A/N: Well, after seven chapters and almost 40k words, this 'one-shot' draws to a close with this installment. I wanted to personally thank you for all the kind words of encouragement regarding this story. The first chapter (the part that was actually meant to be a one-shot) was written as a bit of self therapy to combat everything going on in the world this summer. It's a good feeling to know that a few of you out there got something positive out of it as well. While I'm not committing to a sequel at this point, I have a feeling that I will be coming back to this universe someday. Maybe a one-shot? :)

Finally, thanks to my beta Nauze. My apologies for making you hungry during the beta of this chapter!

Whatever you say, whatever you do, I know it's alright

August 28, 1995

It had been less than twenty-four hours since Harry had learned of his predestined fate, but in truth, it felt much longer. Much, much, longer. He felt Buckbeak nestle his head in a bit closer and began idly running his hands over the hippogriff's head, reveling in the softness and warmth of his feathers. Buckbeak gave an affirming noise of contentment and Harry dug his hand in a bit further, thankful for the company. He'd always wanted a dog growing up and reckoned this was as close as he was going to get for the foreseeable future. He tried to ignore the fleeting thought that his foreseeable future was most likely going to be very short and, most likely, very bloody.

He was brought out of his brooding by a quick knock on the door before it was thrust open. It was Sirius, looking slightly worried and holding a plate. Buckbeak made a small noise of greeting as his godfather slumped down beside him and offered him the food.

"The next time you hide from us, could you at least do it on one of the lower floors? It's been a wrench trying to find you, and my knees are killing me," he said.

Harry chuckled. "You could have apparated," he replied as he took the offered plate.

"I wouldn't do that to Molly. She already thinks of me as a slightly older version of the twins, and I don't want to add to that perception by apparating from room to room."

"I think Fred and George are brilliant," Harry countered, a bit more angrily than he intended. He knew that Sirius didn't deserve that anger…that he was actually grateful for the help that his godfather had provided…but he couldn't help himself. It was why he'd shut himself up here in the first place. No-one else needed to have to worry or deal with what he'd discovered. It was his burden to bear.

Apparently Sirius didn't detect the anger or purposely chose to ignore it as he plowed on, pointing at the plate. "You should eat."

"I'm not hungry," Harry lied, placing the plate on his lap, amused at Buckbeak's intense interest in his supper.

He'd expected Sirius to call him on his lie, to point out that he hadn't eaten since noon and that it was a virtual impossibility that he didn't find the corned beef sandwich in front of him the least bit appetizing. But Sirius remained quiet, staring at the wall and leaning into Buckbeak's side.

"My parents chucked me in the summer after my sixth year? Did you know that?"

Harry shook his head no.

"I can't even remember what started it. We'd rowed so many times over the years that the arguments have all sort of faded together at some point. I probably said something stupid…I don't know. But this argument kept going and became much more personal; a kind of last stand."

Harry remained quiet, sensing how difficult it was for Sirius to share this particular memory.

"It had all been a bit of an abstract concept up to that point, I suppose. My parents had been upset from the off when I was sorted into Gryffindor and took up with the Potter blood traitors. I thought my parents' views on muggleborns were ridiculous and told them as much whenever the subject came up, but it was always a bit of a laugh for me…a way to feel superior and wind them up a bit. But that day, for whatever reason, our argument escalated, and my mother said I had to make a choice. 'It's either us or them' she said. She was furious, but I still didn't get it. I still thought it was a game. I thought there was no way they would throw me out. So I took a side, and they chucked me."

Buckbeak let out a wail of sympathy. Whether or not the hippogriff actually understood the words, it was clear that he felt the pain behind them.

Sirius shot him a weary smile. "Actually, I think I'm underselling it. Before she chucked me, Mummy tortured me with the Cruciatus in front of Reg."


"Regulus, my brother. He was younger and a bit more compliant to the old ways than me, but he had a good heart. I suppose my dear old mum had given me up as a lost cause and wanted to show Reg what happened to boys who made poor choices. And fair play to her, because it worked. Reg joined up with Voldemort after he graduated. I tried to talk him out of it but he was too far gone at that point."

"I'm sorry," Harry said.

Sirius waved it off. "Anyway, I'm not sure how I managed it, given what awful shape I was in at the time, but I was able to apparate to your Dad's house. James wasn't there, he was at Hogwarts learning that he was to be Head Boy, but your grandparents were home, thank Merlin."

Harry wondered what his grandparents looked like…whether they liked his mum…whether they would have liked him…so many unanswered questions and possibilities. All of them depressing and eternally out of reach.

"Your grandparents had James a bit later in life so they were older than most parents, and sick…very, very sick…with Dragon Pox. Do you know much about the disease?"

Harry shook his head no.

"Well if you're young it's usually not a problem; take a potion, have a lie-in for a few days and you're all set. But if you're older, and you're unlucky, it's a bit harder to fight off. And if you're older and really unlucky you can't fight it off. It doesn't kill you straight-away but it saps your strength, wears you down, and eventually, it kills you. They'd caught it while we were off at school in sixth year and hadn't been able to shake it. They looked a decade older than when I'd seen them the summer prior.

I tried apologizing for bothering them but your granddad just smiled…he had the kindest smile…then he told me to stop being a numpty, grabbed my bag, put his arm around me, and brought me inside. After I told them what happened your gran went off and started getting a room ready for me. I was confused because they had an elf to do those sorts of things. Her name was Jess and she was the opposite of Kreacher; loud and friendly…a bit bossy but always happy to help. Your granddad said it was a waste of time trying to stop her, because when it came to family, Mrs. Potter always insisted on doing things herself if she could manage it."

Harry assumed Sirius was telling this story in an effort to cheer him up, but unfortunately, it was having the opposite effect. Just more family he could have and should have known. More good people who would have loved him that he'd never met

"Well when old man Potter called me family, I lost it. I started bawling like a baby…so loud, in fact, that Mrs. Potter stopped fixing up my room and came running. You see, that's what families do, Harry. When one of them is struggling, they come running to help."

Harry suddenly realized what the point of this story was. He was all set to stop him but Sirius beat him to the punch

"Before you start, you're the one who is struggling, and as such, you don't get a say in the matter. Family gets to help, whether you want them to or not. That's the rule. It took me longer than it should have, but this is me coming to help."

"I'm fine, and you can't help," Harry said.

"No you're not. Everyone in this house isn't fine. I'm a sodding mess right now. You should have seen Molly jump out of her chair when I said I was fetching some supper for you. I've never seen someone pay that much attention to making a sandwich. She did that because she isn't fine and wants to do whatever she can to help. We all do."

He felt the now-familiar prickling at the corner of his eyes but stubbornly ignored it. He was fine. He was all set to try and inconspicuously wipe the moisture away when he was forcefully punched in the shoulder.

"Oi! Haven't you been listening? Molly put a lot of effort into that sandwich! Dig in."

Despite himself, Harry chuckled. He grabbed the sandwich and took a bite. It was good…his favorite, as a matter of fact.

"Anyway," Sirius continued, "there I was, bawling my eyes out, and suddenly James comes bursting in, all excited to tell them his news. Your granddad shuffled James out of the room and I guess explained what was going on. Mr. Potter came back a few minutes later and took his seat, as if nothing had happened. He must have told James to stay out of sight because I didn't see him for the rest of the evening. Jess made supper for James and took it up to him in his room.

The Potters let me cry for as long as I needed to. Mr. Potter made me some soup, which was awful by the way, Mrs. Potter whipped up a potion to help with the effects of the Cruciatus, and then they put me to bed. The next day, because I was seventeen and stupid, I did everything I could to avoid your dad. Not only had he seen me moaning to his parents, but I'd ruined his big announcement. I felt weird…embarrassed. The Potters were dying, this horrible war was brewing, and I'd just heaped more misery on them."

"What did Dad do?" Harry asked.

"That is an excellent question, but before I answer, we need to retire to another room," Sirius said. "Hold onto your sandwich. See you later, Buck."

Before he could ask what was going on, Sirius placed a hand on his shoulder and popped them into the library. Hermione had explained the experience of apparating, but despite her detailed description, he was in no way prepared for the actual sensation. As he did his best to keep the bits of sandwich he'd consumed in his stomach, Sirius stood and crossed the room. He'd apparated them to the Black Library but he wasn't headed for any of the books, opting instead to lift the needle on a muggle phonograph that had been set up in the room. Seconds later a song began playing…something Harry could vaguely recall hearing before. It was catchy. Sirius plopped back beside him and resumed talking.

"As I said, I was acting like a proper idiot and hiding away, and your father let me be an idiot until supper. I'd decided to have my meal in my room and that apparently was the last straw for your dad. He came up with his own plate and dragged me into his room and told me to sort myself out because we had research to do."


Sirius smiled. "James had overheard Lily telling someone how much better The Beatles were than The Weird Sisters near the end of term. They were new at the time and everyone was raving about them, but apparently Lily wasn't having it. So the first day of break, he went out and bought all of their records. He'd been listening to them nonstop since term ended and wanted me to hear them as well. His whole plan was for us to have a casual conversation around Lily talking about our favorite Beatles album."

Harry smiled. "He sounds desperate."

Sirius laughed. "You have no idea. He and Lily had become friends in sixth year and he was looking for anything and everything he could find to impress her. But fair play to him, we never had to have our staged conversation, but he still got the girl in the end. And we did have several actual discussions about our favorite record, Lily included."

They sat in companionable silence for several minutes as they listened to the music. Harry thought it was quite good, not as good as Oasis, but very catchy.

"You see, Harry, your dad had it figured out. He couldn't do anything about my parents being awful, just like I couldn't do anything about his parents being sick, but whatever we were going through, we were going to go through it together. Now, I can't do anything about you being a part of that blasted prophecy, and I'm awful at making sandwiches. So I let Molly make the sandwich, I'm going to make you listen to The Beatles, and you're going to make me listen to Oasis."

"I only have a cd," Harry replied. "It won't work on that thing."

Sirius looked quite offended. "I know what a cd player is. Lasers, right? Tonks explained it, sort of.

But fear not!" Sirius exclaimed before summoning a bag from across the room. "I had Tonks do some shopping for me." The bag contained a copy of the Oasis record as well as a few smaller records he'd never heard of.

"How long have you had that?" Harry asked.

"Since before you arrived. Tonks told me about Hermione's gift and I was hoping we'd get a chance to listen together. But you've been too busy with your girlfriend," Sirius said as he pretended to look disgusted.

"Speaking of which," he continued, "you've been a bit of a shit boyfriend lately."

"Hermione is fine," Harry replied, "we just had a bit of an argument. It's better for her anyway; I'm not good company right now."

"First of all, why did you stop eating your sandwich? Secondly, either I'm an awful storyteller or you are an idiot. If the situations were reversed and the prophecy was about Hermione, would you be fine?"

Harry opened his mouth to speak but the words didn't come. Just thinking about such a scenario had taken his breath.

"Just because she doesn't cry in front of you, doesn't mean she doesn't need to cry. You going off and hiding might have been fine before, but you two are a couple now. You're meant to cry together, not behind each other's backs."

Sirius was right. He'd been ignoring the voice in his head that had been screaming to him that Hermione would make him feel better, but he was most ashamed to realize that he hadn't even considered the fact that being around him would make Hermione feel better. He moved to stand but was once again stopped by Sirius.

"I'm glad to see you've sorted it out, but Hermione is already talking to her parents. She's officially got the night off from trying to help you, so you're stuck here with me for the next few hours. During that time, I expect you to think up a proper apology and a way to make up your numptyness to your girlfriend. Understood?"

Harry chuckled and slid back down beside Sirius. Between the sandwich, the music, and Sirius' speech he did feel better. Not good…not even close…but better.

"What's the name of this record anyway?"

"Rubber Soul."

"I like it. Is it your favorite?"

Sirius shook his head. "Your dad's favorite was Abbey Road and mine was Revolver."

"What was Mum's favorite?"

"Rubber Soul."

August 29, 1995

As he waited for Hermione, Harry did his best to avoid the angry knot that had set up residence in his stomach. It was stupid, really. Even if the idea he had come up was shit, he knew Hermione wouldn't say anything. But now that he had set his plans in motion for the evening, he desperately hoped that Hermione didn't have to pretend that he hadn't mucked it up. His thoughts had continually returned to the scenario that Sirius had planted in his brain the evening prior, and how much worse it would be to be the one sitting on the sidelines, worrying about the prophesied one…or the one sitting next to the bed in the Hospital Wing.

He'd been a truly shit boyfriend. He'd gone out of his way to stick by her side throughout the day but they hadn't been able to be properly alone, and he hadn't been able to manage to say how stupid he'd been with other people around.

"Harry?" Hermione's voice called from the doorway, "Sirius said you wanted to talk to me?" The hopefulness in her voice drove home what a shit boyfriend he had been over the last two days.

"What is that smell?" she asked as she came closer, her eyes widening as she saw the large pizza on a nearby table. "Is that from-"

"The pizza place in Surrey, yeah," Harry interrupted. "Pepperoni and olives. That's your favorite, right?"

Hermione nodded. "When did I tell you that?"

"I, uh, borrowed your mirror this morning and asked your mum."

"How? Why?" was the best that Hermione could manage.

The 'how' would be easy to explain, but Harry knew the 'why' would be much more difficult. He hoped he didn't mess it up.

"I asked Tonks to pick it up for us. You said you liked it and I was trying to come up with a way to help you…like you helped me over the summer. I know you're worried about me and I was stupid for getting mad at you yesterday. I thought…"

Hermione was staring at him and Harry could see that she was doing her best to remain calm…to remain strong…for him.

"I thought it would be better if I left you alone so you wouldn't have to be around me being miserable. But that was stupid because you're miserable too. It was selfish."

His honesty seemed to take her by surprise. She plastered on a falsely pleasant smile. "I'm fine, Harry."

Harry grinned despite himself. "This will go a lot better if you stop being stubborn."

Hermione's façade began to crumble as she remembered their prior conversation. He felt a keen sense of victory at actually helping her for a change. "You're the one being stubborn," she replied, wiping at her eyes.

"I'm sorry," he admitted.

Apparently he'd said the magic words as she took off in a sprint toward him, burying her head in his shoulder.

"We're going to figure it out," Hermione mumbled into his chest.

"We're going to figure it out, "Harry repeated as he rested his head on her shoulder. He inhaled the scent of her lavender shampoo, instantly calming.

He wasn't quite sure how long they stood there, but Harry didn't mind. She had done so much for him over the years…more than she could ever know. Getting to repay the favor, even just a small bit, felt good. Really, really good.

"I think I've ruined your shirt," Hermione finally managed as she pulled away, gesturing toward the soggy mess that was his right shoulder.

Harry laughed. "Let's eat. I'm starving."

The pizza was a bit lukewarm by the time they got around to digging in but it was still good. As Harry sat there, Hermione embedded into his side and feeding him bites, he couldn't believe how spectacularly wrong he'd gotten it over the last few days. The prophecy hadn't magically disappeared, and he was still just as terrified at what the future held. But right now, at that moment, he was happy. And he had helped make Hermione happy. He resolved to do a much better job of that going forward.

"Harry?" Hermione eventually asked between bites, "is there any reason why we're listening to classical music."

He shrugged. "Umm…I wasn't sure what kind of music you liked. So I guessed."

She laughed. A full-on, proper laugh. "I don't like classical music," she informed, "but thank you for trying."

"Well, what do you like?" he asked.

"I've never cared, really," she answered with a shrug.

"So we can listen to Oasis then? Sirius picked up some other records of theirs and they are-"

"No!" Hermione nearly shouted. "I don't really care, in general, but I know what I don't like."

"Sirius thought they were brilliant."

"Why am I not surprised?" Hermione said as she stood and began filing through the pile of records by the phonograph.

"The Beatles, huh? Dad said they were a bit too soft for his taste. He said the Rolling Stones were better." Based on her expression, she was not a fan of the group.

Harry quickly joined her and changed the music selection. "Is this a Beatles song?" Hermione asked as the record began playing. "I know this one! It's catchy!" she enthused.

"It's from Rubber Soul," Harry supplied, "it was Mum's favorite."

They slumped back into the sofa and didn't move for the next thirty minutes, taking turns feeding each other pizza and listening to the music. At some point, Harry realized that the knot had disappeared. It sparked back to life when he remembered the prophecy, but the knot felt much smaller and much more manageable now thanks to the cold pizza…and Tonks…and Sirius…and Hermione. Unfortunately for him, the music eventually stopped playing and he stood up to put on a new record.

"Harry?" Hermione began as the music resumed, "this night is about making me feel better, right?"

"Yeah," he answered, now confused and concerned that he'd done a bad job so far. Before he could apologize for whatever he'd messed up, she stood and began making her way to the door.

"I'll be right back!" she called, disappearing from sight. A few minutes later she bounded back into the room, holding a large book and pile of parchment. "Sirius said we'll be receiving instruction on this when we get back to Hogwarts," she began, thrusting the book into his hands before leaning back into his side. "I spent last night making notes."

Harry pulled her close and inhaled her lavender shampoo, listening as best he could as she explained Occlumency to him. He fought the urge to stop listening and solely focus on the smell of the shampoo, the feel of Hermione's waist in his hand, and the music filling the air. But this was Hermione's night, and she and Sirius said this was important to learn. So he did his best to listen.

August 30, 1995

It had been less than twenty-four hours since his evening with Hermione and Harry was feeling much better. Mrs Weasley had given all of them the day off from decontamination duty due to it being their last day of freedom, and as tempted as he was to while away the day alone with Hermione on their summer assignments, spending the better part of the day listening to music with Ron, Ginny, and the twins had been brilliant. Ron had the right of it, declaring that Oasis was clearly the best of the offered selections. Harry suspected it was simply because they were the loudest and most obnoxious, but considering that was why they were his favorite, that was a totally valid reason. Ginny and Hermione were drawn to The Beatles, with Harry taking special joy in Hermione saying that Rubber Soul was her favorite. Whether it was because they simply wanted to be contrarians or they actually believed it, the twins stubbornly asserted that The Weird Sisters were superior. It was a shit opinion but they were welcome to it.

He couldn't stop grinning as he looked around the table at the final meeting of the Granger Initiative Task Force before their return to Hogwarts. They were now a group of twelve as Molly Weasley had officially been inducted a few minutes prior, giggling as she downed her shot of firewhisky before telling Hermione and him that it was important to be responsible when drinking alcohol, and that they should definitely wait until they were of age to try it.

Professor Flitwick was the only member not present, not privy to the Fidelius secret due to his unwillingness to join the Order. As he thought about the risk his diminutive professor had taken on his behalf…and Hermione's…Harry resolved to learn Occlumency and whatever Advanced Charms instruction the man was willing to offer. It was the least he could do.

"Right. As you all know, this is our last official meeting for a while as we've finally managed to get rid of this lot," Sirius began, gesturing toward them. "So we've got a few things to cover before we're shot of the annoying youngsters. First order of business: Dolores Umbridge."

Half of the table's expression instantly hardened. It was clear that the woman's reputation had most definitely preceded her.

"Dolores is awful," Mr. Weasley began, "she looks down on anything and everything that she feels is beneath her. And if you are not a pureblood who follows the Ministry's guidance, you are beneath her."

Mr. Weasley's comment was met with confirming nods and muttered cursing, the loudest of which in French.

Sirius turned to the half-Veela in amusement. "Have something to share on Miss Umbridge, Fleur?"

Harry had never seen the girl so enraged, her anger fading once Bill leaned over and whispered something in her ear. "She is responsible for the legislation that required my registration at the Ministry. The head of the department, Mr. Dagworth, had refused to enforce the decree, so that harpy took it upon herself to send me the notice informing me of my obligations. I would show it to you but I burned it to ash before I'd made it past the first paragraph." The girl folded her arms and sunk into Bill's side, willing herself to remain calm.

"So," Sirius continued with a clap of his hands, "in summary, Umbridge is a foul bitch. She hates anything and anyone that is different from her and is essentially Fudge's attack dog. We're all agreed that she is at Hogwarts to make you and Dumbledore look bad, Harry. Anyone disagree with that assessment?"

Sirius' summary was met with universal murmurs of agreement. Harry was surprised to see that Mrs. Weasley seemed to be the angriest of the group.

"So what does that mean for you, Harry?" Sirius prompted.

"I need to keep my mouth shut and not lose my temper," Harry repeated dully. Sirius and Hermione had taken turns over the last day to remind him of what needed to be done. He knew it would be easier said than done; every time he thought of the woman's simpering voice and mannerisms at the Ministry hearing, his nerves were set on edge, and he'd only been subjected to her for a few minutes. He couldn't quite fathom how he'd manage being subjected to her squeaky nonsense for a full session at Hogwarts.

"And…" Mr. Weasley prompted.

"Make sure Ron keeps his mouth shut as well," Hermione offered, drawing an affirming nod from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.

"Next order of business," Sirius continued, "for those who aren't aware, Harry and Hermione will be receiving advanced instruction in Charms from Professor Flitwick. Filius will be doing a bit more than instructing them on Charms, and it is important that we convince our esteemed Minister and dear, sweet Miss Umbridge that Harry has earned this instruction. Filius, Minnie, and Dumbledore will handle spreading the narrative at Hogwarts, and Harry and Hermione will do their part by being star pupils in Charms, right?"

Hermione nodded immediately and Harry did his best to mimic her actions. Charms had always been relatively easy to master, enough to manage a passing grade at least, but he knew that wouldn't be enough going forward. He felt preemptively exhausted as he thought about how much harder he would have to work next term.

"Arthur, Fleur, and Bill, if the opportunity arises, make sure to say something about how amazing Harry is at Charms. The more we say it at the Ministry and at Gringotts, the more we can spread the word."

"This will be easy," Fleur said. "Harry is a great wizard. He would have to be to defeat me in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, no?"

"It was set up for me to win-"

"No," Fleur interrupted in a tone that brooked no argument. "You outperformed us all in the first task. You rescued my Gabrielle. You saved me and survived the third task even though it was a trap. You are a great wizard and I will not hear different."

After several moments of silence, Sirius spoke. "Uh yeah…so to recap…Arthur and Bill, try to be like Fleur without the wonky accent." Sirius paused as his eyes settled on him, his expression softening.

"Like she said, Harry is a great wizard, the best of us, and I will not hear different."

August 31, 1995

As he sank into his seat, Harry did his best to catch his breath. His journey from Grimmauld to the Hogwarts Express seemed like a blur, a whirlwind of emotion and confusion. Mrs. Weasley's tearful goodbye at Grimmauld was matched only by Sirius' equally tearful blubbering as his godfather did his best to repeat his final instructions. Whatever the man had said was lost to time as Harry focused on the strong arms that embraced him…much stronger than they had been on that fateful night at the end of third year. He felt a keen sense of pride at what he and Hermione had accomplished that night. Even Moody's paranoid instructions as they made their way through muggle London to King's Cross seemed a bit softer…a bit more emotional. Sirius had mentioned that there was a 'super-secret' member of GIT whose identity he'd been sworn to secrecy in revealing, but when the grizzled wizard referred to him as 'Harry' while admonishing him for not watching his corners, he was fairly confident that Alastor had signed up for duty.

Little did he know that the tearful goodbyes were only beginning. Mr. and Mrs. Granger were waiting for them on the muggle side of Platform 9 , their arms loaded down with chocolate and even more shopping bags filled with clothes. Apparently Mrs. Granger had decided that he needed proper wizarding accoutrements and recruited Bill and his girlfriend for a trip to Diagon to rectify the matter. Harry had thanked them (again) for their kindness and offered to pay them back (again), but Mr. and Mrs. Granger had waved him off (again), refusing his offer.

Mr. Granger ordered him to keep the offered chocolate on him at all times, lest any more stray dementors find their way to his orbit, and took great pains to inform Harry that he'd had enough time to get the good stuff this time…not the dodgy sweets he'd been able to scrounge up at the Petrol station during their pre-dawn rescue mission. Harry had made a point of sampling a bit for Mr. Granger's benefit before going through the platform. It was delicious, better than any he'd ever tried. He reckoned it had less to do with the quality of the sweet and more to do with the sentiment behind the offering.

His journey had been so inspiring he hadn't even been that bothered to learn that Malfoy had been named a prefect. The git had tried to get a rise out of him multiple times during the prefect meeting, but Harry did his best to ignore him, instead focusing on the soft hand intertwined with his. He'd promised Mrs. Weasley and Hermione that he would do his best not to be so impulsive this year, and if Malfoy wanted to be a shit prefect then that was his problem. Harry had made a promise.

With the meeting finally over, they went in search of their friends, finding Ginny and Ron sitting in a compartment with Neville, along with a rather odd-looking girl he couldn't recall seeing before. She'd tucked her wand behind her ear and was reading a magazine that looked to be upside down. It was very odd.

"You're Harry Potter," the girl stated as he took a seat, her focus immediately returning to her upside-down reading material. Based on Ron and Ginny's bemused expressions he reckoned he'd get the full story on the girl later. Besides, she had a pretty smile and seemed harmless enough.

"Good summer, Neville?" he asked.

"It was great!" the boy enthused. "I got this from Gran for my birthday," he declared as he held up the plant in his lap for inspection.

Harry thought it was a rather sad looking birthday present, all things considered, but kept those thoughts to himself; if Neville liked it, then that was good enough for him. As Neville explained the brilliance that was the Mimbulus mimbletonia, Harry made a point of interjecting with a 'that's cool' or 'neat' from time to time, content to let his friend regale them with the gloriousness of his plant. At some point during Neville's dissertation, Cho Chang and a group of her friends stopped by their compartment. The girl looked like she was going to stop and say hello, but after making a move to open the compartment, Cho frowned and quickly moved along. Harry wasn't sure what had spooked the girl, but something or someone had quickly disavowed the girl of that particular notion. Hermione buried herself a bit further into his side as she asked Neville about his plant, and all thoughts of Cho and her strange behavior faded away.

At some point Neville must have realized that he'd been droning on about his plant a bit longer than he should have and he suddenly stopped. "So," Neville continued awkwardly, "how was your summer?"

Based on Neville's expression the boy immediately regretted asking his question. Given the dementor attack, his subsequent hearing at the Ministry, and the almost daily slagging off that he'd received from the Prophet, it was clear that Neville was worried he'd asked the absolute worst question. Even the odd girl seemed to be interested in his answer, lowering her upside-down magazine and waiting for him to respond.

"It's the best summer I can remember," Harry answered honestly. As he stared out the window his mind briefly returned to the damned prophecy, but he quickly squashed those thoughts down.

They would figure it out. He and Hermione would figure it out.