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Introduction:

harry potter
Chapter 1.
The owl swooped down over sleeping London, a letter, signed and sealed in emerald green clutched in its talons. Even if it had had only the stars to see by it would still have been able to fly true, but it wasn’t necessary. London sleeping was almost as bright as London awake. But light or no light this delivery was a tough one. The post owls prided themselves on being able to find anyone but it didn’t make it easy when the address was simply …
London, somewhere…


But Dumbledore had given her special instructions for this delivery, and she never wavered in her flight, swooping down past a row of shops, past bakers, bankers and opticians and curving cleanly into the alley behind them to alight on a streetlamp. Her big brown eyes took in the whole scene, the brick walls, the large dumpster bins and the small boy, wrapped in a coat too large for him by half, trotting down the alley from the other direction.

The boy stopped next to one of the dumpsters and quietly lifted the lid, running his hands past papers and coffee grounds. He began picking out broken glasses, cracked lenses and the like, transferring them to a pocket of his coat. When he had a full pocket he did something peculiar, he scratched a cross mark into one of the walls of the alley, then sat down opposite it and began putting first one, then another of the lenses to his eyes. After an hour of this, the small boy's face broke into a smile at a particular half-cracked lens, he grinned as he spun it into the air like a coin, and rolled it across the back of his fingers.


A moment later the boy was rummaging in his torn and tatty backpack and eventually drew out a small parcel. When he unrolled it on the ground the owls eyes sparkled in the glimmer of four more lenses, one a mirror-match of the one the boy held in his hand, this he took and replaced the others carefully in his bag. The next to come from the bag of tricks was a frame (selected from a few in the bag) and a tube of glue. Two pinprick dabs of glue to each lens and the boy carefully laid his prize on the floor to dry, then crawled behind the dumpster and rolled himself up in his coat.

The owl waited until the child was asleep, then calmly hopped off its perch and placed the letter beside the child, he would find it in the morning. By the yellow halogen lamp it read...
Harry Potter
London, somewhere

*


Harry Potter flickered between waking and sleep for the longest time. Slipping in and out of dreams he would not remember on waking, until he fell into a deeper slumber and curled himself tight into a little ball, a well of warmth with his hands tucked in his armpits and his head ducked down. Shifting and gliding from dreams of the past, of leaving the Dursleys.

Harry Potter always thought of as just leaving. He did not run away! You can only run away from home, and Privet Drive had never been home. He had decided that. He knew he had another home, he dreamed of that too. Not with images or anything tangible, just of a sense of warmth, and also pain, he didn’t understand that. Other dreams pushed in on his night time reminiscence and he touched on other things, the pies in the nearby bakery, the work to do tomorrow and tonight’s work, still drying, on the ground, until…

“Get up! Get out!”

Not Harry’s rudest awakening, but far from pleasant. Harry uncurled like a spring, just stopping to grab his work on the ground before pelting off down the alleyway, chased by the irate baker. Rounding a corner Harry ran on, past surprised, mildly startled and downright shocked pedestrians, past lamps, dogs and pigeon flocks, even past and through the cars as Harry dashed across a busy road. It no longer mattered that he’d lost any pursuers three blocks ago, it was just good to run.

Harry stopped in Regents Park and ducked to drink from one of the fountains and snatched a few coins from the bottom. Soon hopefully he would have money coming to him (at least, as much as he ever had) and he could take some small measure of it to fill what was more often than not lately a gnawing hole in his middle (at least it was summer, winter was worse). Harry walked down Euston road for a while, not caring or seeing where he was going until he reached the station itself. The sun was higher by that time and people were beginning to come and go from the building.

“Not commuters yet though.” thought Harry “not for hours.”

Harry set his hat down where no one could avoid him, or pretend not to see him, and slipped three coloured balls out of his coat. Shifting them all to his left hand, he flicked his new glasses on with his right. The balls became edged in crystal clarity as the lenses slipped over his eyes. Harry stood in the square and laughed for a while, laughed into the morning sky while the people around him stared or frowned, then, in a twinkling, Harry swept all three into the air and spun them around his hands faster and faster. He laughed as he fountained the balls up above his head. People began to take notice as he added a fourth ball, and a fifth. People walked past and turned to stare for a moment before flipping coins into his hat or even waited there watching him for a while before moving on.

Harry smiled, this time not for the act itself, but for the coins. This was why he had had to make glasses and why his stomach was emptier than normal. He hadn’t been able to manage more than three balls since Christmas. Just to show himself he could, Harry added another ball and split the balls into two circles (“Oooh!” Said a small girl passing by. The mother smiled at him, but didn’t drop anything). The two circles became one again as they began to wobble (“Out of practice” thought Harry) and he pocketed two of the balls back away, he had to keep this up for a while.

The sun was high in the sky before Harry moved from his spot. He scooped his winnings to an inside pocket and went off to buy lunch. He bought sandwiches at some newsagents with no real name and ate them slowly on a park bench and drank more water from a fountain. On the way back to his spot Harry passed another food shop, the cakes in the window looked even better than the first ones had. Harry walked past, thrift was in his bones.
*


When Harry got back to the station he realised something was wrong. In the exact center of the square was the biggest man Harry had ever seen. From the toes of his large leather boots, past his heavy furred overcoat (Bet that’s warm, thought Harry) all the way to his face, so covered , variously, in beard, moustache and dirty black hair that only small parts of skin were visible, the man was easily eight foot tall. The very appearance of the man was so striking that for a long moment Harry didn’t see what the man was doing and then he became even more curious. The tall man seemed to be looking for something, he would consult a piece of (very old and yellow looking) paper then look around, staring at people, then look worriedly back at the paper.

“Maybe he’s lost” Thought Harry. But the tall man didn’t seem to be about to move on, neither did he seem to be the type to ask directions. Harry was torn for a moment between apprehension at the imposing figure and a chance to snap up a bit more money from helping a lost tourist. But a moment later his indecision became redundant as the tall man turned to look at Harry and his face broke into a huge smile. The tall man ran over to where Harry was standing (breaking several paving stones) and stopped in front of the startled child looking, in turns, happy and relieved.

Yes?” Volunteered Harry, “Can I help you?” he hazarded, then (in a last ditch effort to regain normality) “are you lost?”

“Nope,” Said the tall man, spreading his mouth in the widest smile Harry had ever seen. “I think I’ve found what I’ve been looking for.”

“And that is?” But Harry already dreaded and expected the answer.

“Well you o’ course! Didn’t you get… Hey Wait!” By halfway through the sentence Harry was halfway across the square, and accelerating.

Harry dodged across a side road and began haring down first one back street then another.

“One good thing about being chased by a giant…” thought Harry “You know when he’s behind you!” The pavement cracked and buckled as the tall man chased Harry, he didn’t seem to run much but he only had to take one running step to Harry’s three and he didn’t have to dodge through crowds either, people fell over themselves to get out of the way. And all the time they were running the tall man kept yelling

“Wait! You got to have yer letter! You got… Out a my way you! … to read it! Stop!”

Harry pelted off a main road and down an alley, he was moving so fast he almost shot past the thing he had been searching for. Harry skidded to a halt and grasped both hands round the cast iron drainpipe (his little trick was less useful now most pipes were plastic but it had still put him above and away from more than one bit of trouble), his feet went against the wall and he pulled himself hand over hand upwards, two of his balls slipped out of his pocket and fell back down but he ignored them, he could get more (well, he could probably get more, and in a pinch anything round would do) and pulled himself onto the tiled roof above him. Harry lay there for a second, finding his balance (and his breath) before sliding back to the edge and looking over. Three stories down (“It had looked so much larger from the bottom” thought Harry) the tall man stood hunched over, catching his breath in huge, leviathan, gulps that disturbed the dust on the ground. The man managed to stand up after a few moments and began rummaging in his coat. After a few tries at various pockets he managed to pull out what looked like a sealed envelope and thrust it into the air.

“You got… to have… yer letter.” The man said breathlessly. He wiped his hand across his face and shook the sweat off on the ground. “Blimey you’re fast.” And with that the tall man dropped to the ground and sat there mopping his brow.

“Who are you?” Called Harry “and why are you chasing me?”

“I was chasing you ‘cos you bloody ran away wasn’t I!” Said the tall man, pulling off his coat to expose a dirty white shirt and suspenders. “Why’d you do that anyway?”

“Because I’ve never met you before.” Said Harry. “ Why would someone I’ve never met before be looking for me at Euston station! Also…” added Harry as another thought hit him “how did you even know I’d be there!”

“We’ve met before Harry, y’just don’t remember. Not that I’m surprised at that, you were small enough to fit in my hand back then, and you were easier to catch.” The tall man said smiling. “I knew you when you was a baby. Knew your parents too, friends.” The mans head drooped for a moment then came back up quickly. “As to how I found you, well, I had some help with that.” The man reached into his coat and dug out a pink umbrella with frilly lace edges, it looked almost like it should be in a cocktail nestled in his big hands.

“An umbrella?” Said Harry “Oh of course!” Harry stood up and began strutting along the edge of the roof (“Careful” cried the tall man”) “Why didn’t I see it before? An umbrella, a magical umbrella that points you on your way! The umbrella of light, The umbrella of seeking!” Harry spun on one foot and began walking the other way. “The pastel, pink umbrella of plenty!” Harry threw back his head and laughed. “You’re nuts mate! An umbrella can’t help you find anyone.”

“You think so do you?” Said the man, still smiling, “Then I think it’s high time you read your letter.” The man put the letter on the ground in front of him (pausing for a moment when he realised he had been using it to mop his brow) then stepped back and pointed the umbrella at it and mumbled under his breath.

“Hey!” Harry jumped back and almost fell over as one corner of the letter burst into purple flames.

“It’s all right! It’s all right!” Cried the man, stamping out the fire with his boot. “ It only got the envelope and that was pretty wet so it’s all right. I’ll try again.” Harry watched in stunned anticipation as the man stepped back again, raised the umbrella carefully and mumbled something slightly different towards the envelope. For a moment nothing happened. Then, slowly, one edge of the envelope lifted up, dipped back down again (“steady” mumbled the man) then righted itself and rose by one corner as if it was drawn up by an invisible thread. The letter rose higher and higher until it drew level with Harry’s face. He stood up and the letter obligingly rose to accommodate him. Harry carefully reached out and waved his hand over the letter, then under it, then all around just to be sure. He finally drew his hand back and whispered

“How…” Harry leaned in to get a closer look and suddenly, momentarily, forgot he was on a rooftop. His feet slipped out from under him and he tumbled over, skinning his legs on the edge before falling like a stone. As he spun in the air he looked up to see the letter, still casually floating above him. “Weird day…” Thought Harry, then large hands caught him.

“What’d you do that for?” said the man. Setting Harry back down on the ground where he stumbled and sat down on a delivery pallet. “You coulda’ been hurt, or worse!”

“How?...” Harry pointed to the letter now gently drifting down from the roof. “no strings…”

“Oh, that’s easy stuff.” The tall man waved his hand disparagingly “Even I can do that, you’ll learn that in your first week, its one of the simplest charms.”

“Charms?!” Harry felt like running away again but his legs wouldn’t move. “Like, as in, spells?”

“Ah…” said the man “I was afraid of that. You’re aunt and uncle probably meant to tell you when you was older. We didn’t know if they had.”

“You know my aunt and uncle.” Harry looked at the man and tried to work out the chances that this person was friends with his aunt and uncle. Low, he decided, very, very low.

“Nah, I never met um. But we knew that was who was taking care of you after your parents died.” His parents… Harry tried to remember what his aunt had told him about them. Very little, just that they were the wrong sort of people and died in some accident. A fire wasn’t it? Or maybe a car crash? Anyway Harry had privately decided that if they were people his aunt disapproved of then he probably would have liked them a lot. Liked them better than his aunt and uncle at least.

“That was a long time ago.” Harry snapped back to the present. “and I’m better off without them taking care of me!” The tall man gave him a shrewd look, taking in his heavily worn clothes and shoes. “Well…” added Harry “at least now I don’t get slapped if I don’t have meals ready for them on time.” Harry grinned “Who knows how they managed without me? Probably starved to death trying to work out how the oven works.” He laughed and was pleased to see the tall man laugh too. “Mind you it’d take a while to starve Dudley. Fat reserves like a camel!” Harry did a quick fat-cousin impression, waddling along the alley, and the man laughed harder.

“We’ll wherever you’ve come from you’re going somewhere better.” Said the man when he finished chuckling. He fished the envelope back off the floor and handed it to Harry. “This should explain most of what you’re wondering about and I’ll fill in the blanks.” Harry took the letter carefully and looked at it before opening it. It was an old fashioned one, made with yellowing parchment and sealed with a coat of arms in wax, melted wax now of course. Harry wiped the sticky mass away with his sleeve and opened the letter. Inside were three pieces of paper and what looked like a train ticket. All made of funny old paper. He stared at the ticket, it had gold leaf an it and had a large crest (“probably the same one that was on the letter”) embossed into it. Harry wondered what kind of train required a ticket like this, and where such a train would go to. (“Either a land of rich people…” thought Harry “…or a chocolate factory.”)

“Read the letter, read the letter!” Urged the tall man impatiently. Harry tucked the ticket into his pocket and pulled out one of the sheets of paper. He opened it. His eyes slid from one side to the other. He had read each line about three times before he finally believed that what he thought he read was actually what was on the page. Harry held the letter in front of him and tried to calm his voice before saying,

“A school?”

“Yep,” Said the tall man smiling “Hogwarts, best school in the world for people like you. Course the other schools’ll tell you different, but anyone who knows what there talking about says Hogwarts is the greatest. Course we have Albus Dumbledore, none of the rest of em can say that.”

“Who’s he?” Said Harry, still desperately trying to avoid the one part of the letter that had him shaking most. “Someone famous?”

“He’s the headmaster.” Said the tall man, drawing himself up importantly. “He gave me this job himself. Great man Dumbledore. But you’ll be seeing him when you reach Hogwarts.” Harry’s eyes were drawn to the postscript on the bottom of the letter, written in a different handwriting than the rest of the text, and with different ink.
P.S.

Due to your special circumstances an escort has been provided for you to explain and help you through the process of preparing for your first school year. If this letter has not come to you via one Rubious Hagrid then you will be meeting him shortly. I wish you all the best for the start of your first school year.

Albus Dumbledore


“Rubious Hagrid?” The tall man nodded.

“Yep that’s me. Gamekeeper, caretaker and keeper of keys at Hogwarts.”

“And…” Harry took a deep breath, there wasn’t much else he could ask before he asked this so he should just get it over with. “…Hogwarts is a school of magic?”

“Of course.” Said Hagrid. “As I said, best school in the world.”

“Magic like you just did? Making things float and explode?”

“Well, yeah.” Said Hagrid “What did you think it meant? Those tricks muggles (“muggles?”) use to fool each other?”

“And you think I can do that?”

“With a little training o’course, that’s what Hogwarts is for.” Hagrid put his hand on Harry’s shoulders “Come on, we’ve stood here long enough and we need to be getting your school stuff. But first we should get you washed up and in some proper clothes.” Hagrid led Harry down the alley. Harry followed placidly.

When your entire life shatters like glass and is replaced something glittering and new, sharp and scary. When your life changes in an instant you can either pull back, hold on to the old, try to pick up the pieces and risk destroying the new crystal future you have found, for the sake of safe waters of the past. Or you can drop, laughing into the new life, with its shiny possibilities. And you either ride it through, or get swallowed under.

Harry laughed as he walked out of the alleyway, and into shiny futures.
________________________________________


Lets all take a moment to thank Memory King for betaing this chapter.

Harry Potter and the Roofs At Night: Chapter 2: Jack

Harry raked his hands through his shorter hair, trying to make it flat. The hairdresser had nearly shoved them out of the shop when they arrived, a conspicuously tall man and a child with uncombed, unwashed, un-anythinged hair. Hagrid had paid her in notes that looked very old.

“Did he make them with magic?” Thought Harry suddenly. “Could I make them with magic?” The clothes and the shower at a gym had both been similar oddities but apparently the largest oddity was yet to come.

“That looks alright now.” Hagrid had said coming out of a clothing store. “Now for the real shopping.”

“This stuff?” Harry fished the list that had come with the letter out of his pocket. “Books, wand, cauldron… toad?”

“Nah, no toad.” Laughed Hagrid. “But all that other stuff you’ll need for Hogwarts.”

Harry hurried alongside Hagrid, his mind still buzzing with questions. But there was no way he was asking about magic in a crowded street full of muggles (or was it muddles, or mugwerts. Something like that anyway.) And when they finally turned into a doorway Harry was so busy looking at where they were that they were pushed to the back of his mind. They had stepped, hopefully deliberately (this didn’t seem like the sort of place that would sell books, or make potions other than the general alcoholic sort) into a dark, oak beamed, pub full of solid, old-looking furniture. The drinks behind the bar had odd names and some of the liquids fizzed or bubbled. In the dark light Harry could have sworn one of them was glowing faintly. The sign outside had said “The leaky cauldron”. It certainly fitted one of the criteria.

As Hagrid led Harry across the floor, weaving around tables Harry began to notice other things that didn’t quite fit. Like the clothes people were wearing, half of the people were in normal, but hideously inappropriate and mismatched, clothes. But the other half wore what looked like long flowing robes in various colours. The smaller items were stranger, no watches or walkmans, but instead one man held a marble in his hand. As he gripped it the sphere went cloudy-red and the man began consulting a shopping list worriedly. Another man was showing off what looked like a sheep’s skull with odd symbols painted on it to his friends (“Less than a sickle (“sickle?”) and new they go as high as five!”). In a corner two ginger kids who looked like twins, not much older than Harry himself, were swapping some sort of trading cards.

“Well…” thought Harry. “At least that’s normal.”

“The usual Hagrid?” For a moment Harry didn’t see where the voice had come from. Then he realised they had reached the bar, and the tender was talking to them. “Also there was someone in here selling wyvern eggs. Probably just painted ostrich ones but you never know.”

“Nah, nah.” Said Hagrid waving one of his big hands. “Got no time for a drink or to look at stuff for myself. On Hogwarts business.” He patted Harry on the shoulder. “Important.”

“Fair enough so… ohh…” The barman was looking at Harry, or more accurately, at his forehead. Harry put his hand to it and realised that, with his new haircut, the old scar on his forehead was no longer hidden.

“Got it when I was little.” Said Harry, unless the bartender was wondering. “I’ve always had it.” Did this guy have a scar fixation or something?

“Of course you’ve always had it lad!” Said the Bartender, half amazed, half amused. “You’re Harry Potter!”

The room went dead. Suddenly every eye in the room was turned to him. Somewhere around a glass tipped over, spilling its (fuming and bubbling) contents on its owner. No one noticed.

“Harry Potter.” Breathed one of the people nearest him. “Can it be?” It took Harry a second to work out the question was directed at him and another to decide how to answer.

“My names Jack.” He said, affronted. “Why you all staring at me?” Sound seemed to come back to the barroom as people turned back to their drinks, mumbling and in one case shouting (“Oh no! its all over my shirt!”). And Harry turned back towards the bar and looked up into the incredulous face of the barman and then further up into the confused face of Hagrid. “I got the scar falling off my first bike, odd shape isn’t it?” Harry smiled.

“Yeah, that right… Jack.” The barman turned around chuckling under his breath while Harry turned to face Hagrid.

“Would you mind if we got out of here.” Harry said quietly. “Please.” Hagrid nodded quietly and led Harry to the back door and opened it for him. It was only When Harry got out that he began to breath properly again. Harry’s hand shook as he wiped cold sweat off his brow. What was that all about?

“Harry?” Hagrid said quietly. “Um… why did you just do that?” It took Harry a second to compose himself enough to answer.

“They knew me somehow, or at least knew my name.” Harry shuddered. “If a room full of strangers knows your name its either very good news or incredibly bad news.” Hagrid fished out a water bottle and handed in to Harry, who gulped it down. “Plus they were all staring like they expected me to do something. All I know how to do for an audience is juggle. And somehow I don’t think that was what they were looking for.” Harry splashed some of the water into his hand and slicked down one side of his hair, right over the scar. “Hagrid, why were they staring at me?”

“Ah… well… you see that’s…” Hagrid dry-washed his hands nervously. Then straitened and walked over to a wall pulling out his umbrella. “That can wait till later, it’s not something I want’t discuss in a dark alley.” Hagrid tapped bricks faster than Harry could follow and stepped back. “There…” Said Hagrid, obviously keen to fill every silence lest questions re-arise. “Here’s where you can get your school stuff, Diagon alley.” The bricks spread apart around the area Hagrid had tapped, opening out to a window into another world.

A long winding street, full to the brim with odd robed people, and odd shops filled with odder merchandise. Colourful signs swung from the overhanging stories above them, showing that the shop below sold broomsticks or fireworks. People sold things out of barrows on the edges, odd vegetables and wooden toys that danced or spun. For now Harry was content to follow Hagrid, draining in the sights and the sounds of the place. He was almost disappointed when Hagrid stopped in front of a large colonnaded building and went inside.


________________________________________









The inside of the building was as majestic as the outside, with two long desks running the length of the high vaulted room. Light came from windows high up on the walls. Along each desk sat curious creatures consulting lists or counting out piles on coins. There were bags of coins behind the desks too, and the only sounds were the clink of metal on metal and the scratching of quills. Harry suddenly had the odd sensation that he had entered the cathedral of money, the church of cash, and knew, acutely, that he hadn’t been to worship in a while.

“Hagrid.” Harry said quietly. “Why are we here?”

“Here to make a withdrawal.” Said Hagrid, as if it should be obvious. “Can’t buy your schoolbooks with muggle money can we.”

“This is a bank!?” Exclaimed Harry, and was shushed by a nearby creature. He continued in a quieter voice. “I don’t have any money to withdraw, certainly not from a place like this.”

“Oh, but you do.” Said Hagrid, smiling. “You’re parents set some money aside for your education before they died.”

“My parents?” But the rest of the question was lost as they reached the desk they had been headed for.

“Yes?” Said the creature, in a bored voice.

“Mr Harry Potter (sorry Harry) here to make a withdrawal.”

“Key please.” This creature obviously wasn’t impressed by the name, if anything it looked more bored than before.

“Key, right…” Hagrid dug through pocket after pocket, spilling various things onto the floor and the desk. Harry picked up the things he could recognise, like scissors and a dog collar, and left the other bits where they were, some of them were moving. “Ah!” Hagrid produced a key, that had probably been shiny gold before encountering Hagrid’s pocket, and put it on the desk. “There we are. Also there’s one other thing.” Hagrid leaned in close to the creature and handed him a sealed piece of paper. Harry thought he recognised the curvy signature on the front. “It’s about what’s in vault 713.”

“Of course.” Said the creature, reading the note. For the first time it seemed interested in what it was looking at. The creature (“They’re goblins Harry, sorry I didn’t mention that. I keep forgetting you’re new to this. Goblins, and this is Gringots.”) summoned over another like it but younger and with a slightly less laconic expression. This new goblin introduced himself as Greeklunk, rolled his eyes at the back of the departing goblin and led them through one of the doors in the back and down to what looked like a mine car.

“Um Hagrid?”

“Yes Harry.”

“I’ve never been in a muggle bank so I have no comparison but I’m fairly sure mine-carts don’t figure into it.”

“Oh Gringots runs under half o’ London. If you had to walk to the vaults it’d take all day. Goes down pretty far too. The top security vaults are down there, guarded by curses, and traps and dragons…”

“Dragons sound like a good security method.” Said Harry, climbing into the cart. “Of course it could be a problem if you actually want to withdraw anything without being char-grilled.”

“Oh dragons aren’t as bad as all that. That’s just anti-dragon prejudice.”

“Do they breathe fire?”

“Well yes.”

“Are they ten foot long?”

“Oh most are much bigger than that!”

“With huge claws, teeth, muscles?”

“Um…” the cart took off with a jolt. “I see where you’re going with this Harry.”

“Just playing around.” Harry said as the cart gathered speed. Soon the walls were passing at a blur, other tracks winding off to either side. The cart passed through vast caverns and through pin-hole passageways, tipping so far on the bends it threatened to come off. Harry stood face-first to the wind and closed eyes, letting the gusting noise swirl around him as the carts movement buffeted him. After a second he turned to Greeklunk, just one question on his mind.

“Does it go any faster?”

“One speed only.” Said Greeklunk wistfully. He shared a quick smile with Harry and turned his face into the wind too. After a second he added with a wide-mouthed goblin-grin, “But we can go round some loops if you like!”

“No!” Hagrid’s muffled yell came from the corner where he sat hunched over. “Blazes Harry, are y’ trying to kill us?”

“Are you alright Hagrid.” Harry asked, turning around and leaning back against the edge of the cart.

“I’m fine, I just hate these gringots trolleys.” Hagrid said, blanching “And hold on to something!” Harry had just spread his arms out like wings to better feel the wind, but obligingly put them back down. “You make me dizzy standing like that.”

The cart eventually slowed and pulled up next to a vault. Harry hopped out of the cart to examine this new surrounding followed, much more slowly and with thought for his stomach, by Hagrid. Greeklunk led them to one particular vault and turned brought out the key Hagrid had given the desk goblin. The lock squeaked as Greeklunk turned it with the key and there was the sound of large bolts drawing back.

“Here you are Harry.” Said Hagrid as the vault swung open. “Your inheritance.”

Harry’s mind rebelled. Not true, it insisted to its dishonest eyes, the pictures your sending me just can’t be true. There is no way. Just no way… Harry barely noticed as Hagrid walked into the vault and took a few coins from the piles of gold and more generous handfuls from the silver and bronze piles.

“This should be enough to go on.” Hagrid stepped back out of the vault and had to physically move Harry to allow Greeklunk to close the door. Harry was silent as they stepped back into the cart and for a while just stared at the walls rushing past until finally he felt he had his own thoughts in order enough to try and get answers for them.

“Hagrid? My parents left money here, so they must’ve been magic too, right?”

“Well of course they were! Lilly and James Potter. Head boy and girl of Hogwarts they were when they were there.”

“Magic runs in families?”

“Normally it does yes.”

“My aunt and uncle?” Harry asked incredulously.

“But not always.” Hagrid added nodding. “You’re mum was the first on her side of the family with it.”

“And they were stinking rich?”

“Comfortable Harry, comfortable.” Hagrid sat up to talk face to face. “I suppose they never were strapped for cash but hardly stinking rich, no, no.

“But, that vault?”

“Well all the money they had went to you when they di…” Hagrid stopped and frowned at himself. “I’m sorry Harry, I should’nt’ve blurted that out.”

“It’s all right.” Harry said shrugging. “I don’t remember them.”

“That’s not all right!” Said Hagrid with a mix of anger and sadness. “If anything that makes it worse!”

“Tell me a little about them then.” Harry said, careful not to let one shred of eagerness enter voice. “It might take your mind off the cart for a while longer.” Harry laughed as Hagrid suddenly looked around and ,seeing that he was sitting up, not holding on and had momentarily forgotten his nausea, let out a yelp of surprise and curled back into a corner.

After a moment he began to talk and Harry let the words wash over him. Hagrid didn’t seem very good at telling stories, his mind jumped about with many a “and there was this other time…” and seemed to jump from his fathers first year at Hogwarts, to his parents wedding, to some game called Quidditch his father apparently played, to just describing his mothers face. In the middle of a blow by blow description of a fight between his father and some other kid (Snipe?) Harry realised they were no longer moving. Glancing around he saw a dim, disused, dingy and dank part of the bank caves with just one large vault in sight next to the cart. Thinking back Harry realised they had not moved in some time and he glanced over to Greeklunk who smiled back at him, waiting at the control levers. Harry mouthed

“Thank you.” at him. Then said out loud… “Hagrid? I think we’re here.”

Cut off in mid flow, Hagrid shook himself out of his reminiscence and stood up. As Greeklunk led them to the door Harry noticed that it had no keyhole and no handle. “Deep down in Gringots.” He thought. “And even higher security than they put on piles of gold?”

“What are we here to get?” Harry asked warily.

“Best you don’t think on it too much Harry.” Said Hagrid. “Special mission from Dumbledore . Very secret.”

“Something magical?” Harry asked. “Another umbrella perhaps?” Hagrid looked at him oddly for a moment before realising it was a joke. Greeklunk ran a finger down a part of the doorway and it dissolved like dust into the air. The goblin then stepped back warily as if he didn’t want to be closer to the contents of the vault than he had to be. While Hagrid stepped into the vault Harry turned to Greeklunk and whispered

“Do you know what’s in here?” The goblin shook his head.

“And I don’t want to find out.” The goblin shuddered. “The vaults down here are the top security. I haven’t been here long enough to see more than one or two. Sometimes its just money, people who want it as safe as possible and don’t mind the extra charge, but sometimes…”

“Worse?”

“Much worse.” Greeklunk leaned against the wall and put an odd stick in his mouth and began to chew it. “There was one guy a few days ago, Rich toff from one of the old wizarding families. All he took out was money but I swear, in the back of the vault there was other stuff. Chains, knives, a rack, not new stuff mind but some of it looked… used.” Greeklunk trailed off into silence, chewing softly.

“You allow people to store stuff like that here?” Harry asked.

“That’s not the worst of it.” Continued Greeklunk, shaking his head. “That stuff could easily have been full of dark magic. In fact, considering the source, it probably was.” Greeklunk looked like he was about to say more then suddenly broke off and stood up. Muttering to himself he began to pace. “You won’t tell anybody I said that will you Harry?” Greeklunk said, sounding worried. “Only transactions are meant to be confidential and everything. I shouldn’t have let myself run like that.”

“It’s alright, it’s not as if you mentioned names or anything.”

“I only wish the higher ups would see it like that.” Greeklunk shook his head. “Ah… time to go.” Hagrid stepped back out of the vault stuffing a small grubby parcel into his pocket.

“Something small” Thought Harry. “Something small but very valuable and very secret and possibly very dangerous. Something magic. Something…” (he glanced into the vault as the door reappeared) “…valuable enough to rent out an entire vault just for it. What are we the couriers of?”

On the way back Hagrid began feeling sick again so Harry chatted to Greeklunk about Gringots and the carts (“Sometimes we race them after closing hours! Er, better add that to your list of stuff not to mention again Harry.”). Finally the cart reached ground level again and they got out, waved goodbye to Greeklunk and stepped back into the torrent of sound in diagonally.
________________________________________





“Right, first things first.” Hagrid looked up and down the street and stopped when he saw a shop that appeared to have a needle-and-thread sign outside its door. “We need to get you some robes.” Madam Malkin’s was empty except for the proprietor who fussed over Harry like a mother hen, standing him up on a stool and pinning and tucking the long black robe she threw over him.

“You’ll be going to Hogwarts of course.” Madam Malkin’s voice was muffled by the pins and clips held in her mouth. Hagrid, standing in the back of the shop mimed drinking and pointed back to the leaky cauldron, when Harry nodded he stood up and walked out the door. Harry suddenly felt a little vulnerable. Not from people, Harry knew how and when to run from trouble, but from this world. He was in a foreign country and had just lost his translator.

“So everyone keeps telling me.” Harry smiled wanly. Madam Malkin stood up and ruffled his hair.

“Don’t worry.” She said in a comforting motherly way. “It can take you like that if you’re new to this. You’ll soon enough get into the swing of things.”

“How did you know I was new to this?” Harry asked (or did everyone know him here? He quickly glanced up but his scar was still hidden by hair.)

“I see a lot of Hogwarts students come in here for their first robes.” Madam Malkin moved around to his other side to begin working on that. “You get so you can tell the ones who are muggle-born just by the way they look at anything magic sideways. But in a years time you see them come back carrying broomsticks and making the stools fly just like the rest. You’ll fit in.” She knelt down to begin on the hemline and Harry was left feeling more stable than he had all day.

“Just a matter of getting my sea legs.” Thought Harry, idly taking two balls from his pocket and juggling them one-handed. “Get stable in this new world and you’ll be fine.” Harry added another ball and kept on with one hand, using the other to get out his list. “Still need quills, still need parchment, still...”

“I wish I could do that.” Harry looked up to see a girl about his age standing in the doorway of the shop, an adult (judging from the froth of brown hair they were both endowed with, probably her mother) stood talking with one of the shop attendants and fiddling with gold coins she didn’t seem familiar with. Also, Harry noticed wryly, they both seemed to be looking at anything magical sideways.

“Do what?” Harry said as the girl was led onto an adjacent footstool.

“That.” The girl pointed at Harry’s right hand and he realised he was still bouncing the juggling balls.

“Oh, that.” Harry suddenly felt like impressing someone and added another ball before moving to both hands and separating them out into two loops. He caught one ball in each hand then flipped his wrists and let the others fall onto the backs, he balanced them there for a moment before slipping them back into his pockets. “That’s nothing.” Harry grinned and winked.

“I tried to learn how to juggle once.” The girl seemed to speak as if everyone should sit up and take notice. “I got a book out of the library that was supposed to teach you but I kept dropping the balls.” The girl seemed to realise something and turned to him (making the person pinning up her dress swear and suck a pricked finger) “Unless of course you used magic. Its probably easy for you to do if you do magic. I never knew I was magic until the letter came and I’m so glad but I bet I’ll be behind everyone else, that’s why we came out here the first day we could so I would have a chance to get lots of books for background reading. I just hope I don’t end up looking stupid.” The girl seemed to stop more from lack of breath than from lack of words, she didn’t look like she ever ran out of words.

“I don’t think there’s too much danger of you looking stupid” irritating maybe but not stupid “and anyway I’m the same, I was woefully, blissfully and surprisingly ignorant about magic until the letter came and warped the world.” He grinned and waved his hand towards the window into diagonally “but it can’t be anything but fun, especially wizard school, especially spells.” Harry laughed.

“Were not going there to have fun, were going there to learn.” The girl sounded scandalised.

“Maybe you’re going there to learn. But I’ve always had the opinion that life’s for fun, and if you can’t find something to laugh at in any situation you’re not trying hard enough. Anyway…” Harry swiftly moved on as the girl went through several stages of shock. “… we’ll hardly be able to avoid having fun if we’re doing spells all the time, making stuff fly, making stuff explode, making stuff into other stuff, the whole thing should be a blast.” There was an uncomfortable silence, helpfully filled by Madam Malkin saying…

“Alright dear, you’re done now.” Harry stepped off the stool and went to leave, just as he reached the door he heard…

“By the way I’m Hermione Granger, What’s you’re name.”

“Harry Potter.” The seamstress gasped and stabbed her finger again, Madam Malkin looked up in surprise. “See you at Hogwarts.” He walked out into the street leaving two surprised and two confused stares behind him.

Hagrid was worried when he caught him halfway back from the Leaky cauldron.

“You should’a waited in the shop.” Hagrid said taking him by the shoulder. “I was about to come get you. Kids shouldn’t be walking around alone.” Harry was about to mention that that was exactly what he had been doing the last three years of his life when Hagrid started off towards another shop and Harry had to follow or be swallowed by the crowd.

On the round of the shops Harry met three more prospective Hogwarts students, a pair of twin girls in the apothecary’s who laughed when he juggled crocodile eyes and laughed even harder when he was thrown out of the shop for doing so, and a boy called Blaise Zabini in Flourish and Blotts who didn’t seem to laugh at anything and sniffed in utter disdain when Harry bought second hand books.

“There’s plenty in that vault to last you know Harry.” Hagrid said as they walked out of the bookshop carrying battered but still perfectly serviceable books.

“Easiest way to end up with no money is to spend it when you don’t have to. Besides, these are still good.” The book he was holding picked that moment to spill its first few pages onto the cobbles. Harry picked them up without speaking and set off down the street fast enough to make Hagrid jog to keep up.
________________________________________




Ollivanders came next and Harry thought for a moment Hagrid had taken his advice to heart. Looking at the thin premises with faded windows and peeling paintwork belied its blurb which made out that it had made fine wand since 382 bc.

“Yes…” Thought Harry, “…in this shop. And you haven’t repainted since then.” But he walked in all the same and walked up to the counter as Hagrid took a seat by the door.

The inside was full of shelves, piled high with long thin boxes. It reminded Harry of a cross between an old second hand bookshop and a disused shoe store. The sliver of light from the window illuminated the motes of dust in the air, Harry blew into it and was rewarded by a swirling pattern, spotlighted in the murky room. He was just wondering if he should perhaps ring the bell when he heard a voice out of the darkness.

“Good afternoon.” The voice was quiet and felt like old velvet but it came so suddenly that Hagrid jumped like a spooked rabbit and Harry just kept enough of his self-control to avoid jumping himself though his heart felt like it had leapt on its own.

“Good afternoon to you.” Harry said, keeping his voice steady while thinking “sneaking up on me, huh? Don’t let him see he got to you. For all he knows you heard him coming.” Out of the gloom behind the desk an old, white haired and pale-eyed man stepped, cocking his head like a heron.

“Ah, Mr. Potter.” The old man couldn’t have seen the scar, none of the other people he’d met had through the hair. “I was sure I’d be seeing you in my shop sometime soon.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Harry leaned back from the mans eyes and said. “I’m here to buy a wand.”

“Why else would you be here?” The man seemed faintly amused. He drew a tape measure out of a pocket and it sprang out of his hand, measuring Harry’s arms and fingers. “Wands are what I do. I made all the wands here and I remember all of them, even the ones I’ve sold.”

“Wouldn’t some sort of card catalogue would be more efficient?” said Harry but Ollivander wasn’t listening.

“It seemed only yesterday your parents were in here buying their first wands.”

“Well it would if you’ve been around since 382bc!” Getting more annoyed as the tape measure wrapped itself around his head.

“You’re mother was a unicorn-hair girl, set in willow. Good wand that, I remember the day I made it. Your father liked a wand with dragon heart-string, more powerful. Well I say he liked but its really the wand that chooses the wizard.” Ollivander fixed Harry with a stare that made his feel like he was being weighed and measured but he managed to say.

“Fascinating, but there’s only one wand I really want to talk about. Mine. Let me chose it or let it chose me, either way seems fine.”

“Very well Mr. Potter.” Ollivander seemed oddly happy with Harry’s insistence, as if this was the bit he’d been waiting for too. He snapped his fingers and the tape measure curled back up in the palm of his hand. “Lets try...” he ran his long fingers over a nearby shelf then nodded to himself and picked a box that was (to Harry’s eyes) identical to all the others. “… Pine and Phoenix feather, short one at five inches.” Harry took it and looked at it, it looked like a fat pencil. “Give it a wave.” Encouraged Ollivander. Harry swished the wand and jabbed at air to no effect before Ollivander snatched it back off him.

“No, not that one. Lets go in another direction.” Ollivander climbed up a ladder on the far side of the shop and dropped down another box. “Dragon-heartstring and beach. Twelve inch and thin.” He called out. “Try it.” Harry waved the glorified toothpick unenthusiastically before handing it back up to Ollivander who replaced it on the shelf and kicked the ladder over to another area.

More wands passed by without effect and Harry was beginning to feel worried (and a little hungry) when Ollivander passed him another wand.

“Phoenix feather and Holly Eleven inches.” Ollivander handed it to him just like he had all the others but Harry thought he had seen a glimmer in the old mans spooky eyes. Harry raised it apprehensively and swished it like a whip. Nothing happened, and silence filled the small shop. Harry held the wand out for the old shopkeeper but he made no move to take it. He was staring at it like he did not quite understand.

“Try it again.” Was all he said.

Harry obediently swished the wand a bit more and jabbed it in the air. It refused to do anything for him.

“Doesn‘t seem to work.” Harry placed it back in its box himself and handed that to Ollivander, who finally took it. The poor man looked quite confused.

“Dra… Dragon-heartstring.” He said after a moment, as if struggling with something. “And oak.”

A few wands later and one shot ribbons of light in the air as Harry swished it.

“Andaman padunk.” The wand maker said almost to himself. “and phoenix feather. Just nine inches. But this is yours!” He held up the other wand in its box. “This is the one you’re supposed to have. This wand has at its core, a certain feather. The bird that gave that feather gave only one other that was made into a wand. Yes, thirteen and a half inches, yew. That wand Harry, gave you that scar.” He pointed at Harry’s forehead. “That wand belonged to he-who-must-not-be-named I’m sorry to say. You and… and… and he…” Ollivander lapsed into silence and Harry said.

“But that one didn’t work. This one did.” He liked the look of the wand he had in his hand. The wood was faintly red and the grip where he held it was a little rougher making the thing feel stable in his small hand like none of the others had. “How much for this one.”

“Take it.” The old man suddenly looked just that, old. He waved them out as he turned and walked into the back of his shop, without taking his eyes off the wand in his hand.
________________________________________









Harry left the price of the wand on the desk and left the old man to his thoughts. When they were outside Harry took the lead and a surprised Hagrid followed him. Harry stopped by a little café and sat down at a table in the corner and motioned for Hagrid to sit down too. When he did Harry said…

“Alright. Now I need to know what’s going on.” Hagrid nodded and sighed, mumbling something about not knowing why Dumbledore thought he was the one who should tell him, then launched into the story. People passed by them but Harry was wrapped up in the story that was, he supposed, his history. Then finally when Hagrid finished he took a deep breath and said…

“They think, that something I was or did stopped this dark lord? And the reason people are staring at me is because I’m some sort of celebrity-hero? And everyone in your world knows this? Including the people I’m going to be going to school with? And this dark wizard may still be out there somewhere? Have I got this right?”

“I’m sorry Harry.” Hagrid shook his head. “There’s a lot to take in on top of what you’ve already heard today. But you asked, and I would’ve had to tell you anyway seeing as you’ll be going off to Hogwarts with people who know.” Hagrid suddenly looked around them, some of the shops were already shut and the café owner was looking at them pointedly. “We’d better get going.”

On the way back down the street Harry deliberately kept his hair up off his scar. People stared, he would have to get used to it.

________________________________________
Chapter 2: The toaders

Hagrid spoke to the barman at the leaky cauldron before leaning down to speak to Harry.

“I’ve got you a room here at the cauldron.” Hagrid pointed back up the stares. “I don’t know what yer gonna do in the long term but for now until you go to Hogwarts you can stay here.”

So that was how it came to pass that Harry slept at the leaky cauldron that night, tired from a day that had held more surprises than, well, than the rest of his life put together. Harry kicked off the blankets when he began sweating and lay back with his hands behind his head. His tired body fought his buzzing mind as it churned through the days revelations. But as the clock crept past eleven Harry’s body began to win and his eyes drooped.

He dreamt of wands and wizards and rocketing carts that flew past his eyes chased by broomsticks. But most of all he kept turning and turning the story Hagrid had told him through his head just as he had when he was awake. Again and again a dark figure killed a man, then a woman then touched him on the head with his wand. Sometimes the man was Hagrid, his vast bulk blowing away like dust in a flash of light, sometimes the man looked like Harry, but older, stockier. The killer was worse, sometimes it was just a dark force, a wave. Sometimes it looked human, like a villain off TV, decked out in fangs and a cloak as it killed a woman who looked like Madam Malkin. Sometimes it had red eyes. Once, it was Harry.

Harry jerked awake and saw that it was still dark outside. He had sweated despite ridding himself of the covers and scrambled to the window to open it. Dim light filtered in from the edges of a sky not quite ready for sunrise. Harry turned and looked over his room, barely glimpsed the night before. It was panelled in oak and the furniture was all of the heavy wooden sort. The bed had a canopy around it that Harry had failed to close last night, he noted in passing that the under sheet was twisted as if the sleeper had squirmed in the night.

“Running from something” Harry decided grimly. That thought and others made him decide to forgo trying to get some more sleep before dawn and wandered over to where he’d dropped his bags by the dresser.

He idly looked through bags, sorting stuff into piles and chuckling as they brought back recollections of various episodes of the previous day, the quills the shopkeeper had tried to give him free when a waft from a fan blew back his hair, the potion ingredients Hagrid had had to go back in to get after the crocodile eye episode. When he finally had all he owned in piles in front of him he pulled over a chair and sat down in front of it, considering his dilemma. The largest pile by far, dwarfing his new robes in weight if not in size, was the books.

This really was a dilemma for Harry. Having not had cause to read anything longer than a sentence or two in three years Harry was painfully aware that those books would be seriously heavy going. Checking his ticket again (from another pile) Harry counted days and came up with thirty eight. He counted them again and came up with thirty seven. He did a little rhyme in his head to remember how many days august had and came up with thirty eight again. He wondered how much a room for more than a month had cost and whether he could carry all his books about on the streets and realised that Hagrid had probably paid in advance to stop him doing just that. The groundskeeper was surprisingly shrewd about some things.

Harry switched his attention back to the books and began wondering instead if a month would be enough. He’d be blown if he was going to this school without knowing a jot more than he knew now and looking like a raw newbie. Harry’s stomach grumbled and he realised wryly that lunch had been a long time ago and although a lot had happened in the mean-time dinner hadn’t been part of it. And worse he realised with a chuckle, breakfast probably wouldn’t be served for hours yet.

“Wow,” he thought grinning “All it takes is just a huge pile of gold and suddenly you can’t miss two meals. Weakling.”

Harry lay back for a moment and closed his eyes, then swung forward and pulled a book off the top of the pile. After a moment he replaced it, shuffled through till he found the one with the word beginners in the title and started on that. After a moment he put that back too and found the one that said grade-one. After a moment he leaned back and put his feet up. He had finally managed to understand the first sentence in one of his books. It was a start.

*

Harry was well into the book when he realised that light was streaming through the windows and the sounds of the city were filtering through loud and clear. Harry stood up, put the book in his bag and went off to explore Diagonally. The barkeeper watched him go but didn’t try to stop him.

“Hagrid probably told him to watch me.” Thought Harry as he walked out the back door, turned, walked back in and asked the barkeeper how to open the wall.

The way revealed to him, Harry stepped out onto the bustling street. Harry bought a folded-pastry thing at a cart and was surprised to discover it was pumpkin. He walked along staring in windows at the various oddities until he reached Gringots. Gaining this familiar ground Harry climbed to the top of the steps, sat down and finished his pastry where he could see everyone come and go. Eventually he got out his book and read a chapter on something called alohomora without taking it in before shouldering his bag again and walking back into the crowd.

Harry followed a pattern like this for the next few days, going out in the morning and soaking in the sights of Diagonally until he was sure he knew the place by heart, The standard book of spells (Grade one) by Miranda Goshawk was finished and replaced back by A beginners guide to transfiguration by Emeric Switch which was itself replace after a much longer interval (the book was longer and had none of the helpful diagrams Miranda Goshawk had added to her book) by one about Fungi.

Harry was just grinding through a particularly dull passage about moss after a long days walk when he heard a tapping on the window. A brown and cream flecked owl with long legs stood on the windowsill. The window was open but the owl just kept sitting there, cocking its head at him until Harry motioned the bird to come in. It ducked under the window frame and hopped onto the floor where it scuttled up to the desk and raised itself up to it in one flap. Careful to avoid disturbing any of Harry’s stuff it walked over to him and held out a letter it had clutched in its claw. Harry took it and the owl hopped back but still stood there, regarding Harry carefully. When he looked it in the eyes it ducked its head and took another step back but didn’t leave. Harry felt into his pocket and found the remains of his ham sandwich lunch which he opened and placed near the owl. The owl looked at it but seemed too nervous to take it. Shrugging, Harry opened the letter. In writing almost as bad as his own Harry read…


Dear Harry
Happy Birthday. Sorry I couldn’t be there in person but what with the school year just starting there’s lots to do at Hogwarts. There was a classroom on the third floor full of flesh eating slugs. Anyway I sent you your present. (Harry checked inside the envelope and read on bewildered) Unless you’re wondering why the owls still hanging around it’s because she’s yours. (Ahh, thought Harry, glancing at the nervous bird) The cage and stuff should be coming soon too. If you want to write to me just give her a letter, she’ll know where to find me. Once again Happy Birthday.

Hagrid


Harry folded the letter up carefully and turned to look at the owl. It really wasn’t that large in the body but had long spindly legs that looked like they belonged on a wader. Harry slowly put his arm out and scratched the side of the owls head. She went stiff for a moment then relaxed and cocked her head under his scratching fingers. After a little while the owl managed to pluck up the courage to take a bit of ham off the table and swallow it whole. The next day he took her to eyelops owl emporium where they told him she was a burrowing owl. In light of this he named her Digger. The clerk said that that was the most unimaginative name he’d ever heard. Harry stuck his tongue out at him and left the shop.

About a week after that Harry snapped shut the cover of the last book in his pile. He put it carefully on top of the others and sat there for a while collecting his thoughts. Then he leaned forward, placed a hand firmly on the underside of the pile and turned it over. Digger hooted from her cage as Harry sat back down to read.

*

September the first bloomed bright and early but Harry was already up. His bag was stuffed to the brim with his school clothed and books and his cauldron tied on the outside and he carried Digger in her cage in one hand. Harry walked Diagonally one last time to say goodbye to the people he’d met on his walks, Greeklunk at gringots, the fruit seller he chatted to when he got bored of his books and finally to Tom the barman before walking back out into the muggle world.

Kings cross was not far away. But with an owl in a cage and a full bag even a short way can seem too far and Harry was tired when he reached it.

“Half an hour to go.” Harry checked his ticket. “Easier to wait on the train than out here”. He walked down the platform past platform eight, past platform nine, past platform ten, back past platform ten, stop, look left, look right.

A profanity slipped from Harry’s mouth that made a passer-by grumble and frown. There was no platform nine-and-three-quarters, at least not one he could see. Harry had walked the lengths of platforms nine and ten before he saw an odd sight moving towards him. A man dressed in a black cape, attracting many stares from passers by, herded a white-blond haired child towards the platform. They were followed by a tired looking man carrying a large travelling chest and (and this was the bit Harry was looking at) a large owl in a cage. As the trio drew closer Harry heard the boy say…

“I don’t see why I can’t have my own broom father.” Harry’s suspicions were confirmed and he stepped in front of them to say…

“Hello.” From the icy look in the mans eyes not a good start but he pressed on. “I couldn’t help but overhear that last bit and it occurred to me that you might be the kind of people who could show me the way to platform nine-and-three-quarters.” There, that was innocuous enough, if they weren’t wizards they’d just think he was an idiot. The man looked him up and down slowly.

“So you know about the platform but you don’t know how to get to it.” The man has an arrogant drawling voice. “That says to me, muggle-born.” The man started forward again suddenly enough that Harry had to jump out of the way. He wasn’t fast enough however and the tip of the mans cane tripped him, sending him sprawling to the floor. He heard laughter from both the man and the boy that cut off suddenly. Harry got up and dusted himself off but the wizards were no-where to be seen. Cursing himself Harry looked at the time, barely five minutes left. Harry was just wondering if there was a second train he could take when…

“Jack!” Harry was thumped on the shoulder and spun around to look into the freckled face of one of the twins from the leaky cauldron the first time he had passed through there. They were followed by an older teenager, possibly even more freckled than them and a younger one bringing up the rear. Behind them was a plump woman, angry at being left in charge of a whole flotilla of baggage trolleys while her sons ran off and a little girl hanging on to her hand.

“This is the guy we told you about.” Said the twin to his left as his brothers caught up.

“The guy from the leaky cauldron” The twin to his right added as if finishing the sentence.

“The guy who isn’t Harry Potter” Added lefty.

“Lots of people aren’t Harry Potter.” Said Harry with a smile. “It’s hardly an accolade.” (“Now how the hell am I gon’a be able to tell them the truth.” Thought Harry.)

“Stop bothering him dears, and take you’re carts back.” The mother had joined them and was pushing them towards the platforms. “We haven’t got time for dawdling.” Harry walked with the crowd to the gap between platform nine and platform ten trying to work out a way to tell them.

“You know, about the whole Harry Potter thing.” Harry said but was silenced as the oldest brother took his cart and walked straight through the wall. Harry’s shock must have came through on his face because the Mother said.

“First time to Hogwarts dear?”

“Either that or I’ve gone mad and I just haven’t realised it yet.” This explanation was becoming more and more appealing to Harry’s mind but the woman just laughed.

“Oh, its all right Dear, its Ron’s first time too.” She pointed to the youngest son who shrugged and smiled. “All you have to do, is run at the barrier and don’t stop. Don’t worry that you’ll crash into it, or you will. You see?”

“Run at the wall.” Harry said flatly as the twins disappeared as well. “Alright. Thanks for you’re help.” Harry added more warmly. “But if I end up breaking my skull I’m blaming you.” Harry turned to the barrier and broke into a run. He wanted to close his eyes but kept them resolutely open. The wall came closer. A sudden moment of panic hit Harry and he squeezed his eyes shut and shielded his head with his hands.

There was a moment of quiet pressure then Harry opened his eyes and walked out to gaze at the red steam engine, sat next to the sign for platform nine-and-three-quarters. He heard a weird shlooping sound behind him and saw Ron standing there checking himself to see whether he was alright and looking back towards the barrier.

“Skull still whole?” Harry asked him and got a grin in return. Harry wandered down the platform and got in a seemingly empty carriage. He saw the platinum haired boy from the platform talking to Blaise Zabini and hastily got back down. The next few carriages he checked were occupied by people already talking and chatting and showing each other pictures. Harry reached the end of the train and was on his way back when he spotted the boy, Ron, walking along in front of him checking each compartment. Harry walked up and moved into step with him.

“I think everywhere’s taken ” Harry said as they checked another compartment only to find a group of seventh years in serious discussion over a newspaper. Harry hefted his bag higher onto his shoulder and held the door to the next compartment open for Ron and his huge trunk.

“You’re not bringing much stuff.” Said Ron looking between his huge trunk and Harry loaded backpack. “I thought everyone was bringing a trunk.”

“I like to travel light.” Harry said, they leaned against the wall for a moment as a gaggle of older students passed. “Makes it easier to run from trouble. Besides, I don’t have enough stuff to fill one o’ those things.” Harry nodded towards the trunk.

“I’m Ron.” The boy extended a hand, which Harry took. “Ron Weasley. What’s your last name Jack?”

“Well, see the thing about that is.” No welcome distractions here. “My names not actually Jack.” Seeing Ron’s perplexed face he continued. “You heard how your brothers met me right.” (nod). “How people thought I was Harry Potter and turned and looked at me?” (nod). “Well, try and see it from my perspective, you’re suddenly in a new place with lots of people staring at you.” (silent stare). “What would you have told them?” He lapsed into silence as Ron stared at him for a moment.

“So what you’re saying is… that you really are Harry Potter?” Ron laughed and told him it was a good joke, he laughed right up until Harry pushed his fringe up and showed Ron the scar on his forehead. Rons eyes widened like lamps and his laughter caught in his throat and got turned into a fit of coughing that Harry had to slap him on the back to get him out off. “You really are him?”

“’Fraid so friend.” Harry smiled “Sorry for tricking you.”

“So, do you remember, you know, IT.” Ron leaned forward conspiratorially.

“What?” Harry said, leaning forward and putting on a mock surreptitious accent.

“You know, when…that…” Ron pointed at Harry’s scar and Harry understood.

“I remember being hurt. Nothing else really.” They walked on in silence for a while.

“Fred and George are gona go crazy.” Ron shook his head slowly while grinning.

“You’re brothers?”

“Yeah,” Suddenly a thought seemed to strike Ron. “Oh, let me tell them! The look on their faces…”

“Knock yourself out, only don’t, really. Once had a friend who did that, lost part of his memory and forgot six.” Harry launched into one of his farcical and totally fictional stories.

“Forgot six? Six what?”

“The number six, he used to count up like… four, five, seven. If you told him he’d missed out a number he looked at you like you were mental.”

“You’re having me on aren’t you.” Ron looked at him sideways and folded his arms.

“Course not. Believe me. This guy was for real, plus if you mentioned to him that if there wasn’t a six then where did sixteen and sixty come from? He’d get a headache and have to go sit down. Was awful at keeping appointments too, on account of missing Saturday. Even worse he was scared of dice. Seemed to think they should be made triangular.” Harry launched further into the story, dreaming up more wildly unlikely circumstances when he glanced into a nearby compartment and saw familiar faces.

“Ah,” Harry said “I think I see some seats we can steal.”

*

He opened the door and looked in on the twin girls (I’m meeting a lot of twins) he’d met in diagonally’s apothecary. “Hi.” Harry said by way of introduction, “mind if we sit down here? I could juggle again by way of payment?” The girls giggled and Harry moved into the compartment and helped Ron put his huge trunk in the overhead compartment. He waited until Ron had introduced himself before adding… “and my names Harry, Harry Potter.”

“Are you? You didn’t say anything when we met before.” One of the twins accused.

“There wasn’t time, what with the being thrown out of the shop and all. Don’t worry about that this time, I plan to stay at Hogwarts at least a few days before getting thrown.” The twins laughed, that was how to do it. Tell a joke just after you say your name ‘cos you can’t gasp and laugh at the same time. “And anyway, you didn’t tell me your names either.”

“Well I’m Padma, and this is Parvati Patil.” Said Padma before her sister added “Do you have the scar?” Harry obligingly lifted his hair and let it fall back. “Wow.” The twins looked at one another then broke out into giggles. But Parvati added through the laughs, “I expected you to be taller though.” Harry looked around and realised he was the shortest person in a fifty percent girl room then shrugged.

“It’s an optical illusion.” he said with a grin, “I’m really a giant.”

“Nah,” said Ron “If you were you wouldn’t fit in the train. And you’d be a whole lot uglier!”

“Thanks.” Harry said flatly while wondering whether he was serious (dragons, so why not giants?). Before he could say anything else the compartment door slid open to show a witch pushing a trolley full of food.

“Would you like anything off the trolley dears?” She asked. A momentary-flash-fire three way battle raged in Harry between hunger, thrift and a need to impress but the matter was decided by a set of creamy orange cakes sitting on one side of the trolley. On seeing them, thrift waved a little white flag.

“Two of those please.” Harry said, pointing at the cakes. Ron mumbled that he had brought sandwiches but the twins seemed to have worked out all the stuff they were getting in advance and amassed a small pile of their favourites in front of them. As the trolley moved away Harry held up one of his cakes and said. “Now, can anyone tell me what the hell I just bought?”

“You don’t know?” Ron said disbelieving “They’re cauldron cakes.” Harry bit a little off one of them and smiled as the creamy filling hit his tongue.

“Wizards get nice food.” Harry said leaning back and taking another bite.

“What do you mean?” said Parvati.

“Why wouldn’t you have eaten wizard food.” Added Padma.

“I didn’t grow up with wizards, or witches or dragons or giants.” Harry gestured widely at the surrounding area. “Welcome to my journey of constant revelation. I’m just waiting for the aliens to jump out with Elvis and all will be complete.” He stopped and waited on their confused stares.

“I wondered why you couldn’t get onto the platform.” Ron said after a moment. “Once I found out who you were of course. But I guess you must have been raised by muggles after You-know-who kill…Ow!” Parvati had kicked Ron hard in the shin and was making shushing noises while her sister stared disapprovingly at the ginger child. Harry just laughed.

“Don’t lame Ron on my account.” Harry took another bite out of his cake before saying “My parents died a long time ago. Beyond my memory of events, so it doesn’t matter if you talk about them.”

“Who took care of you?” Ron asked while rubbing his smarting leg. “I didn’t see anyone at the station with you.”

“Who took care of me?” Harry paused a little too long before answering. “Well, myself I guess. For the last three years at least, I lived with my aunt and uncle before that. Well, I say lived with, survived is probably the better term. That’s why I left.” Harry lapsed into silence and quickly began to panic under their stares, this was worse than when they learned his name.

“So, you lived alone?” Parvati broke the quiet. “Without a family?”

“Without a home?” Padma added onto the end of her sisters question. Ron just sat there looking dumbstruck.

“Yes without a family, yes without a home.” Harry’s heart began to speed and he could feel the sweat from their stares. He fumbled in his pocket and brought out two juggling balls and began to bounce them in one hand, he could feel the stress ebbing, relaxing, growing smaller but still sitting there, in the back of his mind, weighing it down. It had been quiet too long, make them talk again. “Neat story yeah?” Harry said pocketing the balls. “Anyway its not as bad as you think, I think I had a little help after I left my aunt and uncle’s.”

“What do you mean?” Ron leaned forward, his mouth full of sandwich.

“We’ll, its something I worked out since I found out.” It had taken him a while to realise it, his mind soaking into the old books he was reading, the comprehension had come to him slowly, as more and more pieces fell together. “You know unintentional magic…”

“The kind muggle-born-wizard children use when they don’t realise it.” Parvati said, then gasped. “You’ve been using it already, that’s how you survived homeless as a kid!”

“Yep,” Harry smiled happily. “I used to think I was lucky, born lucky, you know? Any time I was really in trouble like, like with the police (“police?!” gasped Ron, The twins eyes went wide with shock.) something always happened. Like a gate I’d just ran through locked and barred itself behind me, or a water main bursting right under a cop-car.”

“Were they hurt?” Ron looked aghast.

“Nah, just broke the car. Still, none of those were as good as this one time.” Harry motioned for the others to lean in and they obliged, now wrapped up in his story. “I was being chased by this gang o’ drunken guys right? Chasing me over some small matter of little importance that was blown far, far out of proportion.”

“What did you do?” Padma said flatly.

“I said their mothers must have been sheep and for no reason they took it as an insult.” Harry shook his head ruefully “ Some people have no sense of humour, they took it totally out of context. Anyway, normally I have no trouble outdistancing drink soaked yobs but in this case I was in a part of town I hadn’t been in before and I found myself in the untenable position of facing a dead end with six of the idiots tearing down on me.”

“Did you turn them into something?” Parvati leaned forward eagerly.

“Not quite.” Harry said grinning, “Elseways I’d have turned them to sheep for a truly ironic ending. But instead as they ran at me they all suddenly fell over at the same time.”

“Oh, you just knocked them down.” Padma sounded disappointed. “That’s not very interesting.”

“Not knocked down, slid over.” Harry’s eyes twinkled. “I wasn’t sure at the time but I think I turned their shoes to ice. Have you ever seen six drunk guys hangin’ off each other ‘cos they couldn’t stand up. Any time they tried to stand up they just fell flat on their faces again.” Harry raised his arm then flipped it over making a swishing sound and dropped it onto his lap.

“Of course, if they’d just had the smarts to take their shoes off I’d have been a goner, but with a little help from the alcohol they’d drunk that didn’t occur and I was safe to slip away.” Harry laughed and after a moment his friends laughed too. Harry could remember that night clearly, he hadn’t laughed then. He’d cried and ran and shivered through his coat. He hadn’t slept that night either, he hadn’t felt safe too but instead had just ran and ran until his legs gave out and he crawled into a patch of shadows and to lie there trembling. Laughter was easy after but he would never forget the fear.

“That’s nothing.” Ron said, clearly trying to top Harry. “One time when I was out on my broom…” He got no further into his story as the door slid open to reveal a nervous looking kid with a chubby face and watery eyes.

“Has anyone seen a toad.” The boy sniffed loudly. “I’ve lost mine. He’s called Trevor.”

“No, I haven’t.” Harry looked over Ron, Parvati and Padma to see a chorus of shaking heads. “No, he hasn’t been in here… But.” Harry added as the boys eyes started to well up again. “I could help you look if you like.” Parvati was quick to add that she’d help too. Padma sighed but repeated what her sister said. Ron said nothing and rolled his eyes.

But the Weasley was outnumbered and so The pack started off down the corridor, Harry idly juggling and starting another of his staple tales, Padma and Parvati listening intently, Neville (the toadless wonder) had stopped crying and was even smiling at the story and Ron bringing up the rear, trying to pretend this wasn’t better than sitting in a cabin.

*

Everything was going so well (no they had not actually found the toad but they had met lots of interesting people and one interesting giant spider.) when Harry saw someone coming down the corridor and grimaced. His little group of toad-hunters stopped dead as the platinum haired kid from the station walked towards them flanked by two robust students. (“well, I say robust.” Thought Harry. “It’s really just fat. A ton o’ fat and about ten stone o’ ugly to season.”).

“Oh,” said the boy in a drawling, bored voice. “Its you, the mudblood from the station.” Harry heard Ron gasp and Parvati yell “What did you say?!”.

“So you finally found you’re way onto the platform.” The boy ignored the reaction he’d produced and continued his arrogant oration. “Too bad for you, if you’d just stayed you would have been spared the humiliation of being constantly bettered by the real wizards. My father always says muggle-borns shouldn’t be allowed to attend with us pure blooded wizards.”

“You haven’t seen a toad have you?” Harry asked brightly.

“What?” Said the boy. And was echoed by Ron and Neville.

“A toad.” Harry kept smiling. “You know, small, green, frog-like thing, answers to the name of Trevor.”

“No I have not seen a toad.” Said the boy acidly.

“Sorry but you just seemed like the kind of guy who would know where to find green, slimy, disgusting reptiles.” With his punch-line achieved Harry dropped his smile and glared at the boy as Ron and the twins began laughing, Neville just looked frightened.

“Who do you think you’re talking to.” Said the boy, ignoring the fact that people in nearby cabins had opened their doors to listen. “I am Draco Malfoy, my father is Lucius Malfoy, you’d best not make enemies you can’t deal with mudblood.” Once again the word produced a reaction, even from the people in the cabins. Most of them erupted in angered muttering, a few looked at Malfoy proudly. “Anyway, I don’t see why I’m wasting time with the likes of you. There’s a rumour that Harry Potter is on the train.” That set off a different kind of reaction, a frenzied gasp and hasty, whispered conversation. “And I’m trying to find him before he falls in with riffraff like you.”

“Unless he’s a toad I doubt you’ll find him.” Harry said smiling. “Oh and also, I’m not muggle-born, you’re esteemed father just assumed that.”

“But I suppose you must be a mudblood lover.”

“Oh yeah, I think their great. I have no idea what they are but since you seem to hate them so much and gods truth, the more I see of you the more I seem to hate your guts I can be sure I’ll love ‘em to bits. Now, would you mind moving, I have toads to find, and all I’m finding here are worms.” Harry pointed straight at Malfoy and then to the side of the carriage. Malfoy remained stock still. The carriage had gone deadly quiet.

“Who do you think you are?” Draco said with undisguised scorn.

“Harry Potter. Nice to meet you.” Draco’s eyes went wide and the compartments once more began whispering. “This is Ron Weasly and Neville Longbottom, and Padma and Parvati Patil.” Harry advanced on the blond haired kid before him and waved his hand at the giant bodyguards. “Now, aren’t you going to introduce me to you’re friends…pets…companions. Interesting how you managed to fit two hippos into uniforms, you would have thought the tails would get in the way.” Then Harry noticed the master stroke, a small green lump near Malfoys boot. He stooped, swiped it up and held it for all to see.

“Trevor!” Cried Neville happily.

“Look at this guys, it’s even better than I thought. Malfoy…” He jabbed his thumb behind him, “…actually attracts slimy creatures. He doesn’t need to seek them out, they come to him! I wonder why that is? I think…” Harry went on in a stage whisper “… that it might be the smell.” He just had time to see the laughter erupt before something hit him in the back of the head.

*

Harry went down hard and felt a weight land on top of him. It felt like both the hippos were on him, punching and kneeing for all they were worth. Harry kicked up and when one flinched back he rolled out from under and turned his roll into a jump to his feet. He saw one of the kids trying to rise and pushed him back down on top of his friend. At that moment he felt hot sparks singe his neck and smelled burnt hair and turned to see Malfoy standing there with wand drawn, the last faint glow just fading from the tip. Harry looked around and saw that no one had moved. The thing had happened in moments. Then suddenly one of the Onlookers glanced down the carriage, yelled

“PREFECTS!!!” and suddenly everyone jumped back into their cabins. Harry felt two sets of hands grab him by the shoulders and pull him in with someone. He turned to see the grinning faces of the Weasly twins and the toad hunting gang.

“That.” Said Ron “Was bloody brilliant.” As if that loosened everybody’s tongue they all began talking at once. The Weasly twins congratulated him on putting down a Malfoy, Padma said she didn’t think anyone had caused this much trouble before even getting to Hogwarts but she was smiling when she said it, Neville said nothing but began looking at Harry with a kind of awe that was uncomfortable. Recounting the fight and the taunting that prompted it kept them laughing until Parvati glanced out the window and said

“Ooo, we’re here.” As if on cue the train started slowing. Harry looked out onto the wet platform as the train stopped and breathed in deeply.

“Almost there…” He thought. “…everything’s beginning.”

*

Harry’s hand drifted through the water, forgotten, as he stared out from the boat he, Ron and the twins had shared. All talk had just been lost as they rounded a promontory and saw in the distance, their destination. Hogwarts, it sprawled over the land on one side of the lake, a vast keep or castle with tall, needle towers and giant halls. Every window glowed from within and shone beams of light out like searchlights. Harry had never seen anything like it. He wondered for a moment whether that was because it was magic, certainly some of the towers looked like they couldn’t be supported by just stone and mortar.

Harry stood up in the boat and watched the castle for as long as he could before they came too close to the cliff to see it. And as Hagrid led the boats in through a cave Harry turned and sat down.

“This will be unbelievable.” Harry said quietly, smiling.

“Wait till you get inside.” Ron grinned, “Fred and George told me everything about it. Apparently the stairs move and there’s secret passages everywhere.” Harry made a mental note to find all of them. “And there’s creatures in the dungeons that the teachers don’t know about, and there a room full of treasure in one of the walls. Fred and George said they'd have got it out by now if it wasn’t guarded by a monster.”

“That’s a bunch of pig poo.” Parvati scoffed (Harry chuckled at the absurdly mild profanity) as they stepped out of the boat onto a landing. “My friend’s in her third year and she once told me Fred and George Weasly were the biggest jokers and the biggest liars in the whole school.” Ron bristled and was about to retort when Harry said

“From what I’ve seen of you’re brothers Ron, they’d take that as a complement.” Ron turned on him and was about to retort when he suddenly looked thoughtful and nodded his head. Harry suddenly grinned and spread his arms above his head. Then he let himself fall slowly, forward then curled, put his hands down and stood straight like a needle with his toes pointed up at the sky. “But I don’t think they’ll take this so easy…” Harry pushed up and landed back on his feet to meet astonished stares, “…if they do hold the prankster crown they’d better enjoy it while they can ‘cos I’m on the scene now.” Harry put his hands on his hips and licked his front teethh. “And they ain’t seen nothing yet.”

*

It was a moment before anyone spoke up but Harry saw their expressions. Ron’s looked shocked beyond words and had his mouth open, Padma was looking at him like he was joking in some way but her sister was smiling and nodding with a gleam in her eyes that said she was planning to try for a bit of mayhem herself. But it was secret option four who reacted first.

“You’re already planning to break school rules and you’re not even past the sorting yet.” Harry turned, praying he was wrong about recognising the voice. “I have half a mind to tell the headmaster about you right now.” Prayers unanswered. The voice came from the bushy haired girl from diagonally who was standing with her hands on her hips facing them as the other first years filed past down the corridor.

“Herm…ione, right?” Harry said smiling for all he could.

“You should all keep away from him.” The girl ignored Harry and addressed the other toad hunters. “You could all get into huge trouble.” With that the girl turned and marched off after the first years. Meanwhile Harry turned back to the others.

“So, you’ve heard my idea and you’ve heard the opposition.” He jabbed his hand at Hermione’s back. “Who’s with me?” Grins answered him, even (eventually) from Neville. “Right then, I’m happy you guys are behind me. Now lets get going. If were late we’ll never even get put into the school to get thrown out!” They hurried after the others. Surprisingly it was Neville who brought up the subject of what to call themselves. Some ideas (Not all of them good) were bandied about. Ron seemed to be set on putting the word cannons in the name for some reason but was silenced when Padma sarcastically said

“Oh, so we don’t we want to be named after a winning team?” That could have come to blows without Harry’s mood- lightening abilities. Even after a lot of other options (some very cool, Harry held out for the name the toaders for a long time, Neville had suggested it but it did describe them up to now) one name seemed to stick and, even when other options came up they still found themselves using that one (except for comic effect, when Harry still used the toaders.) . It felt right somehow, like they had already been using it and just hadn’t known it.

“After all...” Said Ron “My brothers could count as the old ones, and we’re out to supplant them, so were the new ones!” Harry didn’t think that was the reason somehow, but the name itself fit like a glove.

So, as Harry Potter, Ron Weasly, Neville Longbottom and Padma and Parvati Patil walked into the waiting hall by the great hall and the last of the sunset-sunlight streamed in through the window the New Marauders were born.

*

They stepped into the great hall in a row and giggled when they gasped in tandem. The sight was awe inspiring, the vast tables of students staring and pointing, lighted by hundreds of floating candles and even better, Harry’s eyes travelled upwards and he smiled in rapturous wonder. The night sky greeted him above, every star bright and clear like a back-lit diamond. Like gold dust. Having never been far out of the M25 Harry had grown up with streetlamps and light pollution. The stars were gifts, just one more thing he wanted to thank this place for.

He quietened as an older witch carried an old hat out to the stage and set it down on a stool. She straightened and delivered her instructions in a crisp, efficient voice and the hall instantly became silent. Harry thought he saw the hat move then turned back to the witch. But no! it had moved, and now it split down a ridge and opened like a mouth to say…


Lasting thousands years and more
By the illustrious Hogwarts four
The houses of renown

Each one of honour true and grand
And at their birth you understand
My job was then set down

I was put here to sort you jokes
You sorry, snotty, shorty, folks
To one of them today

To Griffindor
The lions roar
The brave and bold dwell there

To Ravenclaw
Where there it’s more
The mind that holds the chair

To Hufflepuff
Of sterner stuff
The loyal and the just

Or Slytherin
The wits to win
Where cunning is a must

These four alone await you here
And I can chose,
just volunteer
Nothing to fear
Just lend an ear
I’m quite sincere
Can’t wait to see them jump and cheer!

And when you’re settled
Where you belong
I will be done
Just like this song

“Funny yeah!” Ron leaned over to Harry.

“Not really.” Harry had taken the shorty folks comment a bit personally. He was also deeply worried that, of all the descriptions mentioned in the song, cunning described him better than wise or steadfast and definitely better than brave. When Harry looked over to the Slytherin table he recognised some of the people who had cheered Malfoy on the train.

His extra investigation before arriving had also turned up the Slytherin name, frequently associated with the dark and evil. And the hat’s description had matched him. Harry felt suddenly very cold and small and he felt like a dark cloud had touched him. He shivered and told himself it was his imagination.

He could swear he felt eyes on the back of his head but when he turned around the only person there was a thin, nervous looking wizard in a turban chatting to a lank-haired and sallow-faced professor. The lank-haired teachers eyes flicked to his face, then to his forehead and Harry turned back quickly. Just in time to hear the first name called out.

*

Harry stood, his heart beating fast in his chest and his lungs feeling like weights had been hooked to them. One by one the people around him sat down to be sorted, he blessed the fact that he wasn’t called Brown or Abbot, he couldn’t have taken being the first to the stand.

Each person chosen prompted a new batch of cheering from the house they were chosen for. Harry had the insane urge to get out his juggling balls just to relived his stress but knew he couldn’t, not under all those eyes. A moment later he recognised Hermione walking up to the chair and sitting, jamming on the singing hat, a few moments later and the hat pronounced her a Gryffindor and she ran down to the table. The next person he recognised was Neville, he tried to shut away all his nerves and give Neville an encouraging wave as he walked past, ashen faced. After what must have been minutes the hat sent Neville to Gryffindor too and the relief on his face was clearly visible.

Malfoy went to Slytherin and Harrys gut seemed to cease up tighter. They were on to the P’s now and Harry was sure his face must be showing his thought despite his efforts. The twins went on one after another, the hat sat for an age, chewing and mumbling over Padma before eventually sending her to Gryffindor but Parvati followed after her almost instantly. One more name then…

“Harry Potter!”

“Alright.” Thought Harry “If there was ever a time you needed to keep you’re cool. This is that time.” He made himself swagger a little as he walked over to the chair through the whispering and stares then forced himself to grin as he dropped the hat on his head. The dark was welcome as the hat slid over his eyes but then…

“Hm… Another tricky one.” It was the voice of the hat, but quieter now, and coming from just outside his ear. “Good mind but underused, loyal soul but no present loyalties, and with your fears…”

“Hey!” Thought Harry, for a moment more angry than scared. “Who the hell said you could look around in my brain anyway! That stuffs bloody private!” The hat seemed amused.

“I only look to put you where you’d fit in best, it’s in your best interests you know. To go with people who understand you, whose minds are like your own, full of cunning ways, hidden paths, other ways to get what you want. I can send you where you’ll fit in, where you’ll find friends, in the house of Salazar Sl...” But Harry cut him off.

“That’s enough! I will not let myself be placed in a house of dark wizards and disgusting people!” Harry thought angrily. “I don’t see what gives you the right to chose either. I chose my path! Always! If you looked a little further in my brain you’d see the right o’ that! I chose to leave home! I chose to come here! No parent! no guide! I made my own way here, ME! Its my life and I want to go to Gry...”

“GRYFFINDOR!” The hat yelled triumphantly in the middle of his sentence and Harry was dumbstruck for a moment before grinning and rolling his eyes.

“Cheap trick.” He said to the hat, before placing it down and walking towards the cheering red and gold table.

*

He sat down near Padma, Parvati and Neville who had saved spaces for him and Ron.

“That’s a bit of a relief.” If he had been being honest Harry would have said he felt like he was walking on air. “I don’t know anyone in the other houses.” A few moments later Ron was put with them as well and dropped down in the remaining seat, looking as relived as Harry felt and said.

“Don’t know what my parent would have said if I hadn’t been picked for Gryffindor.” Harry was about to say something comfortingly-funny when the hall went quiet. Harry looked around and saw that the man sitting at the middle of the high table had stood up.

He looked very old but he stood without a stoop and had straightened smoothly. His hair and beard were snowy white and tied into two tails, one down the front, one down the back. As he surveyed the hall, Harry could have sworn the mans eyes fixed on him for a split second before moving on.

“Who the Hell’s he.” Asked Harry.

“Albus Dumbledore stupid!” Hissed Parvati. “The Headmaster.”

“One piece of advice comes to me at this time.” The old mans voice sounded faintly amused, like he knew something funny that everyone else didn’t. “Hungry children listen only to their grumbling stomachs. With that in mind, tuck in!” Harry saw the plates in front of him fill with everything imaginable. Plates of meat and potatoes piled high, and pitchers full of juices and milk. Harry looked so long he didn’t click that everyone else had started.

“Not hungry?” Ron asked through a mouthful that said clearly that he was. Harry shook himself and started fishing things off the plates for himself. He was almost disappointed when the deserts appeared and was definitely disappointed when they went though he couldn’t have eaten another bite. He was sitting in a happy, sleepy, full and contended haze when he saw the headmaster rise to his feet again.

“I have a few announcements to make. Firstly, that first years are reminded that they are not allowed their own brooms, that first and second years are forbidden to enter Hogsmead village, that all students are forbidden to enter the forbidden forest and that anyone with any sense of self preservation should avoid the third floor corridor on the right hand side. Thank you.”

“Third floor corridor?” Said Ron. “Hey George! Fred!” He yelled down the table at his brothers. “What’s on this third floor corridor?”

“Nothing the last time we looked.” Said Fred. “Why?”

“Is little Ron scared?” Added his brother laughing. Ron turned back sullenly.

“What do you think?” Harry asked the group as a whole.

“If there was anything there last year they’d know about it.” Ron said crossing his arms and directing a dark look back along the table. “So whatever it is it must have only just happened.”

“Their hiding something.” Said Parvati confidently. “There’s something powerful they’re researching and they want to keep it secret, there’s no danger.”

“Dumbledore said people who go up there could die. You saying that’s not dangerous?” Ron asked.

“Well of course if Dumbledore says it then it must be true. He couldn’t possibly he lying or exaggerating to make sure nobody goes up there.” Padma raised an eyebrow at Ron. “That would just be silly.”

“But wait!” Neville had just caught up with the conversation. “You’re all talking like we’re actually going up there!”

“Oh we’re going.” Harry took a sip of juice before going on. “There was never any question of going or not. As soon as it became forbidden it became our first target.”

*

But there was little chance for Harry to carry through on his promises for the first few days, lesson followed lesson and Harry found himself challenged to keep up. Everything in the books he’d read seemed to constitute about one one-hundredth of what they needed to know and each new concept sent him out from the lesson scratching his head back to the books and then to the new ones he’d got out of the library.

The only reason he wasn’t totally swamped was that after every day he could return to the Gryffindor common room and sit down on the table that had already been designated, even by older students, the Marauders table. On his second day Harry had simply invaded this table and pulled four other chairs around it, plopped his bag down and waited. By day four it was established and the places reserved.

It was near enough to the fire to be warmed by it and was constantly piled with their books and bags, whatever sweets they had each donated to the pot, a wizard chess set in permanent disarray, at least one copy of Witch Weekly and ,more often than not, Trevor. And under the pile, between the pages of the books or hidden in sweet wrappers there were maps, details, reports and ideas.

The five of them would work on the days onerous homework till the common room began to empty, then the books would close and the work would begin in earnest. It had moved beyond the third floor corridor of course, there were plans to get into filches office, McGonagall’s office, each of the other common rooms, plans to curse people (99% of those people being Slytherins and 80% of them being Malfoy) and plans to find all the secret passages of the school.

Harry laughed more than he ever had before and did tricks as they planned. Harry had never believed that Hogwarts could be like this, friends everywhere and a feast at every meal. Even the lessons couldn’t put a dent in this. Then, on Friday, Harry awoke from sleep after a particularly good planning session and went downstairs to breakfast. If Harry had had a single prophetic bone in his body he would have shivered when looking at his days timetable.

“Oh,” He said brightly. “Potions today.”

*

“Potion making is as… beautiful a science as it exact. As deadly as it is complex and as hard to learn as it is rewarding to those who have the talent, and the predisposition to do so.”

Harry and Padma looked at each other sideways and each saw the other barely stifling giggles.

“For those lucky enough to be able to excel in my subject.” The hook nosed, sallow faced professor continued. “It will reap them rewards far beyond any puerile charm or spell. What spell can fill the blood with fire, can kill silent as a mouse, can fan life back into what other spells would deem a corpse, can send someone into so deep a sleep they will never awake.”

“I don’t know any spells for the last one but his voice is doing a pretty good job so far.” Padma whispered and Harry had to bite his upper lip to keep the sounds in. They had been set at a desk thankfully near the back of the class and could look clear across the whole class to where the teacher, one Severus Snape, stalked in front of the blackboard. The reason they were laughing so hard was that, before the lesson, Ron’s brothers had treated them to an impression of Snape which, at the time, they had thought was an exaggeration.

“But most of you will not have that skill and will doubtless find yourself confused… baffled… and, if prior disasters are any indication, severely burnt in this classroom. If that is the case then I ask that you don’t hesitate to come to me for help.” (“WHAT?” Harry’s dumbfounded expression was mirrored on every face in the class) “And I will tell you what I tell all the other students stupid enough to come to me. ‘I don’t CARE.’” The teacher waved his wand at the board and some instructions appeared there.

Later in the lesson, when Snape was making his rounds around the desks staring at everyone’s cauldrons and making derogatory comments to everyone not in green trimmed robes, Harry made a point of looking Snape directly in the eyes as he passed by and smiling from ear to ear.

“Something funny Potter.” Heads turned to watch. “You see something you find amusing?”

“I don’t think you’d get the joke Professor, it’s a youth thing.” Harry said sagely. “Generation gap and all. But…” Harry added. “I’ll be sure to came to you if I ever feel baffled… or burnt.”

“A state of affairs I foresee happening frequently. Lets see if we can speed things up a little. Tell me…” Snape’s back snapped straight like a willow twig and he looked down at Harry. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

“Draft of living death.” Harry’s prior-reading-parachute deployed on cue to save him. “A sleeping potion.”

“Incorrect.” Snape glowered.

“Excuse me.” The annoying twist to the words… the self-important accent… Hermione sat at the next table over and was turned towards Harry and Snape. “The answer is the Draft of living death. A sleeping potion powerful en…”

“Five points from Gryffindor Miss Granger.” Snape said without turning. “The correct answer Potter... Was ‘draft of living death sir'. Another ten points from Gryffindor.” Snape swept off leaving Harry glowering at his back.

“That wasn’t fair.” Said Ron, turning from the table in front that he shared with Neville. “He can’t take points if you get the right answer.”

“Well you were a bit cheeky to leave off the Sir.” Hermione said primly and folded her arms. Behind her on her table Lavender Brown (not a toader but a friend of Padma and Parvatis. Harry had promised to teach her to juggle once and was now trying to find a way to wiggle out of it) rolled her eyes. “But it shouldn’t have been ten points, maybe five.”

“Harry do you remember which of us it was that asked her opinion?” Ron said glibly.

“Can’t recall Ron. Why would one of us do something like that?” Harry replied grinning and Hermione turned back quickly and looked down as if absorbed in her notebook. Ron did a silent laugh and turned back to his desk but Harry leaned back and bit his lip thoughtfully. He’d just insulted, without provocation, someone who had stood up for him. He tried to think of something funny to say that would make Hermione laugh and realised he didn’t know anything she’d like. A moment later Snape swooped back past and the chance for talk was over.

While failing to make his potion Harry thought carefully, Hermione didn’t go around with anyone, she didn’t sit with the same people in any two classes, he’d never seen her talking in the common room with anyone. In fact, the only times he’d seen her out of classes was when he took books out of the library, then she was always there, with her head deep in progressively thicker books.

“That doesn’t mean she doesn’t have friends.” Thought Harry while crushing porcupine quills. “She could know people in other years from before she came here.”

“She’s muggle-born.” Another part of his brain said “How would she already have friends at a wizard school.”

“Oh…” Harry looked over at Hermione and Lavender, only talking to reference the instructions on the board and at other times Hermione was craned over her book and Lavender over hers.

“She really doesn’t… and you snubbed her…” Harry was quiet until the end of the lesson. He didn’t want to talk. When you find out something you don’t much like about yourself the last thing you want to do is talk about it.

*

Harry tried to talk to Hermione several times over the next few weeks but she always just ignored him or ran off. Worse, Padma and Parvati had told him she had taken to crying in the girls toilets during breaks and after lessons.

“Maybe you could do something.” Harry pointed out during a late September evening after a particularly successful prank of some fifth year Slytherins “You sleep in the same bloody room. Surely you talk to her.”

“She doesn’t talk to us.” Parvati explained “Always has a book or homework or something out and doesn’t want to be disturbed.”

“She’s alright if you ask her about homework of ask help with something.” Padma carried on. “But for anything else she just doesn’t want to know.”

“Why do you care anyway?” Ron asked him pointedly. “If she wanted people to like her she wouldn’t be so stuck up. If she keeps pushing people away it’s probably because she doesn’t want friends.” Parvati and Padma nodded sadly but Neville (quiet on the sidelines as always) gave a small shake of his head. Loneliness was easier to understand from experience than from observation.

“No reason really, it’s just we’ve got to live with the rest of our year for the next seven years and that’ll be easier if were at least on speakin’ terms with them.” The others seemed to accept this partial explanation. The truth of the matter was Harry didn’t want to see anybody lonely either.

*

Harry decided to try a more direct approach. The next day, after lessons but before dinner, Harry went down to the library and approached the now familiar sight of a pile of books and Hermione. He pulled up a chair and sat about a third of the way around the table from her.

“Looks like you beat me here.” Harry said without provoking a reaction. “Last copy.” He added, pointing to a random book near her elbow. Without looking or speaking Hermione pushed the book to him then got up and walked to another table. Harry sighed and followed her.

“Look, you can’t keep going like this forever. Humans need to talk to other humans or they go crazy.” Harry twirled a finger near his ear and let his eyes go crossed. “Anyway don’t you…”

“No I don’t!” Hermione slammed the book shut and looked at him angrily. He saw red around her eyes. “And if you don’t mind I’m doing a special project for professor Flitwick and it’s in tomorrow. Some people care about school.” And with that she darted to yet a third table and sat with her back to him. After a moment he saw her shoulders begin to shake with sobs.



Harry stood there for a moment feeling worthless then turned and walked out of the library. But that wasn’t the last he’d see of Hermione that day, a little later when Harry was on a fact-finding mission (“I swear Fitch keeps a spare key in one of the janitors closets.” Ron had said. Harry had agreed to look into it without realising how very many janitors closets there were and what unpleasant smells inhabited them) he passed a doorway to an disused classroom and heard voices inside.

“Give it back!” Hermione’s voice? “You arrogant snake! Give it back!”

“Oh? And why exactly should I?” Hermione and Malfoy? Harry’s hand moved toward the door-handle. “I just want to have a read.” The handle turned but the door didn’t open. Harry groaned as he realised this was one of the weird doors. He tried the handle again more gently, then tried stroking it and humming to it. Inside the conversation had become more heated.

“Give it back you foul, loathsome thing!”

“Crabbe, Goyle, hold the filthy mudblood away from me. I’m trying to read.” Stroking the door, kicking the door, poking the door… come on door! You can hear what’s happening in there the same as I can!

“What an interesting document mudblood. Flitwick would have been astounded with it. Probably would have earned you a few house points eh? Except you won’t be able to give it to him. Unreliable as you mudbloods are, saying you’ll do something then not having even a single sheet to hand in. Terrible.” Harry heard sobs from inside and redoubled his efforts at the door. Wasn't there a spell called allohamora? Harry flicked his wand out and tried to cast it. Nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. Oh damnit! This wasn't one of the doors that wouldn't open! This was one of the walls that look like a door. Harry peered through the keyhole to try to see another door. Malfoy was holding up the papers for Hermione to see and said,

“Then I’ll say ‘Oh professor, if you wanted someone to write up that you should’ve asked me. I’ve been researching it. Just in my spare time of course. Thanks for the house points mudblood.” Harry heard another door open then close and ran in the direction of the sound. Malfoy and his minions were already out of sight so Harry quietly opened the door and went in. Hermione was slumped in a pile in the middle of the floor. He approached carefully and tried to think of something to say.

“Um Hermione…” She looked up then scowled when the saw him. “You could tell Flitwick, tell him what happened. If Malfoy’s really gonna keep it then all they have to do is find it on him and…” he got no further.

“Shut up! You’re as bad as he is! Breaking rules and playing pranks! You can’t talk!” Hermione ran out of the room leaving Harry speechless. Harry stood for the longest time in the middle of the deserted classroom before walking slowly back to the Gryffindor common room. The marauders stopped talking when they saw his face, a mix of anger and pain. They all looked to him as he sat down.

“Forget all the other plans.” Harry’s voice was grave-quiet but his eyes had a wicked gleam. “We’re breaking in the Slytherin common room. Tonight.” The objections washed over him from the others; they weren’t ready, they hadn’t planned, tomorrow was Halloween and they needed to be rested for the party and most of all they could run into Snape. Harry sighed inwardly and began to tell the full story as quickly as he could. It was already getting dark, and they had places to be…
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Authers note
Hi, thought i should leave an note eventually. Review if you have time, this is my first fiction so please feel free to tell me how auful it is.


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“We’re going to be caught. We’re going to be caught!”

“Of course we’ll be caught if you don’t shut up Neville!” Padma held her hand over Neville’s mouth and pulled him further into the closet. Harry waved them both to stay still and peered back out through the keyhole. Filches lantern glow was far up the corridor but he waited a good count of thirty before pushing the door open and leading the others out. In the end the choices for his companions were simple, he couldn’t take more than two or they’d be seen for sure and they needed some people to stay in the common room to vouch for them if questions were asked. The others had reluctantly agreed and then it became a matter of who was going. Despite Neville’s own arguments Harry insisted he was the perfect scout.

“You get lost so much if someone finds you out of place you can just say you were looking for the common room. And anyone but Snape’ll probably let you off.”

As for Padma, she was the only one who could reliably find the Slytherin dungeon since she had been in charge of that particular piece of recognisance and after all, she had been the one to find out the password. Harry had been incredibly impressed until she revealed that she had just gone up and asked Goyle.

“I just asked him straight out.” She had explained while Harry’s face slowly lost its amazement. “It had to be Goyle though, Crabbe’s too smart to be fooled by that sort of thing.” It had actually taken Harry quite a long time to realise she was joking.

The three of them crept down the last flight of stairs and Padma silently pointed to a flat piece of wall ahead. Harry nodded and he and Padma moved on while Neville got his wand out and pushed himself deep into an alcove behind some armour. Harry gestured back at him and got out his wand.

“Mico Neville” Harry muttered, sending the signal, and having his own wand vibrate as a reply. It was the best way to send signals, the person had to be within ten or so meters but it was virtually silent. Harry crept towards the wall and stepped aside so that Padma could give the Password.

“Ophiophagus” The wall dissolved from the centre and revealed the doorway.

“Anticlimax.” Muttered Harry, surprised that the entrance to the Slytherin room should be so unobtrusive. “Expected fireworks.” Harry moved into the shadows within and felt Padma following him.

It was dark but not pitch. A few dying embers in the huge marble fireplace gave an ominous glow. All the furniture was large and dark, and in the bad light it looked oddly threatening, looming like cliffs above the creeping children. Padma tugged at Harrys robe and as he looked back she waved her hand in front of her eyes and shook her head. She couldn’t see. Harry knew his eyes were good by night and he kept forgetting the rest of his clan didn’t share the benefits of his previous, independent lifestyle. Harry guided her to a wall and put her behind a wall hanging, sitting near a large urn unpleasantly decorated to resemble a screaming face. Harry placed Padma’s wand in her hand and looked at her face before leaving. She was wearing a determined expression but her eyes were wide and she was breathing hard.

“No shame to back out.” Harry whispered in her ear, for the first time having doubts about tonight’s venture. “I did kinda throw everyone in at the deep end today.”

“I’m staying.” Padma’s voice as barely more than a whisper. “I chose Gryffindor didn’t I? I’d better start earning it.” And with that she pulled back into the alcove.

“She said she chose her house too.” Harry thought as he headed towards the Bedrooms. “Perhaps there’s more to the sorting than brave, cunning or whatever. Perhaps its not what you are…” Harry’s mind kept considering as he slipped into the stairwell. “It’s what you want to be…”

*

Harry had to chuckle as his fingers found a doorknob in the dark. What he had thought would be the hardest part had turned out to be the easiest. They had debated for ages how to find out which room was Malfoy’s, from bribing someone to covering his shoes with ultraviolet ink but it had been all for nothing. Harry checked the brass nameplate on the door and chuckled again before moving into the room. Like a ghost, Harry tried not to even think loudly. Like a ghost, here then gone, no trace. The room was large for a single person room, larger even than the one in Gryffindor tower he shared with four other people.

“Can’t make precious pet Malfoy share a room.” Harry sneered in the dark. If there had been a way to silently trash the place he would have done so, instead he began looking around for the project. He slid his hands onto shelves and held papers up in the moonlight to read the covers. The only time he stopped was when he was searching by Malfoy’s bed and saw something on the covers. He’d had to double up to keep from laughing and he’d felt like every vein would burst. Malfoy had taken his teddy to school with him.

Harry could see a clock on the mantle, the hands glowing faintly in the dark and saw that he didn’t have much time left. For a moment he stopped looking and just stood in the darkness to think. There was no way he could search the whole place, not going as slowly as he had to to avoid detection.

“The hat said I think like them.” Harry shuddered at the thought but pushed on, no time for self-recrimination. “And Hermione said I’m just like him. So where would I hide it? Where would I trust to be safe enough…” Statues moved more than Harry in the long moments of the night.

“Nowhere. I wouldn’t put it anywhere because I wouldn’t trust it enough. I’d keep it with me from the moment I got it till the moment I let it leave my hands.” Harry’s gaze shifted to the prone figure on the bed. “Under the pillow? No, not that obvious. In his pocket? If it’s there then I’m screwed so…Where else… No where. This line of thought has got me no-where and time is running out.” Harry threw up his hands in frustration and at that moment felt something in his pocket vibrate. He brought his wand out to feel the shaking in his hands.

*

Fear wasn’t what he needed now, neither was a mad dash. Running now was the last thing he wanted to do… Just creep back through the door and go quietly down the stairs. Down the stairs to where there’s a light on. Harry crouched at the top of the stairwell and shielded his eyes to conserve his night vision before sliding a tiny periscope between the banisters (“Do you carry whole toyshops around in you’re pockets?” Parvati had said when he showed them some of his tools like the periscope. “You never know when this stuff’ll come in handy.” Harry winked and twirled a lock pick between his fingers.) The tiny mirror-pipe revealed a small cluster of fifth years who looked like they had just come in. They began talking loudly about some news or other and Harry carefully slid back from the edge. Now what? He didn’t have the project, and his way out was now blocked. Correction, his and Padmas ways out were now blocked. Harry slid back to the edge, the Slytherins seemed to be settling down for a night of raucous behaviour as they lounged in the large chairs with a bottle of something, probably stolen from the kitchens. If they were distracted? If Harry waited until they simply drank themselves into a stupor? Perhaps they’d go to bed soon? Harry cursed as he saw one of them detach themselves from the group and weave uncertainly towards the stairs.

“What the hell was he gona do now?” Harry’s brain worked quickly “Run back, hide in a… oh no don’t!” Harry watched as Padma slipped out of her hiding place holding the handle of the giant urn.



“Back in!” Harry mouthed, abandoning the periscope and sticking his head between the banisters. “Before they see you.” She shook her head stubbornly and raised the pot above her head.

“She’s making a distraction!” Harry cursed “Stupid! Stupid! I told them ‘no nobility during heists!’” Harry at least had the presence of mind to wrap his scarf around his face and trademark forehead before standing up and yelling…

“Oh no they’re awake!” Harry gestured at imaginary figures in the empty hall behind him “Go! Run!” Harry had time to see the drunken snakes take in his red and gold edged robes and clamber over each other towards the stairs before he took his own advice and ran back down the hall.

It takes quite some ability to run quietly but Harry had experience, his footfalls were light as mice on the floorboards. He turned and saw a familiar door. Switching himself from quiet-running-mode to bloody-silent-creep he slid into Malfoy’s room and shut the door.

“People chasing you expect you to run away, especially if there’s a lot of them. They don’t expect you to go to ground.” Harry spoke the words in his head, hoping that would make them true.

“Start searching the rooms!” Ach… Harry desperately looked around the room for a place to hide but to his dismay saw only darkness. He had lost his night eyes in the common room.

“What was here? Where did I search? Oh my god, please just remember!” The rattling door handles and irritated voices got closer, thank heavens Salazar Slytherin built his walls thick and liked oak doors or Harry was sure Malfoy would have woken.

“Wardrobe? It had had glass in the front! Under the bed? No room!” Harry’s thoughts grew panicked as the voices got closer. “Walls, floor, ceiling, bed, desk, wardrobe, fireplace…” Harry dropped to his hands and knees and crawled across the floor as fast as he dared. He was sure he was making noise now but he didn’t have the nerve left to go any slower. His hands reached the cold stone of the hearth and he felt his way into it. No ashes at all, the fireplace had never been used. Later on that night Harry would realise that the Slytherins probably heated their chambers by magic so they didn’t get the smoke and gained a more even heat, all he thought at the time was a panicked…

“Thank you!” as he stood up. His hands found a bar embedded in the wall to hang pots from and he lifted himself up and stood on it. At that moment light flooded in from below. Harry could see that his feet were only a few inches from the top of the fireplace and hoped fervently there was no one too short in the search party.

“What do you think you’re doing!” Harry heard Malfoy cry out indignantly. “Why are you barging into my room in the middle of the night Flint?”

“Yes Malfoy.” Harry thought to himself “Good Malfoy. Now be you’re little stuck up, indignant self and throw them out of your room.”

“There’s someone sneaking around in the rooms.” The voice sounded like the speaker was gargling gravel. “We thought he might have come in here.”

“No ones been in here you idiot! If they had don’t you think I would have woken up?”

“Nope.” Harry chucked as his panic began to fade. “And you’re the idiot Malfoy. You should pay more attention to your gravely pal.”

“He’s not in any of the other rooms.” A new voice, possibly younger and more hesitant than the gravely boy. “And we checked the toilets and back down in the common room.” Harry hoped Padma had had the brains to be well on her way back to their common room by then, and to have Neville with her. Harry’s hand brushed something in the wall behind him, careful not to make a sound he slid it out of the wall and choked back a triumphant gasp as he read the lettering on the cover of the parchment.


The use of modified static-induction charms in

the context of adhesives and fasteners.

Hermione Granger

“Yes!” Thought part of Harry’s mind. “I’m still born lucky! This is what I came here for.”… “This is what I came here for?” Said another part in disbelief “adhesives and fasteners?” Harry shook his head and laughed at himself a bit before folding up the report and slipping it into his robe. Back in the bedroom the conversation had become more heated.

“When my father hears about this!” Malfoy was in full argumentative swing “You will all be sorry! The Malfoy family own your father Flint! And you can be sure there will be words on the subject of this incident.”

“I’m sorry Dra… Mr Malfoy.” The other boy was obviously older but the fear was plain in his voice.

“You know.” Malfoy’s voice was more sly now “You know how you could make it up to me.”

“But first years… never… go on the teams. No matter how, absolutely, brilliant they are at Quidditch.” The older boy was obviously fearing some reprisal to boot-lick so obviously. “Definitely next year though!”

“That remains to be seen…” A new voice, a slimy voice, a voice dripping contempt with every word!

“Ah” Thought Harry as his gut clenched up “There’s that panic again.” Professor Snape continued talking in the room.

“Tell me why some of the leading members of Slytherin house are awake at this hour? Hmm… Some of them stinking of cheap wine!” He almost made the fact that it was cheap sound like the worst part. “Well? Or have you all been rendered dumb by drink!”

“We were chasing someone!” Flint said shakily “Someone was sneaking around in here!”

“Inside the Slytherin common room?”

“Yes.”

“Inside the password protected Slytherin common room?”

“Yes!” Flint was frantic but Snape just snorted.

“Lunacy. All you saw was the wine floating in front of your eyes seeing as you seem to have drown yourselves in it!” Harry heard Snape’s footsteps head towards the door.

“There was someone! They were wearing Gryffindor robes!” The footsteps continued and Harry heard a door open “And they were short!” The steps led out the door “And they had a scarf around their head!” steps then…

“WHAT!” Snape thundered back into the room. “They wore cloth around their head?!”

“Yes! So we couldn’t see their face I’ll bet!”

“Don’t be stupid, he could conceal his identity better than that.” Snape seemed to be talking to himself slightly at that point but then… “Search everywhere! Every room, turn them upside down and shake them if necessary!” Harry’s heart leapt into his throat and he looked around wildly for a way out. But he already knew the only ways, down or up. Harry pushed his back against one wall and carefully shifted his feet onto the opposite one. Hogwarts was old stone and there were lots of handholds to help him chimney up faster, and more quietly. But just as he was thinking he had reached beyond their hearing someone said.

“What was that in the chimney?” Bloody Malfoy! Since when did snakes have such good ears? Harry went absolutely still except for his lips moving in a silent curse. “I heard something!” Harry looked down and was met by a relieving sight. The chimney curved as it went up, He could no longer see the circle of light at the bottom.

“I can’t see anything.” Flint again, thank heavens for small minds.



“Move over.” Harry heard a thud as Snape pushed his student out of the way then… “Acerbus cuspis!” Harry’s view was momentarily lighted as streaks of sickly silver light shot up the chimney towards him then his sight was lost in pain. Harry’s feet slipped but he grimly held on by his handholds, gritting his teeth against the stabbing knots of pain each lance had left in him.

“I heard scraping Professor!” Malfoy must have heard his boots slip. “Something’s up there!”

“Acerbus cuspis!” This time Harry was flattened against the wall and only a few of the bolts hit him. “Conjunctivitis!” that spell winged right past him, cracking chips off the wall above him, then… “Relashio!” Heat flooded up the chimney to him and Harry’s skin felt like it was going to blister. He bit his tongue between his teeth and pulled one sweaty hand off the wall so he could fumble in pocket for a large metal jar. At the time Harry had thought Ron’s suggestion had been a bit stupid but now he was especially glad he had agreed to bring the jar along. He pulled the cap off with his teeth and dropped the contents before they had a chance to bite him, far below he heard…

“Aaaa! Doxies!” A few more spells rang out but none directed at Harry, even the heat stopped, allowing Harry to put his feet back against the wall and give his aching arms a rest. Below him he heard Snape yell out

“Search the other rooms.” Harry waited a long time before climbing further up. His arms needed the rest anyway and there was no way he was gonna try to sneak back out through the Slytherins tonight.

*

The light below was lost behind Harry as he ascended out of the dungeons. The chimney he was climbing joined others then split again. One or two of the chimneys had ladders in them, or at least parts of ladders, but most of them he had to clamber up. The air was hotter and Smokey here, perhaps some of these chimneys were still in use this late, or more likely it was early enough that the kitchens had woken up. Harry would be the first to admit (to himself at least) that he had many fears but claustrophobia wasn’t one of them. He pulled his scarf tighter above and below his glasses to keep out soot and around his mouth to breath through as he climbed up into more used chimneys. Harry felt himself move out into a larger area but couldn’t see the walls through the dark and the smoke. Questing fingers found a rusted ladder and a few moments later Harry pulled himself over the brink of a huge chimney and let himself down to the rooftop below.

Tired but elated Harry pulled his scarf from around his face and tried to find some clean cloth somewhere on himself to wipe his glasses off. When he put them back on he was struck dumb for a moment by the sight that met his eyes.

Rolling hills of tile and banks of slate. Towers popping out at angles and fairy balconies with balustrades like lace. Harry walked along the roof ridge he had landed on in wonder, there was a whole world up above Hogwarts. More chimneys jutted out everywhere, some just pipes and some, like the one he’d emerged from, with width like industrial towers. Harry sat down on the ridge and shook his head in disbelief. Even the climb hadn’t taken his breath like this did. He lay back and beheld another wonder. The stars from here seemed brighter, almost as good as the astronomy tower (Harry’s favourite lesson, just as an excuse to stargaze).

“And no-one up here but me.” Harry said aloud, there was no one to hear. “Peace.” Harry could have fallen asleep against those tiles but something moving below caught his eye. Snape, passing along a corridor with tall windows all along it. Harry moved to hide then realised his soot-black robes blended perfectly against the night sky and wrapped his scarf around his face to hide the last pink skin. His glasses were still grubby enough not to shine.

Harry trailed Snape over the roofs, not even for a moment thinking of going back to the Gryffindor rooms and thinking even less of the danger. Here on the roofs he was in his element, there was no danger here. Snape stopped at what looked like a teachers quarters and pushed through the door without knocking. It took Harry a minute or so to find the corresponding window then lowered himself down near it. By luck or the sleepers habit it was ajar. When Harry moved closer he heard...

“D…on’t know what you’re talking about Severus. I’ve been asleep he…here the wh…ole time.” Quirrell? Snape had gone to Quirrell?

“What whole time? How do you even know when this happened?” Snape’s voice was angry and accusing. “The only fact that keeps me from cursing you into dark oblivion right now is that I can’t quite bring myself to think that even one so pathetic as you would be stupid enough to think it was moved to the Slytherin dungeon of all places.”

“Th…Then why are you here?” Quirrell’s voice grew a little steadier now, just a little. “Why come to me?”

“Because perhaps you were looking for something else, perhaps a way past my protection of it or some clue as to what that protection is. I assure you, you would have found neither. My work is as fiendish as it is complex and as crafty…” Harry groaned inwardly, not this talk again. “And you could never pierce it. Never. Despite Dumbledore’s supreme lack of judgement in hiring you and letting you assist in the protection of the stone I will keep unworthy things like you from it!” With that Snape turned and stamped out of the room. Harry was about to leave when Quirrell quietly spoke.

“He, suspects something master. We cannot do it tomorrow.”

Harry waited but that seemed like all Quirrell felt like saying. Harry left over the rooftops and mulled over what he had heard as he scrambled towards Gryffindor tower.

“Do it tomorrow? Do what tomorrow? What’s so special about tomorrow? Other than it being Halloween...”

*

“How could you leave him there!” Ron was still yelling despite all attempts to calm him down. Parvati grabbed him and clamped her hand over his mouth.

“Thank you.” Padma breathed and shared a quick smile with her sister. But she quickly fell silent again. If she was to be honest with herself she would have to say she was ashamed. Ashamed that when Harry had stood up on the stairway she had instantly realised what he was trying to do (having been about to do the same herself) and had for a moment not known quite what to do. She was ashamed that after she had taken an age behind the curtain working up nerves and steeling herself to provide a distraction and Harry had done the same in an instant. She was ashamed that, when she heard people coming back towards the common room , she had bolted back though the door, pulled an astonished Neville from behind the armour and had shepherded him across the school, not once talking until they passed behind the fat lady and got back to Gryffindor common room and into the awaiting and recriminating stare of Ron Weasly.

“What will happen now.” Neville’s voice was small and he was hunched in on himself on his chair. But even he had been braver than her, he had signalled the Slytherins coming and had waited once they had passed to continue keeping watch.

“He’ll probably just get detention, he’ll lose us a few house points for being out after curfew.” Padma knew her sister was deliberately making things seem better than they were to make her feel better. Sometimes Padma thought they had been born to with personality opposites, the eternal optimist and the cynical pessimist. Except this time her sister wasn’t just being optimistic. And neither was she just being pessimistic when she said…

“But he could be expelled.” The others went silent and looked down. They had all been thinking it. “For breaking into another house. For attempted theft. He could be expelled.” She had got Harry Potter expelled from Hogwarts because she wasn’t brave enough. She knew when the hat had left it up to her she would chose wrongly. She didn’t deserve to be here. “In Harry’s first term he’ll be expelled.”

“I’m doing what now?”

The New Marauders turned en mass and saw a blackened and scraped Harry drop from one of the high windows. His face was red and raw and he had a ugly bruise on his left cheek, his hands were bleeding and he staggered as he hit the ground but he wore a smile of joy and triumph as wide as they had ever seen on him.

“Miss me?” Harry’s stagger became a swagger as he approached them. “I wasn’t gone that long. Although of course, in the company of Slytherins it seemed much longer.”

“How did you…” Padma’s voice breathed disbelief into the air. “They were right behind you.”

“Chimney.” Harry said lightly. “Easy climb really once you get past the first bit. Oh and one other thing…” Harry fished around in his pockets and drew out some papers. Padma found herself shaking her head, no, not after all that happened, you can’t still have got it, no ones that good. “We got what we came for. It may need some cleaning though…” With that the floodgates came loose and the Marauders began peppering Harry with questions. The strange child laughed as he unrolled a story that had them gasping. As she listened Padma realised she was glad she’d made her choice, even if she wasn’t brave enough for Gryffindor she wouldn’t give up the Marauders for the world. And besides, she thought as the looked at her sister, at Ron, at Neville and especially at the soot clothed figure animatedly talking before her, even if I’m not brave now I’ll be learning from the best.

*

Hermione rose early from her sheets and was mildly surprised to see that they weren’t covered in tears. She was sure she’d been crying when she went to sleep. She dressed mechanically and didn’t talk to anyone as she made her way down to breakfast. Not that that was unusual she conceded to herself but today especially she didn’t want to talk. That thought only made her hunch in further over her food. Before anyone else had left the table Hermione walked out of the great hall, leaving the rest of her food behind (even if she hadn’t had somewhere to be she felt too nauseous to eat). The project was important, it was the sort of thing they gave third and fourth years to work on. Hermione straightened herself up as she walked towards Flitwicks office. Best get it over with…

“Going somewhere Mudblood?” Draco Malfoy lounged in the corridor in front of her. She ignored him and walked on past only to have him stick his foot forward to try to trip her up. “What? No insults? No ‘Give it back!’ today?” Hermione kept walking. “Oh, I don’t have it with me. That would be a bit conspicuous, I figure I’ll give it to him tomorrow. Or the day after, you know, so he doesn’t get suspicious but is still impressed by my obviously superior talents.” Draco grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around. “Don’t ignore me Mudblood!” He grated, “This is only the first stage. I’m going to make life hell for you and all the other filth at the school until you’ll drop out of your own free will. I’ll… Oh hello Professor!” Professor Flitwick had just emerged from his room and was looking between them.

“Hello young Mr Malfoy.” He chirped “Are you and Miss Granger friends.”

“We were just discussing the charms assignment you gave her.” Draco turned to her with an evil smirk. “It’s a topic I myself find very interesting.”

“Then perhaps I should let you read Miss Grangers report. It was most detailed.”

“What!” Malfoy’s voice rose an octave. Hermione would have laughed if she hadn’t been so shocked.

“Yes, left on my desk this morning. I flicked through it over breakfast. I used to read the daily prophet of a morning but there’s so many adverts in it now.” The professor shook his head and didn’t appear to notice the totally dumbstruck expression on the two first-years faces. “I’ll give you better feedback when I’ve read it fully Miss Granger and then…” Flitwick turned to Malfoy “…I’ll be sure to give it to you.” With that the short fellow wandered off humming faintly to himself.

“How.” Malfoy had anger and shock in his eyes. “You didn’t have other copies. You said you didn’t have other copies!”

“I didn’t.” Hermione was surprised at the trace of smugness in her voice. Malfoy was looking at her with barely suppressed rage. Then he seemed to notice something and for a moment his eyes widened in realisation then screwed up in even darker anger than before. Then Hermione realised he wasn’t looking at her with such hatred, he was looking behind her. She turned and looked back down the corridor. And there stood the Marauders. Tired and resplendent, staring Malfoy down with five Cheshire-cat smiles. The Slytherin looked like he was about to blow a vein, or possibly shoot steam out of his ears.

“YOU!!!” He bellowed striding towards them pointing with his wand. “It was you!” Harry and his friends stood their ground against the charge and Malfoy was brought to a standstill, it was that or walk into a human wall. “You stole it! When I tell my father he’ll bring it to the school governors and…”

“Tell them what worm.” Harry’s voice was full of laughter.

“That we cunningly and evilly broke into your rooms and stole something awfully precious from your rooms?” Parvati said in a voice like she was talking to a child. She leaned forward. “Admit that we stole something that you stole yourself!”

“Even if you were willing to take a fall just to put us in trouble.” Ron continued to a suddenly crestfallen Malfoy. “Even if you did, where’s the proof? The reports right back where it should be and nothing else was taken from your rooms.”

“Not even a teddy bear.” Harry raised his eyebrows and began chuckling. After a moment the rest of his gang began laughing as well. Malfoy turned and stalked away against a backdrop of hysterical laughter. Hermione was surprised to she was laughing too. At the end of the corridor Malfoy turned back and yelled…

“You win this round Potter! But I’ll get you next time!”

“I look forward to it.” Harry said between wheezes. “You can show me the rest of your stuffed animal collection.”

*

The unfortunate by-product of the heist was that Malfoy was even more acidic than usual in class that day. Despite repeated warnings from teachers he insulted Harry and the rest of the Marauders with every other breath. Fortunately though that breath was wasted as nine times out of ten the Marauder in question was asleep on their chair. Hermione sighed, but not unhappily and reached for a new quill. She’d better make these notes good, it looked like they’d have to be copied from a few times. When she reached the common room there was a sixth chair by the fireside table. She smiled and felt warm inside for the first time in what seemed like forever and walked over to sit down with her friends.

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I own nothing, certainly nothing Harry Potter related.

Seriously, i'm not kidding! Do I look richer than the queen?
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“Go on!”

“No! I can’t!”

“Go for it! You’ve come this far.”

“He’ll see me!” Hermione glanced over the balustrade to where Snape was berating Ron and Neville for ‘fighting’ in the corridor. What the boys had in fact been doing was distracting Snape so he would come and stand under the overhanging upper story. That part of the plan had gone perfectly. The next part was proving problematic.

“Just pick it up and tip it on his head.” Harry spoke slowly pointing first to the bucket of cooking oil (a few pieces of burnt chicken were still floating in it) standing between them then down to the potions master. “Then we run like hell.”

“You’re all crazy! Any one of the stunts you’ve pulled could warrant expulsion! How long do you think you can keep getting away with it?” Hermione’s whisper was angry and horse. “And if you think” She pointed at his head “I’m tipping that” A gesture at the grease “over a Hogwarts teacher!” a finger stabbing down at Snape “You must be crazy!” She swung her arms wide in exasperation and they both heard a thump, then a splashing noise.

Harry saw his friends face turn from righteous anger to grey dread fast as a striking match. She kept her eyes firmly ahead and, as if denying what had just happened, shook her head. Harry in contrast had grinned like a maniac and now grabbed Hermione by the robe and began running off through the corridors pulling her after him. A moment later they heard a violent roar behind them

“WHO DID THIS TO ME!” Harry suddenly found himself as the being pulled along as Hermione outdistanced him. “THE STUDENT WHO DID THIS WILL PAY WITH PAIN!” Harry pulled Hermione to a stop and dragged her sideways into a little used corridor, with her still wide-eyed and ashen-faced he pushed her to a pre-opened window.

“Come on! Just like the plan!” Harry said, then added “Only REAL!” Hermione almost jumped through the window and disappeared as she clambered up a ladder. Harry swung out after her, shut the window and slid onto the tiles above. He wasted no time in pulling himself back to the edge and poking his periscope back down to the edge of the glass. A second later an irate Snape ran past. Harry only caught a glimpse, but he thought the man seemed slicker than usual. Harry rolled back and looked up at Hermione who still seemed shaken.

“I hope Parvati and Padma were in place with the camera. I wouldn’t have wanted to have to do all that again.” Hermione’s expression sent Harry into another fit of giggles.

*

A week or so latter the morning bloomed bright and early as the Marauders made their way down to the grass in front of the castle. Harry stopped to post up a few more pictures after making sure the coast was clear. The Slytherins were tearing them down wherever they saw them on Snapes orders but Harry had even seen some of them trying to hide giggles as the wizard poster displayed Snape being doused again and again. The rest of the school didn’t bother to hide it and the school had been awash with laughter ever since the first one went up three days ago.

The teachers were all trying to find who was posting them (Harry had caught both Flitwick and Sprout laughing when they thought no one was looking and even McGonagall had cracked a smile when an incoherent Snape had burst into her classroom brandishing a wad of posters that had papered the main courtyard). The teachers didn’t know how so many of them were getting so many places around the grounds. Harry knew, it was just a matter of a handy rooftop and a following wind. When he had seen some errant pictures carried into the sky by gusts he had idly wondered just how far they’d go.

Hagrid too had been roped into removing them but when Harry went down to his hut to see him the giant man had laughed and handed a stack of posters back to him.

“They told me I had to take ‘em down.” Hagrid had said with a wink. “They didn’t say what I had to do with ‘em after.” Harry had been even happier to see a stack of envelopes on Hagrid’s table. It looked like the distribution was going to even wider than he thought.

The teachers search and Madam Hooch’s earlier ill health were some of the reasons they were going to their first flying lesson bundled up in winter clothes.

“Now…” Madam Hooch’s voice rang out over the assembled Gryffindors and Slytherins “Just raise your right hand over the broom and yell UP! Just like this… UP!” Her broom leapt obediently into her hand, Harry noted that it was varnished and looked a lot newer than the ones the students had. “Well go on…”

The class obediently placed their hands over their brooms.

“UP!” Harry yelled, feeling a bit foolish, the stick by his feet refused to budge. “UP!” Harry looked around and saw first one then others of the class acquire their brooms. “UP!” Harry thought maybe Malfoy had replaced his magic broom for a real broom in revenge but the things had been handed out randomly. Harry shifted his foot surreptitiously underneath his broom and tensed... “UP!” Harry grabbed the rising broom and held it nonchalantly on his shoulder. He caught Parvati looking at him and giggling.

“What? I didn’t do anything.”

“That’s right you didn’t!”

A few moments later everyone had their brooms and Madam Hooch was showing them how to grip the stupid things.

“Right, now… Just kick off from the ground, hover for me for a second then leeee…an forward and float back down again.” Madam Hooch demonstrated then held up her gloved hand. “Three… Two… One.” Portions of the class rose unsteadily into the air, others remained grounded or had slipped off their rising brooms. Harry glanced to his sides shame-faced as his broom resolutely refused to demonstrate any characteristics beyond long, wooden and prickly. Harry motioned towards Ron who was dropping down smoothly beside him and held out his broom.

“Let me try with yours.”

“No, I don’t want the dud broom!” Ron strafed out of reach to the side with a practiced hand before coming to rest. “Take Neville’s.”

Harry turned and saw Neville rising at a snails pace with a look of teeth-gritting concentration. “At that rate the class’ll be over before he gets down.” Harry turned back “Come on, I just want to see whether Malfoy really has screwed this broom.”

“Only powerful magic can interfere with most broomsticks.” Hermione was landing ungracefully beside him, gripping the broom with white knuckles. Harry chuckled at the thought that she still found concentration left to lecture them. “These are old brooms but their still fairly resistant to that sort of thing.”

“This isn’t dark magic I’m talking about its him swapping it with a normal broom.” Harry poked at the bristles trying to elicited some reaction. “Why don’t you lend me yours then, you don’t look like your in a hurry to fly again.”

“And what is that supposed to mean!” But Ron cut off any ensuing argument

“Oh fine…” He held out his broom. “Just give it a shot if you have to.”

“Thanks.” They swapped brooms and Harry got himself back into the demonstrated riding position. He hopped off the ground but dropped back down just as quickly.

“Still having trouble?” Harry saw Ron float over his head and drop down in front of him, “Nothing wrong with this one mate.” Ron knocked his knuckles against the wood of Harry’s broom. “I think its even a little better than my one.”

“In that case give it back.” As Ron laughed Harry held up his broom “Or I’ll show you the other way to use one of these!”

“Having trouble Potter.” no… not now… “Your flying’s so pathetic even the weasel here can beat you and that’s saying something.” Malfoy floated along in front of Harry, sitting side-saddle and not even bothering to hold on. “Didn’t your father ever teach you to fly… Oh no wait I forgot! He’s a bit too mouldy to sit on a broom now!” The comment about his parents washed over Harry but the other insults bit and he sneered at the white haired kid in front of him. Ron however erupted. “What do you mean that’s saying something!” He was back on his broom in a trice and whipped himself around Malfoy so fast the Slytherins robes billowed in the wind. “Half of my family’s been on the Gryffindor Quidditch team!”

“As if that’s saying anything.” Malfoy shot back but he had had to grip his broom in the crosswind and was now sitting normally, staring Ron down. “Gryffindor haven’t won the cup in years. Being on a team of losers is no accolade weasel.”

“Yeah, they haven’t won since my brother Charlie left!” Ron’s tirade had began to attract attention and Madam Hooch was walking over. Harry tried to catch Ron’s eye but failed. “Best seeker in a decade! He coulda’ played for Engl….”

“Mr Weasly! Mr Malfoy! Decend at once!” Madam Hooch didn’t wait for them to respond and instead grabbed the fronts of their brooms and yanked them to the floor. Ron fell in a heap, Malfoy kept his balance but only barely. “I will have no arguments in my classes and I distinctly told you to rise then drop, not hover like blowflies!” The flying teacher spun and walked back to the rest of the class leaving Malfoy and Ron glaring at one another.

Harry shifted his broom under himself, all during the argument he’d tried to rise up and join his friend but the broom had refused to move. By the end of the lesson he’d flown once, a few wobbling feet followed by a total collapse into the grass. Malfoy had laughed worse than before and Harry said some things that lost them house points (“An eleven year old shouldn’t know those words Mr Potter, much less know what they mean!”) and the Marauders were a muted lot that ascended the stairs to Gryffindor tower. Parvati tried to lighted the tone by pointing out how many students had the drenched Snape posters on the walls of their rooms and Harry decided to stop moping.

“Right,” Harry cracked open a drink stolen from the kitchen. “Down to the serious business. What have you all found out about Quirrell?”

*

“I still think Snape’s your bad guy Harry.” Ron tapped his finger on the table as if to punctuate himself. Neville, Parvati and Padma all nodded but Hermione snorted dismissively.

“Just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you can blame them for anything Ronald.” Hermione shook her head as if explaining to a child.

“It just doesn’t make sense Ron.” Harry continued “Snape may be a git but it doesn’t make sense. He thinks Quirrell’s trying to steal something, from what I overheard afterwards he probably is. Why would Snape play like he’s accusing Quirrell when only Quirrell was in the room! Also why would Quirrell play like it’s him when nobody was in the room!” Harry leafed through some papers again while the others bickered, the daily prophet from a few months ago was there, a raid at gringots where nothing was taken. Other things too, Quirrels records, researched through old files, an intelligent student, masterful in the theory if not the practice of defence against the dark arts, the last few years of his life spent travelling around dealing with dangerous dark beasts. Harry pushed them away and pulled over a thinner file, Severus Snape, potions master of Hogwarts and long time envier of the defence against the dark arts post. There wasn’t much else, Snape didn’t seem to be a very newsworthy person.

“It’s right there.” Ron was taking to him again. Harry pressed his hands to his temples, there’s only so much insistence one can take. “Snape wants the dark arts job and is trying to get Quirrell sacked.” Harry was about to explain then stopped, if the last thirty times hadn’t done it…

“We’re not going to know until we see what’s on the third floor.” Padma said with a note of finality. “Until then all this is just academic.” She waved her hands over the table. Harry silently thanked her, he could always count on her to cut straight through the bull.

“We won’t be able to do it.” Hermione crossed her arms. “Well we won’t!” She said to their recriminating stares “I’m not just being… being…”

“Yourself?” Ron said and earned a kick from Parvati.

“Being strait-laced. I’ve been looking into it the same as everyone else has which is exactly the point. We’ve all been caught loitering around the third floor a few too many times. Did you hear what McGonagall said in class yesterday?” They all did, she’d basically just repeated what Dumbledore had said at the start of term but she had looked right at them the entire time and each word had been clipped like little razors. “She knows we’re planning something and she probably knows we’re behind the posters too, she just cant prove it.”

“So?”

“So, Mr Ronald Weasley they are watching us like hawks. I’ll bet there’s a teacher guarding the third floor right now and another just on the other side of that door.” She pointed at the other side of the fat ladies portrait, from this side looking like a hole in the wall. “Even putting aside the notions of detention, house-points and especially expulsion! We’d never get close enough to the corridor to find anything. It’s all your fault really” She continued without a breath. “If you hadn’t done your pointless rule breaking we might be able to find out really important stuff now.” That comment was the reason an argument broke out that Harry had to calm down with wit. It was also at least partially the reason Harry stayed awake that night till he was sure Ron and Neville were asleep then got out his darkest clothes and slipped out one of the windows before heading in the direction of the forbidden corridor.

*

Harry peered through a window and saw professor Vector idly marking some assignments by the light of his wand while sitting on the stairs above the fat lady’s portrait. Reminding himself to tell Hermione later (she’d be insufferably smug but she deserved the satisfaction) Harry slipped away and made his way over to the third floor corridor on the right hand side, or above it at least. The thing was in the middle of the building, no chimney or window reached it and Harry could only peer through a side window at the Wizard guarding the doorway… Quirrell… Standing in a patch of lumos-light, his shadow jumping as he nervously twiddled his wand in his fingers. Harry slid inside and dropped behind a column. Quirrell was guarding it? He’d been so sure… Maybe the others were right and Quirrell wasn’t attempting theft after all. Or maybe he just hasn’t gotten past the defences Snape mentioned yet. Then why isn’t he inside the corridor trying to break through them. Harry’s mental monologue was cut short as the answer leaned out of the patch of darkness it had been sequestered in, invisible even to Harry’s eye’s.

“Nervous Quirrell?” Snape slid from his shadowy corner, his wand held lightly but readily in his hand. “Or perhaps not happy with the company.” Harry saw now that it hadn’t just been the shadow, Snape’s entire body blended into the background, changing colour like a chameleon. Only his eyes stayed the same, black holes even against the lighted grey rock behind him, it made them seem like they were floating above the ground.

“Why ever w…would I be unhappy Severus.” Quirrell was leaning away from the wraith-like form before him. “No one better equipped to guard this place than you and I, Eh?”

“Because if you were unhappy with this arrangement.” Snape continued like nothing had been said. “You’d have to get used to it because I’ve made sure all our guard duty’s occur on the same nights Quirrell, won’t that be fun.” Snape laced the last word with such poison Harry was surprised the DADA professor didn’t run like a rabbit. Instead he jumped like one and whimpered.

“Y…you truly don’t trust me Severus?”

“No Quirrell. I do not, have never and will never trust you.” Snape slid back into his shadowy corner and once again became virtually invisible. Quirrell swallowed loudly and brightened his wand, peering into the darkness around.

But Harry was already prepared, while they had been talking he had sneaked around into the room next to the be-turbaned wizard and entered. It was an empty classroom, desks piled up to the ceiling. Harry waited near the door as the searchlight beam swept past his position, swinging across the room like passing headlights before moving on. Harry waited patiently. Step two was already in motion.

*

Crack…

“What was that!” Snape pushed forward from his hiding place at the small but nearby sound. He pointed his camouflaged arm at the far wall, by some pillars. “I heard something over there.”

“I didn’t hear anything.” The rat said in his cowardly quavering tone. “Perhaps you’re… ha… ha… imagining things…Severus.”

“It should be Snape from the likes of you.” Snape kept scanning the darkness before him and a moment later

Crack…crack…

“There.” Behind a pillar, perhaps the Potter boy or one of his clique trying to reach the corridor again. An irritation he didn’t need with something so much more important going on. The rat Quirrell needed watching. For now Snape wasn’t sure whether he wanted the stone for himself or for… for… Snape shuddered away from the name in his mind. Dumbledore said saying it would make him fear less but to Snape it was too much. The old fool didn’t know, he hadn’t been up close. Some things deserve fear.

“Well if you think so th… then go over and check.”

“Oh you’d love that wouldn’t you Quirrell.” Snape jammed his wand under the servile wretch’s chin. Quirrell squealed and tried to stand on his tiptoes to escape the dark-wood point. “Leave you close to the door unsupervised while at the same time turning my back on you. Something I will never do.” Snape pushed the man towards the other wall. “You go first.”

They walked like hostage and kidnapper up the cold stone pathway to the pillar. Quirrell raised his wand. Not a chance…

“Back down by your side or I will take it and possibly the hand It’s gripped in too.” Quirrell’s arm shot back down. As they reached the pillar Snape let the rat take the lead and look around the corner. Better him to take the first blow if one came.

“There’s n… nothing here Sev…Professor Snape.” No there isn’t now, not after you distracted me for so long. Useless idiot.

Snape stepped around himself and saw nothing but three oddly placed rocks, all together, near the ground where they might have fallen. They were both considering the conundrum when a shadow skirted the back wall and stopped by the no-longer-guarded door.

*

“Alohomora.” just a whisper like silk sliding over silk but the lock clicked and Harry slid the door open just ever so slightly, then entered the forbidden hall.

“Ha.” Harry thought as he took one last glance at the professors before closing the door. “Lighter than air liquorish. Eat it quick or it melts in the air! also if you tie up a rock or two with it you get a noise about five minutes after you take it from its wrapping. Who needs Q when you have mail-order Honeydukes?” Harry turned back and for the first time took a look at his surroundings.

Pitch black. Not even eyes trained for this could penetrate it. Harry squatted down quietly and let his other senses have a try.

Cold, clammy, slight intermittent breeze. Odd that, you’d think there was nowhere for a breeze to come from. Also the air had been dead still out on the roof.

Damp scent with a hint of mud and mess. There was urine in there somewhere too and other things even less savoury. Bit like a wet dog smell…

And most importantly in a bone chilling, heart leaping, cold-sweat, dry-palms, running-for-the-door-despite-Snape-and-all way, the sound of breathing. Heavy in-out breaths with a hint of slobber on them. More like snoring actually. Harry tried to calm himself down and at least partially succeeded. Getting out his wand he smothered the tip in his robes then breathed.

“Lumos”

The glow through the fabric was like dead fireflies but it showed Harry the shape of what was in front of him. Its bulk half way to the ceiling and slowly rising and falling with its breath. Like a muffled wraith Harry moved across the floor, skirting the walls until he had travelled all the way around the beast, having to step over its tail where it brushed the wall. There were no other doors. This room and this beast was all there was to see. Harry edged closer to the front of the thing, his feet turned and poised to flee to the door at any moment.

“But what if I’m not fast enough.” Harry tried to silence his brain but it kept up its shrill reservations “What if its like a dragon and it doesn’t matter how fast I am. It’ll wake and I’ll die in one bright flare in the darkness!”

“It’ll wake for sure if you don’t shut up and let me concentrate!” Harry edged in closer to the beast and stopped when his light revealed a change of texture in the floor. Harry carefully traced its edge in his mind. “A square… a trapdoor… that which is hidden… that which is forbidden.” Harry grinned in the dark. The only problem was the dark mass obscuring one corner of the square, a paw or claw of the thing. Harry’s movements was as slow as drifting feathers and as quiet as his hands found the edge of the thing, and the handle, on the opposite side to the claw. Harry wanted to extinguish his wand but the sound he’d have to make was worse than the stifled glow. Harry reached for the trapdoor handle and applied the lightest touch of draw to it, increasing by hairs breadths Harry felt the wood move.

A grunt near his shoulder made his muscles freeze and his heart race. He felt flesh move all around him and the air brought new wafts of stench. But the beast just grunted again and fell back into snoring. Harry eased the door up a half span more then stuck his hand in and felt inside. No steps met his questing hand, just a straight shaft. Harry propped the door open with a rod and felt in his pocket. He drew forth a long string. His nimble fingers felt the plumb on the end and he put it through the trapdoor then slowly and evenly paid out rope counting under his breath. The string went slack. About eight meters. With something soft he’d do it. With cold stone he’d break a leg. Harry wondered if a real wizard would know some self levitation charm to get themselves down safely. He pulled back up on the string and suffered a surprise. It was stuck! He tugged on it again. No give at all. He tugged again and in a heart stopping moment, felt the rod brush his arm.

The trapdoor banging closed was like a cannon ball in the gut and Harry felt the darkness move around him. He threw himself backwards as a guttural growl filled the room with primeval fear. He saw a shape the size of an oven smash down in front of him and heard wood splinter and crack. Harry whipped the cloth from his wand and the stark shadows danced high on the walls before him as the massive rottweiler head turned and looked at him with bloodshot eyes. Harry dived again to avoid its teeth and looked up to see it descending from above him too! Harry kicked off from the ground and slid, he felt hot breath on his back and the snap of jaws behind him but he was gone. Straight into the ruined trapdoor and plummeting down the shaft.

*

Harry spun in the air and he felt hard pain as his head caught itself a crack on the passing wall. He landed in a plant and in a daze, his eyes showing him black spots more than anything else. He lifted his hand to his head and was surprised to see it came back clean, without blood or possibly brains. He shook his head to clear it and held his shaking hand and wand up to reveal his surroundings. A nondescript room with this plant covering the floor, covering some of the walls too, and the ceiling, and him!

“What the hell!” Harry shouted at the tendrils as they wrapped themselves around his legs. He tried to pull them off but they were like wire! They wrapped his waist too! Harry pulled and tore at the vines! “Acerbus cuspis!” Harry used the curse Snape had aimed at him but bare threads of light shot from his wand and the plant barely noticed. What was that other one!? Think! Think! “Relashio!” red sparks and heat shot from his wand and where they hit the plant drew back. “Relashio!” Harry aimed at his legs and cried out as his skin burned. But he was free. He stumbled to his feet and blasted a few last tendrils. He leapt to the door and pushed through, staggering down the corridor occasionally pointing his wand back in case the demon plant had tried to follow him, he reached another door and carefully pushed it open, wand out in front he entered the room, and was met by a strange sight.

Shining, fluttering glittering things, flying near the ceiling hundreds of them. Harry edged out into the centre of the high vaulted space. The fairy sparks remained near the ceiling and Harry at last stopped eying them crooked. He walked over to the door on the other side and tried the handle. Locked. Obviously. It could never be easy could it? Harry was just wondering what to do when he heard voices from behind him. Spinning like a startled cat Harry saw faint light coming from around the edges of the door he’d just come through. The light and the voices got stronger as Harry searched for a hiding place. He ran to a wall buttress and grabbed for a handhold, thank heavens they like decoration around this place…

*

“I assure you Professor Dumbledore no one got past us. Unless they were… hm… Invisible! Ha…”

“I am not impugning your ability Quirenius I merely wish to be sure.” Dumbledore walked slowly as if there was no hurry. Severus had alerted him as soon as the dog had awoken and had himself tried to calm the beast which was tearing at the floor near the trapdoor in a frenzy. Still, the old fool still had his wits about him. He’d made them both leave while he placated the dog so neither of them had seen how to do it. He’d conjured a staircase to take them down and a marble walkway over the devilsnare with a casualness that betrayed his true powers. Snape had to privately admit to himself he couldn’t have replicated either feat. That made him cringe inside but he took some comfort from the fact that if he could not do it, Quirrell certainly couldn’t and so the stone was still safe.

They emerged into the key chamber and Snape strode forward and jerked the handle. The door was still locked.

“They could have locked it from the other side.” Ivy and keys? Foolishness and idiocy. The other teachers hadn’t protected the stone nearly well enough.

“But if they had.” Dumbledore said in his insufferably unruffled voice. “Then the key would have been locked on that side with them and I think… Ah!” The old man pointed a be-ringed finger towards the ceiling and Snape strained his eyes into the cloud of glitter but failed to pick out which one the old man was indicating. “It’s still here. So… crisis averted. Or more correctly, there never was a crisis in the first place.”

“Well. I… I for one am calling my replacement.” Quirrells voice was shrill and grating. Snape made a mental note to add de-lunging to his list of tortures once he finally caught the loathsome creature. “I’m all of a fl… flutter.” Quirrell turned and walked back down the corridor.

“Professor.” Perhaps he’ll listen to me now. Perhaps the doddering fool will listen to what I have to say now. “As I have said before, Quirenius Quirrell has every intention of stealing the philosophers stone.” Snape was so incensed he didn’t even notice the movement above him in a high alcove, like someone getting into a better position to listen. “He was seen snooping around the Slytherin common room a week ago and he’s never really explained why he took the defence job in the first place.” Snape couldn’t give voice to the real reason for his mistrust. A gut feeling, a twisting knife in his heart and an aura of menace he felt in every cell whenever Quirrell was nearby. An irrational fear too. A fear of being discovered, a fear that made every moment a silent prayer that his mental defences would hold and he wouldn’t be found out for what he was. He hadn’t felt like that in over ten years…

“And as I have said before Severus I have no reason to mistrust Professor Quirrell.” As he half turned away Snape could have sworn that Dumbledore’s lips tilted into a quiet smile. “But if it would help you sleep better I will place my own protection on the stone tonight rather than waiting until after Christmas.” That was certainly a shock!

“Professor you have resisted every request that you add your own magic’s to the protection of the stone.” He had. All the other teachers had done it but the headmaster had maintained he wasn’t ready yet and he still needed to test. “What has changed? Have I truly swayed you?”

“Many things have changed. Before I had not tested enough. Now I have.” Dumbledore took a small sweet out of his pocket and popped it in his mouth before continuing. “I intended to do a bit more testing but…” The old man spread his hands. “I suppose the current version will probably work well enough.”

“May I ask what this miraculous protection is?” The headmaster had made some extraordinary claims about what his protection would do. “A protection that not the Dark Lord, nor any Death Eater, nor anyone with wish to use it for ill or greed could penetrate?”

“Ah Severus.” Now the man was smiling. Sometimes the senile old man was just plain insufferable. “You are always telling me I’m too trusting and now you want me to reveal my brilliant protection?” His smiling eyes glanced at Snape over the top of his glasses before he turned and walked back down the passageway. There wasn’t much Snape could do but follow him.

*

Harry waited a good half hour after seeing Snape disappear, just to be sure he was truly gone before slipping out of his hiding place and climbing down to the floor. With a furtive glance around he made for the door and was almost there before…

“Leaving already Harry?”

Harry turned on his axis, his face frozen mid gasp and looked up into the face of Albus Dumbledore.

“Headmaster.” Harry said doing his best to smile. “I was just inspecting the security you have here. Sort of… um… assessing it for you so I could tell you where you could… improve…it…” Harry trailed off under that quizzical stare.

“And…”

“And?”

“And how could I improve it?” Dumbledore was half smiling when he said that. Under that warm smiling face Harry relaxed a little, this didn’t feel like a conversation that could end in expulsion.

“Well, the two headed dog was good.”

“Last I looked it had three heads.”

“Well I didn’t stick around long, I only met two. The plant was less good though. A little heat, a few sparks and it’s backing away.”

“Devilsnare has clamed older and wiser wizards than you Harry. You’d be amazed how few people can still think clearly enough to burn it away while being constricted.” Dumbledore stepped forward and touched Harry’s face. A moment later he nodded and touched Harry’s forehead with his wand. A moment later Harry felt an odd tingling fill him, the burns on his legs faded and disappeared, as did the scrapes he’d received throwing himself away from the dog. “There. All better.” Dumbledore moved back and folded his arms. “And now I’m afraid to say I must ask the real reason you came down here tonight.” Suddenly the air had grown colder. Expulsion was back on the table.

In defiance of tradition Harry tried the truth.

“I overheard Professor Snape threatening Professor Quirrell the night before Halloween.” Dumbledore just nodded as if this was normal. “Snape seemed to think he was going to try and steal something. We…” No, better he thinks I’m the only one to blame “I worked out that it must be what’s hidden here. What you got Hagrid to collect for you the same day we shopped for my school stuff. The same thing someone tried to break into Gringots to get later.”

“The philosophers stone.” When Dumbledore saw Harry’s face he continued “Harry, don’t feign shock I know you overheard my previous conversation with Professor Snape. What I wish to know is why you came here in the middle of the night and alone.”

“Couldn’t risk anyone else. And besides, they all make too much noise for this kind of work.” Harry tried to picture Neville sneaking past the dog and giggled. “The only way I could do this was alone.” The other reason of course was that after being humiliated by Malfoy on a broomstick he’d wanted to prove to himself that he could do it alone.

“Harry. As amazed as I am to say this it is possible you are going to turn out to be more trouble than your father. I never thought anyone would challenge that crown.” Dumbledore’s smile was back, and this time not a half one. He shook his head ruefully then frowned as if a painful memory was surfacing. But the smile was back in a moment and he motioned Harry over to the wall behind him where a tall mirror was stood.

“That wasn’t here before.”

“I brought it down after conversing with Professor Snape.”

“This is your protection? What your using to protect the stone?”

“Part of it.” Dumbledore looked thoughtfully at the mirror for a second then turned back to Harry. “Its called the Mirror of Erised. Look into it and tell me what you see.”

Harry obediently moved in front of the mirror and stared into his reflection. He wasn’t alone in the mirror. Behind him stood the new Marauders, some of the other students he’d talked to around the school, Hagrid, even Malfoy for some reason, more faces he’d met and some people he hadn’t but still felt some odd connection to, as if they were… friends. As he watched he saw himself age, and the others around him too, passing through teenage years he grew taller, passing further and further, lines appeared on his face, then grey in his hair. He grew to an old man, smiling, surrounded by his friends. Then in an instant he was back as a child and he saw it begin again.

“What does it mean?” Harry looked at the silver haired professor who was standing nearby. “Is it showing the future?”

“One could hope so, but no.” Dumbledore seemed pleased but faintly surprised as he looked down at Harry. “The mirror shows us nothing more or less than what we truly desire above all else. You Harry, who by your own choice lived a lonely and cold childhood desire friends, and companions and more than that...” Dumbledore took Harry by one shoulder and kneeled down to talk to him face to face “…you want to know you’ll keep them. You want to know that you don’t have to go back to the cold life. Because that is what you most fear.”

Harry looked back at the mirror. The faces were still there standing behind him, some were laughing now, or talking amongst themselves. The figures were growing misty for some reason, Harry wondered if there was something wrong with the mirror. Then he felt the sting in his eyes. Wordlessly, Dumbledore handed him a tissue.

“Let me take you back to your room Harry.” He said quietly. “Your friends are waiting for you.” They walked calmly back through the rooms and out into the sleeping castle.

*

“So.” Said Harry at a loss for conversation. “How‘d you get past the other protections?” The Headmaster fixed him with a critical eye.

“I reckon I could get past ‘em.” Harry grinned up at the old wizard. “Got past two didn’t I?”

“Indeed you did. The details of which I would prefer you keep to yourself.” He smiled back down at Harry. “And perhaps you are right. I strongly suspect that my own protection would not trouble you at all.”

“Hm, how do you get past a mirror? Break it! That’s the answer isn‘t it.”

“Oh please Harry. Do you really think my protection would be so crude.”

“Exactly. It‘s so simple that no one would suspect! That’s how I‘d do it.”

“Then I am thankful Harry, that I am not actually employing you.”

*

“Harry!” Ron’s voice filtered down from the first years room to where Harry was idly skimming through one of his school books by the Christmas tree. “What are you doing down there?”

“What do you mean?” Almost no one else left in the Gryffindor common room since everyone was away for the holidays, thus Harry didn’t feel the need to moderate his voice when yelling back to Ron. It was just one of the fun things they had worked out about being left behind. Of course Ron wouldn’t have kept quiet anyway. Ron had no volume control. “And Merry Christmas to you to!”

“Merry Christmas? Yeah I can see why you’d leave that to last seeing as you’ve left all your presents up hear.” Ron emerged from the staircase and tossed a present at Harry who caught it before it could knock over a lamp. “Why’d you just leave them up there?”

If Harry had been honest he would have said that he’d just assumed they were Ron’s. Instead he went for…

“Didn’t want to wake you. And why are you using my presents as projectiles? What if it had been fragile?”

“Nah mate.” Ron shook his head ruefully “I can tell what that one is, however you wrap them they all feel the same.” Harry unwrapped the parcel and pulled out a blue, knitted jumper. On the front were three juggling balls in red, yellow and green. “My mum.” Ron said holding up a similar article. “She makes them for all of us. Must have heard you weren’t expecting many presents.”

“Its pretty good. Very debonair.” Harry pulled the jumper on over his head and they went back up to the room to get the rest of the presents. Of course Harry had sent his friends presents (poor Digger had been run ragged. The little owl was so eager to please she didn’t seem to take any breaks in flight.) but it kind of failed to click in his head that he‘d probably get some in return. Harry noticed one with Hermione’s neat handwriting on it (after all, he‘d copied off her notes enough times. Occasionally even with permission.) and pulled it over first.

“It‘ll be a book mate.”

“Wow Ron, a thick, heavy, rectangular package from a known bookworm? And just from that you can guess it’s a book?”

“That, and she got me one too.” Ron held up a book with a checkerboard cover, there was a rook on the front but Harry couldn’t read the title. Pulling the paper off his own present he smiled. It was an large selection of chocolates but what made him smile was the note on the top that said


Admit it, you thought this was a book didn’t you?

Ron himself had provided Harry with an absurdly orange hat and Neville had found him some juggling batons charmed to trail rainbows in the air behind them when thrown. Padma and Parvati had got him books, but it looked like they’d collaborated because the titles read Secrecy and Illusion, charms of concealment and Beyond allohamora, unlocking your obstacles. Most of the rest were edible things (not that Harry minded) and he bit into a bar of chocolate while settling down to read.

*

Harry popped the second to last of his Christmas chocolates into his mouth and handed the last one to Parvarti who was skulking in the shadows nearby. At least it was a nice night, nights with rain had been rather unpleasant. For the past few months the marauders had been working on the Quirell mystery but getting nowhere. Eventually one day when they were researching in the library Harry threw his book away in disgust and said

“This is pointless.”

“You‘re the one who said we had to get him mate.” Ron had been staring at a book on ancient alchemy for the past half hour. He hadn’t turned the page.

“We do have to get him.” Harry waved his hand wearily over the table. “But we‘ve gone through all this stuff. We‘re not gona find anything this way.”

“We can‘t really do anything else Harry.” Herminone had pointed out. Of course she would say that. She was probably enjoying this. “We just don’t know enough about what he‘s doing.”

“No…” And that was when the idea had formed in Harry’s mind. It was so simple he wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before. “But we can find out.”

“How?” Neville had asked.

“We become his shadows. We watch him everywhere he goes. He‘s got to slip up eventually right?”

Organising a night watch had seemed like a lot more fun than it was. In teams of two they rotated, each team taking either the first half of the night, the second half or having a night off. After a week and a half of reduced sleep the 1st year rascals were getting a bit ratty. At least he was paired with Parvarti. She was mostly cheerful.

“This isn’t working.” Or not…

“We know he’s going somewhere. Some nights.” Ron had woke them all after one of his rounds with the news that Quirrell had slipped out furtively. Him and Hermione had moved swiftly to the third floor corridor to head him off, but he had never showed. “We just need to go for a little longer.”

“But I’m tired.” The usually chipper twin hadn’t taken well to the hours. “And he’s never going to come out.”

“Funny you should say that…” Harry ducked low and pulled the girl down with him as he saw the door to Quirrells quarters open and close, permitting the teacher to scurry off down the hall.

“Yes! We’ve got him. Lets go!” The tiredness had drained from her face and she had regained a grin. She moved off without a word but Harry had started in the opposite direction. “Hey! The third floor corridor is that way!”

“Yeah but we don’t know he’s going there.” Harry held her hand as they walked a roof ridge on the side of a courtyard. “I’m not making the same mistake as the others, I’m not letting him out of my sight.” They slid silently down a drainpipe onto a flat roof above the kitchens and Harry saw the turbaned wizard slip out a side door, cross the courtyard, then enter a door leading to the entrance hall.

“Well we can’t…” But Harry held up one finger to silence her and a moment later they, heard a door opening and closing then could clearly see the dark shape of the wizards robes as he crossed the grounds towards the forbidden forest. “What do we do now?”

“We watch him.” Harry said it without the conviction it usually held and with a good dose of fear in there as well. “You go back and tell the others.” But he was surprised when she shook her head.

“No, I’m going with you. You can’t go in there alone.” She started moving before he had a chance to object. “Besides, I’ve heard there are centaurs in there. I wouldn’t mind seeing a centaur.”

*

“Do you know where your going?” Parvarti hadn’t seen any centaurs, but there had seen other things skulking between the trees. Harry looked back and wished he would have offered some reassurance. He knew he could find the way back, well probably. He had made sure to mark it at regular intervals with cuts on the tree trunks. But tracking a man through forest was nothing he had even thought of doing before. They had entered the forest at about the same spot as Quirrell and Harry had had his hopes boosted by finding a footprint impression in mud nearby but after that nothing.

He was vaguely aware that they should look out for broken twigs or birdsong but the twigs seemed to have no discernable features and the forest was eerily quiet. Except for the things.

“Look at this!” Parvarti was pointing at a leaf nearby. When Harry moved closer he saw what she was pointing at. A silver liquid covered the leaf, it felt slick and greasy under his fingers. Also slightly warm. “And there’s more.” Again she was right, there was a trail leading across the path they’d been taking more liquid tinged the ground in both directions. “It must have been bleeding!”

“It? What it?”

“The unicorn silly!” Parvarti pointed her burglars lantern back at the leaf. “Oh I cant imagine what could do such a thing! This is unicorn blood Harry, and it looks fresh!”

“It is.” Confirmed Harry with a gulp. “Its even still warm.” Why are we here? Why did I do this? Why didn’t we get the others or tell McGonagall or… Harry tried to keep his face impassive but it was hard.

It was one thing knowing nasty things were out in the forest butchering nice things, quite another to have proof and another still to have them be so close that the blood wouldn’t have had time to cool in the night air. He looked at his friend and was suppressed to see no fear in her face, only anger that something would hurt a unicorn.

“But which way did it do?” She shone her light first one way then the other.

“This way.” Said Harry in dead tones and pointed at the ground ahead. In the mud there, clear for all to see, was the heel of a boot print. Harry didn’t want to admit even to himself that his first instinct on seeing the print was to point the other way. That or run for the hills. “Alright. Close the shutter on the light right down, we can see the blood well enough. And go slow.” Parvarti did as she was told and they set off again into the forest. Harry couldn’t have told anyone afterwards how long they had walked, it seemed like an eternity. The splashes of blood grew larger and more frequent, the further they went until.

“!” Harry stopped dead and put his hand out flat in front of the other Marauder. There was a glade up ahead, bathed in the gibbous moonlight and the night air carried sounds to them. It sounded like an obscene slurping and gurgling and along with it there were the sounds of faint movement. Harry pointed left, around the edge of the clearing then once again put up a single finger. Silence.

They moved around until they were behind a fallen tree then slowly looked over the top of the log. Through the branches that his them they saw an awful sight. The unicorn was splayed on the floor like it had been run to ground and a cloaked figure hunched over it, drinking its blood out through its wounds.

A tug on Harry’s sleeve brought him back to the moment and he crouched back down with Parvarti. Her face was a picture of anger and she mimed jumping over the log while brandishing her lantern. Harry shook his head firmly. What the hell was she thinking? She gestured more firmly then touched her heart and made a pumping motion. What was that supposed to mean? She opened her mouth and mouthed something to him but he couldn’t tell what. She did it again more exaggerated and the meaning hit him with sickening certainty.

“It’s still alive!”
Harry looked over the log again and saw what he had missed the first time. The Unicorns chest was indeed still moving up and down and its breath disturbed the dust near its head. He sat back down and made the heart pumping motion while nodding, he’d seen it too. Obviously Parvarti wanted to save the creature if possible. Harry stuck his finger in the dirt between them and wrote one word.

HAGRID

Then pointed to her. She nodded, then pointed to him. He smiled and wrote one more word.

DISTRACTION

*

Without further ado he moved further around the clearing so that when he ran he would take the thing away from the direction Parvarti would have to go to get help. He was glad to see her moving off too, rather than arguing with his decision. Harry wrapped the scarf round his head again and tucked it in so it wouldn’t unravel. This would do, he thought. No sense waiting around. He got out his wand, took careful aim and yelled

“Acerbus cuspis!”

The cloaked figure was caught off guard and some of Harry’s faint spears had hit it. It flinched back, more surprised than hurt then an new noise came from its hood, a drawn out hungry sound. Like a snake having a rat dangled in its face. Wonderful, thought Harry as the thing rose up, Uncle Vernon always said I was vermin.

It was as if that thought snapped him out of his fear paralysis and he ran, away from the clearing and the thing. He moved without thinking, feet slamming on solid ground where possible and pushing off roots and mud when not. Harry never looked behind him but he knew the thing was still on him. He moved into new sections of the forest where the trees were different shapes, older, newer, taller, more brush they all shot by him in an instant, too fast for him to see properly. He did notice that they weren‘t meeting any animals and thought that they were probably scared of the thing behind him.

He reached a thick stand of trees and brush and slipped in sideways. Here he risked a look back. Nothing. Sides? Front? Nothing. Harry allowed himself a controlled breath. It looked like he had lost it. Harry sat for a second on a log and let his legs rest. The tiredness of the past week and the stress of the night caught up to him at once and he sagged against the tree behind him. He didn’t know how long he sat there, he may even have fallen asleep but he did know what caused him to come to attention suddenly. A twig breaking nearby. Harry moved slowly and backed away from the source of the sound when a hand grabbed him from behind and swung him around roughly. Harry’s fear of attack turned into relief, then quickly back into fear.

“Out for a midnight stroll Potter?”

“Professor Snape.” Harry said trying his best to put on a good face. “Thank god you found me.”

*

The boy walked in silence in front of him as Snape led him back towards the castle. The charms he’d laced the edges of the forest with had tripped, waking him and warning him that Quirrell had gone on another of his nightly jaunts. But once again the little worm had eluded him and he’d been on his way back when he’d seen Potter in a stand of trees. His mouth felt like twitching into a smile, at least some good could come of tonight’s work.

“What are you going to do when we get back to the castle.” The boys voice was steadier than he expected. Planning something… Ha! Just like the other Potter this one thought he was smart.

“We are going to your head of house. Then to Dumbledore. Then you can explain what you were doing in the forbidden forest after hours.” Snape allowed himself a moment of joy then said. “Then you can go back to your room and pack for the train journey back. From which you will never return.”

“But what if I’ve got a good reason for being here?”

“What possible reason could that be?”

“Same reason you are. Following Quirrell.” Had that been a shot in the dark? He tried to catch the insufferable child’s eyes but he looked straight ahead. “And unlike you I succeeded.”

“Quirrell is a fellow teacher. With every right to visit the forest if he so chooses.”

“Oh.” The scion of his enemy said brightly. “So you wouldn’t be interested in what he’s doing in there then?”

Insufferable, Worthless, Sneaking, COWARDLY, MANIPULATING!, WORM!! Snape took a moment to assemble his thought before turning Potter and looking directly into his eyes. There was a flash, a table, some faces… a frown crossed the boys face for a moment then he shook his head worriedly. Even Snape could not conceal his shock as a blank wall appeared before him, slowly fading over the memories. The boy was an Occlumens! But he couldn’t know what he was doing, it must be subconscious! With a flicker of fear his eyes were drawn to the scar on the boys forehead. Or was it entirely subconscious? Power would be transferred in such an event, great power…

“What are you suggesting?” Inside himself he was seething. He so wanted to see the son of James Potter expelled. It would make up for so much but… Quirrell was more important, if there was even the slightest chance the stone could be use to bring back… Potter could wait for another time.

“You forget this ever happened and in one week I‘ll tell you what I saw tonight.” Smug and insufferable. And in this case right.

“Why one week?”

“Because it would look odd if in one week you go to Dumbledore and say ‘I caught Harry Potter in the forest a week ago, I just didn’t tell you till now.’” They had entered the castle now and were on their way to the common room. They stopped outside the portrait door. “Well?”

“Agreed.”

*

Harry breathed again and slipped in through the door. A moment later he was attacked! Visiously and unexpectedly, it took him a moment to realise it was Hermione. She had thrown her arms around his neck and was sobbing against his chest.

“We thought…” She sniffed giving Harry a chance to look around. Everyone was there, including Parvarti. They all looked relived. “That it had… got… you.”

“Take it easy alright. I’m alright.” Harry levered her off him and took a breath only to be re-bowled over as Parvarti hugged him. “What the?”

“We shouldn’t have left you. And it was me who wanted to save it in the first place, I…”

“I. Am. Fine.” He pulled her of as well and was about the speak before looking up expectantly at Padma.

“Oh fine if everyone else is doing it.” She stood up and hugged him too. Then let out a fake sob and said “And I broke a nail this morning!” Harry grinned and she returned to her place at the table.

“So, now we know what he‘s doing the next step‘s to find out why. And what we‘re gona to do about it.”



*

The next few weeks were full of disappointment. Except for the Slytherins who got a temporary reprieve from pranking. Hagrid had saved the unicorn and in thanks for their help he told them all about the properties of unicorn blood and what it could be used for. Snape hadn’t been any help, when Harry told him the story a week later he merely nodded and told him to get out. From what they knew they could work out that Quirrell was after immortality but for what reason?

“Maybe he‘s not after it for himself.” Neville had said one day. Harry tried to always treat Neville’s suggestions as smart in the hope it would persuade the boy to talk more. “You said he called someone master when he thought he was alone.”

“But he was alone Neville.” Ron apparently hadn’t heard about that plan. “Wait… that’s our explanation. He‘s crazy! Nuts! He‘s prob’ly talking to his turban!”

“Or he had some sort of magical communicator in his room.” Padma said scathingly. “Something he was talking to someone through.”

“Oh, yeah.” Ron looked down a little sheepishly. Then brightened. “Hey! Maybe if we got our hands on the communicator we could, I don’t know, trace it back to this master?”

“That would depend on how sophisticated it is.” Hermione’s voice came from behind a pile of books, shed already begun revising for the end of year exams and at least some of the other marauders seemed to want to join her. “But Dumbledore could probably do it.”

“Alright then.” A plan began to form in Harry’s mind. “Dumbledore said he had no reason to mistrust Quirrell and Snape’s got no proof to show him otherwise. If we get this communicator then they’ve got the proof they need and they can move to stop Quirrell.”

“But Harry. We don’t know where the communicator is.”

“I know. That’s why we‘re going to burglarize Quirrell.”

“Is ‘burglarize‘ even a word.” Padma asked.

“The spellchecker seems to think it is.”

“What’s a spellchecker?”

“it’s a charm that detect misspelled words, underlines them in red.”

“I really need to revise.”

*

But the opportunity didn’t come for a long while. Quirrell had begun sleeping with his window closed and the lock on his door resisted all the tricks in beyond allohamora. (“I can’t believe you gave him that.” Hermione had said “Its like giving a monkey the key to the plantation.” Ron had shot back “Yeah, or you the key to the library!”) and there was nothing to be done but wait and watch for Quirrell to slip up. There was a plus side though. Guard duty gave them plenty of time to revise. Then the exams came, painful and inevitable with the fear and uncertainty that came with them.

The only ones Harry was at any way comfortable about were charms and astronomy, the latter because unlike other classes he actually paid attention and the former because (perhaps due to his Christmas presents) he was genuinely good at the spells. Potions was a nightmare and defence against the dark arts worse. Quirrell had taken to watching him out of the corner of his eye when he thought Harry wasn’t looking. Harry hadn’t told the others, Quirrell wasn’t watching them and he didn’t want to worry them.

Even with the exams and their continued failing in their task it was hard to feel bad. The weather had turned to wonderful and students could always be found out sunning themselves on the grass. Harry was just on his way to spend an afternoon in just such a manner (the rest of the marauders already waiting) when he looked up and saw what he had been waiting for for weeks. Quirrells window, open.

Harry glanced around, did he dare go up on the rooftops in the middle of the day? When the whole school would be able to see him. Harry turned to where he knew he could climb up and stopped. Should he get the others? No. Quirrell might return and their only chance would be lost. He quickly scurried up the wall and slipped in through the window.

The room smelled strongly of garlic and indeed there were cloves hanging in various places around the room. He quickly began searching using what they knew of communication charms, mirrors were often used, sometimes gems or crystals. He checked the mirror in the bathroom but it appeared to be the normal kind (no response when tapped with a wand). He was about to check the bedroom when he heard a voice behind him.

“Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly.”

________________________________________


Note, if your wondering why some of the chapters are twice the length of the others it's because they used to be two chapters. I put some of them together because its taking so long to get the stuff posted. Also because they seemed pointlessly short before.

________________________________________
“Well, well, well.” Professor Quirrell had lost his stutter and stood in front of the locked door with his wand pointed at Harry’s chest. “You do get yourself into a great deal of sticky situations.”

“it’s a gift.” Harry tried not to glance at the window. It was still open, and there were some trees in the courtyard below. He might make it.

“No!” Quirrell flicked his wand and the window banged shut. Another flick and it glowed for a moment, accompanied by a squelching sound. “No, you’re not leaving that way Potter.” He grabbed Harry’s arm, jerked his wand out of his pocket then pulled him to the door. The 1st year could feel the tip of Quirrells wand against the small of his back. “Now walk, calmly and unhurried. To the third floor.”

The corridors that were always so full of smiling students were virtually empty now. All of them outside enjoying the sun. The few he saw in the distance too far away to signal to.

“Face forward.” Quirrell hissed. “If you attempt to warn anyone then that person dies then you die is that clear?”

“Why are you taking me up there?” Harry tried to convince his brain to work but he seemed to be missing brain cells.

“Oh that’s quite simple. Your going to help me, I knew what you and your little friends were up to so I laid a trap. Now you are going to assist me with something, with two things actually. The first is simple, all you have to do is play along. Lie. You’re good at that yes? The second is a bit more complex. You see…” They grew close to the corridor and Quirrell pulled him to a stop and into a disused classroom. “I’ve spent the year devising foolproof ways to get past each defence except one that still eludes me.”

“Snape.” Good old sneaky bastard Snape.

“Yes Snape.” Quirrell drew an odd potion from his robes, it was pitch black and looked oddly oily. “His protection I don’t know how to pass but… that is for later. For now? Drink this.” He held out the potion. “Just a sip, we only need the effect for a few minutes.” Harry hesitated. “Do it! Do it or you die!”

Harry took a tiny sip of the potion and instantly felt the effect. His hands seemed to grow and he pulled off his shoes as the pressure in them increased. Black hair grew down in front of his eyes and he flicked it out of the way. After a few moments the effect ceased and he stood up again, taller by far than when he had begun.

“Ah, wonderful.” Quirrell said smiling. “Now put these on.” He handed Harry some long dark robes and gestured to the mirror nearby. Harry took them and walked over, stopping for a moment in shock. He looked like Snape! “Get on with it boy!” Harry struggled into the robes then did them up and allowed Quirrell to lead him towards the dreaded corridor. Harry saw professors Flitwick and Sinestra outside the door. Sinestra was sitting cross legged and appeared to be meditating in some way. Quirrell prodded him in the back. Of course, Snape would make the first move. He tried to make his voice as sneering as possible then said.

“We’re here to relive you.” Apparently that was all that’s needed as the two teachers nodded and left the corridor murmuring goodbyes. Quirrell pulled him towards the door. “What if they meet the real Snape? They’ll know he’s not here.”

“Professor Snape was called away unexpectedly.” Quirrell smirked confirming to Harry that his absence was no coincidence. “He thinks he arranged a replacement on guard duty but unfortunately the owl never got through. Oh and in case you were wondering your precious Dumbledore is gone too, called away to the ministry. No one can help you.”

“I can help me.” Harry thought desperately as they entered the room with the giant dog. Its three heads instantly rose to watch them but Quirrell pointed his wand at the floor nearby and a harp appeared. Another complex movement and it began plucking out a simple tune. The great beasts eyelids drooped and it fell quickly asleep.

“Come on boy! I haven’t got all day.” Quirrell pulled him forwards to the trap door then pulled it open. He whispered a little charm and a rope began curling its way out of his wand. Quirrell seemed to have to concentrate a great deal to pull this off and Harry backed away slowly. He felt some thing behind him and put a hand back to feel. It was the harp. Acting on instinct, Harry grabbed the harp and smashed it as hard as he could against one of the dogs giant paws. The dog awoke with a roar and bit through the harps remains in a single chomp. Then it turned to the other interlopers in its room.

“Boy! What do you think you’re…” But then Quirrell was forced to defend himself as the great heads reared up above him. He screeched a single word and fireball smacked one on the nose. Harry took the opportunity and bolted for the door. “I’m not done with you yet Potter!” Quirrell screamed. Harry glanced back in time to see red light, then darkness.

*

“Where the hell is Harry?” Ron glanced back at the castle irritated. “He said he was only gonna be a few minutes.”

“Why are you worrying Ron, when you could be sunbathing!” Parvarti stretched out on the ground and sighed happily.

“He’s probably just got distracted by something Ron.” Hermione was doing her type of sunbathing. With a book. “Honestly, sometimes I think he has a shorter attention span than… than… well than you!”

“I can’t believe your reading out here.” Ron caught the quaffel thrown to him by Neville then threw it back. “The exams are over Hermione.”

“For this year.”

“You’re actually revising for next years exams?” Ron shook his head then yelled “Hey!” as a quaffel smacked into the side of his head.

“Oh sorry Ron.” Padma commented with massive insincerity. “Were you not ready?”

“Oh look the mudblood army seem to be missing a general.” The marauders turned en mass to see Malfoy strolling towards them with his hands in his pockets. “Better get used to it though.”

“What did you say!” Ron yelled at the same time as Hermione said “What do you mean get used to it?”

“I mean scum,” Ron’s fists clenched. “That your little hero seems to have finally gotten into more trouble than he can handle. Oh yes, I saw a teacher carting him off. Looked angry too.”

“Which teacher?” Padma’s question seemed ominously quiet in the open air.

“Professor Quirrell, but don’t think that… Hey!” But Ron had grabbed him by the front of his coat, knocking his wand away. The redhead was vaguely aware of his friends surrounding him with wands drawn. Keeping Crabbe and Goyle at bay.

“Where did you see them?” Ron punctuated each word by shaking the Slytherin up and down. “WHERE!”

“Th… Th… Third floor. That corridor with the maypole painting.” Ron let him go. That was right next to the dog’s room.

“Mr Weasley!” McGonagall was striding across the grounds in anger. “I never expected such violent behaviour from…”

“Professor McGonagall!” Ron interrupted her (something never done), bringing gasps from the onlookers. “Harry Potter’s in danger. And so’s the Philosophers Stone.”

*

“Wake up Mr Potter. Rise and shine for the brand new day.” The sentence slid around the black cocoon of Harry’s unconscious. “Now now, that won‘t do. Up!” Pain blossomed in Harry’s stomach and the sting of it pulled him back to reality. He drew himself up on the cold stone floor shaking terribly. The long sleeves of his robes fell down over his arms and he realised he was back in his own body. Quirrell aimed another savage kick at Harry‘s chest and he sprawled on the floor again.

“You think that’s pain Potter?” Yep, sure seemed like it, at the very least he had a cracked rib. “I can introduce you to the torture curse if you want. If you choose not to co-operate with me.” Harry raised his head wearily and realised that he was in a new room. Fires blocked both doors and on a table in the centre a row of bottles stood, twinkling in the torchlight.

“Wh… where?”

“The traitors trial.” That hadn’t sounded like Quirrell. Harry looked up and saw fear in Quirrells eyes.

“So.” Thought Harry. “He has the communicator on him. That must have been his masters voice and whoever the master is he’s scared of him.”

Quirrell bent over the table and read with a smile…

“Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine's left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.”

The wizard shook his head angrily.

“What kind of a task is that? You don’t even need magic. And besides, I’ve never taken the logical path to get answers. I so prefer the… experimental approach.” He picked up one of the bottles at random and held it out to Harry with a sickly grin. “Drink up!”

*

“He’s there!” Ron was shouting now. Heedless of the steady stream of rubies that must have been leaving the hourglass in the great hall. “He’s there right now having god knows wha…”

“Mr Weasley! If you cannot control yourself I will have you dragged to my office where I will flue your mother! And we will discuss your continued presence at this school!” The argument had moved from the outside to the corridors as the deputy headmistress had failed to listen. “As it is you are all already in enough trouble for just knowing about the stone! Let alone disrespect to a Hogwarts professor. Two professors in fact as I think Professor Quirrell will want to hear about the base accusations you have made.”

“But you don’t…” Ron was brought to a halt by a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Neville holding him back with a terrified look on his face. He shook his head quickly.

“You should listen to your friends Mr Weasley.” The professor said while turning and walking down the hall. “Now you will all follow me to my office where we can decide…”

“Petrificus Totalus!”

The marauder gang watched in utter silence as their head of house went stiff then slowly but inexorably fell backwards. Ron caught her and lowered her to the floor, ashen faced. He looked round to see Neville standing with his wand out and a horrified expression on his face.

“I… I … I had to…” Neville stuttered without moving. “God, that was like cursing Gran.”

Ron looked down at McGonagall face. A person shouldn’t be able to evoke fear while only moving their eyes but somehow the set of them said there would be hell to pay.

“Ok then.” Padma broke the silence. “Since it seems we’re going to get expelled anyway lets go get our boy.”

*

“Nil for two Mr Potter!” Harry fell choking on the floor as Quirrell took a sip of the potion he’d just proved was safe. “Still born lucky I see.” Harry fell into a fit of coughing that wracked his body with pain. He pulled his head back and idly noticed the blood all over his sleeve. So, more than a cracked rib then.

When he had refused to drink the first bottle Quirrell had used some sort of bludgeoning curse that squashed him back to the floor. As he had lain there vainly trying to get his breath back Quirrell had pulled his head back and tipped the potion down his throat. The second time he had tried to resist more and been formally introduced to the cruciatus curse. He was ashamed to say he willingly took the bottle in shaking hands and drank a sip himself. All the time feeling wretched and a coward.

“Now.” Quirrell looked down on him almost proudly. “Since you seem to have learned your place in this little drama.” The sadist looked down for a reaction but Harry didn’t rise to the bait. He wasn’t sure he had the energy too even if he had wanted. “I’ll let you chose the next one.” He waved his hand over the remaining bottles and stood waiting.

Harry pulled himself up on the edge of the table and tried to bring a brain cell to bear. “Hermione where are you when I need you?” He must have said it out loud because Quirrell laughed and said

“I could get her if you want. I’m sure she’d like to see the cruciatus curse. As a purely academic study. Of course to fully appreciate it I would have to do it on her as well.” Harry looked from one bottle to another and a snatch of song came back to him.

Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides.
Harry’s eyes slid to the smallest bottle in the row. His hands shook almost too much for him to take the cork out and he spilled some as he took a sip. An instant cold sensation trickled down his throat and into his arms. But was this the forward potion or the back one? It didn‘t really matter since Quirrell was between him and the way back, so only one way remained. Harry put his hand to his throat and pretended to choke, falling towards the fire he took a heavy gasping breath.

“Trickery! Get Him!” DAMN IT! Harry reacted on instinct and kicked the nearest table leg. One of the remaining potions fell between him and Quirrell, cracking on the floor and bursting into blue-black flame. That was all the distraction Harry needed as he clawed himself off the floor and jumped headfirst into the fire.

The floor on the other side knocked the wind from him but he wasn’t burnt. It had been the right potion.

“You will pay for that!” A chain with a hook shoot through the curtain of flames, trailing sparks.

“A blind shot.” Harry thought muzzily. “But I can’t stay here.”

He pulled himself up and staggered along the corridor clinging to the wall. Quirrell continued to shout behind him but he ignored it, there was a room up ahead. He walked in and barely saw the place. All he took in was the tall mirror in the centre, familiar. Without really realising what he was doing he moved towards it and fell to the ground in front of it. Oh, god everything hurt. He looked up into the mirror and saw his friends familiar faces surrounding him, filling the mirror-Harry with warmth and happiness.

“Where are you.” Harry spoke to the empty room. He felt himself falling backwards, lonely and broken. “Where are you now?”

He floated in the darkness for a moment then was brought back around. Instinct again waking him when he was no longer alone. He turned to see a charred figure, robes in tatters and his turban unwound and trailing behind him.

“There’s always more than one way round a challenge.” The voice was cracked and thirsty but full of malice and ire “You just have to think outside the box.”

*

“No.” Harry pulled himself away from the advancing figure. Forgetting for a moment that there was nowhere to go.

“Yes Potter. What Severus seems to have forgotten…” The wretched figure said as it stalked towards Harry on ruined legs. “Is that I would much rather walk through fire than admit failure to my master. Much, much rather.” He came to a stop in front of the Mirror and pointed his blackened wand at Harry.

“No wait, this won’t work.” He threw the wand away like garbage. “But luckily I have another.” He drew out Harry’s wand, unblemished and pristine. He laughed at Harry’s shocked face and said “Rubbed in what little of the potion you let drop on the floor. It was bound to survive better than mine. After all, phoenix feathers are meant to pass through fire.” He flicked the wand negligently and ropes bound Harry’s legs under him.

“Yes, you left just enough for the wand and for…” His hand rose involuntarily to the back of his head and a quiver of pain ran across his face. “But enough!” He stood in front of the mirror, his anticipation clear on his face. “I see myself presenting the stone to my master. He is restoring my body, making me well again… But how do I get it?”

“Use the boy.” Quirrell grabbed his arm and jerked him back in front of the mirror. The images swam in pain in front of him. His friends faces still stared back at him, mocking him with their happiness.

“Well boy? What do you see?”

“Well…” Harry though. “…since I seem to be dieing anyway…”

“I see myself you charred bastard. It’s a mirror.”

“Crucio!” Pain obliterated the world again but soon enough he was shook awake and slammed in front of the glass.

“What do you really SEE!”

“I‘ve just found every chocolate frog card. My collection is complete.”

“Do you enjoy pain?” Quirrell’s face was twisted beyond recognition. “Do you think even for a moment that your petty defiance will actually achieve anything!”

“Alright fine.” Harry brought a rictus grin to his face “I see Hagrid with a giant spiked baseball bat. He’s sticking it right up your…” the world once again dissolved into pain.

*

“A chess set, what the…”

“Oh god look here on the floor… Blood.”

“Do you think he..?”

“No time for this! We need to move!”

*

Harry floated again on the ocean of agony. But this time he wasn’t alone.

Brave, or maybe simply foolish.
That voice again. The master.

Your parents were brave Harry Potter. It didn’t do them any good either.
“Oh so you know my parents too. Got any good anecdotes?” He wasn’t sure if he said that out loud but the voice laughed.

Oh yes. Joking in the face of pain. That is something I think your father would do.
“Yeah.” Harry said as the world began to swim back into focus. “But I’ve got my mothers eyes.” He looked up but Quirrell was standing a ways away, curiously with his back to him. Harry groped around for his glasses.

“There by your elbow.” The voice almost had a teasing tone to it now but Harry was struck by a single question. How did he know? He pulled his glasses back on and was met by his horrific answer.

“Yes Harry.” The face spoke with malice now, and barely controlled anger. “This is what you reduced me to. Ten years ago.”

“Oh my god.” Harry gulped as he realised the truth. “Voldemort.”

“Yes Harry Potter. Lord Voldemort. Now do what you are told and tell me what you see in the mirror.”

Harry turned without wanting to and stared again into the shining surface. The faces stared back, laughing and happy.

“Their probably still out on the grass.” Thought Harry. The Ron in the mirror patted him on the back. “They don’t know about this evil. This darkness. They haven’t seen it. They don’t have to deal with it. And they shouldn’t need to.”

“I see…”

“Yes… yes!”

“I see… stars.” Harry smiled and flung himself at the mirror.

The crashing sound echoed through the hall and Harry felt glass shards cut into his skin. He tried to roll but a sharp pain in his arm caught him and he stopped, quivering.

“You FOOL.” He felt himself picked up and shook like a doll. “You destroyed it!” He fell to the ground again and saw Quirrell rifling through the shards, heedless of the cuts and blood. “Where is it! Where is it!… Gone… You knew!” The double head came up and looked him straight in the eye. “You knew that wouldn’t release the stone!”

“Dumbledore told me.” Suddenly Harry actually did feel like laughing. “But on the minus side, that should be seven years bad luck.”

“You.. YOU!!” The double creature stood quivering with rage. “Well I hope you savour your victory.” The thing drew Harry’s wand “Because, it is the last thought you will ever have! Avada Ked…”

“Tarantella!”

The jinx spun over the creatures head and broke against the far wall. Harry turned to the door and saw the Marauders standing there. Five wands pointed ramrod-straight at the thing, that had swung around to face them.

“Children.” Quirrell’s voice again. They probably hadn’t even seen the other face. “What are you doing here? This area is forbidden.”

“Put the wand down.” Ron’s voice quaked a little as he said it. But he kept his wand trained. “Wand down now!”

“You wouldn‘t hex a teacher would you.” Quirrell was playing with them. His voice was just like it had been when he’d forced the drink on Harry. “You’d get in so much trouble.”

“I‘ve already petrified my head of house.” Neville seemed to have left his stutter in the world of fear and could speak calmly now he’d moved on to terror. “It can‘t get much worse.”

“You think not? Then perhaps I should be talking out of the other side of my face.” Quirrell turned on his axis and Parvarti shrieked.

“Children!” Quirrells arms twisted back, cracking round at the elbows to give Voldemort control of the wand “I will not be stopped again by children!”

“Petrificus Totalus!” Hermione’s voice rang out but Voldemort raised a shield disdainfully. The rebounding curse took the young witch in the chest and she fell like a stone.

“Crucio!” Neville dropped to the ground. His face a mask of pain.

“Crucio!” Padma fell, her arms wrapped around her chest. Screaming. He was still playing with them. He could cause death as easily as pain.

“Crucio!” Ron fell in his tracks. He had tried to charge the creature.

“Im… im… impedimenta!”

“Crucio!” Parvati’s spell died on her wand and she fell beside her sister. He had to do something. He had no wand. He had no weapon… He had glass. Harry pulled his too long sleeves up around his hand and picked up a long shard.

“Pathetic creatures.” The face spat the words. “Unworthy of life!” Harry stepped closer careful not to disturb the glass on the floor. “You will all die! For defying Lord Voldemort. You will…”

“Master look out!” But Quirrell’s warning was too late as the long shard plunged into his stomach. Him and his attacker fell together and Harry jerked the glass out only to plunge it again into the wizards flesh. His hands bled, the fabric of the robes hadn’t been nearly enough to protect them. Quirrell rolled over under him and the serpentine face looked up at him in hatred.

“You cannot destroy me Harry Potter. I cannot die! Whatever you do I will return!”

“Fine then snake-face.” Harry raised the shard above his head. “See you in another ten years. Do try to come back pretty next time.” And plunged the shard through Voldemort’s eye.

The scream rung out through the chamber. Rising higher and higher, louder and louder till the shards still on the floor shattered into sand. Then the body slumped like a rag doll and finally lay still.

Harry fell back drained. It felt like he had nothing left in his veins, felt empty. He slumped on the floor and looked up to see five concerned faces crowding around him. They were saying something but his mind couldn’t quite make sense of it. The image suddenly reminded him of something and he pointed at them with a shaky hand.

“Stupid mirror.” He laughed. “I thought I broke you?” Then the darkness rolled over again and he didn’t see a thing.

*

“I could just take the one…”

“Ron people left those for Harry!”

Voices?…

“But I just want the card.”

Familiar…

“It’ll try to hop away when you open it!”

“Oh please that’s what he’s planning. Then he’ll ‘have’ to eat it.”

Ah…

“Maybe I’ll just take a cauldron cake…”

“You so much as try it…” Harry pulled his eyes open with an effort. “…and I’ll hex ya fingers off.”

“Harry!” The marauders crowded around the hospital bed. “You awake?”

“Well yeah.” Harry shook his head to clear it before answering Hermione’s question. “Why would I not be? How long was I asleep?”

“Days I‘m afraid mate.” Ron shook his head ruefully. “They had to give you sleeping potion while everything healed. Did you know you broke your arm?”

It had hurt when he rolled over, but surely he would have noticed?

“How‘d you follow me?” Harry groggily shook his head again. “I swear all the potion got drunk.”

“Dumbledore said they regenerate.” Hermione answered smiling. “We had to go through the chess pieces too.”

“Ron was amazing.” Parvati said beaming. Ron blushed and said

“Oh that, that was nothing. Anyway it was Neville got us past the devil snare!”

“Devil snares easy. Anyway you got the key.”

“That was a team effort. The twins were up there too. Plus Padma worked out the dog.”

“There was a broken harp on the floor. What else could it have been but music?”

“I don’t know, its allergic to harps?”

“Children.” The 1st years turned as Albus Dumbledore stepped into the hospital wing. “I cannot imagine how pleased you must be that your friend is awake however,” He continued with a twinkle in his eye as he peered over his spectacles “…it will mean that you will have to find a new source of chocolate frogs.” Ron at least had the decency to look guilty. “Now, if you would give us some privacy I would like to speak to your friend.” The marauders filed out and Harry was left alone with the Headmaster.

“The mirror.” Harry began, “Was it… valuable?”

“Irreplaceable.” Harry’s stomach seemed to fall out his body. “It‘s a good thing it is being repaired.”

“You could have told me that bit!” Harry shook his head as he regained his stomach.

“Although they may leave one shard out. It may need to be kept for posterity.”

“So is he… gone then?” Harry’s voice was hopeful but something in him already knew the answer.

“Nothing about this death was any different from his previous one. If he survived that I believe we can assume he can survive this.”

“Will he come after the stone? I mean, when you fix the mirror you can get the stone?”

“Yes, and it will be destroyed.” Harry breathed a sigh of relief. “But it appears I was wrong about one thing Harry.”

“Hireling a man who was literally two-faced?”

“No Harry.” Dumbledore fixed him with a patient stare and Harry bit back a grin. “I mean that you were unable to get past my last protection. You did not get the stone.”

“Yeah. What was I supposed to do?”

“When you saw yourself in the mirror there. What did you see?”

“The same thing as before.” Harry shifted uncomfortably “You know, friends.”

“So faced with the prospects of eternal life and unending wealth, your dream remained the same?”

“I have a great deal of wealth now, and if eternal life means being someone’s scalp I think I‘ll pass on that too.”

“Very well Harry. I will not pry any further. But there is something else that we need to discuss before I let your friend back in to bicker further.”

“Hm?”

“I want you to return to your aunt and uncles house.”

“No.”

“Harry, I can assure…”

“No. The answer is no Professor.” Harry looked directly into the Headmasters glittering gaze. “I will not.”

“You are eleven Harry.” Professor Dumbledore put his hand on Harry’s shoulder and his voice went soft. “It would be negligent of me to let you leave my care without assuring myself that you would be looked after.”

“You did it once before. Left me on a doorstep.” a sliver of steel entered Harry’s voice.

“I thought that you would be happier with family, even distant ones.”

“You were wrong. Would you like to see some scars by way of proof?”

“No Harry, I see I cannot sway you on this score. I will arrange for you to stay at Hogwarts over the summer, it has been done before in certain circumstances.”

“Thank you.” Harry smiled and he saw a certain tension lift from the air. Harry looked down at the gifts arrayed in front of him and picked up one. “Chocolate frog? Go on, otherwise Ron‘ll just take all of them.”

“Thank you Harry.” Dumbledore took the squirming confection and stood up. “Now I shall just visit this wings other resident then leave you to yourself.”

“Who?” Harry looked around and spotted a pair of slippers poking out from behind a curtain. “Who’zat? They Ok?”

“Oh they‘ll recover quite soon.” Dumbledore seemed to find something in this slightly funny. “She’s just sleeping off an improperly formed Petrificus curse.”

“Oh.” Said Harry uninterested. “How soon will she get better?”

“Hopefully after your friends leave.”

*

“Last chance for legal magic!” Fred (or George) yelled as he walked down the Hogwarts express. His brother walked beside him ringing a hand-bell up and down. “I repeat! Last chance for all summer!”

“You heard that Harry?” Ron said as his brothers walked past the marauders carriage.

“Yep.” And indeed he could see the London skyline around the train as they pulled towards kings cross. He had asked Dumbledore if he could accompany his friends on the train and the Headmaster had agreed.

“You gonna be alright over the summer on your own Harry?” Parvarti leaned over considered him quietly. “You‘ll write everyone right?”

“And you have to visit home.” Ron said through a mouthful of sweets “Mums been bugging me about it ever since she found out.”

“May just take you up on that Ron.” Harry stretched as the train drew into the station. “Oh, and before magic becomes illegal…” Harry took a small parcel out of his pocket, tapped it and pulled back as his bag expanded to full size.

“You brought your bag? Why did you bring your bag…” Hermione’s voice became shrill and a little scared. But the question was moot, everyone in the carriage had guessed the answer.

“Oh, come on guys.” Harry shot them a grin and slid out of the carriage. “Don‘t tell me you didn‘t see this coming?”

“Harry! The hero of the wizarding world cannot just go AWOL!” Padma shook her head in disbelief. “Dumbledore will find you, or the ministry.”

“The ministry can only track me if I use magic.” Harry said jumping down onto the platform. “And distance counts too, I‘m thinking Greece or possibly Spain. Mediterranean certainly.”

“You‘ll never get away with this Harry.” Hermione spoke but all for some reason didn’t quite believe it. The marauders stood in a semicircle around Harry with several versions of disbelief on their faces. But after a year they had realised that Harry mostly made his own rules.

“What they gonna do? Arrest their shining hero?” Harry winked and smiled his evil genius smile. “And I‘ve realised something. Being a homeless vagabond sounds a whole lot more fun if you‘ve got a giant pile of gold underground to fall back on. It‘ll just be like going somewhere fun, to have fun.”

“I think that’s called a vacation Harry.”

“Right, that.” Harry pointed and nodded. “I think I‘m due one of those.” He turned and began walking down the platform. “Write every day! But no traceable addresses!”

“HARRY POTTER YOU GET BACK HERE!!!”

“Gotta go.” Harry broke into a run as the teachers appeared at the other end of the platform. He dodged between groups of students as the yells got closer and shot between carts. He saw his chance, launched himself like a catapult off the trunk of an astonished student and dived through the barrier. He kept running through Kings Cross, past groups of astonished muggles. Running for freedom.

*

“Think he’ll lose ‘em?”

“Oh, Neville you know the answer to that.” Padma smiled at the chaos Harry had left in his wake on the platform. “It’s the marauders first rule. ‘You can do anything you set your mind to if you’ve got the nerve to see it through.’”

“I thought that was ‘Never get caught’?”

“That one too.”
________________________________________



Phew... one book down! Six to go.

________________________________________
Harry Potter stepped back onto British soil with a spring in his step and a tan fit to blind seagulls. Officially there was not direct magical path across the channel save by broom or other tool of flight. However Harry had known before he had ever held a wand that the most useful things were always hidden from those in charge.

It had been by this ancient fireplace, disconnected from the rest of the flue network but with a direct link to a similar holes and portals around Europe, through which Harry had left the country weeks ago. An eleven year old cannot book a plane ticket alone much less hitch a lift on a broomstick and even if he could do so those ways had probably been watched.

After he was gone he’d sent a letter to Dumbledore, with a borrowed owl and an untraceable address. He’d received a stern one in reply. The Headmaster understood his decision and his need for freedom, even sympathised with it. But Harry needed to be kept safe, protected.

But to Harry protected meant trapped and the reason he needed to be kept safe was the very thing he needed some freedom from. So Harry Potter had spent the majority of the summer as Jack Match, juggler and tumbler on various Grecian beaches. He had explored the wizarding side of the ancient country too, he had watched a school of hippocampus breaching and jumping like dolphins off the coast of Aeaea and seen the colossus of Rhodes. He had walked to the Temple of Alcmeonidae at Delphi and climbed hand-over-hand up the long trailing vines of ivy to where it floated in the sky. Levitated above the ‘ruins’ below and concealed from muggle eyes. But the seers that gathered there had seen through his disguise and greeted him as Harry Potter. They had treated him with an eerie respect and he had been taken to have tea with the current oracle. It was a meeting he would never forget…

“Sit dear one.” She led him to a cushion on the floor and sat down herself nearby him. She looked like she was barely a year or two older than him but he knew that if he believed that he was a fool. Only her eyes betrayed any hint that this was possibly the most powerful seer in the world. Harry had been shocked when he first saw them, he had heard stories that the greatest seers had milky white eyes showing that they were blind to the mundane. The oracles eyes were normal except that the iris of one was deep purple and the other light green. Oh and the pupils (and Harry had had to look hard to make this out) were shaped like stars.

“Thank you Pythea.” Pythea wasn’t her name, the oracles held it as a title in honour of the first. “But you really don’t have to do any of this.”

“It is not very often we receive visitors.” She smiled at him with those deep eyes. Something in them betrayed a lasting sadness, a hint of the memory concealed behind. Memory that spanned centuries.

“If you wish to encourage more visitors your grace. Perhaps you should install stairs.” He instantly felt that perhaps he was being too familiar. Harry generally ignored authority but the quiet power of the small girl before him (even sitting as she was, barefoot in a simple white dress) was hard to deny. Anyway he didn’t he didn’t want there to be stairs. Too many people, especially too many tourists, would ruin this peaceful place.

“Yes, that is why we do not have them. And no, I prefer that you speak freely before me.” Harry looked up confused and she laughed. It sounded like falling water. “Your occlumency is quite good for one doing it unconsciously. But access to thoughts is one of the gifts that comes with being… this.” The sadness was back in her eyes for a moment then she reached forward and poured him a glass of water out of a tall fluted jug.

“Thank you.” Harry took it and sipped it. It smelled like mountain air. He grinned and looked down at it speculatively. “Is this going to make me see visions or pass out?”

“Those things are more likely to happen if you do not drink it seeing as you climbed for half an hour in the summer sun.”

“Mad dogs and so on…” Harry took another gulp of the scented drink and asked. “But, why did you invite me up here? Why am I sitting, joking, with the greatest seer in the world.”

“I wanted to meet you myself. I‘ve heard about you of course, the boy who lived. You are not what I expected.”

“Oh.” Harry looked down guiltily. He knew he was a bit of a disappointing hero but coming from her it seemed worse.

“You are anything but a disappointment Harry. I think you are equal to the task ahead of you, more than equal. I look into your soul and what I see gives me great hope. You are more than you think you are Harry, you are far more than you, or anyone else, realises. You must trust that you know the path you need to walk, not anyone else, and above all you must trust yourself.”

“Really.” Harry’s throat was suddenly very dry. He took another gulp of water. “Anything else?”

“I like your eyes.”

Harry coughed and spluttered and the little seer laughed. He realised she was teasing him.

“You’re a brat!” He sniped at her.

“Am I?” She seemed to look far away for a moment then come back down to earth. “Why do you say that?”

“Because you‘re teasing me! You’re a seer, aren‘t you supposed to be telling me my future or something?”

“Do you really want to know?” She seemed amused. “Really?” Harry thought about it for a moment.

“No. No, if I knew what was gonna happen it wouldn‘t be any fun.”

“Good.” She smiled. “Good choice. But I think I will give you something anyway. In exchange for a future not told.” She dipped her hand into a pocket of her dress and drew out a pendant on a braided leather cord. Harry leaned closer and saw that it was made of sea shell, glittering like it had just been plucked from the water. She held it out towards him.

“Hair please.” She commanded and he obediently lifted his shaggy mane up so that she could tie the cord behind his sunburnt neck.

“What is it?” Harry lifted the shell to look at it closer but it didn’t have any markings at all. It looked like it was made of two pointed spiral shells, hanging vertical from its clasp. Harry looked closer and saw that the very bottom point was tinged green and the very top tinged purple. “Is it magic?”

“Yes.”

“Are you gonna tell me what it does?”

“No.”

“Meany.” Harry tucked the pendent into his t-shirt and felt it drop down near his heart.

“You‘ll find out what it does eventually. But you will have to learn a few things for yourself before you do. Call it a little piece of your future.” She took his hand and raised him to his feet. “Now I am afraid I must say goodbye. The duties of my office call.” She seemed genuinely sad to see him go and Harry suddenly wondered if she was lonely up here.

Not trusting himself to speak Harry bowed for the first time in his life and walked towards the door.

“Oh and when you go back to Hogwarts.” The little girl said as he reached for the handle. “Could you tell Sybill Trelawney to stop owling me. Please?”

Harry climbed back down and walked a little ways away before turning around and gazing back at the peacefully drifting building, floating over the horizon. Digger flapped down on a rock next to him and handed him a letter. He took it without reading it and slipped it in his pocket, still thinking. Then he walked over to a clump of flowers sprouting out of the stone nearby and picked some of the larger ones.

“Up there please.” Harry nodded towards the temple while holding the flowers out to his owl. “Pythea. And be careful.” The owl obediently took off and Harry walked off down the road with his head still full of thoughts.

It had not been long after that when he found his way to the krybo-lakkos market in Athens and to the odd pottery chimney that connected to the under-flue and that could get him home.

*

“Five Galleon‘s. Here.” The shopkeeper pointed to a pot next to his cash register. Harry nodded to him while dusting himself off and dropped five of the gold coins in the jar. This holiday had cost him surprisingly little, tourists had liked his juggling on the beaches and liked his witty remarks even more. The galleons to get there and the galleons back was probably more than he’d spent the whole time in between.

Harry stepped out into a dingy alley and set off away from the shop. Walking quickly he made for the lighter end of the street where he could hear more people moving. People turned to stare at his bright summery clothing in the dark and shadowed street and he heard grumbling and muttering. A bony hand fell on his shoulder and he broke into a run. Shadowy figures leapt out at him and more hands tried to gain purchase, Harry broke off as his way ahead was blocked and he sprinted down a side street. He could see the bright sounds of diagonally ahead of him and sprinted as hard as he could.

Suddenly he hit what felt like a rubber wall, picking him up and bouncing him back into the darkness.

“What the…?” But there was no time to think. Figures were closing in and Harry dove in the opposite direction. He slipped down another road.

More cloaked bodies seemed to pop out of every shadow. The small boy dodged down another street and found himself at a dead end. The entrance to the alley was blocked by a small crowd, five or so wizards and witches in dark ragged robes blocked his way back.

Harry slipped his wand out of his pocket into his right hand. His eyes scanned the walls around him but they were straight up and down. No handholds. The crowd advanced on him with hands out. Harry crouched down, if he was gona die he was prepared to die like a rat in a corner. Biting and scratching till the last.

“What have we here?” A scabby and dishevelled witch said with a cackle. “Kids shouldn’t be in knockturn alley. Something bad could happen.” She reached out towards him and Harry’s hand tightened on his wand.

“Stand aside hag!” A flash of red light shot from the other end of the alley and the witches hair burst into flame.

She shrieked and jumped away while the others tried to put out the fire. This left Harry with a clear view down the alley to the man standing there, his long wand out.

“Never fear young rascal!” The man said in a booming voice. “Markus Michelson is here!”

*

“Who in the… Hey!” Harry tried to object but the man had reached him in three long strides and picked him up with one hand. “Put me down! Put me down!”

“Quiet down pipsqueak.” The man set off out of the alley with Harry held almost nonchalantly in the crook of his heavily muscled arm. “You’re in safe hands now.”

Harry tried to pry the fingers off of him but the mans grip was like a vice. Harry continued to struggle until they got out into the safer haven of diagonally and he was dumped unceremoniously on the floor.

“For someone being rescued by the greatest warrior, adventurer, lover and explorer that the world has ever known.” The man put his fists on his hips and bent down to put his face near Harry’s. “You sure don’t seem to know how show you’re grateful.”

Harry sat up and checked himself over before replying. For a moment his hand rested on the leather cord around his neck then he looked up and responded.

“Yeah, sorry. Thank you. Thanks.” The man reached out a hand and pulled Harry to his feet.

“Not to worry. I’d imagine getting stuck down a dead end in knockturn alley is a little frightening for someone not as… imposing… as me.” He tucked his wand in his belt and Harry looked him up and down. Even without taking his hat into account the man was easily seven feet tall and had shoulders like a ox. He wore thick leather boots and leather trousers above them, fitting tightly over muscled legs. The belt was snake skin and he had what looked like animal teeth tied hanging off it so they clattered as he moved. Above that he wore a form fitting red vest that left his arms bare. Harry could see the edge of a tattoo peeking up amongst his chest hair and another on his bicep. Further down his arms he wore two spike bands. To top it all off the man wore a cowboy hat over his thick blond hair with a long red feather tucked into the band on one side and three rifle bullets on the other.

“Who are you?”

“Thought I introduced myself before. Never mind, probably slipped your mind in all the excitement.” The man struck a pose. “I am Markus Maximus Michelson. Happy to make your acquaintance pipsqueak.”

“My name is Harry.” Odd to hear that after a summer of Jack.

“Good to meet you little Harry. Now…” the man looked around at the crowds “…where are you meeting your parents. Can’t leave you alone out here since you seem to attract trouble. You little tyke.” He ruffled Harry’s hair as if he was a little kid, earning himself Harry’s eternal hatred.

“…um. The ice cream place.” Harry lied with a straight face. “Their probably waiting.”

“Good, good.” The man grabbed his arm again and set a brisk pace through the crowd. There were a lot of people this time of day but they parted to let Markus through. Harry had hoped that when they reached Fortescue’s ice cream parlour the odd wizard would leave him alone. He did nothing of the sort however and sat down at a table, leaning far back on his chair and tucking his thumb in his belt loop. Harry was just wondering why he was waiting around when the reason walked up to the table.

“Can I get you anything Mr Michelson.” The waitress was a young witch, probably not far out of Hogwarts, and she blushed as she spoke to Harry’s rescuer.

“My little friend here needs a chocolate Sunday to calm him down. He’s just been in a bit of a sticky situation down knockturn alley. For myself just seeing you smile is all the sweet I need, and please…” he plucked a yellow daisy out of air and set it behind the girls ear “…call me Maximus.”

“You helped him?”

“Oh no.” Thought Harry. “She was here last summer. She knows who I am.”

“You saved Harry Potter! Oh, you‘re so brave and like, strong!”

“Harry Potter..?” The man looked at him for a moment with a light smile then turned back “Yes I did. And yes, I am rather strong. Mighty is my middle name.” The girl swooned and rushed off to get Harry’s ice cream. When she was gone the man turned back and fixed him with the smile again. Harry crossed his arms.

“Thought your middle name was Maximus.”

“Nope, Mighty.” The man flexed his bicep and Harry was able to read the tattoo there. It was five Ms written one after another. The man pointed at the it with his other hand. “Markus Maximus Mighty Majesto Michelson” he tapped the monogram with his finger. “But the first of my middle names is my personal favourite. So these parents that we’re waiting for…”

“My friends parents.” Harry fabricated. “I‘m living with them this summer. I didn‘t explain because I prefer to go under the radar a bit, you know.”

“Can‘t honestly say I do little man.” Harry’s sunday appeared and he began eating it quickly. “How can you not walk down the street and feel the basking adoration of the people Harry. I owe it to my legend to be seen, in the hope that I inspire young pups like you to become just like me. Its my duty Harry, as a man.”

“Oooo.” The waitress had stuck around to listen to Marcus speak and was now holding her hands clasped together over her chest. “You’re so smart as well as so hansom. You’re like a poet or a radio star or something.”

Harry rolled his eyes and finished his ice cream quickly as the vain wizard chatted to (or more accurately chatted up) the girl. Harry dropped the price of the meal on the table.

“Ah, there they are.” Harry pointed off in a random direction and got up. “See you.”

“Sure I will Harry.” The man said cryptically before turning back to the other object of his attention.

*

Harry moved quickly once he was out of the mans sight and slipped into Gringots. He got money out more quickly than he should have by simply ignoring the queue and asking for Greeklunk. His old goblin acquaintance quickly helped him refill his pouch for another year. While he was down in the vault Harry stuck his t-shirt in his bag and instead took out a long robe with a hood. At Greeklunk’s confused expression he said…

“Someone back up on the street that I‘d rather didn‘t recognise me.”

“Oh right. Bloody paparazzi.”

Harry stepped back out into the street and did his school shopping quickly. When he walked back past Fortescue’s the wizard was still there, showing the waitress a long scar on his arm.

*

Harry stood in the country lane and rechecked the letter he held in his hand. He was sure he was at least in the right village and probably on the right road. It was just that the road went a long way in both directions and Ron’s advice on getting to his house had been rather vague. Like he’d only really seen the surrounding countryside from the air. Harry folded the letter away and shrugged, there was always another way. He walked over to a where a farmer was sitting near his tractor, fiddling with something in the engine.

“Hi. I’m looking for the family of ginger people who keep owls as pets.”

“Down the lane, turn left at the co-op.” The man said without looking up. “And tell the man I need my wrench back.”

*

Harry had to resist the urge to break into a run as he caught sight of the Weasley house. Outside it in the overgrown garden he could see three boy working, flinging something he couldn’t make out over the garden wall. Harry smiled, they were expecting him today but he hadn’t exactly been able to give them an exact time. As he walked closer the door to the house opened and Molly Weasley (Ron had told him all about his family) emerged, carrying a tray with drinks on it. Behind her a young girl (must be Ginny) stepped outside and leaned against the doorpost looking bored. None of them seemed to have noticed him yet, or maybe the tan had changed his appearance a bit. As he stepped up to the front gate he spread his arms wide.

“Aloha!”

“Harry!” Ron jumped in surprise “You‘re here.” The twins jumped up too and ran to meet him, but the most extreme reaction came from the youngest Weasley. Ginny went dead white under her hair and her mouth seemed to move as if she was trying to say something then she bolted through the still open door.

“She has some sort of objection to aloha?” Harry asked the ginger crowd.

“Nah, mate.” Ron shook his head. “She‘s been jumping and squeaking every time we so much as mentioned your name. Guess you in the flesh was just too much for her.”

“Ron, be nice to your sister.” Mrs Weasley’s voice was stern for a moment then turned soft again as she turned back to Harry. “She‘s just shy Harry. I‘m sure she‘ll get over it the more she sees of you.”

“Probably.” Agreed Harry “The hero thing doesn‘t last. I‘ve been told on repeated occasions that I‘m a massive disappointment.”

“Who told you that?” Molly Weasley looked aghast.

“Snape.”

“Yeah but he said you had floberworms for brains too.” Said Ron. “And we’re fairly sure that’s not true.”

“Right.” Chimed in one of the twins. “We‘re pretty certain they‘re doxy droppings.”

“At least that’s up the evolutionary scale.”

*

But Ginny’s odd behaviour didn’t stop. Harry found that she was incapable of staying in a room that he was in and that any attempt to speak directly to her was enough to send her scurrying away. One morning when he came down and found her curled up on the sofa with a magazine he decided to put a stop to it.

“Ginny.” She stiffened and looked like she was about to flee. “Don’t run away please.” He walked around and sat next to her on the couch. She looked like a small rodent confronted by a snake, eyes wide open and too scared to run. “Can you tell me why you run every time I try to talk to you or enter the room?” Silence, except for the twitching she could have been petrified. “Look Ginny I don’t know what it is but could you please talk to me. We‘re going to be going to school together for the next six years. Could you talk to me. Please.”

“Y… you…” Harry had to strain to hear her faint whisper. “you destroyed you-know-who.”

“Oh you‘re still thinking about that?” Harry waved his hand dismissively. “That happened ages and ages ago. No one cares about that. Apparently Markus Mandy Michelson is everyone’s hero now.”

“You‘ve got the scar.”

“I‘ve got a lot of scars. Which one in specific?” Ginny reached out to point at his forehead and Harry brushed away the hair to reveal the scar. But apparently this was too much for Ginny and she bolted up the stairs almost knocking over Ron.

“What‘s that about?” He asked sleepily.

“She‘s still shy around me. That sucks.”

“Why are you so messed up about it.” Ron asked. Then looked up as if he remembered something. “You were acting like this about Hermione too, last year. Back before she liked us.”

“And that turned out OK.”

“You‘re not gonna climb up a chimney again are you Harry?”

“No Ron but I think I do think I need to take drastic action to correct this situation.” Harry thought for a moment then latched onto a brilliant plan. An amazing plan. Possibly the greatest plan he had ever devised. “You have a few brooms here right?”

“Five last time I looked. My old one, the twins, Percy’s and one Charlie left here.”

“Excellent. I would like to play some Quidditch.”

“But Harry you can‘t play Quidditch. The last time you got on a broom you made a complete fool of yourself.”

“Exactly!”

*

This was the worst plan he had ever come up with.

“You have to follow through.” Ron made a jabbing motion with the flat of his hand. That meant follow through Harry knew, the hand signals were about all he‘d picked up during the game. “Just concentrate on following through. That was the problem that time.”

“No Ron, the problem was that I flew into a tree.” Harry tumbled to the ground and spat out a leaf. “What’s the signal for ‘You’re about to fly into a tree‘?”

“There isn‘t one, we’d have to invent it just for you.” Ron helped him back on his broom and they flew back up to join the twins. Ginny was sitting a little ways away watching them, when Harry had fallen out of the tree she had jumped up in shock. But as Ron and the twins had begun laughing at him he had seen a shadow of a smile cross her face as well. That shadow was all that was keeping him from giving up the entire endeavour and getting his feet back on solid ground.

“Right.” Ron said as they hovered at their end of the pitch. “You make for the right hand side. I‘ll pull them off to the left then pass it to you. Then you can score. Got it?”

“Aye aye Captain!” Harry saluted and almost overbalanced.

“Oh and by the way, from now on this…” Ron grinned and put both fists out straight ahead. “… from now on that means tree.”

“I would punch you Ron, but I‘d fall off if I tried.” Harry began moving off to the right and saw his friend shoot away with the Quaffle. After a moment Ron turned and chucked it ahead of him. He rushed forward to catch it, fumbled it, then snagged it in one hand.

“I got it! I got…” Thump!

Harry struck the ground hard and rolled to a stop in the long grass.

“Ow.” Harry put his hand to the back of his head and sat up. Looking right into the face of Ginny Weasley. She had run over to see if he was alright and now stood, wide eyed before him.

“There didn‘t used to be four of you.” Harry pointed at her with a shaking hand. “Stop being four of you, person… girl… Where am I?” Harry blinked and looked around blurrily. A small noise brought him back to the present and he looked forward. Ginny had her hand over her mouth and was trying hard not to laugh. Little sounds kept escaping like steam out of a kettle.

“You‘ve got steam in your mouth!” Harry tried to get up and fell back on his behind. “Like water but… broken. Where are my glasses? The four of you should be able to find them.” And with that Ginny burst out laughing.

The four Weasley’s carried him off the pitch and Fred and George (who seemed to have experience with head injuries for some reason) pronounced him fine.

“Maybe we should take a break.” Ron said worriedly. “You know, give him time to recover.”

“Better idea.” Harry tossed his broom to Ginny. “You take my spot. I am never ever ever ever ever ever getting on one of those again. From now on I walk where I need to go.”

“Hey! I don’t want her on my team.” Ron said angrily. “That‘s not fair when we’re already behind!”

“Ron…” Harry pitched his voice to match Mrs Weasley’s “Be nice to your sister! And besides, your choices are me or her.”

“Welcome to the team Ginny.”

*

“See! No one can beat my team!” Harry grinned and slapped his chest as the game drew to an official close.

“What do you mean your team.” Ginny glided past him smiling and laughing. “When you went off you were eight goals down. How can you say you won?”

“The team won.” Harry explained with sweeping hand gestures. “And we all played a part in that.”

“And your part is?”

“Cheerleader. I really should get some pompoms.”
________________________________________


Note: Right, thats the second year started.

Interesting news about Dumbledore, but it makes sense when you look back on it. Does kind of make it more tragic however. The champion of accepting people for who they were died without ever himself being accepted. He probably never even told anyone. The bit about how he didn't move against Grindlewald was interesting too and puts the whole thing in a new light. What if Grindlewald was well aware of Dumbledores feelings and used him to gain power in safety? Knowing full well that Dumbledore was the only one who could have posibly stopped him. Ah well...

This is why we need JK Rowling to write some prequels.

________________________________________
#include "standard_legal_disclamer.h"

Ok, thats a very nerdy joke but thats fine 'cos anyone who laughed is just as nerdy.
________________________________________





Kings cross was crowded beyond belief as the Weasley clan crossed the station towards platform nine and three quarters.

“Hurry up.” Mrs Weasley herded her various charges towards the barrier. “Right. Come everyone, while the muggles aren’t looking.” One by one the redheads shot through the barrier. Harry waited until last, as the summer had drawn to a close he had wondered if perhaps he might not be let back into the school. He had got the book list but perhaps that had been automatic.

“You go first. I‘m fine.” Harry motioned Mrs Weasley ahead of him. “I want to enjoy my last moment of freedom.” She disappeared through the barrier and Harry took a deep breath. There wasn’t much more he could do to put this off. He started running forwards, lowered his head and closed his eyes as he reached the barrier.

Crack! Harry bounced back and fell to the ground gasping. The barrier hadn’t opened! He put his hand to his forehead and it came back bloody. His mind reeled.

“They don’t want me back.” Harry blinked and looked up at the clock. Less than a minute till the train was supposed to leave. “They expelled me.”

Harry stayed on the floor despite the odd looks he was getting. There didn’t seem to be much point in getting up. The clock ticked over the hour. The train was leaving.

Harry looked down platform ten and thought he saw a wisp of smoke rise from beyond the tracks. Where was the wizards platform anyway? A mad idea struck Harry and he was stood back up in a flash. His feet seemed to move of their own accord and he took first one then another halting step along the platform. Another wisp of smoke. He broke into a run and willed his legs to carry him faster and faster.

“it’s a steam train.” Harry dodged past a startled conductor at the end of the platform and jumped down onto the tracks. “It takes a while to speed up.” He pumped his legs for extra speed.

“Digger!” Harry reached onto his backpack and flicked his owl’s cage open. “Catch me up at Hogwarts!” Harry shot to the edge of the train tracks and looked down. The normal, muggle train tracks coming out of kings cross were raised up on a sort of long bridge, raising them several stories above the city streets. Harry glanced down in time to see the end of the Hogwarts express squeeze itself out from between the bricks of the bridge and head off down a track that looked disused. Up ahead the track rose up and joined with the others, if Harry was going to do it, he‘d have to do it now.

“Please! Oh god please let me still be born lucky!” Harry prayed silently, then launched himself off the side.

He crashed into the top of the last carriage and hung onto it for dear life. The train was beginning to pick up speed and Harry crawled to the edge. Thankfully the carriages window was open. Harry swung his bag in through it then slid down into it himself.

“Harry Potter. Nice to meet you.” He said to the aghast first years who’s carriage he’d dropped into. “See you at Hogwarts!” Harry walked shakily out the door. Once he was safely in the corridor he leaned against the wall and slid down till he was on the floor. He wanted to get up and find his friends but for some reason none of his limbs seemed to work. He caught a glimpse of himself in the glass in front of him and blinked in shock. He looked a wreck! Blood ran down the left side of his face and was matted into the hair above.

“M… Mr Potter.” Harry looked around and saw the witch with the trolley standing looking at him. Harry gulped for air.

“Two cauldron cakes please.” He said, trying to think of something that would calm his nerves.

She wordlessly handed him the cakes and took the price of them without once taking her eyes off him. When he was about to leave she finally said.

“Did you… just… jump onto the train.”

“No.” Harry shook his head “No. Definitely not. You‘d have to be crazy to jump on a moving train.”

*

Harry moved down the train as quietly as he could. Trying to find his friends without drawing too much attention. Unfortunately talk travelled fast on the Hogwarts express and he couldn’t go five steps without encountering another stare or pass a group of students without them breaking out in a fit of whispering.

“So pathetic attention seeking Potter strikes again.” The voice was behind him. Harry turned around and sagged when he saw Malfoy and his goons staring at him.

“Malfoy I really don’t have the energy for this now.” It was true. Harry would have liked doing nothing more than simply collapsing on the floor there for the remainder of the journey. “Could you please, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, bugger off and die like the diseased piece of distended rectum flesh you are.”

“Big talk for a kid who can barely stand.” Malfoy took a step forward and Harry retreated. “And I don’t see your little friends here to help you today. This may just be my lucky day.” The three Slytherins advanced on him and Harry drew his wand when…

“Potter!” Harry turned and saw professor McGonagall standing in the carriage. Malfoy and his bodyguards disappeared through a door. “How in Merlin‘s name did you get here?” She grabbed him and pulled out her wand, touching it calmly to the cut on his head then whisking away the blood on his face. “I just spent an unpleasant few minutes arguing with Molly Weasley who was franticly trying to get us to stop the train. She seemed to be under the impression that the barrier had sealed with you on the other side.”

“It did.” Harry nodded. “That’s how I hurt my head.”

“But then. How did you get here?”

“You honestly, really and truly don’t want to know.”

“Harry…”

“I jumped onto the train.”

“YOU JUMPED ONTO THE TRAIN!”

“The barrier had sealed up! There wasn‘t any other way! And besides, I had a head injury. I‘m not sure I was in an entirely rational frame of mind.”

“That is beside the point Mr Potter, but after the stunt you pulled at the end of last year I suppose I should not be entirely surprised.” She straightened up “We will have to discuss this further in my office at Hogwarts. At the very least you will receive several days detention.”

“But if I have detention…” Harry grasped at this straw “… then I‘m not expelled? Right?”

“No Mr Potter. Not this time.” She began walking away down the train. “Go to my office when we reach Hogwarts.”

“After the sorting?”

“As soon as you reach the castle.”

“Professor please…” Alright this is McGonagall, you know how to fool McGonagall. She acts tough but she’s all mushy inside. “… my friend’s sister’s getting sorted today and she‘s worried about it. All her brothers are in Gryffindor, whole family really. I should be there for her. Please?”

“Alright Mr Potter. After the sorting.” McGonagall’s eyes had gotten softer as Harry had spoken. “But before the feast.”

“Of course Professor. I‘ll be there.”

“And I will owl Mrs Weasley to inform her you are safe.” She turned away and Harry was left alone once again in the corridor.

*

Harry eventually found the Marauders compartment and slid the door open.

“Hello freindlies!”

“Harry!” Hermione’s mouth dropped open. “Ron said you couldn‘t get onto the platform!”

“Couldn’t.” Harry noticed Ginny sitting quietly in the corner of the compartment. Ron had probably been told to keep an eye on her. “Had to acquire entry to the train by… other means.”

“Apparation?” Padma had apparently also caught some sun over the summer, though it was less noticeable on her. “You do know that’s illegal.”

“Couldn‘t care less. But no.”

“Portkey?” Neville seemed to think for a moment. “Or a broom?”

“No.” Ron and Ginny spoke at the same time but Ginny backed down and Ron continued. “Harry swore blind he‘d never touch another broom.”

“Oh god I know what it is.” Parvarti put her hand to her mouth and began shaking her head. “I was talking to Lavender down the other end of the train. I thought she was joking.”

“What is it?” Hermione asked and the marauders seemed to hang waiting for the answers.

“You jumped onto the top of the train.” The marauders turned as one to look at him.

“Maybe.” None of his friends seemed to want to speak.

“Harry...” Neville broke the silence. “…you‘re crazy.”

“I know.” Harry sat as the other snapped out of their shock and started speaking all at once. “It‘s beginning to worry me.”

*

The train meandered its long journey through the hills and Harry ducked out of the conversations around him. His head still hurt and he didn’t have the energy to entertain people. He leaned against the cold window as rain started to streak down, leaving little trails on the window pane. He closed his eyes and lay there for a long while. Little trails of water, swirling, drowning.

“Harry.” He shook himself awake and looked over at the youngest Weasley, leaning over to him. “Are you alright?” Harry looked around the compartment, the rest of his friends were still talking amongst themselves. “You‘re face was all scrunched up like you were dreaming.”

“Oh, are we there yet.” Harry kind of wanted to get back to sleep. Even if it was to bad dreams.

“Not for a while.” Ginny bit her lip worriedly. Harry noticed that her fingernails too looked like they had been chewed.

“Worried?” Harry grinned as she jerked in surprise. Harry waved his hand dismissively. “Don’t worry. You‘ll love it there. Lessons are easy, specially charms. Friends everywhere. Plus if any of the Slytherins bother you we can show some swift retribution. We’re feared by that house.”

“That‘s kind of what I‘m worried about.” Ginny glanced at the red edges on Harry’s robes.

“Ah.” Thought Harry. “My guess was right, and I just made that up to soften up McGonagall.”

“You‘re worried about the sorting.” Harry said out loud. “Want to be Gryffindor?”

“Yes. If I don’t my brothers ‘ll never forgive me.”

“Then tell it so.” Harry looked at the young girls startled expression. “You know what the sorting hat is right?” nod. “Then tell it you want to be a Gryffindor. Don’t take no for an answer. It’s your life, don’t let a hat make decisions for you.” Harry leaned back down and closed his eyes again.

*

“What the hell?” Ron voiced what they were all thinking as the marauders moved away from the train at Hogsmead. Ginny had left to take her little boat ride and the six friends now stood in front of a line of carriages, each drawn by a thin scaly horse with folded leathery wings. “Charlie told me the carriages pulled themselves?”

“Maybe they’ve changed since your brothers day.” Said Harry climbing into one of them. “And besides…” He looked around “No one else seems to think anything’s amiss.”

“Still think this is weird.”

*

Ginny Weasley stood fidgeting in front of the hall as the sorting hat finished its song. She was so nervous she wanted to bite her nails despite the face they were already worn to the pith. Well, at least she was a Weasley. Her name would be called near to last. She saw Harry on the Gryffindor table spinning three forks in the air in front of him. She tried to catch his eye but failed, he was talking to his real friends. Everyone began to pay attention as Dumbledore stood up.

“Before we begin the sorting I‘d like to announce two things. One is that, despite what this empty chair seems to indicate, we have found a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.” Ginny looked along the teachers table and saw a lank-haired professor grimace. She giggled, that must be professor Snape. “Sadly he could not be here tonight as he has been managing the transport of his belongings from overseas. Rest assured that he has my full confidence and he will introduce himself, probably at length…” did the lank-haired professor just grimace even more? “…in your first lesson with him tomorrow. Now the second thing is that we will be doing this years sorting backwards.”

“What?” That prompted a murmuring about the hall.

“Yes, call it an old mans fancy. Now let us continue so that we can enjoy a brilliant feast after we are all done.” Dumbledore sat back down but the murmuring hadn’t ceased. McGonagall then took her place, the expression on her face clearly showing that the Headmaster had not discussed this with her. She looked down at her paper and read…

“Weasley, Ginevra.”

“What! Oh…” Ginny thought as she walked out in front of the school. “Backwards…” The last thing she saw before she pulled the hat down over her eyes were the Marauders turning to watch her.

“Another Weasley, seems I see those on almost a yearly basis. But a Weasley girl? Why I haven’t seen one like you in…”

“I chose Gryffindor.” It seemed to her that the hat gasped loudly all around her.

“That’s not quite how it works Weasley girl.”

“No. That is how it works. Harry told me I could choose my house. I want to be in Gryffindor.”

“Quite brave of you to just shout it out it like that. Almost forces me to pick Gryffindor.” Shout it out?…Oh god!

“Ah… You didn‘t realise you were speaking out loud?”
Ginny lifted the brim of the hat just enough to see around the Hall. There was whispering everywhere, and every face had an identical visage of shocked astonishment. Her eyes searched out her brothers at the Gryffindor table. Percy had buried his face in his hands and seemed to be trying to pretend it all wasn’t happening, Fred and George were watching her with huge evil grins and Ron, Ron just looked confused. Her eyes flickered past Ron to Harry and their gazes locked, then the boy did the oddest thing, he pulled up his sleeve, put his hand palm out and jabbed forward.

Follow through

Ginny glanced back at the teachers table, where every face mirrored the astonishment of the students. She glanced back to Harry and he jabbed again. Well, if she was gonna follow through then there was only one thing for it...

“Yep.” She said, trying to not have her voice break out in whimpers. “Definitely Gryffindor.” And with that she pulled the hat off her head, set it down on the chair and walked steadily towards Harry. She blanked out everything else in the hall, the whispers rising, the teachers, everything. There was a seat next to Harry and she was sitting in it. She reached the bench and hopped onto it, everyone was looking at her.

“Stay perfectly calm.” Harry’s voice but she swore his lips barely moved. “Look straight ahead and don’t give them any sign they’re getting to you.” Easy for him to say! She stayed exactly where she was as the silence crawled on. Then something touched her hand by her side. A candy of some kind. Without a word, and before the silent stares of the whole hall, she brought out, unwrapped and calmly ate a liquorice wand.

Every eye in the hall turned as they heard McGonagall clear her throat then…

“Kingston, Victor.”

It was as if the hall had been holding its breath the entire time and now let it out in a wave of chatter. Ginny felt someone clap her on the back and looked sideways into Harry’s face.

“Thank you.” Ginny breathed through the noise. “I didn‘t know what to do. I didn’t even realise I was talking out loud.”

“Figured as much.” Harry said glibly and offered her another liquorice wand. “Good thing I was paying attention, who the hell is Ginevra Weasley?”

The small boy with exquisitely waxed hair and sunglasses apparently named Victor Kingston had reached the hat and was looking down at it worriedly. He looked like he was about to pick it up then looked at the tables in the hall.

“Ravenclaw. I think I like Ravenclaw.”

“On the plus side you may have started a revolution.” Harry had leaned in to talk to her again. “On the minus McGonagall’s gonna kill you…”

A vague looking girl was now looking at the hat thoughtfully before declaring that she was going to “The red haired girl’s house.”

“Are you our new house mascot Ginny?” Fred leaned over and grinned at his sister.

“We could make up some new banners if you like.” His twin leaned in from the other side of the table.

“Leave her twins.” Harry was holding her by both shoulders away from her older brothers. “She tricked the hat, swindled McGonagall, caused a cross house revolution and all in front of the entire school!” Harry grabbed her and hugged her from behind. “You can‘t have her! She‘s ours!”

“What’s he talking about.” Ginny didn’t think she could grin more than she was as she shot the question at her brother across the table. But it was Parvarti Patil who answered her.

“He means that you‘re the type of person who goes for what they want and has the nerve to see it through and doesn‘t care what the rules say or who thinks what!” She stuck out her hand “Welcome to the Marauders.”

By the end of the day Ginervrador House (as it was briefly called) had an unusually large class of first years. Filch had to move some of the beds.

*

As Harry trudged back from his first detention with McGonagall that night (polishing hundreds and hundreds of brass buttons that were just going to be transfigured into beetles anyway) he leaned on the wall near the portrait hole and closed his eyes for a moment.

“Harry Potter sir!”

Harry opened his eyes and immediately realised his head injury must have been worse than he thought. The Hallucination had long pointy ears and was wearing some sort of ragged cloth like a toga.

“Wha…?”

“Harry Potter should never have got on the train!”

“Who?” Harry shook his head but the small figure remained “What and/or who are you? ”

“Dobby sir. Dobby the house elf.” The odd little creature bowed to him, its nose almost touching the floor. “Dobby is truly sorry to have caused trouble for such a great wizard as Harry Potter. But Harry Potter must leave Hogwarts!”

“Caused trouble? What trouble?” Harry slid off the wall and stood straight. His wand was inconveniently tucked in an inside pocket, hard to reach. Was this creature a threat? “What are you talking about?”

“Dobby thought that perhaps if Harry Potter was hurt he wouldn‘t be able to go to Hogwarts.”

“What precisely…” Harry heavily enunciated the word “… are you talking about.”

“Dobby thought that if the platform closed…”

“That was you!” Harry snapped forward like a shot and caught the little creature by the arms. The thing whined and tried to break away but he held on. “I could have missed the bloody train!” The creature nodded and whimpered a little more. “I could have been killed! Wait… knockturn alley…” Harry remembered the rubber wall. The elf stiffened again and he seemed to be avoiding Harry’s eyes. “That was you as well! Why WHY!” He picked the thing up and shook it roughly. “Are you trying to kill me? Are you?” The elf was truly crying now and Harry let him go. The pitiful thing crawled away from Harry and sat on the floor, looking up at him with its huge, tear filled eyes. It looked like a kicked puppy.

“Look, I‘m sorry.” Harry reached out towards the elf but it shied away. “I didn‘t mean to hurt you. The hospital wing isn‘t far, can I…”

“No!” Dobby’s face became a mask of fear. “Dobby cannot be seen. Dobby‘s masters can never know. Dobby isn‘t hurt, Dobby gets far worse than this at home. Dobby’s masters are…” the elf seemed to stiffen for a moment then he rushed over to the wall and began hitting his head on it hard.

“Bad Dobby! Bad Dobby!”

“Wait! Hey, Stop!” Harry was torn between the need to stop it hurting itself and trying to avoid grabbing it again since he’d obviously hurt him. He pulled his robe off, quickly balled it up and (between head bounces) slid it between Dobby and the wall. The poor elf continued on for a couple of hits, apparently not realising he was now cushioned, then dropped to the floor.

“Thank you sir.” The elf’s voice was a little quaky. “Dobby almost spoke ill of his masters.”

“Dobby…” Harry saw a need to tread carefully here. “If, IF remember! Hypothetically I asked who your masters were. Would you have to punish yourself?” The elf quickly nodded.

“If I asked you to write it?” nod.

“If I asked you to act it out like charades?” The elf appeared to think about this, cocking its head to the side. Then he nodded.

“If I asked you to tell me why you want me to leave Hogwarts?” the elf’s head stayed very still. “How much can you tell me without having to punish yourself?”

“Danger. Dobby knows that danger has come to Hogwarts. Death…”

“If I asked you whether your masters were involved?” Dobby tensed like a rod. “Just IF remember, if I asked you that would you have to punish yourself?”

Dobby nodded. Harry smiled, that meant his masters were involved. Otherwise why would he be forbidden to tell anyone?

“And is I asked what form the danger would take?”

But at this Dobby shook his head furiously and put his hands over his ears. The poor elf began rocking backwards and forwards and keening.

“It‘s OK Dobby. You don’t have to tell me.” The rocking stopped and the elf uncurled.

“Harry Potter will leave Hogwarts?”

“No. But I will be careful, very careful.”

“Harry Potter must leave, Harry Potter is in danger.”

“I usually am Dobby.” Harry leaned forward conspiratorially. “That just makes it more fun.”
________________________________________




Please review, especially if you think it's bad. Really, it'll help me improve.

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“Wonder if he‘s cute?” Parvarti wondered quizzically as the second years wandered to the defence against the dark arts classroom. They had the class first period Monday, so would be the first to meet the new teacher. “Dumbledore said he‘s foreign, so I bet he‘s cute.”

“I just wonder if he‘ll be a good teacher.” Hermione hung her head a little. “After a year of… of bad teaching we need to catch up. We‘ll be lucky if we can make it up in time for the OWLs.” Harry could tell she had been about to say Quirrell, but had stopped herself. As far as he could tell none of his friends wanted to think about the events at the end of last year.

“Well, so long as he only has one face, I‘ll be happy.” Harry stuck his hands behind his head and laughed. “Right?” The others stopped for a moment, then grinned with him. “Thought so. Anyway…” Harry was the first to the door and pushed it open. “… after Quirrell we can‘t do much worse can we?”

“Pipsqueak! Told you I‘d see you again!”

“No…” Harry looked across the room at Markus Maximus Michelson “…please no…”

“Take a seat up front my good lad! I can already tell this is going to be one of your favourite classes!” The marauders filed in the front row and the other student moved in behind them. All of them looking a little apprehensively at the booming muscled figure in front of them.

“The name’s Professor Markus Triple-M Michelson. I‘ll be your Defence against the dark arts teacher this year. Thought I‘d take a break from the globe-trotting to pass on some of my knowledge to the next generation!” He swept his hat off and spun it across the room, it landed neatly on top of a suit of armour. “ Oh and by the way the Ms stand for Maximus, Mighty and Magesto but they might as well stand for Muscular, Magical and most of all Masculine!” He laughed and put his fists on his hips. “So, on to the Matriculation!” He grabbed the register off the table and began yelling out names, variously chuckling at the odd names and winking at any girl who answered him quickly. When he got to Potter he said

“Know you‘re here Pipsqueak! Don’t need to even ask!” then went on. Harry dreaded looking backwards but did so anyway. Near the back Draco Malfoy looked at him and mouthed the word pipsqueek then sneered. Harry groaned, he‘d never hear the end of this.

When the register was finished the professor strode up to the front of the class. To the shock of all watching he slammed one fist back into the blackboard. Words jumped off the surface as if they had been jolted into being.

“Duelling!” The professor said and indeed this was the title on the board. “Who here has cast something harsher than jelly-legs at another wizard?”

A few hands went up around the class, including Harry’s. Neville gulped and tried to hold his hand as low as possible, but Padma took it and jerked it up.

“You there!” Markus pointed to Neville. Padma giggled. “What have you used?”

“Full Body Bind sir.” Neville appeared to be wishing he had a hole to crawl into.

“Good! Good solid spell! Incantation, for those who don’t know is Petrificus Totalus. And who did you use it on?”

“McGonagall.”

“Mc…McGonagall?” A nervous titter of laughter ran around the classroom. “Right, OK. Um… Anyone else?” He pointed at Harry, “How bout you pipsqueak?”

“Acerbus cuspis.”

“The pain-spear spell.” The teacher stopped moving and turned back towards Harry. “A curse originating in the time of the inquisition, considered by many to be Dark Magic?”

“Er…”

“And who did you use it on?”

“Quirrell.”

“Right OK.” Michelson shook his head. “Before we dredge up any more assaults against Hogwarts teachers lets start on something else. Who here knows what a shield charm is?” Many of the hands went down (though not of course, Hermione’s) “Right! we’ll start there.”

*

The class let out an hour later. Many of the students had the after-effects of minor jinxes and hexes on them from when their shields hadn’t been good enough or when their opponents had been too good. Professor Michelson seemed to think all of it extremely funny and laughed outrageously at every furiously-dancing, uncontrollably-coughing or unnaturally-warty student before cancelling their affliction and sending them on their way. Half way through the class he had picked Harry to demonstrate some more serious hexes to the class. Harry‘s shield charm wasn‘t nearly good enough and he ended up suffering for every spell that winged his way.

“I hate him! I hate that muscle-head bastard!” Harry ranted as they walked to history of magic. “He knows my name and he keeps calling me pipsqueak! He singles me out! He will pay for this! Right?”

The other marauders kept a safe distance, giggling behind their hands.

“You know Harry, he seems to be a pretty good teacher.” Hermione said. Harry rounded on her. “I mean, some adult wizards can’t do shield charms and he managed to get half the class doing them in just one lesson.”

“He keeps calling me short!” Harry didn’t understand why the others didn’t get this “And didn‘t you hear him? Mighty, Majestic, Mouldering… He loves himself!”

“Well…” Parvarti chipped in “He is cute.” Harry’s face became stony and dark. “And he… winked at me.”

“You‘ll see.” Harry turned and began back towards the history of magic classroom “You‘ll all see! After you meet him a few times you‘ll agree with me about Markus Mary Michelson!”

*

But they didn’t.

Defence Against the Dark Arts quickly became the most looked forward to lesson by the entire school. Every few lessons Markus Michelson would introduce a new combat spell and work with them, pulling them with laughs, belittlement and encouragement, to perfect the spell. From disarming and stunning through to shields and self-defence he taught everything with an identical laugh and identical arrogant attitude. Harry remained sullen and silent in these lessons especially when the inevitable happened and he was called up to help demonstrate a new spell. He had tried to get the marauders riled up to play a prank on Professor Michelson but they had flatly refused. Harry had to content himself with dropping potion on a group off Slytherins that gave them oozing boils. It had been quiet complex, whoever the pus hit when the boils exploded developed them as well.

It was on his way back from heavy detention that he heard someone yell. Harry saw a first year rush past him upstairs and followed him, towards the noise. A group of students were gathered on the third floor. Harry pushed through them without a thought and stopped at the front to see a horrific sight. Painted on the wall in what looked like blood were the words…

Arise those of ancient blood! Cast out the impure from this house of our fathers! Be true to your bloodline! Destroy the enemies of the heir! This is the call to arms!

Harry glanced to his side, lined up next to one another stood a group of Slytherins. Malfoy, Goyle and Flint stood side by side, each wearing identical expressions of Glee.

On the floor in front of the letters crouched poor Victor Kingston, the kid who’d liked the look of Ravenclaw, curled up in fear behind his sunglasses.

Harry moved closer on instinct and put his fingers to the boys neck.

“What are you doing?” A voice behind him hissed but he ignored them.

“He doesn‘t have a pulse.” Harry murmured, trying to move his fingers around for a better feel. “No pulse. Get Madam Pomfrey! Get Dumbledore!”

“Both are here Harry.” Harry looked up to see the Headmaster walk to the edge of the crowd. He stood back gratefully as the school nurse went to work.

“Is he… dead?” An older Ravenclaw at the edge of the circle asked and a whisper of breathless shock swept the crowd.

“No.” Professor Dumbledore said calmly “He appears to have been petrified.”

“Will he recover?” Harry noticed that the Ravenclaw was a prefect, she had probably known Victor.

“Yes Miss Clearwater. I think so, in time.” Tension seemed to go out of the group but the prefect pressed on.

“Professor…” She glanced up at the writing on the wall. “Victor was a muggleborn, do you think that there‘s any danger?”

“I am sure I can trust every student here to act in a way that does not dishonour the good name of this school.”

“Yeah right.” Harry thought and glanced back at Malfoy and the other Slytherins. “Seems a war’s been called. People are already choosing sides.”

*

The first attack happened just the next morning. Hannah Abbot was found with a broken arm at the bottom of the steps leading down to the Hufflepuff common room. Her bag and books strewn haphazardly at the top. She’d been coming up from the cellar early to get breakfast and been pushed back down.

Professor sprout took her to the hospital wing. But no one had seen what happened, not even Hannah, and no matter how much they asked the Professors couldn’t find who had done it.

The next day a group of Slytherins cornered a first year in one of the upper corridors and began hexing him over and over. Only Flitwick happening past had stopped worse happening.

In a matter of weeks it was no longer safe for a muggleborn or half-blood student to be out on their own. Madam Pomfrey was being worked of her feet by the stream of injuries coming into her care.

Then, one morning, Oliver Wood the Gryffindor Quidditch captain was petrified in the prefects bathroom. The teachers had tried to keep a lid on it but the words that had been scrawled on the walls somehow got out.

Mudbloods and blood-traitors cower in fear! The heir of Slytherin returns and the chamber has been opened. Rise up around his standard! Spill the spoilt blood on the ground!

“It‘s getting worse.” Harry said as they walked towards their next class. “I mean just look!” He gestured out the window.

There was a huddle of students scurrying along the wall and slipping in a door. A moment later a group of Slytherins hurried into the courtyard with their with wands out.

“Harry no!” Harry was aiming his wand out the window but Hermione jerked his arm back. “If we start fighting back things will escalate! We have to let the teachers handle it.”

“They can‘t.” Padma said dully as they passed the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom “Not on this scale.” Her sister nodded silently. Her normally cheerful mood dulled.

“Padma‘s right Hermione.” Ron shook his head. “Things are just getting worse and besides, we can‘t afford to lose any more Quidditch players.”

“Is that all you care about!”

“I just meant…”

“Shut up.” Harry snapped back at them irritably. “Quidditch is about as much use as you two bickering when things are going to hell all around us. We‘ve got to do something.”

“But what?” Padma said, shaking her head. “This isn‘t like Quirrell Harry. There‘s no evil genius behind it. Its half the school, trying the kill the other half and we don’t know till too late which is which.”

“With some we got a pretty good idea.” Harry murmured darkly as they passed a group of Slytherins. The Marauders curled around Hermione like a human shield as they passed and only spread back out after they had gone. A second later Harry’s wand vibrated in his pocket. “Damn it!” Harry motioned the others to quiet and the sound of hexing could be heard above them. They broke into a run towards the nearest stair.

*

“Leave him alone!” Ginny’s own voice sounded shrill in her ears. She stepped in front her injured friend and tried to swallow her fear.

“What? Protecting your mudblood boyfriend traitor?” Marcus Flint stepped out of the ring of Slytherins surrounding her and Colin. “Step aside for me. I‘d rather not spill wizard blood, even your families, unless I have to.”

“Mico Harry.” Ginny whispered, holding her wand out in front of her. Hoping he was in range. “Mico Harry.”

“Your boyfriend doesn‘t look up to much.” Flint said stepping closer and eyeing the quivering Gryffindor. “Maybe you want a real man?”

“Mico Ron. Mico Hermione.”

“What’s that?” Flint leant forward to hear. “That supposed to be a hex? Ha! What‘s it do?” Flint laughed and his cohorts around him started laughing too.

“It summons demons!”

As Marcus’ head jerked up a bludgeoning hex struck him in the chest. He was thrown back and his friends drew their wands as the marauders rushed them from the stairwell.

*

Harry was the first to admit that he probably wasn’t destined to be a duellist. His first strike against the seventh year had been lucky and he now found himself shielding for his life in the middle of a war-zone. Other students from other houses had been drawn in or joined in or been pushed in by the crowd and now the corridor was filled with flashing lights and cries of pain.

“You‘re dead Potter. Oh you‘re dead.” Flint advanced on him and Harry ducked behind a statue as the big Slytherins curse smashed into the ground near his feet. A second one smacked into the stone wizard and it began to topple over. Harry scrambled out as it crashed to the floor and jabbed his wand at his assailant.

“Expelliarmus!” The spell struck Flint but his thick, sausage-like fingers were curled tightly around his wand.

“Confringo!” Harry leapt out of the way of the blasting curse and fell badly on his shoulder. He threw his own back in answer and the snake stumbled backwards. Harry jumped to his feet and shot a bludgeoning hex only to have it rebound off a shield and smack him in the chest. Tumbling backwards he landed on his back among the debris. His wand skittered off along the floor. A shadow fell over him and a huge booted foot slammed onto his chest, holding him down.

“Hello Potter.” Flint pointed his wand at Harry’s face. “Now I‘m gona have some fun.”

A moment later Flint was thrown off him as a sweeping wave of light shot through the corridor, forcibly pulling opponents apart.

Harry’s hand darted out and grabbed his wand while he looked for the source of the spell. His eyes found Albus Dumbledore standing at the end of the corridor with several other teachers behind him.

“Is any student here injured or in need of the hospital wing?” His voice was stony as he eyed the assembled students. A few students raised their hands. Dumbledore nodded and turned to speak to the teachers behind him. “Please escort them there.” No one spoke as the wounded were gathered up. Harry saw Markus Michelson handing Ginny her bag with one hand while picking Colin up in his other. As Professor McGonagall walked past him he caught her eyes for a moment, they were cold, harsh and disappointed. When the last of the injured were gone the Headmaster turned back to the remaining students.

“Now can anyone tell me why this happened? Why Hogwarts students saw fit to turn this corridor into a battleground?” He looked over the students and Harry realised that he and Flint were right out in the middle, the two of them surrounded by emptiness. Somehow the ringleaders had been singled out. “Why students who I thought I could trust to act in good faith instead acted like fools?”

No one spoke. No one wanted to draw attention to themselves.

“You will all return to your common rooms now. Tomorrow morning you will all come to the great hall where you will spend your Saturday in silence. You will return the day after that and for many weekends to come until I decide that the peace and quiet of the school has returned. Your parents will also be informed of your disappointing behaviour.” Dumbledore gestured at the children. “Go off now. Not you Harry!” Harry was drawn back by Dumbledore’s voice. Marcus Flint smirked at him with his troll-like smile and slinked off. Harry followed the Headmaster in silence as he turned and walked off through the school. He stopped before a gargoyle on the second floor.

“Sherbet Lemon.” The childish password seemed oddly out of kilter with the situation. They remained silent as they were raised up by the staircase and walked out into the Headmasters office.

Harry glanced around in wonder at the odd silver machines, many moving or making soft sounds, filling tables around the edges of the office. His eyes were drawn to the perch behind the desk where a tired looking red bird sat. Even as Harry watched another of its feathers fell off and twirled towards the floor.

Dumbledore caught it before it hit and slipped it into an inside pocket of his robes. He turned and sat behind the heavy desk. Saying nothing, he regarded the student before him over steepled fingers.

Harry knew that with any other teacher this was the time to be quiet and look guilty, but with Dumbledore he might actually be better off explaining.

“Professor.” He began and licked his dry lips. Dumbledore’s eyes flicked to his. “I heard the sounds of someone being attacked nearby and I went to see whether I could help. When we… I got there Marcus Flint and some other Slytherins had the first years surrounded.” He couldn’t tell what effect this was having on the Headmaster. His expression was inscrutable. “I fired a spell to make them back off and they responded, I never thought that so many other students would be drawn in or that it would snowball like this. I‘m sorry.”

“You cast the first hex?”

“They had been beating up Colin Creevey before we got there.” Harry felt too guilty to lie. “But I threw the first combat spell yes.”

“Several students are injured Harry.” Gods teeth the ragged bird was eyeballing him as well. “And there was some structural damage to the school. Several paintings were damaged and statues broken.”

“I was just trying to help sir. I didn’t want any of that.”

“And with this atmosphere of fear already around the school you have given everyone another reason to hate each other.” Harry felt very small in front of the continued stare. “Worse, you have escalated this problem with your actions. Next time people will be even quicker to draw wands in anger. Next time the hexes will be worse and people could be seriously injured Harry, do you understand that?”

“Yes sir.” Harry thought of Marcus Flint’s smirk. Next time they wouldn’t wait to taunt people.

“Today you chose to fight hatred with anger and violence. That way will always breed further hatred do you understand that?”

“Yes sir.”

“See that you do not repeat this mistake.”

“Yes sir. Thank you.” Harry walked out of the office. All the way to the door he could feel the old mans eyes on his back.

*

Harry walked back slowly to the Gryffindor common room. By chance the route took him back past the battleground. Some attempt had been made to clean up but the place still felt damaged. Great chunks were missing from the stone and the broken paintings had all been taken down. The passage was bare. Harry saw movement at the other end and tensed for a second, then relaxed as he saw red hair and freckles.

“Ginny?”

“Harry.” The little girl moved up the corridor towards him. Stopping just a little way down from him. “I‘m so sorry I got you into trouble. I shouldn‘t have micod for you. Hermione said you could be expelled.”

“If I was expelled every time Hermione said I would be I‘d be some sort o’ world record.” Harry walked up to his newest recruit and ruffled her hair. “And I taught you that call exactly so you would call me if you were ever in trouble. All this…” Harry waved his hand at the damage and shook his head. “Not your fault. But why are you back here? Shouldn‘t you be in the common room.”

“I was… waiting… for you.” Ginny glanced to the left and bit her lip.

“Remind me to teach you to lie convincingly Ginny.” Harry looked into her eyes. There was a surprising amount of fear there. “Why don’t you want to tell me? You don’t have to you know.”

“Lost something.” Ginny’s voice became smaller with each word she said. “A Diary. Must have fallen out in the fight.”

“Your diary‘s missing?” Harry shook his head. “Did you write anything bad in there?”

“Not my diary.”

“Whose? Nicking someone’s diary is all very marauder of you but…”

“I found it in my books before I even got here. Thought maybe it got left there.”

“Who‘s was it?”

“The front said it was Tom Marvolo Riddle‘s.” Ginny was acting almost like when he’d first met her.

“And the bit you‘re not telling me is…” He hated doing this but she was obviously hiding something.

“It was… special.” Ginny seemed to shrink into the ground a little. “It spoke to me.”

“Spoke? It could talk?”

“No, he wrote back when I wrote him things.” Ginny curled up on the floor and hugged her legs up to her chest. “It was blank but it wrote back. He was so nice. I had someone to talk to finally.”

“Someone to talk to?” Harry scratched his head. What did she mean? “You have six brothers don’t you?”

“I can’t talk to them.” Ginny began to sob a little. “They don’t understand. They laugh at me. Tom understood. And now he‘s gone. What if someone else picks him up? What if he tells them the stuff I wrote?” Ginny looked up shocked and scared and suddenly broke down into tears. Harry just stood there, he didn’t know what the hell to do.

“I mess everything up.” Ginny gulped between sobs. “I lost Tom and everyone‘s going to read him! I messed up the sorting! I started a fight and almost got you expelled!”

“Ginny listen to me.” Harry tried grabbing her shoulder but she wouldn’t look at him. With his other hand he cupped her face and brought it up so he could see her eyes. “Tom sounds like a good friend, I‘m sure you can trust him to keep your secrets. I mean, other people must have had the diary before you and Tom never told you any of their secrets right?”

Merlin’s beard, he didn’t know what he was doing. What did he know about comforting people?

“And as for this.” He pointed around the corridor. “All this we can fix. We can fix everything, don’t worry. I‘ll help you.” He was babbling, as if she’d care about the corridor.

“And…” Ginny had stopped crying at least. “You don’t hate me?” Harry shook his head.

“Only when you cry. Gryffindors don’t cry.” He regretted it as soon as he said it, that wasn’t what she needed to hear. As he had often done before Harry asked himself where Hermione was when he needed her. She would have known what to say. He smudged a sleeve against Ginny’s cheeks to get rid of the tears. At least he could do that right.

“Come on. Lets get back to the common room.” He stood up and held out a hand to her. “And as for having a friend to talk to…” He pulled her into a rough hug then let her go. “… what am I a stranger?”

“Harry.” Ginny was looking up at him now. “Why couldn’t I have had you as a brother instead of Ron?”

“Because I‘m not ginger and my skin can take a tan. Why’d you ask?” But Ginny didn’t answer him.

“She’s probably distraught.” Harry thought, putting an arm over her shoulder and walking with her towards Gryffindor tower. “I‘m no good at this sort of thing.”

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