Susan & Harry

A/N: The world of Harry Potter belongs to JKRowling I'm just playing in her sand box and make no money from this.

Rating is mature for future language, violence and mature subjects. This story does not follow the JKR timeline and adventures will be quite different.

Ships: Susan/Harry. Neville/Hermione

Genera: Drama, Romance.

Chapter 1: A Budding Friendship

Year 1

Eleven year old Susan Bones was a very pretty young girl. A petite figure, light blue eyes but with long fiery Copper red hair, a light dusting of freckles and already a developing bust. Although dressed in a conservative white blouse and black skirt, she stood out in any crowd. Orphaned as a baby when Death Eaters attacked her parents, she lived with her Aunt Amelia at Bones Manor. Amelia Bones was a no-nonsense witch that had quickly risen in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement from Auror to her present position as Director. Home life for Susan was mostly carefree but with an edge of caution due to her aunt's position. There was always a protective presence around her and Susan grew to hate the constant limitations that placed on her.

Two months after her eleventh birthday, Aunt Amelia and her current bodyguard, Hestia Jones, made their way to Kings Cross Station for the eleven o'clock departure of the Hogwarts Express.

"Auntie," Susan complained, "you're not sending Hestia along with me! I'll be perfectly safe at Hogwarts."

"Now Susan, we talked about this," Madam Bones reiterated. You won't even know Auror Jones is there, and besides, there are children of Death Eaters that will attend as well. The Bones family is down to just the two of us and I don't want anything to happen to you. You are my last hope to continue the Bones line."

Susan sighed, knowing it was futile to sway her aunt once she had made up her mind. "Well, as long as I don't see her, I suppose I can live with that."

At that moment, a short skinny boy with messy black hair and oversize ragged clothes stepped up to the barrier with a puzzled look on his face.

"Erm, excuse me," he asked hesitantly, How do I get to Platform 9 ¾?"

Susan looked at the boy and smiled. "Just follow me; by the way I'm Susan Bones and this is my Aunt Amelia and escort Hestia Jones. Did they not tell you how to get onto the platform?"

"Hello," the boy responded politely, "my name is Harry Potter and no, the ticket I was given just said the platform number and 11 o'clock. I've asked the ticket agent and a guard, but they just looked at me oddly and laughed. I saw you with a trunk similar to mine and thought I'd take a chance. I see you have an owl too. You are going to Hogwarts, aren't you?"

"Of course," she replied. "So you're the famous Harry Potter, I'm pleased to meet you. That's a beautiful owl you have, I've never seen a Snowy Owl before. What's her or his name?"

"Her name is Hedwig, I got her as a birthday present from Hagrid. What's your owl's name?"

"Oh she's named Ophelia, she's a Long Eared Owl and quite rare," Susan answered.

A smile spread across Harry's face at the openness shown by Susan. He noticed the smile on her aunt's face as well, as she hurried them toward the apparent brick wall between platform 9 and 10. "Erm, it's a brick wall," he stammered, unsure if this was a trick or not.

Amelia answered. "It's a magical illusion Mr. Potter. You just take a bit of a run at the wall and your magic will open it for you. Just follow Susan."

Susan and Amelia knew that Harry Potter would be attending Hogwarts this year and had hoped to meet him. Amelia could understand why Harry had been kept hidden from everyone, but didn't like what that implied. No one in the magical world had seen him since before the day his parents were killed. They were assured by the Chief Warlock, Albus Dumbledore that he was safe, but by the looks of things, safe meant different things to him than to the Bones family. Amelia could see that Mr. Potter was probably not treated well if his clothes were any indication. She'd have to investigate that. The 'Boy-Who-Lived' looked like a common street urchin and that would not do at all!

After they had successfully entered Platform 9 ¾, Harry stood gawking at the bright scarlet steam engine and old style carriages trailing behind. It was still early, just past half ten and the platform was mostly empty.

"Come on Harry," Susan enjoined, urging him back along the train. "We may as well find a seat before the train fills up."

Hestia Jones went on ahead, checking for a safe place and presently beckoned the pair to follow her, much to the annoyance of Susan.

"Honestly Auntie, surely we can find a place by ourselves," she huffed.

"Now Susan, I've told you that Hestia is there to check that you'll be safe. Just deal with it for me, please. With Mr. Potter here as well, I don't want to take any chances. Mr. Potter, you will be careful, won't you? There are elements of our society that might try something, so be alert. I don't want to scare you, but a dear friend of mine has a saying: Constant Vigilance!"

Harry looked at her quizzically. "Really? I was assured that Hogwarts was the safest place."

"Mr. Potter, you are in the magical world now. I don't know how much you know, but the magical world has always had the potential for danger. You of all people should be aware of just how dangerous it can be. Your parents…sorry, they were very good friends of mine."

Harry gave her a hopeful look. "You knew my parents?"

"Yes, Mr. Potter, all of Britain knew of your parents and the price they paid. Lily and James were part of my department until they went into hiding. Now hurry along, you'll want a decent seat on the train."

Susan grasped Harry's hand and pulled him along. The trolleys bumped against each other as they worked their way down the carriages until they saw Hestia wave them aboard near the end of the train. Unloading their trolleys, Harry helped Susan with her trunk and owl cage board the coach and followed with his own and Hedwig's cage. Hestia levitated the trunks down the aisle until they reached a compartment near the front. After their trunks were safely stowed in the overhead luggage racks, Harry settled Hedwig's cage across from him as Susan settled next to him, placing Ophelia's cage next to Hedwig.

"So, Harry," she opened the conversation nervously, "which house do you think you'll be in?"

Harry noticed how closely Susan was sitting to him and flinched a bit. "Erm, I don't know much about the wizarding world really, I was raised by my aunt and uncle and they hated magic. You wouldn't believe the lengths they went to keep the knowledge that I was a wizard from me. They called me a freak, when they weren't…" Harry trailed off, not wanting to reveal the extent of the mistreatment of his guardians towards him.

Susan was horrified. She knew that Harry Potter was hidden but this was something she hadn't expected. She looked at him and could see the fear in his eyes. She'd also noticed him flinch as she sat beside him. Something wasn't right and she was determined to correct whatever had been done to him. A letter to her aunt would start an inquiry that she hoped would provide answers. Harry seemed to be a nice boy and not at all as he was portrayed in the many books written about him. His clothing and manner belied what the books claimed. At the very least he was skittish and the horrid clothes he wore spoke of mistreatment. She only hoped that he wasn't physically abused as well. A scowl passed over her face when she thought that.

Harry was already looking out the window as the crowd started to thicken and the noise picked up. A sea of students of varying ages passed by the window, chatting and laughing, catching up with friends after the summer holidays. He turned away, only to catch Susan with a scowl on her face that quickly disappeared as he faced her. "Something wrong Susan," he inquired.

Guilty at having been caught, she quickly smiled and replied, "No, Harry, it was just a random thought I had. How was your summer?"

Evidently that was the wrong thing to ask as a fleeting look of pain crossed his face. "

"OK I guess, at least I know I'm a wizard now," he replied with a small frown.

As the train filled up, a few students looked in before passing by to look for an empty compartment or to sit with friends that had already found a compartment. Eventually the train had almost reached full status as a shy boy and equally shy young girl asked if there was room and would they mind if they joined them.

Susan recognised the boy at once. "Hi Neville, yes, won't you two join us? There's just enough room if you don't have any owl cages."

"Oh, hello Susan," he greeted her warmly. I haven't seen you since the beginning of summer. This is Hermione Granger," he introduced the shy bushy haired girl. "Who's your friend?"

"This is Harry Potter," she introduced. "Harry, this is Neville Longbottom, and welcome Hermione. Please sit down."

Both Hermione and Neville gasped as Harry was introduced. "I've read about you," Hermione replied. "You're in several books." Then she blushed and stammered; "Sorry, you must hear that all the time."

Harry frowned, but held out his hand. "It's all right Hermione, I'm quite new to the wizarding world; I didn't even know there were books written about me. I'm not even sure why, I mean I'm just Harry."

"Oh," she replied, not quite understanding why he wouldn't know.

Susan understood immediately: Harry wasn't told anything. That would have to change and she would make sure he was told the truth.

The train was ready for departure as the clock struck eleven and the whistle blew. A slight jolt and the train was underway, winding its way through the maze of tracks leading north until finally leaving London behind for the suburbs. The four preteens settled down, getting to know one another, Susan settled comfortably beside a still skittish Harry and Neville seated opposite with Hermione. The owls had been relocated to the enlarged racks above the seats as the train picked up speed, leaving the densely populated city behind. The countryside changed to rolling hills and quaint villages. The weather was a perfect late summer day, the warmth permeating the train setting a relaxing mood in the compartment. All too soon the compartment door opened and a redheaded boy stuck his nose in, immediately spotting Harry.

"Um, all the compartments are full, do you mind if I join you?"

Susan, regarded him coldly. "Mr. Weasley, I know that all the compartments are not full, but this one is. Please find your own."

This startled everyone else as the boy turned a bright red and glared at Susan. "But Harry Potter's in here. I was told to find him and…"

"That's obvious, Ron, well now you've seen him, please leave!"

At that moment, Hestia Jones appeared behind the boy just as he was about to protest. "You heard Miss Susan, Mr. Weasley, there are plenty of other seats you can use. There are even a few unoccupied compartments near the front."

Startled by the appearance of an adult, Ron Weasley hurriedly departed, still glaring at Susan.

"What?" Harry started to ask.

"Sorry, Harry. That was Ron Weasley. He's part of a large family of redheads that have become somewhat of a problem for Aunt Amelia. I'm sorry if I sounded rude, but I can't stomach the crass and rude behavior of most of them. They're purebloods as Neville and I are, but they don't act respectfully. Ron is the worst, but the twins Fred and George are some of the worst pranksters the school has ever seen and his brother Percy is a definite snob with pretensions of superiority that nobody believes. I won't tell you to avoid him or his brothers, but you'll find out for yourself what they are like. The other person to avoid..."

At that moment, the door slammed open and a blond haired boy appeared, leaning against the door jamb. "So it's true, Harry Potter has come to Hogwarts. My father…" but that was as far as he got when Hestia grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and forced him away from the door. Sputtering in indignation, he protested. "When my father hears of this…"

"You'll be well advised to keep your Death Eater father out of this!" Hestia intoned. "Miss Bones is under my protection and the head of the DMLE warned me about you and your little gang. Now move along before I decide I really don't like you and flush garbage like you and your friends from the train."

Glaring, or trying to glare, he left in the company of two husky but dumb looking boys, muttering under his breath. "You'll pay for that insult to the name of Malfoy," he promised.

Hestia heard and fired a stinging hex at him, causing a yelp of pain before he scampered away.

Susan apologized to the others, mentioning that her escort was an Auror sent by her aunt to protect her. "I hope that's the last we'll see of him," she stated fervently. Draco Malfoy is one of the worst pureblood bigots in our world. He relies on his father to push people around that he can't intimidate with his wealth. I wouldn't worry too much about that Harry, as you're much wealthier than him by far. The Potters come from a very long line of purebloods and have accumulated wealth and property that will make you one of the richest wizards in our world when you come of age."

Hermione gaped at that and Neville smiled in understanding. "Harry, the Longbottoms and the Potters have always been friends and allies. I'm just sorry we couldn't meet before now."

Harry opened his mouth, trying and failing to find the words to express his shock at this news. "I-I'm rich?" he squeaked. "B-but I'm just Harry, nobody special. I don't know anything about my family."

So began Harry's introduction to the wizarding world, a world he had no knowledge of until now. Even when Hagrid introduced him to their world, he'd not told Harry very much. When he told the group about Hagrid, Susan was furious.

"Hagrid introduced you to our world? Not Professor McGonagall or any of the other professors?"

"No, he rescued me from a small hut out at sea. We were inundated by letters at home and Uncle Vernon tried to escape them as there must have been a hundred of them eventually, none of which he would show me. Then he took me to Diagon Alley for my school stuff. He did buy me my owl Hedwig though. He didn't say much else except to tell me about Voldemort."

Everyone else shivered at the name, even Hermione who he discovered was muggle born; her parents were dentists.

"Harry is what is called a half-blood; his father, James Potter was a pureblood wizard and his mother was a muggle born witch," Susan told them. As a muggle born, Lily Evans was probably the smartest, most powerful witch at Hogwarts when she graduated. When she and James Potter married, they both joined my aunt's department as Aurors to fight against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

"My mum and dad fought with them," Neville interjected, "but they were…"

"Yes, Neville," Susan stopped him. We're so sorry. How's your Gran?"

Neville brightened. "She's fine, a bit crusty, but she takes good care of me. I have my dad's old wand at least."

"No! Neville, tell me that she hasn't saddled you with a wand not chosen by you! You won't do well with that wand as it hasn't chosen you. I'm surprised that your Gran didn't let you get your own wand!"

"She said it would honour my dad," Neville replied.

"Nonsense, Neville. My aunt would never have allowed me to touch my parents' wands. They just wouldn't work properly and may have even not worked at all. Have you tried your wand yet?"

Neville shook his head. "Gran wouldn't let me, we're not allowed to practice magic outside of school."

"Neville, your dad's wand wouldn't have a tracking charm on it, come on, try it here."

Neville shrugged his shoulders and pulled out his wand. "Um, what should I try?"

"Well, Lumos is the simplest spell, try that," she suggested.

"Lumos," Neville incanted, but a very feeble glow was all that happened. He tried it again with similar results. "Drat, maybe you're right. Let's see what Harry can do."

Harry carefully pulled his wand and carefully spoke "Lumos!" and a very bright light lit up the compartment, almost blinding the group. "Nox," he said and the light faded.

"Wow," Neville, Susan and Hermione gasped together. Harry blinked in surprise: he'd not expected that, although Mr. Ollivander did expect him to be a powerful wizard.

"I've only tried a few spells, but they all worked for me," Hermione replied.

"You cast at home?" Susan asked, "And you didn't get a warning?"

"Um, no, should I have?" Hermione asked.

"Hermione, all new students wands have the trace applied when they buy a wand at Ollivander's, Susan stated.

"But, but I didn't buy my wand at Ollivander's. I got it when we were in France on vacation. I'd got my letter last year, but I was born too late to attend. My birthday is September 19."

"France? Well, that answers that question. You would have a French tracking charm on it, it doesn't apply in the UK. Lucky you. Don't tell anyone else about it though, it could get you in trouble, but it could be very useful, especially for a muggle born like yourself. You were supposed to inform Mr. Ollivander about that and he would have applied the tracking charm. Keep it quiet and it could end up saving your life."

Harry, shook his head but smiled. "Okay, let's see, Hermione," he challenged.

Hermione looked at the poorly repaired glasses he wore and smirking, pointed her wand at him and intoned, "Oculus Repairo" and his glasses snapped to as new condition.

Harry blinked and removing his glasses examined them, admiring the evidently scratch free and repaired optics. "Well done, Hermione!"

Susan was next and cast the Lumos spell. A reasonably bright light lit the compartment but was nowhere near as bright as Harry's.

"So, Neville, it looks like a new wand is required before you try casting any spells. I'd let Madam Longbottom know soon, as well as Professor Dumbledore. He can arrange for you to see Mr. Ollivander," Susan told him.

The rest of the trip passed quietly with the group getting to know one another and quite enjoying the camaraderie. The snack trolley came by and they bought a few things with Harry sampling a bit of everything, never having had wizards treats before. Hermione stuck to non-sugar treats, although there was not much of those to choose from.

As nightfall approached, the train began to slow and an announcement was made that they were approaching Hogsmeade and would detrain in five minutes. Trunks were to be left on the platform and would be retrieved and transferred to their rooms when they were sorted.

"We'd best get changed," Susan reminded them. "Full robes must be worn at school functions except weekends."

Harry and Neville left the compartment while the girls changed and then switched to change themselves.

Susan noticed that Harry at least had decent robes, although his footwear was shabby.

As they left the train, depositing their luggage on the platform, they could hear Hagrid call the first years to him for the ride across the lake. "No more'n four to a boat," he admonished, as the four new friends stepped into a small boat. Ron Weasley tried to join them but was dumped into the lake as the boat departed before he could get his feet in. This brought a quiet chuckle from Susan, missed by the other trio.

Presently the magnificent castle came in sight, inspiring awe in the first year students. Susan, of course, had been here before with her aunt, but never from this point of view. "It's beautiful," Hermione and Harry exclaimed at the same time.

"Breathtaking," Neville agreed.

Ooh's and ah's could be heard from the small group of boats as they made their way across the dark lake. The many turreted castle was brightly lit and was surrounded by dark mountains and forest.

Soon they were asked to duck as the boats entered a cavern hidden behind a veil of ivy, arriving at a dock underneath the castle. As they all embarked, Hagrid led them up to a landing and knocked loudly on an oaken door. The door opened and Hagrid greeted a stern looking witch.

"The first years, Professor McGonagall."

"Thank you Hagrid. Please follow me, children."

McGonagall led them to a large entrance hall and told them to wait for a minute. "You will shortly be led into the Great Hall to be sorted into your houses. They are Gryffindor, Ravenclaw Hufflepuff and Slytherin. Each house has its own glorious history and produced many famous wizards and witches; your house will be like your home while you are here and points will be awarded for your triumphs and deducted for rule breaking. The house with the most points at the end of the year will be awarded the house cup; a great honour."

Presently the door opened and they were led into the Great Hall where four long tables were arranged in two rows with the head table at right angles at the head. Seated at the tables were hundreds of students waiting for the sorting with the professors at the head table. The hall was lit by hundreds of floating candles underneath what appeared to be the night sky.

"It's a charmed ceiling," Susan remarked. "Charmed to appear the same as outside."

Hermione had read that in 'Hogwarts a History' and was still awed at seeing it for the first time. Harry could only gape at the magnificence. Neville had been told, but still couldn't believe the sheer magic that had been required to produce that spectacle. Susan had seen it before, but was still impressed.

"First years will please line up to be sorted," Professor McGonagall commanded.

A tatty old hat was placed on a four legged stool and began a monologue that told the first years what to expect. Harry grinned at the absurdity of an old hat determining where he would be sorted, but was nonetheless impressed; after all, it wasn't everyday that a hat spoke.

Soon the hat began sorting the first years. Hannah Abbot was sorted into Hufflepuff along with Susan Bones. Hannah quickly got into a heated discussion with Susan, wondering where her best friend had been. Terry Boot went to Ravenclaw until finally Hermione Granger's name was called. The hat took a considerable time deciding where to put her and was obviously arguing with her, as Hermione's face took on a formidable scowl. Finally, the hat shouted "Ravenclaw" and Hermione scooted down to the Ravenclaw table. Neville went to Hufflepuff and Draco Malfoy was quickly sorted into Slytherin and joined Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle that had been sorted before him. Then it was suddenly Harry Potter's turn. As his name was called out, whispers filled the hall and as he sat on the stool, a small voice spoke in his head.

"Ah, Mr. Potter, I've been waiting for you. The Headmaster wants me to place you in Gryffindor, but I don't believe that's where you belong. Oh, you would do well in any of the houses but I sense a trait in you that would not suit you in anywhere other than Hufflepuff where a certain witch is hoping you will join her. Well, Mr. Potter? Will it be Hufflepuff, Gryffindor or Slytherin? Ravenclaw would be a good choice as well, as Miss Granger would stimulate you to greater achievements than the other houses. It's really your choice, Mr. Potter. I usually don't give students a choice, but I am most distressed that Albus has tried to influence my decision regarding you."

Harry thought about that for almost a minute, before he quietly whispered "Hufflepuff. I think Susan will be able to help me more than anyone else. Besides, I like her and Neville."

"Hufflepuff," the hat yelled and Harry walked calmly to the Hufflepuff table, much to the annoyance of Headmaster Dumbledore and sadness of Professor McGonagall. One other professor took note of Harry's placement and sneered.

"Hufflepuff," Severus Snape sneered in disgust. "Fitting, I suppose. Dumped in the house of the losers."

Susan was ecstatic as Harry was placed in her house and scooted over to make room for him beside her. The rest of the house was surprised that they had got the famous boy but cheered for him as he found a seat beside Susan with Hannah on her other side.

Ron Weasley was outraged. What was Harry Potter doing sorted into the house of those duffers? He was supposed to be sorted into Gryffindor; Dumbledore had promised his mum. He was supposed to follow Harry, but couldn't reconcile himself to being placed in Hufflepuff but instead found himself sorted into Slytherin! He howled in outrage and refused to sit with the snakes.

"Mr. Weasley," Professor Snape warned. "You will be seated at the table you were sorted into or you will leave Hogwarts and have your wand snapped!"

Ron gulped and reluctantly took a seat as far away from the rest of his new house as possible. One student at his new table grinned and sat down next to him, much to his chagrin.

"Hello Ron, my name is Millicent Bulstrode, welcome to Slytherin. I suspect we will be seeing each other quite frequently," she smirked. Ron grimaced and tried to move away, but found himself at the end of the table with nowhere else to go.

Millicent smiled, perhaps a Weasley in Slytherin would take the pressure off her to join the other dregs of pureblood society. Millie didn't believe in pureblood superiority, much to the disgust of her parents.

Ron's twin brothers smiled at the prospect of Ron being the first Weasley ever being sorted into anywhere other that Gryffindor. Major teasing was in order. Percy Weasley was deeply offended, but as a prefect respected the right of the sorting hat to place his brother there. Their mother would not be well pleased, he thought.

Harry, meanwhile, had settled down next to Susan and was happily chatting with his new friend. "So Susan, Hufflepuff. What can we expect from this house?"

"Harry, this is the house of hard work and loyalty. I would have thought you'd be placed in Gryffindor as were your parents. I'm glad you're here with me though," she grinned. "I'll expect you to study hard, but know I'll be here to help you. I'd like you to meet my best friend Hannah Abbot. Hannah, be nice to Harry!" she admonished.

Hannah blinked at that. "Hello Harry. Susan? What's going on?"

"Later, Hannah," Susan replied.

Harry was happy to be in the same house as the pretty Hufflepuff. Susan had unexpectedly grown on him in the short time he had met her. Neville being in the same house was an added bonus. Too bad Hermione was sorted into a different house, but he suspected that she was smarter and deserved Ravenclaw. He only hoped she would make friends there. In any case, he would keep in touch with her and make sure she was safe. He shuddered to think what would happen if she had been placed in Slytherin.

After a sumptuous meal, in which Harry had more to eat than he'd had in a month at the Dursleys, they were led by a prefect to their new dorm. He'd been introduced to the rest of his classmates and assigned his room. He would be rooming with Neville and three other first years: Justin Finch-Fletchley, Ernie Macmillan and Wayne Hopkins. Besides Susan and Hannah, the only other first year girl was Megan Jones. Harry noted one other strange girl in the common room and was introduced to Nymphadora Tonks (call me Tonks), a seventh year that had spiky pink hair and a sunny smile. Something seemed odd about her, but he couldn't quite figure it out until her hair suddenly turned blue and grew quite a bit longer and straighter. 'How peculiar,' he thought. 'Sort of like mine when Aunt Petunia tried to cut it and found it would always grow back overnight.'

Their head of house turned out to be a short, dumpy flyaway-haired witch named Professor Sprout. She seemed pleasant enough and was genuinely pleased to have him in her house, greeting him warmly. "Mr. Potter, welcome to Hufflepuff. And of course, Miss Bones and Mr. Longbottom. I knew all your parents quite well, such a pity."

Susan and Hannah conversed in their dorm room and Susan told Hannah what she suspected was a case of abuse to Harry. "Aunt Amelia is investigating; I can't believe he's been treated so shabbily. If you'd seen his regular clothes, you'd swear he was a homeless street person. Something's very wrong about Harry's home life!" she told her best friend.

Over the next few days, Susan and Harry studied and attended classes together. Susan made sure that Harry kept up with homework, but she needn't have worried. Harry was a hard working boy, learned at his relatives home when he was forced to do all the chores while his fat cousin loafed around. Both were top of their class and helped their friend Neville. Neville had been taken by Professor Sprout to Ollivander's for a new wand when she found out that his old wand was his father's. On the weekends, Susan and Harry could be found in the library with Hermione and Neville, researching and working on their assigned essay homework. Hermione, it turned out, had found a friend in Terry Boot and he had joined the quartet as well. Terry was almost as driven as Hermione in reading ahead, but Hermione seemed to be extra driven; always with a pile of books at their table, trying to learn as much as she could. If the professors asked for a foot of parchment for an essay, Hermione wrote at least two. Eventually, Susan and Harry took to competing with her, feeling that they were not going to be outdone by the driven girl. This only drove Hermione to work even harder until she finally collapsed one night just before her birthday from exhaustion. Susan and Harry were seriously exhausted as well, trying to keep up, but finally decided to back off and help their friend unwind.

After a visit to Madam Pomfrey, Hermione finally listened to reason and heeded her advice to slow down before she damaged her magical core. The purple bags under Hermione's eyes attested to how hard she had pushed herself.

"Why, Hermione?" Susan questioned the girl. "First year is supposed to be an introduction to the magical world, not a final exam in your NEWT year!"

Hermione had the decency to blush as she realised her friends were right. "I'm a muggleborn, so I thought I had much more to learn than the purebloods."

"That's nonsense, Hermione," Susan told her. "Everyone starts out almost even in first year. Sure we were brought up in the magical world, but what we are taught at home is mostly household spells, you know, cleaning and cooking spells. Harry wasn't even taught that and he's competing with both of us in class. The professors won't care if you write longer essays, in fact they'll probably mark you down for wasting their time on stuff you don't need to know yet. It just makes it harder for them to mark your work, sifting through to find what they really assigned you."

"Oh," she said quietly. "You think so?"

"Of course, Hermione," Harry backed Susan up. The professors have enough to do, marking all the students papers. Reading long essays that aren't necessary just means that they'll skip over what you wrote to find the salient points they wanted to teach you. Your head of house should have told you this by now. Professor Flitwick appreciates hard work as much as anyone, but you're overdoing it. Nobody will thank you if you drain your magical core and wind up in the hospital wing for a month recharging it."

"Or killing yourself," Susan added. "This isn't a competition, at least not to that extent, especially in first year."

Hermione finally realised what her friends were telling her and slowed down, but she still put in extra hours each week, staying on top of her homework. It seems like the drive to do her best was not easily put aside.

While Hermione was easily the best student in first year, Susan and Harry weren't far behind.

When her birthday came, Susan, Harry and Neville arranged a small party for her with a few gifts that Hedwig and Ophelia had brought from a magical catalogue store that Susan had introduced them to.

As the term progressed, closing in on Christmas, Susan had been keeping in close contact with her aunt, informing her of the progress of her and Harry. Amelia, meanwhile had run into a roadblock in her efforts to investigate Harry's home life. Blocked at every turn, Amelia finally discovered who was blocking her. "Albus Dumbledore!" she growled. "What do you have to do with young Mr. Potter's life away from school? What are you hiding and why?" She had dealings with the meddling old goat before and never got any satisfaction to any inquiries she made. There was the obvious question why he employed a former Death Eater as Potions Master. Everyone knew that Snape was a bastard and favored Slytherin, deducting points and assigning detentions to other students for trivial things. "One day," she promised, "he'll step over the line and I'll nail his greasy ass to the door." Her niece Susan had complained to her about the potion professor and his unfair tactics and seeming hatred of any student not in Slytherin; in fact, he'd been extremely hard on Mr. Potter for some reason. She was determined to find out why. As usual, Albus Dumbledore would hear nothing against Snape and she ran into the same brick wall that Albus put up whenever she tried to question him about something he didn't want to discuss. Complaining to Minister Fudge yielded nothing, as he told Amelia that it was none of her business and that Dumbledore was solely in charge of Hogwarts and he had no power to interfere. In any case, Albus had too many titles to challenge, being Chief Warlock among other things.

Amelia ground her teeth in frustration. She knew that something was wrong with Mr. Potter's situation but without being able to investigate, she could do nothing.

That was about to change as Christmas Holidays approached.

The first indication of trouble came as students signed up to stay at Hogwarts or leave for home. Not wanting to return to the Dursleys, Harry was about to sign up to stay at Hogwarts. Susan was beside him as he started to sign his name to stay.

"Harry? Surely you don't want to stay here for Christmas? Aunt Amelia has asked me to invite you to visit Bones Manor. What about your relatives? Are they not expecting you to return for the holidays?"

"Erm, well, I'd just as soon not go back to them if I don't have to," he mumbled. "Ever," he whispered.

Susan was shocked. She knew that Harry lived a less than perfect life, but now she was getting the feeling it was much worse than she suspected.

Albus Dumbledore was expecting Harry to return to the Dursleys, although staying at Hogwarts would be good as well. He could more closely supervise the boy if he stayed. Sorted into Hufflepuff was proving a troublesome problem as he had made friends with Miss Bones and Mr. Longbottom, both children he had planned to isolate Harry from. Miss Bones, for obvious reasons of her guardian Amelia Bones. Plus, she was well guarded by the Auror Hestia Jones. Mr. Longbottom was viewed as a weak wizard, certainly not suitable to befriend Harry. Neville had surprised him though, and not in a good way. He not only was able to keep up in class but was surprisingly strong. He knew, of course, of the Longbottom/Potter alliance from years past, but was counting on it not forming between those two. Ron Weasley being sorted into Slytherin was also most troubling. He'd already received two howlers from Molly, but the Sorting Hat was adamant that that's where he properly belonged.

In any case, he'd see to it that Harry stayed in the castle over the holidays where he could control a bit of information that he had let Hagrid slip. Yes, a test of the young wizard's mettle would do nicely.

When he looked at the sign-up sheet for those students staying, the absence of Harry's name was a bit of a shock. 'So Mr. Potter is going home for Christmas', he smiled until he realised there was also another alternative. 'No, I can't allow that. He must not go to the Bones place!' he fumed.

Harry had accepted Susan's invitation to visit over Christmas and Susan had sent Ophelia to her aunt with the news. Amelia had been overjoyed to host Harry and had sent an owl to Hestia, warning of the possibility that Albus might try to interfere.

Hestia had taken her responsibility to protect Susan and Harry seriously and had already intercepted several attempts by the Malfoy heir and Ron Weasley to cause trouble. Mr. Weasley had jealousy issues, but Mr. Malfoy was a more serious threat. Both were children, however and were quietly dealt with without arousing suspicion. Dumbledore was a whole different problem. The cagy old bastard had cornered Harry and tried to force him to stay at school but Harry, being a bit brighter than he expected, denied his attempt to dictate where he went for the holiday.

"Mr. Potter, I must insist that you stay here or return to the Dursleys."

"Headmaster, you may insist, but this is my life and Madam Bones has invited me to spend Christmas at Bones Manor, and I've accepted."

"Nevertheless as your magical guardian, I'm denying that option," Albus bluffed.

Harry fumed at the blatant attempt to control him. "Indeed, Headmaster. Then I will be withdrawing from this prison you call a school."

"I'm afraid that is not an option, Mr. Potter," the headmaster smiled. "When you accepted the invitation to attend, you were placed in my care and I will not allow you to withdraw."

"So, one prison exchanged for another. You will find that I will no longer attend classes or serve any detentions you may impose. This is my life, Headmaster and I will no longer be dictated to!"

Albus groaned in frustration. He knew that he had no power to enforce Harry to stay at school, but he had bet that the years at Privet Drive would have made the boy timid and pliable.

At that moment, Professor Sprout stepped up, having heard the rancor that had been escalating for the past few minutes. "Headmaster! Surely you would not try to deny young Mr. Potter the opportunity to enjoy himself over the holidays? There is no rule that restricts a student where he or she may spend holidays. Surely the Board of Governors would overrule…"

Hestia Jones took that opportunity to insert herself into the growing argument. She knew her boss would be livid when she found out.

"Albus Dumbledore! Just what are you playing at?" she interjected angrily. "Mr. Potter has a right to enjoy his life without interference. You tread a dangerous path, Headmaster. Charges could be brought against you if you persist."

Albus frowned and the usually present twinkle in his eyes disappeared. "Mr. Potter is not safe anywhere other than Hogwarts or at his relatives place. I'm afraid I cannot allow…"

"Poppycock, Bones Manor is one of the most protected places in our world," Hestia proclaimed, overriding his objections. "Madam Bones, as the Director of the DMLE, is quite able to provide the necessary protection for Mr. Potter."

'Damn meddling women,' he thought, but he didn't see any way to resolve this in his favour. "Very well, you may travel to Bones Manor, but you are not to venture anywhere else," he ground out.

"Again you are trying to control my life, Headmaster," Harry's voice rose in agitation. "Just why is that? What gives you the right to determine where I go or what I do outside of school?"

Albus pretended not to hear that, walking away angrily, knowing he'd been bested yet again.

"I demand an answer, Headmaster!" Harry shouted at the retreating form of the old man, but Albus had already disappeared.

Waves of magic had started to manifest itself around Harry until a familiar hand sought his and squeezed in a comforting manor.

"Harry," Susan soothed, "calm down; I heard, but I'm sure Auntie will be able to sort this out."

Hestia and Pomona were worried when Harry had started to manifest his magic. Both smiled in relief when Susan had immediately calmed him. Evidently the pair had formed a close friendship.

"How is the Headmaster my magical guardian, Susan? I don't trust him and now I don't even like him!"

Susan was incensed that the Headmaster would try something like that. He had no right to demand that Harry remain at school. There was definitely something fishy going on. "Come on Harry, we can ask Aunt Amelia when we get home. Everyone has a magical guardian until they become of age or are emancipated. Of age means seventeen in the magical age, but in your case, it might be younger since you're the last surviving member of the Potter family. We'll ask, but I'm sure that you can take up your head of House Potter soon."

Two days later, they boarded the train back to Kings Cross. Hermione was going on a ski vacation with her parents to the French Alps, Neville was staying with his grand-mum and Hannah was also going home but would visit Susan and Harry between Christmas and New Year.