STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Spoilers: Everything through Order of the Phoenix. This is a 6th year fic, written post OotP.

This is a beta'ed version of chapter one. A reader was kind enough to point out to me that I had erred in placing the year at 1997 rather than 1996. Thanks!

Harry Potter and the Deadly Deception


7 August, 1996

Albus Dumbledore liked his office. He was surrounded by old friends and familiar objects. He could bounce ideas off of former Headmasters for advice when need be; they provided him with different perspectives, chided him when they felt he was going about his job improperly, and encouraged him when the days seemed dark.

Summer was the worst. Hogwarts seemed empty without children roaming its halls. Granted, the staff needed the break just as much as the students did, to visit with family and rest their own minds. Still, Albus was never happier than he was on the first of September each year.

Tonight, he was anxious, more so than usual. The summer had been unusually quiet, which was not unexpected. He knew that Tom Riddle was probably regrouping after his failure at the Ministry of Magic But he also knew that Tom was clever . . . and always had more than one plan. Albus suspected tonight might be the night that Tom would make his next move.

Unfortunately, he was not disappointed. Late in the night, the staircase began to spiral, and he could hear heavy footfalls making their way towards him. A dark-haired figured appeared in the doorway shortly after.

"Severus. Come in. Sit, and have some tea."

"Thank you, but no, Headmaster. There's no time for pleasantries."

"Ah. It has finally come to that, then?"

"Yes, Albus. There is no other way around it."

"Very well. We will take care of it on the morrow. He will be in Diagon Alley then. Now, please, sit and have some tea. It will do you good."

Snape obeyed the Headmaster reluctantly.

Chapter 1 - Minus One

1 September, 1997

Hermione Granger stood alone on Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross. She scanned the crowd of students and parents repeatedly but had yet to spot the face she was looking for. She began to grow impatient; then impatience turned into worry. What if . . .

"Hermione." A masculine voice spoke her name at the same time that a large hand fell on her shoulder.

Hermione whirled around and beheld the somber countenance of Ron Weasley. Wordlessly, they embraced each other. It had been three weeks since the funeral; the pain was still too fresh to allow them to speak of the events of the summer. Tears sprang anew to Hermione's eyes, and she let them fall. She wore no makeup to be concerned with, and had learned that no matter how often she wiped them away, new tears welled up to take their place. She sniffled and felt Ron's arms briefly clutch her tighter before he released her.

"Here." Ron fumbled in his pocket, withdrew a soft handkerchief and handed it to her.

She accepted it with a whispered "Thanks," and dabbed at her face. "I'm sorry," she said, in a voice that had been made hoarse by grief. "I keep promising myself that I won't do this, but I just can't help it."

"I know." Ron's voice was also hoarse. If Hermione had looked closely, she would have seen that unshed tears glistened in his eyes as well. He drew her to his side protectively and waited while she collected herself.

"I think I'll be okay now. Where is the rest of your family?"

"Helping Ginny with her things. They'll be along in a minute. I've got to go back for my trunk; I wanted to see if you were here yet, so I ran ahead."

"I'm glad. I was starting to get worried. I don't think I could bear it if . . . ."

"Hush. Don't even think that. Come on, let's get your things on the train, then I'll go get mine."

As Ron took Hermione's trolley and steered it towards the baggage car, the rest of the Weasley family began to emerge from the barrier that separated Platform 9 3/4 from the Muggle world. Fred appeared first, followed by Ginny and George. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley brought up the rear. Ginny ran to Hermione and embraced her in a tight hug.

"I'm so glad to see you," Ginny murmured.

"Me too," Hermione replied, squeezing the younger girl. "I've been worried about you. And about Ron." She released Ginny and stepped back a bit to talk.

"Ron is . . . okay." Ginny said.

"And you?"

Ginny turned haunted eyes to Hermione's face. Hermione could see that she was unusually pale, and that her eyes were red-rimmed. She knew her own appearance couldn't be much better.

"I'm surviving," Ginny answered finally. Hermione imagined that was probably the best way to describe it for all three of them. "I just . . . I still can't believe he's truly gone. It doesn't feel right, going back to Hogwarts without Harry."

"I know," Hermione said. "But we have to, Ginny. He would have wanted us to."

Ron walked up to the girls once more, having retrieved his own trunk and loaded it and Ginny's onto the train. Without speaking, Hermione and Ginny each reached a hand out to him, which he grasped firmly. They stood quietly together for a long moment. Ron was the one to finally break the silence.

"Ready, then?"

"Ready," the girls replied together. Mrs. Weasley embraced each of them and whispered words of comfort in their ears. Ron shook hands with Fred and George, and embraced his father. Fred and George gave each of the girls a hug. It was a time for family to cling together, and for once they were in no mood for pranks. Mrs. Weasley addressed the students once last time.

"Take care of each other. I know this year will be rough on all of you. Ron, you and Hermione make sure to help Ginny with her O.W.L.s. Ginny, make sure Ron and Hermione make up after they argue. Hermione, make sure you all get enough to eat. You've got to keep up your strength. And all of you . . . remember that Harry wouldn't want you to put your lives on hold because of him. Try and have some fun . . . maybe make new friends." Molly looked as if she wanted to say more, but instead hugged and kissed each of them once more. "Well then, off you go. Have a good year."

Together the students boarded the Hogwarts Express, minus one of their own.

Harry Potter would not be returning to Hogwarts with them.


Ginny, Ron, and Hermione were the last to board the train. As they made their way down the corridor, the train lurched several times beneath their feet and began rolling slowly away from the station. Hermione and Ron stopped near the front of the train.

"Ginny, we have to go into the prefect carriage," Hermione said. "We'll join you as soon as we can. Save us a seat, okay? Take care of Crookshanks for me!"

"All right. I'm going to try and find Luna and Neville. Maybe we can sit with them. See you soon." Ginny took Pigwidgeon's and Crookshanks' carriers from Ron and Hermione and continued her way down the train in search of an empty compartment, or one familiar faces. She paused to speak with several people she knew on the way. Luna was sitting with Colin Creevey and several other fifth years in a compartment that was full. Neville was with the sixth year boys. Ginny stopped at both compartments to greet her friends, but did not stay, as neither compartment had room for Ron, Hermione, Crookshanks and Pigwidgeon.

Finally, Ginny peered into one of the only compartments left. It was occupied by a boy she didn't know, who was seated next to the window watching the scenery pass by. When she rapped softly against the door, he turned in surprise.

"Um, hello," he said. Ginny noticed his cheeks pinken slightly. She smiled and returned his greeting.

"Hello. I was wondering if you have room for a few more?"

"Erm, sure. There's just me in here. And my owl." He pointed to the tawny owl perched on his shoulder, who nipped his ear affectionately.

"I wanted to save seats for my brother and our friend. We have an owl, too, and a cat. Is that okay?" Ginny brought the carriers into view. Pig was fluttering madly about his cage; Crookshanks was napping.

The boy looked at her nervously. Ginny believed she saw him swallow hard before he answered.

"Of course. There's plenty of room."

''Thanks." Ginny eased into the compartment and shut the door behind her. "Mind if I let Pig out? He's a bit restless."

The boy smiled. "Pig would be the owl?"

"Yes. Pig is short for Pigwidgeon. I know it sounds silly, but it means 'small.'"

"Really? Suits him, then. Go ahead, let him out."

Ginny opened the door to Pigwidgeon's cage. He immediately shot out and began fluttering about the compartment. The boy's owl hooted indignantly at him when Pig flew too close. Ginny laughed and held her hand out for the little owl. He landed long enough for her to feed him some owl treats before fluttering about in circles once more.

"He's been cooped up all morning. Maybe if he flies long enough, he'll be calm by the time Ron gets here and Ron won't yell at him." Ginny noticed the boy looking at her a bit strangely and realized she had failed to introduce herself.

"I'm so sorry. You must think me terribly rude. I'm Ginny. Ginny Weasley. And you are?"

"Um, Evan. Evan Jameson." The boy swallowed nervously once more. Ginny thought he must be terribly shy.

"It's nice to meet you, Evan. You're new, aren't you? I don't remember seeing you at Hogwarts. But surely you can't be a first year. You look much too old."

"No! No, I'm not a first year. I'm . . . I'm a transfer student. From Durmstrang. I'll be at Hogwarts for my sixth and seventh years."

"Oh, you'll be in the same year as my brother Ron, then. And Hermione, too. She's one of . . . she's his best friend," Ginny finished sadly, reminded yet again that they were minus a friend this year. She felt her eyes burn with unshed tears and busied herself with Crookshanks, who was still napping. When she felt she could speak without choking, she continued. "I'm in fifth year. O.W.L. year, you know. Did you take O.W.L.s at Durmstrang?"


"Really? How did you do?" Ginny had taken the seat across from Evan. She pulled Crookshanks onto her lap and stroked his fur as he purred contentedly. He had barely stirred when she'd removed him from the carrier. When Evan did not reply to her question, she looked up to find he was staring warily at the cat in her lap.

"Oh, I didn't even ask if you minded."

"No, it's okay. I just don't always get along all that well with cats."

As if on cue, Crookshanks blinked his eyes several times and rose to a sitting position on Ginny's lap. He switched his tail back and forth slowly as he peered at the boy across the compartment. Ginny continued to stroke the cat as she chattered.

"Oh, Crookshanks is a marvelous cat. He's very intelligent, and a great judge of character. You'll probably get along with him just . . . ."

At that moment, Crookshanks jumped across to the seat next to by Evan. He stood on his hind legs, placed his paws against Evan's shoulder and sniffed Evan's face and hair.

"Wha...what's he doing?" Evan stammered, clearly uncomfortable.

"Crookshanks! Leave him alone!" Ginny was mortified. "I'm so sorry. He usually keeps to himself around strangers."

Crookshanks ignored Ginny and climbed onto Evan's lap, then rose up once more and sniffed the owl on Evan's shoulder.

"Crookshanks! Really, that's enough!" Ginny called again. The cat turned to look at her, blinked twice, then turned a circle in Evan's lap and plopped down to continue his nap.

"Well, I never." Ginny said, amazed by the cat's behavior. She reached across to retrieve the cat, but Evan stopped her.

"No, it's all right. I don't mind. I didn't say I didn't like cats. I just don't always get along with them. But he seems to like me okay."

"I'm terribly sorry," Ginny apologized again. "He's not even my cat. He belongs to my friend Hermione. He's usually a bit of a snob, in fact. I don't know if I've ever seen him take to someone this quickly. But, like I said, he's usually a great judge of character. You must be okay, then," she teased gently, and smiled. Evan returned her smile and stroked the cat in his lap.

"You never answered my question, you know?" Ginny reminded him.

Evan looked up. "What question was that?"

"How did you do on the O.W.L.s? Were they terribly difficult? I'm just dreading them. Ron and Hermione and Harry had an awful . . . " Ginny trailed off once more, stricken, realizing that she hadn't mentioned Harry to Evan before. She choked on the rest of the sentence and realized she would not be able to stave off the tears this time. She stood abruptly.

"Excuse me, I need to find the loo," she whispered and left.


Harry exhaled loudly into the empty compartment. His heart was thumping wildly. Ginny's grief-stricken expression had nearly undone him. He was glad she had excused herself; hopefully it would give him a chance to pull himself back together before she returned. He had known he would come face to face with his friends sooner or later, but had prayed it would be later rather than sooner. He had desperately hoped for some time to get comfortable in his new identity before he encountered them.

Harry looked towards the window, where he could see a partial reflection of himself. The image was still startling; he still had to consciously refrain from doing a double take when he passed in front of a mirror or window. His hair was deep brown and very neat. His face was fuller, the jaw more squared and the chin less pointy than they used to be. His nose had a distinctly different tilt, and his mouth was shaped differently as well. His eyes were still green, but he had purchased brown contact lenses, the kind he could sleep in, to wear in lieu of his glasses. His height remained unchanged, but his body had been made to appear heavier and more muscled than his own slighter build. His voice had been altered as well and now rumbled out of his chest in a way that was disconcerting at times. The charms were long-term; he only had to strengthen them with an incantation once a day, and he had some leeway even then.

Dumbledore had warned him that the year ahead would not be easy. Harry had expected that, but he hadn't comprehended just how difficult it would be, not really. It was killing him just to see the sadness in Ginny's face when she had inadvertently mentioned his name. He hoped she was all right. He closed his eyes and rested his head in his hands as he remembered the events that had brought him to this point.


8 August, 1996

Harry consulted his list of supplies from Hogwarts and compared notes with Ron. They had purchased their books. Harry had purchased new robes from Madam Malkin's, as his old robes were now too short. They had purchased owl treats from Eeylops Owl Emporium and had restocked their potion ingredients at the apothecary.

"Looks like we're done. What time are we supposed to meet the girls?" Harry asked Ron.

"At one o'clock. We have plenty of time. They're probably still trying on robes at Madam Malkin's. Quality Quidditch Supplies has a new Firebolt. Want to take a look?"

"Sounds good. Let's go!"

Ron and Harry ogled the latest Firebolt model in the window at Quality Quidditch Supplies. Harry was perfectly happy with his own Firebolt, but he enjoyed looking at the new models. Although he knew he would never get rid of his Firebolt, which was precious to him because it had been a gift from his godfather, he might find it necessary to upgrade someday. He might play professionally, for Puddlemere United, or the Tornadoes, or the Cannons. He lost himself in dreams of Professional Quidditch while Ron babbled statistics next to him. When Harry checked his watch again, he discovered that he and Ron had frittered away most of the half hour they had to spare before meeting the girls.

"Ron, it's almost one. Let's go. Hermione and Ginny are probably waiting on us."

"Harry, they're girls. Girls are always late. They're probably looking at cosmetics, or reading about the latest beauty charms in some magazine. We've got time."

"Ron, I'm hungry. Let's go, okay?"

Ron huffed at him, but followed anyway. Harry led them to the Leaky Cauldron, where they were meeting Hermione and Ginny for lunch. As he suspected, the girls were waiting for them at a table beside a window, sitting across from one another. They both looked up and smiled as Harry and Ron approached them. The boys took the remaining stools opposite each other and dropped their packages onto the floor.

"All set?" Hermione asked.

"Yes. And it's a good thing, too," Ron grumbled. "I have just enough money left for lunch. Not a Knut left over for sweets."

"I can loan you some if you want, Ron," Ginny offered. "I have a few Knuts left. I didn't have to buy as many books as you, since Hermione is loaning me her texts from last year."

"Nah. Thanks though, Gin. I'll survive."

"Looking forward to O.W.L.s this year, Ginny?" Harry asked, in an effort to make conversation while they studied the menus.

"Oh, of course, Harry. I simply can't wait to study eight hours a night, skip Hogsmeade visits to study on weekends, and scribble essays on parchments until my fingers bleed. Thanks ever so much for reminding me," Ginny replied sarcastically. She kicked Harry lightly under the table and then returned her attention to the menu. Harry kicked her back and laughed when she stuck her tongue out at him. As he perused his own menu, his three companions glanced at each other in surprise, pleased to hear laughter from their friend. Harry was aware of their surprise, and aware of the reason for it. He had not had much to laugh about since Sirius had died. Ginny seemed to be the only one capable of even getting him to crack a smile; he believed she took after Fred and George far more than she did any of her other brothers.

Finally, the foursome placed their food orders and requested four butterbeers. As they waited, they chattered about their purchases, their plans for the rest of the day, and their summer holidays.

"How's life at the Dursleys' this summer, Harry?" Hermione asked him.

"Not too bad. I think old Mad-Eye really made an impression at King's Cross. They've hardly said a word to me all summer, which is pretty decent for them. I'll be glad when school starts back, though."

"You and Hermione are the only people I know that look forward to school," Ron said. "At least you have an excuse."

The conversation lulled briefly as their server set a bottle of butterbeer before each of them. Harry drank deeply from his immediately as Hermione retorted to Ron's teasing.

"Don't you think I have as much of an excuse as Harry?" Hermione asked.

Harry took another swig from his butterbeer and tuned out Ron and Hermione to watch Ginny, who had also tuned out Ron and Hermione and was watching the people passing by on the street outside the window. Not a trace of a blush graced Ginny's cheeks today. He was glad; it meant she was no longer affected at all by his presence. Then he was not so glad, for it meant she was no longer affected at all by his presence. Somehow, he had become accustomed to affecting Ginny Weasley. He had accepted it, and even took a little pleasure in it from time to time. To know that she was no longer affected by his presence unsettled him just the slightest bit.

Truth was, Ginny Weasley had become rather attractive over the past four years. He usually didn't take much notice of her; she was just there, like Ron, and Hermione, and Dean and Seamus and Lavender and Parvati were all just there when they were at Hogwarts. They were Gryffindors. They were family.

Today was a little different. With Ron and Hermione so obviously dancing some kind of animal kingdom pre-mating ritual, he felt as if the group had been divided somewhat differently today, with Ron and Hermione on one side and himself and Ginny on the other. It was . . . strange, but not uncomfortable. Ginny glanced up, noticed him watching her and crossed her eyes at him. He grinned and took another swallow of butterbeer, nearly draining the bottle.

The room seemed to be growing warmer, and he imagined it was because he was having unusual thoughts about Ginny. He ran his hand across his forehead and discovered he had broken out into a sweat. As he looked down at his hand, his vision seemed to blur a bit, and he began to feel nauseous.


He looked up again. Ginny was watching him worriedly.

"Harry, are you okay? You look a little pale."

Her voice sounded far away, and he felt he had to strain to hear her. He tried to focus on her face, but his vision hadn't cleared up; it seemed as if the room was getting darker.

"Harry, you really don't look so good." Ginny reached her hand over and touched his own.

Harry noticed that her skin felt much warmer than his did. His stomach clenched suddenly, and Harry wondered if he would make it to a lavatory before losing the contents of his stomach. When he slid down from his stool, Ginny slid off of hers, too, and stood beside him, placing a hand on his arm as if to brace him. He noticed Ron and Hermione had stopped talking and were staring at him now as well.

"I think I may be ill," he told them. He grabbed the chair beside him as a wave of dizziness washed over him. It felt as if the entire world had tilted. Ginny tightened her grasp on his arm.

Harry tried to take a step forward and suddenly felt as if he had been dropped into an icy lake. He was freezing, and he couldn't draw in a breath, as if his lungs had collapsed from the sudden cold. He stumbled into Ginny and grasped at her arms in an attempt to steady himself. He looked into her eyes; she appeared to be horrified.

"Gin . . . help . . . please." He could no longer hold on; his legs buckled under him, and as he collapsed to the floor, he could hear her screaming.


Then the world went black.


11 August, 1996

When Harry awoke, he was in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room. There were no windows, and there was only one lamp on the nightstand beside the bed. It was lit, but it didn't do much to dispel the darkness in the room. He groaned as he attempted to sit up. His entire body ached as if he had been run over by a train.

"Slowly, Harry. You have been ill for several days." The voice was a familiar one. He turned and saw Albus Dumbledore sitting in a chair next to the bed. The Headmaster appeared weary and seemed to have aged since Harry had last seen him at the leaving feast.

"Ill? I feel like I've been dead."

"In a manner of speaking . . . you have been."

"What? What do you mean?"

"What is the last thing you remember, Harry?"

Harry struggled to reorient himself. His brain felt foggy. Finally, he remembered. "Diagon Alley. Leaky Cauldron. I got sick."

"You were poisoned, Harry. You have been in a near-death sleep for four days. I have much to tell you; I only hope you will be able to forgive me once you have heard it."

"Where are we? Why am I not at the hospital? Who poisoned me? Where are Ron and Hermione and Ginny?"

Dumbledore sighed heavily, and Harry grew extremely concerned. The Headmaster was usually lighthearted by nature. The last time Harry had seen him so disheartened was after the fiasco at the Ministry of Magic. After Sirius had died.

"Harry, you are aware of the role that Professor Snape plays for the Order of the Phoenix."


"Several nights ago, the night before your trip to Diagon Alley, Severus came to me. Voldemort had summoned him and commanded him to kill you, Harry. Had he refused outright, Voldemort would have killed him immediately."

"You're saying Snape poisoned me?"

"Professor Snape, Harry. Yes. Professor Snape and I have been expecting this for some time. In order to be prepared, we had already worked out a feasible plan. Unfortunately, the best opportunity to follow through happened to present itself the day after Professor Snape advised me of Voldemort's instructions, which was the day you visited Diagon Alley."

"Opportunity? You let him poison me? Without explaining any of this to me first?"

"Harry, please understand this was a matter of the utmost urgency. It was important that Voldemort continue to believe that Severus was completely loyal to him. It was important for him to believe you were dead. I apologize for not being able to inform you prior to poisoning you, but in actuality, it probably worked out better that you didn't know beforehand. It was more realistic that way."

"Did it work?"



''The poison Professor Snape used is one that causes the victim to fall into a stupor that simulates death. Circulation, respiration, and other bodily functions are slowed to the point that they are undetectable, even by medical professionals. Professor Snape also included several other ingredients to add a bit of drama: chills, sweating, nausea, and convulsions" Harry shuddered at the thought of having gone into convulsions in front of his friends. Dumbledore noticed and grasped one of Harry's hands with his own. "The rest will not be easy for you to hear, Harry. I beg you to hear me out and try to hold your questions until I am finished. I would not have taken such drastic measures unless your life and the lives of others were at stake."

Harry nodded that he understood (even though he didn't yet, really), and Professor Dumbledore continued.

"After you collapsed at the Leaky Cauldron, you were rushed by members of the Order to St. Mungo's, where you were pronounced dead later that evening. Your aunt and uncle were notified of your passing. Your funeral service was conducted at the chapel in Hogsmeade two days later, which was yesterday, and you were buried in the cemetery there." Professor Dumbledore paused as Harry's face grew sheet white.


"It was necessary to complete the illusion. You were buried with a Portkey on your person, which was set to activate last night. It brought you directly here. I've been waiting for you to awaken since that time. Professor Snape stood guard at the gravesite until I notified him you had returned safely."

Harry closed his eyes in an attempt to push down the revulsion. When his stomach clenched and his mouth watered, he knew he was about to be sick. Fortunately Professor Dumbledore recognized his distress and produced a small vial from his pocket.

"Drink this. It will soothe your stomach," the headmaster said.

Harry opened the vial, which contained a chalky liquid that smelled faintly of mint and lemon. The potion tingled his throat on the way down to his stomach, where it settled and eased the churning Harry felt. He returned the empty vial to Dumbledore, and then leaned forward with his head between his knees until the nausea had completely subsided.

"You were given an antidote as soon as you arrived, but the poison has not completely left your system. It may cause some residual illness for the next day or two," Dumbledore explained quietly, but Harry knew it wasn't the poison that had caused his stomach to clench. The thought of having been in the ground was abhorrent to him.

"What about Ron, and Hermione, and Ginny? And the rest of the Weasleys?" Harry finally croaked when he was able.

When Dumbledore closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, as if to gather his strength, Harry knew this answer would be the worst of all.

"Harry, for your own safety, and that of Professor Snape, it was necessary that they, along with the rest of the world, believe you are dead."

"No. No. Tell me you didn't let them watch me die. Please," Harry pleaded. His last memory was of Ginny screaming as he fell.

"I am sorry, Harry. I had to."

Harry buried his head in his hands and wept.


Harry looked back towards the compartment door when he heard it slide open. Ginny had returned, looking pale but somewhat calmer. Harry only wished that he could say the same about himself. Ginny's scream still echoed in his head, and he wished with every fiber of his being that he could comfort her somehow. He almost hated Dumbledore for placing him in this position. He knew that Ginny was stronger than most people gave her credit for, but for her to have witnessed his "death" first hand, for her to have been the one he collapsed against . . . . Harry feared it had placed a heavier burden on her than she could bear. He hated deceiving her this way; he was afraid he was not up to this task at all. But he had to try.

"Are you okay?" he asked her.

"I'm fine. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to be rude.". She reclaimed her seat across from him and wrapped her arms around her middle. "I . . . we lost a friend earlier this month. Harry. He would have been in your year, too, along with Ron and Hermione."

"Harry Potter?" he asked. He hoped that she couldn't detect the slight tremor in his voice.

"Yes. You've heard of him?"

Harry swallowed. Merlin forgive him, please. "Of course," he replied gently. "I grew up hearing about Harry Potter. I think everyone our age did."

Ginny flushed slightly. "Of course you did. That was silly of me. It's just . . . I didn't really think of him as 'famous Harry Potter' or 'The Boy Who Lived' anymore. He was just Harry, you know? Our friend. One of the family, really. My brothers kind of adopted him during his first year at Hogwarts, and the rest of the family followed along the summer after that. My mum and dad considered him one of their own. He spent summers and holidays with us." Ginny took a deep breath and smiled through the tears that had spilled over her cheeks once more. "Gods, I'm sorry. Listen to me babbling on like this. You must think I'm cracked." She searched her pockets for her handkerchief and swiped at the tears.

"Not at all," Harry replied, both touched and tormented. He had never known that she had stopped thinking of him as "famous Harry Potter" and thought of him as simply Harry. It warmed his insides in a way that he had thought he might never feel again. Hedwig chose that particular moment to remind him of her presence by hooting softly and chewing a bit of his hair.

Ginny looked up at the tawny-colored owl and smiled. "What's your owl's name?"

"He . . . Hecuba."

"Pretty name. Very regal. Hecuba was the queen of Troy in the Iliad. Do you think she'd like some owl treats?"

"I'm sure she'd love some."

Ginny held her hand out with the promised treats. The owl hopped from her owner's shoulder to the seat next to him, then flapped across the compartment to the seat beside Ginny to take the treats from Ginny's palm. The owl allowed herself to be stroked and hooted softly towards the girl.

"She's beautiful," Ginny said.

"Thanks. She's a good friend, too."

When Ginny looked up at him, there was a strange look on her face for a brief moment, but it soon cleared. He imagined she was reacting to the melancholy tone in his voice. As if in answer, she spoke again.

"It must be hard to transfer to a new school where you don't know anyone. I hope you'll let me be your friend, too, Evan Jameson."

"I think I'd like that, Ginny Weasley." He smiled at her and was gratified by the warm, open smile she gave in return.

"Great. Now . . . do you prefer Exploding Snap, or Wizard Chess? Or . . . oooh, I have a good idea." Ginny's grin became almost evil. "Have you ever played Slap?" she asked in what Harry knew was her "innocent" voice.

"Slap? No, I don't think I've heard of that one." Harry struggled to maintain a straight face. "Can you teach me?"

Ginny's grin grew even more evil, if possible. "I'd love to."

Harry always won when they played Slap. He looked forward to trouncing her soundly, and thought that he might live through this trip after all.



I have to give credit for the idea of playing Slap to Silver Phoenix25. You can read her cleverly funny fic at under the ID Silver Phoenix25 (I gave up on trying to get the link to show up here.