'Harry, what are you doing?'
'Mischief managed.' Harry closed the "Marauder's Map". 'Sorry Hermione, it's just . . .'
How did Harry explain his concern for the little Slytherin he had rescued the previous night from a high window? A child whose stated ambition was to give magical ability to muggles. Maybe inbreeding did indeed cause mental problems and yet it was strange, in the short time that it took Harry to return her to the safety of the dungeons, how concerned he had become about "Laetitia". Perhaps it was only a measure of how badly he himself had wanted someone to care about him. Pathetic really . . .
'Nothing.' Harry put away the map and bent his head to his transfiguration essay.
Two days later he came across her in the Library. She gave no sign of recognition, just hid in a corner with her books. Harry watched her covertly. He watched as four first years bearing the emblem of his House sauntered into the library, sat at her table, played with her hair and whispered in her ear.
When they had gone she put away her books and, without looking at Harry, left. But Harry had opened the map and noted the names.
After Quiddich he showered, dressed, and then checked the Map that he had left in his robes. Out beyond the Quiddich pitch he found the name 'Laetitia Fortinbas'. And four now familiar others, all of them from Gryffindor. 'Ron?' Noticing the tone in his voice Ron gave him a puzzled frown. 'Ron would you come with me?'
She was upside down in midair, foetally curled, vainly trying to cover herself with her robes. He could not see her face but he had no doubt that it was Laetitia. Given her ambitions, thought Harry, surely it should have been Slytherin that tormented her? But no. Four heroic Gryffindors. 'What's going on?' asked Harry, quietly.
A whispered 'Finite Incantatum' from beside him and Laetitia was suddenly lying prone on flattened grass. Harry strode towards her, knelt and slipped his fingers under her ear. 'Tish? Laetitia?' She looked dazed. He turned to find four first years suddenly very pale in the evening light.'
'I am not a Prefect,' said Harry. 'I can't take House Points, but I have friends that can. Why? Why do this?'
Harry could have cursed at their puzzlement. 'What? She's Slytherin . . .'
'Tish?' The child's eyes opened. Harry's arm was around her, he ran his fingers through tangled hair. 'I am so very sorry.' Ron loomed into view. 'Would you mindtaking these . . . Gryffindors to the Common Room? Tell Hermione.'
They left without speaking.
Finally she sat up. 'Sod off.' She pushed him away, staggered to her feet and then backwards away from Harry. 'You just don't like the idea that your noble bloody Gryffindors are no more than a bunch of thugs.'
'No, I don't.'
'You . . .'
'Not me, Tish,' said Harry. 'I've been there too often myself.'
'Liar!' She was crying. Angrily she pushed tears from her face.
Harry tried again.. 'I grew up with Muggle relatives. The "what do we burn besides witches?" variety. My Muggle cousin: he's a lot bigger than me. He saw to it that I didn't have any friends before I came here. And I'm used to half the school thinking I'm dark just because I speak Parseltongue, or attention seeking because I try to tell the truth. Tish, please.' Her small hands clenched into her robes. 'Not just because I'm Gryffindor.'
'So am I. I . . . got the hat to put me somewhere else.' The child stiffened. 'That didn't help, did it? I got the hat to put me somewhere else because I'd fallen out with someone who got sorted into Slytherin.
There was a long silence as she considered the grass in front of her.
'Ambition,' she whispered, 'and cunning, and being "the boy who lived." Oh dear.' Finally she looked at him.
'Exactly. Imagine being "the boy who lived" and being sorted into Slytherin. They'd think I was the next Dark Lord. Even if my ambition was only . . . I just wanted to be myself, even if that meant having to deal with the Voldemort. Tish? We do what we have to. And stupidity comes from all the houses. Even Ravenclaw sometimes. '
She looked sceptical.
'No really.' He smiled. 'Different sort of stupidity and don't repeat this. I heard one of our brilliant Ravenclaws developed a cleaning solution. A really powerful one. They only discovered that there was a problem last summer when the furniture began to fall through the floor.'
'Would I lie to you?'
Her trying not to cry was suddenly trying not to laugh. 'Would you?'
'Well yeah. I told you. The hat wanted to put me in Slytherin', said Harry. 'What were you doing out here anyway?'
'I wanted to go flying.'
'So where's your broom?'
'The school brooms are only guarded by simple spells and my aunt's an Auror. I'm good at opening things. I thought I'd borrow one'
'You don't say?' Harry held out his Firebolt. Surprise, awe and then disbelief chased one another across Laetitia's face.
'Not unless being seen borrowing Harry Potter's broom is a problem?'
'Harry.' She was speaking as though to a fool. 'To some of my House power is power, and influence is influence, wherever it comes from and the others won't care. Good grief. Perhaps it's as well that you are in Gryffindor.'
'If you'd half a brain you'd be dangerous.' A sly grin took away the sting of her remark and Harry smiled. Laetitia took Harry's Firebolt, mounted it and flew off into the twilight. Harry wondered if he should be worried and then decided against it. He watched as she flew around and around the pitch, occasionally trying stunts but mostly just flying out over the forest and the lake, enjoying the simple freedom of being. He understood completely.
'How much,' thought Harry, 'does how you are defined determine what you can become? But wasn't 'Slytherin' just a name?' What if he, Harry, had actually been sorted into Slytherin? The thought was scary.
It was Gregory Goyle. Harry had not heard him approach.
'Yes?' Harry replied, warily.
'What's going on?' Goyle was too close. Harry would not have time to draw his wand before Goyle scragged him.
'I leant her my broom.'
'Because she's a good kid.'
'Ok.' Goyle relaxed.
Finally noticing Goyle's arrival, Laetitia pulled in beside them and dismounted.
'Hi Greg.' She smiled at Goyle shyly and the massive boy's face was suddenly also lit by a surprisingly gentle smile. 'Thanks Harry.' She handed back the Firebolt and started telling Goyle all about it.
Harry watched as they walked away into the gathering darkness.