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Chapter Thirty: A Welcome Return

After that, Ron boycotted absolutely every scrap of food that had so much as been looked at by the house elves. He was convinced, to Hermione's annoyance, that one of them was trying to kill all the students. Everyday, one of Fred and George's "Weasley Wizard Wheezes" owls would arrive with a bagful of food and sweets. Ron hadn't yet turned against the water supply, but performed a boiling charm on any water he was planning to drink, and the pumpkin juice was treated with greatest suspicion.

Harry wasn't really surprised that a lot of the school had the same idea as well. Food was becoming nearly as prized as the Quidditch cards, and it wasn't rare to see fights breaking out over food that had been stolen from dormitories. Harry found it strangely like the students were part of an underground group, setting up a blackmarket of food. The people who were being sent the most from home were happy to sell it to others, and for once, sweets weren't the most expensive things. Anybody who had gold was buying things that would last, rather than things that tasted nice.

Luckily, Mrs Weasley came to the rescue, and sent Ron, Harry and Ginny packed lunches. Hermione's parents, Luna's father, and Neville's grandmother were also sending them food. Draco, however, had nobody. His weight fell drastically, and once again, he descended into the state he was in at the start of the year. Ron didn't like giving Draco food, muttering that his mother had made it for him and nobody else, but Harry and Hermione did their best to make Draco eat. He was reluctant at first, and mentioned charity, but eventually, they forced him into it.

One of the things that was worrying Harry about the lack of food was that their Quidditch skills were going to plummet. They needed their strength to fly and play well, especially Draco, who was the Seeker every other match. The team practically force-fed him in the few days up to each match, and two matches after the plant had been killed by the soup, they were on top of the league. Second was a team called The Dragons. Nobody was in any doubt who that was. Blaise Zabini was getting worse and worse everyday that went past. Every single week, at least three people reported that him and his gang had stolen food from them or beaten them up, but nobody could prove a thing. Zabini was untouchable.

Kainda, however, was quickly becoming the third most important thing in Harry's life, after Quidditch and his friends. He found himself just watching her during Quidditch practices, under the pretense of making sure her muscles weren't suffering from the lack of food, but he was only fooling himself. Ron kept making loud hints about people in the team growing closer, and Draco smirked everytime Kainda addressed Harry as 'Boss' or 'Master'.

Time started to fast-forward again, and soon, the middle of April had come, and the springtime showers were in full effect. Harry woke up on the morning of one such Wednesday, to the sound of rain hitting heavily against the windows. Ron was doing up the buttons of his school-shirt, coming out of the bathrooms, grumbling loudly about having to do Magical Creatures in the rain.

"Morning," Harry said, rubbing his eyes, sitting up.

"Morning," Ron said, distractedly, and then he went back to his dark mutterings. "Stupid rain... stupid timetable... have to chase that bloody dragon around the grounds again... in the rain... can't find my socks, where are my socks?"

"On your feet," said Harry, grinning.

Ron glanced down, and started muttering again, "On my feet, they're on my bloody feet. I'm going blind."

"You're also acting like Kreacher," said Harry, smiling, pulling his clothes over so he could get changed under the duvet. They were still sleeping in the common room, even though Hermione had moved back upstairs, and so it was just Ron, Harry, a pile of pillows and a duvet.

"I am not," Ron snapped. "Don't you dare suggest I'm like a house elf. They're all evil, every last one of them."

"What about Dobby?"

"Maybe there are one or two exceptions," said Ron, vaguely. He opened up his bag, sorting through it, pulling out a few digestive biscuits and munching through them absent-mindedly as he started cramming books and parchment inside. "Can't believe... Magical Creatures, in the rain... all muddy... going to get wet..."

"Good morning," said Hermione, pleasantly, coming down the girls' staircase. "Did you sleep well?"

"It's raining," Ron announced, turning to look at her, as though it was her fault.

She smiled. "So it is. I bet you wish you'd taken Astronomy with Draco now, mm?"

Ron paused, just watching her, and then said, "Actually, Magical Creatures in the rain might be fun, you know. Has anybody seen my socks?"

Magical Creatures wasn't actually as bad as they all thought it would be. Kibbles's shed, by now far too small for the rampant dragon, had been turned into a house for their latest project.

"Come on! Squash in at the back there! Are yeh all here? Good. Can yeh shut the door teh keep out the cold? They don' like it, yeh see. Thankyeh."

The class spread out in a circle around what looked like a miniature stable that had been placed in the middle of the room. It even had a tiny little garden, planted with neat flowers, with a very well-made pond and some hand-crafted garden furniture made out of twigs.

"Got a real treat fer yeh today," said Hagrid, beaming around at them all. "On'y found these recen'ly in the forest. Shy little things, they are. But ever s'friendly. There yeh are! There's one now!"

The class all murmured interestedly as a tiny little head peeped out of one of the windows of the stable. A huge pair of innocent, curious green eyes blinked at them all, and a shy, happy little smile curled its mouth.

"What is it?" asked Hermione, crouching down to get a better look at the little creature.

"Opsittops," said Hagrid, proudly. "They're on'y found in the Forbidden Forest. Yeh won' find 'em nowhere else in the whole world."

The opsittop clambered tentatively out through the window, and crouched down, peering at Hermione in the exact same way she was looking at it. Even Harry had to admit it was incredibly cute. It was very small, only coming up to the students' ankles, and was a muddy sort of brown colour, with big green eyes. It was wearing a neat little hat that seemed to be made from the cup of a very large acorn.

"Now, that one's a boy," said Hagrid. "Yeh can tell, because the boys have the little waistcoats, yeh see there? Made outta leaves. And the girls have got little dresses. They all wear those funny hats, we tried teh get 'em off 'em but they wouldn' let us."

The opsittop crept closer to Hermione, blinking its huge green eyes at her. She smiled, and it mimicked her smile perfectly.

"Now, here's summet special about 'em. They mimic anythin' they see or hear. Naturally, they make a sorta cooin' noise... there yeh go."

The opsittop had made a soft, bubbly purr at Hermione, bobbing up and down a bit.

"I think that means he wants yeh teh make a noise he can copy," said Hagrid, smiling. "S'like a game teh them. Yeh have teh try and make a sound he can copy, and he'll do the same fer you."

Hermione smiled shyly. "Should I...?"

Hagrid nodded. "Yeah, go on!"

She turned back to the opsittop, and smiled, thinking, then whistled the tune of jingle bells gently. The opsittop watched her, spellbound, as though it had never heard such a beautiful sound before, and when she was finished, it took a minute to process what it had heard. Then, with a look on its face that suggested it was enjoying itself so much it could burst, it whistled back, perfectly in tune, a little slow at first but when it got going it was nearly exactly like Hermione had done it.

Everybody clapped, and the opsittop smiled shyly, a light green blush appearing on its brown cheeks. It turned to Hermione, and after a moment, puffed out its cheeks and made a shrill, tinny whistling noise, like a kettle boiling. She smiled. "Oh, I don't think I can do that." The opsittop giggled, and so she smiled, puffing out her cheeks, and whistling back. The opsittop chuckled, smiling and showing its tiny teeth happily.

As more of the opsittops came sneaking out to see what all the whistling was about, the class all pressed forward to start making noises the opsittops couldn't. Harry was about to go and join in, but Hagrid caught him by the arm and said, "Harry, jus' want a word with yeh... over here..."

"What's wrong?" Harry asked, worriedly, as Hagrid lead him out of the crowd over into a corner.

"S'about Kibbles," said Hagrid. He looked around nervously, and then continued. "Got a letter from the ministry this mornin'. They're sendin' an inspector teh check Kibbles is bein' looked after prop'ly."

"But he is," said Harry. "Isn't he?"

"Well, yeah, but... he's not been lookin' too good lately. Yeh know, he's a normal dragon, he's gettin' growin' pains, bless 'im... like a dragon teenager. And I ain't sayin' nothin' about teenagers. S'jus' that dragons get a little... cranky."

"Well, the inspector will know that, won't he?" said Harry.

"Yeah, but... Kibbles ain't too friendly at the moment. He smelt the opsittops in his shed this mornin', even though he don't use it anymore... took me ages teh calm him down. I don't think he likes 'em."

"When's the inspector coming?"

"T'morreh," said Hagrid. "At about six o' clock, in the evenin'... listen, Harry... yeh're not busy, are yeh? I could really use a hand."

"Sure, I'll come and help," said Harry, smiling. "He's my dragon as well."

Hagrid beamed at him. "Thanks, Harry. I'll send yeh a letter if he arrives early."

Harry smiled, and went over to join Ron, who was trying to make one of the opsittops sing the Chudley Cannon's theme, hoping that they got a nice inspector and Kibbles wouldn't have one of his adolescent moods again.

"Potter! What are you doing?"

Harry jerked out of his half-doze at the back of his Transfiguration class, looking right up into the accusing eyes of Professor McGonagall. "Uh - "

She reached down, snatching the piece of parchment out from underneath his hands and studying it with a raised eyebrow. "Hmm, Potter. Quidditch strategies may be important, but not in my class, Potter. Get on with transfiguring your gerbils."

"I've done them," said Harry, gesturing to the cage at the front of the room on McGonagall's desk, which now held two magical black rats, plaiting their tails together.

McGonagall almost, almost looked surprised for a moment, before she regained her half-frown. "Well, very good, Potter. You should have told me that you were done, so I could set you more work, instead of leaving you to plan your next conquest."

Harry grinned sheepishly, and she rolled up his parchment, handing it back to him.

"Put it away in your bag, Potter, I don't want to see it again until you're in the air on a broomstick and yelling at your friends to put it into practice."

"Yes, Professor," he said, stuffing it into his bag. "Sorry."

"Quite alright, Potter," she said, walking away to go and examine his magical black rats, readjusting her hat.

Ron leant over to Harry. "How did you do that?"

"Do what?"

"First of all, you got your work done before Hermione, and then you didn't get in trouble for messing around in class," said Ron, amazed.

Harry grinned. "It must just be my day."

"I wish it was my day," said Ron, staring glumly at his half-gerbil half-rats, that were trying to eat each other's tails and dig through the bars.

After dinner was Pure Arts, for Ron, Hermione, Draco and Harry. Everybody still hated Pure Arts. It was quickly becoming the most boring lesson on the timetable, and even Hermione thought it was getting a little tedious. Every time they had the lesson, everybody arrived with extra supplies of parchment for paper aeroplanes and sending notes back and forth from table to table. Ron was becoming quite the trade merchant, and the Pure Arts classroom was becoming his main headquarters. Fred and George sent him sweets and Quidditch cards as treats, and so Ron was in great demand.

"Wonder if I'll get any interesting deals today," Ron mused, rifling through his card collection. "I still need quite a few... Harry Potter, for one, but hardly anybody has a Harry Potter card. They're really rare. The Bright Sparks cards are all rare now though. Fred and George say the chance of getting a Bright Sparks card in any pack is twenty-to-one."

Harry smiled. "Not bad, really. What's the chance of getting me?"

"It's got to be in the hundreds," said Ron. "There's only about three people in the school that have one, and the packs have got anti-scanning charms on them, so you can't tell what's inside." He absent-mindedly slipped a Fizzing Whizbee into his mouth, and then said, in a knowledgable way, "Only five people have got a Draco though."

Draco smirked. "Before you even ask, Weasley, no I don't want to trade."

"Oh, come on," said Ron. "Please? I've nearly got the full team, I just need you and Harry... come on, I'll give you all my food for a week."

"Not good enough," said Draco, still smirking. "I know you'd starve yourself for that card."

"Alright, give me the card, and I promise, I will starve myself."

Hermione frowned. "Don't you think this is an awful lot for just a card?"

"Just a card?" said Ron, in disbelief. "Hermione, those cards make a man who he is! They decide who is respected and who is not in modern society!"

Hermione rolled her eyes, as they reached the Pure Arts classroom and all lined up outside. Thinking that a change of subject was in order, Harry said, "I wonder who'll be teaching us today."

"It had better not be that Grubbly-Plank woman again," said Ron, frowning. "She was terrible last lesson. If I was Alrister, I'd take it as an insult that they'd chosen somebody that boring to cover my lesson. If it's her again, I swear, I'm going to just get up and walk out."

"I'll join you," said Harry. He glanced at Hermione and Draco. "You two didn't have Pure Arts on Monday, you don't know how boring it was. It was nearly as bad as Umbridge."

"I wouldn't go quite that far," said Ron, grinning.

"Yeah, on second thoughts, Grubbly-Plank wasn't that bad," said Harry, with a small laugh.

That moment, the door opened slowly. Mentally resigning himself to another two hours of sitting and doing nothing, Harry followed the rest of the class in, but for some reason, they'd all stopped in the door. He frowned and stretched up to see what it was that had made them stop - and his heart leapt.

Professor Alrister was at the front of the room, flicking hurriedly through an armful of papers, not noticing that the whole class was staring at him open-mouthed from the back of the class. "Right everybody, come in, wands and books and so forth away, we've got quite a bit to catch up on today. Window." He snapped his fingers, and the windows flew shut with loud bangs, the curtains streaming open to fill the room with light. With another click of his fingers, the chalk started to write today's lesson on the board.

Alrister looked up, and saw them all staring at him in disbelieving hope. He smiled bemusedly. "I haven't got my lunch down my front, have I?" he said, checking.

"You're back," said one of the Ravenclaw girls, in a voice that suggested all her dreams had come true at once.

He smirked. "How clever of you to notice. I presume by the horrified looks on your faces that this is not a good thing? The substitute teachers have been easy with you, hmm? Or has my lesson become chatting time? Either way, you've all got a lot to catch up on and I have no intentions of letting you stand around dawdling. Come on, chop chop."

They all filed in, sitting down at their old tables and talking eagerly, so a buzz of excitement filled the classroom. Alrister called, "Now, we can debate how wonderful it is to have me back later. We're doing something which could be a lot of fun, or could be very dangerous and risky today, so I expect you all on best behaviour. No gloves either, and for the second hour we're going down to the Great Hall to practice some of this vigorously, but until then, I'm afraid we're stuck in here." He stripped off his black gloves, and said, "Oh, register. Could anybody who is not here please raise their hand?" He glanced around the class. "Good, then we're all here."

Harry grinned. It was good to have Alrister back.

"Now, today, I am going to launch you all off something high to see if you can fly," said Alrister, in a tone that suggested this was regular practice. Everybody stared at him, horror-struck, and he chuckled. "After practice of course. We're doing just basic levitation today, maybe a little gliding, and there will be lots of running around and jumping, so I hope you're all in a destructive mood."

Ron's eyes lit up, as though somebody inside had flicked a lamp on.

"Everybody stand up, we need some floor space. By the way, how's the Quidditch league going?" asked Alrister, absent-mindedly, as everybody got up and hurried out of the way.

"We're winning," said Harry, grinning.

"Oh, are you?" said Alrister, with a smile. "Marvellous, marvellous. Who's in second place?"

"My team," said a cold voice from the other side of the room. Blaise stood with his arms crossed, glaring at Alrister, not looking pleased at his return.

"Ah, so we have some good healthy rivarly, mm?" Alrister smiled, as he flicked his arms and the tables all scraped themselves across the room to make a nice amount of space.

"Yep," said Ron, grinning.

Blaise said nothing, just staring at Alrister's turned back in hatred. This was the only lesson on his timetable where he didn't have Pansy with him, and apparently, he got very bored because of this. His sharp hazel-coloured eyes flickered to Harry's for a moment, and they both just glared at each other across the room, then looked away.

Alrister didn't notice any of this, too busy conjuring a huge, fluffy white blanket that he spread out across the floor with a sweep of his arms. "Perfect." To everybody's surprise, he turned his back to it, and just let himself fall backwards. Hermione made a squeaking noise, but Alrister bounced right back off it onto his feet. "And all my bones are intact. Marvellous. Now, this is here so that you don't kill yourselves. It is not a trampoline - if any senior members of staff come in. Until then, you're all allowed to do whatever you want on it. As long as it's legal and I won't end up before the Wizengamot for letting you do it."

Everybody grinned at each other. Alrister clapped his hands together.

"So, how to levitate. Quidditch players are going to find this easier than others, because we can only start to levitate when we know what we're aiming for. We are aiming to fly, just soar straight up into the air, spread our wings and escape to somewhere warm where there is no such thing as compulsory education. Flying also puts us in a good, calm, floaty sort of mood. You need to be one of two things to levitate - very skilled, or very calm. For example, I'm not particularly calm now, but levitation isn't hard for me. If I wanted to, I could."

"Show us!" a few people chimed.

"Yeah, please, Professor!"

"We want to see!"

Alrister smiled. "A demonstration? You're actually giving me the chance to show off?"

"Yeah!" they all said.

He chuckled, and took a few steps forward, just walking across the material carefully as he continued to talk. "Now, I expect none of you to get anywhere near this level," he said, idly, and everybody gasped as he just took a step upwards, onto nothing, just standing in mid air, continuing to climb upwards until he had his head tilted to one side, almost pressed against the ceiling. "Levitation takes concentration and skills. Firstly, you have to realise that air is not nothing. Air is actually full of what muggles call particles, they're just very far apart which is why we can move. To levitate, you have to force those particles together using raw magic, so you can walk on air. This is how broomsticks and the Wingardium Leviosa spell works. It just looks better when I do it." He smiled coolly.

"Can you fly like that?" said Harry, with wide eyes.

Alrister shook his head, as he gradually tilted his hips forward and laid back, floating on air, stretched out as though on a lilo. "Well... technically not. Though really, levitation can very easily be mistaken for flying. It depends what you count flying as. Levitation cannot get as high as a broomstick, and can't build up anything like the speeds that a broomstick can."

"But... could you... float out of the window and stay up? And glide around?" asked Hannah Abbot.

"I could," said Alrister, smiling still. "Though none of you will be leaping out of windows just yet, thankyou very much. This is Pure Arts, not How To Kill Yourself And Get Professor Alrister Fired In One Fell Swoop."

Everybody chuckled, as Alrister snapped his fingers, conjuring a glass of lemonade next to him in the air which he drank with a casual look on his face. "Right then," he said, putting down the glass on thin air. "I need somebody to be brave. Quidditch player would be good. Can anybody who plays Quidditch put their hand up?"

A few hands went up. Alrister scanned the room vaguely, and then said, "Ah, Mr Weasley, you'll do. Climb up on that table there, please. In a good mood today, Ron?"

Ron grinned, as he clambered up onto one of the desks. "Yep," he said, stoutly.

"Good," said Alrister. He floated easily out of the way, looking very much as though he was on a lilo in a swimming pool. "Alright, think of something emotional, you know the routine, and try to add the floating, free feeling that Quidditch gives you. Keep your thoughts nice and buoyant."

Ron got a very thoughtful look on his face, and a small smile, as he found a good memory. Harry noticed him stand a little on tiptoe as presumably, his thoughts became so buoyant the rest of him wanted to as well.

"Right then," said Alrister. "I want you to think about soaring easily through the air, staying on top of it, as though it's water, and I want you to just jump to that table there."

Ron stared in horror at the table. "It's on the other side of the room! I'll fall!"

"Now, that's exactly what I don't want you to think," said Alrister. "It might be on the other side of the room, but you will not fall. Imagine a path over to it, and think about flying that path. Don't ever, ever let the idea of falling enter your head, because you will. Remember - air is not nothing. It's just a bit sparse."

Ron still looked a bit worried about this, but he readied himself to jump anyway. Harry could see the fear of falling being pushed aside in his mind. Ron took a few steps back, bent his legs, and ran forwards, leaping as he reached the edge of the table.

Everybody gasped as he soared straight through the air, far far further than any person could normally jump, looking as though he was falling sideways instead of down. He landed with a hard thump on the otherside of the classroom, crumpled, and stood up as everybody started cheering. Ron grinned, his ears going pink.

Alrister chuckled, clapping too. "Very good." He descended gently from his lying position to stand on solid ground again, the lemonade still in his hand. "Marvellous work, Mr Weasley. First time as well. Ten points for Gryffindor. Now... anybody else?"

It was easily the most fun in a lesson that Harry had had for a long time. Professor Alrister was handing out house points like sweets at a birthday party, and by the end of the lesson, nearly everybody had made it from one table to another. Alrister was particularly pleased with Harry, who somehow managed to somersault on the way there, even though he couldn't remember wanting to do it. When the first hour bell went, they all trooped down to the entrance hall and practiced across wider spaces. Professor Alrister amazed them all by leaping the entire length of one house table and landing perfectly. Ron tried the same feat, but ended up falling half-way along, rolling the rest of the way and then tumbling off the end in a heap.

When the final bell went, everybody gave a groan of disappointment, picking up their bags and looking upset. Nearly everybody was expressing the desire that the lesson could have gone on longer. Some people even asked if they could just stay and practice a bit longer. Alrister chuckled at this. "No, no, I'm afraid not. Come now, our next lesson isn't long from now, is it? And I'm still going to be here. No more running off and leaving you to face the horrors of Professor Grubbly-Plank."

Everybody laughed, heading out of the hall, talking excitedly. Harry grabbed his bag and hurried after Ron, Hermione and Draco, but Alrister called him back.

"Oh, Harry? A word, please."

He doubled back, and crossed over to Alrister, who was moving the tables back into place. "Yes Sir?"

"I want to thank you for looking after Cupid," said Alrister, smiling. "He came down to my office just a few minutes after I got back, and he looks to be in marvellous health. You've really taken good care of him."

Harry smiled. "It's okay, Professor... he's been really good with me too."

"I also wanted to apologise... for the whole incident just before I left," said Alrister. He looked a little worried. "I truly didn't expect to leave you in such a very brief way. Something came up, you see."

"Professor Dumbledore told me about it," said Harry, quietly. "And... he gave me your hawking gloves."

"Yes, I asked him to," said Alrister, smiling, setting the Hufflepuff table down in place. "I'm glad of that."

"I... I never knew that Rookwood was your cousin," said Harry. "I mean... it's not a bad thing. I just didn't know. It was kind of a shock." He paused for a moment, and then asked, "Professor? Why did Fudge think you were in with the Death Eaters?"

"The bond of family is the strongest of all, Harry," said Alrister. "At least, it is to me. I'm very close to Augustus and my other cousins, and no matter what they've done, I always will be. They might relate with people I want nothing to do with, but when they're with me, we are a family, Harry. Unfortunately, Fudge knows how close I am to Augustus. He has never trusted me, so when the whole of the Rookwood family was declared loyal to He Who Must Not Be Named, it gave him an excuse to probe about in my life."

"Why doesn't he trust you?" asked Harry. "I mean... if you don't mind me being nosy."

Alrister chuckled. "It's okay, Harry... it's not a story many people know or ask, really. I haven't talked about it in years." He smiled slightly, looking at Harry with a very paternal look in his eyes. "I think I know you better than most of the other students here, Harry. Enough to probably consider you as a friend. I certainly trust you."

Harry smiled. "You're not like other teachers. You're... fun."

Alrister laughed at that, leaning against a table, grinning. "I'm flattered, Harry... so... my story... are you sure you want to hear it? It's rather long and would make a wonderful drama piece for muggle television, I'm sure."

"No, I want to hear it," said Harry, sitting down on one of the benches. "Can you tell me?"

Alrister nodded, looking thoughtful, as he started to speak. "It starts right from the moment I was born, I suppose... I had a normal mother, a normal father, normal family. Nobody's really sure why this happened, but I was born with an extraordinarily high level of raw magic inside me. I was a danger to myself and people close to me. As a baby, fires started around me, things exploded if left near me when I cried. My mother was terrified of me. Things just got worse. As a toddler, my family would never leave me on my own or terrible things would happen. I wasn't allowed near anything heavy or sharp. If I got upset or angry, my family would normally just run because of what I was capable of, even then. Of course, I became isolated. Everybody was frightened of me. That anger just made me even more dangerous. Something truly horrible was just going to happen. It was inevitable. I was five when things hit a peak."

"What happened?" Harry asked, in hushed tones.

"We had a dog," said Alrister, frowning slightly at a spot on the floor, as though he'd rather not remember some things. "A King Charles Spaniel. Beautiful creature, truly beautiful. I think it was called Timmy. I don't remember it much... well... in basic terms, I killed it by accident. I had no intentions of doing so. The dog just happened to be near me when I blew."

"What happened to it?" said Harry.

"I don't like to talk about that with anybody," said Alrister, heavily. "I don't like thinking about it at all. It wasn't pretty. I'll just leave it at that."

"So... what happened? Did you manage to control your powers?" asked Harry.

"I wish it was that easy," said Alrister. "When I was eleven, I was due to attend Hogwarts, but my parents knew with so much magic I could never have a normal magical education. I couldn't touch a wand without setting fire to it. They heard about the Pure Arts, and that it could held focus raw magic. My father knew a man who was very, very skilled in the Pure Arts, a friend of Cornelius Fudge, and they sent me to live with him and be taught how to control my magic. I was seven or eight when I went to live with him. He had a daughter of my age, by his wife, who was a veela. She was called Sarah - you saw her in the painting in my office. We grew up together, and at first, she wasn't allowed near me because people were frightened of what I might do to her by accident. But eventually, I learnt to control my raw magic. It was gradual at first, and I was still learning when I was twenty, but I had things to held me survive. Sarah and I fell in love when I was still a young teenager. Suddenly, I had something to aim for. I wanted to become safe, so that I could marry Sarah and be a father."

"Did you...?" Harry began.

Alrister bit his lip. "I did become safe, and I did marry Sarah, when I was nineteen. I could completely control myself. I was just as safe as the average wizard, though far more powerful. Sarah and I got married, and then when we were both twenty, we found out she was pregnant. It was all I really wanted - a family, a home. But things started to go wrong... two Death Eaters tracked me down through my cousin. They had heard I was a powerful Pure Arts master, and wanted my services."

Harry was completely enthralled by this point, listening with wide eyes, too interested to speak or spoil Alrister's concentration.

"Obviously, I told them no. But they were rather persistent. They kept visiting me, telling me to reconsider. They said that the Dark Lord would rise again someday and reward me greatly. But I made it clear to them I didn't want anything to do with them... they promised me that I'd regret it, and they didn't bother me for quite some months. I thought they were gone. But then... I got home from work one day. Sarah was about eight months pregnant by then."

There was no emotion except hollow, deep longing and wishing in Alrister's face.

"I found her dead in the lounge... and my baby too." He looked down at his feet, a single lock of sleek brown hair falling in front of his eyes and left there. "Her father was distraught, but he believed my story. He didn't think I'd done it. Fudge wasn't so believing though. He was certain that I'd kill her in another of my "little mishaps" as he put it, and to cover up what I'd done, invented some story about Death Eaters."

"I hate Fudge," Harry snarled. "He's just pompous and arrogant. He sees things the way he wants to, not the way he should."

Alrister nodded. "He couldn't prove it though. Nobody could prove I was right or wrong. It just went unsolved. Sarah and my unborn child were never given any justice. For the last ten years I've been living in the Rookwood family home alone with my birds of prey. Then Dumbledore contacted me and offered the job. He said the time of need was approaching and the children needed to be protected." He smiled sadly, a hint of a tear in his dark eyes. "The rest is history."

Harry paused for a moment, trying to think of something else to say, and after a few seconds, he said the only thing he was thinking. "You're very brave, Professor."

Alrister smiled sadly again. "Maybe, Harry. I'm not the only victim though. Yourself, the Diggorys... Mr Malfoy. I must admit, I have had some long, very vicious fights with my cousin over that. Normally I never let his activities with He Who Must Not Be Named intrude in our family, but... well..."

Harry nodded. "I understand. I think I'd probably stay loyal to Ron no matter what he did. I mean, he argues with Hermione and Draco a lot, but I'll forgive him for that."

Alrister chuckled softly. "You're a rare breed, Harry. I daresay you'll become a very powerful wizard when you're older."

"Thanks, Sir," said Harry, smiling.

"Always welcome," said Alrister. He smiled fatherly. "Go on now. Your friends won't want me hogging you."

Harry picked up his bag again, and was about to leave, when he thought of something and hesitated for a moment. "Professor?" he said, from the door.

Alrister looked up. "Mmm, Harry?"

"It's good to have you back, Sir."

Alrister smiled. "It's good to be back," he said, as Harry slipped out of the door.


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