Back to: Harry Potter » Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Futures Past
Reviews (61)
Normal Format

Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Futures Past
Conversations, Confrontations, and Quidditch!

By Viridian

Previous Next
Author Notes:

Yes, it took a while, but this is the longest chapter to date. (And I was also working on Team 8.)

Chapter 28

Luna gave them a knowing look when Harry and Ginny came in from outdoors and sat down for lunch in the Great Hall. Even though Ginny’s cheeks were a little pink and her eyes were red, she managed to give her friend a small smile.

As they finished a quick meal, Ginny murmured to Harry that she had a few more questions. Harry just nodded and stood up. As they left the Great Hall, Ginny noticed Luna’s eyes following them, a small smile on her lips. When they reached the seventh floor, Ginny peered curiously at Harry as he checked to make sure no one was around a seemingly deserted corridor. Then he frowned and paced back and forth in front of a tapestry of a wizard being chased by trolls in tutus.

The third time he walked past the strange tapestry, she was about to ask him what he was doing when a door suddenly appeared on the opposite wall. Harry smiled as he pulled the door open. “We won’t be overheard in here,” he said.

Inside was a small cosy-looking room with two overstuffed chairs pulled up before a banked fire that warmed the oddly cool air. Harry closed the door behind her as she walked in, and she jumped a little when it disappeared into the wall.

“The elves call this the ‘Come and Go Room’,” Harry explained as they sat down. “We used it for a Defence Club to train people when the Ministry didn’t want anyone knowing proper Defence Against the Dark Arts. They sent this awful woman when Dumbledore couldn’t find a Defence teacher and she pretty much tried to take over the school. So we held classes in here.”

“But if she was the Defence teacher, who taught the class?” Ginny asked, “Professor McGonagall? I know Professor Flitwick was a duellist when he was younger…” her voice trailed off as Harry’s face began to resemble a tomato. “You taught it?”

Harry shrugged and looked like he wanted to sink down into his chair. “Hermione organized the whole thing,” he said. “She sort of put me up to it.”

Ginny snorted in a way her mother would not have approved of. “Harry, you’ve been teaching us practically since day one. I shouldn’t be surprised you’ve had previous experience.”

Harry sighed. “I just wish it wasn’t always a life and death thing,” he said wearily. “It’d be nice, for just once, to teach something, to learn something for fun, and not because we want to see our thirtieth birthdays.” Harry stared into the fire as his voice trailed off, and Ginny’s stomach contracted as he seemed to age before her eyes. It wasn’t like he suddenly grew wrinkles or grey hair, but his eyes looked so tired it tore at her heart. She wondered what he saw when the nightmares came, the nights when he ended up cooking breakfast for Mum the next day because he couldn’t get back to sleep. She wanted to know, but hesitated. Would her questions open old wounds?

He’d looked so… lost… down in the chamber, when he’d told them his secret. She’d just woken from what she hoped was a horrible dream, her body wrenched out of her control and spirited away to be sacrificed to Dark Magic, but Harry looked even worse than she felt. He only spoke a handful of words, but each one seemed to exact a physical toll from him as he revealed the truth. He’d spent his life fighting the most powerful Dark Lord to arise for centuries, kept on going after everyone else was killed, and avenged them all in the end… and he told them like it was a shameful thing.

And she realized why he was ashamed. His destiny didn’t matter. His victory didn’t matter. Not to him. As far as Harry was concerned, he’d failed because he hadn’t saved them all. She remembered waking from a nightmare of her own last night when she was in the hospital wing. The sensation as Tom tore her body away and shoved her awareness down into the inky depths was not one she’d forget any time soon. As she laid there in the dark, wishing desperately for her wand so she could have a bit of light, she tried to think about something else, anything else.

Not surprisingly, Harry immediately came to mind. She’d been thinking a lot about him, even before he’d been hurt. But instead of worrying about his injuries, or the impossibility of competing with the perfect Cho Chang, this time her mind seized on one incontrovertible fact.

Harry had killed himself to come back and save them. Even if she’d completely misread things before, and he only saw her as an annoying little sister, he’d thrown away his victory, his freedom from that awful Prophecy, to save her and everyone she loved, her family, her friends, practically everyone she knew. That realization was both humbling and heart-breaking. It also gave her something to think about as sleep slowly reclaimed her.

His oblique confirmation of her hopes today did nothing more than strengthen Ginny’s resolve to do whatever it took to help him. She remembered something her mother said once… “A sorrow shared is a sorrow divided”.

“Harry,” she said quietly, startling him out of his reverie. He looked over at her, blinking, and she could see him retreating inside himself again. She frowned. She didn’t want him to feel like he had to maintain his façade with her, but she also didn’t want him to feel like she was prying. She swallowed and stared into his eyes.  She finally blurted out “What do you dream about at night?”

Harry swallowed and the light seemed to go out of his eyes for a moment. “I see you, sometimes.”

“Me?” she asked.

He nodded. “You were dead. Your body lying in the courtyard,” he said in a choked whisper. “While we were out looking for the places Voldemort had hidden pieces of his soul, he and his Death Eaters attacked the school. They killed everyone. We found Neville and Luna first… the DA tried to help, but they couldn’t stop him, no one could. Then we found you in the corner. You were all torn and bloody and it looked like someone had been at you and…” his voice broke and he turned away.

Ginny stared at his clasped hands, the tendons standing out under the pale skin, as she tried to sort herself out. She felt like someone had dumped a bucket of ice water down her back. Harry wasn’t just talking about the possibility of dying, he’d seen it and his anguish was palpable. She couldn’t help shuddering at the picture his words had painted in her mind.

The youngest Weasley took stock of herself and wondered what she wanted to do… what she could do. She could let things stay as they were, and wait for Harry to gather himself. She could thank him for his honesty and then let him change the subject. She could let things go back to the way they had been and pretend that none of this had ever happened.

To put it bluntly, she could be a coward.

She was scared spitless, for the second time in two days, but she wasn’t a coward.

Ginny made no sound as she stood up from her chair and stepped in front of Harry. He was working so hard at mastering his emotions that he jumped when she laid her hand on his shoulder. The knotted muscles under her fingers were trembling with tension, and his eyes were two wet red holes in his face. She felt like her body was moving of its own accord, giving her an uncomfortable reminder of the previous day, when she leaned forward and lightly bussed his forehead.

The next thing she knew, she was sitting crosswise in his lap with both his arms wrapped around her. Her own arms were wrapped around his head and neck, cradling the side of his head against her chest. This might have been horribly awkward if she’d been a bit older, or maybe not. Harry was shaking so hard she wondered if her weight was the only thing holding him in the chair.

Harry wasn’t the only one that needed some calming either. It was one thing to know that you’d died in some possible future. It was quite another to hear a boy you quite possibly liked break down crying when he described finding your ravaged and lifeless corpse.

Even as she tried to comfort Harry, Ginny wondered what she could do. She couldn’t imagine what it would feel like, having lost everyone she cared about, only to see them all again years later. It would be like a dream come true… except it didn’t change what he’d seen, what he’d experienced in that nightmarish future. A future only he knew about. A future he couldn’t talk about for almost two years. Put that way, she wondered that he hadn’t gone quite mad.

She remembered how upset he’d been after Peter Pettigrew had been captured. She’d thought it was the reminder of his parents’ death that had sent him stumbling into the orchard, but now she knew better. Still, she’d been able to help him, at least a little, that day.

So she ran her fingers through his hair again, concentrating on the hair above his ear, and along the back of his head, to remind him she was there. Then she asked him for the rest.

Surprisingly enough, he told her.

It went slowly at first. Harry waking up at The Burrow and contemplating suicide had been almost more than she could stand to hear. But she tightened her arm around his neck, holding him so close his voice was muffled by her robes. Then she asked him what happened next.

It hurt, hearing of how each Weasley died. They’d gone out heroically, for the most part, but she didn’t really care about that. Each new name, when it came out of Harry’s mouth, pierced her in a different way. She might even have found herself resenting Harry on some level, if his own pain hadn’t been so evident in his broken whisper and shaking arms.

There were other names, people she didn’t know, but whose loss had torn Harry as well. She’d only met Mister Lupin a couple of times at The Burrow, but Harry seemed to have been much closer to the man in the future. There were other names that she filed away to think about later. Oddly enough, it became easier as Harry talked about the horrific devastation of the latter stages of the war. Most of the people they cared about were in the forefront of the resistance to Voldemort, and thus were among the first to fall. Not that it wasn’t disturbing to hear about British Wizarding society being destroyed, and the American Ministry having to send a relief force to salvage what was left.

The end was surprisingly hard. Hermione and Ron ending up together was hardly surprising, not with the way they alternated between squabbling and staring at each other. In a weird way, she envied them a little. They’d had years together, from what Harry said, and had been with him almost to the end. But his description of Hermione’s death still wrung new tears out of her. The older girl was occasionally exasperating, especially the way she tended to tell everyone else what was best for them. Her mutely asking Ron to look after Harry was just so… Hermione. And as they both cried a little, Ginny didn’t think she’d ever get as frustrated with the bushy-haired witch again.

Finally, she caught her breath and voiced the last, hardest question. “Ron?” she asked.

Harry’s arms tightened around her waist. “We ran into a trap,” he said dully. “Voldemort had the last piece of his soul bound to an object called a horcrux. He used to have six, but we’d destroyed the rest. He couldn’t die as long as it existed, so he was keeping it with him. We’d chased down a rumour on where he and his little toadies were holed up, based on intelligence from a Death-Eater the American’s captured. Only it was a huge trap, set for us.”

Ginny could hear the guilt in his voice, and tightened her arms a little.

“We knew it as soon as we felt the anti-apparition wards go up,” he continued after a shaky breath, “even before the Death Eaters arrived. We fought our way out of there. Ron was like a bloody lion, you should have seen it…” his voice trailed off and he audibly swallowed. “We sent them running back to re-group, but I’d taken a hit. A curse got me in the leg, and I was bleeding pretty badly. We were fleeing through a block of burned-out row houses when I had to stop. Ron was half-carrying me by that point. We’d both picked up some medical charms from Hermione. He got the bleeding stopped, but the muscle was going to take a while to heal. That was when we heard the reinforcements show up.”

Harry took another deep breath. His arms weren’t shaking anymore and he was sitting very still. “I tried to stand up. I really did. But my leg wouldn’t take any weight. That was when Ron petrified me. He slid me under a broken table and pulled my cloak out of the backpack. When he spread it over me, the only thing he said was ‘I’m keeping my promise to Hermione.’ Then he used a charm I’d never seen before… I think Hermione worked it out at some point. All I knew is that suddenly he looked like me. Then he said goodbye.”

“I didn’t see exactly what happened,” Harry continued. “I heard some shouting in the distance after a while; then the sound of curses. I know when he died though… that’s when the Petrificatus Totalus wore off. I limped along in the direction he’d gone, hoping I was wrong and it had just worn off on its own. By then the anti-apparition ward was down and the Death Eaters were long gone. I supposed they thought I’d sent Ron out as a decoy. That’s something Tom would do. I was limping so badly it took forever to get there, but I knew I was heading in the right direction when I started to find blood. I knew not all of it was his, and there were swatches of torn and charred black fabric around as well. I found Ron near an intersection. They paid a heavy price to bring him down. The bodies were missing, but from the remnants it looked like he’d taken out at least a dozen there before they got him. He was so torn up… if not for his hair I might not have recognized him. I hoped they’d been angry enough to mutilate him after he’d died, so he hadn’t been forced to endure all those wounds while he was still alive. I kept looking down at him, knowing that should have been me lying there instead.” Harry lifted his head and looked at Ginny; his eyes looked almost… bewildered. “It should have been me,” he insisted.

“It shouldn’t have been anyone,” she said softly.

Harry blinked and nodded - slowly at first, and then faster. “You’re right,” he said hoarsely. “Now you know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Ginny replied. She knew she probably looked as bad as he did. “I did ask, after all.” She looked at the distraught boy and cocked her head. “Thank you,” she added.

“For what?” Harry asked, puzzled.

“For telling me everything,” she answered. “Have you talked about this with anyone?”

Harry shrugged. “Some with Sirius; he got out, you know, out of Azkaban. He arrived at The Burrow over Christmas. He already knew Occlumency, with his family and all. But I told him the general shape of things to come, not all the… details.”

“Harry James Potter!” Ginny said sharply. “That is not the shape of things to come! We are going to do much better this time! You are going to beat that bastard and we are all going to help you do it!” she snarled.

Harry, eyes widened and head pushed back against the headrest of his chair, was a somewhat comical sight, but Ginny had no time for humour just then. Instead, she sighed and absent-mindedly straightened the collar of his robes. “I’m sorry, Harry, but I don’t like hearing you talk like that. And none of this is your fault, not Ron, not any of it. You and I both know who is really responsible.”

Harry nodded and his eyes suddenly went very hard. She felt the tension building in him in a way that was almost frightening. “Voldemort,” he whispered in a voice as chill as the grave.

Ginny found the abrupt emotional transitions a little disconcerting, but she supposed he had good reason. Once they knew the source of the problem, she was sure she and her family could help him. Better for now to remind him of ways they’d already succeeded. “You said they burned down The Burrow. Is that why you wanted all those wards built around it?”

Harry shook himself a little and then nodded.

“So that’s not going to happen again, is it? We’re much better protected now,” she said. She was a little surprised that Harry was still so attached to Mum, even when he hadn’t lived with them before. She also remembered what he’d written to her Christmas before last. She silently vowed to pay the Dursleys a visit when she was seventeen.

Harry nodded, a little more energetically.

“And the DA in the future didn’t get started until your fourth year?” she asked.

“Fifth,” he answered.

“So we’re three years ahead there,” she concluded. “He won’t know what hit him, will he? What about these soul containers?” she asked.

“Sirius is looking for them,” Harry said. “He was a little sick when he showed up at The Burrow at Christmas, but he has to have been out for a while.” He made a face. “I wish I could have introduced you, but Snape hates him like poison. He’d relish a chance to inform the Ministry.”

Ginny nodded. “You had to wait until we could block him out.”

“Yeah,” Harry said. “Anyway, I told Sirius where we found the cup, where the locket ought to be, and everything I knew about the ring and the other pieces. He should be able to round them up, saving the cup for last because of the alarm.”

“You’re years ahead of the game there too, aren’t you?” Ginny asked.

“Maybe,” Harry replied. “Something odd seems to be going on. It may just be coincidental, but things sometimes seem to be determined to re-occur, one way or the other. Through different means I come to McGonagall’s attention and still become the Gryffindor Seeker. Ron and I don’t use Polyjuice Potion to sneak into the Slytherin rooms, so Draco uses it to sneak into Gryffindor. I snag the diary out of your cauldron, and those bastards still managed to trick you into writing in it!” Harry flinched as he seemed to realize what he’d just said. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly, “I didn’t mean to bring it up that way.”

Ginny suppressed a shudder and shrugged instead. “It happened,” she said. “I’d rather you be blunt about it instead of tip-toeing around it like everyone else is.”

“You really are a lot tougher than you look,” Harry said, smiling the tiniest bit.

“This me or the other me,” she asked without thinking. Watching Harry’s smile fall away, she wanted to kick herself.

“There’s not much difference, really,” he answered after a moment. “I suppose I really do need a good telling off occasionally.”

“So are you saying you need me?” she asked, laughing softly and willing her voice not to quaver.

Harry looked up at her, his eyes directly on hers when he answered. “Yes, I think I do.”

“Oh,” she said, nonplussed. “That’s good then.”

Harry took a deep breath and smiled wearily. “I suppose we should head back soon. Everyone’s going to want their turn.”

“Turn?” Ginny asked - feeling a little confused.

“To ask me for details,” he said, giving her another squeeze before he unwrapped his arms from around her waist.

“I think you’re right,” she said as she stood up. There were no pins and needles this time: either that conversation had taken less time than she thought or she fit in Harry’s lap better than she had any right to expect.

As they made their way to the exit, which was re-emerging from the wall, Ginny stopped, holding onto Harry’s sleeve. When he turned and looked at her questioningly, she leaned forward, up on her toes and kissed his cheek.

Harry froze. “Wh-what was that for?” he asked as his face blushed crimson.

“Do I need a reason?“ she asked, smiling. “For answering my questions,” she answered after a moment, “for trusting me with the details and not holding anything back.”

For letting me all the way in, she added silently.

Harry shrugged as he struggled to regain his composure. “I just hope I don’t give you nightmares from all that crap,” he grumbled.

“Tom has that covered nicely,” she said with a grimace.

Harry scowled. “How bad was it?” he asked in a quiet voice.

Ginny shrugged as she ignored the way her stomach was turning over. “It only overcame me once, but that was pretty bad. I felt a surge as I was writing and I felt like I was falling, even though I was sitting still. Then everything went black. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the chamber.”

“He said you were too strong for him to possess,” Harry said gently, “not and be able to block your memories afterward.

“Did that happen… with the other me?” she asked.

Harry nodded. “Ron thought you were just quiet, what with coming to Hogwarts, and everyone afraid and trying to figure out who the Heir of Slytherin was.”

Ginny let out another less than ladylike snort. “That doesn’t sound like me, does it?” she asked with a nervous laugh.

Now it was Harry’s turn to shrug. “I didn’t know you before the start of my second year, er, before.”

Ginny sighed. “I suppose if I was some kind of wallflower first time around, then it’s your fault I’m different now. Right?”

Harry rubbed at his eyes. “Maybe,” he said slowly. “The way you talk now reminds me of how you were my fifth year, after we started to become friends. Any differences I see might just be caused by the fact that you aren’t so quiet around me now. Does that make sense?”

“I didn’t know the others very well either, did I?” she asked.

“Not so much. I never even met Luna until my fifth year. Can we just say you got a head start?” Harry asked, a little plaintively.

“That’s fine,” she said, “but why are you so upset?”

“I don’t want you to think I changed you,” he said quietly, “at least not on purpose.”

“Changed me?’ Ginny asked. “The only thing you did is what you said in the chamber: You tried to be my friend from the moment we met. Harry, I like this me. I don’t want to be some silly girl with a crush on a boy who apparently didn’t even notice. You said I gave Tom a lot more of a fight this time. Is that a bad thing?”

Harry shook his head violently.

“Good,” Ginny said. “I’d hate to have to hex you right after getting out of the Hospital Wing.” She added with a smirk.

Harry chuckled and offered her his elbow. She hooked her arm through his as he made the door appear with a gesture.

They were quiet as they crossed the seventh floor, heading for the Fat Lady’s portrait and the Gryffindor common room. Ginny didn’t mind as she had a lot to take in. She found herself feeling a little wistful as she thought about everything she’d learned. It was a lot to absorb all at once. Not to mention destroying some of her more treasured illusions.

She liked to think that she was an optimist, and that things would generally tend to work out for the best. There was no way she’d have allowed herself to have a crush on Harry if she didn’t have at least some hope that he’d return her feelings. Hearing Harry’s story had challenged this worldview to a degree she’d have thought was impossible. Things had turned out so horribly that she couldn’t picture any way it could have been worse. Even the Boy Who Lived died in the end.

Ginny shivered under her robes as she wrenched her thoughts away from thinking about Harry’s future counterpart. She didn’t really know what it must have been like, how he had to be feeling after he’d completed his life’s work, only to find nothing left for him. The way Harry described it, he’d almost been happy to die at that point. As much as the deaths of her family, even more than the betrayal of the Diary, that thought hounded Ginevra Weasley, and she found herself hating Voldemort more than she’d ever thought possible.

She remembered Harry talking about the Killing Curse once, and how you really had to hate your target to make it work. The thought that in the future Harry hated himself enough to use the curse on himself was horrifying enough. But now, with all she’d learned today, she realized that it was indeed possible for her to hate someone that much.

Now she’d learned that things didn’t always work out for the best, and that she, too, could learn to hate, even to kill. Realizations like that had to be part of why Harry acted so differently… It wasn’t like you could learn such things and still be a child, could you?

Ginny slowly realized as they approached the portrait that her childhood had ended. That was why she felt so unsettled. There is a proper time and place for discarding childish things, and not-quite-twelve is a bit young for that. Then she looked over at Harry, his features settling back into what she recognized as his ‘public face’. He needs me, she thought. It was both a scary and a powerful feeling.

Maybe growing up fast wouldn’t be so bad after all.

OoOoO

Harry felt Ginny’s hand tighten around his arm. I can’t believe that just happened, he mused. He’d entered the Room of Requirement with the determination to answer any question she asked. He’d danced around things long enough and she deserved to know the truth. But still… when she asked such an open-ended question as “What do you dream about at night?” his brain seemed to lock up.

But his mouth didn’t.

He sat there, almost in a daze, listening like a witness as he mechanically told her everything – the whole tragic chronology of the failed Second War against Voldemort. He felt, in a disconnected way, how she shuddered each time his narrative was punctuated with the death of another member of her family.

By the end, he was sure she’d break; sure she’d begin screaming at him, especially when he told her about Ron. His best friend had literally given his life for Harry’s, just so he would have a chance to fulfil that damned prophecy. But that wasn’t really why Ron had done it. He’d done it for Harry, his best mate and brother in everything but name, not the bloody Boy Who Lived.

Ginny had yelled at him a little after that, but only because he’d spoken like the future was a foregone conclusion, exposing his anxiety about the unusual parallels he was seeing between the two timelines. Her words, her righteous anger, her overwhelming confidence that “they would win!” seemed to have re-ignited something inside of himself, something that had guttered out over the last couple of months… choked by his worries about his friends, his enemies, and the future.

Harry glanced sideways at the girl walking beside him, her arm still locked with his. He owed her more than he could likely ever explain.

When the portrait swung aside they separated and stepped into the Gryffindor common room. They found Ron and Hermione on one of the couches, apparently waiting for them.

“I heard you went flying,” Ron said quickly as he stood up, ignoring an annoyed glance from Hermione, “how did it go?”

Harry shrugged. “Like stretching after a long nap; I should be fine, if Madam Pomfrey will release me to play.”

“No headaches?” Hermione asked worriedly. “No dizziness or spots in your eyes?”

“Nothing,” Harry said, but then paused. “No more than usual, anyway.”

“Yeah, you’ve been talking to my sister,” Ron said with a laugh, earning simultaneous glares from Ginny and Hermione.

“So, Harry,” Hermione said brightly, in an obvious effort to change the topic of conversation and forestall the impending violence, “I understand you still want to take your exams?”

“I still say he’s mental,” Ron grumbled as Harry nodded. “If Professor McGonagall offered to let me skip them, I’d take her up on it so fast it would make your head spin.”

Harry shrugged. “I’d feel pretty odd, sitting around while you all sit your final examinations. I might as well participate and hope Mrs. Weasley doesn’t ground me if I do poorly.”

“Not much chance of that, Harry,” Ron said shaking his head. “You didn’t see how she fussed over you in the Hospital Wing.”

Harry felt his face flush with an odd mixture of pleasure and embarrassment. Mrs. Weasley tried so hard to be a mother to him. He noticed Hermione smiling at him, while Ginny’s gaze was a little more penetrating. He stifled a sudden sense of being exposed. Had he become so used to concealing the truth that being open with one person should make him so uncomfortable? Especially when it was Ginny, of all people? Maybe it was time to practice a little more honesty. “Well, she is the closest thing I have to a mother,” he said, “so it’s nice to hear that she really does love me.”

Harry felt his face colouring again, but that was nothing compared to the embarrassed blush that covered Ron’s face. “Don’t say things like that around her, Harry, or if you do, pass out some earplugs first. She’ll rupture your eardrums if she doesn’t break your back first.”

“Ron,” Hermione said in a disapproving tone, “just because some of us have more emotional depth that a teaspoon is no reason to become sarcastic.”

They both jumped when Harry let out a short bark of laughter. “Sorry,” he said quickly, “that’s not the first time I’ve heard that. Emotional range of a teaspoon, anyway,” he chortled.

They both stared at him for a moment before Hermione’s eyes lit up in comprehension. “I see,” she said. “Anyway, would you like to go somewhere to revise?” she asked. “I have my notes for the classes you missed,” she added, patting the bag hanging from her shoulder.

“I should go over my charms notes,” Ginny said. “And I still have a transfiguration essay to finish.” Her smile toward Harry was a bit knowing.

“That would probably be a good idea, Hermione,” he agreed. “I’ll see you for supper?” he asked Ginny in a quieter tone.

She nodded.

“Good,” was all he said, but her cheeks still flushed a bit. Sometimes it was fun having friends who were so fair-skinned.

Harry went up to his dormitory and came back down with his own bag. The sight of his damaged trunk still stirred up an undercurrent of anger that he tried to banish.

As he left the common room with Hermione, Harry noticed that she hadn’t even made a token effort to get Ron to come revise with them. He headed off down the hall, but stopped when Hermione cleared her throat.

“Harry?” she asked. “Aren’t we going to the Library?”

“I know someplace a little quieter,” he said, and led her to the Room of Requirement. He rather enjoyed the way his friend’s eyes bulged when he summoned the door. Inside was his idea of a nice study room, with a good-sized table, comfortably-padded chairs, and a chandelier that spread warm golden light throughout the room.

“Harry,” she breathed when he finished his explanation. “This… this is fantastic. You said it can make itself into whatever we need?”

He nodded.

“We’ll have to start using this for our training,” she said, “especially during the winter.”

Harry smiled. “It can expand the perceived size as well, so we can run in here too. I’d have used it earlier, but…”

Hermione grimaced. “But Professor Snape would have found out and immediately placed it off limits.”

Harry nodded. “Probably while using it himself. Anyway, what are we working on in transfiguration?”

Hermione blinked for a moment then remembered what they were ostensibly supposed to be doing there. She reluctantly got out her notes.

Harry probably enjoyed this more than almost any study session he could remember. For one thing, he didn’t have to spend all his time making sure he didn’t appear to be too knowledgeable. For another, Hermione, usually so focused, was obviously distracted by some other questions she wanted to ask. He let it drag out until he began to feel a little guilty.

“Hermione,” he finally said. “Was there something else you wanted to discuss?”

His friend didn’t hesitate, and quickly dug a tightly-rolled parchment out of her bag and tapped it with her wand. As it unrolled, Harry saw it contained a long list of questions, with a little space between each one. He couldn’t help but laugh a little at her preparations.

“Harry,” she protested primly, “it’s not that odd I should be prepared. I’ve had most of the night and all morning to think about what you told us. It’s very fascinating, looking at causation and how your efforts have impacted it. Now, you said your future self arrived right before you started your first year. Is it safe to assume that everything before that was congruent between the two timelines?”

Harry nodded. “I think so. I haven’t seen anything to indicate they were any different.”

Hermione jotted down a few notes. “Good. So what is the first major divergence you are aware of? And how did it go in your original memories?”

Harry began to speak as Hermione’s quill never stopped moving. She occasionally interrupted him to ask clarifying questions, but for the most part he did all the talking.

Just recounting the facts was making him start to tighten up again, especially regarding the Dursleys, and he silently blessed Ginny for asking him first. He didn’t think he could have answered all of Hermione’s questions if he hadn’t just purged a lot of his negative emotions.

As it was, he stumbled a bit when he recounted Hermione’s nearly-fatal broom accident.

“Is that why you wanted me to learn how to fly better?” she asked in a small voice.

“Partially,” Harry agreed. “You were actually pretty good after you practiced a bit.”

The bushy-haired witch nodded gravely. “I’ll try to remember that,” she promised.

It was funny, in a way; how Hermione’s dry questions and factual dissection of the future disaster also seemed to help put things in perspective. Every time he went through what happened, it seemed to be a little less painful, like he was draining an infected wound. It was also easier to see the patterns that began to emerge. Ginny’s death seemed to galvanize her brothers, and even though they never blamed Harry, they did throw themselves into the thick of the struggle against Voldemort. He didn’t think Bill and Charlie would have been quite as quick to commit themselves to such dangerous offensives if she’d still been alive.

In contrast, Hermione became increasingly agitated as he continued, so Harry didn’t dwell on the details of her own death, only relating that she’d pushed Ron out of the way of the curse that killed her. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t press him for more. Harry couldn’t help but tell her more about Ron’s heroic death, and her eyes were shining by the time he was done.

She was quiet as Harry related his last year, fighting alone against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Her fingers were white with pressure on her quill as she took down the names of the Death Eaters he’d recognized among those he’d killed in the ruins of Hogwarts. Then he talked of the scheme he’d hatched to feed false information to Voldemort’s suspected spy amongst the Americans, and how he’d finally caught the Dark Lord off guard and finished him.

Hermione began asking questions again when Harry discussed his recovery and how he’d stumbled over the Temporal Transit Field article and realized how it could be used on himself. When he mentioned in passing his ‘inner Hermione’ and how he puzzled things out by discussing them with an imaginary version of his friend, the real Hermione suddenly burst into tears.

“I’m sorry,” he said as she dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief she pulled from her bag.

“Don’t be,” she replied. “I just didn’t expect… I knew you would have missed me, even if I am a bossy know-it-all, but hearing you say that… just… thank you, Harry.”

Harry blinked. “Er, right. Well, after I saw how it might work, I talked to Albus’ portrait and we figured out how to get the soul to migrate…” He glossed over some of the technical details of the time jump, and noted, with some amusement, Hermione visibly restraining herself from asking for more.

When he was done, Hermione looked back over her notes and began asking questions regarding their years at Hogwarts. Harry was grateful, as the early years, at least, had been relatively peaceful. Some of her questions seemed almost random, but Harry knew her too well not to believe there was a pattern to it. Especially after she tipped her hand a little.

“So as a part of the tournament, they actually held a Yule Ball?” she asked, eyes lighting up. Well, she was a girl, after all, Harry mused.

“Yeah, it was sort of a bother really,” Harry said in a bored tone.

“Really?” she asked archly. “I suppose your date was a bore then.”

“Parvati was okay,” Harry protested, “it was really a hassle though. All those people staring at us, not to mention Rita Skeeter’s articles winding every one up. I think everyone had their nose out of joint before the year was over – even Mrs. Weasley was giving you the cold shoulder at one point.”

Hermione’s eyebrows went up. “I can see why you appropriated her quill at the first opportunity then. Just out of curiosity, who did everyone else go with?”

“Let’s see,” Harry responded and began ticking off on his fingers. “Neville and Ginny went together. I don’t think Luna went at all. Ron went with Padma, and you were with this Quidditch player from Durmstrang.”

Hermione looked up at him, a little surprised. Then she looked back down at her notes and asked him about the specific tasks used in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. However, some of her later questions nibbled around the area of social relations and who was dating who.

At this point Harry decided to have a little fun with his friend, if she wasn’t able to just come out and ask him what she really wanted to know. “Yeah, after Umbridge forced Dumbledore to leave, Fred and George declared an all out prank war on her. You sort of disapproved at first, but you came around when you saw a lot of the professors discreetly encouraging them. We had a good laugh about that at your wedding reception.”

“My… wedding reception?” Hermione asked. “To who?”

“Well, Fred and George, of course,” Harry answered with a broad smile. He chuckled and shrugged as his friend’s mouth dropped open. “We were a little surprised at first, you know, about your relationship, but you always preferred to do the modern thing… You seemed very happy with the two of them.”

Both?” she squeaked. Her face had gone absolutely white.

“No.,” Harry said straight-faced. “I’m kidding; but you were so busy trying to trick me into revealing something you didn’t want to directly ask that you fell for it. Let’s neither one of us play games; just ask me directly.”

Hermione swallowed. “Did Ron and I end up… together?”

Harry opened his mouth to answer, but paused. “Do you really want to know the answer to that question?” he asked quietly. “Won’t that take some of the fun out of things?”

Hermione frowned. “That’s not the reason you don’t want to answer.”

“It’s part of it,” Harry said defensively. “This is one thing where I am worried about foreknowledge screwing things up. What if I tell you one thing, and that makes you start taking things for granted, and then the whole thing gets bollixed?”

The bushy-haired witch’s eyes narrowed. “If you are so concerned about that, then it must be someone who is here at Hogwarts for me to ignore. And you’ve been subtly nudging me and Ron toward each other even before Ginny and Luna started. It is Ron, isn’t it?”

Harry sighed. “Yes, and if you screw it up, you’ll prove that old saw about people who are book-smart and common sense deficient. I will personally kick your arse if you hurt him.”

Hermione’s eyes widened at his vehemence, and then she looked down. “This is all speculative anyway,” she said, “aside from a desire to show up his brothers, I don’t even know if he likes me or not.”

Harry grunted. This conversation was heading downhill in a hurry. “Yeah, right.  I’ll just point out that he did agree to take Arithmancy and Ancient Runes with us, after I told him you were badgering him because you wanted to study with him.”

Hermione’s face flushed. “I didn’t! Not for that! I mean not only for that! Harry, how could you?”

“He said yes, didn’t he?” Harry asked, smirking.

Hermione looked down at her parchment for several long moments. When she looked up again, her expression was merely cautious and no longer flustered. “Did we have a big wedding?” she asked in a small, wistful voice.

“Er, actually you didn’t have much of a wedding,” Harry said. “Things were chaotic, the Ministry was in chaos, there really wasn’t time, with the war and all,” he added quickly.

Hermione’s face still bore a shocked expression. “I’m surprised my parents didn’t object, war or no war.”

Harry blew out a deep breath. “Their neighbourhood was caught in a purge in ’99… they didn’t make it,” he said in a low voice. “Look,” he added quickly when he saw her stricken expression, “I did bear witness when you two exchanged vows in a burned out Muggle church. They were magically binding, even. Left spots in front of my eyes for nearly a fortnight.”

Hermione was blinking rapidly. “What were the words we used?”

“They were pretty long,” Harry said with a shrug. “Tell you what, if the time comes and you are desperate for inspiration, I’ll get a Pensieve and we’ll go dredging for that memory. All right?”

Hermione nodded, her eyes still a bit bright. She looked down at her heavily-annotated parchment. “I’ll get started on a general timeline we can use to compare with ours.”

Harry nodded. “That sounds like a good idea. You and Ron were pretty good at working out strategies, so you may want to get him involved when you get a better idea of what we want to do next.”

She nodded and began gathering up her things.

“Er, weren’t we supposed to revise a bit?” Harry asked lightly.

Hermione went very still for a moment. “Harry, surely you don’t need to,” she protested.

Harry shrugged. “We need to spend enough time here that people won’t get suspicious,” he explained. “Could you at least list the topics that will be covered? This exam took place a long time ago for me.”

His friend smiled as she dug out her transfiguration notes.

OoOoO

Harry and Hermione left the Room of Requirement in plenty of time to go to dinner with everyone in the Great Hall. A few whispers followed them through the corridors, but it was hard to tell if they were muttering about Harry, who was awake after his coma, or Ginny, who had disappeared shortly before the entire school had been locked down.

Not that it really mattered. Harry sent pointed glares at the worst offenders and tried to ignore the rest. Ron also looked particularly murderous, and the back of his neck was bright red. From what Hermione had told him, his friend got detention while Harry was unconscious in the hospital wing for decking a fourth year Slytherin student who’d picked a bad time to crow about the comatose Gryffindor.

Ginny didn’t act like she had a care in the world, and Harry envied her aplomb. Luna maintained an equally clueless façade. Maybe. Neville, on the other hand, seemed to be channelling his grandmother, and looked down his nose with extreme scorn at the students who did not meet his standards of acceptable behaviour.

One glance at his friend even jarred Ron out of his sour mood. As they sat down in their usual places, he whispered, “That’s bloody brilliant, Neville.”

The stocky boy shrugged. “Luna suggested it. She said if it intimidated me, it should work really well on others. It’s sort of fun, really, being on the other side of that.”

Harry also wondered if it would make such glares from Madam Longbottom a bit less effective on her grandson. He gave Luna a quick smile, but she didn’t seem to notice.

While they were waiting for the food to be served, Harry’s eyes were drawn toward the Slytherin table. Melissa Bulstrode wasn’t hard to recognize, and she seemed to be involved in an argument with a smaller boy who also had a prefect’s badge on his robes. The words were too quiet to hear, but from the boy’s posture and clenched fists, Harry didn’t doubt he’d have attacked Melissa if she wasn’t head and shoulders taller than he was.

The stalemate was broken when Professor Sinistra descended from the high table. Her face was set in a disapproving expression as she spoke to the two prefects. Abruptly she scowled and seemed to speak sharply. With a muted clatter, the emeralds in the Slytherin hourglass shifted to show they’d just lost ten house points.

The male prefect’s face purpled and he spat something angrily. Professor Sinistra spoke again and Slytherin lost another twenty points. The boy seemed on the verge of apoplexy when Professor Sinistra reached out and plucked the prefect badge from his robes.

“Never thought I’d see that,” Ron said in a low undertone. He was too shocked to openly gloat about the lost points, for which Harry was quietly grateful.

As Professor Sinistra returned to the high table, the air above the plates wavered and the students were suddenly distracted by the presence of their evening meal. Harry tried to relax and enjoy the first meal he’d eaten with his friends in a while, but it still felt a little odd not to have Snape glowering at them from the high table.

A nudge in his side jolted him out of his thoughts, and he looked over at Ginny, who was passing him the mashed potatoes. “I’m not getting lectured by Mum if I can help it, so we’ve only got a week to get you fattened up a bit,” she said primly.

Harry smiled at her and scooped some of the starchy mass onto his plate. He put that down and grabbed a platter loaded with steaks still smoking from being grilled. He slid one off onto Ginny’s plate before taking three for himself and passing the platter to Neville. Hermione nagged Ron, whose plate was already loaded with meat and jacket potatoes, into taking some of the vegetable medley.

He was healthy, his friends were alive, he’d told them his secrets and none of them cared. It was good to be alive, Harry reflected as he dug into his meal.

It was over an hour later that they returned to the Gryffindor tower. Harry was a little on edge, knowing Ron and Neville would want their turns as well. He wasn’t sure about Luna - which was nothing new.

After a single game of chess, which he of course lost since he was playing Ron, Harry yawned and said he was making an early night of it.

Ginny, who was still reading her charms textbook, smiled as Ron and Neville both said they were going to turn in as well.

Harry pondered his options as they ascended the stairs. Dean and Seamus usually stayed up fairly late on weekend nights, so they’d have a little time to talk, even if their dormitory wasn’t quite as secure as the Room of Requirement.

He decided to go through his usual evening routine, and was putting on his pyjamas before Ron spoke up.

“Did Hermione put you through the third degree?” Ron asked.

Harry straightened as he buttoned up the front of his shirt. “Yeah,” he said after a moment.

Ron stared at him. “You’re pretty calm about it. I figure she’d have worn you to a frazzle by now.”

Harry shrugged. “She has a right to know. So do you.”

Ron looked thoughtful as he sat down on his bed. “I can wait,” he said. “If you and Hermione know what’s coming, you’ll let us know when we need to. I also don’t have to worry about letting something slip.”

Harry stared at Ron, who fortunately didn’t notice.

“It’s a little like chess, innit?” Ron asked in a thoughtful voice. “When you are trying to anticipate your opponent’s moves, if you change one move in a sequence, they do something different, and it throws everything else off. You’ve been making a lot of changes, haven’t you?”

Harry nodded.

“Then it’s going to be ruddy complicated. We can talk about it later, back at The Burrow,” Ron said. “Er, V-Voldemort isn’t likely to attack before end of term, is he?”

“No Ron,” Harry said with a laugh. Then he turned toward Neville, who’d just finished brushing his teeth.

“I talked to Luna,” the round-faced boy said. “We both know it was pretty bad, but you told us almost the minute you knew you could. She said we should trust you, and I agree.”

Harry had to clear his throat before he could speak again. “Thanks mate.”

“It’s not like Hermione doesn’t trust you,” Ron said quickly. “She just can’t stand to not know something, and she may not be around much this summer if her parents take her on holiday.” Ron didn’t look particularly happy about that, but Harry decided not to mention it. “You know how she is about summer homework,” Ron added with a grin.

Harry shrugged. “It’s all right. She might be able to see a pattern in things that I can’t. She’s clever, and she’s bound to be more objective. I actually feel better with her fully in the know.”

Ron nodded as he swung his legs up on the bed and lay down. “She is a bit frightening when she sinks her teeth into something. Even Percy doesn’t get as focused as she does.” He smiled up at the canopy as he stretched out and folded his hands behind his head.

Harry blew out the candle as he climbed into his own bed. Neville followed suit and soon the room was lit only by the moonlight filtering through the window.

“Harry,” Ron asked after a moment.

“Yeah?”

“Am I wasting my time going out for Quidditch? Should I just focus on other things?” Ron didn’t succeed in keeping all of the tension out of his voice.

“Only if you don’t want to play Keeper after Oliver leaves,” Harry replied. He wondered if Ron could see his smile in the moonlit gloom.

“Was I any good?” Ron asked in a very small voice.

“After your first few games, they started singing songs about you,” Harry replied. Then he cleared his voice and softly began to sing:

Weasley is our King,
Weasley is our King,
He didn't let the Quaffle in,
Weasley is our King.

Weasley can save anything,
He never leaves a single ring,
That's why Gryffindors all sing:
Weasley is our King.”

“They sang that?” Ron asked in an awed voice, “about me?”

“They did,” Harry assured him. “When you were on your game you were bloody near impossible to score on. If things had turned out differently, you might have gone pro.”

“That’s brilliant,” Ron whispered.

“No, you were brilliant,” Harry corrected him.

Harry didn’t know it was possible to hear someone smiling.

OoOoO

The next morning, Harry resumed his interrupted training routine. While Madam Pomfrey’s salves had prevented atrophy of his major muscle groups, Harry had still spent a long time on his back. He was forcibly reminded of this during the morning run, which he finished lagging well behind his friends. When they sparred, his reactions all seemed a half-second slow, so he gave up in disgust and just worked on his katas until everyone was ready to go in.

At breakfast, a nondescript owl dropped a letter on Harry’s plate. Harry tossed it a bit of sausage and discreetly waved his wand over the parchment, something he usually did when he didn’t recognize the owl. Nothing seemed amiss, so he broke the seal and read the message within:

Some of my colleagues are taking certain personnel changes quite seriously and are seeking to address their grievances with someone they believe to be responsible. Other elements would rather make sure that a certain injured player does not become healthy enough to participate. Even if they have no prayer of winning the Cup, they’d rather take steps to insure you don’t. Watch your arse.

                                 -Your favourite prank victim

Harry frowned and slipped the folded parchment into his pocket.

“What is it?” Ginny asked him.

“Slytherin is gunning for me,” he said in a low voice.

“So what else is new?” Ron asked, scowling.

“Aside from avenging their former head of house, they are looking to make sure I don’t play against Ravenclaw,” Harry added dryly.

“Those bloody bastards!” Ron spat.

“Ron!” Hermione barked. “Language!”

“But this is Quidditch!” he protested.

“No,” his sister corrected, “this is Harry!

“Could we possibly keep it down to a dull roar?” Harry asked plaintively. Some of the Gryffindors were eyeing them curiously.

“Sorry,” all three of them muttered simultaneously, causing Neville to choke on his pumpkin juice. Harry snorted and shook his head.

After Neville wiped his mouth with his napkin, he frowned. “So what do we do about this?”

“We could talk to Professor McGonagall,” Hermione suggested.

“After we hex any Slytherins that look twice at Harry,” Ron growled.

“I’m not letting Harry out of my bloody sight,” Ginny grumbled.

“Might get a bit tricky in the loo,” Harry whispered, making her blush and laugh. His emotional rollercoaster was still on an upswing, and after all, it was only a threat against him, personally.

“You know, no one has ever caught a Crumple-Horned Snorkack before,” Luna said dreamily. “Father thinks it’s because they are far smarter than people like to believe. When they see an expedition show up, with their baits and their traps and their nets, they just vacate the area until it leaves.”

Ron and Hermione stared at the blond Gryffindor like she’d grown an extra head for the fun of it.

Neville, frowning as he scratched the side of his head, suddenly straightened up in his seat. “You mean instead of taking obvious precautions, we should be more subtle?”

“If you think the average Slytherin is as clever as a Crumple-Horned Snorkack, then I think we should,” Luna replied.

“So we bait the trap,” Harry said in a quiet voice, “and let them set up an ambush. Only the ambush gets sprung on them.”

“Bait?” Neville asked.

“Me,” Harry answered with a shrug.

“Absolutely not,” Ginny said firmly. “Not alone anyway.”

“She actually has a point,” Ron said thoughtfully, ignoring the glare from his sister. “We don’t usually leave you alone much, especially not since you were hurt. They’d smell a trap a mile away if you were wandering around by yourself. And the best time I could think of to set up an ambush is one of those times when we’re all together.”

“When no adults are around… After our morning exercises?” Hermione asked in a very quiet voice.

That conversation set the tone for the rest of the week. Harry rejoined his classes with nary a stumble, given that his missed assignments had been waived at the headmaster’s request. He was able to follow the final lessons of the term, sitting his examinations without much difficulty, and brazenly gave Hermione credit for telling him where they were in the textbooks. It wasn’t his fault if people assumed she’d done a lot more than that.

To make the bait a little sweeter, they stopped practicing spell work during their morning practices, and made sure their wands were concealed from casual observers until they were getting dressed for classes. Harry found the wand-holster he’d received for Christmas particularly useful.

At Ron’s suggestion, they also went a bit easier on the physical training. It rankled a bit, but Harry recognized his friend’s reasoning. It would be better, in the event of a confrontation, if their hands were steady and their breathing was not laboured.

Of course, Harry still pushed himself a bit. He still had to convince Madam Pomfrey that he’d be fit to fly for the match. It would be a rather painful sort of irony if his preparation to avoid being knocked out of competing resulted in him not being able to play anyway.

That thought made him wonder if the note had been a bluff, possibly sent by someone else, but quickly dismissed the thought. There were details included that only he and Melissa knew. Given her venomous hatred of Marcus Flint, Harry also doubted she would do anything to help her housemates, quidditch-wise.

By Thursday morning though, Harry was starting to wonder. Had he misinterpreted the note? Did the Slytherins have an attack of good sense? Had they accidentally tipped their hand? Those thoughts were unwelcome companions as they ran along the lakeshore. It was almost a relief as they returned to the castle and several figures in hooded cloaks stepped out of the early-morning shadows of the courtyard. A muted boom echoed from the depths of the castle and Harry had little doubt that Argus Filch would be rather distracted for the next few minutes.

“We know what you did, Potter,” one of the figures said, its voice rasping and echoing hollowly. Harry was surprised for a moment, but then realized that it was a charm – the Slytherins didn’t want their voices being recognized. It was a relief, in an odd way: they obviously weren’t intending to kill them all in cold blood if they were worried about witnesses.

“What I did isn’t as important as what I’m about to do,” Harry snarled and suddenly Harry’s wand was in his hand. ”Protego Maximus!” he yelled as the first curses arced toward them. The shimmering wall appeared before them, and the Slytherin spells began to ricochet back into the courtyard at crazy angles.

Harry easily held the shield as his friends quietly pulled out their wands. He kept a close eye out for the Unforgivable curses or anything else he couldn’t block, but he didn’t think they’d resort to those. As it was, sparks and bouncing rays of light filled the dewy air and left faint scorch marks on the weathered stone.

“I count seven of them,” Ron said, blinking at a particularly bright flash of light as a curse dissipated against Harry’s shield charm. “Call your targets, counting from the left. I got one.”

“Four,” Hermione hissed, sighting down her wand at one of the smaller figures.

“Five,” Neville said.

“Seven,” Luna said, her voice showing no signs of distraction at the moment.

“Two and three are close together,” Ginny said in an uncharacteristically grim voice, “I’ll see if I can get them both.”

“Then I’ll target on six after I drop the shield,” Harry agreed. “Remember to scatter when it drops.”

They nodded and touched their wands to each ear. Harry copied their gesture with a grin.

Harry watched the volume of incoming fire, waiting for it to falter. Continuous spell casting required a lot of energy, especially if you were throwing curses and trying to batter down someone else’s shield. A moment later, the flashes of magic subsided. A couple of the cloaked figures were still casting, but most of them were moving to each side, trying to reach a position from where they could shoot around his barrier.

Harry dropped to one knee and raised his wand, letting the barrier dissipate almost immediately. He saw his friends scatter soundlessly, firing spells he couldn’t hear. Then he brought his wand back down in a slashing motion toward target number six and shouted “Concussus!”

A sphere of air seemed to shimmer in the middle of the courtyard, contracting sharply and then exploding outward. A visible ripple in the air reached them and his skull rang with the sound of an explosion – the only thing he’d heard, aside from his own voice, since charming his ears to block out all sounds.

The cloaked figure near the epicentre of the detonation was picked up and flung bodily into the air. The others, many of whom were stunned, bound in ropes, petrified, or being attacked by animated mucus, were also knocked to the ground. A final volley of stunners from the Gryffindor students put most of them out of their misery.

Harry tapped his ears to restore his hearing, just in time to hear Hermione say something under her breath that was highly out of character. He looked at her in confusion, but then followed the direction in which she was pointing.

Several of the windows facing onto the entrance yard now had significant cracks, and a few were completely missing panes of glass.

“Bugger,” was all Harry could say as the front doors opened.

 OoOoO

As they all stood in the Headmaster’s office for the second time in less than a week, Harry was trying to figure out if the old man was more amused than angry about the damage to the school. His friends were a lot easier to read; they were petrified. As soon as Harry explained that he’d cast the spell that created that thunderous detonation, the attention was focused primarily on him.

“I got the idea from a muggle device I saw on the telly,” he explained. “It’s called a Flash-Bang, basically a small bomb that just makes a very bright flash and a very loud sound. They use it to disable people without killing them, sir.” The American War-mages had not been averse to using Muggle technology to gain an advantage in a fight.

“So you took a regular noisemaking spell and…?” The headmaster asked, his eyes twinkling again.

Harry shrugged. “I cast it a lot harder than what it takes for a simple noise-maker, so that stepped up the output a bit.”

“A bit,” Professor McGonagall said in a very chill voice. “Enough to shatter twenty-three panes of glass and damage a dozen more.”

Harry scowled. “We were defending ourselves from an unprovoked attack.”

“That is what you say, Mr. Potter,” Professor Sinistra replied calmly. “We will see what my students say when they are released from the Hospital Wing.”

Harry nodded politely. “I understand that you have to be their advocate in these circumstances, but it might be interesting to ask them why they were up at that hour wearing hooded cloaks and using voice-altering charms.”

“I will,” the dark-haired woman responded, “as soon as Madam Pomfrey has regrown their eardrums and they can hear the question.”

“Which brings us back to my point, Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall continued. “Don’t you think your response to this situation might have been a bit extreme? Seven students are in the Hospital Wing.”

Harry stared his head of house directly in the eye. “No Ma’am, I do not. From our work in the Duelling Association, I’ve become fairly adept at recognizing various spells on sight. I blocked at least two cutting charms, and perhaps as many as five. It was a little hard to see with all the flashes at one point. In any event, as we both know that particular spell can be lethal, depending on where it strikes, which is why we don’t allow it for practice duels.”

“You are quite certain of this, Harry?” Professor Dumbledore asked.

Harry nodded. “I got a warning that some of the Slytherin students were determined to make sure I was too injured to play Quidditch this weekend. Stunners won’t do that, but gross bodily harm will.”

Professor McGonagall went very still and then her facial expression became truly frightening. The Astronomy professor began minutely examining her fingernails.

The headmaster’s face, however, settled into lines of disapproval. “Harry, you should have come to me or Minerva as soon as you received this warning.”

“I’m sorry sir,” Harry replied, “but that would have put my Slytherin source at risk. This person warned me at a potential risk to themselves. If you had taken steps before the actual event, it would possibly have exposed them. I am not willing to gamble with the safety of an ally.”

“Instead,” Professor McGonagall observed, “you decided to risk the lives of six students instead.”

Harry shrugged. “I wanted to spring the ambush myself, but…”

“But we wouldn’t let him do it alone,” Ron said quickly, and then ducked his head back down.

“I’d have preferred for them to stay out of it,” Harry said ruefully, “but I have enough people wanting to send me to Madam Pomfrey as it is. Tactically, when an ambush is reversed, the initiative belongs to the side that was being ambushed. The enemy was not able to pierce my shielding charm, and when they moved to flank us, we counterattacked and defeated them. I wonder if we can write this up for extra credit in Defence Against the Dark Arts?”

Professor McGonagall, who was a bit annoyed at having to supervise Lockhart’s classes after Madam Pomfrey was unable to restore his mind, shook her head.

“Be that as it may, Harry, I would rather you brought these things to me, or your head of house,” Professor Dumbledore said in an even voice.

Harry sighed. “I understand. But you know what I have to do; the sooner we grow accustomed to dealing with things ourselves, the better for everyone.”

“I’m truly sorry you feel that way, Harry. But pending the results of an inquiry with the injured students, I must place you on restriction and bar you from playing Quidditch this weekend. Justice is not something to be lightly taken into your own hands,” Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling even less than usual, “It pains me to do this, but the safety of all of my students must be my highest priority.”

Harry stood rigidly, ignoring the outraged expressions on his friends’ faces. “I understand, sir. Completely. The message you are trying to send is quite clear.”

“I hope that you do understand, Harry. Please report to Mr. Filch. When the glass has been cleared away and the windows repaired, you may return to class. I believe your next exam is not until this afternoon, so you should have sufficient time to prepare. Harry, please try to think about what I’ve said today.” Dumbledore sat back in his chair and turned toward Professor McGonagall.

Harry didn’t need to be told he was dismissed. He ignored the professors’ voices behind him as he marched toward the door. It flew open as he reached for the doorknob, but he was too angry to think about that at the moment.

OoOoO

As soon as the door shut behind the students, Minerva McGonagall spun toward the headmaster. “Albus, have you completely lost your mind?” she hissed.

“Lemon Sherbet?” he asked her in an irritatingly mild voice.

“My students defend themselves from an unprovoked attack, so you decide to punish them, alienating some of the best students in their year, and you think offering me a Muggle sweet will shut me up?” she demanded, her accent becoming thicker as her voice became louder.

“Professor,” Dumbledore said with a sigh, “the Slytherin dormitories are filled with some very unsettled children at this moment. With the departure of Professor Snape, many of them feel they have no advocates left on the staff. I have received several owls from the parents of Slytherin students, stating that they are considering withdrawing their children from Hogwarts.”

“And good riddance to them, if they are leaving because that man is gone!” she countered. “His gross favouritism toward his students was a professional embarrassment to the rest of us.”

“I must admit,” Professor Sinistra added cautiously, “that while many of the students are upset, I have also noticed that many of them have… unusual… expectations regarding my policies as temporary head of house.”

“If these students see seven of their housemates put in the hospital wing, and the one who did it receives no punishment, I fear that will be all it takes to drive them away. Many of them come from families with unsavoury reputations. Hogwarts may represent their last chance to choose a different path.”

“And to save them from their own choices, you’ll treat other students unfairly.” McGonagall replied. “I wonder how many will see how you punish them and act accordingly. If Mr. Potter’s informant was to be believed, the sole aim of this attack was to prevent him from playing this weekend. Congratulations, Albus, you have succeeded where they failed.”

“Harry is far too.,.” Dumbledore began, but paused before continuing. “Far too dangerous to be allowed to take matters into his own hands. Those students could have been killed this morning.”

“All the better reason to punish those who started it,” she observed primly. ”Besides, what could you have done if he had reported it to you beforehand?”

“We could have taken steps to ensure this battle never started,” he answered.

“That is exactly why he didn’t tell you, Albus! Mr. Potter as much as said he was afraid his informant would have been harmed if it was obvious he’d received a warning.”

“I think you both exaggerate the danger,” the headmaster replied sternly. “A student won’t be murdered for carrying tales.”

“Mr. Potter has far less confidence in the safety to be found within Hogwarts, and with good reason! In two years he’s encountered V-Voldemort, a basilisk, and three different professors who assaulted him or were party to an assault. Beyond that, there’s at least one student roaming at large who robbed him and nearly killed him! And now you have told him that if he defends himself, he will be punished.  Albus, the wise ruler punishes vice and rewards virtue.  You have turned that rule on its ear,” Minerva said bitterly. 

McGonagall rarely gave in to her temper, but this was too much – and she had several sore points where Harry Potter was concerned, one of them over a decade old.

“Might I remind you, Albus, that it was you who entrusted him to his Muggle relatives, over my severe reservations, and notwithstanding Hagrid’s report about their incompetence as guardians, you returned him to them last summer, where they nearly murdered him themselves. With all of that history, you expect that he would come to you?  To trust you?  To believe that you can do anything at all to protect him?  My goodness, I’ll be amazed if his name isn’t at the top of the list of students withdrawing over the summer.”

Albus Dumbledore sat back in his chair, wincing visibly at the deputy-headmistress’ words. “You’ve made your point,” he said after a moment. “I will be questioning the other students after they have recovered, and will make my final decision at that point.”

“I would not wait too long,” McGonagall warned. “I wouldn’t advise taking any students for granted in this situation.”

“Rest assured,” Dumbledore replied, “I do not take Harry Potter for granted in any way. He is a bit of an enigma in some ways.”

The conversation’s sudden change in direction left McGonagall a little confused. “In what way?” she asked warily.

“He reminds me of another student, one who graduated before you returned to Hogwarts,” he said quietly. “That one also had a group of followers who were intensely devoted to him.”

Minerva’s eyes narrowed as she recalled their conversation regarding the original owner of the cursed diary. “Albus you are wrong; Harry Potter is nothing at all like Tom Riddle!” She exclaimed.

“You think not?”

“No. I’ve watched how he acts around them,” she answered. “During one of the Duelling Association meetings Miss Weasley tripped while dodging a stinging hex and hit her head as she fell. Mr. Potter went absolutely white, even though she was only disoriented for a moment. He was about to cancel the rest of the meeting when she insisted she was all right and I volunteered to accompany her to the hospital wing for a headache potion. Even then, given the promptness with which he and the others arrived to check up on her, it was obvious he’d cut the meeting short.”

“So you are saying that he is as devoted to his friends as they are to him?” Professor Dumbledore asked. For some reason, his eyes were sparkling even brighter now.

“I should think that would be obvious,” she replied with just a touch of asperity in her voice.

The headmaster was silent for a moment. “You have given me quite a lot to think about, Minerva. I will speak with the Slytherin students and advise you as to the results.”

Professor McGonagall stood to leave, giving an apologetic nod to Professor Sinistra, who seemed relieved that the confrontation was over, at least for now.

OoOoO

“I can’t believe you are taking this so calmly,” Ron said as he swept up the last of the glass shards.

“He expected me to explode,” Harry said with a sigh. “I’m not going to give the barmy old bastard the satisfaction of being right.”

“Harry, you shouldn’t call him…” Hermione began, but her voice trailed off. “Well, don’t do it somewhere you can get caught,” she said instead.

Harry frowned as he tapped his wand against one of the shards of glass still remaining in the frame. “Reparo!” he said as a now unbroken pane of glass filled the space. Technically, he was supposed to do the entire cleanup himself, but pretty much everyone shouted him down when he suggested it. Neville, Luna, and Ginny were on the ground floor at the moment. Ron recommended against splitting into more than two groups, and Harry agreed with his reasoning. With all the extra help, he was nearly done.

“McGonagall looked ready to breathe fire as we were leaving,” the red-headed boy observed as Hermione vanished another small pile of broken glass.

“I’m not surprised,” Harry said as he restored another pane. “The Slytherin Quidditch Team decided to make sure Gryffindor lost its Seeker for the last game of the season, and, with the Headmaster’s help, they succeeded.”

He scowled. He’d been hoping to discover some of the unknown Junior Death Eaters, perhaps even the one that had petrified him. Instead, they’d defeated Pansy Parkinson, Marcus Flint, and his merry little band of Quidditch Hooligans. All of them had obvious reasons to go after him, and not an ounce of subtlety between them.

“You make it sound like he’s personally out to get you,” Hermione said.

“That’s the way it worked out, wasn’t it?” Harry observed. “Actions are what matter, not intentions.” He paused and looked around. “Remember, even without Snape,” he continued in a low voice, “he’s the other reason you all needed to learn Occlumency.”

“Harry, he’s still Albus Dumbledore,” Hermione insisted in a whisper.

“You’re right. He’s one and one - he got rid of Grindelwald, and then dropped the Quaffle with Voldemort,” Harry spat bitterly.

“Is that why you are so angry with him?” she asked. Ron looked very uncomfortable, and Harry was reminded of how his parents were at odds with the Headmaster; because of Harry. He owed them an explanation, at least.

“Before the first war, he had suspicions about Voldemort all along, but didn’t act on them until it was too late. Even aside from that, Voldemort didn’t destroy the British wizarding world by himself,” Harry said in a low tone. “His Death Eaters actually did nearly as much damage, because there were so many more of them. After Voldemort went poof when I was a baby, his followers all claimed they’d been coerced or enchanted. They paid huge bribes to the Ministry and were pardoned. When their Dark Lord returned in my fourth year, the core of his new army was waiting for him. Dumbledore watched them lie and buy their way out of Azkaban; he just let them do it.”

“Harry,” Hermione objected, “if the courts are corrupt, then what could he do?”

“He’s the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, keeping the Ministry and the courts honest is supposed to be part of his job. And if the guilty evade justice, well then there are other ways to see that it is served.”

“You can’t just kill people because you think they are guilty,” she insisted.

“Even if they are murders a dozen times over? Even if they’ve raped and killed so many people  that they’ve lost count? Oh wait, most of them were Muggles, so they don’t really count, do they?” Harry asked in a sarcastic tone. He felt a stab of guilt as Hermione blanched. “To be honest, if I knew a foolproof way to do it and get away with it, I’d kill every single man who Apparated into that graveyard in Little Hangleton that night. They all claimed to be victims, but the instant they felt their Dark Marks burn, they were scrambling to get there to welcome their master back into the land of the living.”

“Harry’s right,” Ginny said, startling him. “But if he doesn’t calm down, he’s going to have to fix that window again.” Neville and Luna were staring at him, but Harry thought he saw Neville give a small nod.

Harry looked at the window he’d just finished working on. The panes were all vibrating in their frames and he realized his magic was threatening to do something uncontrolled. He took a deep breath and blew it out. The rattling died down as his temper got back under control. “Sorry,” he said quietly, crossing his arms and gripping his elbows tightly.

“You do have a right to be angry,” Ginny said quietly as she laid her hand on his forearm. “The Headmaster wasn’t being at all fair. I don’t understand why he’s bending over backwards to help the people who seem to deserve it the least.”

Harry cocked his head at her while he shrugged. “He has one serious flaw; he wants to try and coax them back to the light. It’s a laudable goal, but I think he takes it to extremes.”

“Like punishing us for being attacked,” Neville said with a scowl.

“He did say it was his preliminary decision,” Hermione reminded them, “he may change his mind after talking to the Slytherins.”

“Fat chance of that,” Harry muttered under his breath.

OoOoO

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore was approaching a century and a half of life, but seldom did he feel as old as he did at that moment. It wasn’t a physical weariness per se, as much as a spiritual one that caused his steps to slow as he quietly slipped out of the hospital wing.

He’d waited until Friday afternoon to speak with the Slytherin students. Given that Madam Pomfrey assured him the worst of their wounds would be repaired in less than twenty four hours, it gave them plenty of time to recover and not feel like they were badgered.

Unfortunately, it seemed like it had also given them time to agree on a story. While Madam Pomfrey stated that their eardrums had fully re-grown the day before, they all claimed not to hear anything, and complained of severe pain. Their ‘injuries’ didn’t prevent them from giving a written description of their side of the story.

Mr. Flint claimed that they were trying to implement a conditioning program to improve the fitness of their players, including Ms. Parkinson who was considering trying out for Seeker next year. As they were leaving the castle they were accosted by the Gryffindors and attacked with no reason. After attempting to defend themselves from the unprovoked savagery of the younger students, led by Harry Potter, they were disabled and heavy cloaks were placed over them before the teachers arrived, to make it appear as though they had been lying in wait.

Each account was detailed and well-written, disagreeing on no major points. In fact, they were far too polished to have been produced except through collusion. When he tried to question them about the details, like why Ms. Parkinson’s cloak was under the ropes that bound her, they indicated they were unable to hear him, and complained of blinding headaches. Checking their wands would merely confirm that they had been recently used to fire a wide variety of curses, something they already admitted to – having been ‘surprised’ by the violent Gryffindors.

The headmaster found their excuse for not answering his questions particularly frustrating. It wasn’t uncommon for students to milk an injury or illness to get out of exams, but another day’s delay in getting at the truth would be disastrous. He was sure that Professor Sinistra had told her temporary charges of the punishment levelled against Mr. Potter, to assure them that they could feel safe at Hogwarts. Unfortunately, it seemed that they realized that feigning deafness and severe pain for another day would accomplish what Harry claimed to be their goal. Aside from the injustice of such an event, he was worried about the repercussions such an outcome would have on his rocky relationship with the boy. Harry was the key to defeating Voldemort, but it seemed like everything he did to keep the boy safe backfired or alienated him even more. Minerva warned him that the boy might leave Hogwarts if he thought he wouldn’t be allowed to defend himself from attack. At first he thought it ludicrous that James and Lily’s son would abandon Hogwarts, but then he remembered the real bitterness he heard in the boy’s voice during that encounter just before his first Christmas at the school and began to wonder. Failing to uncover the truth in time was not something he could afford.

So it was with extreme reluctance that he began to probe the memories of Marcus Flint. The Quidditch Captain was the oldest of them, and seemed to be the leader. Legilimency was not something he enjoyed performing on students, and reserved it only for extreme situations. The Slytherin students’ refusal to cooperate, delaying to ensure Harry Potter was punished, probably unjustly, was forcing his hand.

The headmaster limited his initial probe to the seventh year student’s memories related to Harry Potter. Specifically, he wanted to see what his true intentions were toward the young Seeker. What he found repulsed him.

Dumbledore saw a dreamy image that he realized was the older boy’s fantasized objective. He saw Harry laid out in his exercise clothes, face down on the ground. Both of his arms had been broken, with jagged shards of bone sticking out, and judging from the bloody divots taken out of the backs of his ankles, both of his Achilles tendons had been severed. It took a significant effort to not let any of his disgust show on his face.

Where had the boy learned such viciousness? Almost automatically, he began tracing the linkages to that image and saw other, related images. These, unfortunately, were far more detailed. In the first sequence, he saw the boy and his father on holiday, travelling in the dead of night and waylaying an unsuspecting family of Muggles. After immobilizing their captives, the father and son did… unspeakable things to them, finally killing them an hour before dawn and setting a fire to conceal their crime.

It took an incredible effort to turn away from the boy without showing any more reaction than a slight frown. There was no way he could present his knowledge to the Ministry, not in any way that would be accepted in court. But he would advise certain people he knew to keep a close eye on Mr. Flint, Sr.

Hoping to find an exception, he directed his attention to Ms. Parkinson. The second year girl couldn’t possibly be as hardened as young Mr. Flint. When he looked into her memories for what she hoped to accomplish the previous morning, he only received a vague impression of Harry lying on the ground, which almost aligned with their story about defending themselves from him. However, crowding this aside was a gleeful image of Ms. Granger and Ms. Weasley, their faces disfigured by jagged scars. The emotion driving these images was a desire to get even with Harry for Draco’s expulsion.

With a wrench, Professor Dumbledore pulled his eyes away from the Slytherin girl and withdrew his awareness from her mind. He thanked Madam Pomfrey for her efforts and asked her to inform him the moment her patients could answer his questions. He didn’t miss the small smiles the younger Slytherins attempted to conceal at his words. He had no doubts now that all of them were faking.

It was painful for him to admit, as he made his way to Professor McGonagall’s classroom, but he wasn’t sure he could save any of those benighted souls. They had behaved just as Harry described, seeking to maim a fellow student to assuage their wounded pride. Now that he knew the truth, he needed to mend his bridges where he could.

He’d spent more time in the hospital wing than he realized, because it appeared that the second years’ transfiguration final examination was over. Mr. Weasley, Mr. Longbottom, and Ms. Granger were waiting in the hallway outside the classroom door. They eyed him coolly as he approached, and while he supposed he did not deserve a friendly welcome, it was still uncomfortable to be so regarded by children that young.

“Harry is talking to Professor McGonagall about the DA,” Ms. Granger volunteered after a moment.

“Then I think I will interrupt them for a bit,” he said with a small smile, “for what I have to say needs to be heard by both of them.”

With that he opened the door and entered the room, watching both occupants look up at him as he entered.

Minerva’s eyes narrowed slightly, and her lips compressed into an even thinner line. She was still angry about the previous day, and he supposed she had the right to be. She was a true Gryffindor, and his preliminary decision had gone against the grain. It was Harry’s reaction that was more unsettling. The boy’s eyes flashed toward him as he stepped through the doorway, but then they went completely blank. They were watchful, but gave no hint of his emotions. Dumbledore didn’t need his Legilimency to guess that the boy’s natural Occlumency barriers were as smooth and hard as polished obsidian. With an uneasy epiphany, he realized that the boy regarded him as a threat, a potential opponent. How had things degenerated to this point?

“Harry,” he said gravely. “I wish to speak to you and your head of house, if I am not interrupting.”

Harry glanced over at Professor McGonagall, who nodded, a slight smile on her face. While steadfast and loyal as any Hufflepuff, Dumbledore also knew that Minerva derived an unusual degree of satisfaction from telling him “I told you so!” He sighed. In this case, she was more than justified.

Harry turned back toward him “We are at your disposal, Professor,” he said formally.

“I have attempted to speak with the injured students. However, they claim to be unable to hear,” Dumbledore began. Ignoring the raised eyebrow from Professor McGonagall, he continued. “In light of… other information, I have decided to rescind your restricted status. You are free to play tomorrow, provided, of course, that Madam Pomfrey agrees.”

“She cleared me this morning,” Harry said thoughtfully. His eyes narrowed. “You saw something in their heads that you didn’t like.” It wasn’t really spoken as a question.

“I believe the situation was as you described, Harry,” he agreed with a slight nod. “In light of their… prolonged… disability, I’m afraid Madam Pomfrey will need to keep them in the hospital wing for further tests to ensure that there are no permanent hearing losses. Between that and making up the examinations they missed, I am afraid they will not be able to accompany their classmates on the Hogwarts Express at the end of the term.”

Harry let out a long exhalation. “That might also prevent any unpleasant confrontations on the way home. Thank you, Professor.”

Dumbledore smiled at a boy he wished he’d been able to get closer to. There were so many demands on his time, and the term seemed to pass so quickly… but those were just excuses. Harry was still a mystery in many ways, but hints from Minerva and others suggested that he did have a good heart. He could only hope to do better in the future.

OoOoO

The morning of the final Quidditch match of the season dawned bright and clear. Oliver had them up and moving quite early and Harry suspended the normal morning exercises. He also didn’t want to slip and get a black eye or a bloody nose a few hours before the match started. He didn’t put Madam Pomfrey above retracting her approval if she thought he was being reckless with his recovery.

This loud, happy, and vigorous Oliver was a pleasant contrast to the way he’d been Thursday evening. With the news of Harry’s suspension from playing, the older boy visibly sagged in his chair. Harry suggested Ginny could borrow his broom and take his place, but Oliver morosely waved that idea away. With Ginny also involved in the morning’s altercation, he doubted she’d be allowed to substitute.

Likewise, when told of Dumbledore’s final decision, Harry was afraid his captain might kiss him in front of the whole of Gryffindor House.

Harry escaped that fate, but the next morning found himself trapped between his own desire not to eat much before a match and Ginny’s determination that he put on some weight before holiday. They compromised on tea and toast with some bacon, and a promise to eat a hearty lunch after the match.

Ron, Ginny, and Neville, as members of the reserve squad, also suited up and joined the regular team as they marched out to the pitch. All four of them waved to Hermione and Luna in the stands, both of whom were openly carrying their wands – though Luna’s was stuck behind her ear, rather like a Muggle pencil.

It was a bit odd, Harry reflected as the Ravenclaws filed onto the pitch, being in a completely friendly match. The Slytherin section of the stands was almost empty. He’d come to know Cedric and Cho better during the DA meetings. Without his crush, it was surprisingly easy to become friends with them both. He didn’t know the other Ravenclaw players, but Seekers competed primarily against each other, aside from the occasional Bludger.

Still, Cho beat Cedric to the Snitch while Harry was in detention, giving Ravenclaw a close victory over Hufflepuff, despite what Ron described as a brilliant performance by the ‘puff Chasers. That meant that the championship was still up in the air if Ravenclaw won today. Harry really wanted to nail down a Gryffindor championship for this year as well. He remembered Oliver’s disappointment his first two years playing. Harry shook his head and forced his thoughts back to the here and now.

Cho grinned at him as Madam Hooch made the captains shake hands, and Harry smiled back. It was a great day to be flying, final examinations were over, Professor Dumbledore seemed to be catching on, and he felt better than he could ever remember. He glanced over at the sidelines and caught Ginny’s eye. He winked, making her blush as she smiled back. At that point Harry wasn’t convinced he needed a broom to fly.

When the whistle blew, he kicked off and shot into the air like a rocket. Cho followed him in a vertical climb that levelled out more than five hundred feet above the pitch.

As he circled above the now-tiny stands, Harry called out “Are you stalking me. Ms. Chang?” to his counterpart.

Cho gave him a jaunty wave. “No free shots at the Snitch on my watch, Harry.”

“If you’re going to mark me,” Harry said with a smirk, “you’re going to have to play follow the leader.” With that, he tipped his broom forward into a steep dive. He didn’t have to look back to know that Cho was hot on his heels.

With half his attention on scanning for the Snitch, Harry dove through the melee of Chasers and Beaters. He avoided three separate mid-air collisions by making minute course corrections. At his speed, the smallest deviation quickly translated into a large displacement. The plummeting Seekers made two Ravenclaw Chasers bobble a pass and Angelina snagged the Quaffle, streaking toward the Ravenclaw hoops.

Harry levelled out barely six feet above the pitch, the air screaming in his ears drowning out the cheers from the stands. He leaned closer over the broom and pushed it to go faster as he tore toward the Gryffindor hoops. For an instant he was clear of the other players, so he risked a quick glance back at his opponent.

Cho was still hanging on, eyes narrowed against the wind, and for once Harry was glad he wore glasses. He knew the Ravenclaw Seeker tended to mark him when they played – watching his reactions more than she looked for the Snitch itself. It was a strategy that normally worked quite well for her. She was a fast flyer and good at reading people. She regularly beat her opponents to the Snitch, including Cedric, much to his chagrin.

But Harry had shown he was fast as well, so she couldn’t afford to let him get too far away. She needed to be right on top of him if the Snitch appeared. Otherwise, if she was on the opposite side of Harry from the Snitch, the extra distance might be too much to make up.

Harry looped around the hoops and flew back onto the pitch. Cho stayed with him for the most part, though she took the turn a little wider. Most players didn’t like the feeling that they were about to get torn off their broom if their grip slipped for an instant.

Harry grinned as his eyes scanned the pitch. He was rewarded with a very faint flash of gold near the Ravenclaw end. He streaked toward midfield, then pulled up the shaft of his broom and made a big show of scanning the entire field. He’d read once that one’s peripheral vision was better for detecting motion, and he picked up a faint flicker again in the corner of his eye as he climbed slowly in a lazy spiral. When he was facing the Gryffindor goals, Harry’s eyes widened and he mouthed “Bugger!” as he slammed the nose of his broom forward.

Cho hauled her broom into a tight turn and took off like a shot for the Gryffindor hoops.

Likewise, Harry spun and rocketed toward the Ravenclaw hoops, eyes narrowed as he sought the flash of gold he’d seen earlier. The confused shouts from the stands indicated that he’d faked out more than just Cho. He didn’t take his eyes off the last place he’d seen the Snitch, but Harry wondered if she’d caught on yet. He smiled as another flash of gold wove between the posts: the Snitch.

Lips widened in a predatory grin, Harry veered toward the winged ball he saw shooting away from the Ravenclaw goals. His attention was so focused that he almost missed Angelina screaming at him. He looked up from his goal and saw a Bludger heading directly toward his face. He was too low to dive and it was already too close to dodge. His left hand seemed to rise in slow motion as the iron ball approached his skull. Madam Pomfrey was going to have a fit.

With a resounding clang, the other Bludger slammed into its counterpart, and the two sprang apart in a shower of sparks. Harry tore through the curtain of glowing motes, scattering them in his wake, and his fingers closed around the Snitch an instant later.

Harry slewed his broom into a wide and sloppy skid, pumping the fist with the Snitch in it up and down, as Madam Hooch blew her whistle, making it official. Fred and George were above him, Fred a lot farther back, both of them looking a little shaky. Angelina and Alicia were closing in on the twins, shrieking at the tops of their lungs. Kissing someone riding a separate broomstick is a tricky proposition at best, but the Gryffindor Chasers proved up to the task.

It took a while before Oliver got everyone back on the ground for the presentation of the Quidditch Cup to Professor McGonagall. For once, Fred and George weren’t acting up. Oliver waved the reserves onto the field, and Harry was glad the captain acknowledged the hard work they’d put in during practice. His thoughts were interrupted by the steely glare Ginny gave him as she marched out onto the field. Harry shrugged and gave her an apologetic smile, and she thawed a little as she lined up next to him.

Harry saw Cho standing with her team-mates, looking a bit pale. He caught her eye and she smiled ruefully, shaking her head. The stands erupted in applause as Professor Dumbledore handed the cup to Professor McGonagall.

They were back in the castle before Fred and George, the heroes of the hour, seemed to have snapped out of their daze. Harry caught the Snitch every time he played, but the Weasley twins had pulled off a one-in-a-thousand Bludger shot.

“I’m not exactly sure what I was thinking,” Fred said slowly as they marched up the stairs. “I had just stopped one Bludger when Baum sent the other right at your melon. When I realized you didn’t see it, I was out of position at mid-field.”

“I was closer,” George said, “but the angle was wrong. No way I could get it with me bat.”

“I could see that too,” Fred continued. “But I had this one Bludger handy, so I winged it at George.”

“You put it right in my sweet spot, brother,” George congratulated him. “As nice a set-up as I’ve ever seen.”

“Not as nice as that shot you made,” Fred disagreed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone block a Bludger with a Bludger before.”

“I think you were both bloody brilliant,” Ginny said with a sniff. “Just for that, I’m even going to forget about you two snooping in my room last summer.”

Fred and George stopped in mid-step.

Ron let out a low chuckle. “That’s quite a prize,” he said, “you don’t want to know what she and Harry had planned.”

Ginny hadn’t stopped moving, and Harry followed her. As he passed Ron and Neville, who had also resumed their climb, he heard Neville whisper to Ron, “What did they have planned?”

“Don’t know,” Ron whispered back without moving his lips, “but whatever it is it can’t be as bad as what they will imagine.”

Hermione bit her lip, but nonetheless looked slightly impressed.

“Sorry,” Harry murmured as he drew up alongside Ginny.

She glanced over at him and sighed. “Don’t be. You play Quidditch and you’re a Seeker – that’s just part of the game. It’s not your fault I get upset when you almost get k-killed.”

Harry reached out and took her hand, something he found easier and easier to do. “I’m sorry I didn’t pay better attention, and gave everyone a bad scare. It’s just… it was a friendly match, no one out to get me, and I was having a lot of fun. So I got a little stupid. I was so focused on faking Cho out and getting the Snitch that I lost my situational awareness.” They’d talked about that term, something he’d found in a Muggle psychology book, during their morning training sessions.

Ginny squeezed his hand. “Then it’s a good thing your team was there to pick up the slack, wasn’t it?”

Harry smiled ruefully at her, and she slowly returned his grin. He hadn’t anticipated that telling her everything she wanted to know would make her so serious, but he supposed it was inevitable. Harry’s anxieties about losing the people close to him seemed to have communicated themselves to Ginny to some extent. He knew better than to think she was just concerned about the Prophecy.

Well, she’d helped him a lot with his problems. It was time to return the favour.

OoOoO

The last two weeks of term consisted of waiting for exam results and (for the older students) finishing up independent study projects, sitting special certification exams, and presentations. Hermione took advantage of the uninterrupted time to practically camp out in the Hogwarts Library. She emerged only for meals and morning training the first week, until Harry, Ron and Neville bullied her into taking a break. Ginny took advantage of the initial distraction to nick her friend’s wand. Luna merely packed up Hermione’s bag as the protesting girl was nearly dragged outside.

“Is there a problem here?” Professor Flitwick asked as they rounded a corner.

Hermione, a little red-faced, opened her mouth to speak but stopped. No matter how angry she was, Harry knew she wouldn’t deliberately get them in trouble with a professor. He was scrambling for an explanation when Luna beat him to it.

“Our friend has been attacked by wrackspurts,” the blond-haired girl replied in a dreamy voice. “There seems to be an infestation of them in the library and Hermione opened the wrong book. Now her brains have gone all fuzzy and she just wants to spend all day in the library when she could be outside in the sun with her friends.”

The diminutive charms professor looked thoughtful as he stroked his tiny beard. “This sounds like a serious matter. Miss Granger, I would suggest avoiding the library until I have had time to deal with this infestation. You seem particularly susceptible to wrackspurts.”

Hermione stood, frozen in place as the professor bid them good day in his high, piping voice. Harry nudged her after a moment and she began walking on her own. “Fine,” she said in an aggrieved tone, “what do you want me to do?”

“I think you should hang out with your friends and get a little sun,” Harry said. “You’re as pale as Nearly Headless Nick, you know.”

“Oliver lent me the key to the broom shed,” Ron added, “I thought we all might practice a bit of flying and enjoy the weather.”

Ron’s tone was nonchalant, but Hermione wasn’t fooled for a second. Her face reddened until Harry gave her a very direct look. He knew she wasn’t very comfortable on a broom, and hadn’t really flown one since last summer at The Burrow. But he’d also told her how her lack of proficiency on a broom had nearly killed her in the future, and that negated most of her objections.

The June sunshine was bright enough to make one forget how far North Hogwarts was located. The breeze blowing across the lake was refreshing enough to stay cool. In other words, it was almost perfect flying weather.

Knowing how Hermione hated being reminded of anything she was bad at, Harry watched closely as Ron pulled her aside and gave her a quick refresher. He was surprisingly patient with her, or perhaps merely afraid of her temper. In any event, he managed to correct her balance and loosened the death-grip she maintained on the shaft. All without a single harsh word passing between the two of them.

Harry was trying to balance his broom on the twigs, using just his legs to balance, when Ginny slowly flew around him. “Am I seeing things,” she asked in a quiet, but clearly amused, voice.

“Not really,” Harry said as he twisted his hips to keep the Nimbus from side slipping, “he’s actually pretty patient… when he’s too distracted to remember to get flustered.”

“You’re slipping, Harry,” she said with a small laugh, “you almost made sense that time.”

“Give him a break, Weasley,” Harry replied with mock sternness, “she’s his first female friend who isn’t his sister, and Hermione is wired quite differently from you. That said, I’m surprised they’re getting along so well.”

Ginny smiled at him, and it was just a trifle smug. “Whatever you told her, it seems to have settled her down a bit.”

Harry frowned as he almost overcorrected his drift. “You think so?”

Ginny nodded as she wheeled her broom back on its twigs, copying him. Only she was doing it with considerably more grace, to his annoyance. “She’s more focused, less anxious about some things.”

“Like whether Ron likes her or just argues with her for the hell of it?” Harry asked.

“Something like that,” Ginny agreed. “You’re pretty perceptive,” she complimented him. “For a boy!” she added as she let her broom shaft snap forward and shot away from Harry before he could react.

Things degenerated rapidly after that, resulting in a free-wheeling game of aerial tag. Ron and Hermione even joined in toward the end, and Harry wasn’t sure Ron was playing around when Hermione’s free hand snagged the trailing edge of his robes.

Unfortunately, Luna didn’t seem to really understand the point of the game. Ginny tried to explain it several times, but Harry almost fell off his broom when her friend asked “What if I want Neville to catch me?”

Overall, a good afternoon was had by all. After that, Hermione didn’t require such extreme measures to persuade her to take a break from the books.

Of course, it wasn’t all flying in the sun. Harry persuaded Professor McGonagall to allow them to hold nightly DA meetings, culminating in a small single-elimination mini-tournament the last Friday of the term.

The duels were limited to non-damaging spells, of course, but Harry was still eager to see the matches. Even the first year students had practiced enough to master Expelliarmus, and most of them could do Stupefy as well. With the extra training, his friends should do well, but “the proof was in the pudding” as Mrs. Weasley like to say.

Ron gulped nervously as the slip of parchment with his name came out of the jar with Cedric Diggory’s.

“Keep it simple, Ron,” Harry whispered to his friend as he stood up.

Cedric, with his greater experience, had evidently been researching some spells for the tournament. As soon as McGonagall’s hand dropped, the Hufflepuff cast some complex-looking spell that caused random distortions in the air between him and Ron. Ron began casting quickly; alternating stunners and disarming spells, but the distortions seemed to throw off his aim and none of them even came close to Cedric. The Hufflepuff didn’t have the same problem, and his stunning spells forced Ron to duck and dodge to avoid being eliminated.

Harry saw Ron squeeze his eyes shut as he raised his wand, and looked away just his friend yelled “Lumos!”

The bright flash of light that burst from the end of Ron’s wand dazzled his opponent, along with most of the spectators. Ron wasted no time and charged toward his opponent.

Cedric waved his wand in Ron’s direction, blinking rapidly, but his stunner flew wide of the approaching Gryffindor. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath, and the slap of Ron’s trainers on the floor was the loudest sound in the room. The older student looked puzzled for a moment as Ron approached the distortion spell, but then he stepped back and a smug smile grew across his face.

Harry had to bite his tongue to avoid shouting a warning. Cedric wasn’t a true enemy. Whatever that spell would do when Ron passed through it wouldn’t be harmful, except to his pride.

But Ron had seen Cedric’s smile as well and he dropped to the floor and skidded across the smooth stone, inches beneath the distortion spell.

Blinking owlishly, the Hufflepuff turned toward the rustle of Ron’s robes as the Gryffindor cleared the distortion field. Ron quickly yelled “Stupefy!” and the jet of red light caught Cedric in the side, lifting him a few inches off his feet before he collapsed bonelessly to the floor. The slip of parchment with Ron’s name was dropped back into the jar and Cedric’s name was erased from the board as the Gryffindors applauded.

Neville had the bad luck to be paired up against Luna and very reluctantly squared off against the girl. He cast a few half-hearted Expelliarmus spells at Luna, who carelessly skipped aside from each one. Then she raised her wand and cast the same spell back, but with a peculiar hooking motion to her wand. The spell missed Neville by a wide margin but when it struck the chalkboard it rebounded with a peculiar cork-screw motion and struck Neville in the back.

The wand flew out of the startled boy’s hand and arced toward Luna, who carefully caught it. Neville walked back to his seat, his face red. He barely looked up when Luna handed him his wand. A few students were snickering about Neville’s reluctance to fight his friend, and Harry’s eyes narrowed as he took note of names and faces.

As luck would have it, Harry’s name came up next, along with Stephen Cornfoot, a second year Ravenclaw that joined the DA a couple of weeks after Cho. Stephen was one of those laughing at Neville’s expense, so Harry was feeling less than charitable.

The sandy-haired boy was fond of shield charms, Harry remembered, and could create a fairly powerful one for someone his age. In free-for-all duels, he preferred to let his foe exhaust himself against his defences, then strike when they were winded.

Sure enough, when McGonagall’s hand dropped and Harry’s wand came up, Stephen had already begun the wand motion for Protego. Harry let him complete the incantation, and then growled “Stupefy!” The jet of red light that extended from the end of Harry’s wand was a bit brighter than normal, as he put enough force behind the spell to overcome the strongest shield he’d ever seen Stephen cast. The barrier around the Ravenclaw fragmented and he slumped bonelessly to the ground.

Harry walked over to Stephen, Ennervated him, and offered the confused boy a hand up. “Need to work on that shield charm a bit,” Harry said nonchalantly, then sauntered back to his seat. His remark left several people, most of whom had fought the Ravenclaw before, chuckling. At least Neville was smiling now.

Luna’s name came out again a couple of duels later, this time paired against Cho Chang. Luna dodged in the boneless-appearing manner she’d acquired when learning ‘Drunken Style’ Kung Fu, flopping to one side or another avoiding Cho’s strikes, and at one point bending over backwards at the waist so sharply that several people winced.

After Cho’s stunner skimmed past her chest with inches to spare, Luna’s upper body sprang forward and she fired another disarming curse at Cho. This one hit the wall behind the Ravenclaw and rebounded toward her back, but Cho remembered the previous duel and dropped into a low crouch. Luna’s spell passed over the girl’s head and struck the blond-haired girl, costing Luna her wand along with the match. Harry had his suspicions though…

McGonagall called the next pair of names as soon as they left the floor. As Luna skipped back toward Harry and the rest, he saw her give Neville a smile and a shrug. “I think we both need some practice,” she said as she sat down. “I don’t have much planned this summer, do you?”

Neville smiled as he shook his head.

“Good, I think we need to practice sparring with each other,” she said. “I know you won’t hurt me, now we just need to convince you that you won’t hurt me.”

Neville let out a sigh and nodded.

“Good,” Luna said brightly, “I was hoping you weren’t going to be too much of a boy about it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ron asked warily.

“It means when you listen in on private conversations, you hear things you probably shouldn’t,” Ginny reminded her brother.

“How was that a private conversation?” Ron objected. “They’re both sitting right here!”

“Was she talking to you?” Hermione said primly.

“Er, no,” Ron said, clearly confused.

“Then it was a private conversation,” Ginny said firmly.

“Mate, I think you’re outnumbered,” Harry whispered with a grin.

“How can they-?” Ron started to ask, but subsided when McGonagall gave him a look.

The next duel pitted Hermione against an older Ravenclaw student who had enormous round glasses that made her eyes look huge. The girl wasn’t a particularly good duellist, but she seemed to have an encyclopaedic memory for spells, and she demonstrated this at every opportunity.

Oddly enough, Hermione appeared to be holding back, and stayed on the defensive, countering or dispelling those attacks she could, and side-stepping the rest. It took a couple minutes before Harry realized she was waiting to see what the older girl would come up with next.

He was about to say something when the Ravenclaw girl repeated an earlier attack and Hermione deflected it with a wave of her wand. She followed this with a lightning-quick Expelliarmus that caught the older girl off guard. Hermione caught the flying wand easily and stepped forward, politely handing it to her opponent. Rather than returning to her seat, the bushy-haired witch followed the Ravenclaw back to hers, sitting down next to her and conversing in quiet whispers.

“She’s absolutely mental,” Ron muttered, and Harry couldn’t completely disagree.

Ginny was the only name not picked yet by random draw, and Harry almost cringed when it came out paired with Cho Chang. He knew Ginny believed him, but he felt she still had some issues with the pretty Ravenclaw.

It didn’t help that the older girl was smiling indulgently at the red-haired witch. She had, it was true, defeated Luna, but Harry suspected Luna hadn’t really given that match her all.

Cho’s overconfidence disappeared after the first volley of spells, when Ginny bracketed her with a pair of stunners, missing her by a hair on each side. Ginny was just as fast and agile as the other girl, but her casting was faster and more accurate. What followed was almost like a choreographed dance as each of them attacked, dodged, and counterattacked. As fast as they were, defeat would likely come to whichever of them made the first mistake, but Harry thought the odds were in Ginny’s favour.

Sure enough, Cho lost her footing for an instant as she spun away from a stunner, and Ginny’s follow up caught her squarely in the stomach. The Ravenclaw crumpled to the floor.

Ginny was red-faced and breathing pretty hard when she enervated her opponent. She quickly walked back to her seat, ducking her head down as the Gryffindors applauded. Cho seemed a little disoriented as she walked out of the circle and sat back down next to Cedric, who patted her on the back.

The random draws continued. Harry and Ron eliminated Fred and George, though he wasn’t completely sure which one he’d faced. The twins accepted defeat with grace, but Harry didn’t doubt they’d come up with something especially creative over the summer.

Three duels later, Hermione was partnered with Ginny. In a contest like this, where spell options were limited and speed was everything, Harry knew his Muggle-born friend was at a significant disadvantage. Still, she held on longer than he expected, and he could tell by watching that Ginny wasn’t holding back either. He began thinking about ways they could work on speed and accuracy when Ron jostled his elbow.

“Wake up, Harry,” Ron murmured with a grin, “time to get your arse whipped.”

Harry looked up at the chalkboard with the elimination list. Three names were left: Him, Ron, and Ginny.

Harry suppressed a groan as he got up. Ron had sparred with him more than anyone else, and knew pretty much all of his moves.

The duel that followed was less of a battle and more a war of attrition. It was almost impossible for them to surprise each other, so it came down to who would tire first. Ron was a little bulkier than Harry, and his greater strength wouldn’t help here. On the other hand, three weeks ago Harry was reviving from a month-long coma, so he wasn’t really in top form. Harry’s greater magical reserves were of little use. Most of the spells that would leverage those reserves weren’t ones he could use here, and Ron wasn’t foolish enough to think he could hide behind a shield like Cornfoot. In fact, his friend relied solely on speed and agility to avoid Harry’s spells.

Harry did scratch out a win in the end, but it cost him. He’d dived awkwardly to the side to avoid one of Ron’s stunners. Instead of tucking and rolling to absorb the impact, he’d extended his arm and fired his own stunner back while he was in mid-air. The unexpected counterattack did catch Ron off guard, but it also meant that Harry landed hard, with all of his weight on his right shoulder. He bounced twice before skidding to a halt, all the wind knocked out of his lungs. For a moment he thought he’d dislocated it, but he was able to shift it slightly as Neville helped him sit up.

He wheezed for breath as he heard Hermione revive Ron. After a couple of minutes he stood up, being careful not to use his right arm very much.

“Mr. Potter,” McGonagall asked him as he made his way to his seat, “do you wish to forfeit the next match?”

Harry looked up at the board. He and Ginny were the last two names. He glanced over at the girl, but her face was unreadable. “No, Professor,” he said after a moment, “I will accept the duel.”

Harry tried to flex his right arm and winced. His wand motions would be too restricted. He switched his wand to his left hand and walked back into the centre of the circle. 

Ginny eyed him curiously as she made her way into the circle. He smiled at her and she grinned back. Win or lose, what was the point if they weren’t going to enjoy this?

Harry was slower and a little less accurate with his left hand, but the short breather had restored his wind and he was steady on his feet. Nonetheless, Ginny was all over him, and quickly forced him onto the defensive. As he dodged a stunner that just missed his left shoulder, he recalled that she’d been particularly focused during the morning training sessions. He was seeing the payoff now.

He dropped to one knee, letting a bolt of red light pass over his head and muttered “Incarcerous!” hoping to catch her legs. She leaped into the air, the spell passing harmlessly under her feet as her wand tracked downward…

Harry opened his eyes and looked up at Ginny. She bit her lower lip and Harry realized he was lying on the floor, and she’d just revived him. “Nice move, Gin-gin,” he said, extending his left hand. “Help me up?”

She reached down and helped him stand. Harry picked up his wand as most of the DA erupted in applause. He grabbed Ginny’s wrist and held up her wand hand and the applause became even louder, particularly from the Gryffindors.

Professor McGonagall presented Ginny with a small trophy made out of red and yellow marble, with crossed brass wands on top. With a wave of the transfiguration professor’s wand, the front was engraved with the following:

Winner, Hogwarts Duelling Association

1993 Spring Tournament

Ginevra Molly Weasley

OoOoO

The next day was Saturday, and the Hogwarts Express was coming to take them home for holiday. Of course, no one except Hermione was completely ready to go.

The scene inside the Gryffindor second year boy’s dormitory was utter chaos. Unclaimed clothes were scattered across the floor. Books were piled everywhere. And no one had remembered to set their alarm clock. Harry silently blessed Hermione for knocking on their door and waking them as he struggled with his trunk. The latch had been completely destroyed, but Hagrid had lent him a length of rope to tie around it to hold it shut for the journey home. He’d have to either get it repaired or buy a new one over the summer.

In the end, he and Ron just threw everything into their two trunks, not really caring which one they aimed for, since they’d be sharing a room at The Burrow anyway. He did make a point of slipping the Glock out of his trunk and concealing it under his robes. Harry rolled his shoulder when they were done, wincing. He was still sore from the fall he’d taken at the tournament, but he resisted the idea of seeing Madam Pomfrey. He’d rather be sore a little while than get lectured again.

Ron levitated their trunks down the stairs, saying he was going to enjoy doing magic as long as he could. Neville muscled his trunk through the doorway, and then pulled it up onto his shoulder with disturbing ease.

Hermione, Luna, and Ginny were waiting for them in the common room, most of the other students having gone down to the courtyard to board one of the carriages. Hermione and Luna were on their feet as soon as the boys arrived, but Ginny remained on the couch, holding something under her light cloak.

Luna took Neville by the elbow, while Hermione gave Ron a very direct look. The four of them left while Harry looked at Ginny, raising his eyebrows.

“T-this should be yours,” she said quickly, taking the DA trophy out from under her cloak. “It’s n-not fair. I only won because you were hurt.”

Harry shook his head. “You won because you were bloody effing brilliant,” he said with a smile. “I got hurt because I was too stupid to land right. Maybe it would have been luckier for me if you’d been the one to face Ron in the semi-finals instead of me, but luck is part of tournaments as well.”

Ginny shook her head. “Harry, I saw what you did in the courtyard. You could have brought the whole room down on me if you wanted to.”

Harry shrugged. “Maybe, but the rules wouldn’t allow it. Tournaments can be fun, but we know they aren’t meant to be a full-blown combat simulation. Even if we wanted to hold one, Professor McGonagall wouldn’t let us do something that dangerous with other students.” He smiled at her. “Part of the challenge is figuring out how to win within the rules. And you did.”

“You really aren’t mad?” Ginny asked.

Harry peered at her a little closer. Ginny looked down, but Harry noted the smudged circles under her eyes, indicative of a sleepless night. “Were you really worried I’d be mad about that?”

Ginny shrugged but didn’t otherwise answer.

“I’m glad, you know,” Harry said.

Ginny’s head came back up and she frowned, clearly puzzled.

Harry smiled again. He’d been doing that way too much lately. “Ginny, the better you are, the less likely you are to get hurt if there’s a cock-up.”

“You really mean that?” she asked in a small voice.

Harry suppressed the urge to frown, knowing it would be misinterpreted. Where was the confident girl he’d told all his problems to a couple of weeks ago? I suppose we all need reassurance at times, he mused as he put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed. “Really, Ginny. In fact, I’m looking forward to the look on your Mum’s face when she sees that trophy and realizes what it’s for.”

Ginny let out a laugh. “Merlin, Harry, you are awful.”

“You’re right,” Harry said. “And we’re going to miss the Express if we don’t hurry.”

OoOoO

Harry silently blessed Dumbledore as they settled into the compartment Ron and Hermione found. The Slytherins who’d attacked them had been confined to the hospital wing an additional week out of concern for the ‘delays’ they’d experienced in recovering their hearing. Then they were required to sit their remaining exams and wait for the results. Mysteriously, some of the professors involved had been particularly busy and weren’t able to immediately oblige them. Sadly, this meant that they were still waiting to complete their last finals when the Hogwarts Express took their classmates back to London.

Nonetheless, Harry didn’t take any chances. As soon as the train began moving, he put the strongest locking charm he could manage on the compartment door. Hermione pulled a book out of her bag and began reading while the rest of them settled down for an exploding snap marathon.

A year ago, Harry had dreaded this trip ending, knowing he’d be going back to the Dursleys. He’d had no idea that twelve months could make such a difference. This year, he was eager to be back at The Burrow with his new family. He wondered how soon he could tell the other Weasleys what was going on.

This year, the journey to King’s Cross was blessedly uneventful. Harry became increasingly edgy, like he was waiting for something that was overdue. It wasn’t until they were close to London that he realized Draco hadn’t shown up for his end-of-term hexing.

Harry laughed out loud.

A/N:

This marks the end of Year 2.

The next chapter begins the Harry Potter and the Dementors of Azkaban story arc.

Yes, I know that first and second year students don’t normally know stunning spells. That’s one thing that the DA training is covering, for obvious reasons.

Many thanks to my Betas: Runsamok and Kokopelli.

Previous Next