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Free Life Posted on 8/16/2014 1:03:46 AM
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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 6: An Army in the Making
The rest of the weekend flew by relatively quickly. Harry got a lot of reading done and snuck away to train whenever he could manage it. He found his nightly sessions with Sirius shortening in length and focusing less on dueling. His godfather just couldn’t quite keep up with Harry very well any more. Harry used that time to try out some new spells and just to talk to his godfather. He would tell the man about his day and everything that happened to him. Sirius would return with some stories from his own days at Hogwarts with his father and Remus and Peter. He usually downplayed Peter’s role in all of the stories, but Harry didn’t mind. It’s not like he really wanted to think about the man who had betrayed his parents and sent him to his death.

On Sunday Harry sent a letter to Remus with Hedwig. He had decided it was time to start helping the werewolf out. He had some fragile information to get to Remus, so the letter he sent was very carefully worded.

Dear Remus,

I managed to finish that project I had been working on. I struggled with it a bit before I was able to cat onto it. Now I don’t have any problems with it. I thought maybe I’d be able to help you out with your problem now. My calendar is almost full, but I’m sure I could find the time to help about once a month. We could meet at your old spot.

School’s going ok. We had a club meeting on Friday that went pretty well. I start teaching on Tuesday. Quidditch tryouts were yesterday. They went pretty well. I think we have a pretty decent team this year. Not as solid as it has been, but we have a lot of new additions who are bound to improve with some practice. We shouldn’t get whomped, at any rate. Let me know if you’ll be able to make it this month.

Take care,
Harry


He thought that he did a fairly decent job of disguising the meaning to anyone should they intercept the letter, yet at the same time he didn’t imagine Remus would have a terrible time figuring it out.

Harry kept up his morning routine of jogging around the grounds and working out in the room of requirement. Not only was it helping Harry stay in shape, he found it also left him feeling good about himself. He felt refreshed after the routine every morning. Even during the week it left him feeling ready to face the day.

Tuesday morning, Hedwig arrived with the regular owl post during breakfast. Harry excitedly took the parchment and noted who it was from. He stuffed it into his bag deciding he’d read it later. He didn’t want anyone else to know what Remus had written.

“Who’s the letter from, Harry?” Hermione inquired from across the table.

“Remus,” Harry told her simply.

“Oh?” she returned. “Why aren’t you reading it? Don’t you want to know what it says?”

“I’ll read it later,” he retorted with a hint of warning in his voice.

If Hermione caught the hint, she didn’t acknowledge it. “Why not just read it now? I’m sure we’d all like to know how he’s doing. I haven’t heard from Professor Lupin in a long time, and I’d like to hear what he has to say.”

Harry glared at her sharply. “Then why don’t you send him an owl yourself and ask him.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked him sardonically.

“It means that some things of mine are private. Just because I get a letter from someone doesn’t mean you get to read it. I don’t ask you for all the details of the ones you get from your parents. The letters were sent to you, not to me, and I respect that. Apparently asking for the same courtesy is out of the question.” He stood from his seat while he was speaking and proceeded to walk out of the hall quickly before their argument went any farther. Hermione could really push his buttons, and he didn’t want to end up saying anything he might later regret.

Ginny glared at Hermione from across the table where she had been sitting next to Harry. “You just don’t know when to quit, do you?” she asked the prefect. “Can’t you see that by constantly pushing him to talk you’re only pushing him farther away?”

Hermione looked at Ginny sharply. “He can’t keep everything bottled up inside. He needs to let us know what’s going on.”

Ginny just huffed and said, “You are unbelievable.” She followed Harry’s example and stalked out of the hall leaving a visibly upset Hermione and a flustered Ron in her wake. She caught up with Harry in the hallway and searched her mind for something to say to him. She found nothing that she thought would help so she went with, “Hermione can be a real cow sometimes.”

Harry turned around at the sound of her voice, startled to find her there. “Yeah,” he said sullenly. “I know she means well, but she just doesn’t know when to quit. She thinks that every one needs to deal with their problems by talking about them. And she seems to think that she’s the one I should be talking to. I mean, honestly…did she really think that a booklet detailing the five stages of grief was what I needed for my birthday?”

Ginny couldn’t help it. She tried valiantly to hold it back, but nothing could have stopped it. She snorted and collapsed in a fit of laughter. She looked up at Harry’s face to see him smiling at her as she continued to giggle from the floor. As her shaking subsided and she began breathing regularly again, he offered her a hand up. She gratefully took it, and he hoisted her off the ground with relative ease. “I’m sorry, Harry. I honestly don’t know what to tell you. I’ve tried talking some sense into her, told her to back off and let you come to her, but she’s relentless. Once she gets an idea in her head, nothing will stop her.”

“Don’t I know it,” he replied ruefully. He shook his head clear of his thoughts of Hermione and smiled at Ginny again. “Thanks for coming after me, Gin. I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome Harry,” she replied. “I told you I’ll be there for you whenever you might need me, and I meant it. I won’t push you for information. I’ll just be there whenever you’re ready to talk or if you just need some company.”

“I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but thanks,” Harry told her.

She rolled her eyes at him. “Need we go over this again, Potter? If not for the fact that you’re a decent bloke and deserve the comfort of a true friend anyway, then the fact that you’ve saved my life a couple times ought to be reason enough.”

He grinned cheekily at her. “Oh, I know. I just enjoy hearing you praise me so.”

She pushed him into the wall and shouted, “You’re an arse, Potter.” She ran down the hallway and called over her shoulder “I’m off to class. Don’t want to be late.” Harry laughed as he tried to glare at her retreating form.

The rest of the day went by more smoothly than breakfast had gone. In DADA and Potions, Harry and Hermione hardly spoke to each other. Harry was mad at Hermione’s persistent nagging for information. He hated that she felt like she could treat him as just another mystery to solve. She was mad that Harry was continually shutting her out. But as the day wore on, the tension between them began to dissipate.

Harry read Remus’ reply after potions class. He retired to his office as Hermione went to Ancient Runes. As soon as he entered, he sat at his desk and tore open the envelope.

Dear Harry,

That’s great. Congratulations. It really means a lot to me that you want to help me so much. I think the old hideout should work fine. You know when to meet me there.

I’m glad to hear that things with your club and Quidditch seem to be going well. You’ll have to keep me updated on how your classes go. Teaching can be a rather rewarding experience, as I learned a few years ago. I hope that you enjoy it.

I can’t really say anything much about what’s going on in a letter for obvious reasons. Perhaps we’ll find a chance to talk in person soon.

With Regard,
Remus Lupin


He was eager to see Remus but was weary of the circumstances it would be under. There were still a couple weeks left until the full moon, so he didn’t dwell too much on it at the moment. He would have plenty of time to think on it later. Instead, Harry concentrated on his first HA class that night. Since it was the beginner class and he was starting them off where he had started the DA last year, there wasn’t much planning to be done. Harry still found himself nervous about the class though. It was a larger group than the DA had been last year with well over 50 members. He hoped that he would be able to advance several of the new members into the intermediate class quickly to even the two classes out a bit.

After dinner, Harry went straight to the Room of Requirement to get everything ready. The room was similar to the one they had used last year, only bigger. A slightly raised small stage stood at the front of the room with a podium on it. As Harry walked up he noticed a whistle sitting there. He slipped it around his neck and began to think about how he would address the class to start. He needed to be authoritative but didn’t want to seem unapproachable. It was going to be a very fine line between Professor Potter and Harry. He wouldn’t let anyone call him Professor Potter, but that was the name he’d assigned to his HA persona.

As 7:00 drew nearer, students began filing into the room. Harry waited at the podium. He had the contract with him so that he could make sure nobody tried to sneak in that didn’t belong in the class. At 7:00 he checked for anyone who hadn’t signed, but no red light was seen throughout the room. Harry nodded his approval and began.

“Welcome, all of you, to the first class of the HA. You will all be starting out where the DA started last year with the basics of dueling. It’s best to make sure you have the basics down before you move onto anything else. Without the basics, nothing else will really matter.” Harry paused to let this information sink in. “With that said, we will begin by practicing expelliarmus.”

There were some groans heard from some of the older students at this, but Harry held up a hand to forestall their complaints. “I’ll tell you the same thing I told the DA last year: this spell saved my life against Voldemort.” The usual gasp at the name swept through the crowd. Harry didn’t bother to tell them that it was actually the fact that he and Voldemort had brother wands that had saved his life. What they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them.

“Those of you who prove to be adept at the spell will be able to quickly move on. But for now, I want everybody to partner up and begin practicing. I want you to trade off casting the spell at each other. I don’t want to see any spells but expelliarmus being cast. That means no shields as well. I need to be able to see how powerful your spell is. It won’t do any good if you’re not able to even rip the wand out of your opponent’s hand. Well, go on, pair off.”

Harry waited as they followed his orders. “Begin.” And they did. Harry walked through the students correcting anyone who needed it. He was happy to note that nobody tried casting any other spells. Several of the older students were only half-heartedly casting the spell. Harry walked over to one such student. Harry thought he was a Ravenclaw 7th year but wasn’t sure.

“Let’s see you cast that spell on me,” Harry said to the boy. He drew his wand and waited as he went through the wand motion and sent the spell flying at Harry. Harry absorbed it and flinched at the impact but kept a tight grip on his wand. “That’s one of the weakest spells I’ve ever felt. You’d have trouble disarming a first year with it. Now when I tell you to cast a spell, I mean cast the spell. Like this:” Harry waved his wand in a flash and shouted, “Expelliarmus.”

The Ravenclaw was lifted bodily off the ground and thrown several feet back as his wand flew through the air. Harry reached out a hand and caught the wand as it sailed past. “Do you see the difference? Cast properly, this spell can be extremely helpful. But if you don’t put some effort into it, you’ll just end up embarrassing yourself. Now continue practicing with your partner.” He turned to the rest of the class who had all stopped their own practicing to watch him. “All of you: back to work,” he ordered.

The rest of the class went by smoothly. He asked a handful of students to stay after the class who had all seemed to be doing pretty well with the spells he had gotten them to try. Among the students were Blaise Zabini and Daphne Greengrass from Slytherin, Lisa Turpin and Stephen Cornfoot of Ravenclaw, Walter Gatton of Hufflepuff, and Rob Bankston and Julie Wesmer of Gryffindor.

When the rest of the students had left he addressed them. “You all showed promise, and I’d like to take a bit of time to test you all further to see if you’re ready for the intermediate class,” he informed them. “I’m just going to run you through some different hexes and curses as well as protego to shield yourself. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the spells I have you try, don’t hesitate to ask me how to do it. If you already know all the spells, I’ll move you up right away. If you don’t know everything, I’ll work to make sure you get there soon so that you can join the intermediate class as soon as possible. I won’t let anyone join until they are completely caught up with the others.”

Harry ran through a whole bunch of spells with them in a short amount of time. They had all known most of the spells. Some had problems with a couple spells, but they were soon rectified. After an hour of work with them, he was satisfied with the results. “Excellent work everyone. I think you’re all ready to join the intermediate class. The first lesson is tomorrow at 7:00. Don’t be late.” With that, Harry dismissed them.

Harry was happy with how the first lesson had gone. There hadn’t been any challenges to his authority. Everyone had for the most part taken his instructions without complaint after his demonstration with the Ravenclaw. Harry found that even the Slytherin members seemed to be following his commands without any resistance, for which he was rather pleased. They had seemed mutinous to start when he had mentioned they were starting with expelliarmus, Zabini in particular. But after promising the more advanced members that they’d get their chance to prove themselves followed by his exhibition with the Ravenclaw, all visible protests were squashed.

Harry wasn’t sure how his former DA would react to the new members that would be in their midst tomorrow, but they would have to get used to the idea. He was especially worried about how the Slytherins would be treated. There was a small group in the previous class, so they would still be able to band together when need be. Only two Slytherins would be in the intermediate class tomorrow.

There hadn’t been any conflicts in class between the students, but Harry could tell that the rest of the students were apprehensive about the Slytherin members. The tension was thick between the other three houses and the house of snakes. Harry knew he would have to keep an eye on it. He hoped that everyone would be able to look past their house boundaries and accept each other as members of the HA, but he didn’t expect sweeping changes over night. He knew it would take time for them to learn to trust each other. But he would work on it with them.

He retired back to the common room and found his friends waiting on him. The minute he walked over they began asking questions.

“How did it go? Did you get a lot accomplished in the first lesson?” Hermione asked eagerly.

Ron, on the other hand, asked more scathingly, “Did those Slytherins cause any problems? I don’t know why you even let them join, Harry. I don’t care if they signed the contract you wrote up. They’re bad news, every one of them.”

Hermione abandoned the line of questioning she had for Harry to reprimand Ron. “That’s exactly the kind of attitude that is preventing us from making any progress in inter-house unity, Ronald Weasley. If you would just shut your mouth and open your eyes, you might notice that not all Slytherins are Draco Malfoy.”

“They don’t have to be Draco Malfoy to be evil. They’re snakes, Hermione. Every last one of them evil. Trust me, the less we have to do with them the better.”

“I can talk to snakes, you know,” Harry interrupted his friends’ arguing. “Does that make me evil?”

Ron turned toward Harry and looked at him as if he’d sprouted another head. “What are you on about mate? Of course you’re not evil. It doesn’t matter that you can talk to snakes. The point is that they’re in Slytherin. You’re a Gryffindor mate.”

“The sorting hat wanted to put me in Slytherin,” Harry informed his friends. “It only put me in Gryffindor because I asked it to.” Ron looked shocked at this statement. Hermione was smiling at him. “And in case you forgot,” Harry added, “Peter Pettigrew was a Gryffindor as well.”

The color left Ron’s face at that statement. Hermione looked like the cat that just caught the canary. She seemed smug that Ron had finally been put in his place and set straight about the Slytherins. He could be really thick headed and stubborn sometimes.

“Anyway,” Harry said, breaking the silence that had descended over the trio. “The class went well. We’ll have a handful of new members tomorrow. I’ve got some reading to do before I go to bed, so I’ll catch up with you two later.”

That night Harry talked to Sirius about his first HA class and the reply he had received from Remus. Sirius was ecstatic that Harry would be filling in where he and James had left off in helping Remus get through his monthly transformations. Harry covered what he had gone over in the class and the handful of students that he had already moved to his advanced class. He shared his worries about the two Slytherins that would be coming to the class the next evening. It was easier to have the Slytherins in the other group because not only did they have more numbers there, but that entire group was new.

Blaise and Daphne were coming into an already existing group. And it was just the two of them from Slytherin. Harry didn’t think the others would have much trouble accepting the Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw additions because they each already had housemates in the class. That would give them a niche to start in while they became comfortable. The Slytherins didn’t have that luxury.

What worried Harry most, however, was the fact that he couldn’t even rely on his best friends for support. He knew Ron was going to be an issue tomorrow when Blaise and Daphne showed up. Ron would be a catalyst, and Harry knew that others would rally behind him. Ron really did have a terrible temper, and he was so thick headed that he never thought outside of his own little world. Hermione would be on his side as far as accepting them into the group, but she was likely to fly off the handle at Ron which would only make things worse.

Harry wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Ginny. Hopefully she wouldn’t have much of a problem accepting the Slytherins, and maybe she’d even be able to help diffuse any arguments that might arise between Ron and Hermione. Neville was too shy and soft spoken to be much of a help or a hindrance, and Luna was just Luna. Harry just really hoped that he wouldn’t have to hand out detentions or take away house points from any of his friends. Sirius listened patiently to all of Harry’s concerns. He was amused to no end whenever Harry brought up Ginny. Harry received a lot of teasing about his friendship with the red haired girl, but he took it all in stride. His godfather was just trying to get a rise out of him, but Harry found he didn’t really care all that much.

Sirius warned him that he shouldn’t be quick to level out punishments because it could easily lead to a feeling of resentment. He said that it was always a point of interest within the Marauder clan after Remus was made prefect and then James head boy. When emotions were running high, if either one ever played the authority card, the conflict would only escalate as a result. This advice only made Harry even more weary, but he was determined to diffuse any conflict quickly and by any means necessary. If his friends got mad at him, they’d get over it eventually.

And that was the attitude that Harry held going into his HA class on Wednesday night. He arrived early again, to make sure everything was set up correctly and that he was ready when 7:00 rolled around. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville were the first to arrive, walking through the door at quarter to 7:00. Harry smiled at the show of support from his friends. Luna entered alone not long after, and the rest of the class filtered in shortly thereafter.

As Blaise and Daphne walked through the door a minute before 7:00 Harry could feel the air stiffen around him. Ron was glaring openly at the new arrivals as were several other members including Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnigan, and Zacharias Smith to name a couple. “What are they doing here?” Ron bit out beside him.

“They’re here for class,” Harry responded evenly. “I told you we’d have a few new members this evening.”

“You didn’t tell me they’d be Slytherins,” Ron nearly shouted. His raised voice caught the attention of most of the room.

“That hardly matters,” Harry replied coolly. “Like I said last Friday, house doesn’t matter to me in these classes. I will treat everyone the same regardless of their house. They both knew enough to warrant a spot in this class, so they are both here.”

“But how can you trust them?” Ron asked incredulously. “You’re teaching the enemy.”

“Slytherins are not the enemy, Ron,” Hermione chimed in. “I’m sure if we just reach out to them we’ll find that most of them are actually quite nice.”

“Right,” Ron scathingly replied. “Let’s all just have one big group hug with the snakes. That sounds just peachy.”

“You are impossible,” Hermione shrieked at Ron. “You’re honestly no better than Malfoy. You treat Slytherins the same way he treats muggleborns.”

“I can’t believe you’re defending them,” Ron bit back. “They’re Slytherins, Hermione. It’s not like they haven’t done anything to deserve it. Am I right?” here Ron addressed the crowd, exactly what Harry had been afraid of. There were some nods of assent, and a few people vocalized their agreement. “Slytherins have been taunting and attacking us for year. They always fight dirty. We can’t trust them. This is ridiculous.”

“Ron, you’re a prefect; you should be setting a good example,” Hermione lectured. “Honestly, why they ever thought you’d make a decent prefect I’ll never know. I have to force you to do everything.”

Throughout the entire spectacle, Blaise and Daphne had stood against the wall watching how everything would play out. They were not happy with the reception their entrance caused, nor were they surprised. They watched curiously as friends argued back and forth over them. They didn’t like the way either side was handling things. Weasley was being a thick headed git, and Granger was acting like some humanitarian trying to do them all a favor. Reaching out to the Slytherins…did she seriously think like that? They didn’t really care about their argument though. It was Harry’s reaction that they were really interested in. They were not disappointed.

“That’s enough!” Harry barked loudly. “Hermione, now is not the time for this. If you have your problems with Ron, take them up outside of class.” Ron looked smug over Hermione getting yelled at. His smile disappeared when Harry’s glare shifted. “One more word out of you Ron and you’ll be spending the rest of the week in detention. They’re here because I invited them here. If they weren’t trustworthy, they wouldn’t have been able to join in the first place. I made sure of that. If you don’t like it, you’re free to leave at any time. If you plan on staying, then you’ll have to get used to it. I don’t want to hear any more of this. Have I made myself clear?”

Ron glared at Harry but didn’t respond. Harry continued addressing the entire crowd. “That goes for the rest of you as well. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior. Everyone who is here has been welcomed here by me. I expect all of you to be able to work together while you are here. If you want to hate each other outside this class, I won’t stop you.”

“Now, we will be picking up where we left off last year with the Patronus charm. As most of you should know by now, the dementors have joined Voldemort,” again a collective shudder accompanied by several gasps greeted the name. Harry paused, shaking his head. “You’re all going to get have to get used to hearing that name. On second thought, you’ll all have to get used to saying the name. Anyone who uses some stupid pseudonym like You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or Dark Lord in these classes will lose house points. You’re all here because you want to learn how to fight back. If you fear Voldemort so much that you can’t even use his name, you’ll be useless if he ever shows up.”

He looked through the crowd searchingly and was satisfied that his message had been heard clearly. “Alright, now that that’s settled, let’s get to work. The Patronus Charm is very difficult to perform under the best of circumstances and requires intense concentration. Can anyone tell me what the most important aspect of the charm is?” Harry looked out at the crowd of students. Unsurprisingly, Hermione’s hand shot up immediately. Several others raised their hands as well. “Cho” Harry selected.

She smiled brilliantly at Harry as she stood up to her full height and recited, “The Patronus Charm requires the caster to focus an extremely happy memory to function properly.”

“You are correct,” Harry praised her. “That is the most common explanation you would find in a test book; however it is incomplete. Can anybody tell me why?” Not even Hermione’s hand rose into the air this time. In fact, she seemed insulted at the fact that Harry was implying that he knew more about the charm than the textbooks.

“You can conjure a Patronus with a happy memory, but it’s not exactly necessary. You must focus on an extremely powerful positive thought or emotion. You have to immerse yourself in that emotion as you cast the spell in order to conjure a fully corporeal Patronus. A happy memory is most often used simply because it is an easy way to bring about that positive emotion. If you associate a specific person or event to that powerful emotion you will often find your Patronus will take on a form that resembles that person or event in some way. For example, I was thinking of my dad when I first conjured a Patronus, and it took the form of my dad’s animagus, a stag. As you go through life, you may find that your Patronus will change forms corresponding to where you find your happiest thoughts.

“Now, the proper wand movement is as follows:” Harry demonstrated the wand movements from atop the stage. “The incantation is Expecto Patronum.” Harry focused inwardly on his happy thoughts and bellowed “Expecto Patronum.” A silver stag erupted from the tip of his wand and cantered around the stage to the applause of the students. “Now I want you all to take several minutes to focus on your happy thoughts and memories before you try. Remember: the more powerful emotion you’re feeling, the greater the result will be.”

The students all looked at each other for a moment before setting to the task. Most closed their eyes as they drifted through their thoughts to find the happiest ones they had. Within a couple minutes most people had smiles on their faces as they were immersing themselves in their happiness. There were some exceptions to this, though. Ron, in particular, still held a scowl on his face. Blaise Zabini’s face looked impassive. Hermione looked slightly annoyed but mostly reflected a mask of concentration.

Harry finally announced, “When you think you’re ready, you may begin.” Only a couple people remained still while the rest of the class began waving their wands and the words “Expecto Patronum” rang out across the hall. There had only been two people who were able to produce a corporeal Patronus last year before the lesson was interrupted. Harry remembered that lesson vividly because not only was it the last DA meeting, it was also the day that Dumbledore left Hogwarts. He remembered how bad he had felt when it was his club that had been the cause of Dumbledore’s problems with the law. They had tried to arrest him. He realized now that it would have happened eventually regardless. It was only a matter of time before they managed to get him out of Hogwarts and Umbridge in as the interim Headmistress.

Harry shook himself out of his musings and looked around the room. He spotted Cho’s swan Patronus easily as it was the only corporeal Patronus in the room. He scratched his chin as he searched out Hermione to see what happened to her otter. He spotted her bushy brown hair easily enough but found that she was struggling with the spell. She was able to produce a thick silvery mist that looked to be on the verge of taking form but couldn’t quite make it.

Harry decided to keep an eye on his friend while he began to walk around and offer help to those that were struggling. He congratulated Cho on her swan and asked her to practice it a couple more times, then to help others around her with the spell. He corrected a couple people on their grips and wand movements as he went on and encouraged those who were producing mist to concentrate hard on their happy memories or to try to find something better to focus on.

He eventually made it to Hermione, who was still only able to produce the thick silvery mist, much to her consternation. She already looked incredibly frustrated. He asked her, “How’s it coming, Hermy?”

She half pouted and half smiled at the nickname Hagrid’s giant half brother, Grawp, used for her. “I just don’t get it. I was able to do this last time, and now I can’t. I don’t understand why.” You could almost feel the tension in her voice.

“Hermione, are you frustrated?” Harry asked her bluntly.

“Well of course I am,” she snapped at him. “Last year I was able to do this, and now I can’t.”

“Well did you ever think that that may be part of the problem?” he asked her calmly.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll never be able to conjure a Patronus in that frame of mind. Take five or ten minutes to sit down, relax, and calm down. Find yourself some happy thoughts to focus on, then try again. I guarantee it will help.”

She gave him a tentative smile and turned toward one of the walls where a couch suddenly appeared. She gave the room a grin and walked over to the couch. She sat down, closed her eyes, and began to relax. Harry turned to Ron, who was still scowling and having absolutely no luck producing anything at all.

“You’ll never get anything if you keep up like that,” Harry told his friend.

“What do you know?” Ron retorted sharply.

“I know that you’re upset right now and that you’re not really concentrating on any happy thoughts.”

“And just how do you know that?” he asked.

“Well, my first clue was that scowl on your face. The slightly flushed look you’ve got was another hint. The fact that most everyone else in the room besides you is smiling helped to solidify that conclusion. Plus there’s the fact that you were pretty upset at the start of class,” Harry explained candidly.

“Well maybe if I didn’t have to keep an eye out for those bloody Slytherins I’d find it a little easier to relax,” Ron replied icily.

“I’m warning you right now, Ron. I won’t tolerate your attitude in my classes. Blaise and Daphne are here because I invited them. I promise you that you have nothing to worry about from them. I realize that you have a lifetime’s worth of prejudices and stereotypes to work through, but not every Slytherin is guaranteed to be evil. Not every Slytherin is a Malfoy or a Tom Riddle. If you can’t understand that, then at least respect me enough to handle things should they get out of hand, but I will not allow any more outbursts like today, alright?” Harry was struggling valiantly not to raise his voice at his stubborn friend.

“Whatever you say, professor,” Ron responded, turning his back on Harry and ending the conversation.

Harry sighed to himself and continued his rounds. He made sure that he stopped by each of the new members to welcome them and offer guidance. Everyone else had already had one lesson, well half a lesson anyway, before, but the new members were most likely performing the spell for the first time. When he came around to Blaise and Daphne, the two Slytherins, he found himself compelled to apologize for the behavior of his class.

“I’m sorry about everything,” he told them, gesturing to the room at large. “They’re really not bad people, just have the wrong idea about a few things. They’ll come around eventually.” ‘Hopefully,’ he added in his head.

Blaise nodded in agreement. “Don’t worry about it, Harry. We didn’t exactly expect a warm welcome.”

“But we do appreciate the fact that you’re sticking up for us,” Daphne chimed in sincerely. “It’s not easy being at odds with your friends, so it’s nice to know that you’re willing to go to that length for us.”

Harry looked down at his shoe laces for a moment while he willed the heat not to rise to his face at the praise. “It was the least I could do. I promised you guys that I’d be fair, and I meant it. I only wish I could talk some sense into every one else. There’s a few in there that you’ll find have no problem at all, but unfortunately those aren’t the outspoken ones.” Harry shook his head to clear his thoughts and shifted topics. “Well enough about that, how are your Patronuses coming along? Let’s see what you can do.”

Blaise was able to produce a strong mist that, like Hermione’s before, seemed to be on the verge of taking form but not quite there. Daphne, on the other hand, was barely getting any results. He noticed that her grip on her wand was a little too loose, causing some of her wand movements to lose their precision. So he spoke up. “Daphne, try tightening your grip on your wand. It should help make your wand movement more accurate.”

She gave him a nod and tried again, this time with a firmer grip. As she said the incantation “Expecto Patronum” a bright, silvery cloud burst out of her wand. It seemed to be trying to form something but the image was vague. It looked to be some sort of bird. A bright smile lit up her face, and she turned to him. “Thanks Harry.”

He returned her grin and said, “Anytime. Keep it up and you should have a fully corporeal Patronus in no time.” He turned to Blaise who was congratulating his friend. “Yours is right on the verge of forming, Blaise, but something seems to be holding it back. You may want to try to find a better thought or memory and see if that helps.” Blaise gave him a nod. “Well, keep it up, you two. I’m off to make my rounds.” They gave him a wave as he moved on to help others with the charm.

By the time the class was about over, Daphne had managed to create a hawk Patronus. Blaise’s Patronus was vaguely taking the form of some bear-like creature. Hermione was able to reproduce the otter that she had made the previous year, and several others added their own animals to the mix as well. Harry made his way back to the stage at the front of the class. He lifted the whistle that he had placed around his neck before the start of class to his lips and blew in it to gain the attention of the class.

“Thank you,” he said as everyone stopped what they were doing to turn towards him. “We’re just about out of time. I want to congratulate all those who were able to conjure a corporeal Patronus. For those of you that were unable to get yours to take form, don’t get discouraged. It is really advanced magic that many adult wizards are unable to perform. We will revisit Patronuses for the beginning of class on Sunday before moving on. I should warn you that you may see some physical activity in class on Sunday, so I would advise everyone to dress appropriately. Thanks again for coming.”

With that said, he stepped off the podium as most of the crowd exited the room. Hermione, Ginny, Neville, Luna, and surprisingly Cho lingered behind. Ron left with the rest of the group, obviously still upset. The other four milled on the other side of the room as Cho approached Harry. “I just wanted to say it was a very good lesson today, Harry,” she said with a warm smile.

“Er, thanks, Cho” Harry replied, a little uncomfortable with the look she was giving him. “I appreciate the support.”

“Any time, Harry,” she responded. She threw him a wink, then sashayed out the door. Harry watched her for half a moment before shaking his head to clear it.

Harry strode over to his friends who all gave him enquiring looks. He ignored them and asked, “So, what’d you think?”

They, in turn, all ignored his question. It was Ginny who asked the question on all of their minds. “So what did Miss Chang want?” There was a definite suggestive tone behind the inquiry.

Harry rolled his eyes at her and replied, “She just wanted to tell me that it was a good lesson.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Hermione joined in with a playfully derisive tone. “And she just had to wait for everyone else to leave the room before she could tell you this, did she?”

Harry shrugged his shoulders. “I’m the last person to ask if you want to know what’s going on in that girl’s head. I thought she was with Michael Corner now, anyway. So what are you lot on about?”

“Have we touched a nerve there, Harry?” Ginny questioned.

“Don’t be silly,” Harry waved his arm haphazardly. “Whatever there was between Cho and me is over and done with.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that, Harry. At least not for Cho, anyway. Didn’t you see the way she was swaying her hips as she walked away?” Hermione asked jeeringly.

“Whatever.” Harry refused to rise to their bait. He really didn’t have any feelings left for Cho, so their teasing didn’t have much effect on him. She was just another friend and HA member.

They seemed to realize this as well for they dropped the subject entirely, although that could also have been because of Luna’s next comment as well. “It’s good to see that you finally managed to fight off the Bluebelled Glazers that were damaging your vision, Harry. I imagine that’s why you don’t need glasses any more and why you were able to spot her hips swaying.” She said all of this very matter-of-factly while staring over Neville’s shoulder at something only she could apparently see.

Neville glanced at the others before replying with a simple “Oh.”

Ginny broke the silence that followed this pronouncement. “What say we all get out of here?” She led them over to the door.

Luna went her separate way to the Ravenclaw common room as the rest headed toward the portrait of the fat lady and the Gryffindor common room. As they walked through the halls, Harry spoke up. “Well I noticed your otter made another appearance toward the end of class Hermione. How were you two faring at the end of the lesson?” he asked of Neville and Ginny. “I don’t think I went by either of you toward the end.”

Ginny was the first to respond. “I’m still just getting mist. I’m not sure what the problem is, to be honest. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, but I just can’t get anything more than that.”

“Maybe you need to find a stronger thought or memory,” Harry supplied. “That really is the biggest key to the charm, stirring up a strong enough emotion to power the Patronus. I had a lot of trouble finding anything that would work until I tried using something that wasn’t a memory. You don’t necessarily have to concentrate on a solely happy thought or memory either; any positive emotion can work if it is strong enough: happiness, hope, pride, relief, love…” he ticked each one off on his fingers. “Any of those can work in the right circumstances. We’ll be doing a little more work on them Sunday. Try to come up with more thoughts and memories to use beforehand and see if they help. What about you Neville?”

“Oh, I’m in the same boat, I guess,” he replied. “I’ll try to come up with some better memories for Sunday.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Harry returned.

By the time breakfast was finished the next morning, Ron was back to his normal self, his anger at Harry completely forgotten. As they both had the morning off, they decided to retire up to the common room for a bout of wizard’s chess. To no one’s surprise, Harry was thoroughly trounced by Ron’s chess prowess.

Harry’s mind was not in the chess game, nor was it in any of his lessons that day. The entire day he could only think of the Occlumency lesson with Snape he’d be having that night after dinner. After lunch, he only had Transfiguration followed by three hours of free time. Since both Ron and Hermione had Herbology afterward, Harry had little trouble sneaking back up to the Room of Requirement for another training session.

He began the session as he always did, with the training dummies. He spent time dodging spells and fighting back, as normal. With an hour still left before dinner, though, Harry decided to try something a little different. He wanted to find some way to settle his nerves which had been on edge all day in anticipation of the Occlumency lesson that evening. So he asked the Room for a punching bag. Not an ordinary punching bag, mind you. No, this was a very specific punching bag. It was shaped like a human, male to be exact. The dummy was taller than Harry, probably about six feet tall. It was shrouded mostly in black and had a very distinct face with a hooked nose. Greasy, life-like hair sat on top of the dummies head. Yes, beating the stuffing out of Snape was definitely one way to relieve some tension.

When he made his way to dinner, he was feeling much better than he had all day. He had a secretive smile on his face throughout the entire meal, thinking about the guilty pleasures he had just indulged in. He took the time at the dinner table to do some mental organization and preparation. Ron and Hermione didn’t seem to notice as they were caught up in an argument about something or another. Harry didn’t really pay much attention to what it was they were arguing over. He was sure it didn’t really matter. He noticed that Ginny was giving him some pensive looks. She had probably noticed that he was quiet and withdrawn. He gave her a smile to let her know that he was okay.

He made sure to leave with plenty of time to make it to the dungeons by 6:00. The last thing he wanted to do was show up late on the first day. Snape had made it abundantly clear that tardiness would not be tolerated in these lessons at all. And he really needed Snape to test the strength of his mental barriers. Even after he had started studying Occlumency, he still experienced pains in his scar, and he still had that one vision and the occasional flash of Voldemort’s emotions. He thought he was able to block Dumbledore’s mental probing after the start of term feast, but it was hard to tell with his Headmaster. Tonight he would know once and for all whether or not any of his summer preparations had worked.

He knocked on the door to Snape’s classroom at five minutes to six. There was no response. He knocked again, loudly, and rubbed his knuckles as he pulled his fist back. Perhaps he had knocked a little too forcefully. The skin looked a little raw, but he hadn’t used enough force to break the skin, so he wasn’t too concerned about it. There was still no response from inside the classroom, so Harry stood to the side of the door, leaning against the wall.

He glanced at his watch after a time. Four minutes had passed and still no sign of Snape. He wondered if it was possible that the Potion’s Master had just forgotten about the lesson when he caught a glimpse of a figure approaching. Black robes billowing out behind him, Professor Severus Snape strode purposefully down the corridor. He threw open the doors to the classroom and entered.

Harry wearily followed after his least favorite professor, already beginning to regret his decision to pursue these lessons with Snape. He quickly quashed those thoughts and reinforced his mental barriers. He did not want to be caught off guard. “Close the door,” the man barked at him. Unaffected by the harshness or volume of his tone, Harry did as he was told.

Snape, as he had done the year prior, began siphoning thoughts from his head and inserting them into a pensieve. Guilt crept into the back of Harry’s mind as he remembered the last time he had seen that pensieve in this classroom. He had witnessed the cruelty of his father towards Snape firsthand, and he didn’t like it. It had been much too reminiscent of his own experiences with bullies for his liking. Harry had been putting up with bullies his entire life. Before he became a wizard, he went to school with Dudley and other kids from the neighborhood. Dudley and his gang had scared off anyone who might have considered befriending the scrawny, bespectacled boy that was Harry Potter. They had been intent on making that boy as miserable as possible. They humiliated, tormented, and abused him for their own entertainment time and time again.

Hogwarts had its fair share of bullies as well. The most notable one was, of course, Draco Malfoy. But where Dudley and his gang had been formidable enemies, Draco was not. Harry never stood a chance against his cousin and his gang. They were all bigger and stronger than he was, and he didn’t have any means to fight back. But Draco was a different story. Really, Draco was just a spoiled brat whose bark was much worse than his bite. Draco could talk with the best of them, but he was often quick to back off from or avoid confrontations altogether. The only time he ever initiated a confrontation was when he was at a distinct advantage. Harry wasn’t really worried about Malfoy. He was just a coward riding his daddy’s coattails.

Harry was interrupted from his musings when Snape locked away the pensieve in a cabinet on the wall. Sneer in place, the Potions Master turned toward Harry and spat, “Clear your mind.”

‘How utterly predictable,’ Harry thought to himself.

A moment later the professor had raised his wand and violently whispered, “Legilimens!”

Harry felt as if a battering ram had just smashed into his mind. When he had been blocking Dumbledore a week ago, the old man had barely been grazing the surface of his mind. The presence was hardly even felt by Harry. This was different, forceful, painful. But his shield held. Shock registered for only a moment on Snape’s face before his sneer snapped back into place. “It seems you have been practicing. Let’s see how your mind stacks up. Legilimens!”

Harry felt the battering ram again, only this time it didn’t relent after its initial attack. It backed up and crashed into his mental wall again and again and again. Harry held on for all he was worth, but he was unaccustomed to holding the shield in place in the face of an assault, let alone one of such viciousness. After a couple minutes of the hard fault battle he felt the walls in his mind start to crumble, and Snape emerged victorious. He was not, however, immediately granted the spoils of his conquest. Harry still had his trunks. Snape was given random, inconsequential memories and thoughts that began to float past his consciousness. He shunted them aside looking for more meaningful memories but found none.

Taking advantage of the man’s distraction, Harry pushed with all his mental might at the unwelcome guest in his mind. He felt the presence forcefully ejected from his mind and watched as Snape stumbled backwards. He backed up into his desk and ended up sitting on it with a muffled “Oomph.” While Snape was still trying to orient himself, Harry quickly began to rebuild the shattered wall in his mind. He was going to be ready for the man’s next assault.

“Impressive, Mr. Potter,” Snape congratulated emotionlessly as he stood up from his desk. “But not good enough, I’m afraid,” he continued in a growl. “If you cannot hold up against my assault, you’ll have no hope standing up to the Dark Lord. Take time every night to reinforce the barriers in your mind. We shall meet again next week. You are dismissed.”

A bit taken aback at the prompt end to the lesson, Harry nodded dumbly and strode to the door. He opened it up and walked outside. As he shut the door behind himself, he glanced back into the room and saw Snape shakily slump into the chair behind his desk. His face lit up in a wide grin as the door clicked shut. It was definitely a good start.

The next morning after breakfast, Ron headed off to Divination while Hermione went to the library. Harry was headed toward the Room of Requirement to work with the training dummies, but a hand caught his shoulder as he deviated from the path to Gryffindor Tower. Spinning around to find the source, he came face to face with Dean Thomas.

Dean looked a little unsure of himself as he spoke up. “Hey Harry, can I ask you something?”

Harry looked at the boy carefully, wondering what it was that was on his mind. “Sure. Do we need to head somewhere more private or…?” he trailed off leaving the question open in the air.

Dean shrugged. “It’s not really necessary. Look, I wanted to ask you about Ron…” he trailed off seemingly unsure how to proceed.

“What is it?” Harry prompted. “Is something wrong with Ron?”

“I’m not sure,” Dean replied. “He’s been acting weird around me ever since we got back. At first I thought it was just my imagination, but now I’m not so sure. He seems fine around everyone else, but rarely ever speaks to me and when he does his tone completely changes, goes cold, scathing almost. Almost feels like I’m talking to Malfoy or something…Anyway, you wouldn’t happen to know what’s up with him, would you? Did I do something? Or say something?”

“Have you confronted him about it?” Harry asked, already having an idea of what the cause was but not wanting to have to explain it to Dean. He didn’t imagine Ginny would like that, and he didn’t know how Dean would react.

“I tried to ask him if anything was wrong, but he just says everything’s fine, then turns away,” Dean said, waving his arms in the air exasperatingly.

Harry let out a low sigh before answering. “I think I might have an idea of what it could be. It’s not anything that you did, and it’s not anything Ron should be upset about. It’s more of a misunderstanding than anything. I don’t want to say anything until I can check a couple facts, so can I get back to you?”

Dean shrugged his shoulders. “Yeah, I guess so. I don’t mean to get you involved in anything. It’s just getting bloody frustrating, especially since we sleep in the same room. I figured if anybody would know what was going on it would be you.”

“Hey, no problem,” Harry said with a smile. “I’ll talk to you later, Dean.”

As Dean headed back toward Gryffindor Tower, Harry continued his trek to the Room of Requirement. He didn’t think Ginny could have forgotten to tell Ron the truth about her lack of a relationship with Dean, but he wanted to ask her about it to make sure. And he was not about to tell Dean about her fib without asking for her permission first. He struggled to remember what she had said her schedule looked like today. He knew she had mentioned it at breakfast that morning. He thought she said she had double DADA first thing in the morning, then a break before lunch. That gave him two hours to train before her class would let out.

Harry asked the room for his usual training room with the training dummies and after setting up various privacy wards, set to work. He went through periods of dodging without magical aid, full out dueling, and dueling with no shields. He left himself plenty of time to wash up and get to the DADA corridor to head Ginny off after her class ended. When he reached his destination, he had three minutes to spare before the bell.

He leaned up against the wall a little ways down the corridor and waited for the class to be let out. Soon enough the door to the classroom was opening, and the 5th year Gryffindors and Ravenclaws were streaming out of the brightly lit classroom. He caught Luna’s eye as she passed and gave her a warm smile along with a nod of greeting.

He finally spotted the familiar mane of red hair belonging to one Ginny Weasley coming out of the classroom. She was one of the last ones out, conversing animatedly with Jack Sloper and one of the girls in her year. Harry thought her name might be Mandy but couldn’t say for sure. As they were walking toward him, Ginny looked up and their eyes locked for a moment. A broad grin graced her lips and was accompanied a moment later by a mischievous glint in her eyes.

“Professor Potter,” she greeted. “How lovely to see you today. What brings you to this fine corridor?”

“You know,” Harry mused thoughtfully, scratching his chin idly, “I could give you detention for mocking a professor.”

“Well, Professor Potter,” Ginny purred as she sidled up to Harry, “would I be serving that detention with you personally?” Ginny’s female friend giggled girlishly as heat flooded Harry’s face at the thinly veiled innuendo, giving him a blush to rival any Weasley’s.

Harry gulped audibly as he took a moment to compose himself. When he responded it was in a brisk, business-like tone. “As a matter of fact, yes. If you would please follow me to my office, I will give you the details momentarily.” He turned on his heel and, without a second glance back, strode purposefully to his office on the 5th floor. When he reached the door, he opened it up and waited outside in the hallway. A moment later Ginny rounded the corner and walked up to the door, shooting Harry a questioning glance which he studiously ignored. Without comment, he motioned her to precede him into the office with a wave of his hand.

Ginny stood in the middle of the room while Harry shut the door behind him, surreptitiously adding privacy wards with a wave of his hand, and sank into one of the arm chairs. Ginny followed suit, sitting in the seat opposite him. He maintained his stoic expression for a moment before breaking into a broad grin and letting out a hearty guffaw. “Well played. I must say I am impressed. I’ve been working hard on maintaining complete control over my emotions, but that comment caught me completely off guard.”

“What can I say?” she asked, a wide smile lighting up her face. “It’s a gift.”

“Indeed,” he replied seriously. “But all flirtations aside, there was a reason I was waiting for you in the corridor.”

“Oh?” she purred suggestively, leaning forward in her chair.

“Stop that,” he reprimanded with a grin.

“Sorry,” she said unapologetically. “Go on. What did you need to talk to me about?”

“Well, it’s about Dean actually,” he started. “And Ron. Dean stopped me after breakfast this morning. He asked me if he had done anything to upset Ron because your brother has apparently been pretty cold to him lately.”

“Oh no,” Ginny groaned.

“Please tell me that you remembered to tell Ron the truth about you and Dean,” Harry said pleadingly.

“Of course I remembered to tell him,” she scolded distractedly. “I was just counting on Ron being reasonable about the whole situation once he found out the truth and dropping the animosity he had built up over the summer towards Dean. I obviously gave my brother too much credit.”

“Well then the way I see it we have two problems to deal with,” Harry said logically. “How do we get Ron to quit being a prat? And what do we tell Dean?”

Ginny groaned as she slumped forward, putting her head in her hands.

“Okay, first things first: do you want me to talk to Ron for you?”

“No,” Ginny stated. “It’s my fault he’s being a prat. And he’s my brother. I should be the one to set him straight. I don’t want him taking any of his anger out on you.”

“Well, if you need any help with him, let me know,” he told her. “Now, what should I tell Dean. I already told him that I might know the cause and that it wasn’t anything he had done but was more of a misunderstanding on Ron’s part than anything else. I didn’t want to say any more than that without talking to you first.”

“Thanks, Harry,” she told him sincerely, reaching forward and lightly squeezing his knee. “It’s nice of you to look out for me, but I think we should tell him the truth. He’s got a right to know why my brother is being a prat to him. God, that’s going to be an embarrassing conversation.”

“I’ll talk to Dean and explain everything for you,” Harry offered. “You just worry about setting your brother straight.”

“No,” Ginny shook her head. “No, I should be the one to tell him. This is my mess, and you shouldn’t have to clean it up.” By the time she finished the statement, her head was bowed forward, buried in her hands.

“Ginny,” Harry said gently, reaching forward and tilting her face up to meet his gaze. “That’s what friends are for, right? Helping clean each other’s messes? You worry about Ron and let me talk to Dean.”

Ginny’s eyes sparkled as she was caught in Harry’s mesmerizing gaze. “Thank you, Harry. That really means a lot. I was not looking forward to that conversation…I don’t even really know the bloke.”

“It’s nothing,” he said warmly, finally removing his finger from her chin and leaning back in his seat. He turned his gaze to the fireplace, which sparked to life at that very moment. He sighed contentedly.

After several minutes Ginny broke the silence. “Harry?” she asked tentatively.

“Hmmm?” he answered distractedly.

“I hate to bring this up right now, what with you just agreeing to help me with the whole Ron/Dean situation…” she began hesitantly.

Harry turned his full attention back to the red-haired young woman sitting opposite him. “Ginny, don’t ever hesitate to ask me for anything. If you need something, then just ask away,” he told her warmly, then added as an afterthought, “The worst thing that can happen is I say no.”

“Well, I’ve just been thinking,” she stated, “and I know that you’re really busy and all, what with your regular classed and the HA and Quidditch and everything, but I was wondering if you could help me with something, a little project I’d like to start working on.”

“I’d be glad to help you Ginny,” Harry stated honestly and unhesitantly. “Just tell me what you need.”

She smiled warmly at him as she continued. “Well I really want to become an animagus. And I was hoping that maybe you could help teach me. I can do any necessary reading on my own, I was just hoping that maybe you can help me out with the transformation. I know you’re busy, so I don’t expect you to put a lot of time into it, but if you could maybe meet with me an hour or two a week, I would really appreciate it.”

“I think it’s a great idea,” Harry responded genuinely. “Of course I’ll help you out, as best I can anyway. I don’t think I really managed the transformation by conventional means, but I might be able to help you along.”

“Oh, Harry, thank you,” Ginny all but squealed as she launched herself out of her chair into Harry’s lap, wrapping her arms around his neck.

Harry laughed as he caught her around the waist. “Now, Miss Weasley,” he began in a formal tone, “do you thank all your teachers this way? I’m not quire sure it passes as acceptable behavior for a student/teacher relationship.”

Ginny swatted his arm playfully. “Don’t be a prat, Harry.” She let herself slip out of his lap and back onto solid ground.

“To start your training, we’ll need to brew the animagus potion. I don’t have all the ingredients needed, as I asked you for exactly what I needed over the summer, and nothing more. I’ll need to stop by Diagon Alley to pick them up, perhaps this weekend.”

“Harry, you can’t just go to Diagon Alley,” Ginny protested, turning swiftly towards where he was still seated in the armchair.

“And just why not?” Harry asked, amused at her reaction.

“What if you got caught? You could be expelled for something like that. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if you got in trouble because of me,” she scolded hotly.

“Don’t be silly,” he stated, earning him a sharp glare from the hot-tempered girl. “First of all, I won’t be caught. Secondly, Dumbledore wouldn’t dare turn me out even if he did find out. I’d be in for the lecture of a lifetime, sure, and he’d be keeping a much closer eye on me than he has been, but there is no way he’d even consider kicking me out.”

“How can you be so sure?” she asked him.

“Just trust me on this one. Dumbledore would do everything in his power to keep me here, to keep me under his thumb and locked up as securely as possible, if he had his way. That’s why he doesn’t know about any of my summer-time discoveries and adventures. As long as he doesn’t suspect that I’m capable of going out on my own, he won’t keep close enough watch on me to actually prevent me from doing so. I think that’s why he offered me the assistant professorship, to try to keep me busy and satisfied here, to distract me from what’s going on outside. He thinks that as long as I have something to focus on, I’ll leave the war in his hands until he deems me ready.”

“Harry?” Ginny asked uncertainly. “What do you mean?”

“Hmm?” he said distractedly. “Oh, nothing, just going off on a tangent. Basically he thinks that I’ll be content to sit on the sidelines and watch the war play out, but he’s got another thing coming. I’ll play the good little boy for now, to keep him off my back until I’m ready. I managed to get quite a lot done this summer without anyone noticing, and I left the house nearly every day if for nothing else than to get some exercise as an animagus.”

“So that’s why you were always telling us not to feel bad for you, that this summer was so much better than usual. Here we were cooped up in the house feeling sorry for you because you were stuck with the muggles with absolutely nothing to do; all the while you were out gallivanting around Diagon Alley and running around as a panther,” she exclaimed in a mixture of mirth and indignation.

“I did tell you not to feel bad for me,” Harry said around a smug smile. “It’s not my fault nobody listened.”

“Nobody listened because we all just assumed you were stuck in the house with your relatives all day every day. When you weren’t begging us to get you out of there, we assumed that it was because you didn’t want to face us, that you were still feeling guilty about what happened in June. Imagine our surprise when you showed up at King’s Cross with long hair, no glasses, a physique that is already driving the female population of this castle crazy, and instead of being all gloomy, you laugh and smile and joke around.”

“But I sent out letters saying I was doing much better…” Harry began.

“I know what you said in your letters,” Ginny interrupted him, standing from her seat. “But it would be just like you to say ‘I’m fine’ when you’re dying, emotionally or physically.” His only response was a grin and a nod. “See? We didn’t know what to think. I thought that you’d be okay, but I never expected this.” She gesticulated wildly in his direction with her hands before falling back into her chair with an “oomph.”

“Got that out of your system now?” he asked with unabashed amusement.

She glared at him, but the effect was ruined as a smile tugged at her lips. “For now, anyway.”

He let loose a mild chuckle before continuing. “Good. Now as I was saying earlier, I’ll need to run over to Diagon Alley for a quick run to the apothecary this weekend. I think it opens at 8:00, so maybe I’ll go during breakfast tomorrow. We’ll need to come up with a cover story to tell people if they ask me where I was at breakfast.”

“But Harry, how will you get off the grounds to disapparate?” Ginny asked him.

Harry cocked an eyebrow at her and grinned roguishly. “I have my ways.”

She rolled her eyes at him and said, “So what will we tell anyone who asks where you were?”

“Hmmm,” he wondered as he tapped his foot on the hearthrug in front of the fire. “How about this? We push it back to Sunday morning. I need you to come to breakfast with me first thing in the morning, so you’re there before everyone else. I’ll eat a quick breakfast and tell you that I’ll be in my office to finish preparations for the day’s classes. Anyone who is there will have seen me and possibly heard me. And you can say that I stopped by but went up to my office to get some work done. I’ll bring my invisibility cloak with me, so I can sneak in and out and back into my office without anyone being any the wiser.”

“Sounds like you’ve got it covered,” she told him.

**************

Harry managed to grab Dean after dinner and led him into an unused classroom. Dean sat on one of the desktops as Harry paced in front of him. “Okay, I’m pretty sure I know why Ron’s acting the way he is.” Harry launched into an explanation of how Ginny had told Ron that they were dating just to get a rise out of him and went on to describe Ron’s overprotective brother routine last year with Michael Corner and how unreasonable he had been over the summer as well. He told Dean that he had talked to Ginny about it today and that she was confronting Ron about it, so hopefully Ron would quit being a prat for no good reason.

Dean had sat quietly throughout the whole story, brow furrowed. When Harry finally finished talking and looked at him expectantly, Dean finally spoke. “Well, I guess that explains it then,” he said simply. “I wish someone had told me about it beforehand, though.”

“Well, we didn’t expect Ron to hold a grudge against you after he found out the truth,” Harry explained.

“Oh it’s not that. That’s not a big deal, really.” Here Dean grinned wolfishly at him. “I just wish Ginny had told me beforehand. I mean, if her brother was gonna be mad at me anyway, I could have at least enjoyed some of the benefits of it, eh mate?”

Harry didn’t know whether to laugh because Dean was taking it so well or knock him upside the head for the insinuation. In the end he chose neither. “Well it’s over now anyway,” he said at length. “Ginny oughta be able to set Ron straight pretty quickly. Believe me, she is one girl you do not want to get on the bad side of.”

“You speaking from experience, mate?”

“Mostly second-hand experience, thankfully,” Harry admitted. Dean had laughed at that.

“Well, thanks for explaining everything, I guess,” Dean said. “I think I’ll head back up to the common room now.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Harry agreed.

When they reached the fat lady’s portrait and entered through the opening, Harry scanned the crowd of Gryffindors for the trademark Weasley red hair. He spotted Ginny at a table with a few girls from her year with several books opened in front of them. She glanced up as he and Dean walked in with a questioning look on her face. He gave her a thumbs up to let her know it went alright. She awarded him a smile in reply and mouthed the words “thank you.”

*************

Sunday morning came soon enough, and Ginny found herself walking through the halls towards the Room of Requirement. They had agreed the night before that she would meet Harry there after his workout, then proceed down to the Great Hall together. Harry would eat quickly and head over to his office. He would open the door, walk in, throw on his invisibility cloak, walk back out right away and shut the door.

Ginny was early. She had agreed to meet Harry at ten to 8:00, but she was ready at 7:30 and decided to just head over early. She wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when she got there. Harry had mentioned that after his morning jog, he would go to the Room of Requirement to work out, but she had no idea what this entailed. When she reached the correct hallway, she found that a door was already in place across from the portrait of Barnabas the Barmy, so she quietly let herself in.

The room was somewhat large and was filled with racks holding weights scattered throughout. There were various contraptions in one section that she was completely unfamiliar with. Another section was relatively open and covered with a cushioned mat. Ginny absently walked toward the workout machines, though she had no idea what they were for, and continued to observe her surroundings.

As she walked further into the room she could make out someone’s heavy breathing. She weaved her way through the machines to find the source. When she finally found him, her breath caught and she had to grab hold of a nearby machine to steady herself. Hanging on a bar attached to the wall, shirtless, was Harry Potter. She slowly sank down onto the seat of the machine she was clutching and observed him unobtrusively.

She watched as he hung there for a minute, motionless, with sweat dripping down his face and exposed torso. His hair was tied back behind his head to keep it out of his face, but a few wisps had escaped and were sticking to the sweat on his cheeks. He adopted a look of concentration as he resumed his workout, completely unaware of the audience.

Ginny watched, mesmerized, as the muscles in Harry’s arms and chest contracted as he pulled himself up until his chin rose above the bar. He slowly lowered himself down, muscles rippling all the way. As soon as his arms were completely extended, he grunted as he exploded upwards again, chin rising above the bar. He slowly lowered himself yet again, and Ginny was hypnotized. She found she could not move, nor could she calm her pounding heart. She may have given up on her crush on the boy Harry Potter, but she could not deny her attraction to the man in front of her.

Only this time it had nothing to do with him being Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, nor did it have anything to do with how noble and brave he had been, nor how selfless he was. It had nothing to do with who Harry Potter was deep down inside that had captured her attention in the past. All of those things attracted her to Harry despite his appearance. That’s not to say Harry was unattractive before. His eyes had always been breathtaking, and he had always been kind of cute, but this was different. This was not cute; this was sexy. He no longer had his boyish good looks. This was a man, pure and simple, and about as fine a specimen as she had ever seen.

There wasn’t an ounce of fat on his body that she could see. And given the view that she was getting right now, that was actually saying something. Even from the distance she was at, she could pick out various muscles on him. His abs were well defined, giving him a nice six pack. His chest was sculpted perfectly. As he slowly lowered himself down again, she could see his biceps and triceps bulging on his arms. As she continued to watch him, she unconsciously licked her suddenly dry lips.

And then he dropped from the bar and fell the couple feet over which he had been suspended. He grabbed his shirt from the ground nearby and proceeded to wipe the sweat off his face and neck with it. As he finished wiping himself down, he finally looked up and noticed that he was no longer alone. A blush started to form, and she was secretly thrilled to find that it was not confined to his face. Even so, she could feel the heat in her own face and knew that she was probably even redder than he.

He nervously crossed his arms across his chest and glanced down at his own naked torso. He looked back up at her, and a silence descended upon them. After about a minute spent just looking at each other, Ginny finally came to some of her senses and spoke up. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt or anything. I was running early, so I decided to just come right over rather than waiting around. When I came in here I just got curious and started walking around.” She said all of this rather quickly.

“It’s alright,” he told her honestly. “I was just surprised to see you there is all. I didn’t hear you come in, and I’m not used to company when I’m here.”

“Oh,” she stated glumly. “Well, I can wait outside if you’d prefer.” She started backing away from him back toward the exit.

“No!” he exclaimed a little louder than necessary. “No, it’s fine, really. I was just finishing anyway. Let me just take a quick shower, and I’ll meet you back out here in a bit.”

“Shower?” she wondered aloud.

“This is the Room of Requirement, you know?” he asked her as he pointed to a door that had just appeared on a side wall. “I won’t be long.”

She nodded absently and watched as he walked through the newly formed door. She sank down onto the cushioned seat of the machine she was standing next to and let her mind wander. An image of Harry, shirtless, doing chin-ups kept flashing through her mind. It was a tough mental image to shake. She had known that he had changed a lot over the summer and had already figured that he was much more muscular than the previous year based on how his new wardrobe fit him. But it was entirely different to actually see his muscular form in action. Once the female population realized just what he was hiding under those bulky robes, there wouldn’t be a single woman left who was not fawning over Harry Potter.

She was glad that she had worked so hard to get over her nervousness around Harry; otherwise, she would probably be a puddle at his feet right now. Even with all the work she had put in, she had still been embarrassed and nervous beyond belief when he had noticed her watching him. But what could he expect? He had completely caught her off guard. Now that she knew what to expect, she was sure she would be able to handle herself in the future.

It did throw quite a gear into her mind’s inner workings though. Harry continued to surprise her this year, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. Over the last year she had thought she was finally moving past Harry. She had dated Michael Corner for almost the whole of her fourth year, not that it was ever anything terribly serious, but she had finally let go of all her girlish fantasies about Harry. She had never really stopped caring about Harry, only dropped the hopeless adoration and hero-worship.

But she wasn’t entirely sure where that left her and what her feelings for Harry were now. There was definitely some attraction there; there was no use even trying to deny that. Any girl who could see what she just saw and claim otherwise was lying through her teeth. He was gorgeous. But she had always felt some attraction for him physically. His eyes had always been his most attractive feature for her, and those definitely had not changed. Now there was so much more though.

But what about beyond physical attraction? It was easy to forget about her feelings for Harry last year because he had been such a moody and annoying prat. She still cared for him despite his attitude, but it wasn’t difficult to think of other boys or even to date another boy with Harry being so glum. But this year he was different. This year he was in control. It was such a big change that she could hardly believe he was the same person. Last year he had been lost and completely without direction. His emotions often got the better of him, and he was spinning wildly out of control. Now he had reined his emotions in. He was playful, happy…flirtatious even, which she still had trouble believing.

He still had a serious side, but he seemed to know that there was a time and place for it. He still embarrassed somewhat easily as well, yet he no longer allowed the feeling to immobilize him. He recovered himself quickly and managed to keep his dignity in tact. He had learned to control his temper as well. He no longer lashed out without thinking but kept a cool head and dealt with gits like Malfoy coolly.

There was plenty there to draw any girl in, but she just wasn’t sure. She knew that she loved him as a friend. That was a certainty. But after falling in love with the Boy-Who-Lived image in the past, she was not going to cast her lot in without really getting to know him first. She would be his friend, she resolved. And the future would speak for itself.

About ten minutes after he disappeared, Harry walked back into the workout room clean, refreshed, and fully dressed. “Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said to Ginny.

“Oh, it’s no problem,” she replied easily. “Like I said, I was the one who was early. You ready to head down to the Great Hall now?”

“Yeah, let’s get going.”

And so they walked through the still empty hallways and down the staircases leading to the Great Hall. They did not run into a single person on their trek as there were still 5 minutes until breakfast would begin being served. Nobody was ever down to breakfast early on a Sunday except Harry. He had been there for the start of the meal last week as well. It made sense since he was up so early to jog and work out. Breakfast was extended on the weekends for those who wished to sleep in, and he did not much feel like waiting for everyone else to finally wake up so that he could eat.

They entered the Great Hall to find all the house tables empty. Professors McGonagall and Snape were the only two other people present in the hall and were sitting up at their usual seats at the head table. The two Gryffindors sat next to each other at their house’s table ignoring the questioning glances their head of house was shooting them. They chatted amicably for several minutes before food began appearing on the table. Harry tucked into his breakfast with fervor, while Ginny just casually munched on various foods as she carried the conversation. She had all the time in the world, after all, while Harry was in a bit of a rush to get to Diagon Alley and back before his class began at 10:00.

By the time Harry was finishing up his meal, several students had filtered in to the Great Hall and migrated to their respective house tables. A few Gryffindors had joined them a little ways down the table, while the rest of the early risers seemed to be split pretty evenly between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. The Slytherin table was still empty.

Harry announced his departure loud enough for the Gryffindors further along the table to hear but not so loud as to seem abnormal. He told Ginny he would see her later and strode out of the hall. He walked decisively to his office on the fifth floor, opened the door, and stepped inside. Without closing the door, he ducked into a corner of the room and donned his invisibility cloak. Once completely covered, he exited the room and shut the door with a wave of his hand.

He made his way up to the top of the West Tower to the owlery. He decided the best way to get off of the grounds would be to fly away as an owl. He made sure there was nobody around when he arrived, then made the transformation. He rose into the rafters and spotted his snowy white companion. He greeted Hedwig and explained that he was off to run an errand in Diagon Alley. When she offered to fly with him, he told her that he wouldn’t be flying the whole way, just far enough off the grounds to change back into human form before apparating the rest of the way.

So Harry set off. He flew through one of the windows set high atop the tower and soared off into the open sky. There were scattered clouds this morning that were currently hiding the sun, but they were not enough to put a damper on the beautiful day. There was still bright blue sky to behold, and there was hardly anything in the world that could take away from the joy of flying. Harry soared on the air currents, letting them carry him out above the lake. He circled a bit, occasionally beating his wings to correct his flight, and thoroughly enjoying the freedom flying always offered.

After a couple minutes playing above the lake, he resumed his course to the outskirts of Hogsmeade, where he used to apparate during the summer when he wanted to play in his animagus forms. When he reached a secluded enough spot, he reverted back to human form still covered in his invisibility cloak. It was nifty how anything you were wearing would change with you when you transformed. He shrugged out of the cloak and quickly stored it in his trunk which he kept in a pocket on his person at all times.

He needed to change his appearance before he could head into Diagon Alley, so he changed his hair color to the light brown color he had used over the summer. He shortened his hair considerably, leaving it so short that his hair couldn’t even act up on him. He applied a glamour charm to the scar on his forehead as a finishing touch. He conjured a mirror to check his appearance and found that he looked nothing like his usual self, except his eyes. He almost forgot to change his contacts. He quickly made the switch and found brown eyes now staring back at him in the mirror.

Satisfied, Harry vanished the mirror, placed his trunk back in his pocket, and apparated to Diagon Alley. He found the street relatively deserted with just a few shoppers moving between stores. Paying them little heed, Harry started towards the apothecary. It didn’t take him long to find everything he needed, and ten minutes after walking into the store, he exited with the ingredients stored in his trunk.

He still had plenty of time before he needed to be back at Hogwarts, so he decided to walk around a little. As he walked past Gringotts, he noticed a horridly brightly painted shop in green and pink on his left hand side. As he walked closer he realized with a start that today was September the 14th, making tomorrow the grand opening of Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes. Before he even saw the sign he knew what store he was looking at. No one other than Fred and George would ever paint a shop such flashy colors.

He walked by the shop and glanced in the windows as he passed. He saw Fred and George hard at work, stocking shelves and setting up displays. They must be preparing for the opening tomorrow. He was tempted to watch them for longer but really didn’t want to call attention to himself, so he decided to continue walking for a bit. When he reached the end of the alley, he decided it was probably time to start heading back.

He apparated back to the spot he had left from, returned his appearance to normal, and changed into an owl in less than a minute. He took the time to really enjoy his flight this time around, knowing that he had the time to spare. After flying about the school grounds for about 10 minutes he was joined by Hedwig. The pair could be seen flying in tandem, circling each other, chasing each other, and flying in synchronized patterns.

Harry was having the time of his life, flying with his most loyal and stable friend of the past six years. Hedwig had been with Harry through everything since he had been introduced to the wizarding world. Even when he was stuck with the Dursleys, she was always there with him. And she was there throughout his transformation this summer, both in the literal and metaphorical sense. She probably knew more of his secrets than anybody else, Sirius included. Even before he learned to converse with her, he had always talked to his owl. He had always felt like she understood him somehow. When he learned to talk with her, he wasn’t so much shocked that she understood everything he said but more of the fact that she was able to converse in her own way. He had never suspected that.

After flying about with Hedwig for 20 minutes, Harry decided that it was time to head back to his office. He did have classes to prepare for, after all. He and Hedwig flew together into the owlery. Hedwig perched on one of the rafters while Harry soared gracefully to the ground. He scanned the room carefully during his descent for anyone but found the place to be empty. So when he landed, he reverted back to human form and threw on his invisibility cloak yet again.

He carefully made his way back to his office. The halls were busier than they were in the morning, so he was forced to move slowly so as not to make any noise or bump into anyone. As he approached the corridor that housed his office, he heard some familiar voices up ahead of him.

“I don’t care if he wants to be left alone. He needs to know about this. Owls don’t normally fly together like that. It’s got to be some sort of mating ritual, and if Hedwig is going to be a mother soon, Harry should know about it,” Hermione huffed. Harry had to struggle not to burst out in a fit of laughter. It was bad enough when Ginny had written suggesting the two owls might be a little more than friendly, but for his friends to think that he had just performed a mating ritual with Hedwig…it was just too much.

After calming himself down some, he sped up and caught sight of Ron’s lanky form just as he was rounding the corner. They were about to reach his office door. Ginny’s reply echoed back to him. “I agree that he should know about it, but I don’t see why you need to do it right now. He told me that he was preparing for his classes and didn’t want to be disturbed unless it was urgent. I would hardly call this urgent. Besides, I already mentioned that he should watch out for this. Hedwig made friends with him sometime over the summer according to Harry.”

“Harry already knows about this owl?” Hermione paused and asked.

“Yes,” Ginny cried out. “I’ve been trying to explain that to you for the last five minutes, but you wouldn’t listen to me. He told me that the owl often visited when he was staying with his relatives.”

“But how can you be sure it’s the same owl?” Ron interjected. “Maybe that was some other owl that Hedwig made friends with.”

“I know because I met the owl that Harry was talking about,” Ginny replied shortly.

“When?” both Hermione and Ron asked simultaneously.

“When Harry sent me Em, he had the other owl carry all the supplies to go with her,” she explained.

As they continued talking Harry slipped past them to his office door. With a wave of his hand, he caused a suit of armor behind the trio to levitate just an inch off the ground and clang back down. When everyone looked to see what made the noise, Harry opened the door to his office, stepped in, threw off his cloak, stepped back out and shut the door behind him. “What’s with all the racket out here?” he asked his friends.

“Hey Harry,” Ginny greeted brightly. “How are the lesson plans coming along?”

“Just fine until you lot showed up making all that noise,” Harry mock scowled.

“Now wait just a minute,” Hermione started to counter.

“Lighten up Hermione,” Harry said with a smile. “I was just playing with you. So what brings you guys to my neck of the woods?”

“Well, we just caught Hedwig and a black owl doing what we think might be some kind of mating ritual over the grounds. We just thought you should know just in case. That way you don’t one day end up with a baby owl out of the blue,” Hermione explained to him.

He smiled brightly in return, still struggling to control his mirth. “I see. Those two did seem rather friendly over the summer, but I never thought it had anything to do with mating. What makes you think they were doing some sort of mating ritual?”

Hermione’s voice changed to what Harry called lecture mode. She often adopted this tone of voice when she was reciting an answer from a book or explaining something to somebody. “Well first of all, they were out flying together for pleasure during the day. Normally owls only fly for pleasure at night because they are nocturnal by nature. Secondly, I’ve never seen owls fly as coordinated as they were. It’s like they were dancing together or something. It was a beautiful sight to watch. Half of the girls in Gryffindor Tower were glued to the windows watching them fly together.”

“You don’t say,” Harry stated, honestly surprised that so many people had been watching them fly. “Thanks for the heads up. I’ll have to keep an eye on her. But for now I should get back to work. I need to finalize my preparations for the classes today. Don’t forget to wear something that will allow you some flexibility. We’re starting some new drills today.”

“What are we gonna be doing?” Ron asked.

“I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise,” Harry said with a smile. “You’ll find out soon enough. Just don’t wear anything bulky like your school robes and you’ll be fine. Spread the word around if you see any body else. I’m not sure if they will all remember.”

“Consider it done,” Ginny supplied as she grabbed the arms of Ron and Hermione to turn them around. “We’ll see you at lunch, Harry.”

“Yeah, see you mate,” Ron called out.

Harry gave them all a big wave. As they began walking the other way, Ginny glanced at him over her shoulder, one eyebrow cocked. He gave her a smile and a wink. Ginny gave him a grin and another little wave just before they turned the corner and were out of sight.

It wasn’t long afterwards that Harry found himself in the Room of Requirement standing in front of a large group of students instructing them on the mechanics of shielding spells. Most of his lesson with the beginners was spent perfecting protego. They also got some work done on petrificus totalus.

Lunch was a hurried affair for Harry. After his first lesson let out, he ran down to the Great Hall, scarfed down a quick lunch, and hurried back to the Room of Requirement to get it set up for his next class. He needed the room to be different than what he usually used, so he wanted the extra time to ensure that everything was set up correctly. After pacing back and forth three times in the correct spot imagining what he needed, Harry opened the door that appeared for him.

The first thing he noticed was the size of the room. It was large, much larger than their usual room, and rivaling the size of the Great Hall. There was a small stage in the front of the room for him to instruct from. On the ground over a dozen large circles were marked off across the room. Each circle looked to be a good fifteen to twenty meters in diameter. At the center of each of these large circles, a smaller circle was marked off that looked to be about a meter in diameter.

He went to each circle and cast a spell over it. The spell was a type of ward that was used often in dueling tournaments. Its purpose was to absorb any spells that impacted its barriers. Harry was using a weak version of the spell, as no strong spells were going to be cast by his students in their drills.

He paced around on the small stage for a while going over the lesson in his head. He reviewed what it was he was going to have them do and how he was going to implement it. Eventually students began filing into the room. When the clock struck 1:00, Harry shut and warded the doors with a wave of his wand. He pulled out the magical contract that everyone had signed and murmured “Show me non-members.” Nothing happened. Satisfied, Harry tucked the contract back in his robes and called for everyone’s attention. The whole room immediately quieted down and gave him their attention.

“Thank you. We will start the class off by working on the Patronus Charm some more. This will be the last time we cover it in this class. It is, however, very important that you all learn to cast this spell competently. If anyone continues to have trouble with it after today, you can always feel free to come talk to me about it outside of class.” Harry demonstrated the proper wand movements and incantation to the class again to remind them all. “Now, I want you all to find your positive thoughts and memories to focus on and give it a shot. If you found that you couldn’t quite get your Patronus to take form last class, you may want to try looking for a stronger thought or memory. The spell requires strong positive emotions to power it, so finding the right focus is pivotal. You may begin.”

Several students set to work almost immediately. The ones who were able to conjure a corporeal Patronus the last time were among this leading group, along with a couple other students. Harry noticed that among these other students were Ginny and Neville, whom Harry had spoken to after the last class. He had encouraged them both to try to think of something else to focus for this next attempt and was interested to see the results.

Neville was the first of the two to attempt the spell. He created a strong curtain of vapor that seemed to become dense in certain areas as if it was trying to form a shape but couldn’t quite manage it. Harry gave him an encouraging smile and glanced over at Ginny. She bore a mask of concentration on her face as she shouted out the words “Expecto patronum!”

A sleek silvery form emerged from her wand in a rush and circled her protectively. He moved closer to investigate the animal. It had four legs and a long tail. It moved gracefully like a cat. Ginny was beaming widely at her Patronus. She looked up and their eyes locked for a moment. A look of sudden realization appeared on her face for a moment as their eyes held each other. She suddenly looked away and a blush crept up her neck into her face. She refocused onto her Patronus and gave the mist a pat. Her hand went right through the form as it sat in front of her and it faded out of existence.

Hermione was next to Ginny and looked positively delighted for her friend. “Ginny!” she squealed, which was a new one for Harry because Hermione did not squeal ever; that was saved for other more girly girls. “It was gorgeous. It was some kind of cat wasn’t it?” Ginny only nodded in response, still blushing. “What kind of cat do you think it was? It was pretty big” Hermione mused. “It could have been a lioness or a lynx…a tiger perhaps, maybe a…” she gasped suddenly and drew a hand to her mouth. “I know what it was,” she proclaimed with a knowing smirk.

“Hermione…” Ginny warned, but Hermione paid her no heed.

“What was it you said your mysterious savior was again? Oh yes, I remember now: a panther,” Hermione was clearly enjoying this. Harry’s mouth opened a little in shock at this revelation. If Ginny’s form was a panther, then there was a pretty good chance that he could guess what memories she was using to power her Patronus. And it was somewhat flattering, if he was honest with himself.

Hermione, in the mean time, was continuing her torture of Ginny. “It makes sense really, after all you told me about him.”

“Hermione…you better stop it right now,” Ginny insisted, the threat in her voice blatant.

But again, Hermione ignored her and continued to torment her friend. “What was it that you said about him? How handsome and strong he was and how you felt so safe in his arms?” Harry grinned at this. Talk about your ultimate blackmail material.

Ginny, apparently, had had enough of this. “So, Hermione,” she called out loudly despite the fact that her friend was right next to her, “hear back from Viktor Krum yet? You did say you wrote to him recently, didn’t you?”

This did the trick. Hermione’s grin quickly evaporated. “What’s this about Vicky?” a voice asked loudly. Hermione’s shoulders tensed noticeably. She glared at Ginny who returned the look and stuck her tongue out at Hermione. Hermione turned around to face Ron, so Harry took his opportunity to approach Ginny.

“Quite a nice looking Patronus you had there,” Harry commended her airily. “Beautiful creature, if I do say so myself. Never have I seen anything move with such grace and power.”

“Oh shove off, Potter,” Ginny returned, shoving Harry’s shoulder.

“No need to get offended, Gin,” Harry calmly replied. “I was merely complimenting you. You did well. Conjuring a Patronus is an extremely difficult bit of magic. You should be proud of yourself and your Patronus.”

“Don’t even start with me Harry; I’m not in the mood.” And Harry could tell she was dead serious. He decided he should drop it before she opted to retaliate as she had done with Hermione. He dropped his teasing grin and looked at her seriously.

“I do mean it, though, Gin. Good job on your Patronus. I knew you could do it.”

She searched his eyes for any insincerity for a long moment. She must have been pleased with what she found, for she smiled suddenly and thanked him. Harry returned her grin and moved on to help out others who were having difficulty. He reprimanded Ron and Hermione for fighting when they should be working. He encouraged Neville to keep up the practice and that he would have it down in no time. And he made the rounds through the class. After a while, he decided that it was time to move on.

He strode to the small stage in the front of the room and hopped up onto it. A whistle appeared on the podium as he thought of his need for it. Harry grabbed it and blew. A high pitched noise echoed throughout the cavernous room and silence descended. All attention was now focused on Harry.

“Good work, all of you. That’s an exceptionally difficult spell to master. Those of you who managed a corporeal Patronus should be extremely proud of yourselves. Most of the average adult witches and wizards never progress that far with it. I encourage all of you to continue practicing the charm on your own, even those that did manage a corporeal Patronus. With the dementors on Voldemort’s side,” –the room flinched noticeably, but Harry pressed on –“it is only a matter of time before they start using them in their attacks. You will find it extremely difficult to cast a Patronus in front of dementors, much more difficult than conjuring one here in this room. It will take all of your focus to block out the effects of the dementors enough to concentrate on something positive, so it is important that you are ready should the time come.”

“Now it’s time for us to move on to the next part of today’s lesson. This is going to be a very different type of lesson for all of you. I asked you all to come wearing something that you would feel comfortable moving around in, and I see that not everybody heeded my advice. I have little doubt that you will be regretting that decision shortly.” The students all glanced at each other nervously, wondering what Harry had in store for them.

“You will notice that there are numerous circles marked off around the room,” Harry pointed out. The students began looking around them, and it was clear that many of them had not in fact noticed this detail. “The next part of the lesson will be spent working on dodging. Death Eaters use many spells that cannot be blocked by conventional shields, and three that cannot be blocked by any shields. It is important that you all learn how to avoid being hit by these spells in the first place.”

The students looked very worried at this, many wondering what it was they were going to be dodging. Others, like Parvati Patil and Lavender Brown seemed disgusted at the thought of doing any physical activity. “You will each pair up with another student. One student will stand in the small circle in the middle of the big circle. That person will be the caster. The other person will be the dodger. The dodger will be required to stay within the confines of the large circle.

“The caster will be shooting a mild stinging hex at the dodger. You should all know the spell, but in case you don’t, the incantation is morsus.” He demonstrated the wand movement to go with it. “The dodger is not to use any magic at all. You are expected to treat these spells as if they were Unforgivables coming at you. Ever since I was introduced to the wizarding world, the Unforgivables have been presented as an unblockable, unstoppable force. When you’ve got green light coming at you, you’re dead. There is no defense against them…blah blah blah. Well I’m here to tell you that’s a load of crap. You see green light coming at you, move out of the way. There’s your defense.

“I expect everybody to take this drill seriously. You could one day end up in a life or death situation and these skills could mean the difference. Anyone who I catch casting spells half heartedly or that I suspect is not trying to hit their target will be forced to dodge my own stinging hexes as punishment. I can guarantee that you won’t like it. We will work in five minute intervals. One partner will dodge for five minutes while the other casts. I will call time, then you will switch. Now everyone partner up.”

Unsurprisingly, friends sought each other out for this drill. Most people ended up pairing with someone from their own house. Blaise and Daphne paired up, as did Ron and Hermione. The only noticeable exceptions to this rule were Ginny and Luna who had decided to work together despite their house differences. Once everyone seemed to have a partner, Harry spoke up again.

“Alright. Does everybody have a partner?” Nobody fessed up to being partnerless, so Harry continued. “Good. I need all of you to spread out and each group occupy one circle. Decide amongst yourselves who will start as the caster and who will dodge first.”

There was a lot of shuffling around as they all moved to claim a circle. There was minimal strife in this process as each circle was identical to the next. When everyone seemed to be settled, Harry spoke again. “Now I want you all to try to cast the stinging hex at someone in another circle.”

The class all looked at each other as if he was crazy. Ginny, not one to pass up an excellent opportunity, cast a stinging hex towards Ron. She was shocked when the hex impacted an invisible barrier not far in front of her. Several other people tried this as well and received similar results. “You have no doubt found that the spell cannot travel outside the boundaries of your circle, so you will have no need to fear getting hit from stray hexes from another group. Now does anybody have any questions?”

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

“What are we supposed to do about the stinging hexes we are hit with?” she asked.

“An excellent question. I forgot to address that. After each round, you can cure the stinging with a simple finite incantatem. The hex is so mild that it does not have any lingering effects after it is lifted. Any other questions?”

Nobody spoke up. “Good. Dodgers, hand over your wands to your partners. Casters, you are to remain in the small circle for the duration of the exercise. Dodgers, you’re confined to the larger circle. Everybody get ready.” One person in each group shuffled to the small circle. Once everyone had finished moving, Harry called out “Begin.”

After a minute, frustration bubbled up in Harry’s veins. This was not going at all like he had hoped. The people casting spells were all doing so half-heartedly, and those dodging hardly had to move at all to avoid being hit. No one was really trying to hit anyone else, and the speed with which people were casting was pathetic.

Harry blew hard on his whistle and yelled “Enough!” The entire class looked over to find their instructor fuming at them. Those that were near Harry took a conscious step away from him. “That was pathetic. Do you call that spell casting? Do you actually expect to hit anybody casting spells like that? It’s obvious that you all are going to need a demonstration of how this should work. I need a volunteer to do this exercise with me. We will each take a turn dodging so that I can demonstrate both casting and dodging, since you all seem incapable of doing both. Is anyone willing to help me with this demonstration?”

For a full minute nobody moved. Then, to his surprise, Blaise stepped forward. “Yeah, Potter, I’ll help you out.”

Harry gave the man a slight smile and a nod. “Alright, thank you Blaise. Good to see someone here has a little backbone. I’ll do the casting first, that way you won’t be shy about returning the favor.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about me being shy hexing you,” Blaise replied seriously.

Harry chuckled. “You’re probably right. But all the same, I think I’ll cast first anyway. And before we start, I just want you to know that there’s no hard feelings. I’m going to work you as hard as I would work anybody else, no more no less.”

Blaise gave a curt nod in reply. Harry joined Blaise in his circle as Daphne exited. Harry stood in the smaller center circle and looked at Blaise. He noticed that the rest of the class had gathered around to get a good look at the spectacle to come. Harry smiled grimly as he asked “Ready?”

“Show me what you got, Potter,” Blaise replied.

“You asked for it,” Harry smiled. “Ready…Begin.” And he began. Harry unloaded a long string of stinging hexes at the Slytherin with deadly accuracy. The audience stood in shock as spell after spell connected with the Slytherin’s body despite Blaise’s attempt to avoid the bursts of light erupting from Harry’s wand. Harry was holding back. He could have been casting spells much more quickly than he was, but he wanted to give the boy a chance to dodge some of the spells. After a couple minutes, Harry stopped his torrent of spells and quickly cast a finite incantatem on his adversary to relieve him of his stinging.

“Now that is how you should be casting your spells. The harder you work each other, the better your chances will be in this war. Now Blaise, I imagine you’d like to pay me back for that?” Harry asked with a smirk.

“You weren’t kidding Potter. I think I’ll enjoy having a go at you after that display.” He strode to the middle circle that Harry had just vacated and faced Harry.

Harry gave the boy a nod and called “Ready…Begin.” Blaise began launching spells at Harry as fast as he could manage. But Harry was quick. He nimbly avoided the shots of light coming his way. After his initial torrent of spells failed to connect, Blaise concentrated harder on connecting with his target. He was casting spells as fast as he could but was still unable to match the speed at which Harry had been casting, despite the fact that Harry had been holding back. Spell after spell left Blaise’s wand, but Harry jumped, ducked, rolled, spun, dove, and stepped out of the way, all the while never leaving the confines of the larger circle.

The group of students standing around them watched with varying degrees of shock and admiration. Never before had they seen anything like this. For five whole minutes Harry continued to maneuver within the circle avoiding Blaise’s spells. Eventually he called for Blaise to stop. Panting slightly from effort, Harry took a moment to collect his breath before addressing the class.

He wiped off the sweat dripping down his face and spoke up. “That is how you dodge spells. You’ll find that it is much easier to cast a stinging hex in rapid succession than it would be to cast a stronger curse or hex, so if you can get to a level where you are able to dodge a series of stinging hexes, then you shouldn’t have any trouble dodging any Unforgivables should the need arise.

“I don’t expect you all to be able to dodge every single hex that comes your way today, but I do expect you all to put in some effort in doing so. And I expect you all to make your partners work as well. This isn’t some game. This is war and must be taken seriously. I’m here to help you survive this thing. Now everyone get back to your circles and let’s try this again.”

Harry wasn’t completely satisfied with this next round, but they were getting better. Each partner continued alternating between casting and dodging for the rest of the class. The results were less than spectacular, and he still suspected many people of holding back, but he was content with the progress they had made for now. Before long, their time was up, and he called a halt to the proceedings.

“You’re getting better, but you still need a lot of work. We will spend a little bit of time during each lesson working on this, so I expect you all to come prepared for a little action. Next week we will work mostly on dueling tactics. Before I begin introducing new spells, I want you all capable of dueling competently; otherwise, the spells won’t do you any good. You’re all dismissed.”

The students began drifting out of the room, many muttering to each other grumpily. His five best friends, those that accompanied him to the DoM last June, all remained behind. Thankfully, Cho did not linger to speak with him this time. It wasn’t that he disliked Cho, but she made him a little uncomfortable. Not only was she his first real crush last year, but their relationship, if you can call it that, had failed spectacularly. He felt nothing for her now, but she seemed to still want to flirt with him. And she had a new boyfriend already, too. She shouldn’t be flirting with Harry when she has a boyfriend, and Harry just didn’t know how to respond to it all.

His five friends were all huddled together speaking amongst themselves. Ginny and Neville were a little flushed but looked pleased. Luna looked as dreamy as always. Hermione looked tired but otherwise unreadable, and Ron appeared to still be grumpy, probably still itching to argue with Hermione about Krum. He never did know when to quit.

Harry approached the group as the last of the students was leaving and asked, “So what did you think?”

“You were amazing,” Ginny piped up.

“Yeah, I don’t know where you learned to move like that, but you’ve definitely given us something to think about. Did Blaise even hit you at all?” Neville asked.

“No, I don’t believe he did. You have to remember that I’ve been doing daily physical training since the beginning of summer: running, working out, and working on agility. It takes a lot of time and effort to get to this point,” Harry explained.

“Well all your training definitely shows,” Hermione contributed. She blushed as she realized the double meaning to her statement.

Harry laughed at her discomfort, as did Neville and Ginny. Harry wasn’t sure if Luna was even paying attention, and Ron was trying to ignore Hermione at the moment. “Well, thank you Hermione.

They began drifting toward the door at that point. Luna parted ways with the group, and they continued on to Gryffindor Tower. The rest of the day was spent around games of exploding snap and wizard’s chess, sitting in front of the fire chatting, and finishing up some last minute assignments as another week of classes approached.

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