tucked his letter securely into his robes, and carried his wand in his hand, hidden by the loose sleeve. He didn’t go anywhere unprepared if he could help it.

He made it to the base of the Owlery stairs before a voice stopped him.

“Hello Harry.”

Harry jumped, but he recognized the voice so he didn’t bring out his wand as he turned around.

“Hello, Professor Dumbledore.”

The headmaster was dressed in dark green robes. Tiny red house elves were lined up along the trim and the seams, arms linked, dancing to some unheard music. The old man smiled and his eyes twinkled “You seem to be out a bit late this evening.”

Harry was out well past curfew, but he didn’t know if it actually applied right now or not. I suppose it applies if he says so, Harry mused, best to just go with the truth. “I was up late finishing a Christmas letter,” he said, extracting the letter and holding it up.

“Ah, I see. I’m sure your guardians will be please to hear from you.”

Harry couldn’t suppress a shudder. “Oh no, sir. This is to a friend.”

The headmaster’s blue eyes began twinkling a little faster and Harry felt that feather-light touch on his mind again. Harry flinched and took a step back. He frowned and looked around in confusion. “What was that?” he demanded. “I felt like something touched me. Was that Peeves?” Harry let a panicked note creep into his voice and pulled his wand out.

“Harry, please calm yourself.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Harry retorted, manners forgotten, spinning back and forth, wand at the ready. “You aren’t getting poked every other day. It always happens in… wait,” Harry said as he stopped and turned back toward Dumbledore. “It only happens when I’m in potions or your office. And now.”

“Harry, Hogwarts is full of magic, some of it may seem very odd at times—“

“None of my friends are feeling that, sir, no matter where they go.”

“Perhaps you are just a bit more sensitive to certain types of magic than other people,” the old man said before he paused for a moment. “Harry, sometimes it is necessary to do things one might prefer not to… but rest assured that the safety of Hogwarts and all its students is always my highest priority.”

Is he implying that he knows about Snape trying to probe my mind? The old Albus never mentioned that, so it must be new. Is this a set-up to feed Lucius false information about The Boy Who Lived? Or is Snape just selling that information on the side?

Harry had to remind himself that he was supposed to be an eleven year old boy and not start sampling the vocabulary he picked up from the Americans. “Sir, I- I’m sorry, but it’s hard to just accept that when I don’t understand what’s going on, especially when it hurts. I’m starting to think coming here might have been a mistake.”

Harry almost laughed at the shocked look that flickered across the headmaster’s features. Harry Potter quitting Hogwarts because he’d become afraid of magic would be an utter disaster for Dumbledore and his allies. Harry would never cut out on them, but the old man had no way of knowing that.

“Harry, your mother and father would never want you to abandon your heritage,” Dumbledore said, playing his trump card.

Harry admired his skill. That would have been devastatingly effective for persuading the original Harry, no doubt about it.

But two can play the guilt game.

Harry drew back like he’d been slapped. “Don’t ever speak to me of those people again!” he hissed.

Dumbledore actually looked shocked.

“They may have been responsible for me being here, but when they died they left me to be sent to the Dursleys,” he snarled, spitting the last word like an expletive. Harry had made peace with Albus years ago, and understood why the old man had placed him with Muggle relatives to keep him from getting a big head. He just wished Dumbledore had possessed a little more faith in his innate character, and a little less faith in the character of the Dursleys. Harry knew that his parents had actually wanted him to be cared for by Sirius, but he let himself appear to be misinformed. That just made it easier for him to work on driving a wedge into the cracks of Dumbledore’s sense of always knowing what’s best for everyone.

“I think I’d have been happier dying myself, than putting up with what went on in that house, so don’t talk to me about what my parents would have wanted!” Harry spat, letting himself get red in the face – partly from embarrassment. He knew he sounded childish, but that was the whole point.

The headmaster’s face had gone pale, and he looked like he’d eaten something that disagreed with him. It reminded Harry uncannily of the face the portrait had made during their discussion that night. “Harry, I am sorry for what happened, more than you will probably ever know. I didn’t mean to upset you by bringing that up. I promise you I will see what can be done about that other issue as well.”

Harry still red-faced, just nodded jerkily.

“The hour is late, my boy, you should send your owl and head straight to bed,” Dumbledore said before he smiled, and his eyes started twinkling again. “Father Christmas will probably be paying you a visit soon.”

Harry turned to go, but muttered a final shot that he knew the headmaster wouldn’t miss: “Why should this year be different?”

Harry stood in the Owlery for several minutes, watching the white glow of Hedwig’s feathers fade into the distance, letting the icy air cool his face. He’d tapped into some of his anger about his childhood to make his performance real, and now he was paying the price; his stomach was tied in knots. The fact that the events prior to his eleventh birthday had been lived twice, once by each spirit, just made them weigh him down all the more. The fact that a spectacularly misinformed Death Eater killed his aunt and uncle after he left home just made it all the worse. In a sense, they were right. He had ruined their lives. Not through his choices, but through theirs. He offered, out of a sense of duty to his mother, to move them to a safe house after the blood wards expired. His letter returned unopened, and multiple phone calls only allowed him to get a couple of words in before their phone was changed to an unlisted number. Nonetheless, they might have survived the war if it were not for their connection to Harry.

Not that he cried at their funeral.

Harry stood a while longer in the chilly Owlery, listening to the soothing murmur coming from the crowded perches. Finally, he sighed and headed back to his dormitory.

~+~

Harry awoke; momentarily puzzled by the sense of dread he was feeling. Then he remembered and jumped out of bed. Ron was already sitting next to the pile of presents at the foot oh his bed. Harry ignored the cold stone under his bare feet as he got up and peered around the corner of his bed.

There was a present missing.

The top present was wrapped in thick brown paper marked with Hagrid’s thick scrawl. Harry knew it contained a carved wooden flute, but was also aware of Ron watching him open his first Christmas present. Feeling a bit like a performer on stage, Harry focused on opening it carefully. When he blew on the end of the flute, he idly wondered where Hedwig was at that moment.

When Harry moved the wrappings aside, the small parcel from the Dursleys, containing a fifty-pence piece, was not there. He wondered about that for a moment, until he remembered how quiet his aunt became after their last argument, pretending he did not exist. Fine by me, he thought absently, as he stared at the lumpy package underneath.

Ron looked over at him. “I think that may be from my Mum. I, er, may have mentioned that you didn’t expect to get a lot of presents,” he said apologetically.

Harry was busy opening the paper.

“Oh boy,” Ron sighed. “She went and knitted you a Weasley jumper. Sorry, mate.”

Harry held up the thick emerald green fabric, swallowing to keep his throat from closing. “Are you barking mad?” he choked out. “This is brilliant!”

“It’s just a sweater, Harry. She makes one for each of us every year. Mine is always maroon though.”

“There’s a Muggle saying,” Harry began, his voice coming back.

I haven’t bollixed it up! I can still make this work!

“It’s the thought that counts. Your Mum doesn’t even know me and she took the time to knit me this… it’s just. I don’t know what to say,” Harry sputtered.

“Calm down, Harry,” Ron laughed. “I guess you like it then?”

Harry laughed back and pulled the jumper on over his pyjamas. When he looked down at the box of fudge however, there was another bit of fabric there. It was a somewhat irregular length of knitted material. It was partly of the same green as the sweater, with a portion of sable yarn making up the rest. The knots were a bit uneven, and the edges tended to waver a bit, but the irregular tangle of black and green was sort of eye-catching. Harry held it up for a moment, unfolding it, until he realized it was a scarf. He was distracted from the pattern when Ron burst out laughing.

“Oh Merlin, Mum’s been after Ginny to learn knitting again, and it looks like you got to be the victim! Wait until Fred and George see that mess!” Ron crowed.

Harry glared over at his friend, who was almost lying down on the cold stone floor. “You let Ginny hear you say that, she’s likely to see if there really is such a thing as a castrating charm.”

Ron’s head popped up off the floor, a look of horror on his face.

“Ginny mentioned what happened the last time she tried to knit, so I know this was a lot of effort for her,” Harry said firmly.  “I’ll thank you not to sneer like a bloody Malfoy!”

Harry knew that was a low blow, but it shut Ron up immediately. “Sorry Harry, but you don’t really have to wear it you know.”

“Why not? It’s warm, I like the colors, and it matches my favourite jumper,” Harry shot back, still scowling. He’d sort of put himself through the wringer in the last twelve hours, and he wasn’t ready to deal with Ron’s lapses into thick- headedness.

“Blimey, forget I said anything,” Ron muttered.

Harry sighed. “All right. Ron, remember when you asked me why I got so angry when Malfoy nicked my letter?”

Ron nodded.

“Remember when I told you how many Christmases I’ve celebrated before this one?”

Ron nodded again, looking down. “Same thing, yeah?”

“Spot on, mate.”

Ron’s ears got redder. “I wasn’t trying to Malfoy your Christmas, Harry.”

“You didn’t Ron. If it wasn’t for you, this wouldn’t be near as special, you know? Just don’t forget you have a brilliant family… especially when ignorant people start running them down.”

They were quiet for a moment, then grinned at each other and resumed opening presents again. Harry sat back and nibbled on a piece of really excellent home-made fudge when he saw Ron opening the delivery parcel from Flourish and Blotts. When the eye-gouging orange cover of Flying with the Cannons was revealed, Ron’s mouth fell open in shock.

Now maybe he won’t buy that ruddy book for me next Christmas, Harry thought, snickering under his breath.

Harry sent people a lot of books as gifts this year. Part of this was to reinforce his book-a-holic image, and part of this was because he wasn’t allowed to leave the school grounds and the booksellers in Diagon Alley ran a thriving owl delivery business.

Ron, true to his food-obsessed self, gave him a box of candy. Hermione sent Ron some Every Flavour Beans, but sent Harry a Muggle book on Aikido, along with a note saying he might find it interesting for their morning training sessions. Harry knew buying Hermione a book was a risky proposition, given the rate she picked up new ones. So instead he just sent her a note explaining he’d set up a small tab for her at Flourish and Blotts, and how their owl delivery system worked.

Harry also received a small package from Neville. He hoped his friend enjoyed the pocket Herbology field guide he’d ordered for him. When he unwrapped the package, Harry’s breath caught in his throat. There, in a simple wooden frame, was a Wizarding picture with two couples beaming up at him. The women were both propped up on what looked like hospital beds, each holding up a baby for him to see. Next to each woman stood a man beaming with pride one moment and looking down with wonder at their new family the next. Harry immediately recognized his mother and father on the left. The woman on the right had a round face that looked a lot like Neville’s. She didn’t look anything like the grey-haired woman, thin and worn, that Harry met during Christmas break of his fifth year. Harry just sat there, stunned.

We were born about a day apart, weren’t we?

He looked up to see Ron looking at him curiously, and Harry realized his face was a little red. He simply held up the picture so Ron could see.

“Is that your Mum and Dad?” Ron asked quietly.

“Yeah,” Harry said softly. “Nev and I have almost the same birthday. I guess our folks all ended up at the same hospital or something. Do they have a maternity ward at Saint Mungo’s?”

Ron shook his head and shrugged. “Don’t know, mate. The Weasley kids were all born at home. Why do you look like you’ve seen a grim?”

“Well, I’ve never seen a picture of my mum or dad before,” Harry said his voice trailing off as he turned the picture around again. “I look a bit like him, don’t I?”

“More than a bit,” Ron agreed, though his face had gone pale. “Your aunt and uncle didn’t…? No, stupid question, innit?”

Harry shrugged himself, staring at the happy couples.

Finally, he shook himself and opened the last package. Ron was surprised to see the invisibility cloak spill out, but managed not to gush quite as hard this time. The accompanying note with the loopy handwriting was worded slightly different than Harry remembered:

Your father left this cloak in my possession before he died. He would want you to have it, and thus I return it to you.

Use it well.

-A Very Merry Christmas to You

Harry stared at the note for a long moment.

I suppose he said it that way to address the bitterness toward my parents I displayed last night. I guess it does show that he was listening to what I was saying. We’ll see later on how well he remembers it though.

The rest of the day passed as enjoyably as Harry remembered. He feasted with the four Weasley brothers, wearing the jumper and the scarf all day, no matter how much Gred and Forge teased him about it. It felt good to relax and just enjoy the day. A day in which there was nothing he needed to change, and he could just be himself again, was a treasure indeed.

After that, Harry made the most of his father’s cloak, but definitely changed his approach this time. He had no interest in re-exploring a castle he knew like the back of his hand. He also wanted to avoid the Mirror of Erised like the bloody plague. If Dumbledore got any idea of what Harry saw in the mirror, the jig would be up. Harry also wasn’t sure if he could stand to see his heart’s desire either, and his sanity was not something he cared to risk after all this work.

Instead, he raided the Restricted Section of the library with a will. A simple detection charm was sufficient to show which books were trapped, and sometimes it was easy to avoid the triggering condition, or disable it with Finite Incantatem. Harry had only had the opportunity to read a few of these books before the library was destroyed during the massacre. Scanning through the titles, Harry picked out anything having to do with time, fate, or paradoxes. If he was about to paint himself into a corner, it was best he know as quickly as possible.

He spent the balance of his holidays either working with Ron and the twins in the mornings, reading books crouched down in the restricted section or smuggled back to his room, or adding a few more inches to his latest letter to Ginny.

~+~

Dear Harry,
Romania has got to be the coldest place on Earth. If it isn’t, I don’t want to even think about visiting the winner. All the same, Mum and Dad and I had a great time visiting Charlie. He’s absolutely mad about dragons, and doesn’t even seem to notice that he’s always sporting a half-healed burn. Still, they are gorgeous creatures, and I can see why he loves them. I just prefer to admire them from a distance.
Thank you so much for the book! Reading through it, I had no idea the game had such a long history. I’ve read about all the positions, thinking I might try out for a house team while I’m at Hogwarts. Fred and George say all the chasers on the Gryffindor team this year are girls, so I might go for that. I know I could probably play seeker, too, but from what Ron writes I think you’ll have that sewn up until I’m a seventh year, and I don’t want to wait that long! I know I’m assuming I’ll get sorted into Gryffindor, but I’m remembering what you said about the house you want to be in being the biggest factor, and hoping for the best. As long as I don’t end up in Slytherin with that Malfoy git you and Ron keep writing about…
I am sorry about the scarf, by the way. Mum was really after me taking up knitting again. She says that “hand-made gifts mean so much more”, but I think it also helps that yarn is pretty inexpensive when you buy in bulk. She wanted me to make at least one gift this year, and I know that at least you won’t tease me about it too much. It also helps that Mum won’t nag you to wear it to spare my feelings. Like that would bother me. Stupid knitting.
Anyway, the camp is pretty spartan and cold unless you’re right next to a fire. I’ve already promised myself a hot bath when we get home, and soaking until my skin peels off. The other dragon handlers are pretty neat as well. They’re all as mad about dragons as my brother, which is probably a good thing as they are out here in the middle of an ice-covered mountain range with nothing else to do...
Speaking of which, Charlie is heading over now to take us to one of the enclosures. They think one of the eggs may hatch today and we want to see that if we can! So I’ll wrap this up and wish you a Happy New Year, Harry!
Your friend,
-Ginny
PS - I got mum to make a copy of the picture we took for Bill. If you can’t guess, I’m the smallish lump on the right.

Harry looked at the Wizarding photograph that the letter was folded around. It showed Arthur, Molly, and Ginny lined up and waving, with what looked like a slumbering dragon curled up behind them. The adult Weasleys were wearing bulky robes lined with fur. Ginny on the other hand, seemed to be engulfed in at least three layers of bulky jumpers over a snowsuit, with a heavy cloak thrown on over that. He could just make out her shining brown eyes and a flash of brilliant red hair sticking out the hood of her cloak.

He carefully leaned the photo up against his clock and pulled out his current letter in progress. It looked like he needed to add another paragraph or two.

Ginny, I think your Mum was right about one thing. That sweater and scarf are pretty much the nicest Christmas presents I’ve ever received. I’m not going to tease you about the scarf; I’m going to bloody well wear it! It’s warm, I like the colours, and no one can ever properly see the edge of a scarf unless it’s folded in a drawer anyway. I’m going to send your mum a thank you note, but I wanted you to know that you two have made this one of the best Christmases ever!
By the way, Hogwarts in the winter might be able to give Romania a run for its money. That’s another reason why knitted gifts are especially welcome. Your mum went to Hogwarts, didn’t she? I bet she remembers…

Harry concentrated on his letter, and tried not to think about Ginny sitting in a hot bath. His mind kept conjuring images of an older Ginny, and thoughts that an eleven year old boy should not be having about a ten year old girl.

~+~

Harry and Ron were a little reluctant to give up their sparring area in the common room, but they were still happy to see Neville and Hermione return. Harry frowned when they walked into the Great Hall for dinner, having just arrived from the Hogwarts Express. Neville’s left eye was a little puffy, and Hermione’s hair was all askew. At the same time, both were smiling, as if at some shared joke.

For the first time in recent memory, Ron ignored the serving platters that filled before him. “All right, what happened?”

“Nothing too extraordinary, Ron,” Hermione said airily.

“Well…” Neville began, looking over at Hermione. She rolled her eyes but nodded. “We heard from some Hufflepuffs that Malfoy knew we were on the train and was looking for us, along with Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy, and some others. So we were able to avoid them.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “But?”

Neville ducked his head and smiled. “We did run into Blaise Zabini and Millicent Bulstrode in the last compartment,” he said.

Harry and Ron looked at each other. “And?” Ron prompted.

“We were too close when the door opened to use wands, you know. Blaise tried to grab me, so I, uh, used a hip-throw on him and he hit the floor pretty hard. Millicent hit me, but then Hermione got her in a choke hold. She calmed down after that,” Neville said as he and Hermione looked at each other with some embarrassment.

Harry looked over at Ron with a sigh.

“I’d have paid good money to see that,” Ron said disgustedly.

“They’re still in the infirmary,” Hermione said. “Blaise’ nose wouldn’t stop bleeding, and Millicent ended up with a big scrape along one side of her face.”

“…and you’re not missing dinner in detention because?”

“Because there wasn’t a staff member there, Ronald,” Hermione snapped. “And neither one of the people in the hospital wing want to talk about how they were injured.”

“I suppose they were embarrassed to get surprised by people like us,” Neville said quietly, frowning down at his plate.

“Consider it a tactical advantage, Nev,” Harry said smiling. “How did you like the look on Zabini’s face?”

Neville Longbottom’s answering grin was just a tad feral.

After dinner they all went up to the empty boys dormitory and caught up on what had happened. Harry was hesitant to say anything to Neville about the picture, but when the round-faced boy saw that Harry had hung it on the wall next to his bed, he smiled happily.

Hermione’s eyes got wide when Harry showed her the invisibility cloak, but that was nothing compared to the news that Harry was pillaging the Restricted Section. Harry could tell she was troubled by what he was doing, but she didn’t once threaten to go to a teacher about it. Harry suspected that venomous encounter with Snape where he threatened to snap her wand was the reason; she’d started to develop a healthy distrust for authority. This was actually a relief to some extent. Harry knew her path might be harder for her in some ways; her being associated with him was creating greater friction with a professor she’d always urged Harry to make peace with. On the other hand, he remembered how horrified and ashamed she’d been after Snape proved her wrong, murdering the headmaster.

Of course, if Harry was raiding the restricted section, then Hermione wanted in on it as well. Soon Harry was smuggling the non-trapped books to her as well. He urged her to only read them in her dormitory though. The odds of Lavender Brown or Parvati Patil recognizing Hermione’s book du jour as being forbidden to students was admittedly pretty minor. Harry likewise did a lot of his reading in his bed. That also might help dispel some of the talk about his sleeping habits. Harry had forgotten how efficient the Hogwarts gossip network was, and at times it made him a little nervous.

During their first morning run together, Harry could tell that Hermione and Neville had definitely been keeping up during holidays. Neville appeared, to Harry’s untrained eye, to have lost a little weight. The boy had never really been fat, mind you, but just a little on the round side. Hermione’s parents had even bought her a smart looking track suit for Christmas.

“They said they were glad to see me taking steps to keep fit,” she said blushing when Ron asked her about it. “My father kept going on about that whole healthy body, healthy mind thing until I asked if I could return to school early.”

After they got their blood moving, they paired off on the brittle dead grass near the castle walls. They were on the leeward side, so there was almost no snow on the ground to make them slip. Harry was sparring with Hermione when she did something unexpected. He was partway through a punching combination when she seized his wrist and twisted it, bending it in an odd direction. The next thing Harry knew, he was down on one knee with his arm bent behind him. Ron froze in disbelief and Neville’s fist knocked the wind out of him before the other boy stopped as well.

Harry looked at Hermione after she let him up. “I see you read my present before you sent it to me,” he teased.

“Yes, well, I was curious,” she said, a little flustered at being caught out. “I read on the back cover that Aikido was more skill than strength. I’m not physically as strong as you three, and the disparity is only going to increase as we get older.”

Ron shook his head. “Hermione’s the only person I know who’ll use ‘disparity’ in casual conversation.”

She spun toward Ron, opening her mouth, but shut it when she saw him grinning. She settled for crossing her arms.

“That’s not a bad point Hermione,” Harry said thoughtfully, ignoring the by play. “I was planning to mix in a little from different things. I’d suggest practicing some of everything, because you may need it at some point. However, when you spar you should stick to the things that work for you. I’ll just have to make sure I don’t overextend my punches and make it easy for you.”

Harry settled back into a guard position and they went back to work.

~+~

Things settled into a bit of a routine again. Potions was horrid, though the mental jabs from Snape had abated. It appeared the headmaster had a few words with the professor, because he wasn’t constantly trying to batter his way into Harry’s mind. The few attempts he did make were much subtler. Harry still had to be on his guard, but he didn’t miss meals due to migraines anymore.

Quidditch practice had resumed three nights a week. Gred and Forge, as they had nicknamed themselves after receiving their Weasley jumpers, were still making a go of knocking Harry off his broom. They were getting better, and scored some glancing hits, until Oliver insisted that Harry wear a cap with a Bludger-repelling charm on it. Such equipment was illegal for actual matches, but it ensured that the twins wouldn’t ‘crack our seeker’s skull playing at being pranksters on the pitch’. Harry was quietly impressed. The twins must be getting good, because Oliver had never suggested protective gear for Harry in practices before.

Malfoy and company were also laying low. The Slytherins avoided Harry, and would only occasionally make cutting remarks to his friends when he wasn’t around. Harry wondered if someone had watched a few of their morning practices, but he wasn’t going to question their good fortune. He didn’t want things with Draco to get out of hand too quickly, as he wasn’t keen to give up his biggest advantage.

By the second week of February, Harry’s surreptitious survey of the Restricted Section was complete. Unfortunately, his results were disappointing. Almost none of the books that applied to his situation were written as anything more than a theoretical exercise. Those that weren’t all claimed conflicting things. One book stated emphatically that the first time Harry attempted to change a single thing, he would be forcibly ejected from the time stream, doomed to float through limbo forever. Since Harry didn’t feel like he was currently doing the ethereal back stroke, he felt it was safe to discard that guide.

The books he brought back for Hermione covered a wider variety of topics. Harry was very careful not to let her see the books he was reading. He didn’t want her making any educated guesses until she could block Snape out of her memories. Her survey of so-called wandless magic was by necessity fairly broad. There were magical cultures around the world, and only a few used wands to focus their magic. For example, some Asian magicians used complicated hand gestures, called seals, to focus their magic. From what Hermione whispered to them in the common room, the gestures created temporary magical energy fields for the wizard, or Wu Jen as they were called, to channel their magic through. The process was slower than using a wand, except for the simplest spells. On the other hand, it also meant that you couldn’t disable an Asian Sorcerer with a simple disarming spell. 

“For some reason,” she concluded, “almost every system of magic has some sort of focus required to actually make the magic work, be it wands for us, or gestures, or the invoking of spirits for some shamanic cultures. Nobody just does magic without some preparations.”

“Maybe it’s like having a safety on a gun,” Harry mused. He saw the blank looks from Ron and Neville and elaborated. “If I could cast a cutting charm by just saying ‘Diffindo’ and no wand was required, how often would we be hexing each other when we’re having a simple conversation? Maybe the wand acts like a way of controlling whether the magic is intentionally invoked.”

“So, you’re saying that we use wands because we want to… because we need to?” Hermione said thoughtfully.

“That makes sense,” Ron agreed. “If you had a group of people who just did magic whenever they thought about it, they’d hex each other out of existence the first time they got into a row.”

Everyone stared at Ron, making his ears go pink. “Ronald, I think you’re absolutely right!” Hermione said, smiling. His ears went to brick red and he looked down at his hands.

Harry decided it was time to get everyone back on topic. “Maybe the solution isn’t so much to look for an entire system of wand-less magic. Maybe we need to figure out if there are specific branches of magic that don’t require a wand,” he said with a frown. “Ones that can cause splitting headaches,” he added.

“Very well,” Hermione agreed, “give me a day and I’ll get you another list of topics.”

“Thanks Hermione,” Harry said.

She waved it off. “This is really interesting. More than our homework, anyway.”

Harry had to agree. Between Hermione not having to nag quite as much, and Harry’s memories of the material he’d already learned, the four of them were doing quite well in their classes. Harry had forgotten how light the workload was compared to fifth year OWL preparation, or his last year of school when he was gearing up for his NEWTs. He supposed they took it easy on the first years because a lot of them were having to make a big adjustment to school life, or even being away from home for the first time.

At first, Harry was worried about standing out too much in his class work… but Hermione still managed to beat him, her raw intelligence winning out over his memories. She also was a much better organized essay writer. With both of them excelling, Ron and Neville also felt compelled to put a lot more effort into their studies. It wasn’t uncommon for the four of them to take the top four scores in their exams.

Pointing out that Malfoy obviously knew summoning charms, something not taught to first year students, also motivated them to work harder. Harry figured all those cheap shots at Ron’s family could be put to some use, after all.

Valentine’s Day passed without comment from his friends, aside from amusement at the antics of the older students. Harry was just relieved he wouldn’t have to face the horror of Madam Puddifoot’s for a few years yet.

For some reason, Snape did not volunteer to referee the Gryffindor/Hufflepuff match this time around. Harry was relieved, but the Lions still marched out onto the field like a team with something to prove.

And prove it they did. The Hufflepuff chasers were utterly destroyed by the twins, and managed only two shots on goal. Oliver blocked both attempts, and Harry caught the snitch after less than ten minutes of play. The ‘Puffs were shut out, two hundred thirty to zero.

As the stands emptied out onto the field, Harry was as happy as he’d been since he left the future.

~+~

After the match, Harry used his cloak to shadow Snape as he left the castle to talk to Quirrell. Hearing their conversation again, Harry was relieved. Snape was still on Dumbledore’s side, at least as far as the Stone was concerned. He’d been a little concerned that the small changes he was making might have affected that.

That was reassuring, because Harry also had a few other things to worry about. When he saw Hagrid in the library, he crept up behind the huge man and looked over his elbow.

Dragon Breeding for Pleasure and Profit?” Harry whispered, making Hagrid jump.

“Blimey, y’ startled me, ‘Arry!” the groundskeeper said, shutting the book and hiding it under the palm of his platter-sized hand.

“Why are you reading that book, Hagrid?” Harry asked in a worried voice.

“Well, can’t I just be wantin’ some light readin’ t’ do?”

“Hagrid, this is the first time I’ve seen you in the library.”

“Can’t get nothin’ past y’ can I?” Hagrid mumbled. “Tell yer what, come down t’ my hut after lunch, all righ’?”

Harry nodded and went back to the common room, mind racing.  Do I change this up early or late? Once he gathered his friends in the corner, he let them know what he’d seen Hagrid reading. “I think he’s gone and done something foolish,” Harry concluded.

“We still need to help him, if we can,” Hermione fretted. Neville and Ron nodded agreement.

They slipped out of the castle after the noon meal. Harry looked over his shoulder frequently. It would be just his luck that they’d get tailed on this trip instead of the next one.

Hagrid proudly showed him the egg incubating in the heat of a roaring fire. He was just as oblivious to the concerns Harry and his friends raised as the last time around. Finally, they left the stifling hut to get some fresh air and make their way back for afternoon classes.

That evening they sat together in the common room working on their transfiguration homework. It was slower going that usual because they were also concerned with another issue.

Harry sighed and leaned back in his chair. “If that egg actually hatches a dragon, how fast do they grow?” he whispered.

Neville frowned. “I think it’s pretty fast. My Uncle Algie said something once about how his trellis roses were growing faster than a dragon hatchling.”

Harry grimaced. “Great. That means in no time at all it’ll be bigger than Hagrid’s whole hut. What the heck do you do with a dragon anyway?”

Ron shrugged. “Mostly they are kept on magical reservations as an endangered species.” Suddenly he sat bolt upright in his chair. “I wonder if Charlie can help. He works at a reserve. If Hagrid can’t keep the dragon here…”

“That’s a great idea,” Harry said.

“I don’t know,” Hermione said dubiously. “Did you see the way Hagrid’s eyes were lit up? I’m not sure he’ll agree to it.”

“I think if we tell him it’s Charlie, he’ll feel better. They were great friends when Charlie was here at Hogwarts, and they’re both barmy about dragons.”

“We can always ask him,” Harry suggested diplomatically.

When Hagrid sent word that the egg was soon to hatch, Harry took a few precautions. He’d taken to carrying the invisibility cloak rolled up in a corner of his bag. While his friends headed toward the hut, Harry ducked into an empty classroom and put on the cloak.

He trailed behind his friends at a distance, waiting to see if anyone followed them. Sure enough, a dark-cloaked figure left the school following his friends at a distance. Harry shadowed the pursuer, trying to figure out who was stalking them. Looks too tall to be Malfoy. Has he got the older students helping him now?

When the figure pulled out a wand, pointed in his friends’ direction, Harry didn’t hesitate. “Stupefy!” he whispered. The jet of red light caught his target squarely in the middle of its back and knocking it to the ground.

Harry eased forward toward the prone figure. He walked silently, with a feline grace that seemed drastically out of place on his younger self. Wand at the ready, he used a stick to ease back the hood of the cloak. Harry inhaled sharply when he saw the hated features of his potions teacher.

Thinking quickly, he levitated the unconscious man behind a tree, out of sight from the path. He then stunned him again to make sure he stayed unconscious for several hours. Well, he can’t do anything overt without proof, can he?

Obliviate!” he said and a beam of greyish light struck the unconscious professor in the forehead. Memory charms were tricky things, and Harry was loath to use them. Fortunately, all he wanted to do was erase the last twenty minutes or so, and that was probably the easiest application of the spell.

He left the professor sitting on the ground, propped up against the tree. He was tempted to do more, but restrained himself. If there was no proof of who had stunned him, then he’d be hesitant to take action and possibly make a fool of himself. Perhaps he’ll catch a bad cold, Harry mused vindictively.

Harry ran to the hut and just barely arrived before the hatching. Harry stared at the hatchling and remembered all the damage Norbert and Charlie had done during the war. The second-oldest Weasley son had ridden the Norwegian Ridgeback to England after learning his little sister had been killed at Hogwarts. The ministry had all but collapsed at this point, but the reign of terror the two had committed against known Death Eater holdings was the stuff of legend. It had taken Voldemort himself to kill them, but not before they tore a bloody swath through his forces. Harry always suspected that Norbert remembered more of his ‘mommy’ than they suspected.

Before they left, Harry used some sticking charms to ensure that the curtains fit securely together. After all that, he didn’t want Malfoy or anyone else being able to peek inside.

It took a week, during which the hatchling tripled in size, before Hagrid would agree about contacting Charlie. Harry was just happy that Hagrid had named it Norbert again. Those little synchronicities were almost comforting, in an odd way.

Harry had a feeling he’d guessed correctly about the Obliviate, and the memories of him seeing the students leave the castle had been deleted as well. With no memory of his decision to follow them, there was no logical reason for Snape to suspect Harry. Harry purposefully didn’t say anything to his friends about the professor following them, because their minds were still open to his Legilimency. In the end, the man was only his normally horrible self.

The night Charlie’s friends were to take Norbert, Harry felt a sense of impending disaster. The first time around, they’d been caught and lost one hundred and fifty points from Gryffindor. Not forgetting the Invisibility Cloak when they left the roof would probably help, but Harry wanted something more solid than that.

In the end he sought out something a bit less than solid. Namely Peeves.

Harry found the poltergeist turning all the desks upside down in an empty classroom on the second floor. The translucent little man started toward Harry but stopped when Harry held up his hand.

“I have a little business proposition…” he began, and Peeves’ expression grew crafty.

In the end, Harry agreed to supply Peeves with an entire case of Dungbombs, which would pretty much empty his money pouch after Fred and George’s next Hogsmeade visit.

Lugging Norbert’s crate up to the top of the Astronomy tower was just as back-breaking as Harry remembered. The morning exercises helped, but he still knew he’d be sore in the morning. It also helped that Neville accompanied him this time, volunteering after Ron had been bitten. He was noticeably stronger than Hermione was, and Harry had a feeling he’d give Ron a run for his money when they both got older.

Charlie’s friends showed up right at midnight to collect their charge—a quartet of wizards with a jerry-rigged harness running between their brooms. They seemed awfully cheerful to Harry, given that what they were doing was highly illegal. He wondered if they planned to disillusion themselves once they flew past the wards. No sooner had Harry settled the cloak around himself and Neville than a horrible racket started up from the Divination tower.

“Twelve oh five, right on the dot,” Harry murmured as they made their way down the stairs.

“What’s that mean?” Neville whispered.

“Bribed Peeves to make a diversion for us, in case someone saw the brooms,” Harry whispered in reply.

“Oh.”

Harry dropped onto his bed with a sigh of relief. Neville also groaned as he lay down.

“I don’t want to know what the two of you were up to,” Seamus’ voice echoed from his bed.

“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” Harry replied. Seamus let out a squawk, but Dean just laughed and the Muggle-born student explained the joke to his friend.

 

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