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Harry Potter and the Ankh of Khepri

by The Velvet Ghost (velvet9409 @yahoo.co.uk)

Rating: PG-13

Fandom: Harry Potter

Category: Action/Adventure, Humor

Spoilers: Though OotP, Set 7th Year.

Disclaimer: As always, I don't claim to own Harry Potter or any of the characters by JK Rowling, although some of the characters are my ideas (Jinx, the Galvez sisters) so ask my permission if you wanna use any of them.

Summary: A new Dark Arts mistress, mysterious attacks at night, lessons to kill, an Egyptian monster, and terrible dangers await Harry Potter in his seventh year. Sequel to "Harry Potter and the Phoenix's Flight."

Chapter One: Happy Birthday, Harry

The Defence Against The Dark Arts classroom was suddenly cold today, though with good reason, as Harry Potter found himself standing at the window, wand in hand, watching a small bird on a branch. Lupin stood behind him, hands on his shoulders, watching him with those concerned brown eyes.

It was quite a sensation to look at something and know that you were about to kill it. Especially when that something was so close, and so unaware. So unsuspecting that it was currently doing the last things it would ever do.

"Go on, Harry." Lupin's hand on his shoulder tightened. "You need to do this."

The little bird on the branch outside the window was tweeting happily. Warbling to the sun. Happy to be alive, maybe even planning what it would do tomorrow.

"Close your eyes, Harry, it might help."

Harry closed his eyes, and raised his wand, then murmured, "Avada kedavra."

There was a flash of painful green light, that seemed to absorb everything. Harry opened his eyes just in time to see the little bird tilt sideways and fall from the tree, unmistakably dead.

Everything blacked out suddenly, as fast as having a blanket pulled over the head, and then just as quickly as his vision had gone, it came back again. He was sitting in a chair, somewhere cold and dark, pinned back, his head on a pillow.

"Are you relaxed?" murmured Snape's voice, in front of him, as the Potions master's face appeared out of the darkness. That voice seemed to wash over him in a deep wave.

"Yes," he whispered.

A cold hand touched the side of his face, tilted his head up, and those dark eyes were staring down at him, reaching right inside him, tearing him apart and scattering his mind and his soul into pieces. The mind was no longer a thing, a single voice, but hundreds, spread apart and examined one by one. There was another something there, a something he'd never known before, something that was dark and yet soothing. It was moving amongst his mind and dipping into the utmost corners of his conscience. He was only dimly aware of the bowl of water next to him, and his fingers trailing around in it, and then... heat was pouring from his hand, weeping into the water so fast and hard nobody had any time to prepare for it. The temperature of the water went shrieking skywards as it boiled. In front of him, he dimly saw Snape's smile.

And then, the blanket came again, flashed down into blackness and torn back into reality, bringing with it a surge of fire and glittering gold and green sparks. Draco stood before him in the darkness, completely alone, though he was surrounded by flames.

He was moving his arms almost as though dancing, swirling and ducking, twisting on the spot and then sweeping his hand out in a great arc. And from his fingers came fire, great green and red fire, that contorted itself as it ducked and weaved with him. Sparks were flying, and there was a dull roaring, as the tongues of fire formed a great dragon, which soared around the dungeon. It was amazing to watch. Draco was gazing at what he had created with wide eyes, standing as though king of the world, relishing and embracing his sudden power. Harry was cheering and clapping, whistling, as though the spectator of some spectacular show.

But before he could think, the blanket suddenly tore down again, and it was ripped back, to reveal a single face that Harry had seen many times before, though only in his dreams. The structure of a human boy, but with the tan skin of a lion, the eyes of a hawk, and a mouth full of sharp teeth like a crocodile. The boy was smiling, just smiling. "Morning, sunshine," he whispered.

Blanket down, and this time, when the blanket came back, there was nothing there. It was just nothing. Nothing left to see, nothing there, not even black. It only existed for a second, before there was that feeling of suddenly something happening, the blanket came down, and Harry James Potter was brought out of his nightmare as suddenly as it begun.

He'd been having these dreams for a month now, even though every morning when he woke up, drenched in cold sweat, he couldn't remember anything about them. And this morning was no different at all. He bolted awake, quite suddenly, torn from his nightmares so fast that he gasped. The darkness and the silence fell over him like a blanket, and as he looked around his dark room, the fleeting memories were already drizzling away. He sighed. Pulling the covers up, he sat back against his pillows and just took a few moments to let his heart beat settle again, wishing that he knew just what it was that made him so scared.

It was still dark outside. No light was peeking through the velvet drapes hung over the windows yet, and shadows were still thrown here and there across the darkened room. As always, when Harry glanced at his two room mates, he saw that Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy were still fast asleep. They always slept until nine anyway.

He sat up, taking his glasses from the bedside table and putting them on. The shadowy room around him came into clearer focus. Ron was lying on his back in bed, snoring silently, his mouth wide open, and under Ron's mattress, Harry could make out a box-shaped distortion. Ron truly was terrible at hiding presents.

For today was Harry James Potter's seventeenth birthday, at last. Four weeks before, his sixth year at Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry had drawn to a dramatic end, and ever since, he had been living at Grimmauld Place with Draco and the Weasley family. During the month, not much had happened that was out of the ordinary - at least, out of the ordinary for a house full of wizards. Summer time boredom was settling in place, and being expressed in most inventive ways. Just the day before, Mr Weasley had been called home from work early to get rid of a hoard of dancing blue carrots which had besieged his daughter Ginny in the bathroom. Ron still maintained doggedly that it was an accident.

Of course, there had been sadness too in his month at Grimmauld Place. A week into the holiday, Percy Weasley's funeral had taken place. It had been a very quiet, sombre occasion, for just the Weasley family, where Percy's ashes were scattered into the wind on top of Stoatshead Hill. Where muggle funerals said goodbye, the wizarding version was more like, "until next time".

And so today was his birthday at last. It was the first of his birthdays that he would spend in fully wizard company, and he was definitely looking forward to it. There was that box-shaped lump under Ron's mattress to attend to, but more than that, Harry was most excited about finally celebrating a special occasion with friends and family all around him. And there certainly would be a lot of people to talk to. Staying in the house at the minute were Mr and Mrs Weasley, Bill Weasley, Ron, Ginny, Harry, Draco Malfoy, Remus Lupin, Tonks, and of course, Snape. Snape would most likely prefer to spend his summer anywhere but Grimmauld Place, but his duty as Harry's magical guardian had brought him here. Bill was over in England for Percy's funeral, and would be staying for a few more weeks, while the second eldest brother of the Weasley family, Charlie, was staying at Hogwarts with the gamekeeper Hagrid. Occasionally, Fred and George Weasley would come round to liven things up a little, or get the children to test some new product. Harry quite enjoyed these visits, because apart from that, he was stuck in Grimmauld Place around the clock, and it did get very tedious sometimes.

As he looked around the dark bedroom, Harry quite hoped Ron or Draco would suddenly wake up, so he could have somebody to talk to at least. He checked the clock. It was just after eight, so hopefully, Mrs Weasley would be awake in the kitchen downstairs, cooking breakfast for everyone. Thinking he would use the excuse of needing a drink, Harry got out of bed, crept across the room, and reached for the door handle.

With timing so perfect it deserved the Order of Merlin, the door suddenly burst open with a crash loud enough to wake the dead. Draco yelped and fell out of bed with a thunk, as into the room came Tonks, Fred and George, all singing at the tops of their voices and sprinkling little bits of confetti everywhere.

"For he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fe-l-oooooow.... and so say all of us!" They rounded this off with a cheer, clapping and laughing, as Harry grinned.

Ron groaned and buried his face further into the pillow. Draco got off the floor shakily, his hair sticking up in all sorts of angles, whilst everybody was covered in armfuls of glittering confetti. Harry couldn't help but grin as Tonks plonked a party hat on his head, and the three minstrels burst into applause.

"You maniacs," Ron groaned, groggily, looking up from his pillow with bleary eyes. "It's only just gone past eight o' clock in the morning..."

"Which means dear Master Potter has been seventeen for eight hours, and yet no partying?" Fred demanded of his younger brother.

"We'll have to rectify that, I think," said George, grinning. "Especially as Fred and I have taken time out of our busy schedule to come and visit."

"Come on, you two," said Tonks, bouncing over to Ron and Draco. "Up! There's no time for sleeping in now!" She poked them both in the backs of the heads, and received simultaneous groans, both sleepy boys trying to swat her away. "Up!" she trilled.

"Nnh!" said Ron, irritably, throwing his pillow at her.

At that moment, the door opened again, and the oldest Weasley boy, Bill, came in. He looked down at them all bemusedly, draped in a scarlet dressing gown that made him look even more tanned than usual. "What's going on here?" he asked, blinking at the confetti fluttering around.

"My stupid cousin and your stupid brothers are trying to reanimate the dead by the sound of it," Draco groaned from under a fistful of cover.

Tonks gave Draco a playful shove, and there was an indistinct moan of annoyance from under the bulge of blankets. She chortled. At first, there had been some awkwardness between Tonks and Draco. They were cousins, linked by their mothers, but they had never met and had lived very different lives indeed. Though now they had settled in, Tonks was perfectly delighted to have a new cousin to tease, and even though Draco found her incessantly irritating, he liked her really.

Ron had finally staggered out of the warmth of his bed, and after fumbling around under his mattress for a few moments, he pulled out a present wrapped in gold and handed it to Harry with a sleepy smile. "Happy birthday, mate."

Harry grinned. "Thanks!" he said, eagerly, as he took the box from Ron and started pulling at the paper. Ron sat on the end of his bed to watch, and out from the gold wrapping fell a brightly-coloured package. According to the label, it was "An Assorted TrixBox from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes".

"Prototype," said Ron, with a bleary smile. "It's got all your typical joke stuff... fart draft, instant pimpling potions, some fake spiders... I think there's a fake tongue stud in there which is pretty cool."

"And another prototype for you, Harry," said Fred, throwing Harry a lumpy parcel from behind his back.

"First one ever made," said George.

"Completely exclusive," said Fred.

Harry caught it, and pulled open the packaging eagerly. When he saw what it was, he couldn't help but laugh. It was a t-shirt, emblazoned with a large moving picture of Snape, wrapped in a fluffy green towel and apparently waxing his legs.

"Getting In Touch With His Feminine Side Snape T-Shirt," both the twins grinned at once.

"It comes with several different towel colours," said Fred, idly. "Pretty pink, lime green, or baby-blue. We thought the green version would bring out your eyes more."

George sniggered and handed Harry another parcel. "Don't eat them all at once."

Harry pulled off the paper and revealed a large bag of fruit gums. "Hey, I didn't know you guys did normal safe sweets," he said, and then turning it over, he smiled. "Ah. WARNING - the makers are not responsible for any mutations, mutilations, explosions, accidents, injuries, amputations, losses and sudden disappearances."

Fred and George both grinned at the same time. "Can you blame us?" said Fred.

"What is the meaning of all this noise?" a voice hissed from the door. They all whipped around, and standing in the door, swathed in a black dressing robe that was more like a Halloween costume, was Severus Snape. Before this summer, Harry had thought they couldn't possibly be a scarier side to Snape than when he was teaching Potions first thing on a Monday morning, but he had been wrong. That had all been before he'd ever laid eyes on a Severus Snape, sleep deprived, having been just woken up by noisy teenagers in the room next door.

"It's Harry's birthday," said Tonks, grinning, clapping him on the shoulder and sprinkling a handful of confetti into the air around him.

Harry, realising he was still holding up the Feminine Snape t-shirt, dropped it quickly and tried to hide his grin a little. Snape glared at him from behind his greasy, ruffled black curtains of hair. "Mm," the Potions master droned, unconvinced.

"Would you like a party hat, Professor Snape?" asked Fred, offering Snape one with a fluffy pink bauble on the top.

Snape gave him a look of utter loathing, and then turned, sweeping out of the room in a flurry of black dressing gown. They all smiled. Fred and George took every possible opportunity to antagonise Snape to his absolute limit, and it had to be said, they were doing a marvellous job so far. Even though the Weasley twins weren't technically staying at Grimmauld Place, as they now had a flat in London somewhere, they still seemed to think that Snape was imposing upon their territory. As a result, Snape spent a great deal of time in his attic room at Grimmauld Place, apparently reading or playing chess. Harry wasn't going to admit it to Fred and George, but he'd actually joined the Potions master once or twice. He'd been beaten mercilessly both times - which was another thing he would never admit to Fred and George.

The door opened, yet again, and Lupin and Mr Weasley came in, rubbing their eyes and looking exhausted. "Now really," said Mr Weasley, sleepily. "What is all this noise about so early in the morning?"

"Harry's birthday!" said Fred, merrily. He leant up and balanced party hats on both their heads. "We thought we'd start the festivities early!"

"Harry got a new t-shirt," said Ron, grinning widely.

"Oh?" said Mr Weasley. "Who from?"

"Us," said Fred and George at once.

Mr Weasley looked at them worriedly for a moment. "And what exactly was on this t-shirt?"

Harry grinned and held it up to show Mr Weasley and Lupin. They both took a moment to register it, and when they did, small smiles crossed both faces. Lupin's soft brown eyes twinkled as they met Harry's gaze. "How... unfair to Severus," he said, mildly.

"So what size can we order one for you in?" asked Fred, grinning.

Lupin chuckled quietly. "I do have to work with him, Fred, and I'd rather be alive for the start of the new term, if you don't mind."

Mr Weasley held open the door for them all. "Well, seeing as though everybody's awake, we might as well go downstairs... Molly's making pancakes I think."

Fred and George skipped out of the room, bursting into song again, followed by a very energetic Tonks who knocked over an umbrella stand on her way out. Harry pulled on his dressing gown, and he, Ron and Draco, then made their way down to the kitchen. Draco was mumbling something reluctant about his hair looking a state, but Ron said, brusquely, "Oh, your hair always looks a state, shut up and stop moaning, Malfoy."

When Harry entered the kitchen along with everybody else, Mrs Weasley hurried over from the oven and gave him a huge, affectionate hug. He grinned and hugged back.

"Happy birthday, Harry dear," she said, fondly, as she smoothed his hair back for him. "I've got pancakes and waffles for everybody. Grab a chair and sit down, we've got to give Harry his presents!" She bustled back over to the oven to check on the breakfast, as they all sunk down into chairs around the kitchen table. Snape was already sitting in his usual place by the window, sipping coffee through pursed lips. He was not a morning person.

Mr Weasley came into the room then, holding two or three parcels wrapped in brightly-coloured paper, a big smile on his face as he sat down in the only available space at the table. "Happy birthday, Harry," he said, reaching across to ruffle Harry's hair.

Harry grinned widely. Mrs Weasley came over and started setting down the plates of pancakes in front of people, trying to fit plates, presents and Mr Weasley's paper all onto the table without knocking anything over. Ginny said, "Excellent!", and reached out for her plate, but Mrs Weasley pushed it out of reach.

"Not yet," she said, smiling. "Harry hasn't opened his presents yet."

Grinning from ear to ear, Harry picked up one of the parcels, and started to open them, feeling as though he was going to burst with happiness. From Mr and Mrs Weasley, there was a huge red jumper with a big 'H' knitted onto the front, and a box of best Honeydukes chocolate; from Ginny, there was a novelty Snitch that made odd sound effects when bounced; from Bill, he had an interesting book about ancient Egyptian dark arts; Draco, who didn't have much money, had whittled him a little model of a dragon; from Tonks, he received a large bottle of Madam Madmop's Magical Hair-Dye, in rainbow colour; and from Lupin, he was given a St Christopher Pendant.

"Your father and Sirius gave that to me on my own seventeenth birthday," said Lupin, with a smile, as Harry ran his fingers over the silver. "I know they'd want you to have it."

The door opened, and Mr Weasley came in, carrying a newspaper and a bag under his arm. "My my, it's getting warm out there... such a shame post can't be delivered directly to the house. I'm not complaining about the walk of course, it's certainly good to stretch my legs... now then... some parcels came along with the paper, and I believe they might be yours, Harry." He smiled, and put the bag down in front of Harry.

Harry looked in the bag interestedly, and saw five parcels, all with letters and cards attached. Curiously, he reached in, and picked up the largest. It weighed nearly as much as a stone slab, and judging by the neat handwriting on the envelope, it was from his other best friend, Hermione Granger.

"Bet you it's a book," said George, smirking.

It was. When Harry pulled back the brown paper, he came across the glossy bronze title, "So You're Taking Your NEWTs?", and a large picture of an owl in a pointed hat.

Fred spluttered into his hot chocolate. "She's sent you a book about NEWTs, already? It's only the start of the year, you've got ages before your NEWTs!"

"I think it's a very thoughtful gift," said Ron, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, you would," said Fred. He mimed kissing an invisible person. "Oh, darling Hermione, let me copy your Potions homework..."

"I don't do Potions," said Ron, sniffily.

"Luckily," said Snape, icily, from the corner by the window. They all jumped. As usual, everybody had quite forgotten he was there at all.

Harry opened the letter along with Hermione's gift, and read it aloud to everybody, as Mr Weasley interestedly picked up the NEWTs book and read through it. "Dear Harry and everybody else - I hope you're all having a good time at Grimmauld Place, and that you're enjoying your birthday, Harry. I thought that this book would come in handy for your classes this year, though it's quite interesting to read, I got one myself. Hope to see you soon, love from Hermione."

"Quite interesting?" Fred repeated, as he took the book from his dad. He flicked through it. "Hmm, four-hundred pages about revision techniques! Wow, crazy!"

Harry was starting on the next parcel, another box-shaped one that was rustling slightly as he tore at the paper. Ron leaned over his shoulder interestedly to see what it was, and when it fell out into Harry's lap, he gave a gasp. "Oh, cool! He's got you a fuzzy fungus kit!"

"What's a fuzzy fungus kit?" asked Draco, raising an eyebrow.

Harry held up the box and started to read the instructions on the back to the rest of the room. "The amazing make-your-own fuzzy fungus kit. Just put one of the seeds into the plant pot provided, sprinkle with the coloured powder of your choice, fill the plant pot with water and within a week your new fuzzy fungus will have grown. Please note, fuzzy fungus is not edible." The front of the box was covered in pictures of little animals, that looked more like large mushrooms with arms, legs, and hugely cute eyes, in various pastel colours.

"They're really cool," said Ron, enthusiastically. "They're like little pets you grow yourself, but they're technically plants."

"Oh, it's those?" said Bill. He leant over Harry's shoulder interestedly. "I took Herbology at NEWT level, we did fuzzy fungi in our sixth year. They're certainly interesting, though you have to be careful what you feed them or they might turn nasty on you... should be a fun project."

Ron took the note from the back of the box, and read. "Dear Harry, happy birthday! I hope you like your gift. I didn't know what to get you at first, but then I saw these on sale in Diagon Alley, and I thought I'd get you one. Bye! From Neville."

Smiling slightly, Harry put the box on the chair next to him along with his other presents, and then reached into the back, pulling out an oddly lumpy parcel with a note spellotaped to the back. He read the note out first. "Dear Harry. Hopefully these will bring the world around you into clearer prospective. From Luna L." Curiously, he tugged open the paper, to reveal a pair of what looked like muggle swimming goggles.

"What on earth has she sent you goggles for?" said Ginny, curiously.

Harry looked at the label attached. "It says that they're RealWorld Glasses. They show the world as it really is, and can even give hints to where invisible people are."

"Cool!" said Ron, eagerly. "Put them on, have a look! Is there anybody invisible in here now?"

Harry carefully pulled the goggles over his head, and blinked a few times as the greenish blur around him came steadily into focus. Everything was upside down, and anything that posed a danger seemed to be glowing a painful sort of red. "No invisible people, but you're all upside down." Draco sighed, reached across the table, took the glasses off Harry and turned them the other way up. Harry blinked. "Ah, you're all the right way up now... no invisible people though."

"Shame," said Ron, as he nosed into the bag, taking out the last two parcels. "Who are these from?" he said, frowning.

Harry took off the goggles, and checked the packages. One was wrapped rather clumsily in rough brown paper, and on the front was written, "To Harry, hope you have a great birthday, from Hagrid." He tugged at the paper a few times, and after a moment of struggling (Hagrid had used an awful lot of spellotape), Harry managed to open the present.

It looked like a wooden muggle toy, in the shape of a bird. Harry could remember a trip to some boring old museum when he was about seven, and Uncle Vernon had gone on and on for hours about a glass exhibit full of toys like this. He turned the bird over, and saw that its tail was a whistle. Curiously, he blew down it.

The lump in Ron's top pocket quivered a little, and a green head wearing an acorn hat poked out of the top. Sneezy the opsittop had been staying at Grimmauld Place along with Ron and Harry, as their Care Of Magical Creatures homework for the summer. As they watched, Sneezy carefully pattered onto the table and scurried across to stare at the wooden bird in absolutely fascination. After a moment, he started to whistle in just the same way as he bobbed up and down on the balls of his little feet.

Harry smiled, and put down the whistle. Sneezy beamed up and him and started to applaud. Everybody laughed as Sneezy then pottered off, whistling merrily to himself and clambering back into Ron's top pocket.

"A forest whistle," said Bill, smiling and taking the whistle to study. "Charlie showed me one he had a few months ago, for calling bowtruckles. The sound changes every time you use it... watch." He lifted the whistle carefully to his lips, and gave a few soft piping blows, the sound of a cuckoo. Sneezy's head popped out of Ron's pocket again, listening avidly to Bill.

Harry grinned as Bill started teaching Sneezy how to cuckoo, and then turned to his last present. Everybody else was watching Sneezy's attempts at the call ("Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo!") and so nobody caught the look of confusion when he realised there wasn't a label.

Curious, he eased the shiny red paper off. A bottle fell into his hands. It was heart-shaped, and full of a glittering pink liquid that shimmered as it caught the light. Harry carefully uncorked it with a quiet pop, and took a few timid sniffs. It smelt like roses, strawberries, winter mornings and something else, something warm and comforting that Harry knew he had smelt before but couldn't put his finger on.

Snape, who wasn't exactly an animal lover, had been watching him from across the room. He stood up and came over, taking the chair next to Harry. "Who sent you that, Potter?" he asked.

Harry handed him the potion with a shrug. "I don't know... there wasn't a label."

Snape uncorked it carefully, and holding it as though it would explode, he smelt it tentatively. He raised his eyebrows. "A love potion. How... thoughtful."

"A love potion?" said Harry, with wide eyes. "Why would somebody send me a love potion? And who?"

"Smell it again," said Snape, "and carefully... try not to get any on your lips. It should smell faintly of the person who sent it."

Carefully, Harry took the bottle and sniffed a few more times. He couldn't match a face to that hidden smell at all, though it seemed very out of place in the rest of the bottle. It was almost musky, but sharp, like leather.

"Leather," said Harry, frowning curiously. "It smells a bit like leather."

"Do you know anybody with strong connections to leather?" asked Snape, raising an eyebrow.

Harry stared at him, and then a smirk curled his lips. "Your half-sister wears leather boots, doesn't she?" he said, slyly.

Snape's face worked. Harry knew that expression very well. It was the look which said all too plainly that Snape was torn between smiling and throttling Harry to within an inch of my life. "My half-sister couldn't brew a love potion to save her life, Potter, and if she could, I'm rather sure she would not be sending it to you."

Harry chuckled, and put the bottle down, studying it for a moment, before Draco turned away from the opsittop crowd. He leant forward to examine the bottle interestedly. "You've got a love potion," he said, blankly.

Snape raised one thin eyebrow. "So quick to realise what it is, Malfoy?"

"I happen to know what a love potion looks like," Draco said, coolly. "I hope, Professor, you aren't suggesting that I may have used one at some time... after all, I would hardly need one, being the ravishing handsome half-breed that I am."

"You're not a half-breed," said Harry. "Just a quarter-breed."

"Indeed," said Draco, vaguely, still studying the potion. He uncorked it, and leant forward to have a sniff. He looked thoughtful for a moment, and then smiled. "How thoughtful of her."

"Do you know who it is?" said Harry, eagerly, sitting up in his seat.

Draco gave him a contemptuous little smile. "You mean you don't, Potter?"

"Tell me!" Harry pleaded.

"Can't you think of anybody in the world who would send you a love potion?" said Draco, raising his eyebrows, apparently relishing the role of know-it-all. "Somebody who clearly cares for you a lot, but prefers to make her affections simple... with a strong connection to leather. Not necessarily clothing... a sport, perhaps?"

Harry thought for a few minutes, and then realised. "Kainda! She sent - ... hang on... how did you know my girlfriend smells of leather?" he said, suspiciously.

Draco raised his eyebrows. "Now there's something you're probably never going to say again."

Harry grinned, and took back the love potion. He took another sniff, a proper one, and there was no mistaking that scent of leather and the outdoors, mixed with something soft and caring. He glanced at Snape after a moment, and said, "What will happen if I drink this?"

"You'll fall in love with whoever sent it," he said, idly.

"But what if I'm already...?"

"It will act as a memory boost of that love," said Snape, and he was smirking at Harry. "At last, the great Harry Potter has fallen in love. I'm not going to have to endure "the talk" with you, am I? I don't think I could stomach it."

"Me neither," said Harry, smiling. He lifted the bottle carefully to his lips, and took the merest hint of a sip, then put it down. For a moment, nothing happened, until a swelling feeling suddenly blossomed in his chest and he found himself grinning. It was the oddest sensation, just like those few moments after a first kiss.

Smiling, he went to drink some more, but Snape pulled it out of his hands and recorked it. "Love potions are notoriously dangerous," the Potions master said, in a tone that suggested he'd caught Harry playing with matches. "There is a documented case of a wizard who drunk a whole cupful at once. He promptly committed suicide, claiming that such love was too great for life to ever contain."

Harry smiling a little. "Okay, I'll be careful."

Everybody was done with the opsittop, and were all sitting back down again, tucking into breakfast at last. Harry put the love potion under the table. As much as he loved and cherished the Weasleys, he didn't want them to all be studying the love potion and asking questions. He thought that Fred and George would probably start doing "Harry Potter gets a love potion" t-shirts if they found out.

"So what are we doing today?" Ginny asked, ladling syrup onto her pancakes.

"Just the usual," Mrs Weasley sighed. "I might take you, Harry, Draco and Ron out for a walk later... you're all getting far too excitable cooped up inside. There's a muggle shopping centre not far from here... I suppose we could go and have a look round. We'd all have to come with you, of course, to protect you, but I daresay you'd all like a chance to stretch your legs."

There was a great chatter of approval, and Ron started talking about a muggle coin he had found a few days ago, asking Harry what he could buy for two pence, but Mrs Weasley called over them all.

"Yes, yes, I know you're all excited, but eat your breakfast and then we'll think about going out!"

They all started eating again, and Ron was still talking excitedly about going for a walk at last. Harry watched them all for a moment, happy as a family, talking and joking with each other, and he couldn't help but grin.

Draco had noticed the look on his face. "What are you smiling about?" he asked.

"It's my birthday," Harry replied. It was the first time he'd ever said that, and smiled at the same time. It was a marvellous feeling.


Chapter Two: Crocodile Smile

After breakfast, Harry, Ron, Ginny and Draco all went clattering up the stairs to their bedrooms, excited about the prospect of a walk. After all, it had been two long weeks since they'd been allowed outside for the opportunity to stretch their legs.

Ron was talking animatedly as he started getting dressed, pulling on his cloaks as though he really did not care whether they were on properly or not. Draco, as usual, was in the bathroom getting changed. His excuse was that he needed to comb his hair and this required privacy and concentration, but Harry had doubts. He was almost certain than Draco changed alone because he didn't want Ron and Harry to see his dark mark. It was still black, and Harry had walked in on him daubing blood from it once. Draco had gone scarlet and barricaded himself in the bathroom for an hour after that.

Harry got dressed fairly quickly in jeans and his new jumper, with the Snape t-shirt underneath, and then he opened up his fuzzy fungus kit as he sat back on Ron's bed. Ron was still staggering around trying to get a sweater that was two sizes too small over his head.

"So these fuzzy things," said Harry, glancing over his shoulder at Ron. "They're actually going to be alive."

Ron nodded. "They're like pets. They're really cute, I remember when Bill got to bring his home."

Harry took the plant pot out of the box, and set it on the bedside cabinet, looking through the rest of the box for one of the seeds. He had three, in a little packet, each about the size of a brazil nut, and so he chose the biggest, dropping it into the plant pot and starting to choose what colour powder he wanted.

As he selected the green, the bathroom door opened and Draco came out, tying his hair back in a ponytail as he did. It really was getting long now - Draco looked more and more like his father with every day that went by.

"Oh, are you trying those furry things?" he said, idly.

"Fuzzy fungus," Harry corrected, sprinkling the powder in. "Yeah... it might be a friend for Sneezy, if it works. He's getting bored and could do with somebody his own size to talk to."

"You can do all sorts of things with those," said Draco, vaguely, twiddling with a lock of his hair. "Mixing powders and putting different potions in... the effects are quite gruesome, really. You wouldn't believe the sort of things people have discovered by experimenting."

"I don't want to know," said Harry, grimly. He fetched a cup of water from the bathroom, and poured it in with the seed and the green powder. "There. Now we wait a few days and it should emerge."

Ron peered over Harry's shoulder at the gloopy mess in the plant pot. "What if it mutates or something? And takes control of the house."

"Then we get some weed killer," said Draco, dryly. "Problem sorted."

"Boys!" Mrs Weasley called from downstairs. "We're going soon, come on!"

They all grabbed their backpacks, and made their way out of the room onto the dark landing. Grimmauld Place looked very much the same as Harry remembered it - dark, gloomy, and very grim. But luckily, they were going to be decorating soon. Fred and George had donated some of their SuperSplatterDecorator 2003s, so with any luck, it would be a lot brighter soon.

"Potter," said a voice from the corridor to their left. "I need to see you for a moment."

Harry looked around, and saw Snape watching him from the door of his room. Ron gave him a worried look, but Harry frowned at him, and then headed down the corridor to Snape. The professor held open his door, and after a moment's hesitation, Harry stepped inside. Snape's room had already been decorated, by Snape himself, and everything seemed to be even darker than normal. The windows had been removed completely, replaced by candles, and the floor had been stripped right down to stone. Apparently, Snape was feeling homesick and missed his cold stone dungeon.

Harry turned his eyes from the decoration onto Snape, who was sinking into an old moth-eaten armchair by the fire, and indicating to Harry to sit down. Nervously, Harry sat on the edge of his seat. He always felt like a stranger in Snape's room, even if Snape had invited him in.

"I just received an owl from the headmaster," Snape drawled, lazily. There was a curling piece of paper on the arm of his chair, and Harry recognised the handwriting as Dumbledore's. "Yet again, the plan for our lessons is to change..."

Harry couldn't really think of anything to ask or say just at this moment, and so sat still in his chair, staring between Snape and the letter.

Snape sat back and studied him over steepled fingertips. "Now that you've learnt as much occlumency and legilimency that you need to survive, the headmaster wishes for you to progress onto something far more useful... and more dangerous."

Harry's eyes widened a little. "What?" he said, in hushed tones.

"Various things," Snape explained, absent-mindedly reading through the letter again. "Mind control... memory subtraction, memory addition... even, though I highly disapprove of this, physical manipulation using the mind."

Harry was staring at him in near horror. "Physical what, excuse me?"

"Physical manipulation using the mind," said Snape, frowning slightly. "Turning the human body into a controlled puppet, by stimulating different areas of the brain."

"Like... making somebody touch their nose?" said Harry. "Isn't there just the Imperius curse for that?"

Snape shook his head. "The imperius curse can only stretch so far. Touching one's nose, yes, but spontaneous combustion, no. Physical manipulation using the mind can achieve things that - "

"Spontaneous combustion?" Harry repeated, in horror. "You've going to teach me how to make people explode?"

Snape frowned at being interrupted, and continued as though he had not heard Harry. "Physical manipulation can achieve things that the imperius curse cannot. It is, however, highly dangerous and can go most terribly wrong. I would much rather not go through this with you, but I must. The headmaster thinks it is time to begin training you for your ultimate challenge."

"Killing Voldemort," said Harry, quietly.

Snape nodded. "Curses will only ever take you so far... if you are to destroy the Dark Lord, you need more skills at your disposal."

Harry felt rather worried now. He was going to be learning how to manipulate somebody's mind? He didn't know how comfortable he would be with Snape poking about in his brain.

Snape seemed to pick up on his hesitation, and with a hint of a smile, he said, "We will start with simple things... and I do pride myself in being skilled with matters to do with the mind."

"Can't they just give me a gun and teach me how to shoot?" said Harry, hopefully. "I could get rid of Voldemort that way."

"Muggle gun wounds," Snape said, haughtily, "are one of the easiest wounds to treat by magic. We could just as well equip you with a sharp stick."

"A sharp stick sounds good," said Harry, a smile playing at his lips.

"Speaking of which..." Snape stood up, and crossed the room to a large chest of drawers made of dark wood. He started searching through the various compartments, found what he was looking for, and walked back to his chair, handing it to Harry as he sat down.

Harry blinked. "For me?"

"No, I just want you to sit there and hold it for a while, for no reason at all."

Harry smiled at the rich sarcasm in Snape's voice, and studied the box Snape had handed him. It was thin and rectangular, coated in black velvet with silver studs all around the edges. "What is it?"

"Something I believe will be of practical value... and something I want you to have."

Curious now, Harry slid his fingernails along the edge of the box, working underneath and then prizing it open gently. What he saw inside made his jaw fall.

There was a cold chuckle from Snape at the expression on his face. "Surprise."

Harry reached into the box, pulled back the leather covering it, and lifted it out, staring in both horror and awe at Snape's idea of something practical. "It's... very lethal."

It was a dagger, with a very thin and narrow blade that was almost just a spike. The handle was solid silver, and glittering with many blood red rubies encrusted into the metal work. Harry wasn't surprised Snape hadn't given him it at the breakfast table. Mrs Weasley would have strangled him.

"It has been in my family for generations," said Snape, quietly, leaning forward to turn it over and show Harry the word 'Snape' engraved into the handle. "Though I no longer have any use for it, and it is about time you were armed."

"What on earth did you use it for before now?" said Harry, staring at him.

Snape raised one eyebrow, and said in a hushed, dangerous voice, "Perhaps when you are older and more worthy, I shall tell you just that, along with the dagger's story. For now, keep it with you... just in case. If you can reach your wand, then by all means, use that, though if you can't, this dagger can cause a nice amount of damage to an attacker."

"You sound more and more like Mad-Eye Moody everyday," said Harry, a smile of disbelief starting to curl his lips. Carefully as he could, he placed the dagger back in its box, and snapped it shut. "Where am I going to keep it? In my pocket?"

"Keep the leather over it at all times, and just fasten it to your arm under your sleeve," said Snape, idly. "I don't think I need to tell you to mention this to nobody, Potter..."

Harry smiled weakly. "If Mrs Weasley finds out that you've given me a knife..."

Snape made an odd, twisted grimace. "Mm, indeed. Then she won't find out, will she, Potter?"

"I hope not," said Harry. He opened up his backpack, and slid the knife inside in its box, severely hoping he wouldn't have to use it anytime in the near future. "Are you coming on the walk with us?" he asked Snape.

"No," was the reply, and Snape looked very pleased at this. "I persuaded Lupin to take my place instead. I have Wolfsbane to brew by tomorrow or you will all be eaten in your beds."

"Thanks for that extra little detail."

"My pleasure." Snape stood up, and lead Harry to the door, holding it open. "Try to burn some energy. Merlin knows you have too much."

Harry smiled slightly. "Yes, Sir."

Snape smirked, and shut the door. Harry made his way down the corridor to the stairs, and then into the hallway. Everybody was ready by the front door, standing clear of a large circle chalked on the floor. Harry knew that the circle indicated the Mrs Black Danger Zone; any noise made within the boundaries was sure to wake up the portrait of Sirius's mother, and she was nearly as crabby after waking up as Snape.

"Right then," said Lupin, who was standing by the door, smiling down at them all. "Everybody ready? Bill, Molly, Tonks and I will be with you, so we'd better pair up teenagers with adults, just in case we're separated... Harry, you come with me. Ron, you can go with your mother, Tonks, I'm sure you can look after Ginny. Draco, you'll be with Bill. Everybody happy?"

They all nodded, and he opened the door, leading them all out into the street. Harry stepped out into the warm summer's air, and took a deep breath, feeling clean and fresh oxygen surge into his lungs. It was wonderful to be outside again after being cooped up indoors for so long. The sun seemed to smile down at them all as they made their way out of the dirty, cold square and towards the shopping centre.

Mrs Weasley was arguing with Ron about the state of his hair "That horrid white stripe, Ron... honestly, it looked so much better without"), Ginny and Tonks were chatting enthusiastically about an upcoming Quidditch match, and Draco was asking Bill a lot of questions about archaeology. Draco had seemed very interested in Bill from the moment he had seen Snape greeted Bill quite pleasantly, and had taken to asking him lots of questions about Egypt at meal times.

"And what about the curses in this pyramid?" he was now asking, curiously, walking alongside Bill.

"Well, there were a lot of your usual curses," Bill explained. "One of the most common is one that only comes into effect when the tomb is first opened, and usually effects the first people in there. Luckily, muggles have opened up most of the tombs with this in, so we don't need to worry about that."

"And what happened to these muggles?" said Draco, so interested in what Bill was saying that he nearly walked into a lamp-post, dodging at the last moment.

"Terrible luck, mostly," said Bill. "The Egyptians made the most spectacular curses, very hard to break if you don't have a lot of practice."

"How did you get this practice?" asked Draco, raising an eyebrow.

Bill smiled down at him. "Lots of training and working hard in my NEWTs."

"Which NEWTs did you take?"

"Defence Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, Runes and History of Magic."

"Hmm... I didn't take Charms, Herbology or History of Magic. I'm doing Pure Arts and Astronomy."

"Astronomy can be helpful," said Bill. "But you might want to take a course on History of Magic before you start trying to get into curse-breaking for Gringotts. If you didn't get really high marks in your NEWTs, you might have to do some working in the bank first, and that needs Arithmancy."

"You also need to be uglier than the goblins, so they don't get jealous," Ron interrupted.

"Yes," said Draco, lazily. "I think that could be a problem." He chuckled airily. "What am I saying, 'could'?"

Ron gave him a look of utter disgust. "You really do need to open your eyes and buy a mirror someday, you know. You'd learn a lot."

Draco smiled sweetly. "If you can lend me the money to do so, Weasley, I'd be delighted to."

And with that, he flounced off after Bill to ask some more questions, leaving Ron standing next to Harry looking rather confused. Harry raised his eyebrows at the look on Ron's face, and Ron said, blankly, "I can't work out who he was insulting then."

"Maybe it's better to not try," said Harry with a smile.

"I'm never ever going to forgive you for letting him stay with us," said Ron, grumpily, as they crossed the road towards an alleyway shortcut.

"It's my house," said Harry. "And whoever I like can stay there."

"Well," said Ron, shrugging. "I suppose so. But I'm drawing the line if Crabbe and Goyle ever come back. No way, Harry. The smell will kill us all."

Harry chuckled, and they hurried up after Lupin to dip down the alleyway. A few minutes later, they found themselves walking through the double doors of the muggle shopping centre, and Ron gasped, blinking. "Look at all the colours! This is way too busy... how do muggles cope? Eurgh, luminous pink, look at that!"

"Muggles are a bit more modern than wizards," said Harry with a slight smile.

"They're a bit more colour blind," said Ron, wrinkling his nose as they passed a large display of orange and blue tracksuits outside a sports shop. "I wouldn't be caught dead in one of those. I swear."

"It's a shame Dad's working today," said Bill. "He'd have loved all this. But knowing Dad, he'd probably have bought two thirds of it and brought it home with him."

Lupin had stopped, and brought them all together in a group. "It looks as though we'll be split up in all this," he said, worriedly. "So we should go into our pairs now, and meet up here in about an hour or so... if there's trouble, we've all got our - well. You all know."

"Know what?" said Ron, interestedly, looking between the adults. "What have you got?"

"None of your business," said Mrs Weasley, promptly. "Come along now, I want to have a look at some more muggle clothes..."

She lead Ron off, ignoring his groans of frustration. Tonks and Ginny went off together towards a jewellery shop, and then Bill and Draco headed away towards a large muggle bookshop near the far doors. Lupin turned to Harry with a smile. "So," he said. "Where would you like to go?"

"Anywhere, really," said Harry, shrugging. "We could just go and have a look around, I guess. You're not used to muggle shops, are you?"

"Not really," Lupin admitted. "Let's go and have a look at the upper floors then..." He turned his eyes onto the escalator, and looked a little worried. "The stairs appear to be broken... we'll have to find some other way, Harry, I don't think that's safe."

Harry smiled, and lead Lupin towards the escalator, stepping onto it. "It just moves up," he explained, as Lupin nervously stepped onto the bottom stair and clung onto the side. "And you get off at the top."

Lupin raised his eyebrows. "Oh, it's one of these? Arthur told me something about this yesterday, though I didn't really understand what he was saying... I don't think I quite like this, Harry..." he added, worriedly, watching the people gliding away below. His hands tightened on the moving rail. "No, I definitely don't."

"You get used to them," said Harry, with a slight smile, stepping off at the top and helping Professor Lupin. "Aunt Petunia hates them. She always makes Uncle Vernon and Dudley take the stairs."

"With good reason," said Lupin, casting a nervous glance back at the escalator.

They spent most of their hour just wandering around the various shops, studying the things on sale, and talking a lot about just anything. Harry did have a little muggle money (at the start of the holidays, Mr Weasley had gone to Gringotts and converted some of their money, as they would be living amongst muggles for two months) though he didn't really spend it on much. He and Lupin had a coffee, and he bought a plastic cauldron full of sweets meant for Halloween which he was sure would amuse Mr Weasley, but nothing else, until they were passing a very sophisticated looking jewellery shop. Harry paused.

"Professor? Can we just stop here?" he said.

Lupin turned around, and nodded, coming over to him. "Seen something interesting?"

Harry nodded. His eyes were lingering on a gold necklace hanging in the shop window, with a heart-shaped pendant. He knew that very soon he would be going to see Kainda, and he quite wanted a present for her. Earlier, he'd mulled over the idea of a love potion in reply, but now that he'd seen the necklace...

"I'm just going to buy something," Harry told Lupin, as he headed inside the shop.

A few minutes later, he came back out, with the pendant clutched tight in a bag, his pocket of money considerably lighter. Lupin smiled at him. "Ready?"

He nodded, and was about to follow Lupin towards the escalator again, when something suddenly made him stop. He'd heard an odd noise behind him, like a whisper, and wondering what it was, he turned around to face the shop again. What he saw as a reflection in the window made him jump backwards and nearly knock Lupin to the floor. It was a single face that Harry had seen many times before, though only in his dreams. The structure of a human boy, but with the tan skin of a lion, the eyes of a hawk, and a mouth full of sharp teeth like a crocodile. The boy was smiling, just smiling.

The vision faded as quickly as it had come, taking the strange boy's reflection away. Harry could feel his heart pounding inside him, trying to escape. He had a sickening feeling now lodged in his chest, as though he'd seen that face somewhere before, but didn't know where.

"Harry?" said Lupin, concerned, turning around to see what was the matter.

"I-... I saw, in the window - " Harry gabbled, pointing. "It was a face, it was like a m-monster - "

Lupin frowned slightly. "There's nothing there, Harry, don't worry... it must have just been an odd reflection. Muggle lighting is truly terrible."

"No, no, I saw it," Harry protested, grasping Lupin's arm. "It was like a boy, but... I'm so sure, Professor. I really saw it there."

Lupin patted him consolingly on the shoulder. "There's nothing there now, Harry... come on, we're already late as it is. Stay close, the crowds are getting busier." He started to move away. Harry stayed for one last glance into the window, and for a moment, he thought he saw a shadow pass over the glass, before Lupin called him, and he hurried after the professor, fighting to keep up in the crowds. He couldn't shake off the horrible feeling of being watched, and everytime he passed a shop window, he was careful not to even glance at it - though as they were leaving the shopping centre, and Mrs Weasley was suggesting a picnic outside, he was almost certain he saw a flash of teeth glitter at him from the glass of the sliding doors.

"Are you okay?" said Ron, looking up at Harry over the top of his Quidditch magazine. "You've hardly said a word since coming back from the shopping centre."

"I'm fine," said Harry. He fed Sneezy another peanut with a small sigh. They had got back from their walk a few hours ago now, and Harry still felt paranoid and worried. Though everytime he considered telling somebody, he couldn't think of words for what it was that he was scared about. He'd sat having a picnic, and wondered if Mrs Weasley would help, then he thought of Bill, with a lot of experience in dark creatures. He'd got back home, and Snape had been sitting in the kitchen marking essays. Surely, of all people, he could tell his magical guardian - but something just felt odd. He had no evidence, and Snape wasn't the comforting type.

He looked up at Ron, his best friend, wondering if he could tell him. Then he glanced across to Draco, who was lounging on his bed and drawing something. Draco might know something about weird faces appearing in glass and then vanishing. Was it perhaps a dark magical object? His family had hoarded hundreds of such things. But then Harry realised he just couldn't say, that it would sound far too stupid. He could just imagine Draco's reaction if he said he was seeing faces in glass. Draco might have become tolerable over the last year, but he wasn't ready to admit to that just yet.

"You look all... weird," said Ron, watching him closely.

Harry shrugged. "Just bored, I guess."

Ron nodded and yawned. They could all identify with boredom. Harry now had a hint of how Sirius must have felt two years ago, being forced to stay inside around the clock, with nothing exciting really happening. He had another month left of staying inside, as school had broken up at the start of July, and it was now the end of the month. Harry couldn't really comprehend sitting and watching a seed float about in a plant pot for another month.

The noise of the front door opening met his ears. He heard it shut, and somebody carrying an awful lot of things crept down the hall. A few moments later, and probably a check that whoever it was was clear of the Mrs Black Danger Zone, and Mr Weasley's voice shouted out through the house. "Molly! Children! Come quickly, I've got marvellous news!"

Harry, Ron and Draco got up off their beds, and headed out onto the landing, where they met Ginny and Tonks, peering over the banister. Mr Weasley was beaming up at them from the hall, and to Harry's amazement, he was holding a muggle television under one arm, his briefcase under the other, and perched on his head was a party hat with a large M on it.

"What on earth is that?" said Ron, staring at the television as though it was about to explode.

"I bought it with my pay bonus," said Mr Weasley, grinning up at them all. "I've been promoted!"

Ron and Ginny cheered, tearing across the landing and practically jumping down the stairs to hug their father, asking lots of eager questions, examining the television in amazement. Everybody else joined them, and they proceeded to the kitchen, all sitting down. Mrs Weasley, who had been drying up at the time, put down her cloth and hurried over to embrace her husband.

"Oh, Arthur, at last! Well done!" she said.

He grinned and patted her back, setting down the television on the table top. Draco was watching it with the greatest suspicion and narrowed eyes. "What, exactly, does it do?"

"It's one of those things that muggles use to heat up food, isn't it?" said Ginny, looking up at her father. "Luna was telling me about it... her auntie works with muggles."

"What have you been promoted to, Arthur?" asked Mrs Weasley, turning her eyes onto her husband.

"I am now the official Minister For Inter-Muggle Relations," said Mr Weasley, proudly. "I'm going to be having a lot of contact with muggles, finding out more about them. You-Know-Who has indeed returned, and who knows what might happen? If he starts attacking muggles, the ministry need somebody to cover up the tragedy. And that person will be me." He beamed and laughed. "Cornelius said I might have to have tea with the muggle queen! Me!"

"Oh, that's wonderful Arthur!" said Mrs Weasley, hugging her husband again.

Draco was studying the television closely, running his fingers over the glass screen and wearing a frown. "Mm. I remember something like this from last summer..."

"Where were you?" said Ron, quickly. He had been trying to prize the information of where Draco had spent his last summer out of him for a month now, and was getting nowhere.

"Somewhere," said Draco, in a cool voice.

Perhaps Lupin had noticed the tension rising between the two boys, for next second, he jumped up and said, "Tea, I think... Ron, can you help me? Draco, go and hang up Arthur's coat."

Draco and Ron glared at each other for a moment, then set about their tasks. Harry watched them both for a moment. The back of Ron's neck was rather red, and Draco's left hand was tightening in a fist as he left the room. Luckily, Mr Weasley then sat down to try and get the television working, and the potential fight was averted. Or perhaps just delayed.


Chapter Three: St. Mungo's, Third Floor

Harry woke up on August 1st with a gasp, as usual, feeling the cold sweat on his forehead. As always, most of his dream had been wiped from his memory the moment he woke, but he could remember something now. Staring back into a face with those warped, inhuman features, as it just smiled at him. He didn't know what he found so un-nerving about that smile. It was just something that scared him, like the leering grin of the clown ball he'd come into contact with last year. The thing was that this time, he couldn't just throw away the dreams.

He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes, and when he glanced at the clock, he realised it was only three in the morning. He sighed. So now he had at least four hours to go until anybody else woke up, and he just knew that he couldn't go back to sleep. The fear of seeing that face again drove all thoughts of slumber from his mind. What exactly was it? Was it a human, half-transfigured into something horrible? Or was it just a monster? He knew that there were various creatures that had a vaguely human appearance - vampires, manticores, mermaids, centaurs - but he'd never seen anything quite like the beast in his dreams before.

He swung his legs quietly out of bed, and stood up, planning to go and get a drink from the bathroom, when he noticed something odd. Draco was lying in the bed across from him, but the white sheets had a strange shadow on them. Harry stared for a few moments, before he realised that it wasn't a shadow, but a dark substance - most likely from Draco's dark mark. Harry made his way across the darkened room, and then reached out, gripping the blonde boy's shoulder.

"Draco," he murmured, shaking gently. "Draco, wake up..."

Draco tensed up, then awoke quite suddenly and jumped backwards at the sight of Harry. He choked, and then relaxed again. "Potter! What are you - " He glanced down, saw the blood leaking the sheets, and made a mangled squeaking sound. He grasped the sheets quickly, held them around his lower back and went tearing for the bathroom, but Harry caught up with him quickly.

"Let me help you!" he hissed.

"Get off me!" Draco snarled, tugging his arm free of Harry and bolting into the bathroom. Harry shot after him and managed to fight his way in. Draco pushed the door shut with a snap, reluctantly, then glared at Harry over his shoulder. "You tell absolutely nobody about this."

"As if I would anyway," said Harry. He sat down on the edge of the bath, took a cloth from the side and started water running in the cold basin.

"Why were you awake anyway?" Draco asked, suspiciously.

"I - " Harry paused, then continued. "I just couldn't sleep, I guess."

Draco frowned. "Mm." He took the wet cloth from the cold basin, wrung out some of the water, and then lifted up the back of his shirt to press it to his mark. He closed his eyes. "How do they live with this?" he muttered.

"The Death Eaters?"

Draco nodded grimly. "I don't know how my father coped. Professor Snape too... well, Father always came when called, so it probably didn't hurt him as much..."

Harry paused for a moment, watching Draco wringing some of the blood away down the sink, before he said, quietly, "He'll come and get you, you know. If you're not responding to his call."

"Don't remind me," said Draco, coldly, as he dipped the cloth into the water again. He started sponging away more of the oozing blood, as he muttered, "Every day is an achievement for me... I thought at first that he might not come after me, as I'm not a particularly skilled Death Eater yet... though of course, he's not likely to release his hold on "Malfoy's son" to Dumbledore." There was a note of bitterness in his voice as he said this.

"They want you because of your dad, don't they?" said Harry, who had never heard Draco speak much about his link to the Death Eaters, and fully wanted to take advantage of the situation.

Draco nodded. "Father was a main member... everybody expects me to want to follow in his footsteps."

"Do you...?"

"Yes, Potter," Draco snapped, sarcastically. "I actually do. Hold on one moment while I go fetch my wand so I can kill you. I know I really should do a big speech about gaining your trust before I hand you over to the Dark Lord, but it's such a cliché, I'll have to pass."

Harry smiled a little. "I've heard that so many times, it wouldn't have much effect on me anyway."

Draco sat down on the edge of the bath next to Harry, still soaking his dark mark. He sighed, then after a moment, he said, "So why don't you tell me why you were really awake?"

Harry looked away. "No real reason."

"Fair enough." Draco cleaned his cloth one last time, wiped the last dark gore from his mark, then opened the door. "We need sleep. I have the feeling we'll be decorating tomorrow."

Harry nodded, and stepped back into the darkness of the bedroom. As they shut the door, the light dimmed again. Draco went to his bed, Harry to his, and for a few moments, there was silence. Then, Harry's voice said, "Draco?"

"What?" came the reply from somewhere in the darkness before him.

"I knew there was a reason that I was friends with you."

"And what would that be?" said Draco, sounding confused.

"You just let things drop."

Draco snickered. "I try not to pressure people for information. I know what having something forced out of you is like, on an extreme level."

Harry rested his head back on his pillow, and pulled up the covers, closing his eyes. Maybe he would sleep after all. It was only a few moments however before there was a glow of light, as somebody lit a candle. Harry opened his eyes and looked over his shoulder, frowning. Ron was sitting up in his bed, glaring at them both.

"What was that about, mm?" he said.

"What was what about?" said Draco, lazily, as though Ron really wasn't worth his attention.

"Sneaking off to the bathroom. Cosy little late night chat?" Ron had a very suspicious look on his face.

Harry raised his eyebrows. "What are you accusing us of?"

"What do you think I'm accusing you of?" said Ron, frowning across the room at him.

Draco tutted in his bed, rolled over and pulled the covers up around his neck. "How childish... Weasley, if you're going to confront somebody, next time, make sure you know exactly what you're confronting them about, instead of resorting to immature mockery..."

"Shut up, Malfoy," Ron bristled.

Draco yawned, widely and obvious, stretching out in bed. Ron glared at him hatefully, then turned back to Harry, looking angry.

"So. What were you two debating in there? And I did hear voices. You can't tell me otherwise."

"Something that you won't believe, accept, understand or deserve to know," said Draco, simply. "Go back to sleep, Weasley, before your tiny little brain explodes from over use."

"I didn't ask for your opinion," Ron snarled. He turned to Harry, completely ignoring Draco. "So what was it all about huh? What's going on behind my back? All the time, you two are muttering to each other and sharing these private jokes. I'm sick of it. What's the big deal?"

"I just had a nightmare," said Harry, quietly, not wanting a fight with Ron. "I was just telling Draco about it, honestly, I - "

"You had a nightmare?" said Draco, completely blowing Harry's only excuse to smithereens.

Ron just glared at them both, suspicion and anger in his face, before he rolled over and pulled the covers right over his head. Harry got out of bed to try and reason with him, and he was considering telling Ron about the dark mark, but when Harry tried to talk to his cousin under the covers, Ron just fiercely ignored him. Finally, after fifteen minutes of being ignored, Harry just left Ron to it, and went back to bed.

Harry eventually drifted to sleep, and when he woke up, it was to find Draco sitting on the end of his bed. He jumped, and was about to ask Draco what on earth he was doing, when the other boy said, hurriedly, "Weasley's in the bathroom. I've turned out your clothes drawer on the floor. Shout at me for it."

"What?" said Harry, absolutely bewildered, and then he said, angrily, "You've turned out my clothes drawer? Why?"

"I'm sorry," Draco whined, his face suddenly covered in guilt, his voice a little louder than normal speaking tones. "It was an accident, I was looking for my jumper and I thought it was in your drawer..."

Harry stared at him. "Draco, what the hell are you playing at?"

"I told you, I'm really sorry, I didn't - "

The door creaked open, and Ron came out. He was pretending not to look at them both, but couldn't hide a glance at the upturned clothes drawer. Harry, finally twigging, turned to Draco and said furiously, "You can pick it up then, as you knocked it out! You stupid clumsy prat!"

Ron looked over his shoulder, and for a moment, he had an interested look on his face. Harry ploughed on, after the merest hint of an encouraging smile from Draco.

"And you can apologise to Ron too, for last night!" he said, angrily. "You're under my roof, Draco, and you'll learn your place!" He suddenly realised just how much like Uncle Vernon he sounded.

Draco turned to Ron, and said, half-heartedly. "Sorry, Weasley."

"Properly!" said Harry.

Draco paused for a moment, with a petulant expression on his face, then he said, again, "Sorry, Weasley."

"That's better," said Harry. "Now... uh... go and make us some tea!" He thought that this was maybe taking it a bit too far, judging by the look on Draco's face, but Ron seemed to swallow it.

"And some biscuits too!" he shouted after Draco, as the startled blonde made his way out of the room. Draco shut the door, and Ron turned to Harry. "There, that showed him," he said, triumphantly, and apparently, being allowed to yell at Malfoy had driven the argument right out of his head.

"Yeah," said Harry, nodding, and pulling on his dressing gown. "Knocking my clothes on the floor. Who does he think he is?"

Ron pulled on his own Chudley Cannons dressing robe, and the two of them headed for the door. Ron pulled it open, and stepped onto the landing. "And that tea had better not be too sweet," he said. "Or I'll give Malfoy what for."

And that was that. Harry and Ron went into the kitchen, their argument completely behind them, and as they sat down at the wooden table, Mrs Weasley put plates of bacon and eggs in front of each of them. "There you are... enjoy."

"Where's my tea?" Ron said, demandingly to Draco, who was sitting across the table eating his own breakfast.

Mrs Weasley said, angrily, "Ron! Don't be so rude!"

"But - "

"Morning all," said Ginny, as she came into the kitchen. "Hey, bacon, great!"

"You all need big breakfasts," said Mrs Weasley, handing Ginny a plate. "We're decorating this place today. Fred and George should be here with the paint soon, so we can start putting out the sheets. Hopefully it won't take too long... of course we do have some people going out later..."

"Again?" said Ron. "Why? Where are we going?"

"You're going nowhere," said Mrs Weasley. She handed him another sausage. "Harry's going to St Mungo's with Professor Snape and Tonks."

"Can't we come?" said Ginny.

"Absolutely not," said Mrs Weasley, stiffly. "Harry won't want you all there annoying him, will you, Harry?"

Harry gave an apologetic look to Ron, Draco and Ginny, and then said, "Sorry... it's the first time I've seen Kainda in ages though... she might not want too many visitors."

"That's okay, mate," said Ron, smiling. "We understand."

"When are going to Diagon Alley to get our school things?" asked Ginny.

"When the letters arrive," said Mrs Weasley. She sat down with a mug of tea, and a bacon sandwich. "Then we can get everything you'll all need at once... it's a shame they haven't come today, or we could get all your things..."

Ginny sighed. "I wish the letters would come... I'm sick of waiting." At the quizzical look from Harry, she said, "I'm getting my OWL results this year."

"How do you think you've done?" he asked, cutting up some of his bacon.

"Okay, I guess," she said, idly. "At least they're out of the way now."

The front door then opened, and a few moments later, Lupin appeared in the kitchen door. He was only carrying a newspaper. Ginny sighed, "Oh well," then left the table and headed back upstairs to get dressed.

Lupin smiled and sat down at the kitchen, taking his breakfast from Mrs Weasley with a grateful, "Thankyou, Molly..."

Harry sat back in his chair, waiting for Ron to finish with the paper. His plate was now empty, and he was desperate for something to do to take his mind off the St Mungo's visit coming later. He knew that there was no need to feel nervous, and it wasn't a worried, frightened sort of nerves he had in his chest. It was more like unbearable excitement. He remembered the last time he had seen Kainda, as she was carried from the hospital wing all that time ago, and he had to admit that he was desperate to see her again.

He took another piece of toast, starting to butter it, and he was about to ask Ron if there was anything interesting in the Daily Prophet, when Ron suddenly gave a strangled sort of gasp, staring at the paper.

"What?" said Harry. "What is it?"

"Uh - " said Ron, obviously doing some quick thinking, "Chudley Cannons lost their latest game. Too bad I guess. Hey, could you do me some toast as well, I still feel a bit - "

Harry's face creased into a frown. "It's about me, isn't it?"

"No," Ron squeaked.

Harry snatched the paper off him, and fearing the worst, he shook it open. A double page spread with a large photograph of his own face greeted him, and across the top was a huge banner headline of, "The Boy Who Loved". It took a few moments to register just what the article was about.

Ron was watching him apprehensively over the top of the paper. "What do you think?"

"I think I'm going to be sick," Harry growled, through gritted teeth.

"Is something wrong, Harry dear?" asked Mrs Weasley, watching him with a concerned expression.

"No," he said, quickly. "No, I'm okay." He smiled. "I'm just a bit full, that's all. I'll go and try to flatten my hair now." He got up from the table, and left, tucking the paper under his arm. There was a clatter as Ron jumped up and followed him, and then another, as Draco came too.

"Who do you think told the Prophet?" said Ron, hurrying to keep up with Harry's pace up the stairs.

Harry had the newspaper open again, and was reading through it, a blind sort of horror settling in his chest now. "I don't know... look at this! "Harry Potter's love life has been tragedy after tragedy, writes Jan Jerrison, gossip correspondent". How did they find out about Kainda? And why today, of all days?"

Draco cleared his throat, and read over Harry's shoulder. "Harry Potter's heartache touched many other students at Hogwarts. Ernie Macmillan, a sixth year Hufflepuff, told the Prophet, "Harry and Kainda were always sneaking off to the Quidditch pitch. Harry was heart-broken when she was poisoned. He didn't want to play Quidditch or anything". However, this is not the first time Harry Potter's heart has been toyed with. In his fourth year, muggle-born Hermione Granger - "

"That's enough," Ron growled.

"Oh, and look there," said Draco, ignoring Ron. "Just at the bottom... they've got an interview with Chang."

"I know," Harry said, with a sigh. He collapsed down onto his bed, and spread the article out. "It's got everything... Ernie and Cho must have told them. Trust the Prophet to squash Blaise Zabini and the Risotta into a quarter of a page, then ramble on about me for the rest of it!"

"Does it say what happened to Zabini?" asked Ron, interestedly peering over Harry's shoulder. "Oh, there we go... he went to Azkaban... youngest prisoner ever. Just two months over the legal age."

Harry sighed again, and rolled back on his bed, covering his face with his hands. "I don't believe this. The one day I'm going to see Kainda, the stupid Prophet publishes some great story about our "timeless love". I bet they're outside St Mungo's now, just waiting for me to turn up... why do I get the feeling Rita Skeeter had something to do with this?"

"At least you'll have something to talk about," said Draco, dryly.

"Maybe if you just don't tell her," Ron suggested. "You know, just... don't let her know. It's not lying. It might stress her if she finds out, and her wounds might go all weird."

Harry was now reading the interview with Cho, with narrowed eyes. He didn't bother to read it properly, and was just skimming, but from what he could tell, she was hinting he "was still in love with somebody else", and that he "didn't seem to care" about her feelings of grief following the death of "beloved boyfriend, Cedric Diggory". He looked up to see both Ron and Draco watching him closely. Ron looked worried. Draco looked serious, which was about as worried as Draco could ever get.

"Well," he said.

They said nothing for a moment, and then Ron said, quietly, "Sorry about this, mate... I really didn't think that - "

"Ohhh, look at this!" said Draco, snatching the paper up and staring at a box on the same page, unable to disguise the glee in his voice. He started to read aloud. "Harry Potter's Love Tangle. If Harry Potter's love life is not complicated enough, the Daily Prophet has unearthed evidence that his ex-girlfriend, muggleborn Hermione Granger, is now dating his best friend, Robert Weasley. After the siege of Hogwarts, in which half of the school's pupils were lost, Granger and Weasley were seen comforting each other. Whether Harry Potter knows about this deception by his best friend or not remains to be seen, but we hope that the wounds of love will heal quickly for Harry Potter."

Harry and Draco both turned to look at Ron following this. Ron had turned a magnificent shade of purple and was just sitting in horror, staring back at them. Draco was grinning from ear to ear, but it looked as though Ron couldn't even sum up the strength to hit him.

Harry took the paper back off Draco, and said, "Hey, but look here... Seventh Year Ogles Professor's Sister's Legs. Draco Malfoy, a seventh year Slytherin at Hogwarts, was accused yesterday of eyeing up the sister of Potions master, Severus Snape. "Malfoy spends half his life staring at Andralyn's legs," said an anonymous student. "Snape's not going to be happy once he finds out."

"WHAT?!" roared Draco, snatching the paper off Harry and scanning it desperately. After a moment, his fists clenched, and he shouted, "POTTER! You liar! There's nothing in there about me!"

Harry and Ron were too busy laughing to care. Draco beat them both with a pillow until they stopped, and feeling a little better, they all went downstairs again.

Snape was sitting at the kitchen table writing a letter, and when the three boys walked in, Ron and Harry swapped grins. Draco hissed, "Oh, don't be so immature."

Tonks stood up from her seat as Harry walked in. "Oh, Harry! Come here... we need to disguise you," she said, as she pulled him over and sat him down.

"Disguise me?" said Harry, staring at her. "Why?"

"Prophet reporters outside St Mungo's," she said, grimly. "The hospital staff won't let them in, but they'll be waiting outside for anybody they can get an interview off. You're the star prize, I'm afraid."

Harry watched her taking tubes and bottles out of a large briefcase open on the kitchen table in front of her. "What exactly are you going to do to me?" he asked, worriedly.

"We considered a polyjuice potion," said Tonks, brightly, as she squeezed some sort of cream out onto her fingers. "But we haven't got any at hand, and we wouldn't want it to wear off when you're in St Mungo's." She started dabbed the cream onto Harry's scar, peering at him with eyes that were today a light brown. "We're going to try and get you in as the son of me and Professor Snape..."

Ron instantly turned his laugh into a hacking cough, as he picked up his tea and buried his face in the paper again.

"What's the cream for?" said Harry.

"It'll just hide your scar a bit," she explained. "Obviously, that's the main thing... we'll give you an improved vision charm, as well. It won't be as good as your glasses, but the less you look like yourself, the better."

She continued to lather him in all sorts of creams, patting powder on him, getting out her wand and casting charms here and there. Harry was amazed when she dyed his hair with just a wave of her wand, turning it into light blonde instantly. Tonks was sporting long blonde hair today, so he supposed he had "inherited" that from her.

"Now, with your eyes," she said, cheerily, getting out a little bottle of something. "We're going to turn them very dark brown, so you've got your dad's."

"You're not going to do anything with my nose, are you?" said Harry, worriedly.

"No, no," she said. "We'll say you got mine. Might have to do something with your lips though. We'll see how you look with black eyes... open them wide." She dripped a few drops of the liquid into his eyes, and he blinked. She smiled as they apparently changed colour. "Lovely. This will all come out later, don't worry... I've got all the removers here with me. Though you do look nice with blonde hair."

"Is he quite ready yet?" Snape sighed, drumming his fingers on his upper arm.

"I suppose he is," she said. "Well, we can go now... come on Harry, get your cloak."

Feeling rather odd, Harry got to his feet, took his cloak from a hook on the wall, and went to wait by the front door. Snape wasn't disguised at all, and just looked his usual greasy self, but Tonks looked almost completely different. She had muggle clothing too, a big fur coat and sandy-coloured leggings. Try as he might, Harry just couldn't imagine Tonks and Snape ever having a son. It was like toast-flavoured ice cream - just not meant to be.

They set off out of the house, walking at a fairly brisk pace towards the centre of muggle London. Harry stuck close between Snape and Tonks. Even though he was disguised, he still felt paranoid. What if somebody recognised him? He desperately didn't want Daily Prophet reporters surrounding him and asking questions about his private life, especially not today. He was also worried that Kainda might not believe he was actually Harry. What if she called security and got him thrown out?

"Harry," said Tonks, next to him. "Are you any good with accents?"

"Uh... a bit," he said, suspicious of where this was going.

"You might need it," she said. "Just in case any reporters ask you a question. Let's see if you're any good at mimicry... Snape, say something."

Snape glared at her. "I hardly think the boy has to have an entirely new personality created for him."

"Go on then," said Tonks. "Try that."

Harry pursed his lips a little, and tried his best to sound like Snape. It was a very strangled Snape, and a little too posh, but Tonks grinned as he did it. "I hardly think the boy has to have an entirely new personality created for him."

"Great!" she said. "That'll do pretty well. Ah..." They had turned a corner, into the street where St Mungo's was located. "I think we're going to need it."

It was simply crawling with reporters. St Mungo's was a protected building, and so muggles didn't know it was anything special. Luckily, it was still fairly early in the morning, and a Sunday, so not many muggles were out and about. A few were though, and they were watching from the doorways of shops, muttering about the odd people in cloaks standing around everywhere.

"Stay close, Harry," Tonks murmured, before striding down the street, putting an arm around her "son's" shoulder. Snape was walking on Harry's other side, and the few reporters who paid them attention didn't want to come much closer because of the look on Snape's face.

"It's not him," somebody called. Harry felt a glow of excitement that nobody recognised him at all. Tonks squeezed his shoulder, as they stepped up to the front of the building. St Mungo's was disguised as an old muggle clothing store, and the only way to get in was to talk to the ugly female dummy in one of the windows. Snape turned with his back to the glass, and muttered out of the corner of his mouth to the dummy, "We wish to see Kainda Zabini."

Harry watched as the dummy gave the merest hint of a nod, and its chipped eyeballs rolled from side to side down the street. When sure that no muggles were watching, it beckoned them through, and the three of them stepped forward into St Mungo's. Harry couldn't help but glance back at the Prophet reporters standing outside, and grin.

The waiting room was just as Harry remembered it, from his last visit to St Mungo's, when he came to see Mr Weasley. Witches and wizards with various ailments were sitting around on rickety wooden chairs, reading copies of Witch Weekly and the Daily Prophet from two months ago, and healers in bright green robes were walking back and forth with clipboards, taking people's details. Harry knew it was rude to stare, but he couldn't help watch a few people as they got in the queue to find out what ward Kainda was in. One man apparently thought he was a rabbit, and was bouncing around the room persued by his frantic wife and a healer with a carrot. A large blonde woman was sitting reading a copy of Witch Weekly around a nose the size of a large orange that was throbbing green, and at the front of the queue was a man who seemed to be singing his problem to the Welcome Witch, in the tune of "I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts".

"I've got a bit of a problem with my arm, dee dee dee - " he began, but he was cut off as his own hand slapped him around the face. "Ow! It keeps on a-slapping me round the face, dee d-"

"Spell Damage," said the Welcome Witch. "Fourth floor. Next!"

He danced away down the corridor, and a man supporting a teenage girl with bright blue hair came forward. He looked very exhausted, and apparently, he had dragged her from a long way. "Quidditch accident," he panted. "We were just playing a game in our meadow, and then - "

"Artefact Accident," announced the Welcome Witch. "Take a seat please. Next!"

The person in front of Harry, Tonks and Snape shuffled forward. He didn't seem to have anything wrong with him, and he leant up to the witch at the desk, beckoning for her to come closer. She leant in, and listened to his whispered problem, then said, "Spell Damage, fourth floor. Watch you don't get it caught in the doors." The man blushed scarlet, and shuffled off. As he went, Harry saw a long stripey tail poking from under his long coat.

"Yes?" said the Welcome Witch, as Harry, Tonks and Snape stepped forward.

"We're here to see Kainda Zabini," said Tonks, brightly. "We wondered if you could tell us what ward she's in."

The Welcome Witch got out a long list from under the desk, scanned down it, and said, "She's got a room to herself on the third floor, Potion and Plant Poisoning. It's number 18, the healers there'll show you which way. She's just come out of the major treatment ward though, so it's family and friends only. What's your relationship with the patient?"

Tonks smiled, and murmured to the Welcome Witch, "Do you read the papers?"

The Welcome Witch frowned. "I do."

"This is Harry Potter," said Tonks, grinning and looking down at Harry. "We had to get him past the reporters, so we disguised him a bit." To prove it, she reached down and pulled his fringe back, showing the Welcome Witch the hints of a scar trailing into his hair.

The Welcome Witch smiled warmly down at him. "Oh, we thought we'd be seeing you sometime soon... very well. Third floor, and watch how you go past the Growth Corridor, we've got some nasty plants in this morning. Wouldn't want any accidents."

Harry thanked the witch, and she gave him a beaming smile as he, Tonks and Snape made their way down the corridor towards the stairs. Harry had an odd bubble of happiness inflating inside him now. He practically bounced up the stairs, and even went a floor too far because of his enthusiasm before Tonks called him back, and steered him down the right corridor. "That way," she said. "You know what room it is, 18. Snape and I are going to have a coffee in the tearoom."

"I don't - " Snape began, but she elbowed him in the back and pushed him away up the stairs.

"Get me a nice seat," she chirruped after him, then she leant down, gave Harry a hug and grinned at him. "Go get her, Tiger."

Harry grinned back, then turned and made his way into the third floor corridors alone, checking the room numbers as he went. He passed a large ward, then a huge door leading into a domed room full of plants, the reception desk, and room 18. He turned a corner, and there it was, at the end of the hall, room 18. Feeling as though his legs had turned into eels, he approached the door, lifted his hand, and knocked.


Chapter Four: Sweetness and Scrolls

There was a few moment's pause after Harry knocked on the door of room 18, where he waited, hoping he had the right room. Then from inside called a familiar voice, but one he hadn't heard for a long time, and his stomach seemed to twist as it met his ears.


He bit his lip, and resisting the urge to fling open the door and bellow, "SURPRISE!", he twisted the handle carefully, pushed the door open, and stepped inside.

It was a fairly small room, with a dark green carpet underfoot and walls painted a soft colour of pistachio, with dappled white here and there, like clouds. There was only one window, but the blind was pulled down so everything was cast in a gentle shadow. Though Harry didn't really take much time to appreciate the decor, as he was far more interested in the bed at the far end of the room, and the person sitting tucked in the sheets, reading a book propped open on her lap. He felt an odd lump in his throat as he shut the door behind him, and made his way over to the chair next to the bed.

She watched him closely as he sat down, her eyes narrowed, and then in a suspicious voice, she said, "I think you've got the wrong room..."

She didn't recognise him. Harry was a little hurt at this, before he realised that he was of course disguised, and nobody recognised him. He smiled a little. "Don't you remember?" he murmured.

She stared at him, her face tight in confusion, before suddenly, it clicked. He could see the realisation dawn on her face, and it was amazing to witness, as her mouth fell open and she choked, "I-... Harry?"

He smiled again. "So the blonde doesn't suit me," he said, with a raised eyebrow.

She just stared for a few moments more, before she blinked, and then said, her face falling into a confused smile, "You... I didn't know you were coming... what's with the eyes? Spell Damage is fourth floor, you know, you should get them checked out."

Harry laughed. He hadn't realised just how much he missed her sense of humour. Here she was, in St Mungo's, after nearly dying from poisoning, and yet she was still just as care-free as he remembered. "It wasn't a spell, it was a potion."

"You're in the right place then," she said, grinning. "The food's not too good, but at least it won't kill you."

"How are you doing now?" he asked. "Are you allowed to eat proper stuff?"

She nodded, easing herself back in the pillows and putting her book down. "They've repaired most of my stomach now, and it can take food, though nothing too spicy or hot... my muscles were worst affected. But the healers are going to get me a wheelchair soon, so I'll be able to move round again. I can't wait to get out of this room... I haven't seen anything but green for a month... and how are you? What happened while I was away?"

Harry smiled weakly. "Well... Lord Voldemort attacked the school and we lost half the students... I nearly got killed a few times... Draco got half a million points for Slytherin, then we got beaten in the Staff vs Students Quidditch match. We split up for the holidays, I've been sitting in the dark for a month, and here we are."

"So it's just been happy happy happy all the way, huh?" she said.

"Pretty much," he said, with a light smile.

"What happened in the Quidditch match? Anything I would be interested in?"

"Madam Hooch broke Ginny's ankle."

"Oh, how nice of her."

"And Professor Sinistra nearly broke Draco's nose with the Quaffle."

"I can tell it was a really calm and boring game then." She smiled, took a glass of water from the side of her bed and sipped for a moment. "Who took my place?"

"Alrister," said Harry. "He joined the Bright Sparks to make up for you... he wasn't quite as good though."

She grinned, and then sighed, glancing into her water. "I'll miss Quidditch..." At his curious noise, she looked up again, a longing expression on her face. "My muscles are too badly damaged... the healers don't think I'll be able to fly a broom properly again, let alone swing a club at the same time." She sneered bitterly into her glass of water. "Healer Webb kindly suggested muggle golf. I don't think so somehow."

"You'll never play again?" he said, sadly.

She shook her head. "No... well." She sighed again, and put down her water. "They only told me a few days ago. They were asking me what I wanted to do with my life, to check I wouldn't have problems, and I said Quidditch. You should have seen the looks on their faces. Stupid Healer Webb... "I don't think that's a very sensible career for a lovely girl like you." Did you see her when you came in?"

"I don't think so. What does she look like?"

"She's really old... all thin and wrinkly and evil." Kainda shivered, glaring at the far wall. "Mum's aunt. When I got put in here, she sent Webb an owl asking her to look out for me."

"What do your family think of all this?" he asked, tentatively. "I mean... it was Blaise that did this to you, he's in Azkaban now..."

She nodded, a grim smile curling her lips. "Mmm, at least something good came out of it. Mum and Dad come to see me once a week for twenty minutes or something, giving interviews to the Prophet about how angry they are at Blaise. How betrayed they feel. I can just tell that they aren't sorry at all... my dad is like Blaise. He probably thinks I just got in the way of Blaise's glorious work."

"I'm sorry they think that way," he said, and he truly did feel sorry for her. Not only had she lost her future in Quidditch, but her family too, and a great deal of her education. He put an arm gently around her shoulders. She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder, and it turned into a cuddle. He had missed her scent so much. It was just a tiny thing, something he'd never noticed before, but she smelt oddly warm and comforting, like a soft blanket on a cold night.

"I missed you," her voice said in his ear. She took a little breath in. "I hoped you'd come and see me... it gets really lonely here, with only the healers and my stupid parents once a week."

He'd never known Kainda to be somebody who ever felt lonely, but this just made him realise how horrible it must have been for her here, with no friends coming to see her. He patted her back as gently as he could, careful not to hurt her, and then he asked, softly, "Where are you going once you're allowed out?"

She smiled into his neck. "I thought you'd ask me that... I've got good news... Dumbledore wrote to me a few weeks ago. He said that because I'd missed so much time off school, and I hadn't taken my NEWTs or anything, he'd let me back in to do seventh year again. So I can get some proper qualifications and a decent job... after all, I can't play Quidditch anymore."

"So you're coming back?" he said, happily. "That's great! You'll be with all of us then... what subjects did you take at NEWT?"

"Dark Arts, Pure Arts... um... Potions, Care of Magical Creatures, Herbology and Muggle Studies," she replied. "Did you take any of them?"

He nodded. "Pure Arts, Potions, Dark Arts, Magical Creatures. So we'll be together in at least some classes." He smiled, and gently, he kissed her cheek. Once again, he was suddenly hit with the realisation of how much he had missed her. Her confidence and laidback attitude rubbed off on him, and made him feel that no matter how bad things go, there was always a future out there somewhere.

"Do you know who's doing Dark Arts this year?" she asked, still resting against him, her breath coming in warm little streams across his neck.

"Lupin," he murmured. "He's lasted three terms now... I think that thing about the Dark Arts job being jinxed was just coincidence..."

She nodded a little, and he felt her lips smile against his neck. "No collar today... got you properly trained at last, have they?"

He smiled. "Yes... I was supposed to have it on now though, but I just left it at home..."

She laughed softly, that rich chuckle of pure amusement. "You're in trouble when you get home, huh?"

"I'd like to see him catch me," said Harry, grinning. He hugged her close to him again, gently rubbing her back. He gave a little sigh of happiness. He had the feeling that this was all he needed, somebody to love and look after, even though he knew he would never admit it to anybody, not even Kainda.

"So... what's with the disguise anyway?" she asked, curiously, reaching up to rub some of his blonde spikes between her fingers. "You really look different."

"Oh..." he said, remembering the Daily Prophet article, with a sinking feeling in his stomach. "You see... I sort of needed to get into the building without being recognised."

She drew back, and raised an eyebrow at him with a mild smile. "On the run now, are you?"

"Sort of," he admitted. "There were a lot of reporters outside... and... well, I don't exactly know how to say this, but in the Daily Prophet this morning - "

To his surprise, she chuckled. "I'm not so ill that I can't read a paper, Harry."

"You know?" he said, raising his eyebrows.

She nodded with a little smile. "Webb came bustling in here this morning while I was eating breakfast, waving it around and demanding to know what I was playing at, dating a boy of Gryffindor heart." She grinned. "I proved to her that I can still throw a little. It took them ages to get the baked beans off the wall."

"So... you're not mad?" he said, hopefully.

"Of course I'm not," she said, and then she winked. "You didn't think I'd do a kiss-and-tell and sell my story to the papers now, did you?"

He grinned. "No, I just didn't know whether you'd want the attention or not... there was something about Ron and Hermione, Ron's probably still going to be purple from embarrassment twenty years from now."

"They could disguise him like you," she said, playing with a tuft of Harry's blonde hair. "I'm sure he'd love that."

There was suddenly a knock on the door, and Harry looked around, not letting go of Kainda, who rested her head on his shoulder almost defiantly. It creaked open, and the face of a very stern-looking old woman peered in at them.

"You have another visitor," she said, sniffily.

"Oh? Who?" asked Kainda, vaguely, nuzzling into Harry's neck as she did.

The old woman's eyes narrowed at that. "It is another man. If you don't already have enough of them." She pushed open the door, and stalked away, as Snape came into the room. He didn't seem ruffled at the sight of Kainda cuddled up to Harry.

"We're going now, Potter... we can return next week, I daresay." He glanced at Kainda. "Miss Zabini, how are you feeling?"

"Much better, thanks, Professor," she said, smiling, and loosening her arms around Harry's neck. She winked at him. "See you soon, Harry. By the way, did you get my potion?"

He grinned, and said, "Yeah, I did... oh! I nearly forgot! I've got you something..." He reached into his pocket, and found the little box he'd put there earlier. He handed it to her gently, and said, "It's not much..."

She opened it, with an eager look in her eyes, and then her lips melted into a smile. "Harry... thankyou." She kissed his cheek. "You're too kind."

He smiled, and uncomfortably aware Snape was watching, he gave her a last hug, then stood up. "I'll see you really soon. Do you mind if Ron, Ginny and Draco come next time?"

"Sure they can," she said, with a smile. "I'd love more visitors."

Snape held the door open, and Harry gave her a last wave, before Snape pushed him neatly out, shut the door, and said, "Come on, Romeo, we have the press to fool."

Harry didn't really care about the Prophet reporters anymore really. He quite wanted one of them to recognise him, so he could just smile and say, "No comment", then bounce off. He practically skipped out of the third floor, with Snape hot on his heels, and they met Tonks at the staircase.

"How is she?" asked Tonks, with a smile.

"She's fine," Harry chirruped, giving a little hop as he started down the stairs.

"Couldn't you guess?" Snape muttered, sarcastically, as he and Tonks followed Harry down the staircase and back into the lobby. Before they headed for the exit, Tonks grabbed him and did a quick check that his disguise was in place.

"Apart from the fact you've got kiss marks all over your face, you look fine to me," she said, brightly. She took a tissue out of the pocket of her fur coat, and dabbed his face, just like a mother upon finding dirt on their son's nose. "Off we go then. They'll have started the decorating by now, so we can still join in."

They slipped carefully through the window of the department store, leaving St Mungo's behind and stepping out into the muggle street beyond. All the Daily Prophet reporters were too busy watching the people going into St Mungo's to notice the blonde boy who came out, grinning from ear to ear, leading two bemused looking adults down the street and away.

"Harry, stay still and stop wriggling around, dear..."

"Can't I just go and decorate?"

"No, not yet." Mrs Weasley slapped another palmful of Madam Madmop's Natural Hair Colour Restorative into his hair, scrubbing vigorously. "Really, Tonks, I thought you knew what you were doing," she sighed.

"I did," Tonks insisted. "How was I to know you weren't supposed to use a Blonde Charm on black hair?"

Mrs Weasley sighed again, and stood back to peer at Harry's head. He was sitting on a stool with his face hanging over the sink, his hair covered in the Colour Restorative, a towel wrapped around his shoulders. "Well, at least he's not ginger anymore," Mrs Weasley said, heavily. "Poor lamb. I think we'll need some more of this stuff, it's still dark red."

Harry gave a little sigh. Tonks had fixed his eyes back to normal easily, and a quick wipe with a facecloth and his scar was back, but then they had tried to return his hair to its regular colour. Nobody would tell him what had happened when Tonks first tried the counter-charm, but Draco had said, heavily, "You don't want to know, Potter".

There were footsteps in the kitchen door, and when Harry peered under his arm, he saw Snape coming in with a large goblet of something. "What's that?" he said, worriedly.

"Various things which strip out colourants," said Snape. "It would have been brewed sooner, had the Black family used their brains and invested in a cauldron made of something slightly more hard-wearing than plastic."

"And we just pour it over his head, do we?" said Mrs Weasley, taking the goblet from him.

Snape raised an eyebrow. "A steady trickle would be slightly more effective than simply sloshing it over Potter, but as you wish..."

Harry braced himself as Mrs Weasley gently tipped the foul smelling potion over his head. It ran down under his jaw and across his forehead, and all the time, there was a very worrying hissing sound coming from the sink below him. After a few moments, the last of the draft drained away down the plug, and Mrs Weasley started examining his hair. "Marvellous, it's black at last..." She threw a towel over his head, and started to rub his hair dry rather vigorously. Harry could dully hear the sounds of explosions coming from upstairs, though nobody thought any of this was out of the ordinary.

Mrs Weasley smiled, and said, promptly, "There now... lovely. All back to normal."

"Can I go and help now?" asked Harry.

"Of course you can. But be careful when you walk in, make sure they've not just lit a firework," said Mrs Weasley, smiling down at him, and he hurried out of the kitchen, heading for the staircase. He followed the sound of voices, and eventually found where everybody else was. He knocked on the closed door of one of the bedrooms, and called, "Can I come in?"

The door opened, and Ron grinned out at him. He was covered in paint, and had even managed to get some in his ears. "Not ginger any more?"

"Luckily," said Harry, grinning back. They both stepped inside, and shut the door. Harry was amazed at what they'd managed to do to the room that had been black until recently. Everything was a shade of warm beige, and everyone was standing around with their wands, using quick-drying charms on the paint.

"Alright, Harry?" Fred called from across the room.

"Yeah, thanks," he said, as he drew out his wand, and started to help Ron dry the wall near the door.

George strolled around behind them, acting like the boss of a large factory. "Good work everyone, jolly good work! Keep this up and we might get this all done by the time the sun collapses in on itself!"

"Why don't you actually do some work, as you're so good?" said Ginny over her shoulder.

"I am working, for your information," he said to her, pompously. "I'm doing the most important job of shouting at you all until you actually work faster."

"Oh, George," said Bill. "We're not doing badly... maybe we should split up though, so we could get more rooms done at once. We still need to figure out how to get Mrs Black's portrait down from the hallway..."

"We could do that now," said Mr Weasley. "Remus? Tonks should be up in a moment or two, could you two supervise Fred, George and Ginny in here? The rest of us can go and start work on rehoming Mrs Black to the dustbin."

And so Ron, Draco, Harry and Bill all followed Mr Weasley out of the bedroom, and down the stairs into the hall, passing Tonks on the way. Snape was already ahead of them, and was standing just outside the Mrs Black Danger Zone, deep in thought.

"Any ideas of how to get it off the wall, Professor?" asked Draco, instantly sucking up to Snape.

"Many," said Snape. "Each foiled in some way. The old hag was a typical Black, only ever lending their brain to unimportant things."

"I'm related to them," said Draco, looking slightly hurt.

"Mm," said Snape, apparently not bothered.

"The problem is that we can't get near enough to try and remove the curse," said Bill. "Any noise made near her and she'll wake up. It's impossible to block out all that screaming enough to concentrate."

"Well... what's behind that wall?" said Ron. Everybody turned to look at him. "I mean, there must be something there. There's just not a door. Look at the shape of the house, there must be a room or solid concrete or something there."

"And your point is...?" said Draco.

Ron shrugged. "Why bother trying to get her off the wall if we don't even need the wall? We could just knock it through into the other room." Quietly, he stepped through into the Danger Zone, and tapped with his knuckles on the wall. "It's hollow," he whispered.

"We could do with Mad-Eye here to tell us what's in there," said Mr Weasley. "Well... I suppose it won't be anything dangerous, if the room has been sealed for as long as Sirius said it has. There's no harm in trying."

"What if that wall's supporting the house or something?" said Harry.

"It won't be," Bill assured him. "All wizard buildings aren't supported by the buildings themselves. They're held up by magic. You could knock out the entire of the bottom floor, but as long as you left one thing connecting the upper floor to the ground, it wouldn't fall."

Mr Weasley smiled a little, rolling up his sleeves. "Well then... sleeves up everyone, wands out. A good reductor curse should blast through it... if we all aim directly for the painting?"

They all nodded, and drew out their wands, standing back.

"On the count of three," said Mr Weasley. "Ready? One... two... three!!"

"REDUCTO!!" they all cried at once, swishing their wands over their heads, and bullets of red light burst from the ends of their wands. They all hit the painting dead on, there was a tremendous BANG that shook the whole house, and in an explosion of plaster and bits of wood, dust flew everywhere, obscuring their view.

The smoke and dust gradually filtered away, falling in a grey cloud and leaving whispy streaks floating near the ceiling. Through the haze, Harry could see the wall where Mrs Black's portrait once hung, blasted apart with a huge hole right where the painting once was.

Mr Weasley coughed, waving his hand in front of him to try and dispel some of the smoke, as they all stepped forward to peer through the hole into the room beyond. "It's too dark," said Mr Weasley. "Let's see... lumos!" The tip of his wand glowed with a tiny little light, and carefully, he reached through the hole into the darkness. The circle of light washed over what looked like a pile of wooden chests and many scrolls of paper, covered in dust, and clearly placed there years and years before. "How odd," said Mr Weasley, frowning pensively. "Family documents, perhaps?" He gripped a bit of the plaster and pulled, gradually widening the hole, enough for them all the step through. They all lit their wand tips and crouched down by the mass of parchment.

Bill, who had just picked up one of the rolls, was unravelling it and reading slowly with a frown upon his face. "What language is this?" he said, showing it to his father. "The lines are in different scripts... that's Egyptian there... then Norse runes... that looks like Chinese, and I'm sure that's Cyrillic on the line below."

Draco had picked up another scroll. Harry watched over his shoulder as he opened it up. "This is Ancient Runes... something about loss of... what's that? Mortality? I'm sure it is... does it mean death?"

"Loss of mortality, and death, are very different things," said Snape. He took the parchment from Draco, and read it aloud, only pausing once or twice. "Many things in this world provide a loss of mortality. Concentrated vampire blood, unicorn blood, the eggs of the phoenix crushed into a fine powder. All must be combined together to create The Brew of Everlasting Life."

Ron said, suddenly, from across the room. "Um... Dad? I think I know what this is all about..."

They all crowded around Ron, staring at the parchment he had unrolled. As the light washed over it, they all understood. There, at the very bottom of the paper, was the dark mark, inked in green and black.

"Voldemort," Harry whispered. A few people flinched. "And immortality... do you think these are all his notes? When he was looking for something to bring him eternal life?"

"What would they be doing in the Black household?" said Mr Weasley, frowning.

"Perhaps he gave them to her to look after," said Bill. He raised an eyebrow. "All the Blacks apart from Sirius were Voldemort supporters, weren't they? If he found what he needed for immortal life, he would have given the scrolls to somebody he could really trust."

"What about my family?" said Draco. "Surely the Malfoys would have been a more logical choice."

"The two families joined together though," said Bill. "Because of your mother. Voldemort would also need a very, very safe place to hide the scrolls."

"Malfoy Manor is safe," said Draco, a little hurt.

Bill looked a little reluctant for a moment, and then said, "Look at it this way... Grimmauld Place, the house of the Blacks, is still standing. It's not been raided yet by the ministry or anything. But Malfoy Manor..."

"... was taken away because of a technicality," said Draco, frowning.

"This doesn't matter," said Mr Weasley, hurriedly. "Stop fighting. If these really are the notes that You-Know-Who used, we need experts to come and translate them. Find out how he did it. There might be a way to break his immortality... which of us can read these?"

"I could translate the Runes," said Snape.

"I'll help," said Draco.

"I can do the Hieroglyphics, and some of the Norse runes," said Bill. "Though we'll need more people. We should get these sent off to the ministry, Dad, they've got experts there. We don't want anything to ruin the parchment."

"Of course," said Mr Weasley. "You're right. Everybody out, we need to keep them all safe and untouched until the ministry arrive. I'll send a message to Cornelius right away. Bill, could you send an owl to your boss at Gringotts? Tell him we'll need translators, and lots of them."

"No problem," said Bill, as he stepped out of the room and hurried away up the stairs.

Mr Weasley shepharded the rest of them out of the dark vault. "This is such a discovery... and who would have thought there was another reason for Mrs Black to hang her portrait there? It was a guard. A decoy, almost."

"Arthur?" said Mrs Weasley, peering out of the kitchen at them all, as they emerged from the scrolls room, covered in dust. "What's wrong? Has something happened?"

"Yes, Molly," he said, breathlessly, as he headed away up the stairs, calling over his shoulder. "We've just found the key to the down fall of the Dark Lord once and for all!"

She stood in the kitchen door staring after him, and after a moment, she said, blandly, "Alright then... dinner's at six."


Chapter Five: Harry's First Meeting

Harry, Ron, Draco and Ginny all loitered at the top of the stairs to watch as the ministry men arrived, and started levitating the delicate scrolls and trunks out of the hidden vault. Bill and Mr Weasley had lots of serious conversations, Mrs Weasley was rushing back and forth making tea for everyone, and as the four teenagers were just eating their evening meal, a pack of goblins arrived, with lots of clipboards and magical photography equipment. Harry was very interested to hear Bill speaking Gobbledegook to the goblins, with lots of hand gestures and nodding. The goblins didn't stay for long. They took down what Bill was saying, then left, debating the information on the clipboards in low voices.

The four teenagers were just tucking into Mrs Weasley's home-made strawberry ice cream and raspberries when Mr Weasley came tottering up the stairs, carrying his prized television.

"Here you are," he said, putting it down with a little groan. "Molly thinks you could all do with something to entertain you while the ministry are clearing things out, and Fred and George won't let you join in with the decorating."

"They'll just ruin it!" Fred's voice shouted from the floor above. "You know what Ron's like with a paintbrush!"

Ron frowned and muttered something incoherent as his father adjusted the television, and drew his wand. "Special charm," said Mr Weasley, smiling. "Just been passed from the Department of Experimental Charms... it powers muggle electrical objects. And as I'm the Minister for Inter-Muggle Relations, they thought it would be useful." He smiled, flicked his wand at the television and said, "Ammario!"

The television instantly flickered into use, and the screen filled with a large picture of a rabbit. Several puppets had a real rabbit at the bottom of the screen, and were playing with it, pointing out its wiffly nose and long ears. Ron recoiled backwards, and cried, "Stop them! They'll kill it!"

"They're puppets," Draco sighed. "They're not alive."

"How do you know?" Ron said, rounding on him.

Draco reached up, and whipped a sock off the pile of laundry Tonks was carrying past. He pulled it over his hand, miming a biting motion. "Is this sock dangerous?"

"Knowing you..." Ron muttered.

Harry moved forward, and pressed the button on the television to change the channel. The rabbit and the puppets vanished, replaced by a man with a comb-over, reading the muggle news.

"Good evening, and welcome to the news," said the man, with a little smile, shuffling his papers. "The time is six PM."

Ron checked his watch, and whispered, "He's right you know."

"Imagine that," said Draco, quietly. Luckily, Ron didn't hear him.

"The headline news you're tuning into," said the newsreader, as pictures appeared in the top right of the screen. "Another Egyptian tomb has been newly discovered, quite some distance away from the valley of the kings. Experts are already on the scene, though it appears the tomb was already breached by robbers, and little remains of the original site. A few paintings on papyrus have been found, and these will be taken to a museum as soon as possible."

Getting bored, Harry was about to change the channel back to the puppets and their rabbit, when a picture flashed up on the screen which made him stop dead. It was that face, the crocodile-mouthed hawk-eyed face, grinning at him from the top right corner. Harry gave a strangled gasp, and pointed at it, "Look!"

The picture, however, had just faded into a shot of a baby lamb sucking from a milk bottle. Draco stared at Harry in amazement, and Ginny blinked, but Ron gasped and leaned in for a closer look. "Whoa, what is that? It looks kinda vicious."

"No, not that," said Harry. "The thing on before. The face."

"Oh, that painting?" said Ginny. She shrugged. "What was wrong with it?"

"I've seen it before," said Harry. "In the glass of the jewellery shop, and I've dreamt about it."

They all gave him wide-eyed looks. Harry looked around at his friends, and then Ginny said, quietly, "So?"

Harry felt his face starting to burn. "Haven't you ever seen it?" They shook their heads. He now felt incredibly stupid at making such a big deal of seeing a face before, and he was realising what an idiot he must have seemed grabbing Lupin's arm in the shopping centre.

Luckily, Ron wasn't dwelling on the subject, and messing around with the television again. In a few minutes, Harry's moment of oddness seemed to be forgotten, as Ron was learning avidly about muggle rabbits. Ginny seemed interested, but wasn't too thrilled, more concerned about finishing her ice cream, and Draco was pretending to be bored. Harry could see his eyes fixed on the television though, and a hint of a smile curled his thin lips as the presenter was being particularly patronising to one of the puppets. Harry, however, was very bored. He'd learnt all about rabbits when Dudley got one for his birthday a while ago, but tired of it quickly, and Harry was left to clean it out and care for it.

Leaving his friends with the puppets on television, Harry took his bowl down to the kitchen, then headed upstairs again, going down a corridor, moving in the general direction of the ladder to the attic. Fred and George were now up there painting, by the sound of things, and all the content was piled around the bottom of the ladder. Harry glanced over the old paintings, house-elf heads, moth-eaten armchairs and cardboard boxes of what could be described as junk at best. His eyes then fell upon something else, a large wooden trunk, on which was carved, "THE MEMBERS OF MAGIC". Harry remembered it very well. A year ago, he had opened this trunk and found he was related to Ron, and also the family tree of his magical guardian, Peter Peelish. He hadn't seen it in quite a while.

Deciding that it couldn't hurt to have a look, he sat down cross-legged on the floor, and prized the lid open. It swung open. Inside were the familiar scrolls of parchment, tied with lengths of ribbon in various colours and widths, piled right down from the bottom of the trunk. Each piece of parchment had a wizarding family tree on it, as far back as it could be traced, and even though Harry hardly knew any of the people on the trees he found, he amused himself for a few minutes just reading through them and listening to Fred and George arguing in the attic about something.

After about twenty minutes of just reading, he started to come across people he knew, and found himself absorbed in them. He found Luna Lovegood was descended from a lot of astronomers and philosophers, which wasn't much of a surprise, and to his delight, he once again found Peter's tree. The eighteen-year-old boy in the picture waved up at him, smirking, and the girl next to him, Jilly, was smiling ever so slightly too. He then looked upwards, following the lines back, and finding that their mother was the daughter of one Baron Mortimer Carnet - the Bloody Baron. It was odd to think that Peeves, Peter's alter-ego, was the grandson of the gaunt Bloody Baron, but really, there were obvious links. The baron was the Slytherin ghost, and Harry knew that Peter had been in Slytherin. He was quite a good Slytherin, by the sound of it. The baron was also the only person who could ever really control Peeves, and quite obviously so. Harry knew he would behave properly if his grandfather was covered in silvery bloodstains that nobody knew the origin of. Wondering whether the family tree would have this information, Harry glanced along the miniscule text underneath the baron. He couldn't help but smile. The baron had apparently been at a fancy-dress party, wearing the costume of a Georgian lord that had been murdered, and for effect, had daubed fake blood on himself. He'd then drunk too much, and drowned in the fish pond after deciding a midnight swim was a good idea. No wonder the Bloody Baron didn't talk about it much.


Harry looked around, and saw Ginny standing at the end of the corridor. "Hi," he said. "How's the rabbit program?"

"Ron and Draco are both pretending they don't want to sing along," she said, walking over. "What are you doing?"

"Just looking through this," said Harry. He rolled up the scroll, retied the ribbon, and put it back in the box. Ginny sat down next to him, and he explained all about the family trees, showing her the interesting ones he had found. Ginny seemed particularly intrigued in Luna's, and then when they found Harry's, they spent a good few minutes just looking back through all the people there. Harry recognised some of them, having seen them in the Mirror of Erised years ago, and they all smiled and waved at him from the pictures. Harry wasn't sure what he'd been expecting of his family. He knew that a lot of people would have been hoping for generations and generations of powerful and prominent warlocks, who did marvellous things and met heroic ends, but really, the Potters were just... normal people. One of his great great grandfathers had worked at Ollivanders, and there was a man several centuries back who made cauldrons. A woman with silky black hair to her waist had been captured by muggle witch hunts, though during her burning, she apparated away and spent the rest of her life in Devon. That was probably the most exciting thing that happened to any of the Potters. But somehow, this made Harry feel better. The Potters were just normal people, a normal family, who told the sort of stories that would only ever be interesting at family parties when everyone was drunk.

"Hey, Harry! Look at this!"

Harry glanced up from his family tree, to see that Ginny had just unrolled a blood red scroll with black and silver writing. He leant over her shoulder to read it, and realised after a few moments that it was Professor Snape's blood line. It was, in simple terms, a very very messed up family. Inbreeding had taken place on numerous occasions, and there were about ten times more murdered people than people who had just died of old age. Lines criss-crossed here and there, when somebody died, their spouse married somebody else, who promptly murdered them and married yet another person... Harry tried to trace Snape back directly with his finger, following fathers. He could pick out very similar hooked noses, dark eyes, greasy black hair, that same sour-cheeked expression. Most, if not all, had met sticky ends. Snape's great great grandfather had been killed in a polyjuice potion accident, and another man had died in what was referred to as, "the reason why Needle Bats and serenity candles do not mix".

Ginny was wearing a very pinched expression as Harry glanced up at her. "Real happy family, huh?"

"Yeah," he said, grimly. He glanced down at the tree, noticing black Bs next to the names of most males. "What does the B stand for?"

"I can think of something that's appropriate to Snape," said Ginny, corners of her mouth twitching.

"No, seriously."

She shrugged. "Beastly, maybe... bland, back-stabbing, bothersome, bitter... born of siblings, maybe. B for Born to Be Boring. Maybe it's for blah. As in, blah blah blah potions blah antidotes blah you are not working up to a sufficent standard blah."

"There's a date next to it though," said Harry. He pointed. "Oh, I see. It's for birth date."

Ginny grinned, studying the date underneath Snape's name. "Damn, he's had a hard life."

There was suddenly a lot of noise from downstairs, the sound of the door banging open, somebody shouting. Harry and Ginny jumped and turned around.

"Arthur!" a man's voice that Harry didn't recognise was shouting. "Arthur, quickly! Come quickly!"

With a worried look at each other, Harry and Ginny got up and hurried towards the stairs, just in time to see Mr Weasley come out of a door in the hall and look up at the shadow of another man in the door way. "What is it?" Mr Weasley asked, blinking.

"Arthur," the man sighed. "Thank Merlin you're here! There's been an attack, Arthur, it's Death Eaters! They got into St Mungo's and... oh Arthur, you have to come! The healers won't be able to hold them off for long!"

Mr Weasley was going pale. He grabbed his coat from the side, just as Lupin and Tonks appeared out of another door. "An attack? On St Mungo's?" said Lupin.

The man in the door nodded frantically. "Death Eaters, about six of 'em. Just strolled in and started cursing."

"We'll come too," said Tonks, as she drew her wand. "Where are Snape and Bill?"

"I'm here," said Snape's cold voice from behind Harry. He blew down the stairs so fast it looked as though he flew, and his wand was already out in his hand. "Have the muggles noticed?"

The young man shook his head, panting slightly. "No, it was all inside the waiting area. Contained attack. We don't want the muggles to realise if at all possible, but we've - "

Mrs Weasley had come out of the kitchen at all the shouting, wooden spoon in hand. "What's happened, Arthur?" she said.

"There's been a Death Eater attack, Molly," said Mr Weasley, already heading out of the door. "On St Mungo's."

"Wait! One moment, I'll get my wand!" she said, but Mr Weasley cut her off.

"No, Molly, stay here," he said. "Stay with the children, this might be a distraction to get Harry or Draco."

"We're coming too though," Ron said, looking down at his father hopefully. "Aren't we? Please Dad, we're of age, we can help the ministry!"

"Absolutely not," said Mr Weasley. "You're staying here with your mother. Bill! Bill, where are you?"

Bill hurried out of the lounge and ran after them, as all the adult wizards left the house, slamming the door. Harry saw them crossing the square through the frosted glass, but Mrs Weasley pulled the curtains over, and shooed them all upstairs. She sent them into the drawing room, and the moment the door shut, Ron said, angrily, "Why can't we go and help? Come on, we deserve a chance!"

"Speak for yourself," said Draco, sinking gracefully into an armchair and making himself at home. "We'd be slaughtered."

"We've got as much skill as anybody," said Ron. "We're coming up to seventeen, and we were fighting in the siege! Why can't we fight now?"

"Correction," said Ginny. "Draco was fighting in the siege. You and me were stuck behind a bubble, and Harry was tied up. We couldn't fight." She sighed, and patted Ron consolingly on the shoulder. "Come on, it's not a big thing... they won't need our help. The ministry will sort it all out soon enough. There are only six of them."

"But what if more are coming?" said Ron, hotly. "You-Know-Who doesn't just send in six Death Eaters! There'll be hundreds on their way now!"

Ginny shook her head. "There won't be. The muggles will notice if there are."

"He'll want the muggles to notice," Ron argued. "He wants to cause a big scene, remember? Not just on the wizarding world, he wants the entire world!"

"Since when were you the spokesperson for the Dark Lord?" Draco drawled, coldly.

Ron glared at him, but clearly this comment had put him off. He sunk into an armchair with a defeated sigh, crossed his arms, and stared up at the ceiling. "It's still unfair though. It doesn't matter how many there are, we should be allowed to help. What was it Dumbledore said at the end of last year? We all need to stand together to fight against You-Know-Who? And yet they're leaving us out of it! Harry should at least be allowed to go, he's the expert on You-Know-Who!"

Draco rolled his eyes. "Weasley, Potter is wanted by the Dark Lord. If he is found or even glimpsed by a Death Eater, he'll just be massacred immediately. It's like sending the king out to do a pawn's job."

Ron turned to Harry, his eyes flashing, looking surprisingly like Hermione. He opened his mouth to possibly demand Harry's opinion, or try and get Harry on his side in the argument, but he fell silent at the look on Harry's face. "What's up with you?"

Harry was quiet for a moment. He then said, unable to keep the worry from his voice, "Kainda's in St Mungo's."

"They won't get past the entrance hall," said Ginny, consolingly. "Honestly, Harry... look at all the qualifications healers need. Loads of Defence the Dark Arts and everything. They'll be able to fight the Death Eaters back." She patted him on the arm. "Don't worry."

"See," said Ron, viciously to Draco. "If Kainda gets killed, it'll be your fault."

"My fault?" Draco snarled, abandoning his superior coolness immediately. "How will it be my fault? Did I stop you going to help? No! If you want to get yourself cursed into a hundred little bits, then go ahead, just go running out there to get mown down, do us all a favour!"

"You just - " Ron began, furiously, but Harry decided then and there he was sick of it already.

"Stop it," he said, firmly. "Just stop fighting. Nobody's proving anything." He sat back in his chair, crossed his arms, and closed his eyes. "All we can do is wait..."

It was two hours before Harry, Ron, Ginny and Draco heard the front door opening downstairs, and people coming in. They all leapt out of their chairs and rushed from the room, only to be intercepted by Bill Weasley.

"Hey, hey, back in the drawing room," he said. "There's an Order meeting about to take place, you're not allowed to hear."

"What happened?" said Harry, hurriedly. "Please, just tell us. Is anybody dead? Are the Death Eaters gone?"

"They disapparated," said Bill. "We managed to take out two of them, and the rest of them just realised they weren't going to get any further than the waiting room. Everybody's fine, Harry, don't worry. The moment the Death Eaters entered the building, the witch at the Welcome Desk got the safety measures in place. There were only a few little injuries... Lupin got a bloody nose, I think, and Snape got a nasty cut on his neck, but it's being sorted out now."

"Why can't we join in with the Order meeting?" said Ron, angrily. "Come on Bill, please!"

"No, Ron," Bill said firmly. "You're not members."

"Why?" said Ron.

Bill looked at him blankly for a moment, then said, vaguely, "No idea, but you're not allowed to hear... don't cause a fuss, Ron, I'm supposed to be in there right now."

"Bill?" said a voice from down the corridor. They all looked up. Lupin was standing before them, a wad of white cloth held under his nose, soaking up the blood. "Dumbledore wants to see the children while any injuries are cleared up."

Ron dodged past Bill before his older brother could stop him, and hurried over to Lupin. "He wants us to join, doesn't he?"

"I'm not sure," said Lupin. "He just told me to bring you all to him. Harry, Ginny, Draco... come on. Bill, if you're not hurt, could you help tend to the injuries? Everybody's in the lounge."

Bill nodded. As Lupin lead Harry, Ron, Ginny and Draco towards the kitchen, Bill headed off in a different direction towards the lounge. Harry noticed he was limping on every other step, but he had no time to ponder this, as Lupin opened the door of the kitchen. "Albus? They're here," he said.

Sitting in a chair at the old wooden table was Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, dressed in long purple robes decorated in gold stars. As always when seeing Dumbledore again after a break, Harry felt an odd sense of calm and safety. The headmaster smiled at them all, drawing out chairs with a flick of his wand. "Sit down, children... how is your holiday so far? Homework out of the way?"

"Potions homework," said Draco, idly.

"As if you'd dare leave it until the last week with Snape in the house," Ron muttered.

Dumbledore chuckled slightly. "Good, good... and Harry? How are you?"

Harry smiled. "Fine, thanks... a bit bored, but okay."

"Marvellous... now... I'm sure you all know that I have called you here for a reason." Dumbledore peered at them over the top of his half-moon spectacles. "A very serious reason... any ideas?"

"You want us to join the Order," said Harry, quietly.

Dumbledore nodded. "I do, Harry... you may have wondered why I left it quite so long to offer you an invitation. The truth is that I wanted to wait until Miss Weasley was of age, so I wasn't extending the offer to all but one. It is dreadful to be the only one left out."

"What about Hermione?" said Ron. "Isn't she joining?"

"I went to visit Miss Granger earlier," said Dumbledore. "Also, Mr Longbottom, Miss Lovegood, and Miss Zabini. I believe it is time for a new generation to join our ranks. Though I must speak with you now... this is not something to be taken lightly, in the slightest. The Order of the Phoenix is still a secret organisation, completely unknown to Voldemort or any of his followers. This is the way I wish for it to stay." He reached into his pocket, and took out a scroll of parchment, a quill, and a bottle of ink. "Therefore, you will all have to sign to promise your secrecy. This is a magical contract, somewhat like the ones used for marriage and magical guardians, and I should warn you now that those who break such a contract are punished most heavily by magic itself. You cannot go back on such a thing."

Harry picked up the quill without any hesitation. Dumbledore smiled, unrolled the parchment, and held it still as Harry signed his signature on the dotted line. He knew that he would never join the dark side, and would never willingly help Voldemort in any way at all. Ron and Ginny clearly felt the same. They signed their names right after Harry, though when Draco was handed the quill, he glanced up at Dumbledore.

"Does this contract forbid loyalty to a Death Eater as a person?" he asked, raising one eyebrow. "I shall sign nothing which requires me to hate my own family."

Dumbledore shook his head, and said, "Don't worry, Draco. I would not dare force anybody to stop loving their family or friends."

Happy with this answer, Draco took the quill, and carefully inked, "Malfoy", on the line.

"And first name, please, Draco," said Dumbledore.

Draco raised an eyebrow, and added his first name afterwards in brackets. "There."

Dumbledore smiled. "Thankyou all... I'm sure that you will make the Order very proud indeed. Now... I think it's about time you all attended your very first official meeting. Oh... one thing first..." And from his pocket, he took four candles, then handed one to each of them. "These are very secret... I hope you will all use them responsibly."

Harry blinked as he received his own candle. "You mean, not playing with matches?"

"No, no, Harry," Dumbledore chuckled. "Though, of course, that is very important. These are not normal candles. Every single member of the Order of the Phoenix has one of these candles, and if you light the flame, and speak the name of the person you wish to contact, their own candle will light, and you may speak to them. We use these to contact each other when floo powder, owls, portkeys and apparition are not possible."

"Cool," breathed Ron. "But... hang on... what if we've got the thing in our pockets, when somebody wants to get in touch? We'll catch fire, won't we?"

"No," said Dumbledore, with a small smile. "The candle will simply become warm, until taken out into the air, at which point the candle will light and communication will be possible."

"What if it starts getting hot in lessons?" asked Ron.

"Simply ask if you may be excused," said Dumbledore. "Most of the teachers at Hogwarts are members of the Order, and will let you leave. Come along now. You all have a meeting to attend, and I have one to give - coincidentally, the same one."

They all stood up, and made their way from the kitchen into the hall, then down a corridor into the lounge. It was very dark, as the curtains were shut, and there was a great sense of importance in the air. Every single seat was taken, and there were more people standing around, tending to minor injuries and talking in low voices. A lot of eyes turned in their direction as Dumbledore lead them in, though he nodded graciously, and gestured to the candle still in Harry's hand. The other members of the Order all made noises of understanding, smiling at the new members, and from the back of the room, there was a loud whisper of, "Over here!"

Harry looked around, and saw Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, and Neville Longbottom standing by the back wall. Hermione was grinning and waving them over. They picked their way carefully through the crowd, and squashed up on the sofa that Hermione, Luna and Neville had saved. Ron got a hug from Hermione, and with slightly pink ears, he hugged her back.

"How are you all?" she whispered. "What's been happening?"

"Not much," said Ginny. "We've been inside all the time. Harry went to see Kainda a few days ago though, and there was that St Mungo's thing earlier... but nothing apart from that. What about you?"

"Oh, doing homework, revising, the usual," said Hermione, airily. She turned to Harry, and smiled. "Did you get my present?"

"Yeah," he said, smiling back. "It's really... useful, thanks."

"They are brilliant books," said Hermione, enthusiastically. "I bought one for myself, you know, just so I won't have to keep borrowing yours all the time. They're ever so good. It covers all sorts of techniques for revision, and - "

"Could I possibly have everybody's attention please?" Dumbledore was calling for quiet, and so Hermione hushed up about the NEWT revision books. Dumbledore smiled around at everybody, standing up by the fireplace. "Firstly, I would like to thank you all for attending this meeting, as I know many of you now have busy schedules, so I am eternally glad to see you all here. Secondly, as you have all noticed, we welcome eight new members to our ranks today. Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, Ron and Ginny Weasley, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, and Kainda Zabini have all agreed to join the Order, though regretfully, Miss Zabini cannot be with us in person. A link by candles must suffice..."

He took his own candle from his pocket, placed it on the mantelpiece, and clicked his fingers. A little flame appeared on the wick, dancing in the darkness, and he murmured, "Zabini, Kainda". There was a noise like a wind-chime, and the next moment, an echoing voice filled the room.


"Good evening, Miss Zabini," said Dumbledore, pleasantly. "There is an Order meeting taking place, and we wish for you to be part of it... I do hope we aren't intruding upon something important."

Harry could almost hear the smile in Kainda's voice. "It's okay, sir. I could do with the company."

"I'm sure you could," said Dumbledore, with a little sigh. "How are things inside St Mungo's, Kainda?"

"To tell you the truth, I didn't even know we were under attack," said Kainda's voice. "There certainly wasn't any major damage done in my ward at least. The healers sorted out any injuries pretty quick. Things here are fine, I guess."

"Good," said Dumbledore. He turned to the rest of the people present, and asked, "Were there any significant losses to our side?"

"No," said Lupin, from his place near the bookshelves. "We've got everything sorted out. Nothing a good charm won't fix."

"Excellent. Has the total count of losses in the siege been counted yet?" Dumbledore asked.

"We lost quite a lot from the ministry," said a dark-skinned witch nearby. "Only three-quarters of people who went to Hogwarts that day came back safely. Hogwarts pupils, I believe we lost around half..."

Dumbledore nodded solemnly. "Indeed we did. Slytherin seemed to suffer the heaviest casualties... we only have thirty left, out of seventy..."

"They'll have gone to join their parents," said the dark-skinned witch. "The Death Eaters, Dumbledore."

"Objection," Snape said, coldly, from his seat near the fireplace.

"I'll second that," said Kainda.

"As will I," Draco said, in a tone not unlike Snape's.

Snape swept his dark eyes around every face, and said, seriously, "I would like to dispel this ridiculous notion you all have of my house. Salazar Slytherin was not a Death Eater, nor was he an approver of the Dark Lord. Slytherin house, therefore, stands not for Death Eaters, but for the things the sorting hat describes once a year - ambition, cunning, independence. Not every Slytherin will become a Death Eater, and nor is every Death Eater a Slytherin."

Nobody wanted to argue against this, and there was silence for a moment, before the dark witch said, with a raised eyebrow, "Then only four-sevenths of Slytherin house will become Death Eaters."

"By your logic," Snape drawled, "Slytherin house did not receive a single death, and forty children simply vanished into thin air to join the Dark Lord. If they had joined forces with the Death Eaters, we would have seen them leaving the grounds in some way."

"Their bodies have not been found," the dark witch said, coldly.

"There are ways to dispose of bodies," said Snape, and luckily, he didn't elaborate.

"If I may speak," Dumbledore said, calmly, over the start of the dark witch's reply. "We are not here to argue. However this happened, Slytherin house has lost the most students, though the other houses are not without losses. Because of this, I am lowering the barriers between houses at Hogwarts. There will not be house tables, but smaller tables where students of all houses and staff will mix together. The Quidditch tournament will be as it was last year, with mixed-house teams, and house points - "

"If there aren't house points - " Hermione started loudly, but when everybody turned to look at her, she hushed her voice a little. " - then students won't have anything to work for," she finished, quietly.

Dumbledore smiled. "Exactly the argument that came up in my own head, Miss Granger. Thankyou. However, house points will not be abolished completely... my plan is to have a cumulative total for points, and once certain amounts are reached, for example, 100 cumulative house points, a reward for the school will be arranged."

"I'll vote for that," said Professor McGonagall's voice, crisply. Harry glanced around the crowd, and saw her sitting on a sofa with Professor Sprout, tiny little Professor Flitwick, and to his great surprise, Professor Alrister, the Pure Arts master.

Alrister glanced at Harry, and gave a slight smile, before raising a hand. "I'm with Minerva."

"Then we are settled," said Dumbledore, smiling slightly. "And as with last year, there are more changes to be made at Hogwarts. Pure Arts is currently being taught and learnt very well - "

"Hear hear," said Harry. Alrister gave him another smile.

"Thankyou, Harry," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. "Yes, as it has become such a popular subject, I have decided to introduce another new subject to be taught this year - Miscellaneous Magic. Penny Pebblebank has very kindly agreed to teach this to the students for an hour a week, and I hope it will be received well."

"What sort of things...?" said Ron, tentatively.

Dumbledore just smiled. "You shall have to wait and see, Mr Weasley. Now..." He gave a little sigh. "We must address our most important issue. Voldemort. What information do we have on his current activities and next targets?"

A young witch with green hair spoke up from the corner, stepping forward a little so her face could be seen properly. "It's been hard getting any information from him, really..."

"Yeah," said a man next to her, looking up from his hands. "We have been trying though, but he's not even talking to Death Eaters anymore. Only ever Rookwood."

"After the siege, he sort of withdrew into the corridor with the vampires and necromancers in their cages," the woman said, raising her eyebrows. "He spent all his time with them, just watching them being fed. You know the pureblood vampire girl he got? The rumour is he was actually feeding her himself. On his own blood."

"How old is she now?" asked Dumbledore, seriously.

The man gave a nervous little laugh. "We're not sure... you see, it looks as though he got bored with waiting for her to grow up. Spent a month looking after her, then I dunno... he realised she's not going to be grown up for quite a while."

"So he decided to just skip ahead," the woman said. "He just had her drink from one of the necromancers, hoping she would absorb the skill. But she didn't. It turns out that it was a pretty bad move... she's started to grow faster than she really should. She got to about twenty years old a few days ago. He just took her out of her cage, and took her away from the compound. We don't know where they went, but she wasn't with him when he came back. He killed her. She wasn't useful to him anymore."

"At least we now have one less worry," said Dumbledore, gravely. "Do we have any idea where his next target is?"

"None at all," said the woman. "Well... as we said, he's being really secretive. He'll only let Rookwood in to see him. Says that Rookwood is his only truly loyal servant anymore, after Lestrange and Malfoy have been killed, and Snape's been shown as a traitor."

"He's sending Rookwood to do some weird things though," said the man next to her, his left eyebrow arching up. "Robbing muggle museums, mostly. Bringing back Egyptian artefacts and information. Everyday, Rookwood goes out to one of the muggle bookshops in London and brings back loads of book about ancient civilisations. We've got no idea what he's up to."

"They've unearthed a new tomb in Egypt, just today," the woman added. "But the muggles say it was pretty much empty, just a few paintings and stuff left. It was full until this morning. Rookwood must have caught wind of a tomb about to be discovered by the muggles, and gone down there right before. Picked it clean. We don't know if he's looking for something in particular, or if Voldemort just wants to improve his collection." She smiled grimly. "It's his new hobby."

"Odd," said Dumbledore, thoughtfully. "Somehow, I doubt whether this is as innocent as it sounds."

"Perhaps he's decided to give the conquer of the world a miss," said the green-haired witch, grinning slightly. "He might be planning to get on muggle television with a documentary series. Voldemort's Wonderful World Of History."

There was a soft outbreak of laughter, and when it died down, Dumbledore smiled and said, "Well... I believe that is all..."

"Would anybody like to stay for something to eat?" said Mrs Weasley, hopefully. "You're all welcome, I'm sure."

A few people murmured and nodded, while others stood up, heading for the door. Professors Sprout, Flitwick and McGonagall all gave the children fleeting smiles before they left, and when everybody who was going had gone, Harry looked around to see who had decided to stay. To his delight, Alrister remained; Harry quite wanted to talk to him. Dumbledore still stood by the fire, some of Mr Weasley's ministry friends were standing around and chatting to him, a blonde witch that Harry didn't know was talking animatedly to Tonks, and all of Harry's friends were peeling themselves from the sofa.

"A new subject," Hermione said, excitedly. "I wonder what we'll be learning. It's probably just another other magic we don't get taught normally, like theory and stuff."

Ron groaned. "If it is, we'd better not have to do a NEWT exam about it."

"Come on," said Ginny, heading towards the door. "Let's go help Mum with the cooking. Maybe we can weedle out of Lupin what we'll be learning in Misc Magic."


Chapter Six: Gringotts Gold

Everyone who was staying for something to eat gradually made their way through into the dining room, as Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna, Ginny and Draco all helped Mrs Weasley conjure some basic food ingredients, and start cooking. They then learnt several valuable lessons: Neville and hot pans do not mix, dicing vegetables is harder than it looks, and that Draco just couldn't cook and was going to have to survive on takeaways for the whole of his adult life. Hermione had to run to rescue several times and show Draco the correct way to conjure sauce from a wand, rather than have it splattering absolutely everywhere.

After half an hour of controlled mayhem, they finished meals for everybody, and carried the hot plates carefully through to the dining room. Everybody was sitting around the dining table, talking enthusiastically, except Snape, who was lurking around at the opposite end of the table to Alrister, shooting him some very dark looks every now and then. Harry handed him a plate of chicken and pasta with sauce. "Are you alright, Professor?"

"Perfectly fine," said Snape, darkly, still glaring at Alrister and not even looking at what he was eating.

"Harry!" Alrister called, merrily, waving Harry over. "How are you?"

"Fine, thanks," said Harry. He smiled, and as he crossed the room to give Alrister a plate of chicken and pasta, he distinctly heard Snape's snort of contempt. He pretended to have not noticed, and handed Alrister his plate with a smile. "Yourself?"

"I'm not so bad," said Alrister. He hadn't changed at all since Harry last saw him. Still tall, muscled, and dressed in very pirate-inspired clothes, Alrister was one of Harry's favourite teachers. His hair wasn't back in its usual ponytail for once, but long and loose around his shoulders, and when he swept it back to eat, Harry caught a flash of a gold hoop in the top of his ear. "Good holiday?" the teacher asked.

Harry sat down next to him. "Yeah, pretty good so far. Boring though."

"How's the homework treating you?" asked Alrister.

"Pretty good. I've been practicing everyday." He grinned, and at Alrister's prompting expression, Harry stretched out his arms, concentrating on the day when he'd found out Kainda was going to live. Alrister watched intently, and for a moment, Harry was terrified nothing would happen, until he felt himself start to float upwards, just a few inches at first.

Alrister grinned, and clapped. "Very good, very good Harry."

"Thanks," Harry beamed, as he sunk slowly back down onto his chair. "I can do fire as well, but Mrs Weasley says no explosions at the dinner table."

"Understandable," said Alrister, nodding wisely. "I'd ask how your love life was going, but I think the entire wizarding world already knows, hmm?"

Harry grinned sheepishly. "You read the Prophet..."

"They really are quite obsessed with you, aren't they?" he said, sympathetically.

"Just a bit," said Harry, with a small smile, taking a sip of pumpkin juice from his goblet.

"Don't worry about it, Harry," said Alrister. "It'll all die down pretty soon, you mark my words. If I remember rightly, Dumbledore has some precautions set up in case the reporters try following you to Hogwarts. Kainda's coming back for another shot at seventh year, isn't she?"

Harry nodded, unable to stop himself smiling again. "To redo her NEWTs."

"Excellent," said Alrister. "Always a good student, Kainda. Very hard working. Always ready and willing to demonstrate in front of the class - it should be interesting how she does in her NEWT exam of Pure Arts. We'll be preparing for them all year, so you'll all have some good practice..."

"All year?" said Harry, with wide eyes. "What have we got to do?"

Alrister smiled, tapping his nose. "That would be telling now, wouldn't it?"

Harry laughed softly, and took another sip of pumpkin juice to quench his thirst. After a moment, he asked, "Have you joined the Order?"

"I have," Alrister sighed. He looked rather worried at this. "I think that the time has come to take some kind of action... it looks as though there are only three ways to deal with Voldemort. Fight, join or die. I'd rather avoid the last two if I can. So fight is my only option."

"When did you join the Order?" asked Harry, interestedly.

"Just at the end of last year," Alrister replied. "Dumbledore came to see me, we had a chat... and here we are. This is your house, isn't it?"

Harry nodded. "I inherited it from Sirius. It's sort of becoming a hotel though, anybody can stay here really. Draco and the Weasleys are here, Professor Snape, Professor Lupin, Tonks... where do you spend the holidays?"

"Rookwood Castle," said Alrister. "The place is pretty much empty apart from me and my birds. And not that sort of bird, before you say anything."

Harry laughed. He'd subconsciously missed Alrister's sense of humour. He was a very care-free, cool sort of teacher, with quite a disregard for rules or ministry guidelines, and his natural good looks were quite a favourite feature of the girls. Hermione had always been quite taken with Alrister, though to Harry's surprise, she hadn't even said hello to him. She was far too interested in listening to Ron chatter eagerly about their visit to the muggle shopping centre. Harry couldn't help but smile at this.

He looked around the rest of the table, as he refilled his goblet with pumpkin juice and took a sip. Mr Weasley and his ministry friends were debating whether muggles were more advanced than wizards, Tonks and Lupin were talking to the rest of the Hogwarts students about NEWT tests, Mrs Weasley was badgering Bill about wearing his dragon-hide boots indoors, and Snape was eating his meal in silence, as though there was nobody else in the room. He then glanced over at the blonde woman he had noticed earlier, and saw that she was smiling at him.

Alrister, noticing this, said through a mouthful of chicken, "Oh, Harry... this is Professor Pebblebank, she'll be teaching you Misc Magic this year."

Harry smiled, and offered his hand. "Nice to meet you."

"Likewise," she said, shaking hands with him and grinning. She had a pointed sort of face, and her blonde hair was cropped very short, so she looked remarkably like a pixie in a muggle child's book. Her eyes were a bright shade of baby blue, exactly the same as her robes, and she was looking at Harry with a great deal of interest, as though he was somebody she hadn't seen in a long time. "I remember those eyes," she said, fondly, glancing at Lupin.

Lupin smiled, turning around to join in the conversation. "Yes, everybody does... he's James with his mother's eyes."

"You knew my mum?" said Harry, looking at Professor Pebblebank in surprise.

She nodded, grinning at him reminiscently. "We were at school together, best mates. You've got her smile as well..."

"Has he?" said Lupin, mildly. "I always thought he looked like James when he laughed."

Harry beamed. Lupin and Professor Pebblebank both grinned. "Yeah," she said. "That's Lily."

Harry was intrigued. He'd only ever met his father's friends before, and it had never really occurred to him that Lily's friends were probably still alive. He knew very little about his mother. Everyone always told him how he had her eyes, and he knew that his mother was his link to both the Dursleys and the Weasleys, but that was about it. He dimly remembered something Snape said once, about him having his mother's fiery temperament and his father's despicable stubbornness, but Snape had despised both of Harry's parents.

"Are you teaching Misc Magic, Professor?" asked Hermione from across the table, leaning forward to look very interestedly at Pebblebank.

The professor nodded, helping herself to more pumpkin juice. "Yeah, I am. You're a seventh year, are you?" At Hermione's nod, Pebblebank grinned. "I'm going to be doing different styles of magic with seventh years... we're going over some Chinese Dragon Magic, the magic of prehistoric wizards, Indian Magic, loads of different things."

"Will we be doing a NEWT exam on it?" asked Ron, quickly.

"No," said Pebblebank. "You'll get your NEWT level from all your grades averaged through the year. You've probably got enough exams to be going on with already, huh?"

"Far too many," said Ron, stoutly, reaching for the pumpkin juice again.

"No, Ron," said Mrs Weasley. "You've had enough already. In fact, I think you should all be getting to bed... Hermione, Luna and Neville are all staying the night, but I don't want you up talking to all hours. We're decorating again tomorrow."

All the teenagers at the table got up, and with a called goodnight to the adults, they made their way up the stairs to bed.

Yet again, Harry found himself sitting back in an armchair in Snape's office, pinned in place by cold hands, his head resting on a pillow. The fingertips of his left hand were drifting around a bowl of water, and above his head in the darkness, he could see a serenity candle blazing, its bronze smoke creeping lazily through the shadows. Snape's face appeared above him next moment, and as always, the Potions master asked, quietly, "Are you relaxed?"

He nodded vaguely. One cold hand curled around his jaw, tilting his face up, then he and Snape were eye to eye, emerald on onyx. Gradually, Snape's gaze started to go deeper, past his eyes, past his body, past his soul, right into his mind. That dark and soothing something was into his thoughts, rifling through them and examining each one at its leisure, though Harry wasn't complaining. It was better than the imperius curse to be like this. It was the feeling of not only being problem-free, but that any problems he would ever have could be singled out, and somebody else would deal with them, deal with his very emotions. His fingers were still drifting around in the bowl of water, as heat started to weep from them, boiling it. Harry could feel the little plumes of steam dancing from the surface, and he was vaguely aware of Snape's eyes still piercing into him, before -

There was suddenly a bang so loud that Harry nearly jumped out of his skin. He was pitched out of nightmare into consciousness, as he bolted awake with a yelp. Ron stood with the door in his hand from where he had slammed it open. "Oh," he said. "Sorry, I thought you were awake."

Harry gasped, covered his face and laid back down in bed, trying to stop his heart pounding in his chest. "It's okay," he said, croakily, after a moment or so. "I was dreaming, that's all..."

"Oh? What about?" asked Ron, sitting down on the end of his bed.

"I wish I knew," said Harry quietly. He rubbed his eyes. Yet again, he had that odd, empty feeling, as though he'd just forgotten something very important. He could only remember fleeting snatches of his dreams. Something about Snape? And water, there was definitely water in there somewhere. He sighed. There was no point racking his brain for something that he had no hope of remembering. "Where's everybody else?" he asked, sleepily.

"Downstairs," Ron shrugged. "Getting their breakfast." He handed Harry a brown envelope, and said, "From school, list of new books and stuff. Just arrived. We're going to Diagon Alley once everybody's up and dressed, so you can get everything then."

Harry yawned slightly, as he tore open the envelope and read through the letter. Ron leant over his shoulder, comparing lists, and reading aloud.

"A Thorough Guide To The Black Arts... yep, I've got that... The Standard Book Of Spells, Grade 7... yep, got it. Oh, new transfiguration book there. Eurgh... Binns wants us to get a new textbook. I bet you there isn't a single picture in it. Hey... you've got one I haven't." He pointed to the last item on Harry's list, frowning. "Cold-Blood : A Study Of Magical Murder, by Verin Maleficia."

Harry raised his eyebrows. "What've I got that for?"

"Search me," said Ron, shrugging. "But it's added on in a different handwriting, look. The rest of it's done in a dictating quill."

"It looks like it's Lupin's handwriting," said Harry, with a little frown. "But you're doing Dark Arts too. How come I have to get another book?"

"Probably because it's you, isn't it?" said Ron. "Doing DA and all that. They reckon you've got more chance, so they'll give you more help. I bet you Hermione has to get it too."

Harry shrugged vaguely. "Maybe," he said. He suddenly noticed that Ron had a book in his hand along with his own book list. "Hey, what's that?"

"Oh, Hagrid and Charlie sent it from Hogwarts," Ron explained, falling back onto his bed and showing Harry the book. It was a muggle child's pop-up book, with a large picture of an apple on the front.

"What on earth have they sent you that for?" asked Harry, bewildered.

Ron shook out a letter from inside the book, and read. "Dear Harry and Ron. How are you both? Me and Charlie are both having a great time sorting things out here. We've got a job for you to do with Sneezy, seeing as you took him home for the holidays. We were feeding the opsittops the other day, when we realised they've started talking. Just a few little things like 'food' and 'out' and 'no'. We's started trying to teach them a bit more and I've put in a muggle alphabet book so you can have a go with Sneezy. The rest of them are having trouble with giraffe, they keep calling it a jerruf. Have fun, from Hagrid and Charlie." Ron gave Harry a weak smile. "We have to teach him to talk."

"We might as well have a go," said Harry. "We could try teaching him now. Go fetch him, and we'll see what we can do."

If Harry had thought their task would be easy, he was wildly mistaken. Sneezy got thoroughly over-excited even at A for acorn, and seemed to develop a block against the T in cat ("Kak! Kak"). Turning the page, a large picture of a bulldog jumped out, and it took at least ten minutes to retrieve a panic-stricken Sneezy from under Draco's bed. Then there was F for fwog, I for ice cweam, and U for umbwella. Sneezy couldn't quite comprehend that N for nut and A for acorn were different things, and when Harry tried to explain it properly, Sneezy told him no, that he was bad, and so was the nut. Sneezy also firmly decided that H was not for hedgehog, but was in fact for ejog, G was for jerruf, J was for jewwy rather than jelly, and violins were also bad, then when they finally reached Z for zebra, Sneezy had another panic attack and they had to lure him out with raisins.

After that, they put the book away, and once Harry was dressed the three of them headed down to the kitchen for some breakfast. To Harry's horror, Sneezy took one look at Snape and called him a "bad yak", but Snape didn't notice, and Sneezy was fed biscuit crumbs in exchange for silence.

"Morning!" said Hermione, pleasantly. "Did you sleep well?"

"Perfectly," Harry lied. He sat down at the table, and hastily pushed another crumb into Sneezy's mouth to hush him up. Sneezy, halfway through a word, was caught unaware and choked on the crumb, falling over and promptly sneezing loudly.

"Why does he keep sneezing?" asked Neville, leaning forward to peer closely at Sneezy.

"He's just an attention seeker," said Ron, vaguely. "Or he learnt it from something in the Forbidden Forest. That's the only place in the world they're found."

"Then why don't the others sneeze?" said Hermione. She held her hand flat, and Sneezy scampered over, sitting on her palm proudly and letting her pet his acorn-hat. "Maybe he's got an allergy to something... pollen, maybe. He might just have hayfever."

"Hefeefer," said Sneezy, happily, munching on another piece of biscuit handed to him by Ron. "Mmmm, bickchit."

"Biscuit," Ron corrected him.

"No!" Sneezy squeaked. "Bickchit."

Draco sat forward, and said, slowly, "Biss."

"Biss," Sneezy repeated.





Draco put a hand over his eyes, and left Sneezy to it, as the opsittop giggled. Hermione grinned and started to pet him again. Sneezy started purring, the perfect mimick of a cat.

"Are you guys coming to Diagon Alley with us today?" Harry asked Hermione, Luna and Neville.

"Yep," said Neville. He handed Sneezy a few more crumbs ("Ooooh, bickchit!") and then held out his school books list. "I spoke to Gran through floo powder this morning, and she said it's fine."

"I'm sure that Daddy won't mind," said Luna, dreamily, staring at Harry with those un-nervingly wide eyes. "He is very busy at the moment, and he says that now I'm of age, I can do as I please. At least I can now defend myself against any dangers in the world."

Hermione was holding a glass of water to Sneezy's lips, and the little opsittop was gurgling happily into the water as he drank. "I sent an owl to Mum and Dad, they say it's perfectly okay. I could do with getting my new books, I'd really like to see what sort of things we'll be doing this year."

"A bit eager, aren't you?" said Draco, raising an eyebrow.

"Oh, but seventh year's supposed to be the best," said Hermione. "And the most important, of course. Though we do some really interesting things in seventh year, all the things we're not legally allowed to do before now. It's our last year as well. No more chance to learn after this. I'm planning to really knuckle down and work as hard as I can."

"Even more than you already do? Impossible," said Draco.

"Thankyou for the compliment," she said, with a sweet smile.

As Harry stepped out from the back yard of the Leaky Cauldron, through the magical stone archway, he could firmly say that he had severely missed being in Diagon Alley. He didn't know whether he was just extra happy to be outside, or if it was something else, he was just in an exceptionally good mood as the whole party stepped into the wizarding street.

"Are we all here?" said Mr Weasley, looking around at them all. They beamed up at him. "Good good. Don't want to lose anybody in the crowds. My, it's busy today. Molly? Do you think we should split up?"

"I think so," said Mrs Weasley. She turned around to peer at everyone. "Children, can I trust you to be alright on your own? I want you to stay together though, no running off or getting split up. Are we clear?"

"Wait," said Lupin, holding up a hand. "Gringotts won't let them in on their own without an adult. We should at least visit the bank as a whole group, then split up."

Mrs Weasley nodded. "Right you are, Remus... come along then, stick together!"

She lead the way down the winding cobbled street, heading towards a white building just visible in the distance. Harry was looking around eagerly at all the shops as they passed, desperate to go and explore. Every single glass window seemed to be beckoning to him to come closer and step inside. There were shops selling plants, shops selling potion ingredients, the book shop, Ollivander's Wand Shop, chocolate shops, robes shops, jewellery shops... Harry always wished he had twenty eyes when walking down Diagon Alley. Far too soon in Harry's opinion, he found himself walking into Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It was absolutely packed full of wizards standing around and talking to goblins, some of them looking quite frantic, and the goblins were doing their best to keep the wizards and witches calm.

"Because of the return of You-Know-Who," Mr Weasley explained, quietly. "Everybody is panicking that Diagon Alley will be attacked next, so they want to withdraw all their money."

"Do you think that we should...?" Hermione began.

Mr Weasley shook his head. "No, no. Gringotts is perfectly safe. There's no reason to panic and take everything out until we get word that You-Know-Who really is planning to take Gringotts."

They all headed up to the only available goblin. He was sitting and scribbling furiously in a book the size of a paving slab, and when they approached him, he made no sign he had noticed them at all until Mr Weasley loudly cleared his throat and said, "Excuse me?"

The goblin looked up, and said in a voice that was polite but nonetheless irritated, "May I help you, sir?"

"We wish to go down to our vaults," said Mr Weasley. "Could we possibly be shown down...?"

The goblin shook his head. "We are too busy at the moment. Though we will let adults take the carts down to their own vaults, as long as we are confident that they will not attempt anything... ah... dangerous." He gestured to a loop of metal track against the far wall. The tracks lead away through a pair of double doors, and Harry knew that behind them were the underground caverns and ravines leading to the vaults.

Mr Weasley thanked the goblin, and hurried everyone over towards the carts. He and Ginny got into the first, then Mrs Weasley went with Ron and Hermione, Bill was paired with Luna, Draco reluctantly got into a cart with Tonks, and then Lupin went away with Neville. As Harry had predicted, he was paired with Snape. They stepped carefully into the cart, and Snape slammed the door after them. Harry made sure he was sitting comfortably, and gripping the edges of the cart, before the doors into the underground depths of bank opened, and the cart rolled slowly forwards into the dark.

It was icily cold, and the clank of the cart wheels on the metal track seemed to echo endlessly into the blackness. Harry felt the cold winds whipping at his face and neck as the cart starting to build speed, his hair getting blown all over the place, and then there was a lurching sensation in his stomach as the car plunged down a dip and went rattling up another steep hill. Harry glanced over his shoulder - he remembered Hagrid in the Gringotts carts, and how he hated them, but Snape clearly wasn't the nauseous type. He looked utterly calm, almost bored, as though he was far too superior to let a little thing such as a high-speed journey through underground ravines bother him. Snape raised an eyebrow quizzically at Harry's stare, and Harry called over the clatter of the wheels, "Don't you get motion sick?"

"No," said Snape, idly, as the cart plunged down yet another steep slope. "And now is not a good time to announce that you do, Potter."

"I don't," Harry called back. "It's sort of fun, really."

The cart suddenly swung to one side and hurtled around a sharp bend. Harry lurched to the right, eating his words as the car wobbled dangerously, but Snape shot out a hand and grabbed him by the collar. With surprising strength, he hauled Harry back onto his seat. "Careful," he said, half-heartedly. "It's not far to the bottom, but you'll be landing on hard stone, and I have no desire to peel you off it."

"How do you know that it's not far down?" asked Harry.

The corners of Snape's mouth twitched ever so slightly. "Why, I thought that was obvious... I've been down there."

"Why did - " Harry began.

"Forgotten already, Potter?" said Snape, his black eyes fixed on Harry, amused tones clear in his cold voice.

Harry thought for a moment, and then he remembered, last Christmas, when Snape's idea of a present had been a bag full of dangerous magical objects. "Oh yeah... when you stole the doubling coin from Gringotts."

"Stole is not quite the word I would use," said Snape, lazily. "I prefer to think of it as relieving Gringotts of an item they didn't not use or need."

"I call it stealing," said Harry. He glanced upwards, idly watching the jagged ceiling whipping past over head. Any drops of water that fell didn't come anywhere near Harry and Snape, as the train was moving too fast, and they all just spattered uselessly about five metres back. "So how did you do it?"

"With ease," was the cool reply.

"But how? Gringotts is the safest place in the world, for anything you want to keep safe, except Hogwarts." Harry remembered Hagrid telling him these very words seven years before. "It's never been successfully robbed, even by Voldemort."

"Any puzzle can be solved with time, perseverance and natural skill," said Snape. He sat back in his seat, still wearing a very bored expression. "I simply exited the cart, navigated the tunnel system, found the vault where the doubling coin was hidden, and located it from the pile of the decoys."

Harry gave Snape a very blank expression. "Never one for detail, are you"?

"What details is there to give?"

"Well... how did you get out of the car?"

"I jumped."

"You jumped?!"


"But... why didn't you die?"

"I timed my landing so that I avoided the worst of the rock faces."

"But how? It's completely dark, how could you see? And the train's just moving too fast, you'd be crushed into the rocks, instantly."

Snape smirked, smugly. "That, Potter, is where the natural skill comes into the equation. No more questions now. When the day that you're robbing Gringotts comes, I shall teach you more then. Until the day, just trust the fact it is not something I did on the spur of the moment."

Harry was desperate to ask more, but knew it wasn't wise to keep pressing Snape for answers. Though he had one question that he dearly wanted to know. "Um... Professor?"


"Is it true that there are dragons guarding the high security vaults?"

Snape nodded grimly. "I still have a great deal of the burns."

A minute or so later, the cart lurched to a halt in front of Harry's vault, bringing Harry out of his thoughts about how Snape could possibly do what even Voldemort could not. Snape opened the door of the car, and they both clambered out, as Harry fumbled in his pocket for his key. He found it, and carefully pushed it into the lock, as Snape watched. Harry almost wished he would look away. He hated anybody seeing the full extent of the Potter inheritance, most of all people he felt close to. He didn't know whether Snape was well-off or not, though it didn't make him feel any better either way.

He opened up his vault, and quickly scooped an armful of galleons into a leather bag, trying to block Snape's view. Though to Harry's horror, his magical guardian spoke, quietly. "Now, that explains a lot..."

Harry flushed red, but held onto his dignity, and said, in as cold a voice he could muster, "What does it explain, precisely?"

"What your father did with the money," said Snape, lazily. "I must admit, I expected he had blown the lot in one go, the night after he got it..."

"Then you thought wrongly," said Harry. He was quiet for a few moments, as he removed a ruby from the leather bag and flicked it back into his vault. Then, desperately curious, he turned to Snape with a raised eyebrow. "What do you mean, what he did with the money? You know how he got it?"

"I certainly do," said Snape, frowning.

"Care to share?" asked Harry. He closed the door of his vault, tucking the leather pouch into his back pack, and looking up at Snape in almost an accusing way.

Snape's lips curled into a smug smirk, the sort of smile that made Harry want to just give him a quick shove and send him hurtling down into the dark caverns below. "You mean you don't know, Potter?"

"What was it?" said Harry, coldly. "A reward for saving your life?"

Snape's eyes flashed. Harry couldn't help but feel a flush of triumph. His father was always a sore spot for Snape. "No," the professor replied, in an icy hiss. "The contrary."

"Killing you?" said Harry, before he realised how stupid he sounded.

Snape rolled his eyes. "Rather active for a dead person, aren't I?"

"Alright, alright, point taken... please, tell me how my dad got the money." He gave Snape a pleading look. "Do you want me to lick your shoes or something?"

"No," said Snape. "These shoes are expensive." He sighed, opened up the carriage door, and stepped inside. Harry sat back down in his seat and gave Snape a prompting look. Snape frowned. "What?"

"Tell me!" Harry implored, desperately. "What do you think I'll do, laugh?"

"Yes," was the rather short answer. Snape raised an eyebrow. "Though I suppose you'll pester me until I tell you?"

"Correct," said Harry.

Snape sighed. "Very well... though I will tell you what I want to, and nothing else. Are we agreed?"

"But you won't lie," said Harry.

"Not intentionally." Snape sat back in the cart, studying a potions stain on his palm and picking at it vaguely with his thumb nail. "In simple terms, your father was the auror solely responsible for the capture of fifteen or so Death Eaters. Myself included."

Harry stared at Snape, open-mouthed. "When?"

Snape glanced up at him with narrowed eyes. "Shortly after the world was blighted by you."

"How did he do it?" asked Harry. "What happened?"

"Being the nosy prat that he was, he happened to stumble across the information of where our next target would be," said Snape, coolly. "We made the mistake of arriving at different times, and so he picked us off one by one." As though to preserve his dignity just a little bit, he added, coldly, "I was only captured by means of my own terrible luck. It was of no skill of your father's."

"Yeah," said Harry, vaguely, "So he got all the money from that?"

Snape nodded. "The ministry rewarded him greatly for his "troubles". My fellows were interrogated, though remained loyal to the Dark Lord, and were incarcerated in Azkaban. I had been planning to leave the Dark Lord's forces no matter what happened, and therefore I decided to benefit the ministry's cause. While we're on the subject, Potter, it was I who alerted Dumbledore that the Dark Lord was planning to attack your family home."

"It was you?" said Harry, in amazement. The bucks and jolts of the cart weren't even affecting him even more, or at least, not registering in his brain. "You tried to save us? But... when exactly was the guardian bond put on?"

"The very night after your parents were killed," Snape replied.

"So... the bond wasn't in place when you tipped Dumbledore off," said Harry, looking up at Snape in surprise.

Snape's eyebrow rose just a fraction, and he nodded. "Before you ask, I did it through loyalty to Dumbledore. Your father died hating me, and I daresay I will meet my own end with no remorse in my heart over him."

Harry shook his head at Snape numbly, wondering exactly what other things Snape knew that he was yet to learn. "You're never going to stop surprising me, are you?"

Snape smirked ever so slightly. "Horrifying people is one of the very few pleasures in my otherwise meaningless existance. Trust me, Potter - you'll be learning for a while yet."

Harry spent an enjoyable day at Diagon Alley with all his friends, browsing through the various shops on display. They bought all their supplies for school, and still had time to spare, so Harry bought ice creams for everyone and they sat in the sun outside the ice cream parlour, chatting. Hermione, as usual, was pondering the year ahead.

"I can't wait to see what Misc Magic will be like," she said, enthusiastically, munching at the wafer from her ice cream.

"It should be interesting," Draco mused. He trailed a dribble of ice cream with his tongue, stopping it from escaping. "Chinese Dragon Magic is fascinating... Father taught me some. It's very flashy. Medieval sorcerors used to use it in the courts of kings and so forth, it's easy to pick up as well. Even you might be able to do it, Longbottom."

Neville flushed a little, though he didn't wilt away as usual. His resistance to Draco was slowly building up, and even though it was a gradual process, he could now ignore most of the Slytherin's scatty comments. "It must be a pre-school level," he said, his voice only shaking a little. "If you like it, Malfoy."

Everybody snorted into their ice creams. Draco just glared at Neville, sitting back and glowering at him as he turned his attention back to his ice cream.

"I do hope," said Luna, dreamily, "that Professor Lupin is to continue teaching Defence Against The Dark Arts... he seems to be a very thorough teacher..." She looked thoughtful for a moment, then turned her eerie eyes onto Harry, and said, tonelessly, "Kainda likes Professor Lupin."

"Oh?" he said, wondering why she thought this was a big thing. Then again, Luna thought that rain was a big thing, or if Harry was wearing new socks, or Ron had a hair out of place.

"Yes," she half-whispered.

"Everybody likes Professor Lupin," said Ron, shrugging, licking at his cherry and banana sundae.

"Kainda likes him more," said Luna, still staring at Harry.

Draco put his hand over his eyes for a moment, and murmured something about crazy people. Draco always had and probably always would find Luna the oddest person in the world.

Luna tilted her head a little, gazing at Harry with those unblinking eyes. "Kainda likes Professor Lupin."

"We heard you the first time," Draco muttered.

"Shhh," Luna hushed him. "Your voice scares them away..."

"Scares what away?" said Draco, staring at her in disbelief. Luna did not answer.

After their ice creams, they hurried back to the front of Gringotts, in time to meet Mr and Mrs Weasley, Snape, Lupin, Tonks and Bill. All of them were carrying bags, and by the smell of Snape, his were full of dragon liver. He squelched when he walked. Harry didn't want to ask.

They made their way back home, walking in a large group down the streets and forcing the muggles to walk around them, grumbling and muttering about large families. All of them were now hungry, and sat around the table eagerly, as Mrs Weasley set about making their evening meal. Harry offered to take Ron and Draco's books upstairs to the bedroom, and his arms nearly popped out of their sockets as he dragged the bulging bags up the stairs. He dropped them on the appropriate beds, and fell back onto his own, with a sigh. He was just getting ready to roll back onto his feet and head down to dinner when he realised something.

There was somebody standing behind him. Guessing it was Ron or Draco, he turned over, and opened his mouth to say hi. The figure shot forward instantly and grabbed Harry, clamping what was unmistakably a paw over Harry's mouth to shut him up. Harry stared up into a face, that face, and suddenly, it wasn't a dream any more.

"Evening," that mouth full of crocodile teeth whispered.


Chapter Seven: Khepri

After a few moments of struggling, Harry managed to throw off the creature's hand, and he shrunk back against the head board, staring up at whatever it was now watching him from the side of the bed.

"You look different in real life," it said, after a moment, in a distinctly male voice. There was an odd accent in there that Harry had never heard before.

"What are you?" growled Harry. "Why are you in my room?"

The creature grinned. Harry hated that smile so much. It almost reminded him of Lockhart, a glitter of teeth - though these ones were far sharper, and far less human. "Call me Khepri," he said. "And I'm here to see you... isn't it obvious?"

"Why?" said Harry, suspiciously. His hand was gripping his wand tightly, and he was fully ready to defend himself if "Khepri" decided to pounce.

"To just warn you..." Khepri said, in that odd accent. Where was that from? Harry couldn't put a label to it at all. "To warn you of danger. Warn you of a threat. It's taken me a while to find you. You are well hidden, Harry Potter. And so well protected... you have two guardians, do you not? One with you now." He tilted his head, and Harry saw that he had long black hair to his waist, carefully braided and weaved with gold. "But it won't protect you. And I'm here to warn you."

"What about, exactly?" said Harry. He realised he was still tensed against the head board, looking up at Khepri worriedly. Those yellow hawk-eyes were very un-nerving.

"So eager?" Khepri whispered. "When I've come all this way to see you? No time to talk?"

Harry, up until now, had been a little reminded of Dobby the house elf, even though Khepri didn't resemble a house elf in the slightest. He was fairly short, the size of the average first year, but he would have still towered over a house elf. House elves also had long, pointed ears, but Khepri's ears, Harry realised, were like a cat's, and perched delicately on the top of his head.

"They'll hear you up here," Harry warned. "Ron and all my other friends. Or I'll scream for them, if you don't tell me why you're here and why you've been messing with my dreams."

Khepri grinned, flashing those sharp white teeth. "You can scream for them all you like. It won't do any good."

Harry felt a cold flush. "What have you done to them?"

"Nothing, nothing," Khepri soothed. "I'm not allowed to contact anybody except you... not allowed to touch, to appear to... you're the only person in the world who can see me now. You, and him."

"Him?" Harry repeated, suspiciously. "Which him would that be?"

"The him I've come to warn you about," said Khepri, grinning at him again. He really was un-nerving.

"Oh yeah?" sneered Harry. "Who?"

Khepri's grin widened even more, if it was possible, and he whispered, "He's looking for it. That's why I'm here, to warn you."

"Who's looking for what?" said Harry, angrily, but before Khepri could answer, the door creaked open.

Snape looked in at him, frowning. "Potter, what are you doing up here?"

"Can you see it?" said Harry, hurriedly.

"It?" Khepri muttered, scandalised.

Snape's frown deepened. "See what? Don't tell me you're seeing things..."

Harry pointed at Khepri, his finger barely inches from Khepri's face, and he panted, begging Snape to understand, "There? Can't you see it? Or him? Or whatever it is... Khepri?"

"Potter..." Snape's eyes swept to Khepri, and then back to Harry. "There is nothing there." He reached out, and swiped his fingertips straight through Khepri, as though he was nothing more than light. Harry's jaw fell. Khepri beamed at him, fangs winking in the light. Snape was staring at Harry in alarm now. He crouched down, and pulled Harry's head back to look into his eyes, frowning. "Your pupils seem fine..."

"You think I'm hallucinating?" said Harry, pulling away and pointing wildly at Khepri, who was now grinning behind Snape's shoulder. "Look! He's right there! He's got like... hawk eyes, and crocodile teeth!"

"Hawk eyes and crocodile teeth," Snape repeated, raising an eyebrow, his tone the sort that was reserved for drunk or mad people.

"You've got to believe me," Harry pleaded. "Professor, I'm not joking, there's something there!" Khepri gave a soft snicker, his upper lip curling back to really show off his canines. Harry grabbed Snape's arm. "There! Didn't you hear him?"

"Potter," said Snape, calmly. He was pulling Harry to his feet, and Harry knew Snape was only using such a soothing tone with him because Snape thought he was losing his mind. "Some fresh air for you, I think..."

Khepri reached out, and grabbed Harry's other arm with his lion paws. Harry was about to try yet again to convince Snape he wasn't crazy, when Khepri interrupted him, talking quietly and seriously. "Your worst enemy is looking for it, and when he finds it, he'll have access to a power so terrible that nobody will be able to save you. Find it before he does. I'll keep in touch."

And then with a huge puff of smoke that engulfed Harry and Snape, Khepri simply vanished from sight. Harry reached out to grab at him, beg him for more answers, but his hands met nothing there in the smoke. Snape was dragging him backwards from the room in a grip so strong Harry would never have thought him capable of it. Harry didn't struggle. He was too busy desperately trying to put Khepri's parting words to memory, and even though they didn't make any sense, he intended to find out what was going on.

"Galloping gargoyles!" Harry heard somebody shout from the floor below, as he and Snape staggered out onto the open corridor overlooking the entrance hall, bringing a cloud of thick black smoke with them.

"Get Lupin up here now!" Snape snarled, dragging Harry out of the choking smoke. "Somebody has done something to Potter!"

"Nobody's done anything to me!" protested Harry.

Snape didn't reply, and the moment they were out of the worst of the smoke, he paused for breath, leaning against the banister. He was completely black in the face, as though somebody had covered him in make-up made from charcoal, and Harry knew he was probably in a similar state. There were footsteps scrambling up the stairs, and Lupin appeared next to them, looking utterly bewildered.

"What happened?" he asked, mildly.

"Potter started talking nonsense - "

"It was not nonsense!"

" - and ended up giving off the smoke."

"It wasn't me!" Harry said, desperately. "It was Khepri!"

"It's alright, Harry," Lupin said, in a very soothing voice, drawing his wand. "Just relax... this smoke can't be good for him... Severus, take his ankles and we'll get him outside..."

"I'm not delirious!" Harry shouted, though it did no use. He found himself being carried out of the building by Snape and Lupin, and put down outside in the grubby little back yard with cracked patio tiles and rubbish bins.

"Well?" Snape demanded. "What's wrong with him?"

Lupin ignored him, and started testing Harry's temperature with his palm. Harry didn't know what he could say to convince them, or what he could do to persuade them to believe him. He was sure he had seen Khepri, completely sure. Harry had even felt him. But anything he said now would just sound like the babbling of somebody who had been cursed, or was losing their mind. He just laid still, and quiet, staring up at Lupin and Snape sadly.

"He's very warm," said Lupin, idly. "Do you have any cooling draft? I think it would help calm him down as well... what do you say happened? What exactly?"

"I went to investigate him shouting in his room," said Snape. He distractedly took a small leather pouch from the pocket of his robes, opening it up and clinking through the contents. "He immediately started asking whether I could see something..."

"Khepri," said Harry, desperately, but quietly.

"Shhh, Harry... just be calm," said Lupin, soothingly. He took the phial that Snape handed him, and uncorked it carefully, pouring a little into his palm. He then spread it over Harry's forehead with one thumb, turning back to Snape. "Then what?"

"He was making little sense," said Snape. "I decided fresh air would perhaps clear his thoughts, but before I could get him out, he gave off all the smoke."

"It wasn't me," Harry tried weakly. "Please... just listen to me, for one moment..."

But nobody was listening. He almost wanted to shout at them, to make them see he wasn't delusional or delirious, but it was no use. Snape and Lupin were both convinced he wasn't thinking properly, and so there was nothing Harry could do but lie back, let them talk about him as though he couldn't hear them, discussing St Mungo's even. Harry closed his eyes in mental exhaustion. What else was there for him to do but play along with what they thought?

He kept his eyes shut, and after a few moments, he heard Lupin say, softly, "Shhh... he's blacked out." Lupin's fingers pressed against his pulse. "Hmm... just sleeping."

Harry frowned slightly, pretending to be asleep, and then he turned his head, shifting. Snape swatted Lupin's hand away. Harry felt Snape kneeling down beside him, and a very cold hand pressed carefully about his forehead. Harry quite enjoyed getting hurt, really. It was the only time Snape's protective side was unearthed properly.

"Potter," said Snape, quietly. "Wake up, Potter..."

"Where... where am I?" Harry croaked, creasing his face in pretend confusion.

"Grimmauld Place," Snape muttered. More cooling draft was being smeared on his forehead, this time by Snape's cold, bony fingers. "What is the last thing you remember, Potter?"

"I was... walking upstairs..." said Harry, feigning the perfect air of confusion. He kept his eyes shut, knowing that if Snape looked into them, he'd realise that Harry was lying. "And then... I don't know... I can't remember..."

He heard the noise of the back door opening, and then Mrs Weasley's voice above him, sounding concerned. "Is he alright? I've got Fred and George to start wafting the smoke out of the windows..."

"Maybe it was just one of those things," said Lupin, mildly. "He's just coming round now, Molly... seems a little confused..."

"What happened?" Harry croaked, tilting his head in the direction of Lupin's voice. He felt arms hooking under his elbows, gently hoisting him up into a sitting position, and then two cold hands resting on his shoulders to keep him upright.

"You had a little episode," Snape's voice said, quietly.

"Poor thing," Mrs Weasley said, crouching down on Harry's other side, petting his hair and peeling it back from his forehead. "It must be all those paint fumes from Fred and George working in the attic... I knew they were no good, I warned them... poor Harry... will he need anything?"

"Fresh air," said Lupin, reassuringly. "Maybe a good drink of water... we'd better get everybody else out, or fanning charms in at the very least. If this is what happened to Harry, I dread to think what Fred and George are like up there. Remove any sharp objects, Molly, at the very least. In fact, knowing Fred and George, remove everything."

"Where... where's Ron?" said Harry, hoarsely. "I want to see Ron... a-and Hermione... and Draco..."

"I'll go and get them," said Lupin, and he moved away through the back door, followed by Mrs Weasley. Harry was left with Snape, who was still smearing cooling draft on Harry's forehead.

"Potter?" he said. "Can you hear me?"

Harry nodded, numbly. "I feel weird..."

"Understandably," said Snape. He sighed. "Potter, Potter... why is it you always insist on getting into danger where I can't protect you?"

"Huh?" said Harry, vaguely.

"In your mind," said Snape. He shook his head idly, and Harry vaguely registered a tissue wiping away the cream on his forehead. "If it was an attacker, I could teach you the counter-curse. If you were lost, I could locate you. If you were diseased, I could cure you. And yet all your enemies are right in the place that only you can fight them... somedays, Potter, I think you're awkward on purpose."

"Not my fault," Harry said. He sniffed, opening his eyes a little to peer at Snape. "I don't mean to..."

"That's precisely the problem," said Snape, with a little smile.

The back door opened again, and Ron and Hermione came out into the night air. Hermione looked worried as always, and Ron was rubbing his nose, frowning, and muttering, "Well, it was a bloody silly place to put a wall anyway... and how was I supposed to see through all that smoke?"

"Harry?" said Hermione, worriedly, as Snape got up and left, closing the door behind him. "Are you okay? What happened?"

Harry sat up, instantly throwing off the confused act. "Guys... promise me you'll believe me if I tell you. Promise me."

"We promise," said Hermione. "Why? What's wrong?"

Harry didn't quite know where to begin - it was hard to know what to say, especially with the fear that Ron and Hermione would deem him "delirious" just as Snape and Lupin had. Carefully, he said, "There was a creature in our room when I got there."

"What sort of creature?" Ron asked, absent-mindedly still rubbing his nose.

"It was... I don't know. I've never seen one before." Harry frowned slightly. "It was like... as high as a first year. But it wasn't human. He had fur, like lion fur, and a mouth with crocodile teeth. Eyes like a hawk, long hair that was braided, and paws. Lion paws." He observed his friends carefully, praying they understood. "He said his name was Khepri."

He didn't see any major signs of disbelief, and so carried on, watching their reactions all the time.

"He was just there when I came in... but I've been dreaming about him. Every night since school finished. He's just there in my dreams smiling at me. And he was there just now... he said that my worst enemy is looking for something... I don't know what it is, but he's looking for it. And when he finds it... something about he'll get access to a power so terrible nobody will be able to save me." He looked up at them worriedly. "Believe me..."

Hermione didn't look very persuaded, but Ron did. "I believe you, mate," he said, firmly. "You've always been right about these things before."

"Um..." said Hermione, nervously.

Ron glanced up at her. "Well, he has." Harry could tell Ron's first reaction was to get angry at her for not believing Harry, but he had then quickly changed his mind, and softened his tone.

"Well... what about... about... Sirius..." she whispered.

Harry looked away. "You always bring the worst things up at the worst times, don't you, Hermione?"

"Oh, Harry... don't be like that..." She gave a little sigh, and sat down next to him on the floor. "I believe you, you know I do... you're not in danger right now though, are you?"

Harry was quiet for a while, then he said, "I don't know... I might be. Voldemort must be my worst enemy... there's nobody else who can really be a problem... and he's looking for something. But I don't even know what it is." He sighed and looked down at his knees, still blackened with the smoke Khepri had left. "Why can't these "messengers" I keep getting just tell me straight what's going on? My second year would have been lot less stressing if Dobby had just appeared and said, "Hello Harry, Voldemort's going to possess your best friend's little sister this year, but he'll be a sixteen-year-old memory, and to stop it all, just check in her books when you come back from the shop, they'll be something there, burn it immediately."

"How did Dobby know about that anyway?" said Ron, looking thoughtful.

"He probably found out about it from Lucius Malfoy," said Harry, with a shrug. "Or Draco." He looked up, suddenly realising something. "Hey, where is Draco?"

"No idea," said Ron. He glanced around. "Haven't seen him since all the smoke went off. He was sitting at the table reading the paper."

"He's probably still inside," said Hermione, shivering a little. "It's really cold... let's get back in. They'll have set up fanning charms by now. Harry, if you see that... thing again, tell us, and we'll all go and talk to Lupin or Dumbledore about it, okay?"

She and Ron helped Harry carefully to his feet, and they made their way inside. Up near the ceiling, a flock of fans were flapping merrily back and forth, gradually dispersing the heavy black smoke. Everybody was huddled around the front door. Mr Weasley was cradling his precious television to his chest as though it was his first born.

"Harry, dear?" Mrs Weasley called. "Come out of the smoke, we don't want any more accidents... how are you feeling?"

"Fine," said Harry, vaguely. "Where's Draco?"

"He was in the kitchen reading the paper when the smoke went off," said Ginny, peering around at him from the door. "He didn't come out though. I thought he went to see you."

Harry was getting a nasty feeling low in his stomach. He hurried into the kitchen, followed by a rather reluctant Ron and a worried Hermione, though it was empty. There was a copy of the Evening Prophet open on the scrubbed wooden table, ruffling in the breeze that was trailing in through an open door next to the stove. Harry had never seen that door open before. He glanced out, and saw a very dark and dirty looking alley way winding away around the back of some terraced houses.

Ron stuck his head out into the alley, wrinkling his nose at the smell. He opened his mouth, and bellow, "Malfoy! Malfoy!" There was no reply, except the echo of his own voice, and the distant mowl of an alley cat. "Not out there," said Ron, shrugging. "Unless he's pretending to be a cat."

"Oh no," Hermione suddenly gasped from behind them.

They whipped around. She was standing over the table, staring down at the fluttering newspaper, her hand held open on the page Draco had been reading before he had gone.

"What is it?" Harry asked, worriedly.

"I know where he's gone," she said. "But... oh, that little idiot! At night! When there will probably be Death Eaters crawling all over the place!"

"Where's he gone?" said Ron, with wide eyes.

Hermione picked up the paper, and held it out before them. A large headline over a double page spread told them all the answers they wanted to know -

MALFOY MANOR TO BE DEMOLISHED - Ministry Given Handsome Sum From Muggle Government For Land. "Motorway" Planned.

Once they had realised what had happened, they had told everybody else. Mrs Weasley had gone hurrying upstairs to the fireplace, followed by most of the other concerned adults. Luna, Neville and Ginny were all still by the front door fifteen minutes later, getting some more fresh air, while Harry, Ron and Hermione debated the problem.

"Okay, let's go through it one more time," said Ron, still looking very confused. "Malfoy has gone...?"

"To Malfoy Manor," said Hermione.


"It's going to be demolished tomorrow."

"So what...?"

"Oh, Ron, he grew up there. Fond memories, you know."

"And we are all worried because...?"

"If Malfoy Manor is going to be demolished tomorrow, the place will be crawling with Death Eaters trying to salvage as much of Lucius Malfoy's dark arks things as possible."


"Draco is wanted by Voldemort, Ron."


"If the Death Eaters find him there, they'll take him away and we'll never see him again."

"And this is a problem because...?"

Hermione frowned a little. "Because Draco is a valuable person and a good friend."

Harry, who had been listening to all this rather numbly, had picked up on the Hermione Warning Signs that Ron had not. He jumped into the conversation to try and prevent a fight. "And he knows a lot about the Order. They might use veritaserum on him or torture him."

The door opened, and Snape blew into the room in a billowing cloud of black and green robes, holding a silver pouch in his right hand. "Potter!"

"What?" said Harry, taken aback. "What have I done now?"

"Nothing," said Snape, coldly. "Bring that wretched cloak you have, and hurry up. It's time for your first mission for the Order."

"Why?" Harry squeaked. "What am I doing?"

"Going to Malfoy Manor," said Snape. "Professor Dumbledore believes Draco is more likely to respond to you and I than any other wizards. We are to leave immediately."

Wearily, Harry got up from the table, and with a call of goodnight to Ron and Hermione, Snape lead him away upstairs. After a quick stop at Harry's room so he could fetch his invisibility cloak, they went back downstairs into the lounge, where the main fireplace was. Snape took a pouch of floo powder from his pocket.

"If I tell you, put on the cloak," said Snape, calmly, taking a pinch. "Though you will only need it if there is a definite risk of Death Eaters there. Stay near me at all times, Potter, and have your wand out... take no chances... do you understand? I shall be damned if you are killed on your first Order mission, particularly when you are with me."

"I understand," said Harry. He took out his wand, and stepped forward into the fireplace.

Snape stood next to him, wand gripped tight in his hand, as he threw the glittering floo powder around their feet in one long sweep of his arm. "Malfoy Manor," he growled.

Harry felt his feet lift up off the floor, and he was spinning round and round and round, whirling through the floo network as though he was little more than a whisp of smoke. Something caught his foot hard and he tripped, crying out and swallowing a great deal of ash, but Snape's cold hands grabbed his arms and held him upright. Then, as suddenly as it all began, Harry felt hard stone hit his feet, and he keeled over, landing in a heap on the floor, as the spinning stopped.


Chapter Eight: Malfoy Manor

Snape bent down, and scooped him off the floor quite roughly, beating the ash and soot off his robes. "Alright there?"

Harry coughed weakly, and opened his mouth to complain, before his eyes caught sight of just where he was. His cough melted into a gasp.

It was like a palace - no, more than a palace. Somebody greater than any king or emperor or politician lived here, surely. He was blinded for several long moments by the silver winking at him from every single direction, before he looked past it. The walls were dark green, made of some soft material that shimmered like water but shone like metal, and the wooden floorboards under foot were in such an intricate pattern that Harry couldn't follow it at all. Over head, a glittering chandelier of emeralds, diamond and silver was shining so brightly, it looked as though it had been made from stars. It was easily the most expensive and beautiful place Harry had been, in his whole life, even though there were traces of abandonment here and there - a thick layer of dust on all the wooden surfaces, and even a tea tray on the side, everything still laid out, the morning coffee half-drunk, the newspaper open and going brown with age.

"Draco lives here?" Harry gasped, looking around at the magnificent room in wonder.

"Lived," Snape drawled. "Lucius took great pleasure in informing me constantly that his family have lived here since before the founding of Hogwarts. I believe that the true Malfoy blood line follows through eldest sons only - all other children are forgotten. The house belonged to the eldest son of the eldest son, and so forth."

Harry's eyes were fixed on a huge painting above the marble fireplace at the far end of the room. The icy glare of Lucius Malfoy met his gaze with fierce pride and arrogance, his pale hand curling tighter on the shoulder of the young blonde boy at his side. Draco was only eight, at the very most, but the similarities between father and son were already striking. They had the same eyes, same pointed face, same pale skin, same hair colour. As Harry watched, Draco took the silver snake cane from his father's hands, and started to play with it, running his fingers over the serpent's fangs with innocent curiosity. Lucius smiled proudly at his son.

"Draco never resembled his mother much," said Snape, idly, surveying the painting over Harry's shoulder. "He truly is Lucius's son. Even at half a year old, his eyes were exactly like those of his father."

"How do you know what Draco looked like at half a year old?" Harry asked, curiously.

"Most godfathers are required to know what their godchildren look like," said Snape, raising one thin black eyebrow.

"You're Draco's godfather!?" said Harry, looking shocked.

"Are you really that surprised?"

Harry thought about this. "No, not really."

Snape turned towards the door, drawing out his wand and lighting it with a murmur of, "Lumos..." He glanced over his shoulder at Harry. "Come, Potter. We have an entire magical manor to search, and all we know at the moment is that he's not in the drawing room."

"This is the Malfoy's drawing room?" said Harry, pausing.


"Then I don't think we'll have to search much." Harry glanced around, and spotting a long poker lying by the fire place, he picked it up. "I think I know where he is. And I know how to get there very quickly too."

Snape watched him suspiciously, though said nothing.

"We need to get rid of this floor," said Harry. "But every inch of the Malfoy house is probably guarded by magic, right? So no amount of spells will open up a hole. Therefore, if a room hasn't got a door or a window, it's the perfect hiding place... but the Malfoys don't realise just how much damage a mudblood with a poker can do." And he smashed a hole straight through the ancient wooden floor boards.

"Potter!" Snape seized the poker from him, and hissed, "What EXACTLY do you think you're doing?! This is no time to discover the vandal within!"

"Who's there?" shouted a voice, echoing up from the hole Harry had made. "I'm warning you, I've got my wand!"

Snape's change of expression was quite amazing. Harry had never seen anger melt into shock so smoothly before in his life. Snape stared from the hole, to Harry, and then said, amazed, "How in the name of Salazar Slytherin did you know - "

"Professor Snape?" Draco called from the secret chamber under the Malfoys' drawing room.

"Malfoy!" Snape crouched down, and grasped some of the carpet, pulling it back and gripping the poker in his other hand. "Stand back!" He punctured another hole in the floor boards, and with a great deal of force and perseverance, he managed to widen the hole enough for him and Harry to slip down into the hidden room.

Comparing to the usual glamour and splendour of the Malfoy family, Harry was quite surprised. The floor and walls were just cold, hard stone without any carpet or decorations, and the only decent light came from the hole ruptured by Harry and Snape. There was very little furniture, in fact, only a pile of old trunks in varying sizes and shapes. Some were open, and had been sorted through, their contents muddled and restacked rather haphazardly, but there were some sealed tightly shut. In the middle of the boxes sat Draco, cross-legged on the floor, and glaring up at both of them.

"How did you know I was here?" he asked, suspiciously.

Snape turned to Harry, with a raised eyebrow, and a slight sneer on his face. "I was wondering that myself..."

Harry looked from Draco to Snape and back, and he realised that explaining just how he knew would not only reveal that he'd been stealing from Snape, but that he and Ron had duped Draco with polyjuice potion in their second year. "Someday," he said, wisely, "when I'm somewhere far, far out of your cursing range, ask me again, and then we'll talk."

Snape was wearing his I-am-not-satisfied-by-this-answer face, but Draco luckily changed the subject, by opening the lid of the next trunk and starting to move things around inside. "You can both go back to Grimmauld Place if you wish. I won't be long."

"What are you doing?" Harry asked, moving over to him.

"Claiming my rightful inheritance," Draco sniffed. He picked up what looked like a dragon egg made of solid silver, encrusted with emeralds, and he added it to the trunk open before him. In there already were some robes, folded very neatly, most of them green, silver or black; a few books; a wooden box stamped with "The Artistic Wizard's Complete Kit"; and an amazing amount of gold, easily taking up three-quarters of the space. "The ministry might have taken the official Malfoy inheritance," said Draco, in a very cold voice, adding yet more coins into every available slot. "But my father would never leave his heir penniless. Far from it. He never trusted Gringotts, and so he put my "official" inheritance in there. A fake one. Not even enough to buy property. He knew that if my family was ever suspected, they would search the Malfoy vaults, and they did. But he left my true inheritance here, everything of value to the family. They can destroy the house - it's all meaningless to me. I can buy another house. But these treasures are mine, and no ministry member will ever lay their hands on them. Never."

"But... if they took the house and all contents," said Harry, tentatively. "Doesn't that include all this? Isn't it technically theft?"

Draco's eyes narrowed dangerously. "The ministry did not control my family in life, Potter. They will not control us in death."

"There are three types of people in the world," said Snape, wisely, making his way over all the boxes strewn across the floor. "There is good... there is evil... and then there is Malfoy. Lucius was a man with such a character that he surpassed any label people dared to administer to him. Even at Death Eater meetings, he gave the impression he was there by his own choice and we should be grateful for his presence. Malfoys walk to the beat of their own drum."

"But if Mr Weasley finds out you've - " Harry began.

Draco interrupted him with a sharp hiss. "Excuse me? The only way that Mr Weasley will learn of this if somebody tells him. And nobody is going to tell him. Are they?" His eyes flashed dangerously as they glared right at Harry, just like Hermione if she had found he had cheated on an exam.

Harry glanced into the trunk. Draco had nothing, really. No gold, no decent clothes, no things that were actually his own. He had far less than the Weasleys, who Harry had always thought were the poorest people he knew.

Harry shook his head. "No, he won't. Don't worry. How are you planning to get the trunk back to Grimmauld Place without anybody seeing?"

However, they were interrupted at that moment by the sound of footsteps coming towards them over head. Harry and Draco froze on the spot. Snape whipped around, and hissed, "Occulto!" The hole in the ceiling instantly grew over, as though the wood itself was healing, and they were plunged into darkness. "Ponere quisnam," murmured Snape.

A few wisps of white smoked puffed out of the end of his wand, and Harry watched as they started to dance, separating into three separate shapes. He wondered what they were sculpting themselves into, before he realised. Three faces hovered in the air before Snape, Draco and Harry. Two he recognised - the greasy, hard-faced Rookwood. Harry never really knew what Rookwood could be compared to, for he didn't quite look like a rat, or a shrew, but there was definitely some sort of nasty rodent out there that Rookwood looked just like.

There was also a woman's face, very pale and black-widow-beautiful. Isabis was Rookwood's wife, with long black hair the colour of a raven, and smoky silver eyes. However beautiful she was, she came with a terrible price. Adultery in a wizarding marriage was a punishable offence, as Professor Snape had found out last year - even worse, Isabis had then betrayed Snape and joined her husband once more.

The third one Harry did not recognise, though just at a glance, he knew one thing about this person. He was a Malfoy, evidently from Lucius's side of the family. He had short white-blond hair, with streaks of black, a pale pointed face, and the familiar silvery Malfoy eyes.

"Kane..." Draco hissed next to Harry.

"Who's Kane?" Harry asked, quietly as he could.

"My cousin," muttered Draco. "The son of father's youngest sister, Vatusia. He's eighteen, I think."

"Why didn't he go to Hogwarts?"

"Durmstrang," whispered Draco. He frowned. "Trust him to be here... after my inheritance, is he? I'd like to see him try..."

"Silence," Snape hissed, suddenly, bringing an end to their conversation. "How did you get into this room, Draco? We need a way out..."

"The trapdoor under the rug," muttered Draco, with a brief shrug of his shoulders. He pointed to the corner of the darkened vault. "And floo powder from there, into the alley outside Grimmauld Place. The same fireplace that Mr Weasley uses everyday to take to work."

Snape sighed, rubbing his forehead, frowning. "This is not going the way I planned."

"Is it my fault you had to follow?" said Draco, coolly.

Snape frowned at him darkly, and beckoned to both boys to follow and stay quiet. Harry had his wand tight in his hand. Despite the slight worry settling in his chest, he felt an odd sort of prickling excitement. Snape turned to both boys when they were under the trapdoor, and he muttered, very very quietly, "Try to capture them, if you can, though do not endanger yourselves. They may be wanted by the ministry, but your safety comes first. When the door is open, I shall go first... once I am up, both of you follow. Draco, you have most experience with Kane, concentrate on him. I shall take Rookwood. Potter - "

" - gets to beat up a girl," Draco finished, smirking from ear to ear.

"Shut up," Harry hissed. "At least I can. One look at her legs and you'd just let her kill you."

Draco gave Harry a mutinous look, but ignored the comment, and gave Snape a nod to say that he was ready. Snape glanced at Harry, and then curled his hand around the strap of the trapdoor. Harry held his breath.

Then Snape flung the trapdoor open, and practically flew up from the secret room in a volley of sparks. Harry heard the surprised cries of the three intruders, before Draco heaved him up into the drawing room and shouted, "GO!"

Harry didn't need telling twice. He leapt up, and caught a split second's view of Rookwood sprinting from the room with Snape on his tail, before Draco's cousin had leapt forward to grab him. Harry struck out through instinct and hit the boy hard on the side of the head, before he aimed his wand, and cried, "Stupefy!"

The boy swished his wand quickly, and the spell reflected off him, hitting a book case and blowing a hole right through. Draco was now out of the secret chamber and was attacking mercilessly, his wand moving so fast it was a blur. The two Malfoys were duelling so fiercely that Harry stopped and stared, before he remembered that he was supposed to be taking on Isabis. He looked around quickly, and even though she was gone, his ears picked up the clacking noise of plastic heels on a marble floor, and he rushed away through a door by the fireplace after her.

There she was, just at the end of a long corridor hung with paintings of blonde, pale children, though Harry didn't have time to study them. He raced after Isabis, his shoes beating out a rhythm as he ran, aiming his wand. "Stupefy!" he shouted.

She screamed and swerved through a door just in time. The spell hit an expensive looking vase, and it toppled to the floor with an almighty crash. Harry picked up the pace of his sprinting, and pointing his wand at himself, he panted, "Celox!" Instantly, he felt his feet starting to move faster, energy rushing into his arms and legs, as the charm took effect.

Now faster, he bolted through the door Isabis had taken, and found himself in the middle of some kind of library. There were books stacked from floor to ceiling, all around the walls and in shelves here and there. Harry saw Isabis winding her way quickly through a far section, and sped after her. She was evidently slowing, and couldn't run in high heels or turn as fast as Harry could. Harry couldn't fight a grim smile - how ironic that her best feature, beauty, was also her downfall.

A spell shot from the end of her wand, but it missed Harry completely. She gave a muffled shriek and turned to try and run again, but Harry bellowed, "Stupefy!", the spell struck her in the arm, and instantly, eyes rolled back into her head. She keeled over to the floor, and landed in a heap. Flushed with his victory, Harry rushed over.

She lay on the floor in a sprawled heap, her cloak and robes spread around her like angel wings. One of the heels had broken off her shoes, and the strap had gone on the other. No wonder she hadn't been able to run so well. Harry bent down, and tugged her wand from her slim fingertips, tucking it into his belt for safe-keeping. He was just starting to feel rather proud of his first capture, and wonder whether this would look good on his application to be an auror, when he noticed something which made him feel very, very unsporting indeed.

She was heavily pregnant. Harry didn't have any experience with this sort of thing at all, though she looked as though it was due very soon, by the size of her swollen stomach. Harry covered his eyes with his hands, imagining the headlines. HARRY POTTER BEATS UP PREGNANT WOMAN. Still, she was a Death Eater, pregnant or not. It didn't make her any less evil. Just a bit more... vulnerable and defenceless.

Harry currently thought that things couldn't get any worse, but they did a few moments later, as there were footsteps. Draco came into the room, dragging what Harry first thought was a huge caterpillar, until he realised it was Draco's cousin, wrapped up in strong, silky threads. Draco groaned, and said, wiping his brow, "Took me ages to get him up here... you don't know where Professor-?" He spotted Isabis on the floor, and his face fell into shock. "Potter!"

"Don't say it," Harry groaned.

"She's pregnant!"

"I know," said Harry, sighing. "Not only did I beat up a woman, but she's pregnant. You don't need to tell me again."

"Not that," said Draco, vaguely, dumping his cousin and rushing over. "Even though that was very unmanly of you, and I'll be getting at you for it later. There's something more important. She's about eight months I'd say... maybe more, and - "

"She's not going to give birth now, is she?!" Harry half-squawked. "Spells don't encourage labour or anything, do they?"

"No, no," said Draco, dismissively. "It's not that. Potter, think about it. Eight months ago, we know that she was involved with Professor Snape. Which means there's a chance that..."

Draco didn't need to finish his sentence. Harry looked from Draco to Isabis with wide eyes. "How do we find out?" he said, quietly.

"I think the smart thing to do would be to not find out at all," said Draco. "Professor Snape probably wouldn't want to know, even if... well... he'd be angry, Potter. And it would put a whole lot of stress on him that he doesn't need or want."

"But if it's going to be his baby..." said Harry, desperately. "He'll want to know, won't he? If he's going to be a father."

"Professor Snape's hardly the fatherly type," said Draco, raising an eyebrow.

"He'd still want to know," replied Harry. He dithered for a moment, still staring at Isabis's stomach. The idea that she might be carrying around a little miniature Severus Snape was quite alarming really. Harry sighed. "I think we should at least tell him."

"How on earth do you plan to tell him?" said Draco, staring at Harry. "It's Professor Snape's business, isn't it? He'll be furious if he doesn't want to know, Potter."

Harry didn't quite know what to say to this. Losing Isabis to Rookwood in the first place had nearly unhinged Snape, and when she'd betrayed him again, he'd been crushed. Harry didn't want to even think about what Snape's reaction would be if he found out she was carrying his child. But then again, what if Snape discovered years and years and years into the future that he was a father? All that lost time...

"I still think we should tell him," said Harry, quietly. "Or we should find out whether it is his baby first. He'll kill us if we tell him she's pregnant with his child, then it turns out to not be his."

Draco rose an eyebrow delicately. "Well, I don't know about you Potter, but we haven't covered how-to-find-out-the-father-of-an-unborn-baby charms yet in my class, so I'm rather stuck at helping you."

Harry rubbed his eyes. This was definitely not the way he wanted his first mission for the Order to go. With a sigh, he opened his eyes again to suggest a new plan of action - before he stopped dead, staring over Draco's shoulder. Draco wheeled around.

Rookwood stood in the door, panting, with a few cuts here and there, but looking as alive and dangerous as ever. He had his wand out, and pointed at Draco. "So," he said, breathily, his eyes flashing. "Hiding here, are you, boys?"

"Where's Snape?" said Harry, his grip subconsciously tightening on his wand.

"He's a little... busy at the moment," Rookwood replied, flashing his yellowed teeth in a horrible smile.

Harry felt a flush of anger. "What have you done to him?"

"Oh, you'll find him..." whispered Rookwood. As an after thought, he added, "Eventually... but you... I don't want anybody to find you, Harry Potter. Do you know what a hassle you are? How much stress you cause me, day to day?"

Harry said nothing, but kept his grip on his wand, the tip trained on Rookwood. It was shaking slightly. Harry was ready to forgive some of the Death Eaters, if they were ready to renounce the Dark Lord and his ways, just as Draco and Snape had. But Rookwood, Harry knew, he would never forgive.

"How convenient you're both here where I want you," said Rookwood, quietly, taking a step forward. Harry stood his ground. Rookwood swished his wand, and both boys flinched. He laughed, a horrible noise that was a cackle and a snort at the same time. "So where are all your little friends today, Potter? Who's here to save you now?"

"I don't need anybody here to save me now," Harry growled. "I'm not scared of you. You're just a psychopath."

"Psychopath, huh?" laughed Rookwood. "Is that what you think it is? Is that what Dumbledore teaches his little soldiers? That it's okay to kill a Death Eater, because they won't know... they can't think properly... is that it, Harry? Or does he not even teach you to kill? Tells you to just sit and be a good boy... after all... that's what you did when I saw you... just sat tied to your precious Severus, and didn't fight... be a good boy now, Harry. And close your eyes so I can kill you with no guilt."

He raised his wand. Harry tensed, and got ready to duck, or counter-curse, or shield, but Rookwood never even started his incantation. There were suddenly hurried footsteps from the far door, Rookwood whipped around, caught off guard, and Harry leapt forwards.

"Affligossis!" he cried, whipping his wand over his head at Rookwood. A beam of bright blue light streamed from his wand and hit Rookwood in the back of the knee, sending him crashing to the floor with a yell of pain. There was a series of rather horrible snapping noise, and Rookwood shrieked, grabbing his leg in agony, as Harry's bone-breaking curse did a perfect job. "Stupefy!" Harry shouted, and Rookwood's eyes rolled back into his head, as he slumped to the floor, unconscious.

Snape strolled calmly into the room. There was an odd green cut across his neck, and his robes were torn at the chest, but apart from that, he was his usual calm self. He raised an eyebrow at the three people on the ground, and said, "How efficiently done. Well done, boys."

Harry beamed. "Draco took out Kane, and I chased Isabis all the way here, then stunned her."

"Hardly able to run fast though, was she?" said Draco, sleekly, inspecting his nails.

Harry shot him a very angry look, but Snape said calmly, "Mm... she still has a skill for curses. I thought she would put up a better fight, then again, motherhood affects the body in odd ways."

"You knew?" said Harry, staring at him.

Snape nodded coldly. "I also had to endure a great deal of fights about my "lack of concern and understanding" for her."

"But... well, Professor, what if the baby...?"

"It isn't," said Snape, simply. He idly drew his wand, and spelled tight ropes over each of the three prisoners, binding them fast together. "No baby can be created through wizarding adultery. It is completely and utterly impossible."

"But... what about - " Harry began, frowning. Draco, who was standing behind him at the time, jabbed Harry in the back with his knuckles and hissed at him to be quiet. Snape didn't seem to notice, as he levitated the three prisoners into the air, and made them start to drift away out of the door. He beckoned to Harry and Draco, then swept from the room.

Draco went to leave, but Harry caught him by the shoulder. Draco turned around to glare at him. "No."

"Well? Tell me."

"Tell you what?" Draco hissed, trying to get away and follow Snape.

"Your grandfather had an affair with a veela to create your father," said Harry. "Your father was born because of wizarding adultery. With that veela bar-maid, or whatever. Explain."

"No," snarled Draco. He whipped his robes out of Harry's grasp, and followed after Snape, though Harry stayed at his side.

"You're not a veela after all, are you? You were lying," said Harry, hurrying to keep up.

Draco rolled his eyes, and stopped in his tracks. Harry turned to face him, about to accuse him again, when suddenly something clogged the words in his throat. How could he accuse Draco of lying? Rotten thing to do, really. Draco was brilliant, after all, and he could never lie. Though if he did, it didn't matter, because Draco was amazing.

The feeling washed away in a sudden wave. Harry shook his head to rid himself of the last fleeting thoughts about how marvellous Draco was. He blinked, confused. "What did...?"

"I can persuade you to do anything," said Draco, quietly. "Anybody, anything. Just watch, and then you tell me that I'm not a veela." He glanced around, and then spotting Snape waiting for them at the end of the corridor, he called, "Professor!" Harry, watching closely, saw Draco's eyes give an odd little flash.

"Yes, Draco?" said Snape, in a rather affectionate tone.

"Carry me..." Draco purred. He smiled sweetly. "I don't want to hurt my feet."

"Very well," said Snape, and to Harry's eternal surprise, Snape just left the three unconscious Death Eaters floating in mid-air to go to Draco, bend down, and pick him up bridal-style.

Draco smiled sweetly as he was hoisted into the air, and tickling Snape under the chin, he cooed, "Good... now, I'm cold. Give me your shirt. I'll have the trousers too, actually."

"No!" Harry yelped. "No, no... it's okay, I'm convinced. Make him put you down."

Draco chuckled. "As you wish... Sevvie, dear, put me down now. Gently, please." Snape put Draco down obediently, and Harry saw another little flash in Draco's eyes. Snape blinked, shaking his head a little, and glancing around.

"Mm... I blacked out for a moment," he said, coldly. "Rookwood's hex might have been a better hit than I first thought. We need to return to Grimmauld Place soon, and alert the ministry of our capture, so that - " He stopped dead.

Harry glanced up at the top of the corridor, at the doors where Snape had left the three Death Eaters - but they were gone. There was only a sticky, tangled mess of white threads that had once bound Kane, and nothing else. Draco instinctively took a step closer to Snape and Harry, glancing about the corridor worriedly. "They're gone," he squeaked.

"Well observed," Snape muttered.

"But... where did they go?"

"They must have apparated somehow..." said Snape, distractedly. "Or a portkey. It is of little importance - we did not come all the way here to catch Death Eaters. We should head back to Grimmauld Place, quickly..."

"But what about my inheritance?" said Draco, quite angrily.

"Hush," was Snape's waspish reply. "We'll have time to pick it up, though if you prefer, I could leave you here as easy prey to Rookwood, Kane and Isabis."

Draco frowned a little, though said nothing. Snape placed a hand on one shoulder of each boy, and lead them out of the corridor, back towards the drawing room. Harry couldn't help but notice that Snape kept glancing to each side, and whenever there was movement nearby, his grip tightened on Harry's shoulder.

When they had arrived home, Draco had managed to sneak the trunk upstairs and hide it under his bed before anybody noticed, even though Hermione looked suspicious as she asked him what all the noise coming from upstairs was about. He told her it was a rat, but she wasn't convinced. As she was saying goodbye, she gave him a rather doubtful look, but hugged him all the same, causing Ron to turn slightly red on the back of his neck. Perhaps noticing this, Hermione gave Ron a much more affectionate hug and even a small kiss.

Once everybody was gone, it was very late. Mrs Weasley gave Harry, Ron, Draco and Ginny last mugs of cocoa, then sent them all upstairs to bed. Draco barricaded himself in the bathroom as always, while Ron sat on his bed and started reading through a Quidditch magazine he'd borrowed from Neville. Harry didn't feel like staying awake at all. He flopped straight into bed, exhausted from his whole, horrible day. Khepri's face clouded his mind, and then Isabis, Rookwood, Draco's cousin Kane... it didn't seem to make sense in his numb brain anymore, just a scatter of events all squashed together in two days. He only had about a week to go before Hogwarts now, and as horrible as it sounded, he couldn't wait. It wasn't that he didn't want to stay at Grimmauld Place, it was just that he felt oddly frustrated trapped in the house around the clock, only let out when there was a special need for it.

Lying in his bed, half under the covers and half out, he found himself remembering the day he had gone hawking with Professor Alrister. Roaming out over the fields and the mountains and the valleys beyond, with no set route to take, and as much time in the world as they wanted. He also remembered, with a slight pang, all the walks he had taken with Kainda. He sincerely hoped that the Daily Prophet reporters wouldn't be at Hogwarts trying to get news stories about his love life. That was another thing he missed about Hogwarts - how private it was. When he had been a first year, people all stared at him, only because he was the famous Harry Potter, and they had all heard stories about him. Now, in his seventh year, people accepted that Harry Potter was at Hogwarts, and it wasn't a big deal. Though in the wizarding world, there were always people who made him feel awkward, as though they had big expectations of him, and he had to meet those standards.

He yawned slightly, feeling sleep ebbing at his mind. He didn't really care whether Khepri visited him during his dreams or not. He was just too tired.

There was suddenly a knock of the door, jolting him from his warm and calm thoughts. Ron got up from his bed, and opened the door. Professor Lupin stood in the doorway, holding a letter, and wearing a smile. "More letters from Hogwarts," he said, smiling mildly. "Ginny's OWL results just arrived, your parents are with her downstairs... and Hermione has been chosen as head girl. She just contacted us through the candles."

"Who's head boy?" said Draco, trying to sound as though he wasn't overly bothered.

"Ernie Macmillan," said Lupin, mildly. "Hermione told us."

"But - " said Ron, with wide eyes.

"Why isn't - " said Draco, looking equally offended.

"The headmaster will have his reasons," said Lupin, calmly. "Now, Ginny could do with some advice about her NEWT subjects... and I'm sure you're all very happy for her and want to know her results." He raised an eyebrow.

"I am," said Harry, getting out of bed. "Is she happy? Did she get what she want?"

He followed Lupin out of the room, heading downstairs, where the kitchen light was on and Mrs Weasley's happy voice could be heard. Ron and Draco followed Harry, both looking rather shocked. Harry recognised the feeling a little as the same one he got when he'd found out he wasn't a prefect in fifth year.

"I never did anything wrong," said Draco, blankly. "Eight OWLs is damn good, and I have a good record. I caught Blaise Zabini last year!"

"I helped save the Philosopher's Stone," said Ron, sounding pained. "And I was in the Chamber of Secrets, and I was in the Shrieking Shack, and I was at the Department of Mysteries last year. What have I ever done wrong?"

"How many OWLs did you get?" said Draco, rounding on him.

"Uh... six," said Ron.

"That'll explain you then," was Draco's slightly contemptuous reply. "But what about me? Alastor Moody thinks most highly of me. I won half a million points for Slytherin last year. Wait! It's bias towards the Slytherins! That's what it is... Dumbledore has always favoured Gryffindors."

"Then why am I not head boy?" Ron demanded. "Why Ernie Macmillan? He's a Hufflepuff!"

"How many OWLs did he get?" said Draco, quickly, glancing from Harry to Ron. "One of you must know."

"He said he revised for about eight hours a day," said Ron. "He must have got really high marks. But still, he's not exactly successful, is he?"

"Will you two complaining?" said Harry. "Come on, you should be happy for Hermione, not selfish because you didn't get the head boy spot. It's only a stupid badge."

"But - "

"Ron!" Ginny squealed, as they opened the kitchen door, and she flew towards them with a bit of paper clutched in her hand. "I got eight OWLs! I got a P in Potions, but eight passes! And I got Outstanding in Care of Magical Creatures!"

"Hey, great!" said Ron, cracking on a rather false smile and hugging her. "Charlie'll be pleased."

"I got Es in Herbology, and Muggle Studies," Ginny continued, brightly, flashing the piece of paper in their faces. "And As for everything else. What were your marks?"

"Uh..." Ron thought about this, and then said, "I got D in Potions, D in History of Magic, D in Divination... I got an E in Care of Magical Creatures, and As for everything else."

Draco gave a little snort. "You got three Ds? No wonder you're not head boy."

"What do you get then, smart alec?" said Ron, angrily.

"Outstanding in Runes, Astronomy, Potions and Defence Against The Dark Arts," said Draco, sleekly. "E in Charms, and Transfiguration, then Acceptable in Care of Magical Creatures and History of Magic."

"What did you get for Herbology?" asked Harry.

Draco was quiet for a moment, and then he said, "The examiner gave me a rather weedy plant to work upon, and this affected my grade."

"Yeah, yeah, but what was it?" Ron pestered.

"P," sniffed Draco.

Ron chuckled. "I got better than you in Herbology. I'll have to get that in writing, and frame it on the wall sometime. What did you say you got in Astronomy? Outstanding? You don't want to tell Hermione that." He grimaced. "She got all Os apart from one E, in Astronomy. She beats herself up about it constantly, and goes all weird if she's outside at night. Starts talking about moon positions and how unreliable school telescopes are."

"When have you been outside at night with Hermione?" said Mrs Weasley, suspiciously.

"Uh..." said Ron.

Harry, who would soon be adopting the subject-change as his trademark, said, "So, Ginny, what are you taking for your NEWTs? Where's your form? We can all fill it in to help you..."

Ginny took out her form, and they all gathered around the table to excitedly talk about her future and what subjects she wanted to take. When everything was over, and the three boys were heading back upstairs to bed, Draco muttered to Ron, "So, when have you been outside at night with Granger?"

"None of your business," Ron snapped. "At least I'm not magnetised towards walking skirts."

Draco fumed at this, and Harry laughed, as they all got back into bed. Ron was asleep fairly soon, and both Harry and Draco sat awake for a while, listening to him sleep talking, something about telling the opsittops to stop repeating a kissing sound, before both of them drifted off to sleep.


Chapter Nine: The Welcome Feast

Harry could remember a morning a few years ago where he had been getting ready to go to Hogwarts with all the Weasleys around him, panicking and frantically gathering things together, colliding on the stairs and running around half-dressed, leaving bits of toast everywhere. At the time, he'd thought it was pretty hectic - but that was until he'd tried getting ready for Hogwarts in a house stuffed to the door with wizards and witches, with four students and two teachers to get ready.

They had to catch the Hogwarts Express at eleven o' clock. Mrs Weasley woke up at about six o' clock, made several towering stacks of toast already buttered and charmed to stay warm, and then started getting bags and cages and trunks and cases and boxes and everything else next to the front door, ready to be taken out to the car. Harry was up at seven, and despite packing everything the night before and setting out his clothes for the next morning, found himself racing around frantically looking for his broomstick, which had mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth. At half past seven, Draco was up and spent half an hour fussing about his hair, before helping Harry look for his broom. Half past eight came. Lupin was sitting at the table quite calmly, all packed and ready, reading the paper and having coffee. Ginny came running out from her room at quarter to nine, shrieking that she was going to be late and would miss the train, though she was dressed at quarter past nine and helping out with the broom search.

Half past nine came, and the broom was located under Draco's bed. Ginny went running off to get her bags together, and Draco sat down to straighten his hair. Lupin was into the sports pages of the newspaper by now, and Snape was standing by the back door, making waspish remarks about how late everybody was running. Ten o' clock came at last, and Harry was just starting to relax when they all realised Ron was still asleep, and hadn't packed.

They beat Ron awake with pillows and practically dragged him into his clothes as Draco reluctantly packed Ron's things. Harry's broomstick went missing again, located at about ten past ten in Ron's trunk. A still sleepy Ron was lurching about in a sort of trance, falling over things and grumbling about being made to get up so early. Quarter past ten arrived, just as Mr and Mrs Weasley were chasing everybody out of the house and herding them into the bright yellow car which had pulled up outside. Fred and George were instructed to drive very quickly and stop for no-one. It was twenty past ten when Fred leaned around to offer everybody Bertie Botts Beans, and asked where Ginny was.

They turned back to drive to Grimmauld Place, and met Mr Weasley en-route, running down the streets dragging poor Ginny by the arm. Ginny leapt into the car and they sped off again, arriving at Kings Cross with twenty minutes to go. Fred and George wished them all a good term, and shooed them towards Platform 9 , after giving them a few pocketfuls of Skiving Snackboxes each, "on the house".

Harry, Ron, Draco and Ginny fetched trolleys for their luggage, and wheeled it all across the station, onto the platform through the solid brick wall. They found a carriage to themselves, loaded their luggage in, and Ron instantly collapsed onto a seat with a sleepy grunt.

"Murrh... I can't even see properly yet..." he groaned.

Draco sunk gracefully into the corner seat, and stretched himself out, taking a magazine from the bag he had with him. "You should wake up earlier then, shouldn't you?" Since the events at Malfoy Manor, Harry had noticed a great deal of new purchases suddenly appearing around Draco. Snape went out one afternoon, and didn't come back for several hours. When he did, he was laden down with bags, that Draco hauled off to his room. His school bag was new, a rather mature and adult black one, and his clothes were no longer old. Harry had forgotten just how tall Draco was, but once he was back into his own black clothing, he shot up towards the ceiling.

Ron made no sign that he'd heard Draco, and just gave a sigh, rubbing his eyes and trying to wake himself up. "You both know I'm supposed to be up front with the other prefects, right?"

"We all know you can't be bothered to walk all that way, Weasley," said Draco, coolly. "Don't pretend you aren't."

The door slid open, and Harry looked up to see Hermione standing on the platform, smiling up at them all. "Morning!" she said, brightly, hopping up into the carriage. Behind her, Harry could see three trolleys full of her luggage. Her father stood with them, looking distinctly nervous around all the owls, cats, tearful mothers and excited young wizards and witches. Hermione took Crookshank's basket off the top of the trolly, and said, promptly, "Everyone, this is my dad. Dad, this is Harry, Ron, Draco and Ginny."

"Hi," said Harry, smiling. Mr Granger gave him a fleeting smile and a nod, and then glanced at Ron, who was still lying on the seats, half-asleep.

"Ron?" said Hermione. "This is my dad, say hi!"

"H'lo," Ron mumbled, opening one eye to look at Mr Granger. Mr Granger gave him a weak smile.

Hermione laughed nervously. "He's normally more awake than this..."

"Wha'?" said Ron, vaguely, lifting his head just enough to peer at Hermione.

Hermione didn't bother to repeat herself, and instead starting unloading her cases from the trolleys. Draco put down his magazine, and helped her, even taking care with Crookshanks, who everybody else hated. Ron sat in his seat, looking as though he'd been drugged. When Hermione gave her father a tight hug, and he wished her good luck, Ron managed to sit up and yawn, though that was about it. Mr Granger went away across the platform, and Hermione gave Ron a rather fond frown.

"Not good with first impressions, are you?"

"It's too early, Mione..." Ron groaned, rubbing his eyes. "Let me wake up, then I'll think about first impressions..."

She shook her head, and sat down next to him, taking Crookshanks from Draco and letting the ginger cat out of its basket. Crookshanks sprang out with a hiss, and landed in Ron's lap, claws still out. Ron yelped and nearly hit his head on the roof from jumping so high.

"Crookshanks, no, don't scratch Ron!" said Hermione, grasping the cat and tugging it off Ron's trousers. "Poor Ron... say sorry..."

Crookshanks gave Ron a look of utter loathing as Hermione held him out. Ron's expression was fairly similar, though his face didn't have the same squashed appearance as Crookshank's. There was a knock on the door that moment, taking the attention off Crookshanks and Ron, as everybody turned to look. Neville and Luna stood in the door. Harry barely had a moment to register that Neville was smiling, and Luna was holding something small and black, when there was a furious hiss from Crookshanks and he leapt at Luna's chest, spitting. Luna leapt out of the way, and Draco shot after Crookshanks, snatching at his tail.

"Crookshanks!" Hermione squealed, as the ginger cat went darting away through the crowds, chased by Draco.

"Why did he - " Harry began, but he then realised why, as Luna turned back around. There was a tiny, fluffy kitten sitting in her arms, blinking up at Harry with huge, bright blue eyes. As he looked at it, the kitten mewed, its ears flicking.

"Odd," said Luna, quietly. "No other cats have gone for Bucket..."

"Bucket?" said Harry. "Why is it called Bucket?"

Luna shrugged mildly. "It was the first object in my house that he went to... I took it as a sign that he wanted to be called that..."

Harry tried to think of further questions he could ask about this, but each one was more ridiculous than the last, and so he left it. Luna and Neville clambered into their carriage, and Hermione helped them get all their luggage in, tucking it into the racks over head. Draco appeared a few minutes later, holding Crookshanks tightly around the podgy middle, covered in numerous scratches and bites. Hermione had to agree it was best to shut Crookshanks in his basket for the rest of the journey. She put him away in the wicker basket, and then set about fixing Draco's injuries with various little charms.

"Hey, Harry! Kainda's here!" Neville said suddenly, peering out of the window onto the platform.

Harry jumped up. "She's here?" He ran over, and looked out across the sparse crowd. A very old, shrivelled woman in St Mungo's robes had strode into the station, taking oddly quick and short steps, pushing a wheelchair in front of her as though it was a battering ram. Kainda was sitting in the chair with a rather bemused expression on her face.

Harry headed for the door, and Ron stood up to join him, but Hermione forcefully pulled him down. As Harry was jumping out of the carriage, he caught Hermione's eye, and gave her a small smile of thanks. She dropped him a wink.

Harry hurried out across the platform, and practically pranced up the bridge, right across, and then down the steps on the other side just as Kainda and the healer were approaching the bridge. Harry then noticed that there were two or three reporters hot on their tail, which probably explained why the healer was sprinting. The reporters exploded in cheers as Harry appeared, and ran in for the kill. Kainda was still wearing a very mild smile on her face that made Harry want to laugh.

"I'll take her from here," he said to the healer, stepping forward.

The healer gave him a remarkably sour look. "Very well," she said, sniffily. "You just get her onto the train quickly! All this stress is bad for her, boy."

Harry tried not to smile. "Alright, thanks." As the healer marched away across the station, still moving as though she was going for some sort of power-walking record, Harry flashed Kainda a grin, and took the handles of her wheelchair. "Alright?"

"Alright," she replied, smirking up at him. "It's a magical chair. Should glide right up the stairs. Though don't go too fast, you might ditch me out of it into the path of the Hogwarts Express, and that'll be one hell of a photo for the Prophet."

Harry laughed, and carefully eased the chair towards the stairs, aware that the reporters were taking as many photos as their cameras would hold. He could hear quite a few shouting at him for interviews. The wheelchair tilted back gently, and drifted up the steps, before putting itself the right way up again when they reached the top of the bridge.

"Harry! Harry!" one of the reporters was calling. Harry glanced over his shoulder, and saw Rita Skeeter hurrying up the steps after him, beaming from ear to ear, so much that her lipstick was smudging. "Harry, how are you?"

"Fine," said Harry, as blandly as he could manage.

"So are the rumours true?" asked Rita, getting straight to the point, her quill poised and ready to write. "Coupled up, are we? You've have quite a string of ex-girlfriends so far, haven't you? Do you have any comments to them?"

"Nope," said Harry, sweetly, wheeling Kainda across the bridge. She was grinning up at him, and he had trouble fighting his smirk.

"You're a young man now, aren't you?" Rita pestered, clearly desperate for some sort of comment out of him. "Thinking of your future? Settling down and starting a family?"

"I'm only seventeen," said Harry, staring at her.

"Oh, so it's not serious?" she said quickly. "Just a summer love thing? Would you call this your first test of an adult relationship? The Prophet runs a column for young people now, you know, would you be interested in giving any contraceptive advice to them? It could be big, Harry. Put your name on the map!"

"I think," said Kainda, smirking, "that Harry doesn't exactly need to advertise contraception to have his name on the map."

Rita ignored her, and said, desperately to Harry, "Just a few words about the benefits of waiting until marriage, Harry, you'll be the young peoples' hero... or perhaps, you'd like to dispel those old-fashioned ideas and be the voice of the new generation?"

"There's only one voice I'm concerned about now," said Harry. "Yours. As in, shutting it up."

"Just tell us if the rumours are true, Harry, please! Look at us, we've come all this way for news on you!" pleaded Rita. "One word, Harry, yes or no!"

Harry glanced down at Kainda, and she looked back up at him, the corner of her mouth curled upwards into a roguish smile. They seemed to agree in that one moment. Harry turned to Rita, and said, with a bright smile, "No comments", then he spun on his heel and took Kainda off, down the ramp of the bridge and towards the Hogwarts Express. The reporters gradually hung back, grumbling and taking photographs, with Rita Skeeter still shouting at Harry if marriage could be on the cards in the near future.

"Brilliantly done," said Kainda, smirking up at Harry.

"Thanks," he grinned. "I've been practicing. Could you tell?"

Before she could answer, there was the sound of the Hogwarts Express window being pulled open. Harry looked up, and saw Ron hanging out of it, yelling at Rita Skeeter. "OI! My name's RONALD Weasley, not ROBERT, at least get my NAME RIGHT if you're going to print LIES about me, you stupid woman!"

"Ron!" Hermione's voice hissed from inside, and Ron was jerked out of sight of the window, the hinge banging shut moments after.

Harry grinned, and carefully manouevred the wheelchair up into the train compartment. Everybody burst into chatter as they came in, asking Kainda how she was, complaining about Rita Skeeter and the rest of the reporters, offering to take Kainda's bags. "Thanks," she said, as Ron put all her stuff in the overhead luggage rack.

"Why are you still in a wheelchair?" asked Hermione, interestedly.

"My stomach muscles are still weak," said Kainda. She reached down, and wheeled herself to sit with everybody else, setting the back of the chair against the wall. "I've got to take everything easy, try to rest and relax my stomach. Let it heal, you know?"

"Can you eat?" said Luna, dreamily, petting Bucket the kitten with her fingertips.

"Oh yeah," said Kainda. "I'm just going to be a bit suspicious of anything salty for a while." She grinned, and accepted Neville's offering of a jelly bean with a cheerful, "Thanks, Nev."

"Where's Professor Snape today?" asked Luna, softly, glancing around the carriage as though he was about to leap out from behind the curtains and eat them. "He was here when we left the school... why not now?"

"He's in the back carriage with Professor Lupin," said Harry, vaguely.

Luna sighed. "Such a shame..." Everybody stared at her, and she smiled sweetly, swaying slightly from side to side. "I like Professor Snape..."

"Get her out," grunted Ron. "Out. Out now. Strange girl."

Kainda laughed softly, and looked around at them all with her amused brown eyes. "Oh, I've missed Hogwarts."

A controller was now moving along the train, and shutting doors, as whistles were sounding up and down the platform. Harry felt an odd bubble of excitement in him now, realising that this was it, the start of his last year at Hogwarts. He looked around at all his friends, and couldn't help but wonder if things would be any different this year. After all, the circumstances of his last year were entirely different to how they were now. Lord Voldemort was active and alive, ready to seek revenge on those who angered him. The Death Eaters would still be out there, somewhere. Rookwood for one was not going to lie low and sink into obscurity. Were the Heliopaths still in league with Voldemort? Could another attack be coming within days? Whatever was coming, Harry felt ready for it. His life changed with every year than went by now, and he had a feeling this year was going to be the most dangerous yet.

The journey to Hogwarts was uneventful, as it nearly always was. They all laughed and joked for the long hours they spent in the train, and at around lunch time, the witch with the tea trolley came along the train. They all pooled their gold, and bought a mountain of sweets and cakes, crisps, sandwiches and pasties, then tucked in. Perhaps it was just because it was the first time Harry had been outside for a long time, but he felt oddly happy as he shared a chocolate frog with Ginny and watched the countryside rolling by. Hermione, Ron and Draco boycotted the prefects compartment to stay with everybody else, and Harry had the feeling Ernie Macmillan was in for some hateful looks from Ron and Draco next time they met.

The sun gradually started to set outside. Harry was aware that their journey was taking a different route to normal - perhaps it was just in case the Death Eaters tried to attack the train en-route, Harry wondered. Lupin and Snape were also on the train this time, in the back carriage, though luckily, they weren't needed. The journey was smooth all the way there.

It was very dark by the time the train pulled up outside Hogsmeade Station, and the doors were all pulled open by conductors walking about the platform. Students started to spill from the train, chattering eagerly, handing out luggage and cages. Harry and all his friends started to take their cases down from the luggage racks. Harry could see the great shaggy head of Hagrid above the crowds outside, and his lantern glowing like a beacon in the darkness. "Firs' years! Firs' years, this way!"

"Hiya Hagrid!" Harry shouted, waving and beaming, as he passed Crookshank's basket out to Hermione.

"H'lo Harry!" Hagrid waved back, grinning. "How was yer summer?"

"Great, thanks!" called Harry. With a last wave, Hagrid moved away across the platform, followed by a huddle of tiny, scared-looking first years, all of them clutching bags and baby owls in cages. Harry was struck by how incredibly small they all were. He couldn't remember being that small, ever.

The platform gradually started to clear of students, as everybody made their way out of the station towards the thestral-drawn carriages that would take them all to Hogwarts. Harry and his friends were all laden down with bags and cases now, and as a great tottering mass, they began to move out of the station, when there was a shout from behind them. Harry, holding the handles of Kainda's wheelchair, turned around.

"Oi! Ye could nae gimme a wee bitta help, could ye?"

The oddest man Harry had seen since Mad Eye Moody was standing at the back of the train, beckoning him over. Harry had to blink once or twice to make sure he wasn't actually seeing things, wondering whether Draco and Ron had slipped some sort of hallucinating charm on him, and he was seeing things.

The first thing that Harry noticed about the man was the t-shirt he wore, once white and now grey, stretched over an impressive beer gut, with the gigantic slogan of, "I LUV MUGGLES". The next thing that drew Harry's attention was the bright rainbow scarf wrapped around the man's neck, draping nearly to the floor, and pinned with many badges, all brandishing messages like, "MUGGLES ROCK" and "MUGGLES 4EVA". He was about fifty, and wore tartan trousers along with his odd t-shirt. Harry was reminded of an aging British tourist on holiday to Spain, lounging about near the pool and trying to dance during the cabaret.

"Er... are you okay there, Sir?" Harry called.

"I could do wae a bitta help, if ye're nae in a rush," said the man, in a broad and rich Scottish accent. Harry turned Kainda around, told the others to go on ahead, and then he wheeled Kainda over to this odd man. Harry realised that he was not wearing a rainbow hat, as Harry had first thought, but his hair was in fact dyed various colours, none of which were ever found in nature. "Thankye," said the man, beaming at Harry. "I jus' need somebody t' carry me budgie cage... I dunnae want t' drop it, y'see, and I've got all these bloody books wae me..."

"No problem," said Harry, fighting his smile, as the man handed him a large cage, containing a single budgie on a perch. Kainda took the budgie cage, and set it on her lap. The man struggled with several huge bags, one of which was covered in yet more odd badges, and then slammed the door of the train carriage.

"Aye, thanks," he said, grinning at both of them. "Ye're good for helpin' me. I tried t' get this other guy t' help me a bit, but he was nae listenin'... are ye students at the school?"

Harry nodded, smiling, and wheeling Kainda alongside the Scottish man, trying not to get his scarf caught in the wheels. "We're seventh years," he explained. "Are you teaching this year, Sir?"

"Aye, I am," the man beamed. He offered Harry a pudgy hand, with a great deal of hair across his fingers. "Profess'r Chetry... Brian Chetry..."

"It's a pleasure," said Harry.

"Likewise," said Kainda, bemusedly. "I'm Kainda Zabini..."

"Harry Potter," said Harry, with a little smile.

"S'nice t' meet ye," said Professor Chetry, brightly, beaming down at both of them.

"What do you teach, Professor?" asked Kainda. The budgie in the cage on her lap was whistling pleasantly, bobbing up and down, studying its reflection in a mirror on the bars.

"Muggle Studies," said the professor, proudly. "Ach, s'me first year though... I have nae been here since I were a wee lad, and aye, that were quite a few years ago, let me tell yeh."

"Oh, I'm doing Muggle Studies," said Kainda.

"Ach, good girl! I'll be teachin' yeh then." Professor Chetry grinned, showing numerous fillings. "What did ye say ye name was? Kinder?"

"Kainda," she said, smiling slightly. "Kigh-in-da."


"That's it," she nodded, her lips twitching a little at the corners. The budgie on her lap whistled brightly, bobbing up and down. "I like your bird," she said, looking up at the mad professor. "What's its name?"

"He's called Kylie," said Chetry.

"He?" said Harry, raising his eyebrow.

"Aye," said Chetry, shrugging. "Y'see, I got two at first... thought they were both lassies, one called Danni and one called Kylie... then Danni had some eggs, and Kylie turned out t' be a laddie. He does nae answer t' anythin' else now."

Only two carriages remained outside the station. One was empty, and the other contained Draco and Ginny. Harry and Kainda put Kylie the budgie into the empty carriage, made sure Professor Chetry was okay, and then hurried to Draco and Ginny's carriage, getting inside as fast as they could. The two carriages moved off, and Draco leaned around to stare out of the window at Professor Chetry.

"Who, in the name of Salazar Slytherin, is that?" he said, sounding disgusted.

"That's Professor Chetry," said Kainda, smiling bemusedly. "He's teaching Muggle Studies, likes muggles, and has a male budgie called Kylie. Probably of the Minogue variety."

"How do minnows come into it?" said Draco, turning to stare at her in absolute amazement.

"Never mind," Kainda said, laughing softly.

The carriage trundled pleasantly up towards the school, and a few minutes later, it pulled up on the drive way. Harry helped Kainda out, and they balanced as many bags on her wheelchair as possible, before staggering up towards the castle. By the time they got into the entrance hall, all of them were exhausted. Draco flung his luggage carelessly onto the mountain that had grown up in the hall, and Ginny followed suit. Both of them then made their way into the entrance hall, leaving Harry to get all the bags off Kainda. He was just contemplating the cat calls and comments he would get from all the students if he and Kainda entered the hall together, when the doors opened, and Professor Lupin came out.

"Oh, Harry! There you are!" he said, coming over. "We were worried that your carriage hadn't started or there was a problem at the station... I just need to talk to you for a few minutes, in my office..."

"Okay," said Harry, wondering what Lupin wanted to see him about. He glanced at Kainda, and she gave him a little smile, before making her way through the double doors into the Great Hall. Lupin shut the doors after her.

"Now then... my office, please, Harry. Oh, and I set you an extra book this year, did you notice...?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah..." He leant down, and tugged the book out of the top of the plastic bag near his feet. "This one?"

"Yes, that one," said Lupin. "Bring it along with you, we can just have a quick look through it... this way then." And he lead Harry off up the corridor, towards his office, with Harry following behind him, holding the book about murder, lost in his wondering.

Lupin opened the door of his office, and gave Harry a mild smile as he stepped inside. Lupin then shut the door, and Harry was just sitting down at his desk, when Lupin made a funny noise that made Harry look around. It was like a growl. Harry saw him swipe at something on the door handle, before realising he had several short, scarlet hairs in his fingers.

"She's been in here," Lupin sighed, his flash of anger melting away, as he flicked the hair into the bin.

"Sorry," said Harry, "but who's been in here?"

"The new Dark Arts mistress," was the rather vague reply. Lupin glared at the bin for a moment, before sinking into a chair behind his desk. "Professor Dumbledore thought it was best to bring in a second teacher for Defence Against The Dark Arts, in case there is any truth in the rumours of the position being jinxed. Though she insists on coming into my office and leaving her horrible hair all over the place."

Harry couldn't help but stare. Never once, in his entire life, had he heard Lupin angry or malicious towards anybody, even in third year when Professor Snape was in the middle of his little psychopathic incident, Lupin had been calm and collected. Yet here he was, clearly very annoyed about a simple hair in his office.

"Will she be teaching me at all?" asked Harry, curiously.

Lupin nodded. "It will work on a half-time scheme... though you will have me for as much time as possible, if I have any say in it." Harry raised his eyebrows slightly, and seeing his expression, Lupin said, a little more calmly now, "Madam Ivy is a very able teacher, I am sure... however, to business... let me have a look at that book please, Harry..."

Harry handed Professor Lupin the thick book. The titled letters in red flashed at Harry slightly, "Cold-Blood : A Study Of Magical Murder, by Verin Maleficia", and underneath was a picture of somebody Harry presumed was the author. Verin Maleficia didn't exactly look like the sort of man you would invite round for tea and biscuits. Tall, thin, dark and un-naturally pale, Harry was strongly reminded of a cross between Professor Snape and a vampire.

"What I have to tell you might come as a shock to you, Harry..." said Lupin, gently, holding the book in his hands and flicking through the pages idly. "You could well be reluctant, even..." He sighed, and surveyed Harry with his calming brown eyes. "The headmaster wants me to give you some extra tuition, on Saturday mornings."

"What about?" asked Harry.

"You know, Harry, that one day you're going to have to face up to Lord Voldemort," said Lupin, calmly. He brushed some of his greying brown hair out of his eyes. "You will have to murder him, Harry, and at the moment, skilled as you are, the headmaster and I are worried that you do not have the malice required."

Harry said nothing, just watching Lupin intently. Lupin continued.

"This year I will be teaching you to kill," said Lupin, seriously. He placed the book between them on the desk. "We'll start with curses which can kill if performed well, things like knife curses, poison hexes, jinxes which severely maim the human body... then we'll be going onto the Unforgivable Curses. Most importantly Avada Kedavra."

"But - " Harry stopped, wondering exactly what he could say to protest this. "It's... it's illegal! And... how am I ever going to learn how to use Avada Kedavra without practicing? What are you going to have me killing?"

"Insects, probably," said Lupin. "Then perhaps larger creatures, mice and birds..."

"I..." Harry couldn't imagine himself raising a wand, and killing some small, innocent little mouse or bird. Even worse, a person. He just knew that everytime he tried to do it, the image of his mother and father would swim into his head. He couldn't. "Professor... I don't really..."

Lupin patted his arm gently. "I know, Harry... I know... this is necessary though. If you don't learn these things, you'll never be able to survive. We will start very slowly, don't worry. It will just be like practicing any other curses."

"So... when do I have my first lesson?" asked Harry, tentatively.

"Saturday," said Lupin. "Just come down to my office, and we'll do most of our practicing in here. Come at about ten o' clock, and we'll have a few hours." He stood up, and handed Harry the book. Harry took it silently. "Let's get down to the feast then," said Lupin, with a mild smile. "We wouldn't want to miss Professor Dumbledore's start of term speech."

Harry nodded, and silently, he followed Lupin out of the office, and through the school back to the Great Hall. Harry stopped for only a moment to drop off his book, before Lupin opened up the doors, and they both stepped inside. A sea of faces instantly turned to look at them, and Harry was stunned for a moment. The house tables had vanished, replaced by smaller rounder ones for about ten people, dotted randomly all around the hall. Harry blinked, eyes scanning the room until they picked out Ron, Hermione, Draco, Neville, Luna, Ginny and Kainda, all clustered at a table over the far side, joined by Professors Alrister and McGonagall. Hermione looked a little pink in the face, as she'd always been quite taken with Alrister. Smiling, Harry hurried over through the crowd, and sat down between Ron and Draco.

"Where've you been?" asked Ron in a whisper.

"I'll tell you later," Harry replied, turning around in his seat just in time to see Lupin sit down next to Dumbledore.

The headmaster smiled warmly at Harry, his blue eyes twinkling a little, before he turned to the rest of the hall again. "Now... where was I? Ah, yes, our new members of staff... we are lucky to be joined by four new teachers this year."

Harry glanced around, trying to count which faces he didn't recognise. There was mad Professor Chetry, sitting next to Professor Flitwick, looking even more out of place in the splendour of the Hogwarts Great Hall, with his fly away rainbow hair and ludicrously bright scarf. A few seats along from Chetry was Professor Pebblebank, in baby blue robes with a glittery star on the front, watching Dumbledore avidly and toying with a tuft of her bright blonde hair. Next to her was a man with rather unruly dark blonde hair, a double chin, and dark eyes, though this man went completely un-noticed in light of the woman next to him. Harry instantly knew she must be the Dark Arts mistress who had been in Lupin's office. Her hair was not red like Ron's, or even Harry's mother's, but it was un-natural scarlet, painfully so. It was short, almost in spikes, and was exactly the same shade as her roll-neck jumper. She also wore a mid-length black skirt, little black ankle boots, and a silver chain around her neck with a strawberry on it.

"Professor Chetry is our new Muggle Studies teacher," said Dumbledore, tearing Harry's eyes away from the Dark Arts mistress. "Our last Muggle Studies professor has left the school to pursue his dream, and become a washing machine salesman. Professor Chetry has generously agreed to join the school, and I am sure you will enjoy your lessons with him."

Chetry grinned around at all the curious faces turned to him, and gave them the thumbs up. "H'lo." A few people swapped worried looks, and Harry distinctly heard a Ravenclaw on the next table remark how glad she was that she hadn't taken Muggle Studies.

"Also," said Dumbledore, gesturing to Penny Pebblebank, "we have a new subject that will be taught this year at Hogwarts. Miscellanious Magic. All of you will have one hour a week in her company, learning various useful things that don't fit into any other subject."

There was a murmur of interest at this, and people were learning around to try and see the new professor. She smiled and blushed a little, just showing her teeth, looking even more like a pixie than ever.

Dumbledore then turned his attention to the blond man, and said, smiling mildly, "Professor Knighton has kindly agreed to take up the position of our Arithmancy professor, for those of you who study the subject, and on his right is our new Dark Arts mistress, Madam Ivy."

Harry turned his gaze upon Madam Ivy. She smiled as her name was announced, a very grateful and sweet sort of smile, very feminine. Harry remembered the last sort of sweet smile he'd seen, on the lips of Professor Umbridge, though Madam Ivy didn't look at all like Professor Umbridge, which was always a plus in Harry's eyes. He was only half listening as Dumbledore introduced her to the school, mentioning that she was recommended by the ministry, as he was far too interested in the reactions of Lupin and Snape down the table. The two professors usually despised each other, though both were sitting together now, and conversing in mutters, their gazes fixed on Ivy. Snape's shoulders were hunched, and his eyes were practically slits. Lupin's forehead was creased in frown lines. Apparently, Madam Ivy was not popular with the two professors. Harry could understand Snape's reaction, after all, he had longed for the Dark Arts job ever since joining Hogwarts, though Lupin was not the type to take a grudge, in any circumstances.

"Well then," said Dumbledore, smiling. "I think that it is all I need to say to you now, and I'm sure you are all tired and hungry from your journeys." He raised his arms, clapped his hands, and instantly all the dishes around the hall filled, piling themselves high up. The first years all made gasps of surprise and wonder. Ron made a gasp of longing, and practically threw himself into the mountain of chips, taking half the pile onto his plate and starting to stuff them into his mouth as though it was a race.

A babble of talk broke out around the hall, as everybody tucked into the delicious food, loading up their plates. Harry took a piece of everything and started to eat. Next to him, Ron was gorging on chips, and could hardly be seen over the top of the chip hill on his plate. Draco was eyeing him disdainfully, as he started on his own fish and pasta.

"You do know you're supposed to have a varied diet, don't you, Weasley?" he said, in a very contemptuous tone,

"Mmmmmm, chips..." was Ron's reply, attacking the mound with ketchup and salt.

"It is varied," said Kainda, from next to Ron. "See, you've got chips from potatoes, so that's a vegetable, and he's got fat in there. Then there's ketchup, from tomatoes, which are technically fruit. Then salt, which is a mineral. Perfectly balanced."

"And his protein in this is coming from where?" said Draco, raising one thin blonde eyebrow at her.

"He's going to have a dessert, isn't it? With cream? Cream contains milk, and milk contains protein," said Kainda, smiling. "So shut your piehole, Fish Boy."

"It's salmon," Draco bristled.

"Oh, I am sorry. You see, I was under the impression that salmon WAS a fish. Clearly, I was wrong. My mistake." She picked up another slice of pizza, and drizzled some of the cheese into her mouth for a moment, before saying, smirking, "Would you care to enlighten us as to what group salmon actually belongs to, Draco? Mammals? Lizards? Maybe a bird even, after all, they do fly up waterfalls... then again, if it was a bird, you'd have oggled its legs before now."

The table burst into laughter, and even Alrister snorted into his soup before composing himself, fighting a smirk. Draco glared at them all, and suddenly lost his liking for salmon. He pushed it away from itself, and Bucket the kitten came prancing from behind the sausages to finish it off for him, with much joyous mewing. Draco got another plate, and started on the casserole.

Professor McGonagall frowned at Bucket pattering around on the table top, eating people's food. "Miss Lovegood, no pets at the table, please."

Luna reached out, and pulled Bucket off Draco's salmon with a dreamy, "No, Bucket...", before putting Bucket onto the floor. He went scampering away across the hall, his little white paws diving away under a nearby table looking for scraps, tail straight up in the air like an aerial. Everybody at the table looked underneath, and Padma Patil gave a squeal of delight. Bucket was promptly lifted up, all of the girls cooing at him and feeding him bits of fish. Professor McGonagall's frown deepened, though she continued with her haggis as though nothing had happened.

Meanwhile, Sneezy had wriggled out of Ron's top pocket and was being given scraps across the table by Hermione and Neville. He'd only eat it if they told him what it was, and quite a fight was starting.

"Carrots, Sneezy."


"No, no, it's not a stick, it's a carrot!"

"No, bad! Sticks!"

"Sneezy, it's not - "

"Stick! Stick, stick, stick! Bad yak!"

"Alright, alright, it's a stick... just eat it and stop arguing..."

After the main courses came the puddings. Harry always loved the Hogwarts desserts, and this year, the house elves really had tried their best. Perhaps they wanted to prove to everyone that no trouble with the food would arise this year, and they certainly had Harry persuaded. He had some sticky toffee pudding, some of the chocolate gateau, a big bowl of the chocolate ice cream, and finally a small slice of the apple tart. Ron really got tucked into pudding, and had a slice or bowl of practically everything. Sneezy delighted in being able to manage the word chocolate, and consequently had a slice of the gateau that was nearly as big as him. Everybody was now full of food and very happy, debating the day to come tomorrow, and after a last goblet of pumpkin juice each, they all went off to bed.

Harry and all his Gryffindor friends were pleasantly surprised to find that their nest had already been laid out neatly in the common room for them. Harry had always felt odd up in the dormitories since the nightmare he had last year, and he was glad he wouldn't have to face it again. They all got changed for bed, and slid under the tangle of duvets and blankets, boys on one side, girls on another. The last thought that Harry had before he dropped off to sleep was how glad he was to be back at Hogwarts, and whether this year would turn out to be just as exciting as the last.


Chapter Ten: Veela

The next morning, everybody woke up fairly early. Harry was very pleased to wake up without the lingering echo of a nightmare in his mind, and for once, his dreams had been void of anything uncomfortable. He got his robes together, and went into the Gryffindor bathrooms to get changed. Ron was already in there, standing in front of a mirror with his shirt open, tie dangling loosely at his chest, messing with his hair.

"Morning," he said, as Harry came in. "Sleep well?"

"Brilliantly," said Harry. He stepped into a cubicle, closed the door, and started to get changed. "You?"

"Yep," said Ron. "Hey, Harry? Do you think I should grow my hair a bit? I've had it short for ages and I fancy a change. Hermione thinks I'd look nice with it in sort of spikes. I dunno. What do you think?"

"Go with what Hermione says," Harry advised. "She's a girl, after all... it's not like I know much about hair, except that mine sticks up at the back."

Ron was still complaining about his hair as Harry came out of the cubicle, doing up his red and gold Gryffindor tie, straightening his robes. He studied himself in the mirror. It had been quite a while since he'd had a good, proper look at himself. He'd certainly grown a lot since he was eleven, and he was quite tall now. Draco was the tallest out of the group, and then it was probably Ron, but only by an inch. Harry turned around, and eyed himself up and down in the mirror. He wasn't quite so scrawny any more, either. Since starting Hogwarts, and spending holidays with the Weasleys, he'd certainly put on a bit more weight and muscle. He looked more like a man now, less like a child. He glanced across at Ron, and smiled, watching his best friend prodding at his nose and rubbing soap onto a spot on his chin.

Ron looked at him sideways, and said, "What? It's really noticeable, isn't it? I think Malfoy's got some weird spot cream, I'll try and get that off him... it must be good, he hasn't got a single spot yet. Lucky git."

"He's a Malfoy, Malfoys don't get spots," said Harry. "And it's not that noticeable. Eloise Midgen was worse."

"Yeah, well, the only thing with more spots than Eloise Midgen was a dalmatian," said Ron, vaguely, now putting water on his hair to make it a little spikier. "There, how's that?"

"Fine," said Harry. "Come on, let's get down to breakfast. I want to see my timetable. Have you got Sneezy?"

Sneezy's little head popped up out of Ron's pocket, and he beamed up at Harry. "Low," he squeaked.

"We think he means hello," said Ron, with a weak smile. "He hasn't quite got the 'he' part yet. You should have heard Hermione trying to teach him 'shirt' at dinner, we got some funny looks from McGonagall, let me tell you."

Harry laughed, and the two of them made their way out of the common room and down the corridors towards the Great Hall for breakfast. It was already half-full of people sitting around, eating plates of bacon and eggs, bowls of cereal, reading their timetables. As Harry and Ron entered the hall, Professor McGonagall stopped them.

"Ah, Weasley and Potter... one moment..." She sorted quickly through a pile of timetables she had next to her on a small table, and after a few seconds, she found Harry and Rons'. "There you are, boys. You've got a summary of your grades from last year on the back, so you can see which subjects you need to work on before your NEWT exams."

Both took their timetables, and headed off to sit at the table near the windows where Kainda and Draco were already sitting. Draco was absorbed in his grades summary, eating a piece of toast with jam half-heartedly. Kainda had a large bowl of cornflakes, and her feet up on the chair to her left. Harry sat next to her, and she smiled to him.


"Hiya," he said, with a return smile, turning his timetable over to study it.

Kainda leant over his shoulder to have a read too, absent-mindedly spooning cereal into her mouth. "Double Potions for you this afternoon... that's never a good thing. And History of Magic. Boring alert."

"What have you got?" he asked, turning to look at her timetable.

"Double Dark Arts," she said, idly, in between mouthfuls of cereal. "Then Pure Arts, Care of Magical Creatures, and Herbology. Hey, look! We've both got double Pure Arts tomorrow morning. And then Dark Arts at the same time too. Brilliant."

"Have any of you got Misc Magic on Wednesday, third thing?" asked Ron, looking up at their timetables. "Yeah, you have... I think we've all got it at the same time or something. That's either really good luck, or all of seventh year will be doing Misc Magic together. That could be a lot of fun."

"What have you got today?" asked Harry.

Ron ran his eyes down the Monday column of his timetable. "Charms, first thing... could be worse, I suppose... then Pure Arts, History of Magic, and double Transfiguration." He took Harry's timetable, and compared them. "So today I'm with you in Charms, and History of Magic... Malfoy, what have you got today?"

Draco, who had seemingly memorised his timetable by now, said promptly, "Potions, Dark Arts, Runes and double Pure Arts."

Harry turned over his timetable as Hermione, Neville, Luna and Ginny arrived, and all of them started comparing their lesson schedules. He had a look at his grade summaries, and was pleased to see that he was doing fairly well. He had received an Outstanding in Defence Against The Dark Arts, an E in Charms, E in Transfiguration, O in Pure Arts, E in Magical Creatures, an A in History of Magic, and -

Harry choked on the piece of toast he'd just bitten into.

"What?" said Ron. "You haven't got all Ts or something, have you?"

"I got an O in Potions!" said Harry, showing Ron the back of his timetable. Ron raised his eyebrows.

"Blimey, Harry, how much did you pay Snape for that?"

"Nothing," said Harry, still amazed. "I earned it."

"Maybe Snape's going senile," mused Ron, idly, picking up the jam pot.

"Or maybe he isn't," said a cold voice from behind Ron. Ron froze instantly, and both of them turned around. Snape stood there in all his bat-like glory, not looking impressed. Ron blanched. Snape sneered, upper lip curling. "Ten points from the school's collection, Weasley... and that now puts us into minus figures. I do hope you're proud of yourself."

Harry couldn't help but feel this was a little unfair, and he glanced at Snape, wondering if he could possibly convince the professor to give back the points. Snape glanced at him, and in the same instant that their eyes met, a voice growled behind his left ear.

"Dangerous Mind Techniques. My quarters. Nine o' clock tonight. Do not be late."

Harry gave the tiniest hint of a nod, and Snape turned on his heel, sweeping away across the hall to sit at a table alone. The moment Snape was out of site, Ron burst into an angry tirade about him, slapping jam onto a piece of toast.

"Who does he think he is? Ten points, just for speaking the truth! We haven't even started the year yet, and we're already in minus numbers, all because of him." Ron reached out for the pumpkin juice jug, and far too aggressively than he should have done, tugged it towards him. The jug caught a snag in the table cloth, and tipped forwards.

Draco leapt up with a cry of indignation as the sticky pumpkin juice sloshed all over the front of his robes, soaking the silver shirt and dripping off his hands. His face worked furiously, and he turned on Ron, grabbing him by the front of the shirt.

"What do you think you're playing at?" he snarled.

Ron pushed him away, getting to his feet. "Get off me!"

"Ron!" squeaked Hermione. She jumped up, and hurried round the table to try and stop him from launching himself at Draco. Ginny got up and grabbed Draco by the arm.

Both boys just glared at each other, the pumpkin juice still trickling off Draco's shirt, Ron's robes still crumpled around his neck from where they had been grasped. For a moment, Harry was absolutely certain that a fight would be coming, before Draco shook himself out of Ginny's grasp, and stormed out of the hall.

Ron sneered after him, before he fell back into his chair, tugging his robes straight and setting the pumpkin juice upright again. The people who had turned to stare looked away, restarting their conversations. Ron was now in an even worse mood, and hardly spoke for the rest of breakfast. Draco did not return.

The first bell went a few minutes later, and Harry and Ron headed off to Charms. Ron's bad mood lessened slightly, and by the time second bell went and he was heading off towards Pure Arts, he was in a perfectly good mood. He waved goodbye to Harry, and hurried after Neville, asking him how his holiday had been, as Harry made his way out into the grounds for Care of Magical Creatures. It was a dry, sunny morning, and Sneezy was whistling away in his pocket. Hagrid was outside in the paddock, waiting for everyone, and as he turned to the castle, spotting Harry, he flung his arm up and waved.


"Hiya Hagrid!" Harry shouted, hurrying down the lawns towards him. As Harry reached him, Hagrid grabbed him in a tight bear hug, ruffling his hair and laughing.

"Oh, I've missed yeh, Harry... s'good to see yeh again. How's Sneezy doin'?"

Harry broke back from the hug, grinning, and scooped the little opsittop out of his pocket. Sneezy beamed up at Hagrid. "Low."

Hagrid grinned, and took Sneezy off Harry, holding him in one massive palm. "How've yeh been doin' teachin' him to talk?"

"Fine," said Harry. "Watch this... Sneezy! Sneezy!"

Sneezy turned around to peer at Harry from under his little acorn hat. "Harry?"

Harry pointed up at the castle across the lawns, and said, "What's that, Sneezy?"

"'Ogwarts!" Sneezy squeaked.

Hagrid laughed. "Brilliant work, Harry... ten points teh the school, for that. Yeh've done a great job. I'll just purr'im with the others, so he can teach 'em a bit..." He took Sneezy over to a box just by the cabin wall. In there were all the other opsittops in a cluster, eating sunflower seeds and conversing in the few words of English they knew. As Sneezy was lowered in, all were greeted with, "Low!", and he was greatly welcomed, with many offerings of seeds.

"So, what's been happening with you over the summer?" Harry asked Hagrid interestedly, as they watched Sneezy greeting his friends again.

"Oh, loads," said Hagrid, smiling underneath his bushy black beard. "I've got so much teh tell yeh. Tell yeh what, come down to me cabin when school's over, and we can have a good chat, eh?"

"Sure," said Harry. "Can I bring Ron, Hermione and Draco?"

"Course yeh can," said Hagrid. He beamed at Harry for a moment, and then glanced to the left, seeing the rest of the class trailing down from the castle, chattering. "We're doin' somethin' dead interestin' today," he told Harry, brightly. "Been settin' it all up for ages."

"What are we doing?" Harry asked, almost worriedly, having had good experience of Hagrid's view of what was interesting.

"Buildin' nests," said Hagrid, gleefully.

"Um... what for, Hagrid?" said Harry, but the rest of the class had already approached, and Hagrid was distracted by their arrival.

"Come on, come on! Gather round now! Got a great lesson planned fer tehday. Follow me then, we're headin' tehwards the school gates!"

Curiously, the class all started to wander towards the gates, following behind Hagrid in a huddle. Harry wasn't exactly sure what he hoped to find there. After all, Hagrid's idea of interesting was giants, acromantulas, hippogriffs, and anything else that had claws or fangs or lethal venom excreting from every pore. Though as they turned around the corner and the gates came in sight, Harry could only see what looked like the world's largest litter tray, sitting next to the entrance, and a small mountain of hay.

"Yeh see the boxes?" Hagrid called to the class. "And all the straw? We'll be makin' nests, tehday. All yeh've gotta do is tear up the straw, and throw it in clumbs inteh the trays. Once we've done that, we're gonna start makin' food for 'em, so they'll have somethin' teh eat when they get 'ere."

"When what get here, Hagrid?" asked Ernie Macmillan from the front.

"The security dragons, 'course," said Hagrid, beaming.

"Security dragons?" half the class squawked.

"Yeah!" said Hagrid, quite defensively. "The school's gotta have more protection, ain't it? And we're gettin' in some trained security dragons from all over the world. They'll be sittin' at the gates, mostly, just looking out for anythin' suspicious."

"But... you can't train dragons," said Ernie, worriedly. "They're wild creatures. Aren't they more likely to attack the school instead of invaders?"

"Not if yeh train 'em right from bein' babies," said Hagrid, in a wise voice. "They're only wild when they're in the wild, yeh see. If yeh get 'em right from bein' eggs, or when they're born, yeh can look after 'em and teach 'em teh be good. Look at Kibbles! He was a lovely dragon. And Norbert, and Sly, and 'er baby."

"How exactly do you get the eggs from the mothers without being cooked?" asked a Hufflepuff next to Harry.

"Well, it's often mothers that've been killed by poachers," said Hagrid. "The people bring in the eggs, or the babies, and the authorities look after 'em. Most dragon species give birth teh eggs, and they're easier to find and bring in, but one sort give birth teh live young. Sly's one of 'em. So it's hard teh get baby Romanian Longhorns."

"What sort have we got coming in now?" asked Ernie.

"We've got Hebridean Blacks," said Hagrid, proudly. "Three boys. Right then, everybody start shredding straw, we got a lotta work teh do, and they're comin' in a week!"

Harry spent a rather enjoyable hour chatting to Ernie and his friend Hannah, while they tore the bundles of hay apart and spread it all around the trays. One of the Slytherins tried to use severing charms, and one of the bales of hay caught fire, though they managed to beat it out fairly quickly. Ernie introduced Harry to some more of his friends, including a girl named Gehad who even helped Harry with the homework question Professor Flitwick had set in Charms, before the bell went. Harry promised Hagrid he would be back the moment school finished, then he hurried off to break back at the castle. Next, he had History of Magic, which was as boring and uneventful as always, then lunch in the Great Hall.

He had just sat down at one of the tables, pulling over his plate of chicken pie, when Draco swept into the hall. He'd changed since breakfast, and glanced around the table for a moment before he came over. Kainda was behind him, gliding smoothly along without touching the wheels. She slid into place next to Harry, as Draco sat opposite and started on his pie without a word. Harry opened his mouth to ask Draco what was wrong, but Kainda got there first.

"He's still angry with Ron," she muttered, under her breath. "He thinks Ron poured juice on him on purpose."

Harry nodded quietly, and handed her a plate of pie. Draco gave a quiet sigh, adding salt to his plate. Thinking a change of subject was in order, Harry said, brightly, "How was Dark Arts?"

"Pretty good," said Draco, dully. "It was mostly admin though... we were sorting out schedules and so forth... when we have Ivy, when we have Lupin..."

"What's Ivy like?" asked Harry.

Draco finished his mouthful of pie, before replying in the same, flat tone. "She seems to be a good teacher. She just sat on the edge of Lupin's desk, handing him pieces of paper now and then. He doesn't seem to like her much."

"Yeah, I noticed that too," said Kainda, frowning in a puzzled sort of way. "Though there's nothing wrong with her, and it's not like Lupin to get angry over nothing, is it?"

"It's not like Lupin to get angry at all," said Harry. "Maybe they were at school together and they didn't like each other?"

"Maybe," said Kainda, idly.

Draco sighed, and apparently, he had slumped back into his rather annoyed state. Harry mentioned going to see Hagrid after school, and Draco agreed half-heartedly, before he left ten minutes early for Pure Arts. Harry helped Kainda down the steps of the castle so she could head off for Magical Creatures, and then he made his way to the dungeons for Potions.

It was icy cold, and dark, as always. A few torches were fixed to the walls here and there, though they only served to lengthen the endless corridor and make it seem even more gloomy and grave. A group of first years were coming out of one of the classrooms, and they all looked a little pale and clammy. Harry remembered his own first Potions lesson with a small smile - Snape had made it incredibly clear that there would always be great dislike between them. All that seemed a million miles away now. Hermione was standing outside the classroom talking animatedly to a few of the Ravenclaw boys, and just as Harry joined the end of the line, the door creaked open. Snape's voice drifted out.


They all filed in, sat down at their desks in silence, and started to get out quills and their wands. Snape was leaning on the edge of his desk, shoulders hunched, very dark and intimidating as always.

"This year is the most important of all in your magical education," he said, as way of greetings after the summer. "Your NEWT exams will take place closer towards summer, though as you all should know by now, the exams account for 80% of your grade. The further 20% will be of your work during this final year, graded personally by me, and if you do not meet the standards, you will find yourself at a very hopeless situation indeed when the exams finally come. I intend to start straight off with your first piece of NEWT work - long term drafts. These are potions which take a month or more to brew completely. You will all research various drafts which could be made, choose which you shall attempt, and then make them. During classes, Madam Pince has kindly given you all permission to go to the library and use the restricted section for research. I expect a report on all your research, the method of making, essays on the ingredients needed, and a full analysis of your potion once it is complete. The more work you do, the better your grade, though you have no guidelines to work on. This will be all your own planning, preparation, and work. You have two months, starting with this lesson. Anybody who fails to hand in their report and their potion at the end of the two months will be given a T, and anybody who receives a T can kiss goodbye to a possible O or E in their final exam."

He glanced around at them all, every face staring at him as though waiting for more information. He raised one slim black eyebrow.

"And why, may I ask, are you all still sitting here? The answers are not written on my face."

Hermione was the first to break to spell of silence. She shot her hand straight into the air, and Snape glanced at her contemptuously.


"Can we go to the library now?" she asked, eagerly, as though she couldn't wait to get started.

Snape gave an impatient sigh. "I believe I just wasted valuable breath on you all, detailing how you all have permission to visit the library during lessons. And then, Miss Granger, you have to ask me whether you may visit the library. Use your brain."

Hermione, completely unbothered by Snape's clear contempt of her, bounced to her feet and grabbed her bag. The rest of the class slowly got the idea, and started packing away their things, discussing what potions they could make. Harry had barely put his ink bottles into his bag before Hermione grabbed him by the elbow and hauled him out of the room towards the library.

"I've been dying to start on the NEWT work ever since we were in sixth year," she said, eagerly, as they stepped in through the main doors. "And we get to do it all ourselves! This is a real opportunity to show just what we're capable of, Harry... perhaps I can boost my summary grade from an E to an O..."

"You got an E?" said Harry, startled.

"Well, yes," said Hermione, waving this aside. "Though we didn't finish the syllabus, did we? We still have a whole year to go before we know everything in the NEWT course, and I don't think anybody got an O in their summaries of sixth year."

Harry didn't think it wise to tell Hermione he had beaten her in something. She wasn't the jealous type, though he had the feeling he would never hear the end of her guilt over not achieving an O in Potions when it was actually possible.

Madam Pince let them into the restricted section rather begrudgingly, as though worried they would do something dangerous in there, and Hermione managed to locate Moste Potente Potions within a matter of moments. She handed it to Harry. Five more very thick and very heavy books later, Harry was staggering out of the restriction section, followed by Hermione, who was talking eagerly about all the different potions they could make.

"I mean, we could both do Polyjuice Potion, we've got experience with it and we know how to make it well... or Veritaserum, that should get us a lot of marks. I've heard Snape has quite a fondness for it, so that would be good. I'm pretty sure that a lot of really dangerous poisons take about a month to brew. We could try one of those."

Harry dropped all the books onto the table, and the two of them sat down. Harry opened up Moste Potente Potions, flicking past familiar drawings of people with their insides falling out of their ears and other lovely things. A few recipes caught his eye, and he noted them down on a piece of parchment from his bag. A few minutes of comfortable silence passed, before Hermione gave a squeal.

"Oh, look at this one! It's perfect! Nicely complicated... I'll have to go into the forest to pick some of the plants, but apart from that, everything's fairly easy to find... I'm definitely going to do this one."

"What does it do?" asked Harry, noting down another potion name.

"It's a very useful antidote," she explained, neatly. "It coats the stomach and can guard against most potions. Commonly known as an anti-food poisoning draft."

"It took him a month to make?" said Harry, suddenly, leaning over Hermione's shoulder to stare at the page.

"Who?" said Hermione, frowning.

Harry realized his mistake just then, and the heat rose in his cheeks. After a moment, he said, "The guy who invented it."

"Seriously," she said, looking suspicious.

"I am serious," he said, trying to sound as honest as he could. "Why, what do you think I meant?"

She frowned ever so slightly, but let the subject drop, turning back to her book. After a while, they started to talk again, and to Harry's relief, Hermione had no reason to be suspicion again for the rest of the lesson. After two hours, the end bell rang out through the corridors. They packed up some of the books, put the spare ones back, and then hurried out of the library. Ron and Draco were standing in the entrance hall when they emerged from the library.

"Hiya!" said Hermione, brightly. "How were your last lessons?"

"Transfiguration," said Ron, with a shrug. He showed them his hands, and he had mysteriously grown webbed skin between his fingers. "McGonagall says if I go down to her office after dinner, she'll sort them out."

The four of them made their way out of the main doors in the grounds, heading towards Hagrid's hut. Draco and Ron were walking on either side of Harry and Hermione - nobody thought it wise to try and provoke any kind of civil conversation. Draco wasn't really a big fan of the visits to Hagrid, as he'd always been quite a pain during Care of Magical Creatures lessons, had dropped the subject instantly at NEWT level, and made no secret of this. Though Draco and Hagrid seemed to tolerate each other for Harry's sake, and Fang no longer tried to tear off Draco's legs when they came face to face.

Harry raised his fist, and knocked on the door. There was movement from inside, and next second, the door swung open. Hagrid beamed out at them all. "H'lo you four! Come on inside, just got the kettle on. did yeh have good days?"

"Yeah," said Harry, as they all stepped inside and sat down around the table, taking off their ties and cloaks. "Potions was sort of boring but we've just started NEWT work. So where's Charlie today?"

"Oh, he's out in Hogsmeade," said Hagrid. He started pouring them all mugs of steaming tea, and offered around a plate of cake. "Just makin' sure everythin's perfect fer when the dragons arrive..."

"When are they coming?" asked Ron, with a mouthful of cake.

"In about a week," said Hagrid, proudly. "Can't wait..."

"So what else has been happening over the holidays?" Hermione asked. "I mean, the grounds have been cleaned up after the siege."

Hagrid nodded. "Yep. The ministry were all in here, doin' spells, conjurin' grass and trees and everythin'... yeh know that courtyard, near the greenhouses? They've got a new statue in there, just teh remember everybody we lost. They was gonna put in a graveyard, around the back of the school, but Dumbledore told 'em that he didn't want anythin' like that. He said we should remember the good things, an' forget the bad."

Hermione nodded, taking a sip from her tea cup. "I know I'd want to be remembered like that."

"Yeah," said Hagrid. "S'been really quiet 'round here, apart from that. Well, few things 'ave happened. The centaurs made a real polite request, and... well, they've moved Grawpy outta the forest." He looked down into his tea cup sadly, but then said in a bracing sort of way, "It were best for him, 'course. He's gone to one of the colonies in Europe."

"Sorry," said Draco, "but who exactly is Grawpy?"

"Me brother," said Hagrid. "He was livin' in the forest fer two years, but time's come for him teh move on..." He sighed, and took another reminiscing glance into his tea cup. "It was the best thing teh do though, not just fer Grawpy. We wanna keep things nice with the centaurs, yeh see. After we've made up with 'em an' all."

"What?" said Harry. "The centaurs? Are they being okay now?"

"Oh yeah!" Hagrid beamed up at the four of them. "I knew there was summet I had teh tell yeh! We're all on good terms now, 'course we did 'em a big favour."

"Moving Grawp?" asked Hermione. "Did they really not like him then?"

"No, no," said Hagrid. "Grawpy went after we started talkin' to 'em again."

"So how come you've settled everything?" said Ron, mouth still full of cake. He glanced at Draco's, and asked, quietly, "Are you going to eat that?" At Draco's disdainful shake of his head, Ron took his cake and grinned. "Wahey."

"Well," said Hagrid, sitting back in his chair. "Me and Charlie were just out with the opsittops one mornin', when suddenly Magorian comes gallopin' outta the forest. All rushed, lookin' pretty scared. 'Course, I asked him what were wrong, an' he said he wanted some help. Asked if we knew anythin' about centaur births, said he'd consider revokin' the ban on humans in the forest if we could help him out. Well, centaur births I know all about, so we told him we'd help. An' he says his mate's in a bitta trouble. She were havin' twins."

"They're rare in centaurs, aren't they?" said Hermione.

Hagrid nodded. "Yeah, really rare. An' it's a big problem, cause centaurs are hefty things teh give birth teh. Really hard for the mother. But hey, me an' Charlie said we'd give it a go, an' Magorian leads us into the forest, showed us teh his mate. Poor thing, she were really havin' trouble. But me an' Charlie helped her out, and she were fine after it all. Bit tired, but fine, an' the foals were too."

"Oh, that's great!" said Hermione, smiling. "I've never really seen a female centaur, or any babies..."

"No, they stay outta sight mostly," said Hagrid. "We only really see the males 'round the forest. The females stay back in the dens an' nests, lookin' after foals an' havin' more. Centaurs don't really think females are up teh much else."

"So things between Hogwarts and the centaurs are okay now?" asked Harry, prompting Harry to continue his story.

"Oh yeah," said Hagrid, smiling at him from under his beard. "Really great. Magorian were really grateful, told us we was always welcome. Friend of the centaurs an' all that. He said we could come an' see the babies any time we liked, too. Hey, we could do that now, if yeh like! I'm sure Magorian wouldn' mind yeh all comin' teh visit... yeh haven' got anythin' teh do fer a while, have yeh?"

"No, we'd love to!" said Hermione, brightly. "Are they deep into the forest?"

"Nah, not really," said Hagrid. He put down his tea cup, and stood up, whistling to Fang and getting his crossbow from a hook by the door. "Come on, we can go now and get yeh back teh the castle in time for yeh teh get somethin' teh eat."

They all put down their cups and plates, and followed Hagrid out of the cabin, with Fang padding along behind them. Harry glanced across at Draco, and remembered the last time he'd been into the forest with the Slytherin, all the way back in their first year. Just like that time, Draco was sticking very close to Harry and Fang. Clearly, he didn't approve of this whole idea of going into the forest, though didn't want to say anything.

They only had to walk for a minute until the trees on all sides were so thick that they cut out light completely. Despite the sun high in the sky somewhere above the thick black canopy overhead, it felt as though night reigned perpetually in the forest. As always, Harry felt that eyes were watching him from every single patch of darkness. Every now and then there would be a soft snap from a branch, a rustle of leaves, that was very close by, though Harry was sure it was not made by feet. At least, not the feet of any creature he had ever encountered. The forest was full of life, Harry knew, some bad and some good. The only real dangers he had ever encountered in the forest were the acromantulas, though apart from those, he had yet to face anything truly dark. There were the centaurs, the unicorns, and the forest was the only place that opsittops were found living naturally. He found himself wondering why the forest was considered so dangerous, if he had been able to enter it so many times, and encounter only one deadly creature.

"Hagrid?" he said, hurrying to catch up with the huge shape moving before them. "What dangerous things are in the forest apart from the acromantulas?"

Hagrid reached out to scoop some branches aside as he answered. "Couldn' ever name yeh them all, Harry. There's too many things teh count. Things that yeh won't find nowhere else in the whole wide world. Yeh've got yer centaurs, yer opsittops, unicorns, things like that... there's a kneazle pride in there somewhere, I reckon, and bowtruckles 'course. But the thing about the forest is that yeh don' get yer usual dangerous creatures in there. Why d'yeh think Dumbledore warns yeh all every year teh stay out? S'because we dunno just how dangerous the stuff in 'ere is. If we knew, we could move 'em teh new homes somewhere, and the forest would be safe."

"There are werewolves," said Draco, from Harry's elbow, which he was now half-clutching. "Really deep in. My father told me."

"Why would there be werewolves in the Forbidden Forest?" said Hermione, dismissively. "Professor Lupin is a werewolf, and he lives with what he is. Besides, they would be regular humans for most of the month, then turn into a werewolf at the full moon. They'd probably be killed long before then."

"Yeh've got different types of werewolf though," said Hagrid. "Yeh've got yer morphic werewolf, like Professor Lupin, then yeh've got yer non-morphic. The sort that are half-human, half-wolf, all their lives. They're born though, not made. S'only somethin' passed on through breedin'."

"It's them," said Draco, definitely panicky now. "That's the sort that's in here. Hiding in the trees and killing people who go in. Father told me so. When he was at school, a boy had to go in for a detention, and something dragged him off the path. He was never seen again. That's what I heard."

"That's a load of old codswallop," said Hagrid. "Nothin's gonna drag anybody off the path. If yeh stick close teh me, yeh'll be absolutely fine."

"But Father said - "

"Oh, will you shut up about your father?" Ron snapped. "He wasn't the world's expert on absolutely everything, you know."

Draco opened his mouth to argue back, but he was cut off as an arrow flew through the air from the darkness behind them, and stuck hard into the tree in front. Draco zipped closer to Hagrid and Fang, and they all turned, just in time to see the black-bodied and bearded Bane step out from an archway of leaves and dead branches.

"Ah, it's you, Hagrid," he said, lowering his bow. He glanced around at the four children, and smiled ever so slightly. "You are here to see Magorian, I believe?"

Hagrid smiled from behind his wild beard. "Yeah, we are. D'yeh know where he is?"

"Just this way," said Bane, dolefully. "I shall take you to him... follow me..."

He lead them silently away from the forest path, and then down a small slope into a hollow cleared of trees. There was a surprisingly large hut in the middle of the hollow, made skilfully of leaves and branches, and before it there was a small fire. There were an odd collection of stones placed around the fire, etched with runes and carvings that Harry didn't understand, but Hermione started to translate under her breath.

"Magorian!" Bane called. "Hagrid is here to see you, with his young."

"I thought he would be," said a voice from inside the hut. The fabric draped over the door was pushed aside, and Magorian the centaur stepped out, smiling at the five humans on top of the ledge. "How are you today, Hagrid?"

"Fine, thanks, Magorian," said Hagrid, smiling back. "How's yer mate?"

"She is well," said Magorian. "We have named our sons - Dionysus and Oedipus. I see you have your own young with you on this visit."

Hagrid nodded. "Yeah, I brought 'em teh meet yeh... this is Harry, Ron, Hermione an' Draco."

Magorian smiled, strolling towards them, his hooves trailing through the leaves littering the ground. "Yes, I had the feeling I would be seeing Harry Potter and Hermione Granger once more... such a shame that our first meeting was in dark times... and Ronald Weasley. I met your second eldest brother, Charlie." His dark eyes then rested on Draco, and he tilted his head just a little, with a tiny frown. "Draco... both a face and a name I am unfamiliar with."

"Malfoy," said Draco, with the merest hint of a quiver in his voice. "Draco Malfoy, son of Lucius and Narcissa."

Magorian was stepping closer, now making his way up the slope towards them, his eyes fixed on Draco in a rather un-nerving way. "Malfoy is a name that I indeed recognise, though from second hand information." He tilted his head again, eyes ever so slightly narrowed. He was about a metre before Draco now, and to Harry's great surprise, Magorian took a few silent sniffs of Draco. "Mm," he murmured. "What are you, boy?"

Draco stared at him as though Magorian had just asked him what flavour he was. "A student?" he said, unsure.

Magorian shook his head slowly. "No. Species."

Draco now looked thoroughly scared, and was silent for a few moments, before saying in a very level voice, as though suspicious of a trick question, "Human..."

Bane was now standing behind Draco as well, one hand curling around his shoulder, and he wore the same expression of dislike as Magorian. "I last smelt this on the girl who came three years ago, Magorian. The Delacour girl."

"Ah, yes..." said Magorian, slowly. "I remember well."

Draco's eyes were as round as golf balls. He started at both centaurs, frightened, and then at Harry. Harry stared back at him. Ron was standing between them both, swapping them glances, and Harry could tell that Ron was slowly, gradually putting two and two together in his mind.

Magorian's frown deepened, and he said, slowly, "Lying to a centaur is a most foolish act... tell us... what are you?"

"I..." Draco looked up at Magorian, dithering, glancing at Harry and silently begging him to help. There was nothing Harry could do. Draco looked back up at Magorian, and mumbled something so quietly that nobody could hear. Magorian's frown dropped, and he looked almost angry. Draco clenched up, and whispered, hurriedly, "Part veela..."

Harry glanced at Ron. The expression on his face was something he would never really forget.

Magorian refused to let Draco take another step closer to the young. As they were being shepharded out of the forest, and Bane was sternly warning Hagrid not to bring Draco into the trees again, Magorian was saying something about the evils of mind control and manipulating human desires. Ron didn't say a single word. Hermione was oddly quiet too. Draco was being shunted along by Bane and Magorian, and had no opportunity to speak at all.

Once they were pushed out into the grounds, now washed with an amber sunset, Ron just turned and walked towards the castle without a word. Hermione glanced just once at Draco then followed after Ron. Harry didn't quite know what to say. He said goodbye to Hagrid, who went off into his cabin. The moment the door shut, Draco turned to him, looking very stony-faced.

"You have to stop him."

"Stop who? Doing what?" said Harry.

"Weasley. Telling the school." Draco gripped Harry's shoulders. "You must stop him."

"I don't think there's anything I can do to stop him," said Harry, biting his lip and glancing up at the figures of Ron and Hermione in the distance. "Look, Draco, it's - "

" - my whole social life we're talking about here," Draco finished.

"Maybe if you go and talk to Ron," Harry suggested, limply.

"Oh, Potter, use your head!" said Draco. "He won't listen to me anyway, and if word gets out that I'm..." He struggled for a moment. "... part-veela, then I'll just be finished. Veela are only counted as beings in Bulgaria, everywhere else they're classed as beasts. That's why I can exist. My grandfather wasn't having an affair with a being, it was a beast. A baby could be born that way."

Harry gave Draco a sympathetic, pained look. "Alright... but maybe if you just tried to explain - "

"Go, Potter, there's no time," said Draco, desperately. "Use a silencing charm if you have to. Turn him into a shrew. Cut off his tongue. Just go!"

Harry turned, and ran up the sloping lawn towards the castle. He knew that he could at least try, even if Ron wouldn't listen. The expression on Ron's face, back in the forest, told Harry that Ron was not just shocked, but actually angry about something. He didn't even look gleeful to hear the news. It was just anger, disgust, outrage.

He rushed in through the doors of the entrance hall, starting to get out of breath, and saw Ron and Hermione standing by the bottom of the marble staircase, muttering to each other. As Harry burst in, Hermione beckoned him over. "Harry!"

"That bloody hypocrite!" Ron seethed. "He's such a liar! So the Malfoys have been strutting around like gods for all those years, claiming to be pure-blood, and they're just... just... animals!" he spat. "All those jokes about my family, and yours, Harry, and look at him! Who does he think he is?"

"Ron, look," said Harry, quickly. "You can't tell people. Please."

Ron gave Harry a sickened expression. "Give me one good reason why not."

"Draco's life will be made absolute hell," said Harry. "Nobody knows, not even Snape, I don't think even Dumbledore knows. People will just make fun of him and - "

Ron's frown deepened dangerously. His ears were going red now. "I think he deserves a taste of his own medicine, you know. Seven years he's been tormenting people, Harry, and now it's his turn to learn just what it's like to have your blood and your family laughed at. You can go off and side with Malfoy the Mudblood if you like, but I know what people have a right to hear, and I'm going to tell it."

With that, he turned on his heel and stormed into the Great Hall, looking determined. Hermione sighed. "Oh dear..." she muttered. "This is all going to end in tears. I just know it."

"Why does he just have to go and tell everybody?" said Harry, shaking his head. "Just to get back at Malfoy. Can't he let it drop?"

"Probably not," she sighed. "It takes a lot for both Ron and Draco to admit they're wrong and to just put the past behind them. They probably won't ever, completely. I wish they'd just give it up though. It's hard enough on all of us... well. I've got homework to start on, Harry, I want to write out the first part of my Potions project. I'll be in the library."

She walked away across the entrance hall, through a door to the library, and Harry was left feeling decidedly worried about what to do. Ron would be telling people about Draco in the hall at this very moment, and Harry knew that he'd be plagued by people asking questions all the time he was trying to eat. He considered going to the library with Hermione, before somebody came out of the doors to the Great Hall that Harry was subconsciously relieved to see.

"Ron's just told me," Kainda said, raising her eyebrows with a weak smile. "I thought I'd find you out here. Where's Draco?"

"Still outside," said Harry. "He's probably gone for a walk or something. He won't want to come back to the castle, at least not for a while."

"Yeah," she said, nodding. "Well... have you had anything to eat? You'll be hungry, huh?"

"A bit," he admitted.

"We could go to the kitchens, and catch dessert in its tracks. Nobody pestering you there anyway. What do you say?" She gave him one of those casual and yet sympathetic smiles she did so well. He was suddenly struck by how soothing her presence was to him. It felt as though whatever terrible problems he had, Kainda could explain it all away with a wave of her hand and a little smile.

"Sure," he said, gratefully. He took the handles of her wheelchair, and feeling decidedly calmer, he took her down to the kitchens.

A few ice cream sundaes later, and the candles in the food corridor were burning low. It was nice just to talk to somebody, alone, for an hour or two, about things that didn't really matter. Harry found that being around Kainda pushed his darker secrets clean out of his mind. The fact that he would someday be murderer or murdered was just a little blot on the horizon at times like this. On Saturday, he would be learning how to kill with Professor Lupin. He now had to deal with a warring Ron and Draco.

"More ice cream, Harry?"

He smiled, waking out of his thoughts. "I'd love one."

Kainda handed him over another sundae, still tucking into her own, cherries and banana. It was comfortably dark now, and quiet. It must be getting closer to nine o' clock by now, but Harry had no desire to go all the way to Gryffindor Tower and worry some more about whether Ron had ruined Draco's life yet. However, there was an odd feeling in the back of his brain that there was something important that he'd forgotten.

"So how was Pure Arts?" he asked, spooning some more ice cream and sauce into his mouth.

"Pretty good," she said. "We were just doing some revision of last year, really. He said he's going to start the main project with us tomorrow. The whole thing we have to do for our NEWTs, you know." She scooped some of her sundae up from the bottom with a satisfying slurp, and offered it to him.

He smiled, and let her feed him it, licking his lips. "Mmhmm, nice."

She grinned. "How was your last lesson?" she asked, idly.

"Pretty boring," he said. "We've got our NEWT work to start on, two months making a long term potion for - " He dropped his spoon with a clatter, and jumped to his feet suddenly. "Oh no! What time is it?"

Kainda frowned, and checked her watch. "Ten past nine. Why? What's wrong?"

"I've got a lesson to go to," he panted. "Snape's going to kill me... I've got to go, now. Sorry about this."

"Hey, it's alright," she said, smiling. "Night then, Harry."

"Night," he said, hurriedly, putting down the glass of half-eaten ice cream, kissing her on the forehead and then he went tearing off along the corridor, heading for the dungeons, and praying that Snape was in a good mood.


Chapter Eleven: Guardians Know Best

Harry skidded to a halt in front of Snape's office door about half a minute later, red in the face and heavily out of breath. He quickly removed the smears of ice cream from around his face, shouldered his bag, closed his eyes in prayer and lifted his fist to knock. The door burst open before his knuckles even touched the wood, and he was yanked inside with a yelp.


"What time, precisely, do you call this, Potter?"

"Nine?" Harry tried, weakly.

"Ten past, Potter, ten past! I said nine o' clock, and not a second late!" Snape sighed, rubbing his forehead. "Well, better late than never, I suppose. I also said my quarters, not my office, whilst we're on the subject of your blunders."

"Sorry," said Harry, apologetically. "I lost track of time."

"Mm," said Snape, leading Harry out of the office into his own lounge. "Do try to keep it next time, Potter." He took Harry's bag from him, then his school robes, putting them on the sofa in the corner. "Tie off," said Snape, simply, holding out a hand for it. "You need to be comfortable."

Harry gave him a rather wild, worried expression, before undoing his tie and handing it to Snape. "Um... comfortable for what, exactly?"

"Our lesson," said Snape. "The mind works best when happy and relaxed. We are starting with something relatively simple today, that will require memory of your occlumency classes. How to lie convincingly. Take a seat."

Feeling completely the opposite of relaxed, Harry sunk worriedly onto a rather worn and hard chair in the corner, sitting directly on the edge. Snape was messing around in the other room, and Harry could hear running water. For some reason, he was getting a strong sense of déjà vu.

Snape came back into the main room, with a large bowl of cold water, which he put down on a cabinet next to a large and very comfortable armchair next to the fire. He raised his eyebrows at Harry. "You don't have to sit in the corner; I don't bite. At least not in my leisure time."

Harry got up, and shuffled closer. Snape pushed on his shoulders and sat him down in the armchair. Harry got a moment's glimpse of looking up into Snape's dark eyes, sinking into the chair, the bowl of water at his side, and once again, he felt a surge of something uncomfortable. Snape didn't notice, or if he did, he wasn't showing any signs.

"Before we begin, your mind must be empty of all stress." Snape sat down in a chair in front of Harry, and studied him for a moment. "This is what the water is for, Potter. I'm about to use a technique on you known as Manipulative Tension Removal. MTR. It's a fairly simple procedure. I will enter your mind, and using manipulative mind techniques, will be able to turn your stress into heat energy, which will be expelled. If all goes well, the water will boil."

"So... I'm going to be cooked?"

"No, the heat will only escape through your fingers." Snape pulled his chair closer, and took Harry's hand, dipping it into the bowl of water. Harry felt an odd panic. He'd done this before. He was sure of it. When Snape reached out to grip his jaw, Harry knew he was about to do it, and he flinched involuntarily. Snape stopped, frowning at him.

Harry stared up into his magical guardian's face, and for a moment, he remembered that face with the crocodile teeth. He knew it must have showed in his face, because Snape frowned even more.


"Look... it's - "

Snape didn't interrupt, but the look on his face made Harry fall silent anyway. Snape had that way of just staring that made talking seem like a stupid thing to do. Harry subconsciously knew that Snape was getting into his mind, and his instincts said to block out the intruder, but something else said that he wanted Snape to help. There was silence for a moment or so, then Snape said, quietly, "Dreams again?"

"Yes, but... I... I don't know what they're about," said Harry. "I forgot everytime I wake up. Except... there's a face. In Grimmauld Place, with all the smoke. Professor, I wasn't hallucinating. There was a creature there, and it's been in my dreams with some other stuff. And I've seen it in other places. In glass, on the muggle news..." Harry was silent, looking up at his guardian, and a few moments passed before he asked, quietly, "Do you... do you know what they're about?"

Snape nodded. "A jumble of things that, to my knowledge, have never happened... though... Potter, how long have you been having these dreams?"

"Since about a week into the holidays," said Harry.

"Have they always been the same?"

"I don't even know what happens in them," said Harry. "E-except that face..."

Snape signed, and studied Harry closely for a few long moments. "I want you to start emptying your mind before you sleep. In fact..." He stood up, crossed to a cabinet, and took out what looked like a wine bottle filled with some lavendar, silky-looking liquid. "Dreamless Sleep Draft. A small sip before you sleep."

He handed it to Harry, who put it next to his chair carefully, before looking up at Snape. "Is it... Voldemort?"

Snape was silent for a moment. He wore the oddest expression on his face. "I have the feeling it isn't that simple. It never is, when you are involved. Now." He sat down again in front of Harry, and moved his hand back to the bowl of water. "Relax, Potter. If this is connected with the Dark Lord, it is even more important for you to learn what I have to teach you."

Harry was quiet, feeling as though he wanted some reassurance, even just a little. He glanced at Snape. Snape gave a soft amused huff.

"They are just dreams for now, Potter," he said. "With the Dreamless Sleep Draft, they will not even be that. Try to relax now. We have a lesson, if you had forgotten."

The almost soothing tone in Snape's voice was all the reassurance Harry needed. He sat back in his chair and made himself comfortable, trying to ignore the water lapping at his hand. It was the same hand that Umbridge had forced him to slice open night after night two years ago. Harry decided that one day, he would ask Snape and Peter if they knew about that, and if they did, why they never put a stop to it.

This time when Snape's cold, bony fingers curled around Harry's chin and tilted his head up, Harry didn't struggle. He looked calmly up into Snape's dark eyes, and Snape looked back. "This will be strange," the Potions master said, quietly. "Though you must trust me."

Harry gave a little nod, and Snape muttered something under his breath. The lights instantly dimmed, except for one candle on the far wall, giving off an eery blue glow. Snape was still staring intently at Harry, before Harry's vision started to blur out of focus. There was the oddest feeling between his eyes, as though somebody was pressing there gently with the pad of a thumb - before it gave way, and something sunk into his mind. His thoughts were suddenly awash, flooded with a calming, hazy sensation. His ears didn't even register the gasp that left his lips. He could feel the sections if his mind being separated, spread out and examined at length by a soothing sort of spirit, dipping here and there, checking and rechecking. It was incredible. Harry felt as though every single one of his problems was gone, placed in the hands of another. His fingers were oddly hot, the water rippling around them - before suddenly, heat started to pour from them, and the water bubbled angrily, boiling around his hand. Cold fingers curled around his wrist and pulled his hand out of the bowl just in time.

Bringing a surge of disappointment to Harry, the calm feeling and the spirit left his mind, bringing him back to reality. Snape sat in front of him, eyes glittering.


"What is?" said Harry, dimly, feeling suddenly relaxed and care-free. Snape handed him a towel, and he started to dry his hand off.

"Our minds seem to be compatible. No doubt we have the guardian bond to blame for that." Snape sat back in his chair, and curled his hand around a glass of red wine, lifting it to his lips. "Obviously, it will be a great help to your studies. I daresay you will learn easier than I did."

"Who taught you?" asked Harry, curiously.

"My grandfather," said Snape. He took another sip from his glass of wine. "I despised my father, my mother, my stepfather, then my stepfather's new wife after he got rid of my mother. The only members of my family that I could tolerate were Andralyn, Isabis, my aunt Morgana and my grandfather. Even then, I only liked Morgana because her dog enjoyed biting my father."

"So... your grandfather taught you all the occlumency and mind techniques?" said Harry.

Snape nodded. "My father's ancestry is full of the dark arts, and so I was taught it as well. My grandfather had a sensible mind though; he knew as many curses as my father, possibly more, but he never used them. He put his efforts into learning about the mind, and he passed the information onto me."

After a moment, Harry plucked up the courage to ask his next question. He still felt quite care-free and casual, and in normal circumstances, this conversation would have become very awkward very soon, though Harry quite wanted to know more.

"Um... Professor? How old were you when... when your father...?"

Snape, to Harry's great surprise, smiled. It was a very bitter and sinister smile indeed. "Thirteen. I returned home from Hogwarts, expecting to find him lounging on the sofa with an empty bottle of firewhiskey, though my mother announced rather casually over dinner that he had an unfortunate accident with a boiling charm. Then of course she married again, presented me with a half-sister and was promptly killed by her new husband." He frowned mildly, as though intrigued by the subject. "Such a horrible childhood I had. It's a wonder I'm not some bitter, twisted old goat with no social life. Ah, of course. I am."

"You're not old," said Harry, reassuringly.

Snape huffed. "Why, Potter? How old do you think I am?"

Harry thought back to the Snape family tree he found in the trunk at Grimmauld Place, and the birthdate. After a few quick calculations, he said, "Twenty-five."

"Twenty-five? I must have a stern word with my mirror. If I told you Potter that I left the Death Eaters fifteen years ago, and joined five years before that, how old will I have been when I joined?"

Harry thought about this, and smiled a little. "Five - I suppose not. So the date on your family tree was wrong."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Mm?"

"I found your family tree... it was in a trunk at Grimmauld Place," Harry explained. "It had your birthdate on, it said you were born twenty-five years ago."

"Well, Potter, that's news to me."

"So how old are you, really?"

"So blunt and to the point..."

"Come on. You can tell me."

"As old as my tongue, slightly older than my teeth. Now, the lesson - "


"Potter, I - "


"If you're trying to - "

"Thirty-seven? Wait, hang on... two years ago, Lucius Malfoy was forty-one. So you're... forty-three?"

Snape snorted. "No. If you must know, I shall be forty this month. I was three years younger than Lucius."

"This month? Why? When's your birthday?"

"I fell for that one when Albus Dumbledore asked me. The next thing I knew, I found myself enduring a surprise party in the staffroom, trying to escape the clutches of Sarabi Sinistra. Believe me - I will never disclose my birthdate again. Now, the lesson." Putting an end to the conversation, Snape stood up, and crossed to a bookshelf in the corner. "How to lie convincingly. One of the most useful skills a wizard can possess." He started to sort through various thick books, sliding a few out, studying the covers. "During the medieval period, mediums, psychics, conjurors and court sorcerers were immensely popular. Muggles would pay vast amounts of money for simple tricks. Even today, I believe that seasides are infested by psychic mediums with ridiculous names like Esmerelda. Nine out of ten are muggles, fake, and are just good showmen. Though a select few are wizards and witches - skilled in occlumency, legilimency, dangerous mind techniques and lying well."

He finally found the book he was looking for, fairly thin with a glossy purple cover entitled, "How To Fiddle Muggles". He handed it to Harry, and stood behind his chair, one hand resting on the back, the other on Harry's shoulder. "Turn to page 18. There's a basic guide I wish for you to read."

Harry sat back into the chair, and opened up the book, flicking to page eighteen. A large picture of a wizard dressed as a genie greeted him, pointing to a blackboard with points to remember. Snape talked him through it as Harry read.

"Lying well is just as much psychology as mind techniques," he said. "The most important point is to believe in your lie, and accept it as true. Create an entire story based around your lie, so you are able to answer any further questions. Having further information will also reinforce your belief in it. For example, forgetting homework. We will presume that I would ever forgive not having homework at the correct lesson. If a student told me they had lost their homework, and I asked where, though they were slow to respond, I would know they were lying and would fling them into a detention. Though if they had an acceptable story, I would be more likely to forgive. Clear?"

Harry nodded, and moved onto the next point. Snape started to explain it, and the minutes rolled by, turning into half an hour, then a full hour. Harry definitely preferred learning from Snape when there was nobody else around to distract Snape and cause problems. Snape was actually a good teacher, and explained things well. Harry could tell that Snape would be far, far more successful if he was just a tutor, teaching small groups. Harry couldn't help but wonder why Snape had become a teacher at all. He asked this, as Snape finished an explanation about eye contact.

Snape raised an eyebrow at the question. "I ask myself the same thing at least five times per day."

"Seriously," said Harry.

Snape looked thoughtful for a moment, as though he was remembering back a long way, and his desire to teach had faded years ago. "A desire to give somebody better chances than I myself had. I joined the Hogwarts staff a few months after I had been caught by your father and turned in my Death Eater mask. At that time, I was under the mistaken impression that perhaps this could be a new start in life, and I could begin with a clean slate. Though Dumbledore still continued to treat me like a grouchy adolescent who always ruined the fun, and I knew that my life would never change. Eleven years of teaching students the same vile subject, and the slow realisation that I would be spending the rest of my life doing so, finally got to me and I stopped caring again."

"Why though?" asked Harry. "Why will you spend your life teaching Potions? Why would Dumbledore never let you have the Dark Arts job?"

Snape surveyed Harry silently. "Another of the headmaster's little secrets. When you have known him as long as I have, you come to realise that Albus never gives the entire truth, in the name of caring. He hid the prophecy from you for fifteen years. He hid Peter and I for even longer. It took me seven years to find out exactly why he would not allow me to take the position of the Dark Arts master, and even now, he refuses to tell me whether or not I am correct."

"Why?" asked Harry, quietly, in a hushed voice. "Is it... is it because it's jinxed?"

Snape smiled grimly. "Mm. It is, Potter. Terrible misfortune strikes every single Dark Arts teacher to last an entire year at this school."

"What about Professor Lupin though?" said Harry. "He's been here for three now."

"He lasted for one," said Snape. "And then, after a length absence, returned last year. This year will be his second consecutive year, which is why Madam Ivy has been brought into the school."

"So that they'll only get half the curse each," said Harry.

"No," said Snape. There was something odd in his eyes, like a cruel kind of pleasure. "Madam Ivy is here to replace Professor Lupin on short notice, should something... unfortunate happen."

Harry's mouth fell. "Dumbledore actually employed - "

Snape shook his head calmly. "Dumbledore claims to have brought her in to test whether two teachers sharing the post will be struck. Though every member of staff in this school knows the real reason that Ivy is here."

"So the job really is jinxed," Harry breathed. "But... how? Can't they just break it?"

"Curse breakers have tried, many times," said Snape. "None have been successful yet. However... it looks as though the curse is finally wearing off, though."

"Who placed the curse? When?" asked Harry.

Snape didn't answer at first. He just watched Harry silently for a moment, his long fingers steepled, clearly wondering whether to share his information with Harry.

"I won't say anything," said Harry, quickly.

"I know that," said Snape. "Though telling you part of what I have discovered would be specifically going against the wishes of some of the people involved... mm. I suppose not. I found out, after all." He sat back in his chair, and started on his story.

"A thousand years ago, the school was founded by Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin. As you know, Slytherin found the other three founders intolerable, and left Hogwarts, leaving the Chamber of Secrets to continue his work. Any wizard with half a brain would wonder why such a powerful sorcerer as Salazar Slytherin would leave a tunnel with a snake to carry on his legacy, especially as there was no guarantee of his family line surviving for long. Though Slytherin left another hidden danger in this school, that only began to take effect during your first year at Hogwarts.

A number of years after Slytherin left the school, a prophecy was made to him by one of the most talented seers of the age. He was told of the end of his family line. The prophecy made was that the 666th male descendant of Godric Gryffindor would aid the downfall of his blood line. Slytherin decided to do everything he could to prevent the fulfilment of the prophecy.

Realising fairly soon that killing every male descendant of Godric Gryffindor was futile and would inevitably not work, he decided upon a far more effective way of preventing his family's downfall, by concentrating on the 666th male descendant of Gryffindor. Of course, this would be years in the future, and nothing would keep him alive for long enough to deal with the problem directly. And so he made a curse.

Slytherin was a powerful wizard, but could not directly send a curse into the future to murder the heir of Gryffindor. Instead, he could tamper with the power of this wizard. Slytherin's curse was that when the 666th male descendant of Godric Gryffindor arrived at Hogwarts, terrible misfortune would strike the Defence Against The Dark Arts tutors, and all would be forced to leave within a year. The heir's education would be ruined, and Slytherin's line had a greater chance of living on. The curse on the Dark Arts professors will break the moment that Gryffindor's heir graduates - the end of this year."

Harry found himself sitting very still, with wide eyes. "So... Gryffindor's heir is in my year...? Who... who is it?"

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Can you not think of a family who have had many sons, and every single one has been placed in Gryffindor house without question? Even when some of those sons would have been far better in another house..."

Harry bit his lip. He thought that he knew exactly who Snape meant, though wasn't sure if he dared to mention who it was, just in case he was wrong. After a moment, he looked up at Snape and said, quietly, "It's Ron, isn't it?"

Snape nodded. "He has no idea that he is Gryffindor's heir. Molly and Arthur know, though they do not want their children to, especially Ron."

"How did you find all this out?" asked Harry, unable to hide the respect and awe in his voice.

"Early in my teaching, I decided to earn some extra money by translating ancient runes for Gringotts. For practice, I took out some books from the library and worked my way through them. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon the story of the prophecy and the curse, and decided to research further."

"So... Dumbledore won't give you the Dark Arts job, because of this curse... and he doesn't want you killed. He can't have you killed. Because of..."

"Because of you, Potter." Snape treated him with a hint of a smile. "I do note that Dumbledore happily handed Lupin the job, despite the risk of him being killed, which is a small condolence to my part." He picked up the next book on the table, but did not open it just yet. "I will ask you not to repeat any of what I have told you to Weasley. Think of the problems you have encountered because of your fame, and ask yourself whether you would ever wish that on your... friend." Snape said 'friend' as though he had sworn.

Harry sat and processed all of this for a moment, as Snape put away the books. It was hard to think that Ron Weasley, who had always been the plain one out of his brothers, and just "the kid who hangs around with Harry Potter", was in fact the heir of Godric Gryffindor. Part of him desperately wanted to tell Ron, but a bigger and much more assertive part said that Snape was right. After a few minutes, the comfortable silence was broken by Snape.

"And have you made a start on the Potions project yet, Potter?"

Harry looked up, and quickly nodded. "Oh yeah," he said, automatically.

"How many pages?"

"Um... three."

"What about?"

Harry paused, and then said, in a falsely bright tone. "The potion I've chosen and why."

"And which one have you chosen?"

"Uh... veritaserum."


"Because... it... oh."

Snape made an amused little noise in the back of his throat, and pushing the last book into the shelf, he said, "You need more practice. It's late now, Potter. You should be heading back towards Gryffindor Tower."

Harry nodded, and got to his feet, picking up his bag and loose clothes from the corner. "When have I next got DMT with you?"

"Wednesday, at nine o' clock."

"Okay." Harry headed towards the door, and opened it carefully. He and Snape exchanged a few words of parting, then he stepped out, closing the door.

Harry wasn't sure what time it was, but it must be incredibly late. Everything was dark, cold, and eery. Hogwarts at night wasn't the most comforting place, quite far from it, and Harry's shoulders were subconsciously hunched as he stepped out of the dungeons. He had the oddest feeling of being watched. Passing through the entrance hall, he glanced up at the marble staircase and the corridors beyond. For a moment, he was sure he saw something move up there in the darkness. Probably one of the ghosts, he thought, trying to calm his paranoia.

Silently, he made his way through the dark corridors, up a few staircases, until at least he reached the landing where Gryffindor Tower was. The fat lady was sitting in her portrait as always, sewing what looked like a cushion.

"Late night, dear?" she asked him, kindly.

"Yeah," said Harry. "Really late."

"Password?" she said, putting down her cushion and smiling at him.

Though Harry hadn't even got the word out of his mouth when he stopped. Something had moved down the passage to his left, and he turned instinctively, reaching for his wand.

There was a large window at the end of the corridor, and the moon outside flooded the scene with pearly, ethereal light. Harry had turned just in time to catch the figure, and if he had been a moment late, he would have missed it. He saw a person walk past the window, swiftly and silently, dressed from head to foot in a long black cloak with a hood pulled over their face. Whoever it was swept out of sight, not making a sound. Harry took a step down the corridor, quite wanting to follow and see who it was creeping around the castle so late at night, but there was suddenly a cold, watery feeling in the middle of his back.

"Get into the tower, Harry," said a quiet voice. "I'll go and see."

"Peter?" Harry looked around behind him. The hand pushed insistantly in his back.

"Go on. I'll talk to you in the morning, get to bed." There was a drafty feeling on the backs of his knees, as Peter evidently made his way down the corridor after the figure in the cloak. Harry turned back to the fat lady, who was holding her cushion in one hand, her eyebrows raised.


"Unicorn horn," said Harry. The portrait swung open, and he clambered into the common room, closing the door behind him.

Ron was curled up in one of the chairs with a thick book open on his lap, wearing a deep frown. Hermione sat on the arm of the chair, evidently trying to teach him something, and getting nowhere.

"And that's why muggles started to try and burn witches," she said, neatly. "Okay with all that?"

"Yeah," said Ron, nodding, still frowning and rubbing his head. "My brain hurts though. Oh, hiya Harry."

"Hey Ron," said Harry. He went over to them, and sat down in the other armchair. He couldn't quite look at Ron the same. He glanced at the portrait of Godric Gryffindor above the fireplace, and then at Ron. Only the eyes had really passed on through the ages, and the coppery tones of Gryffindor's hair were diluted into Ron's vibrant red hair.

"What is it?" said Ron. "Snape's not been trying to cook you or mince you or anything, has he?"

Harry shook his head with a slight smile. "No, it's okay. I'm just tired, that's all." He considered asking Ron if he knew what had happened to Kainda, before he remembered why he and Kainda had been sitting in the corridor next to the kitchens, and his heart sunk a little. "Listen... Ron, about the Malfoy thing... you... you haven't told everybody, have you?"

"Not everybody," said Ron, quietly.

"Um... who?"

"Well... everybody in Gryffindor," said Ron. "And then anybody who heard it from the Gryffindors, and came asking me about. They went and told some other people. So most of the school probably knows by now." He shut his book, with a proud expression on his face. "That should teach the little half-breed a thing or two about being such a hypocrite."

Harry sat back in his chair, quietly. Ron had told everybody now, and there was nothing he could really do. Even though it made him feel guilty to think so, he was almost relieved that he didn't have Draco's reputation on his hands now. There was no point in nagging Ron. He yawned, and stretched, deciding he would deal with it all in the morning.

"I knew there had to be a reason he kept getting such good marks," said Ron, in a triumphant voice. "He's been charming the teachers, hasn't he? With those weird powers? Dancing for them, I bet. Whenever he wants an O in Potions, he just goes and dances in front of Snape. He's not smart at all. And that must be why Lucius Malfoy was so trusted in the ministry too. You don't need the imperius curse when you've got powers like that, do you?"

Harry and Hermione said nothing, though Ron carried on talking as if there were nodding vigorously at every one of his words.

"I mean, it all makes sense. That's why he puts so much emphasis on blood - because he's ashamed of his own. All those times he called you mudblood, Hermione, and look at him. He's not even human. He's just a half-breed. I mean, even those froggy people in the amazon - "

" - toad people, Ron," said Hermione.

"Yeah, them. Even they're classed as beings. Weird beings, yeah, but the veela are only seen as beings in Bulgaria, and while Malfoy's over here, he's nothing but an animal in my eyes. I'm not even going to look at him any more. What if he does his weird charmy thing on us?"

Harry, quite wanting an end to the conversation now, yawned and stretched. "Well, I'm tired. I'm going to get changed in the bathroom."

Hermione, who was already changed into her lilac pajamas under a dressing gown, nodded. "Alright. Night, Harry." She slid under the pile of blankets, and Ron got under too, reaching out and giving her a hug. Harry left them to it, and when he came back from the bathroom, they were both sleeping next to each other, Hermione's head on Ron's shoulder. He smiled a little, got under the mountain of blankets, and fell asleep fairly soon.

He was walking alongside Snape, down some dark corridor in one of the dungeons. Snape had one arm on his shoulder, and the other was playing with a golden Snitch, letting it go, then snatching it back quickly. There was something following them, he knew, though he didn't know how. Snape seemed to be talking in a language that made no sense at all, just clustered syllables, and the occasional low hiss. Every now and then, in front of the large window at the end of their corridor, a figure in a black cloak would simply walk past out of sight.

Snape's voice was melting into a language that Harry understood, not English, but Parseltongue. Harry looked up at him, and saw that he had two crocodile teeth inching over his bottom lip.

"This school hides many secrets," Snape hissed, softly. "More than Dumbledore knows. More than you know. More than the school itself knows. But I know."

"What do you know?" Harry asked, in Parseltongue, as another figure blew past up the corridor. Whatever it was following them was closer now.

"Slytherin's legacy lives on," Snape whispered. "Though the power to destroy it lies not in the sword, but in the mind."

"Voldemort?" said Harry. The creature behind them was very close now, so close that he could feel its footsteps on the floor. "Do you know what he's looking for?"

A pawed hand suddenly grasped Harry's other shoulders, and that odd accent was whispering in his ear. "Nobody knows, Harry. Nobody knows but me, you, and him. Your guardian won't know. And time's running out, Harry... look ahead..." Another figure walked past, though this time, turned to look at Harry and Snape. Their face was covered completely by a black cloth. "Time's running out, Harry. Time is running."

Harry's legs automatically started to run forwards, and Khepri was right at his side, hissing still in his ear. Behind him, he could hear Snape calling, telling him to stop, to come back. That figure ahead was still there, tensed and waiting for him. Harry started shouting, shouting out to Snape, begging for help, but Khepri was pushing him faster and faster until suddenly the hands of the figure closed on his shoulders, pulling him in, twisting his neck to the side, hissing with wild glee.

Harry screamed, and sat bolt upright. The duvet fell off him. He gasped and put his hands to his face - another dream. More nightmares. Though he could remember this one, as clearly as if it had all just happened. He realised there was somebody gripping his shoulders, and looking through his hands, still shaking, he saw Ron staring at him in alarm.

"Harry?" he said, worriedly.

"Nightmare..." said Harry, dully. "It's okay, I'm fine... just got a bit spooked..."

"A bit spooked?" repeated Ron. "Harry, you were screaming something about Snape helping you, then telling me to stop making you run. What were you dreaming about?"

Harry looked up at Ron, and decided he just didn't have the energy to invent a lie. He told Ron, all about seeing the figure in the corridor, then all about his dream. Hermione was sitting behind Ron, looking very pale, listening to all this in silence. When Harry finished his story, both of them were looking at him nervously.

"Harry..." said Hermione, quietly. "I think you should go to Dumbledore."

"I can't," said Harry. "He won't believe me. Nobody does, not even Lupin. They're just dreams, they don't mean anything..."

"But what if they do?" said Ron. "What if it's another thing from... from You-Know-Who? What if this is really important? I mean, Khepri says that You-Know-Who's looking for something. What if there's somebody out there who's got whatever it is? But they don't know You-Know-Who's after it, and if you just tell Dumbledore, Harry, then we'll sort it all out."

"Don't you think I'm sick of being called delusional?" said Harry. "Nobody wants to put up with my "crackpot" stories anymore. Honestly, guys... they're just nightmares."

He sat up, rubbing his eyes, and looking over his shoulder for his bag. When he spotted it, he clawed it over, unzipping it and taking out the Dreamless Sleep Draught. Hermione and Ron both made odd noises, as though they wanted to ask where this was from, though they said nothing. Harry uncorked it, and took a few sips. An odd feeling of calm instantly blessed over his mind, chasing away those last few worries. He remembered Snape's words before, about it all just being a dream. In the light of the common room, it was easier to reinforce those thoughts. He glanced at the portrait hole for a moment, wondering if he could go and see Snape. For some reason, the thought of just talking to him, seeing him, calmed Harry a little, as though he was a child after a nightmare, wanting a parent. It was an un-nerving thought. Snape would probably tear out his insides and make him into ingredients for the following day's Potions classes if Harry woke him up in the middle of the night.

"It's half past four now," said Ron. "I won't be able to get back to sleep. I'm going to stay up, if you don't want to go to sleep either Harry."

"I might just have a nap," said Harry. He settled back down into the heap of pillows, pulling the duvet back up. "Or stay up. I don't know. I feel weird." It was impossible to explain the empty, doubtful feeling that was swirling around inside his stomach. With a sigh, he closed his eyes and laid his head down in one of the cushions, deciding that if he had just one more dream, he would go and talk to Snape and Peter about it. In a few minutes, he was asleep again, and thankfully, Khepri stayed out of his thoughts this time.


Chapter Twelve: Alrister, Ivy, Trelawney

By the next morning, everybody in the whole of Hogwarts knew, or had heard a rumour, that Draco Malfoy, the "pureblood" Draco Malfoy, was a quarter veela. Ron was happy to back the story up if anybody asked, and spent all the time from when Harry woke up to entering the Great Hall ranting about what a hypocrite and a half-breed Malfoy was. He only shut up when Harry told him how much like Umbridge he sounded.

When they walked into the Great Hall for breakfast, Harry was met with his first dilemma of the day. Draco sat at a table across the hall, sitting over a bowl of cereal and fiercely ignoring the stares of the other students. Kainda was sitting on his right. At seeing Draco, Ron made a bee-line for the other side of the hall, and took a table that was as far from Malfoy was possible. Hermione went after him, trying to make him see sense at how silly he was being. Harry glanced between Draco and Kainda, and Ron. Realising that if he sat with Ron his cousin would spend the whole day commenting about how Harry had his loyalties right and what a friendless prat Malfoy was, Harry headed over to the table with Draco and Kainda, sitting next to her.

She gave him a fleeting smile, which he returned, but Draco interrupted any sort of proper greeting. He glanced up at Harry, and then back at his cereal with a sigh. "Coming to sit with the half-breed?"

"Yes," said Harry. "I am."

"What about Weasley? Doesn't he want his best little friend at his side?"

Harry decided to ignore the 'little' comment. "He probably does, but I'm coming to sit with you. You're still the Draco I knew before. I'm not going to - "

But he was cut off, as something came sailing over from one of the other tables, and next second, a rubber duck had hit Malfoy in the back of the head. The hall erupted in a babble of laughter. He snarled and grabbed his wand, whirling around, ready to jinx whoever it was, but Harry grasped him quickly under the arms and dragged him out of the hall, with Kainda coming along after them in her wheelchair.

Once the doors shut again, Draco shrugged Harry off, a very angry expression on his face. "Mudbloods," he muttered under his breath. "They'll be sorry."

"It'll all die down soon," said Kainda, reassuringly. "Just give it a few days, maybe a week, and there'll be another rumour they'll all be hanging onto. Just look at the Daily Prophet. A few weeks ago, they couldn't get enough of Harry and me, doing interviews and phone calls and everything. And now there's not a whisper about us. Trust me, Draco, this isn't going to last."

"Mm," said Draco. "What do you have first lesson?"

"Pure Arts," Harry and Kainda said together.

"And the weasel?"

"Charms," said Harry, with a slight frown.

"Good. At least that's one hour I won't have to endure him for." Draco frowned darkly, and rested against a pillar, his eyes travelling vaguely across the floor. "Weasley is going to be very, very sorry. Nobody does this to me. Nobody."

After breakfast, Draco went off towards the Runes corridor, his shoulders hunched, looking dark and angry. Ron and Hermione headed off for the Charms corridor, now talking about something other than Draco for a change, leaving Harry to take the handles of Kainda's wheelchair and walk to Pure Arts with her. Because it was a magical chair, from St Mungo's, and could glide along perfectly well on its own, she didn't technically need anybody to push her, but Harry quite liked doing it anyway. And if he was perfectly honest with himself, he didn't mind the curious glances of other people, and the girls giggling. Kainda either didn't notice them, or was doing a marvellous job of ignoring, sitting back in the wheelchair and thumbing through a diary she had open on her lap. She'd already inked in her timetable, and every now and then, Harry caught a flash of future dates, such as, "Appointment with Madam Pomfrey - bad", "Check-Up: St Mungo's possible - v bad", or "Now allowed to eat curry again - v v v good".

As they approached the Pure Arts classroom, Kainda put her diary away in her bag. "Wonder what we're doing today," she said, idly.

"What happened yesterday?" Harry asked.

"He told us what we'll be doing all year," she said. "And grumbled a lot about the awkward timetable, teaching some people some days and other people other days. Said he was going to just set up a "go with the flow" system and decide on his feet."

"Fine with me," said Harry, with a little smile. "I love Pure Arts anyway."

"Any good at it?" she asked.

"Fairly," he replied, quite modestly. "Nothing like Alrister."

"Well, he's got magic bubbling out of his ears, hasn't he?" she said. "Last year we walked in one day and he was morphing the furniture into statues, said he was bored."

Harry laughed. The class was all clustered outside the classroom door, talking eagerly amongst themselves. As Harry and Kainda joined the crowd, Neville came towards them, smiling.

"Hiya guys!" he said, brightly. "I'm glad you're here, there's nobody else I know. Were you in the lesson yesterday? Everybody says he was talking about NEWTs..."

"Yeah, he was," said Kainda. "It wasn't anything frightening though. It sounds quite fun actually. He'll probably be explaining it again today."

At that moment, the door swung open by itself. The whole class filed in, with Harry, Kainda and Neville at the back. Harry was just wondering where he and Kainda were going to sit, when there was a bang from behind him, a shout and then a surprised yelp. He wheeled around, instantly reaching for his wand, but to his surprise, found Alrister standing next to the door, apparently where he'd been hiding. Neville stood with his back to Alrister, and from what Harry could see, the professor had poked Neville in the back with a large stick like a billiard cue.

"Right, Mr Longbottom, you're now dead, so kindly sit at one of the red desks, please," he said, brightly. "Everybody else, you're still alive. Well done."

They all stared at him in alarm. Neville looked as though he really was about to die. Alrister came forward from the shadows, holding his billiard cue in both hands. They inched away just in case he was thinking of doing any more poking.

"This year," he announced, "we have two things to do. One is to prepare for your NEWT exam, and the other is to prepare you for the real world. Approximately half the year, I will be hitting, poking, prodding and beating you all with this large stick. Your task is to stop me, using Pure Arts. Mr Longbottom, who clearly was not looking and expecting an enemy, is now dead. Red desk, Longbottom."

Neville, with a rather wild look at Alrister, shuffled over and sat down glumly at one of the red desks at the far side of the classroom. Alrister, still holding his stick, marched to the front of the class and faced them all, smiling, as though getting ambushed by the professor was normal practice in all classes. Nobody moved, clearly still rather stunned. Alrister picked up the stick, reached out, and gave one of the Slytherins a short poke in the chest.

"Dead. Red desk," he said, cheerily. "Now, that was for not being alert and not acting quick enough. Everybody else sit down, don't take anything out."

They all scurried to desks and sat down. Harry had the feeling this was going to be a rather odd lesson, though it was definitely the most interesting way he'd started a day at Hogwarts yet. Alrister strolled between them all, holding his stick. As he passed a group of Ravenclaw girls, they all just sat staring forwards, plainly un-nerved, and two were prodded in the shoulders.

"Dead. Not catching on yet, are we? Go on, red desks. That's for not daring to fight. The next person who ends up dead will have to sit upside down in their chair, for being dense as well as not quick enough."

Harry turned around to glance at Alrister, just in time to see the Pure Arts master grip the stick and move at him. Harry instinctively swiped at it, and though his hand made no contact, there was a cracking noise and the stick veered off course.

"There we go, I knew there was at least one brain in this class," said Alrister, smiling, and walking to the front of the class again. "Five points, Harry. Everybody get the jist yet? This is a completely random test, and I could strike at any time. You all have to learn that attacks come at any time, and the best way to deal with them is to learn and practice Pure Arts. Yes? Now, those four people over there are all dead, if I was actually trying to kill you. So everybody else has my permission to point and laugh at them, should the urge strike you to. Now, to start the actual lesson."

He hung the long stick on a hook next to the bored. Once it was out of harm's way, the class collectively gave a silent sigh of relief. Kainda was smiling bemusedly next to Harry. Alrister sat down at his desk, putting his boots up on the wood and snapping his fingers. The register hopped neatly into his lap and opened.

"Anybody missing?" he asked, glancing up. "If you're not here, please raise a hand... nobody? Good." He clicked his fingers again, the register filled with ticks, and then bounced back onto the desk, lying still. "Now then, some of you will have been rather surprised by the start of today."

Rather surprised didn't quite cover it. Neville was still looking around at everybody with a look of helpless alarm on his face. Alrister didn't notice.

"Though as I said, one of the topics I will be teaching you is defence against unexpected attackers, and how to fend them off on the spot. However, that will be random, odd snippets that you will learn yourself by trial and error. Our main work this year will be your NEWT exam, which takes place towards the end of the year, and preparation will take up every single lesson we have. The exam for Pure Arts is the oddest one to take, and can be the easiest or the hardest, depending on your preparation and your desire to do well. You have one task to perform during the exam - to impress your examiner." He smiled, standing up, and looking around at them all, palms flat on the desk before him. The candle-light glittered off the gold trim on his copper-coloured tunic. "For your exam, you will walk into this very room here, and sitting at my desk will be your ordinary common or garden wizard. The examiner will not have been taught a shred of Pure Arts. Your job is to impress them as much as you can. The more impressed they are, the higher your grade."

A hand went up.

"Yes?" said Alrister, giving a warm smile to the girl with her hand in the air.

"So... it's just like doing a magic show for them or something."

"It's up to you," he replied. "You can stroll in, and have a normal conversation with them, but have the walls and ceiling flashing all sorts of pretty colours, or you can bounce in there and treat it like a performance. It's your exam, and this is your chance to do all the flashy and amazing things you can. All year, you'll be developing a script, planning what you'll do, and practicing. I can teach you things you want to do, advise you where you're going wrong. That sort of stuff."

He strolled around his desk, looking around at every face with an impressive sort of smile.

"Right then," he said. "Parchment is in the crate at the back, you should all have ink and quills but if you need any extra, just tell me. Start jotting down notes of a few things, a very vague outline of what it is you're going to do. I think most of you are here for two hours, so we'll crack on, and try some practice of entrances in the second hour. Any problems?" Without giving them any time to register problems, he said, brightly, "Good, on we go then!"

It was a very enjoyable lesson. Neville was allowed out of the Dead area to come and sit with Kainda and Harry, and the three of them spent the first hour debating the most impressive and risky things they could do. Kainda was all for the idea of blowing Alrister's desk to pieces the moment she stepped into the room, but Alrister had to put a stop to this idea. It was also the first time Harry had uttered the phrase, "Then I think I'll turn my nose blue", while being entirely serious.

Neville was rather nervous about the whole idea. "But... how long does it have to last?" he asked, when Alrister came over to ask what was the matter.

"As long as you can manage," said Alrister. "The longer the better."

"But what if I can only manage thirty seconds?" said Neville. "Or what if something goes terribly wrong?"

"Use a stunning charm on the examiner," suggested Kainda, grinning. "Then when you've woken them up, say they just missed you turning the desk into a hippo and back without the use of a wand."

"Miss Zabini, what has my poor desk ever done to you?"

Harry laughed. Alrister winked at him, then came around the table to lean over Harry's shoulder and read through his plans. "Ambitious, Harry, very ambitious. Glad you've included the levitation there, after all, showing off your strengths never goes wrong... I might teach you some long-distance levitation next lesson, flying to you and me. We'll have to be careful though, don't want you breaking your neck now, do we? All that paperwork - I shudder at the thought."

By the time the end bell went, Harry was in a great mood. He, Kainda and Neville headed off to first break out in the courtyard to find Ron and Hermione sitting outside on a new fountain that had been brought in. At first, Harry thought it was just an oddly shaped statue, until he recognised one of the shapes. It was Dobby. Harry blinked, wondering if he was seeing right, but casting his eyes up, he saw stone statues of Professor Vector and Professor Trelawney standing behind Dobby. Sitting at their feet were Colin Creevey, a Hufflepuff boy, a tiny little girl that had been in Ravenclaw, and one of the Slytherin girls Harry knew was killed in the siege.

"What do you think?" said Hermione, happily, standing up and coming over. "It's the statue that Hagrid told us about. They were all killed in the siege. They've got one student lost from each house too, so everybody can remember. It's beautiful, isn't it?"

"What about Kibbles though?" said Harry. "He was killed, why isn't - "

Ron nudged him in the arm, and pointed up at the school. Harry turned around. Sitting on the roof over-looking the courtyard was a black shape, dark and impressive against the sky, curled around one of the flags almost protectively. Harry remembered the face of the dragon looking back at him. It was the same face that had once blinked of him out of a little glass tank, waiting for another piece of chicken to be thrown in. Kibbles had grown to the size of a small elephant before he was killed.

"Wow," Harry breathed. "It's really life-like, isn't it?"

Hermione nodded. "I think it's really nice they've got something honouring what happened... I know the ministry would rather just forget about the siege, but Dumbledore's doing a good job not being ashamed."

"So how was Charms?" Harry asked.

"Boring," said Ron. "Making loads of notes and copying stuff out. How was Pure Arts?"

"Alrister hit Neville with a big stick," said Kainda, bemusedly.

"Oh?" said Ron, as though this was common practice.


"Did he deserve it?"

"Probably not. Alrister says he wasn't being aware of attacks enough."


"Yup. He's going to be trying to hit us all with the stick throughout the year. Probably your class too. You've got him after break, right?"


"Look out behind the door when you walk in."

"I'll remember that."

Ron and Kainda's small-talk was then interrupted, as a blonde figure in a black cloak stepped out into the courtyard. Draco didn't even look at Ron. He crossed over to Harry, sat down next to him on the bench, and instantly went into his bag to look for something. Apparently abandoning his plan to ignore Draco, Ron piped up, "Pretending none of it happened, eh, Malfoy?"

Draco didn't say a word, and acted perfectly as though he hadn't heard a word of what Ron said. He finally found a textbook, and propped it open in his lap, scanning the contents page. Ron, it seemed, didn't want to let go of the issue so easily.

"Don't ignore me, Malfoy. Or is that how bad it is? Just ignore me, and the problem goes away?"

"Ron," Hermione chided. "Don't, let it drop. Please."

"Granger, could I see your Runes textbook?" said Draco, still in his own little world, apparently oblivious to the other line of conversation. "I think mine is missing the chapter about literal translations..."

Hermione went into her bag, but Ron cut in with, "Don't give him it," so sharply that everybody stared at him, including Draco. Ron glared back at Draco, though spoke to Hermione. "You don't want his half-breed hands all over it. My dad says to never trust a veela."

"Your dad says to love muggles, that's what a crackpot he is," Draco snarled.

Ron jumped up and went for Malfoy with a yell of anger, but Harry, Neville and Gina all leapt forward, grabbing him and hauling him away. Draco got to his feet silently.

"What's wrong? Going to storm off again?" Ron said, angrily. "Can't take the ridicule, Malfoy?"

"I think you should stop all this," said Draco, in an oddly quiet voice. "I think you should calm down and just let me sit here. I'm not doing you any harm, am I, Weasley?"

Ron was silent. He had gone oddly limp in Harry's grip, and when Harry let him go, he just turned and sat down, calm as anything. He got out a packet of Bertie Botts beans, and opened them. "Anybody want one?" he said, cheerfully, offering the bag around.

Everybody stared at him, and then they turned as one to look at Draco. Draco seemed just as calm as Ron. He took one of the jelly beans, and sat down, the Runes textbook open on his lap again. "Thankyou, Weasley."

"My pleasure," said Ron, still in that un-naturally cheerful way. Harry and the others had worked out what Draco must have done, though nobody wanted to accuse him, and really, it was better this way. They all sat down around the fountain, quietly. The rest of break was pleasantly subdued, and Ron didn't say a word against Malfoy at all. He went off to Pure Arts, laughing and joking with Dean and Seamus, while Harry, Hermione, Draco and Kainda went off to Dark Arts. Only when they lined up outside the Dark Arts classroom did Hermione mention what had happened.

"You shouldn't have done that," she murmured, quietly.

"Oh? And why not? That was the first peaceful moment I've had since coming back to Hogwarts, and I think it was a rather good idea, personally." Draco sniffed, and started to check his nails delicately. "That's the reason that the centaurs hate veela. Centaurs rely on using human nature to predict the future, and veela interfere with human nature."

"Will Ron remember being nice to you?" asked Hermione, still sounding disapproving.

"No," said Draco, pleasantly. "He'll only remember vague details of being in the courtyard. No specific events. It should wear off in about an hour, I did give him a particularly strong blast..."

"Do you actually control them?" said Harry. "Like with the imperius curse?"

"Oh no," said Draco, shaking his head. "It's charm, Potter. I merely twiddled with his mind to make him open to my persuasion and greatly fond of me, then suggested he calm down. It's a marvellous skill. Female veela use it to attract mates, the males use it for more useful things."

"Like messing with somebody's emotions?" said Hermione, definite cold tones in her voice.

"Precisely," said Draco, ignoring the disapproval he clearly didn't want to hear.

At that moment, the door opened, putting an end to the discussion. Madam Ivy looked out at them all with a little smile. She was wearing an odd pair of very thick-rimmed rectangular glasses, that made her look like a punk-rocker librarian.

"Come in," she said. "Quills and ink out."

They all filed into the room, and Harry, Draco, Hermione and Kainda all took seats at the back, getting out books, quills, ink bottles and any spare parchment they had. Professor Lupin was sitting at his desk, head resting on one hand, gazing out of the window as though there was something out there which fascinated him. As Harry watched, Lupin glanced down, spotted a few more short scarlet hairs on his desk, and frowned, brushing them onto the floor. Madam Ivy was still unpopular with Lupin it seemed.

"Now then... you should all know me by now," she said, brightly, perching on the edge of Lupin's desk and looking around at them all with her hands folded on one knee. "If you don't, my name is Madam Ivy, and I will be teaching you Defence Against The Dark Arts part-time this year, along with Professor Lupin. Today I'm just going to hand out timetables and give you a brief overview of the course. Anybody who was in the lesson with me yesterday will get a worksheet to do."

"Joys of joys," Kainda murmured next to Harry.

He let out a quiet snort of laughter. He was sure that he was far back enough from Madam Ivy for her to not hear it, though she did. Her eyes instantly flicked onto him, and one slim black eyebrow arched above the rim of her glasses.

"I'm sorry, young man, but is there something you wish to share with the class?" she said.

"No," said Harry, unsure of how to address her.

Her other eyebrow arched. "Dear me... I hope this isn't an attitude problem I see emerging, in your very first lesson."

"There is nothing wrong with Harry's attitude," said Lupin, shortly, standing up even though he had no reason to. "I think the problem here could be yours, if you start taking every tiny little noise as laughter, Madam."

Madam Ivy smiled dewily at him. "Thankyou for that, Professor Lupin... now, as I was saying, before that interruption, worksheets will be given to anybody who has already received their timetable. Such a shame that the lesson is so erratic for NEWT classes. Of course, most classes you will be working on an ongoing project, so hopefully, we shall weed out any problems very quickly..."

Harry glanced up, seeing her looking right at him. He held her gaze, politely, trying not to get off on a bad foot with the new Dark Arts teacher. She looked away, and picked up a stack of paper on Lupin's desk, starting to hand out timetables and worksheets. When she reached Harry and Kainda's desk, she gave Harry a blank schedule, and Kainda a sheet of paper with a series of questions on.

"I've done this one," said Kainda, glancing up at her. "This sheet, Madam."

"Oh?" said Madam Ivy, turning her sharp gaze onto Kainda. "Ah, yes, you were here for the double period yesterday, weren't you? Well then, you can start doing some planning for our first project. Get a scroll from the back, and start jotting down notes about any dangerous magical things are in Britain, Miss Zabini."

"I'll get it for you," said Harry, knowing it would be awkward for Kainda to reach the shelf of parchment at the back.

He stood up, but Madam Ivy said, quickly, "I don't believe I gave you permission to stand up. Please sit down. One point from the school, for not concentrating on your own business."

Harry sat down obediently, not arguing about the point she took away. He couldn't help but feel he wasn't making a good impression. Professor Lupin, who had clearly been watching from across the room, came over. He got a roll of parchment for Kainda, and then leant down, saying quietly, "Two points to the house totals for trying to be a gentleman, Harry."

Harry tried not to smile too much as Lupin walked away back to his desk. Madam Ivy hadn't noticed what happened. She perched herself delicately on the corner of Lupin's desk again, and started to read out the schedule for the year, instructing them to note down which teacher they had for which lesson. Harry sat in near silence. He didn't want to make enemies with another Dark Arts teacher, especially in his NEWT lesson, and he put his hand up to volunteer information whenever he could. Lupin called on him once or twice, though Ivy seemed to ignore him.

By the time the end of the lesson was approaching, Harry was desperately bored and hungry. He had Charms that afternoon, and knew that Professor Flitwick's class would be far more interesting than this. Kainda was obviously bored too, and they had a silent Noughts and Crosses tournament, which she won by miles. They had just started a game of Hangman when Madam Ivy appeared at their table to check Harry's timetable. Her eyes swept down it quickly, and she nodded. "That seems to be in order. Now... Harry, is it? Harry Potter?"

He nodded numbly, keeping the Hangman game covered with his elbow.

"Let's hope this was just a shaky first lesson, mm?" she said, with a hazy smile. "I'm sure that you can be much better behaved. Professor Lupin tells me you're an excellent student, so I don't expect any more interruptions in my lessons from you."

Harry turned his eyes to the desk. "Sorry, Madam Ivy."

"There, that's it..." she said, kindly, before she moved on to check Hermione's timetable, her long black robes sweeping along the ground behind her.

The bell went. Everybody stood up, put away their things, and Harry, Hermione, Draco and Kainda all left the classroom fairly quickly. Draco seemed a little reluctant to leave, and hung back, as though he wanted to say something to Madam Ivy, but Hermione pushed him in the back, muttered, "Oh, keep your hormones under control", and nudged him out of the door.

"What did you think of that lesson?" Kainda asked, as they made their way towards the Great Hall for lunch.

"It was quite boring," Hermione admitted. "I really thought we'd be doing something interesting for our first class of the year. I suppose the timetable was important though."

Harry listened to them talking as he reached into his bag, took out the schedule, and glanced through it. He had Madam Ivy on Tuesday and Friday, and Lupin for the rest of the week. At least she wouldn't have too many opportunities to accuse him of having an attitude problem. Though with Lupin, Harry reminded himself, he also had lessons to kill. He was not looking forward to them at all. He could deal with the DMT classes in Snape's dungeon, but he didn't think anybody could ever teach him to kill another creature with no remorse. Even the smallest insect deserved to live. The insects Harry would have to kill could be parents, of another little insect, that would spend the rest of its life alone and without any parents to love. It was no different to what Voldemort did to Harry.

Charms passed without anything exceptional happening, and when the end bell went, Harry packed together his things and left the room with everyone else. Dinner was some sort of stew. Draco's charm had worn off Ron, and all through dinner, they muttered scathing things across the table to each other. Ron even resorted to flicking peas at Draco, until Professor McGonagall told him off. Ron seemed to think it was Draco's fault that he'd been caught, and voiced this opinion loudly for the rest of the meal. It was almost a relief to Harry when Draco and Kainda went off together towards the Slytherin common room, and the Gryffindors went to theirs. They all settled around the fire in armchairs and on cushions on the floor, got out their start-of-term homework, and started working.

Harry was writing up the first few pages of his Potions project, careful to make his handwriting neat, only stopped every now and then by Hermione leaning over his shoulder to remind him how to spell an ingredient. Next to him, Ron was hard at work with his script for Pure Arts. Ron had arrived at dinner with a red mark on his cheek, and his explanation was, "Alrister killed me".

"Merlin, that looks boring," said Ron, leaning over Harry's shoulder and peering at the four pages of neat writing Harry had done so far. "I'm so glad I dropped Potions. Mind you, I've got a History of Magic essay to do about Vikings next, so I'm not much better off."

Hermione, who had finished her homework ages ago and was now playing teacher, checking Neville's Charms diagrams, joined the discussion. "The Vikings were fascinating though, Ron."

"Yeah, maybe to other Vikings," said Ron. "And maybe to somebody who'd been taught it by a teacher who still had the will to exist. Binns only hangs around now to ruin our education and turn the past into utter rubbish."

"Hmm," said Hermione. She gave Neville a smile, and said, "Those are all fine, Neville."

"Great," he said, grinning. "Thanks, Hermione. I'm just going to get my Herbology textbook, I have to check on something for my homework."

He headed away up the stairs, and the mention of Herbology seemed to stir a memory deep in Harry's mind. Something he'd forgotten about Herbology... after a moment, it struck him.

"I left my fuzzy fungus at Grimmauld Place," he announced.

"You left your what?" said Ron, staring at him.

"My fuzzy fungus," said Harry. "You know, the little mushroom thing. It's probably still in that pot, waiting for somebody to take the lid off. It could have drowned for all I know."

"Write to Mum," said Ron, shrugging. "She'll put it in a box and send you it by owl, I guess."

Harry nodded, and was about to ask Ron if he had any spare parchment, when their attention was caught by a sudden high scream. They all jumped, and Ginny upset her ink bottle all across the floor.

"What was that?" she said, staring towards the staircases.

Footsteps were rumbling down them, and next second, Neville burst into the room, white in the face and shaking. "There's a g-g-ghost up there!" he squeaked, pointing up the stairs. "I-in our dormitory!"

"Hogwarts is full of ghosts Neville, you prat," said Ron. "You see them everyday."

"No!" said Neville, his voice very shrill. "It was... it was P-Professor Trelawney, just there w-waiting in the d-d-dormitory!"

Harry's eyes widened. "Really? Did she say anything?"

Neville nodded frantically.

"What?" asked Hermione.

"I don't know," said Neville. "She opened her mouth to say something, and I screamed, and ran away."

Harry and Ron glanced at each other, then both put down their homework, drew their wands, and headed towards the stairs. Neville crept along after them, and everybody else was waiting at the foot of the staircase. Ron grasped the handle of the dormitory, and pulled it open. The inside was flooded with dying evening sunshine, all the curtains of the four posters wide open, and it was completely empty.

"She's gone," whispered Neville. "Oh, Harry, Ron, she was there, she really was! I'm not making it up!"

"Why would Professor Trelawney have a reason to come back?" said Ron, shrugging. "Just to keep making Harry's life a misery? It was your brain, playing tricks with you Neville."

"But..." said Neville, sounding miserable. "I was sure..."

"If you see her again, tell us," said Harry, reassuringly. "Then we'll go and see Nearly Headless Nick, and ask him if he's seen Professor Trelawney around. Don't worry about it too much Neville. If she has come back, she's got no reason to bother you."

Neville nodded glumly, and headed away down the stairs, with Ron following him. Harry took one last glance around the dormitory, and could have sworn he heard a soft tinkle, as though of jewellery jangling together, before he shut the door.


Chapter Thirteen: Romeo and Juliet

The rest of Harry's first week passed in a rush of timetables, homework and revision booklets. He spent first lesson on Wednesday in the library with Hermione, doing more research for his Potions project, and Snape even checked it for him when he got back to class. History of Magic was dull as ever, though the entire year had their first Miscellaneous Magic class straight after break. Professor Pebblebank, today in very wide-legged blue trousers and a t-shirt with a glittery star on the front, took them through details of what they'd be doing during the year. It seemed there had been some sort of problem at the ministry of magic, and somebody had tried to pass a law banning the classes. They could only start properly learning in a month, and so until then, the hour would be free-time for them to do homework and research things they'd like to learn about. Hermione simply quivered with excitement next to Harry. Everybody else seemed very interested too, even Draco, who sat forward intently when Professor Pebblebank got onto the part about Chinese Dragon magic.

"My father taught me some," he explained. "The summer before he was taken away."

After that, Harry had Transfiguration. Professor McGonagall was straight into preparation for their first project, and Harry was pleased to completely transfigure his turtle into a rabbit by the end of the lesson. Professor McGonagall explained that human transfiguration would be taught to them throughout the project, and they had to break the gap between different species first.

In Care of Magical Creatures, they were getting more things ready for the imminent arrival of the dragons. Hagrid had them all slicing up great steaks made from what were probably once elephants, though it was rather hard to tell.

After school on Wednesday, Harry had his DMT lesson with Snape. They were practicing how to lie this evening, and how to detect a lie. Harry couldn't help but laugh inwardly as he realised he was playing Truth or Dare with Professor Snape. Each would ask the other a question, then decide whether the answer was a lie or not. Harry found out that Snape had indeed vandalised something once, which turned out be a phone-box in his seventh year on graduation night; that Snape was allergic to cat fur; that Snape had drunk Firewhiskey well under the legal age, and that Snape had once eaten half a scroll of parchment as a dare set by Lucius Malfoy. Snape also swore blind that he had never ever been tempted to jinx a first year, though Harry knew this was a lie.

On Thursday, first thing, Harry was out in the grounds again, this time learning how to control dragons with various spells, taught by Charlie Weasley. It was a very enjoyable lesson, even though Neville did catch him in the eye with a conjunctivitis curse and he couldn't see for the rest of the day. This wasn't helpful, as after Magical Creatures, he was straight off to Pure Arts. As he predicted, Alrister was lurking behind the door with his stick when they all walked in. Draco was promptly declared dead after a good whack around the head, and Hermione barely avoided getting poked herself, using a clever little move that set Alrister's curtains on fire. Once they'd beaten him out, Hermione apologised over and over again, and transfigured the curtains back to their original state. Alrister said it was quite alright; he'd never liked them anyway.

At the end of the day was double Defence Against the Dark Arts with Professor Lupin. He told them they were starting their first project, about the common dangers found in England, and by the time the two hours was over, Harry had done his first five pages. Lupin gave him ten points to the school. Throughout the lesson, Madam Ivy was nowhere to be seen. Harry had a sneaking suspicion that Lupin had banned her from the class when he was teaching.

Friday came, and Harry was glad it was nearly the weekend. He'd enjoyed his first week back, but definitely needed a break, and some time to finish all of his start-of-term homework. First thing he had Potions. While most people went off to the library to do yet more research, Harry had finished his, and stayed behind in the classroom. Snape taught him the correct way to slice Exploding Caterpillar Bulbs without getting showered in the sticky sap, and when he saw how much work Harry had done on his project already, he was startled into giving Harry five points.

After Potions, Harry had Pure Arts, and once again avoided the stick. Almost a quarter of the class was sitting at a Dead desk by now, and Alrister managed to catch three more people by the time the bell went. They all hobbled out of the class, nursing various small bruises. Draco remarked that if Alrister turned on them again, they should just beat him to the floor with his own stick and lock him in a cupboard somewhere.

History of Magic and Transfiguration were dull as ever, and McGonagall was really testing their knowledge today. She made Harry turn a mouse into a gecko in front of the class, and when the gecko was revealed to still have little furry ears, she made him do it three more times until he got the hang of it.

Though Harry was hardly bothered by this, as last thing on Friday, he was due in Defence Against the Dark Arts with Madam Ivy. He took a seat at the front of the class today, wanting to prove he wasn't one of those slack students that hung around on the back row and talked all lesson. She handed back the pieces of project she had marked, and Harry's mood was enlightened when he saw that she had given him an O. She perched herself on the edge of Lupin's desk as usual, and addressed them all, hands clasped neatly in her lap.

"I'm sure you'll have all seen your marks by now," she said, smartly, putting an end to the chatter. "And I'm glad that some of you are pleased by your result, though I know there are a few people in here who could do much better. Obviously, I've only marked the first part of your project, and if you wish to redo it to a better standard, you may. Remember that the final grade you get for this work will go towards your NEWT, and a low grade could mean disaster if you want a job that deals with Defence Against the Dark Arts. And of course, we are entering dark times at the moment. The more well defended you are, the better.

"Today, we are to start looking at specific dark creatures. I want you to include four, minimum, in your project. Reference books are at the back in the separate boxes, and I will answer any questions you have. All clear?"

Harry kept his head down, and after retrieving a book, started working hard on the task set. By the end of the hour, he was exhausted and his brain felt numb with information about all the dark creatures he'd ever learnt anything about. He handed in his notes, and Madam Ivy looked rather taken aback at how much work he'd done. She turned it over, her eyes skimming through it, and said, with a little smile, "Well, this certainly seems to be a good standard, Potter... though you've spelt a few things wrong just down at the bottom. Clear those up and Professor Lupin will take you through some more guidelines next week."

Harry was strongly reminded of a young Professor McGonagall.

That night, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were all sitting in the common room, finishing off bits of homework that needed to be done, ready for the weekend. Tomorrow morning, Harry had his learning to kill lesson with Professor Lupin, and he wasn't exactly looking forward to it. In the afternoon, Hagrid's dragons were expected to arrive, and Harry wanted to go and help get them settled in. He was becoming quite used to dragons now.

Gradually, the common room started to empty of people, until nine o' clock came, and only Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were left. Hermione was bent over a huge sheet covered in runes, translating it all onto a clean piece of parchment, and Ron was teaching Sneezy the alphabet, without much luck. Ginny seemed to be quite agitated about something.

"Are you okay?" Harry asked her, after the third time she shifted in her chair, closed her book, then re-opened it.

"Oh, yes, I'm fine," she said, smiling slightly. "Just a bit nervy. I think I might go to the bathroom before I turn in for the night, I could do with a shower." She stood up, and leaving her books and bag scattered around the table, she headed up to her dormitory.

Harry had just picked up his quill to start writing again when she suddenly arrived, carrying a shower bag. "That was a very quickly packed shower bag," he said.

"Well, I've wanted a shower all day," she said, idly. "See you all soon." And she walked out through the portrait hole without a word.

Everything was quiet for a moment, then Hermione voiced what everybody was thinking.

"Why couldn't she just use the Gryffindor showers?" she said, frowning, and putting down her quill. "And why did she have the bag packed and ready? Do you think she's up to something?"

"Yes," said Ron, stoutly. He got up, and left his books where they were, heading over to Harry's trunk in the corner. Without asking for permission, he opened it up, and rooted through for a few minutes before getting out Harry's old invisibility cloak. "You don't mind if I borrow this, do you?" he said, throwing it on around his shoulders. His head floated towards the door.

"Not if you'll let me come with you," said Harry. Ignoring Hermione's protests about them going out so late at night, he hurried over to Ron, and his cousin threw the cloak over both of them. Harry didn't know why he wanted to follow Ginny - suspicion, perhaps, or maybe he just wanted to stretch his legs and it was a good excuse to get away from homework.

He and Ron headed towards the door, and stepped out. Hermione called after them that she wasn't going to vouch for them when they got in trouble, but they didn't listen, and slipped out into the corridor, closing the portrait behind them. It was immediately obvious where Ginny was going. They just saw her bright red hair slip away around the corner, and silently, they followed.

Both of them had grown since they last used the cloak, and it was hard to walk at the same time whilst keeping all ankles and limbs out of sight, though they managed it. Fairly soon, they had caught up with Ginny, and it was clear that she was not going anywhere near the bathrooms. They were careful to stay a good distance behind and silent. They didn't want her to know they were following, even if she was doing something as innocent as going to the library to get out a book, or heading to the owlery to post a letter.

They passed the staircase to the owlery though, and didn't seem to be going anywhere near the library. Harry was getting more and more suspicious with every step that Ginny took, and he couldn't think of where she was going at all. The astronomy tower seemed the most logical place, but Ginny would have to be incredibly thick to try and go there at night. Professor Sinistra was infamously protective of her chambers, and the only excuse for being around the astronomy tower at night was a lesson - but surely Ginny would have told them, if she had a lesson, instead of pretending to go to the bathroom. And why had she left her bag back in the common room?

Sure enough, as the winding stone staircase to the astronomy tower appeared, Ginny turned up it, and started to climb. Here, every single noise echoed upwards, and Harry and Ron had a hard time struggling up it sideways while staying hidden. Harry didn't know how he could tell, but he just knew Ron was getting angry. Perhaps it was just the sound of his cousin's breathing, or the way he kept pushing Harry, wanting him to hurry up.

Harry wondered whether Ginny was perhaps visiting the dragons that were still living in the astronomy hall, but she went past that door as well, climbing up and up towards the very highest tower in the school. Harry had a dangerous sensation of being watched by unseen eyes. He didn't know for sure exactly how Professor Sinistra guarded the astronomy tower from intruders, but he was pretty sure it would not be pleasant. A slap on the wrist and a few points from the school total was too much to hope for.

After many long minutes of climbing and getting shunted along by Ron, Harry heard a trap door open above them, and cold night air flooded the staircase. Ginny climbed out carefully, and to Harry's relief, she left it open. He and Ron managed to do a sort of twizzle to get through without making any noise or falling over each other. Ginny was alone in the tower, sitting on the low wall and gazing out across the lake, silent and still like a statue. Ron tugged on Harry's sleeve to pull him away from the trapdoor, and next second, Harry realised why, as he heard the footsteps coming up the stone staircase. He tensed, expecting Professor Sinistra to fly out and strangle them all to death. Ginny clearly thought the same thing, and moved to hide, though next second, a figure had stepped out through the trap door.

"Hiya," said Ginny, smiling. "I was worried I was too late... I told them all I had to take a shower." She held up the bag, and showed her visitor, smiling still. "What was your excuse?"

"I didn't need one," was the reply. "I just got up and left. Nobody noticed."

Ron had gone so still and stiff that Harry got worried he had actually died of horror, and gave him a poke in the side. Ron poked him back, hard.

Draco sat down on the wall next to Ginny, kicking the trap door shut with the heel of his dragon-hide boots. Ginny smiled shyly. "So..." she said. "What did you want to see me about?"

"Just a little something," Draco murmured, and he leant forward, touching her face.

Ron made an odd squeak of disgust and shock as their lips met, and Ginny instantly pulled back, looking around nervously. "What was that?" she said.

"Nothing," said Draco, pulling her into another kiss.

Ron was trembling with rage next to Harry. Harry could feel his cousin's hands balling into fists and shaking, as though he would dearly love to just burst out from under the cloak and knock Malfoy off the top of the tower. Harry had absolutely no idea what to do. With the trap door now shut, he and Ron couldn't make their escape, and there was nothing they could do but watch helplessly. Harry found he couldn't avert his eyes. It was like a road accident - he just had to have a look.

Draco and Ginny, distracted as they were, apparently had no sense of time anymore. Harry and Ron did though. The moments lengthened into minutes, and after quarter of an hour, Harry was getting very cold and stiff from standing still so long, and the entertainment was losing its novelty. The only warmth anywhere in the tower was Ron, who was still shaking with fury and breathing like a rhinoceros. Harry kept having to poke him to get him to shut up, though Ron just jabbed him back twice as hard. After twenty minutes, Harry was even more cold and covered in bruises. He quite wanted to knock Malfoy off the tower now, just to break up the kissing session so he could get to bed.

Draco let Ginny go again, and she immediately leant forward, though he held up a hand. "It's late," he murmured. "The Gryffindors will get suspicious of you being gone for so long. I'd suggest a quick shower before you get back to the common room, so there's nothing for them to be suspicious about."

She nodded, with a smile, her cheeks slightly pink. "Okay... same time same place tomorrow?"

"Hopefully," he said. "An hour earlier though. Say you've got a detention or something ludicrous like that." He smiled, weaving his fingers through her hair. "I told you there was nothing wrong with coming up to the astronomy tower at night... all those rumours about it being protected... I mean, she's a little paranoid, but really Professor Sinistr-AAARGH!!!"

The stone they were sitting on had seemingly come alive, and with a hissing noise, a great coil like an octopus's arm had shot out, wrapping itself around Malfoy and trying to crush him. Ginny screamed as more tentacles shot out of the wall for her too, but she leapt away out of reach, staring in horror at the stone snake trying to squeeze Draco to death. He choked, struggling wildly, before he managed to break its grip and fling himself aside. A light flicked on in a room across the tower, and Draco shouted, "RUN!" at Ginny, before wrenching the trap door open and leaping down it out of sight. She followed quickly, and Harry and Ron bolted into action under the cloak, waddling as fast as they could for the door, but before they had even got halfway there, Ginny slammed it shut behind her.

"There's no way out!" Harry choked, desperately. "What are we going to do?"

Ron tore off the invisibility cloak, and bent down, saying in a furious voice, "Stuff the astronomy tower, I'm going to MURDER Malfoy!!" He gave a few enraged tugs to the handle of the trap door, but it just wouldn't open. It was locked. "Oh COME ON!!" Ron bellowed at it.

Harry jabbed him in the chest and hissed, "Shhhh, you'll get us caught!"

But the words had barely left his mouth before Harry felt a lurch under his feet. He shot downwards, grabbed out for Ron, and both of them screamed as the stone floor of the tower gave way and they were sucked down into blackness. They hit the floor moments later with loud shouts of pain. It was pitch black wherever they were now. Wheezing, Harry groped for Ron and gasped, "Ron! Ron, where are you?"

Ron grabbed his arm in the dark. "I'm here," he breathed, and apparently, the wind had been knocked out of Ron too. "Where are we?"

"I don't know," said Harry, fighting for breath. He drew his wand, and said, "Lumos!"

A ball of light flicked on at the end of his wand, just enough to trace around the few metres around them. The room seemed to be bare, just stone walls and floor. Harry held his wand towards the ceiling, but it had reformed.

"We're trapped," Ron squeaked. "There's no way out! We're going to starve in here! They can't do this! This is a SCHOOL, not AZKABAN!!" He leapt at one of the walls and started beating it frantically with his fists, though Harry grabbed him and pulled him away before he could break his knuckles on the hard stone.

"There must be some way out!" he said. "We've just got to think and stay calm. There's a way out of everywhere in Hogwarts, and the founders wouldn't build somewhere that would endanger the lives of the students."

"OH yeah?!" said Ron, quite delirious now. "And the Chamber of Secrets is just happy dandy fairyland now, is it?!"

"That was different!" said Harry desperately. "And Slytherin's heir was fine in the chamber, wasn't he? We've just got to work out who built the astronomy tower."

"I think it was Slytherin," Ron choked. "He was really paranoid about his quarters and his rooms. He'll have done this. It's all his fault!" And he launched himself at the wall again, yelling and battering it with his fists.

Harry pulled him away again. "Ron, don't!" he hissed. "We've just got to be calm and find a way out. I'll try and blast away some of the wall." He aimed his wand, and whispered, "Reducto!"

A jet of light struck the stone and a few chunks cracked away, hitting the floor. Praying that the wall was fairly thin, and not two metres thick, Harry start chipping away at it bit by bit with the reducto curse. Finally, after what seemed like hours, they could see light through the hole. Ron got out his wand too, and both of them shattered a hole big enough to crawl through, then squeezed their way out of the chamber.

They were now in what seemed to be a small store-room. Boxes littered the floor, and candles were attached to all the walls, bathing everything in a soothing amber glow. Ron had momentarily forgotten about Malfoy, it seemed, and paced across the room to a door. He yanked it open, and there was only darkness ahead.

"Get a few of these candles," said Harry, unclipping some from their torch brackets. "We've got to try and find a corridor, or somewhere that we recognise. Then we can start working our way back to Gryffindor Tower."

Ron got a candle from the wall, and quietly, the two of them crept through into the next room. Candlelight washed across the stone walls in an eerie sort of wave, and at first, Harry thought it was just another empty room, except that the walls were glistening were something gooey like lemon jelly. There was something stuck to the far wall. As Harry held the candle a little higher, it washed over the figure glued to the wall by the sticky substance. Harry barely had time to register the flash of white-blonde hair before Ron gave a furious yell next to him and launched himself at Malfoy, attempting to wrench him out of the jelly on the walls and probably kill him. Harry ran after Ron and tried to pull him off Malfoy, Malfoy was shouting at Ron, Ron was throttling Malfoy, and only when Harry bellowed in both their ears did they stop with loud cries of pain.

"Thankyou!" Harry shouted. "Now, stop it! Malfoy, what are you doing stuck to the wall?"

"It sucked me in," said Draco, angrily, a black-eye now blooming on his face. "What are you doing here?"

"Hey," said Ron, suddenly, before Harry could answer. He gave a tug to his hands, which had sunk into the jelly to strangle Draco, but they didn't come out. Ron screamed. "Get me OFF!!"

Harry linked his arms around Ron's stomach, and pulled as hard as he could, trying to remove him from the sticky goo. Draco, who was stuck spread-eagled to the wall, couldn't really do much but laugh. Ron's face worked in a snarl, though with his hands out of action, couldn't punch Draco, and just got angrier and angrier. Harry wasn't getting anywhere with pulling him off, and so just gave up, collapsing on the floor and panting. Draco was still laughing. Ron spat in his face, and he stopped.

"Try a melting curse," said Ron, trying to twist his head and look at Harry on the floor, though it was hard, stuck against Draco as he was. "Or a dissolving curse, anything."

"DON'T use a dissolving curse, you'll dissolve all our skin!" Draco shouted.

"Correction," said Ron, angrily. "It'll dissolve all YOUR skin, and I'll only lose my hands, which I think is a pretty good price to pay to see you frazzled to a crisp! What do you think you're doing with MY sister?!"

"How the hell does your sister come into this?" said Malfoy, furiously.

"Stop it! Stop fighting!" said Harry. "We've got to get out of here before Professor Sinistra catches us all; we'll fight about Ginny later. Ron, put your knee on Malfoy's stomach, and pull back with your hands. It might get them free. Then we'll try and get Malfoy out."

Ron stared at him. "I'm sorry? You're actually giving me permission to knee Malfoy in the stomach?"

"Do I get a choice in this at all?" said Draco, raising both eyebrows.

"No," said Harry. "Ron, I'll stand behind you to catch you, alright? Just bring your left knee up, and place it GENTLY on Draco's stomach. Then you can get a bit more force to pull on. Okay?"

"Alright," said Ron. He smiled. "Gently. Huh." He carefully pulled up one knee, and pushed it against Draco's stomach, but before he'd even thought of pulling his hands out of the goo, there was a noise like custard getting sucked up a vacuum cleaner. The jelly spread itself around Draco's stomach in a great glistening mass, slurping itself around Ron's knee, locking it in place.

There was silence for a moment, before Ron said, sniffily, "Got any more bright ideas, Harry? Maybe I should press my face into the jelly, and see if it does any good?"

Draco heaved a very dramatic sigh. "Whatever did the art of sarcasm do to you, Weasley? Surely it doesn't deserve to be butchered like that."

"You shut up! This is all your fault!"

"Gosh, I'm so scared."

"Shut up!"

"Or what? You'll kick me and get that leg stuck to the wall as well?"

"Stop it!" said Harry. "Come on, we've got to work together. Maybe... maybe if you just lift up your other leg, Ron, then the weight will bring you out of the jelly."

"Or maybe," said Draco, dryly, "if we just stay here, wait for Professor Sinistra, and then calmly explain the situation we'll be allowed out. After all, I am a prefect, and I have a perfectly good excuse for being out at night. As much as I hate it, so does Weasley, and Ginny hasn't been caught so she's fine. Oh wait, what about you, Potter? Well, one out of four people getting expelled isn't too bad, I suppose."

At that moment, there were soft footsteps from behind them, and the swish of a cloak across the floor. Harry whipped around. Standing in the doorway was Professor Sinistra, in all her glory, arms folded, and triumph in her eyes.

"Well, well..." she whispered. "Seventh years I would have expected better of. And two prefects. The headmaster isn't going to like this at all, boys. Not one bit."

"Professor?" came Draco's voice from behind Ron. "Professor, I can certainly explain all this. At least, I can explain why I was in your tower, though Weasley and Potter are another story I'm afraid. You see, I was just on my prefect rounds, when - "

"Save it for the headmaster, Draco." Sinistra raised one hand, snapped her fingers, and the two boys were instantly released from the jelly. Another snap, and thin ropes spread from the silver bracelets around her wrists, winding around each boy's neck in a tight grip. "Come with me."

When they arrived in Dumbledore's office, all looking very guilty, three other people were already there. Ginny sat in front of the headmaster's desk, pink in the face and playing with her fingers, with McGonagall standing at her side. Professor Snape was lurking near the fire, and as Sinistra lead Draco in by the scruff of his neck, one of Snape's eyebrows arched.

"Malfoy...?" he whispered, dangerously.

"Professor!" said Draco, clearly spotting another chance to worm his way out of trouble. "Professor, you have to believe me, I can explain all this. I was on my prefect rounds, when - "

"Oh, cram it, Malfoy," Ron muttered, rolling his eyes.

Sinistra snapped her fingers, and the thin cords around their necks were released. Harry winced, reaching up to feel the red marks where the ropes had been, as Professor Sinistra turned to the headmaster.

"Dumbledore," she said, icily. "I found them trying to escape the tower. My defences caught them, though they were making so much noise, it wasn't hard to find them."

"Thankyou, Sarabi," said Dumbledore, pleasantly. He sat in a large purple winged armchair behind his desk. "Sit down please, boys. Minerva, Severus, Sarabi, feel free to draw up some of the other armchairs."

They did so. Draco instantly moved to sit next to Ginny, but Ron gave him a shove in the shoulder and took the place next to his sister defiantly. Draco opened his mouth to say something that was undoubtedly scathing, but Snape clipped him smartly around the ear and pushed him down into a chair. The Potions master then gave Harry a meaningful look, his hand curling around the back of the chair next to Draco. Harry sat down in it obediently. McGonagall stood behind Ginny and Ron, while Professor Sinistra took Snape's old position by the fireplace, watching the four students with a cat-like smile on her pale face.

"Now then," said Dumbledore, kindly. "Professor Sinistra says that she caught all four of you up in the astronomy tower. According to my clock, it is nearly ten o' clock at night, far too late for you all to be up and about. I was wondering if you could tell me why..."

Instantly, Ron shot in with, "Malfoy was kissing MY sister!"

Ginny went scarlet, and squealed, "Ron, he wasn't, don't say that!"

"We saw you!" said Ron angrily. "Me and Harry, we were there, we - "

"Why were you following us in the first place?!" Draco demanded, rounding on Ron. "Whoever gave you the right to sneak around school and stick your great fat nose into other people's business!?"

"Because we knew you were up to something!!" Ron bellowed, turning as red as Ginny. "And I've got the proof, because Harry was there too, and I'll have you know that I've got JUST as much right as you to sneak around school, because I'M a prefect too, OKAY?!"

"Then what about Potter? What sort of a prefect would blatantly endanger another student's place at Hogwarts by bringing them along on - "

"Don't bring me into this!" Harry said, having to shout to make himself heard.

"WHY SHOULDN'T I?!" Ron yelled, standing up and glaring hatefully at Malfoy. "YOU WERE THERE! YOU'RE THE PROOF, YOU SAW WHAT HAPPENED! YOU SAY MALFOY KISSING MY - "

"WEASLEY, it's her CHOICE who she kisses, YOU CAN'T DECIDE EVERYTHING FOR HER!" bellowed Draco, getting to his feet as well.

Ginny burst into tears, as Ron and Draco continued to scream, now jabbing each other in the chest too. Harry was trying to stay out of it, but couldn't hold back as Draco started insinuating that Harry and Ron were both up to something suspicious. He jumped to his feet and started shouting as well, Snape was yelling at Harry and Draco to sit down, McGonagall was trying to stop Ron killing Draco, Ginny was crying even harder now, Sinistra was adding her own screams to the mixture, and for a few moments it was total chaos until -

"WOULD ANYBODY CARE FOR A FAIRY CAKE?!!" Dumbledore roared over all the noise.

Everybody instantly stopped shouting, and turned to stare at him. Ron even let go of Draco's throat. Dumbledore smiled pleasantly and held out a tray of iced buns.

"Well?" he said, brightly.

"With all due respect, Albus, this is not the time for fairy cakes," said McGonagall, crisply. She pushed down hard on Ron's shoulders, making him sit.

Snape did the same with Harry and Draco, after wisely making them swap sides, so Draco was as far from Ron as possible. Harry realised that Snape had put him directly in the line of fire, and wasn't comforted by this.

"Now... Sarabi, has any damage been done to anything in the astronomy tower?" said Dumbledore, kindly.

She shook her head. "Though it could easily have been, Headmaster. Very easily. These students were trespassing in the tower at night, and a great deal of very sophisticated equipment was put at risk. If they had been wanting to break something, they - "

"Though they didn't, Sarabi," said Dumbledore calmly. "The only problem we have here are two lovestruck teenagers, an overly protective brother, and a good friend. I won't take any points away this time, but I will ask you to stay in your common rooms after dark in future. The astronomy tower is out of bounds to students if they aren't in class, or with another good excuse. Please remember this. Severus, Minerva, if you wish to give detentions then that is up to you to decide."

"I think it would help reinforce the message," said McGonagall, wisely. "All three of you can come to my office on Monday, eight o' clock, and - "

"Potter will not be attending," said Snape, calmly. "He already has a remedial potions class, and trust me, he certainly needs it."

Harry thought this was a bit harsh, but said nothing, simply staring at a point on Dumbledore's desk as though it was fascinating.

"Then perhaps Harry should serve his detention with you, Severus," said Dumbledore, pleasantly. "Just before his remedial potions class. It would be a great deal more convenient to all, I think. Minerva, are you okay with this?"

McGonagall nodded crisply. Dumbledore smiled. "Excellent. Now then, it is late, and you should all be in bed, unless anybody has anything else to say. No? Then goodnight to you all, and please think more in future."


Chapter Fourteen: Blood Night

Ron and Ginny fought late into the night. Once Hermione found out what Ron and Harry had witnessed, she joined the arguments too, saying that Ron should be more happy for Ginny and stop trying to control her. Harry did his best to stay out of it. After many tears and shouting, Ginny stormed away upstairs to bed, yelling at Ron that it was her life and she'd do what she wanted. Harry was exceptionally glad that Hermione didn't stay angry at Ron, as he felt very sorry for his best friend now. Hermione seemed to realise how hard things were for Ron, and to cheer him up, she let him beat her spectacularly at wizard's chess. Ron felt a little better after this, and for once, he managed to sit and talk without snapping at somebody.

Things were very strained at breakfast. Ron wasn't talking to Ginny or Draco, and they were ignoring him just as fiercely. Neville, Luna and Kainda had no idea of what had happened the night before, and most unfairly Harry thought, everybody dumped the job of telling them on him. He explained briefly. Neville looked very shocked at the news, and even Kainda was taken aback, though Luna just smiled slowly.

"How sweet," she murmured. "Romeo and Juliet, ignoring the wishes of others, just to be together."

"Draco's hardly Romeo," said Kainda, smiling weakly. "And Ginny's not a Juliet. Who wants to take bets on how long it's going to last?"

"That's hardly fair," said Luna, serenely. "I think we should be happy that we now have three couples in our group. Only Neville and I remain single. Though who knows."

Neville edged away from her to hide behind Harry.

After breakfast, Draco went off into the grounds with his sketchpad. Ginny headed away to the library, probably to get out of the range of Ron's dark looks. Ron and Hermione headed back to Gryffindor Tower, with Neville in pursuit, and Luna pranced away to the Ravenclaw common room. Harry checked his watch, and saw that he didn't have long before the start of his lesson with Professor Lupin. Kainda, who had just come wheeling out of the Great Hall, saw the look on his face and came over.

"Harry? Something wrong?"

"Yeah... I've got an extra class," he said. "I don't really want to go though."

"Is it Potions? I heard somebody say you're doing remedial potions a while ago," she said, moving along beside him as he headed towards the Dark Arts classroom slowly.

He smiled. "Can you keep a secret?"

"Sure I can."

"I'm not," he said, smiling still. "That's just what I have to tell everybody. I do occlumency and legilimency. Mind stuff."

Kainda goggled at him. "Are you serious? Who with?"

"Snape," he replied.

"Oh, is that why... you've got your collar thing...?"

"No, that's something else."

"Tell me about it?"

He smiled. "It's... really, really, really complicated. And I'm willing to bet quite a lot of gold that you won't believe me."

"Oh, I've believed some garbage in my time. Does anybody else know about this really complicated stuff?"

"No. I've probably told you the most about it, when you were just leaving the hospital wing, last year. With all the Healers. Remember I told you that Dumbledore's told Snape and Peter to look after me?"

She nodded a little. "Vaguely. I wasn't exactly concentrating on remembering every word you said then though. How about we meet up after your lesson? We can talk more then."

"Sure," he said. "I'll come and find you... where will you be?"

"Probably the library, or the Great Hall," she said. She waved as she turned around, called goodbye, and then headed away back down the corridor. He quite wanted her to stay, at least so he could delay his killing lesson with Lupin, though he had to go. He knew it was important. Even if he didn't want to murder small creatures.

When Harry knocked on the door to Lupin's office, it opened almost immediately, though it wasn't Lupin who looked out at him. Madam Ivy, wearing a rather oriental red-dress and her hair up in sharp spikes, smiled down at him.

"Ah, hello Potter. You must be here to see Professor Lupin. He's through in his private rooms."

"Thanks, Madam," said Harry. She opened the door of the office, and let him in, leading him over to another door. She knocked three times, and Lupin's voice came drifting out.


"Harry Potter's here to see you, Professor," said Madam Ivy.

The door opened, and Lupin glanced out, looking rather peaky and pale. He gave Harry a kind smile. "Morning, Harry. How are you?" And the moment Harry stepped into his private rooms, he slammed the door in Madam Ivy's face.

"Fine," said Harry, trying not to smile too much. "Are you...?"

"Tired, but well," said Lupin, smiling wearily and sitting down in an armchair by the window, gesturing for Harry to sit.

As Harry sat down, he had a look around curiously. Lupin's private rooms were far, far different to Snape's. The walls were cream compared to the dark navy of Snape's chambers, and the floor was not stone but beige carpet. They probably had the same amount of furniture, though Lupin's seemed much more spread out and spacious. Harry felt a little more comforted by his surroundings. He knew that if he was learning how to kill in the dark of Snape's private rooms, he wouldn't be able to sleep properly for a month.

"How was your first week?" asked Lupin, kindly.

Harry smiled as he thought about this. "Eventful. And exhausting."

"You'll be glad to know today's lesson isn't going to be overly demanding then," said Lupin, with a small smile. "I'm just going to start teaching you a few extra curses you could use in a duelling situation. I understand that you are not looking forward to the prospect of killing something, and I can see why, so I'll teach you some curses to disable your opponent at first. We'll build up slowly, Harry."

Feeling encouraged by this news, Harry nodded. Lupin seemed ready to start. He stood up, shrugged off his work robes and hung them by the window, before taking out his wand, beckoning Harry over to a cleared space in the room.

"First things first, Harry. How to destroy an opponent's wand."

Several long hours later, Harry hobbled out of Lupin's room, nursing a small bruise forming on his hand and checking his wand for scratches. Not only had he learnt how to completely destroy an opponent's wand and protect himself from the surge of raw magic that would flood out of it, but how to perform an advanced bone-breaking curse, how to freeze a single muscle in the body rather than the full body bind, a piercing charm that could be extremely painful, and a nice selection of useful jinxes. Next lesson, Harry would be learning how to do incantations whilst running. It was good to know he wouldn't be murdering things right from the word 'go'.

When Harry entered the library, he found it fairly full. Nearly all the tables were full of students working through their start-of-term revision homework, and after a few minutes of checking, Harry realised that Kainda wasn't there. He left the library, and entered the Great Hall. A few people sat here and there, playing chess or talking. By far the most noticable pair in the hall sat over by the window, debating what looked like a music magazine. Professor Chetry was today wearing a rather grubby looking white shirt with a tartan waistcoat, trousers that looked more like pajama bottoms, and a little tartan golfing hat. A huge fluffy rainbow scarf was wrapped around his neck, and even though he was inside, a pair of star-shaped sunglasses were perched on top of his wild shock of multicoloured hair. Kainda sat opposite him. She wore a warm, dark-brown sort of sweater that was definitely more comfortable than it was eye-catching, but compared to Professor Chetry she looked amazingly sophisticated.

"Nae, nae," he was saying, richly, jabbing one pudgy finger at an article they were arguing over. "Ye have te listen te all kindsa varietiesa muggle music before ye can start sayin' tha' wizardin' stuff is better. Aye, I'm nae sayin' all muggle music is brilliant, but most of it does the job okay. Selestina Worbeck could take a few pointers from Celine Dion, lemme tell ye that."

"You've got to look at a wider scale though," Kainda said, wisely. "Yes, you've got Celine Dion, but then you've got people like The Cheeky Girls. And look at wizarding music, we've got The Weird Sisters, Selestina Worbeck..."

"Aye, but the muggles have got the Bay City Rollers," said Chetry, proudly, jabbing at one of the many badges on his scarf. "Now there is nae a single piece of music in the world tha's anywhere near as good as anythin' the Bay City Rollers can do."

Harry came over, and sat down at their table. Kainda looked up, and as she did, Harry realised that it was a wizarding magazine they had open. The title of the article was, "Muggle Records To Be Released To Wizarding Community : Take back your garbage, say The Weird Sisters".

"Hiya Harry," she said, smiling. "How was your lesson?"

"Fine," he said. "Easier than I thought it would be anyway."

"Great." She smiled to Professor Chetry. "I agreed to go for a walk with Harry, sir... you don't mind, do you? You can borrow the magazine if you want, by the way."

"Ach, thanks," he said, beaming. "Nae, I dunnae mind. Ye two go an' enjoy ye walk - dunnae be gettin' up te any mischief now, will ye?"

Kainda smiled politely. "No, no, we won't, Professor."

Harry took the handles of her wheelchair, and together, they left the hall. Professor Chetry went off the other way, singing a very tuneless version of Kylie Minogue's latest song and bouncing on the balls of his feet. Kainda laughed softly.

"He's mental," she said, shaking her head. "He's funny as hell in lessons, but he's mental."

"What are you doing in Muggle Studies at the moment?" Harry asked.

"Music," she replied. "Professor Chetry's a bit of an expert on it. He's sung in muggle karaoke bars and everything. Though he could really do with updating his tastes a little. The Bay City Rollers... honestly."

As they took a side-door out into the courtyard with the fountain, Harry was feeling a bit worried. He planned to tell Kainda everything, because as things became more and more dangerous and suspicious, he wanted somebody he could talk to about it. Somebody who he had never had a fight with, would believe every word, and wouldn't want to constantly know more information and use it as something to nag him about. The only person who really fitted all the criteria was Kainda, though it wasn't her reaction Harry was worried about. It was Snape's. Did Snape expect Harry to keep the secret of the bond forever?

Though as they stepped out into the courtyard, Harry realised that it wasn't the most private place to talk in, as he noticed Ron and Hermione sitting on a stone bench across the courtyard. He stopped, intending to turn around, but Ron had spotted him.

"Hey, Harry! Where have you been?"

"My extra lesson with Professor Lupin," said Harry. Deciding that he could always talk to Kainda in private later, he wheeled her carefully down the steps, over to join Ron and Hermione. Ron was looking quite cheerful, and Harry wasn't ungrateful for it. "I told you, remember?"

"Oh yeah," said Ron, nodding.

"So what have you two been doing?" asked Kainda, idly.

"Just sitting outside, getting my backside stuck to this bench," Ron shrugged. "There's nothing else to do. Done all my homework already. Don't know how I did it, but I did."

Ron and Hermione both moved up on the bench, letting Harry sit down. They then huddled together, like penguins in a blizzard, and Harry couldn't help but smile. It was good to be around people who weren't at each other's throats for once. He was just starting to wonder if he could possibly live the rest of his entire life like this, trotting faithfully between Ron and Draco, when a little voice spoke in the back of his head.


Harry nearly spoke aloud to reply, but caught himself just in time, and instead thought, "Professor?", as his three friends started discussing Professor Chetry's taste in music.

"Why, precisely, am I sitting here and getting the feeling you're doing something you shouldn't be?" Snape's voice said.

Harry tried to keep his expression blank, not wanting his company to think he was hallucinating. "I'm not," he thought, in as innocent a tone as he could. "I'm sitting in the courtyard with Ron, Hermione and Kainda."

"Doing what?"

"Just talking," thought Harry.


Harry had trouble controlling both his face and his thoughts, before thinking, calmly, "Professor Chetry."

"And what are you, or were you, planning to do after this conversation?"

"Do you want for the next week, or month, or my whole lifetime, or what...?"

"Do not take that tone with me. I mean short-term, Potter."

Harry twitched a little. "I sort of want to tell them."

"What about?" Snape's voice said sharply in his mind.

"The bond," Harry thought.

He quite expected a very sharp and impatient no, or for Snape to perhaps even shout at him across their telepathy, but Snape managed to surprise him. He didn't say yes, though very significantly, he didn't say no. "Who are you planning upon telling, and for what reasons?"

"Ron, Hermione, Kainda. Because of extra safety. If I'm ever in big trouble, but you're ignoring me or busy or just think I'm being my usual risky self, they can run and get you. Or if I go missing and you can't find me, you can ask them. I'm protected by Ron's presence, after all, so both you and him are looking out for me. He should at least know." For extra measure, he added a very hopeful and pained, "Please...?"

"I can just imagine the puppy-eyed expression on your face, Potter." Snape sighed into his mind. "I regret having so much contact with you, now. You're learning how to argue logically. Though I must admit... very well. Though rest assured Potter, if word gets out, it will be you running around the school performing memory charms, and not me."

Harry grinned. "Thanks," he thought, before subtly cutting off the link. He didn't know how he had done it, he just had. It was just like closing his eyes - he didn't need to be taught how.

Ron was in the middle of a long speech about a concert Fred and George went to once, when he cut off, seeing the smile on Harry's face. He frowned. "What are you grinning at?"

"You know ages and ages ago," said Harry, casting his mind back. "On that day that Kibbles set fire to the shed with the opsittops in. And we thought it was Death Eaters trying to kill Hagrid."

"Yeah..." said Ron, slowly.

"And Snape came running down from the castle, shouting at me. Then he pulled me away and put a collar on me, and then you asked what it was all about. I told you I couldn't say, and you asked if I would tell you someday."


Harry smiled. "It's someday. Come on, let's go for a walk. I can tell you everything."

"What, all of us?" said Ron, incredulously.

Harry nodded, and stood up, tucking his cloak further around himself. All three of them were watching him closely, clear surprise on their faces. He grinned at their expressions. "Come on, I bet you five chocolate frogs you won't be able to guess."

"That's three... four... and five." Ron handed over the last chocolate frog.

Harry smiled slightly. "Thanks. So was finding out worth them?"

Ron gave him an odd look, and raised one eyebrow. "Finding out that Snape's purpose in life is to guard you, that you actually quite enjoy his company, that Peeves the poltergeist is also obliged to give his life to protect you, and that you can actually talk to him telepathically?"



Harry had predicted their reactions to everything perfectly. Kainda found it pretty cool, and though she didn't ask questions, she clearly found the idea entertaining. Hermione, on the other hand, asked millions of questions, managed to work out hundreds of incidents that proved the existance of the bond, and then went off to the library, bringing back a great big book full of more information about wizarding bonds. Ron seemed just as curious as Hermione, though his questions weren't quite as technical.

"So... Snape can read your thoughts?" he asked, staring at Harry across the table at lunch.

"Only the ones I want him to," said Harry, pleasantly. The hall was relatively empty, as most people were still out in the grounds or in their common rooms, and so they could talk in peace. Only Ron and Harry were in for lunch today. Hermione was still in the library, now learning about the bond between twins, and Kainda had gone off to the common room to rest her stomach. Even though they were pretty much alone, Ron and Harry had purposely taken a table far across the hall from anybody else, and only Snape was sitting anywhere near them, twirling his fork through a plateful of salad.

"So it's not like... he's there, all the time, in your head," said Ron, oblivious to the fact he was just spooning soup onto his plate.

"No," said Harry, shaking his head. "The telepathic link isn't open all the time, just when I want it to. He can read my thoughts if we've got eye contact though."

"All your thoughts?" asked Ron, quickly.

"Just any I let him see," said Harry, shrugging, stabbing a few chips with his fork. "I can block things out, because of my occlumency."

"So it's not like everything I tell you I'm also telling him."

"No," said Harry, shaking his head reassuringly. "Even if he finds anything out, he's not allowed to tell another person. The bond says he's got to protect my secrets as well as my safety. And I'm not allowed to spread his secrets either," he added, seeing the eager look on Ron's face, which promptly died.

"Oh, why?" said Ron, disappointedly.

"I respect the bond now," said Harry. "I know how important it all is. It's not like he's got many weird secrets though... he's just your average Potions master..."

Ron studied Snape for a moment, with a suspicious expression, one eyebrow raised, almost looking thoughtfully. "Oh, I think Snape's probably got at least one dark secret. Something that's really, really terrible. Something worse than being an ex-Death Eater, because if he's admitted that to most people, then he must have something even worse lined up. Maybe we'll never know. But I can guarantee you that deep down, there's something horrible following that guy around."

The funny thing was, that as Harry and Ron heard the bell, picked up their things and hurried off to go and meet Hagrid down by his hut, Harry forgot all about what Ron had said. The words were simply stored in a little box in his brain labled, "Ron's Paranoid Theories About Snape", and then left alone in a dusty corner somewhere, next to all the things Hermione told him about Hogwarts: A History, Snape's constant warnings about him being just a sixteen-year-old boy and not fit to fight Voldemort, and the photographs of Mrs Figg's cats. And while the other three were never used ever again, the box about Ron was opened again, two weeks later, as Harry found out that Ron was actually right.

Hagrid's dragons had now been at Hogwarts for two weeks. All three of them were male, huge, scaly and terrifying to be watched by when you were trying to join in with Care of Magical Creatures. Luckily, they had been trained not to attack students or buildings, and so they just roamed around Hogwarts rather randomly, like monstrous peacocks at a stately home. And every weekend after his lesson with Professor Lupin, Harry went down to Hagrid's hut to help out with food and bedding for the rest of the week. This typically took hours and hours, and was the reason that Harry was found staggering up the wet lawns to the castle at about nine o' clock at night, three weeks into September.

Having been slicing up cow carcasses all afternoon, his hands were aching, he was covered in stains, and all he wanted to do now was stagger into Gryffindor Tower, have a hot bath, then go to bed. He would finish all of his homework tomorrow. His NEWT projects were all going well, and he was actually ahead of schedule. Hermione hadn't caught up on him in Defence Against The Dark Arts or Potions yet, and though he didn't mention it to her, he thought of this as one of his greatest achievements to date. Hermione also seemed more comfortable helping Ron with work now where he needed it, as he was prepared to do most of it himself, and as far as Harry could see, their relationship was going pretty well. He often saw them as a little like Arthur and Molly Weasley, a couple that despite all their little fights were still perfectly happy together. Harry was, of course, spending some time each day with Kainda too, though he was careful to not neglect his studies. His NEWT year was easily his most important yet, and he was determined not to mess up at the final hurdle. Kainda thought the same way too. A few days ago, he'd set out an evening he would spend with her, ignoring his homework for once, and as they sat in one of the window-bays in the library, talking quietly, he couldn't help but wonder how things would have turned out if he was still with Cho. She had left Hogwarts now, and from what he'd last heard, was working at Madam Malkin's. He didn't quite know how things would have been if they'd still been together. Though one thing was for sure; he wouldn't have traded the casual, easy relationship he had with Kainda for the world.

One couple who were receiving a great deal of attention now were Draco and Ginny. Word had spread that they were a couple, and Draco was the talk of the school. Harry thought he had gone the wrong way about things, by not letting the veela scandal die down before starting his next one. Of course, Harry was still friends with Draco and Ginny, and shared his time equally between every single one of his friends, even if it did get a bit hectic sometimes. Harry did notice that Draco was rather enjoying all of the attention. He went to great lengths for public displays of affection with Ginny, most of them when Ron was around. Though once or twice, when Ron stormed out of the room in a rage at seeing Ginny cuddling up to Draco yet again, Harry was sure he could see a flash of a triumphant smirk on Draco's face, before it was gone.

He thought about all of this as he made his way wearily up the stone steps of the castle, noticing how his shoes squelched on every step, and still dreaming about the bath waiting for him in Gryffindor Tower. He knew that Hermione often left some of her beauty products in the Gryffindor bathrooms, and secretly, he'd tried a few of some odd bath crystals she had. Very interesting bath crystals they were too, and as he passed through into the entrance hall, he was hoping she had left them out.

It was very dark in the hall, though he hardly noticed this, caught up in his thoughts. So caught up in fact that he didn't notice the shape lying in the middle of the floor until he caught it with his foot, and almost fell over.

"Hey!" he said, stepping back, regaining his balance, thinking it was a cat. "Shoo, go back to your owner!"

The shape did not move. Frowning suspiciously, Harry reached into the pocket of his robes, and drew out his wand.

"Lumos," he murmured. The little beam of light glowed from the end of his wand, just enough for him to realise what it was lying in the middle of the entrance hall. When he did, his mouth fell open in a silent scream, and his wand clattered to the floor.

It was not an animal as he had first thought, but a person. A third year boy Harry recognised as being in Gryffindor was just lying there on his back, eyes shut, looking very pale and still. In the light of the fallen wand, Harry could still see the wounds on his neck. It looked as though something had bitten him there, and actually torn the skin. Blood was leaking in a slow pool around the boy.

Panic and horror rushed through Harry. For a moment, he stood frozen to the spot, just staring at the boy's silent face, before he realised he had to do something. But what? He debated with himself for a moment whether he could carry the boy to the hospital wing, or maybe even drag him, but he hadn't even started to polish his plan when the doors of the library swung open. A figure strolled out, her arms full of books, high-heels clicking on the marble floor.


It was Madam Ivy. She took a few steps closer, frowning, her scarlet eyes sweeping over the figure on the floor.

"What...?" she began, before she realised just what. Her eyes widened behind her rectangular glasses, and her mouth fell open just a tiny fraction. "Potter, did you - "

"No!" said Harry. "Of course I didn't! I just walked in and found him here, he was just lying there, just now!"

She reached out, and grabbed one of the torches from its bracket, placing her books down on the shelf, then hurrying over. Harry took his wand and tapped the torch. It lit and the glow of the flames filled the entire hall, as Madam Ivy knelt down next to the boy, studying his face, tilting his head up to reveal his bites.

"But..." she murmured. "How could there possibly be...?"

Abandoning her thoughts, she handed Harry the torch. "Potter, take this. We'll have to carry him to the hospital wing for the matron to deal with. Make sure you keep your eyes open and your wand out, just in case - "

"What's going on here?" said a cold voice, as another figure swept up from the dungeons. Snape stepped into the circle of light, frowning, his dark eyes training onto the boy lying on the floor. Harry noticed he looked a little dishevelled and paler than normal.

"Professor Snape," said Madam Ivy, standing up. "Potter just found the boy lying on the floor. He has some nasty injuries to his neck. We'll need your help to get him to the hospital wing... I believe he's a Gryffindor, so Minerva should be informed."

Snape swept over. He bent down next to the Gryffindor, and like Madam Ivy, he studied the bitemarks closely. Though there was an expression on Snape's face that Madam Ivy had not worn - Harry wasn't quite sure what it was. He looked almost pained, as though there was something deeply suspicious and worrying about the boy.

"Mm," he murmured, quietly. "Very well. Potter and I will be able to carry him to the hospital wing, Madam, I suggest you go and alert Minerva to what has happened. Potter, take his legs, carefully."

Harry quickly performed a levitating charm on the torch, then bent down and grasped the boy by the backs of his knees. Snape had him under the arms, holding him half-way down his back. Madam Ivy was hurrying away up the marble staircase, her long crimson cloak trailing along behind her across the floor.

"On three," said Snape, gruffly. "One. Two. Three!"

Harry lifted upwards, and between them, they managed to hoist the boy off the ground and start to carry him towards the hospital wing. It was easy to see where they went, by the trail of blood drops left along the floor. Snape was still wearing that strange expression. Finally, when Harry's arms were just starting to strain against the boy's weight, they were outside the doors of the hospital wing. Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey were already waiting there. The moment Snape and Harry approached, they pushed open the doors, and Madam Pomfrey guided them to place the boy on one of the beds.

"Gareth Jones," said Professor McGonagall, quietly, leaning over him and studying his wounds. "Third year... though why was he out at night, alone? Ah." She had opened up the pockets of his robes, and extracted quite a collection of food. "Sneaking to the kitchens for snacks."

"My goodness," Madam Pomfrey whispered. "The wounds... but... they can't be, can they? How on earth did one get into Hogwarts?"

McGonagall was frowning darkly. "I don't know, Poppy. I don't know. There aren't any children with such blood at Hogwarts at the moment, and I can't imagine one roaming about the grounds then just sneaking in."

"What is it?" asked Harry, tentatively. "What's bitten him?"

McGonagall sighed, and turned her eyes onto Harry, indicating the wounds to him. "These sort of bites are distinctive of only one creature in this world, Potter. The vampire." She turned to Snape. "Severus, the castle will need to be searched, in case the attacker is still lingering in the dungeons anywhere. Could you attend to that? Wake the other teachers, and make sure they search in groups. Safety in numbers. Potter, I shall escort you back to Gryffindor Tower."

Snape nodded, and before turning to leave, he glanced at Harry. His mind's voice filled Harry's thoughts for a moment or so. "Come to my office tomorrow night at seven o' clock."

Harry gave the merest hint of a nod to show he understood, before his magical guardian left, and McGonagall was leading him out of the room. Harry took a last glance back at Gareth Jones, Madam Pomfrey bending over him and daubing some odd liquid on his bites, and he remembered that dark figure from a few weeks ago. Was that what had attacked Gareth? And if so, where was it now?

Most oddly for Hogwarts, the news of what had happened to Gareth Jones didn't get out at all. The next day, everybody went about their business as usual, finishing homework, playing games, walking around the grounds talking and laughing. Gareth Jones's disappearance was noted in Gryffindor Tower, but everybody said he'd been looking ill for a few days and so nobody found it suspicious at all. At the end of the evening meal, Harry went to ask Professor McGonagall if they had found the vampire, though she said no, and that it was probably one that had crept in from the forest, seen Gareth, bitten him and fled. Harry didn't tell her about the figure in the cloak he had seen a few weeks ago. He couldn't bring himself to shatter the safety inside the castle for another year, though he didn't think this was a one-off attack at all. Nothing strange that happened at Hogwarts ever went by without an explanation.

Explanations were a thing that Harry quite wanted. He hardly knew anything about vampires. Anything living in the wizarding world could be classified as beast, being, or spirit. Werewolves were beasts, veela were generally seen as beasts, mermaids and centaurs were beasts, though vampires were beings the world over. Consequently, Harry had never learnt about vampires in Defence Against the Dark Arts or Care of Magical Creatures. The subject had been brushed upon in his first year, when Professor Quirrel stammered his way through an explanation about the black forest, though that was it. Harry's only other sources of information were the countless muggle films that Dudley received for Christmas and birthdays. He'd gone through a period of liking horror films, and watched a lot of vampire movies, which portrayed the usual drinking blood, turning people into other vampires, and so forth. If the muggle perception was accurate, Gareth Jones would now be a vampire. Then again, muggles thought that gnomes carried fishing rods and lived in toadstools. That was muggles for you.

After dinner, Ron and Hermione went off to Gryffindor Tower to play chess. Harry glanced at his watch, and saw that it was nearly half past six. In half an hour, he was due in Snape's office, probably for a DMT lesson or something like that. He decided to go to the library for half an hour, and as the library was fairly close to the dungeons, he was sure he wouldn't be late.

It was fairly empty as he walked in, except for a few first years in the corner debating in whispers and giggles, and curled in an armchair next to the fire was Madam Ivy. Harry wondered for a moment why she didn't read in her own rooms, before realising she probably wasn't welcome around the Dark Arts corridor. Lupin would have staked his territory firmly. As Harry passed her, he glanced at the huge stack of books on the coffee table in front of her, registering a few titles that were mostly about famous wizards through history. Madam Ivy didn't notice him.

Harry quietly slid into the restricted section; he was sure to get better information about vampires in there. Madam Pince was after him in a heartbeat.

"And who has given you permission to come into this section?" she demanded, bearing down on him like a vulture with a half-dead rabbit.

He took a slip of paper out of his pocket, the one that Professor Snape had given every NEWT Potions student. "Snape," said Harry, coolly.

Madam Pince frowned at him, her eyes narrowed, as though reluctant to accept his excuse, though she had to let him pass. She turned, and stalked away down the aisles of books, leaving Harry on his own. Idly, he started to look through the various shelves. Most of the books in the restricted section were very sinister to look at, covered in suspicious red stains, many of them with deep slashes across the spines, a few burnt here and there. Harry cast his eyes around, looking for anything about vampires, though another word caught his eye. He paused and studied the shelf before him closer. It was a moment before he realised what he had recognised, and when he did, he extended a hand and slid one of the leather-bound black books from the bookcase. He turned it over. Verin Maleficia's pale, swarthy face smirked out at him, and then he took the feathered cap from his head, bowing. Harry studied the title of the book - "A Summary of Black Blooded Beings". Wondering if it could help him at all, Harry sat down at a nearby table and flipped the book open, scanning the contents page. Luckily enough, there at the bottom he found what he was looking for: vampires, on page 156.

He flicked through the book, noting the faint smell of smoke that it gave off, until page 156 flopped open before him. He grimaced a little at the picture which greeted him, a vampire taking blood from what Verin Maleficia had described as a "donor", but Harry thought of more as a "victim". He turned the page, and scanned through a list of helpful summary points.

VAMPIRES : Vampire gene passed on through blood, not biting another : Blood Night is time of first taking blood : Enhanced physical strength : Enhanced senses, can lead to problems with light and temperature : Must drink blood to survive : Similar lifespan to wizards, 200-220 years

Harry noted all this down in his memory. It all seemed to make decent sense, and he could see things that had been adapted into muggle folklore. Obviously, the muggles would have noticed a very strong person that didn't like light and lived longer than most people remembered. Idly, Harry flicked over the page, and found another of Verin Maleficia's charming little drawings. This time, it was a child vampire, a boy with messy brown hair, taking blood from what was probably his father. Harry had to take a second look at the picture. The father didn't seem to be in any pain, and the boy certainly didn't look malicious at all.

He scanned through the text, his eyes naturally picking out phrases that were important or interesting; "Drinking blood requires a willing donor, contrary to muggle fiction"; "Human blood is most beneficial to the vampire, though animal can be used instead to satisfy cravings"; "Families of vampires often share blood with one another and the condition is certainly not an affliction".

Harry read on for a little while, letting his eyes wander vaguely across the page and not really taking any of it in. Only when Madam Pince came stalking over to ask what he was doing in the restricted section so long did he decide to go. He was a few minutes early, but it was better than being late. He put the book back on the shelf, and left the library, passing Madam Ivy on his way out. She didn't notice him.

He pulled his cloak around himself as he entered the dungeons and made his way around the cold, dark corridors. He sincerely hoped that somebody had actually checked the dungeons for any hints of a vampire. He knew that if he was a vampire, sensitive to light and heat and looking for somewhere to hide, it would be the perfect place. Though luckily, he made his way to Snape's chambers without seeing any cloaked figures or bodies pooled in blood. He lifted his hand, and only managed to knock once on the door before it swung open and he was hauled in.

"How exactly do you know when I'm outside?" Harry asked, as Snape shut the door after him quickly.

"I know from the moment you step into the dungeons and breach my wards," said Snape, calmly. "Sit down then, Potter, make yourself at home."

Harry sat in his usual armchair, took off his cloak, and handed it to Snape. The Potions master hung it carefully on the wall by the door, as Harry asked, "So how come you wanted to see me? I don't have DMT on a Sunday now, do I?"

"No, you don't," said Snape. He moved out of sight behind Harry's chair, and apparently started making drinks. He didn't answer the first question.

A few moments later, he reappeared, and handed Harry a cup of tea. Harry took it with a smile, which was not returned. Snape looked oddly edgy as he sat down in front of Harry in another armchair, and he didn't sink into it as usual, proclaiming his territory. He sat on it as though he was waiting for something that would be arriving very soon. Harry had spend enough time around Snape out of lessons to know what that odd posture meant; Snape was about to do or say something important, and didn't know how to go about it.

The Potions master stood up just a few seconds after he had sat down, and walked around to the back of his chair, toying with his chin. Harry was starting to get rather nervous himself now, watching Snape behave so oddly.

"The attack, Potter. On the Gryffindor. Last night."

Harry looked up from his tea, watching Snape pace agitatedly across the room. "You mean Gareth? What about him?"

Snape looked even more agitated. A lock of sleek black hair fell in front of his eyes as he turned on his heel to retrace his path. He frowned, pushed it back irritably, and continued. "It was you who found him first?"

Harry nodded, wordlessly. Snape retraced his steps across the room yet again. He seemed to need something to do with his hands, as they kept alternating between scooping his hair off his face and knotting behind his back.

"In the entrance hall...?"

"Well, yes... just at the bottom of the marble staircase."

Snape's hand seemed to feather slightly as it raked his hair out of his eyes again. "Mm. Close, very close. Though I don't see-... I can't..." He sighed. Pausing in his anxious pacing, he turned to face Harry, curling his fingers fretfully around the back of the armchair. "Potter, there is something you must know. Something that I NEED you to know; for my own good, for your own good, for the well-being of the rest of the school."

Harry watched his hand restlessly push another lock of hair behind his ear. It was only then that Harry realised something that in normal circumstances would have advertised to him immediately - Snape's hair was not greasy and limp as usual, but sleek and almost shiny. In fact, Snape just looked different in general. His skin, though still waxy white, did not look greasy and sallow anymore. A few wrinkles about his eyes had seemingly vanished, and suddenly, Snape had cheekbones too. What was going on?

"I-... my family, Potter... something less than admirable has been passed down through the male family line, and... it has never been a problem before, though-..."

Harry's mind floated dimly back to Grimmauld Place, and gazing down at Snape's family tree. The male line. Tracing Snape back through fathers, each man marked with a black B and a date.

Harry was very quiet. He looked up at Snape, and subconsciously, his muscles were already tensing.

"B doesn't stand for birth date on your family tree, does it?" Harry said, his voice little more than a whisper.

Snape shook his head wordlessly.

There was silence for a moment, then Harry asked, quietly, even though he already knew what the answer must be. "Then what does...?"

"Blood Night," Snape murmured.

Harry's armchair hit the floor, he got up so quickly, and the cup of tea shattered as it fell. Before Snape could stop him, Harry bolted for the door. He had to get out. Desperately, he grabbed at the handle and tugged frantically, pleading with it to open, but then cold fingers twisted around his wrist. With un-natural strength that Harry now understood, he was turned around and both his wrists were pinned against the door. Harry tensed and shrunk back.

"Don't!!" he cried. His shoulders hunched up, trying to protect his neck. "Please...!!"

Snape made a quiet noise, and said, seriously, "I can't, Harry, listen to me. I need you to calm down."

"Let me go," Harry pleaded, desperately, trying to pull away, struggling against Snape's iron grip. "The b-bond... you can't, it won't let you, leave me alone...!"

"Harry," said Snape, his grip tightening on Harry's wrists. "I'm not going to bite you. I wouldn't be able to. And nor would I want to."

"Because you know I'll tell them," said Harry, frantically. "I'll go right to Dumbledore, and I'll tell him what attacked Gareth! It was you! That's why you were there so quickly when me and Madam Ivy found him!"

"I did not attack that boy," Snape said, dangerously serious. "I have never taken blood from a human, never. Please listen to me, Harry. There is not a single person alive in this world that knows about my... condition..."

"Then why are you telling me?" said Harry, looking up at him, confused and afraid.

Snape studied him for a moment, before letting go of Harry's wrists. "Take a seat," he said, rather gently, leading Harry over to the armchair again and lifting it back up off the floor. "This could take a while to explain."

Harry sunk into the armchair numbly. Snape managed to fix the tea-cup and clean up the spillage with a wave of his wand, then dragged his own chair closer and sat in front of Harry. Harry looked back at him, unsure of what to think any more.

"Before I say another word, I need you to believe and trust me when I tell you that I did not attack that boy. I have never taken human blood before, and I assure you that if I want to, I'm not going to stalk Hogwarts students."

Harry looked down at his hands, and then back up at his guardian. He saw truth in Snape's eyes, and Harry could say that now he'd grown up and was wiser about the world, he trusted his instincts. His instincts said that Snape would never give up his dignity and attack a student, no matter how hungry he was. He didn't need to even tell Snape he believed him. The professor just knew. They sat quietly for a moment, before Harry asked, "So... what do you need help with?"

"There's a responsibility I want you to undertake," said Snape. He looked a great deal more like his usual calm, logical self now that Harry believed him. "For seventeen years, I've been making sure you do nothing dangerous. I'm calling in the favour." He reached into his pocket, and extracted two thin silver chains, each with a dog tag. Harry sat calmly as Snape moved forward into his chair, and after a moment of working at the clasp, removed Harry's hated collar. Snape had put it on the night before they came back to Hogwarts, and Harry hadn't realised just how much he hated it until it was off, and Snape had put it away in his pocket.

"I decided that collars are perhaps a little primitive and impractical," said Snape, idly, as he looped the chain around Harry's neck.

"You mean, you don't want to wear one but know I'll get sulky if I still have to," said Harry, with a smile.

Snape's lips curled into a smile for a moment, before he managed to fight it away. "Of course not, Potter, don't be so ridiculous. Though if you still want your collar, just say the word and I'll put it back on, especially tight."

"No, that's okay. So how come you've got one too now?"

Snape handed the other chain to Harry. Harry put it around his neck as he answered. "The main reason my condition hasn't been a problem for these years is because there's nothing around to remind me of it. Though after that attack, it's going to be on my mind for at least a few weeks. The chain is just a precaution, in case I do something dangerous that I shouldn't. You'll know if I do, and you can use the same method of shocks as I still have to use on you sometimes. Though please remember," he said, seeing the look on Harry's face, "that if you decided to shock me awake in the middle of the night I will not be pleased."

"I'll remember that," said Harry. He looked down at his new chain, and studied the dog-tag for a moment, tracing his fingers over the metal. "Um... Professor?"

"Yes, Potter?"

"Can I... ask some questions?"

"You may. Whether I answer them or not remains to be seen."

"How long have you been a vampire?" asked Harry, looking up at him curiously.

"Forever," said Snape. "I was born this way. You saw for yourself on my family tree... the blood has been passed down through the male line of my family, though it will die with me - the last Snape."

"And you had your Blood Night when you were fifteen. But didn't you drink blood before then? How come you didn't need it?" Harry asked, puzzled.

Snape smiled. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you've been researching this, Potter. A vampire only starts relying on blood to survive after their Blood Night, though the later the first time is done, the more frequently the vampire will need blood in later life. If a baby is given blood at just a few hours old, they will only need to drink it every few months, though if the process is left to around the age of twenty, a vampire could need feeding every day."

"How often...?"

"Twice a month."

"But you don't... not a human... so what do...?"

"That does not matter," said Snape, calmly.

Harry got the message that the question would not be answered, and so asked another. "What else can you do? I mean like... special powers? Can you turn into a bat?"

Snape smirked at that. "Muggle rumour, Potter, started by one of my ancestors. He was an animagus, a bat, and made the mistake of transforming in front of a muggle, who promptly told everybody else." He sat back in his chair. "I have better senses than most people, and an extra sense that cats also have. A cross between taste and smell, on the roof of my mouth behind the fangs, and - "

"But you don't have fangs," said Harry. "I've seen your teeth before, and they're pretty normal."

Snape curled back his upper lip, and Harry's mouth fell as the Potions master's canines lengthened before his eyes, becoming sharper, inching over his lower lip. Snape shut his mouth and smirked again. As he talked, Harry could see that his teeth had returned to normal. "They evolved to be retractable centuries ago. No doubt they were such an inconvenience before that somebody changed them, rather wisely. Other powers... greatly increased physical strength, for one. Stealth, for another. And though it isn't exactly a power, sensitivity to light and heat."

Harry nodded. He wasn't sure why he didn't feel scared of Snape. After all, he'd just discovered the man he was supposed to trust with his life was actually a vampire, and the idea of vampires scared most people senseless. Perhaps it was that Snape just looked different to the vampires Harry had seen face-to-face, the ones Voldemort had brought to the siege. Harry glanced at Snape, remembering something, and eyeing his hair, wondering if he dared to ask why he suddenly looked so...

"... much better than normal?" said Snape. Harry jolted, realising that he'd had his mind wide open, and Snape had been following his train of thought. He grinned apologetically, though Snape wasn't offended. "I always do after feeding," he shrugged.

"After feeding?" said Harry, looking at him swiftly.

"Ah, yes... well, Potter, I hate to inform you, but you weren't the first person to find Gareth Jones. I was."

"And you... you fed from...?"

"No. I panicked."

Harry, who couldn't quite imagine Snape panicking but let it pass, gave him a prompting look to continue.

"I recognised it as a vampire attack the moment I saw him," said Snape, idly, as though they were discussing the weather. "If there is one thing that scares a vampire, it is another vampire. We are naturally territorial, as werewolves are. If another werewolf arrived at Hogwarts, Remus Lupin would know about it immediately and one of them would most probably end up dead within weeks. Vampires are a little more tolerant though. Yet the idea of another vampire lurking around in the entrance hall conjured some... unpleasant memories for me. I went back to my chambers, and tried to pretend I hadn't seen anything. I fed. Then when I heard the commotion in the entrance hall, I came to investigate."

Harry was quiet, thinking of something. Seeing Professor Lupin in such an uncharacteristic moment of anger, at something as simple as a few hairs in his office.

Snape noticed Harry's silence, and said, "Problem, Potter?"

"Professor Lupin doesn't like Madam Ivy," said Harry, glancing up at him.

"Very few people are trustworthy of new staff who come to Hogwarts with a recommendation by Cornelius Fudge," said Snape. "Particularly Lupin."

"But Alrister hates Fudge," said Harry. "And he's alright with Madam Ivy. You don't think... she's a werewolf, do you?"

"She isn't," said Snape, shaking his head. "Nor is she a vampire, before you suggest it. Madam Ivy is human."

"How do you know?" asked Harry.

"She smells as vile as all the others," said Snape, with a little smirk.

Harry wasn't quite sure whether to be insulted or not. "So you can tell what somebody is? Did you know about Draco?"

"I did," said Snape, calmly.

"Why didn't you know what Lupin was? You only found out in their fifth year."

Snape was quiet for a moment, before he said, calmly, "At the age of eleven, I realised from the first time I came across him that Remus Lupin was not human. Though I had never smelt anything apart from human and vampire. Naturally, I thought he was a vampire. I made the mistake of following him around to try and find out if he was indeed a vampire, though Potter took a dislike to me and fended me off."

"Sorry about that," said Harry, apologetically.

Snape gave a soft huff of laughter. "I gave up making you pay for your father's crimes last year. There is no need to apologise."

"When did you actually first meet my dad?" asked Harry, realising he'd never asked this. "And how come you hated each other? I mean... one of you must have done something to the other."

"Hatred never requires a reason," said Snape, wisely. "The smallest thing, such as the way somebody looks or speaks, can prompt a lifelong loathing on both parts. Your father was suspicious and wary of me ever since our first train journey to Hogwarts. He already had a multitude of friends, right from the start, while I had nobody."

"What about Lucius Malfoy?" asked Harry.

"Malfoy had better things to do than entertain me," said Snape, with a small smile. "Chasing females, for one. Like father like son." He glanced at the clock on the wall, and said, "It's getting late, Potter. I shall escort you back to your dormitory now, if you don't mind. DMT lesson, tomorrow."

"What are we doing?" Harry asked, as he stood up and pulled his cloak back on.

"Manipulation of the senses."

"Wow, that sounds fascinating."

"Did my ears deceive me, Potter, or was that your first successful use of sarcasm?"

"Did my ears deceive me, Sir, or was that a pretty rubbish attempt at humour?"

Snape smirked, clipped him around the ear, rather gently it had to be said, and lead him out of the office.


Chapter Fifteen: The Lion and the Snake

"Voldemort's forces raid muggle museum in Yorkshire," Hermione announced, as Ron and Harry sat down at the breakfast table the following Wednesday. She brandished a copy of the Daily Prophet. The front was covered with a large picture of what had once been a museum exhibition, but was now just an empty room with boxes and smashed glass everywhere. "It was just a little place, in the middle of a forest somewhere, but they had an extensive Egyptian section. It's all been completely raided and taken, in the middle of the night. The muggle police don't know how the thieves could have got in, but it looks as though they just apparated in and out. The muggles are in total confusion, because the donation box wasn't even touched."

"What sort of stuff did they have?" asked Harry, as he started to butter himself a piece of toast.

"Lots of little artefacts," said Hermione. "Jewellery and beads mostly, but they had some big things too. They had a real Egyptian sarcophagus. That's gone."

"What does Voldemort want a sarcophagus for?" said Ron, incredulously, taking the paper from Hermione and studying it with a frown. "What's he doing, starting up his own museum?"

"I have the feeling that he's up to something slightly more ambitious that that, Ron," said Hermione. "Maybe he's going to try and use some of the ancient Egyptian magic. They had some really vicious curses. Oh, that reminds me! I think that we're going to be starting some actual work in Miscellaneous Magic today. I saw Professor Pebblebank carrying big boxes of scrolls down from her office earlier, she put them in a back room somewhere near the hall."

"Excellent," said Ron, adding liberal amounts of syrup to his pancakes. He flipped open the paper, scanning it. "Doesn't look as though anybody was hurt. Well, it was at night, so there wouldn't be anybody there, would there? Hey, if all Voldemort can do is steal sackyphoguses - "

"Sarcophaguses," said Hermione.

"That's what I said," Ron said, pleasantly. "If all he can do is steal those, then I'm not worrying about him today at least. Pass the pumpkin juice, Harry."

Harry handed over the jug, but couldn't help but wonder exactly what Voldemort was up to. He knew that Voldemort wouldn't be raiding museums to strike terror into people's hearts, and it was hardly a major problem if a few Egyptian beads went missing. What was bothering Harry was why Voldemort was storming museum after museum. It was becoming more and more obvious to Harry that Voldemort was looking for something, and though Harry hadn't seen hide nor hair of Khepri since their meetings, he had the feeling that if it weren't for the Dreamless Sleep Draught, Khepri would be pestering him nightly.

The doors of the Great Hall opened, and Professors Lupin and Pebblebank came in. Professor Pebblebank had abandoned the traditional black robes of Hogwarts teachers long ago, and preferred to hang around in dungarees and baggy blue trousers. She looked more like somebody's elder sister than a teacher. She and Lupin were talking quite happily as they took seats at the other side of the table to Harry, Ron and Hermione. Hermione's ears almost visibly pricked up as Pebblebank started to discuss the lesson she was planning.

"Oh, it should be good," she said, beaming, and adding several large spoonfuls of treacle to her pancakes. "Sevvie wasn't too happy when I had to ask him to draw out some Chinese symbols for me on large pieces of paper, because obviously, I couldn't charm them on. Maybe if I could speak Chinese."

"Severus speaks Chinese?" said Lupin, mildly suprised at this.

"No, but he knows the symbols," said Pebblebank. She was now adding sugar and chocolate sauce to the sticky pancake mixture on her plate. "You'd be amazed how many languages and stuff he knows. He should teach Runes. Oh, but our teacher didn't like him, did she?"

"I believe she called him an insufferable little know-it-all," said Lupin. "After he corrected her on her pronunciation for the eighth time that lesson."

"Well that's not a bad thing," said Hermione, apparently so shocked she just had to join in the conversation. "If she was teaching you incorrect information, why shouldn't he put her right?"

Lupin smiled at Hermione. "Severus was not quite as polite as you are when pointing out mistakes, Hermione. Our teacher was rather sensitive when it came to her lessons, and Severus had quite a habit of making her out as a fool."

"What was she called?" asked Hermione, interestedly.

"Professor Drewitt," said Pebblebank, grinning and flashing her small teeth. "I think Sevvie scared her sometimes."

"Why did you need some Chinese symbols for today's lesson?" asked Ron. Harry noticed that was eating nearly as much sugar as Professor Pebblebank was, though Professor Pebblebank hadn't got a large blob of cream inching sneakily down her top.

"We're doing some Dragon Magic today," she said, beaming, and taking the cream from him to squirt a smily-face on her pancakes. "I went down to see Hagrid earlier, and we've got some scales and shed skin from the security dragons to use. Though all the incantations and enchantments are supposed to be said in traditional Chinese, and I knew that Sevvie can do all the symbols. I just hope he's given me the right ones and I'm not going to end up turning you all into pigs or something."

Harry smiled. If Pebblebank had been a friend of his father, then it was precisely the sort of thing that Snape would do. He imagined Snape's face if he found out that Professor Pebblebank referred to him as Sevvie, and snorted into his cereal.

"What's up with you?" said Ron.

"Nothing," said Harry, grinning.

They were brewing their potions again today. Harry was tending to his veritaserum as usual, sitting on one of the high stools and stirring it gently with a long wooden spoon to avoid getting any splashes of it on his robes. Every now and then, he had to add a pinch of something or a dab of something else. Hermione was sitting next to him at her cauldron, practically dancing round it in panic.

"Oh no..." she was intoning, over and over again. "Oh no, oh no, oh no..."

"What is it?" said Harry.

"It's fuschia," she moaned. "And it's supposed to be rose, look at it! I don't know what I've done wrong, I added everything perfectly..."

Harry leant over to peer into her cauldron. He glanced at the recipe, and after a moment's thought, he said, "You've added too much seaweed, it always intensifies colour and it might affect the potion... you'd better throw in some sand and it'll dull a bit."

Hermione went dancing away towards the back of the class looking for sand, and Harry was just reaching for another pinch of salt into his veritaserum when the door opened. Professor Pebblebank bounced in.

"It's a bit dark in here, isn't it?" she announced, looking around.

Snape looked up at her wearily from his desk. "It needs to be," he replied, coldly. "Most of the class are working with potions which require - "

"Oh, right," she interrupted, clearly not bothered about potions at all. She crossed over to his desk, and only when she passed the glow of his cauldron did Harry notice that she had a small, very nervous looking first year with her. "Malcolm got hit by a Viking War Cry hex, I need some sort of potion to fix him."

Snape raised an eyebrow, and said, very dryly indeed, "Do I look like a viking, Pebblebank?"

"Yes, but that's not the point, Sev. I need a potion."

He glared at her for a moment, with an expression that suggested he'd just swallowed a lemon, before sweeping to his private supply cupboard and sorting through jars. "Smith! Get over here!"

The first year shuffled forward. Snape found the correct jar, uncorked it, and handed it rather brusquely to the first year. The boy nervously glanced around the room, then drunk the potion, wrinkling his nose. The moment it was all down his neck, Snape swiped the phial off him and took it away to the sink to be washed. As Professor Pebblebank left the room again, Snape called after her, "I am not a paediatrician, Pebblebank, the next injured first year you bring into my classroom will be told to grin and bare it!" He sat down at his desk, furiously, then jumped up again, shouting as an afterthought, "And do not refer to me with that foolish little nickname!"

The rest of Potions passed without much incident. Snape came round towards the end of the lesson and had a look at all of their work. Harry got another ten points for the school, which was surprising enough, but when Snape reached Hermione's cauldron, something even more startling happened.

Snape reached down with a ladle and scooped out some of her potion, holding it to the light. The few grains of sand swam lazily around the surface. "Did you add this sand, Granger?" he asked, quietly.

Harry felt his stomach twist. He was sure that sand didn't do anything wrong to the potion, and if he'd ruined Hermione's project, he was going to take the blame for it rather than let her suffer. "I did," he said, quickly. "I thought it would dull the colour a bit. I thought that Hermione had added a bit too much seaweed."

"Mm," said Snape, raising an eyebrow. "Granger, be more careful with your measurements in future. If Potter were not here, your potion would have been an A, for such a foolish and simple mistake. I expect first years to be able to count strips of seaweed."

The bell went. Harry quickly dragged his cauldron through a side door into the next chamber for storage, then went to tidy up his things. He didn't know what had shocked him more: that Hermione had done something wrong, or that he had done something right. Luckily, Hermione wasn't holding anything against him, and even thanked him before she hurried off towards Charms. Harry went off to History of Magic, feeling rather pleased with himself.

History of Magic was one of the few lessons that Harry had where he was not with any of his best friends. A lot of people had taken History of Magic. It was seen as one of the easy, throw-away subjects at NEWT level, because no major jobs wanted a History of Magic qualification. Without Hermione's notes to copy, Harry hardly did any work in the lessons. The first half of today was no different. They all sat in a dull stupor at their desks, tapping their quills on the sides of their faces, watching minute after minute tick past. Harry only really woke up when sheets were suddenly handed round, detailing their NEWT project - "Ancient Egyptian muggles were ruled over by a wizengamot, which were seen by the muggles as gods. Produce a guide to the most important and well-known members of the Egyptian wizengamot, their achievements, and how muggles perceived them. You have two months."

Harry folded up the sheet of paper and tucked it into his bag. Within a few minutes, they were all snoozing again, as Professor Binns started to read from his notes about the Egyptian wizengamot.

Harry spent break out in the courtyard with all his friends. Because September was drawing slowly to an end, and winter was making its presence known once more, they would all have much rather stayed inside in the Great Hall, though because next lesson was Misc Magic, Professor Pebblebank was setting things up in there and they weren't allowed in.

Hermione's mouth seemed to have locked on talk mode. She was asking Draco question after question, then answering them herself and referring to about eight books per minute. Draco just sat and smiled bemusedly as she talked at him.

"I mean, Chinese magic and Chinese Dragon magic are completely different, aren't they? Chinese magic's the stuff they do at the moment, just charms and things like that but with enchantments in Chinese. Viktor was telling me about some of the specialist Bulgarian magic, with no English equivalent, it's really - "

"Viktor?" said Ron, who looked up from his game of gobstones with Harry so fast that he cricked his neck. "What about him? You're still writing to him? I don't - "

"Oh, Ron, don't worry," she said, soothingly. "He's knows I'm unavailable, we just write to each other as penpals. Honestly, there's nothing to worry about."

Luckily, the bell rung at that moment and Ron couldn't ask anymore suspicious questions. Ginny and Luna went away across the grounds to Herbology, while Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Kainda and Draco all made their way back inside, down the corridor and into the Great Hall.

Harry stepped in through the double doors, and for a moment was too dazzled by all the colours to do anything but stand and stare. It was like a cross between Christmas and the end of term feast, everything strung with red, green and gold streamers and banners decorated in Chinese symbols. A large circular platform had been set up in the middle of the hall, and Professor Pebblebank was standing on it. The rest of the year were all standing around the platform in a great crowd with their wands out, talking eagerly.

"Hey, Harry! You lot, over here!" Ernie Macmillan was standing over in a corner, with the rest of his Hufflepuff friends. Harry made his way over, followed by the rest of his own friends. Ernie grinned. "Hi everyone."

"Hi," everybody said, except Ron and Draco, who momentarily cast each other dark frowns, before they realised they still hated each other and promptly looked away, scowling. Ernie's Head Boy badge was winking at them on his chest.

"So, Harry, are we reforming the team this year?" asked Ernie, in a jolly sort of way. "Take the cup two years in a row? We haven't got Zabini buzzing around anymore either, so that's a load off our minds."

"I am right here you know," said Kainda, frowning.

"OH no, not you! The other Zabini, the one in Azkaban," said Ernie, apologetically.

She smiled. "Mm, you'd better be thinking that too, Ernie. So are you guys going to start the team up again?"

"I don't see why not," said Ron. "I mean, we'll need a new Beater... but everybody else is still here, right?"

Harry was about to say that he was all in favour of it. He'd been secretly longing to start flying again, ever since they shut him away in Grimmauld Place for the summer, and now that the moment had come he thought nothing could stop him at all. The cup would be easy this year, and it would take all the stress and strain off him.

But then he saw Kainda's expression through a gap in the crowd of people. She was smiling, but sadly, as she gazed around at them all. The fingers of her left hand curled tighter around her wheelchair for a moment, as though trying to comfort herself. Kainda couldn't fly. She probably never would again, after what her brother did to her. Harry felt a horrible twinge inside his stomach, imagining all the team and her friends playing Quidditch and zooming around on broomsticks, while she just had to sit in the stands and watch.

"Um..." he said.

Everybody else turned to look at him sharply. For the second time in as many hours, Ron's neck gave a cricking sound. "What?" he said, staring at Harry.

"I... don't think I'm going to play," said Harry, quietly.

There was an instant and universal gasp, then everybody jumped on him at once, asking why. Even Hermione was saying, "Oh, Harry, it won't interrupt your revision, you can still play!"

"No, no, it's not that," said Harry. "It's just that... well, Kainda." She looked up, and he met her eyes. "It's not fair on her if we're all playing and she's not, is it? I can think of loads of matches last year that we would have lost if it weren't for her, and now she's just expected to sit and watch us all having fun..."

There was quiet for a moment, and then Ernie turned to Kainda, and said, "You don't mind, do you?"

"I do," said Harry. "I don't really want to play, if Kainda can't. It's really unfair. Sorry guys, but... well."

"I take Seeker," said Draco, so quickly that nobody even caught what he said properly. "If Potter's not playing any more. I'm Seeker. And captain."

"I'm captain," growled Ron, turning to Draco, and seeing the first few flickers of a fight, Harry leapt between them. Neville looked rather reluctant for a moment, then stepped in too.

"Look," said Harry. "If you're going to fight, then I'll make Ernie the captain."

"No!" Ron and Draco both whined at once.

"Then don't fight!" said Harry. "Look, here's what I'll do... I'll coach you. Okay? I'll train you up and sort out all the captain stuff like practices and teaching you new moves, but I won't play in the games. I'll just stand on the sidelines yelling at you all. You just need a new Chaser and a new Beater. Then you can all start playing again, and no problems."

"That's so sweet," said Hermione, smiling at Harry with rather dewy eyes. "Giving up your place on the team..."

"You don't have to, you know," said Kainda, looking a little surprised. "Honestly, Harry. I know you love Quidditch... come on, you can't give it up, just for my sake. I'll be fine watching."

"It's okay," he said, smiling. "It's my NEWT year too, I could do with the extra study time. I need top grades to start my auror training."

Ron stared at Harry. "Are you feeling alright? First you give up Quidditch, then you start thinking about NEWTs before Hermione! Maybe you should go to the hospital wing, Harry."

Suddenly the sound of a whistle filled the hall, and they all turned around to see what it was. Professor Pebblebank was waving for quiet and beckoning them all other. "Gather round!" she called, brightly. "Got a brilliant lesson planned for today, everyone!"

They all went over and stood around the platform in clumps, looking up at Professor Pebblebank eagerly. Hermione was practically trembling with excitement next to Harry.

"Right then," said Pebblebank, beaming around at them all. "How many of you are there here today? Well, split yourself into four groups, however many we've got, and let's try to get things vaguely even. Mixture of girls and boys in each group please, everyone! Ready? Oh come on Miss Parkinson, you don't have to marry him, just be in the same group as him. All okay? Excellent, we'll get started then. We're doing Chinese Dragon Magic today, as you all know. Anybody here ever seen or done some Chinese Dragon Magic?"

Draco's hand shot into the air. A few other people vaguely raised a finger or so, though the feedback wasn't overly high.

"Well, don't worry, we'll be taking things pretty slowly anyway, so you'll all pick it up," said Pebblebank, cheerily. "You're in groups of four, so one lot will be doing some potions, and we've got three separate enchantments for the remaining groups to have a go at it. And I know I said that Professor Snape would be helping me today, but he's unfortunately chickened out, so - "

There was an outbreak of laughter and clapping. Even Harry couldn't deny himself a grin. Professor Pebblebank hopped down off her platform, and strolled around the four groups, making sure they were all roughly even. She set Pansy Parkinson and her other Slytherins as the group making potions, then moved onto Harry and the rest of his friends.

"Right then," she said, brightly. "We've got a luck and fortune charm, a wealth charm, or a love charm for you all to try out. Any preference which?" There was a general murmur of 'wealth', and so she handed over a long scroll of parchment to Harry. "All your instructions are on there, but if you've got any problems, feel free to stop me and ask what's going on, alright? Draco, you said you've done some of this before, so you can probably help everyone out if there are any major problems."

"I don't think we'll need it," said Ron, rather brusquely, as Professor Pebblebank walked away.

Draco's face darkened in a frown. "Very well... why don't you show us all how a wealth charm is done then, Weasley?"

Ron glared at him, snatched the scroll off Harry, and put it down on the floor to unroll it. Everybody else knelt or sat down around it, wands at the ready, as Ron started to read.

"Right..." he said, slowly. "This doesn't look so hard after all, just like an English charm. You have to swirl your wand in a loop like on that diagram there, flick it at somebody, and just say the magic word."

"Which is?" said Draco, raising one contemptuous eyebrow.

Ron pointed at the Chinese symbol in the middle of their sheet. "Duh, Malfoy. We just say that."

"And how do we say that?" asked Draco.

Ron was quiet, then said, "Look, Malfoy, if you want to keep all your teeth intact, then shut your mouth."

Draco smiled. "Fair enough. Have fun blowing yourself up, Weasley, because you're getting no help from me."

"Will both of you just stop arguing?" said Hermione, so suddenly that Ron and Draco were both shocked into silence. "You're like primary school children! Neither of you are proving anything, just be quiet. And for your information, there's a phonetic translation of it underneath!"

There was quiet for a moment, and then Ron asked, quietly, "What's a primary school?"

"It's like Azkaban for muggle children," said Neville.

Hermione sighed. She reached up her sleeve, drew out her wand, and studied the phonetic translation of the Chinese symbol for a moment. She then swished her wand, pointed it at Ron, and announced a complex phrase Harry didn't quite catch. There was a noise like coins clinking together, and an odd golden glitter shone around Ron for a moment or so.

"It should start taking effect in a few minutes, according to the parchment," said Hermione, promptly. "So we'll have to wait and see whether I've done it right."

"Do you ever do anything wrong?" said Ron, with a slight smile.

Harry glanced around the hall, getting a little bored now. Professor Pebblebank was now at the potions group, carefully handing out chunks of dragon egg-shell. Harry gave a sigh and rested his hands in his head, vaguely listening to Hermione teach Ron the proper incantation, and the constant tinkle of coins. He was just wondering whether he could wander off and see how the other groups were doing when he became aware of an odd noise. He turned around just in time to see a trail of green and red sparks glide past his nose, and when he stepped back, he saw that it was a little dragon made entirely of glittering sparkles. He blinked, wondering if he was seeing things properly, then a blonde head blocked his view of the dragon.

Draco smirked. "Nice, isn't it?" he said, idly, as the dragon went looping over to him and did a few laps of his head.

"Did you make that?" asked Harry, surprised.

Draco nodded. They both leant against the platform so they could talk without a paranoid Ron listening in. The dragon continued to flicker playfully around them, occasionally nipping off to do a lap of the platform.

"It's fairly easy, but it can go very wrong," said Draco, absent-mindedly. "Takes practice."

They watched the rest of the hall laughing and chasing each other around. Draco had a very world-weary expression in his eyes. Harry was just bored. After a few minutes of comfortable quiet, Harry spoke up with something he'd been wondering for a while.

"Can I ask a question?"

"If I may ask one in return."

Harry took this as a yes. "The veela charm you have... if you can use it to control anyone you like, why don't you? You could do anything at all, in the whole world, but you don't. Why?"

Draco thought about this for a moment, and then replied, in a rather wise tone, "There are two reasons for that, really. Shame, mainly, at having the power. It reminds me of what I am. What purity my family lost. Then there's just the feeling of... well, cheating I suppose. I want to achieve things through my own doing and my own ambition, not just flicking on the puppy-eyes whenever I want something. Think about it. In my Pure Arts exam, I could just breeze through it with a flutter of my eye-lashes and get an O without trying at all. That's not what life's about for me. It's more about being able to achieve using all of your talents, and not just relying on one."

Harry nodded. This all made sense to him, in a very Draco sort of way. They both watched the little firework dragon swim lazily around in a loop, then go gliding off after Neville, before the Slytherin broke the silence.

"May I ask my own question now?"

"Go ahead."

"You're not afraid of me, Potter, even when I look you in the eye. The others don't trust me, but you do. Why?"

Harry shrugged. "I just guess I know you won't try to control me. Just because you've got veela blood doesn't mean that's the only thing about you... and blood isn't the most important thing." He thought of all his friends or a moment. Hermione, a muggleborn; Hagrid, half-giant; Lupin, a werewolf; Draco, part-veela; Snape, a vampire; Kainda, sister to a murderer; Alrister, cousin of a murderer... "If I stuck to pure-blood human friends with a family of saints, I'd be a very lonely person," said Harry, wisely.

"You're an odd breed, Potter," said Draco, glancing at him, his eyes glittering slightly. "I don't know whether you're still the most insufferable goody-goody I've ever met, or just being you."

"Both, probably," said Harry, grinning.

"Doesn't it get boring being such a hero sometimes?"

"I'm not a hero. Well... oh, stop laughing! I don't try to be a hero anyway."

"Of course you are, Potter... come on, saviour of the world, popular, teacher's pet, girlfriend, you've got the lot."

"Well, you've got Ginny," said Harry, pleasantly.

Whatever reaction he'd been expecting from Draco, it certainly wasn't the one he got. Draco actually grimaced and looked away.

"Mm," he said.

"But..." said Harry, frowning. "Don't you...?"

Draco's silvery eyes flickered up to Harry. For a moment, he looked puzzled, as though Harry's reaction was odd, before he smiled. "Oh come on, Potter... you're not telling me you're that stupid..."

Harry's frown deepened. "What are you talking about?"

Draco gave a little laugh. "Potter, Potter... clearly I over-estimated you... come now... you don't believe it's all real, surely?"

Harry was silent. He felt oddly cold and clammy. "You don't like her at all, do you? You're... you're faking, you've just got her charmed! Why?"

Draco grinned, searching Harry's face with his sparkling eyes and speaking in a low, playful murmur. "Can't you think of any reason why I might want to...? Believe me, this isn't for her benefit. This is for nobody's benefit."

"Ron," Harry whispered. "You're just doing it to get at Ron, aren't you?"

"Well done..." said Draco, quietly.

"But... you can't!" said Harry.

"Oh? And why not?" muttered Draco. "Weasley got to me in the worst way he could think of... my family. Isn't it only fair to return the favour, and attack his own family?"

"But what about Ginny?" said Harry, angrily. "What about her? You're going to break her heart doing this. She cares about you so much, and you're just... you're just faking! When are you going to tell her it was all a sham, huh? A month? A year? The day you think you've hurt Ron enough? How far are you going to take this?"

"As far as I need to," said Draco, simply.

"I won't let you do this," said Harry. "This isn't right, Draco. I'll tell her."

"Don't waste your breath," said Draco in a cold voice. "Do you honestly think she'll believe you?"

Harry glared at Draco, unable to believe what the Slytherin was doing. He had been so sure that Draco had changed. He said, "I won't let you do this. I'll find a way to make her see, if it's the last thing I do. Or I'll make you tell her! Can't you and Ron just drop it all?"

Draco raised his eyebrow. "Oh, I see what's going on here... you're on Weasley's side, aren't you? Poor financially-challenged Weasley and his inbred family. And when Weasley tells the entire school that somebody else has a different background to most, well, that's okay. But poor, tragic Weasley when that person dares to get revenge."

"It's not like that," Harry snarled. "Ginny hasn't done anything to you! If you want to get at Ron, fine, I'll even help you! Because what Ron did wasn't right, and maybe you deserve revenge, but Ginny's innocent! She doesn't deserve to get hurt so badly!"

"Potter... dear, foolish Potter..." Draco leant forward, looking at Harry over his steepled fingers. "If you can think of even one thing that would make Weasley as angry as seeing me with his precious sister, you deserve a medal. But until then, I'm going to carry on with what I'm doing, and there's nothing you can do to change my mind or stop me."

"I'll tell Ron," Harry growled. "He'll kill you, you know. If you think you've seen him angry when you're dating his sister, you've seen absolutely nothing. You just wait until he finds out you did it purely to get at him, and how you used his little sister as though she's a toy. He'll tear you limb from limb."

"Then tell me another way to get my justice," said Draco, angrily. "Just suggest something to me, Potter, anything you like. Who knows? I might prefer it to "using Ginny as though she's a toy". Just try me."

Harry shrugged, vaguely, angrily, still furious at Draco and what he was doing. "Do anything you want, but to Ron! Not his family! If you want to get at him in the same way, tell everybody that he's got a crush on a teacher or something, just leave other people out of it!"

Draco was silent for a moment. Then the merest hint of a smile curled his thin lips, and he said, quietly, "I'll do that, Potter... very well... I'll break up with Ginny."

There was something that Harry just didn't like about the way Draco was smiling.

"And don't you dare start anything about Hermione!" said Harry, warningly.

Draco just smiled at him. "Oh, no... don't worry. I'm done with taunting Weasley about women. I think it's time to move onto something much better, don't you?" He smiled again, that same eerily-sweet little smirk, like the Christmas tree angel that never sold because it just looked wrong. "Thankyou for this little talk, Potter... now, I think I'll go and show Professor Pebblebank my work with the dragon..." And with that, he strolled away out of the crowd, heading towards Pebblebank, with his firework dragon following loyally behind him. Harry didn't like the feeling he had lodged in his chest at all.

Harry wasn't surprised at all that night when, just after dinner, Ginny burst into the Gryffindor common room, crying that Draco had finished things with her. Hermione instantly jumped up and ran to comfort Ginny, and after one or two "I told you so", Ron went to sympathise too. It wasn't long before Ron and Ginny were both bitching about Malfoy, Ginny still sniffling into tissues, both of them sharing chocolate frogs as though they'd never had a fight.

"I'll kill Malfoy tomorrow, for being so mean to you," Ron assured Ginny, kindly, unwrapping another frog. "Here, you can have the card as well."

Harry said nothing. He knew Ron would probably grab his wand and go racing to Slytherin Tower if he ever found out why Draco had dated Ginny in the first place. He also couldn't stop thinking about Draco's sweet little smile, and his lingering words - "I think it's time to move onto something much better, don't you?" Whatever Draco was planning, Harry knew it would not be nice and Ron was not likely to ever, ever forget it.

Transfiguration and Care of Magical Creatures had passed remarkably quickly for Harry. Normally, he really enjoyed Magical Creatures because it was one of the few lessons he had in Kainda's company, without the rest of his friends all around, though it had gone past in little more than a blur. Draco had been bitter-sweet to everybody at dinner, passing people things they wanted, chatting to absolutely everybody, and feeding Bucket with eerily polite little laughs. Harry had decided to try and address the subject with Draco again, right when they were all planning to go back to their common rooms. He'd cornered Draco just leaving the hall and dragged him away from everybody else.

"Tell me what you're planning to do," he said, darkly.

Draco smiled. "Why, I'm taking your suggestion, of course. Now, if you don't mind Potter, I have something to do... Ginny, can I have a word?"

Now Harry had the feeling that maybe leaving Draco to date Ginny hadn't been such a bad prospect after all. He sighed, and put down his quill, unable to concentrate.

"Harry? Are you okay?" asked Hermione, coming over to him and sitting down. "You look really distracted."

Harry glanced at her. Hermione would give him a logical, level-headed answer to his problem, and he could always count on her to keep the secrets he wanted her to. Deciding that her advice would definitely be useful, he opened his mouth to tell her everything Draco had, but he hadn't even started when there was a scream from upstairs.

He jumped, and turned around in his chair just as Neville came tumbling down the staircase to the dormitory, looking horror-struck.

"She's up there again!" he squawked. "Professor Trelawney, she's sitting on Seamus's bed!"

Seamus Finnigan, who was sitting across the room and working on a Herbology essay, looked up in alarm. "What?" he said.

"Professor Trelawney's sitting on your bed!" said Neville, almost delirious, pointing his finger up the stairs. "I've seen her there before!"

"Professor Trelawney's dead, Nev," said Dean Thomas, slowly.

"Her ghost!" squeaked Neville. "She's there, I swear, just go and have a look!"

Dean and Seamus stood up, but Harry got to his feet first. "I'll go," he said, glad of the excuse to stop trying to work.

Neville trembled along after him as Harry climbed up the spiral staircase to the dormitory. "She was saying something this time," Neville tremored. "But... I don't understand what... she was saying something about a prophecy, and I think it was the one that smashed at the Department of Mysteries, but I didn't understand a word she was saying..."

Harry tried to ignore the cold feeling he got at the back of his neck, as he always got whenever anybody mentioned prophecies. "Well, nobody ever did when she was alive, so nothing's changed there," he said.

He paused in front of the dormitory door, and pulled it open. The dormitory was completely empty. Sitting on the bedside cabinet next to the bed in the corner, the one that was once Harry's, was a little hawk with a red ribbon around his neck. As Harry came in, the hawk gave a shrill "Fweeeeeee!" of delight, and fluttered over to him.

"Hello Cupid," said Harry, smiling, and petting the hawk's feathery chest as the little bird landed on his shoulder. Cupid cooed in Harry's ear, and started to preen himself and show off his ribbon. "This is nice," said Harry, softly, playing with just the end. "Where's your owner, mm? Not escaped, have you?"

There was a soft whistle from outside. "Cupid!" Alrister's voice could be heard calling. "Cupid, come on!" Cupid sat up, gave a last affectionate nip to Harry's ear then swooped away out of the window to rejoin Alrister.

Harry smiled, and then turned to Neville. "It might have just been Cupid, casting shadows or something Neville."

"It was definitely Trelawney," said Neville, miserably. He sat down on the end of his bed and sighed. "Why won't anybody believe me? Just because they can't see her doesn't mean I'm going mad or something..."

Harry was about to make a light-hearted joke about maybe Neville should go with the majority vote, when he remembered something. His mind was cast back to that day at Grimmauld Place, when Khepri had first appeared, and nobody would believe him when he tried to explain the creature. Harry glanced at Neville, and sat next to him. "I believe you, Nev," he said, encouragingly. "If you've seen her, and you're sure that you have, then I can't see why you would lie."

Neville looked up at him with wide eyes. "You believe me? Really?"

Harry nodded. "Of course I do, Neville."

Neville's face split into a smile. "Thanks, Harry," he said. "Even if just you believe me, that's good enough... but..." He sighed. "Well, nobody else will. I don't know why she's only following me around though, and there's nobody who can prove it."

"How about one of the ghosts?" asked Harry. "We could go and see Nearly Headless Nick, or - "

The timing couldn't have been much better. There was a white shimmer next to Harry, and a third boy appeared out of nowhere. Neville squeaked and fell off the bed in surprise, but Harry had been expecting the new arrival. He turned to Peter and smiled. "Hi."

"Yo," said Peter, smirking and ruffling his hair. "Yo Nev."

Neville stared at Peter for a moment, and then said, "You're... you're Peeves's alter-ego, aren't you?"

Peter chuckled. "Some call me that. I prefer to think that he's my alter-ego though. So, got a little spiritual problem, have we?"

"Yes," said Harry. "Peter, you know who Professor Trelawney is, right?"

"The dragonfly with bangles?"

"Yeah, her. You haven't seen her, have you?"

"Recently, or in a life time?"



"Not anywhere?"


"But... you can see the whole castle, can't you? Absolutely everything?" said Harry. He desperately wanted to at least get some proof that Neville was right, even just a little glimmer.

"Well... in theory," said Peter. "I can't see into the Astronomy Tower or the dungeons, because the wards are too strong there, and Dumbledore's office is out of range too. But even everywhere else..." He sighed. "It's complex, Harry. Imagine you're a single security guard, and you've got an entire castle to monitor bit by bit, and only one video screen to view cameras through. It's a hard job. Though I'll keep a look out for Trelawney, if you want."

"She only turns up in here," said Neville. "In this dormitory... I've never seen her anywhere else."

"Gryffindor seventh year boys' dormitory," said Peter. "Gotcha. What do you want me to do if I find her?"

"Tell her to stop picking on me," said Neville, glumly.

"Neville? Can I just have a word with Peter for a minute?" asked Harry. "Alone?"

Neville nodded, and with a last, "Thanks!", to both Peter and Harry, he headed away down the staircase, closing the door behind him.

Harry turned to Peter and smiled. "So how was summer?"

"Boring," said Peter, idly. He reached into the pocket of his school robes and took out a packet of wizarding cigarettes. "You don't mind, do you? Jinx is being a nightmare, she won't let me smoke for love or money."

"Go on," said Harry. "It's okay."

He watched Peter light the cigarette, then put away his lighter and lift the cigarette to his lips. Peter closed his eyes in a grimace. "Eugh, I hate this. Next time, I'm definitely not going to die in a fire. Well, I suppose it could be worse. The Ravenclaw ghost, The Grey Lady, she drowned. She has to drink about fifty glasses of water a day. If you popped a hole in her with a pin, she'd be a fountain."

"Did you find that... that thing?" asked Harry, getting straight to the point. "You know, the thing in the cloak."

Peter shook his head. "I followed it down a few corridors, into the entrance hall, then it just disappeared down into the dungeons. I only managed to breach Snape's first ward before he appeared and threw me out."

"Why didn't you tell him you were doing something for me?" said Harry.

"Snape doesn't believe me," said Peter, gravely. "He's not really that fond of me. Did you guess?"

"Why?" asked Harry.

Peter smiled around his cigarette, and blew out a plume of smoke. "The thing is he tolerated me at first. When you were just a baby, and we were both made your guardians. Snape was quite different then to how he is now. It was just after he'd been taken from the Death Eaters and offered a job at Hogwarts, Dumbledore brought him back to our side. He probably thought he could have a whole new life, start things over again. He was twenty-three then, I think. His first year teaching at Hogwarts wasn't too bad really, a lot of students liked his sense of humour. He was really dry, really sarcastic. Then more than a decade of teaching the same job, going absolutely nowhere in life, being patronised and imprisoned by Dumbledore... I think it got to him, Harry. He gave up being nice. Because we had to work together so closely, he started taking out his stress and anger on me. I don't mind though, I guess the guy's got a right to. He's had a hard life, Harry."

Harry felt rather guilty, though he couldn't think why. He glanced at Peter, and his guardian smiled, before carrying on.

"But it's not all doom and gloom anymore, Harry... quite the contrary... you see, you might not have noticed, but since you've been warming to him, I think we're getting a little bit of Severus back rather than Snape."

"What do you mean?" said Harry, a little surprised.

Peter's smile widened. "I don't know if you've noticed, but Snape's suddenly developed a sense of humour, hasn't he?"

Harry raised an eyebrow, thinking about this. "Yeah, he has... and that's just because I'm talking to him?"

"It's because he's got a reason," said Peter, smiling still. "It's psychologically proved than some people can't live and exist without a reason to do so. And since you've known about the bond, Snape's had a reason - to look after you and guide you. If he's got a reason, he can see the point in waking up every morning. Get me?"

Harry nodded at this, and smiled a little. "Just because of me?"

"Yeah, you should ask him to let you off your Potions assignment," said Peter, smiling widely. "Listen Harry, I've got to get going. I want to be in poltergeist form before dark, so I can catch any couples making out in the Astronomy Tower. Shame Ginny and Draco won't be there, they're always fun to spook. Anyway. See you later, Harry, and remember to call if you need anything."

With a last grin, Peter disappeared from view. Harry saw the curtains of Ron's old bed ruffle slightly as something sped past them and sunk through the wall, then was gone.

"Pure Arts today," Ron said, brightly, whacking the end of the ketchup bottle and splattering sauce all over the sausages.

It was Friday morning. Thursday had passed with little significance, except Harry's fuzzy fungus arriving through the post. It still hadn't grown. Neville said he'd talk to Professor Sprout about it, and Draco was quick to suggest it was in fact a mutant that would kill them all, though nobody listened to a word of this. Harry couldn't quite take Draco seriously, not after he'd heard the Slytherin say, "I think I have something special with Ginny", then promptly ditch her.

"You're in a good mood," Harry noted, idly.

"Yep," said Ron. Another whack, another splatter. "Pure Arts today."

Harry gave Ron an odd look. Normally, Ron pretended to dislike Pure Arts because of Hermione's fondness of Alrister.

"What?" said Ron, raising his eyebrows. "Is something wrong with Pure Arts?"

"You mean, apart from the maniac chasing us around the classroom with a stick...?" came a cold voice from behind Ron, as with a black wave of robes, Draco slid into a chair at the table,

Ron rolled his eyes, stood up, and left immediately. Draco smiled, picked up the abandoned ketchup bottle, and tapped it lightly on the end, coating his sausages.

"Pure Arts today," he said, brightly.

Harry frowned, with a suspicious feeling of doubt that he couldn't quite explain. "And therefore...?" he said slowly.

Draco said nothing, but the smile on his face told Harry all he needed to know. Draco was planning whatever it was for Pure Arts. As the Slytherin started to slice up his sausages and eat, still with that knowing little smile, Harry got up from the table.

"Going somewhere?" asked Draco idly.

"Need to see Professor Snape," Harry lied. "Potions essay problems."

He hurried away across the hall, and slipped out of the doors into the main corridor. It was still fairly early, and hardly any of the teachers had come down to breakfast yet. They always spent a long time preparing their first lessons in a morning. Harry decided to try and catch Alrister before he left his office, though he hadn't even started up the marble staircase before the Pure Arts master appeared at the mouth of the corridor.

"Morning, Harry," said Alrister, with a warm smile.

"Professor," said Harry quickly. "I need to talk to you."

"Oh?" said Alrister, his expression fading into concern. Cupid tweeted merrily on his shoulder. "About anything in particular?"

Harry nodded. He wasn't quite sure how to word his problem. "Um... I kind of wanted to warn you. You know that Ron and Draco don't really like each other, but they've been fighting for a while and I've got the feeling that Draco's going to do something to Ron during Pure Arts. I don't know what it is, but I just thought I should mention it."

Alrister nodded understandingly. "Don't worry, Harry," he said, reassuringly, with a paternal smile. "I'll keep an eye on them both, if you come and have a word with me if you think either of them are up to something. Good man for telling me. I've got you third thing, haven't I?"

"Second," said Harry.

"Ah, yes," said Alrister. "I need to keep track of time more... the timetable here is horrific, I'm teaching thirty-one periods in a twenty-five period week, it's madness."

"How on earth do you manage that?" said Harry, staring at him.

Alrister smiled, and tapped his nose. "Hogwarts staff secret, Harry, though between me and you, I manage to find the extra time here and there, even if I have to make myself some."

He winked. Harry smiled, guessing what Alrister was talking about - time-turners. Alrister padded away into the Great Hall, and Cupid cooed his goodbyes to Harry, before they were gone. Harry was wondering about time-turners as he strolled back down the marble staircase towards the dungeons, thinking of trying to persuade Snape to let him in early and nurse his veritaserum. It was a moment before he realised he was actually seriously considering doing Potions in his free-time. He smiled - Hermione would be proud.

Draco was oddly cheerful all throughout Potions. He was working at the cauldron next to Harry and adding bits of twigs and mushrooms to his cauldron with the air of somebody expecting a big treat soon. He was humming something as he worked, and his smile didn't even falter when Snape shouted at him for using a whole rat's spleen in his potion and wasting most of it. He just smiled at Snape, picked up the remains and danced off to the bin with them. Snape looked quite startled as Draco's little happy mood.

"What have you done to Malfoy?" he muttered to Harry, pretending to read through the recipe of Harry's potion.

"Cheering charms," said Harry, with a mild smile. "I figured the dungeons could do with a little blonde skipping around the place."

Snape eyed Draco as he came back, flashed them both a beaming smile and did a neat twirl around his cauldron, scattering more grass across the surface, then pattering off to talk to some of the Ravenclaws. Snape sighed. Harry smiled weakly and cut another lump off his mangled roots, before tossing it into his cauldron with a soft splash.

"Problems, Potter?" said Snape, idly.

"Feuding friends," said Harry. He flicked another slice into his potion. "Can I just check something? Did Lucius Malfoy hold grudges at school?"

"Lucius Malfoy could hold a grudge for centuries," said Snape, mildly. "Until he had his revenge, of course. Who is Draco feuding with?"

"Three guesses."


"Well done."

"Just let them fight it out," Snape advised. "Or lock them in a room on their own to fight it out. My old Head of House did just that. They managed to reattach Black's nose in the end."

Harry was sure to seat himself neatly between Draco and Ron at the start of Pure Arts. If there was going to be any heavy-duty fighting, Harry didn't exactly want to be in the middle of it, but neither did he want either of his friends dead or worse.

Ron was blissfully unaware of the sweet smile on Draco's face as they got out their things. Draco and Harry were now two of the very few people still sitting at regular desks, and not red ones, as Alrister had yet to kill either of them. The scarlet wood of Ron's desk clashed horribly with his hair, so he was almost painful to look at, but Draco kept dropping him glances anyway and smiling. Ron had arranged all his things neatly on the desk and was working on his script for their final exam, even before the door opened, and Alrister strolled in.

"Morning everyone," he said, cheerfully. "No stick today, seeing as though so many of you are already dead. I do aim to get those last few stragglers by the end of the week though, even if it means stalking you outside of the classroom."

Harry smiled weakly, hoping he didn't go through with this promise. There was already a vampire, that cloaked figure and Khepri sweeping around school. The last thing Harry needed was Alrister hiding behind suits of armour, leaping out and beating him with a large stick.

Harry turned to Ron to tell him this, but saw that Ron was sitting up in his chair, watching Alrister intently, as though waiting for instructions. He frowned. He'd never seen Ron act like that in a class, even when they were learning how to blow things up. Harry glanced quickly at Draco, who gave him another bitter sweet smile.

"You've already done something, haven't you?" Harry muttered, angrily.

As the blonde's lips curled upwards again, Harry firmly decided that the next time Draco answered a perfectly good question with that infuriatingly sweet smile, he would break his jaw.

"Tell me," Harry hissed.

"And spoil all the fun?" said Draco, his eyes sparkling.

Alrister clapped his hands for attention, and brought an end to the discussion. "Now then," he said pleasantly. "Glad you're all here, because I need to split you into groups... I'm planning to have a look at your exam pieces now, just to see how you're doing. I'll do as many of you as I can today, then the rest of you tomorrow or whenever I next have you... damn timetable... somebody remind me to start a campaign about this. Right. Back row, stand up and queue outside my office, I'll be in there waiting for you. The rest of you can work on your pieces, but no setting fire to anything or conjuring animals. It's only funny until somebody gets eaten and I get the blame."

The back row all stood up, and filed out of the classroom, looking nervous, while the rest of the class started practicing again. About three quarters of the lesson had gone by when Alrister poked his head through the door, and called, "Front row now, please!"

Draco got up and strolled out of the classroom with his chin held high, perfectly arrogant as always. To Harry's surprise, Ron bounded after him, gabbling something about wanting to go first. Harry met Alrister's eyes, and Alrister nodded, then took the side door through into his office, shutting it after him. Harry left the room and joined the queue, just after Draco. Draco had his sleeve over his mouth, and was quivering slightly, in silent laughter. Harry frowned and glanced around to see what was so funny. Ron, at the front of the line, was peering through the gap between Alrister's door and the wall, hopping nervously from one foot to the other.

Harry skipped up the queue to slide in behind him. Ron jumped and turned round, grinning when he saw who it was.

"I hope I do well on this," he said, now knotting his fingers. "He's had a hair-cut, did you notice?"

Harry frowned suspiciously. "No... and I don't think he has, Ron."

"Oh?" Ron shrugged. "He just looks different somehow. Listen, do you think I should try some love magic? He said it's kinda flashy and I do want to impress him... I-I mean the examiner. Heh." Ron grinned and hopped again.

Harry's eyes narrowed. Gradually, the pieces of the puzzle were sliding together. He glanced at Draco, and the Slytherin was still trembling with anticipation, watching Ron and biting his lip.

"First candidate, please!" Alrister's voice called from inside.

Ron jumped, and shaking like a jelly, he opened up the door of the office and slid inside. The door closed behind him. Draco was actually giggling now.

"What is it?" said Harry, angrily, turning to glare at him.

Draco giggled harder than ever, like a schoolboy that had put itching powder in somebody's shoes. "This is going to be so funny... I was worried at first, I thought he'd seen me slip it into his pumpkin juice..."

"Slip what into his pumpkin juice?" demanded Harry.

Draco grinned. He seemed nearly ecstatic with mischievous joy. "Oh, Potter, you just wait. You just wait."

The door suddenly flew open. Harry jumped backwards, wondering if Ron had blown up the office by accident, but a split-second later, Alrister had come shooting out and slammed the door behind him. He looked oddly shocked, and a lock of his sleek brown hair had worked out of its ponytail in a tuft. Harry was alarmed to see that the laces of his tunic had been tugged, as though somebody had grabbed him.

Alrister blinked a few times, then reached up, straightening out his clothes. "Ah... Mr Potter... I think I've located the... ah... problem. Kindly go down to Professor Snape and ask for an anti-love potion, if you would."

Harry's jaw fell. He turned around to Malfoy, who broke down into near tears of laughter, thumping his fist on the wall. Ron could be heard in the office, pushing on the door and calling, "Or we can wait until I've graduated, whatever's easier!"

Harry approached the door of the Potions laboratory, feeling as though his legs had turned into long ropes. He knocked, and after a moment's pause, the door open.

"Yes, Potter?" said Snape, raising an eyebrow. "Pebblebank hasn't sent you, has she? Tell her that I don't care whether the entire school has sprouted antlers, I - "

"It's Professor Alrister, sir," said Harry, dazedly. "He wants an anti-love potion."

Snape managed to twist his shocked expression into a frown. "Oh? Who for?"

"For Ron," said Harry in a very mild sort of voice.

"And who has Weasley fallen in love with?" asked Snape, frowning.

Once Snape had stopped snickering long enough to actually give Harry the potion, he thanked Harry for something he could mention at the next staff meeting, and sent him on his way. Harry tottered back to the Pure Arts classroom. Alrister was still braced against the door, and Ron was still knocking to come out. Draco was still cackling.

"Good man, Harry," said Alrister. "Now... I'll ask you to, ah, administer it. Better if I don't take any more chances." He stepped away from the door quickly, then ran to hide behind one of the Hufflepuff girls, who looked quite alarmed.

Harry stepped into the office, and instantly, Ron pounced on him. Harry yelped and shouted, "Get off, you prat!"

"Where's Romeo?" asked Ron, sounding worried.

Harry grimaced. "Sorry about this. You'll thank me later." He leapt at Ron, and practically tackled him to the desk, forcing the bottle of anti-love potion down his throat. Ron choked and spluttered, struggling to get out of Harry's hold, but soon enough, the potion seemed to be taking effect. The rosy blush in his cheeks was fading away, and after a few more moments of thrashing and kicking, Ron managed to throw Harry off.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, angrily, wiping his mouth and flecking anti-love potion all over the floor. "Trying to poison me?"

"Malfoy gave you a love potion," said Harry.

Silence fell. Ron stared at him in horror. "And... who did I...?"

"Alrister," said Harry.

The bell went the moment the word had left his mouth. It was hard to tell what Ron was thinking or feeling. His expression was very neutral and bland, as though too shocked and alarmed to register any emotions, as they got their things, and left the classroom. Ron didn't even dare to look at Alrister as they passed him, while he was shouting at Draco, dishing him a week's worth of detention, and then reporting him to see the headmaster and his Head of House.

Rumour and gossip, as it always did at Hogwarts, was practically racing Harry and Ron down the corridors as they headed towards the Great Hall for lunch. Ron was still eerily quiet. Even as they stepped in through the double doors of the hall, people were muttering as somebody from their Pure Arts class darted from table to table, spreading the word. A lot of people were laughing and turning to gape at Ron. A group of first years nearby actually seemed to be taking notes.

Ron and Harry sat down at one of the tables. Ron had a hollow sort of horror on his face. Harry handed him a plate of pizza, which Ron didn't even glance at, as he was too busy staring into the pumpkin juice jug.

"You okay?" said Harry, tentatively.

"I'll kill him," Ron murmured. He twitched. "Show him once and for all that nobody makes a fool out of me."

"Look, Ron," Harry said. "This has gone on long enough. Just let it drop. He's had his revenge now, and you can both just leave it and get on. How long is this going to go on for if you don't? Weeks? Years? I don't want to spend my life sitting between you and sharing my attention, neither does anybody else."

The doors of the Great Hall opened. Draco swept in, looking immensely pleased with himself. Ron got up, quietly, and just said, "Sorry about this, Harry. But some things need to be sorted out." He pushed in his chair, and headed towards Draco.

Harry instinctively knew what was going to happen split-seconds before it did. He leapt up, and shouted, "Ron, NO!!", but it was too late, as Ron leapt at Draco with such force that both of them went flying into one of the tables, knocking food and cutlery all over. Several people screamed and backed away. Ron had Draco by the throat and was trying to strangle him, but Draco was putting up a terrific fight, and next second there was a crash as the table gave way under their combined weight. More and more dishes and metal plates rained down, and then out of the mass of cutlery, Ron went flying backwards and hit the floor. Draco was onto him in a heartbeat, fists flying and both of them tearing at each other's throats like wild dogs. Some of the onlookers were cheering Ron or Draco on, others were backing away, while most just stood and watched, horror-struck, as the two boys fought viciously. Professor McGonagall ran forward from across the hall, looking extremely angry, and brandishing her wand.

"Stop this IMMEDIATELY!!" she cried, though neither Ron nor Draco took the slightest bit of notice. Draco had now pinned Ron to the floor and grabbed one of the goblets, using it in place of his fists, though it wasn't long before Ron was fighting back and going for his wand. Draco drew his own with a swish like a sword, but Ron managed to seize the split-second's opportunity.

"Scoritis!" he roared, and Draco gave a cry of pain as a huge, red shiny burn suddenly bloomed across the side of his face. He staggered backwards, blinded by agony, and crashed into another table, bringing more food cascading onto the floor. Harry had finally got over the shock of what Ron had done, and had now drawn out his wand, trying to think of something that he could possibly do to stop them fighting. His first thought was to stun them, but with the crowd swarming around now, he was far more likely to hit an on-looker than Ron or Draco.

Ron had raised his wand for another curse, but Draco was faster this time. He seized a bowl of soup off one of the students and flung it at Ron, showering him from head to foot in the scoldingly hot broth, then battering him over the head with the bowl. Ron grabbed it off him, threw it aside and Draco was knocked backwards to the floor again.

Harry had no idea who was winning. At this rate, they'd just kill each other at exactly the same time. Over all the shouts of the crowd and the clattering of metal as it hit the floor, Harry could hear Ron and Draco yelling at each other, hatred pouring from every single word.

Then Ron curled his fingers around Draco's neck, and slammed him into the wall. There was a nasty crack and Draco gave a cry of pain, before silence fell. Draco closed his eyes, panting hard, and Ron just glared at him. Both were covered in cuts and bruises, and the burn was slowly spreading across Draco's face. After a moment, Ron shook Draco, and snarled, "Don't you ever try to mess with me again."

Draco told Ron to do something that made Professor McGonagall splutter, and instantly take away ten points.

"Who gave you the right to humiliate me?" Ron shouted, angrily, shaking Draco again and making him seethe with pain.

"I could ask the same thing," Draco snarled. He took a deep breath, coughed, and a little trickle of blood made its way down his chin. "You might have started this, Weasley, but I'm not going to let you finish it."

"You're just a stuck-up arrogant half-breed," whispered Ron, though everybody in the hall caught every word. "I hate you. I always hated you. I always will hate you. But I'm only ever going to have a go at you when you mess with me. Clear?"

"Fine," spat Draco.

"Fine," Ron growled. He let go of the front of Draco's robes, staring at him with a mingle of hatred and disgust, before he put an arm around the Slytherin's shoulders, and held him up. "Let's get you to the hospital wing before you die, you stupid idiot," he said, vaguely, before they both limped out of the hall.

There was stunned silence for a moment, where everybody just stared at each other. Then there was a little cough, and McGonagall said, weakly, "Twenty points from the school total..."

And that was that. Two days later, when Ron and Draco both came out of the hospital wing with their black-eyes and bloodied noses all fixed up, they seemed perfectly happy. They sat next to each other at the dinner table, and Draco listened with almost enthusiasm as Ron told him about some of the Quidditch games he'd been to with his brothers. Harry even found that Ron seemed nicer in general. He didn't snap at anybody anymore, and could have a conversation without complaining about something. Hermione explained the reason for this to Harry one evening, when Ron was out at the library with Ginny.

"He was worried that he was losing you to Draco," she said, kindly. "He's used to you taking his side in everything, and when you weren't doing that, he just got a little panicky. He really does care about your opinion, Harry. Start spending a little more time with him than Draco, if you can. Draco won't mind."

Harry did this, and Ron seemed happier than he was throughout the whole year so far. Without the constant fighting and arguing, Harry didn't have to worry about where he sat at dinner or watch his words around Ron, and with his social life a great deal calmer, the days started to zip past, until one evening when Harry found himself walking down to the dungeons, holding a box under his arm.


Chapter Sixteen: The Third Defiance

As usual, the door opened before Harry had even knocked. Snape stood there, frowning down at him.

"It's Tuesday, Potter."

"I know," said Harry, brightly. "September the 30th."

Snape gave him a suspicious look. "We don't have a lesson on a Tuesday. Buy yourself a calendar, Potter, and don't interrupt me when - "

Harry smiled, and produced from behind his back a small box, wrapped in silver paper. "Happy birthday."

"How did you find out?" said Snape, clearly startled.

"I checked the school records," said Harry with a smile. Technically, he'd asked Hermione to check the school records. As Head Girl, she had access to all the information of Hogwarts, and it was easy for her to find out. He held the box out to Snape. "Happy birthday, again."

Snape gave him a half-exasperated, half-grateful look, and took the box, studying it as though he'd never seen one before. "You foolish little brat," he said, though it was in as fond a tone as Snape could manage. "Well, Potter, come in..."

He held open the door, and Harry stepped in, taking off his cloak. It was fairly late at night. It had been hard to wait for this long, as Harry had been keeping the present hidden for several long days now and he was interested to see Snape's reaction. He'd been careful to only come fairly late though, so that any straggling students couldn't catch Harry giving presents to the Potions master he was supposed to hate.

Snape took Harry's cloak, and hung it on the wall. They both sat in armchairs by the fire, which was lit for once, and Snape put a heavy book he'd been reading aside on the coffee table, turning to his present.

"If this tries to bite me, Potter, you're in a lot of trouble," he said, idly, undoing the ribbon carefully.

"No, I removed the teeth before I wrapped it up," said Harry. Snape looked at him quickly, and Harry smiled to show he was teasing. Snape gave him a reprimanding smirk, and undid the paper carefully, then the box inside. He sighed, smiled, and reached in to take out Harry's carefully chosen present.

"How thoughtful," he said. He turned it over to study the label. "Why, Potter, I didn't know you had knowledge of good wines."

Harry smiled. "I'm just surprise after surprise, huh?" Really, he didn't. Hermione had written to her parents to ask what the best wines were, then she even tracked a bottle down and ordered it, though Harry wasn't going to waste such a rare opportunity as praise from Snape.

Snape crossed to the cabinet in the corner, and took out two glasses. He carefully handed one to Harry, and poured him a small amount from the wine bottle. "I would give you more, though being the first person to go to Azkaban for giving alcohol to a minor would be rather undignified."

Harry chuckled. Snape sat down, poured himself a glass of wine and tested it, thoughtfully. Harry took a sip. He'd never really had wine or alcohol before, though it wasn't half-bad, he decided. Hermione's father had good taste in wines.

"Interesting start to the week?" asked Snape, lazily, studying Harry over the top of his glass. "I noticed you looked rather bored during Potions on Monday."

Harry smiled apologetically. "I've got History of Magic before Potions."

"Ah, I quite understand."

"We've started our NEWT project, and Professor Binns's idea of a fun piece of work is four pages of writing about the Egyptian wizengamot, and how muggles thought they were gods." Harry took another sip of wine. "My Potions project is going well though. Right?"

Snape gave him a wry smile. "It could be worse, Potter."

Harry grinned. "You'd have rather strangled yourself than say that three years ago."

"Indeed I would," said Snape, mildly, swilling the wine around his glass then taking another sip. "How times change."

They sat in front of the fire for what must have been an hour, talking about anything that came up. Snape refused to give Harry any more wine, in case he staggered back to Gryffindor Tower blind drunk and said something both of them would regret, though Snape himself had a few more glasses. He seemed to lose his intelligent way of speaking after an hour had gone by, and Harry counted various grammar mistakes that Snape didn't seem to notice.

Eventually, when the fire in the grate was dying and the clock on the mantelpiece read nine o' clock, Harry said goodnight to Snape and left his quarters. He hadn't noticed how dark it was getting. Pulling his cloak around himself, he drew his wand and murmured, "Lumos," just to light his way out of the dungeons. He had no idea how Snape could cope in the constant darkness, or how vampires could actually prefer it. Of course, vampires were naturally predators, while humans were probably prey. This thought didn't really comfort Harry.

He made his way out of the dungeons, into the entrance hall and up the marble staircase. He was just picking his way through one of the portrait holes when something moved to his left, and he tensed up, instinctively grasping his wand. The lighted tip fell upon three cats gambolling up the corridor towards him. One was the ginger-furred and bottle-tailed Crookshanks, and the other Harry dimly recognised as Professor McGonagall, though he didn't recognise the third, a long-haired tabby. They pattered past him, playing all the way down the corridor and out of sight. Harry carried on, and soon enough, he found himself climbing into Gryffindor Tower.

Ron was still awake, though barely. He was sitting stretched out on one of the sofas, scribbling away on a long piece of parchment, his eye-lids practically shut. Neville sat next to him. The pot plant containing Harry's fuzzy fungus was sitting on the table before him, along with a thick book.

"Hiya Harry!" said Neville, cheerfully. "I'm just working on your fuzzy."

Harry peered over his shoulder. The seed had swelled to an enormous size, and looked as though it was now made out of the same stuff as mushrooms.

"Lovely," he said, wryly.

"Professor Sprout says we've got to give it lemon juice, and it should open up," said Neville. "They don't like the dark, and I guess it was sort of dark at your house, so it didn't want to open. I've got a book up in my dormitory about them... but..." He looked troubled. "Would you come with me to get it? I don't like going up their on my own anymore, in case... in case she appears."

"Sure, I'll come," said Harry. He stood up, and Neville put down the pot, then followed him up the stairs.

"Thanks for this, Harry," said Neville. "I really appreciate it. Seamus and Dean think I'm being a bit of an idiot."

"I don't like it in the dormitories either," said Harry, reassuringly, as he grabbed the handle. He pulled it open.

Neville screamed as something white and shimmering suddenly loomed out of the room at them with a keening cry. Harry was so surprised that he staggered backwards and nearly ended up going head over heels down the staircase, but Neville grabbed him just in time. Professor Trelawney's ghost hovered before them, clutching at her throat and her heart, staring with wide, mad eyes.

"My dears!" she cried. "My dear, dear children!"

Neville screamed again and struggled, desperately trying to run away, but Harry grabbed him and held him back. Professor Trelawney gave a shuddering, ghostly moan and rattled her many bangles, making a sound like chains.

"You are both joined by the prophecy," she keened, her spindly fingers curling around her throat and her arms, as though she was wilting. "Both of you together, though you must find out more! I have returned from beyond the grave, to tell you to seek more information, and to warn you! There are people you trust that must not be trusted! People who have the faces of friends, yet the hearts of foes, and you must learn who these people are! I fear it could threaten your very existences!"

"Who?" said Harry, staring at her with wide eyes. "Who is it?"

She gave one last keening scream, and then flew upwards and out of sight, leaving just a jangle of her bracelets and the echo of her parting shriek.

Silence fell. Neville was breathing as though he'd just been kicked in the side, and trembling fitfully. Harry couldn't think of what to say. After a moment, Neville broke the eerie quiet, with a tremoring, "What... what does she mean, about a prophecy?"

Harry grabbed Neville by the shoulder, and started marching him down the stairs. "Come on, we're going to see Dumbledore. I don't like the sound of what she said at all."

"Ah, good evening, boys." Dumbledore smiled at them from his winged purple armchair as Harry and Neville both fell into the room, Neville still clinging to Harry's arm.

"Professor," Harry gasped. "We need to talk to you."

"Oh? What about?" asked Dumbledore, as he offered them a plate of mint humbugs. They politely refused.

"We've just seen Professor Trelawney's ghost in Gryffindor Tower, sir," said Harry. He managed to prize Neville off his arm and sit him on one of the stools before Dumbledore's desk. "She was in the dormitory. She was talking about the prophecy, sir, and how we've got to find out more... she said something about people around us that we trust, that should not be trusted... and - "

"Harry, Harry, please calm down," said Dumbledore, kindly. "I presume that you mean the prophecy of your birth made by Professor Trelawney some years ago?"

Harry nodded. He sat down, and at the second offer of a mint, he took one and unwrapped it.

"She said we were joined by the prophecy," said Neville, staring at Dumbledore with wide eyes. "Does she mean the prophecy that smashed, sir? At the Department of Mysteries? I don't understand what she was talking about... I've seen her before, twice, always in the dormitory."

"Ah, I thought this would happen," said Dumbledore, wisely. "Professor Trelawney was not the sort of person to let her soul rest, without coming to make my students paranoid one last time. I believe you mentioned something about trusting people, Harry?"

Harry quickly bit his mint into two, so he could talk. "She told us there are people we trust that should not be trusted. She said it could threaten our very existances. She also told us to go seeking information... I guess she means about the prophecy."

"What prophecy?" Neville squeaked. "If it's that one at the Department of Mysteries, it smashed, nobody knows what was in it. Do they?"

Dumbledore smiled slightly. "I see no harm in telling you the story, Neville, especially as our old Divination teacher is now haunting you... very well..." And he went into the story that Harry had heard more than two years ago now, about the prophecy made by Professor Trelawney, how a baby born at the end of July to parents who had thrice-defied Lord Voldemort would be marked by the Dark Lord, and one must die at the hand of the other. Neville sat completely still, listening to all this with a mix of horror and surprise on his face.

Once Dumbledore's story ran to an end, Neville said, in little more than a whisper, "I was born at the end of July... and my mum and dad... well, I don't know how many times they defied-... but..."

"It is not you, Neville," said Dumbledore, reassuringly. "The second part of the prophecy tells how Lord Voldemort marked the child as his equal, and gave him the powers to defeat him." Dumbledore reached out, and gently eased back Harry's messy fringe, to expose the scar. "Harry was the baby that Voldemort decided to mark and there is no doubt that the prophecy concerns him."

Harry was thinking about something he'd never really taken much notice of before. It had always seemed an unimportant part of the prophecy, about parents who had defied Lord Voldemort three times, though when Harry thought about it, he had no idea how his parents did defy Voldemort once, let alone three times.

"Um, sir?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"The bit in the prophecy... about parents who have thrice-defied Lord Voldemort. That's the only bit I don't understand." He looked up, and saw Dumbledore watching him with his twinkling blue eyes. "How did our parents say no to Voldemort three times?"

"I thought you would ask me that," said Dumbledore. He stood up, and looked thoughtful for a moment, as he gazed out over the school grounds. "I have wondered it myself, many nights, and I believe I have worked out all three times, Harry. Both your parents and Neville's were members of the Order of the Phoenix, and this was obviously a denial to Voldemort when they joined. The second time came merely moments before their tragic fates. Harry, your parents refused to give you up and let Voldemort take you. Neville, there were very few pieces of information that your parents did not reveal to the Death Eaters. One was the existance of the Order of the Phoenix, as they could not, under the fidelius charm. Though another fact that both their minds refused to give up was where you were at that time, with your aunt. Your parents sent you to live with her when they became suspicious of a possible Death Eater attack, and they refused to tell Bellatrix Lestrange and her fellows where you were hidden. Though for both of you, there is a third time in which both your parents refused to give in to Lord Voldemort's demands... which I believe is the information Professor Trelawney may be referring to."

"What happened?" asked both Neville and Harry, watching Dumbledore intently.

"As I was not there, I cannot give you a completely reliable picture," said Dumbledore. "Though there are three people who were all there at the time, and are still alive today. Perhaps they will be able to give you a better idea than I could..."

He crossed over to the fireplace, still looking thoughtful, and taking a small pot from the mantelpiece. He took out a pinch of floo powder, and cast it into the flames.

"Severus? Penny? Remus?" he called. "I wish to have a word, please come to my office."

Next second, a blonde head had come out of the fire, followed by a glittery blue torso and baggy denim jeans, as Professor Pebblebank crawled out, coughing. "Bit late for a staff meeting, isn't it, Albus?" she said, brushing soot off her clothes.

He smiled. "It is, Penny, though this isn't about teaching."

She straightened up, and smiled to both Harry and Neville, standing by the side of the fire as another person stepped out. Lupin climbed out of the fireplace, brushing himself down just as Pebblebank did.

"Something wrong, Headmaster?" he asked, glancing from Harry to Neville to Professor Pebblebank.

"Not quite," said Dumbledore. "There's something I wish you to do for me... ah, Severus, how nice of you to join us. I do hope I wasn't interrupting anything."

Snape looked a great deal less drunk than when Harry had left him, though he did look a little ruffled. "Apologies for the delay, Headmaster," he said, quietly, straightening out his collar. "I needed to take a sobering draft."

"I quite understand, Severus," said Dumbledore. "And I do hate to call you out of your birthday celebrations, though there is a favour I wish to ask... may I just check whether you all remember the final Hogsmeade visit of your sixth year?"

Lupin nodded straight-away, with a rather grave expression, and after a moment's thought, so did Pebblebank. Snape, however, rolled his eyes. "Dumbledore, if you dare - "

"Now, now, Severus," Dumbledore chided, gently, as one would with a naughty child. "There is a good reason for this. Harry and Neville have been asking about the first time their parents defied Voldemort, and as I wasn't there and do not have the memories, though I believe the three of you can create the whole picture between you. Are you willing to tell Harry and Neville?"

"Sure," said Pebblebank, smiling slightly.

"Of course," said Lupin, nodding.

"No," said Snape, flatly. "I will not relive it, Dumbledore. You can't force me to."

"True," Dumbledore admitted. "Though I would like you to willingly agree to show Harry and Neville an important part of their family history. Both boys deserve to know, Severus, and without your memories we can't give them all the answers. I promise you that nobody will judge you any differently once they have seen. I believe that Remus and Penny already know, and I'm sure that Harry and Neville will both respect your secrecy."

Snape's frown darkened, as though he didn't think so somehow, but Harry managed to catch his eye and give him a hopeful expression. Snape glared at him, then gave a very dramatic sigh.

"Oh, very well," he growled.

Dumbledore smiled pleasantly. "Ah, wonderful. Thankyou Severus. If the three of you could please come here..." He bent down under his desk and took out his familiar stone pensive, engraved with odd runes and symbols, full of water that moved like air. "... and kindly add in your memories of that day."

Lupin, Pebblebank and Snape stood by Dumbledore's desk, drawing out their wands, and adding strings of thought into the pensive bit by bit. Snape still looked immensely reluctant, but he didn't complain as he added his memories. A plume of silky air twirled off the surface of the pensive with each thought added, until all three of them were done.

"Thankyou," said Dumbledore. "Now I would like the three of you to take Neville and Harry back to that day, so they can see what happened for themselves. Please do not let any personal feelings stop them learning the truth. Severus."

Snape frowned. "I never said that I would, Headmaster," he said, coldly. He stepped forward, and didn't wait for any goodbyes, simply reached out and plunged his hand into the pensive. There was a flash of light and he vanished, taken back into the past. Neville went next, after encouragement from Professor Lupin that he wouldn't be alone with Snape for long, then Lupin himself, Pebblebank, and finally Harry. Before he went into the pensive, Dumbledore gave him a slight smile.

"Make sure Professor Snape knows that you do not judge him, Harry," said Dumbledore, kindly. "He's sensitive about his past."

Harry nodded, and then dipped his hand into the pensive. He felt a tug somewhere within his torso, as he found himself swallowed up, flying forwards into the pensive and whirling through time and space. He was just beginning to feel nauseous when his feet hit solid ground and he tripped. Snape grabbed him before he fell and straightened him out, as Harry gazed around at the Hogsmeade that had existed nearly twenty-five years ago.

The buildings were very much the same as they were in modern times, though there were subtle differences Harry was fascinated by. The main street of Hogsmeade didn't have shops on both sides, but the right was made up of rather old and dingy looking houses, decorated with seashells and ivy. The shops were different too, he noticed, a little like the ones in Diagon Alley. There was an apothecary directly across the road, and next to that was Honeydukes, just as Harry knew it. Apart from the different sweets in the window, it hadn't changed at all. And sitting in front of Honeydukes was -

"Dad!" Harry gasped.

James Potter was seated on the low wall in front of the sweet shop, along with his three best friends, Sirius, Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. They all had white paper bags and were eating fudge, jelly beans, chunks of nougat and other delicious looking things, laughing and joking. James and Sirius had a liquorice bootlace stretched between them, both growling and fighting over it like dogs with a string of sausages. Harry found himself grinning. He had a powerful urge to go over and join in, though of course, he didn't exist in this world. Not even born yet.

"Animals," he heard Snape mutter, watching James and Sirius fighting over the bootlace.

"Hey, look! There's my dad!" said Neville, pointing up the street. Harry turned to look, and saw a boy with a round face strolling towards the sweet shop, playing with a wizarding yoyo that flashed all the colours of the rainbow everytime he bounced it. As he came closer to James and his friends, they called out to him, waving.

"Frank!" said James. "Over here!"

Frank Longbottom grinned, and came over, sitting between Lupin and Peter. They started to chat about Quidditch. Harry and Neville were both subconsciously inching closer across the street, ignoring that people were walking right through them, until they were standing directly in front of James, Frank and all the others. Harry found himself gazing longingly at the scene. He hadn't realised how much he missed Sirius.

Lupin appeared at Harry's shoulder, smiling in a thoughtful sort of way. "I remember it well," he murmured, watching his sixteen-year-old self offer Frank a chocolate galleon from a bag. He chuckled softly, then sighed. "How I miss James and Sirius. Peter to an extent, I suppose."

"Come on, let's have a look inside!" said Penny, brightly. "I want to see myself!" She bounced up into Honeydukes, slipping through the door as though it certainly didn't exist. Harry had a last glance at his father, then followed her, with Neville shortly behind.

Inside, the shop wasn't as full as Harry normally saw it. In modern times, Honeydukes was always the most popular place and it was always packed full of people, though there was only one group of students in the shop at the moment, about five or six girls, all huddled near the chocolate counter and mulling over the choices. Harry's eyes were instantly drawn to the tallest girl, who stood in the middle, with long red hair down her back and bright green eyes.

"Mum?" he said, quietly, though to his surprise, he wasn't the only one who whispered it. He glanced at Neville, who was watching a girl with curly dark-blonde hair longingly.

"Is that your mum?" asked Harry.

Neville nodded, smiling, though there was sadness in his eyes. "Which is your mum?"

Harry pointed to Lily, who was now debating with Alice over whether to buy cherry and chocolate fudge, or get a selection of truffles. Neville smiled.

"You've got her eyes," he said.

"Thanks," said Harry, smiling proudly.

"That's me!" Professor Pebblebank said, pointing at the girl next to Lily. She was watching one of the male shop assistants out of the corner of her eye, smiling. "Look at how long my hair was..." Pebblebank sighed, gazing at the shoulder-length bob her sixteen-year-old self was sporting. She toyed sadly with a lock of her own cropped hair. "I don't know why I cut it..."

"Are we going to spend all day doing this?" said Snape, coldly, watching them all with a frown from near the blood-flavoured lollipops.

"Why not?" said Pebblebank, grinning, and bustling off to have another look at the shop assistant. "Damn, I'd forgotten how cute he was..."

"Who is it?" asked Harry.

Pebblebank sighed. "Arsenius Cohen. He was a Slytherin, and he was just the hottest thing on legs when I was at school... shame he turned out to be a Death Eater, really..."

"Do you know he tortured muggle children?" said Snape, coldly, watching her with a contemptuous frown.

Pebblebank nodded grimly. "Yes, but he was cute. Don't be so jealous, Sev."

"Where were you when this was going on?" asked Harry, looking up at Snape.

Snape beckoned him, and then swept out of the shop, back into the road. Harry followed obediently, leaving everybody else back in Honeydukes, and glancing fondly at his father outside for a moment before hurrying after Snape. The Potions master was heading for one of the darkest and dreariest houses, with a windowbox full of dead flowers. The curtains were drawn inside.

"What were you doing in here?" asked Harry, following him up the path and looking up at the house with a strong feeling of foreboding.

"Things I wish I never had," said Snape, simply. He stepped through the closed door and disappeared inside. Harry hurried after him.

He found himself in a dark hallway with peeling wallpaper that had been bleached of any colour long ago. Cobwebs hung in every corner, and the carpet underfoot was worn, dusty and old. Harry was at first sure that it was empty, until he saw a flicker of light from under one of the nearby doors and his ears picked up the sound of low voices. Snape stepped through the wall in the direction of the voices, and Harry followed, emerging in a dimly lit sitting room. A single candle stood on a table in the middle of the room, and around it sat about six boys, all between the ages of fifteen and twenty, all draped in long black robes and holding white masks. Harry felt a thrill as he realised this must be a Death Eater meeting.

The adult Snape wandered around the group of boys, eyeing them critically. He paused behind one boy that caught Harry's eye. He'd seen this boy before, in the pensive. The sixteen-year-old Severus Snape wasn't the sort of person you'd approach on the street. He was sitting hunched up, frowning darkly into his lap, chewing on one finger idly.

"A whole month," sighed Snape, glancing at his younger self.

"What?" said Harry.

"It had been a month since I fed," Snape murmured. "I think that's what motivated me to do what I did this day. Pure hunger."

"To do what?" asked Harry, walking around to stand next to Snape.

Snape shook his head silently. Harry's attention was caught as one of the boys stood up, and he glanced across at who it was. At first, he was sure that there was something going wrong, as he found himself face-to-face with Draco Malfoy. He opened his mouth, though Snape explained.

"Lucius," he murmured. "I'm reminded of him every time I look at Draco now."

"I can see why," said Harry, staring at Lucius. There wasn't a single bit of difference between him and Draco.

Lucius started to speak, in a voice Harry would have sworn was Draco's. "It's time," he murmured. "Let's go. Remember your plan - get the werewolf, only take on the others if they put up a fight."

The boys all stood up, pulling their masks on, and drawing hoods over their heads. The sixteen-year-old Snape fumbled with the catch of his mask for a moment, before Lucius Malfoy turned him around and did it up for him.

"Still hungry?" Harry heard him ask Snape, quietly.

Snape nodded ever so slightly. Lucius made a very non-committal noise, then said, smirking, "Well, I could put a few first years in detention if you like, Severus, I'm sure they wouldn't mind losing a few pints to you..."

"Not funny," said Snape, sharply.

"I think it's hilarious," whispered Lucius. He gave a low, dangerous laugh, then made his way out of the room, followed by the rest of the other boys.

The adult Snape gripped Harry's arm, and pulled him forwards through the front wall, back out into the road. Harry had the feeling something bad was about to happen. Across the road, he could see Neville, Professor Pebblebank and Professor Lupin leaving Honeydukes, watching James and his group of friends.

"What's going to happen?" Harry asked Snape nervously, glancing at the front door of the house as it opened.

Snape was silent, looking at the ground, refusing to answer. Harry knew that if Snape was even unwilling to talk about it, whatever was about to happen would not be pleasant.

The six Death Eaters stepped out into the street, sweeping into the road. All around, shoppers and passers-by gasped or screamed and started backing away, some even running. James and all his friends had jumped to their feet the moment the Death Eaters appeared, and the screams brought people running out of the nearby shops to see what was the matter.

Lucius Malfoy stood at the front of the Death Eaters, his wand in his hand, pointing it at James and his friends.

"Give us the werewolf," he said, dangerously. "Give us Lupin and nobody gets hurt."

James and Sirius moved forwards instantly, blocking the Death Eaters' path to Lupin, drawing their wands. Frank jumped up from the wall and ran to join them, standing in the way, and Harry could see his mother just outside Honeydukes, watching with her hands over her mouth.

"Give us Lupin!" Malfoy shouted again, brandishing his wand.

"Why would you want Remus?" yelled James, angrily, his fist tightening on his wand.

"Don't argue with us, Potter," snarled Malfoy. "Just give us Lupin and nobody gets hurt!"

"What are you going to do?" shouted James. "Fight us?"

"If we must," said Malfoy, lazily. "Though we won't have to, if you just give him to us now. The Dark Lord is waiting, Potter."

"If you want him," shouted James, "then come and get him!"

Malfoy's masked face turned to Severus on his left, and another boy on his right. He nodded. The Death Eaters moved forwards, wands rising, and as one all of Lupin's friends swarmed around him, blocking the Death Eaters away, drawing their wands as one.

"This is your last chance," Malfoy growled. "Give - us - Lupin!!"

"NEVER!!" screamed James, and with a bang like a gun shot, the cursing began. Jets of lights flew backwards and forwards as the Death Eaters attacked as one, with both their fists and their wands. James had taken on Malfoy without a moment of hesitation and the two were duelling fiercely, though James stood his ground, refusing to give up Lupin.

Lily and all her friends were running forward now, drawing their wands too, and running in front of the Death Eaters to help fight.

"Evans, no!" shouted James, trying to push her back, get her out of the way.

"Get off me!" she yelled. When James wouldn't stop trying to shield her too, she reached up, and slapped him around the face. "Stop being such a chauvinist pig!" she shouted.

"Get out of the way, girl," Malfoy snarled, turning on her, raising his wand.

"No! Stupefy!" screamed Lily, pointing her wand right in his face. The spell hit Malfoy right in the nose, and there was no dodging a spell like that. Malfoy simply keeled over and hit the floor, though instantly, one of the other Death Eaters reached down and grabbed him. There was a flash of light and both of them vanished.

Neville's parents, Frank and Alice, were hurrying Lupin backwards into the apothecary, fending off curses with their wands, and as a Death Eater ran after them to grab at their robes, Alice kicked him in the face and sent him flying. Frank gave her a rather fond expression, then they slammed the door of the apothecary and barricaded it shut.

The Death Eaters were definitely losing by now. Only three remained, and they seemed to have realised this, as one turned tail and fled up the street to get out of the fighting. James yelled, "Get the others!" to Sirius, and then went racing down the street after the Death Eater that was running.

With a flying leap that had no doubt been perfected by years of Quidditch, James tackled the boy around the knees and brought him crashing to the floor. The Death Eater gave a pained cry and struggled to get out, to keep running. James swiped at him desperately, though only managed to catch the edge of his mask, tearing it off his face.

James's jaw fell as Severus Snape started up at him, Snape looking just as horrified. Harry felt a strong rush of knowing, knowing that this was the moment which probably started a life-long bitter hatred between the two boys, and then Severus had struggled free, turned, and run up the street, stumbling over his robes to escape.

"I'LL GET YOU!!" James roared after him. "I'LL GET YOU, IF IT'S THE LAST THING I DO!!"

There was a flash of light, and the sixteen-year-old Snape disapparated.

Harry turned back to the main fight, and saw the two remaining Death Eaters being tied up by Sirius. Everybody was cheering and clapping, praising the children for fighting off the Death Eaters so well. Sirius had a cut across one cheek, but he was grinning all the same as he did up the last ties of the ropes. Nobody seemed to have noticed James and Snape. Nobody except...


James spun around from where he had been watching the spot that Snape vanished. Lily stood there, looking up at him with a pained expression.

"Sorry I slapped you," she said, blushing a little. "I didn't mean to. You were just being such a macho jerk."

"It's okay," said James, who had turned scarlet now, ruffling his hair through instinct. "I mean, maybe I was. I guess I was just... worried about you. And Remus. Death Eaters, you know."

"Yeah," she said, smiling. She glanced up at him, and said, "You were really brave to defend him, you know."

James was slowly turning redder and redder, playing with his hair as though it was on fire. "Uh, thanks. I... well, you were too. That was some killer curse on Malfoy."

She grinned. "Thanks."

At Lily's smile, James twitched so badly his glasses slipped down his nose and he went cross-eyed. Lily laughed and pushed them back up for him.

"Listen, do you want to go and get a coffee or something?" she said, idly, playing with some of her hair.

James looked as though all his dreams had suddenly come true. "Yeah!" he said, enthusiastically, before deciding he clearly looked too eager. He leant back, ruffling his hair again, trying to look cool. "Yeah, sure, I'll take you for coffee."

Harry grinned, looking between them with joy and adoration. He quite wanted to stay and see how their coffee went, or to learn more about Frank and Alice Longbottom, but a hand was closing on his arm. He turned around, and saw Dumbledore there, smiling kindly at him.

"Come on, Harry. Time to go. You've seen everything you need to."

Harry took one last, longing look at both his parents as they turned and walked away up the high street, before he felt a tug in his torso, and he was being whipped out of the memory, back to the future.


Chapter Seventeen: Bearing Bad News

Harry's feet met solid ground again, and as he usually did when using any sort of magical transport, his knees buckled. And as always, Snape grabbed him by the back of the neck just before he fell and straightened him out.

"Did you see my mum kick that guy in the face?" Neville was saying excitedly. "She really showed him! And your mum with Malfoy's dad, Harry, that was so cool!"

Harry smiled. "Yeah, it was." He glanced up at Professor Lupin. "Professor? Why did the Death Eaters try to get at you?"

"We believe Voldemort was doing some sort of experiment with different magical races," said Lupin. "Obviously, he wanted a werewolf. Somebody must have found out about my lycanthropy, and told him. Werewolves are surprisingly rare, compared to other different magical beings."

Dumbledore, who was sitting behind his desk and having a game of one-player wizard's chess, chuckled and looked around at them all. "I hope that was informative?"

Harry and Neville both nodded. Professor Pebblebank smiled fondly, and Lupin did too. Harry glanced at Snape, wondering what he felt about all this. He was surprised when he saw Snape's expression. It wasn't hurt or pain, or even remorse, and Harry was alarmed when he realised it was bordering on shame.

"I didn't know you knew my mum, Professor," Neville said to Pebblebank, his round face shining with happiness at having seen his parents. "Were you friends?"

"Oh yeah," said Pebblebank, grinning. "Chalk and cheese though. She spent a lot of time in the greenhouses, helping Professor Sprout, while I was running around on the Quidditch pitch."

"My mum was good at Herbology?" said Neville, happily. "Wow, that's where I must have got it!"

Dumbledore laughed softly, his blue eyes shining with amusement. "I'm glad this has helped shed a little light on the whole situation, and a few smiles too... Severus? Are you feeling alright?"

Snape glared at Dumbledore hatefully for a moment, his face oddly twisted. There was clearly a great deal of self-restraint going on in Snape's mind, though next second, a small part had given way and his hands balled into fists. "No," he spat at Dumbledore. "Feeling alright? After you force me into acting out something I deeply regret, for your entertainment? What happened to my second chance, Dumbledore? I'm not the villain here, and I won't let you portray me that way."

He turned on his heel, and stormed from the office, slamming the door behind him. Harry didn't hang around long enough to appreciate the silence, and went rushing after Snape, walking down two steps at a time.

"Professor!" he called, as he skidded out of the moving staircase, looking up and down the corridor. "Professor!"

"Not now, Potter," Snape's voice spat, and Harry turned just in time to see him sweep angrily around the corner and out of sight.

Harry felt an odd sort of disappointment that he couldn't explain, and firmly decided it was not a nice feeling. He looked at the darkness behind him, and shivered a little, pulling his school robes around him for warmth, and hurrying quickly to Gryffindor Tower.

As he stepped into the common room, he realised that all the lights were out, except for the dying glow of the ashes in the fire. Ron, Hermione and Ginny were all snuggled down in their usual nest, fast asleep. Harry crept across the room silently, not wanting to wake them, and after getting changed in the bathrooms, he grabbed a blanket and curled up on the sofa. He took a few sips of his Dreamless Sleep Draught, and then laid down, trying to quell the thoughts in his mind. It had been wonderful to see his parents, standing together and fighting against Voldemort, but he couldn't help but feel guilty about Snape. He understood what Snape had meant when he shouted at Dumbledore, and he also knew how important it must have been to him, as Snape never shouted at Dumbledore. The headmaster might have given Snape a second chance at getting his loyalties right, but Dumbledore continued to treat him like a teenager. And really, Snape had been the victim for all those years. Troubled and restless, Harry eventually dropped into a light sleep that was more like the deepest thought.

After falling asleep and waking again continually, he glanced at the clock, and saw that it was only half past one in the morning. He sighed into the cushion, and felt around underneath the sofa for his glasses. His fingers searched blindly, finding nothing, and after a few moments he wondered whether Ron had moved them as a joke - when they suddenly appeared in front of him, held out by somebody behind him. He jumped and turned to stare over his shoulder.

Khepri beamed at him. "Looking for these?"

"Oh no... not you..." Harry groaned.

"We both know you're pleased to see me really," said Khepri, slyly, twirling Harry's glasses around between his paws. "Just because you won't accept it isn't my fault now, is it?"

"What do you want this time?" Harry said, with a pained and sleepy expression. He snatched his glasses off Khepri and put them on, burying his face back into the cushion, wishing he'd stayed asleep.

Khepri snickered. "Oh, the usual, Harry... check up on you, see how far you've got... and it's not very far at all, is it? You haven't figured anything out yet... I'm so disappointed, Harry..."

"Look," said Harry, flatly. "Just tell me what it is that Voldemort's looking for, and spare me the trouble. Something Egyptian, right? If he's raiding all those museums, and you're probably Egyptian. So just tell me what it is he wants, and where it is."

"Oh, I don't want to make it that easy..." whispered Khepri. "I hate things easy and calm. What fun is a puzzle that you can solve easily?"

"Just tell me," Harry said, wearily. "I've already got enough to cope with."

Khepri smiled slyly, and strolled around to sofa to sit on Harry's feet, making himself perfectly comfortable and playing with the tuft of his lion tail. "I'm not here to teach you, I'm here to warn you. He's getting closer and closer everyday, and when he finds it, he'll have control over a power so terrible that even your precious vampire guardian won't be able to save you... oh, that reminds me..." He turned to Harry, and grinned. His teeth were so eerie this close. "Things are getting rather boring around Hogwarts, don't you think?"

Harry tensed. "And why would you care? So what if they are?"

"As I said," murmured Khepri. "I don't like things so safe. Thousands of years sealed inside a pyramid give you a taste for more interesting things... but wait..." He licked his lips, and his eyes drifted to a point in mid-air, as though seeing something Harry could not. A smile spread over his lips. "Mmhmm... now this could be interesting..."

And suddenly, Harry felt something terrible rush inside his chest. He tensed up. The feeling was so painful and horrible that Harry couldn't care less about Khepri. The Egyptian boy was grinning at him.

"Oh, of course..." he whispered. "He gave you that chain to put on him, didn't he? So you'll know whenever he's doing anything... dangerous."

Firmly ignoring Khepri now, Harry got off the sofa. Ron gave a sleepy sort of grunt in the back of his throat, but didn't wake up. Harry crossed the room, nudged on his slippers, draped his robes around his shoulders and drew his wand from up his sleeve. Khepri padded after him quietly as Harry climbed out of the portrait hole.

"So touching," Khepri murmured, fondly. "Risking your life and place at school to make sure he's alright."

"Yeah, well, I owe him the favour," said Harry, gruffly. "Look, just go away, I don't have time for you."

"What if it's him though?" said Khepri, slyly. "Attacking students. He's the only vampire in the school, you know, and do you seriously think he was telling the truth about not taking human blood? He could lie so easily. What was your first DMT lesson with him, mm? How to lie convincingly."

Harry ignored him. He didn't have time to waste explaining things to Khepri that he hadn't even managed to convince himself of yet. He carried on walking silently through the dark corridors, with Khepri strolling along at his side, eyeing the portraits and smiling at a few.

"You stole that from us, you know. Painting the important to keep them alive after death."

"I don't care," said Harry, waspishly. He was descending the steps to the dungeons now, and his wand was out, ready. Just in case. "Lumos," he murmured, and the little light beam glowed from the tip of his wand. He made his way silently down the long pitch black corridor, every step echoing endlessly away into the darkness beyond. The back of Harry's neck was prickling uncomfortably.

As he turned the corner to gaze down the next passage, the light from his wand slowly revealed the whole grisly scene. Harry grimaced and averted his eyes.

It was a second victim, a girl this time - it was Pansy Parkinson, Harry realised. Lying at the foot of a large portrait of Salazar Slytherin, still in her pajamas, half-conscious, her neck daubed in blood from a vicious bitemark. Harry tried not to look at the wounds, and hurried over to kneel down beside her and check her pulse. He noticed that the portrait hole was slightly ajar, and blood was smearing all around the edge of the frame. Pansy had apparently been dragged out of Slytherin Tower, then dumped roughly outside by her attacker. Harry tried hard not to dwell on the knowledge that only a Slytherin could possibly know the password to their dormitories.

Standing back and covering his mouth with his sleeve to block out the vile smell of blood, he levitated Pansy into the air and started moving her back along the dungeon corridors. Khepri had vanished. Harry didn't have time to think too hard about this. From the entrance hall, he made his way quickly to the hospital wing, with Pansy still floating along eerily at his side.

As he carefully eased open the doors of the hospital wing and flicked his wand to levitate Pansy inside, the door of the back room opened, and Madam Pomfrey came bustling out, pulling on a night-gown.

"Oh, Potter, it's you. What are you doing out at this time? You should be in - "

And she stopped, mid-step, staring at Pansy's floating corpse in horror. She made an odd noise like a grape being squashed underfoot, and only managed to regain the power of speech after a moment or so of staring.

"Potter! Where did you - ... why is - "

"I was in the dungeons," said Harry. "She was lying outside the Slytherin common room, just like this."

He looked up at Madam Pomfrey, and was startled to see a flash of suspicion in her eyes. "What were you doing in the dungeons?" she asked, frowning.

"I was with Professor Snape," said Harry. "We have an after-school lesson."

"At one o' clock in the morning?" she said, looking even more suspicious.

Harry didn't quite know what to say. He just stared at her, praying and hoping that if she decided to go to Snape, he would have the decency to back up Harry's story. After a few more moments of her doubtful glare, she merely clucked her tongue disapprovingly, and then took out her wand, taking control of Pansy and guiding her to one of the beds.

"Well, Potter, you'd better get back to bed," she said, vaguely, as she started to study the bitemarks all over Pansy's neck. "And stay in your house common room... in fact, I think you'd better take floo powder. Don't want you wandering around the corridors. There's a jar next to the fire in my office, go on."

Not wanting to give her any more reason to be suspicious of him, Harry hurried through into her office. He found the jar fairly quickly, cast a pinch into the grate and stepped through. "Gryffindor Tower," he said, and then he was whipped out of sight, flying through the floo network until he was stepping out of the fireplace, into the Gryffindor common room.

Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Neville were all still asleep, though Harry knew he wouldn't be able to join them. Not now. He toed off his slippers and hung up his dressing gown, then huddled up on the sofa under a blanket, thinking hard. So now he knew that the vampire attacks couldn't possibly be a one-off thing, and it was obvious to Harry that somewhere in the school, that cloaked figure was still lurking. Somebody in the school was a vampire, and was hunting down victims at night. Though Harry only knew of one vampire in the school. Snape.

He felt a hot sense of guilt as he wondered in his mind whether there was the slimmest chance that his magical guardian was behind the attacks. He knew that it must be a Slytherin, or somebody who could get the password to Slytherin Tower, or they wouldn't have been able to drag Pansy out. And Harry knew instinctively that Snape had been drinking blood around the precise moment that Pansy was attacked. Was it too much of a coincidence? There was also the short scene that Harry had seen in the pensive, where the sixteen-year-old Snape was so hungry for blood he was actually chewing his own hand. Had it given his adult self a longing to feed?

Harry closed his eyes and sighed, as he realised the only argument he had against any of these things was that Snape just wouldn't do something like that. He trusted Snape. He thought that he knew Snape.

Then again, maybe he didn't. There were a lot of secrets Snape kept from him, and Harry had the feeling Snape would keep him guessing far into the future. He didn't quite know what he thought about his magical guardian any more. Seeing him shout at Dumbledore had quite un-nerved Harry, as it was something very uncharacteristic for the Potions master who trusted Dumbledore like a father. Harry wondered whether Snape's frustration at the headmaster could have urged him to rebel, and attack a student. Yet again, the only thing he could think was that Snape wouldn't do something like that. It just wasn't like Snape.

Harry had only ever really felt like this once before, in his second year, when he'd worried that Hagrid was setting a monster loose in the castle. Something was different this time though. Hagrid was one of his best friends and Harry cared for him a lot, but his relationship with Snape was very different. After all, Snape was his magical guardian, and they even had a telepathic bond now. Harry felt oddly as though he had a duty to keep Snape safe as well. Maybe this was why he'd gone running out of the common room in the middle of the night to find Snape, even when his better instincts told him Snape was doing something dangerous. Harry paused, thinking about this. Why exactly had he gone out anyway? What was he hoping to prove? If he had found Snape crouched over Pansy Parkinson's corpse, drinking her blood, what would his reaction have been? Fright? Anger?

Shock, Harry decided. Because Snape didn't do things like that.

If only Peter could see into the dungeons, he thought, bitterly, as he rested his head on a pillow and pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders. Then his guardian could prove, without a hint of doubt, that it wasn't Snape who attacked Pansy and they'd be able to find out who it was. Harry found himself thinking about all the dangerous people at Hogwarts, trying to work out if it could be one of them. It was simply too hard, and so he went onto who it couldn't be. Snape, for one, merely because Snape didn't do things like that. Lupin, because he was too nice. It couldn't be Madam Ivy, because she was there moments after the first attack, and the Dark Arts office was on the opposite side of the school to the dungeons anyway. She also didn't know the password to Slytherin Tower. Only a Slytherin would.

Harry ran through the Slytherin students in his mind. The seventh year prefects were Draco and Pansy. Pansy had been attacked, so it couldn't be her. Draco wasn't a vampire. In fact, nobody in Slytherin was a vampire. Snape would know if they were, because he could tell.

Frustrated, Harry gave a sigh. There were only two possible explanations: it was either Snape, or a rogue vampire had got into the school from the Forbidden Forest and was hiding in the dungeons somewhere. But then how did it get into Slytherin Tower? He remembered from his third year, how Sirius had got Crookshanks to steal the password on a piece of paper off Neville's bedside, then he managed to get in. Had something like that happened? Maybe this rogue vampire was working along with one of the Slytherins. But why?

And then there was this Khepri business. Harry's brain felt like a wrung sponge as he tried to clump together what he knew for sure. Voldemort was looking for something, and when he found it, he would have some terrible power. It was probably something Egyptian, judging by Khepri's appearance and all the pillaged museums. But how on earth did Khepri think Harry was supposed to get out of school and start trekking round every museum that had everything of any Egyptian value in it? Harry wondered for a moment if he should just let Voldemort get on with it. After all, nobody believed him. Even Ron and Hermione were doubtful of when he told them about Khepri. And if Snape, his own magical guardian, didn't believe him then who would? Dumbledore, perhaps? It was too much to ask. Harry had been to Dumbledore so many times with so many different problems that couldn't be explained. For now, all Harry was able to do with any certainty was just wait for Khepri to start giving him answers.

Harry sighed and closed his eyes. Though there was nobody around, he murmured to the silence, "Why is it always me?"

And he thought he heard a soft, almost-silent snicker from the corner of the room in reply, though when he opened his eyes again, there was nothing there.


Chapter Eighteen: Shattered

By lunch time the next day, the news of what had happened to Pansy had spread throughout the whole school. Where Gareth Jones had decided to stay silent, Pansy was keeping no secrets, and the moment her friends left the hospital wing the following morning, they started to circulate the news like a contagious disease. When enough people knew, Gareth Jones admitted that a similar thing had happened to him. He remembered crossing the entrance hall, stopping to decide which way it was to the kitchens, then something huge and black had simply grabbed him, there was a sharp pain in his neck, and he remembered no more. Pansy's tale was naturally a little more dramatic. She had been in the Slytherin common room on her own, drying her hair by the fire, when the portrait hole had simply swung open, and a figure in a black cloak that covered their face stepped in. The figure had grabbed her by the arm and tried to drag her out, though she kicked and struggled, until she was bitten on the neck and couldn't fight anymore. She actually remembered having somebody drinking her blood, before they simply swept away into the dungeons and left her there.

The whisper of vampires shivered through the school for the rest of the week. Nobody with any sense dared to go through the dungeons alone, except Snape, and so he was giving the job of searching the place for any evidence of the vampire. He brought back the dead, lifeless body of one of the school owls, drained of nearly all its blood. Probably a snack, he told them, conversationally, pointing out the various puncture marks in the poor owl's body, until McGonagall asked him to kindly not show it around the table when people were trying to eat their dinner. Neville was sick into his fish pie. Bucket the kitten insisted on trying to maul the dead owl, and consequently lost five points from the school, even though he wasn't a student.

To say that the weeks rolled by without incident would be a lie. The more accurate description would be that the following month and a half was so hectic, Harry's mind seemed to blank out most of it. His DMT lessons were becoming more and more demanding, and the only peace he seemed to get in life was during those quiet hours in Snape's office. While the rest of the school were terrified of going down into the dungeons unescorted, Harry found himself soothed by the atmosphere down there. He found a sort of sanctuary in the quiet of Snape's office, which seemed a million miles away from the chaos in the school. Almost every other day now, the Daily Prophet arrived into Hermione's lap carrying yet more news of Voldemort activity, either an attack on the wizarding community or another ransacked museum. Whatever Voldemort was looking for, he clearly wasn't going to rest until he had it. Perhaps it was a good thing he was so obsessed with finding whatever it was, because none of his attacks were devastating, and casualties were fortunately minimal. Harry could still have done without the constant reminder of Voldemort lurking out there in the world though.

Before Harry knew it, winter had descended over Hogwarts, icing the castle with a fine layer of powdery white snow. The security dragons had to be given a special potion with their drinking water to stop them trying to hibernate or build nests, and the NEWT Potions students were put in charge of making it. Harry had no idea how the dragons could actually drink it and survive. It hissed like acid and belched great purple clouds at random moments, covering the ceiling of the dungeons in great dripping lilac patches that rained down on their heads and bleached out all the colour. Only Draco and his silver-blonde mane went unaffected, but the rest of the class spent many long days walking around school with peroxide-blonde hair until they could dye it back to its original colour.

Though luckily enough for Harry and his friends, winter brought something else in its wake, something far more pleasant than dangerous potions. The Quidditch season would be starting in January, and Harry wanted to get ahead of all the other teams. Ron complained loudly when Harry woke him up every Saturday morning for Quidditch practice and coaching, protesting that he had homework or felt ill, though Harry was having none of it. Not being in the team made him even more determined for them to do well without him. They had found new members for the Quidditch team too. Harry's place as Chaser was taken by the Hufflepuff Hannah Abbot, and Kainda's position as a Beater was taken by Justin Finch-Fletchley. He wasn't the strongest Beater in the world, but he worked very well with Ernie, and it could have been a lot worse. Every Saturday, the whole team were out on the pitch practicing, as Harry watched and taught them new strategies. Kainda always sat in the stands, huddled in blankets and teasing Ron with a large flask of warm soup. Harry spent a lot of his time sitting next to her, talking to her to try and numb some of the painful memories she must be dealing with. He didn't know how he would feel if he could never ever play Quidditch again. Kainda was dealing with it though, and she never complained, though sometimes Harry caught the longing look in her eyes as she watched the others soaring over the stands.

Harry's work in lesson time wasn't quite so bad. He managed to get through all his first lot of projects fairly well, and even managed to do some extra work for bonus marks. It was his extra-curricular lessons that were quite a bit different. Harry quite liked DMT and the time he spent with Snape, though his lessons to kill were fast becoming something he dreaded. The things Lupin taught him weren't so bad, but every single curse was just another step closer to being made to kill something. Harry was not looking forward to it. The worst thing was that every time he wished he didn't have to learn it, he remembered that someday he would either be murdered or murderer. If he didn't learn, he would end up being the first option, which was not a good thing. When he mentioned his doubts to Lupin, Lupin gave him a kind, sympathetic smile, and said, simply, "You need to learn, Harry, before it's too late."

It was a Wednesday. Harry had woken up, dressed, and then gone down to breakfast in the Great Hall with Ron and Hermione. They sat down at their usual places, just as there was a whooshing sound over head and the post owls flooded into the halls.

"Morning," said Draco, passing plates of bacon and eggs across the table. "Sleep well?"

"Fine," said Harry.

Ron tucked into his breakfast eagerly. "I'm starving," he said, hungrily. "I didn't get any time for pudding last night. Do you think if I asked the house elves they'd do me some ice cream?"

"Probably not for breakfast," said Hermione, smiling slightly.

They was a flutter of wings and then a clatter of claws as a screech owl landed on the table in front of Draco, followed by a little barn owl that handed a newspaper to Hermione, received its payment from her, then flew off again. Draco's screech owl was sitting next to his plate and snapping up the bacon rinds Draco tossed it, as Hermione unrolled the paper and sighed.

"Another museum," she said. "A wizarding one this time, in France. Run by Gringotts. The goblins are furious. Egyptian section completely pillaged, again."

Kainda leant over Hermione's shoulder to glance at the article. "I bet every museum owner in the world's having a nervous breakdown about now. What do you think You-Know-Who's after anyway?"

Harry's fork slipped from his hand and clattered to the floor. He dipped under the table to retrieve it, listening to the others debate about what it was that the Dark Lord was looking for. When he emerged, hair all over his face, he made the mistake of glancing at the front page of the newspaper.

He choked, and for the second time in as many moments, his fork hit the floor.

"Harry? Are you alright?" said Hermione, turning to look at him.

Harry reached out with one hand, and touched the lower right corner of the main photograph. "There. That's him."

Frowning, Hermione studied the picture. In the corner he had pointed to was a smashed tapestry, the frame splintered in two and the material inside slightly ripped, though the design was still visible.

Hermione leant closer, her frown deepening. "What on earth is it?"

"I don't know," murmured Harry. "But that's him, that's Khepri. I'm sure of it."

"I've never seen one of those before," said Hermione. "Not in books or anything. And you've seen him? As in... in real life?"

Harry nodded numbly. Ron, who was sitting on Harry's left, had now leant in and was listening to the conversation. He peered at the picture.

"Weird," he said. "It looks more like an animal than a person. Maybe it's some sort of spirit? Like a guardian spirit or something. Protecting whatever it is that Voldemort's looking for."

"I hadn't thought of that," said Harry. "Maybe... I don't know what his link to it is though. He might be on Voldemort's side for all we know."

Ron shrugged. "Well, it's Egyptian, whatever it is. Write to Bill."

Harry turned quickly to look at him. "What?"

"Write to Bill," said Ron. "He'll know. He's spent most of his career out in Egypt, he can tell you anything about them, even the stuff you don't find in history books."

Harry felt a rush of excitement, and disbelief at how he hadn't thought of this first. Bill Weasley knew everything about the ancient Egyptian wizards, and he'd probably be able to tell Harry everything he wanted to know about Khepri. Maybe Bill also had some idea what Voldemort was looking for, if it was linked to Khepri.

He got up from the table, and slung his bag over his shoulder. "I'm going to go to the owlery and send him a letter," he said, quickly. "Kainda, if I'm late for Potions, can you tell Snape I'll explain later?"

She nodded, finishing off her spoonful of porridge, before calling after him, "Where are you going?"

"To sort all this out!" he called back, as he hurried out of the hall.

A few minutes later, he stepped into the cold owlery tower. As always, it was dark, and full of the rustle of feathers and the sound of wings swooping in and out through the open windows. Harry put his bag down on one of the empty perches, and sorted through it quickly for a scroll of parchment and a quill. As he did, Hedwig fluttered over, and sat next to him on the perch, watching him closely.

"Up for a long journey?" he asked.

She hooted dolefully, and nipped at his earlobe.

"Good," he said, as he scribbled. He racked his brain for everything he knew about Khepri, writing it down in a long list and including a very rough sketch at the bottom. When he was done, he rolled it up and tied it with a piece of string in his pocket. "I need you to take this to Bill Weasley in Egypt," he said, tying the letter carefully to her leg. "Please hurry. Don't leave until he's given you and answer, and make sure it's a good one, okay?"

She gave a reassuring hoot, nibbled affectionately on his earlobe again, then spread her wings and took off, flying gracefully out of the window and soaring away into the sky. Harry watched her go. Maybe this could mean an answer to all his questions about Khepri. He hoped that Bill could reply soon, before Khepri had a chance to come and pester him again.

The door creaked open behind him, and Hermione came in.

"I just sent it," said Harry, gesturing to the open window.

She nodded. "Good. You'd better hurry up, or you'll be late for Potions."

"What are you doing up here?" he asked, as he shouldered his bag again and brushed some straw off the bottom.

"Oh, I just need to use one of the school owls," said Hermione, reassuringly. "I'm cancelling my subscription to the Prophet, it's just a waste of money anyway."

"Alright. See you at break," Harry said, and he left, hurrying to Potions, hoping Snape wouldn't be too angry about his lateness.

"Start explaining then," Snape said, as the rest of the class left for their next lessons, and Harry was left behind, hurriedly ladling his potion sample into a jar.

"Explaining what?"

"Miss Zabini arrived and told me very conspiratorially that you would explain your absence from my lesson when you finally showed up. Start explaining."

"I had to send a letter," said Harry, hurrying to wipe a few spills off the glass canister with a rag.

"Oh? And this gives you an instant Get Out Of Potions Free Card, does it?"

"It was an important letter."

Snape snorted. "And who was this letter addressed to?"

"Bill Weasley." Harry placed his potion hurriedly in the basket next to Snape's desk, then started to clean up. Professor Binns wouldn't notice his lateness, hopefully. He never noticed if they were even present. The man could probably spend two hours talking to an empty room and not realise.


"A problem I have," said Harry, vaguely.

"And this problem is...?"

"...something you don't believe me about."

"Ah, you're hallucinating again."

"I am not hallucinating," Harry snapped, more out of pain than anything, as he'd just splashed some of the hot draft on his hand. He stuck it under the cold water tap as Snape replied.

"Then this odd monster you claim to keep seeing. And how, may I ask, is Bill Weasley to help you with this?"

"He can tell me what it is."


Harry didn't know whether to frown or laugh. "It's real. You might think I was hallucinating, but I know it's real."

"Come here." Snape stood up, and Harry put down his rag for one moment, as the professor locked eyes with him. Harry looked back, fiercely, remembering everything he could about the two times he'd seen Khepri.

"I've actually met him, twice," said Harry. "And he's been in loads of my dreams, you know he has."

"The dreams I am not arguing with," said Snape. "Those I have seen for myself. Though I hate to break it to you, Potter, the only memories I'm getting out of you at the moment are you talking to empty air on two separate occasions."

"What?" said Harry, horror-struck. "No, that's wrong! He was there, I saw him! You mean you can't even see him in my memories?"

"Potter, try to look at this logically." Snape raised one eyebrow. "You claim to keep encountering some sort of magical being or beast, that nobody else can see or hear, and even your memories give evidence contrary to your claims."

"Ron and Hermione believe me," said Harry, almost sulkily. "They know I'm telling the truth. If they can believe me, why can't you? Wait... you remember on the night that Pansy was attacked?"

Snape frowned. "I do."

"I had to breach your wards to get in and save her," said Harry. "You must have known."

"I did."

"And Khepri came in too. He was there with me. Did you feel another person breaching your wards?"

Snape's frown deepened. "Mm, I did. My first ward was breached six times that night."

"Six?" said Harry, staring.

"Earlier, it was breached by what I now know was most likely the vampire, but I mistakenly presumed was a student sneaking back to bed. The vampire then left. Next, once by you as you entered, again by you as you left, and a third time as Miss Parkinson was taken out, bringing the total to five, though I felt it breached six times."

"When was the sixth time?"

"Moments after you entered."

"How did you know it was me?"

"I can sense when you're near me, Potter. If you breach my wards, I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is you, though everybody else I cannot tell. The sixth breach was a second or so after you, though I never felt that person leave."

"He didn't need to go through it again," said Harry. "He can just vanish, into thin air. Sometimes he leaves smoke."

"Potter, you sound like a four-year-old describing an invisible friend," said Snape. He sighed. "Go to your next lesson, and we will discuss this during your DMT class tonight. Eight o' clock."

Harry picked up his bag, and left the classroom quickly. Snape had now given him something to think about. If the vampire had entered the dungeons, attacked Pansy, left, and not re-entered as Snape would have sensed it, then the vampire was either in some other part of the school, or had left into the grounds. Therefore, it was not lurking in the dungeons, as everybody thought.

Then where had the dead owl come from?

At ten minutes to eight, Harry left the Gryffindor common room and headed out to the dungeons. All day, the mystery of Snape's wards and the owl had been annoying him, and he had the feeling that Snape didn't know any more about it than him. Even Professor McGonagall had realised there was something wrong with him during Transfiguration, though she hadn't said anything. She gave him a beady look as he left, and asked him if he was alright, but that was that.

Harry stepped down the stone staircase into the dungeons. He wasn't sure, but for a moment, thought he heard whispering coming from behind him. He glanced over his shoulder. There was nothing there. Probably just Snape's wards, he thought. He heard a door open before him, and looked up to see Snape coming down the corridor towards him.

"Come on," he muttered. "Inside, quickly."

"Why?" said Harry.

Snape didn't answer until Harry had been swept into the professor's quarters, and the door had shut behind them. "I felt something breach my wards a few minutes ago, and thought it was you. Clearly, it wasn't. Better safe than sorry Potter."

"Can't the vampire get into your office?" said Harry, tentatively.

"It has a nasty shock coming, if it can," said Snape, without explaining what the nasty shock was, as he lead Harry through to his main room. To Harry's great surprise, a stuffed dummy was floating about a metre of the ground, looking very lopsided and limp.

"What on earth is that for? Vampire bait?"

"No," said Snape. He swatted the dummy's head, flicking it back upright. "This is for the lesson. I tried to use one of the house elves, but the damn things run too fast."

"I hope that was a joke," said Harry, sniffing.

"Mm. Now then, Potter. Moving things with the mind - telekinesis. With any luck, you should have destroyed this model by the end of the session."

After about fifteen minutes, Harry was severely doubting this. At first he'd tried to do it the Pure Arts way, by screwing up his eyes and trying to summon raw magic, but Snape told him off and fetched a pair of gloves. They would stop Harry's magic escaping, he explained, strapping them in place so that Harry could hardly move his fingers. They started trying again. By the time an hour passed, Harry had a very bad headache, and hadn't managed to do anything at all.

"A break, I think, before you kill something," said Snape. He snapped his fingers, and the limp dummy floated away to a corner, as the chairs retook their places. He sat Harry down in one of them, and fetched him a drink. "Not quite on form tonight, are we?"

Harry glared at him. Snape smirked.

"Calm down, Potter... some people naturally have problems with telekinesis. Psychic power is balanced over a whole range of skills. Some people are greatly skilled with legilimency, others with occlumency, some in telekinesis, others in pyromagic... we will simply have to find your strengths, and build on your weakness."

Harry massaged his temples wearily, taking a sip of the water Snape had handed him. "Maybe the whole mind control thing is my weakness," he muttered.

Snape laughed darkly. "Over my dead body, Potter. You will surprise yourself, and it might take months for you to find your natural talent, though it is there. Somewhere. You performed very well with the Manipulative Tension Removal, and creating heat. Fire control may be your speciality."

"Oh good. So when I'm facing Voldemort, I'm not going to be able to hurt him or control him, but I'll certainly be warm while I die. Brilliant. And that's only if you're there splitting my mind into bits, and there's nothing dangerous going on and I'm calm."

"Ah, the arrogance of youth, presuming that you know everything about a subject and therefore anything else cannot be done. Believe me, there are always things to learn, and every skill can be perfected. And it is not 'splitting your mind into bits'. Drink some more water."

Harry did so. He sat back in the armchair, feeling his headache gradually ebbing away, as Snape stood behind him and just watched him. When he was done, Snape took the glass away, and came back, sitting in front of Harry.

"I would like to try something, Potter."

"Mm?" said Harry, idly.

Snape pulled out a nearby drawer, rifled through it, then took out a long black candle. He placed it in front of Harry on the coffee table. Harry stared at him. Snape raised an eyebrow. "Try and light it. You may touch it with your fingers, and use your mind, though nothing else."

Harry glanced at the candle. He wondered how on earth he was supposed to go about lighting it, and was fast deciding he had no patience with Dangerous Mind Techniques at all.

"Do not be so petulent," Snape murmured, lazily. Harry mentally hit himself for leaving his mind open as usual.

"Alright. It's just hard." Harry sighed, and concentrated on the feeling of fire, making the candle light. Nothing happened. He frowned and tutted at it. "It's not going to work. Can't I just use Pure Arts?" He snapped his fingers, and the candle lit. "There. Easy."

Snape raised an eyebrow, glanced at the candle, and it went out. He then grasped Harry's hand, covering his fingers. "Light it again, Potter."

Harry thought hard, his fingers tensing, feeling raw magic swelling behind them, but with Snape blocking the flow, he couldn't do it.

"You see?" murmured Snape. "Pure Arts gets a lot of credit for being useful if you don't have a wand. And yet all it takes is a block in the way and you're completely and utterly helpless. Concentrate on the feeling of fire, and the power of your mind, and it will happen."

Harry frowned at the candle, with a sigh, trying to concentrate as hard as he could on what Snape told him to. He was focusing so intensely that he felt as though there was nothing in the world apart from that candle, and how badly he wanted it to light. But no matter how hard he tried, it just wouldn't come.

After several long minutes of silence, Harry sighed, and put his head in his hands. "I can't do this. I won't."

"You can, and you will," said Snape, darkly. "Concentrate."

"I'm trying!" said Harry. "It's not working!"

Snape sighed. He stood next to Harry, and carefully splayed his fingers down the sides of Harry's head. Harry felt a sort of buzz go through his skin. "You can, and you will," Snape repeated, "even if I have to do most of it for you. Concentrate, Potter."

Harry glanced at the candle, ready to start focusing and to really try his best. But he hadn't even registered it properly in his mind before there was a little flash, and it lit perfectly.

"There," said Snape. "Concentrate again, and do it for yourself this time."

Though when Harry looked back at the candle, without Snape's fingers on his head, he just couldn't do it. He screwed up all his mental power, desperately begging the candle to light again, but nothing happened. Snape made an odd noise low in his throat.

"I think you're trying too hard, Potter."

"What? How can I be trying too hard? When you're there, snapping at me to concentrate, and - "

"Quiet. There's already enough stress in here to strangle somebody, without you adding to it. Keep your thoughts light and calm, don't start twisting your face up. You are moving it with your mind, not your eyes or your anger."

"I'm not moving it at all," said Harry, angrily. He glared at the dummy in the corner, hating it for being so awkward. "It's not going to work."

"Rubbish, Potter," said Snape, reaching out and grasping Harry's shoulder. "You need to - "

There was suddenly a bang like a firework going off, and from the corner of the room came a shower of material and scraps of fabric. Harry found himself down on the floor behind the armchair before he knew what was happening, Snape grabbing the back of his neck to shield him. As the final slithers of material fell to the floor, spread over everywhere, and a piece of cotton stuffing came floating down from the ceiling, Snape said, "Mm. Intriguing."

They both looked out over the top of the chair. Only the dummy's head remained attached to the ceiling. The rest of it was scattered across Snape's quarters, some of it smouldering slightly. An old Hogwarts graduation photograph that had been hanging in the corner had a hole blasted in the middle, and all the students were flocking to the edges, trying to beat out their smoking hats.

"Oops," said Harry, quietly.

"No worries, Potter," said Snape, so calmly that Harry was shocked for a moment or so. The Potions master stood up, wafting the last smoke away with his hand, and inspecting the last remains of the dummy. "Impressive. If this was Lord Voldemort, you would have just saved the wizarding world. Unfortunately it isn't, and when you have to fight him, he shan't be hanging from my ceiling on a string. I also think we have encountered another problem."

"What's that?" said Harry, standing up, and picking a piece of burnt fabric off his shoulder.

"Your psychic power is only flowing when I am in contact with you," said Snape. "I believe the bond has another little surprise in store for us. Switch bookshelf."

Harry jumped as the back board of the highest shelf in Snape's book cabinet gave way, and all the books fell backwards into the hole revealed. There was a spitting noise, and another book shot out from the gap. Snape snatched it out of the air, and flipped it open. Harry registered a rather plain front cover entitled, "A Thorough Guide To Magical Guardian Bonds", before Snape started flicking through pages. The further he flicked, the longer the book seemed to become, until it was easily as deep as it was tall, and looked more like a tower of paper than a book.

"Mm... I really should have read the chapter on Dangerous Mind Techniques before starting the course with you, however..." He finally found the pages he was looking for, now holding a book that reminded Harry of an accordion. He read, silently, and made a very non-committal noise in the back of his throat. "Yes, I thought as much... the bond has made me absorb your psychic power, Harry. Only when I touch you is it transferred back, as well as some of my own. We're sharing, and I have to host it when you're not using it."

"So I'm only going to be able to use these powers if you're there," said Harry, dully.

"Mm," said Snape. "This gets more and more complex every single time I lay eyes on you... but we will be able to get around this. I'll need to spend some time practicing person-to-person apparating with you. I daresay on the first Hogsmeade weekend we can find a deserted field to practice in. Until then, we'll keep learning Dangerous Mind Techniques."

Snape put his hand almost mechanically on the back of Harry's head. "Candle then, Potter. And try not to have it explode - cotton stuffing I can handle, but not melting-hot wax."

The hours dwindled by. Telekinesis was still very hard, Harry found, even with a little of Snape's magic helping him. By the time eleven o' clock came, Harry had managed to make two objects move at once, but was having trouble keeping them in the air for too long.

"It's late, Potter, and you need your rest," said Snape. He took Harry's cloak from the wall and handed it to him. "All this will have exhausted your mind. Remember to take your Dreamless Sleep Draught and to empty your mind of emotion and thought. We don't want any accidents."

Harry pulled on his cloak, and Snape lead him to the door. Harry felt very tired. He couldn't wait to get back to Gryffindor Tower and just sleep away his mind's exhaustion. Snape could tell. He nipped Harry gently in the back of the neck to keep him awake until he was at least out of the room, and Harry grumbled at him, swatting his hand away.


Snape gave an amused huff, not a laugh, but getting there, as he opened the door for Harry. "Shall I escort you to Gryffindor Tower, to make sure I do not find you tomorrow morning lying on the dungeon stairs asleep?"

"No, I'll be fine," said Harry, with a slight smile. He was about to ask Snape what their next lesson would be like, when he realised that Potions master next to him had gone very, very still. He looked up, worriedly, and saw that Snape was staring down the corridor to their right. His dark eyes were suddenly wide with shock. Harry's head whipped around.

There was a black shadow at the very end of the corridor. Tensed and poised, it looked as though whatever it was was about to pounce. Harry froze on the spot.

It was the vampire.

All he could see was a fanged mouth, dripping blood, and the rest was hidden by a black robe, but just that sight seemed to paralyse Harry on the spot. He could do nothing but stare at the figure took a step closer. A horrible hissing noise was coming from under the black robes.

Harry's vocal chords gave way suddenly, and he screamed, one long, loud, high, terrified note, as he stumbled backwards to try and run. The vampire shrieked and then bolted forwards, running right at them, faster than anything Harry had ever seen in his life. It was too fast for him to draw his wand. He screamed again and instinctively turned away, drawing his arms up over his head to try and protect his neck, seeing the vampire lash out at Snape and fling him aside. Then fingers curled in Harry's hair and he screamed as there was a terrible pain in his throat, but next second, there was a furious snarl and a flurry of movement from beside him. The hands and teeth were torn off him, and terrified, he peered through the gap in his hands - and what he saw only made him more scared.

Snape had lunged at the vampire and was now grappling with it, blow for blow, but it was not a Snape that Harry had ever known. Great long twisted claws had grown from his fingertips, his mouth was open and revealing inch-long needle-sharp fangs, and his eyes were wide, glowering blood red and flaring furiously. Harry could only stare, transfixed by what he saw, as Snape and the vampire screamed and tore at each other's robes, faces, necks, fighting so viciously that blood was spattering everywhere. Harry's hands were shaking as he drew his wand, wanting to at least do something to help, but the two were so closely locked that he couldn't. He knew that there was just as much chance of hitting Snape if he tried a spell, and if Snape fell, he was completely on his own.

There was suddenly a high, keening screech and a ripping noise that sent waves of cold down Harry's spine. He backed away with a gasp, praying that Snape was still okay, but as he turned his head, he was just in time to see the vampire wheel around and go streaking off into the darkness, trailing black blood as it ran.

The silence was punctuated only by ragged gasps from Snape for a few long moments. Harry was still frozen to the wall, unable to move from fear, and he only came back to life as he saw Snape crumple to the floor. Harry dropped to his side, his hands shaking even more, and as he caught sight of Snape's face, he couldn't stop a gasp of fright and cold sickness leave his mouth. It wasn't just the wounds that made him so afraid of looking at Snape, and his injuries were truly horrific. His face was riddled with cuts and gashes, deep and weeping dark crimson blood, but more than that, Harry just found himself so scared by what was behind the wounds. Snape's mouth had fallen open from his panting, and those lethally sharp fangs were drenched in blood. Harry didn't know whether it was Snape's own, or the other vampire's.

He shuddered as Snape then opened his eyes, and looked up at Harry. His eyes were still blood red. They just scared Harry so much he wanted to get up and run, run all the way back to Gryffindor Tower and try to convince himself it was a nightmare, all just a horrible dream that would go away.

"Are you hurt?" Snape croaked, in a voice that was not his own. It was deep, more like a growl than Snape's usual hiss. It only helped to make Harry more and more scared of the man before him. It was as though this person - no, not a person, but a monster - was not Snape at all.

Harry just stared through his fingers at the man he had found himself warming to, feeling safe around, and he knew instantly that he would never, ever look at Snape the same again. He tried to say something, anything, but his mouth just wouldn't move. His eyes were fixed on those teeth. Those needles, soaked in dark blood, blood that was dripping back into Snape's mouth. Harry felt a wave of nausea.

"Harry," the vampire said again, in that low rasp. "Are you hurt?" He reached out and went to grasp Harry's shoulder, but Harry jumped backwards away from those claws, feeling very sick now.

"Don't," he choked. "Just. don't touch me."

Snape was still panting hard, and didn't have the breath or the strength to argue. He let his head fall forward, his body tensing as a few deep coughs racked through him. Harry winced. Monster, he couldn't stop thinking. Monster.

"Bring the matron," the vampire before him growled, breathily. "And warn her."

Harry longed to do that. He longed to just get up and run, run like he'd never run before, tell Madam Pomfrey and then just go hide in a dark corner somewhere. But he couldn't. He looked down at the bleeding, broken vampire before him, and at the same moment, those dark eyes flicked up to him. Snape's eyes looked back at him, and even though they were scarlet, Harry could see his magical guardian in there somewhere.

"I-. I can't," he quivered. "It m-might come back. I. I won't let it g-get you."

He reached out, and his hands shaking so violently that it was difficult to even move them at all. His instincts were screaming to just run, but his heart was fighting his fear, as he grasped hold of Snape's arm. Those claws were so close. Harry closed his eyes, and going against every fear he had ever had, he dragged Snape to his feet, stumbling slightly. Once Snape was up, he swayed dangerously forward. Harry bit his lip on a gasp of fear as Snape's fangs came horribly close to his neck, and the older male leant on him for support. If Snape wanted to bite him, he could, so easily.

Desperately trying to forget these things, Harry began to half-drag Snape towards the hospital wing. His eyes were closed, and he concentrated with all his might on the feel of Snape's sleeves under his hands, not the stench of blood near his face. This was definitely one of the hardest things he'd ever, ever done, and he had no desire to ever do it again. Snape's ragged breathing was still deep, in the voice of the vampire, and every breath seemed to just be urging Harry to drop him and run. What if the other vampire was still around somewhere? Harry knew he had no protection now, but at the same time, every time that he considered running, he grasped Snape's arms tighter and reminded himself that under the beast was a man, injured and in need of help.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, he reached the door of the hospital wing. Safety, help, at last. But then a doubt surfaced in Harry's mind. The memory of the look on Madam Pomfrey's face of the night when he brought Pansy in. He bit his lip. Snape would be the third victim he brought in. What would Madam Pomfrey say? It couldn't be a coincidence now.

He was suddenly torn from his thoughts as Snape's cold claws curled on the other side of his neck. He jolted so badly that Snape slipped a few inches, and Harry's acceptance seemed to give way in that second. He couldn't do this. It was just too much to take. Gryffindor bravery and courage was one thing, but the instinct to survive took over. He let Snape slide to the floor. Harry could hardly bare to even look at him now. Desperately wanting to do something, he looked around in panic. Could he run to Dumbledore's office? Fetch another teacher? No, the attacking vampire could still be around here, and by the time he got back, Snape might have been killed. Harry turned to stare at the doors of the hospital wing, his mind racing in panic.

He settled on the only thing he could possibly do. He lifted his fist and hammered on the doors of the hospital wing, as loud and urgent as he could.

Then to his eternal shame and guilt, he turned and ran, as fast as he could, leaving Snape lying outside the doors of the infirmary, just wanting to get away from the nightmare coming true before his eyes.

He didn't stop running until he was in the Gryffindor common room, in the light and the warmth. Everybody else was asleep. Harry staggered in, collapsed on the sofa, and covered his face, horrified by what he'd done. The blood from his bite was still running cold down his neck, but it didn't matter now. It was the least of his worries.

If Madam Pomfrey hadn't heard his knocks, then Snape was as good as dead. After all Snape had done for him. For a few wild moments, he considered going back, maybe waking Ron and Hermione to help him, or running to Dumbledore's office. It was too late for all that now. Now he was safe in the common room, he realised there were a million things he could have done. Why hadn't he just called for Peter? Or just ignored what Madam Pomfrey might say, and taken Snape in?

He let out a long shaky breath, and just sat back, his eyes tight shut.

"What have I done?" he whispered to the silence.

"Have you heard? There was another attack last night!"

"Oh, who on?"

"Nobody knows. But they say that Snape's in the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey found him lying there in a heap really late last night, but he had fangs and red eyes and claws and everything. He's a vampire."

"No way!"

"It's the truth. Lucy told me, and she heard it from one of the portraits outside the hospital wing. And guess what? They say that Harry Potter's walking around school with a bite-mark on his neck."

"Do you think Snape attacked him?"

"I'm sure of it. I reckon Snape leapt on him, and tried to suck his blood, and I reckon that Potter gave him a few good jinxes and drove him off. Then he staggered to the hospital wing, and Madam Pomfrey found him."

"Has anybody asked Potter yet though? I mean, he'll know what happened, if he's wandering around with a bite. Why isn't he in the hospital wing too?"

"That's the thing, it's disguised. Got some sort of charm over it, though my mate Terry in Gryffindor says he walked into the common room this morning and found Granger trying to patch up Potter's neck. He's not saying anything though. Says he's got no idea what people are talking about."

"Oh come on, who's he kidding?"

"Yeah. Shhh, here he comes..."

Harry, who had been standing in the next aisle of books and listening to the conversation all along, passed the two Hufflepuff girls a very sharp glare before crossing over to sit with Hermione and Ron.

"You alright?" said Ron, in a concerned voice, as Harry sat down with a sigh.

"Yeah," said Harry, wearily. He reached up, touching the disguised bite on his neck, wishing it didn't feel so obvious.

"Maybe you should go to the hospital wing, Harry," Hermione said, kindly. Both of them were looking at him as though he was about to keel over and die on the floor.

He felt a cold flush at the suggestion, and shook his head adamantly. "No... I can't... he'll kill me..."

"You mean Snape?" said Ron.

Harry nodded. He scrunched up a fistful of his fringe wearily. "I just left him. I left him to die. He's going to hate me forever. What sort of a Gryffindor am I, if I don't even stand by the people who care for me?"

"Harry..." said Hermione. "What happened last night very rarely happens between two people. Snape will understand that. You did what you did because you were scared, and nobody can blame you for your natural emotions."

"But he risked his life for me," said Harry, painfully. "If he wasn't there, that vampire would have killed me, I know it. And now he's lying bleeding in the hospital wing, with everybody talking behind his back, and it's all my fault."

"It's not, mate," said Ron. He patted Harry's arm. "It's not your fault what happened. I mean, you didn't ask the vampire to attack both of you, did you? And you didn't ask Snape to defend you, huh? But the thing is that if it weren't for you, he'd be definitely dead now. You never know, dragging him to the hospital wing probably saved his life, Harry. If I were him, I'd be grateful."

Harry sighed. He knew that what Ron was saying made sense, but it didn't make him feel any better.

"Why don't you go and talk to him, Harry?" Hermione suggested, kindly.

Harry shook his head. "I can't. That's the only thing I definitely don't want to do. It's... neither of you saw him. You didn't see what he looked like when he was transformed. It was just scary." He sighed. The two Hufflepuffs were now watching them closely, and debating in whispers. He couldn't take much more of the staring. He stood up and picked up his bag. "I'm going to go for a walk, guys..."

"Dinner's starting soon," said Hermione. She got up, and quickly packed her books into her bag. "We can go and get seats at our regular table."

They left the library. The moment he was out of sight, he heard the two Hufflepuff girls start gossiping again. He quite wanted to go back and confront them, and Ron looked to be in the same state of mind, but Hermione shook her head and closed the doors behind her. "You'll only stir up more rumours," she said. "If Harry goes around picking fights, people are going to say that he's a vampire too. And Ron, you don't need any more problems after that Alrister thing, everybody's still giving me stick for that now."

Ron flushed the same colour as a tomato. "Yeah, well, that wasn't my fault..."

Harry smiled weakly at the memory, though it left his face very soon as he entered the Great Hall, everybody turned to look at him and the whispers started again. He pretended to be playing with his collar. His bite felt even more obvious now that everybody was staring at him. Hermione guided him over to their usual table, and he sat next to Kainda.

She'd been the first person he'd gone to after he left Gryffindor Tower that morning. He'd sat awake all night, fussing over the bite, wondering what on earth he was going to do the next morning, until Hermione woke up and prized the story out of him. After that, she'd cleaned up his bites for him, and upon waking up Ron had been told the full gruesome tale of the previous night. Harry let Hermione fuss over him for a while before he left, and found Kainda. She was concerned in that wonderful way that only she could ever be. They sat out in the courtyard, and she patted his shoulders, told him a lot of deep and thought-provoking things, shared a chocolate frog with him and he felt a little better. Ron and Draco were good friends, but they weren't exactly best people for advice, even if they did try very hard.

Kainda looked up at him as he sat down wearily, and handed him a plate of casserole. "Feeling alright?"

"No," he murmured, sadly. He ran his fingers over his bitemark. "It's really obvious, isn't it?"

"Not much," she said. "Don't worry about it, Harry. So what, they might be staring. They can't do you any harm, can they? If anybody asks, just say it's all a rumour, and they can't prove otherwise, can they?"

He smiled gratefully to her. "Thanks, Kai..."

"That's it," she said, smiling, and flicking a tuft of hair off his face. "Eat something, you'll feel better."

He picked up his knife and fork, and started to eat. Food made things feel a little better. As Ron and Draco started to discuss the Quidditch training program, Harry took a moment to appreciate the distraction. He was just relaxing and thinking of other things than his magical guardian, when suddenly, he realised that the hall was going oddly quiet.

He stopped eating, and turned around in his chair to see what the matter was. Albus Dumbledore was getting to his feet across the hall, raising his hands, and beckoning for silence. Harry was almost surprised; surely Dumbledore wasn't going to talk about the attacks? The headmaster rarely addressed them all about strange happenings at Hogwarts. All last year, he'd tried to convince everybody that the food was fine, and what a mistake that turned out to be. Harry wondered if what Dumbledore had to say would make things any different.

"If I may have a few moments of your time," the headmaster said, softly. "There is something I wish to say to you all."

Every face in the hall turned to look at him, and it was clear that every person was hoping for the same thing - for Dumbledore to admit that there was a vampire at work in the school. At Hogwarts, rumours were only rumours until Dumbledore deemed them true or false.

"Thankyou," he said calmly. "I have no doubt that any of you are unaware of the current situation that befalls our school, and I shall not patronise you all by acting otherwise. However, I hasten to add that no facts are 100% certain at this time, and other information may soon come to light. What we know is this: a dangerous being is at work in this school. Several people have already become victims, of what we believe is a vampire. As of yet, there is no proof, evidence or clue as to who is behind these attacks. We may be dealing with a vampire infestation, of an intruder into the school, or this may be an attack from the inside. One among our number may be the perpetrator, though as I have said, there is no proof to this. I will be most disappointed in all of you if I hear of any accusations or childish finger-pointing. This is no time for us to be divided."

Everybody swapped looks with their neighbours. Harry met Ron's eyes, and Ron murmured, "Snape..."

Harry nodded silently, feeling guilt prickling in his chest again. He expected Dumbledore to skip over the subject of Snape, and let the rumours stay as rumours - though to the surprise of everybody in the hall, he didn't.

"I must also mention a man whom all of you have been amazingly quick to judge, merely because of what he is," said Dumbledore calmly. "Professor Snape is indeed a vampire, yet - "

A babble of whispers and gasps broke out around the hall, washing across the whole room in a shiver. Dumbledore cleared his throat, and brought an end to the noise.

" - yet I shall say this in the clearest terms," he said, firmly. "There is no reliable evidence to convict anybody. Until that time, every person is as innocent or guilty as the next. Professor Snape is just as likely to be the attacker as I am."

There was another shared look. Absolutely everybody, even Harry, didn't think so somehow. The idea of Dumbledore floating around the school at night in a cloak biting people just didn't seem to glue for some reason.

"On another note," said Dumbledore. "There will be another security measure put in place for your safety. Nine o' clock at night, from this moment on, is lock-out time. You must all be in your dormitories before then - because from the instant the clock strikes nine, every single door and window within Hogwarts will lock shut, and they will not open until the following morning. If you are not safely in your dormitories then you shall be spending the night completely alone, wandering the corridors, whether you are student, staff or ghost. I beg you all to take this information very, very seriously, as you will only realise your foolishness when it is too late."

He inclined his head, just once, and then murmured, "Once you have finished eating, you may all return to your house common rooms. Sleep well."

He stood up, and left. Professor McGonagall glanced around the hall, then got up and followed him. Some of the other teachers did the same. Feeling the stares start to pool once more on the back of his neck, Harry got up without a word and left, leaving his friends calling behind him. He just wanted to get out. He hardly even noticed his feet as he went out into the grounds, found a place to sit by the lake, and curled up with his arms around his knees. A cold wind blew against his back and then rippled away across the water's surface. A single tentacle stretched out and licked the air before sliding away again into the depths.

Harry lost his track of time, as the darkness started to settle, and the castle before him started to light up with a thousand candles. He could see one of the security dragons stomping around near the greenhouses far off, and another one curled around one of the towers, asleep. Through the huge windows in the Astronomy Hall, Harry could see Norbert, Sly and their child, Kibbles II. Sly was curled at the end of the hall, watching, as the young dragon played with his father's tail. Harry couldn't remember them ever starting, but a few tears were soon welling in his eyes.

He felt as though something inside was angry with him. Disappointed. Demanding he go and do something, but Harry didn't know what it was he could do to make things different. Many times, he tried to open his thoughts, whispering in his head, "Severus...?", but there was never any answer. Getting cold, getting scared, getting lonely, Harry just sat and held his knees, letting the damp of his tears spread across his jeans. He'd never felt so alone before. Like something important was missing.

Until finally, a voice spoke from behind him. It wasn't Snape though.


He turned around, and sitting cross-legged behind him was none other than Albus Dumbledore. His beard was gleaming in the moonlight. Disappointment at it not being Snape washed through Harry in a wave, and he turned away, burying his head in his arms again.

"Hello, Professor..." he murmured. He glanced at his watch, and saw that it was half past eight. "I'm going back to my dormitory soon, I just wanted some air..."

"It's okay, Harry," said Dumbledore, quietly. "I won't ask you to go back there until you wish to..."

There was quiet for a few moments, where Harry tried to stem his tears, and Dumbledore shifted closer to sit next to him. The headmaster's eyes were fixed on the stars above, full of wonder.

"I wonder if there is anything you would like to talk about," Dumbledore said, softly, glancing over at Harry.

Harry was silent. He did want to talk, desperately, but about anything else than the guardian he'd deserted. Just the thought made another well of guilt bubble inside him. Dumbledore seemed to notice, and put a hand on Harry's shoulder, patting gently.

"He's not angry, Harry," said Dumbledore.

"Ron and Hermione have told me it already," said Harry, rubbing his eyes. "But I know he is... I... I can't even feel him anymore. It's gone, isn't it? The bond... I've killed it..."

Now that Harry had finally admitted to himself, and to somebody else, what his deepest fear was, the emotion seemed to flood through him. He closed his eyes against the pain. Dumbledore patted his shoulder again, and said, reassuringly, "Don't worry. There is no way to kill the bond you have, and you should never be afraid of that. All we have at the moment is a little psychological problem, between yourself and Severus, though you will have to sort that out yourselves. I just want you to know that fights between bond mates are always sorted out - if the guardian and their charge don't do it themselves, the bond will find a way. There is no need to be scared, Harry. Things will be fine."

Harry was quiet for a few moments. He desperately wanted to believe it, that he hadn't destroyed the bond he had with Snape, but it was so hard when he felt so alone. "Professor... do you think he'd let me go and see him?" he asked.

But when he glanced over his shoulder, Dumbledore was gone. Harry's battered subconscious took it as a no. Not sure whether he felt better or not, he got up, straightened his cloak, and headed off to the castle. As he passed the hospital wing, he paused, and tried again. "Severus?" he thought.

There was no reply.


Chapter Nineteen: The Gauntlet

Christmas was descending over Hogwarts, bringing a blanket of snow and the spirit of good will to the school. The ghosts went around in little groups, singing Christmas carols, and Justin Finch-Fletchley set up a hot chestnut stand in the entrance hall. It became very popular, especially among the muggle-born students, and proceeds all went towards the Bright Sparks training program. When asked what the money was supposed to be spent on, Justin's reply was that half-time snacks cost gold.

The Great Hall, as usual, was decorated for the holidays, with twelve towering Christmas trees hung with baubles, icicles, delicate ornamental presents, satin bows and tiny little golden trinkets. The Enchanted Ceiling was constantly sprinkling snow that never reached their heads, and great roaring fires had been lit in every classroom and hall. The grounds were iced with snow and frost that stretched across the horizon as far as the eye could see.

Harry would have been quite interested in the spectacular show that winter was putting on for the school, if he could take his mind off Snape. All his friends, to their credit, were being very helpful and kind about it. Only Ron, Hermione and Kainda knew about the guardian bond and his fight with Snape, but the others could all sense something was wrong, and they tried to distract his mind from it. Hermione's idea of something fun and non-Snape-related was revising for NEWTs, which wasn't exactly on Harry's list of hobbies. Draco, Ron and Ginny took him out into the snowy grounds to play Quidditch, and Neville sometimes joined in, even though he went blue in the cold and they had to keep him wrapped up. Luna wasn't the most comforting person in the world, but Bucket the kitten did a marvellous job one morning by leaping into one of the Christmas trees, trying to climb it and getting tangled up in tinsel. Hagrid had to rescue him, and ended up with numerous scratches before Bucket had all four furry feet back on the ground. The sight of Bucket scampering along after Hagrid and trailing tinsel across the hall made most of the girls coo and sigh over how cute he was. It even brought a smile to Harry's face.

Sneezy was doing by far the best job of cheering Harry up. Harry's fuzzy fungus had long since been relocated to the bin, but Sneezy was doing a marvellous job on his own. He'd started to hold half decent conversations by now, even though his grammar was terrible. Four days from Christmas, on December 21st, he was telling Harry all about an owl he'd seen the previous day.

"Was huuuuuuuge owul!" he squeaked, stretching his arms out as far as they could and hopping up and down. "Biiiig wings! Flap flap flap! And my says, 'Low owul!', but owul says not!"

"Says nothing," said Harry, smiling slightly, giving Sneezy a bit of toast.

"Mmmmmm, bickchit," said Sneezy. He nibbled on his toast for a while, and then went pottering off to pester Draco for some of his croissants and tell him all about the owl.

"What's going on today then?" asked Ron. "I mean, we've got no more school until after New Year. Shall we go out and play Quidditch some more in the grounds?"

"Yeah, okay," said Harry. He sprinkled some salt and pepper on his eggs; it was the only way to stop Sneezy asking for some. Sneezy was always sneezing anyway, but salt and pepper turned him blue in the face and choking for air. After that, Sneezy wouldn't go near any sort of powder, including snow, which was a bit of a problem, what with the castle being surrounded on all sides by it.

"I'll go and ask Justin and Ernie if they want to come, shall I?" said Draco, standing up, and surrendering his pastry to Sneezy. "I'm not going to get any peace here anyway, with Little Mister Chatterbox here."

He went off towards the other side of the hall. In his absence, Sneezy grabbed the rest of the croissant, hurried across the table, dipped it in the ketchup from Ron's kippers, and then put it on Draco's chair, giggling.

"Thanks," said Ron, dryly, picking bits of pastry out of his kippers. "Really appreciate it, Sneezy."

"S'okay," Sneezy said, beaming.

Draco came back from the Hufflepuff table. "I've asked them, and they say it'll be fine. They'll meet us in the grounds at - " And he sat down.

"It was NOT funny."

"Heeheehee, my thinks was very funny."

"How about I dip you in ketchup? We'll see how funny that is."

"My dares you."

"Or... how about I seal you in a little tub of... SALT?"

Sneezy squealed and hid in Ron's pocket. Draco snickered.

"Oh, don't be cruel," said Ginny, frowning.

"And sticking a croissant to my backside isn't counted as cruel?" he said, raising an eyebrow at her, and pulling his Quidditch gloves on tighter.

Ginny gave him a very placid look, as though she couldn't care less. "It's no skin off my nose. And I thought it was funny, it's just a shame that all Malfoys have their senses of humour torn out of them at birth, and cast into the fire."

Ron frowned at them both. "Do you both mind? Sneezy's having a little crisis here, and he doesn't need you two immature people fighting like infants." He tutted. "Honestly, how long can you drag a fight out for?"

"You managed several months," said Ginny, blandly.

"Hello down there? Can you even hear me?" Harry called, up in the air on his broomstick and waving at them. "You'd better not be fighting!"

"No, they're not," Kainda shouted, from her place next to Hermione. "They're talking about Quidditch." She lowered her voice, and glanced sideways at them all, smirking. "Now, get flying before I tell the boss."

Draco laughed, and took off into the air on his broom. "Clever, Kainda."

Ron handed Sneezy carefully to Hermione, and then he and Ginny followed Draco up half-heartedly, not wanting to leave the warmth of Hermione's fire in a jar. Kainda chuckled, and stuck another marshmallow on her toasting fork, holding it over the flames. "Some people don't appreciate the small things in life, huh?"

Hermione turned another page in her book, and glanced at Kainda. "You really miss it, don't you?" she asked, with a kind expression, as everybody up in the air started to do some throwing exercises.

Kainda nodded. "It's like... what if you lost your sight, Hermione? You wouldn't be able to read, or write, or do any of the things you like doing. It's a bit like that with me. Madam Pomfrey says my stomach muscles are getting stronger, and she's going to see if I can walk on my own after Christmas."

"That's good news," said Hermione, smiling. "If you can walk, you'll be able to ride a broomstick."

Kainda shook her head. "Riding a broomstick is nothing compared to playing Quidditch. You've got to be able to duck and weave and stretch and everything. Things I can't do." She sighed, and looked down at her hands. She still wore her fingerless leather Quidditch gloves. "My NEWTs are going well though. I've got no idea what sort of job I want to get. Something in an office, probably. Boring stuff like that."

"You could be a Quidditch referee," suggested Hermione.

Kainda smirked and sat back, pulling her thick coat closer around her shoulders. "I'd end up starting more fights than the players."

Up in the air, things were going well. When he first decided to coach the team, Harry had promised himself that he wouldn't intrude too much, and wouldn't become Oliver Wood. Wood had always demonstrated every special move, and made them do it over and over until there wasn't a hair out of place when they executed it in a game. Harry was determined not to end up like that, but it was very hard watching Ron try a Sloth Grip Roll.

"It's supposed to be a roll, really fluid," he said. "Just grip your broom and swing round. Imagine you're in a washing machine."

"In a what?" said Ron, who was hanging upside down and staring at Harry.

"Never mind. Just roll, and don't flop limply. The idea is to roll, so you can - "

"Harry. I get it." Ron clambered the right way around his broom, and gripped it tight. "Okay, so I roll upside down and then round again. Like in a corkscrew."

"Exactly," said Harry. "Remember it's a roll, than flopping yourself upside-down and then upright again."

Ron bit his lip, and flicked himself to one side. He got upside-down, swung a little, but stayed there. He huffed. "It's the broom, it must be. It's not built for doing this rolling stuff."

"Maybe you've got to sort of... roll the broom at the same time," said Harry, thoughtfully. "Just keep trying, okay? You'll get it in the end. I'm sure that Wood could do it, about three times in a row."

"Wood was built like a body-builder," Ron complained. He rolled the right way on his broom, and just lay across it limply, his arms and legs hanging below him. "I'm not. Hey, do you think if I tried looping it...? Or maybe I'm not moving the broom with me or something."

"Harry! Harry!"

Harry turned to the other end of the pitch, where Ginny and Neville were practicing. She was waving him over. Leaving Ron to keep practicing his rolls, Harry flew over to them, hovering in mid-air.

"Neville's having trouble catching," said Ginny. "His hands have gone all cold."

Harry eyed Neville's hands. They were going very blue. "Alright, Nev, go and sit down. Ask Hermione to conjure you some gloves, you'll be fine once you've warmed up a bit. Draco! Can you come and play Chaser while - "

There was suddenly a scream from across the pitch. Everybody jolted and wheeled around, trying to see where it had come from. Across the stands in the top box, Harry could see Ernie and Justin. Ernie was panicking, and Justin was slowly sinking to the floor.

"Help!" Ernie shouted. "Help, help!"

Harry turned his Firebolt around and sped up the pitch, dropping easily into the top box next to Justin. He was crouching on the ground, cradling his arm, shaking with pain.

"What happened?" he asked, as the others all arrived and crowded around Ernie and Justin.

"The Bludger escaped from the box," said Ernie, frantically. "It cracked him in the arm, and I don't know where it's gone..."

Luna and Hermione came hurrying along the back row of seats. Hermione was pushing Kainda's wheelchair, while Luna had her arms full with Bucket. Neville came shivering along behind them, blowing on his hands.

"What's gone wrong?" said Hermione, kneeling next to Justin.

"Bludger attack, Mione," said Ron. "We don't know where it's gone. Ernie, what direction did it go off in?"

"Towards the forest," said Ernie, quickly, "but it could - "

Suddenly, the wooden ceiling of the box splintered as the Bludger came smashing down through it. Everybody screamed, trying to get out of the way. Harry didn't know quite what made him do it, or whatever gave him the thought he could actually pull it off, but he leapt forward. His arms went around the Bludger and he fell, slamming it to the floor, and clinging onto it with all his might. It struggled and tugged, trying to get away.

"Get the box!" Harry shouted, thrashing his legs to stop it getting away.

Ginny ran and got the box of Quidditch balls, dragging it over. Harry struggled to it, while Ginny undid the straps, and together they managed to force the Bludger back into its case. He strapped it down firmly, panting.

"There," he said, rubbing his chest to get rid of the ache there from hitting the Bludger. "Now... what?"

Everybody was staring at him. He raised his eyebrows.

"What?" he repeated.

"How on earth did you do that and not get killed?" said Ernie, sounding awe-struck.

Harry shrugged. "Wood used to do it. The first time he showed me the Bludgers, he wrestled it back into the box. Look, we'll debate it later. Justin needs to get to the hospital wing."

"How are we going to move him?" said Ginny, worriedly.

"Levitation?" suggested Draco. "Though it's a long way to the castle, and it's never safe to levitate anybody with a broken bone. It could get even more damaged if we don't do it perfectly."

"Can we carry him?" said Luna. Bucket was clawing at the ends of her scarf, but she didn't seem to notice. "There are a lot of us. I'm sure we could manage it."

"That's even more risky than levitation," said Ron, biting his lip. "Shall I fly to the castle and fetch Madam Pomfrey?"

"What good is that going to do?" said Ernie. "We'll still have Justin stuck out here and no way to get him in."

"Wait! I know!" said Hermione. She stood up, rolled up her sleeves and drew her wand. "I'll conjure a stretcher! Then we can just load him onto it, and levitate the stretcher up to school!"

Everybody stood back to give her some room. Justin was still clutching his arm tight. Hermione made sure to point her wand away from him, gave it a few flicks, and pointed it. Harry saw the first flickers of a stretcher start to appear, but there was suddenly a wild hissing and snarling noise as Bucket the kitten leapt from Luna's arms, straight at Hermione's wand. Hermione yelled with pain as Bucket's claws sunk into her hand, knocking her wand off course, and most unfortunately, it landed pointing at Justin's arm. There was a horrible splintering and ripping noise, Justin screamed, and as everybody realised what the spell had done, silence fell. Hermione put her hands over her mouth, choking.

"Oh no! Justin... I'm so sorry! Quick, we'll have to carry him to the castle, it doesn't matter about the risks to his arm... oh no... what have I done?"

It was a very quiet afternoon for all of them, sitting outside the hospital wing, trying not to look at each other. Justin was still inside, being seen to by Madam Pomfrey, who had been exceptionally angry when they brought him in. She wouldn't let them in, as she had other patients who needed privacy (Snape, Harry had thought with a sinking feeling to his stomach), and told them all to wait outside. Hermione was close to tears, and Ron was trying to comfort her. Everybody else was just sitting quietly, and doing their best to forget what it was like to see a stretcher conjured inside somebody's arm. Only Luna was in good spirits.

"It's very quiet around here," she said mildly, still petting a rather smug-looking Bucket.

"Maybe it should stay like that," said Draco, raising an eyebrow.

Luna smiled dreamily at him. "Oh, I don't. I can't see why everybody is being quite so grim..."

"Because Justin's in there with a wooden frame stuck in his arm!" Ernie snapped.

Hermione started to cry. Ron put his arm around her gently. "It's not your fault, Mione," he said, soothingly. He raised his voice, and glanced at Luna. "You shouldn't feel guilty for other people's mistakes."

"I'm sensing some rather negative feelings towards Bucket," said Luna, hazily, her protuberant eyes glancing around at them all.

"Imagine that," muttered Draco.

The door of the hospital wing opened, and Madam Pomfrey stuck her head out. "You can come and see him now," she said. "But him and only him. And not for long! He's got a lot of recovering to do."

They all nodded, and filed into the hospital wing. Luna put Bucket down outside the doors, and he scampered off into the dungeons after a rat.

The bed at the very far end of the ward was shielded by screens. Harry didn't even need to think to realise who must be in there, nursing his wounds and his pride. Madam Pomfrey noticed him staring, and promptly steered him towards Justin, frowning. He didn't argue.

Justin was sitting up in bed, looking rather pained, but perfectly happy. He smiled wearily as they all came over, and opened his mouth to say something, but Hermione got there first.

"I'm so sorry, Justin," she wept. "I just didn't know... and I promise, that never normally happens..."

"It's okay," he said, sportingly. "No harm done... well... actually..."

"What is it?" asked Ginny.

Justin looked slightly nervous. He toyed with his fingers for a moment, and then said, with a weak little laugh, "Our team does seem to come in with a lot of injury-related losses... Madam Pomfrey has fixed my arm as well as she can, but... you see, the thing is, the joint was cut right through, by the... ah... stretcher. And there's a bit of a problem with it."

"What sort of problem?" said Ernie, watching Justin fearfully.

"It's a little... weak," said Justin, in a limp sort of way. "And to save any movement in it at all, Madam Pomfrey had to put a hinge charm in there. But the thing is, she's never used a hinge charm on an elbow before. And... there was an unpredicted effect."

At everybody's prompting looks, he took his arm from under the sheets. Everybody gasped in horror as he managed to bend it the wrong way, so he was touching his shoulder blades with the back of his palm.

"Indeed," he said, blandly, setting it the right way again. "And it's going to be like that for some time, you see. What with it being weak too, it's not going to have much power at swinging a bat."

"So we've lost another Beater," said Draco, gravely.

Justin nodded. "And I didn't even last a single match."

"Well... it wasn't your fault," said Ernie. "I mean... we can find another Beater, can't we? It's not like the whole school are assigned to Quidditch teams. There has to be somebody, somewhere..." He trailed off.

Everybody was looking at Harry, grimly. He glanced back at them and sighed. "We need to find a new Beater then. Any suggestions?"

"Um..." said Kainda.

"Maybe..." said Ron.

"Possibly..." said Draco.

"Who?" asked Harry.

"You," the three of them replied.

"Me?" Harry said, shocked. "Me? A Beater? Firstly, I'm not a Beater. And secondly, I don't play Quidditch anymore. If I did, I'd be a Seeker or a Chaser, not a Beater."

"Harry," said Ron, firmly. "You wrestled a Bludger to the ground. You've definitely got the strength to be a Beater."

"It's completely different swinging a club," said Harry. "At my old muggle school, I was always rubbish at tennis and things like that. I couldn't hit a ball at all."

"The Bludger isn't a ball," said Kainda. "It's attracted towards you. All you've got to do is swing your club vaguely towards it, and you'll hit it."

"I haven't got the power in my arms though," said Harry. "Honestly, guys, I can't be a Beater. Have you ever seen a Beater as skinny as me? I'll get mashed into a pulp out there."

Everybody swapped significantly exasperated looks.

"What?" said Harry.

"You're not eleven anymore," said Hermione, timidly.

Harry stared at her. "Thanks for informing me, but we're talking about Quidditch, Hermione."

"No, I mean... yes, you were skinny in first year..." she said. "But you've grown up, Harry. You're not short and weedy anymore."

"Weedy?" said Harry, eyebrows shooting towards his hairline. "What do you mean, weedy? I wasn't weedy!"

"Um..." said Ron. "Well, don't take it the wrong way, but you were. Sort of. Look, stand up, and I'll show you."

Harry stood up, wondering what all this was about. Ron got to his feet, and then said, "Malfoy, stand up."

Draco frowned, but got up anyway.

"Right. Hermione, in first year, who was the tallest out of me, Malfoy and Harry?" asked Ron.

"Probably you," said Hermione. "Then Draco... then Harry..."

"And who was the weediest?" asked Ron.

Harry choked at that, but Hermione said, "Well... if you mean little and skinny, then probably Harry..."

"And who is now the most well-built?" said Ron.

Harry glanced at Draco and Ron. Ron was actually shorter than he was, only by an inch or so. Draco was the same height as him, maybe a tiny bit taller. It was the first time Harry had taken a good look at Ron and Draco, compared to himself, and to his surprise, he wasn't actually that... well, weedy anymore. Draco was slim, tall and tapered. Ron was still rather lanky. He looked at his own arms and chest, and could have predicted Hermione's answer.

"Harry," she whispered.

"That doesn't mean I'm going to be good as a Beater," he said, quickly.

"Oh, come on Harry," said Kainda. "Look at you, you can be a Beater, easily! You're the perfect build! You know how much you love Quidditch, and the team needs a Beater..."

"But - " said Harry.

"Stop being such a gentleman," she said, grinning. "I don't care that I get to sit in the stands and drink hot chocolate for a few hours every week, it's perfectly fine with me. I know you care about me, Harry, you don't have to give up something you enjoy to prove it... here."

She pulled up her sleeves, and started to undo the buckles of her precious Quidditch gloves. They were her favourites, hand-made, and she had never lost a game while wearing them - but all the same, she slid them off her arms, and handed them to Harry.

She smiled up at him. "Come on, Harry... do me proud..."

He looked down at the gloves, and didn't quite know what to say. A lump almost came to his throat. He knew how much they meant to Kainda, how she rarely took them off, how she'd dreamed of playing Quidditch for England while wearing these. He looked up at her, and her eyes sparkled, hopefully.

He slid the gloves on, buckled them in place, and felt a rush of pride. "I'll do it," he said.

"Excellent!" said Ron, grinning and clapping him on the back. "Let's get you outside then, and start training you to hit things!"

"We'll see you later okay, Justin?" said Ernie, tentatively.

"Yeah, I'll be fine," said Justin. He smiled, and called after them as everybody left the hospital wing, "Oh Ernie, don't forget to do the hot-chestnut stall, we can't lose business!"

Everybody turned left in the entrance hall, heading out into the grounds again, but Harry stopped a voice behind him said, "Harry?"

He turned, and saw Kainda struggling to keep up with everybody walking so fast. He went over to her, and took the handles of her wheelchair.

"Thanks," she said, gratefully. She reached up, and put her hand over his. "You'll be a great Beater, I know you will."

"As long as you're okay with it," he said. "I mean, I wouldn't want you to feel left out or anything... especially because I've got your gloves and your Quidditch position, but you're still stuck doing nothing... if you don't want me to - "

She laughed. "So sweet. But honestly, Harry, I don't mind... I want to see my gloves used, and I wouldn't ever pull you down. Quidditch isn't everything in my life. There are more important things... studying, and homework, and fun stuff like that."

Harry glanced up through the doors of the hall. Everybody else was halfway across the grounds by now, completely unaware that Harry and Kainda hadn't even started on the front steps yet. He looked around to make sure they were alone, then bent down, and kissed her forehead, smiling.

She laughed again. "You soppy thing."

He grinned, as she tilted her face up and kissed on his chin. "We'll have to tie you to one of the trees in the Forbidden Forest sometime," he mused. "So I can come and rescue you from the security dragons."

"You do realise they'd set us both on fire?" she said, smirking.

"Well, anything to keep warm," he shrugged. They both laughed, and he wheeled her out into the grounds, feeling oddly proud and grown-up.

It was growing dark by the time that everybody finally decided to head back to the castle for dinner. Harry felt as though he'd woken up from a long sleep, and was suddenly refreshed. Playing Quidditch, and knowing that it wasn't too long before he'd be doing so in a game, was a wonderful feeling. They had tried a few small matches for practice, and he found that being a Beater was so much more energetic than a Seeker. Even a Chaser had some time to spare if the Quaffle was being handled okay by a team member, but as a Beater, there was never an opportunity to stay still. Harry loved it.

They all got changed, and shared a table at dinner, chattering eagerly and laughing over the day's events. Harry's mind was so exhausted but satisfied that he didn't even have a thought to spare for anything else at all. After dinner, he said good-night to Kainda, Draco, Ernie and Luna, then headed up to Gryffindor Tower with everybody else.

"That was such a good day," said Ron, grinning. "I can't wait for our first game. We're going to flatten whoever we end up against!"

They had reached the portrait hole. Hermione smiled to the Fat Lady, and said, brightly, "Red ribbons!"

The Fat Lady swung forwards to let them in. Still chattering, they all clambered through the portrait hole into the warmth of the common room. The first thing Harry noticed that it was rather chilly, and then his eyes fell on the open window in the corner. He went to close it, but a white shape fluttered over, and landed on his shoulder before he got there.

"Hiya Hedwig," he said, smiling, petting at her. "Where have you been, mm?"

She nipped his ear, and held out her leg, with a letter for him. He took it off, wondering who it was from, before he remembered. He turned around quickly, and cried, "Ron! Hermione!"

"What is it?" said Hermione, looking at him worriedly.

"He's replied!" said Harry. "It's from Bill!"


Chapter Twenty: Christmas Cracker

Hermione and Ron stared at him for long moments, before Ron said, quickly, "Open it."

Harry tore open the envelope, his heart started to speed up. This was it. He didn't know how helpful Bill's reply would be, but it would certainly at least shed a little light on the reason Khepri plagued Harry's life.

"Read it out," said Hermione, tensely.

Harry nodded. His finger's shook ever so slightly, as he unfolded the letter, and read. "Dear Harry. Thanks for your letter; I was sort of expecting it. I guess this has come up on your History of Magic NEWT work - Ron wrote to me a few days ago about his own project. I've never heard of Khepri beasts turning up on NEWT papers before, but I hope I'll be helpful. Khepri beasts (which are technically beings, but are referred to as beasts) were from ancient Egypt, and are incredibly rare. They're immortal, but only a few were ever created, for a specific job. You probably know about pyramids being tombs for the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, and that the wizards put curses in the pyramids to stop muggle raiders. It was a good strategy, but at that time, wizards and muggles lived in close harmony, and the muggles soon found out about these curses. The Egyptian wizards realized they would have to put something else in the tombs to guard the king and his treasure in the afterlife. Have you heard of Egyptian ankhs? They look like a cross, but with a loop instead of the top spike. Muggle history talks about them too, as a symbol of life and death, but the wizarding ankhs had a far greater power. Each different ankh has a different way of protecting its owner. Some of them are like good luck charms, others are amulets, some give special powers, and so forth. Magical ankhs were sealed in the tombs with the Egyptian kings, to protect them in the afterlife, but with the ankhs came their guardians - the Khepri beasts. The current theory is that when the first ankhs were made, the Khepri beasts simply appeared. Each ankh has two Khepri beasts guarding it. The Khepri beasts are incredibly magical and mysterious creatures, and not much is known about them, except that they are generally helpful. If an ankh is in danger of being used by somebody for evil or bad things, the two Khepri beasts split up. One goes with the person searching for the ankh, and guides them towards it. The other goes to that person's greatest enemy, to appeal for their help in stopping the ankh being found and used. I hope all this has been helpful, Harry. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! From Bill."

Silence hung in the common room like a cloud of poisonous gas for a moment or two. Harry glanced up from the letter, and saw Ron and Hermione both watching him tensely.

"So Voldemort's looking for Khepri's ankh," said Ron, slowly.

"I think so," said Harry. He bit his lip. "And there's another Khepri beast trying to help Voldemort find it. And when he finds it, he'll have control of whatever power that ankh has. But the ankhs all have different powers. Voldemort must be looking for one specific ankh."

"Wait," said Hermione. "All this started around the time they found that new tomb in Egypt, didn't it? The one that Rookwood robbed."

"But Rookwood can't have found anything," said Harry. "Or Voldemort wouldn't still be looking. So somebody else got there before Voldemort, and has got the ankh already. But who is it? And what's the ankh going to do if Voldemort finds it?"

"We've got to find out..." Hermione held out her hands, counting things on her fingers, and talking quickly. "What sort of ankh it is, who went into that tomb and in what order, and where all the artefacts from it went. If the ankh actually was among the items that Rookwood took, then it might actually be in Voldemort's collection now, but he just doesn't know it. Or he might have left it... it could be hidden in the tomb, for example. It might still be there, or the ministry might have found it."

"Or..." Ron looked up at them both, raising an eyebrow. "Imagine this. What if a muggle somewhere has it? What if a muggle tomb raider actually beat Rookwood there, and took the ankh? It could be anywhere, in the whole world. In a box in somebody's attic or something. Or it could be out in the desert, buried under loads of sand."

"I've got an idea," said Hermione, quickly. "All we need is an expert on Egyptian pharaohs and their tombs. Somebody who probably knows absolutely everything about every single one of them. Somebody who does nothing else in their entire existence but write notes about this sort of thing."

"Oh no," said Ron. "You're not suggesting that we actually give up our free time, over Christmas as well, to go and talk to - "

"Professor Binns...?"

Harry poked his head around the door of the staff room. There was nobody in there. The whole of Hogwarts was always eerily quiet on the morning when the students all went home for Christmas, and normally, the teachers could all be found in the staff room enjoying early glasses of Christmas tipple. Today, however, it was empty.

Harry sighed, and shut the door. "It's no use. He's not in there, and we've already checked his classroom. Where else will he be?"

"Library?" suggested Ron.

Harry shook his head. "He doesn't normally spend time in there... maybe we should go back and check his room again...?"

"Oh, but it's the holidays," said Ron, sadly. "Come on, nearly everybody else has gone home. Can't we go and roast marshmallows in the Great Hall, or play chess or something?" Hermione gave Ron a stern look, and he said, quickly, "I'm not complaining or anything, but this is really boring."

"Can I help you with something...?" said a dry, wheezy voice from the corridor to their left. They all spun around quickly. Professor Binns floated there, holding a gigantic book in his arms, looking startled to see students.

"Professor! We need your help with something," said Harry, hurrying over. "We've got a question about the Egyptians for you."

"The Egyptians, Patterson...?"

"Yes sir," said Harry. "Do you know anything about that tomb that was discovered, during the holidays?"

Professor Binns blinked down at them, looking rather taken-aback at being spoken to at all. "Why... yes, I do... they managed to work out who it was buried there, I believe..."

"Who?" asked Harry, hurriedly.

Professor Binns's wrinkly face crinkled up, as he struggled to remember, completely oblivious to the fact his book was sinking through his stomach. "Normally, it would be a pharaoh buried within the pyramids, though this was an odd exception... a very wise and powerful sorceress, by the name of Jendayi... we believe she discovered most of the ancient Egyptian curses, and for her success, she was buried as a king would be..." He blinked. "Why do you ask...?"

"This Jendayi," said Ron, casually. "You don't know if she was buried with any ankhs at all, do you?"

"I believe so, Webster..." Professor Binns looked thoughtful once more. "Yes, she was... a very powerful ankh, I believe, called the Shani Theoris. I can't remember off the top of my head what this ankh was given the power of... perhaps the library will be able to assist you further..."

"So it's called the Shani Theoris," said Hermione, who had taken out a notepad, and was writing down most of what Professor Binns said. He looked startled that even out of the classroom, people took down his every word. "And it belonged to a sorceress called Jendayi?"

"Yes, that's right, Miss Grey..." said Professor Binns, slowly. "Now... if you'll excuse me, I have more notes to make for my nest class..." He turned to glide through the doors of the staff room, and there was a loud clunk as the book floating in his stomach hit the door. "Oh dear... could one of you kindly go and ask Mr Filch to come and assist me...?"

"Filch left," said Ron. "About... two years ago. They found out he was a Death Eater, and he got put in Azkaban."

"Goodness... I really must keep up with the times," said Professor Binns, his voice muffled through the door. "History does take over one's life sometimes..."

He was right. Harry spent nearly every waking moment of the next few days sitting in the library, ploughing through the index pages of countless books, looking for anything about ankhs or Egyptian witches. Hermione was going through about three books a minute, and even tried to read some that were written in Ancient Runes or Hieroglyphs, normally without much success.

Finally, Christmas Eve came, and Harry was still perusing the shelves of the history section, taking anything that caught his eye. He could hear Hermione moving around in the restricted section - as Head Girl, she could go in there whenever she wanted. Most of their important information came from there, and they had found about eight books that actually mentioned Jendayi the sorceress, and her many achievements. None, however, had any information about the Shani Theoris, and what its power was. Another problem that refused to leave Harry's memory for one moment was the mystery of where Khepri's ankh was. If it was lying out there in the Egyptian deserts, buried under thousands of years' worth of sand, what chance did they have of finding it before Voldemort? Harry wasn't yet prepared to devote his life to sitting in a desert with a shovel and a metal detector, and neither was Hermione.

"The chances are that either Rookwood has it, or it's still there," she had said, briskly, loading more and more books into Harry's arms. "I've written to Bill, asking him to just have a really good look around, but not tell anybody what he's doing. We don't want Voldemort to realise you're searching for the ankh too, Harry."

"But what if somebody else has it?" Harry had argued. "What if it's sitting in a museum somewhere, that's next on Voldemort's target list? He'll find it, and use it, and I'm done for!"

"We don't even know what it does though," Ron had said, bracingly. "It might be something really sad, like turn your hair pink or make you grow an extra foot. Do we even know that Voldemort knows what it does? And is he even planning to use it on Harry? Maybe it's just an ankh that will give him ultimate power. If it is, then it's not really Harry's duty to stop him, is it?"

Harry replayed this conversation in his head, as he continued to search through the shelf of books before him. The door opened across the library. Harry glanced through a gap in the row of books, and saw Madam Ivy sweeping in. She sat down in her usual chair by the fire, slid her glasses on over her eyes, and started to read. She'd been wearing them more often lately, so she permanently looked like a cross between Madam Pince, Professor McGonagall, and some exotic bird.

"Harry?" Hermione was hurrying down the aisle of books towards him, cradling about six thick books in her arms. "It's about an hour until lock-out time. I think we should start carrying as many books as we can up to Gryffindor Tower."

Harry nodded, and took some of the books off her. "Okay. I'll carry these up, you keep looking." He left the library, avoiding Madam Ivy's gaze as he passed. She had a way of making him feel strangely paranoid, without even saying a word to him.

He dropped the books off at Gryffindor Tower, and when he got back to the library, Madam Ivy was still curled in her armchair. She glanced up at him as he passed. "Ah, Mr Potter. I was meaning to have a word with you."

"Yes, Madam?" he said, turning to look at her, and hoping he wasn't in trouble.

She gestured to the armchair opposite her. "Sit, please."

Harry sat. Madam Ivy put away her book. Harry glanced over her shoulder, and saw Ron standing in one of the aisles of books, watching closely. He locked eyes with Ron, but Madam Ivy then spoke, and drew his attention like a moth to a flame.

"Now then... Mr Potter... Harry." She arched one slim eyebrow, just a fraction. "I can't help but notice your... involvement with the current situation at Hogwarts."

Harry stared at her. "Um... I don't understand..."

"Vampires, Harry. Vampires." Another arch of her eyebrow. She was even better with her piercing stares than Dumbledore. "You've been involved in all three attacks so far, have you not?"

"Well... I wouldn't say involved, but I - "

"You wouldn't? What would you say it is?"

Harry thought about this. Madam Ivy's stare was starting to make him feel incredibly uncomfortable. "I've... been present."

"Been involved," said Madam Ivy, sleekly. "I also can't help but notice the... ah... night-time strolls you take to Professor Snape's office, regularly."

"That's my remedial Potions," said Harry. "You can ask Dumbledore about that, Madam."

"Mm," she said, simply, eyeing him closely. "Are you sure it's just that?"

"Yes," said Harry. He didn't bother to hide the cold tones in his voice. "The headmaster can tell you it's true, and - "

"No, Dumbledore isn't involved," said Madam Ivy quietly. "We both know that, Harry. In my work, and your work."

"Sorry," said Harry, frowning, "but I don't understand exactly what you're trying to say."

Madam Ivy sat forward in her chair, steepled his fingers, and peered at Harry over the rim of her rectangular glasses. She smiled, ever so slightly. "I'm here for more reason than to be back-up to a werewolf in a jinxed job. The ministry need proof, and I'm going to get it. All I need you to do is to consider whether you want to be an ally to me, Harry, or an enemy."

"Proof of what?" said Harry.

She smiled again. "Proof of guilt." Her voice lowered even more, to less than a whisper, and she spoke with a horrible sort of hunger in her face. "Professor Snape has never left the doubt of the ministry, Harry... Dumbledore protests his innocence, and gives no reason for doing so. We know that something is going on in this school, and that Professor Snape is... hm... a weak link in the chain of the ministry. The minister knows deep down that Snape and whatever he is planning will eventually be the biggest mistake in the fight against the Dark Lord."

"You're wrong," hissed Harry. "He's changed sides. Why shouldn't you believe it?"

Madam Ivy smiled, almost kindly. Harry knew now that she wasn't like Umbridge. Umbridge was sickeningly sweet, almost mocking, but Madam Ivy had a sinister side that Umbridge could never manage. "A vampire, an ex-Death Eater, a master of the Dark Arts..."

"You trusted Lucius Malfoy," snarled Harry. "And he was still evil. Why not Professor Snape?"

"I won't argue with you, Harry," Madam Ivy murmured. "I just want you to know that the ministry needs information, and will reward greatly for any given... it will all be confidential, if you want to just tell me in private. Your name will never be mentioned."

"So you're trying to dig up dirt on Snape," said Harry, angrily. "Trying to get students to give you information, is that it...?"

"Shhh... it's more than that... it's for a good cause. And..." Madam Ivy smiled again, and cast her eyes downwards. "How about a full range of Outstandings in your NEWTs, Harry? I've heard you want to be an auror... how about an instant acceptance into the academy? Or instant employment? No tests, no exams, no studying. The school records say you live in a run-down, broken house. How about a new one, all ready for when you leave school? Anywhere in the world that you want. Or is it gold? How about if I promised you that the next time you check your Gringotts bank account, it will be full...?"

"I don't take bribes," said Harry coldly. "There's nothing I can tell you anyway. He's on our side, and you might not believe it, but it's true."

Madam Ivy reached down, and took a slim black book from out of her bag. When she let it fall open, Harry realised it was the marks for their Defence Against the Dark Arts work so far that year. He found his own name, and a string of constant Os next to it. Ivy was smiling at him, as she drew a pencil from her bag, and let the tip drift to his final mark. He watched, with a cold feeling of dread, as she gently etched in the outline of a T.

"Not permanent yet," she whispered. "But it might be, Harry, if you don't make the right decision..."

"I'm going to Dumbledore," said Harry. He made to stand up, but she grabbed his arm and pulled him down.

"But think..." she muttered. "If you go to Dumbledore, I go to Fudge. Dumbledore is sacked the next day, and a new Headmaster is brought in. Maybe a whole new staff. And all your marks will plummet. Is that what you want, Harry...?"

She closed her mark book, slid it into her bag, and stood up slowly. She smiled at him, one last time.

"Think about it," she said, slyly, before she turned and left.

Harry sat frozen in his chair, staring after her, wondering what on earth he was going to do. Ron appeared in front of him. "Harry...? What was that about? I couldn't hear what she was saying."

Harry looked up at him. He thought of Mr Weasley. Could he possibly intervene in all this?

"I...." said Harry. "I'm being black-mailed. By Madam Ivy."

"What does she want you to do?" said Ron, looking horrified.

"Come on," said Harry. "Let's get back to Gryffindor Tower. I'll explain on the way."

"I think you should go to Dumbledore," said Ron, half an hour later, as he, Harry and Hermione all sat in the Gryffindor common room. "If the ministry have actually put somebody into the school to check up on Snape, Dumbledore deserves to know about it. And if Ivy's black-mailing Harry into ratting on Snape - "

"No," said Harry, sadly. "I can't. She says she'll go to Fudge, get all the Hogwarts staff fired, and bring in new ones that will make me fail my NEWTs. She's already put a T for my final mark in Defence Against the Dark Arts."

Hermione gasped. "She hasn't! Oh, Harry, you've got to tell somebody! This is your whole future, she can't do this to you!"

"Go to the Daily Prophet," suggested Ron. "There'll be a huge scandal. HARRY POTTER BLACK-MAILED BY MINISTRY."

"The ministry control the Daily Prophet though," said Hermione. "And I don't think the papers will be able to sort this out... all Fudge has to say is that it's complete nonsense. Harry's got no proof." She sighed, and put her head in her hands, giving Harry a very sympathetic look. "This is the last thing you need right now..."

"I know," said Harry. "I mean... what is there that I can do?"

"I've got an idea," said Hermione. She sat up in her chair, and looked thoughtful for a moment, biting her lip. "But you'll have to help me develop it, and iron out any problems."

"Go ahead," said Ron.

Hermione rubbed her hands together. "Harry could tell Snape what Madam Ivy's up to, so Snape will be in on the plan. Then Harry and Snape can both work out fake crimes. Harry gives this false information to Madam Ivy, and she'll be distracted while she tries to find out about stuff that doesn't exist. That way, Harry keeps his NEWTs, and Snape won't end up fired."

"But accused of things he's never done," said Harry, dully.

"Yes, that's the only problem," said Hermione. "If you try to think of things which are a bit bad, but not illegal, Snape won't be in trouble. Or if Harry just gives very vague clues."

"What like?" asked Harry.

"Say... if you tell her than you went to your remedial Potions, and Snape was brewing some weird potion when you walked in. Something that looked a bit suspicious, but you don't know what it was," said Hermione. "Or give her things that she knows must be wrong. Be awkward on purpose. Tell her Snape has told you all about his happy childhood. She'll check up on it, and she'll think that Snape must be lying to you, so your information is rubbish. She won't bother you any more."

Harry was quiet. Ron looked at him, and said, "What is it...?"

"I'm just wondering what other horrors life can throw at me," said Harry bitterly. "Maybe a dementor could just come floating into the room right now. Or my Aunt Marge. Or the Dursleys, announcing they've adopted me. I mean... there's a vampire, there's Khepri, there's Ivy..." Harry put his head in his hands, and massaged his forehead. It's all just so... so..."

"Unfair...?" tried Ron.

Harry nodded. "Exactly. Why is it always me?"

Ron and Hermione were both quiet for a few moments, and then Ron said, sympathetically, "My dad always says that life never gives us more than we can handle. You'll get through this, Harry... and come on, it's Christmas! We shouldn't be sitting around and being miserable about some black-mailing cow. Let's go and get some of those marshmallows Fred and George sent us, and we'll play chess. Okay?"

"Okay," said Harry. He stretched out on the sofa, and rested his head on one of the pillows, watching the flames flicker in the fire. Ron went over to his trunk in the corner; they had put them there at the start of the year, as none of them ever went into the dormitories any more. After a moment of rummaging round, Ron found the chessboard and his set.

"Want me to get your set?" he asked Harry, as he removed several packets of Weasley Wizard Wheezes Magical Marshmallows.

"Yes please," said Harry.

The evening got much better from that point on. The three of them played chess in front of the fire, toasting marshmallows and eating sweets, until Harry couldn't care less about Madam Ivy, or Snape, or Khepri. Harry was determined to enjoy his last Christmas at Hogwarts.

The hours drifted by, until it was at least midnight. All three of them were settling down for the night, and finishing off the marshmallows as they talked. Harry felt his eyes starting to droop, so he took his Dreamless Sleep Draught, and laid his head down on the pillow. The last thought he had before he fell asleep was that in the morning, he would embrace the spirit of Christmas, and try to sort out as much of his troubles as he could.

"Harry! Harry, wake up!"

Harry opened his eyes, and looked around. Ron was sitting in the middle of their nest, grinning at him.

"Come on, it's Christmas! Presents!" said Ron, pushing a bag towards Harry. "All yours are in there, the owls just delivered them."

Harry sat up, and put on his glasses. Hermione was sitting in one of the armchairs, with her own neatly stacked pile of presents, tearing off the paper very carefully and saving any special bits of decoration. Harry could see a large number of books already sitting on the floor next to her.

"Merry Christmas!" she said, cheerfully. "Did you sleep well?"

"Fine," said Harry, smiling slightly. He opened up the bag of presents Ron had handed him, and saw several carefully wrapped packages for him. He reached in, and took out the first one, which turned out to be a box full of different-flavoured muffins from Hagrid. Harry tried one, and though it nearly broke his front teeth, it was quite nice.

He got a lot of other things as well as the muffins. From Ron, there was an assorted box of Honeydukes sweets and from Hermione, he got a useful set of new quills, all hand-crafted. From Draco, there was a high-quality jar of broomstick polish, and Mr and Mrs Weasley had sent him some home-made vanilla fudge and a thick green jumper with a gold star on the front. Neville sent Harry a little toy house, that was mostly for Sneezy, and a pack of chocolate-covered raisins. Luna's present was a rather thick book about astronomy, that didn't look terribly exciting, but from Kainda, there was an expensive new watch. Harry put it on straightaway, and resolved to not take it off anytime soon. Ginny had given him a bag full of Zonko's tricks, that he couldn't wait to test out.

Harry enjoyed a stress-free morning in the Great Hall with Ron, Hermione, Draco, Kainda and Ginny. Luna and Neville had both gone home for the holidays. Harry wasn't exactly glad that they had gone, but it was nice to enjoy a morning without Bucket trying to turn his jeans into ribbons, or Neville squealing when Bucket did the same to him. At around dinner time, the few extra people staying for the holidays milled into the hall, and they all got ready for Christmas dinner.

"I'm ready for this," said Ron, rubbing his hands together. "I've been starving all day..."

Everybody eyed the many empty sweet-packets littering the table, and the chocolate smudges at the corners of Ron's mouth. They all shared smiles, but said nothing.

"What are we doing this afternoon then?" Kainda asked, sitting back in her wheelchair and unwrapping another piece of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum.

"Just staying here, I think," said Ron. "I mean, we've got plenty of sweets, and - " But he suddenly stopped talking with a gasp, staring towards the doors into the hall. "Look!"

Harry turned around quickly. His insides squirmed, as Snape walked into the hall. Lupin was walking on one side of him, and McGonagall on the other. A hush spread over the few people present. Snape did not look good. He still had a black eye, his arm was in a sling, and there was a scar on the side of his face that would probably be there for a long time. He looked very weary, especially as all eyes in the hall turned onto him, and the whispering started. Harry wondered for a moment where they were going to sit; there were only three of the large round tables out, because so many people had gone home for the holidays. One was being used by Harry and his friends, one was full of staff, while the other was full with the remaining students.

Lupin's eyes scanned the hall, and he seemed to register the openly available seats at Harry's table. His gaze landed on Harry, almost questioning. Harry did nothing for a moment, and then nodded. Lupin, McGonagall and Snape headed over to their table, and sat down at the other side. Snape looked very, very bad-tempered. He completely ignored the students at the table, and Lupin and McGonagall too, sitting as though he was in a world of his own and did not want to be disturbed. Every eye in the hall was glancing between the Potions professor, and Harry. He didn't quite know where to look. He glanced across at the doors as they opened again, but he inwardly grimaced as he saw Madam Ivy sweeping in. Her eyes flicked up, saw Snape, and then saw Harry watching. She smiled, and came over. Every step of her heels on the floor sent a hot, angry flush across Harry's chest.

"Nobody using this seat, I hope...?" she said, with a polite smile, resting her hand on the back of the chair next to Lupin.

"No, Arabella, you can sit there," said McGonagall. "As long as Potter and his friends don't mind, of course."

Everybody glanced at Harry. Ron was just opening his mouth, clearly about to make an excuse and get rid of Madam Ivy, but Harry cut in. "No, it's fine," he said.

Ron looked at him quickly. As Madam Ivy sat down, smoothing her skirt underneath her, Ron muttered under his breath, "What are you doing?"

"Don't cause a fuss," said Harry quietly. He tried his best to look casual, and murmur to Ron at the same time. "You don't know anything suspicious, remember?"

Ron nodded, and offered Harry another sweet. Harry met his eyes, just for a moment, and saw the sympathy there. "She won't try anything here," said Harry, under his breath. "Don't worry."

He glanced up at Madam Ivy. She was watching him. She smiled pleasantly, and he returned it, as he poured himself another glass of pumpkin juice. She then turned to Professor Snape, and asked, kindly, "And how are you feeling, Severus?"

Snape gave her a very dark look. "Absolutely fantastic," he muttered.

"Good, good," she said, smiling. "Will you be teaching again after the holidays?"

"Unfortunately," was the cold reply. "I wish to repair the damage Grubbly-Plank has inflicted upon my students."

"Oh, I'm sure they'll get back on track soon," said Madam Ivy, reassuringly.

Harry didn't think the atmosphere of the table could get anymore awkward. Madam Ivy was the only person talking at all, and Harry had the feeling she was doing it purposely to highlight how tense everybody else was. McGonagall looked as though she had swallowed a lemon, while Lupin was drumming his fingers on the table-top. Harry and all his friends were quiet too, while Madam Ivy just smiled, pouring herself a glass of pumpkin juice. Harry found himself glaring at her, hating her, wondering how she could possibly do what she did. Black-mailing Harry, looking for information on Snape, angering Lupin, yet she could still smile and act as though nothing was wrong.

Luckily, the silence and awkward tension lasted only a minute or so more, for Dumbledore stood up at the staff table and let the feast begin. The table was filled instantly with dishes and plates and bowls and platters of only the finest Christmas dinner, and the chatter between Harry and his friends started again. Lupin joined in their debate, though Snape was utterly silent throughout. He scooped a few vegetables onto his plate, and a piece of meat that couldn't really have been much smaller, and only ate half of it. Harry was trying his best to stick to his Christmas promise and not let his troubles get him down too much. Once or twice though, he felt a prickling in the back of his neck, and glanced up just as Snape's eyes moved down to his half-empty plate. Not a word passed between them.

Once the dishes and platters had been cleaned of the first course, the puddings arrived. Harry treated himself and had several slices of some gooey chocolate cake, then shared a bowl of sponge cake with Sneezy. The little opsittop amused them all throughout dessert, chattering away with everybody and even singing them some Christmas carols, while eating cake and laughing loudly at the Christmas cracker jokes. Lupin let Sneezy have the plastic whistle from his cracker, but Ron confiscated it after Sneezy started to drive them all mad.

Finally, after a long and unhurried hour of eating and talking, their empty plates were disappearing back down to the kitchens to be cleaned. Everybody was feeling much better than before, and incredibly full. Harry wasn't planning anything for the rest of his Christmas except sitting and relaxing. Even Madam Ivy couldn't spoil anything now, or even if Khepri strolled in and started making more vague warnings. Harry decided it would take a Death Eater attack and nothing less to trouble him now.

Though that was before he received an unexpected message, just as the last plate disappeared, and Lupin was standing up to leave.

"Shall I help you down to your quarters, Severus?" he asked, kindly.

Snape shook his head. He stood up, and closed his eyes for a moment, as though in silent pain. Lupin made a concerned sound, but Snape waved him away. "It's a broken arm, not a broken neck," he said, in only half of his usual snarl. He sighed, and turned away towards the doors.

Harry watched him go. He didn't know if he should follow Snape or not; now would be the perfect time to apologise, and try to set things right with his magical guardian. Harry was just standing, only half-decided on what he would do, when a voice spoke in his head.

"Sit down. She's watching."

Harry cast his eyes casually around the table. Madam Ivy was watching him out of the corner of her eye, one eyebrow raised. He sat down obediently. Snape's voice continued in his head, in a very distant sort of tone.

"Come to my office this evening. Make sure she does not follow you or know where you are going."

"Okay," Harry thought. He looked down at his hands to avoid Madam Ivy's gaze.

"Are you okay, Harry?" she asked, kindly.

He looked up, and met her eyes. He smiled. "Perfect, thankyou."

"Good," she said. And she continued her discussion about NEWT standards with Professor McGonagall, as though nothing had happened.

Snape hadn't specified a time for Harry to go to his office, merely 'this evening', but the moment it started to go dark outside the windows, Harry wished he had. It was very hard to sit in the Gryffindor common room, trying to play chess with Ron or listen to Hermione teaching Sneezy more words, knowing that at some point he had to go and talk to Snape. It wasn't really that Harry was scared of Snape, but he was scared of Snape's certain disappointment in him. He was starting to almost hate the existence of the bond, but at the same time, he was grateful for it. He knew that if it hadn't been there, he would never have actually gone to see Snape. Finally, when he could hold off the meaning no longer, he left Ron and Hermione in the common room, and made his way through the darkening corridors.

As he stepped through into the dungeons, he could almost sense Snape putting down whatever he was doing, and heading to the door of his quarters. As always, it opened before Harry had even knocked. Snape looked down at him. He seemed a lot calmer than at dinner.

"Come in and sit down, Harry," Snape said, quietly. "We need to discuss something."

Harry wasn't sure what it was about these innocent words that terrified him so much: that he would be here long enough to sit down, that Snape had called him Harry, or that they needed to 'discuss something'. Silently, feeling the hand of doom upon his shoulder, he stepped into the darkness of Snape's quarters. Normally, the quiet and the calm was comforting to Harry, but suddenly, he felt as though it was all luring him into a false sense of security. The snap of the door behind him seemed to seal his fate.

He sat in his usual armchair for their DMT lessons, fiddling nervously with his hands. He was trying to think of something to explain his actions, how he could phrase it without sounding as guilty as he felt. Snape sat in the armchair in front of him, and sighed, quietly.

"Harry..." He reached up with his only good hand, and raked his greasy black hair back from his face. Harry met his dark gaze, and felt his insides squirming uncomfortably. Snape just looked at him for a few moments, then spoke again. But what he said was the last thing Harry could ever have expected. "I wish to apologise for my actions. At the time... the situation affected my judgement. I never meant to - "

"But..." said Harry, so startled by what Snape was saying that he actually dared to interrupt. "That's what I wanted to say! What on earth are you sorry for? You didn't do anything!"

"Except scare you witless," said Snape, raising an eyebrow.

"And I dumped you outside the hospital wing to die!" said Harry. "When you saved my life, I didn't even stick around to make sure you were okay!"

Snape was looking at Harry in great surprise. "Did you mean to 'dump me outside the hospital wing to die'?"

"No, of course I didn't!" Harry protested.

"Then I don't blame you. Your actions actually saved my life, Harry." Snape sat back, staring at him in confusion, as though he couldn't see why Harry was so determined to be blamed for something." If you had left me on the floor where I fell, then you would have been at fault. What you did was... very brave."

"I owed you it," said Harry. "You stopped that vampire killing me... what are you apologising for? What did you do?"

"I... I would have preferred you to find out about my transformation in a slightly calmer situation," said Snape quietly. "I scared you, Harry. By the rules of the guardian bond, I'm forbidden to do so."

"I bet these rules also mention not leaving your guardian to bleed to death," Harry said darkly.

"Even if they did, it would make no difference," said Snape. "You did nothing like that, and yet you insist on acting as though you did... unless you intended for it to be that way."

"Of course I didn't," said Harry. He looked as his fingers. All the awkwardness had been obliterated by Snape's apology. "It's just that... you saved my life, and I just ran off..."

"We're going to get nowhere if we continue like this," murmured Snape. "I can't see why we are fighting over the guilt, or why either of us would want it."

"Because I want to say sorry," said Harry.

"As do I." Snape sat back in his chair, steepling his fingers, eyeing Harry. "Then shall we save our sanity, and just say that we both apologise?"

"Alright," said Harry. "Sorry..."

"Indeed," said Snape. He smiled ever so slightly, that clever sort of smirk he had perfected by now. "You are an odd child."

"I'm not a child, I'm seventeen," said Harry, with a grin.

"It does not make you less odd," said Snape, smirking. He reached for a glass of something dark he had been drinking, but then stopped, remembering something else. "Ah, yes... Madam Ivy, Harry."

Harry's insides twitched. "What about her?"

"You're not fooling anybody with the innocent act," said Snape simply. "Peelish came into the hospital wing sometime last night, and told me about your conversation with Ivy."

"So you know she's after you," Harry said, quietly.

"I knew long before now," said Snape. "I found out barely hours after we arrived at the castle. A house-elf that had been cleaning her office came to me with a letter he had found. It had my name on it, and so he thought it belonged to me. And a most interesting letter it was too. It told me everything I needed to know; Madam Ivy has been placed here by the ministry, to find something incriminating about me, and have me removed... preferably to a cell in Azkaban. Of course, merely being a vampire is not a crime. Dumbledore has spoken to the ministry, and insisted I do not lose my job after seventeen years of loyal service, as I am not dangerous. Though Ivy is not so easily deterred. She has also been told to have Lupin removed as well, if she can. He has found her searching his desk several times already."

"That's why he doesn't like her," said Harry. "Is that it?"

Snape nodded. "This job is the only way Lupin can ever hold any sort of financial income. If he loses it, he has no chance of a career ever again."

"What are you going to do about it?" asked Harry. "I mean, you can't just let her search around in your life, can you?"

"Why not?" said Snape. "She will find nothing that the ministry are not already aware of."

"What about me?" said Harry.

Snape glanced at him, one black eyebrow arching.

"I mean..." said Harry. "What if she finds out about me?"

"I think she will probably be aware of your existence, Potter, she's been teaching you for four months already."

"No, but... about me and the guardian bond. What if she finds out about that? She could blab to the prophet, or the ministry, and then Voldemort will find out, and use it against us."

"She won't find out," said Snape, calmly. "Rest assured. Though there is another thing about you that we must discuss... Peelish tells me she is trying to pry information from you."

Harry nodded numbly. "Hermione thought that - "

"We could supply Ivy with false information," finished Snape. "Yes, I know. It is an extremely risky plan though Potter. Even giving Ivy information that is completely and utterly untrue might lead to her digging for more, and finding out things she should not."

"What like?" said Harry. "I thought you said there was nothing she could find out."

Snape thought quietly for a few moments, and then spoke again. "There are... a few tiny things."

"Which would be...?"

"One or two little slips on my clean record."

Harry stared at Snape, with a half-frown. "And those are...?"

Snape looked perfectly calm, as he took a drink from the glass of dark liquid, and said, "Murders."



"Who did - "


"Which muggles?!"

"Do you seriously think I stopped to ask their names?"

"When? How? Why?"

"About two years into Voldemort's reign... with the Avada Kedavra curse... and because I was told to do so."

Harry put his hands over his face. "You do realise that Ivy's poking around looking for this sort of information, don't you? And you'll be sent to Azkaban if she finds it?"

"Precisely - IF she finds it..."

"What am I supposed to tell her?" said Harry. "I've got to give her some sort of information or I'll fail all my NEWTs!"

Snape took a sip from his drink. "Play dumb for a few weeks. Tell her you know nothing. When it looks as though she'll definitely be dropping your grades, break down and have a little emotional moment. Then tell her that... hmm.... you are worried about the extra Potions work I'm teaching you. A lot of the potions seem rather dangerous, but you don't know what they're called. If she asks for details on the ingredients, just give her vague lists of common things."

Harry didn't know why, but he had the worrying feeling that this wasn't going to work. After a moment, he came up with the main problem. "She's already suspicious of Potions. I'm a NEWT student, with a fairly constant stream of Os, and yet I do Remedial Potions. And she's also expected to believe that I can't tell one dangerous potion from another."

"Right then..." Snape reached into his robes, and took out two small phials. One held a scarlet sort of goo, and the other was full of some watery brown-coloured liquid. "Which is the most dangerous, and what is it called?"

Harry frowned. "How should I know?"

"You shouldn't. That's the point." Snape slid the phials back into his robes. "If she asks for details of what the finished potions look like, tell her one is red, one is brown. Be vague, Potter. Act like the little innocent idiot you were in first year."

Harry nodded, silently, sitting back in his chair and looking down at his fingers again. He sighed.

"Something wrong?" said Snape.

"Everything's just... complicated right now." Harry shook his head. "I was planning on having a quiet seventh year before going out into the world and facing Voldemort."

"Which shows just how foolish it is to ever make plans," said Snape. He stood up. "I suppose your companions will be panicking without you, setting fire to things and running round in frantic worry."

"Probably not," said Harry. "They'll be playing chess or something..." He didn't stand up. For some reason, he didn't want to leave. The peace and the quiet of Snape's quarters was an odd comfort to him, and he knew that the moment he stepped out into the corridors again, the world and its troubles would return to pester him. Vampires, Khepri, Ivy...

"It's Christmas Day, Harry," said Snape quietly. "Surely you would rather spend it in good company."

"Can I stay here...?" said Harry. For a moment, he remembered a time when the last thing he would have wanted was to stay with Snape. "We could make up for the DMT lessons I've missed."

"No," murmured Snape. "I still have to recover... come to my office tomorrow, and we will discuss DMT. Until then, I order you to go back to your common room and enjoy Christmas." He opened the door. "Come along. I had better escort you, in case we are ambushed again."

Harry got up, wearily, and turned away from the gentle crackling flames and the comfortable armchairs. He headed over to the door. He felt oddly tired all of a sudden, as though he just wanted to sit somewhere and wait away his troubles. As he was heading out into the corridor, a hand rested on his shoulder. He looked up. Snape was watching him seriously, with an expression surprisingly like sympathetic.

"Peelish and I are always here to talk to, as are the other professors," his guardian said. "Well... perhaps give Ivy a miss."

Harry smiled. "Okay... and thanks Severus. I mean, Snape! Professor! Oh, damn..."

Snape smirked, and lead him out into the corridor, closing the door behind him. "Formalities, please, Potter... it might be Christmas, but it makes no exception."

Snape walked Harry back to Gryffindor Tower, the two of them only exchanging a few words every now and then. Finally, they reached the portrait hole. Snape turned to face Harry, looking at him for a few moments. Harry realised Snape wasn't looking down, as he always remembered, but standing at the same height as him, looking eye-to-eye.

"Merry Christmas, Potter," Snape said.

"Merry Christmas, Professor," Harry replied.

In years to come, neither would be sure who moved first, or whether what happened actually happened at all. One moment, Harry was just looking at Snape, and then the next, something amazing happened. He found himself in an embrace with the person he had once hated more than any other. All he registered was a moment of how surprisingly warm Snape was, and the feeling of safety that rushed through him, before they broke apart. With a last nod, Snape turned, and disappeared into the darkness.

Hiding his smile, Harry gave the password, and stepped into the common room. Merry Christmas Professor, he thought.


Chapter Twenty-One: Potions, Practice, Problems

Snape returned to teaching on the first day back after the holidays. He didn't turn up for breakfast - Harry knew that Snape was probably cautious still, about the rumours and gossip still surrounding the whole event with the vampire. He had good reason to. The hall at breakfast was buzzing with suspicion, and anybody who had a Potions lesson that day was acting, in Harry's opinion, as though they were shortly heading to their doom. Seamus Finnigan delighted in taking bets on whether Snape "would lose it and eat the class", and Neville seemed genuinely concerned about the safety of Harry and Hermione, who had Potions last thing.

"Do you worry about Lupin attacking you every time you step into the Dark Arts corridor?" said Draco, with a raised eyebrow.

"But Snape's a vampire! Lupin's just a werewolf!" said Neville.

"Vampires are actually less dangerous than werewolves," said Draco. "They have greater control over their actions, just as much as a human."

"Professor Lupin doesn't have fangs though," said Luna from across the table, hidden behind her copy of the Quibbler.

"So?" said Draco scornfully. "It's like suggesting that Weasley is about to jump on you and batter you to the floor with his spoon, just because he's got one."

"What's wrong with my spoon?" said Ron, looking up from his porridge.

"Nothing. I'm merely saying how ridiculous the idea of you beating Luna to death with it is," said Draco.

Ron stared at him. "Whoever said I was going to beat Luna to death with a spoon?"

"Wouldn't using a knife be a lot easier?" said Ginny.

"Yes, but he hasn't got a knife," said Draco. "Look, the point is - "

"What do I need a knife for?" said Ron, staring at him.

There was a moment's pause, and then Kainda summed up the whole conversation very well. "Can anybody remember what on earth we were talking about?"

"Killing Luna," said Ron, through a mouthful of porridge.

"Excuse me," said Luna, dreamily, "but I don't actually want to be killed, if it's all the same to you..."

Draco put a hand over his eyes. "Why do I even bother trying to explain things to you people? The opsittop would understand things better."

"What's Sneezy got to do with killing Luna?" said Ginny.

"Nothing! Look, it's that - " Draco just gave up, and covered his face.

There was another pause, then Kainda shrugged. "Not our fault you can't explain things properly. Pass the jam, Ron. Try not to kill Luna with it as you do."

"I thought he was going to use a spoon," said Neville, confused.

Draco sighed behind his hands. "Imbeciles. I'm surrounded by imbeciles."

The day was fairly ordinary. In Charms, Harry was pleased with the grade he'd earned for his NEWT assignment, and in Magical Creatures, Sneezy chattered pleasantly away to him all lesson as he tried to make the nest of a security dragon that was asleep in it at the time. History of Magic was a dull blur as usual, and he and Ron very nearly dozed off, but Potions turned out to be the most interesting lesson Harry had had in a long time.

As usual, the class lined up outside the dungeons, and then Snape beckoned them in. He took the register, and then stood up to address them all.

"Good," he said, vaguely, shutting his register. "We shall be studying theory today. There shall be a homework, and naturally, what you do not finish in this lesson will be carried on as extra class work... your NEWTs are steadily approaching, and I do not need to tell you all how... disappointed I will be if you achieve poor marks, having wasted my time for seven years. Textbooks are at the back. Page 168. Everything is outlined there."

They all shuffled off to get their textbooks. Harry picked one up for Hermione as well, and sat back at their desk, opening his book to find page 168. Hopefully it wouldn't be too long, he had a lot of other homework to somehow get his way through. Though after a few moments of flicking back and forth from 166-167, and 170-171, Harry soon realised that somebody had torn out his page, and he sighed, looking around for another one. He glanced at the back shelf, and realised there weren't any left.

"Can I...?" he began to Hermione in a whisper, but Snape's ever-sensitive ears picked up on it.

"No talking," he drawled.

Harry raised a hand. "Sir?"

"What, Potter?" said Snape, glancing up at him.

"Somebody's vandalised my textbook, Sir," he said. "And there aren't any left."

Snape stood up, and left the room, heading for his office to get Harry another book. The moment that Snape left though, the sound of giggling caught Harry's attention from across the room, and he glanced over at the Ravenclaws by the door. They were apparently discussing something very funny, though Harry couldn't quite see what. A boy with dark blonde hair shaved very short that Harry recognised as Andrew Waterhouse was grinning, and all his friends around him seemed to be trying to persuade him to do something, whispering, "Go on, Andy!"

"He'll kill me if he catches me," said Andrew, smirking.

"He won't, Andy, go on!"

"Alright..." The whole class was now watching as Andrew took his wand from his bag, and swished it at Snape's desk. There was a tiny pop, and several bulbs of garlic appeared lying amongst Snape's papers. Andrew swished his wand again, and covered the bulbs up with some of the scrolls. Harry felt a flush of both anger and panic. Was garlic harmful to real vampires? He was just reaching into his bag to draw out his wand and get rid of the bulbs before Snape came back, when the door opened, and the Potions master swept in.

The entire class was holding its breath as Snape handed Harry the textbook, sat down at his desk, and frowned at the disturbance in his papers. He moved the scrolls aside and uncovered the garlic bulbs. They all braced themselves for the almost certain tidal wave of fury about to engulf them all, and Harry actually scraped his chair back an inch or two through instinct.

But Snape didn't even look angry as he surveyed the garlic. He sat back in his chair, leisurely, reached out and picked up one of the bulbs. He studied it with almost interest for a few moments, and then curled back his upper lip. There was a gasp from the whole class as they caught a flash of long, needle-sharp fangs, before they sunk into the garlic with a loud crunch. They all stared at him in alarm. Snape chewed, idly, and even licked his lips before throwing the remainder of the bulb over their heads into a bin at the back.

"Wands out, please," he said, so quietly it wasn't even a hiss. "And line up against the wall."

They all did as they were told without a word. The tension in the dungeon was so taught it could have killed somebody. Even Harry, who hadn't done anything, felt scared. Andrew Waterhouse stood at the furthest end of the wall, two spaces down from Harry, so he would be last in line. He had turned chalk white, shivering from head to foot, holding his wand as though it was keeping him alive.

Snape started to move slowly along the line of terrified students, taking each wand in turn and murmuring, "Prior incantato..." He observed what came from the wand's tip, and then moved on. After a few minutes, Snape had reached Harry. He held out his hand, and Harry gave him his wand calmly, looking up at the professor. Snape met his eyes, and though his lips didn't move his voice spoke from behind Harry's ear.

"Such an interesting first lesson back..."

Harry smiled a little, as Snape tested his wand. Harry watched his last charm come out of the end in a little smoky plume. "It was Andrew Waterhouse," he thought, as Snape returned the wand.

"I know," Snape's voice drawled in his mind, whilst the professor moved onto Hermione. "I just like watching the little parasite sweat."

Harry gave an amused huff. Hermione cast him a quizzical expression. He shook his head, too busy watching Snape. The professor was now facing Andrew, standing before him, looking down at him with an expression of greatest triumph.

"Well then," he breathed. "Time to see whether the process of elimination has its merits or not... wand, Waterhouse."

Andrew held it out. He was turning a colour that was a rather interesting mix of sour milk, pistachio nuts and lime jelly. Snape took the wand off him, lifted it up so the entire class could see, and growled, "Prior incantato..."

The unmistakable shadowy form of a garlic bulb burst from the end of the wand. It hovered there for a few moments, before Snape waved it away. Andrew looked as though he might faint. Snape glanced down at the doomed boy, with an expression that suggested all would be forgiven.

But then the Potions master's face contorted in rage, and he grabbed Andrew by the front of the robes, shouting so loudly they all jolted. "GET - OUT!!!"

Andrew didn't need telling twice. He ran for the exit, faster than anything Harry had ever seen in his life, grabbing his bag, knocking over a desk in his haste to get out, wrenching the door open and slamming it shut behind him.

In the ringing silence that followed, it was generally accepted by everyone present that Andrew Waterhouse would never dare to set foot in the dungeons again.

Snape turned to the rest of the class. "Back to your seats," he hissed. "And anybody else who wishes to play anymore amusing jokes is perfectly welcome to join Waterhouse in the land of no return..."

They scurried back to their seats, and nobody dared even to breathe loudly for the rest of the two hours.

After school, Harry had Quidditch practice with the rest of his team out on the pitch. Their first match would be in a week's time, and according to the slip of parchment that had been delivered to Harry at breakfast, they were facing "Abracadabra".

"I found out from the girl who works next to me in Herbology," Kainda explained to them all, as they sat out on the pitch in their Quidditch robes. "Abracadabra are fifth and sixth, a mix of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. They've all been on house teams at some point, and their major weakness is their Seeker, Wes Harris, he's a fifth year. But they've got three sharp Chasers, to make up for it. Look out for the black-haired girl, she's called Rachana Fabiola. She's sixth year, the team Captain, and she's vicious."

"I know Rachana," said Ginny, with a grimace. "She's in my Charms class and she's horrible. She really thinks she's everything. Swanning around like she invented magic herself."

"What about the Beaters?" asked Harry.

"Alex and Alan Mairwen," said Kainda. "Ravenclaw twins, fifth year. They won't be a problem, Harry. They're both pretty strong, but they're not aggressive and they don't ever pull off any special moves."

"They're in my Astronomy class," said Luna, mystically. "They are very similar..."

"They're twins," said Ginny.

"Ah, yes... that could explain it..." said Luna, her voice fading from normal volume to a half-whisper by the end.

"Well, with enough practice, we'll be able to beat them," said Harry. He stood up, and straightened out his Quidditch robes. Kainda's gloves were firmly in place on his hands. "Come on everybody, up into the air. Neville, try to stay on your broom this time, alright? Draco, stop messing with your hair, there's nothing wrong with it! Ginny, Ron, stop telling him there is! Hermione, can you look after all our stuff? And Kainda?"

"Yes?" she said, as she looked up from her homework.

Harry blew her a kiss, grinned, and flew off across the stadium, feeling distinctly playful.

"Come on, Casanova!" Ron shouted. "Stop being such a romantic and showing the rest of us up!"

Harry laughed, and sped over to them, corkscrewing round a few times just to show off. He could now hardly believe he had made the decision to stop playing at the start of term. With all the trouble and chaos going on in his life, the idea of banning himself from Quidditch too was horrible.

"Okay... Hannah, Neville, Ginny? Are you all ready down there?" Harry called. "Ron, ready? Draco? Ernie?"

"Ready!" they all shouted.

"Okay. Luna, release the balls!" yelled Harry, and down on the pitch below, Luna flipped open the trunk and let the Quaffle, Bludgers and Snitch take off into the air. Hannah shot forward to grab the Quaffle and went zooming down the pitch towards the goals, with Ginny hot on her tail and Neville floundering along behind. Ernie went off after one of the Bludgers, and Harry quickly found the other one, chasing Draco around the goal posts. He flew over to it, flicked the front of his broom upwards to brake sharply and almost slide through the air, as he hit the Bludger with all his might, sending it reeling off in the other direction. There was no more time to think though. He was after it again, as if chasing a heavy and slow Snitch, constantly flying and hitting.

Their practice lasted two and a half hours, until it was just past five o' clock, and everybody was weary and hungry. Harry and Ron rounded up all the balls, even if it took a few minutes to get the Snitch, and then Ron took the crate off towards Madam Hooch's office. Everybody else, changed and clean, was heading towards the castle. Harry landed in the stands, dismounting his broom, and wiping his forehead. He wondered why nobody had stayed behind to wait for him, until he realised that somebody had.

"Your bag, Boss," said a sly voice from behind him. He turned around, and saw Kainda there, holding it out for him. He grinned and took it.

"Thanks," he said. "I'm going to have a shower, I might be a few minutes. You can go up to the castle without me, I won't make you wait."

"And abandon you here?" she said. "Never."

He turned around, and sat on the bench in front of her. She reached forward in her wheelchair, took the towel off him and wiped his brow for him. He grinned. "I'm just tired, I'm not going to die..."

"I was a Beater for seven years, Harry," she said wisely. "There's a very fine line between the two, y'know."

"I don't know how you could have kept yourself going in the match against the Dragons last year," he said. "I can hardly hold a bat after an hour..."

"Practice," she said. "And a good incentive. Once you've been playing for a long time, you'll be a brilliant Beater. Promise you. One more thing, you need to make these gloves looser, it's restricting your movement..." She gently loosened some of the buckles for him, until they fit snugly over his hands. "There. Just try not to flick your wrist, you don't want to break it. Or worse." She smiled at him, and reached up, running his fingers down the side of his neck. "Hey, no collar..."

"I've got a chain now," he said, smiling and blushing a little. He slid the dog tag out from under his Quidditch robes and showed her it. "Nice, huh?"

"Oh yes... haute couture," she said, smiling bemusedly. She put it back under his robes. "It's time for dinner, you know. And you still smell like a muggle farmer."

He grinned. "And what do you think of muggle farmers, may I ask...?"

Kainda's smile spread, as she leant forward. "I love them."

Harry sat in the Owlery window later that evening. It was about half an hour to lock-out time, and he was just getting some air, as he finished off a sketch of a post-owl for Care of Magical Creatures. He was smiling while he did - it had been a very good day. Seeing Snape reaffirm his authority over the class, and then the Quidditch practice, had definitely given him something to smile about. Andrew Waterhouse had only appeared from the Ravenclaw bathrooms at dinner, looking very shaky and white, and when Snape asked Professor McGonagall to pass him some more garlic, Andrew nearly fainted.

Chuckling at the memory, Harry glanced up at the owl he was sketching. It peered back at him curiously, tilting its head, clicking its beak. He smiled.

"I won't be long," he said. "I just want to draw you. See?" He showed the owl the piece of paper. "I don't think I've got your beak right."

The owl hooted mildly, and fluttered a little, settling itself on the perch again. Carefully, he jotted down a small note next to his drawing, then looked out of the window across the grounds. One of the security dragons was rumbling along underneath the window, tail sweeping back and forth as it walked, rippling the dark satin lawns into an ocean of moon-lit green. Harry watched the night-sky for a few long moments. It was only then that his ears picked up the footsteps coming up the stairs of the Owlery. He turned around, and to his surprise, it was Hermione who stepped in.

"Oh! Harry!" she said, surprised. "What are you doing here?"

He showed her the sketch. "Care of Magical Creatures. What about you?"

"Oh... I'm just patrolling. Making sure there aren't any couples in here, you know," she said, blushing a little.

"Hermione!" called a voice from down the stairs. "Who are you talking to up there? I thought you said the Owlery would be deserted now!" Ron came into the room. He saw Harry, and put on a huge fake grin. "Hiya Harry! Who would have thought you'd be here, huh? What are you doing here?"

"Homework," said Harry. He smirked. "I'll leave you two to it, shall I? Half an hour to lock-out time though, don't get stuck in here for the night."

"Oh no, what a terrible thing to happen," said Ron, mildly.

Harry slid off the window ledge, put his notepad under his arm, and then left, grinning. He still couldn't quite get used to the idea of Ron and Hermione. He made his way down the widing staircase, and out into the corridor. It was dark as usual. Harry was getting well accustomed to Hogwarts at night, even if he didn't want to be, and it was only a short walk to Gryffindor Tower. He put his hands in his pockets, and headed down the corridor, with nothing in his thoughts apart from Quidditch and Kainda.

He was so caught up in his dreams that he didn't notice the object blocking the corridor before him, until it was only a few metres in front of him.

He stopped, looking up, and his heart fell. The two things he least wanted to see in the whole world were there. One was Khepri, leaning against the wall, smirking at him as usual. And lying in the middle of the corridor, bitten in the neck and losing blood fast was Draco. His arms were around something that Harry first thought was a jumper, before he realised it was Sylus, Draco's owl.

"Draco!" Harry ran over to him, falling to his knees.

Draco was still conscious, but barely. He tilted his head up, gazing at Harry through bleary eyes. "P-Potter...?"

"Who was it?" said Harry. "Are you alright?"

"I... I didn't see," croaked Draco. He was going paler and paler with every second, and as he breathed in, Harry heard a horrible rasping sound. "Wearing... wearing a cloak. Long. B-black. I was... was j-just coming this way... and I f-found Sylus... lying here."

Harry turned his eyes down to the owl. He had been bitten badly. Blood was soaking down his sleek feathers, and his eyes were closed. Harry touched the owl gently, and knew by how cold Sylus was that there was no hope. It was gone. Draco didn't seem to know it. He was trying to sit up, despite the gore soaking his robes, holding Sylus in his arms like a child.

"Take... take him to H-Hagrid," Draco choked. He handed the owl to Harry. Harry didn't know whether he should say or not. He decided quickly on not, and reached out, taking Sylus. "Don't let him d-die, Harry..."

"I won't," whispered Harry. He swallowed, and then reached out, taking Draco under the arm. "Come on, let's get you to the hospital wing..." He drew his wand, just in case. Sylus had been laid as a trap, for the vampire to get Draco. If it was still lurking somewhere, Harry could well end up as the next victim.

Harry only managed to get Draco to the nearest staircase before loss of blood took over, and the Slytherin blacked out, falling against Harry. Harry quickly performed a levitation spell, and hurried down the corridors with Draco floating along behind him. He still held Sylus in one arm. Harry knew there weren't many things Draco would have risked a vampire attack for, and Sylus was perhaps the only one. Malfoys had no care for other people's things, but over their own they were fiercely protective.

As he approached the hospital wing, he paused. For a moment, he experienced a momentary flush of worry, the same he had felt when taking Snape, but this time he had learnt his lesson. He wasn't going to leave Draco. Gryffindor courage surged up in him, and he headed straight for the doors, pushing them open and leading Draco through.

"Madam Pomfrey!" he called. "Madam Pomfrey!"

She came rushing over from a bed at the end of the ward. "Mr Potter, do you mind? There are patients in here!" As her eyes fell upon Draco, Harry could tell what she was thinking, even if she didn't say it. After a moment, she sighed, "Oh dear... second attack tonight... bring him down then, Mr Potter... what's that you've got there?"

"His owl," mumbled Harry. "It's... it's dead. He was trying to protect it when the vampire got him."

Harry levitated Draco carefully down the ward, and together, he and Madam Pomfrey got the Slytherin into a bed. Madam Pomfrey was looking very flustered.

"Did you say he's the second attack tonight?" said Harry.

"Yes," said Madam Pomfrey with a sigh. "There's a house-elf been killed just outside the kitchen corridor. Poor thing didn't stand a chance." She glanced at the clock above her desk. "It's nearly lock-out time, Mr Potter. You'd better hurry to your dormitory, and keep your wand out as you do. We don't want you as the third attack tonight, locked out until morning."

"Okay," said Harry. He handed Sylus to her awkwardly. "Could you just... put it somewhere...? Or whatever has been done with the other owls... don't let him see it. He'll be really upset."

She nodded, and took Sylus away to her office. Harry left the hospital wing, heading into the dark corridors. Once or twice on the way to Gryffindor Tower, he thought he saw something move in the blackness behind him. It was only when he reached the portrait hole did Harry realise something important - Khepri. He had been standing right there when Harry went to help Draco, and hadn't stuck around to chat. It had been the perfect opportunity to get answers about the Shani Theoris out of Khepri, and he had bypassed it for Draco and Sylus. Though Harry had the feeling Khepri would be planning a return visit very soon - and he was not looking forward to it.


Chapter Twenty-Two: Abracadabra

It was snowing, heavily, on the morning of the Bright Sparks' first Quidditch match. All the students struggled out of the castle hiding under cloaks and umbrellas, crowing into the stands and huddling together for protection from the blizzard. Many students had even given themselves bubble head charms, so they could at least watch the match without screwing up their eyes.

"We're going to get absolutely frozen," Draco announced to the changing rooms, as they all stood at the mouth of the tunnel leading to the pitch, looking out at the shivering crowd. He had only come out of the hospital wing that morning, after Madam Pomfrey had patched up the bite on his neck, and said he was fit to play Quidditch. Luckily, the vampire had clearly fed on Sylus and the house elf, and the bite hadn't been very serious, but the loss of his owl had come as quite a shock to Draco's system. Madam Pomfrey had, rather wisely, said that it was best for him to do something he enjoyed and not dwell on what had happened.

"Frozen doesn't quite cover it," said Ron next to him. "Turned into solid blocks of ice, more like. You'd better catch the Snitch quick, Malfoy."

"It won't be hard," Draco mused. "I'll just have to pick my way through the slush on the pitch, because that's where the poor Snitch will have been buried. Maybe I should conjure myself a rake."

"Maybe a hair dryer," suggested Ernie, shrugging.

"A what?" said Ron.

"Never mind."

Ginny and Hannah came through into the boys' changing rooms, carrying their brooms over their shoulders. Hannah glanced over Ernie shoulder at the swirling snow outside. "It's a bit chilly..."

"It's only a bit of snow," said Ernie. "It won't kill us."

"Never heard of hypothermia?" said Ron, raising an eyebrow at Ernie.

"Nobody's going to get hypothermia," said Harry, coming out of the showers, doing up the buttons of his Quidditch robes. "It's just snow."

"Heliopaths are just fire," Ron reminded him. "And giants are just big. And vampires just like freshly-squeezed-from-the-neck blood shakes."

"Are you saying that snow is worse than vampires?" said Hannah, blinking at him.

"Depends how much snow there is," said Ron with a shrug.

Harry stood behind them all and peered out at the snow being whipped against the crowd by the winds. The sky was surprisingly dark, dotted with a few escaping umbrellas that had been wrenched from their owner's hands by the gales. Harry dearly hoped he could hold onto his Beater's bat, or by the end of the match somebody in the crowd would be carted off to the hospital wing with a broken nose at the very least.

At that moment, Lee Jordan's familiar tones echoed out over the stadium. "Good morning everybody, and welcome to the match today, between Abracadabra and The Bright Sparks! We've got a lot of support and potential for both teams, and it should be a good match, provided we can actually see through the snow! If anybody gets blown away, please alert one of the teachers before they get too far over the forest."

Harry looked at the rest of his team. "This is it," he said.

"The big one," said Ron, grinning.

"The one we've all been waiting for?" said Ginny.

Harry laughed. "Cut it out. All we can do is play our best, and if things get too cold, we'll quit the match, okay?"

"Don't listen to Potter," said Draco sternly. "He's crazy. Play until you die, and not a moment before."

"Well, at least one of us isn't taking this too seriously," said Ginny, sarcastically.

Lee's commentary put an end to Draco's reply. "I think we've got an exciting match ahead of us today everybody, so let's bring on the teams! Bright Sparks, are you ready?"

They all jumped onto their brooms, and kicked off, soaring down the tunnel and out onto the pitch, to tumultuous applause. Harry could see Kainda, Luna, Hermione and Justin sitting with all the Gryffindor seventh years in the front row, cheering wildly. They all waved and he grinned back.

"Potter's made a few necessary changes to the line-up this year, mostly due to injury," Lee was informing the crowd. "Kainda Zabini has been taken from the team, replaced by Potter, and to take Potter's place as Chaser is Hannah Abbot from Hufflepuff. The Bright Sparks have quite a fan club behind them, including several teachers! Looking out over the crowd, I can see Professors Lupin, Alrister, Sprout... I think that's Madam Pince there - no, wait, it's a flag pole... somebody move this snow! And proudly on the front row we have the proud friends of The Bright Sparks, including the proud girlfriends of both Ron Weasley and Harry Potter. According to the Daily Prophet article issued over the summer, " If Harry Potter's love life is not complicated enough, the Daily Prophet has unearthed evidence that his ex-girlfriend, muggleborn Hermione Granger, is now dating his best friend, Robert W-"

"Jordan!" Professor McGonagall's voice said, sharply.

"Sorry, Professor... just some background information... okay, let's bring out Abracadabra!"

The other team came speeding out of the changing rooms, leaping onto their brooms and taking off into the air. Harry picked out their captain at once. Rachana Fabiola looked just like one of the typical popular girls on soap operas for muggle teenagers. She had a very mean sort of face, with waist-length black hair tied back into a perfect ponytail, groomed to perfection. She was the sort of girl that had the look of somebody ugly, who was desperately trying to be pretty, and definitely over-doing it.

"Rachana Fabiola there, the team captain," Lee announced. "Celebrated as one of the most attractive - ah, I mean, most accurate - Chasers that Hogwarts has ever seen. Sorry Professor. Rachana's got a strong side together, and who knows? Maybe they'll be able to stop The Bright Sparks right at the starting line, and end the hopes of what could be a major contender for the Quidditch Cup." Lee coughed, casually, and then muttered, "Fat chance."

"Jordan! Unless you can commentate without bias - "

"Alright, alright... and here's Madam Hooch flying forward to start the match. Everybody taking their positions and Fabiola flies forward to meet Potter. Potter looking determined there, or maybe he's about to sneeze, can't quite tell at this point... and they're off!"

Madam Hooch gave a sharp, shrill blast on her whistle and flung the crate open. Harry registered Ginny diving for the Quaffle and shoving Rachana out of the way, but there was no time to hang around and see what happened, as one of the Bludgers was speeding away down the pitch. Harry took after it, feeling snow and wind stinging at his face as he flew. Various blurred shapes of different colours flew past, dipping in and out of the clouds of snow, some Harry recognised and others he didn't. Finally, he caught up with the Bludger, and he was just about to hit it when a figure came hurtling at him out of the blizzard. Instinctively, he flung up his bat and backed away; there was a sharp crack, a whooshing noise, and the Bludger missed his left ear by inches. He wheeled around, just in time to beat it away. He panted, trying to calm his heart, and looking around for the other Beater that had nearly taken his head off. He was just in time to see a boy with light brown hair go pelting away after the Bludger. In letters across his back in gold was "ALEX". Harry made a mental reminder to get his revenge at the first chance he got, then turned his broom around and went off to check on the other end of the pitch.

The second Bludger was terrorising the Chasers, looping around them and making it very hard for anybody to stay still and try to score. Ernie was after it, but he wasn't getting very far. Every time he hit the Bludger, it curved and came rushing back at the mass of Chasers again. Harry could hear Lee Jordan shouting something over the blinding rush of snow and wind, but couldn't make out the words.

"Ernie, chase it this way!!" he shouted. Ernie gave a muted grunt and whacked the Bludger as hard as he could, sending it lurching towards Harry, who pulled back his club and hit it off down the pitch towards the Abracadabra Beaters. This turned out to be a bad idea. Within seconds, the Bludgers had been knocked right back towards Harry and Ernie with a great deal of force. Harry managed to tackle the one aimed at him, hitting it back towards the other Beaters, but Ernie wasn't so lucky. He yelled and ducked to avoid being knocked off his broom, and the Bludger went racing towards Ginny. She turned just in time and screamed. Luckily, it simply barged the Quaffle out of her hands then looped around for another attack. Ernie managed to deflect it this time, but one of the Abracadabra Chasers now had the Quaffle and he was heading off up the pitch. The mass of Chasers went streaking after him, and by the sound of things, Lee Jordan was jumping up and down and yelling. Harry turned his broom around just in time to see the Quaffle fly out of the Chaser's hands, sinking towards the hoops. Ron dived for it.

He missed by barely an inch. The Quaffle went straight through, and the groan of the Bright Sparks supporters echoed around the stands.

"And it's 10-0 to Abracadabra!" shouted Lee. "What a terrible start for the Bright Sparks! Let's hope Potter and his team have some sort of back-up plan here, or their future in the tournament could be in danger!"

Harry flew up to the top of the pitch. Ron looked horrified. "Harry!" he shouted. "I'm sorry, I didn't - "

"It's okay," said Harry. "Just keep trying, don't let it get to you."

"Neville Longbottom takes the Quaffle," Lee informed the crowd, "and we're off again! Longbottom heading up the pitch... he dodges Fabiola, and he dodges Morris, he dodges Vanassche! Pass to Ginny Weasley, pass down to Hannah Abbot, up to Longbottom, down to Weasley again... Weasley lines up to shoot! Come on Ginny! And - "

There was another groan from The Bright Sparks supporters, as Ginny missed. Harry put his hands over his face. What was going wrong?

The Quaffle was taken up by Rachana, but Ginny managed to intercept a throw to Vanassche and tore off down the pitch back towards the goal. Harry followed her all the way, deflecting both Bludgers at least twice. Lee was going hysterical.

"Ginny going for goal! Oh come on, she's got to score! COME ON!!!"

"JORDAN! Calm down! You're going to break the microphone!"

Harry whacked away another Bludger, handing it to Ernie who sent it after Rachana, putting an end to her pursuit of Ginny. Ginny was now against the Keeper. She screwed up her face, and threw the Quaffle as hard as she could. Harry watched, desperately, as it soared towards the hoops. The Abracadabra Keeper dived, his arms out-stretched.

For the third time that match, The Bright Sparks supporters were disappointed. The Keeper snatched up the Quaffle, and flung it to Rachana, who sped off down the side of the pitch before anybody knew what was happening.

"NEVILLE!!" Harry roared. "TACKLE HER!!"

Neville stared at him in horror for a moment, and then looking very reluctant, he flew out to go against Rachana. It all happened in less than a second. One moment, Neville was reaching out to try and swat the Quaffle from her hand, and the next, Madam Hooch's whistle sounded over the stadium. The Bright Sparks supporters leapt to their feet with a roar of rage, and before Harry could even blink, Neville hit the pitch in a heap.

"Foul!!" Lee Jordan cried. "Fabiola cobbing there, excessive use of elbows! But is Longbottom okay?"

Harry flew down to the pitch, stumbled off his broom, and trudged through the thick snow and slush towards Neville. Hermione and Luna were already running onto the pitch too, and Madam Hooch was looking grim. "Come on, boy... that's it, sit up for me..." she was saying. Neville was whimpering and clutching his arm.

"Oh no," said Harry. "Don't tell us it's broken..."

Madam Hooch sighed. "His wrist's gone, at the very least... you'll have to play with two Chasers. Want to carry on?"

Harry nodded. "We've got to... you'll be alright, Neville."

"S-sorry Harry," Neville whispered, before Madam Hooch got two boys out of the front row, and Neville was taken away on a stretcher.

"Do you wish for time-out?" asked Madam Hooch. Harry glanced up at his team-mates, all hovering above him, looking cold and tired.

He nodded. Madam Hooch gave a short blast on her whistle, signalling to the crowd it was time-out. Everybody flew down to the ground, got off their brooms, and trudged wearily towards the stands. Harry beckoned his team over to the side of the pitch.

"What's going wrong?" he said, looking around at them all as they blew onto their hands to try and warm them. "We're in big trouble if this goes on."

"It's just too cold," said Ginny. "I can't throw straight like this, and Rachana keeps blocking me. It's hard enough with the snow, let alone her."

"Right," said Harry. "Here's what we'll do. Ginny and Hannah, stay close together, and I'll protect you from the Bludgers and Rachana. If either of you get the Quaffle, don't think about passing - it just gets intercepted. Just go for goal and don't let go of it. Ernie, you deal with the other Bludger, okay? Ron, keep moving, don't let your hands go to sleep. Draco, hurry up and find the Snitch - it's the only way we'll win this match."

Draco brushed his hair back out of his eyes, and nodded. "Alright."

"Don't lose hope yet everybody," said Harry encouragingly. "The Snitch is still out there, and as long as Draco catches it before their Seeker, we'll be fine."

"So no pressure on me then," said Draco, raising an eyebrow.

"Do you want to swap positions then?" said Harry. "Because here's the bat, off you go."

Draco sighed. "How typically Potter."

"Leave him alone Malfoy," said Ron.

Harry, sensing the usual danger signs of a Draco and Ron argument, stepped in quickly. "Don't start fighting. I'm serious. This is what the other team want us to start doing! If we argue amongst ourselves we'll have no chance!"

Ron and Draco both nodded. Harry looked around his team.

"Then let's get going again," he said. "And don't lose hope!"

They all clambered back onto their brooms, and took off into the air again to cheers from the crowd. Kainda and Justin had started up a chant across the pitch, which was echoed on the other side by Alrister and Lupin. There was a very faint chant of "Weasley is our king" coming from somewhere, but Harry didn't know exactly which side it was singing.

Madam Hooch flew forward with the Quaffle. Ginny and Rachana faced each other, both looking very determined. Everybody was still as Madam Hooch flung the Quaffle into the air, gave a short blast on her whistle, and the pitch exploded with cheers and shouts. Ginny leapt forward off her broom, launched herself through the air, grabbed the Quaffle and went straight over the top of Rachana, landing safely on her broom on the other side. The Bright Sparks supporters were going wild at this, and Rachana Fabiola's face twisted in rage. Before she could turn and grab Ginny, Ginny had sped off down the pitch, with Harry in hot pursuit. He deflected a Bludger, then another, and when Fabiola got too near, he even swiped his bat at her. She gave him a horrified look.

"What are you doing?" she spat.

"Playing Quidditch," he said with a smile. "What are you doing?" The Bludger came pelting towards him and he turned, cracking it hard after Alex Mairwen. Rachana took another wild lunge at Ginny, and Harry swiped at her. "You want to get hit, just keep doing that!" he shouted. Rachana snarled and tried to grab him, get him out of the way, but she was too late. Ginny had flung the Quaffle towards the goal-posts, with a desperate cry, and the whole crowd seemed to leap to their feet at once, clutching at their faces.

She missed. Everybody groaned and covered their faces. Harry could hear Rachana Fabiola laughing from behind him. Madam Hooch's whistle went, and the dark muttering bubbled over the crowd. Harry could see Hermione and Kainda looking worried on the front row.

"Ginny Weasley misses, again..." said Lee, sounding very depressed. "Bright Sparks are in trouble... Madam Hooch resuming play and the Quaffle's back on the pitch. Taken by Rachana Fabiola, pass to Vanassche, and intercepted by Ginny Weasley. Come on Ginny, come on! Potter deflects a Bludger, Weasley heading for goal, she shoots - oh, not AGAIN!"

Harry put his face in his hands. He couldn't remember a time his team had played so badly. If they lost this match... they were out of the tournament, and there would be no more Quidditch.

His moment of stillness turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes he had ever made in a match. One second, he was looking down at Kainda in the stands, then suddenly there was a rushing noise, he felt a crack on the back of his head, and everything went very black and quiet. The last thing he remembered was slumping forward onto his broom, and sliding sideways, falling hard and fast, swirling and spiralling, down and down.

When Harry woke, it was somewhere dark and quiet and warm. There was something resting on his forehead, and he could feel an odd ache in the back of his neck, as though he'd been sleeping in an uncomfortable position. His throat felt very dry. Deciding he should at least try to say something, he settled on 'water' being a good idea.

"Mmrfer..." he croaked.

"Severus!" somebody sitting next to his bed hissed. "Severus! He's waking up!"

There were footsteps into the room. "What?"

"He's waking up," said the voice of Peter, from next to Harry. "He called me Mother."

"Nnh," Harry muttered. "Mmrfer, nt mrrer..."

"Wonderful," said Snape's voice, from the foot of his bed. "He can't speak English anymore. I knew that Bludger damaged his brain."

Harry screwed up his face, and pulled up the blankets. He couldn't work out why he felt so confused and tired, or what the feeling in his stomach was, the thought that there was something he had forgotten to do. He just lay still, listening to Snape's footsteps walk over to him, something cool and damp being laid on his forehead. Peter pushed it back out of his eyes.

"Don't put it there," said Peter, irritably. "Not in his eyes. Idiot."

Snape drew breath, clearly controlling himself. "I am a Potions professor, not a nurse." There was the creak of a chair, as he sat down. Harry screwed up his eyes and pulled the blankets over his face with an annoyed little noise.

Peter sat forward. "Harry...? Are you awake?" he said quietly.

"What... what happened?" Harry murmured.

"You took a Bludger to the back of the head," said Peter. He tucked the blanket around Harry's neck. "Ernie Macmillan managed to catch you as you fell... it was a few hour ago now. You're in Professor Snape's quarters."

"What about the match?" said Harry, dazedly, blinking and trying to open his eyes. Everything was very fuzzy and dark.

Snape sighed. "You won, Potter. Malfoy managed to catch the Snitch after Fabiola's sixth goal, and Weasley's thirteenth miss."

"Oh... good..." Harry closed his eyes again, resting back, trying to stop his head swimming. "I can't see properly..."

"You will," said Peter. "Don't worry. You might just feel a bit woozy for a few days. You're staying here until then. Hermione came just after dinner with some books for you to read, and she says she'll try to get as much of your homework to you as possible."

Harry gave a half-grunt, half-laugh. He didn't know whether he was touched by Hermione's concern, or amused that it was mostly about his homework. "Nice of her..."

There was a chink of glass on metal, and then something passed in front of him. The rim of a goblet was pressed to his lips, and Snape spoke. "Drink, Potter. Sleeping draught."

Harry couldn't argue. He simply drank, feeling sleep ebbing away at his mind, and by the time Snape took the goblet away again, he was already drifting off. Sleep washed over him like a blanket. And most unfortunately, his Dreamless Sleep Draught was sitting in his trunk, back in the Gryffindor common room, and without it he had no way to fight off the nightmare.

It was baking hot under the heat of the sun. He could feel the sand rubbing against his knees as he dug, shifting more and more aside. The entrance had to be around here somewhere. He had to find it soon, or his spade would break, and then he'd be stuck. Wiping the sweat off his forehead again, he drove the blade of the shovel deep into the sand. He cast the grains aside. Still nothing.

He gasped, and fell back onto the dessert floor. He peeled off his shirt, damp with sweat, and just cast it aside. How long had he been digging now? Days. Weeks. More than a month. And still nothing. A few measly ancient Egyptian artefacts, and what good would they be? He knew that buried deep under the sand here was the tomb, of the sorceress Jendayi, and she had been buried with treasure and gold past his wildest dreams. If he found it... he would never have to go on another treasure hunt, never have to worry about money ever again.

He gasped, and ignoring the protests of his aching muscles, thrust his spade hard into the sand again. He heard a dull chink. Was it something there? He flung the spade aside, and crawled forward, scrabbling at the sand and raking his hands through it. Finally, his fingers curled around something metal. He pulled it out. It looked like some sort of talisman, like a cross but with a loop instead of the top piece. What was the word? Ankh, that was it...

He looked down at it in his palm, watching it reflect the light of the sun. There were some odd symbols etched in the metal. He screwed up his eyes, but he couldn't make out the strange markings. What were ankhs worth on the market? Not much, probably... and this just looked like some little thing somebody had dropped a long time ago. He stuffed it in his pocket. He could sell it at the market, and make at least a little money. And perhaps Jendayi's tomb was somewhere near by, and this ankh was from it.

But then Harry was lifted, up off the sand and into the air, flying upwards into the sky, leaving this scene. Time to move on. He found himself going higher and higher, until the whole world was stretched below him like a map, and he was falling again, spinning round and round until he was dropping down, plummeting through air and space, finally landing hard somewhere that was quiet and dark and warm.

He was in Snape's office again, sitting in the usual armchair, but the lesson was different today. Snape was a vampire bat, flapping in front of him, flitting from side to side too fast to see. Then he was turning into the Snitch, and Harry was flying, trying to grab the little winged golden ball, but it was still moving too fast. But suddenly it turned black, and grew, and it was a Bludger, flying at him and hitting him hard in the chest. He cried out, and he was falling again, down and down until he landed once more.

He was somewhere cold now. Cold, dark, and damp. He didn't know where. Madam Ivy was standing before him, tearing up a piece of paper with Harry's NEWT grades on it, and laughing. He begged her to stop, but she ignored him, scattering the pieces of paper all around and laughing harder. Her teeth were lengthening, into two fine points inching over her bottom lip, and she was shrinking, growing a long tail, her eyes turning into those of a hawk. Khepri stood before Harry, still laughing. He reached into his pocket, and drew out the ankh, holding it in front of Harry. Harry snatched at it, but Khepri laughed and threw it away into the darkness. Harry turned with a cry and ran after it, trying to see through the black, but he hit something hard. As he looked up, he saw Snape, Snape the vampire, his eyes red and his upper lip curled back revealing those fangs dripping blood. Snape descended on him, grabbed his hair, yanked his neck aside and bit, hard. Harry screamed.

He woke up with a gasp, reaching for his neck, clasping it. There was no blood when he took his hand away. He sighed and closed his eyes. His heart was pounding inside his chest. It was just a dream, he told himself. All a dream.

Still, it was hard not to twitch slightly as Snape came into the room, his hand curled around a wineglass of something dark red.

"Ah, you're awake," said Snape, pausing to look down at him. "Head better?"

Harry's eyes were fixed on the glass. "What's that?"

"Isn't it obvious?" said Snape. He raised an eyebrow, and sat down behind his desk, taking a sip. Seeing the look on Harry's face, he frowned. "And the problem is...?"

"Do you have to drink that in front of me?" said Harry, inching back against the headboard.

"You've seen me drink it before," said Snape. "Numerous times, in our Dangerous Mind Techniques lessons. Why, Potter, what's wrong with you now?"

"Um..." Harry tugged the sheets up around his neck, through instinct. The dream was still replaying in his head. "Aren't you going to transform...?"

Snape shook his head. "I can control the amount to which I transform. At the moment, I only need fangs, and so I only have fangs." Indeed, when he next lifted the glass and took a sip, Harry caught a flash of pointed teeth under his upper lip.

"Where did you get that?" asked Harry, timidly.

"It isn't fresh," said Snape. "Before you start panicking."

"Where was it from originally?" said Harry.

Snape frowned at him. "Considering a career as an Azkaban Interrogator, are we?"

"Tell me," said Harry.

Snape gave him a very suspicious look. He put down the glass, walked over to Harry, and peeled back his fringe. He made an indistinct noise as he noticed the cold sweat on Harry's forehead, then knelt down, peering into Harry's eyes. Harry trembled slightly as he felt Snape raking his thoughts.

"Mm," said Snape, raising one eyebrow. "After seventeen years of trying, I have finally become the stuff of students' nightmares."

"Sorry," squeaked Harry.

"No matter, Potter," said Snape calmly. "I had the feeling this conversation would be coming soon." He sat down on the side of Harry's bed, and put a hand on the top of his guarded's head. Gently, he smoothed back Harry's fringe, and ran his thumb the length of his scar. Harry shivered a little, as a rush of something cool and calming flooded from his scar.

"Why does...?"

"Dumbledore set the bond into your scar," said Snape. "That's why you received a shock in your first year, when I opened the bond at the welcome feast."

Harry glanced up at him. "It was you...?"

Snape nodded. "Not the Dark Lord, hiding on Quirrel. I believe you met him in the Leaky Cauldron before that occasion, and yet felt no pain?"

"Oh..." said Harry, wondering why he hadn't thought of this before. "So... that's where the bond is? From my scar?"

"Yes," said Snape calmly. He continued to run his thumb along Harry's scar, back and forth, in a very soothing rhythm. "Think of it as the bond's contact point with the outside world. Dumbledore was concerned at first that all three of your bonds were linked from that place, but it has done you no harm."

"All three?" said Harry, staring at him.

"Myself, Peelish, and the Dark Lord," said Snape quietly. "Your bond with Voldemort is not a guardian bond, and is very different, but still links from your scar. This is the reason you feel pain whenever Voldemort touches you there, and the reason you feel calm when I do... now then, Potter... vampirism."

Harry settled back into the pillows, looking up at Snape imploringly.

"There is nothing to be afraid of," said Snape. "At least, not with me. I am completely in control of myself when I transform, and contrary to muggle media, I will not become a blood-lust crazed maniac if I come across any. It is like drinking anything else."

"Um..." said Harry.


"I know you probably won't answer, but... what do you drink from?" asked Harry, quietly.

Snape sighed. He opened his mouth to answer, but he was interrupted, by a soft scuttling noise at the corner of the chamber. Harry looked up, and saw a black rat run out through a hole in the wall, cross the room, and disappear into another crack. Harry glanced at Snape. The professor was not looking at him.

"No," whispered Harry. "You... you don't..."

"There is nothing else," murmured Snape.

"But..." said Harry. The thought of Snape drinking the blood of rats made him feel rather queasy. "But that's horrible!"

"It's necessary," said Snape quietly.

"What if you caught some horrible disease though?" said Harry, staring at him.

"Would you rather I catch a student?" said Snape with a raised eyebrow.

Harry was quiet. "What about the blood lollipops they sell in Honeydukes? Couldn't you have those?"

"Blood flavoured," said Snape. "And I'm hardly the sort of person to sit and lick a lollipop, Potter. The rats do nothing harmful to me, and they are perfectly happy to give me a little... sustenance in exchange for me not putting down rat poison."

"What if somebody else has given them rat poison though?" said Harry. "You'll get killed."

Snape smiled a little. "Is this concern, Potter...?" He smoothed his thumb over Harry's scar again, and some of Harry's fear ebbed a little. Snape pushed him gently to lie against the pillow again. "I have enough antidotes to sort myself out if something goes wrong. And nothing will go wrong. Though I'm touch by your anxiety for my wellfare."

"Well... if you're gone, I don't really have much chance, do I?" said Harry quietly.

Snape was pulling the blankets up around his neck. "Meaning?"

"I need you to help me fight Voldemort," murmured Harry. "I can't do it on my own..."

"You can," said Snape. "And you will. Here, read one of these books Granger has sent you... The Hierarchy of Ancient Egypt... mm, sounds thrilling." He handed Harry one of the thick, dusty volumes lying by his bedside. "I would suggest something by Conan Doyle, or Edgar Allan Poe, but I suppose the ancient Egyptian hierarchy is just as fascinating."

Harry smiled weakly, and let the book just rest on the pillow next to him. "No, we're looking for stuff about the Shani Theoris... it's the ankh of Khepri, you know, that thing that keeps following me around... you don't know anything about Jendayi, do you?"

"Various things," said Snape. "But nothing about an ankh. Have some sleep, Potter. You'll feel better."

"I need to have some Dreamless Sleep Draught," Harry said timidly. Snape fetched him a small cup full, and he drank it, before settling down in the pillows again. "When can I leave your quarters?"

"When you have recovered," said Snape mildly. "And not a moment before. Sleep, Potter." He ran his thumb across Harry's scar one last time, and then stood up, leaving the room and taking his glass of rat's blood with him. Harry closed his eyes, and within a few minutes, he was lost in sleep.


Chapter Twenty-Three: Road Trip

Harry had spent four days in Snape's rooms now, sleeping most of the time, and taking an endless amount of anti-headache draft. Snape was out teaching all day, but he always returned after dinner, followed by a house-elf with some food. Hermione was doing a wonderful job of rounding up any homework he got, and most evenings she came down to see him, with messages of concern from all his friends. Apparently, Ernie Macmillan had been thrown into guilt, as it was his Bludger which had knocked Harry out.

"He says he shouted out to you, thinking you'd be able to hit it after Fabiola," said Hermione. "But you didn't turn around in time. He's feeling really really guilty Harry. I was patrolling the corridors with him yesterday evening and he was telling me all about it. Ron and Draco are both furious at Fabiola, they say she was distracting you. Apparently Ginny got into a fight with her yesterday on the Charms corridor, and somebody's hex went wrong. Everybody within three corridors got covered in Greater Spotted Woodpecker poo. We still don't know how on earth they did it." She shook her head with a slight smile. "Sometimes it's easy to see the twins in Ginny."

Snape came into the room, carrying a tray of food and Harry's usual dose of Dreamless Sleep Draught. "Miss Granger, there are fifteen minutes until lock-out time... I suggest you head back to your dormitory, unless you are planning a night on the corridor."

Hermione nodded. "Yes, sir. See you tomorrow Harry. I'll get Ron to give me any homework you get set tomorrow. Bye!" She left, hurrying out into the corridor, and closing the door behind her.

Snape sat down by Harry's bed and handed him the tray. "Dreamless Sleep Draught first, Potter," he said, nudging the cup towards Harry. "With any luck you will be at school again on Monday, with a weekend of rest and relaxation. I may allow some of your friends in to see you, if you have enough strength."

Harry picked up the little cup of Dreamless Sleep Draught, and sipped at it timidly. He was only halfway through it when there was a knock at the door of Snape's rooms. Snape stood up.

"Finish your draft," he said. "I'll be a moment."

Harry sat back in the pillows, sipping at the rest of the cup, as Snape left to answer the door. Harry listened idly. He heard Snape's feet on the stone floor, heard the door open, and then there were low voices. He recognised the broad Scottish accent of Professor Chetry, but Harry couldn't think of why on earth Chetry would want to see Snape, so late at night. A few words met Harry's ears, and he frowned.

"... Dumbledore's waitin' outside on the lawns... we have te get goin' now, or we're nae gonnae get there in time... s'urgent..."

"The boy is ill. He can't be expected to..."

"... ye're gonnae have te tell Dumbledore... I've jus' been sent te bring him, and you..."

"... absolutely ridiculous. I'm not going to..."

"What's going on?" Harry called.

"Dumbledore's wantin' te see you, Harry," came Professor Chetry's voice. "S'urgent. Ye've both got te come out te the lawns, now."

"Why?" said Harry, frowning.

"Everythin'll be explained once ye're out there," said Chetry.

Snape came through into the main room, rolling his eyes and muttering. He got Harry out of bed, as Chetry wandered through.

"Ye might want te get him some clothes," said Chetry, smiling. "If ye dunnae want 'im te catch his deatha cold."

"And how long is he expected to be out in the cold for?" said Snape, raising an eyebrow, as he handed Harry his bag.

Chetry shrugged. "Long enough. S'just that Dumbledore's waitin' outside. Cannae keep him there fer long, we've gottae be on the road soon."

Harry hurried into the bathroom, and starting pulling on clothes, while listening to Snape argue with Chetry outside. Snape was trying to pry some more information out of Chetry, who was stubbornly refusing to tell anything until Harry and Snape agreed to come out. Harry finished dressing, straightened out his clothes and slid out of the bathroom.

Chetry beamed. "Great... now then, let's get down there an' on the road, aye? C'mon, before we get locked in..."

Snape was still looking very suspicious as Chetry lead them out of the dungeons. Snape paused to seal his wards, then they headed up into the entrance hall. Harry had an odd feeling about all this. That feeling only increased when Professor Chetry pushed open the castle doors, and Harry stopped dead, staring down the steps of the castle. Suddenly the possibility that he was actually asleep and dreaming was a very likely one. For sitting below him on the lawn was the strangest little car that Harry had ever seen in his life. It was a bright purple mini, with a lurid green racing stripe going up the bonnet, and a large plastic pink daisy stuck to the roof. Smiling and waving at Harry from the passenger seat was none other than Mr Weasley, and next to him was Albus Dumbledore, eating what looked like a bag of gummy bears.

"Uh..." said Harry, quite unsure of what to say. "What's going on?"

"Precisely my thoughts," said Snape from behind Harry.

Dumbledore chuckled merrily. "All will be explained in a moment, Severus. Here, have a gummy bear... hop in all! We need to get on the road soon."

Harry got nervously into the back seat of the purple hippy car, sitting next to Snape, who was twisting the head off the gummy bear that Dumbledore had given him, with a look of sadistic pleasure on his face. Professor Chetry clambered in next to Harry, and the car rocked slightly as he slammed the door.

"Now then," said Dumbledore, pleasantly, turning round to look at Harry. "I suppose you're wondering what on earth is going on, Harry."

"He's not the only one," muttered Snape, flicking the bear's head into the ash compartment.

"Well, Harry..." said Dumbledore, cheerily, "I'm afraid we've received an urgent warning from our spies in Lord Voldemort's ranks. Voldemort is a little behind on the times, and unfortunately, he still believes your blood protection is with your aunt and uncle in Surrey. He plans to kidnap them, possibly very soon, and we must rescue them and bring them back to Hogwarts. Though we can't let Voldemort get wind of what we're doing, or he may catch us in the act, and so we're going incognito. For a long time we have suspected that Voldemort has planted somebody within the floo regulation panel, and if we take the fireplace, who knows what may happen. We are going to drive to Surrey, pick up your aunt and uncle, and take them back to Hogwarts. Arthur is here as the Minister for Inter-Muggle Relations, and Professor Chetry as our Muggle Studies teacher is going to be a negotiator. Professor Snape is here to protect you."

"With all due respect, I think I'm going to need more than Professor Snape to protect me when I tell my uncle that we're taking him to Hogwarts," said Harry, mildly.

Dumbledore smiled. "I'm sure that Arthur and Professor Chetry will be able to assist, Harry, there's no reason to be scared. We have quite a drive ahead of us, so I suggest all of you get comfortable. Before we go, does anybody need the bathroom?"

"Wouldn't it have been wiser to ask that before we were dragged out of the castle?" said Snape, raising an eyebrow.

Dumbledore handed him another gummy bear. "Now, now, Severus. We shall be in each other's company for a few long hours, at the very least, let's not start any fights. I can't hex you and drive at the same time. All strapped in? Yes? Let's get going then." He shuffled himself in the driving seat, and started the ignition. He gave a small chuckle. "Ah, I remember this all very well... the 1970s were a tremendous era... I feel like I'm 150 again."

He put his foot down gently, and the little car trundled forwards through the grass, heading for the gates. The luminous yellow plastic baubles on the antennae were swaying pleasantly back and forth, and by the time they were passing out onto the road to Hogsmeade, Snape had hit his head on the ceiling twice. One of the security dragons eyed the little purple mini as it left the grounds, and merely yawned, stretching out, and giving a belch of fire into the night-air.

"So, Harry... how's your year going so far?" asked Mr Weasley, turning around in his seat to smile at Harry.

"Pretty good," said Harry, smiling back. He didn't think it would be very wise to say, 'No, there's a vampire trying to kill us all, I'm being black-mailed by one of my professors and I nearly got my neck broken by a Bludger just last week'.

"Ron and Ginny doing okay?" asked Mr Weasley.

"Yeah, they're fine," said Harry. "We won our last Quidditch match, a few days ago. And I think Ron got an O on his Care of Magical Creatures project."

"Did he?" said Mr Weasley, proudly. "I'll have to tell Molly when I get home. She will be pleased. I think she was a little disappointed that Fred and George didn't get any NEWTs, but they seem to be doing well with their shop."

"Let's have some music on," said Dumbledore. "Arthur, just have a look in the glove compartment, there should be some tapes..."

Snape had suddenly snapped out of his state of dull annoyance. "Albus," he growled. "If you dare put on anything that is popular at muggle childrens' parties or similar, I'm getting out of the car right now."

Mr Weasley found a decent looking tape. "This one doesn't have muggle party songs on... well, it's better than nothing." He pushed it into the tape player, and the car was filled with the cheery tones of the Bay City Rollers.

Chetry cheered and started singing along in his broad Scottish accent, more like yodelling than anything. Snape groaned and covered his face with his hands. "Are we there yet?" he asked.

It was definitely the oddest car journey Harry had ever experienced. Sandwiched between a yodelling Professor Chetry and a deeply annoyed Snape was certainly interesting, and with Mr Weasley sitting in the front of the car getting excited about every road sign they passed, Harry was quite enjoying himself by the time they pulled in at a road-side service station. Snape practically leapt out of the car and ran for the sanctuary of the shop. Harry got out, shut the door and followed him.

"No more Bay City Rollers," Snape hissed as Harry came and stood beside him at the magazine shelf. "If I hear one more note of the Bay City Rollers..."

"Not into muggle music then?" said Harry, trying not to grin.

"No, I am not," Snape snapped. "And I never will be."

Mr Weasley was coming over and joining them. He peered over their shoulders. "What's this? Magazines? Ah, yes... oh! Oh, what's that?" He reached out, and picked one up. It was a gadget magazine, about computers and electronics. Mr Weasley's eyes seemed to fill with tears of joy. "Look, it's about muggle machines!"

"Shhh," said Harry, glancing at the teenager at the counter. He was watching them shrewdly.

"I must buy this," said Mr Weasley hurriedly, reaching into his pockets for change, as though if he didn't purchase it immediately it would burst into flames and never be seen again. "Oh, drat... I hate paying for things with muggle money, this complicated system..."

Harry checked the price on the magazine, and helped Mr Weasley count out the correct amount of money. Mr Weasley went tearing off towards the counter with his precious magazine. The teenager behind the desk was already looking at them very suspiciously, even more so when Dumbledore swept into the shop in his long purple robes and his white beard. As he stepped underneath the ceiling fan, it chopped off the top of his pointed hat, but he didn't seem to notice.

"Now then," he said, smiling at them. "Snacks, I think. I haven't had any supper yet. Let's see... I had a little dish of salad from one of these service stations a few years ago, that was quite nice. Where do they keep those?"

"In the fridge," said Harry, pointing.

Professor Chetry was now lumbering into the shop. The muggle behind the counter was looking rather scared now. Chetry's shock of rainbow-coloured hair, the long tartan scarf and the t-shirt declaring 'I LUV MUGGLES' were a bit daunting.

Mr Weasley noticed the man's terrified expression, and smiled kindly. "Ah, we're at a costume party. We just stopped to get some snacks."

The teenager didn't seem to swallow this excuse, especially as Dumbledore was now reading the slogans of the cans of pop aloud and chuckling merrily to himself, and Chetry was looking through the tapes shelf for anything by "those GeeBee fellas". The young man said nothing, and just handed Mr Weasley his change, still giving him a very frightened look.

"What's this?" said Dumbledore, picking up a box on the travel games shelf.

Harry peered over his shoulder. "Oh, it's Travel Battleships. I don't think there's a wizarding version of Battleships. You have to pick co-ordinates, and guess where the other person's ships are."

"My, this sounds fascinating," said Dumbledore, smiling pleasantly. He turned the box over and looked at the pictures on the box. "How interesting," he mused. "I do tire of Gobstones sometimes... one can only be squirted with horrible-smelling liquid so many times before the novelty wears out."

Snape was languishing by the doors at this point, with his purchases hanging in a bag from his arm. Harry went to stand with him. "It's sort of like... kids in a toy shop, isn't it?" said Harry, watching Mr Weasley, Chetry and Dumbledore all pouring over the Battleships box.

Snape raised an eyebrow. "I couldn't have put it better myself."

"How far are we from Little Whinging?" asked Harry.

"A few long, terrible hours," said Snape. He glanced at Harry. "If Dumbledore plays any more music, I order you to slit my wrists for me, Potter."

"Alright," said Harry. "Only if you'll do mine too."


"How come you know so much about muggles?" asked Harry, glancing up at Snape curiously.

Snape shrugged. "A lot of contact with them. I lived amongst them in a grotty little flat in London for some time, while working for the Dark Lord... it's a wonder I remained sane really."

"I really want to hear your life story one day," said Harry. "And I mean everything. Not just little bits here or there."

"Perhaps one day," said Snape, idly. "Providing I manage to survive this car journey, and the return. Ah yes, your uncle thought I was a dementor when I visited their house last year, didn't he? What a wonderful day I'm in store for."

It was a good job that there weren't many cars around, Harry thought, as the car swerved dangerously to the right and screeched across three lanes of the motorway. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, casting everything in a soft amber glow, but the peaceful atmosphere was broken by the little purple car winding its way back and forth down the road.

There was another protesting squeal from the brakes as the little purple mini swerved again and nearly crashed into the banking.

"Headmaster!" said Snape, loudly. "I do not wish to intrude upon your fun, but perhaps it would be wiser not to play Travel Battleships and drive at the same time!"

"Nonsense Severus!" said Dumbledore cheerily, as the car squealed to the other side of the four lanes again. "Oh no, Arthur, you've got another one!"

"I think there's a law against this," said Harry worriedly.

Sure enough, only two moves later, a blue flashing light could be seen racing up the road behind them. Snape groaned. Harry leant forward and tapped Dumbledore on the shoulder. "We've got to stop, Professor!"

"Why? But I'm winning, Harry, I can't give up now."

"No, it's the police. We've got to pull over."

"It's a jumper, actually, but I'm glad that you like it. My auntie Dotty gave me it when I was about six, but a few engorgement charms did a world of good."

There was a crackle from behind them, and the police spoke through a large microphone. "Stop the car, and pull over to the side of the road! This is the police! Stop the car!"

Dumbledore took one more go at Travel Battleships, then pulled over at the side of the road, putting on the brakes. The police pulled up behind them. Harry remembered a time when Uncle Vernon had been caught speeding, and he had barked at them all to be quiet and let him do the talking. Mr Weasley was doing a similar thing.

"Ah, yes, this has happened before," he said. "Everybody just stay here and I'll sort it all out." He got out of the car, and waved at the police as they came over. Harry was not surprised to see a breathalyzer test in one man's hands.

Mr Weasley met the police, and seemed to be explaining something very complicated to them, with lots of large hand gestures. The police were having none of it. Mr Weasley looked rather scared as they held up the breathalyzer, and nervously allowed them to test his breath.

"They're nae gonnae take us te Muggle Azkaban, are they?" said Chetry, worriedly.

"It's not a scratch on Azkaban," said Snape coolly.

"When have you been in prison?" said Harry, staring at him.

"The weekend after Graduation Night," said Snape. He smiled slightly. "It was worth it."

The police were checking the results of Mr Weasley's test, and seemed completely astounded that he was in fact sober. Mr Weasley was smiling still. The police were shaking their heads, and one of them was producing hand-cuffs, clicking them round Mr Weasley's wrists, the other walking towards the car. He opened the door, and leant in.

"Can you all please step out of the car?" he asked.

Dumbledore, Chetry, Harry and Snape all got out silently. The policemen stared at them with wide eyes. "Rushing back to the circus, were we?" he said dryly, directing the question at Harry, who obviously looked the most normal.

"It's a costume party," said Harry limply.

"Funny sorta costume party," said the policeman. His eyes travelled to Snape, and he frowned. "Here, haven't I seen you before?"

Snape glared at him. "I don't believe so. It's odd. I normally never forget faces, but with yours I clearly made an exception."

The policemen's smile fell off his face. He moved forward, producing more hand-cuffs, but Snape was far faster. His wand was out within split-seconds and he snarled, "Obliviarte!"

The policemen's eyes rolled back into his head and he stopped dead, taking on a hazy, dreamy sort of expression. His tongue lolled out of his mouth.

"Here!" shouted the other policeman. "Here, what are you doing?"

"Obliviarte," said Snape again. The other policeman slumped to the ground with a blank look on his face, staring up at the sky dimly. Snape walked over to him. "You pulled us over to compliment us on the plastic daisy."

The policeman got up slowly, smiling in a hazy way. "I love your plastic daisy there..." he said dimly.

"Good," said Snape. He glanced at Arthur. "Alohomora." The hand-cuffs fell off to the ground. Snape turned his dark eyes onto the police again. "Good day, gentlemen."

They got back into their car, and drove away, without another word. Snape put his wand away. Mr Weasley was coming over, looking rather angry.

"How am I supposed to explain that one away, Severus?" he said. "As the Minister for Inter-Muggle Relations, I'm supposed to interact with the police and work alongside them, not have my associates jinx them to get my own way. I have a reputation to uphold."

They all got back into the car. Mr Weasley was still talking at Snape, who didn't seem to be paying attention to a single word he said.

"It's like working with Mad Eye Moody all over again," he said. "You can't just hex muggles and make them do what you want. They're people like us and they deserve some respect, you know."

"I shall let them arrest you next time," said Snape calmly.

Mr Weasley mumbled something, going a little red in the ears, before sitting back and putting on his seat belt. Dumbledore started the car, and they were off again.

It was properly light by the time the little purple mini trundled wearily down the end of Privet Drive. A man out in his garden looking after the flowers turned to stare, unaware he was watering his mail box. Harry grinned. Suddenly, Privet Drive looked very funny. He gazed around at all the twee little lawns, perfectly cut to match the neighbours', all the exactly similar houses, all the expensive cars in clear view out in the street. And here was Harry, in a bright purple mini with bobbles on the antennae, with four of the oddest people to ever set foot in Privet Drive.

"It's there," said Harry, pointing to the end of the street. "Number four. I think Uncle Vernon's got a new car."

Dumbledore pulled up right behind the new black car sitting in the drive. The exhaust gave off a little cloud of green smoke, as though the purple mini wanted to mock the shiny black BMW. Harry opened the door of the car and got out, grinning. He couldn't wait to see the Dursleys' faces. Dumbledore, Chetry, Mr Weasley and Snape all got out too and shut the doors of the car.

"Harry, I think you'd better come first," said Mr Weasley. "I'll stand with you, just in case... everybody else just wait here. We'll try to be quick."

Harry, still grinning, headed up the path. He remembered walking this way home from his old primary school every day, with Dudley following behind him, kicking his ankles. Standing neatly on the step, he lifted his hand, and knocked three times. There was a moment's pause, and then it opened.

Uncle Vernon hadn't changed at all. He was still built like a walrus, with a moustache to match, and dressed in his suit ready to go to work. He held a bottle of milk in one hand, but as the door swung open and he caught sight of just who it was standing on his front step, it slipped from his hand and shattered all over his perfectly shined shoes.

"Hiya," said Harry, grinning. "We were in the neighbourhood and thought we'd drop by."

Uncle Vernon was just staring at him in horror. His face was turning quickly from red, to white, and back again. "You!!"

"Me," said Harry. He beamed at Uncle Vernon. "How are things? Hey, have you lost weight? You look so much slimmer."

"What are you doing here?" Uncle Vernon hissed. "We got rid of you for good last year, and no way are we having you back! I don't care if you've been expelled or what. Get out of my street!"

"Vernon? Who is it?" came Aunt Petunia's voice. She stepped into the hall, cleaning a frying pan with a dish cloth. "It isn't -" She saw Harry. And screamed. The frying pan hit the floor with a dull clunk.

"I apologise for the sudden appearance," said Mr Weasley. "But you are in great danger, and we need you to come with us. We have word that Death Eaters are coming to attack your house, very soon, and if we don't leave almost immediately then they may arrive and capture us all."

Uncle Vernon gave Mr Weasley a highly suspicious look. "How am I supposed to believe this? Could be one of your little tricks. I know what your kind are like, and don't you pretend you're different. I've had enough of it. We got rid of the boy to stop you coming and pestering us, not to bring you back every year!"

"Please," said Mr Weasley, desperately. "Do not risk your lives because of a silly prejudice. If you come with us, we promise you will be returned the moment the threat is out of the way."

"And how soon will that be?" growled Uncle Vernon.

"As soon as possible," said Mr Weasley. He put his hands together. "We assure you, this is a most serious matter."

"Very well," grunted Uncle Vernon. "But not for long mind! Dudley and I have to go to work very soon, and I'm not leaving him in the house on his own to get ready."

"Dudley's going to have to come too," said Harry. "Unless you want him murdered."

Uncle Vernon glared at Harry through his piggy eyes, then shouted upstairs. "Dudders! Come down here!"

"What is it?" came a loud shout back, in a voice that Harry hardly recognised anymore. "I'm trying to shave here!"

"You can do it later! Come down!" yelled Uncle Vernon. There were a lot of loud, heavy footsteps, and Dudley came lumbering down the stairs.

Harry couldn't help but stare. He could hardly believe that the boy before him was the cousin that he grew up with. Dudley had suddenly grown a lot taller, and fatter too. His hair was shaved short around the back and sides, with a silly sort of tuft on top, and he was practically covered in acne. He wore a t-shirt with a rude slogan stretched across his belly, and he was dripping shaving cream along the old carpet as he went.

"What's HE doing here?!" Dudley squawked as he saw Harry.

"It's nice to see you too," said Harry coolly.

"Get your coat on," said Uncle Vernon gruffly. "We've got to go out for a while. Some Deaf Heaters or something coming to attack the house. Petunia, come on!"

The three Dursleys filed out of the house, pulling on coats as they went. Dudley was still leaving blobs of shaving cream on the path, and he was staring at Harry with half-anger and half-amazement. "What happened to you?" he said.

"Probably the opposite of what happened to you," said Harry, dimly.

Uncle Vernon was just following Mr Weasley down the path, when he spotted the purple mini parked nearby. He stopped dead, staring at it in utter disgust. "What is that horrible little thing? I hope you don't expect us to fit in there. Dudley's a big lad."

"Special wizarding car," said Mr Weasley vaguely. "Packed with enlargement charms. We'll fit, don't you worry. Come along now, quickly... the Death Eaters might be coming right this second..."

Chetry, Snape and Dumbledore were all out of the car to greet the Dursleys. Chetry was grinning at them as they approached. Snape was wearing the completely opposite expression. Dumbledore smiled and shook hands politely.

"Nice to see you," he said, pleasantly. The Dursleys said nothing. Dudley dripped a large dollop of shaving foam onto the head of a garden gnome nearby, but that was about it. "Now then," said Dumbledore. "Everybody get in, and we'll be off in a jiffy..."

'Get in' didn't turn out to be quite so simple. Uncle Vernon had to sit in the passenger seat, with Aunt Petunia on his lap. In the back, they managed to fit Snape, Harry, Professor Chetry and Mr Weasley. Dumbledore was the only one with any room at all. Everybody was already squashed enough as it was, even with Dumbledore's stretching charms on the car, but when they all looked out and saw Dudley was still to get in, they realised there was a major problem.

"You'll all have to breathe in," said Dumbledore. "Come on, that's it... move up a bit Severus, there's some room there..."

Everybody groaned and felt their ribs straining as Dudley squeezed into the car. After trying to slam the door four times and failing, they finally managed it. Harry could hardly breathe, squished between Snape and Mr Weasley.

"Well now," said Dumbledore pleasantly. "Are we all comfy?"

Nobody answered, not trusting their mouths to come out with something they could say to such a respected wizard as Albus Dumbledore.

Dumbledore put his foot down, and the car struggled away from the path, wobbling as it tried to start on the road. Harry could feel the tension in the back seat straining to free itself, and sure enough, they had only gone a few metres when the doors gave way. Snape and Dudley were both ejected sideways and dumped onto the road. Mr Weasley, Professor Chetry and Harry all sighed at the relief to their rib cages. Dumbledore turned around and chuckled lightly. "Dear me," he said. "Perhaps magic has its limits after all... well, this won't do at all." He stopped the car, and everybody got out. "We're going to have to do some rearranging I think... the boot is big enough for one, I'm sure, but after that I don't know what we're going to do."

"I am not going in the boot," said Snape, sternly, clearly sensing what was coming. "You have made me into a lot of things over the years, Albus, you have made me a fool many, many times but by Merlin I shall not get into that boot."

A few minutes later, Snape was lying in the boot, along with a rather reluctant Mr Weasley. Dudley was in the front seat, and squashed in the back was Aunt Petunia sitting on Uncle Vernon's lap, and Harry perched on Professor Chetry awkwardly. His head was pressed uncomfortably against the ceiling, but at least he could breathe. It looked like a convention of yoga artists in the back seat.

Dumbledore was once again the only person with any proper leg room. "Now... is everybody comfortable? Are you alright back there, Severus?"

There was a lot of dark muttering from the trunk. Everybody tried not to smile too much.

"Then off we go," said Dumbledore pleasantly, pushing a muggle tape into the cassette player, and pushing his foot on the accelerator. Most unfortunately for everybody in the car, during all the shuffling around, the gear stick had been jammed into third. They all lurched forward with a universal groan as the car kangaroo-hopped its way down Privet Drive, and Dumbledore chuckled quite delightedly. "Dear me!" he shouted over the noise of 'Agadoo' playing from the radio. "There seems to be a problem with the car!"

Harry nearly hit Dudley in the back of the head with his nose, but stopped just in time, and held onto the back of Dumbledore's head-rest for support. Dudley was staring at Dumbledore as though he was utterly mad.

"Maybe you should change the gear," he said, as with another lurch, the front window was splattered in shaving cream.

"Oh, of course!" said Dumbledore. "Thankyou, young man." He reached down, and yanked it back into second gear.

Everybody screamed as the bright purple car shot forward like a bullet, zooming down the street with incredible speed. Dumbledore's hands flew off the steering wheel and it spun right the way around, sending the car jerking and spinning out of control. There was another scream as they went crashing straight through a fence at the end of Privet Drive and out onto a large playing field, sending children shrieking for cover as the mad purple mini went tearing away across the grass, churning mud and splattering the back window as it went.

"USE THE BRAKES!!!" Uncle Vernon was bellowing, but Dumbledore was still having trouble with the steering wheel, trying to stop the car spinning and whirling as it went tearing down the hill. Harry could see his life flashing before his eyes - even more when he looked ahead, and saw a huge park lake surging towards them, getting closer and closer.

"LOOK OUT FOR THE LAKE!!!" he yelled, but it was too late.

The car hit the bank at an estimated speed of forty miles per hour, the engine shrieking nearly as loud as the passengers. Any muggles who happened to be watching their windows would have been mildly surprised to see a bright purple car (complete with large plastic hippy flower on the roof and Agadoo blazing through the windows) launch into the air and sail gracefully down towards the lake. Everybody was screaming, pounding at the windows, the musical disaster that was Black Lace blaring in their ears before Dumbledore yanked the steering wheel hard and the car turned just in time, missing the black waters by inches, soaring elegantly up into the sky like a large purple owl.

Dumbledore chuckled, his eyes sparkling. "This is turning out to be quite an adventure after all," he said, delightedly.

Everybody sat in stunned silence, all pale, all with identical looks of blind horror on their faces. From the back came the sound of Snape expelling his lunch, and Mr Weasley's wail of indignation.

Flying above the clouds, it took a lot less time than going by the road, though the return trip wasn't without problems. When the Dursleys twigged that they were being taken away to Hogwarts, they tried to get out of the car, and had to be given numerous stunning charms to keep them in. Snape complained loudly the whole way, promising curses and hexes the moment he was let out, but Mr Weasley eventually calmed him down with a game of Travel Battleships. Finally, after a few long and very exhausting hours, Dumbledore's purple mini descended gracefully onto the lawns of Hogwarts, landing with a gentle bump. A group of students out by the lake backed away, staring, as everybody got out of the car. Harry fell onto the grass and rolled over, covering his face with his hands, deciding that if he ever heard any muggle party songs ever again, he would jinx everybody in sight. He heard the other car doors opening, and then the boot crashed open, and Snape leapt out. He hissed and shivered, stamping on the ground, as though he'd been shut in a cage full of maggots for the past few hours. Mr Weasley clambered out dazedly.

"Dad?" shouted a voice. "Harry?" Harry managed to open his eyes, and saw Ron tearing across the grass towards them, followed by Hermione and Ginny. "What on earth's going on?" said Ron, staring at the car.

All attention was snatched then, as the Dursleys started to get out of the car. They all looked very groggy and spaced out from all the stunning charms, and as they stared around, Harry could see horror and shock mingling in their faces.

"This is it?" said Uncle Vernon, very groggily. "You go to school in some broken down crumbling old castle?"

Dumbledore smiled. "Ah, of course... they're being affected by the anti-muggle repelling charms. Let's see now." He drew his wand and swirled it at the Dursleys. There was a flash of white sparks, and all three muggles jumped, staring at Hogwarts.

"What happened?!" squawked Dudley. "It suddenly just... grew!"

"It's always been there," said Harry grinning. "We just charm it so that you can't see it."

Dudley stared at him, as though Harry was talking utter nonsense. "Shut up," he slurred eventually. Ron, Hermione and Ginny were eyeing Dudley closely. He glanced at them, and frowned. "What are you looking at?" he growled.

"I don't really know," said Ron idly. "I think it's a pig, but pigs don't get acne."

"Let's get them to the castle," said Mr Weasley. "Um, Brian, have you set up their new home?"

"New home?" snarled Uncle Vernon. "Now wait just one second - "

"Stupefy!" said Mr Weasley, reacting faster than Harry had ever seen him. Uncle Vernon's eyes rolled into his head, and he hit the grass. Two spells later, and Aunt Petunia and Dudley joined him there.

Harry smiled a little. "Nice shot."

Mr Weasley rubbed his forehead. "Yes, I'm afraid it was... I do hope my superiors don't find out about me jinxing muggles, or there'll be trouble."

Professor Chetry and Mr Weasley both levitated the three Dursleys into the air, and headed off towards the castle with them. Ron was still looking very shocked. He looked at Harry on the ground.

"Um... what's going on, exactly?" he asked.

Harry smiled a little. "It's a long story."


Chapter Twenty-Four: The Shani Theoris

It was the middle of February before Harry decided to visit the Dursleys in their new home. Last thing on a Tuesday, Harry had Charms, and as the corridor was so close to the Muggle Studies department, he thought he would wander down and just see how they were settling in. Just as he was approaching the classroom, the door opened and Kainda came out slowly. Since January, she had been encouraged by Madam Pomfrey to walk around and try to get her stomach muscles used to it. She was improving immensely, and she could now walk without much discomfort, though she liked to have somebody to lean on just in case.

"Harry? What are you doing here?" she asked, shouldering her bag.

"I've come to see my aunt and uncle," he explained. "Check how they're settling in, you know."

She grinned. "They're doing okay really. I'm sure Professor Chetry will let you." She pushed open the door of the classroom, and beckoned him in. He followed her, and for a moment, wondered if he was seeing things or not.

The back wall of the classroom had been turned into glass, like the front wall of a cage at a zoo, and inside was the Dursley's living room, exactly like he remembered it. Uncle Vernon was sitting in his favourite armchair, reading the paper, and Aunt Petunia was watering the plants delicately.

"You're keeping them in a cage?" said Harry in surprise.

Kainda grinned. She leant against the tank wall. "They can't see us. It's one way glass. They just brought them in, and put them there. They think they're at home. Watch." She spoke aloud to the glass tank. "Main bedroom." The view shifted to the Dursleys' main bedroom, complete with the vile pink duvet Aunt Petunia had owned forever. "Living room," said Kainda, and it swapped back to the view of Mr and Mrs Dursley. "They're perfectly happy. It's so much fun studying them. We keep putting them in different situations, to see how they would react. You should have been here yesterday, there was a mad buffalo escaped into their house. Man, that was a fun lesson."

"How do Uncle Vernon and Dudley go to work?" asked Harry.

"Oh, we sent them letters the moment they arrived," said Kainda. "Saying that they'd been fired. They work at home now. Your uncle makes garden gnomes and sends them off to a firm somewhere, and Dudley's doing stuff with computers. Designing games or something. I didn't really understand what Professor Chetry was saying."

Harry laughed a little. "Well, I suppose it's the best place for them really. If you ever let any more zoo animals free in their house, tell me. I'd pay money to see that. So are you ready for dinner? Can I walk you down there?"

Kainda grinned. "Being romantic today, are we?"

"I'm willing to try," he replied. He took her arm, and she leant on him, as they walked down to dinner in the Great Hall. She went slowly, but Harry didn't really mind. He had no homework that night, and Hermione was planning for them all to spend the time in the library, looking for more information about the Shani Theoris. They still hadn't found anything, despite searching for months now. Harry didn't admit it to anybody, but he was slowly starting to lose hope.

There were a lot of wolf-whistles as they walked into the Great Hall. Harry grinned and tried to ignore them, as they both sat down at their usual table. Hermione handed him a plate of lasagne.

"I've got you and Ron permission to use the restricted section, Harry," she said promptly. "So we can have a really good look and try to crack this at last."

"Alright," said Harry wearily. He tucked into his lasagne. "Haven't we already read every single book about the Egyptians in the library though, Hermione?"

"The Egyptians?" Draco had looked up across the table, pausing with a forkful of lasagne halfway to his mouth. "What do you need to know about the Egyptians? For History of Magic, is it?"

Harry glanced at Draco. "No, it's something else... you don't know anything about Jendayi, do you?"

"Oh, the sorceress?" said Draco. "Of course I do. She was the first chocolate frog card I ever got. Buried with that ankh... what's the name again? The Shani Theoris, that's it."

Harry, Ron and Hermione were staring at him avidly now. Harry leant across the table. "Tell us absolutely everything you know about that ankh, and I promise to do all your Potions homework from now until I die."

Draco looked quite shocked. "I... well, I can give you the book where I got all my information from. Bill Weasley gave it to me at Grimmauld Place over the summer. Shall I go and get it?"

"I'll come with you," said Harry, jumping to his feet. "We really need that book. Badly."

Draco gave him an odd look, but got up and left the Great Hall anyway. Harry followed him doggedly. Draco was in the Slytherin common room for a few minutes, before he came out again holding a thick book titled "Ankhs - The Lost Power". Harry took it off him.

"Thankyou," he said. "I'll get it back to you as soon as I've found out what I need..."

"What is it you're looking for, specifically?" said Draco.

"The Shani Theoris," said Harry. "I need to know what it does... and where it is now."

"Buried with Jendayi," said Draco, shrugging. "I haven't read that section. Have a look through it anyway Potter, you might find something useful to you. I need to get back to dinner now; I have to eat quickly... I have a lot of homework to do."

Draco left, heading back towards the Great Hall, but Harry didn't feel remotely hungry anymore. He stopped just where he was and opened up the book. His eyes ran down the Contents page. The names of Egyptian ankhs flashed past his gaze, until he found the one he was looking for towards the bottom - "Shani Theoris: The Psychic Ankh". Harry flicked quickly to the pages listed. Upon finding them, he opened the book again, and a large picture of an ankh appeared. Harry recognised it from the dream he had in Snape's rooms, after the Quidditch accident. A deep purple stone was set into it, glittering beautifully in the photograph and giving off a soft lilac glow. Each rune carved into the gold seemed to sparkle with some unseen magic. Praying that he had finally found out what horrors awaited him if Voldemort found the ankh, Harry let his eyes travel down into the text. He scanned it for anything worthwhile, and there, at the bottom, he found just what he was looking for.

Hermione and Ron were running up the corridor towards him as he read. "Harry," Ron panted. "Is it in there? Have you found anything?"

Harry held up a hand, and he read aloud. "The Shani Theoris is regarded as one of the most dangerous and powerful ankhs, among all currently discovered, rivalled only by the Death Ankh, which was destroyed in the medieval ages. The Shani Theoris has the ability to plunge the user into a psychic battle with their deepest and greatest enemy. In the world created by their minds, the two wizards will face each other before the spirits of the Egyptian wizengamot, and their fate will be decided. The winner will bring death to the loser, and only one will walk away from the encounter alive. The ankh was owned by the Egyptian sorceress Jendayi, and she took it into her death with her. While alive, Jendayi left accounts of the ankh's power, saying that wizards and witches who skilled themselves in the Psychic Arts had far more power when using it. The ankh was buried in her tomb when she did, guarded by Khepri beasts, and if the Shani Theoris is released into the world again, terror will befall the enemies of its new owner."

There was silence when he finished talking. The realisation slowly sunk into Harry's mind, of just what power he was facing. Voldemort was one of the most skilled wizards in the Psychic Arts. And if he got hold of the Shani Theoris... Harry would never win a psychic battle against Lord Voldemort. There was no chance.

Ron swallowed. Hermione was silent, watching Harry closely. After a moment, she whispered, "There are only two things you can do, Harry..."

"What?" asked Harry.

"You can either go out into the world, and find the Shani Theoris before Voldemort," said Hermione quietly. "Or you can prepare yourself. Learn the Psychic Arts, properly. Oh, Harry... this is so bad... we've got to tell Dumbledore. He might know where the Shani Theoris is."

"No, he won't," said Harry. "Only the Khepri beasts will know for sure. I've got to find Khepri... why is he only here when I don't want him?" Harry closed the book, and held it tight in his hands. He couldn't remember a time he had felt more worried and frightened. How long did he have until Voldemort found the Shani Theoris and killed him in his own mind, where nobody could defend him? "I'm going to go and see Snape," said Harry. "Here, take this book, have a look through it for any information you can find at all... don't wait for me."

He turned and hurried away through the dungeon corridors, heading for Snape's office, hoping that Snape wasn't at dinner. He found the door, and knocked on it, hard. A few moments passed, then it opened. Snape stood there.

"Potter? What are you here for?"

"Voldemort's going to kill me," said Harry, desperately. "He's looking for one of the Egyptian ankhs. The Shani Theoris. And when he finds it, he can kill me in my mind. A psychic battle."

Snape raised one eyebrow. "He can, can he? Care to show me a shred of proof for any of this, Potter?"

"What will it take for you to believe me?" said Harry. He gazed at Snape, wishing he would listen, and just trust for once. "Will they have to show you my dead body before you take me seriously? Because that's what it's going to come down to, if you don't listen! Can't you just trust me? Why would I be lying? Do you think I'd make such a fuss if this weren't important? You're supposed to be protecting me. Please, just - "

The unmistakable click of high heels was coming towards them through the darkness. Harry turned. The person he least wanted to see was standing there in the half-light.

"Ah," said Madam Ivy, softly. "Harry... Severus... imagine seeing you two together..."

Snape's lip curled. "Potter is here about Potions homework, Ivy. This has nothing to do with you."

"Oh, I think it does," said Madam Ivy quietly. "You see, Severus, it's taken me a long time to get this far. But I finally have. I would like you both to tell me what is going on, and now."

"There is nothing 'going on'," Snape snarled. "If you need proof that Potter comes to me for Remedial Potions, then I suggest you go and talk to Albus Dumbledore."

"This is out of Dumbledore's hands," said Madam Ivy. She raised one eyebrow. "No matter how hard Dumbledore tries, he cannot argue with the safety of children in this school." She glanced over her shoulder, and two men came out of the darkness behind her, watching Snape with dark expressions. "These men are from Azkaban, Severus. You have the usual rights."

Snape stepped backwards, drawing his wand. Harry did the same. "What am I being charged of?" Snape growled.

"Attempted murder on four accounts," whispered Madam Ivy. "Grievous bodily harm. Gareth Jones, Pansy Parkinson, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy are all your victims, Severus. We know what you have done."

"Ridiculous," hissed Snape.

Madam Ivy raised an eyebrow. "That is for the ministry to decide. Take him away."

The two men grabbed Snape by the arms, and one took away his wand. Harry stood, terrified, with no idea what on earth he could do. Finally, he decided. He wouldn't let them take Snape, even if it landed him in Azkaban. He drew his wand, and was about to perform a spell, any spell.

"Don't," said Snape's voice in his head. "Don't move."

"But... they'll take you away," Harry thought desperately. "I can't..."

"It's no use," Snape replied. "Just be still. They have no proof. Innocence prevails."

Harry just watched, torn between fright and desperation, as the guards put magical hand-cuffs on Snape's wrists and pushed him roughly towards the steps of the dungeons. Madam Ivy was following them, looking very pleased with herself. Harry didn't know what on earth he could do. He ran through the dungeons to Snape, wanting to at least talk to him, but the guards pushed him back. Finally, in the entrance hall, he stopped trying and just watched as they took Snape away. People were crowding around and watching. Some were whispering behind their hands and looking at Harry curiously, the others were just staring, as though it was entertainment. Madam Ivy had disappeared now. Harry found himself hating her even more, that she hadn't even stayed around and let people know it was her who got Snape taken away.

Snape was lead down the steps of the castle. The whole school was watching now. He was blindfolded roughly, shoved into an Azkaban carriage, and then it moved away. Harry couldn't stay here any longer, amongst people who were acting like it was all a show. He turned and hurried away, rushing up the marble staircase and practically running along the corridors. He didn't even notice going through portraits and trick doors. Finally, he found the hallway where the entrance to Gryffindor Tower was. Madam Ivy stood before him, smirking from ear to ear.

"I thought you'd be running back here," she said, slyly. "Care to give a statement, Harry? I can't give you your rewards now, but at least I could save you your NEWTs, if you're clever enough to tell us everything we need."

"Take them!" Harry spat, furiously. "Just take my grades! Give me Ts! I don't care!" He pushed past her roughly. "Black cat," he snarled at the Fat Lady. She swung forward, and he disappeared into the Gryffindor common room, slamming the portrait behind him.

He sank into an armchair, and covered his face with his hands. Snape was gone. What chance did he have against Voldemort now? He hardly even knew any Psychic Arts, and he couldn't do Dangerous Mind Techniques without being in contact with Snape. He had never felt so helpless before. He closed his eyes, and curled up in his armchair, just as the portrait hole opened.

"Ron? Hermione?" he said, without looking.

There was no reply. Footsteps came across the room, and then a paw rested on his shoulder. "You know who it is," said a voice he didn't have any trouble in recognising.

"Go away," he snapped at Khepri. "Just leave me alone. Just go tell Voldemort where the ankh is, I don't care anymore."

"I've got something for you, actually," said Khepri calmly. "But if you don't want it, I can take it away. Odd that you don't want a reward for coming so far. Learning so much."

"What is it?" said Harry, rather brusquely.

"A clue," murmured Khepri. "You need to find the ankh... and I shall tell you that it is owned now. Somebody who know of, and yet do not know. Somebody who is least expected. Her name... Morgan."

Harry said nothing. He put this information to memory, and then closed his eyes. "Go away," he whispered. When he next glanced over his shoulder, he saw that Khepri had complied. Tired, frustrated and worried, he simply closed his eyes and fell asleep where he was.

He woke up to Hermione's concerned face, and a drink of water being pushed into his hands.

"How are you feeling?" she asked.

"It wasn't a dream then," said Harry quietly.

She shook her head sadly. "Have a drink, you'll feel better."

"I don't think I'll ever feel better," he said. He had a drink anyway. "I can't believe they actually took him away... I mean, he's innocent. He hasn't done anything."

"Sirius didn't do anything," said Hermione quietly. "You know what the ministry are like... they just want somebody they can blame for everything, put them in Azkaban, and then boast about what a good job they've done putting a dangerous criminal behind bars. They did it with Hagrid too, remember? In second year. They're really going to town this time though... I thought you'd want to see." She produced a paper from the inside of her robes. It was a copy of the Evening Prophet. "An owl just brought it to me..."

Harry opened up the Prophet and glanced at the front page. A banner headline proclaimed, "EVIL VAMPIRE CAPTURED BY MINISTRY", and underneath was a large picture of Snape, blindfolded, being lead out of the Azkaban carts. Harry skimmed through the article, but eventually he just got angry and closed the paper, handing it back to Hermione.

"It's just lies," he spat. "All lies. I hate Ivy. She started all this. Why's she done it though? What's she got against Snape?"

"It's her job," said Hermione. She sighed. "The ministry must brain-wash most of their employees, into doing the ministry's bidding. Look at Umbridge, and what they did to Percy Weasley."

"They can't take Snape now," Harry murmured. He shook his head and closed his eyes. "Just as things get really bad for me, with the whole thing about Khepri. I don't know what I'm going to do, Hermione. Any minute I could be sucked into a psychic battle with Voldemort, and I can hardly get anywhere in DMT without Snape."

"There are other Psychic Arts apart from Dangerous Mind Techniques," said Hermione. "We could have a look for books in the library. Maybe you should go to Firenze. I know that the NEWT students in Divination do things like the Psychic Arts. Maybe he'll teach you."

Harry shook his head. "It won't be the same... it's really hard to explain, Hermione. And I know you're just trying to help..." He sighed. "It's just that... I've really got to know Snape. He's nowhere near as bad as I once thought, and I was starting to enjoy his company. I... I was starting to rely on him. You understand, don't you?"

Hermione nodded, and didn't say anything for a moment, before she spoke again, in a very wise sort of voice. "He was becoming a father substitute, and a protector. Now your protection's gone, you're bound to feel vulnerable. Listen, Harry... I've often wondered something... can I ask a question?"

"Go ahead," said Harry.

"You and Snape... in Potions, you both act oddly. Like you're constantly sharing some secret, all the time. Has your guardian bond become telepathic by any chance?"

Harry nodded dully. "Yeah, during the siege of Hogwarts."

"Can you hear him now?" asked Hermione quietly.

Harry thought about this. His eyes instinctively fell shut as he thought across the space between him and Snape, asking, "Are you there...?"

To his utter relief, Snape replied. "Potter..."

"He's here," said Harry to Hermione. He directed his thoughts at Snape again. "Are you okay? Where are you?"

"Azkaban," came the reply in his mind. "The ministry have found out about the guardian bond, Potter. Dumbledore is doing his best to keep it out of the papers, as far as I know, but if we aren't in the Evening Prophet then it will be the Daily edition."

Harry felt his insides sink. "That doesn't matter," he thought, determinedly. "When's your trial? They haven't sent you there without any proof, have they?"

"They have," was the quiet reply. "Guilty until proven innocent. Fudge says it's a precaution. They will only release me if another culprit is caught."

"What if there are more attacks?" thought Harry.

"No," said Snape's voice in his mind. "They need the perpetrator standing before them and confessing until I'll be released. Look... Harry... the chances are that the real vampire at Hogwarts will lie low from now on. Perhaps forever. I... could be here for a long time."

"I'll find who it is," Harry whispered, unaware he was doing it aloud. "I promise. I won't let them keep you in there."

"Do not put yourself in danger," Snape thought. "In no circumstances must you risk yourself, or your education."

"I've already lost my NEWTs," Harry replied quietly. "Madam Ivy told me she's dropping my grades anyway. I don't care about them anymore. Some things are more important than test results."

"I'm sorry you had to get caught up in this, Potter," Snape's voice said softly.

"It's not your fault," Harry whispered. He cut off the link gently, and opened his eyes. He wasn't surprised that they felt very hot.

"He's in Azkaban already, isn't he?" said Hermione.

Harry nodded. "They're not going to let him out until they catch the real person who did it."

"Then we've got three jobs to do," said Hermione. "Everything else can wait. First thing - we have to catch the vampire. Secondly we need to train you up in the Psychic Arts, using books from the library if we have to. And thirdly... we have to make Madam Ivy regret ever being born for what she's done."

Harry nodded. He made option number three his new ambition in life. He had no hope for his NEWTs, not with Ivy on his trail, and he knew he would never find the ankh before Voldemort, not when he was stuck in school. But he could make Ivy pay, or die trying.


Chapter Twenty-Five: The Heir of Gryffindor

Harry purposely woke up late the next morning. He didn't want to go to breakfast, not when he knew what would be on the front page of the Daily Prophet. He lay with his head under the covers for a while, imagining all sorts of terrible headlines, that got progressively worse before he got up, dressed, and waited for the first bell. When it finally came, he hurried out of Gryffindor Tower and made his way down to the dungeons for Potions.

There was a strange woman Harry had never seen before standing outside their Potions classroom when he arrived. She had dark blonde hair to her shoulders in messy curls, thick glasses, a lazy eye, and a very silly little ruffled skirt. Harry quickly joined the end of the line next to Draco and Kainda. Draco turned to talk to Harry, diving into his bag for something, but the new professor's watery voice interrupted.

"Good morning then everybody," she said. She had a very slow, soft voice, as though she was speaking to somebody very ill. "My name is Professor Feather, and I will be teaching you Potions until further notice... does anybody have any questions?"

Harry stared at her, wondering what questions there could possibly be at this point. Perhaps Professor Feather was waiting for somebody to ask where Snape was, or perhaps not, as she was opening the classroom door and letting them in. Harry instantly took a seat at the back of the class between Draco and Kainda. They all started to get books, quills, parchment and ink out of their bags, and under the noise, Draco muttered to Harry.

"You're in the paper."

"I thought I would be," said Harry with a sigh. "Have you got a copy?"

"Granger gave me hers," said Draco. Underneath the desk, he handed Harry a rolled-up edition of the Daily Prophet. "Brace yourself."

Professor Feather started to take the register, as Harry sat back in his seat and glanced at the front page under the desk. He was greeted by a large picture of the scene when Snape was taken away. His own form, hovering in the mouth of the dungeons with a look of horror on his face, was ringed in red. The headline read, "GUARDIAN ANGEL OF DEATH - Evil Snape's Bond With Boy Who Lived".

"Oh dear," Harry murmured under his breath. Kainda leant over his shoulder to read as he glanced through the article, which continued on pages 2, 3, 4, 6, 19 and 26.

He was so absorbed in his anger that he didn't even notice Draco nudging him, until he had hissed, "Potter!"

Harry glanced up. Professor Feather was looking around. "Harry Potter...?" she murmured.

"Present," he said, hiding the paper out of sight.

She blinked owlishly at him, and then continued. Finally, after Kainda had declared herself present, Professor Feather closed the register and gazed out at them as though observing something scary. "There are no more projects for you to do in this subject," she said softly. "Though there are two chapters in your NEWT text-books still for you to cover. Please read them quietly, and perform any experiments it requires of you. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask... thankyou..."

Everybody sighed silently, opened up their textbooks, and started to read. Harry had already gone through one of the two chapters when making his veritaserum, and so turned his attention to the paper under the desk. He scanned through it, picking out phrases that caught his eye. "Albus Dumbledore's foolish risk... but nobody would expect that Snape would next turn on his magical charge... suspicious marks on Harry Potter's neck... refused to comment, possibly too scared of the man Dumbledore set to guard him... vampires have a natural immunity to veritaserum and so the ministry cannot interrogate him..."

"I hate Madam Ivy," Harry growled to Kainda. "She did this. Look in the picture... you see the grey sort of blur behind me? That's her. She was there. She got Snape arrested."

Kainda glanced at the picture. "The ministry are seriously screwed up," she murmured, shaking her head. "Got them all brain-washed. Mum worked for them for a while, she acted just like Umbridge. Only the Heads of Departments seem sane. Then again, look at what happened to Crouch."

Harry sighed. He closed the paper, and handed it back to Draco. "I swear Umbridge and Ivy are related some how. They're just as evil as each other. Ivy's probably Umbridge's daughter or something."

Draco shuddered. "Umbridge creating a daughter... eurgh, don't put thoughts like that in my head, Potter. I can only take so much so early in a morning."

Harry gave a little huff of amusement, and opened up his textbook, looking for one of the experiments he could do to pass the time. None of them appealed to him much at all. He knew what the outcome would be. He sighed and rested his head in his hands, gazing down at the page in front of him. Snape would consider this a pathetic waste of time. He was just starting to become really bored, when the door opened and Professor McGonagall came in.

"Is Harry Potter in this class?" she said, looking around. "Ah, yes, there you are Potter. You'll have to excuse him, Professor. He's needed in Dumbledore's office."

Professor Feather gave McGonagall a rather slow, bland look for a few moments and then said, "That's quite alright..."

"Come on, Potter," said McGonagall crisply. "Bring your bag, that's it... I believe you also have an opsittop? You will need to bring that along too."

Wondering what on earth Dumbledore wanted Sneezy for, Harry packed his things and left the dungeons after Professor McGonagall. He waited until the door had closed before asking, curiously, "What's wrong? Has something happened?"

She nodded, and started along the corridor, with Harry hurrying along behind her. "Yes, Potter. It does not directly involve you, but Ronald Weasley will need your support."

"Is he okay?" said Harry.

"Yes," she said. "A situation has just arisen that Weasley may find hard to accept."

"What situation?" asked Harry desperately. "What is it?"

"All will be explained in the Headmaster's office, Potter," said McGonagall. She yanked open a tapestry and lead him through. "Quickly now. Arthur, Molly, Fred and George have just arrived and we must not keep them waiting. Which lesson is Ronald in at the moment?"

"Care of Magical Creatures with Hermione," said Harry.

"Very well. Continue to the Headmaster's Office then, and I shall fetch Mr Weasley. The password is Jumping Jelly Beans." She turned away down the corridor, heading for the entrance hall, leaving Harry to worriedly make his way to Dumbledore's office.

He gave the password to the gargoyle, and ascended the winding staircase upwards. The door to Dumbledore's office was closed, though he could hear voices from inside. He curled his fingers around the Gryffin-shaped door-knocker, and tapped a few times. It swung upon. Mrs Weasley smiled down at him.

"Hello Harry, dear," she said fondly, bringing him inside and shutting the door. "How are you?"

"Fine," said Harry. He looked around. "What's going on?"

Fred and George were sitting behind Dumbledore's desk, talking to Dumbledore with serious looks on their faces. Mr Weasley was standing near the fireplace and polishing a pocket-watch with his sleeve.

"We just need to tell Ron something," said Mrs Weasley tensely. "And we think that you might be able to ease the blow a little. Don't worry, it's nothing... well, it's nothing terrible, but it will come as a shock to him. Have you got the optissop?"

"Opsittop," Harry corrected. He put his bag down, and opened up the zip. After a moment, he found the little pot that Sneezy slept in. He took the lid off, and scooped Sneezy out. The little opsittop was very sleepy. He grumbled as Harry poked him awake. "This is him," said Harry. "Why do you want him?"

"Low," said Sneezy, peering at Mrs Weasley blearily. He yawned widely, and readjusted his little acorn hat. "Ahhhh, my is shleepy..."

Mrs Weasley put Sneezy gently down on the desk in front of Dumbledore, who smiled at him. Sneezy smiled sleepily back, and settled himself in the headmaster's bowl of paper-clips, starting to make himself little sculptures with them. Harry sat down next to Fred and George, who grinned at him.

"Alright, Harry?" asked Fred.

"Yeah, fine," said Harry. "How's business?"

"Booming," said George. "We've got a good income now, and we're getting pretty famous. Shame you decided to steal the limelight in the Prophet today, nobody's going to see our advert."

"Then again, sales in Getting In Touch With His Feminine Side Snape T-Shirts have doubled," said Fred brightly. "Had to order some more to be printed today. So how are your NEWTs going so far? Not too hard?"

"They're... fine," said Harry. He shrugged. "Normal school work, the usual."

"Glad we didn't have to take them," said George. "Looks like murder to me. Rather stick pins in my eyes."

There was a knock on the door at that moment. "That'll be Ron," said Mrs Weasley, hurrying over and opening it up. Ron stood there, looking very confused.

"Hi Mum," he said, blankly. "Dad. Fred, George. Uh, what's going on?"

"Come in, Ron," said Dumbledore kindly. He swished his wand, and another chair appeared. "Have a seat. We have something to tell you."

Ron shuffled over and sat in his chair. He looked around at them all suspiciously. "I'm not expelled or something, am I?"

"No, no," said Dumbledore. "You are perfectly fine, Mr Weasley. Please do not worry."

"So what am I doing here?" asked Ron.

Dumbledore reached out, and picked Sneezy gently out of his paper-clip jar. He handed the little opsittop to Ron. "Here, Mr Weasley, kindly take him... I only have so many paper-clips he can bend before a stationary-related crisis breaks out."

Ron took Sneezy, and sat him in his top pocket. He then looked around at his family, Dumbledore and Harry again, definitely suspicious now. "Is anybody going to tell me why I'm here...?"

"It is difficult to know where to begin," said Dumbledore. He sighed and got up from behind his desk, wearily. "In the most basic of terms, you are in mild danger, Ron. Lord Voldemort may be planning to kill you."

Ron's facial muscles seemed to give way. "Why?" he spluttered. "What have I ever done to him? And Voldemort planning to kill me is counted as mild danger? I don't even want to know what major danger is."

"There is something we need to tell you, Ron," said Dumbledore. "Something rather serious. Molly, Arthur... do you wish to tell him, or shall I?"

Mr Weasley sat forward in his chair. "I shall help as much as I can, Dumbledore... he deserves to hear it from us. Goodness knows we've been keeping it from him long enough..." He put a hand on Ron's shoulder. "Do you remember when you asked about the family line, Ron? And I told you that we are descended from farmers. That was... a slight lie."

Ron stared at him, and said nothing. Mr Weasley continued.

"The truth is..." Mr Weasley sighed. "The Weasley family line are the true descendents of Godric Gryffindor. We are his heirs."

Ron's face gave way again. He stared at his father, and then his mother, and then Dumbledore, as though begging somebody to verify this. Dumbledore obliged. "It is true," said Dumbledore quietly.

"And You-Know-Who's trying to kill me for it," said Ron, sounding horror-struck.

Dumbledore shook his head. "There is more to it than that, Ron. Our spies have informed us that Voldemort is planning malicious things against you because of a discovery he has made very recently, in his search of the museums of the world. He has uncovered a prophecy made a very long time ago indeed, around the time when Hogwarts first began. The prophecy was made to Salazar Slytherin, or at least directed towards him... let me see..." He reached into his desk, and took out a scroll of parchment. "It was made on the death-bed of one of the most talented seers in the world at that time... and it goes as follows...

Throughout our land the death bells toll,
Days of despair without hope or goal.
Serpents of evil rise and fight,
And darkness falls obscuring the light.

Great leaders arise and blood shall be shed,
Through years of pain and tears and dread.
Hope will appear, but shall not triumph alone,
Not a king to occupy Osiris's throne.

The number of evil will never prevail,
Faced with equal number of Gryffindor's trail.
Great forces protect him but what he needs more,
Will be found behind the great Gryffindor.

The outcome of this cannot be stated,
It hides in the hearts of those truly fated.
The battle to come, the clash of the hoard,
The mind is most truly the mightiest sword..."

Silence followed this little recital. Dumbledore took the time to pull a hair off his shoulders. After a few moments, Ron said, "That was lovely, but I didn't understand a word of it."

Dumbledore smiled a little. "It means that the 666th male heir of Godric Gryffindor will aid the defeat of Salazar Slytherin's line. You, Ron, are the 666th male heir of Gryffindor... and surprisingly enough, you have aided the fight against Voldemort, Slytherin's heir, many times now."

Ron looked around at them all wildly, as though convinced they were playing some kind of joke on him. "But... I... so he's found out? And he's going to kill me, so I can't help Harry kill him?"

"We believe so," said Dumbledore seriously. "Though there is nothing to be afraid of. You are very well protected in this castle, by several different means... which is another reason for us to hold this meeting. There is another secret we need to reveal to you, Ron. And also Harry."

Harry looked around. Dumbledore was reaching out, and taking Sneezy from Ron. Sneezy gave a loud sneeze as he was lifted into the air, and then another as Dumbledore put him gently on the desk before him.

"I suppose that you have been wondering just why your opsittop sneezes," said Dumbledore. "And why I insisted to Hagrid that you be allowed to take him home with you over the summer."

"For our Care of Magical Creatures projects?" asked Harry.

"Partly," said Dumbledore. "Though there is another reason. A more important one. You see, unknown to you both, two magical guardians were present at Grimmauld Place this summer. You are all now aware of the bond between Severus Snape, and Harry. But there is another one... involving Ron. At your birth, I discovered the prophecy made about you, and realised that you would need some special form of protection Ron. I consulted with your parents, and we found a suitable person who would agree to guard you secretly. And that person is sitting here on my desk now."

Harry and Ron both stared at Dumbledore for a few moments. Their eyes then slid to Sneezy. The little opsittop was gazing up at Ron reproachfully.

"Wait..." said Ron. "You set an opsittop to guard me against the most feared wizard in the entire world."

"No," said Dumbledore, shaking his head. "I set something far more powerful than an opsittop to guard you..." He looked down at Sneezy. "Tim. It is time to reveal yourself."

And making Harry and Ron both gasp with horror, a bright white light suddenly burst outwards from Dumbledore's desk, blinding them both against what was happening. Squinting through the painful glare, Harry could make out Sneezy's flickering form on the desk, growing bigger, spreading outwards, lengthening, growing fingers and toes and arms and legs, thinning, taking on a shape, and then -

All of a sudden, the light died. Everybody screwed up their eyes. The dim light was somehow even more painful than the glow now. Slowly, they managed to blink away the floating patches, and turn their gaze to the figure now perched on the edge of Dumbledore's desk. Harry had to admit, some essences of Sneezy lingered - a circular face, slightly squashed nose, and round curious eyes. The man sitting on Dumbledore's desk even had fairly short arms and legs, with stubby fingers, and ears that stuck out a little bit.

Ron was staring through gaps in his fingers, looking horrified. "Why do I always have to pick the weird pets that aren't actually pets? It's always me, isn't it?"

Mr Weasley was moving forward, smiling. The man on the desk grinned up at him. "'lo, Arthur."

"Tim, you old fool... how have you been?" Arthur and 'Tim' embraced like brothers. "Still kicking?"

"I've been alright," said Tim, shrugging. He had a rather gappy smile. "Except I'm allergic to opsittops, I think. Got me sneezing all the time. Could be worse, I s'pose."

"Sneezy was an animagus?" said Harry, staring.

Tim looked at him and grinned. Harry could see that he had hazel eyes, exactly the same colour as Sneezy's had been. "Not far off. I'm an metamorphanimagus. S'like being an animagus, and a metamorphmagus at the same time. Muggles call us shape-shifters. Pretty rare gift."

"Tim is the only living metamorphanimagus in the entire world," said Dumbledore. He put a hand on Tim's shoulder. "And he's been following you around for seventeen years in some shape or form, Ron."

Ron clearly still didn't believe this. He shook his head. "This is worse than Scabbers. Far worse. Somebody go get Pigwidgeon, just in case he's the alter-ego of Gilderoy Lockhart or something."

Tim chuckled. He was the sort of person who would be at home on a farm, with a piece of straw in his mouth, chattering about pigs. "No, he's not. Don't worry."

"So how do you know Mr Weasley?" asked Harry.

"We've been friends since I started working at the ministry, really," said Mr Weasley with a slight smile. "Tim was working in the post office, folding aeroplanes and so forth, and I had to send a lot of messages, so we worked in fairly close quarters."

"Then when Ron was born, Tim offered to look after him," said Mrs Weasley. "Very bravely too... and he's been with you ever since then, Ron."

"I would have noticed him sneaking around after me though," said Ron. "Where was he?"

"I'll answer this, Mum," said Fred, sliding neatly in front of Ron. "Do you remember when you were five...?"

George joined his twin. "And you had that fluffy pink rabbit toy?"

Ron went purple. His face worked, and then he said, gruffly, "Yeah."

"Did you ever wonder why Mum got so upset when me and George tried to dye it green with yellow spots?" said Fred, grinning.

Tim rubbed his neck. "Aiii, that was a scary day."

"You two KNEW?!" Ron shouted, staring at his older brothers. "Why didn't you TELL me?!"

"Mum and Dad said no," said George, shrugging. "All the family know, except you and Ginny."

"So okay," said Ron. "There was... my pink rabbit, but I put that in the bin was I was about seven."

"You were eleven actually."

"Shut up Fred! Anyway. What did I have after the rabbit?"

Everybody turned to Tim, who chuckled. "I suggested that Arthur pretend to buy you an owl, and I could be that, but it wouldn't work. The other boys hadn't had owls from your parents when they went to Hogwarts, so it wouldn't be fair. They figured I had to just be something at Hogwarts in the background. You wouldn't notice me that way. So I was a house elf, up until last year, when they knew I had to be closer to you. Arthur and Molly went to see Hagrid, I changed into an opsittop, and Hagrid agreed to try and get me put with you. Charlie helped too, by releasing the opsittops into the school sometime last year. Luckily enough, I ran into you and Harry, and you picked me up."

"Hagrid knew?" said Ron, looking hurt. "Why didn't he tell me?"

Tim shrugged. "We just asked him not to. Didn't want you panicking. So now You-Know-Who's found out."

"You're not going to have to follow me around as a human, are you?" said Ron, grimacing. Harry recognised Ron's expression as the one he himself had worn when finding out that Snape was his guardian. It was the feeling of an impending end to his social life.

Tim shook his head. "Nah, not at all. I'll probably stay as Sneezy... better take some anti-allergy tablets though... I'm sort of getting used to it. S'nice to be so small. Puts the world into better perspective."

"So I've been wasting all this time trying to teach you to talk, and you already can?" said Ron, staring at him in disbelief.

Tim chuckled. "It was funny really."

"Wait," said Fred. "There was a bit of the prophecy that I don't get. Can I see the parchment again Professor?"

Dumbledore handed him the scroll. Fred unravelled it, and read out a passage. "Great forces protect him but what he needs more, will be found behind the great Gryffindor. What's all that about?"

"Ah, yes," said Dumbledore, taking the scroll back. "We believe that the 'great forces' refer to Tim. There also appears to be something else Ron must find, to make himself safer against Lord Voldemort, and it will be found behind Gryffindor. We have already checked behind every portrait and statue of Gryffindor in the entire school, and there is no evidence of anything there. We believe it is some sort of amulet, or charm, that Godric Gryffindor left behind for his 666th heir."

"What about the sword?" said Harry. "The one I found in my second year."

Dumbledore shook his head. "We considered that, Harry, but it appears to not be. The sword is used for aggressive combat, while what Ron is looking for is something to protect him. We are also puzzled about the part of the prophecy that tells us the amulet will be found behind the great Gryffindor. You discovered the sword, Harry, as you have Gryffindor blood in your veins, but there is something greater which Ron must find."

"Does it look like that one?" said Ron, pointing over their heads. Everybody turned around. Four portraits of the founders lined the wall there.

There was silence, and then Fred said, "Ron, that's a painting. Pain-ting. We're looking for an am-u-let."

"No, the one hanging between Gryffindor and Slytherin," said Ron. "The red one." Everybody stared at him. He stared back. "What?" he said. "Don't look at me like that."

"There's nothing there," said Harry slowly.

"Yes there is," said Ron. He frowned, crossed the room, and reached up. "Look." And to the surprise of everybody in the room, he lifted a chain out nowhere, which was followed by a pendant of gold, with a bright red stone set into the middle. Ron held it out. "Is this it?"

"Where the hell did you get that from?" said George, staring at Ron as though he had just given birth.

"It's just been hanging there all along," said Ron with a shrug.

"Why didn't you say something, you dingbat?!" said Fred, disbelievingly.

Ron shrugged again. "I thought everybody could see it."

"Put it on," said Tim. "Let's see if it's the real thing."

Ron carefully dipped his head, and put the chain around his neck, letting it fall against the front of his robes. A warm glow emitted from the jewel, and a sound that was like gentle wind, before it died away.

"I think that's it," said Tim quietly.

"But..." said Ron, frowning. "It wasn't behind Gryffindor. It was next to him."

Harry was looking towards the exit of the office, and slowly, realisation was coming to him. "I know what it is!" He jumped up, and opened the door. He showed them all the other side. The door-knocker in the shape of a gryffin gleamed in the candle light. Harry pointed. "Behind the great Gryffin door!"

"Ohhhh," everybody said at once, rolling their eyes.

"Well, it's obvious now, isn't it?" said Fred. "Who ever would have thought it was in here all along?"

"Maybe if Ron hadn't been so stupid," muttered George.

"Well now," said Dumbledore pleasantly, smiling at Ron. "That seems to be in order. Ron, please wear that amulet under your school robes, just in case. And with five family members in the Order of the Phoenix, as well as friends, I think - "

"Five?" said Harry. "But there are eight Weasleys in the Order, aren't there?"

Dumbledore counted on his fingers. "Arthur, Molly, Bill, Charlie, Ron and Ginny. Six, in total, five not including Ron."

"But what about Fred and George?" said Harry, glancing at the twins. They went very quiet. "Why aren't they in the Order?"

"The dangers," said Dumbledore heavily.

"But everybody else is in danger," said Ron. "Why not Fred and George?"

"Magical twins share a very close bond," explained Dumbledore. "Closer than parents and their children, closer than ordinary siblings closer than marriage, closer than a guardian bond, closer than any bond currently known. So close in fact that when one of the pair dies, as will the other. We cannot risk losing two very helpful and important people in such a way. The twins do help us, with funding and equipment, but we cannot have them fighting in battles."

Fred and George looked rather sad now. It was one of the first times Harry had seen them looking utterly serious and grim. After a moment of uncomfortable silence, Fred spoke up.

"Well... it's not like we wanted to join anyway."

George nodded. "Yeah. Who wants to go around fighting dark wizards?"

"We've got our little shop."

"Yep. That's the life for us."

Fred frowned a little. "Providing funds."

"Watching the others do the dirty work," said George.

They both sighed.

"Funds are necessary," said Ron, comfortingly. "We'd be lost without you guys."

Both twins snorted at exactly the same moment. "No you wouldn't," said Fred. "You'd just have to take money from Dad's job."

There was another pause. Harry was starting to think he shouldn't have brought the subject up. Luckily, Dumbledore broke the uncomfortable silence. "Well then... Harry, Ron, you still have lessons to do today. Ron, I suggest you hide that rather magnificent looking amulet, as I do not think it is in the school dress code as of yet. Ron, tell Hagrid I will explain your absence later, and Harry, please inform Professor Snape that - " He stopped at the look on Harry's face, and corrected himself. "Professor Feather that you are sorry for the part of the lesson you missed, and will catch up through homework if necessary. Tim?"

Tim nodded, and with another blinding flash of light, he shrunk back into Sneezy. He held out his little arms to Ron, who picked him up in his palm, smiling a little. He tucked him into his top pocket. Sneezy beamed at them all. Harry managed a very weak smile. His thoughts were on Snape.

He and Ron left the office, down the moving staircase, and out into the corridors. Ron was tucking his amulet away inside his robes. "Pretty cool, eh? Me being the heir of Gryffindor and all that. I would have said it was you. I got the feeling you knew about the heir thing. Did you?"

"Yeah," said Harry. "Snape told me."

"What, Snape knew as well?" said Ron. "Does everybody in the whole world know except me?" He looked down at Sneezy with a rather fond look. "This is pretty cool you know. Having a guardian. Shame I've only got one, and you've got two."

"Well, Peter's always busy, and Snape's in Azkaban," said Harry gloomily. "It's not like I carry them around in my pocket."

Ron checked his watch. "It's nearly time for second bell. I've got to get off to Dark Arts, Ivy'll skin me if I'm late. See you at break!" He hurried off down the corridor. Harry heard Sneezy chattering away to Ron as he ran, and a feeling of further gloom settled in his stomach. He sighed, and headed off towards History of Magic alone.


Chapter Twenty-Six: Unlucky Lupin

"Two months!"

Alrister banged his stick on the desk before them, making them all jump and stop talking instantly.

"How long is it until your NEWTs, Mr Weasley?" he asked.

"Two months," said Ron.

"Precisely," said Alrister. "This means that in eight measly weeks, you will be walking into my office and facing a NEWTs examiner, who will expect you to have your performance polished and perfect. If you don't know what you're doing, or at least look it, I can guarantee you a fail. As you all know, I have now seen all of your test performances. And how many Os do you think there were out of all of you sitting here now? Shall I tell you? One! One weedy little O, all on its own. The average mark was an A. Average. Acceptable. Absolutely not up to the standards I expect. Would somebody care to tell me to tell me just what went wrong?"

Lisa Turpin, a Ravenclaw girl, raised a hand. "The floor disappeared."

"Too specific," said Alrister. "Though it was something to see Professor Flitwick's face when my Pure Arts class fell in from the roof. Anyway. What went wrong? General things."

Draco raised his hand with a rather bored look on his face, and he said, calmly, "People did not remember their planned scripts, or have them practiced enough."

"Precisely," said Alrister. "And another thing. Not of you were prepared for the unexpected. Mr Potter is still the only person in here who isn't dead. The rest of you are. Somebody tell me why?"

Draco put up his hand again. "Because we weren't expecting the unexpected."

"Very good," said Alrister. "And you should have been! Because that's what Pure Arts is. The unexpected. Learning how to grasp the opportunity and use it to your advantage. And a big opportunity coming up very soon is your NEWTs. Weasley! How far away are your NEWTs?"

"Two months," said Ron dully.

"Correct." Alrister banged his stick again, and the few people who were drifting off once more jerked upwards and made sleepy grunts. "Wake up! I'm not that boring. Next week, I will be testing the whole of the seventh year on their performances. As you are my favourite class, I expect high marks. Better than wimpy little As. I expect Os, across the board! Potter, what do I expect?"

"Os across the board," said Harry.

"Very good," said Alrister. He swiped at Harry with the stick, and Harry instinctively lashed out. There was a whoosh of flames, and the end of the stick caught fire. "Very good, Harry!" said Alrister. He swirled his fingers quickly in the air, and doused out the fire. "You see? Now that's why Harry got the only O in here. Expecting the unexpected! Right then, scripts out everybody, and start practicing. If anybody sees a good opportunity for me to kill Harry, please say. Off you go."

Ron reached into his bag, and took out his parchment, unrolling it and getting a quill. "Right," he said. "I'm going to cut out levitating out of the door, or at least remember to open it before I do. Oh, that reminds me. Is it Quidditch practice tomorrow morning, Harry? Semi-finals in a week. I still can't believe we beat that last team."

"Can't do tomorrow morning," said Harry. "I've got to go and see Professor Lupin for my extra class."

"How's that going?" asked Draco idly, adding more notes to his scroll.

"Alright," said Harry. He shrugged. "I've done a lot of practice for it. I'm going to be learning how to kill tomorrow."

Draco raised his eyebrows. "Lucky you."

"I was expecting it," said Harry. "All our work's getting harder now though. Transfiguration yesterday was a real pain."

"Oh, don't remind me," said Draco, rolling his eyes. "I've still got some feathers."

Harry circled a note on his parchment, and read through it all briefly. Part of him didn't know why he was bothering doing work anymore. After all, his grades were doomed. Madam Ivy had cornered him in the corridor after school the day before, and reminded him of this, unless he suddenly remembered a few things which would keep Snape in Azkaban for life. Harry's mind stayed empty, and he told her nothing. Harry knew she couldn't actively drop the marks he was getting in any subject apart from Defence Against the Dark Arts, but she could definitely tweak the grades that were put on file at the ministry. In Dark Arts, Harry got a stream of constant Ps during Ivy's lessons, and Os during Lupin's. Harry had considered talking to Professor Lupin about this, asking him to try and intervene, but then he remembered that Ivy was in the school not only to deal with Snape, but also Lupin. Harry desperately didn't want to cost two men their jobs. It was bad enough without Snape in his life. In his guardian's absence, he had been spending a great deal of time with Professor Lupin, doing more and more extra classes, or going up to see Peter and Jinx. The rest of his time was either spent in lessons, or out on the Quidditch pitch. Quidditch was one of the only ways he could distract himself properly anymore, and in a short week, he had the semi-final match. He and Kainda had spent a lot of evenings on the pitch, sharing tips and advice. Harry's mind started to wander to Kainda, as it so often did now his hormones were in full control, and he found himself doodling a little heart on the corner of his Pure Arts script. He only realised he was doing it when Alrister's voice spoke from behind him.

"HP loves KZ 4eva," said Alrister, loudly. "Very nice, Mr Potter, but not in my classroom when the NEWTs are so close."

Harry smiled, and scribbled it out. "Sorry sir."

Alrister picked up the parchment, and ran through it. "Very good. Nice thorough performance. I enjoyed watching yours last week, got you a good O. Very close on full marks, apart from the scorch-mark you left on the corner of my desk. Just keep an eye on where your flames are going during the exam, and you'll be fine."

"Alright, sir," said Harry. He watched Ron and Draco stand up, and go off to a corner of the room to practice together.

Alrister took Ron's vacated seat. Pretending to read Harry's script again, making corrections here and there, he spoke to Harry in a quiet voice. "Are you alright, Harry? You've looked blue lately."

There was something about Alrister's fatherly, kind tones that made Harry want to open up. Alrister just seemed like the sort of person you could confide in, and expect some good advice back. "You read the Daily Prophet article, right?" said Harry.

Alrister nodded. "I did. Is it about that?"

"Mostly," said Harry. He rested his head on one hand. "And... there's something else. It's sort of... serious."

"I'm here to talk to," said Alrister.

And to Harry's surprise, he found his mouth starting to talk, spilling his problem with Madam Ivy, as though it had been longing for somebody to talk to for a very long time. Somebody neutral, who would give him an unbiased view of things and logical advice. Alrister listened in silence as Harry talked, and when he finished, he looked up at the Pure Arts master. Alrister was looking rather grave.

"Well..." he said. He rubbed his neck. "That is a serious problem, Harry... I'm not entirely sure what I can do, directly. I don't have influence at the ministry at all... but..." He gained a thoughtful look on his face. "There is something I can do, actually."

"What?" said Harry, searching his face desperately.

Alrister bit his lip. "Do you remember Andralyn Galvez?"

"Professor Snape's sister?"

Alrister nodded. "Indeed. I'm still in contact with her... she currently works in the ministry, in the education department, setting tests and writing down grades. I could ask her to keep an eye on your NEWT grades, and make a note of them when your papers are first marked. She could change them back if they suddenly turn into Ds."

Harry felt a wash of relief and gratitude inside him. "You could honestly do that? For me? Thanks, Professor... I really appreciate it."

"No problem, Harry," said Alrister bracingly. He patted Harry on the shoulder. "It's only fair. Don't let Ivy intimidate you Harry. It's a shame she's almost popular with the other students, and most of the staff. I think Minerva is rather fond of her, and Professor Sprout. No matter though. You shouldn't have to lose your grades. I'll do everything I can to help you."

"Thanks sir," said Harry, smiling.

Alrister smiled too, and got up, pushing in Ron's chair and heading to speak to some Ravenclaw girls. Just before he left, he said, "Oh and Harry?"

"Yeah?" said Harry, glancing over his shoulder.

The stick poked him hard in the back. Alrister grinned. "Dead. Red desk."

The next morning, Harry woke up with an odd feeling of worry, as though there was something unpleasant he had to do today. He laid still in the nest for a few minutes, just gazing at the ceiling, before he remembered his lesson with Lupin. He sighed and closed his eyes. Ron gave a grunt next to him.


"Go back to sleep," said Harry. "Sorry I woke you."

"What's wrong?" said Ron, sleepily.

"Learning to kill lessons," said Harry. He rolled over, and pulled the blanket up around his neck. "I have to be at Lupin's office by ten o' clock. We're doing the killing curse today."

"What are you going to be killing?" Ron yawned.

Harry shrugged. "Birds, probably. Mice. Insects. That sort of thing." He sighed. "I don't want to go."

"Then don't," said Ron vaguely. "Say you forgot."

"Ron, I've been going every single Saturday morning all year," said Harry. "I don't think Professor Lupin's going to believe me. And you're supposed to be supporting education, you're a Prefect."

Ron yawned widely, and pulled the covers tighter around himself. "Not so early in the morning, Harry..."

Harry got up, stretched, and clambered out from the nest to go and get dressed. He headed down to breakfast, and as usual, the faces turned to look at him and the whispering broke out. He tried to ignore it as he had his breakfast. People were still buzzing about the revelations of Snape and Harry's bond, and though nobody had yet spoken about it in front of Harry, he had heard from his friends just what sort of things people were saying.

"They say Snape's going to control you," Ron had told him. "You know, like. get you to do his evil bidding, from inside Azkaban."

Harry finished his breakfast in silence, and glanced at his watch. It was nine o' clock, but he didn't know what he could waste an hour on. Deciding to go and see Professor Lupin anyway and check if they would still be learning to kill today, he got up, and headed out of the Great Hall. He passed lots of people on their way down to breakfast, most of which eyed him suspiciously and started whispering to their friends. He met their gazes defiantly, but they still said nothing, and just carried on to the Great Hall.

Finally, he reached Professor Lupin's office. Hoping Madam Ivy wasn't in, he lifted a hand, knocked several times, and waited. The seconds lengthened. Harry knocked again, louder this time, but still there was no answer.

"Professor Lupin?" he called through the door, knocking a third time. "It's Harry, are you there?"

He hadn't seen Lupin at breakfast, and hadn't passed him on the corridor. He checked the date on his watch. It wasn't any near the full moon, so Lupin wouldn't have transformed. Feeling a little worried now, he curled his fingers around the handle of the door. It was locked. He drew his wand.

"Alohomora," he murmured, and the lock snapped open. He twisted the handle, and opened the door.

The stench of blood met his nose in an over-bearing, sickening wave. He grimaced and covered his face, looking into the room. There was nothing in here, just Lupin's normal office. His eyes full upon the door to Lupin's quarters, and he stepped towards it, subconsciously knowing what he would find inside.

Blood covered the floor, and there was a crimson pool of it spreading slowly across the sheets of the four-poster. Lupin had been attacked in bed, and badly attacked. His face was deathly pale. Harry rushed over, trying to avoid the pools of blood all over the carpet. There was a very faint pulse, but it was slowing.

Harry didn't know what on earth he could do. Run to the hospital wing? No, and he wouldn't carry Lupin. He knew somebody who could fetch help though.

"Peter? Peter, where are you? I need help!" he shouted. "Peter!"

A white shape bloomed out of the wall next to Lupin, as Peter appeared. His eyes fell on the professor. "Oh merlin!" he choked. "What happened? Stupid question. Harry, stay here with him, and I'll go and get some help." He streamed away through the wall again.

Harry put his hand on Lupin's forehead. He was so cold. He must have been bleeding like this for a long time, to create so much. This was far worse than any of the other attacks. Whoever had done this was aiming to kill. He put his fingers to Lupin's neck, tracking his pulse, as two sets of footsteps came rushing through.

"Harry just found him here!" Peter's voice was saying. "He's been badly attacked, just in his bed!"

The door burst open. Professor McGonagall came in, with Alrister behind her.

"Oh good Lord." said McGonagall, covering her nose and mouth against the stench. "We need to get him to the hospital wing. no, he'll need to go to St Mungo's. There must be floo powder in here somewhere... ah, here." She picked up a jar on the mantelpiece, and took a pinch. "Harry, Alrister, try to lift him... gently, that's it..." McGonagall moved forward to help, and then she and Alrister moved him towards the fireplace. She turned over her shoulder to Harry. "Potter, I suggest you go back to breakfast... tell nobody what you have seen. We don't need more of a scandal about you."

Harry nodded. Peter came forward, put an arm around him, and then lead him quietly from the room. Once they were out in the corridor, Peter stopped Harry and looked him in the eyes. "Are you alright, Harry?"

"I think so..." said Harry, shakily. He wiped his forehead. "I... I just walked in, and..."

"I know... shhh..." Peter hugged him, and patted his back. "Poor Harry... try to put it out of your mind, okay? It's good that you found him, so they can patch up his injuries and he'll be back at school in no time."

"What am I going to do?" whispered Harry. "I haven't got Snape, and now Lupin's gone too... everybody who's teaching me to help me against Voldemort is being taken away..."

"They'll come back," Peter assured him. "Don't worry, Harry... now off you go, have some proper breakfast. You'll feel fine soon. Just don't - oh no..."

Peter stopped dead, and covered Harry's eyes. This did nothing, as Peter was see-through, and Harry had already seen the body lying face-down in the middle of the entrance hall below them. Harry swatted Peter's hand away. "Don't! Who is it?"

"I..." said Peter, his mouth open.

Harry went down the marble staircase, and stood over the thing lying on the floor. It wasn't a student, or even a teacher. Harry had never seen this man before in his life. He was chalk-white, with wild matted black hair all over his face, and numerous scars on his jaw. He looked rather grey and cold. He had the look of something dead that had purposely been kept alive longer than it should.

Getting a suspicion, Harry gingerly reached out, nudging his toe underneath the man's arm, and flipping him onto his back. The movement also tilted his head back, and his jaw fell open, revealing long fangs.

"It's the vampire," said Harry. Excitement and terror rushed through him at the same time. "Peter! Peter, it's the vampire!"

Peter hurried over to him, and gasped, covering his eyes. "Oh goodness. we need to fetch somebody, quick. Harry, get your wand out, don't let it escape. is it dead? How sure are you?"

Harry kicked the vampire hard in the shoulder. His head fell limply to one side. "Pretty sure," said Harry.

Peter was kneeling down, and studying the vampire, with a queasy sort of look on his face. "I hate to break it to you," he said. "But this has been dead for quite a long time. Vampires don't decompose when they're dead, not like humans, but there are definite signs. This has been dead for at least a few months. And it can't have attacked Lupin... there's not a spot of blood on it."

Harry paled. "But... then there must be another vampire in the school somewhere. Maybe two. We don't know how many there are."

"And it's not going to prove Snape's innocence," said Peter sadly. "But... how did it get here? Somebody must have dragged it here, to leave false evidence. Make people think the attacks were over. Maybe to get Snape back to Hogwarts." Peter looked up at Harry quickly. "We've got to go. Now. Come on."

He grabbed Harry by the arm, and before Harry could utter a word, Peter had dragged him away up the marble staircase.

"Hey," said Harry. "What's wrong?"

"In here," said Peter, dragging Harry behind a tapestry into a used corridor. "Look... Harry... everybody knows about your bond with Snape. Luckily they haven't found out about me yet, but anyway... people are going to realise quickly that the vampire there has been dead for a long time, and that somebody must have planted it, to fake Snape's innocence. And you would be the number one suspect. We need to keep you as far away from the vampire case as possible. I don't think that McGonagall and Alrister will tell people it was you that found Lupin, but... you know what's going on with Ivy. You don't want to get arrested, Harry, and you don't want to give people reason to get suspicious."

Harry nodded. "Okay..." he said quietly. "It's just that... maybe if we went down there, and put some blood on it... made it look as though it's freshly dead... maybe the ministry would let Snape out of Azkaban."

Peter looked at him with a very sad, sympathetic expression. "Poor Harry... it won't work... I know you want him back, but all we've got to do is wait until justice prevails... it always does in the end."

He hugged Harry, causing the oddest sensation of being drenched in very thin, light water. Harry sighed. "Okay."

"Good boy," said Peter. There was a cry from the entrance hall, as somebody clearly discovered the vampire's body. Peter gave Harry a last reassuring hug. "Come on... let's go act surprised. And don't lose hope... he'll come back someday. I promise."


Chapter Twenty-Seven: Poison Ivy

March slowly blended into April. Harry's theory on multiple vampires seemed to be proved more and more as the month changed, as more and more attacks were going on. It was mostly owls and cats being found in the dungeons, lying dead, drained of most of their blood. People were going frantic. Every evening, groups of three or four teachers patrolled the corridors until lock-out time, carrying large wooden poles and their wands. No student was stupid enough to walk anywhere alone, and those who did reported seeing a black figure in the shadows, creeping along behind them. The loss of Professor Lupin, and the story of what happened to him, fanned the flames of fear and sent the school into a whirlwind of suspicion. Madam Ivy had taken over all the Dark Arts classes. For most people, this wasn't a bad thing, but for Harry, it most definitely was. His grades in Defence Against the Dark Arts plummeted from the Es and As that Professor Lupin had managed to fight for him, down to Ps and Ds. Also to Harry's fury, Professor Snape was not released from Azkaban, despite the attack on Lupin that Snape could not have been involved in. The statement from Fudge in the Daily Prophet was that, "The release of Severus Snape will only come once we have caught however many vampires are at Hogwarts, and we have proved without any doubt that he is not involved, in a group or as an individual". If Harry wasn't being punished enough by the world, the Bright Sparks lost the Quidditch semi-final to another seventh year team. They were out of the tournament, and Harry no longer had the thrill of Quidditch matches to keep him distracted from the gloom of the rest of his life.

And so, with barely four weeks until his NEWT exams, Harry found himself walking around the castle in a mechanical, silently panicking state. He walked slowly, though he didn't know why. He suspected it was the weight of the worries, piling onto his mind and forcing him closer to the grounds. He was glimpsing Khepri nearly every single day now, and he somehow knew it was not a good sign. He only just got a flash of teeth in the corridor packed with students, or saw him wandering across the grounds, or grinning in through the door of his classroom. Hermione was convinced it was just exam stress, and urged him to go to Madam Pomfrey, but Harry knew it was no use. Madam Pomfrey, like everybody else in the whole world, could do nothing to help him.

The single bright spot in Harry's life came every evening, just as he was getting into bed, and settling down for sleep. Snape always contacted him then. Harry spilt everything to Snape in these moments, every single one of his fears and problems, and Snape assured him that things would be okay. Never once did Snape mention life in Azkaban. Harry knew that the Dementors were no longer there, but the strength and smoothness of Snape's voice was gradually weakening day by day. Harry asked him, many times, what was happening to him but Snape refused to say.

With Alrister's promise that he would do his best to save Harry's NEWT grades, Harry had a new incentive to work properly. He knew that if Andralyn could protect his grades from Ivy, then he might be able to leave Hogwarts with a decent set of results, and never have to deal with Ivy ever again. She could ultimately do nothing. All his projects were now out of the way, and marked, and his grades were generally high. If he did well on the exams, and Andralyn could keep those marks safe, then Ivy could do nothing to affect him.

Harry wasn't quite sure whether this new hope was a good or a bad thing. On the plus side, it meant a future, possibly as an auror, and Harry had dreamed many times that if the vampire was not caught, he could return to Hogwarts, and catch it himself, then free Snape. The hope for his grades also gave him a reason to concentrate in class, and he no longer had a sense of pointlessness in his life.

On the bad side, this meant revision, and lots of it. From the moment he finished school, until the moment he went to bed, Harry was revising. He had expected Hermione to become a major hindrance, pestering him to revise all the time, but when she had seen that he was actually planning to do it without any reminding, she was happy to help him. She was practically living in the library now. Under her request, Madam Pince had set aside an area for NEWT students, and Hermione had instantly turned it into a revision haven. Techniques for remembering things were on posters stuck to the walls, with helpful books sorted into shelves according to category and topic, and house-elves had even taken to leaving out pumpkin juice. The seventh years always drank this as quickly as they could, before Hermione spotted it and took it back to the kitchens, muttering about slave labour.


Harry looked up from a thick book on the various properties of toadstools, and saw Hermione hurrying into the seventh year section. It was pretty late, and they were both cramming in some last revision before bed.

"I've found this," she said, handing him a cube-shaped book with a purple velvet cover. "It's about the Psychic Arts."

Harry took it, and opened it up. The print was so tiny that Harry could barely make out anything on the page except a mass of little dots. He blinked. "Hermione, I can't read this. I like my eyesight too much."

"Magnifio!" she said, tapping it with her wand. A bubble blossomed out of the page, which she pushed around with her finger, magnifying the text for him. "There. Have a look, you might find something useful."

"Thanks," he said. "I'll have a look later, when I've finished this bit about mushrooms..." He closed the book, with a faint popping noise, and put it on top of the stack next to him. He then turned back to his book on toadstools, and sighed. "I don't know how I'm going to remember all this... the Potions theory is going to be rock hard, I just know. I suppose I could just telepathically ask Snape for all the answers..."

"Harry, no!" Hermione gasped. "The exams are supposed to reflect your own abilities! Is Snape going to be there giving you answers all throughout your career?"

"Yes," said Harry with a slight smile. "All I've got to do is ask."

She frowned at him. "I hope you're joking about cheating Harry. You really shouldn't. Besides, it won't be that bad. The grades will suit you, and a future employer will know that."

"What if I get straight Ts? Will you be so happy then?"

"Well... I do think you've got slightly more potential than straight Ts, Harry."

"Not if Ivy has anything to do with it," said Harry, sitting back in his chair, and closing his book. It was late, too late to revise. His brain had taken in far too much today.

Hermione gave him a sympathetic look. "Oh, don't worry... Alrister promised you, Harry. He won't let you down. Besides, if all your grades suddenly turned out as Ts and Ds, people would be suspicious."

Harry shook his head. "No... a lot of people can have good marks all through school, and then flop in the exams. Look at Fred and George. They're pretty clever, I mean, they must be to concoct all the stuff they do, and they only got three OWLs each."

"That was just laziness though," said Hermione briskly. "If they'd revised, they would have done fine."

Harry shrugged. "Maybe..."

He sat back in his chair, opened his book on toadstools, and started to read again. Silence fell in the library, and Madam Pince came over to tell them she was leaving.

"Don't be in here for too long," she said, sniffing. "Don't want you in here all night, not without me here to supervise you."

"We'll just get our books together," said Hermione, getting up and opening her bag. "We won't be long, Madam Pince."

"Mm," said Madam Pince, and she clipped off through the rows of books, extinguishing the lamps as she want. Harry got out of his chair, and pushed his pile of books towards Hermione. Hermione took a stamp from her pocket, and checked them all out.

"Madam Pince gave me it," she said. "So I can sort out seventh year revision books, and people won't have to bother her about them." She started working her way through the pile of books, stamping each card, and then handing it to Harry, who packed them into his bag. When she reached a book about famous wizards through history, she grumbled. "Oh, somebody's not put the card in again..."

"That was me I think," said Harry. "I was using it as a bookmark. It should be in here somewhere." He flicked through the book, looking for the card. He had only got halfway through however when something caught his eye, and he stopped. "Hey, Hermione... look at this..."

"What is it?" she said.

He showed her the page he had. "It's the Egyptian wizengamot... the ones that the muggles thought were gods. Thoth and all those. These are the ones that will be in the psychic battle, won't they?"

Hermione took the book and eyed it closely. "I think so. I mean, the rift between muggles and wizards was starting in that era, so if a muggle knew too much or started writing things down about the wizards, the Egyptian wizengamot would find them, wipe their memories, and send them to some foreign country. So the muggles thought that these wizards were Gods, with such powers... it would make sense if their spirits are conjured up by the Shani Theoris. They used far more ancient magic in the times of the Egyptians, and things like Transfiguration were just starting out. They had a lot of accidents. Half of the wizengamot were walking around with animal heads and goodness knows."

Harry gazed into the faces of the wizengamot. They all looked out at him, blinking slowly. He recognised a few from learning about them at his old muggle primary school Anubis, Thoth, Osiris... he imagined standing before them, as they judged him and Voldemort. He didn't like the idea that much.

"Have you thought anything about learning some more Psychic Arts?" asked Hermione, timidly.

"Snape tries to teach me telepathically," said Harry with a little shrug. "But it won't work. I can't do it without being in contact with him. Something about our power being shared, and he's the holder, so I can't use it without him."

"Well..." said Hermione, looking a little nervous. "I..."

"There's nothing I can do, huh?" said Harry with a sigh. "Can't do anything that involves any sort of psychic power, because Snape's got mine."

Hermione gave him a pained look. "Oh, Harry... there must be something you can do... I mean, you're good at Occlumency and Legilimency."

Harry snorted. "Yeah, I can read his thoughts. Like that's going to be a fat lot of help."

"Here," said Hermione, taking a book from her bag and handing it to him. "I was going to use it to revise Pure Arts in... it's all about every sort of wandless magic there is. Pure Arts, Psychic Arts, Divination... have a look through it, you never know, you might find - ..."

Harry looked at her. Hermione had suddenly frozen up, her eyes wide, staring somewhere above and behind his head. He whipped around. There was a grandfather clock standing there. Harry wondered what she was so scared about, until he glanced up, and noticed the time.

It was five past nine.

"Oh no," Harry whispered. He felt the blood drain from his face. "It's too late! We're locked out!"

Hermione grabbed her bag, and his arm. "If we're quick, we might be able to just catch it, get to a professor's office... oh come on!"

They both ran for the library doors. They were left open. Praying that there would be another door open somewhere, anywhere, they both hurried out into the entrance hall. They sprinted up the marble staircase, and down the nearest corridor.

"Professor Flitwick's office is here!" said Hermione, rushing over to a door, and trying the handle. She tugged frantically. "Oh no! It's not going to open!"

"We're locked out," said Harry. He felt cold all over. "We're locked out for the night. Every single window and door will be shut."

"Maybe we should just go and wait outside Gryffindor Tower," said Hermione, grabbing his arm again.

"No... it won't help," said Harry. "Wait... Peter! Peter! Where are you? Peter!"

No familiar white shape came out of the nearest wall. Hermione started to cry. "It won't work, Harry... Dumbledore put a charm to stop even ghosts getting through the walls after nine o' clock..."

He put his arm around her. "It's okay..."

"No, it's not!" she wailed, tears streaming down her face. "We're locked out of every room in the castle, for the entire night, with a vampire!"

Something caught Harry's eye down the passage to their left. He instinctively reached for his wand and whirled around. There was nothing there. Only moonlight and shadows filled the darkened passage.

"Come on," he said. "We'll get to the entrance hall... that way we can get into the library and barricade the doors if we have to, and it's the best place to keep a look out for anything. Get your wand out."

Shakily, Hermione drew her wand. She held onto his arm with the other hand. Together, they moved slowly towards the entrance hall. Every single shadow seemed to loom at them out of the darkness, and every single distant whisper of wind sounded like the hiss of a cloak along the floor. Harry tried to put thoughts like this over his head. It was so hard to look in every single direction at once. Harry and Hermione ended up back-to-back eventually, inching down the marble staircase, searching the darkness all around. They stopped in the middle of the entrance hall.

"Now what?" whispered Hermione.

"We could hide in the library," he said. "Lock the doors ourselves. That way we'll be safe at least, until the morning. I still can't believe that... what was that?"

They froze. A soft noise was coming from nearby. It was like a very young child crying, very quietly, or somebody whispering for help. Hermione gripped Harry's arm very tight.

"What is it?" she whispered.

"I don't know," murmured Harry. "Shush a minute..." He listened hard. The sound seemed to be coming from the marble staircase, but there was nobody there. Harry took a few steps closer, and Hermione followed right behind him. The sound was definitely emanating from there. Harry leant to the left of the stairs, and the sound grew a little louder. He led Hermione over slowly, glancing at the side of the marble staircase. Nothing looked out of place, except one thing. One of the tiles looked as though it had recently been changed, or moved. Harry stepped closer. He reached out for the tile, but Hermione grabbed his hand.

"No!" she whispered. "Don't, Harry! What if there's something behind there?"

Harry stepped back carefully. "Alright... reducto!" The tile cracked in the middle, and fell away in pieces, clattering to the floor. There were wooden boards underneath, and a hole had been splintered in one, perhaps large enough to get a very small dog through. The whimpering noise was coming from inside.

"I think it's an animal," said Hermione. "It's hurt..."

Harry reached into his pocket. "Me too... but we won't be able to see inside... I know who can help us though." He pulled out Sneezy, who woke up with a little yawn and a stretch. Ron always gave Sneezy to Harry when he was going to the library, as Sneezy liked to read the books.

"Low?" he squeaked.

"We need you to do something for us," said Harry. He showed Sneezy the hole. "There's something in there. Can you go in and find out?"

Sneezy yawned again, and stretched some more, before he findly decided. "Yes... my will try..."

"Can't you talk normally?" asked Harry.


"Alright, alright... in you go then, and if it's something dangerous, come straight back out."

He put Sneezy down into the hole, and he went pattering off, under the marble staircase. They heard him humming. Finally, he went quiet, then his hurried footsteps came running again. "Cak! Cak! Harryyyyy!" He came rushing out with wide eyes, looking terrified. Harry scooped him up.

"What is it? A cat?"

"Cak! Cak!"

"There's a cat in there?" whispered Hermione. "Oh, the poor thing... we've got to get it out, Harry, it sounds really hurt..."

"What sort of cat is it, Sneezy?" Harry asked.

Sneezy started pointing at Hermione. "Cak! Ringe cak!"

"Ringe cak?" said Hermione. "Wait... orange cat? Crookshanks! Oh no! I haven't seen him all day, it must be him in there! What are we going to do?"

"We could widen the hole," suggested Harry. "And pull him out."

"No, we might hurt him..." said Hermione, tearfully. "Poor Crookshanks... Sneezy, can you pull him out?"

Sneezy shook his head vehemently. "Nooooo. My can't. Cak too big."

Harry bent down, and tried reaching into the hole. He couldn't feel anything. "He's too far away," he said, pulling his arm back out. "I don't want to start shooting levitation spells under there... might hit the support shafts of the staircase, and then we're in trouble..."

Hermione had her hands over her mouth. She was gazing at the hole, apparently dithering between two decisions, looking very upset. "I... I'll have to... but... Harry..."

"What is it?" he said. "What's wrong?"

She bit her lip. "It's the only way... please... don't tell anybody..."

And suddenly, she started to shrink. She was arching forwards as her spine was adjusted, and her uniform was melting into not clothes - but fur. Harry staggered backwards, staring with his mouth open, as sitting on the floor before him appeared a cat. It was long-haired, with soft brown fur, and hazel-coloured eyes, exactly the same shape and colour as Hermione's. He recognised the cat from before, seeing McGonagall and Crookshanks playing with it on the corridor one night.

"Hermione?" he gasped.

The cat mewed quietly, and lifted a paw. He bent down, and stared at her, both amazed and rather hurt that Hermione had never told him. She meowed again, and nudged at his hands. Carefully, he picked her up, and held her to the hole. She slipped in, and scampering away into the darkness. Harry waited, and hoped. He could hear shuffling, something being half-dragged and half-pushed. A few moments later, Hermione reappeared. He helped her down, and then reached in, finding Crookshank's fur, and easing the cat gently out of the hole. He lifted Crookshanks carefully, and held him. Crookshanks looked very weak, and dazed, but had no bite marks. His back leg was held at an odd angle. He'd probably gone exploring, hurt his leg and fallen over, then somebody had blocked up the hole he got in through.

Harry glanced at the brown cat rubbing around his feet. He sat down on the floor, holding Crookshanks, and Hermione clambered into his lap, settling down.

"Hermione..." he muttered. "I can't believe you didn't tell me... you're unregistered, I suppose?"

The cat shook its head, as she nuzzled against his hand, and he scratched her behind the ears.

"Why?" asked Harry, only able to think of that question.

Hermione the cat clambered off his lap, arched her back, and a moment later, she had reappeared as a human, sitting in front of him on the floor. She straightened out her uniform, and ran a hand through her hair. "Furthering my studies... Professor McGonagall said I had the most potential in a Transfiguration student she had ever seen, and she wanted me to take up the animagus project as some extra work... I told her I wouldn't mind teaching Transfiguration, and she said she wouldn't mind an assistant for when I leave Hogwarts."

"But it takes years to do," said Harry.

"Three," said Hermione quietly. She looked at the floor. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but Professor McGonagall said it would be best, so if something went wrong, you would never have to know... I only managed it this year..."

"When were you planning on telling us?" asked Harry. He handed Crookshanks to her, and she held him gently.

She tapped his leg carefully with her wand, and whispered, "Felia ferula..." A splint appeared, and bandages wrapped from the end of her wand around his leg, setting it gently in place and holding it still. He meowed and nuzzled into her shoulder. Hermione looked up at Harry again. "I... I don't know. I wasn't going to keep it a secret forever, Harry, I would have told you as soon as we graduated, I promise..."

Harry smiled and shook his head slightly. "You have to stop these big secret things, you know. Time turners, animagi..."


"It's okay. You didn't do anything wrong." Harry reached out, and petted Crookshanks under the chin. "Besides, I think - "

But he was cut off, as something dripped onto his outstretched hand. At first he thought it was rain, before he realised they were inside, and that the substance was not clear. It was red.

Harry and Hermione both looked up at the same time. And what they saw made their mouths fall and screams tear from their throats. There was a figure, leaning over the banister, staring down at them, swathed in a dark cloak so only a shadowy face could be seen, and a mouth dripping blood. Harry was so terrified that before he had even thought of registering who the face belonged to, he was up onto his feet, and both he and Hermione were running away from the staircase. They didn't look back, until they had reached the furthest side of the entrance hall. When they turned, the hall was empty again. The figure dripping blood was gone.

Hermione gave a shuddering gasp and started to cry, clutching Crookshanks to her chest. Harry patted her back gently. "It's okay," he said. "Shhh, shhh..." He led her over to the corner, and they both sat down, huddled up, petting Crookshanks and Sneezy. "Come on... if we stay here, we can see everything. Nothing above us, nothing behind us."

Hermione nodded, tearfully, and pulled her knees up to her chest. They settled together, and the hours slowly started to creep by.

It was silence like Harry had never known. He remembered being a very small child at the Dursleys' house, living in a cupboard from the moment he was old enough to, and he had experienced some terrible nights there. He used to see things walking past the door, hear creaks, and with nobody to reassure him that monsters did not exist, he had dreaded some nights. This night was just like that. The whole of Hogwarts was full of things that only woke up when it was dark and silent, and every single one of them made a noise in the blackness. The shadows around the mouth of the dungeons seemed to flicker, and melt in and out. Many times, Harry thought he saw something watching them from the darkness there, but when he looked, there was nothing. The thick blackness was full of invisible eyes. Neither Harry nor Hermione wanted to risk hurrying to the library they would have to pass the entrance to the dungeons, and there was definitely something hiding there, watching and waiting for the right time.

Finally, midnight came. A clock concealed in the blackness started to strike. Harry counted the chimes. One, two, three, four... he knew it was now only five hours until the doors would open. Seven, eight. They had survived three so far. Five more wouldn't be so bad. Ten, eleven...

And then, as the twelfth stroke fell, Harry saw something move at the top of the marble staircase. At first, he thought it was just another trick of his mind.

Until a figure stepped from the darkness, as though it had just been created from pure shadows. Hermione tensed. Harry shushed her. The figure in the long, black hooded cloak stepped silently down the stairs, face turned to the floor. Harry could see a slow trail of blood drips left behind the cloak. He held onto Hermione, praying that the vampire didn't notice them, praying it would just go off into the dungeons and not come back until morning. It reached the bottom of the stairs, and turned. Harry's heart gave a sigh of relief.

But then the figure stopped. Harry and Hermione tensed again. The vampire was still for a moment, as though contemplating something and then it turned slowly to face Harry and Hermione. It began to walk towards them.

Harry pushed Crookshanks into Hermione's arms, and he stood up. His wand was in his hand before he knew what was happening. There were only two thoughts in his mind Snape, sitting in Azkaban for the crimes of this being; and that under that cloak was just a normal human, like Snape, driven by blood lust.

"Don't you come any closer," he said, fiercely. The vampire stopped. Harry's hand tightened on his wand. "I know you're just like us. I don't know who you are under that cloak, but I'm not afraid to curse you into oblivion, whoever you are."

The vampire was still, considering him, face hidden by the hood. Harry thought he saw a glitter of eyes in the deep blackness. For a moment, it looked as though the vampire would just turn and go but then it stepped forward, raising a hand. Harry saw black claws, and deathly pale hands.

"Do not be a fool..." the vampire hissed. It was a voice like Snape's had been when he transformed, deep and gravelled, hoarse. Harry couldn't even tell if it was male or female. "Put... it... down."

"Leave us alone," snarled Harry. He raised his wand. "Or I'll jinx you." The vampire was still taking tiny steps forward, reaching out to him, fingers curled and dripping blood. Harry held his wand fiercely. "Get back!" he shouted. The vampire didn't listen. It was stepping ever closer, reaching out, for his wand. Harry opened his mouth, to cry a spell, any spell, just to get the vampire to go.

When suddenly, light filled the entrance hall. A bright, glorious amber gold washed over everything in a rapid wave, that both Harry and the vampire shielded their eyes from. The vampire hissed in pain, and retreated. Harry just managed to squint over his shoulder. The light seemed to be coming from Hermione, but he couldn't see properly, so blinded by the light. Hermione stood up. She was suddenly walking, past Harry, towards the vampire. He shouted at her to stop, to get back, but a sound like a single note on a violin was filling the room now, high and unbroken. The vampire was retreating, wilting away from the light, hissing in fury and pain. Hermione kept walking. Finally, the vampire turned, and ran, scrabbling up the marble staircase and away into the darkness of the Charms corridor, cursing and shrieking as it went. The light only died and the sound only stopped when its footsteps were well out of sight. The hall was plunged into blackness again.

Hermione slowly turned to face Harry. She had opened her robes, and Harry realised what had caused the light. Resting on top of her shirt was the ruby red pendant of Gryffindor's amulet. It was still glittering with orange sparks.

"Ron gave me it," said Hermione quietly. She toyed with the chain. "He said I'd better have it when I'm revising late at the library... just in case."

"It just saved our lives," said Harry. He wiped a hand over his forehead, and wasn't surprised to feel cold sweat there. "Did you hear the voice? Any idea who it is?"

Hermione shook her head. "Vampires' voices change when they transform. Something to do with vocal chord changes... filters for blood grow in the neck, and the chords get pushed somewhere..."

They sat down on the floor again. Harry was a little shaky, and Hermione seemed to be in a similar state. "Well..." he said. "I'm going to buy Ron so many Butterbeers the next time we're in Hogsmeade."

Professor McGonagall found them both at five AM, huddled together in the entrance hall, asleep and exhausted, but healthy nonetheless. After being checked in her office for any injuries, they were allowed to go. "Best not to arouse suspicion, after all," McGonagall said crisply, shooing them out of the doors. "Go and get some breakfast. And please pay more attention to the lock-out time in future."

They went to the Great Hall, and sat down at one of the tables. It was completely empty. Nobody was yet awake. Harry shakily got a goblet, poured himself some pumpkin juice, and had a long drink. He felt deeply tired, but knew he would not be able to sleep. Hermione was serving herself some cereal, and scattering most of it onto the table around her bowl. They sat in silence, picking at their breakfast with little enthusiasm, until more people started to arrive. Most of the teachers sank into chairs around one of the large wooden tables, getting coffees and sighing. Professor Feather was sipping on a glass of hot milk and looking as bland and dull as ever. Professor Alrister came over to have a word with Harry, saying he had got a reply from Andralyn, and she would be watching his grades, and then went back to finish his bacon. At about seven o' clock, Ron and the other Gryffindors arrived, all of them looking very relieved to see Harry and Hermione alive. Ron doted over Hermione, and when Kainda arrived, she fussed a little over Harry. Everybody listened in awe as Hermione told them the story of the amulet. Harry, meanwhile, was watching the table where the teachers were all sitting. Professor McGonagall was still nursing a cup of coffee, and seemed to be telling Madam Ivy something, who looked deeply interested. Her eyes flicked to Harry numerous times. After several long minutes of this, McGonagall stood up, and left to prepare her next class. The moment she was gone, Madam Ivy got to her feet. Harry turned away as she walked towards their table, hoping that she wasn't going to ask him anything. Unfortunately, his hopes were dashed.

She smiled as she approached. "Hope I'm not disturbing you all... I want a word with Mr Potter, if you don't mind. I'll have him back before long. Come along, Potter... my office, please."

Harry stood up, with a sinking feeling in his stomach. His friends were all watching tensely as he followed glumly behind Madam Ivy, hands in his pockets. She didn't speak to him once, until she had led him into her office, and closed the door.

She turned around to face him. One of her eyebrows was raised. "So, Mr Potter..."

"So what?" he said, coldly.

"Locked-out last night, were you?" she said. "And yet you haven't got a scratch."

Harry said nothing. He just glared at her. He hated Ivy, and he didn't care if she knew it or not. He saw no reason to even try and be polite to her.

"Can you tell me why, Mr Potter?" she said, crossing her arms, glaring down at him.

Harry shrugged. "Just didn't see the vampire. Why? Should I?"

Her eyes were narrowed. "Don't lie to me. I have been willing to pass over a few of your little lies in previous meetings, though now, I will not tolerate. I wish to know how it can be that some of the most careful students have been attacked, and you were not. Even Professor Lupin, who was in his bed by the appointed hour, was attacked. And yet here you are. Roaming around the school last night, without a single bruise."

Harry felt a flare of anger. "What right have you got to talk about Professor Lupin?" he snarled. "You're glad he's gone. Just makes your job easier, doesn't it? That's why you're here. To get rid of Snape and Lupin. Done it now, haven't you? What are you still pestering me for?"

"I have realised that Snape and Lupin were not simply two problems in this school," she hissed. "Perhaps once they were. But now they have concocted a nice little web around themselves, haven't they? Enticing other people into the false assumption they are safe, and then corrupting the minds of the students, to protect themselves."

"What exactly are you saying?" Harry spat.

She looked him directly in the eye. "I'm saying, Mr Potter, that there are still people in the school I need to remove before the problem is taken away. I'm saying that perhaps, Mr Potter, the work of Severus Snape continues in this school. In the form of you."

Harry just glared at her. He shook his head, slowly, unable to believe her nerve. "Why me?"

"A guardian bond?" she scoffed. "I have known for a long time that such things are impossible to break, and that a guarded will do anything their guardian needs of them, sometimes even subconsciously. In this together, were you? Snape and Potter. Then when Snape leaves, Potter is left to continue his valiant work. Even attacking friends, if he must."

"You're unbelievable," said Harry viciously. "You're so... so stupid! What is your goal? Why are you actually like this? You're not doing this to help Hogwarts. Is it Snape you're trying to get at? Or is it me? Did Fudge put you here just to make me miserable, for destroying his safe little magic community?"

"Silence!" she shouted.

Harry tensed, as he suddenly found himself pressed back against the chair, Madam Ivy's fist curled in a bunch of his robes. She was looking at him with more hate and loathing than Harry had ever seen, even from Snape.

"I am here to make this school what it needs to be," she hissed, shaking him. "Fudge sent me here to get rid of all the problems at Hogwarts, once and for all. If that means removing the students who get in my way, trust me, Potter. I will find a way to do so."

"Send me to Azkaban, will you?" Harry shouted in her face. Rage against her was burning inside him. She had gotten rid of Snape, she was now trying to get rid of him, and Harry suddenly didn't care about anything at all. His grades meant nothing, even his future at Hogwarts. "Is that what it will take? Put me in there with Snape! I don't care! You're getting nothing from me!"

She fumed silently for long moments. Harry stared defiantly at her, her fingers curled around the arms of the chair, digging into the wood so hard he thought it might break. Ivy was shaking. Her anger against Harry seemed to reach a peak, and before Harry could react, she had raised a hand.

There was a crack, and pain hissed across Harry's face from where she struck him. He creased over and bit his lip. She got no cry of pain or shout back. He wouldn't give her the satisfaction of that. He stood up, so angry he longed to hit her back, but he wouldn't. He stormed from the office, and slammed it after her. Once he was out in the corridor, he left, and didn't stop walking once until he was in the owlery, in the cold and the cool, sitting himself on the window ledge.

He stopped then, and let the events of what had just happened play through his mind. He put a hand over the side of his face. There was no blood she had hit him with the flat of her hand, so no mark was left. He had no proof. He didn't really want proof, as it would do him no good, and he'd get no satisfaction from seeing her taken from Hogwarts. He wanted Ivy humiliated publicly, mocked, hated, despised. She was obsessed with clearing the school of badness, to a point that Harry knew was not natural. She must have some ulterior motive for being so infatuated with her mission. Why did she want to punish Harry so badly? What could possibly give her reason to send an innocent man to Azkaban, destroy somebody's NEWT grade hopes, and then hit a student and risk being sacked?

He remembered Snape telling him that she was told by Fudge to get rid of Snape and Lupin. He wished that Snape had told him more. He didn't want to disturb Snape now though, with his bleating and nonsense about Ivy. Snape had more to deal with than that.

A thought suddenly came to him. He knew how he could find out just what that letter from Fudge to Ivy said. Slipping from the window ledge, and hurrying from the owlery, he was walking so fast that he was in the dungeons before he had time to think. He went to Snape's quarters, and eased the door open. It was dark inside. "Lumos," he murmured, and the tip of his wand lit up. He proceeded inside silently. The wand tip ran over Snape's possessions, all laid out just as they had been when Snape was taken away. There was even a glass of wine there on the side, next to an open book. Harry felt a pang. Silently, he went to Snape's desk, and opened up the drawers. The first one was just full of work Snape still had to mark, and the second was work he had already marked. The third however was full of documents, scattered in a disorganised pile. Letters, notes, contracts... Harry sighed, pulled out the drawer, and sat cross-legged on the floor, sorting through them. Most of it was no use to him, and meant nothing. A lot of them were to do with inheritance, of "Snape Manor", which there had apparently been trouble with. Some were from Isabis. Harry respected Snape's privacy too much to read them, and he just put them to one side. Finally, after nearly a solid hour of searching and sorting, he found a piece of parchment with an official-looking stamp at the top. He glanced at it. "For the Eyes of Arabella Morgana Ivy Only, From the Quill of Cornelius Fudge," read a heading stamped across the top. Harry's heart was pounding as he skimmed through the letter. Words flashed by in a stream falling standards at Hogwarts, dangerous teaching, problems needing to be eradicated. At last, he came to a paragraph that stood out to him, and he started to read.

"I wish to impress upon you just how serious and confidential I want this job to be. I believe you understand just what it is I wish for you to do, though there are extra details. There are three people I want you to remove from Hogwarts, and if possible, the wizarding world completely. I wish for Remus Lupin, Severus Snape, and Harry Potter to be removed in any way possible. I will stress this in ANY way possible. Snape is a thorn in the ministry's side, and if we can prove him guilty, then Albus Dumbledore will no longer be able to protest his innocence. We have known for a long time that Severus Snape never truly deserted the Dark Lord, and yet Dumbledore trusts him. We suspect that all our most important information is being fed to the Dark Lord through Snape. Remus Lupin is a danger to the school, and the ministry's battle against the Dark Lord. We know for sure that he counted himself a close friend of the murderer Sirius Black, and is very close to Dumbledore. I am sure you are aware of the trouble Harry Potter constantly causes for the ministry. He and Dumbledore have been a problem to us ever since they met. Potter continues to whip the people into a frenzy and terrify them about the Dark Lord's return. His removal would be greatly convenient to us. The loss of Dumbledore however would be highly noticed, and grieved by the people THIS IS NOT OUR MISSION. Dumbledore must not be harmed. The ministry wants Lupin, Snape and Potter taken care of as quickly as is feasible. The force of the ministry is on your side. Please remember any way possible."

Harry was silent. Ivy was here not just for Lupin, and Snape, but for him also. And she was trying to get rid of him in any way possible. Ivy was here to kill him. Harry had never especially liked the ministry, and had certainly never trusted them entirely, but he had never thought that the ministry would actually want him dead. He folded up the letter, and tucked it into the pocket of his robes. He felt numb. It had occurred to him now just how much danger he was in, barely minutes before, alone in an office with Ivy. She could have murdered him, so easily.

He simply sank down onto the floor. Panic and fright were prickling up his spine, as he put his arms around himself, and just sat there in the darkness of Snape's quarters. He wanted Snape back from Azkaban, more than anything else. He imagined confessing to the vampire murders, falsely, just so they would take him to Azkaban and leave him there with Snape. Ivy couldn't get to him there. Voldemort would come eventually, but it was only dying a little later than he would normally have done. It was dying with Snape too.

Harry gazed around the room, expecting to see the wreckage of his life lying in scattered piles across the floor. Khepri and Voldemort, vampires, Ivy and the ministry, his NEWT grades, Snape missing, Lupin gone...

"I'm done for," he whispered.


Chapter Twenty-Eight: The Double Crosser

The two months that passed were possibly the worst of Harry's life. Every day went so slowly it was painful, and yet when he laid down to sleep at night, sometimes he could hardly even remember what happened at all that day. He became little more than a walking body, like an empty shell. His NEWTs suddenly leapt on him halfway through May, and then they were gone again in a whirl. Harry knew only three of his seven exams went well - Potions, Defence Against the Dark Arts, and Pure Arts. Even then, he couldn't be entirely confident. He hardly remembered what was on the theory papers at all, and however well he had performed during Pure Arts, the examiner asked him at the end whether he was okay, and said he had a rather dazed look about him. His Charms exam didn't go at all as he'd planned. He stumbled through most of the enchantments, barely managing to get them satisfactory, and he knew he must have missed out at least a quarter of the theory paper. Transfiguration was similar. He messed up on human Transfiguration in his practical exam, and couldn't redeem himself by fixing it. History of Magic could only be described as tragic. He skipped out question after question, wishing that there was even one he could answer simply, without having to think. He managed to jot down very limp answers for most of them, but knew he wouldn't get the marks.

He found that he simply didn't care any more. He started thinking longingly of Azkaban. He no longer imagined it to be a prison, more of a fortress, somewhere to be safe. Some days, Harry had a constant link open with Snape. He sat for hours in the Gryffindor common room, numb from head to foot, just talking with his magical guardian as the heat prickled in his eyes. Whenever Ron or Hermione asked him what was wrong, he just shook his head, and if they pestered, he simply got up and left. He would just sit in Snape's quarters, in the dark. He knew he was pushing his friends away, and they were only trying to help, but he didn't want to drag them down with him. He didn't want them to suffer. Hermione was sure it was just exam stress, and begged him to go to Madam Pomfrey. Ron desperately kept trying to cheer Harry up. Draco told him sternly to snap out of it, and stop being so miserable. Harry's friends even took him down to see Hagrid, and Hagrid tried to talk to him, but it made no difference. Harry heard from Draco that Kainda cried most of the time, terrified she had done something wrong, as Harry hadn't shown her any emotion in weeks. Harry didn't know what to say, or what to do. He didn't want to be alone, but he didn't want people to fuss over him. The only time he ever felt happy was when just one person was there, and they weren't pestering him.

It was a cold night, unusually cold for a June evening. It was about eight o' clock. Kainda was sitting in the Slytherin common room, reading, when Draco came storming in.

"He's doing it again," Draco blustered. "Potter. Just came down this corridor, as I was doing my patrols, and he just wanders into Snape's quarters. Closed the door in my face. What is he playing at?"

Kainda frowned into her book. "Maybe you should stop acting as though he's done something wrong."

Draco pulled off his cloak. "Oh, come on. He's pushing us all away. Hasn't spoken to me in three days. And we try to help him, ask him what's wrong, and he just ignores us and goes to sit in the dark in Snape's quarters."

"He's going through a lot at the moment," said Kainda coldly.

"Yeah? We've all just done our NEWTs too. And you don't see me wandering around the place, tears constantly brimming, moping and shutting myself in empty rooms, do you?"

Kainda closed her book with a snap. She stood up, put her book down, and left the common room, slamming the door on Draco's shout of, "Oh, I see, it's you too now is it?"

She crossed the corridor, and tried the door to Snape's rooms. It was locked. "Harry?" she called quietly. "Harry? It's me. Open up, will you?"

There was a moment's pause, and then the door opened. She stepped in, and closed it. Harry was sitting in front of the fire, gazing into the flames, wrapped in an old blanket. Kainda couldn't see how Draco was so scathing to Harry, acting as though he was purposely being so numb and emotionless. Kainda didn't know what it was that was upsetting Harry, as she didn't ask, knowing he didn't want people to pester him. Silently, she walked over. He nudged up in the armchair, and she sat down next to him.

She put a hand on his shoulder. He closed his eyes.

"Harry..." she said. She could see something inside Harry break down, just for now, as he shifted a little and looked over his shoulder at her. His green eyes were no longer bright and vibrant, but dull and tired. She reached out, and put her arms around him. He stiffened for a moment, and then softened, leaning into her.

They sat like that for at least half an hour, possibly even more. Harry was quiet, though every now and then, dampness would appear on Kainda's shoulder. She never said anything, just held him. Everybody else seemed to harass Harry and badger him to tell them what was wrong, but Kainda knew he would in his own time. He would tell her if he wanted, and if he didn't want to, she wouldn't trouble him by forcing him to.

"Kai...?" Harry said quietly, after so much quiet. "I... I want some help..."

"Oh?" she said.

Harry nodded. He nuzzled against her neck, and closed his eyes. He hadn't talked to anybody about everything yet. Not even Snape knew the whole range of problems he had. He wanted somebody to talk to, so badly it hurt. He prayed Kainda would understand. "What do you see in the corner?" he asked.

He saw her eyes flicker to the corner, and then back at him. "A few chairs... a bookshelf..."

"Is there anybody sitting in the chairs?"


"I... I..." He closed his eyes. "You'll think I'm mad..."

"I won't. What is it?"

"I... I see somebody sitting there. Khepri. He's like a boy. Egyptian. Animal parts. And I don't think anybody in the whole world properly believes that he's there. Everybody thinks I'm lying. Or hallucinating. Or going crazy."

Kainda said nothing. Neither did Harry. He nuzzled gently into her neck, and closed his eyes again. Something about her scent was soothing to him, and he didn't know why he had mentioned Khepri to her. He just wanted to tell somebody. Deep down, he knew she thought he was losing his mind and hallucinating, just like Snape did, but he could at least pretend. He opened one eye, and glanced at the corner. Khepri was sitting there in one of Snape's chairs, grinning at him. Khepri did this whenever Harry was in Snape's quarters. At first, Harry had tried to speak to him. Khepri always replied with the same thing though - "Time's running out..."

"Harry?" said Kainda quietly in his ear.

He cuddled closer. "Yes?"

As she spoke, he recognised her tone of voice. It was the sort of voice that you used with somebody dangerous, who could snap at any moment. Somebody you were ever so slightly afraid of. "Harry... how about we go and see the headmaster? Maybe Khepri will stay here if we do, and he won't bother you anymore."

Harry looked at Khepri. The beast grinned even wider, and shifted in the chair, winking at him. Harry then turned his eyes to Kainda. She was watching him closely. As he looked at her, he made his decision, at long last. It wasn't her words that convinced him, but the expression hidden in her eyes. It was knowing that Kainda was frightened of him like this. He knew now that things were so bad, he had nothing to lose.

"Okay," he whispered. He took off the blanket, not surprised that his fingers were shaking. "I'll go and see him... please, go back to your dormitory. It's nearly lock-out time, and I don't want you to get hurt."

She glanced at him, and held his gaze for a few moments. Eventually she nodded. "Alright... but promise me you'll go and see him..."

"I promise," he said.

She led him out into the corridor, silently. They stopped, halfway between Snape's quarters and the Slytherin portrait hole. She leant forward, and gave him a gentle hug, before turning and walking into the common room quietly. Harry made his way out of the dungeons. He was going to see Dumbledore. And if Dumbledore didn't believe him, and turned him away, then Harry knew it was all over. This was his last hope.

The stone gargoyles were sitting in front of the entrance as usual. Harry felt his numb mind throb with desperation as he realised he didn't know the password.

"Please," he said. "Just open..."

They remained motionless. He tried to move past them, just skip them by, but they shifted to block his way, wherever he went. He tried the names of every food he knew that contained any sugar at all, but none of them would work. Beaten, and defeated once more, he finally just collapsed on the floor and sat there. He knew he must look as pathetic as he felt. Whispers were going round the school now that he was losing his mind. Was he actually going mad? Were they right?

There was the noise of stone grinding against stone from before him. He opened his eyes, just as the moving staircase stopped before him. Dumbledore stood there. "Ah... yes... I had a feeling you would be here soon, Harry..." He reached down, and with surprising strength for such an old man, he helped Harry to his feet. "Come into my office... we need to have a chat, I think... Miss Granger and Mr Weasley came to see me today about you. Said you were in bad spirits."

Nobody had spoken to Harry so calmly and normally in almost two months now. He felt his aching brain refreshed just a tiny bit by Dumbledore's tone. He allowed the headmaster to put him on the moving staircase, and then walked into Dumbledore's office quietly. Dumbledore followed him, and shut the door.

"Now then..." he said. "Have a seat, Harry, make yourself at home."

Harry sat down. He looked up at Dumbledore as the headmaster passed him. The thought that he would at last be telling somebody everything, every single worry and fear that he had, was so relieving to him. Even if Dumbledore didn't believe him, and told him he was a raving lunatic, Harry didn't care. Just the thought of talking, at last...

Dumbledore seated himself behind his desk, and leaned over to Harry, watching him for a few moments. Harry met that bright blue gaze. Dumbledore gave him a little smile. "I believe there are a few things troubling you, Harry... I want you to tell me everything..."

Harry hadn't even begun when a knock on the door rang through the office. Dumbledore got up, but Harry was on his feet first. "I'll get it, Headmaster," he said. He headed over to the door, and pulled it open, hoping it wasn't anybody important.

He didn't have time to get the door even fully open before the person standing outside pushed it roughly. Harry took a step back, wondering what was happening. He realised then, just who it was, but he had no time to react. With a wild hiss and a shriek, the vampire descended onto him, grabbed him, twisting his neck back and bit, hard. Harry screamed and thrashed, trying to escape, shaking in that iron grip. Dumbledore's chair hit the floor as the headmaster leapt up, drawing his wand, running to help. Harry couldn't fight it off. He felt dizzy, blood drenching his robes, soaking him. He couldn't reach his wand. But wait... he knew there was something he could reach. Something he had forgotten about, that somebody gave him, in a time that seemed like a distant memory. He reached into his sleeve.

And next second, the vampire gave a shriek of pain and horror. It released Harry, who fell to the floor, dazed and drained. The vampire staggered, clutching madly at its stomach, making an odd choking noise. It stumbled backwards, and hit the door, sliding down it onto the floor. The dagger that Snape had given Harry for his seventeenth birthday was protruding from the vampire's stomach, glinting in the office light. Harry could feel himself losing consciousness. But he had to know. He moved forward, and grabbed the vampire's hood, pulling it off.

Even in her vampire form, there was no mistaking Madam Ivy. Her hair had turned black, and her eyes were scarlet. Her fanged mouth was open in a silent scream of pain.

Harry only had time to register Dumbledore's hands grabbing him, and his head hitting the floor, before he passed out from shock and blood-loss.

Harry woke up to a feeling of softness and calm. He was cold, and clammy, his skin damp, but he was lying somewhere cosy. Snape's quarters? He remembered a Bludger injury. Was it that? No, more had happened since then... his brain didn't want to work properly. Dumbledore, he remembered. Dumbledore, and the vampire... and Madam Ivy...

He opened his eyes. He was in the hospital wing. He was lying in a bed near the end of the ward, facing the doors. Black screens had been put up, blocking the view of people looking in. How long had he been here? It was very dark, and very quiet. At first, he thought he was alone, until a voice spoke from behind him.

"Ye're awake then."

He frowned, rubbing his eyes, and rolling over. Professor Chetry was sitting next to his bed. "Professor...? Where's Madam Pomfrey?"

"She's nae here," said Chetry quietly.

"Well... where is she?"

"Meetin' wae Dumbledore."

"Oh, okay..." Harry pulled the covers up around his neck. He felt a lot of padding there, bandaging to heal the wound in his throat, from the vampire bite. He looked up at Chetry. "How long have I been unconscious?"

"Two days, and a few hours," said Chetry. He was looking at Harry strangely. "Been waitin' for ye te wake up."

"Um... why?" asked Harry.

Chetry said nothing. He was just watching Harry, with slightly narrowed eyes, as though Harry had done something to offend him.

Feeling distinctly nervous now, Harry tried to ask another question. "What happened to Madam Ivy?"

"She died," said Chetry. "Stabbed. Ye should know that."

"I... I suppose..." said Harry. He fiddled with the blankets. "It's... not that I'm not grateful or anything, but... why are you here?"

Chetry was utterly silent. His eyes were still fixed on Harry. The look on his face was very blank, very neutral for a few moments, before he stood up. He started to roll up the sleeves of the tartan shirt slung over his shoulders. Harry watched him, inching instinctively away. He didn't like this. Something was wrong.

"Why am I here?" said Chetry. He tucked the last sleeve in place. He looked angry now, frustrated, shaking slightly. "I'm here te finish the job Ivy could nae manage."

He reached out, and grabbed Harry around the neck. Harry tried to scream, tensing up, terrified, but Chetry's grip was too firm. Harry struggled, desperately, fighting for air. He couldn't breathe. He grabbed Chetry's hands, trying to pull them off, but Chetry was too strong. He was glaring at Harry with terror and hatred in his eyes. Harry kicked, still trying to scream, and just losing air faster. He was feeling dizzy again. He dug his nails into Chetry's hands, but Chetry wouldn't let go. Harry managed a tiny keening cry, but the professor pushed his thumb hard into Harry's throat, choking him even more, cutting off all air to his lungs. This was it. Done. Finished. Over.

And then the doors to the hospital wing burst open with a bang to wake the dead, the screen was knocked over to the floor, and a furious voice cried, "STUPEFY!!"

The spell struck Chetry in the head. His grip instantly slackened around Harry's throat, and he tilted backwards, staggering. His eyes rolled into his eyes, and then he hit the floor, shaking the walls with his bulk. Harry let out a gasp of dead air, and then gulped some more down, clutching his throat, coughing and hacking desperately. His saviour was rushing the length of the ward, and the moment they reached him, they held him, supporting him.

"Harry. Speak to me."

Harry managed one word, before he fainted again. "Severus..." He fell forwards, slumping against Snape, mind blank once more.

A voice was speaking somewhere very far away, like a distant storm. In the hazy depths of Harry's mind, something recognised it, and he turned his head just a little bit.

"Poppy," the voice said. "Poppy, quickly. He's moving."

His eyes were still shut, too heavy to open, but he managed to speak. It caused immense pain in his throat. "S... S..."

Feet were coming this way. "He shouldn't be awake, not yet. The dosage must have been faulty. Harry, drink this."

Something brushed his lips, opening them, and hot liquid trickled into his mouth. It burnt, terribly, and felt as though it was clotting in his throat. He made a tiny cry of pain.

"I know it hurts," the first voice said. "Go back to sleep, Harry."

Beautiful darkness swept over him again.

Once again, he suddenly became aware of himself, the terrible pain in his head. He had to try again, make sure that he hadn't been dreaming before. "Sss... se..."


"I don't understand. He can't be waking. The dose should last at least another two days. Perhaps there's a problem with the batch, you'll have to make some more."

"I'm not leaving this room. Dumbledore told me to stay here."

The glass was at Harry's lips again, tipping, and he felt too weak to fight it. The burning liquid went down his throat again. It didn't hurt as much this time, but it still hissed, still seemed to block. He felt a hand rest on his forehead, a thumb stroking over his scar, and the feeling of safety that flooded him, before the blackness came again.

Harry stirred again, for a third time. He felt tight around his throat, his lips were dry, and his head felt heavy. His mind felt clearer this time though. He managed to clamp his lips shut, so they couldn't pour more of that foul stuff down his neck. He shifted a little. Somebody sitting next to his bed sighed quietly.

"Harry... go back to sleep..."

He didn't. He shifted closer to that voice, instinctively, knowing that the voice would help him. The cold metal bars of the hospital wing bed pressed against his skin, icy and unfriendly, but the hand that rested on his forehead was warm and gentle. He made a vague noise in the back of his throat as a thumb ran over his scar.

"Come on, Harry. Sleep now. Everything will be explained later."

The glass was at his lips again. This time, he didn't fight it, because he knew the hand giving it to him meant no harm. He fell into blackness once more.

Harry woke, yet again. His mind was clearer still this time. His headache was gone, and though his throat still felt tight and uncomfortable, he was properly awake now. He didn't want to open his eyes just yet. He could sense the brightness that would meet them. He managed a quiet, soft noise, and a hand rested on his forehead in response. Reaching out, he curled his fingers around Snape's wrist, and held on. He didn't want the potion again. He wanted to wake up.

"Nnh," he managed. Snape ran his fingers over Harry's scar, and Harry's grip instantly relaxed. He sank a little into the warmth and softness surrounding him, and eventually, his grip loosened completely on Snape's wrist. His hand fell limply into the sheets. He had never felt quite so drained and weary in all his life, yet the fingers on his scar sent cool, refreshing waves through his mind.

"Shhh..." was all that Snape said, but the single syllable was all the comfort and sympathy Harry needed in the world. He had so much to tell Snape, so many things he desperately wanted help with. Ivy, Chetry, his NEWTs, the letter, Khepri... it was all a whirl of problems. Yet Harry knew he didn't have to say just now. Snape was here, and every trouble could wait until later.

Harry was silent, for almost an hour. He just laid still, concentrating on breathing and the calming feelings spreading through his head as Snape continued to rub a thumb gently over Harry's scar. Nobody forced any more Sleeping Draught into his mouth, and at last, it looked as though Harry was allowed to be awake.

"You... you came... you came back..." Harry whispered. It hurt to talk. It hurt to do anything, except lie still.

"Mm," said Snape quietly. He was silent for a few moments, before he spoke again. "They released me, with the capture of Ivy. I came straight here once I heard what happened." A glass pressed against Harry's lips, and the lights dimmed. "Have a drink. Water."

Harry drunk slowly, letting the liquid just trickle into his mouth and down his throat. After a few gulps, he swallowed, and opened his eyes just a tiny bit. He was in the hospital wing. Snape had extinguished the candles near Harry's bed, so things were a bit gloomier and more soothing, calmer to Harry's mind. Snape was sitting in a chair next to Harry and watching him quietly. As Harry finished drinking, he took the glass away.

"How long have I been asleep for...?" Harry mumbled.

"Not counting the times you have woken up, around a week since Chetry was taken away." Snape put a hand behind Harry's head, and helped him to sit up. "Ivy gave you a very serious injury to the neck, and by throttling you, Chetry reopened it and caused a great deal of damage. Madam Pomfrey needed to give you a potion to repair the damage to your throat, and sleeping pills so you would not have to be awake and endure the pain. For some reason, you kept fighting the dosage."

"I was worried," said Harry quietly. He leant into Snape. "I... I needed you."

Snape said nothing, but the look on his face was good enough for Harry. He smoothed Harry's hair off his forehead, and started to rub his scar again. After a moment, he said, "Mm... you certainly did... I understand that you read the letter Cornelius Fudge sent to Ivy."

Harry nodded. He was too exhausted to feel ashamed or guilty. "You didn't tell me she was after me too."

"Oddly enough, she was not after any of us," said Snape quietly. "She intended to keep up the charade of being from the ministry long enough until she had done what she had to, and then she intended to flee, back to her true master."

Harry closed his eyes. "Voldemort."


"So... she was a Death Eater?"

"No. She was not." Snape offered Harry the glass of water again. "How old do you imagine Madam Ivy was?"

Harry thought. "About... thirty-five."

"No," said Snape. "She is twelve." At the look on Harry's face, he began to explain. "Several years ago, the Dark Lord located one of the few pure vampiric blood lines left in the world. Luckily enough, the family had a young daughter, a very young child. He took her from them, and wiped her memory of all knowledge of her family, then raised her as his own. He named her Arabella Morgana Ivy."

"The little vampire girl," whispered Harry.

Snape nodded. "This summer, the Dark Lord tired off waiting for his pet to grow, so he could breed her with a necromancer and create what he saw as the perfect creature. He injected her with chemicals which normally turn a human into a necromancer, though something went wrong. The girl started to age, very quickly, and it became clear she would not live more than a few years. The Death Eaters saw Voldemort take the girl away, and when he returned, she was gone. They believed he had killed her. In fact, he had given her an important job to do for him. Infiltrate Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and murder Albus Dumbledore. He captured and modified the memories of several senior ministry members, so they believed they had known Ivy all their lives. She joined the ministry. As luck would have it, Fudge was looking for somebody to get into Hogwarts and dispose of myself, Lupin, and you. His most trusted advisors mentioned Ivy, and she was placed into the school. Because of the necromancer chemicals in her blood, I could not pick up the scent of a vampire, and neither could Remus Lupin. He did sense something though, even if subconsciously, and took a great dislike to her even before we discovered the letter."

"But... when Gareth was attacked..." Harry looked up at Snape, confused. "She looked fine. She didn't have fangs or anything when she came out of the library."

"We made a grave mistake in presuming that Gareth Jones had been lying there for a half an hour at most," said Snape. "He was in fact there for far longer. I cannot tell just how long. After Ivy attacked him, she drained some of his blood, cleaned herself, and then headed into the library for an alibi. I found Gareth hours later, panicked, and fled. You then found him, and Ivy appeared, acting as though Gareth must have been attacked very recently. As I arrived on the scene, my appearance was suspicious, and Ivy went un-noticed."

"What about Pansy though?" said Harry. "Ivy couldn't have known the password to the Slytherin common room to get at her."

"This is where Professor Chetry came into the equation," said Snape calmly. "Already one of Voldemort's trusted Death Eaters, he applied for the post of Muggle Studies teacher to keep an eye on Madam Ivy and make sure she was achieving her task. I believe that Kainda Zabini does Muggle Studies. As far as we can tell, she had written the passwords to the Slytherin common room in the back of her diary. Chetry asked to look through it one time to pick a date for the Muggle Studies project to be handed in. He found the password, and passed it onto Ivy. By this time, she had already realised I was a vampire, and that the activity in the school was making me ill and hungry. She waited until she could smell the blood from me feeding, and then rushed into the dungeons, attacked Miss Parkinson, and left you to suspect me for a second time."

"All those dead owls were found in the dungeons though," said Harry. "Why would she attack owls and leave them in the dungeons?"

"Once again, for the suspicion to be shifted onto me," said Snape. "Though by trying to shift more doubt onto me, they made a vital mistake. Ivy noticed that you were fairly close to me, and would protest my innocence. Because you are a reliable student, and people respect you, they knew that the students would believe you when you told them I was not guilty. One night, Ivy slipped into the dungeons before our DMT lessons. When we finished, she attacked, aiming to seriously injure you, and have you taken away. She did not count on my counter-attack. Badly injured, she ran into the dungeons, to an old dis-used fireplace in an abandoned classroom. Chetry was waiting with floo powder to take her away from the scene. Everybody now suspected me, apart from you, though people knew you were hiding something. The school was now suspicious enough for nobody to question my arrest. Ivy hoped that having me removed would lull people into a false sense of security, so she could get to Dumbledore."

"Why did she attack Lupin then?" asked Harry.

"Lupin was becoming deeply suspicious of her," said Snape. "I believe he walked in on a conversation between Ivy and Chetry, the night before he was attacked. Ivy seriously injured him, to prevent him telling people his suspicions."

This was all starting to make sense in Harry's mind. "But... what about the dead vampire that was found in the entrance hall? Where did that come from?"

"That was the result of a foolish communication error," said Snape. "The vampire had been dead for a long time, we believe it was left here from the siege of Hogwarts. It had gotten into the castle, and frightened, hid in the dungeons. Unfortunately, it was locked into a room, and starved. Chetry found the body. Thinking he could help the false sense of security within the castle, he left it in the entrance hall, for people to find. Ivy did not hear of this plan, and stupidly, attacked Lupin just as Chetry was leaving the body. Mass hysteria broke out. People became terrified of multiple vampires within the school. Ivy knew that before long, her rapid aging would become noticable. She decided to kill Dumbledore. Seeing you going to his office one night, she followed you up. However, she wasn't aware of your extra protection... this knife."

He opened up Harry's cupboard, and took out the dagger. It glittered gently in Snape's hands. Harry saw his own reflection in the blade, pale, neck wrapped with padding. He reached out, and touched it gently. "On my birthday... you told me that you would tell me about it, when I was worthy. Am I worthy now...?"

Snape smiled ever so slightly, just a twitch in the corners of his lips. "You are. Very well... this dagger has been passed on through my family, from father to son. Traditionally used on each vampire's Blood Night. If I had a son, it would have been passed onto him, though I don't care for children and the time for me to have them will probably never arise. And so I believe you should have it."

Harry felt very touched. He took the knife gently from Snape, and held it in both hands. "You might have children... someday..."

"Please, Harry..." Snape ran his thumb over Harry's scar again. "There are things that I have come to accept and find replacements for. I have no desire for a family, or children of my own."

Something in the back of Harry's mind stirred a little. He remembered, back in the summer holidays, when they were in Malfoy Manor. He looked up at Snape. "Did you... did you hear anything about Rookwood and Isabis's daughter?"

Snape nodded quietly. He handed Harry the glass of water again. "Yes. Morgan Brianna Rookwood, I believe. Horrible name."

Harry had gone still.

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Yes...?"

"What was her name?"

"Morgan Brianna Rookwood."

"Morgan..." Harry turned to stare at Snape, with wide eyes. "She's got it. She's got the ankh."

"Wrong," came a voice.

They both whirled around. Khepri was curled in an armchair, shaded in shadows. Snape stood up abruptly, and his wand was out. "Show yourself."

Khepri got slowly to his feet, and walked quietly forwards. The moonlight washed over his face in a pearly white stripe, and he raised a single eyebrow to Snape. For one of the first times, there was no hint of a smile on Khepri's face.

Snape's fingers tightened on his wand. "Stay where you are."

"You can see him?" said Harry, staring at Snape.

Khepri was still walking forwards. His eyes were now on Harry. "It's time... too late... it's over." He shook his head. "Why did I come to you?"

"He's got it," said Harry. He felt cold. "Voldemort's got it?"

"Mm-hmm," said Khepri quietly. "I'm here to bring you. And one person to help, of your choice, alive or dead. I have the feeling I know who you'll be choosing."

Harry looked at Snape. Snape's eyes were narrowed. "Potter... what is going on?"

"I told you so," said Harry quietly. "Khepri. Looking for the ankh. When Voldemort gets it, I'm in trouble. He's got it."

Snape said nothing. Harry took his silence to mean what he thought it did.

"Redeem yourself. Come with me," he said quietly.

Snape put his hand on Harry's shoulder. He looked at Khepri, coldly. "Very well."

Khepri nodded. He looked between them solemnly and then away, as he lifted his hands, and traced the outline of a rectangle in the air. His claws left soft pink and blue flames that marked out what was obviously a door. Once it was drawn, Khepri pushed it open. He turned to Snape and Harry, and beckoned. Harry managed to get out of bed, and helped by Snape, he stepped towards the door. He looked through into nothingness. His destiny would be decided, when he stepped through. He glanced up at Snape, who looked down, and then together they walked through, sent whirling into the midsts of time and space.


Chapter Twenty-Nine: Judgement

Everything materialised very suddenly around them, and the world came back into existence again. Harry looked down, and saw he was out of his pajamas, wearing long black robes with gold trim, and black velvet gloves with a design on the back like a spider's web. Snape was wearing similar. Looking around, Harry saw that he was in a long corridor that seemed to stretch on endlessly. Doors lead off the hall into other rooms, though there were no numbers or handles.

"Where are we?" said Harry quietly.

"Your mind," murmured Snape. "Our physical state is left behind, in reality. We are now inside the very corridors of your brain. The doors lead to the sections of your conscious."

"How do you know?" said Harry.

"At one point, I wondered whether you were perhaps telling the truth... I read into the matter." Snape was walking forwards. Harry followed along behind him silently. Every step seemed to echo endlessly into the blackness, and the wooden floor underfoot creaked gently. "We need to find the wizengamot. They will be somewhere inside your mind."

"Where's Voldemort?"

"Leave that question. We will consider it when we need to."

They reached the first door. Harry stopped before it. Fiery words, in red and gold flames, spelt out in front of him - "RON". Harry reached out, tentatively, and the door creaked out. He and Snape entered.

Everything was brightly coloured, and in the centre of the room was a large pillar. Heaped around it were piles of objects. Harry bent down, and picked a few up. Some he recognised, some he did not. He held up an old, battered school book, and Snape took it. "Mm. Education uncared for, the basic information barely legible. No extra effort taken, or pride in school work. Disorganised." He flicked through the book. Harry saw many missing pages, to which hand-written notes had been taped. "Shoddy replacement for lacking knowledge," said Snape. "How typically Weasley."

"So all this stuff represents Ron," said Harry, sorting through it. There were a lot of things belonging to Hermione, or carrying pictures of her. "She must be really important to him."

"Not necessarily," said Snape. "This is a representation of how you view Weasley. Perhaps subconsciously, you are aware of how much Granger means to Weasley." He raised an eyebrow, and put down the book. "As fascinating as this is, there are hundreds of rooms to explore. Come, Potter."

Harry and Snape left, proceeding to the next door. Flaming words appeared before it as Harry approached. "HERMIONE." They stepped through. It was quite the opposite to Ron's room. The colours were browns and creams, and everything was neatly stacked on shelves all around the room. Everything was categorised, with signs tacked to the wall.

"Neatness and organisation to the point of impracticality," said Snape calmly. He traced his hand over a shelf of books, and then glanced at a carefully set-out desk in the middle of the room. A notebook was open, the quill inked and ready for somebody to write at, pages in surrounding textbooks open with relevant information. "And yet greatly useful and convenient. A caring quality."

"There's nothing in here about Ron," said Harry. He glanced into the corner, and saw a tiny cramped little shelf. Tiny photos of Hermione's friends were put there, quiet and out of the way. "Wait... one small picture. So I don't think Hermione cares about us much, even though she probably does. Like... wanting more appreciation."

"Clever boy," said Snape. He took Harry's shoulder, and steered him out of the room.

They carried on door the corridor quietly, checking each room, though there were no signs of the wizengamot or Voldemort anywhere. They found rooms about Harry's parents, rooms about Sirius, about Snape, Kainda, Draco, Crabbe and Goyle, the Dursleys, Mrs Figg, Ludo Bagman, nearly everybody Harry had ever known. Once the people were out of the way, they found rooms about places and objects, Harry's emotions, his opinions of school subjects, his favourite things, past dreams and nightmares, all sorts of odd things. Harry noticed that all the rooms so far had only been his opinions, but this changed, as they came across a set of double doors.

"HALL OF MEMORIES," the fiery words spelt out. They burnt for a few moments, and then flickered out. Harry glanced at Snape, and pushed the door open. They both stepped through, into darkness that seemed to stretch on forever. A glass path stretched out before them, leading into the blackness. Harry and Snape followed it, until the path branched out and around into a small circle around what looked like a huge crystal ball. Harry stepped closer and put his hands on the glass. Inside, it looked like a million spiders had weaved sticky white webs, stretching from corner to corner. Harry realised it was the same substance that was added to the pensieves.

"Is all that stuff my memories?" he asked Snape.

Snape nodded. "Look above you..."

Harry looked up, and saw other glass balls suspended in the blackness, full of the stringy stuff. Something moved in the darkness. Instinctively, Harry stepped closer to Snape. The next moment, what looked like a white shadowy spider had descended from nowhere, and curled around the smallest sphere. Thin strings spun into the ball, and filled it. The spider scuttled away into the blackness above. A few moments later, the contents of the ball vanished.

"What's going on?" asked Harry.

Snape pointed out the largest ball. "Your most recent memories. The balls decrease in size gradually, as time passes. The largest contains the things you are processing now. Irrelevant detail is shed, and the rest passed onto the next ball. It continues like this over a period of time, and anything truly important is moved into the largest sphere here." He pointed at the largest ball. Another spider had appeared, and was extracting the stuff, taking it to the next sphere. "They move the memories, and decide for you what is useful and what is not. If any memories alter your opinions, the information is passed on, and the rooms back along the corridor will change accordingly."

Harry watched another spider start adding things from the smallest ball to the huge one just before him. After a moment, he said, "So, with memory charms... only really recent things can be gotten rid of. The sphere is just wiped, of everything, so you can't remember it."

"Indeed," said Snape. "Nobody is sure how long the chain of memory spheres lasts for. The textbooks claim that the longest period of memories ever removed by a memory charm is around ten years, but in rare cases, the largest sphere can be wiped. Every single memory is removed, leaving nothing."

"That's what happened with Lockhart," said Harry, nodding. "But... he forgot information too, didn't he? And information and memory aren't the same thing. You can know something but not remember being taught it."

"Nobody understands the process of storing information entirely," said Snape. "I researched the mind as a student. Most information about its workings comes from people entering their minds physically, as we are doing now. Nobody has ever found a chamber which contains information. Sometimes, memory charms affect information, and sometimes not. Lockhart still had a hold of language, and the knowledge of survival, but not knowledge of himself and his life... though whether they could be classed as memory is unsure."

"How could you remove a single memory from somebody?" asked Harry. "Just a single one, not a whole bunch. Say if I wanted to just forget doing my Charms NEWT paper."

"The memories must be extracted," said Snape calmly. "And then destroyed, by use of various charms on a pensive. Remind me to take you to the library at Snape Manor, so I can explain this to you in greater detail."

There were footsteps coming from behind them, at the start of the glass path. Harry and Snape turned. Somebody was walking towards them out of the darkness. At first, Harry thought he didn't recognise them, until the figure stepped into the light from the main memory sphere. The white glow glinted off silver-blonde hair, and cold grey eyes. Lucius Malfoy looked every bit as daunting when he was dead as he had done when he was alive.

"My Lord," he called. "They are here."

"Ah... well done, Lucius..."

Harry stepped closer to Snape. Snape's hand tightened on his shoulder, and both of them drew their wands simultaneously, as a dark shape appeared in the shadows, walking behind Malfoy. Voldemort's pale, horrible face loomed at Harry out of the darkness. His livid red eyes surveyed Harry with the utmost hatred and loathing, and then moved up, to Snape.

"Severus," said Voldemort softly, the sound more a hiss than a voice.

Snape said nothing. Lucius was stepping forwards, smiling slightly at Snape, one eyebrow arched just a tiny bit. The two met eye to eye.

"What happened to you?" said Malfoy, quietly.

"Sense," Snape replied.

"You contradict yourself, old friend," said Malfoy. "Standing by such a foul creature. What sense is this?"

"I could say the same," whispered Snape.

There was a gentle flicker in the air before them, followed quickly by another, and two creatures appeared floating there. One was Khepri, and the one looked quite a lot like him, but had black fur, and a snake as a tail.

"No bloodshed," said Khepri. "The fight doesn't start until after the judging."

The black Khepri nodded, with a sinister smile. "Just to fill you both in before the wizengamot get here... the boy will answer 42 questions, from the wizengamot. For every question that he truthfully answers 'no' to, he will be allowed a weapon, another battler, or a minute's head-start."

"Then when the questions are over, you'll be let out to fight," said Khepri. "It's that simple. Winners live. Losers die."

At that moment, a gong sounded somewhere in the blackness. Harry stiffened. "What's that?" he said to Khepri.

Khepri smiled. "Your wizengamot are coming... the Egyptian council are long gone, but their spirits choose people that you know, to represent them best. You're the one who's been dragged here, so people you know will be conjured."

Flames burst in the darkness, one by one. Harry tried to count, but lost track quickly, and simply stood staring around as flames burst up. They spread around him in a ring, burning fiercely. The black Khepri lead Voldemort and Malfoy from the circle, while Khepri moved up to Snape and grinned.

"You're required, Sir," he said. "Serapis. Saviour in life and death, redeemer in sickness." He pointed to one of the fires in the ring. "You're there."

Snape put his hand on Harry's shoulder. They locked eyes for a moment, then Snape moved away, and stood in front of the fire. Harry looked around, as more people started to step from the flames, looking around in confusion. He saw Ron, Hermione, Draco, all of his friends, a lot of teachers, people from the ministry he knew, even Peter.

"What's going on?" Ron shouted. "Harry? Where are we?"

Khepri floated into the centre of the circle, above Harry, and clapped for attention. "You're all here to be judges. All you need to know is that you must think of questions, which you believe Harry can truthfully answer no to. The more he does, the better off he'll be. Think now. They must be about Harry, his life and his sins."

Everybody went quiet. Some still looked very suspicious and doubtful, most were looking at Harry, and a few had clearly started to think. Harry could almost see the cogs going in Hermione's brain. Across the circle, Draco was trying not to look at his father.

"Ready? Good... let's see where we shall start then..." Khepri floated down, looked around, and then spotted Mad-Eye Moody. To Harry's surprise, Mad-Eye didn't look suspicious, and he wasn't trying to jinx everybody in sight. Khepri approached him, smiling. "Horus," he said. "Lost an eye in the fight against evil. Do you have your question?"

"I do," growled Moody.

"Ask him then," said Khepri, turning to Harry.

Moody's normal eye rested upon Harry, as he asked, "Ever killed without it being self-defence, Potter?"

"No," said Harry stoutly.

"Wrong," said the black Khepri. He floated into the ring, glaring at Harry. "When he was twelve, he crushed thousands of spiders in that car, fleeing the forest."

"That was self-defence," said Harry fiercely. "They were trying to kill me!"

"Not the tiny ones upon the ground," said the black Khepri.

"Oh, come on, they were spiders," said Harry. "I didn't set out to kill them."

"They were still lives," said the black Khepri. "His answer was not truthful. Ask the next question."

Khepri moved on. Lupin stood in front of the next flame. He looked rather pale and weak, but he lifted his head as Khepri addressed him, with quiet defiance in his features.

"Anubis," said Khepri. "We sense a jackal-head deep within you. Ask him your question."

Lupin turned to Harry, and gave him a kind smile, as though they were just in class. "Have you ever abandoned somebody when they needed help most, Harry?"

"No," said Harry.

"He lies," said the black Khepri. "He abandoned his guardian, outside the hospital wing."

Khepri nodded, and moved on. Harry was feeling desperately sick now. Khepri turned to Hagrid, and said, "Geb... God of the Earth, and nature. Your question?"

Hagrid's beetle-black eyes were warm as they looked into Harry's. "Have yeh ever killed on purpose, Harry?"

"No," said Harry, shaking his head.

The black Khepri gave a hollow laugh. "The basilisk is not included in this, I see?"

Khepri moved on. Harry felt very, very sick. He couldn't answer Madam Sprout's question truthfully, or any of the people after her for quite some time, but finally, Hermione redeemed him.

"Maat," said Khepri. "Goddess of order, truth and justice... your question?"

Hermione smiled encouragingly to Harry. "Have you ever hurt somebody without a good reason to do so?"

Harry felt a surge of hope. "No," he said, hurriedly, shaking his head.

The black Khepri was quiet. Harry turned to look at him. He nodded, just once. "That is true. Choose, boy... another battler, a minute's head-start, or a weapon?"

Harry paused, and then he said, "A minute's head-start." More battlers or weapons would do him no good if he couldn't get far away enough to use them.

Khepri was moving on. He failed Professor Sinistra, and Mr Weasley, Professor Pebblebank, before Khepri stopped in front of Ron. Ron was looking determined.

"Ra," said Khepri. "God of the sun. Your question?"

Ron turned to Harry, took a breath, and then said, "Have you ever fancied a mate's girlfriend?"

"No," said Harry.

There was a pause. The black Khepri was looking very contemptuous. "That was not a proper question, and he lied in his answer anyway. Cedric Diggory, and Cho Chang."

"Cedric wasn't a friend," said Harry stoutly. "And I liked her before him."

"I think it was a perfectly fair question," said Khepri, raising an eyebrow at his counter-part.

The black Khepri sighed impatiently. "Oh, very well. Choose another reward."

"Weapon," said Harry.

There was a clatter at his feet, and when he looked down, there was a golden shield lying there. Khepri moved on again. He passed Neville, Dumbledore, McGonagall, Luna and Ginny, Kainda, Flitwick, Madam Pince, on and on through nearly all the people, until only four were left. Harry was begging them to give him a question he could answer. Snape, Alrister, Draco and Rookwood all looked at him as Khepri strolled over. He headed to Snape first.

"Serapis... your question, please."

Snape and Harry locked eyes. "Are you afraid, Harry?" asked Snape.

At first, Harry was taken aback by the question. He thought, and then said, still a little surprised, "No."

There was silence. The black Khepri raised an eyebrow. "Intriguing question. He tells the truth. Choose, boy."

"Another minute," said Harry. He figured that more weapons would do him no good, if it was going to be a psychic battle, and if he chose any more people to help and then lost, they would die with him. He couldn't do that, not to his friends.

Khepri moved onto Draco. Harry failed his question about jealousy, and the same happened with Rookwood, but Harry hardly expected Rookwood to try and help him. Alrister was the last in the circle. He looked Harry in the eye, smiled, and set, "Ever committed adultery, Harry?"

"I'm not married, am I?" said Harry, startled. "So... no."

"That was an unfair question," said the black Khepri angrily. "The boy is too young to marry."

"No, he's not," said Alrister with a smile. "As long as he's got permission from his legal guardians. Which I believe would be Snape. Severus? Would you give him permission, if he asked?"

"What, to marry me?" said Snape, staring at him.

"No, marry somebody else."

"Well... yes."

"There you go then," said Alrister, smiling up at the black Khepri. "It was a perfectly fair question. Harry could easily be married now, if he wanted to, and he hasn't cheated on his wife before."

The black Khepri looked furious. "Fine," he spat. "Boy! Choose something."

Harry thought for a moment. "If I choose a battler who's already dead, what will happen if we lose?" he asked carefully.

"Nothing," said Khepri, shrugging. "They're already dead, so they'll go back."

"Then I want a battler," said Harry. "I want Sirius. Sirius Black."

Khepri nodded. He turned to the wizengamot. "You will now be sent back to reality, and your memories wiped..." He clapped his hands, and the flames of the wizengamot flickered away, taking the people with them. Snape stepped forward next to Harry again, just as a fire crackled into life nearby. Khepri looked at Harry quickly. "The moment he appears, you have two minutes to run and hide in the rooms of your mind. Then the other two will be coming after you. Winners live, losers die. You may use only the Pure Arts, the Psychic Arts, and physical attacks. Ready?"

Harry nodded. His eyes were fixed on the flames, crackling and dancing. A shadow was appearing in their midst, and then stepped out, coughing, looking confused. "What... where...?"

"Sirius! Come on!" Harry shouted, and he grabbed his godfather's arm, pulling him from the room, with Snape racing afterwards. They sprinted down the glass path, burst through the door, and took off running down the corridor. Sirius was staring around, looking utterly bewildered.

"What's going on?" he said.

"Shut up," Snape growled. "And keep running."

Harry finally skidded to a halt in front of a door. He didn't even stick around to properly register the fiery word "LOVE" before he burst through the door, dragged Sirius and Snape in, and slammed it behind them. He and Snape managed to jam the shield in place and make a crude but effective sort of lock. Harry then turned to Sirius. His godfather was staring at the red glitter everywhere, the soft flashes of white light every now and then, and the photographs of loved ones stuck everywhere.

"Sirius," said Harry.

"Ready to tell me what on earth's going on now, are you?" he said.

"This is my mind," said Harry. He approached Sirius tentatively. "It's the final fight. Me and Voldemort. I got to pick people to help, and I wanted you... whoever kills the other will win, and their side will all live. So... if we kill Voldemort, we live. If Voldemort's side kill me, we die."

Sirius looked from Harry, to Snape. He and Snape glared at each other, and for a moment, Harry worried that he had picked the wrong combination of battlers. Then Sirius extended a hand. Snape took it without hesitation, and they shook.

"For Harry's sake, of course," said Sirius gruffly.

"Indeed," said Snape.

"What are you here for?" said Sirius. "He didn't pick you to help, did he?"

"He did," said Snape, calmly. "And I will ask you to respect Potter's decision. If we stand here debating Daily Prophet scandals, we are dead men running. We need a strategy, and a plan. Black, do you have any training in wandless magic?"

Sirius gave him a very blank look.

"Pure Arts," said Snape. "Psychic Arts. No?"

Sirius's blank look remained.

Snape sighed. "Very well... you will have to be our physical attacker. Harry, if you're in contact with me try Psychic Arts, but until then, I will have to trust Alrister's teaching of you, as much as I will probably regret it later. Rely on nothing, and stay together."

Sirius nodded, and transformed into the huge shaggy black dog. He bent low to the ground and growled, baring his teeth, hair standing up.

"Very intimidating," said Snape idly. "Harry, come here."

Harry stepped closer. Snape bent down, splayed his fingers and placed them on Harry's forehead. Harry felt a rush, as his psychic power momentarily returned. They both closed their eyes.

"This will be the fastest lesson of your life," said Snape. "And it will hurt. Brace yourself."

Harry braced. Next second, he found out what it was that would hurt, as pain seared across his scar. He felt his mind being torn apart forcefully, and something flooded in between the gaps, slotting in here and there, filling him with sudden information. He felt himself shaking. Snape was too, but he didn't let go of Harry's head. Harry gave a cry. There was a distant growl, as Sirius leapt forward and sank his teeth into Snape's leg, but Snape didn't seem to notice. It last for about half a minute more, and then Snape broke off. Harry staggered backwards, and nearly hit the floor, before Snape grabbed him and held him upright.

"Has it worked?" he said. He looked down. "Black! Get off my leg!"

Harry was seeing stars. He felt as if he had just been blitzed with knowledge. Suddenly, he knew things he couldn't explain at all. It was like learning how to jab things with a stick, then suddenly being handed a battleship to control, and somehow knowing how to work it.

"Wow," he breathed.

Sirius the dog had run over, and was licking Harry's face, as though he was injured. Harry laughed and pushed him away.

"I'm okay, Sirius," he said. "Just a bit... dazed. I'll explain everything later, okay?"

"That's rather optimistic," said Snape. "How do you know there will be a 'later' to explain things in?"

Harry got to his feet. "Sheer arrogance."

Snape gave an amused huff. He looked at Harry, and paused for a moment. He put a hand on his shoulder, ignoring Sirius's growls. "You realise there is a chance we won't ever leave your mind alive."

"It was always coming to this," said Harry, with a small shrug. "If I die, I die. I'd rather go down a hero, now, than a coward in two hundred year's time when Voldemort's taken over the world."

"Interesting philosophy," said Snape. He nodded. "Very well then, Harry. Let us go down heroes. Black? Come along. Time to look fate in the eye."

The three of them turned to the door, and pulled it open. They stepped out, standing side by side, all once bitter enemies and now allies. Harry looked down the long corridor, and knew he was ready. It was time.


Chapter Thirty: Looking Fate in the Eye

Snape closed the door behind them. "Now. We need a suitable place to hide. This corridor is too narrow; there is nowhere to escape to quickly. If I remember correctly, we passed by a door labelled Secrets. I suggest there."

Harry nodded. He glanced up the corridor. "Which door is it?"

A tiny fire appeared in front of a door close by, as though answering his question. Harry rushed over, and pulled it open. The three hurried inside. The door swung shut slowly and gave a dull snap.

Harry found himself looking down a long staircase, into a labyrinth. The walls seemed to be endlessly high, and there were hundreds of paths leading in every direction. Everything around was dark. The labyrinth was so big, and stretched on so far, that it simply melted into the blackness. Harry bit his lip. "We'll get easily lost in there."

Snape shook his head. "Black and I both have enhanced senses of smell. We'll be able to find you easily enough. If you get lost, call for me telepathically, and I'll get to you as quickly as I can."

Sirius was bounding away down the staircase, taking the steps five at a time, rushing towards the maze. He looked as though he couldn't wait to get started. Harry had to admit that he found Sirius's enthusiasm and bravery very comforting. Snape nudged Harry down the stairs, and followed him. They both descended into the labyrinth, lower and lower. When Harry looked upwards, he could hardly see the tops of the walls. Sirius was waiting for them, tail wagging.

"Come. We need to get as far from the entrance as possible," said Snape. "There is only so much time before the D-... before Voldemort figures out where we are. Black? Get us lost, please."

Sirius jumped to his feet, gave a sharp bark, and then turned and ran off down one of the paths. Snape and Harry sprinted after him. They ran for what felt like half an hour, before Snape finally skidded to a halt.

"Black!" he called. "Back..."

Sirius came pattering over, and sat down, panting, tongue lolling out of his mouth. Harry sat down on the floor. He felt exhausted. Snape reached down, and out of sight of Sirius, ran his fingers over Harry's scar. Harry made an indistinct noise of thanks.

"Should we split up?" he said, panting.

Snape shook his head. "No. You are the target here. Once you are dead, the game is over. The same goes for Voldemort. There is nothing to be gained in separating... unless... one of us will have to stay with you, and the other could act as a distraction."

Harry felt a twinge. He didn't want to lose either of his battlers, and couldn't stand the thought of them killed, even if it was just until the battle ended. He knew it was for the best though. He nodded, silently.

Snape seemed to know what Harry was thinking. He crouched down next to Harry. "I shall go. Black will keep you safe. Stay here, and do not move until you have to. You should be sufficiently deep in the labyrinth to be safe, for at least a while. Keep your thoughts open to me."

Harry nodded. Snape stood up again, and a change came over him suddenly. His hair grew longer, in long dark tendrils around his shoulders, and his eyes gleamed red. Fangs inched over his bottom lip, and claws spread out from his fingertips. Snape the vampire appeared. He turned his scarlet eyes onto Harry, and then turned. He walked away without another word, heading into the darkness. After a while, his footsteps couldn't be heard anymore.

Sirius crawled over, and rested his head in Harry's lap with a small whine. Harry scratched him behind the ears. "I'll explain everything later. Promise." He looked down at his godfather for a moment of quiet, and then murmured, "I missed you, Sirius."

Sirius nudged into Harry's hand, and licked it affectionately. Harry smiled and tickled him under the chin.

Time started to pass. Harry found himself unable to tell the difference between an hour and a minute, as it all blurred together in a stream of thoughts and worries. The labyrinth was deathly silent, apart from the sound of Sirius's breathing. Harry was starting to worry. Snape hadn't contacted him since he left, and it must have been hours now. At that very moment though, Snape chose to break the silence. His voice spoke into the back of Harry's head, as though he was sitting right behind Harry.


"I'm here," Harry thought. "Where are you? What's going on?"

"Malfoy and Voldemort have split up," Snape's voice said quietly, quickly. "Malfoy is entering the labyrinth now. Shall I try and get rid of him?"

"Um..." Harry dithered. He had no experience of combat strategies at all. "No... try to stay out of sight. Can you tell where me and Sirius are?"


"Then... follow him, and only attack him if he gets too close."

"Tell Black to be ready, in case something happens to me. And if Black is gone... you're on your own, Harry. Just be prepared for something like that to happen. It's a possibility."

"Don't say that," thought Harry. He closed his eyes. "We're all going to get out of here. You and me and Sirius. And you're going to show me your library, and be my best man at my wedding. And be godfather to my children."

"What a life I have to look forward to."

Harry smiled. Sirius cocked his head, and made a noise of curiosity, but Harry said nothing for the moment. "I might even name my first son after you."

"Severus Potter. Mmm, classy."

"What's your middle name?"

"Lothar Alexander."

"Alex Potter."

"And I am to be godfather to this poor little individual?"

"Yep." Harry smiled again, as he heard Snape's noise of mild contempt. Sirius whined softly and licked at his hand. He glanced down at Sirius, and scratched him behind the ears again. "Where's Malfoy going?"

"In the completely opposite direction to you," Snape's voice said idly. "He couldn't be taking a much more wrong path."

Harry settled back against the wall, still petting Sirius gently. Perhaps all this wouldn't be so bad. If they got rid of Malfoy, then Snape and Sirius managed to nearly kill Voldemort, and Harry finished the job, it could actually be pain-free. It was odd though, Harry thought. Why would Malfoy be randomly searching the labyrinth, without Voldemort or any sort of communication with him? And where was Voldemort, anyway? The way things were going, it was almost like...

Harry sat bolt upright. His heart was pounding. "Severus!" he thought, desperately. "Get back here! As fast as you can! It's a trick! Malfoy's been sent to distract you, so "

It was too late. Something moved at the end of the passage to their right. Harry turned, and only had a split-second to register Voldemort, sweeping towards them, before he was on his feet and running. Sirius was racing along behind him, barking like mad, and Harry was sprinting faster than he ever had done in his entire life. If he stopped, and turned around to fight, Voldemort would catch him and kill him. There was no time. All he could do was run.

He sprinted down every possible path that came to him, not caring where it led to, as long as he could keep running. He could hear Voldemort behind him, and Sirius running at his heels. More footsteps were coming to, from far away, and then something hit the wall next to him hard. Harry screamed and covered his neck as he ran. He couldn't stop and see what it was. All that mattered was getting far enough away.

But then there was something up ahead, something grappling over the top of the wall and flinging itself over in front of him. Harry recognised Snape before his eyes had even adjusted. He ran, terrified, clawing at the air in a desperate attempt to get to his guardian. Snape grabbed Harry and pushed him behind, stepping in the way. Voldemort was advancing down the passage. Sirius was at Snape's heels, hackles raised, barking viciously and spraying spit everywhere in his fury.

"Get out of the way, Severus," hissed Voldemort, in his high, cold voice. His eyes were fixed on Snape, full of fury and hatred. "Stand aside."

Snape did not move. His shoulders were hunched up, his claws curled and ready, as tense as a cat about to spring.

"Stand aside," Voldemort repeated. He reached up with a twisted hand, and moved it as though to sweep something aside. Harry saw Snape tense again, as though pushing back against an invisible force.

Snape raised his hands, and pushed them outwards. Voldemort stiffened this time, and visibly had to push against Snape's force. "Go," Snape growled.

Voldemort held out his own hands, and stepped forwards. Snape moved passed Sirius to approach him. Harry made a grab for him, but the great black dog nudged him back. It reached up, and grew into Sirius the human, holding Harry back. "Don't," he said. "I've seen this before."

Harry watched, as Snape and Voldemort both walked towards each other, hands still outstretched. A deep purple glow was radiating off both. It was growing stronger and stronger as they got nearer and nearer, until they were almost touching, and the glow was leaking out into the air like poison through water.

"What's going on?" Harry said desperately, trying to watch past Sirius, who was still pushing him away.

"It's a psychic struggle," said Sirius. "Like locking antlers, with the mind... get back, Harry, come on..."

The glow was so intense that Harry could hardly see Snape or Voldemort anymore. He could feel pain, white-hot pain prickling across his scar, searing inside his mind, making him cry out. Sirius shouted as well, and there was a great rushing sound from the purple glow. It vanished instantly, and Snape was expelled backwards, physically lifted off his feet and flung through the air. Harry rushed forward and moved to catch Snape. Both tumbled to the floor in a heap. Snape fought his way up to his feet again, panting. Voldemort was smirking.

"I always did enjoy our little struggles," he said, his eyes flashing. "It was all a game once, Severus... do you remember?"

Snape made towards Voldemort again, snarling, but Sirius grabbed him and hauled him back. Harry and Sirius both held onto Snape. Voldemort's eyes had turned onto Harry now.

He lifted his hand, and beckoned. "Come here, Harry... let's see how well your precious guardian has taught you..."

Sirius grabbed Harry by the bac