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Free Life Posted on 8/16/2014 1:03:46 AM
Chapter 7: 4000 words and counting
Hero Posted on 3/25/2012 7:32:33 PM
Chapter 6 Chance and Choice: 3,600 words and counting
Long Lost Brother Posted on 4/21/2010 2:57:30 PM
Chapter 5: 0 words and counting.

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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 5: What Once Was Home
The last week of summer passed by without incident. Harry continued to read and practice diligently. He finished writing the magical contract with all the spells attached with a day to spare, of which he was quite pleased. He was confident that no one of questionable loyalty would even be able to sign the contract. And those that did manage to sign would be bound pretty tightly. They definitely wouldn’t be able to switch sides in the war without finding themselves seriously disabled magically. The penalty for talking about the club was much less severe, but anyone who breached that clause would regret the decision, and wouldn’t be able to get away with it without his notice.

The day before he was set to leave, Harry packed up all the loose objects in his room, which wasn’t very much at all. Most of his possessions were in his trunk already. He pulled all the normal things he would have for the school year in his old trunk. He decided that he would continue to use this trunk as normal so as not to arouse undue suspicion. His school robes, cauldron, course-related books, and a few personal effects went into this trunk. He kept the rest of his library, his invisibility cloak, marauder’s map, and anything else that might be considered either unusual or particularly valuable in his new trunk.

He passed the rest of the day as he had passed every other day of the summer: reading and training. The next morning, Harry started his morning routine as normal. He went for his normal jog, and he said his goodbye to an invisible Tonks. He thanked her for watching out for him all summer. Despite the fact that he felt it wasn’t necessary, he still appreciated the fact that she was there for him and ran with him every morning.

After he finished his workout, he showered and got dressed and ready for the day. He wore some of his casual khaki pants and a plain blue shirt that fit him a bit snugly. His hair was nice and long, reaching down to his shoulders. He put in his clear contacts and wore his new trainers. He also strapped one of the wand holsters onto his wrist and slipped his wand in place. They promptly disappeared from view. He didn’t need his wand but wanted it on hand in case there was a need for him to perform magic. He didn’t want anyone to know he could do wandless magic, so he’d have to at least pretend to use his wand.

He read until 10:30 when he decided it was time to leave. He had no idea if the Order had plans of their own for getting him to the train station or not. He planned on just apparating there. If anyone asked him, he would just tell them that he left with his uncle that morning under his invisibility cloak. His uncle had not wanted anyone to see him.

He asked Hedwig if she’d rather go with him or fly to the school. He heard a brief reply of “Fly” in his head, so he nodded and saw her out the window. He added her cage into his trunk and apparated just outside of King’s Cross station. He wandered through the crowd and across the platforms until he came to platform 9. He saw the barrier that separated platforms 9 and 10 and walked slowly towards it. As he walked right into the barrier, he found himself standing in platform 9 ¾, the scarlet engine that was the Hogwarts Express was ready and waiting for students to board.

The platform was not yet busy as there was still over 20 minutes left until the train was set to depart. He went into the train to find a compartment and chose the one at the end of the train that overlooked the platform. He loaded his trunk into the storage rack, sat down on one of the benches, and looked out of the window onto the platform. Families were gathering together, helping the smaller ones with their trunks. Mothers were doting over their children, most of whom were trying to escape their mothers’ coddling and affection. If only they knew what life would be like without it, they might not fight their mothers so hard.

It became increasingly busy on the platform as the time ticked down. Finally, with little more than five minutes to spare, Harry caught a group of red heads rushing through the barrier. Ginny came through with her brother Bill. Ron followed soon after with a bushy haired girl next to him who appeared to be scolding him for something or another. ‘Same old Ron and Hermione,’ Harry thought to himself with a slight smirk. The twins followed soon after, with Mrs. Weasley bringing up the rear. By the time she came through, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione had already started to drag their things towards the train with the rest lagging behind a bit.

Harry left the compartment and magically locked it up to prevent anyone else from claiming it. He walked out of the train to greet his surrogate family. He approached from behind Ron and Hermione. Ginny was facing them and was the first to notice his approach. Her jaw dropped at the sight of him, but she quickly composed herself and gave a nod as Harry held a finger up to his lips to signify that she shouldn’t say anything. He silently sidled up right behind the bickering duo.

“Now you listen here, Ronald Weasley,” Hermione was reprimanding.

She didn’t get to finish the thought though because Harry interrupted by clearing his throat and saying “Excuse me.”

Ron immediately shot back at him, “Excuse yourself, buddy. Can’t you see we’re talking here?” hardly sparing him a glance. Ginny giggled slightly but turned it into a cough somewhat successfully.

“Ron!” Hermione admonished before turning to Harry. “Don’t mind him; he lacks all sense of manners and decency. Can I help you with something?”

“You can help me by giving me a hug hello, Hermione,” he answered with a grin. Her jaw dropped as she finally took a good look at him, her eyes flicking from the scar on his forehead to his eyes. Ginny burst out laughing at her friend’s reaction despite the fact that it mirrored her own.

Ron, still clueless, turned toward his sister demanding, “What’s so funny?” The action only served to reinforce her bout of hysterical laughter. He turned to Hermione next. “What the bloody hell are you staring at?” Ginny snorted loudly as Ron finally turned toward Harry. “And who the hell do you think you – Blimey!” Ginny doubled over with tears in her eyes struggling to breathe in between her fits of laughter. The twins, who had walked over once Ginny started laughing, were wearing identical wicked grins.

“Harry, mate, quite an entrance you made,” Fred started.

“Yeah, only you could leave both men and women alike gawking at you like this,” George continued the thought, waving his hands at Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.

“And we just finished explaining to Ron how you don’t swing that way.”

“But apparently he just wasn’t listening.”

“It’s sad really.”

“How he desperately clings to that hope.”

“But we just don’t have the heart to burst his bubble.”

Harry chuckled at the twins’ antics while Ginny was clutching her stomach in her mirth. Hermione finally broke out of her stupor and squeaked “Harry,” as she threw her arms around her friend.

“Good to see you too, Hermione,” Harry said into her bushy hair. They separated after a moment, and Harry held his hand out to Ron. “Alright, mate?” he asked as they firmly shook hands. Ron only nodded in response as Harry turned his attention toward Ginny and waited expectantly. She stood there for a moment recovering from her hysterics before Harry held out his arms and asked, “Don’t I get a hug hello?”

Not needing any more encouragement, she responded by flinging herself into Harry, wrapping her arms around his neck. He responded to the action by wrapping his arms around her waist and spinning her around once to dispense her momentum without ending up on his backside. “Nice entrance, Potter,” she told him. “I haven’t laughed that hard all summer.”

“I live to please,” he murmured into her fiery red locks. As she pulled back Harry saw that her cheeks were lightly stained pink and chuckled lightly to himself. He turned to the twins and held out both hands to them as he greeted, “Fred, George.”

“Harry, mate.”

“Bloody brilliant.”

“Knocked ‘em dead.”

“You’ve got style.”

“and pizzazz.”

“We like it,” they said in unison.

“Couldn’t have asked for a better business partner.”

“Definitely worth every bit of that 10%.”

Harry moved to argue with them, but the twins persisted. “We mean it, Harry.”

“We wouldn’t have a shop if not for you.”

Harry finally relented with a sigh and said, “Alright. So when is the grand opening, anyway?”

“September 15th.”

“Yep, only two weeks away.”

“We wanted to open up before school started.”

“But we just couldn’t manage it in time.”

“Our owl order business is still going though.”

“So you should be seeing our merchandise at Hoggy Hogwarts.”

“That’s great, guys,” Harry interrupted their diatribe. “You’ll have to keep me posted on how the opening goes.”

Just then Mrs. Weasley descended on Harry and engulfed him in one of her trademark hugs which he gladly returned. “Harry, dear, it’s so good to see you. You look good, still a little thin, but you’ve filled out a bit. You look a lot better than you usual do at this time of the year.”

He blushed slightly under her scrutiny. “Thanks, I’ve been taking care of myself this summer.”

“It shows, dear” she told him as she released him from her embrace. “And you’ve grown too. You’re nowhere near Ronald, but who is? I swear if that boy doesn’t stop growing we’ll have to enlarge the doorways just so he can walk through without having to stoop. But just look at this hair,” she continued, holding a lock of it in her hands. “You’re really in need of a trim, dear. If we had more time, I’d be more than happy to take care of that for you.”

The train let off a warning whistle to let the students know they had only another minute to get on board. They all said a quick goodbye, and the quartet set off onto the train. Hermione and Ron mentioned the Prefect meeting and told Harry and Ginny that they would meet up later. That left the two of them in the corridor by themselves. Harry turned to Ginny and said, “I’ve already claimed a compartment in the back. Would you like me to carry your trunk?”

Ginny smiled brightly at him. “Thanks, Harry. That would be great. Lead the way.”

Harry obliged and hefted Ginny’s trunk in front of him. It was heavy. He let a little magic slide into the trunk to lighten it up a bit, making it more manageable. He didn’t make it weightless, as that would have been a little too obvious. He just lightened it up enough to reduce the effort it took to carry. As Harry approached the door and opened it up he heard one of the younger students mutter “How come it opened for him? We’ve been trying to get in there since we got here.”

Harry turned around and informed him, “You’ve just got to have the magic touch.”

As Harry bent down to lift her trunk into the overhead storage rack, Ginny moved to set her cat carrier down to give him a hand. “Here, let me help you with that.” But he had already hefted the trunk up and was sliding it into the rack.

“You should’ve let me help you out with that,” she admonished him gently. “You already carried it all the way to the compartment on your own while I was just carrying Em here. You didn’t need to lift it up onto the rack all by yourself.”

“Oh, how is Em? I missed her after I sent her off with you,” Harry said, ignoring her comments as he stuck his hand into the carrier and scratched her behind the ears. He could hear her loud purring even that far away.

“She’s wonderful, but I was wondering…” she trailed off as she pondered how to ask her question.

“Yes?” Harry prodded. “What is it?”

“Well, I was just wondering how you managed to get Em for me. I know she came from the Magical Menagerie in Diagon Alley because I saw her when we went to get our school supplies. But there’s no way you could have gone there to get her for me, and there’s no way you could have known that I had absolutely fallen in love with her the moment I laid my eyes on her.” She said the last part softly to herself.

“I have my sources…” he explained evasively, “and an owl.”

“You make it sound so mysterious,” she said. She could tell he wasn’t being entirely forthcoming with her but decided to let it go for now.

“This is kind of weird, don’t you think?” she asked him suddenly. “We’ve been talking so much over the summer through letters, but we’ve never really talked like this in person.”

“I guess so,” he agreed, “but we have plenty of time to get accustomed to it.”

She awarded the comment with a dazzling smile. “You’ve changed a lot since last year.”

“Well it’s like I was saying to you over the summer,” Harry explained. “You’ve got to live your life and really enjoy it; otherwise you won’t have anything worth fighting for. The minute we let Voldemort stop us from living, he wins.”

“Wise words,” she commented.

“Yes, well I’ve had a lot of life experience in my 16 years to give me an interesting perspective.”

“That’s the understatement of the century,” she laughed. “So are you excited to be going back?”

Harry thought a moment before replying “Yeah, I guess. I always used to think of Hogwarts as home, while the Dursleys’ was just a place I went to stay over the summer before I could go back home, but after the past couple years Hogwarts doesn’t feel quite so homey to me any more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be getting out of the Dursleys’ house, but it’s just not the same as it used to be.”

“I’m sorry, Harry,” she said sadly. “But just think, in another year you’ll be 17, and you’ll be coming here for the last time. After that you’ll be able to go out and make someplace your new home. You’ll get to choose who you live with and what you do with your life.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Soon enough my life will be mine to control. So you said you were going to regale me with the story of the attack on Diagon Alley,” he prodded.

“Oh, right, I did say that I would, didn’t I?” She chuckled softly. “Alright, well sit tight ‘cause you’re in for quite a story. So we went to Diagon Alley to buy our school supplies, like I already told you. Ron went with Mum to pick something out at Quality Quidditch Supplies, some books on strategy, I think. Anyway, Bill took me to the Magical Menagerie because I wanted to look at all the animals. I knew I wouldn’t get to buy one, but I wanted to look anyway.”

“I absolutely fell in love with this little bundle of fur,” she said as she pulled Em out of the carrier and into her lap where she proceeded to scratch her as she continued her story. “Anyway, Bill told me it was time to move on, so I put the kitten down, and we walked out of the store. Just as we were walking out, there was a whole bunch of ‘pops,’ and all of a sudden there are a good 20 Death Eaters standing in front of us.”

She took a big breath before continuing. “It took me a second to realize what was happening, and the spells were already coming at me as I went for my wand. The spells aimed at me were blocked…Bill must have put up a shield I guess. I don’t know; I never asked him about that. Anyway, they also shot spells at the building behind us, which sent us scrambling out of the way. I twisted my ankle in the process, but I was up and dueling with a couple Death Eaters for a minute. Then I was disarmed from behind. I never even realized anyone was behind me.”

She shivered slightly as she went on. “So one of them grabbed me from behind pinning my arms down and dragged me into an alleyway. I couldn’t see where we were going because I had my back to him. All of a sudden this jungle cat, must’ve been a panther or something, comes streaking through the alley. He leaps onto some boxes and up over our heads. Before I know what’s going on, the man holding me is slumped on the ground, unconscious, and a man, couldn’t have been much older than you or me, is binding them up.”

She smiled at the memory of her savior. “He told me that I was safe with him, grabbed me, and next thing I know we’re right outside the Burrow. He told me to run inside and wait for the rest, that he would make sure they made it home safely. When I turned back to thank him he was gone.”

“That’s quite the story,” Harry said. He was grinning inwardly but was maintaining his outward composure. “You’re sure lucky this mystery man was there.”

“I know,” she told him. “I just wish I knew who he was. He didn’t give me his name, not even his first name or anything. But he knew who I was. He had long hair like yours, but it was a light brown. He had brown eyes, but the panther that came through had green eyes that seemed so familiar: similar to Em’s here and Hedwig’s owl friend and…you,” she said turning towards him.

“Really?” Harry asked somewhat uncomfortably. He had to stop his throat from gulping in his nervousness.

“Yeah, and now that I think about it, he was about your height and build as well, and apart from the color, his hair was exactly the same as yours as well,” she thought out loud, quickly making connections and jumping to conclusions. Her eyes began to light up, and she was about to speak when the compartment door swung open and Neville stuck his head in.

“There you guys are,” he said in a friendly tone. His eyes widened as he took a second glance at Harry, but he refrained from commenting. “Mind if we come sit with you?” he asked gesturing toward himself and the blonde girl next to him.

Harry quickly answered, “Sure, Neville. It’s great to see you, and you too Luna. How did your summers go?” He glanced over at Ginny, and she was looking at him intently, clearly trying to impress upon him that their conversation was not over and would be concluded later.

Harry half smiled at her and slightly inclined his head to let her know that he understood.

They spent an hour or so chatting about their summers, Harry not really contributing much about his own summer except for his morning workouts and meetings with Remus. Luna had not caught any of the Crumple-Horned Snorkacks she and her father had been searching for. They had apparently been hot on the trail when they ran into a colony of Fuzzwuffles which prevented them from following the path they were on. They weren’t able to find any signs of the Snorkacks after that.

Neville had a new wand which he wasted no time in showing everyone in the compartment. It was cherry wood with unicorn hair as its core. He told some story about his Great Uncle Algie that Harry only vaguely paid attention to. It had something to do with his toad Trevor, but Harry wasn’t entirely sure where he fit into it.

Ginny told them about her summer at the Burrow and about Ron being a prat. She explained to Neville and Luna about how she lied about seeing Dean Thomas and how her brother reacted as a result. Neville was very sympathetic, saying that he had no right to try to control her life like that, to which Harry added his agreement. Luna, on the other hand, merely said, “Oh that’s just because Ronald knows that Dean’s hair is infested with glumpees, which we all know are perfectly harmless for guys but can be quite hazardous for women.” The other three occupants of the compartment exchanged looks and silently agreed not to comment on that statement.

After a time, Ron and Hermione emerged from their prefect duties bickering as always. They each talked briefly about their summers, and Neville, Luna, Ginny, and Harry each gave abbreviated versions of their previous descriptions. It was a peaceful and pleasant ride, although Harry became slightly uncomfortable whenever he caught Ginny looking at him wonderingly. They got some snacks off the food cart as the woman came by, and Harry shared his spoils with the others. He told them all that he had a gift for each of them that he’d give them when they got back to school.

Malfoy made his customary appearance in their compartment door with his two flunkies trailing slightly behind. “Well, well, well,” he sneered from his position in the doorway. “What do we have here? Potty, two weasels, a mudblood, Loony, and a glorified squib. What a formidable bunch you are. The dark lord must be shaking in his boots.”

“If he isn’t yet, he soon will be,” Harry replied calmly without even bothering to look at his adversary. “Now why don’t you be a good little boy and report back to daddy, or has Voldemort already done away with him for all his failures? You did know that he was in charge at the Department of Mysteries, don’t you? Your dork lord wasn’t too pleased about that. I can’t imagine what Voldemort did to dear old daddy after he failed to kidnap Ron and Ginny here.”

“Don’t talk about my father that way, Scarhead!” Malfoy shrieked. “He’s one of the Dark Lord’s most trusted followers.”

“I think you mean servant,” Harry interrupted tranquilly.

“Why you,” Malfoy cried as he reached for his wand. Harry held up his hand to the others in the compartment to stop them from doing the same. All listened except Ron. Malfoy’s wand was leveled at Harry as Ron had his trained on the blonde haired Slytherin. The two Slytherin brutes were just cracking their knuckles waiting to be given instruction.

“Put your wand down, Ron. I’m not worried about this Death Eater wannabe.” Ron looked unsure for a moment, then complied.

Malfoy smirked condescendingly and took his chance to strike. “Furnunculus!” he called, wand leveled at Harry. His spell rebounded off an invisible wall directly in front of him, and he was blown back a couple steps as boils sprung up on his face. Crabbe and Goyle scrambled to his side, unsure what else to do without being given direct orders.

Harry stood and strode to the door. “Do tell daddy I said hello, would you?” he asked as he shut the door on the faces of the three Slytherins. He smirked as he strode back to his seat and sat down. His friends were all staring at him in wonderment.

Ron finally broke the silence, “Bloody brilliant, mate! I didn’t even see you pull out your wand.”

Harry’s grin grew wider. “Remember when I said I had a gift for each of you?” Seeing their nods he continued. “Well, this is what I was talking about,” he explained as he took off his wand holster which instantly appeared before their very eyes. “It’ll prevent your wand from being summoned while it’s in the holder, and it’ll turn invisible once it’s strapped on, so no one will know it’s even there.”

“Wicked,” Ron exclaimed. Apparently he was fine with presents so long as he wasn’t the only one being given them, Harry mentally noted.

“That’s really great, Harry,” Hermione said, “but where did you manage to get them?”

“I owl ordered them from a place in Diagon Ally,” he explained. This seemed to satisfy her as she just nodded and sat back against the bench. Ginny grinned at him knowingly, and he imperceptibly shook his head at her to try to get her to stop giving him those looks. She glanced around quickly and winked at him before adopting a neutral expression. Harry almost growled at her.

The rest of the train ride went by quickly. Soon enough Hermione was informing them all to put their robes on and dragging Ron out into the corridor to help organize the departure. The others grinned at each other knowingly regarding the bickering duo. “Do you think either of them will ever get a clue and just kiss the other one?” Harry asked the room at large.

Ginny giggled softly which reminded Harry slightly of Jessica’s giggle. Neville just shook his head and said, “I don’t know, Harry. But Merlin help us all if they don’t figure it out soon.”

“You said it,” Ginny piped in.

Luna just gazed dreamily out the window seemingly oblivious to all that was going on around her. The train slowed down gradually and came to a stop after a minute. The four friends looked at each other briefly before filing out of the compartment. Harry led the way, followed by Ginny, Neville, and Luna bringing up the rear. As they stepped outside, Harry heard the familiar and ever comforting call of, “Firs’ years. Firs’ years over ‘ere.”

Harry turned and quickly spotted his half giant friend who literally towered above the rest of the crowd. Harry held up a hand to Hagrid and called to him, “All right, Hagrid?”

Hagrid looked down through the crowd and spotted Harry. An enormous smile broke out on his face, and he called back, “All righ’, ‘Arry,” as he waved a beefy arm at him.

Harry smiled widely and turned back toward his friends. They quickly made their way over to the carriages. Harry took a moment to study the two thestrals at the front of the carriage and walked over to them. He patted each one on the head and thanked them for taking them to the school before entering the carriage and taking a seat beside Ginny.

They waited for Ron and Hermione to catch up before taking off. Ron sat next to his sister, leaving Hermione to sit next to Luna. The carriage ride lasted for a few minutes in companionable silence. They pulled up to the front entrance to the castle and disembarked. As they walked through the Entrance Hall to the doors of the Great Hall, Professor McGonagall’s voice permeated into their hearing. “Mr. Potter, a word please.”

His five friends looked at him with varying degrees of sympathy. Harry smiled at them all and gestured for them to continue without him. “Save me a seat, would you? I’ll be in in a minute.” They nodded and continued without him as he strolled over to his Head of House who led him off through a side door.

“Mr. Potter, the Headmaster will announce the reformation of your club this evening as well as your status as Assistant Professor,” she informed him. “He would like to meet with you after the feast to go over the details of the club. The password is Canary Cream.”

Harry smiled widely at the name of the password. “His tastes are expanding,” Harry commented offhandedly.

“Indeed,” she replied with the barest hint of a smirk. “You should be off to the feast, Mr. Potter. I have some First Years to attend to.” Harry nodded and walked over to the door. As he opened it up she stopped him. “Mr. Potter, I will be glad to see you back on the Quidditch pitch this year. Your broom has been placed in your room with the rest of your belongings.”

“Thank you, Professor,” he replied.

“I hope you were right about your friend, Mr. Weasley,” she said.

“Believe me, he knows much more about Quidditch than I do,” Harry explained.

“Believe it or not, Mr. Potter, I was already well aware of that. I chose you despite that, knowing that you would consult your friend and have him help you with the strategy if you were captain. I wanted you as captain because you’re a natural leader. You may not have been able to build the strategies, but you would have led them to victory. I hope Mr. Weasley will be able to get over his insecurities enough to lead the team.”

Harry was slightly dumbfounded at her explanation. “Thank you, Professor. I’ll be sure to help him along the way as best I can.”

“I have no doubt you will. Now hurry along,” she said with a genuine smile peeking through her stern composure.

Harry smiled in return and nodded, hurrying out the door and into the Great Hall. All eyes focused on him as he strolled through the hall to the Gryffindor table. He barely noticed the enchanted ceiling or the floating candles as he focused his attention on his destination. He saw that his friends had left him an open seat next to Ron and across from Ginny. Hermione was sitting across from Ron, and Neville was on the other side of Ron. As he walked towards the table, the hall was abuzz with whispered conversations, mostly stemming from the female populations. Girls from all years giggled and whispered back and forth to each other behind their hands. Harry caught a couple stray words being murmured, causing a faint blush to creep onto his otherwise composed face. He finally made it into his seat and was immediately bombarded by Ron.

“What did McGonagall want?” he asked.

“Professor McGonagall, Ron,” Hermione corrected.

“Right,” he said. “What did she want?”

“Dumbledore wants me to meet him in his office after the feast,” Harry said with a grimace.

“What’s wrong?” Hermione quickly asked noticing the expression.

“Huh?” Harry asked thickly. “Oh, it’s nothing. I’m just not looking forward to going back to his office. The last time I was there I kind of destroyed half of it.”

Ron sputtered while Hermione looked like she might have a heart attack. Neville’s eyes bugged out, but Ginny just looked somewhat surprised but mostly amused. “You did what?” Hermione shrieked.

Harry glanced around as a few heads turned in there direction. “Keep it down, would you?”

Hermione didn’t even bother to look sheepish. “Why did you destroy the Headmaster’s office?”

“I had a very bad night,” Harry retorted darkly.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ron asked dumbly before catting on. “Oh…” A silence hung in the air.

“You know,” Hermione started, “you’ve never really talked to us about that night.”

“I know,” Harry said straightforwardly. “You saw fit to remind me several times over the summer.”

A look of hurt flashed across Hermione’s face followed by one of indignation. “You can’t go through this alone, Harry. You need to talk to us about what’s going on.”

“Not everybody deals with grief in a textbook manner, Hermione,” Harry said pointedly referring to the “gift” she’d given him for his birthday.

“And some people don’t deal with their grief at all,” she shot back at him.

“And what would you know about it?” he asked her sharply.

“Nothing. That’s the whole point, Harry. You haven’t let any of us in. I know that more went on that night that you’re not telling us. It’s time to stop with the secrets and tell us what’s going on.”

“I think that’s my decision to make,” he told her coldly.

“I’m not going to drop this, Harry. I will find out what you’re hiding from us,” she told him matter-of-factly.

“I’m not some problem for you to solve, Hermione,” Harry frigidly intoned.

Seeing that Hermione was not going to let it go, Ginny quickly asked, “So what do you think Dumbledore wants to talk to you about?”

Harry shot her a grateful smile and replied, “You’ll find out soon enough. The sorting’s starting.” Sure enough Professor McGonagall was leading a group of small, timid looking First Years into the hall from a side door. They stood in front of the head table as Professor McGonagall strode forward placing a stool in the middle of the room. She set a worn, old hat on top of it. The hat sat motionless for a moment before it opened its mouth, for this hat had a mouth, and regaled them with a song explaining the difference between the four houses and stressing the need to unite together in the face of the coming trouble.

“Same thing as last year,” Ron commented offhandedly.

“That’s because we haven’t made any progress towards uniting the four houses. Now shush, the sorting is starting,” Hermione scolded.

Ron made a face, but Hermione’s attention was already directed toward the front of the hall. Harry glanced at Ginny, and the pair shared a smile and shook their heads at the two sitting next to them. The sorting went by with just the occasional rumble of Ron’s stomach followed by a, “Bloody hell, would they get on without it already. I’m hungry.” Or something of the sort, anyway. Hermione would automatically reprimand Ron and command him to pay attention.

Finally “Zeller, Erin” was sorted into Hufflepuff, concluding the sorting ceremony. The Headmaster stood from his seat in the middle of the head table and spread his arms out. “Welcome to yet another year at Hogwarts. There is a time for speeches, but that time is not now. Tuck in.” He sat down abruptly as food appeared on all the tables across the hall.

There was a small cry of approval at the appearance of the food, followed by a general murmur of conversation mixed with eating. Harry and his friends didn’t talk much as they ate through their meals.

At one point Hermione commented, “That must be the new DADA teacher,” gesturing toward the only unfamiliar professor at the head table.

“’Ou d’ou reck’n ‘e ‘s?” Ron asked around a mouthful of food.

“Honestly, Ron. That’s disgusting. Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Hermione admonished. “Whoever he is, he can’t be as bad as Umbridge.”

“I’ll second that,” Harry inserted.

“Even Lockhart was better than her,” Ron commented, mouth free of food. He shifted his gaze to Hermione and said, “But then again, some of us were actually quite taken with him.”

Hermione blushed slightly, but answered, “That was years ago, Ron. We were only second years. Let it go.”

Ron looked like he was going to pursue his point, so Harry quickly interrupted. “As long as we’re allowed to use our wands in class, and we don’t get punished for telling the truth, I’ll be happy.” He unconsciously rubbed the back of his right hand where the words “I will not tell lies” could still be seen etched into his skin.

Ron and Hermione both shot him sympathetic looks, and they all resumed their meals. Soon enough, the food was disappearing, and Dumbledore was again rising from his seat at the head table. The noise died down quickly as the student body noticed the Headmaster rise.

“I trust you all enjoyed the feast. I have a number of announcements to make this evening. First, I would like you all to welcome the newest addition to our staff, Professor Caldwell,” he said, gesturing toward the wizard on his left side. Professor Caldwell stood and lifted a hand to acknowledge the polite applause ringing through the hall. He looked to be in his 50’s, with short brown hair with a light tint of gray running through it, about average height, and seemed to have a mild-mannered, modest countenance. He seemed…normal, which was quite abnormal for a DADA professor.

“Professor Caldwell will be taking over the DADA classes this year. The Educational Decrees that were passed by our previous DADA instructor have all been repealed.” A ring of applause met this proclamation. “We have another…unusual addition to our staff this year. We have taken on an Assistant Professor who will be leading additional classes in Defense. Please give a warm round of applause for Assistant Professor Harry Potter.”

Harry blushed brilliantly as the entire student body shifted their gaze onto him. There was a moment of absolute silence before someone started clapping a few seats down from him at the Gryffindor table. Picking up their cue, the rest of the students, save for the majority of the Slytherin table, all joined in, clapping and cheering for him.

“Bloody hell, Harry!” Ron exclaimed next to him. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Language Ron,” Hermione scolded. “That’s amazing Harry. There’s only ever been one other student in the history of the school who has been made an Assistant Professor.”

“I know, Hermione,” Harry told her. “Dumbledore told me.”

“Did he tell you who the other student was?” she asked him. Harry shook his head no, so she continued. “It was Professor Dumbledore. He helped teach Transfiguration his 7th year.”

Harry didn’t know what to say in response. He didn’t end up having to respond, for Ginny finally chimed into the conversation with a “Congratulations Harry.”

Harry shot her a grateful smile and said, “Thanks, Gin.”

She gave him another one of those looks she had been giving him ever since Neville and Luna had walked into their compartment on the train, so Harry averted his attention and focused his gaze back on the Headmaster.

Dumbledore held out his arms again, and the noise died down. “Yes, Mr. Potter will be hosting a club this year which will provide extra defense lessons to all those 4th year and above who are interested. I will let him give you the details at a later time. Notices will be posted in your common rooms for those who wish to attend the informational meeting for the club.”

“Our caretaker, Mr. Filch, has kindly asked me to remind you that magic is not to be performed in the corridors and that the rather extensive list of banned items can be found on his office door. The Forbidden Forest is still strictly that, forbidden. Our new students and some of our older ones would do well to remember that. Those wishing to play for their House Quidditch team should give their names to their Heads of House. We are also in need of a new Quidditch commentator. Anybody interested should do likewise.”

“As you all know by know, Lord Voldemort,” a collective gasp went around the room at the name, “and his Death Eaters are once more at large and gaining in strength. I cannot stress enough the seriousness of the situation that lies before us. The castle’s defenses have been strengthened over the summer, but we must all work diligently to ensure that the school remains secure. I urge you all to follow any restrictions or rules laid upon you by your teachers, however trying they might seem. We all place your safety as our number one concern.”

Harry glanced at the Slytherin table during the Headmaster’s speech. There were several students that were listening attentively, some looked bored but were at least paying attention, but there were a few, Malfoy included, who were completely disinterested and unconcerned with the subject at hand. Harry made a quick mental note of the members of this last category. Those were the ones they would need to watch out for.

“With all of that said,” Dumbledore continued, “I think it is time that you all got to bed. Classes start tomorrow morning, after all.” The Headmaster sat down in his seat as the student body began to rise from their own seats and amble to the double doors that would lead to the Entrance Hall.

Hermione immediately sprang into action, grabbing Ron with her. “Come on, Ron. We have to lead the First Years to Gryffindor Tower.”

“Can’t we just let the fifth year prefects take care of it,” Ron grumbled as he followed behind her.

Ginny looked at Harry expectantly across the table as he continued to sit there. “I know, Gin. I can’t talk right now though. Dumbledore wants me to meet him in his office. I promise we’ll talk soon, ok?”

“Alright, Harry,” she responded. “Good luck.” She ran off to catch up with some of her fifth year dorm mates as Harry stood from the bench and casually made his way out of the Great Hall. He took his time as he walked to the gargoyles guarding the Headmaster’s office. He stopped just before entering the final hallway to pull out his trunk and extract the magical contract he had made, sure that the Headmaster would ask to see it. As he approached the gargoyle he muttered the password, causing the stone beast to spring aside. Harry stepped through the opening onto the spiral staircase that had appeared in front of him. He rode the staircase to the top and used the griffin door knockers to alert Dumbledore of his presence.

“Come in, Harry,” the Headmaster greeted from inside.

Harry pushed the door open and stepped into Dumbledore’s office. He was bombarded with flashbacks of his last visit to this particular office. His godfather had just died, and the Headmaster had chosen that moment to inform him of the prophecy that was now hanging over his head, the one that said he must either be murderer or be murdered. He had destroyed half of his office that night, but it seemed that everything had since been either repaired or replaced. There was no trace of his rampage left.

Harry closed the door behind him and walked further into the room. He noticed Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix, sitting on his perch beside the Headmaster’s desk. He walked over to the red and gold feathered bird and greeted him with a “Hello, Fawkes” as he stroked the phoenix’s feathers. Fawkes rubbed his head into Harry’s hand and trilled his appreciation at the attention.

Dumbledore chuckled lightly and commented, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Fawkes so taken with anyone besides myself than he is with you.”

Harry looked at the man he had looked up to since the first time he had seen him and regarded him closely for a second before giving him a slight smile. “Thanks. How did you meet Fawkes, anyway?”

“That is a long story that will have to wait for another time,” the old man explained. “For now, why don’t we move onto the business at hand?”

“Very well,” Harry replied. “You wished to go over the details of the DA?”

“That’s correct,” he said to the young man. “Please, have a seat, Harry.” Harry complied by walking over to the plush armchair in front of the Headmaster’s desk. As soon as he was settled, Dumbledore continued. “I think the first order of business should be the magical contract that you wish to have your members sign. Given the nature of a magical contract, I think it important that I approve anything you have drawn up to make sure it is completely safe for the students to sign.”

“Of course,” he replied, handing over the parchment.

Dumbledore read through the parchment carefully, smiling slightly as he made his way through it. When he was finished reading, he held his wand over it and gave it a little bit of a wave. His eyebrows shot upward in surprise. “You’ve already performed all the enchantments?” he asked.

Harry felt a prickle on the edge of his mind that he quickly associated as another presence seeking to read through his conscious thoughts. He kept his memories of the summer, especially the ones involved in the creation of the contract, locked tightly in the trunks in his mind, knowing that the Headmaster was using a casual form of Legilimency to pick up any memories that might flash through his mind that would contradict his answer. “Yes,” Harry explained, “I planned everything over the summer and had it written out. I performed all the necessary spellwork on the train today.” He really hoped he had progressed far enough in Occlumency to keep the Headmaster from spotting his lie.

“You know you’re not really supposed to perform magic on the train, Harry,” the Headmaster said sternly. “But then, what the ministry doesn’t know won’t hurt it, will it?” he chuckled softly, eyes never losing their twinkle.

“No, sir,” Harry replied. “I’ve seen people using magic on the train before, and I’ve used magic on it before without getting in trouble, so I assumed it was alright.”

“Indeed. The train ride is a bit of a gray area, I suppose. But as long as no harm is done, we are willing to overlook any magic used during the train ride.” Harry nodded showing his understanding. “Now, Harry, what do you intend to teach at these meetings?”

Harry had to bite down the sigh of relief that he almost unconsciously made. “Well, sir, a lot of that is going to depend on how many people sign up for it, where they are all starting, and how quickly they learn. Assuming there are enough people for it, I plan on splitting the club into two different classes. The first class will consist of all the students I taught last year to start with, and we’ll start where I left off last year: Patronus Charms.

“After they have managed that, I plan to start a new line of training with them. Most of the practice we have had dueling in the past has been standing still trading shots with an opponent. I plan to change that. I’m going to introduce new aspects into the duel, not the least of which is movement. I’ll have them practice dodging spells without the aid of a wand for protection. I’ll just have them cast stinging hexes so as not to cause too much damage for that.

“Once they get the hang of moving about to avoid being hit, I’ll have them use that technique in a dueling situation. I’ll also teach them some new spells along the way, like more advanced shields like contego and servo, stronger stunners like attonitus, and binding spells like incarcerous. We’ll also get into dueling tactics and using your environment to your advantage. I’ll get them out of the habit of trading spells back and forth and into the habit of launching a barrage of spells at their opponents to catch them off guard.”

“It sounds like you have things pretty well in hand,” Dumbledore commended. “What about your second class?”

“They’ll start more or less where the other class started last year: the basics,” Harry explained. “I started them with expelliarmus last year, and they really needed the help even with that spell. Some of them were saying it wrong, and there were a lot of issues with aim and the force put behind the spell. Any students who appear to be ahead of the rest of the class, I will consider moving into the more advanced class. We’ll move through the basic spells: protego, stupefy, impedimenta - that kind of thing - before moving into what the advanced class is starting with this year. The speed at which we move will be based entirely on how quickly they pick things up. I’m not trying to get through a specific set of material; I’m just trying to make sure they know what to do when the time comes where they need to fight back.”

“An admirable ambition,” the Headmaster praised. “It seems everything is in order, then. How often do you intend for the clubs to meet?”

“I thought maybe each one would meet once during the week for an hour, and once on the weekend for two hours,” Harry told him.

“Very well, that will work fine. I should inform you that you may from time to time be visited by various faculty members during your classes. I will inform them that they are all welcome to attend but that your authority is not to be challenged without due cause. If you feel any of the faculty are being disruptive to your classes, please inform me right away. Please do not try to take matters into your own hands.”

“Yes sir.”

“I will ask all staff to refrain from visiting you during your first week of teaching. That should give you ample time to get settled and get your classes started up without fear of interruption.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“I should tell you, Harry, that another part of your Professor status allows you access to all of the House common rooms. I will ask you not to visit any common rooms besides Gryffindor Tower’s without due cause.”

“Yes sir.”

“You have more privileges and responsibilities than any other student in the school, Harry. And it will set you apart from the other students to an extent, but it would be best not to set yourself apart any more than is strictly necessary. You are still a student, and they are still your peers and friends.”

“I’ll do my best, sir,” Harry replied solemnly.

“I have no doubt of that, Harry. You hardly give anything less,” he responded warmly. “Now I imagine that you’d like to get back to your friends before they all head off to bed. If you ask Professor McGonagall tomorrow, she will show you to your office. I just have one more question before you go. What day would you like to have all those interested in the club meet and where?”

“Would Friday after dinner in the Great Hall be okay?” Harry asked.

“That would be perfect, Harry. Have a good night sleep tonight. You must be prepared for your classes tomorrow.” Harry nodded and headed for the door when the Headmaster’s voice stopped him. “Oh, and Harry?”

“Yes, Professor?”

“I don’t believe I’ve yet thanked you for all that you’ve done with this club of yours. It is very apparent that you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into it. I’ll look forward to seeing your results,” he said with a genial smile.

“Thank you, sir. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight Harry.”

Harry left the Headmaster’s office and descended the staircase at a leisurely pace. The meeting didn’t go poorly by any means, but he wouldn’t say it went great either. He still felt strained with the Headmaster. He couldn’t trust the man, for one thing, and he had a feeling that if Dumbledore had any inkling that he was hiding something, the man would not rest until he found the whole truth. Harry knew he would have to hide his secrets carefully, which was all the more reason to practice Occlumency. He just hoped that if Snape agreed to teach him that the Potions Master didn’t manage to uncover any of his secrets during their sessions. The whole thing was a big risk, but it was one he would need to take in order to learn the skills necessary to hide his secrets. Hopefully the steps he had taken over the summer would be enough to at least hide some of his memories from the greasy man.

When Harry finally made his way to the portrait of the fat lady, he realized that he didn’t know the password. He remembered what the Headmaster said about having access to all common rooms and hoped that this meant he could get in without a password. He asked her, “Can you let me in, please?” as he approached.

She regarded him carefully for a minute before replying. “Very well, Professor Potter” she said with a wink and a smile. The portrait swung forward, and Harry climbed through the opening. The common room was mostly empty by now. There were a couple scattered groups of older kids, one of which was watching his entrance expectantly.

He walked over to where Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny were sitting and greeted them with a “Hey guys.”

“So what’s the big idea holding out on us?” Ron immediately asked, impatiently waving his arms in the air.

“I wanted it to be a surprise?” Harry half asked, half explained as he plopped down on the couch. At their exasperated looks he further explained, “I was just kind of embarrassed about it and didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, alright?”

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Harry,” Hermione replied practically. “It’s a great honor. You’ll be in the next edition of Hogwarts: A History for sure. Plus just think of all the extra privileges and responsibilities you’ll have.”

“All the more to set me apart from everyone else,” Harry continued for her. “As if I wasn’t already abnormal enough; this is just another thing to set me apart from everyone else.”

“Oh, don’t be melodramatic, Harry,” Ginny chided him. “It’s not like you’re no longer going to be taking classes with the rest of us or anything like that. You’ll just be teaching one. It won’t be any different than last year with the DA. Besides, with all those extra privileges Hermione was talking about, it will be that much easier for you to get away with a little bit of rule breaking.”

Harry grinned at her unique brand of logic as Hermione’s head shot up and shrieked “Ginny! How could you say something like that? It’s bad enough with Ron trying to break every rule in the book. We don’t need you doing the same, and we definitely don’t need you encouraging Harry as well.”

“Oh lighten up, Hermione,” Ginny retorted. “Rules are more of just a guideline than anything else. Besides, it’s not like you haven’t broken your fair share of rules over the years.”

“Well I always had a good reason…”

“And who is it that gets to decide which reason is good enough and which isn’t?” Ginny interrupted.

“Well…”

“Exactly,” Ginny said. “Now lighten up on the rest of us on the rule front for just a little while, alright? We just got here.”

Hermione huffed, “Well, we should all get to bed. We’ve got classes tomorrow.” She looked at them all expectantly.

The rest of the group grumbled at her proclamation but nevertheless followed her direction. They murmured goodnights to each other. Ginny and Hermione walked up the stairs to the girls dormitories while Harry, Neville, and Ron walked up the boys’ staircase to the sixth year boys’ dormitory. They got ready for bed and said their goodnights to each other as each slipped into his own bed.

The next morning, Harry woke up two full hours before breakfast even began being served and quickly dressed in his workout outfit. Every time he got dressed in the morning he briefly thought of Jessica since she had been the one to help him pick out his entire new wardrobe. It always brought a bit of a sad smile to his face. Harry made his way through the deserted corridors of the castle without running into a single person. He walked out of the Entrance Hall onto the grounds into a sunny, warm summer day.

He decided to take a jog around the lake for today. He wasn’t quite sure how it would measure up to the distances he had been running back in Little Whinging, but he figured it would do for today. As he set off on his jog, he found that he liked this setting much better than the suburban one he had been subjected to over the summer. A mist was rolling across the lake creating a beautiful effect. Birds were chirping in the trees. There were numerous trees and hedges and flowers and other growth along the path to give it an aesthetic appeal. He swung back around the other side of the lake and kept jogging and headed towards Hagrid’s hut to see if the half-giant was awake yet.

As he approached he noticed that a light was on inside the hut. He smiled to himself and jogged right up to the door. He raised a hand and knocked loudly three times. A loud barking started up inside, and Hagrid called out, “Down Fang. Now ‘oo’d be knockin’ at this ‘our?” The door banged open in front of him and the large form of Hagrid appeared with his hand around the color of his boarhound, Fang. “Harry. Good mornin’. Didn’ ‘spect tah see yeh this early.”

“I got used to waking up early over the summer. I went for a jog every morning, and I decided to continue that practice here. I just finished a turn around the lake when I noticed a light on in your hut, so I thought I’d come pay you a visit,” Harry explained.

“Migh’y nice of yeh, Harry. Good tah see yeh, as always. C’mon in and ‘ave a cuppa.”

“Thanks Hagrid.” Harry walked into the room and took a seat at the table. Fang bounded over as soon as he was let loose and stuck his face in Harry’s lap. Harry scratched the hound behind the ears as it slobbered all over his shorts. Hagrid set a large mug in front of him filled with tea and pushed some rock cakes onto the table. Harry gratefully took the cup of tea but avoided the rock cakes like the plague. He rather liked his teeth unchipped.

“So how was your summer, Hagrid?” Harry asked his friend as he sipped his tea.

“Oh i’ was alrigh’, s’pose. Did a li’l work fer the Order, bu’ I shouldn’ be talkin’ abou’ tha’”

“Of course,” Harry replied. “Got any fun lessons planned for us?” Harry asked curiously, mostly because he wanted to know what he was getting into before he found himself knee deep in it. Hagrid’s idea of a fun lesson usually involved creatures that could easily tear a human in two.

“I do, bu’ I can’ tell yeh abou’ that. It’d ruin the surprise,” Hagrid said with a hearty chuckle.

“Oh all right. And here I thought being friends with the teacher would get me an inside track on what was coming up next,” Harry mock pouted.

Hagrid just chuckled all the more at Harry’s lame attempt to get some sympathy. Harry sipped his tea some more then set the mug down. “Well, I ought to be going, Hagrid. I’ve got to finish up my workout routine, then get ready before breakfast. Thanks for the tea.”

“Yer welcome, Harry. C’mon stop by anytime, now, hear?”

“Thanks Hagrid,” Harry smiled over his shoulder as he walked out the door. He jogged up to the castle and through the hallways and up the staircases to the seventh floor. He stopped outside the portrait of Barnabus the Barmy and paced back and forth in front of it three times thinking of his need to workout as he walked.

A door appeared across from the portrait, so Harry quickly strode over and threw it open. A muggle workout room opened before his eyes. There were weights, medicine balls, benches, mats, and bars galore. It was much more than he would ever need and more than he was expecting. Over the summer he had done most of his workouts with his own body: pushups, sit-ups, chin-ups, jumping rope. Now he had all these weights and a few machines to help him out.

Not wasting any time, Harry set off to work. After a while he started to wonder what the time was, so a clock appeared on one of the walls. He saw that it was about the time he would normally be waking up to start the day, so he finished up his current routine and left for Gryffindor Tower. He strode through the common room and up the stairs to the sixth year boys’ dormitory. His dorm mates were just starting to stir. Harry headed into their bathroom and showered. He got ready for the day as his friends all groggily got out of bed and began getting ready.

Harry was all set before any of his friends, so he went down to the common room to wait. There were a few people sitting around when he got there, most notably was the red haired girl sitting on one of the couches in front of the fireplace. She looked like she was still half asleep, though she was completely dressed and ready to go down to breakfast. Harry snuck up behind the couch and vaulted himself over the top to plunk down on the cushion next to the redhead.

Ginny jumped with a start at the unexpected movement next to her. She glanced over and saw Harry grinning widely at her. “Don’t do that to me,” she said exasperatedly. “It’s too early in the morning for people to be sneaking up on me. I’m liable to just hex first and ask questions later.”

“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind,” Harry replied cheerfully.

“Why are you so chipper this morning?” she asked grumpily.

“I’ve been up for a couple hours already,” he told her. “I ran around the lake, had tea with Hagrid, and worked out in the room of requirement.”

Ginny glared at him for a minute. “I’m not a morning person,” she finally told him.

“I’m not usually one either,” Harry told her introspectively. “But I got into a routine over the summer, and running in the morning really helps to wake you up. It probably doesn’t hurt that I don’t have nightmares any more keeping me awake half the night and that my visions of Voldemort are few and far between.”

“You had nightmares? I mean besides the visions?” she asked, honest curiosity emblazoned across her face.

“Practically every night for a long time,” Harry deadpanned. “This summer started out especially terrible. But after a little while I managed to come to terms with things. I made peace with Sirius, and I adopted a new outlook on life. I started studying Occlumency on my own this summer too, and let me tell you, Snape didn’t teach me a thing. Imagine my surprise when I opened a book on the subject and found that there was so much more to it than “Clear your mind.” Anyway, I think that helped as well. It forced me to go through and sort all of my memories. I’m still not completely okay with everything, but it’s been enough to keep me going.”

“Wow,” she replied. “You really were busy this summer, weren’t you?”

“You have no idea,” he answered.

“Care to enlighten me?” she asked, perking up.

Harry smiled at her enthusiasm. “I can’t tell you everything, at least not yet. But it would be nice to have someone I can talk to, and you’re already onto some of my secrets,” he added with a wink. He glanced over at the staircases and found Ron coming down. “We’ll talk about that later though. There’s your brother, but where is Hermione?”

“Oh she’s probably already down in the Great Hall for breakfast making sure all the young’uns are eating a balanced meal to help them start the day.”

Harry chuckled “You know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Come on, let’s grab Ron and head down,” he said as he stood up and held out hand to help her up. She took it with a grateful smile, and they intercepted Ron who was halfway across the common room. “Come on Ron, let’s get some breakfast.”

Ron nodded and grumbled a bit but followed as Harry and Ginny walked out of the common room. When they arrived in the Great Hall, they found it half filled with students. Hermione, as expected, was already at the Gryffindor table, but she was not, at least at the moment, lecturing the First Years who were sitting at the end of the table closest to the exit.

“Morning Hermione,” Harry called as the trio approached the table.

Hermione looked up and smiled at her three friends. “Good morning Harry, Ron, Ginny. Grab some breakfast; you’ll want to get a good meal in before classes start.” Harry and Ginny shared a smile. “I wish Professor McGonagall would hand out the schedules already. I want to know what classes we’re starting with today.”

“Bloody hell, woman,” Ron groused. “You’re not supposed to be so cheerful about going to classes. It’s unnatural.”

“Watch your language, Ron,” Hermione admonished. “You’re a prefect; you should be setting a good example for all the younger students.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “Well at least there’s one thing I can be cheerful about: no more potions with Snape…ever again.” Ron smiled as he loaded up his plate.

“Professor Snape, Ron,” Hermione corrected automatically.

“Cheers to you, mate,” Harry replied glumly as he dumped some eggs onto his plate. “I wish I was that lucky.”

“You had your chance,” Ron reminded him in between bites, “but no, you just had to go and get an Outstanding on the OWL. I still don’t know how you managed it. You’re as bad at potions as I am.”

“Well the subject is a whole lot easier without Snape breathing down your neck and Slytherins sabotaging half your potions,” Harry retorted.

“Well Professor Snape can’t berate your potions abilities this year,” Hermione chimed in optimistically. “You got an O on your OWL fair and square. He’ll have to admit that you know what you’re doing.”

Harry put his fork down and looked incredulously at his friend. “Hermione,” Harry began as though he were talking to a small child, “what planet have you been on for the past five years? Do you think he cares how well I did or didn’t do on my exam? The man hates me. He’s hated me since before he even met me. Nothing will make him act civil with me. I guarantee you; this year will be no different than any others.”

Hermione made to interrupt when Ron piped up, mouth full of food “Don’ no’ wh’ ‘oo e’en trie’n ma’e. ‘S’no’ wor’t ‘n my book.”

Hermione’s attention shifted to Ron as she set down her fork and pushed her plate away in disgust. “That’s disgusting. I do wish you’d learn some manners, Ronald Weasley.”

Ron took a drink from his goblet and retorted, “And I wish you’d stop bossing me around so much. You act like you’re my mother or something.”

“Well someone’s got to keep you in line when she’s not around,” Hermione huffed haughtily. Their argument was interrupted by Professor McGonagall as she handed out class schedules to all the students. Hermione’s attention was diverted to the slip of paper in her hands. She could be seen muttering to herself, trying to memorize her new schedule as quickly as possible.

Harry looked down at his own schedule and commented, “Well it’s McGonagall to start with double Transfiguration. I’ve got a break before lunch, then Care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid afterwards. I tried to get him to tell me what we’d be studying this morning, but he wouldn’t give anything away.”

“You went to see Hagrid this morning?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah, I stopped by after my jog because I saw the light on in his hut,” Harry responded.

“You went for a jog this morning?” Ron asked looking at him incredulously.

“Yeah, I jog every morning, started over the summer.”

“Well how are we supposed to know these things when you don’t tell us anything any more?” Ron asked with a scathing undertone.

“Well I’ve got Transfiguration this morning,” Hermione interrupted, “then History right before lunch. I’ve got a break after that and…”

“You’re not taking Hagrid’s class?” Harry cut in disbelievingly.

Hermione at least had the decency to look sheepish. “Well, I don’t really need it for any of the career paths I’m considering.”

“But Hagrid’s your friend,” Harry blurted out. “I don’t need his class for anything, but I took it because he’s my friend, and I want to help him.”

“Well of course he’s my friend too,” Hermione soothed, “but my schedule was already full enough without adding a class where I won’t learn anything useful.”

Harry glared at his bushy haired friend when Ron spoke up, “I’ve got Hagrid with you, mate.”

Harry smiled at Ron, but he was still upset that Hermione would just leave Hagrid behind like that just because his class didn’t fit into her career path. He didn’t have time to dwell on the topic, though, because they only had fifteen minutes to run upstairs to grab their books before the bell rung. As they were walking back to the 7th floor, Harry turned to Ginny. “So what do you have first, Gin?”

She made a face at him and said, “Double potions.”

“Ouch,” Harry replied with a grimace. “Well at least you’ll be getting it out of the way first thing. You won’t have to worry about a double dose of Snape for the rest of the week.”

“I didn’t think of it like that,” Ginny smiled. “Your new glass is half full attitude is a remarkable improvement over the doom and gloom one you were sporting last year.”

“Umm…thanks?” Harry replied uncertainly.

She laughed at his answer and clipped him on the shoulder with her fist. “Seriously, Harry. It is good to see you in such good spirits. I’m glad you were able to find peace with…everything.”

Harry gave her a genuine smile as they approached the portrait hole. Hermione spoke up as they came up to the fat lady. “Gryffindor Quidditch rules.”

Harry laughed out loud at the choice of passwords. “Let me guess, Ron picked that one out.”

“Right in one,” Ginny told him. “Wait. If you didn’t know the password, how did you get into the common room last night?”

“You forget, Ms. Weasley,” Harry replied formally, “that you are speaking to a professor. I have access to all the common rooms, no password necessary.”

“Pardon me, Professor Potter,” Ginny mock apologized, giving him a slight curtsy. “How silly of me, just a mere school girl, to forget I am in the presence of a soon to be legendary Hogwarts professor.”

Harry glared at her but the effect was ruined when his lips twitched upwards into a grin. “Shove off, Weasley,” he told her, giving her a playful shove. He ran up the boys’ dormitory to escape retaliation. He heard her call after him.

“I’ll get you for that, Potter!”

Harry, Hermione, and Ron walked through the corridors together to the first class of term. Ginny had gone off with some of her dorm mates to the dungeons for her potions lesson. As they entered the classroom, Hermione immediately steered the other two towards seats in the front row. She sat in between the two boys at the first desk a little off to the side of the middle of the classroom.

The rest of the class soon arrived followed by the entrance of Professor McGonagall. “Good morning, class,” she greeted sternly. “You are all here because you demonstrated yourselves to be exceedingly gifted in the art of Transfiguration. I expect all of you to work hard in this class to keep up your grades. If at any time I feel that any of you are not up to the standards of the class, you may be asked to either seek tutoring or to leave the class. These next two years will be difficult, and I will make sure that each and every one of you who remain in this class will be prepared for your NEWT exams at the end of next year. Are there any questions?”

She looked around the room for a moment to make sure she wasn’t missing any raised hands. “No? Good, then we shall begin today’s lesson. Please open your books to page 23 and read over the theory for conjuring inanimate objects. When you have finished going over the theory, you may begin by trying to conjure a thimble. Most of you will find this spell extremely difficult, so do not become discouraged if you do not see immediate results.”

Harry opened up his book and skimmed through until he came to the section on wand movement and incantation. He read it over carefully and decided it sounded simple enough. He closed his book and slipped his wand out of his sleeve. Just as he was about to cast the spell, a voice interrupted him.

“What do you think you’re doing, Mr. Potter?” his stern Head of House demanded.

“I’m practicing the creo spell,” Harry explained.

“I highly doubt that you have finished reading over the theory in just five minutes,” she replied tersely.

“No, but I’ve already read through that. I just skimmed through to remind myself of all the details and of the proper wand movements. I think I’m ready to try the spell,” Harry responded confidently.

“I think it would be wise to do more than skim over the text, but if you insist that you are in fact ready, then we shall just have to find out for ourselves,” she reluctantly abated, looking at him expectantly.

By now the rest of the class had stopped reading their texts and were all watching the unfolding drama closely. Everyone in their year was used to Hermione being the first to try and succeed at each spell they worked on. To hear Harry Potter claim to have already read the theory behind the spell before class even started was unheard of. And to see him stand up to a teacher and make the bold claim that he was ready to perform the spell right away was all the more unexpected.

Harry took a moment to gather himself before setting his mind to the task at hand. He built up a small reservoir of magical energy within himself to prepare for the spell. He clutched his wand firmly in his hand before waving it in a clockwise circle before jabbing it forward slightly and muttering “Creo.” He felt the kickstart of magical energy in his right hand. He cultivated it and merged it with the buildup he had already created, adapting the preexisting magic to match the new magic. He released the magic and a light briefly flickered at the end of his wand. On the desktop that he was pointing at, a small thimble suddenly materialized.

He heard a gasp to his side, and he looked over to see Hermione holding a hand to her mouth in shock. Ron looked dumbfounded. The rest of the class still had their eyes glued on Harry, their gazes occasionally flickering to either the thimble on the desk or the astonished professor at his side.

“Extraordinary, Mr. Potter,” Professor McGonagall exclaimed.. “I didn’t expect anyone to manage a successful conjuration until next class at the earliest. Take 20 points for Gryffindor. Now can you do it again?”

“Thanks,” Harry replied as he vanished the thimble. He quickly duplicated his earlier results, another thimble appearing on his desktop. By the end of the class, Professor McGonagall had him conjuring thimbles of all different colors and eventually conjuring a plain glass. The rest of the class barely started the actual spellwork, and only Hermione was able to manage to conjure up anything resembling a thimble.

“Where did you learn to do that?” Hermione asked the minute the bell rang.

“I told you that I had nothing to do but study all summer,” Harry shrugged. “Listen, I have to ask Professor McGonagall about something, so I’ll meet you guys later, ok?”

“Alright Harry,” Hermione said looking upset that she hadn’t got to ask all of the questions she had wanted to.

After all the students had left, Harry approached the Professor’s desk. “Professor McGonagall?”

She looked up from her papers and regarded him closely. “Yes, Mr. Potter? How may I help you?”

“Professor Dumbledore said last night to ask you to show me where my office was. I was wondering if you would have time sometime today to point it out to me.”

“Certainly. I have a short break if you would like to go right now.”

“That would be great,” Harry replied, then added, “if it’s not too much trouble. If you’re busy or anything I can come back later.”

“Nonsense Harry,” she said with a thin smile. “It’s the first day of classes, and I’ve only had one class so far. It’s not like I have anything to grade yet.”

Harry returned her smile. “You called me Harry,” he commented.

“I suppose I did,” she thought out loud as she rose from her seat. “Well, you are a professor, after all. I suppose it couldn’t hurt to loosen the formality of our relationship outside the classroom.”

Harry was shocked at her candid behavior. “I don’t know what to say.” He paused a moment. “Thank you.”

“For what, Harry?” she asked as she led him out into the corridor.

“For not treating me like I’m just a little kid,” he replied frankly.

She glanced at him as they continued their trek up some staircases. “I don’t imagine you ever had much of a childhood, Harry. You have often displayed the maturity of one well above your years, but you have also fallen into the same downfalls that many others your age have succumbed to. As long as you continue to grow and act with maturity, I will treat you that way. But should you act like a child, I will treat you as one.”

“That sounds fair,” he stated honestly.

“Well, here we are,” she said gesturing toward a door on their right. They were in a corridor on the fifth floor. “The door will always open for you. You can set a password on it to open up when someone else uses that password, but I would advise you not to make a habit out of using this office to meet with your friends. We are giving it to you because you have extra responsibilities that the other students don’t have, and we thought you could use a space to yourself in order to help facilitate your extra role.”

“Yes ma’am. Thank you.”

“You’re quite welcome, Harry. And please, when we are in private, call me Minerva.”

“Yes ma’am, I mean Minerva. Merlin, and I thought it was going to be weird calling Remus by his first name.”

She actually chuckled lightly, “Well I imagine you’ll get used to it eventually. But I will still expect you to address me as Professor McGonagall in class and in front of other students, is that understood?”

“Perfectly,” he replied.

“Excellent,” she stated. “Well, I should be getting back to my classroom. You really did do an outstanding job in class today, Harry. I’ll expect this level of work from you from now on now that I know what you’re capable of.”

“You can count on it,” he said lightly.

“Indeed. Good day, Harry.”

“Good bye… Minerva.” That was definitely just weird. As she left him at the door, he finally opened it up all the way and took a good look at his office. There was a desk on his left-hand side facing the wall on his right with a high backed chair behind it. A small fireplace occupied the wall on his right. Two plush armchairs and a small sofa occupied the space between his desk and the fireplace. Two barren book shelves adorned the wall on the far side of the room. It was a cozy office. Nothing grand, but it would be enough to suit his needs.

He sat in his chair behind the desk to get a feel for it. It was comfortable but kept him sitting upright. He would not be able to slouch in it for it was too rigid, making it ideal for getting work done. Harry moved from the desk to one of the armchairs in front of the now empty fireplace. These chairs, he found, were extremely comfortable. He stood and gave the sofa a sit. The cushions almost seemed to mold themselves to him, they were so comfortable. He reclined and waved a hand to summon his bag to himself. He pulled out the book on wards that he had started the previous day and spent the rest of the time before lunch reading.

Harry met his friends for lunch. Afterwards, he and Ron walked out onto the castle grounds and down to Hagrid’s hut for their Care of Magical Creatures class. They only reviewed animals they had covered in the past, so the lesson didn’t contain any excitement or near death experiences. Unsurprisingly, the class was relieved at the boring lesson. When the lesson was over, Ron and Harry walked back up to the castle together.

“Tell me why I’m still taking Divination again,” Ron grumbled.

“Because your mum made you take 6 classes and Divination is much easier than History, especially since you’ve become so gifted at predicting your own death. Just think, now that I’m not in the class, you can predict my death as well. She’ll probably give you extra credit,” Harry joked.

Ron smiled. “You’re right. Trelawney loves talking about your death. This will be so easy.”

“Well I’m glad I could help. Have fun in class,” he called out cheerfully.

“Prat.”

“Git.”

Harry watched as Ron walked toward the North Tower. Harry went up several flights of stairs to the Room of Requirement. He walked back and forth in front of Barnabas the Barmy thinking of a room where he could train and practice dueling. When he opened up the door, he found himself in a large room. There were some bookshelves lining parts of the walls, and set to one side of the room were several dummies. Before going any further, Harry turned around and locked the door, following it up with the best privacy and imperturbable charms he knew. He preferred that his training sessions remain private.

Curious, Harry went over to the dummies and took a good luck at them. He wondered what they were for. As if in answer to his unasked question, and in fact it probably was, a small booklet appeared on a nearby table. Harry walked over and read the title “Training Dummies Instruction Manual.” He browsed through it for a couple of minutes then shut the book and grinned widely. This was more than he had hoped for. It would be perfect.

The training dummies could be activated to move around and cast spells at you. You could limit the spells which they would cast by demonstrating which spells you wanted them to use. You could also set a difficulty level on each of them ranging from novice to dueling master. He activated two of the dummies to start with and demonstrated the stinging hex to them. He set them both to the level of a Hogwarts graduate thinking that would be a fair starting point for this activity.

With everything set up to his satisfaction, he called out, “Training dummies begin.” He immediately set in motion. He wasn’t actually casting spells back at his opponents. This exercise was meant to increase his reflexes and reaction speed. He was simply dodging spells shot at him from his two opponents.

He found that as long as he could keep a fair amount of distance between himself and his opponents, dodging was fairly easy. But with two opponents, it was easy for them to close in on him, making things extra difficult for Harry. He was pleased to see that the dummies seemed to be able to work together somewhat cohesively to try to trap him. He was hit numerous times throughout the training, but towards the end he was getting the hang of it. In the last few minutes, despite his fatigue, he didn’t get hit once.

He stopped his training with an hour to spare before dinner began. Rather than head back to the dormitory to wash up and get changed, Harry merely thought about his need for a shower room. Lo and behold a moment later he was walking through a new doorway leading to some showers. He stripped down and entered. After he finished cleaning himself off, he waved his hand over his clothes to clean them.

With a half hour left until dinner was served, Harry headed over to Gryffindor Tower to see what his friends were up to. He entered the common room to find Ron and Neville playing a game of chess at one of the tables. Ron was winning as usual, but Neville wasn’t doing half bad. He looked like he was giving Ron a lot more trouble than Harry usually did anyway. Harry greeted the two but did not sit with them. He instead chose an open sofa in front of the fireplace, which had a fire in it that strangely enough didn’t seem to be giving off very much heat. He took the book on wards he had been reading back out of his bag and continued where he had left off.

Several pages into his reading, Harry felt the sofa cushion shift as a weight was added onto it. He looked over to see Ginny smiling at him. “Whatcha reading, Harry?” she asked brightly.

Harry held up the book so that she could read the cover. “Wards?” she asked simply, cocking an eyebrow at him.

“Uh huh,” was his succinct reply.

“Care to explain why you’re reading about wards?” she prodded.

“I find them interesting. It’s actually kind of surprising that they don’t teach us at all about them here at Hogwarts. It would be extremely useful even just to know the most basic ones for life after Hogwarts,” Harry explained.

“And since when have you taken such an interest in them? And in reading in general?” she returned.

“Since the summer,” Harry supplied concisely.

“Speaking of the summer,” Ginny steered, “when do I get to talk to you about some other interesting events that happened this summer that I have questions about?”

Harry looked around the room to make sure no one was listening in. “Not here, Gin. I promise you that we’ll talk soon, but please don’t bring anything like that up in public. No one, and I mean no one, has any idea about that, and I would very much like to keep it that way,” he whispered fervently.

Ginny adopted a contrite look. “Okay, Harry. I won’t bring it up any more, but can we talk soon, please?”

“What are you doing tonight?” he asked her.

“I’ve got nothing planned,” she responded.

“After dinner I’ll go to my office,” he explained. “It’s on the fifth floor in the corridor with the statue of Gregory the Smarmy where your brothers set off their swamp last year. You’ll need a password to get in. I’ll set it to…oh, I don’t know, ‘Mars Bars.’” Just say that at the door, and it should let you in. Be discrete about it though; make something up to tell your friends. I don’t want any one to even know that we’re meeting. I can’t have any of this getting out, ok?”

“Alright, Harry. No one will have any clue about it, I promise.”

Harry smiled at her as he inwardly laughed at his own choice of passwords. He couldn’t think of anything to name it, so he just went with his Headmaster’s method and chose his favorite candy bar. “Thanks. Now let’s grab your brother and Neville and head down to dinner. Any idea where Hermione is?”

“Let’s see,” Ginny thought out loud. “If I was Hermione where would I be on the first day of term? There’s a no-brainer: the library.”

Harry chuckled, knowing that she was probably right. He walked over to Ron and Neville. “We’re heading down for dinner if you’re interested.”

Ron glanced up from the board and muttered, “Just gotta finish this game. We’ll meet you down there.” Neville didn’t look like he particularly agreed with Ron, but he didn’t speak up.

Harry shrugged and looked over at Ginny. “Shall we, Ms. Weasley?”

“Indeed, Professor Potter.”

The two walked out of the portrait hole and down to the library on the fourth floor. Hermione was occupying a table in the middle of the room with several open books strewn across it. As they approached Ginny commented, “You look like you’re already well into your NEWT studying. What gives?”

Hermione looked up exasperatedly and shrugged saying, “Nothing. I just want to make sure I don’t fall behind, that’s all.” She bent back down over the book directly in front of her and began devouring the text yet again.

Harry and Ginny shared a look over her head. Ginny shot him a questioning look, so Harry shook his head indicating that he didn’t have any idea what was up with their friend. Ginny looked at him pointedly then glanced at Hermione, so he took his cue to speak up. “Well why don’t you come down to dinner with us, Hermione? The books will still be here when you get back.”

Hermione looked up from her book yet again with an air of impatience. “I just want to finish this passage. How about I meet you guys down there?” Her face was back in the book before she even finished her sentence.

Another look passed between the two friends standing over Hermione, and they nodded to each other. Each one took a seat as Ginny said, “That’s alright, Hermione. We’re not in any rush, so we’ll wait for you.”

A sigh escaped from the bushy haired bookworm, but she didn’t argue. After another minute she put the book down and glanced around. “I’ll have to put all these books back before we leave or Madam Pince will have my head.”

“I can help,” Harry offered already moving to start collecting the various books. He noticed a trend as he picked up each one. They all had to do with Transfiguration or, more specifically, conjuring. Harry made a mental note of it but chose not to comment on the subject matter. After a couple minutes everything was in order and the trio headed down to the Great Hall.

When they arrived they found that Ron and Neville had beaten them down there. “What took you so long?” Ron asked bluntly.

“We had to drag Hermione away from the library,” Ginny explained.

“Library!?” Ron asked as if the very word offended him heinously. “What are you doing in the library on the first day of classes?”

“Unlike some people, Ronald,” Hermione intoned brazenly, “I do not wait until the last minute to do my work. We’re starting NEWT classes now, and if you don’t work ahead you’ll quickly fall behind.”

Not wanting the situation to escalate, Harry quickly changed the subject. “So how did your chess game end?”

Ron’s facial countenance shifted as he remembered the chess match he just won. “Well Neville put up a good fight, but I managed to trap his king with a knight and a bishop.”

“Well Neville, if it makes you feel any better I don’t think I’ve ever taken as many of Ron’s pieces as you had when we left,” Harry remarked.

“Thanks, Harry,” Neville said with a small smile. “I don’t know why we even bother playing him anymore.”

“To boost poor Ronnikin’s fragile self esteem,” Ginny supplied. Ron turned red but didn’t comment; instead, he just shoveled more food into his mouth.

The rest of the meal was passed with idle chatter. When everyone was finished eating the group stood up. “Well I’m going back to the library,” Hermione said as she scooped up her bag and hurried out of the hall.

Ron rolled his eyes as he watched her retreat. He turned to Harry. “Fancy a game of chess, mate?”

Harry laughed and shook his head. “Maybe later, Ron. Right now I need to set up my office and start working out some things for my class.” Harry left his friends and headed up to his office on the fifth floor. He didn’t know how long it would be until Ginny arrived, so after setting the password, he pulled out his book on wards and plopped down on the sofa in front of the fireplace.

About half an hour later, there was a soft knock on the door which opened as a female voice said “Mars Bars.” Harry looked up to see the fair skinned, red haired Ginny walk into his office hesitantly. She took an appraising glance around the office before claiming one of the armchairs opposite Harry. “Nice place you got here.”

“Thanks,” he said then jokingly added, “Go on, no need for formalities, make yourself at home.” She mock swatted at him from her chair but wasn’t nearly close enough to make contact. Harry waved his hand towards the door which shut and locked. He added some privacy wards he had read about to the room to ensure that none of their conversation would escape. He sighed as he asked, “So what do you want to know?”

“It was you, wasn’t it?” she deadpanned. She looked at Harry expectantly, waiting for him to confirm what she already knew in her heart to be true. He gazed intently into her eyes before nodding.

“Yeah,” he whispered with his eyes downcast. “It was me.”

He didn’t notice as Ginny rose from her chair and walked over to him, so intent was his introspection; therefore, he was surprised when she all of a sudden had her arms wrapped around his neck from beside him on the sofa. “Thank you,” she whispered into his ear. As she released her arms from around him, she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his cheek. Blushing slightly, she stood and slowly walked back to her seat. Harry’s own blush diminished by the time she turned back towards him. “I wanted to thank you that day, but you were gone before I could,” she explained. “You saved my life, and I had no idea who you were.”

“I had to get back to make sure everyone else was ok,” he said.

“It’s not your responsibility to ensure our safety, Harry.” He was moving to argue, but she hurriedly continued. “Regardless, I’m glad you were there. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be here right now.” She sighed before adding, “That’s the second time you’ve saved my life.”

“But it was my fault you were even in danger to begin with,” Harry burst out. “If I hadn’t been friends with Ron, Malfoy might not have given you the diary. And you and Ron were targeted this summer to get to me.”

“You don’t know that…” Ginny started to say.

“I do know it!” Harry raised his voice. “I was there; I heard him say it. You and Ron were to be taken alive back to him to lure me out.”

“You?” Ginny whispered introspectively. Suddenly she gasped and exclaimed, “You had a vision.” It was a statement, not a question. Harry nodded his head and kept his gaze locked onto the ground. “Oh Harry,” she gasped as she flung herself onto her knees in front of the sofa and took his face into her hands. “Look at me,” she ordered. He reluctantly obeyed. She noticed that his eyes sparkled with unshed tears, and her heart went out to him. “Listen to me. It was not your fault. We’ve all chosen our sides, and we have chosen to stand by you, through the good and the bad. That’s what families do; they stick together no matter what. And you’re as much a part of the family as any of us and more so than Percy.”

Harry shook his head fervently, or as much as he could with her hands still holding his cheeks. “Percy’s your brother,” he choked out. “He’s your family, your blood, not me.”

“Family is a lot more than blood, Harry, as you well know,” she lectured. “The Dursleys are your blood, but they’re not family. Percy may be our blood relative, but he abandoned his family, he lost the right. You, on the other hand, continue to put us in front of your own well being. I mean honestly, coming to Diagon Alley yourself? Why didn’t you just tell Dumbledore and let him handle it?”

“I did tell Dumbledore,” he explained. “When I had the vision I didn’t know they were talking about you. They didn’t actually say your names. Ron sent a letter with Pig to me the night before, and they intercepted the owl, but they let it deliver the letter so we wouldn’t know where they got their information. I sent Hedwig out first thing in the morning, but she came back a little later carrying Pig. When I read the letter, I put two and two together and knew that it was you he was after.

“There was no time to spare, so I apparated to Hogsmeade with Hedwig and sent her to the Headmaster with my letter. Then I went to Diagon Alley and found you guys. A minute after I arrived, the Death Eaters came. I threw up a shield for you to block their initial barrage of spells, but they also shot at the building. Then I was busy taking out Death Eaters and wasn’t able to get a clean shot at the one that snuck up on you. When I saw you being dragged off, I just reacted. Next thing I know I’m running after you. Then I just stunned the two Death Eaters there and took you home. By the time I got back, Dumbledore had arrived and was rounding up the Death Eaters, so I went back to the Dursleys.”

“Thank you, Harry. I owe you my life, again,” she said openly.

“No,” Harry retorted. “You don’t owe me anything.”

“That’s not for you to decide.”

“I don’t want you to feel like you owe me anything,” Harry snapped. “The last thing I need on my conscience is for you to jump in front of a curse for me or something stupid like that.”

“There are other ways to repay a debt,” she said passionately. Harry quirked an eyebrow at her. She took this as a good sign and continued. “You said that you’ve been keeping a lot of things to yourself, a lot of secrets, lately. Well, when things get to be too much or when you need someone to talk to who won’t judge you or push you to give more than you’re ready or willing to give, you come to me. I’ll listen, give advice when you need it, and I won’t ever push you for more or ever tell a soul what you’ve told me.”

There was silence for a couple minutes. Ginny finally released Harry’s face, but she remained on her knees in front of him, studying him carefully. He avoided her gaze for a moment, but then locked onto her eyes searchingly. He saw nothing but concern and honesty in the brown depths. She meant every word that she said. The only question was whether or not that was something he needed or even wanted.

As the silence continued, Ginny began to grow nervous under his scrutiny. She bit her lip gently but held his gaze ardently. After another minute he shifted his gaze to the fireplace which was still empty. He raised a hand, and a small fire sprung up from nowhere. Ginny took the moment to rise from the ground and took the seat next to Harry on the sofa.

As he stared into the crackling flames he started talking. “I found out how the ministry tracks underage magic. It’s through our wands. Each one has its own signature that they have on file along with the owner of the wand. That’s why no one ever gets in trouble for accidental magic because it’s done without the wand. Last summer, when the dementors attacked Dudley and me, I cast a wandless lumos spell because I had dropped my wand when my cousin punched me. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I later learned that most adult wizards would have trouble casting such a simple spell wandlessly. So I started practicing over the summer.

”It took some time to really get the hang of it, but once I did, it was easy. I never really noticed the feeling of my magic before. When you cast spells with a wand, it’s so impersonal. You don’t really feel the magic because the wand is focusing it for you. When you take away the wand, all that’s left is yourself. You can actually feel the magic coursing through you. It’s an amazing feeling. So anyway, I learned to do magic without a wand, which meant I could do magic over the summer without the ministry finding out.

“Those potions ingredients I asked you for at the start of summer were for the animagus potion. It knocks you out and gives you a vision of your animagus form. That’s where the black panther came in.”

“But Harry,” Ginny interrupted, “it takes people years to become animagi. How did you manage it in such a short amount of time? And without any instruction at that.”

“I had talked to Sirius about becoming an animagus, and he told me everything I needed to know. It turned out that the hardest part of the process was learning to control your magic in such a way that you could manage to transform without a wand. Since I was already practicing wandless magic at the time, it didn’t take me long to fully transform.

“So that’s how I was able to do so much this summer. I made a couple trips to Diagon Alley, got a lot of books to keep me occupied, and bought a few things for myself. Remus knows I’ve been practicing to become an animagus, but he doesn’t know I’ve made the full transformation yet, and he thinks I started the process last Christmas. He’s the only other person who even knows about it. And that’s all he knows. You’re the only one who knows about my wandless abilities.”

“Thank you for telling me,” she said solemnly. “I know that you don’t trust people easily, so it means a lot that you would confide in me. I do have a question though. How did you learn how to apparate? I mean, you couldn’t have gone to Diagon Alley if you hadn’t already known how to apparate, so it’s not like you could have bought a book to help you. So when and how did you learn?”

A panicked expression briefly crossed Harry’s face at the question, so Ginny hurriedly amended herself. “You don’t have to tell me if you’re not ready to, Harry. I won’t ever push you for more than you’re willing to share. I meant that promise I made to you. I was just curious about it. But don’t tell me anything you don’t want me to know.” She smiled as Harry visibly relaxed.

“Thanks,” he said simply. He finally shifted his gaze from the fire and looked into Ginny’s face. “It is kind of nice to have someone to share some of this with. Sometimes it feels like I have the entire weight of the world on my shoulders.”

“I’m happy I can help, Harry,” she told him earnestly. “Just remember that you don’t always have to shoulder those burdens alone. There are a lot of people who care about you and would gladly help.” She reached out and touched his arm as she finished.

“I know,” he said softly. “There are just some things that I need to do on my own.” If nothing else, the prophecy made sure of that. But even without the prophecy, he would never willingly put any of his friends in danger.

“Just because you need to do them on your own, doesn’t mean you have to do them alone,” Ginny commented wisely. “If nothing else you can count on me to be here for you whenever you need me for as long as you need me.” She gave his arm a squeeze before drawing back.

Harry smiled a sad smile and stood up. “Thanks, Gin,” he said as he held a hand out to her. She took the proffered hand and was hoisted to her feet. “Come on. I think that’s enough for tonight. Let’s head back up to the common room before people start to wonder where we are.”

“Ok Harry,” she said. A mischievous glint appeared in her eyes as she asked “Am I allowed to walk down the hall with you? Or might that tip people off about our secret meeting?”

“Oh don’t be silly,” Harry replied with a straight face. “If anybody asks we can just say we were snogging in a broom cupboard.” He held the door open for her, his countenance never faltering.

She stared at him with her mouth hanging open for a second before regaining her composure. “In your dreams, Potter,” she retorted playfully.

“I wish. I’d kill for dreams like that.” Harry responded flirtatiously, throwing in a wink for good measure.

“I don’t know what to do with this new side of you. I mean, Harry Potter flirting shamelessly… what is the world coming to?”

Harry playfully pushed her in the shoulder, sending a cheeky grin her way. She returned the attack by dropping a shoulder into his side. They good-naturedly bantered back and forth all the way to the common room.

******

That night Ginny had a lot to think about as she lay in bed staring at the canopy. She had decided to call it an early night to collect her thoughts, so she was alone in the dormitory with Em cuddled up to her side, purring contentedly as Ginny stroked her black fur. A lot had happened the past couple of days. First there was Harry. Well it was really all about Harry, she amended herself. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing when he first walked over to them on the platform at King’s Cross. That was definitely not the Harry Potter that she had last seen a couple months earlier.

For one thing, he was wearing clothes that actually fit him, muggle clothes that fit him. He always had wizarding clothes that fit, but his muggle clothes were always ridiculously large and baggy. The difference was astounding. But it was more of what the fitting clothes were showing off that really made the difference. This was not the scrawny boy that had first captured her heart four years earlier. This was Harry Potter, man, with muscles and all. And his hair… He had always had adorable hair that would never lie flat on his head. It was boyish and added to that innocent boy-next-door image he had. That image was long gone. The dark locks of hair framed his face, and for once he wasn’t desperately trying to hide the scar on his forehead. His hair reached to about his shoulders, and it added to his new look wonderfully.

She just couldn’t help the reaction that he had on her. Her heart skipped a beat, and her jaw dropped to the ground. If not for the scar on his forehead and his brilliant green eyes, she might not have recognized him. She looked into his eyes expecting to find sadness and emptiness in the emerald depths; instead she saw a mischievous glint there as he signaled for her to keep quiet. Definitely not the boy they had left a couple months back. That boy was depressed and moody and looked as if he was in the company of dementors. This man, Harry Potter, was full of life. The way he approached them and completely caught both Ron and Hermione off guard was priceless. She had told him she didn’t think she’d laughed that hard all summer, but in reality, she wasn’t sure she had ever laughed that hard. And with brothers like Fred and George around, that was saying something.

She hadn’t been sure what to expect of him, really. They had been writing back and forth to each other all summer, of course. But they had never really spoken much in person. And she wasn’t sure how he’d really be in person. He always sounded like he was doing well in his letters, but it’s a lot easier to pass yourself off as fine in a letter than it is in person. Her fears appeared to be ungrounded as he seemed even better than normal.

When Ron and Hermione had finally come back to their senses and greeted him properly, she had paused, unsure of how to greet him. After all their letters she felt like she was being reunited with an old friend, but he wasn’t really an old friend. The only time he’d ever hugged her was in the Chamber at the end of her first year. She wasn’t sure if she should hug him or just say hi or shake his hand or what. But he had solved that for her.

When she threw his arms around his neck and took a breath of air as he held her close, she had gotten a flash of déjà vu, as though she had been in this position before. It was a feeling of familiarity. She shook off that feeling though. It was silly, really, to think that she had recently been in his arms. She hadn’t seen him in months, and she hadn’t gotten a hug from him in years.

When they finally got moving, he had offered to take her trunk. She felt bad for him as she accepted his help. The trunk was really heavy. She really didn’t want to have to lug it around, and he was most definitely stronger than she was, so she didn’t feel too bad about it. But he hadn’t struggled with the trunk at all. And he had even managed to get it into the overhead compartment on his own. Last year Fred and George had teamed up to accomplish that feat. She was impressed, to say the least.

When they finally sat down in the compartment they had quickly fallen into conversation. She began to tell her story of Diagon Alley. As she started to tell him about her savior, something in her mind seemed to click. All of a sudden that feeling of déjà vu made sense to her. Harry was her savior. She didn’t know how, but she was sure of it. He was the same height, same build, same hair except for the color. Different eye color, but the panther’s eyes had been green and not just any green, but his green. Em’s eyes were similar to Harry’s, but as she thought back to the panther, she could tell that those weren’t just like Harry’s; they matched Harry’s exactly. That couldn’t be a coincidence. He had probably just found a way to change his hair color and eye color. She wanted to kill Neville and Luna when they barged in and ended that conversation. She was sure that it had been Harry, but she wanted needed to hear it from him. She wouldn’t be getting any answers until she got Harry alone, and she didn’t know when she’d be able to manage that.

She had thought a lot about her mysterious savior in the few weeks it had been since the attack in Diagon Alley. A perfectly natural thing to wonder about, she would tell herself. He was quite handsome and strong, and he had saved her life. When he had held her in his arms, a feeling of safety had washed over her. It wasn’t just a physical safety, but more the feeling of safety that only a loved one in whom you had placed absolute trust could invoke. There were only three people who had ever made her feel like that before: her dad, her oldest brother Bill, and Harry.

She had felt invariably drawn to this mystery man and had not known what to make of it at the time. A part of her was glad that she felt a real spark for someone besides Harry. Even though she had dated Michael Corner last year, she had never felt herself drawn to him like she always had Harry. He was the first boy to show an interest in her as a woman, but she had never really felt strongly for him, and even when she was with him, Harry was never far from her thoughts.

It always made her wonder about her true feelings for Harry. Did she love him? Was it really possible to know that when she barely even knew him? She could never really tell why she felt the way she did about Harry. Sure she could give quite a list of his more redeeming qualities, but it didn’t really explain the pull that she felt. She had been attracted to him the first time she laid eyes on him, the scrawny 11 year old at King’s Cross station who didn’t know how to get to platform 9 ¾. It was his eyes that did it. When she looked into his eyes, everything else had melted away.

When she felt that same pull toward this stranger, it had definitely given her some food for thought. It was like a breath of fresh air for her. She loved Harry dearly, in one way or another, but she had become sick of pining over him over the years. Yet she could never really shake her feelings for him no matter how hard she tried. To finally feel that same attraction for another man had given her hope that even if things never worked out with Harry, she could still be happy.

Then that boy had to go and muck it all up again. Of course she felt a pull to this stranger because he wasn’t a stranger at all. He was Harry. She must have somehow known it was him on a subconscious level. How she knew this was beyond her, but it was the only explanation she could come up with.

The rest of the train ride went quickly enough. She noticed that Harry didn’t talk much about his summer, but she was hardly surprised about that, given her suspicions plus what she knew of his muggle relatives. The only real excitement had come in the form of Draco Malfoy’s visit. She had been all set to jump in and remind him of what her bat-bogey hex felt like when Harry had help up his hand to stop them all from rising to his aid. When Malfoy’s curse backfired on him, she was sure that he hadn’t used his wand, and her suspicions were quickly becoming confirmed. She didn’t buy his explanation about the disappearing wand and holster for one second. He hadn’t used a wand at all.

As if Harry’s change in appearance and apparent wandless abilities, not to mention the fact that he had saved her life, again, weren’t all enough, there was the shock of the announcement that Harry was an assistant professor. It was funny, really, that Harry would accept the position, knowing it would put him in the spot light. He always tried to shy away and keep a low key, but everything he did and everyone around him just seemed to thrust him right back into the center of attention. So she wasn’t surprised later that night when he started complaining that this was just going to set him apart from everyone else, one more thing to make him different, to draw attention to him. Of course she didn’t hesitate to put him in his place for whining like that. The position also had its advantages, as he well knew, or he wouldn’t have taken it in the first place.

Her thoughts drifted over to Ron and Hermione and their relationship with Harry. They were good friends, of course. But they were demanding and tended not to look at things from Harry’s point of view. They seemed to think that Harry owed them something, that he was expected to share every detail of his life with them right away. And they seemed to bring about the worst in him at times, making him see the bad side of things. Other than being slightly embarrassed, he had seemed fine with his new position in the school until Ron and Hermione had started grilling him.

Those two had proved incapable of dealing with a moody Harry the year before. They just didn’t seem to know when to back off or when to confront him. When he needed space, they would force the issue. And when he needed to be put in his place, they would tiptoe around him and pretend like nothing was wrong. When it came to getting information out of him, they pushed as hard as they could, but in helping him deal with everything, they shied away, letting him shoulder his own burdens.

They would always be there for him when he was in a tight spot, but they didn’t seem willing to lay down their own needs every once in awhile to help with his needs. It was sad, really, considering Harry’s natural tendency to put everyone else in front of himself. He would give you the shirt off his own back if you needed it, but no one seemed to be willing to do the same for him. Granted he would never ask for help, but that didn’t mean he didn’t ever need it. And shouldn’t his best friends be able to see that?

She could unmistakably see that there was some tension between the trio. There was, of course, the ever present friction between Ron and Hermione. But this was more than that. Hermione had obviously been upset that Harry hadn’t been talking to her about Sirius. Not that Ginny could really blame him after hearing about that birthday gift she had sent him. Only Hermione would send someone an instructional book to help them through their grief.

The thing that annoyed Ginny most was the fact that despite the fact that Harry seemed okay with everything, Hermione seemed to be determined to drag him into depression so that she could pull him out of it. Harry had freely admitted to her that he had been utterly depressed, but he adopted a new outlook on life that helped him work through it. He had been meeting with Remus during the summer, which must have helped him through things. So why was Hermione so upset that he hadn’t been talking to her? Shouldn’t she just be happy that her friend seemed to be doing okay?

Ginny wasn’t sure what it was that was causing Hermione to push the issue. Did she want to be the one to help him? Or was it just her need to know everything about everything that was driving her? Hermione was a brilliant witch by any standards, but what she had in intelligence she often lacked in social skills. It was not that she was socially inept. Hermione was very good at reading people and interpreting their actions, but she often let her intellectual pursuits override everything else. She was like a reporter in that respect. When she smelled a story, she wouldn’t stop digging until she had all the details, regardless of who might get hurt in the process. Ginny decided that she would keep an eye out on it. She wouldn’t let Hermione drag Harry down into the dumps if she could help it.

Then there had been their conversation that night. All her suspicions had been confirmed. Harry had saved her life at Diagon Alley. He was an animagus, a panther, and he was rather proficient with wandless magic. Even though she had been expecting all of that, it still shocked her deep down. How could she not be shocked? It’s not every day you meet a man capable of casting wandless spells with ease, who learned to be an animagus and to apparate in the span of one summer.

In his office, she had seen the Harry that she really knew, the one with the weight of the world on his shoulders. She wondered how much of the Harry that he presented to the world was real and how much was just a mask. He seemed to be okay. She was usually pretty good at reading people, and she didn’t think that his new happy, somewhat carefree attitude was fake; it was just another part of him to go along with the tortured soul. Even without the new attitude he wasn’t as moody as he had been the year before, but she could clearly see that he had quite a load on his shoulders. But she could also see how determined he was to bear it. It was in his eyes. All she had to do was look into those emerald orbs, and she knew that he could take on the whole world if need be. And he probably would too.

She knew he had barely told her anything. That was plain for anyone to see, especially by the panicked look on his face when she had asked how he learned to apparate. She knew exactly why he looked panicked at the question too. He had expected her to push and push for answers and force it out of him. She knew why he expected this too: Ron and Hermione. Well, mostly Hermione, if she was completely honest. Hermione had said it all at the feast the day before: “I’m not going to drop this, Harry. I will find out what you’re hiding from us.” Yep, that would do it.

She hoped that he would come to trust her with more and more of his secrets as time went by, but she wouldn’t force him to. That’s not what he needed right now. He just needed support, someone in his corner to let him know that he’s doing alright and to encourage him to keep going, someone who didn’t expect anything in return. Most people had that in their families, but Harry didn’t. He needed that quiet support from somewhere, and since none of his other friends seemed to be willing to put him in front of themselves, she’d have to be the one to do it. Not that she minded, really.

According to Harry she already knew more than anyone else. She found it hard to believe that he would hide all of his abilities even from Dumbledore and Remus, but she knew it wasn’t her place to question him. She was sure he had his own reasons for doing so. Maybe he’d tell her one day, maybe he wouldn’t. He really was a complicated guy, but that really just meant he was all the more interesting. She could tell that he had done a lot of maturing over the last year and especially over the summer. She decided one thing was certain as the drowsiness started to settle in on her: this was going to be one interesting year.

******

The next day Harry and company had DADA first thing in the morning. They were all eager to find out what their new professor was like. Having had some rather interesting experiences with DADA professors in the past, they were weary and didn’t know what to expect of this mysterious man. So they were rather surprised when he seemed perfectly normal…almost too normal.

The class had consisted of some theory followed by practical application, much like one of Professor McGonagall’s or Flitwick’s classes would be like. He had not seemed overly strict like the Gryffindor Head of House, but he hadn’t been as excitable as Flitwick either. He wasn’t surly like Snape, nor was he flakey like Trelawney. He didn’t really have any defining characteristics that stuck out to Harry from the one class. His friends agreed with this assessment, but they were not especially comforted by his normalcy; instead, they found themselves skeptical. Normal could easily mean that he had some big secret that he was trying desperately to keep quiet. It would be just their luck.

Ron separated from Harry and Hermione as they headed down to the dungeons. Ron had not pulled off the O he needed on his Potion OWL to get into Snape’s class, not that he seemed terribly bothered by it. Sure he had been thinking of becoming an auror after Hogwarts, but he couldn’t complain at the lack of classes with Snape. Harry was outwardly frowning at the prospect of two more years of Snape, but he gained some satisfaction from the fact that he was doing it for more than the Potions NEWT. If only Snape knew he would be playing right into Harry’s hands by continually taunting and berating him. It made Harry want to laugh, but he reined that emotion in. He needed to remain stoic and aloof for this to work.

As they approached the door to the classroom, they found a queue of students already waiting around. On one side of the hallway were Susan Bones and Hannah Abbott of Hufflepuff and Terry Boot, Lisa Turpin, and Padma Patil of Ravenclaw. On the other side stood the Slytherins: Draco Malfoy, ever present bodyguards absent, Pansy Parkinson, disgustingly fawning over Malfoy, Theodore Nott, Daphne Greengrass, Blaise Zabini, and Tracey Davis. It figured that the Slytherins would be the most heavily represented group. Snape was the only professor who obviously favored students in his own house.

As Harry and Hermione strode over to the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, Draco Malfoy stepped away from the wall, sneer in place. “Well, well,” he drawled, “it appears fame is everything. What did you have to do to get into this class Potter? Sign a few autographs to the right people?”

“Nah, just aced my owl,” Harry replied in a cheerful tone. He turned back to his friends only to be interrupted by the blonde haired Slytherin again.

“Not wise, Potter, turning your back on an enemy,” the boy cautioned.

Harry laughed heartily as he turned to face Draco. “Enemy?” he choked between peals of laughter. “Voldemort is an enemy, Malfoy. You’re just an annoyance: a fly buzzing around my head. Just be careful you don’t get squashed.” He turned back to his friends who were all laughing now.

Harry had already cast a shield on his back, but it proved to be unnecessary. Snape strolled down the corridor effectively halting Malfoy from doing whatever it was he had planned on doing. And Harry was sure that Malfoy had been planning something. The Potions Master didn’t say a word as he threw open the doors to the classroom and swept inside, black robes billowing behind him. The class followed in reluctantly after him. The Slytherins upset at Harry’s words and their inability to gain retribution while the rest were upset at the mere prospect of having a class with Snape.

“You know you really shouldn’t egg him on like that,” Hermione warned in his ear as they shuffled to one of the desks. “He may be just a spoiled little brat, but you don’t know what he might be capable of.”

“Relax, Hermione,” Harry reassured his friend. “Malfoy’s bark is much worse than his bite. If he somehow managed to catch me off guard, he doesn’t have the ability to do any lasting harm.”

Hermione didn’t seem pleased by his answer, but Harry was saved from further lecture by Snape’s icy voice. “Most of you are here because you have proved to be exceptional in the subtle art of potion making,” he began. “Others here have never shown such an aptitude,” his gaze locked onto Harry, “and I find myself wondering how you managed to make it into this class.” He paused dramatically, as if waiting for Harry to answer the question that was so obviously directed at him.

After a moment he continued. “Nevertheless, those who managed to get into this class by any means other than skill will soon find themselves out the door as I will not tolerate incompetence in this class. If you are unable to keep up with the workload, I will not hesitate to drop you from the class.”

“Now, the instructions are on the board.” They appeared as he waved his wand behind him. “I expect you all to work alone and in silence.” He turned and swept through the door leading to his office. The students all set in motion, setting up their cauldrons and preparing the potions. Harry followed the directions meticulously. He finished the potion shortly after Hermione. When he bottled it up and rose from his seat, he muttered to Hermione “Don’t clear my cauldron just yet.”

She shot him an apologetic look, remembering the time last year when Snape had smashed his bottle of potion after he had turned it in. Hermione had already cleared his cauldron for him, so he had nothing left to turn in. He had received a zero that day. The Potions Master glared as Harry handed the bottle over, but he did not drop it this time. As Harry turned to head back to his seat, the bell rang signifying the end of class. The students all began to pack up their things. Harry deliberately took his time. He noticed Hermione watching him closely, waiting for him to finish up so they could leave.

He whispered to her, “I’ve got to talk to him about something. I’ll catch up with you later.” She gave him an inquiring glance but nodded her acceptance and left the dungeon. The rest of the class was shuffling out of the classroom. Snape glared malevolently at Harry as the rest of the students left.

“Class time is over, Potter,” he sneered. “I suggest you run back up to Gryffindor Tower before your fan club begins to think something happened to you.”

“Actually, Professor Snape,” Harry returned collectedly. “I was wondering if I might have a word with you.” The Professor’s face tightened, but he did not respond. “I wanted to thank you for the extra potions lessons you gave me last term,” Harry said meaningfully. “I was wondering if you would consider continuing where we left off.”

“As I remember, Potter,” Snape spat, “you never took a single one of my lessons seriously, never put forth an ounce of effort into the subject. And your lack of progress led to that little fiasco at the end of the year. Not only that, you infringed on my privacy.”

“I am sorry for that, sir,” Harry responded coolly. “I let my curiosity get the better of me and did not think my decision through. I promise to never let anything like that happen again. Last year I was not inclined to take the extra lessons as seriously as I should have because no one saw fit to explain why they were necessary. I learned my lesson the hard way, and I’d like to make sure that nothing like that happens again.”

Snape glared at him for a full minute before he spoke again, his tone tangibly frigid. “The last thing I need in my life is extra time with you, Potter. Why not ask the Headmaster for lessons. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to cater to your every whim.”

“Professor Dumbledore seems to only want to treat me like a child, to lock me away where I’ll be safe and protected. He wouldn’t push me the way you would. You won’t hold any punches. That’s what I need if I want to be able to fight against Vol – You-Know-Who.”

Surprise briefly flickered across the normally emotionless mask of the Potions Master. He recovered quickly enough and narrowed his eyes at the Gryffindor. “Thursday nights, 6:00, beginning next week. If you are late, if you don’t put forth the effort, if you so much as breathe the wrong way, the lessons end. And if I ever catch you snooping into my personal affairs again,” he paused as a huff escaped his nostrils. Harry briefly imagined that had he been a dragon, a plume of flame would have escaped with the rush of air. “I will make you wish you’d never been born.”

Harry held back his smile knowing it would only infuriate the man, and Harry didn’t want to push his luck just yet. “Thank you, sir,” he said evenly. He turned on his heel and marched out the door. He smiled to himself as he walked up the staircases to the main level of the castle. He had about an hour to kill before lunch, so he decided to retire to his office for a bit of reading. By the time he left for lunch, Harry had finished the book on wards that he had been avidly reading the past couple days. He had started up a book on basic healing spells to polish off the rest of the time to lunch, be he resolved to visit the library at some point to see what books it had to offer on the subject. He found himself genuinely interested in learning as much as he could about wards.

He didn’t get very far into the healing book, but he had made it a point to find books on that subject as well. With his luck, it was only a matter of time before he found himself in a scrape. Having some knowledge of healing spells could prove to be vital. Once he finished his current book, that would be another thing to look into in the library.

At lunch, most of the talk centered on the reformation of the DA. Fliers had appeared in the House common rooms, so everyone was naturally curious about what this informational meeting would be about on Friday, none more so than Harry’s best friends. But Harry answered their questions with the same response he gave everyone else “Just wait ‘til Friday.” He added in “You don’t want to ruin the surprise, do you?”

Hermione had taken to pestering him about the magical contract he had written for the club. Since he had asked her about it over the summer, she had been naturally curious about what he had come up with and why he hadn’t further pursued her help. Harry just told her, “I’ve already written it up and showed it to Dumbledore. He seemed to think it was just fine.” She was not happy with his lack of information, but she could no nothing more than huff her displeasure.

After lunch Ron and Hermione walked out the Entrance Hall onto the grounds toward the greenhouses for Herbology. Harry headed to the seventh floor to the Room of Requirement. He would take advantage of his friends’ absence by training without raising any suspicion. One of the harder things about this year was going to be keeping all his extra training secret from his friends. They were bound to get curious if he constantly disappeared for hours at a time.

But while they were off in class, they wouldn’t be able to keep tabs on him. He had two hours until Charms class. He split up his training for the day into two sessions. The first session played out much like it had the day before. He activated two dummies on Hogwarts graduate skill level, shooting stinging spells only. He spent 45 minutes simply dodging spells without the aid of magic. He was pleased that he had definitely been hit less than the previous day.

He stopped the dummies and reprogrammed them. He set them each to the level of an auror in training, with many spells at their disposal. He didn’t want to be stunned and left unconscious, so he avoided letting them use any spells that could cause him to become incapacitated, but that still left them with many spells to work with. Harry wasn’t going to be just dodging this time around. Now was the time to practice fighting back.

For 30 minutes he dueled the two dummies, who were markedly improved over the Hogwarts graduates Harry had been used to dodging, but not a problem for Harry who now had magic at his disposal. With his ability to cast two spells at the same time, he had yet to be hit with a single spell after the first half an hour, and he had repeatedly knocked both opponents off their feet. He decided to spend the rest of his time without shield spells to aid him in his defense. After all, Death Eaters often used spells that couldn’t be blocked by conventional shield spells.

Even with the lack of shield spells, Harry found himself only getting hit a couple times in the last half hour of his training. He had his legs tripped up in a leg locker curse, but he had quickly counteracted the curse before either dummy could take advantage of his weakened state. That was the only time he been remotely close to being overwhelmed. He had also been hit with a stinging hex and a couple other simple hexes, but that wasn’t enough to distract him from the fight.

By the time he was finished he was sweating profusely and had only 15 minutes to get cleaned up and down to the charms classroom. The shower room appeared as he thought of his need for it, so he quickly washed himself and got ready for class. He made it to class with nary a moment to spare.

The rest of the week passed by quickly enough, filled with classes, training, reading, and the occasional game of chess or exploding snap with his friends. He even flew around on his Firebolt a couple times, just for the thrill of it. It had been so long since he had been up in the air on his broomstick. It was an invigorating feeling. Ron had booked the Quidditch pitch for tryouts that Saturday before lunch. Harry was excited to get the season started. It had been too long since he’d played the game.

Friday rolled around quickly enough, and Harry found himself starting to get nervous. Despite the various locks he had placed in his mind to help him not only hide his memories but also better control his emotions, he could still feel the butterflies creeping into his stomach. That night he was starting something big, and he didn’t know if he was ready for it. He had no doubt that he had plenty to teach. It was more the matter of leading and speaking in front of everybody, being an authority figure, that had Harry reeling.

He had never liked being in the spotlight. It had been forced on him upon his reintroduction to the wizarding world for something he couldn’t remember doing and that he played little part in. Voldemort had tried to kill him, and the curse rebounded due to his mother’s love for him. How that justified his fame, Harry was not sure, but there was no arguing with people about it. They were set in their views.

This time around Harry was stepping into the spotlight of his own accord. He was setting himself apart from all of his peers. It was for a worthy cause and not just for the thrill of being the center of attention. Harry would never do anything just for the attention. He preferred not to have any attention given to him, but this was too important to let that get in his way. This was something proactive he could do in the war against Voldemort, something that could save lives.

He had no delusions of building an army to strike and subdue the Dark Lord, but he could teach these kids to fight. If that meant just one of them survived an encounter with a Death Eater, all the effort would be worth it. But he knew that many of his schoolmates wouldn’t be satisfied sitting on the sidelines of the war. They would need to be properly prepared for battle if they wanted to help, and no one else seemed keen on offering to do it. So he stepped in. And if Voldemort ever got the audacity to attack Hogwarts directly, he would find himself up against an army with Harry at its head.

That was why Harry had changed the DA to the HA. They were not Dumbledore’s army. They didn’t fight for Dumbledore like the Order of the Phoenix did. The adults saw them as children, incapable of helping in the war effort. He saw them as people who weren’t even given a chance. He would raise an army within the walls of Hogwarts. What better to call them than the Hogwarts Army? Maybe after the students graduated Hogwarts, those that planned to take active roles in the war would be better prepared and thus more productive and more likely to survive.

Harry spent the majority of the day in solitary contemplation. He only had one class the entire day, double DADA after lunch. Before lunch he had trained. After class, Harry retreated to his office where he remained thinking about everything until dinner rolled around. Ginny was the one who had reminded Harry that he should eat. She appeared in his office shortly after 5:00 to drag him down to the Great Hall.

“Come on. Off your arse, Potter,” she demanded as she stomped into the room. Harry jumped off the armchair and had stunned her before he even realized what was happening. In a flash he rushed forward and caught her as she fell backwards. He sent a burst of magic through his hands into her body, ennervating her. Her eyes blinked open, and she was surprised to find herself in Harry’s arms.

“What happened?” she asked him groggily.

“You startled me,” he explained half defensively, half apologetically. “I guess I was a bit jumpy and stunned you before I even knew what was going on.” He blushed slightly and had a sheepish smile.

“Right,” she said after a moment. “No sneaking up on Harry unless you want to get blasted off your feet. I’ll have to make a note of that.” He frowned faintly as he looked down on her, so she quickly changed tactics. “It’s alright, Harry. I shouldn’t have come barging in here yelling like that. I guess I was asking for trouble.”

“I’m sorry for stunning you,” he said at length.

“Don’t worry about it.” She paused for a moment looking at him pointedly. “You gonna set me upright sometime soon? Or were you planning on sweeping me off my feet?” She shot him a dazzling smile.

He returned with a grin “Well the offer is tempting. Oh, what the hell?” And she was in his arms before she knew what hit her.

He made it out into the hallway before she even registered what was going on and thought to react. “Harry,” she laughed. “Put me down,” she ordered, punching his arm.

“Careful there, Gin,” he warned her. “Keep attacking me like that and I just might drop you.”

“Don’t you dare Potter,” she threatened. “Now put me down right this instant.”

“As you wish,” he said as he set her down on the ground.

“That’s better,” she said as they began walking toward the Great Hall.

They walked together in companionable silence until he turned to her and said, “Thanks for coming to get me, Gin. I was lost in my own little world there and hadn’t realized the time.”

“You’re welcome, Harry.”

Dinner passed by both much too slowly and quickly for Harry. It seemed to drag by as his nerves built up, but it was over before he knew what hit him. His friends, led by Ginny’s efforts, had tried to engross him in conversation to keep him relaxed, but he found he couldn’t concentrate on much else but the meeting right after dinner. He appreciated his friends’ efforts, but it just wasn’t working.

After dinner ended Dumbledore rose from the head table to address the students. “I believe you are all aware of the informational meeting that will be held after dinner. I would ask all those in 4th year and above who are interested in joining Mr. Potter’s club please remain in the Great Hall. All those in 3rd year or below or who are not interested in joining, you may head back to your common rooms.

There was a shuffling around the room as the younger students and some of the older ones left the hall. Harry noticed that the majority of students eligible to join had remained. The knot in his stomach tightened at the large group of people in the hall. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he audibly gulped. Dumbledore spoke up again. “Well, Harry, they’re all yours.”

He rose from his seat at the Gryffindor table and walked across the hall to the head table with every eye in the hall trained on him. His friends gave him reassuring smiles as he left the comfort of his familiar table. He strode to the head table and said, “Thank you, Headmaster.” He took a moment to school his nerves before turning around to face the student body and casting a murmured “sonorous” on his throat. “Welcome,” he announced, his voice ringing through the hall. “You are all here because you have some interest in joining the club that was formerly known as the DA. There are some things you should know before you make the decision to join.”

“This is not an ordinary student run club. If my position as Assistant Professor wasn’t enough to clue you in, then allow me to do so right now. It will be run as a class, like any other class that you take here at Hogwarts. I will be the professor of the class, which means I will be a figure of authority. If you join my classes, you will follow my orders, or you will be kicked out. This is not just some fun club to goof off and have fun with your friends. This is very serious, and it will be treated as such. We are at war. This class is to prepare you for that. It is inevitable that some of you will find yourselves in situations where your lives will be in danger. These classes will prepare you for those situations and hopefully give you the tools you need to survive the encounter.

“If you have no desire to learn how to fight, this is not the club for you. If you’re not going to take this seriously, save yourself the trouble and don’t sign up. I can promise you that I will show no favoritism in class. I will show no affinity for any house. You will all be treated equally. Not even my best friends should expect to be treated any differently than the rest of you. While we are in class, I am the professor, not your friend. I have the ability to give and take house points and to hand out detentions. I will not hesitate to use those abilities should the need arise.

“Now, those of you who are still interested in joining will be required to sign a magical contract before you will be allowed to attend my classes.” Harry pulled the contract out of his robes and held it up in front of the student body. “The contract has only a few clauses involved, but they should be taken seriously. As I have said, I am not taking this lightly, and neither should you. If you have any reservations about any of the restrictions placed upon you by this contract, then do not sign it.

“Now, the contract states that by signing, you certify that you have absolutely no affiliation with Voldemort,” a collective gasp ran through the student body at the mention of his name, but Harry ploughed on as if nothing had happened, “or his Death Eaters and that you will never enter into the service of either. Anyone who is currently in the service of either or who plans to one day enter into the service of either will find themselves unable to sign the contract. I highly suggest that anyone in that camp refrain from even attempting. Anyone who does sign the contract and later decides to join Voldemort or his Death Eaters will be in for a nasty surprise. That’s all I will say about that.”

“You will also be certifying that you will not speak to anyone about what transpires in my classes to anybody who is not a member. This will include family members. You will be able to tell them that you have joined a club that is led by me, nothing else. If you try to say more, you will find yourself unable to do so. Should anyone manage to break through that hold, there are many other enchantments in place to suitably punish you for each infraction. The more you give away, the more devastating the punishments. I would not suggest testing the limits of this contract.”

“Anyone who is still interested in joining, please remain in the hall. All those who have no interest in joining, please leave the hall now.” Harry waited while a few groups of people left. There were many Slytherins who had waited around to see what would be said in the meeting who left grumbling. There were several Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws who left and a few Gryffindors as well. Harry noticed that Malfoy was still present and smirked, amused.

“Very well, I ask that you all come up and sign the contract.” Harry waited as nobody moved. They all stared at him as if he was off his rocker. “Nothing more will be said tonight to anyone who has not signed this contract.” He waved it in front of himself again. He placed it behind him at the Head Table and turned back toward the students expectantly.

Ginny shrugged at Ron and Hermione and stood from her seat. She strode forward confidently and smiled at Harry as she approached. She picked up the quill and signed her name on the piece of parchment. It glowed a soft blue for a moment then settled back down. “Nice speech, Harry,” she muttered as she returned to her seat. Ron and Hermione went up and repeated her actions, followed by several other Gryffindors. The parchment glowed blue for every person.

Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs began standing and walking over to sign as well. Harry noticed rather proudly that the members of the DA were the ones that were taking the initiative and signing the contract first. They apparently trusted Harry. Harry greeted each person as they came up to sign. Cho Chang was among the Ravenclaws, and she gave Harry a smile as she lifted the quill to sign. Harry noticed that her friend, Marietta, was not in attendance. Soon enough, the rest of the Gryffindor table came up to sign. The Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs again followed suit. After they had all seated themselves, Harry looked pointedly at the Slytherin table. They were all staring at him intently, many unsure at what they should do.

“If you have no intention of signing this contract, I must ask that you leave the hall now,” Harry informed them. Malfoy rose from the table glaring maliciously at him. The blonde haired Slytherin strutted across the hall and stood before Harry. Harry, for his part, merely looked unconcerned as Malfoy paused in front of him. He eventually walked over to the parchment and grabbed the quill into his hand. He pulled the quill into his body for a moment, hiding it from view, then signed his name. There was a moment of silence where nothing happened before the parchment glowed a violent red and Malfoy was thrown back ten feet in a blast of light.

Malfoy stood shakily and screeched, “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing, Potter?”

“Did I forget to mention that the parchment is charmed to be impervious to charmed quills? Despite your rather lame attempt to switch quills without anybody noticing, your scheme was poorly thought out and executed. Did you really think I would be so stupid as to not prepare for something like this? Now why don’t you head back to your dungeon and let the rest of us get on with our meeting?” He said all this with a straight face.

Malfoy huffed and spun on his heel. The Great Hall immediately burst into laughter. “What are you laughing at?” the conceited Slytherin demanded. “What’s so funny?”

The hall only laughed harder as Draco screamed at them and stamped his feet on the ground in what he thought would be an authoritative manner but really came out as looking more like a temper tantrum thrown by a 5 year old. Malfoy huffed and walked as quickly out of the hall as he could manage without breaking out into a run.

Harry turned his attention back to the Slytherin table and addressed its occupants. “Any of you who are sincere will not have any trouble with the contract. I promise you that. Any of you who are trying to think of other ways around it, I would advise not to try it and just to leave now with your dignity.”

Harry again waited for the table to rise into some form of action. A few of the Slytherins left after a minute’s deliberation. Only eight occupants remained at the table. They were all exchanging glances between each other, unsure of how to proceed. Finally, after a few minutes, Blaise Zabini stood from his seat and strode toward Harry. He stopped in front of him and asked pointedly, “Did you mean what you said about treating all the houses equally? No favoritism?”

“Every word of it,” Harry replied solemnly, meeting Blaise’s gaze.

After a moment the brown haired boy nodded at Harry and stepped over to the contract. He lifted the quill and signed his name. After a moment the parchment emitted a soft blue light. Blaise watched it a moment longer to confirm his acceptance, nodded once to Harry, then strode back to the Slytherin table. Bolstered by their housemate’s initiative and subsequent acceptance, a couple more Slytherins rose from their seats and came forward. Among them Harry recognized Daphne Greengrass from his year. All eight remaining Slytherins signed the contract.

After they all returned to their seats, Harry addressed the room at large “Has everyone here signed the contract?” Nobody spoke up. Harry turned and picked up the piece of parchment. He held it out in front of him and quietly asked it to “Show me non-members.” The Hogwarts staff members who remained in the hall all glowed red. Harry looked through the student body and noticed that none of his classmates were enveloped by the red light. “Finite,” he whispered, tucking the contract into his robes.

“Excellent. Thank you all for your cooperation. Now, before I go on,” Harry pulled out his wand and with a couple waves all the doors slammed closed and the strongest privacy charms he knew were placed on the large room. Students and staff members alike all shot each other questioning glances as Harry continued. “There, that’s better. To start out, you will be split into two groups. Those of you who I taught last year, the former DA, will be in the intermediate class. All other members will start in the beginner class.”

There were several groans from some of the older students, so Harry held up a hand to forestall the complaints. “Anyone in the lower class who I deem ready will be immediately moved to the intermediate class. But you will not move until I say you are fit, so do not even bother asking me about it beforehand. Each class will meet twice a week. The beginner class will meet Tuesday nights at 7:00 for a standard class, the intermediate Wednesday night at 7:00. On Sunday, the beginners will meet for a double class at 10:00, the intermediate at 1:00 for a double class.

“Classes will start next Tuesday,” Harry informed the group. “If you are unable to attend, I expect to be notified in advance. Anyone who chooses not to attend without good reason will be permanently excused. As I said, this is a class, not some silly club, so it must be treated seriously. Anyone who does not attend a class will be expected to make it up before the next class so as not to slow the rest of the group down. For those of you in the beginners class who feel you belong in the intermediate class now, your chance to prove yourself will be Tuesday. Don’t bother trying to convince me beforehand.

“Classes will be held in the Room of Requirement. It can be found on the seventh floor across from the portrait of Barnabus the Barmy. The door will only appear when a class is about to start. So do not bother trying to use the room for anything else. Do not be late to classes. You will be punished as you would be in any other class. I would prefer not to have to assign detentions or take away house points, but I will do so if necessary. I will also have more creative means of ensuring your cooperation,” he finished with a grin.

“Now, I should also inform you that we will no longer be known as the DA, which stood for Dumbledore’s Army. The name was created as a joke because that was what the ministry was so afraid of last year, and that’s what Umbridge was sent here to prevent from happening. I thought a renaming was in order, so you will be hence named the Hogwarts Army, HA for short.”

“That’s everything I had to say. Does anyone have any questions?”

Hermione’s hand shot into the air. “Yes, Hermione?”

“What will we be learning in your classes?” she asked him.

“An excellent question,” he remarked. “The beginning class will be starting with the basics. Expelliarmus, protego, impedimenta, stupefy and the like. The basic spells used in a duel. The intermediate class will begin where we left off last year, Patronus Charms. We’ll cover more advanced dueling tactics as well as stronger shields, stunners, and other spells used to incapacitate your opponent. I should warn you, the classes will not be easy. It will be almost entirely practical, and you will be put through the paces on a regular basis.”

He looked around the room. “Any other questions?”

Blaise Zabini spoke up from the Slytherin table, “What if we should decide we want out?”

“You’ll be welcome to leave at any time, but you will still be bound by the contract,” Harry informed him and the room at large. “My goal with the contract was to prevent not only word of what we are doing from getting out, but I didn’t want to teach anybody who would become an enemy. The last thing I want to do is give the enemy more tools. After Voldemort is defeated, the contract will be voided, and you will all be able to speak freely about everything.”

“Anything else?”

Zacharias Smith spoke up from the Hufflepuff table. “Is it true that you and some of the others from last year’s DA got into a battle with Death Eaters at the Ministry of Magic last June?”

“Err –“ Harry stuttered. He looked over to the Gryffindor table at each of his friends that was there that night. Hermione and Ron were both giving him sympathetic looks. Ginny gave him an encouraging smile. Neville gave him a small, shy smile. Luna, over at the Ravenclaw table, just had a dreamy expression on her face, and Harry wasn’t sure if she was even paying attention. He took a deep breath and continued, “I went to the ministry on information that my godfather was being tortured there by Voldemort. A few of my friends insisted on coming with me. We were led into a trap, and yes, we fought several Death Eaters. After holding them off for quite some time, we were eventually rescued,” he explained, giving them the abbreviated version of events.

“Now, if there are no more questions about the HA then this concludes our meeting. I’ll see the beginners’ class on Tuesday at 7:00.”

The students looked around at each other. Some stood and walked out of the hall, others hung around. Most of the former DA stuck around to talk to Harry briefly. He got comments like “Great speech,” “Can’t wait to get started,” and “Bloody brilliant what you did to Malfoy.” Eventually the hall emptied of everyone except Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.

Harry turned to Ginny. “Thanks Gin, for a moment I was worried that no one would sign.”

“Don’t mention it Harry,” she told him with a smile. “I know you wouldn’t have us sign anything if it wasn’t perfectly safe and legit. I trust you. Now if Fred or George had asked me to sign a contract, that would be an entirely different story.”

“Well I appreciate it,” he told her. “And the two of you as well,” he added to Ron and Hermione. “That was nerve racking.”

“You did a good job, Harry,” Hermione told him honestly.

“And that bit with Malfoy was brilliant,” Ron added. “He looked ridiculous with his skin chalk white, the pink, rosy cheeks, the bright red nose and lipstick…priceless.”

“Well he can’t say I didn’t warn him,” Harry responded unconcernedly. “Come on; let’s head back up to the common room.”

The next day Harry found himself out on the Quidditch pitch in the late morning. The sun was shining brilliantly in the sky, hardly a cloud obscuring the blue expanse above him. Harry, for his part, was having the time of his life speeding around on his Firebolt, oblivious to everything going on around him at the time. He was looping in and out of the goal hoops, then shot across the pitch. He suddenly dropped into a vertical dive and pulled up just in time so only the tips of his feet grazed the grass growing on the field. Harry dropped his arm and felt the grass underneath him, a smile on his face.

“Oi, mate!” Ron’s loud voice reached Harry. “If you’re done showing off, we’ve got tryouts to run.”

Sufficiently cowed, Harry blushed slightly and flew over to his friend, who was standing before a group of hopeful Gryffindors with brooms clutched tightly in their grasps. He landed next to the red head as he was beginning to address the crowd.

“Right, I’m Ron Weasley, captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team,” Ron proudly proclaimed, displaying his captain’s badge rather self-importantly. An image of Percy fawning over his own Head Boy badge rose unbidden into Harry’s mind, but he quickly shook off the thought. “I’m sure you all know that Harry, here, is our seeker,” he patted Harry on the shoulder. He put his other arm around Katie Bell’s shoulder and said, “This here is Katie Bell, chaser, and I’m keeper. We’ll be holding tryouts for all positions as I’d like to have a reserve team this year.”

“Right,” Ron ran a hand nervously through his hair. “Why don’t you all take a few minutes in the sky to get warmed up, then we’ll get started. I’ll call you all back down in a bit.”

Harry sidled up to his friend as they turned their heads skyward to watch the recruits fly around. “So how do you want to do this?” Harry asked. Katie walked up beside them.

“Well, I was thinking I’d have them split up into what position they were trying out for, then take them in turns,” Ron replied.

“Sounds fair,” Harry announced. “Mind if I take a few minutes to fly with them?” Harry was itching to get back out on his Firebolt.

“Yeah, sure,” Ron said distractedly. Harry shrugged and took off. There were two activities in his life that left Harry feeling completely at peace, as if the world just made complete sense. They were both flying. One was flying on his Firebolt; the other was flying as an owl. The feeling was incredibly freeing, which was exactly what Harry was searching for in his life: freedom. Freedom from the war, from his fame, from the death surrounding him, from his life in general, from the people like Dumbledore that always tried to control him…Harry just needed to get away from it all. With the air rushing all around him as he flew, he felt like none of that could touch him.

Soon enough Ron was calling all of them back down. “Alright, I want you all to split up based on position. Those trying out for chaser stand over there, beaters there, keepers there, and seekers over there,” he directed, pointing to different spots on the pitch. The Gryffindors all obligingly walked to the designated spots and awaited further instructions. “We’ll be doing the tryouts in turns. Since there doesn’t appear to be anyone trying out for seeker, Harry why don’t you take the beaters. Katie and I will start with some ball drills with the chasers and keepers.”

Harry nodded his assent to Ron and turned to the group of beaters as Ron and Katie took the chasers and keepers into the air. Ginny shot him a grin as he briefly caught her eye before she took off after her brother

Harry had the five beaters all introduce themselves. They took their bats up into the air and he had them just beat a bludger back and forth between each other. One of the five clearly lacked the hand eye coordination to make the cut. The other four seemed to be able to handle the simple activity without any trouble. He eventually had them start shooting at targets, and by targets Harry ended up meaning himself. He had them all take turns hitting bludgers at him as he raced around the pitch. In the end, Harry decided that there really wasn’t anyone better than Kirke and Sloper from the year before. Pritchett, a fourth year boy, would make a decent reserve.

After sending the beaters down to the ground, Harry went over to see how Ron and Katie were doing. Ron was keeping against the chaser hopefuls, so Harry flew up next to Katie as she observed. Harry watched as each chaser in turn tried to score against Ron. Ginny, Harry noted with some satisfaction, was by far the best of the bunch. Her flying was top notch, despite the old broom she was riding. Her turns and fakes were sharp, and her accuracy was spot on. Ron blocked a fair few of her shots, but she got a majority of them in.

There was another girl who Harry thought might be in Ginny’s year who seemed to be faring pretty well. A boy who couldn’t have been more than a 3rd year, in Harry’s estimation anyway, showed some promise as well. Harry continued to watch until all the chasers had taken their shots. Ron flew over to them and asked Harry, “How’d it go with the beaters?”

“Alright, I guess,” Harry told his friend with a shrug. “Much as I hate to say it, Kirke and Sloper are the best we’ve got. The Pritchett kid will make a decent reserve.”

“Fair enough,” Ron said. “What did you guys think about the chasers?”

Katie spoke up first. “Ginny was by far the best. She’ll take one starting spot. The other one is a toss up between Nate and Stephanie. Whichever doesn’t get the job plus Dan should be offered reserves.”

Harry asked who Stephanie, Nate and Dan were before adding his own comments. “I definitely agree about Ginny. Based on what I saw, I’d say Stephanie for the last starting spot. But I agree with Nate and Dan as reserves.”

Ron nodded his agreement. “I agree with you guys. We can name Stephanie as a starter for now, but we can always change it later if we decide Nate is better. Let’s go down and tell them the news, then have the keepers block against our three chasers.” Katie and Harry nodded, and the three descended to the ground where all the hopefuls were gathered.

“Alright,” Ron started. “We’ve made our decision on beaters and chasers. Our starting beaters will be Kirke and Sloper, and our reserve will be Pritchett.” The two starters shared a high five with each other, then cuffed the other boy who would be playing behind them on his shoulders. “Our starting chasers are as follows: Katie Bell, Ginny Weasley, and Stephanie Owens. For reserve chasers we have Nate Torrent and Dan Hopkins. Keep in mind that just because you are a starter or a reserve now does not guarantee that you will stay that way all season. I will always play the best player in each position.”

“Thank you to all of you who have tried out for both chaser and beater. We only have the reserve keeper spot to fill. Anyone on the team must stay until the end of tryouts. The rest of you are welcome to stay or go, whatever you’d like. Thanks again for trying out. Now if my three starting chasers would please take to the air, we can begin having our keepers blocking goals.”

Harry and Ron both watched from up in the air as the three keepers were each put through the paces by the chasers. The choice wasn’t very difficult, as one of the three had clearly blocked more goals than the other two. So Kyle Stevens was chosen as the reserve keeper. Ron thanked the other two for trying out as they descended to the ground. He called together all of the players he had given spots on the team to make some announcements. He told them all that he had yet to put together a practice schedule and that he would let them all know as soon as he booked the pitch. With that taken care of, the group all headed back to the castle.



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