(A/N: This chapter will answer a few questions some of you have been asking. I'll also say that it's one of my favorites (along with ch 15) in the whole story as we see some history and Harry using his intelligence.)
Chapter 6 - Dark Histories
Saturday morning, Harry had breakfast with Susan at the Gryffindor table. He noticed that Snape was at his usual place, glowering at everyone in the room. He wasn't surprised as he hadn't expected the man's injuries to be all that bad. He also didn't expect Snape to connect his accident with his mistreatment of Harry. Perhaps if it happened a few more times the man might start to suspect.
Knowing they'd be spending most of the day together after lunch, Harry squeezed Susan's hand and let her go, each planning on doing a few things on their own until lunch. For Harry, that was some Runes homework and some time reading Sirius's journal.
Sitting in the common room, Harry looked up once from his work to see Ginny walking by very slowly and giving him a contemplative look. It wasn't hard for him to guess she was thinking about whether to talk to him about whatever was bothering her, but she didn't stop.
Lunch came and Harry sat with Susan and her friends. He was pleased that not only did his friends seem to understand as he split his time between the two groups, when the groups weren't together in their Defense Study Group, but that he and Susan seemed to be back to their normal friendship. The awkwardness after last night's disagreement seemed to be gone, or at least ignored by both of them.
Harry knocked on his head of house's door at the appointed time while holding Susan's hand.
"Come in, Mr Potter," the woman said when she answered. "Miss Bones, I didn't expect to see you here, but I suppose I'm not surprised either."
"Thank you for doing this Professor," he told her as they walked in. Spying his other "helper", Harry nodded to him. "Good afternoon, Professor Flitwick, and thank you for coming."
"Not a problem, Mr Potter. I do appreciate you being willing to assuage my curiosity. Good afternoon, Miss Bones," the diminutive professor greeted them. Susan returned the greeting to both professors.
Harry led Susan to the table where Professor Flitwick sat, a table that held a large black stone bowl that he recognized as Dumbledore's, though he decided he probably shouldn't say the snarky comment on it that he was thinking lest he be disrespectful. He was going to have a hard enough time avoiding that for most of the afternoon.
"I'm almost not sure where to start, but I suppose the beginning is the best place," Harry told them before giving his head of house a very serious look. "Professor, I do hope you can refrain from thinking badly of me for a few of these, and I really don't want to get anyone else in trouble. Most of the problems couldn't have been avoided anyway."
McGonagall looked at him for a moment. "Mr Potter, let's say that what's happened in past years are history and will be left alone."
"Thank you, Professor," Harry said with relief, "because I'm afraid for Hermione on this first one."
McGonagall gave him very slight smile. "Don't worry, Mr Potter, Miss Granger is not in trouble for lying to me if you plan to show the memory I think you will. If so, I would have punished her at the time."
He couldn't help his shocked look.
"Really, Mr Potter." McGonagall gave him a look as if he should have known better. "Miss Granger couldn't lie successfully to save her life, at least not to me when she was a first year. I knew her story about going after the troll by herself wasn't the real story. However, I will admit to being curious as to what really happened."
Harry shook his head in chagrin as he put a small memory of Ron and his cutting comment and then a larger memory of the Troll incident in the Pensieve. McGonagall tapped a rune on the Pensieve so the memories would be projected above the bowl for all to watch.
At the end, McGonagall frowned. "I had suspected something like that; at least Mr Weasley has made some progress in his social graces."
"You really jumped on the back of a troll when you were eleven?" Susan asked incredulously. "No wonder you're in Gryffindor, although it was a very Hufflepuff thing to stick up for your friend like that."
"We value friendship too, just as you were brave to join an illegal group last year," he told her with a smile, which was answered with one of her bright smiles.
Harry changed out the memories for three later in the year. A very short scene to show Norbert the baby dragon in Hagrid's hut, followed by their taking the baby dragon to give to Charlie, and then his detention in the forest with Hagrid when Harry saw the shade of Voldemort drinking blood from the unicorn.
When that ended, he looked at McGonagall and saw she was pale. "Professor, did you know what Hagrid was going to do?"
"No, Mr Potter, I swear I didn't learn of that until the next day and I was most upset with him for taking all of you into the forest at night. However," she gave him a stern look, "why didn't you tell me the truth about why you were out that night I caught you out of the Tower, that you were trying to help Hagrid?"
When Harry didn't say anything immediately, Susan laughed. "Harry, you really are a Hufflepuff at heart." She looked at the professor. "He was trying to keep Hagrid out of trouble."
"Still," McGonagall insisted.
Harry shrugged and changed the memories, putting a single memory in bowl. It showed his final adventure for the year, ending when he fell unconscious as Quirrell turned to ash.
Flitwick was the first to speak afterward that one. "I'm impressed how the three of you managed to get past the traps, which is point in my favor. I argued with the Headmaster that the traps were too simple."
"As did I," McGonagall added while Harry changed that memory for one more.
By the time that one finished, Susan was holding Harry very tightly and was practically in his lap. Yet she also didn't look away. "What in the bloody hell were you thinking going down there when you knew there was a basilisk?" she whispered harshly, heard by all.
"My best friend's sister was going to die," he explained as he changed memories, breaking this one up into several scenes to compress time, "and I was about to lose someone in the closest thing I had to a family, even if I did barely know her."
"Minerva, a moment please," Flitwick said before the next one started. "I think a small break might be in order after that and I'd like mine to come from your brown bottle."
McGonagall only nodded and stood to return a moment later with a tray. She poured tea for herself and the students and gave a shot glass of amber liquid to the other professor, who downed it in one gulp.
This time they watched a younger Harry watch his best friend get dragged to the Whomping Willow, the tell-all scene inside the shrieking shack, Lupin's transformation and Pettigrew escaping, the fight with the Dementors, Dumbledore telling them to go back three hours, Harry saving himself and his godfather, and Fudge's denial of Black's innocence.
Flitwick summoned the brown bottle from the nearby table and refilled his shot glass, but he didn't drink it. Instead, he turned it slowly and looked at it. Everyone watched him, sensing he wanted to say something while the rest of them weren't sure what to say.
"Minerva," Flitwick said softly, "who on the staff knew about Miss Granger having a Time Turner?"
The woman looked uncomfortable. "Technically, only Albus and I, although I believe Professor Vector figured it out."
"She would have," he said with a nod, "as I probably would have, had I seen her schedule. That was very dangerous, unnecessary, and…" He took a deep breath. "I should stop there. I'm starting to see a pattern that I don't like. I hope it is a merely a string of very bad luck."
"What?" she asked.
"I believe it best to wait until the end and we have more data. Mr Potter?" Flitwick gestured towards the bowl before he took a sip of his drink.
Harry retrieved the next set of memories and was secretly glad Flitwick was looking at the whole picture, because it was obvious McGonagall hadn't ever considered all of this. He wondered if the Charms professor's idea matched his own.
For Susan's sake, he showed all the memories, as short as they were, of Cedric. He also showed the help Moody gave him for the Triwizard Tournament. He ended this year with the memories from just before he and Cedric fought the giant spider at the end of the third task through the confession of Barty Crouch Jr, and then the denial by Fudge. He was surprised no one immediately commented on the resurrection of Voldemort; then again, it was horrific and spoke for itself.
"Did either of you know Mad-Eye very well before that year?" Harry asked the two adults as he retrieved his memories.
"Not really," Flitwick answered and looked at his colleague.
"I knew him but not well enough to have known we had an imposter," McGonagall told them. "We were good acquaintances at best. I have started to get to know him better over the last year."
Flitwick shook his head. "That is essentially two imposters he's had as teachers. I'd go check Professor Wilkins right now if I didn't already know it was him."
"How can you be sure?" Harry asked, before he hurriedly added, "No offense meant, but as you say, it's happened twice in the last five years."
The man chuckled. "I'm not offended at all, Mr Potter, for it is a good question. What you can't know is that I'm just old enough and Professor Wilkins is just young enough that I taught him here and we've had a few discussions since he started teaching. The things shared and the way they were shared leave me no doubt that is the real Preston Wilkins."
Harry shared his encounter with the Dementors in Little Whinging, then the trial afterward.
"I don't understand why he treated you like that?" Susan said with great puzzlement. "It was like the Headmaster hardly knew you."
"You'll see," Harry said as he pulled out several of his encounters with Umbridge.
"Stop!" Flitwick cried during one of them. After McGonagall froze the playback, he leaned closer to look more carefully. "Why didn't I hear about her making you use a Blood Quill in detention? Technically, that's not illegal, but it is very wrong and against school policy."
Harry hung his head. "Because I was being an idiot."
"Mr Potter," McGonagall fixed him with a stern look. "When I told you to keep your head down, I didn't mean for you to go through things … like this!" She gestured at the frozen image.
"I'm sorry," he told her. "Like I said, I was being an idiot. I thought it was my private war, me against her. I also know I haven't given you a lot of chances to help me before, but most of the time it was difficult to get your help … we just didn't have the time. So by last year, it was mostly a habit to do things ourselves … a habit I'm trying to break this year."
"Nevertheless!" She gestured at the image of the Blood Quill again.
He looked right at her. "How was I to know that was wrong? I had no idea what a Blood Quill was until the end of the year."
"She was torturing you, Mr Potter," Flitwick said slowly, "that is always wrong."
"I agree, Professor, but she was also a senior Ministry official, and therefore obviously had the Ministry's backing," he countered.
"A Ministry that is very fallible, as you've shown us several times through your memories." Flitwick signed. "While you've made a few unwise moves, Mr Potter, I can tell you're not stupid. I can also tell after only a week that you're doing even better in your studies this year than previously."
"I am taking them more seriously," he admitted, not commenting on the rest.
Flitwick drank half of his shot glass and then gestured at his colleague. "Please continue."
McGonagall restarted the playback. She also snorted and looked like she wanted to laugh at the end. "Now I know why Delores dislikes the centaurs so much."
"Beyond her previous dislike," Flitwick added with a grin.
A large memory was put in next. They all watched from the time Harry and his friends found the orb in the Hall of Prophecies to the time Harry left Dumbledore's office.
"I would be so angry at him for telling me a prophecy like that after I just lost my godfather," Susan said with some anger in her voice.
"Oh, I was, but I've gotten over it because I've decided the prophecy is a hoax," Harry explained, as he changed the memory for another. "One last one and it won't take long."
The adults shook their heads and Flitwick gulped the last of his drink.
Harry showed them the fight that lead to his leaving the Dursleys. "It would have been funny how many misunderstanding there were that night had that not been happening to me," he told them as he put that memory back into his mind.
McGonagall huffed. "I told him you shouldn't be left there. Were they always like that?"
"They rarely got physical. They … they had their ways of showing me that they hated magic and hated me," he admitted. He still didn't like to talk of the Dursleys to those in the Magical World, but felt this group should see why he ran away for the summer. "I won't be going back…"
"I should think not!" McGonagall exclaimed.
"Probably can't anyway, as I think they're in prison," Harry said with a grin.
Flitwick drummed his finger tips on the table for a moment. "There's a very disturbing trend and I think the prophecy is the key to understanding the Headmaster's behavior. Even if you don't believe the prophecy, Mr Potter, Albus Dumbledore does and his actions show he's been testing you, even training you in his own unusual way."
"He's never shown me a single spell," Harry said.
"I didn't say he had a good training plan," the man told him. "I…" he paused for a moment. "I don't know how much I can help you because the Headmaster has so much political power as well as magical power, but I'll help you as I can, Mr Potter. Even if you don't believe in the prophecy, I feel sure you'll be dragged into the fight as Dumbledore and Voldemort each appear to believe."
"I too will help you, Mr Potter," McGonagall told him. "I will also say that I think your current plan of avoidance is about the best you can do at this time."
"Thank you, Professors, both of you," Harry told them sincerely.
"This has been most informative, but it is time for dinner. Run along, we'll be down soon," McGonagall told them.
After another round of thanks, Harry and Susan left.
"I can hardly you believe you did half of that and lived, even after seeing the memories of the events." Susan shook her head. "I know you can't share those memories with the others in my house, but I do wish they could know about Cedric. It was obvious you two were friends."
Harry considered that for a moment. This was probably crazy, but he was a Gryffindor as she'd pointed out several times today. "What if I just told some of those stories about Cedric, as a tribute to him?"
Her eyes lit. "Would you? I think they'd appreciate it as much as I did, especially those who knew him."
"As long as Smith and any others like him are reasonable," Harry told her.
"After dinner? Please?" She even batted her eyes at him.
She was so sweet in asking he couldn't deny her. "For you."
Susan threw her arms around his neck and kissed him quickly. "Thank you." Letting him go, she grabbed his hand and practically dragged him to the Great Hall.
As they passed his Gryffindor friends on the way in, Harry threw a hasty, "Sorry, sitting at the other table, I'll explain later," over his shoulder. He saw Neville give him an amused laugh while Ron shook his head sadly.
She sat them near the end of the table near the head table. A few minutes later, Susan stood and walked around the table to Hannah, who was sitting across from her and whispered in her ear. Hannah gave her a surprised look and an eager nod before turning to Lilith Moon and whispering to her. While that was spreading down the other side of the table, Susan came back and behind Harry to his neighbor at the table, Megan Jones, and whispered in her ear, taking a bit longer than with Hannah. Susan then walked down the table as if to talk to someone else.
Megan whispered to her neighbor before she turned back to Harry. "Have you done all of your Runes homework for Tuesday? There's a lot of reading."
He saw Susan stop and lean down and talk to Zach Smith and could imagine what that was about. "Mostly, we have enough breaks during the day this year that I've finished the reading and most of the homework. I'll probably finish tomorrow. How about you?"
"The reading, yes. I'm about half-way through the homework. I don't have any idea for her extra homework, no thanks to you," she teased. "Couldn't you have waited and asked that question on your own?"
He chuckled at her teasing. "It just sort of came up."
"Have you found anything yet?"
Harry swallowed and noticed that Susan was talking to a seventh year boy, a Prefect if he remembered correctly. "Not directly, but I've found a few interesting things this morning that might apply. I'm still trying to work through it and it's been a little hard." He grinned at her. "Usually I have Hermione to do my hard thinking for me."
Megan laughed as did Hannah and Lilith.
He watched Susan return and take her seat. "You look very pleased right now."
"I am," she said simply and with a smile to tease him.
By the end of the meal, Harry had had a time of a lot of fun and joking. However, when it was over, the entire house seemed to rise together, causing him to scramble up. They all left with him and Susan at the end. Trying to think back, he had vague memories of the Hufflepuffs doing this mass flock formation before, but it was very rare.
Eventually, he went down the corridor towards the kitchens, but turned at the last minute down another corridor. This one was lined with large barrels stood on their side; they were almost as tall as he was. A little more than halfway down, one of the barrels opened like a door with everyone walking in. It was an interesting door, he thought, as he dipped his head only a little as he entered.
Inside, the Hufflepuff common room looked a little larger than the Griffindor's common room. Harry guessed that might have been because they were on the ground floor instead of in a tower, which made the larger room easier. As he watched people taking seats, he realized that it might also be because the whole house spent more time here too.
Susan led him over to a wall that might have been called a shrine. It presently held five "cubbies" that were about two feet by two feet and a foot deep. Inside each was a picture, a plaque, and a few items. Most of them looked old, but the newest one caught his attention and he realized it really was a shrine. He couldn't help but step closer and look. The plaque told a short story about Cedric being killed by a Death Eater at the end of the Triwizard Tournament. He was impressed they had written that. There was also a miniature Triwizard Cup about four inches tall.
Turning, he saw Susan sitting next to him and she held a glass of water.
"For you, if you need it," she told him.
"Thank you," he said quietly and turned the rest of the way around to see that he had the attention of the entire house. A bit of fear shot through him at all the people looking at him, but he knew he couldn't back out now.
"Err, good evening. I was, uh, talking to Susan earlier today and shared a few things about Cedric Diggory," he paused as he remembered her words to him, "my friend, and she thought you might like to hear them."
He glanced backward for a moment. "I like what you did for him; he deserves that because he was a really great guy and shouldn't be forgotten.
"I first met him in my third year, three years ago, playing Quidditch. For those of you here then, you'll remember that we had Dementors surrounding the school. He was a Seeker like me and we had a really good game. He was a good flyer. Towards the end, we both saw the Golden Snitch and went after it. Unfortunately, that was also about the time the Dementors swarmed the field. They affected me but Cedric managed to focus on the Snitch more and he caught it. In a great display of sportsmanship, once he realized that the Dementors had prevented me from playing, he didn't want credit for the catching the Snitch, but he wanted to redo the game." Harry smiled. "Quidditch can make so many people extremely competitive and practically crazy, but not Cedric; he actually thought of me."
Harry saw a number of heads nodding.
"Most of our time together came the next year though. I met his dad and walked with them both to get to the area Portkey point to get to the Quidditch World Cup. Then came the ... the disaster that was the Triwizard Tournament.
"I could tell Cedric was disappointed in me when we met after the names were picked, but he didn't say anything bad about me. I don't know whether he believed my denials about not putting my name in or not, but he didn't say anything bad either. As most of you know, we found out later that an imposter for Professor Moody had put my name in to force me into the Tournament.
"Cedric always took the high road and acted like a gentleman. I can't think of a better example than when Draco Malfoy made those badges denouncing me; I never saw Cedric wearing one."
Harry saw a number of people look down guiltily and he only now realized how they might have taken that. "I want everyone to know that if you wore one of those badges, I don't hold it against you and I'm not upset." He almost added 'not any more', but managed to stop himself. "From what you knew, you had no reason to believe in me and it did look like I was stealing Cedric's special place." He looked over at Susan and saw her smiling and mouthing, "Thank you." He nodded and took the glass from her for a sip before giving it back.
"For the first task," he hurried on to get away from the uncomfortable topic, "I found out a few days early that we were supposed to be facing dragons." He noticed a number of hard looks at that. "I also found out that the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang groups both already knew, and that," he made air quotes, "cheating - is part of the Tournament. I didn't want Cedric facing a dragon unprepared, so I pulled him aside and told him." Most of the hard looks relaxed.
"True to his good sportsmanship nature, he actually did what many of you were thinking just now, that I was cheating. However, I pointed out that the other two schools already knew and that I didn't want him to get hurt. I'm not totally sure, but I think that's when our friendship became more than just as acquaintances.
"For the second task, Cedric returned the favor. He didn't tell me the solution of the golden egg, but he gave me a big enough clue that I was able to eventually solve it, and I really did need his help. I was very appreciative.
"I also remember when we found out about the third task and how they had planted a maze of shrubs on the Quidditch pitch." Harry ginned in memory. "He was just as horrified as I was that they'd ruined the pitch." The group chuckled. "He was also as horrified as I was that Hagrid, as well meaning as he is, was supplying some creatures for the maze." That generated smiles and someone gave a short hysterical laugh.
"Then came the true test of Cedric and I want you to know that he stood proud." He stopped and took the glass from Susan and took a deep gulp before handing hit back, encouraged by the look she was giving him.
"We met twice in the maze. The first time I heard screaming and found Cedric fighting Krum. It didn't take long to realize that something was wrong with Krum. So I helped Cedric and stunned Krum. We later found out he'd been Imperioused by the fake Moody to remove the rest of the contestants to force me to win.
"The second time was as we neared the end of the maze. We could both see the Cup at the end and started racing for it. I was further away and at a different angle. My different position also allowed me to see that he was heading right for a large Acromantula." There were gasps from all over the room.
"I shouted at him to get his attention and he managed to avoid the giant spider. By fighting together, the two of us chased it off, although I hurt my ankle while doing so. That put us side by side at the Cup."
Harry smiled as he thought back. "It's really kind of funny now, but we argued back and forth, trying to get the other to take the Cup and win." He saw several people smiling at that. "In the end, we decided to take the Cup together so it would be a Hogwarts win." He shook his head. "I now wished I had been more selfish and taken it by myself.
"The Cup was a Portkey that took us to a graveyard. We really didn't know what was going on. It didn't take long for a man to find us and we heard a voice to say, 'Kill the spare'. Before either of us fully realized what was happening, Peter Pettigrew cast the killing curse, and Cedrig Diggory was dead. It was all too quick – he never had a chance.
Harry shook his head at the injustice of it and could tell others felt the same way. "You might think that was the end, but it wasn't.
"I was forced into a ritual that gave Voldemort a body again and then we duelled to show his followers that he was better in every way. During the fight and through magic that I only barely understand, our wands connected and showed the spells he had cast in reverse order. To my utter amazement, Voldemort's wand created shades of people he'd killed, starting with Cedric plus a few others, including my parents."
Harry saw many incredulous looks. "Cedric joined in with the other shades to help me. They gave me time to escape. I knew I had to bring his body back with me … I couldn't leave what was left of my friend there. So even after he was dead, Cedric still helped me.
"Cedric Diggory was my friend. I wished I could have had more time with him, but it was not to be. To me, Cedric is the finest example I know of what it means to be a proper English Wizard and a Hufflepuff." He heard a sniffle and then a quiet sob from somewhere.
"I wished we all had glasses for a toast, but we don't, so let's have a moment of silence instead." Harry took a few deep breaths thinking of the loss of his friend. It was a shame because he really would have liked to have known him better. "To Cedric!" he shouted.
"To Cedric!" they returned so loudly he took a half step backward in surprise.
Not sure what to do now, he looked at Susan and was surprised to see her wet eyes and a look of admiration.
"Thank you, Mr Potter." He whipped around to see Professor Sprout looking at him with a tear streaking down one cheek; he hadn't known she was in the room. "Fifty points to Gryffindor for your loyalty and willingness to share. You are always welcome in this common room during visiting hours as long as a Hufflepuff escorts you in." She hugged him briefly before turning away.
Harry was in a slight shock, never having been hugged by a professor before. In fact, he'd never even seen a professor do that before.
Before he knew what was happening, Hannah was the first to come up to him giving him a hug, thanking him. She was replaced by another and another from a long line. Every student from the third year and up, those who actually knew Cedric thanked him. A few of the first and second years did too.
He was surprised that even Zach Smith, a thorn in his side from the DA last year, was appreciative and sincere as he shook Harry's hand. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Cho Chang throwing herself at him, arms around his neck and her sobbing, "Thank you, thank you." He patted her on the back and threw a glance at Susan, who fortunately didn't look upset. Harry supposed one of the seventh years had brought Cho in.
At the end, Susan handed the glass of water to someone and grabbed Harry's hand to pull him out of the common room. She swiftly led him to one of the secret passages not far away and pulled him inside.
Harry started to ask her what the hurry was when she pushed him against the wall and pressed her body against him as she grabbed his head and kissed him hard. He put his arms around her and did his best to respond, or more accurately survive the passionate witch.
When she finally pulled back, Harry was surprised her eyes weren't glowing in power. That made him realized he'd forgotten about his own power in the excitement and quickly reined that in, grateful that he only felt the barest of breezes before he stopped it.
"Thank you," he croaked, "but what was that for?"
Susan leaned forward and placed light kisses on the side of his face and neck. "For being a wonderful boyfriend. Don't expect that every time though," she said with a smirk.
"I won't, but feel free to do that any time you like," he told her, still a little breathless.
"I may," she said before she kissed him more normally again. "Especially since you now have a very rare privilege. You're an honorary Hufflepuff, Harry. It's been decades since anyone not in our house to be given unlimited access to the common room. Even brothers and sisters of Hufflepuffs don't get that privilege. That will make it easier for us to spend time together."
"I, uh, really? Wow, thanks! Yeah, that'll be good." He hoped that made sense because he was really surprised.
She giggled and then kissed him again. "You're making this so hard. I better leave before I do something I shouldn't." She grabbed his head and kissed him hard one more time before she left abruptly.
Harry had to continue leaning against the wall for another minute or so before he felt he could be mostly normal and started to walk back to the Gryffindor Tower. He wasn't sure what he'd done to make her that excited, but whatever it was, he really wanted to do that again.
— — —
Susan walked back into the common room to see the entire house still there and talking in groups. Almost everyone was still talking about Harry and what he'd said. Unlike in fourth year, all the things said now were good.
Hannah walked up to her with a smirk on her face. "Did you leave his virtue intact?"
Susan rolled her eyes but took her friend's arm and pulled her to the side. "Yes, but it was a close thing."
"Do I need to warn him not to be such a Hufflepuff?" Hannah said with a laugh.
"Well, that did start it, but…" Susan paused and looked to make sure no one was nearby and lowered her voice anyway. "I really felt his power tonight." At Hannah's delighted look, Susan hit her friend on the arm. "Get your mind out of the gutter. I meant that when I was with him, it was like his magic swirled around us or something. I know his hands were on my back, but it was like his magic ran all over me, caressing me, including swirling around my legs. I need to go take a cold shower now."
Hannah slapped her hand over her mouthed and laughed. "You're making that up."
Susan just smiled at her friend and left for their dorm room. She really wanted to know how to get him to do that to her again.
— — —
Harry plopped down into a chair in the Gryffindor common room. He wasn't there long before all of his friends were crowded around him.
"What's wrong, mate?" Neville asked. "You look exhausted and your hair's messier than normal, which is saying something," he said with a grin.
"I, uh, I just talked to all the Hufflepuffs. I gave a tribute to Cedric and guess what? They made me an honorary Hufflepuff," he told them, barely believing it himself.
"What does that mean?" Hermione asked and the rest nodded, wanting to know too.
"It means that I can visit their common room anytime I want as long as it's not past curfew," he replied.
"I've never heard of that," Hermione said with a frown.
"Not even in Hogwarts: A History?" Ron asked in a snarky rude tease.
She glared at him.
"Congratulations, Harry," Ginny told him hurriedly, obviously trying to stop a fight before it started.
"Thanks!" he told her before turning to his other friend. "Hermione, I think I'd like to rest. Wake me when it's time for our patrol, all right?" With her agreement, Harry made himself comfortable and closed his eyes as his friends walked away. He couldn't help but think of the strawberry-blonde girl who seemed to become more attractive as he got to know her better.
— — —
Harry's eyes flew open as he felt his shoulder shaken. He saw Hermione leaning over him. "Sorry to disturb your nap," she told him sincerely, "but it's time to do our patrol."
"Right," he told her as he shook his head to finish waking up. "I can see why Ron grumbled about this ."
She nodded and sighed. "It is one of the downsides, but it's not too bad most of the time. The others just returned," she told him, indicating the fifth year Prefects.
They headed out of the Tower and Harry automatically pulled the Marauder's Map out and activated it. He looked it over as they walked. "I think we need the fifth floor," he told her and led her to the stairs to get there.
"Why?" Hermione asked, not seeming to care where they were going.
"Because the others missed a Ravenclaw couple." He pointed at the pair in a classroom near the Ravenclaw Tower. "I guess we can go see what they are studying."
Hermione gave him a worn look. "It is possible we don't really want to know."
He looked at her in some amazement. "Where's the girl that used to say all the rules should be kept at all times?"
She looked straight ahead and said very quietly, "She got hurt badly and isn't so sure of everything anymore."
"I'm really sorry," he told her sympathetically, and she gave him an appreciative look.
They travelled the rest of the way in silence, until the room they were heading to was visible. "You want to do the Revealing Charm to make sure there's nothing on the door that would hurt us?"
"Do you really think they would do that?" she asked, although she pulled her wand out anyway.
"Never hurts to be safe," he told her as his own wand was pulled out.
Hermione cast her spell and reported, "Just a locking charm."
Harry cast an Unlocking Charm and then yanked the door open. No one was naked inside, but they were heading that way being down to just undergarments. The two Ravenclaws stared in horror at being interrupted; their horror increased when their clothes suddenly flew from the floor to Harry's hand and then to a hastily conjured bag. "Let's go," he told them and motioned with a flick of his wand.
"Harry!" Hermione looked at him in surprise. "At least let them get dressed."
"Why?" he asked. "They were willing to be like they are now outside of their dorm rooms. Besides, who are we likely to run into?"
"Yeah, give me my clothes back," the girl demanded as she tried to cover her bra and knickers with her hands.
"I could just stun you and levitate you," Harry told them. "Come, let's go to Flitwick's office."
The Ravenclaw boy finally started walking, holding his head high as he went in just his underwear.
"At least let me conjure a towel for them," Hermione persisted.
"Consider this part of their punishment," Harry replied as they all started marching down the corridor. "I know we could remove a small number of points for this, but I'd bet this will be more memorable and teach them not to do this again."
Hermione thought about that for a long moment. "I supposed you have a point."
Harry smiled at her. "What do you think, Mr Jefferies and Miss Stebbins?" They didn't answer and just kept silent, causing Harry to smirk at Hermione. He cast a spell and a ghostly stag appeared and ran in front of them.
"Why did you just do a Patronus, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"I wanted to make sure Flitwick was awake and knew we were coming, just in case he needed a moment to find his slippers," he replied.
"You make it sound like it carried a message. How did you learn that? Where did you learn that?" she queried.
"It's a variation of the Patronus charm," he answered. "Professor Flitwick taught it to me and he said Professor Dumbledore taught him long ago."
"Yes, yes," he answered before she finished, already knowing she'd want to learn. "It is useful."
"Thank you," she told him, sounding very pleased.
When they arrived, Harry made the couple knock on the door and it was answered immediately. Flitwick looked like he'd dressed hurriedly; he also looked quite shocked at the couple standing in front of him.
"Mr Jeffries, Miss Stebbins, I am … surprised, and appalled!" the professor told his two students. "Where are your clothes?"
"He has them," the girl snarled.
Harry floated the bag to the Professor. "I found the clothes on the floor. Since they seemed to be willing to be underdressed outside of their dorms, I figured they wouldn't mind walking back here in the same manner. I also thought it might be a good reminder that they shouldn't do this again." Harry shrugged. "We didn't take any points, so all other punishments are up to you, sir."
The professor looked amused at Harry's notions of punishment. "Thank you, Mr Potter. I'll let the two of you continue your patrol. As for you two," he glared unhappily at the two seventh years, "that will be three evenings of detention with Mr Filch and then a week of detentions with me to do some chores I've been putting off."
"Good-night, Professor," Harry bid him and turned.
Hermione followed his example. A moment later she said, "I still think making them walk through the corridors like that was a bit extreme. How would you like someone to do that to you?"
"None of the other students saw them," he pointed out. "To answer your question, I'd remember it, but the more important thing is that I wouldn't be that stupid - which is kind of funny since they were Ravenclaws - so it doesn't matter," he answered. "If I were that friendly with a girl, I wouldn't do something like that where anyone could find us."
Hermione considered it. "Well, that won't be a problem for me as I can't imagine any boy here I'd do that with. I think it'll be a few years at the soonest."
"No one?" Harry asked amazed. "Not a single boy?"
She shot him a look. "There is a very small number that I might consider, but I don't believe any of them are available. The best of them tend to be taken quickly," she added.
Harry thought about that. "Hmm, I guess I can see that." He missed the brief wistful look from his friend.
Saturday was the day for Quidditch tryouts, so Harry grabbed his broom and headed to the Pitch. He found Susan in the Entrance Hall, who grabbed his hand and walked with him.
"Are you excited?" she asked.
"Not really. I mean, I'm excited to fly again after not being able to finish last year because of Umbridge, and I didn't fly this summer, but for the game?" He shrugged. "I already know I'm on the team, it was a condition for Ron getting the Captain's badge."
"You know how his temperament has changed this year?" asked Harry.
"Who doesn't?" she replied with almost a snort.
"Yeah, well, I'm supposed to help him not let that out of control. Sounds a bit impossible if you ask me, but I'm supposed to and willing to try."
She nodded as they walked on in the pretty day towards the school's small stadium.
When they arrived, Harry saw Ron bending down and examining the ground. "What are you doing, mate?"
"What does it look like I'm doing?" Ron shot back sounding a little annoyed. "I'm determining the condition of the pitch before we do anything."
Harry looked at Susan, who looked as puzzled as he felt. "Err, Ron, unless someone's changed the rules, this game is played in the air. The condition of the ground doesn't matter."
Ron gave him an even more annoyed look. "And when the Quaffle gets dropped, you need to know how it's going to bounce, but you're a Seeker so I guess you don't care."
"From the games I've watched," Harry returned, doing his best to keep his annoyance to himself, "that happens once - maybe twice - a game. In fact, it never happened in the World Cup game we saw."
"Those one or two times may be the difference between winning and losing," Ron insisted as he stood and then gestured towards Susan. "What's she doing here? She's not a Gryffindor."
"She told me she wanted to watch me fly…"
"She can't stay here," Ron interrupted him emphatically.
Harry sighed and turned to Susan. "Do you promise that anything you see here will be kept to yourself?"
Susan expression changed from worried to pleased. "I so promise to keep anything I see at the practice to myself."
"Splendid," Harry said with a nod. "You might want to join Hermione in the stands though."
She pulled on his hand slightly and placed a kiss on his cheek as he leaned over, then she dropped his hand and walked away to the stairs to the Gryffindor stands.
"Harry!" Ron growled.
"Ron, just stop! Stop and take a few deep breaths." Harry was glad his friend had stopped, but it was obvious his deep breaths were in anger. "Ron, she doesn't even care all that much about Quidditch. She says she only goes to the games to see a few people fly - like me - because she admires our skill; the main reason she goes is to visit with her friends. Get a grip, mate."
He stared at him hard for a long moment before Ron finally nodded. "Let's get going then."
Ron walked over towards the small crowd on the field and Harry turned towards a noise he heard on his right and saw Ginny.
"Good job," she told him as they slowly walked to the others.
"He's so normal sometimes, and so difficult at others," he commented softly. "The change is maddening."
"Uh-huh," she said distractedly and just as softly as they joined the others.
Harry watched the practice and helped out as needed, which wasn't much. He did take a few laps, did some dives, and sort of knocked the rust off from not having flown for something like six months. It felt really good.
As he paused, he looked over at the stands to see Susan and Hermione both watching him avidly. He waved and got a wave back before he heard a yell from Ron which forced him to return his attention to the tryouts.
He swooped down as Ron started to yell at the Beater hopefuls again and landed right in front of Ron and immediately pushed him backward.
"Mate, calm down or you're going to scare them off and then you won't have any Beaters and no team." He saw Ron breathe heavily and nod once before he turned away for a minute.
Harry walked over to the guys trying out and who looked a little scared. "Hey, don't worry about him; his bark is far worse than his bite. While you're waiting, each of you grab a bat I'll put the Bludgers in training mode and you can bat them back and forth to warm up, OK?"
After they were started, Harry turned to find Ron and saw that Ginny had a hand on her brother's shoulder and was talking with him. She seemed to be standing a little stiffly and had her arm straight as if standing as far away as possible, but it looked like she was handling it. Ron eventually nodded as she patted his shoulder and flew off to join the other Chasers as if someone was after her.
Looking around the pitch to see what else needed to be done, he saw a gray and black tabby cat sitting very inconspicuously in the shadows. He considered goosing the cat with a carefully cast blast of air, but he was reasonably sure that the professor would consider that going too far. Not sure what else to do, he returned to the Beaters and did his best to ignore his head of house.
— — —
Susan and Hermione walked up to a warm and wind-tussled Harry, but only his girlfriend put an arm around his waist.
"That looked like it went well, all things considered," Hermione commented as Ginny walked over, looking excited. "What's the big deal?" she asked the redhead. "You were on the team last year."
"Not as a chaser and that's what I really wanted," Ginny replied.
"You deserved it," Harry told her, causing her to smile even more. "Good job with Ron after he lost it with the Beaters. What did you do?"
Ginny smirked. "I made an analogy to chess and pointed out that Beaters were like knights and he didn't want to play without his knights; and that he was making his queen unhappy and just how difficult it is to win without a queen."
Hermione looked at Ginny and then at Harry before cracking up in a giggle.
Harry just blinked a few times before he realized what was going on. In a slightly strangled voice, he managed to ask, "You compared me to a queen? Do I look like a queen?"
All the girls started laughing at him as he looked incredulously at the new Chaser.
Ron took that moment to walk up. "What's so funny?" he asked in a good mood.
Harry shook his head. Well, this was better than an attack by Voldemort … barely, he thought.
Harry walked into his Runes classroom for his second lesson. He was five minutes early and he was again the last one to arrive. "Err, was the start time changed and I didn't know?"
Professor Babbling chuckled. "No, Mr Potter, but if you're able to come a little early, we can end a little early as well."
He looked around and saw the others nodding. "Right, maybe fifteen before seven?" The other three nodded again.
"Very good, fifteen before," the Professor said. "Now I hope everyone did their reading. But first, please hand in your homework and your extra credit assignment if you attempted it." Each student handed in two pieces of parchment. Babbling handed each back a single sheet. "While I grade these, please take this short quiz to see what you've learned so far. It's also a way for me to know that you did your reading."
Zabini groaned ever so softly, but Harry only shook his head as he put his name on the top and started.
Halfway through his quiz, Harry noticed Babbling straighten a stack of parchment and place it on the front of her desk and then pick up another stack. He returned to his quiz, which was harder than prior quizzes as Babbling made little "uh-hmm" sounds for this stack.
When he finished, he looked around and saw that the others were still working, rechecking he assumed and he did the same. He liked his answers and didn't change anything.
"Time's up," the teacher called and collected the quizzes before grabbing a stack to hand back. "Everyone did well on the homework. Keep that up and you will all do well in this class."
She grabbed another stack. "The best possible answer could receive five extra points on the next test. Miss Jones and Mr Hopkins, good attempt, one point for each of you. Mr Zabini, also a good attempt, two points. Mr Potter," she paused, "I don't need a magical oath, but your word that this was all your work?"
He was surprised. "Yes, Professor. I didn't even mention it to any of my friends nor did I ask a teacher."
"Where did you get your information?" she asked.
"You mentioned seventh year Arithmancy, so I looked at one of those books and found a passage that explained some magical theory and thought about how that might apply. I also thought about what works for me."
Babbling smiled at him as she handed it back. "Please read your work to the class."
Harry was amazed at the big red and circled "+5 pts Outstanding!" on the top of the paper.
He cleared his throat and started, feeling a bit nervous from all the attention.
"How can spell movements be simplified if they are really a rune that produces a spell? Magical theory says that spells are really based on only three parts: Focus, Will, and Power.
"Our wand movements along with the trigger-word or words are something taught to help us learn spells and to make it easier. Many magicals believe the wand movement to be analogous to a rune, but the common belief among Master Arithmancers is that it is truly not.
"A start to the explanation is that as experience is gained by the caster, the need for the trigger-word is lessened if the student tries, hence soundless casting in the sixth or seventh year.
"It seems that with more experience and effort, the need for the wand movement also disappears and a more pure form of casting is used where only Focus, Will, and Power are all that matters as theory suggests. This can even happen before school is finished for some spells that are truly mastered. Also, some spells don't seem to have a specific wand moment and are only successful in this more pure form of casting, which is why they are harder to learn.
"For this more pure form of casting, an increase in Focus or Will is usually all that's required to simplify the wand movements, even to the point of a single jab to indicate the direction for the spell to go. At times, if Focus or Will isn't enough, that can be compensated for by applying more Power, at least to a point. It must also be kept in mind that all spells have a minimum Power requirement, so there are limits to how much Power may be used to compensate."
Harry laid his work down and looked up to see a beaming teacher. A glance around showed the other three to be looking at him in amazement, Zabini the most.
"That is a brilliant summation, Mr Potter, and even I would have trouble giving a better answer for an explanation that short. You left out some details, but this assignment wasn't about those but about the overall reason for the change in casting. Your mention of silent casting, which you're presently learning in your Defense class, was also very well done. Bravo! It's a shame you didn't take Arithmancy so you could have added more."
Babbling looked at the entire class now. "Everyone open your books to chapter six. We will review your reading briefly before we write a short story as a class using Norse runes."
— — —
Harry dropped into a seat around the long table most of the sixth years were sitting at, with Ginny beside Hermione as had been usual lately.
"You looked dead, mate," Ron said and several of the others nodded slightly in agreement.
"Triple periods are not fun, but it's the only way to squeeze three years into two because the professor already has a full schedule," he answered. "Still, I like the class."
"You're mental," Ron argued. "Ancient Runes is just a bunch of useless old languages."
"Our oldest brother makes a lot of money with useless old languages," Ginny reminded him, making Ron look cross, but he didn't argue either.
"Hey, Hermione," Harry called as he pulled his Runes book out and set tonight's notes and parchments to the side. "When do we start learning how to do wards with runes?"
"I'm sorry, Harry, but you'll only see a little bit of that at the end of fifth year, or next year for you. We're only starting to really look at it this year, and even then we won't go very far." Hermione suddenly reached out and grabbed a piece of parchment from his stack.
He saw the red "Outstanding" on the top of the parchment. "Oh, I made the mistake of asking a question in class and she gave us an assignment and a chance to earn extra points on our next test."
"You gave her an answer good enough for five extra points!" Hermione's raised voice drew everyone's attention who was nearby. Parvati rose and walked down to look.
"It's not that hard, is it? I mean, you said you earned a lot of points in Babbling's class," Harry said a little embarrassed.
"She doesn't hand out many chances for extra test points," Parvati answered, "and I've never seen an answer worth five points. Hermione?"
The girl shook her head. "I've received several three's, but I've never heard of a five either. Where did this question come from?"
"Oh, err, I asked it after mentioning that wand movements were really like their own rune language and why was it possible to not do those movements sometimes and still make the spell work." Harry was still embarrassed for everyone looking at him.
"That's really interesting," Neville said thoughtfully, looking as if he was thinking out loud. "You're right; the older wizards don't always use the same wand movements that we learn here. I mean some do, but not all, or at least not on all spells. That's kind of interesting to wonder about."
"This bit about magical theory is fascinating!" Hermione said excitedly, drawing seventh year Katie Bell's attention and getting her to walk over.
Katie read over Hermione's shoulder. "That is interesting. Professor Vector said we'd be discussing this later in the year." She looked at Harry. "Is this why you wanted to look at my Arithmancy book?"
"Yeah," he admitted. "I found the part about Focus, Will, and Power in there and sort of worked out the other parts on my own."
"Well, I'm very impressed," Hermione told him, while Parvati and Katie nodded.
Ron harrumphed. "You're turning into a swot just like her…" Ron waved his hand in the direction of Hermione as he went silent, although his mouth continued to move. It took him a moment and a look at Harry with his wand out and pointed at him with an angry look to figure out what had happened.
"There's no excuse for insulting her or anyone else." Harry narrowed his eyes as Ron seemed to be getting angrier at being silenced. "In fact, since I'm a Prefect, three points from Gryffindor for insulting someone." He looked at Hermione, "I'll turn in the form to McGonagall tomorrow. Good-night everyone."
He grabbed his things, including his homework when Hermione held it out with a grateful look and went to bed. It had been a tiring but good evening right until Ron ruined it. He had no idea what those brain-things had done to his friend, but he hated the change in his friend and wanted his old friend back.
As the end of September neared, Ginny waved Harry over as he returned to the common room from visiting the Hufflepuff common room just before curfew. It was a Saturday night and about half of the Gryfs were still up and talking.
He approached her and saw that Hermione was with her as usual and was looking a bit nervous.
She pulled out her wand and levitated another chair over to be with theirs in the corner. "Could you please put up your muffling charm?" Ginny asked as she took the seat that faced away from the room.
"Sure," he said and did it. "What's up?"
Ginny looked down for a moment. "You've been helping Hermione and you've sort of been helping me too. I've decided to let you know what's going on with me. Maybe you can give me some good advice, but I don't think so. Hermione also seems to think that telling you might ease my conscience too." She shrugged and didn't look so positive on this part.
Harry noticed that she refused to look at him.
"Before I do, I need a promise that you won't tell anyone this, and I mean absolutely no one." Ginny looked up at him finally and she had a hard look.
"What I'm going to tell you could almost destroy me, and probably Hermione too." At his shocked look, she added, "You're the only person we trust enough to tell. Only two others here know half of this and they're sworn to secrecy also, not to mention we have blackmail material on them so they'll never tell our secret."
He had no idea what could be that secret and wondered if this was something that he just didn't understand about the Wizarding world. "Very well, I promise not mention any of this to anyone and to try to help you in any way I can."
"Thank you," Ginny breathed. After a moment, she reached out one hand towards Hermione who took it.
"It started four years ago. I've always told everyone that I don't remember anything from when the diary possessed me, but that's not completely true. I have only a few memories of events from the beginning when the possession wasn't very strong, but I have lots of memories of emotions. A lot of feelings that I had, and still do, I have trouble classifying and understanding. However, the one I understand the most is fear.
"Tom feared a lot of things and I have many of those fears now too. I can hide them most of the time, but sometimes … sometimes I fear Him and what he did to me, how he took my control away." Tears started to leak down Ginny's face.
Harry reached out and Ginny grabbed his hand with her remaining free hand, squeezing him so hard it surprised him and almost hurt. "It's all right, I'm here and I won't let him hurt you tonight, or ever if I can help it."
Ginny gave him a scared smile that didn't last long. "I've tried to be normal and mostly succeeded. I even dated Michael Corner to prove to myself that I didn't hate boys, just the one boy who took advantage of me mentally and emotionally." She paused and took a deep breath. "Michael and I didn't break-up over a Quidditch game like I said. We broke up because he tried to reach under my blouse. I punched him and broke his nose before I sent my Bat-Boogey hex at him."
Harry was shocked. "Ginny, I … I'm so sorry." Hearing that made him want to go do something unpleasant to the boy. Then again, her Bat Bogey hex on someone with a broken nose was probably punishment enough.
"Thank you," she said quietly. "Last June, I went with you to the Ministry because you'd been there for me ... in leading the D.A. and especially in the Chamber of Secrets. I felt like I owed you."
"You don't owe me," he told her.
"I do, Harry," she insisted. "I owe you and so I put on my game face and went, even though I was so afraid I'd see Tom again. Then Hermione was almost killed. That scared me, but only a little more. Still, it was a little more on an already large pile. When I heard that Tom was upstairs, I was never so glad I had broken my ankle and couldn't go up there. That's not very Gryffindor of me, but I was so scared I didn't care.
"The worst was this summer, I think. It was the breaking point for certain." She paused and sniffled a little as a new round of tears started to fall.
Harry reached out and took her hand in both of his. She shifted her grip and he was grateful as he felt blood start to return to his first hand.
"The night after Ron returned home to the Burrow, I was having a nightmare; I can't even tell you what it was about, but I remember finding my pyjamas soaked with sweat and stuck to me. What woke me up wasn't the nightmare, but a hand under my pyjama top. If that wasn't bad enough, I had a flashback to the time with Corner and I think I wandlessly summoned my wand and did a Bat-Boogey hex."
Harry closed his eyes and shook his head slowly, while wishing yet again he hadn't taken his friends to the Ministry.
"He was standing over me and I … I hit Ron between the legs with it. I'm not sure if I screamed more because of what he did to me or what happened to him. My parents rushed him to St Mungo's and the healers think they fixed him, but there is a large possibility he won't ever be able to father children.
"I haven't told anyone but the two of you what really happened. I told my family that I was having a nightmare from the Chamber of Secrets and reacted when Ron grabbed my arm and woke me; they don't know what he really did to me. Ron doesn't have any memory of walking into my room or anything he did in there. He was told his injury came from falling down and landing on an object that injured him.
"Considering that I'd told them I felt like I had been attacked, even if it was an accident, it wasn't too hard to convince my parents to put a lock on my door the next day, one that can be opened only from the inside. In addition, Ron was locked into his room at night for the next two weeks.
"I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm never around Ron anymore unless you're nearby. The thirty second talk I had with Ron at the Quidditch tryouts was the longest I've spoken with him since he attacked me and I was so scared when I did that."
"You didn't look it," he told her before he remembering her standing there stiffly and at arm's length.
"That was all an act and I only did it because you were nearby. I'm so scared of boys right now, just like Hermione. I begged her to come over to the Burrow and we've…" Ginny paused and had to breathe a few times first. "We've been sleeping together almost ever since, even though my mum set up a cot for her like normal. We use each other like a living teddy bear for security. When Hermione had to go home, I went with her so we could continue."
Neither girl would look at him at the moment. "I don't know what to say about Ron, Ginny, other than it was wrong of him and I don't blame you for what you did. However, there's nothing wrong about you and Hermione seeking comfort from each other when you're troubled and need security. I guess I'm not scary for you like I'm not scary for Hermione?"
Ginny finally looked up with a hard look again. "No, I trust you or you wouldn't know this, Harry; but you don't understand. It is just security between Hermione and me, but if others found out, they'd assume we were doing other things and it would be a scandal. Hermione told me this sort of thing is more accepted in the non-magical world, but it's an issue here. It's a very big issue if we want to stay in Wizarding Society."
Harry shook his head with a little bit of despair. "It's not fair." It wasn't fair to them or to him as he would have known this if his parents had lived. This also wasn't fair to Ron.
"It's not, but that's the way it is," Ginny confirmed.
Pulling his hands away from her, he used his wand to conjure a handkerchief and handed it to Ginny, who took it gratefully and cleaned her face. "I don't know that I can do much for you," he told her after some thought, "other than to run interference for you too. I can at least do that much for you."
"Thank you!" she gushed as she threw herself at him and gave him a tight hug for his acceptance. When she finally let go and sat back down, Hermione gave him a hug also, although much shorter.
When they were all sitting again, the beginning of an idea came to him. He looked at his fellow Prefect. "How much longer until we have patrol?"
Hermione looked at her watch. "It's about fifteen minutes before eleven."
Harry considered that for a moment before he pulled his Marauder's Map out, something he almost always had on him this year. Looking it over, he smiled when he found the current patrols. "Right, let's leave now; I need to do something."
Harry put the Map in his pocket and took his charm down, ignoring Hermione's question. "Hang in there, Ginny. I have a small idea; maybe I can do something with it to help more."
"Thanks, Harry." Ginny stood and looked at Hermione. "I'll wait for you upstairs." She hurried to the stairs to the girls' rooms under Hermione's watchful eye.
Harry led them out and was walking with purposeful strides. "Hermione, we've been at school almost a month now. Do you think Ron is any better than when the year started?"
Hermione concentrated on the steps she hurried down to keep up with him as she tried to think that through. "Maybe, but maybe not; it's hard to tell."
"Unfortunately, I agree," he said sadly as he checked the Map and put it away again quickly before walking even faster.
A moment later, they turned a corner near the kitchens and could see a couple ahead. "Hannah! Ernie!" Harry called.
The two Hufflepuffs look surprised at seeing him. "What's wrong, Harry?" Hannah asked.
"Would you do me a big favor? Please tell Susan that I won't see her at breakfast tomorrow and probably not all morning. I have a … family thing to take care of and I'll see her at lunch."
The two Puffs both gave him a strange look, but Hannah eventually nodded. "OK, I'll tell her."
"Thanks, I appreciate it. I didn't want her to worry about me when I didn't show up," Harry said.
"I'm sure she'll appreciate that," Hannah replied.
Harry smiled. "Thanks again, we'll see you two later." He turned and led Hermione away and once around the corner, pulled his Map back out and looked at it again. "Come on, we need to run." He took off for the nearest stair case.
"Harry Potter! What are you doing?!" Hermione called after him as she tried to keep up with him.
Both were breathing hard by the time they reached the third floor. "I think we'll catch him by the time we hit the fifth. Don't stop now," he told her almost but not quite as out of breath as she was.
When they reached the fifth floor, Harry pulled out his wand and slowed down.
"Who are we trying to catch?" she asked as she puffed like a bellows.
"Malfoy - I saw him on the Map. He should be about to come around the next corner." He put a hand on her arm to hold her back behind the corner they were beside. He also pulled out the Map and looked. Pointing at it, they saw Malfoy was alone and coming this way.
Harry just waited and let Malfoy come to them; the Slytherin seemed to be heading for the stairs. Harry put the Map in his pocket and waited, almost back to his normal breathing rate.
As Malfoy walked around the corner and saw who was there, he froze for a moment before he said, "Oh bloody hell."
"You might be a Prefect, but you're not on the schedule tonight and curfew was an hour ago," Harry said with amusement.
Draco Malfoy sighed in frustration. "Fine, you caught me. Take me to Snape."
There was something about the way he said it that gave Harry an idea. "About that, Malfoy, I think we'll head a different direction. I can think of a better Professor to take you to."
Malfoy just blinked at him for a moment. "You're delusional, Scarhead. I know the rules and they say you take anyone you catch out of bounds back to their head of house."
"Oh, I'm sure you'll be seeing Snape soon, but I think we need to have one stop first. Go on as you were then take a left," Harry directed him. When the Slytherin didn't move and looked at him in puzzlement, Harry told him, "Go or I can stun you and levitate you."
"You wouldn't?" Malfoy practically dared him.
"With delight, Mr Malfoy." Harry jabbed his wand in the direction Draco should go and a ghostly stag came out of his wand and ran off. "After you."
The blond boy started to walk. Hermione gave him a puzzled look too, but she kept quiet and kept her wand out, although at her side.
After a couple of minutes of walking Malfoy finally stopped and looked at the two Gryffindors. "You're taking me to McGonagall, aren't you?"
"She is the Deputy Headmaster," Harry answered with a smile. "Go on, we're almost there."
Another minute later and Harry was knocking on the door to his head of house, a door which was opened very quickly with his Transfiguration teacher looking as she usually did. "What's the problem, Mr Potter?" She was already giving the third person there careful scrutiny.
"Mr Malfoy was on the fifth floor by the main staircase a few minutes ago. He is also not on the patrol schedule tonight. While I realize the normal procedure would be to take him to Professor Snape, I didn't think that would do much good," Harry told her matter-of-factly.
McGonagall considered that for a moment. "Is that all true, Miss Granger?"
"Mr Malfoy, what were you doing out of your house area after curfew?" McGonagall gave him one of her stern looks.
Harry had to give him credit. Malfoy fidgeted, but didn't say anything for the long moment McGonagall looked at him.
"Very well, Mr Potter and Miss Granger, please escort him to Professor Snape. I shall assign punishment tomorrow after I find out what Professor Snape plans to do. Mr Malfoy, I would strongly suggest you pay more attention to the clock. If you are out again like this, you will find yourself without a Prefect badge." McGonagall bid them good-night and closed her door.
Malfoy was silent all the way down and even when they knocked on Snape's door. The dour man opened his door dressed in his night gown. "I should have known it'd be you, Potter."
Before he could go off on some rant, Harry quickly said, "Professor, we caught Malfoy on the fifth floor a few minutes ago on our patrol. We're returning him to you for punishment."
Snape stared at them for a moment. "Very well, I have custody of him. Be on your way."
"Good-evening, Professor," Harry told him evenly and left with his partner.
He could hear Malfoy being told to get inside before the door was closed. He turned to his partner and said, "See the difference. I know Snape doesn't have to tell us the punishment Malfoy gets, but Flitwick made sure we knew the Ravenclaws were punished when we caught them, and McGonagall promised there will be punishment. With Snape … nothing."
"All the heads of house will never act the same way," she told him.
"But Snape is always different and usually very much so," he countered.
Hermione didn't argue back and they finished their patrol with no other issues.
— — —
As Hermione entered her dorm room, she saw Parvati climb into Lavender's bed and close the curtains. She changed into her pyjamas and went to her bed, climbing in next to the little redhead that was waiting for her.
Ginny grabbed her and pulled her close, laying her head on Hermione's shoulder. "I hope you were right about being able to trust Harry."
"He's the only one I trust fully," she told her friend as she rubbed Ginny's back.
After a long moment, Ginny asked, "I'm glad he took our relationship and situation so well. Do you think Parv and Lav really do anything more or are they just like us?"
Hermione nuzzled the top of Ginny's head and held her tightly for a moment. "I don't really know and I'm not sure I really want to know. I'm happy with this and I don't see any need to go further."
Ginny squeezed her body with the arm over her. "Thank you, Hermione. I feel like I can relax when I'm with you."
The next morning, Harry rose early and headed to the kitchens for a quick bite to break his nightly fast. That taken care of, he headed to see the school nurse before most other students were even up on a Sunday. He knew the nurse was usually an early riser, having stayed with her often enough.
Sure enough, inside the hospital wing, he found her already moving around and checking on a younger boy who had stayed the night.
"Mr Potter? Is something wrong?"
Harry had had one idea and it was the only thing he could think of to help his friend. "Not with me, but I'd like to talk to you about something … sensitive with a friend."
"Will this take awhile?"
"Possibly," he answered with a shrug.
She snapped her fingers. "Milly?"
An elf popped in. "You called Madam Nurse?"
"Yes, please get something light for breakfast for my patient, perhaps some porridge and juice, no milk," she ordered.
"Yes, Madam Nurse." The elf popped away and Pomfrey led him to her office and took a seat at her desk.
Harry closed the door and took a seat.
"What is the problem with … a friend of yours?" she asked.
He looked down for a moment and gathered his courage. "Madam Pomfrey, have you fully read the file for Ron, what happened to him and what the healers at St Mungo's did to help him?"
"Oh, this really is about a friend," she said then hurried on. "I have, Mr Potter, but that is confidential information."
"That's fine, I don't really want to know specifics, I wanted to know if you knew the specifics," he told her.
"I do, but why do you ask?"
"He doesn't seem to be getting better and I've been hearing some disturbing things about him. I want to know if anything else can be done for him." He looked at her and hoped.
"What has he been doing?"
This was a fine line, he thought. "I'm afraid that I've promised not to tell, but let's say that he's done some things he wouldn't have normally and that he's hurt some people. Worse, as far as we can tell, he has no memory of these events, so it's hard to help him not to do anything like that again. That's in addition to his anger problems that he can't seem to control. I'm more worried about this last one than the others as they shouldn't happen again, or at least I believe they won't."
When she sat contemplatively, he added, "I'm willing to pay for any treatment that can be done to help him. It would probably have to be anonymously since I wouldn't expect the Weasleys to take my money, but I feel a little guilty about putting Ron in the situation where he got hurt and I have the money; Ron is more important than the money."
Pomfrey smiled at him. "A noble sentiment, Mr Potter. I can make a vague guess at one thing you can't tell me based on his medical history, but I won't ask so you don't have to deny it.
"I can think of at least one and possibly two things that might be done to help him. I'm sure cost was a factor in one of them."
"So there's hope?" he asked with a little excitement.
"There's almost always hope, Mr Potter, but I don't know if it's a little or a lot," she explained. "Also, what I'm thinking of, or really any added treatment, would have to be approved by his parents and his healer at St Mungo's, in addition to Professor Dumbledore since he's also a student here. Also," she gave him a caring look, "this isn't like a broken bone that can be healed overnight. Even if what I'm thinking of works, it will still take time; probably months … the help will be gradual."
"Even gradual help would be good." He looked at her in frustration. "He also needs it because I'm not sure how else to help him. Trying to watch over him is wearing on his sister and it's not easy for me either. I don't know where the breaking point is, but we both have limits before we say something that shouldn't be said."
"I know you do dear and I think what you two have been doing has been helpful for him," she said kindly. "Would you like to help me talk to the Headmaster and then his parents? I can at least let you do that."
Harry smiled and felt better than he had last night. "I'd love to."
— — —
Harry walked into the Great Hall and immediately went to Ginny, glad that Ron had already been pulled to the hospital wing for a discussion. He leaned down to whisper to Ginny. "I've arranged for some help for Ron. They don't know how much it will help or how fast it will come, but they are hopeful for some reversal."
Ginny jumped up and hugged him tightly. "Thank you, Harry," she whispered fiercely.
"I feel a little guilty for taking him there…"
"Nonsense!" she told him and let him go. "We did it because we wanted to. Still, thank you for helping."
"Of course." He squeezed her shoulder and walked around the table and over two, before walking up the aisle and sitting in the empty place next to his girlfriend.
"Everything all right?" Susan asked him a little coolly.
"I hope things will get better, or I have to believe that," he told her as he started to dish some food for himself.
"Care to explain yourself with the youngest Weasley?" she asked.
It was at that moment that her words and tone really sank into his thought process. He sort of wanted to bang his head on the table, but resisted. "She shared a family problem with me last night and I spent the morning trying to get some help. She was just thanking me." As she continued to give him a pointed look, he whispered, "Ron," very softly.
He thought she relaxed some, but it looked like she still wasn't totally fine with it all. He decided she did need to know at least something, so he pulled out his wand, made sure it was hidden from Snape, and cast the muffling charm on just the two of them.
"Ernie we have a problem," he said in a normal voice and was pleased when the boy didn't react. "OK, they can't hear us. Susan, I've promised I won't tell some things that I know, but I can tell you that Ron's not doing well and he doesn't seem to be getting better and I want to help him. The Weasleys aren't really family, but I'm closer to them than to anyone else in the Wizarding world, and I will help them where I can. You have nothing to worry about with Ginny or Hermione or any other girl for that matter."
She stared into his eyes for a moment before putting a hand up and cupping a cheek. "I'm so sorry for not trusting you," she said contritely. "Sometimes, this is all a little new to me too and I have ideas and assumptions that aren't always right."
Susan smiled and shook her head. "Sorry, one of my secrets. Even if girls are wrong, you'll rarely be told, so be happy I'm even admitting this much."
"You know it's really unfair that you won't admit your problems but I'm supposed to share everything," he complained.
She patted his cheek. "That's life, but I'll make it up to you later. Take down your charm; people are starting to wonder about us."
He noticed that they were receiving some funny looks from those around them who could see them talking but not hear them. He took the charm down and they resumed trying to be normal.
Susan did make it up to him with some nice kisses. He decided that life wasn't automatically bad when they disagreed.
On Monday morning, two days later, Susan joined Harry at the Gryffindor table for breakfast. It wasn't until they all started eating and she heard his voice that she realized hadn't seen Ron all day yesterday. She almost leaned over to ask Harry about it, but caught herself as she realized how rude that would have been. Curbing her curiosity, she watched and listened, her usual behavior when she joined the Gryfs.
When they all started walking to Potions class for the morning, she slowed Harry down so they had some privacy while they walked slowly. "Harry, if I can ask, where was Ron yesterday? I realized this morning that he was missing all day yesterday."
Harry looked around before he pulled his hand from hers and put his arm around her shoulder and leaned towards her to whisper. "It's part of my help for Ron. I helped to convince his parents that he needed more help to get better so he'll be gone one evening a week and all day on Sundays … probably until Christmas, maybe longer."
"I thought there wasn't anything else to do, you know, other than giving things time," she sort of asked.
"There is a potion that can help him be calmer, and even though there's not an official position of 'mind healer', there are people who do something like what you'd think mind healers would do. Ron will be talking with people who do those things."
Susan considered that. "I'm glad you could help, but why weren't those done before?"
Harry looked around again. "This stays between us?" At her nod, he said, "They're a very proud family and wouldn't accept any extra help before. I convinced the Headmaster to say that it was the school's responsibility since the school let us leave the grounds. I'm paying for it through him; they couldn't afford it otherwise."
She beamed at him. "That's very nice of you."
"Well," he sighed. "Deep down, I know it wasn't really my fault, but I still feel a little responsible, if not guilty. I also inherited some money from my godfather and I think Sirius would wanted the Black gold spent this way."
"You're a good man, Harry Potter," she said as they walked into class.
(A/N: Significant credit must be given to LordDwar and "Summer of Change" for the magical theory. While not exactly like his explanation, that was the inspiration for mine and I used a large part of his.)
Also note, that the term 'mind healer' doesn't appear in the books but is a fan-fiction thing, hence Harry's comment.
Thanks again to Kokopelli for beta'ing this story. Don't forget, I can edit the story after he sees it, so any remaining errors should be attributed to me and not him; he does great work.)