Harry and Nym spent the next hour holding one another in bed. Now knowing that he wouldn't be put in an awkward position, Harry was more relaxed. As they lay there, they spoke of Harry's interest in becoming an Auror. He told her about how he was getting along in Potions. He was sure that Snape hated him more than anyone else, and would preen at the fact that he had stopped Harry's ambition.
"Now, Harry, I know Severus and you are always tense around one another, but remember - he doesn't grade your O.W.L.'s or your N.E.W.T.'s. Besides, The Ministry doesn't care so much about the grades in classes for just this sort of reason. Oh, sure your marks are important, but your tests carry more weight.
"You'd be tested again, of course. Don't forget that we train you for three years after you graduate. No, Harry, don't worry about Professor Snape. If you want to be an Auror, and you work hard, you will be." Hearing this reassured Harry a great deal. He felt like he had the advantage on Snape now.
They lay quietly for a while, when a thought occurred to him. "Nym, how long have you felt this way?" He felt like he had to know.
"About you? I wasn't sure until last night, but I think it started last Christmas. Does it really matter?" Harry shook his head.
"Not really, Nym," he gave her shoulder a squeeze, playing it off. "I was just curious." He sighed. After a few moments he said, "I miss him." She hugged him closer.
"I know, Harry. I miss him too - we all do." They said nothing more until it was nearly time to get up. As they sat up, Harry was suddenly seized of a notion.
"Nym, I don't care what the others think. Let's not hide anything." Harry had no idea where the impulse had come from.
"Yes, dear." Nym beamed at him. "That which does not survive in the light of day has no place in the world." They pulled each other into a brief kiss. "What do you say we don't give anyone else the wrong idea, though, eh?" Harry nodded heavily, but smiled in spite of himself.
"See you in the kitchen?" Harry nodded. He watched Nym walk to her room and go inside. She threw a soft smile over her shoulder before going inside. He couldn't see how she (or anyone else for that matter) thought of herself as clumsy. Maybe it was an act. Harry smiled. He'd been doing that a lot lately. It was likely that he would be doing a great deal more in the future. Harry decided he didn't mind much at all. He went downstairs, and for the first time that summer, he felt happy.
As he rounded the staircase to make for the kitchen, he heard a noise in the entry hall. Turning back to face the door, he saw Snape. 'Well, the good day couldn't go on forever,' he thought.
Snape looked at Harry for a moment. "Feeling better, _Potter_?" Snape's ever-present sneer coated his voice like oil.
"I was, until just now, Snape." Snape glared back.
"Manners, Potter." Harry turned and started away from Snape without a second glance. "Potter," Harry stopped and faced the Potions Master again. Snape thrust a small box wrapped with tissue paper. "_Happy Birthday_. Oh come now, don't stare at me like a dead fish." Harry closed his mouth hard enough to make his teeth click. "Perish the thought if _I_ ever give you anything but guff, Potter. The Headmaster sends his _warmest_ birthday wishes and his apology for not coming himself." Snape was, if possible, even more contemptuous than usual. He waved the package at Harry again, which he numbly accepted.
"Where is Professor Dumbledore, _sir_?" Harry asked.
"On important business for the Order which does not concern you. Open your present." Harry obeyed, tearing off the thin paper, which revealed a flat box the size of his palm. The outside was covered with a fuzzy blue material, not unlike the kind jewelry came in. When he opened it, a small card fell out, but he ignored it.
Inside the box was a medallion made of silver. It bore the symbol of his House, the lion, on one side. The detail was very fine - he could even see the pupil in the lion's eye. A complicated looking chain was wound through the loop at the top of the medallion. Many strange symbols were etched on the reverse side when he turned it over. Some he recognized from classes, but most he did not.
"Put it on, Potter. Wear it with the creature facing out, so the symbols ride against you. Do not take it off for any reason." Snape seemed rather pleased about this, which irritated Harry.
"Why? What does it do?"
"Manners, Potter. It will shield your mind better than you have been. Get on with it!" Harry thankfully put on the medallion. Anything to stop the nightmares had to be better. "We will talk later, Potter." Snape turned on his heel and stalked out the front door.
Harry stood there for a moment, but couldn't sense any change in his mind. He bent down and picked up the fallen card. Opening it, he found a simple birthday card with a note enclosed.
Happy Birthday. I must apologize that I will be unable to come to your party. Have a care to keep the amulet on at all times. Severus has told you what it will do. It will help, until you can resume your Occlumency lessons with him. I know that there is little regard between you and he, but I must ask you to have patience with one another. After the events of the previous term, you of all people should know how important this is.
I know that you have had little reason to be happy, Harry. Your Aunt and your friends are all quite worried about you. For my part, I can understand how you feel. I also know that you have recently found a source of comfort, or rather, she has found you. While I cannot attest to the wisdom of this, you are both entitled to your happiness. Please forgive an old man's concern - follow your heart, Harry.
There has been discussion here at Hogwarts, and the staff and I have reached an agreement. We ask you to continue teaching your fellow students Defense Against the Dark Arts, as I have been unable to find a replacement teacher yet. If you all are agreeable, those classes will be taken up by yourself, Mr. Longbottom, Mr. Weasley, and Miss Granger. The official title will be Student-Instructor, and I thought you might like to ask your friends for us. Without trying to sound presumptious, Professor McGonagall will be sending your adjusted schedules along with the results of your O.W.L.'s.
I hope this letter finds you well, and I'll see you at Hogwarts.
Harry had absolutely no doubts as to whom Dumbledore was referring to. He wasn't even really phased by essentially being handed Defense Against the Dark Arts. 'He really does know everything,' Harry thought. As he reread the letter a second and third time, Nym came down the stairs.
"Wotcher, Harry?" she asked. Harry handed her the letter, and stuffed the box and card in the pocket of his jeans. She scanned the contents of the letter, her jaw dropping. Handing it back to him, she said, "Well now! He really does know everything! Better still, that position will be something to put on your application at the Ministry." Nym gave him a big wink.
"I was just thinking the same thing, Nym. How do you suppose he knew so soon?" Nym pondered the question for a few moments.
"Phineas must have been in his painting. That would be the only explanation I could think of. Come on, let's get some breakfast." They linked arms, and then made their way down to the kitchen. Phineas Nigellus seemed to be a logical explanation to Harry. The former headmaster had visited him in the painting in Harry's room last Christmas.
When the entered the kitchen, it was dark. Nym grumbled about the fire having gone out. Just as she was about to make her way over to the fireplace, bright light spr ng into the room, and they were buffeted with a shouted, "SUPRISE!!" Harry and Nym both jumped, and the smiles around the room grew wider.
Looking around, Harry saw all the Weasleys, including Fred and George, and, suprisingly, Percy. Hermione was also there, and he did not miss the quick glance she directed between Nym and Harry. Her parents stood behind her, looking slightly bewildered, but smiling no less for it. Harry spotted Neville, who was standing next to Ron. He also spotted several members of the Order mixed in the crowd: Remus Lupin, Mrs. Figg, Mad-Eye Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and a few others that he didn't recognize.
Harry barely had time to register the room's occupants when he was engulfed in a hug by Mrs. Weasley. "Happy Birthday, dear." Ron and Neville followed, Hermione immediately behind. He cast a glance at Nym, who gave him a helpless gesture before walking over to Kingsley. Harry was immediately deluged with birthday wishes from his fellow Gryffindors.
"So Harry, having a good summer?" Ron asked. Harry gave a nod. Neville nodded too, but Hermione looked almost as if she didn't believe him. "Fred and George told us all about your run-in with their newest gag." Ron laughed a little nervously. "Wish I could have been there, mate. They said the look on your face was worth all the trouble they went to."
Harry was relieved to hear that the twins seemed to be keeping their word. He knew that he and Nym didn't care if the others knew, but he would very much rather not have Fred and George telling their own version. It could wait a while though.
Hermione broke in on Harry's thoughts. "Harry, we've all been really worried about you. You never said much in your owl's and - Ow!" Ron interrupted her by stepping on her foot.
"Give him a break, Hermione." Ron rolled his eyes and looked at Harry apologetically. "She's done nothing but drive me mad with owl after owl about you. I tried to tell her to give over, and that we were playing wizard chess by post." Hermione looked exasperated and about to say something, but Neville cut in first.
"Hey, Harry, did you know they want you to help teach Defense Against the Dark Arts?" Harry nodded, but held the rest of the news for now. "I'll bet Snape was ready to eat his own liver over that." Neville laughed, and Harry noticed that he seemed completely at ease. So that was why Snape had been frosty – Harry hadn't even really thought about it until Neville pointed it out. Snape was always being nasty to him.
"I've got some good news for you three, but not now. Neville, how'd you manage to get out of the house?" Neville stuck his tongue between his teeth and wrinkled his nose.
"Not much choice on that. Gran got a note from Ron's mum about the suprise party and insisted I get out of the house for a change. Mrs. Weasley came and got me about an hour ago. I positively hate flooing." Harry nodded, remembering his first time through a fireplace.
"Yeah, at least you got where you were supposed to be going the first time." Harry laughed in spite of himself. Everyone else had started to filter over to the four of them. Each one wished Harry a happy birthday, and Mr. Weasley introduced him to the people he didn't know.
The two men, Thomas Clapperton and Quincy Athmus, looked a great deal alike. Both were seemingly middle-aged, but grey-haired fellows. They greeted Harry with the same well-wishing. Gabrielle Deosil was a short, dark-skinned woman who worked at the Portkey office. Vilenya Whyte was an older woman, probably close to Professor McGonagall's age.
After the introductions were made, Mrs. Weasley raised her voice over the general babble. "All right, you lot, time for breakfast!" She smiled and started directing everyone to the table, which was laden with fruits, biscuits, and bagels. Not long after they were seated, bacon eggs and sausage followed.
Harry had managed to sneak in next to Nym, who gave him a bright smile and a pat on the knee. Ron sat next to him, and Neville next to Ron. Hermione and Ginny sat opposite from them.
Hermione caught Harry's eye, looked at him rather pointedly for a moment. When he gave her a questioning look, she looked at Nym and back at Harry. He looked over at Nym with a smile, before looking back at Hermione. Ginny hadn't missed the wordless exchange.
Hermione sniffed before helping herself to sausage and eggs. Ginny looked confused for a moment, and quietly asked Hermione something he couldn't hear over the chaos of breakfast. Hermione's answer also went unh ard, when Harry felt a finger poke his arm.
"Harry, did you hear what I said?" Ron frowned at him. Harry shook his head to clear it.
"Sorry, Ron. What were you saying?"
"I was asking you if you'd been keeping up with the Chudley Cannons." Harry shook his head. "Well, they seem like they've got a good chance to win the League Cup this year. Last week they trounced the Ballycastle Bats, 150 to 30!" Ron was getting more and more excited as he went into a play by play description of the match. Harry listened with enthusiasm - this year would be the first in a long time if the Cannons' winning streak held.
Breakfast eventually wore down, and soon Harry was being handed presents. His present from Ron was predictable; lots of chocolate frogs and a Chudley Cannons pennant. Hermione had given him a lesson planner and a muggle book called Teaching Made Simple. He couldn't wait to tell her that she would need it too. Fred and George gave him a card that came with the instructions for the 'Flaming Terror'.
Charlie and Bill had apparently teamed up to get Harry new Quidditch gear, while Percy had thrown in with Ginny to get him a leather-bound journal. Ginny had made a slipcover for it, and warned him that it would chase him around the room each night until he wrote in it. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley gave Harry new winter gloves and a weighty key ring with the Gryffindor lion on it.
Lupin and Mad-Eye had each given him books titled _Advanced Countercurses_ and _Protective Charms That Will Knock Their Socks Off_, which Harry flipped through eagerly. It was obvious that news had either traveled quickly, or the Hogwarts Staff's decision was made much earlier.
Hagrid sent pictures, one which showed Hagrid and Grawp wrestling in the Forbidden Forest. The other photo showed a very much-grown Norbert, who alternated between preening and breathing fire. Mrs. Figg apparently thought Hedwig should get something as well, for she had wrapped a cage-mirror and some owl-toys.
Kingsley (whose card had signatures from those not present) had given him a rather impressive writing set, including disappearing ink. The newer members of the Order, not knowing what else to get him, gave him birthday cards with 20-Galleon vouchers from Gringotts.
Finally, Nym brought Harry his present, which had been removed from its plastic bag and wrapped in a shiny green paper. Tearing open her present, Harry discovered three books: _Human Transfiguration_, _Use of Muggle Disguises Made Simple_, and _So You Want to be an Auror: Training and Preparation_. Harry was overjoyed at the last one, and eagerly skimmed the pages. While it wasn't a thick book, it looked like it would give him a better idea what to focus on. He couldn't resist the urge to give Nym a sideways hug, which he got in return.
Harry thanked everyone for their gifts. Most of the adults gave nods and smiles, then began to talk amongst themselves. Taking this as a signal that breakfast was over, Mrs. Weasley waved her wand. Plates, uneaten food, and wrapping paper all whisked to their various places.
"Harry," Ron said, "you've made out like a bandit!" he waved his hand at the stack in front of Harry. "You need some help getting all that upstairs?" Harry nodded, and looked over at Hermione and Ginny. They had their heads together, so he had little chance of getting their attention. He turned back to Ron and Neville, who were gathering up books and boxes.
Harry gathered the rest of his presents, but before leaving, he bent and spoke quietly in Nym's ear. "Do you think you might have Hermione and Ginny come up when they finish gossiping about us?" Nym chuckled and nodded, then gave him a peck on the cheek. Harry ignored the look Ron gave him and made for the kitchen door.
a/n okay okay okay! :p I know you guys have been waiting patiently for this chapter, and it got too long, so I've already got part of the next chapter done. This is getting harder as I go, delving into unknown territory (in several ways). Originally I had just intended to write about Harry's summer – the bits about the nightmares, Aunt Petunia, and Snape.
Somehow or other Nym has managed to step in and turn everything upside-down. Worse, I have no idea how it happened. One night I'm sitting in front of the computer, minding my own business, and here's this idea that taps me on the shoulder. When I look, it's standing there with a club, and its tapping it in the other hand as if to say, 'You better do it, or else'. Does this happen to anyone else when they're writing? I always imagine it afterward as a short furry white critter that has the word IDEA in big black letters across the front. I honestly didn't plan on becoming a shipper, really, I swear!
Well, I digress, next chapter goes into the Harry's classmates, their thoughts on the coming year, Percy, and perhaps Snape (finally). Yes, you heard me right, Percy. This is the only idea I have that's passed the concept stage. I have part of the dialogue between Harry and Snape written, but it sounds a little strained. I won't make promises (still no internet at the house yet), but I'll try to get it up within the next week or so.
As far as going into year six, I'm still not sure what the main focus will be. I'm sorry, but I just can't make it all about Harry and Nym – it wouldn't be realistic. I've been kicking around some of my unarmed ideas, all in good fun of course. We'll see what happens as I write.
Many thanks to all the reviewers for their kind words, and I will do my best to live up to all your expectations. :)
a/a/n Sorry for the cutoff for the last couple of tries uploading this - I have no idea what happened. I switched to html for a change of pace - sorry if it looks strange. :/