A Sixth Year Harry Potter Fanfiction


Jayiin Mistaya

"Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus."

...never tickle a sleeping dragon

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: I do not own Harry Potter or anything related to Harry Potter. Those rights are held, exclusively, by JK Rowling, and any other entities, corporations, subsidiaries, or groups not named here possessing legal rights to the aforementioned books and/or trademark.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, here it is. A new chapter, full of actual story-bits! I hope you enjoy! I'm a bit nervous about bits of this one, because it's almost all character development (and a nice bit of peace and quiet for poor Harry), with a new addition to the cast that I hope you all enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Thanks to Julie Bell for a wonderful last-minute beta job, most especially for volunteering to do this – and doing it in one night! Look out for a Neville-related outtake sometime in the future written as a long-delayed thanks to Julie for her support and friendship.


Happy Birthday

When Harry awoke, rays of sunlight were streaming in through the curtains, painting streaks of comfortable warmth across his chest.

He sat up slowly and blinked, trying to force the room into focus. He was really starting to miss having his glasses. He couldn't read the clock, but the bright sun told him it was nearly noon.

How long did I sleep?

Standing, he groaned. His mouth felt gritty, and his eyes weren't much better. He was grateful to find that despite being stiff and sore, he was much better than he had been the night before. Carefully regaining his balance, he realized he felt as weak as a kitten - drained and achingly empty, like some distant part of him was missing.

He ignored the persistent aches and started moving.

He searched the room, hoping someone had remembered to bring his glasses with the rest of his things – but no luck. All he found was a tray of potions with a note from Mrs Weasley that he was to drink them first thing. Without his glasses, he was very glad Molly Weasley wrote big.

Where did all these come from, anyway? I wouldn't think anyone had time to brew them. He shrugged, wincing as the muscles in his shoulders protested. I guess the Order has a stockpile or something.

Luckily, there were fewer than there were the night before. He ignored the pain potion, but took the rest – he wanted to stay coherent for a few hours. After downing vial after vial of vile liquid, he picked up the final potion and stared at the iridescent fluid. The Phoenix Tears potion. Once again, the Prophesied Hero gets his head handed to him only to be saved by a bird.

Grimacing, he threw back the shimmering liquid, coughing a little at the bitter taste, but he did start feeling better almost immediately.

Staggering into the bathroom, he emptied his bladder and washed his face, and as he looked for a towel, his eyes fell on the shower.

It was a bronze claw-foot tub with a wrap-around curtain of opaque white. The showerhead itself was several decades out of date and he knew from experience it had the kind of water pressure usually reserved for hi-pressure power-washers.

Suddenly, nothing looked as inviting as that shower. He felt filthy; his skin was crawling with dried sweat and blood. He instinctively knew he'd been cleaned by whoever had treated him the night before, but he still felt disgusting.

He closed and locked the door, stripped off his clothes, turned on the hot water, and went about the very serious business of getting very clean.

It was the second shower he'd had since leaving Hogwarts, and it felt wonderful– even better than the shower at the gym. The soap smelled right, the water tasted right. The sound of the water ringing off the metal tub was music to his ears.

All of it felt like home.

He scrubbed himself as clean as he could, washed his hair twice, and left the bathroom wrapped in a very large towel, feeling better than he had in days.

His stomach growled.

Harry grinned. He knew if there was one thing the Weasley household never lacked, it was good, hot food. He could already smell the rich aromas of bacon, eggs and toast wafting up from the kitchen. He dug through his trunk and threw on a pair of his black training pants and his glove, tucked his wand into his waistband and finally found his new glasses.

Once again able to see, he headed down for breakfast.

He stiffly climbed down the stairs, promising himself he'd find a quiet place to stretch out once breakfast had digested, but that thought quickly fled when he saw the crown waiting for him at the bottom of the stairs.


Harry blinked in shock, and felt a warm arm wrap around his waist. He forced himself not to flinch away. Everyone here is a friend. No one here is going to hurt me.

Hermione smiled at him and kissed him on the cheek.

"Happy sweet sixteen, hero."

He tried to answer, but found his throat closed up.

My birthday?

Before he could ask, Hermione pulled away, and Ginny hesitantly took her place, putting her arms around his neck and leaning against him.

"Happy birthday," she whispered.

He swallowed hard, suddenly aware he wasn't wearing a shirt. Ginny felt very warm and comfortable against him, the skin of her cheek soft against his chest. Her long hair spilled over his arms as he forced them to wrap around her tiny waist.

I can do this. I can hold her for a moment. He forcefully pushed away the tightness in his gut he felt at her touch, forcing himself to hold her back.

Why am I suddenly afraid of being touched again? He hadn't felt like this in years. He hadn't had any trouble with Cho the year before. Not since second year.

She made a contented little noise and tightened her arms around him.

Someone cleared their throat. Loudly.

They broke apart, blushing. Ron was grinning and shaking his head at Harry, but before Harry could think about what had just happened, he found himself shaking hands with what must have been half the Order of the Phoenix – and the entire Weasley clan. Except Percy.

Somehow, Harry didn't mind the omission.


Spinning around, Harry grinned as he saw Remus Lupin pushing through the crowd, dressed in an olive drab jacket Harry remembered Sirius wearing. He stood in front of Harry for a moment, and they awkwardly shook hands. Ginny slipped away to give the two of them some modicum of privacy.

Remus gave him a hard look, taking in his gaunt face and nearly emaciated frame.

"Glad to see you up and around."

Harry shrugged. "I'm glad to be up and around."

He really wasn't sure how to feel about seeing the last of his father's friends – the last of the Marauders, and the only one left who had really known Sirius – but he was grateful the older man had come.

"Can we talk later?" Remus asked softly. "I'd...like to catch up. And maybe apologize."

"Sure." Harry tried hard to keep from looking away. "But I don't know what you have to apologize for."

Remus smiled somewhat enigmatically. "We'll talk. Later."

Harry nodded, but wasn't sure what to say or do next.

"Hey! Harry!" Harry looked around to see who had called his name, and caught sight of Neville Longbottom heading over to him. "Happy birthday!"

"You too." Harry shot back, remembering Dumbledore had told him Neville had been born around the same time he had been. For once, he was almost glad the Prophecy was about him. He didn't want Neville to have to bear the burden.

"Eh, my birthday was a while back. Yours was too, for that matter. Almost two weeks ago, actually. But Gran is going to get me a new wand, and Uncle Algie is building me my own greenhouse! They're actually proud of me, because of...well, you know, because of what we did. I got an E on my Defense Against the Dark Arts OWL! I couldn't have done it without the DA. Or you."

Harry grinned. Seeing his normally downcast friend so animated was as good a birthday present as he was going to get. "I'm glad, Neville, I really am. But you did the work, not me."

You know, I never did find out what my OWL results were... It was the first time he had thought of it all summer. Obviously, the results have already come.

Neville looked embarrassed, but happy and hurried to go spread his good news to Hermione.

Ron took Neville's place, grinning. "Betcha' you thought we forgot."

Harry shrugged. "I forgot."

Ron snorted. "Birthdays are never forgotten while Weasleys are around! Even if they are two weeks late."

"So who put all this together?" Harry asked, shaking his head in amazement they would do something like this for him two weeks after his actual birthday. "And how'd they do it on such short notice?"

"Mum and I don't have a clue," Ron said. "Now come on, man! I'm starved!"

Hermione threw Ron a measuring look. He hadn't told Harry how he'd gotten up before dawn to help his mother cook. After a moment, she smiled.

He's letting Harry have his day. Maybe he is growing up.

Hermione and Ginny both grabbed one of Harry's arms and led him outside to the back porch, where Mrs Weasley had laid out an extensive breakfast buffet. The food was simple: bacon, eggs, toast, potatoes, muffins and the like, but it was good and plentiful.

The porch and backyard were decorated with streamers of red and gold and Gryffindor lions – obviously decorations the Weasleys already had, but to Harry, they were perfect.

Harry really didn't notice the food or the decorations, at least not at first. He really didn't notice the crowds of people milling about. The first thing Harry noticed was the sun.

He walked out from under the porch and looked up at the sun.

Merlin, that feels good.

This time, he could enjoy the sun without being attacked by Death Eaters. Without his uncle beating him for dawdling. He let out a slow breath and closed his eyes, drinking in the warmth as is soaked into his skin.

I really am home.

"Happy birthday, Harry." He didn't turn to answer the voice. He knew he didn't need to.

"Thank you, Professor Dumbledore."

"You are quite welcome, Harry. Professor McGonagall wishes she could be here, but sends her fondest wishes. She will pay you a visit later today so that she and I may discuss a few school-related issues you should be aware of."

"OWLs?" Harry asked, remembering his earlier thought.

"Among other things, yes." Dumbledore patted Harry on the shoulder. "I will leave you to enjoy your party, Harry, as it appears I am keeping Miss Weasley at bay."

Harry didn't really pay attention to what Dumbledore was saying; his mind was on his OWLs. Did I do so badly that Professor McGonagall has to talk to me about them?

"You act like you haven't seen the sun in ages." Ginny walked up next to him. For a moment, it looked like she was going to reach out for him, but she didn't.

He shrugged uncomfortably. "It's not that. I'm just used to waking before sunrise and getting home after sunset."

The youngest Weasley frowned at him. She knew he was trying not to think about the last six weeks, but she also knew he needed to talk about it and she hated feeling like he was shutting her out.

Too many people. She knew Harry wasn't comfortable around crowds; he never had been. "You gonna come get some breakfast?"

Harry's stomach gave another growl and he smiled ruefully. "I'd better."

He steeled himself and reached out a hand to her, and Ginny took it, blushing as bright as her hair. Touch was hard for him, but he knew it was important to her. I can give her at least that much.

They were both still feeling out how each other felt and what the new developments in their relationship meant.

For that matter, they were still figuring out what to do with the fact they had a relationship of any kind beyond casual friendship.

If fighting a mountain troll can make Hermione, Ron and I best friends, then fighting Death Eaters would obviously get me an awkward pseudo-romance.

He walked back over to the table, but before he could get there, was greeted by an exuberant wolf-whistle.

"Wotcher, Harry!" Tonks sauntered over to him, giving him an exaggerated once over. "A bit pale, but very nice. Growing up, are we?" Her fingertips rested lightly on his skin, and he flinched, feeling himself turning red. Tonks pushed him with her finger playfully and he stumbled back.

Ginny glared at Tonks, but the older girl didn't seem to notice.

Mrs Weasley came up and shooed her off. "Let him eat now! He looks like he hasn't had a decent meal since the last time he was here!"

She thrust a heavily laden plate and some silverware into Harry's hands, and he smiled up at her.

"I don't think anyone feeds me as well as you do, Mrs Weasley."

Beaming, Molly reached out to ruffle his hair, but he flinched away. She gave him a worried look, and he stared down at his feet.

Harry had never been more aware how much casual touch was a big part of everyone's lives before.

"It's all right, dear," she said quietly. "Give it time."

Not sure what she meant, Harry found an empty chair out in the sun and tucked into his breakfast. He ate slowly, knowing his stomach wasn't ready for a lot food quickly, but it was hard. He was hungry.

Ginny sat down in the chair next to him and handed him a mug of tea. "Here. I made this, not Bill, so you know it's drinkable."

"Imp!" Bill walked up behind her. "There is nothing wrong with my tea!" He nodded at Harry. "Happy birthday, Harry."

Harry set his plate aside and grinned. "Best birthday to date. This is just...amazing."

"All days are amazing, Harry Potter. But you recognize this. I saw you giving thanks to Helios."

Harry knew that dreamy voice, and looked up to see Luna Lovegood walking towards him with Neville in tow. She was as pale as always, her wide blue eyes seemed to be looking at something in the distance, something only she could see, and her long blonde hair fell around her like a wispy curtain of white gold.

Giving thanks to Helios? It took him a minute, but he caught on. Right...Helios. The sun.

He stood and nodded at Luna. "You're right. But this day is even more amazing because of all my friends. And my family."

The last was whispered.

Luna smiled and gave him a hug one-armed hug, not seeming to notice his flinch. "My father said you were as wise as Dumbledore."

Harry shook his head. "I'm not. But I have my moments."

"Wisdom always comes in new moments, drawn from moments past," Luna said softly. "It is often those who think they are wise that are not."

He shrugged. "I'm not sure I understand, but thank you. I think."

"You are welcome, Harry Potter."

Neville saw Luna standing near Harry and they nodded at each other. A minute later, Neville found an excuse to wander back over towards Harry, pulling another couple of chairs with him. He and Luna sat facing Harry, and Ginny thought they looked too grave for the mood of Harry's birthday party.

Neville struggled for a minute before finding his voice. "We didn't want to talk about this here, but we haven't been able to get letters to you this summer. I don't know if we'll see you again before school starts. So now it is. Sorry about this."

Ginny leveled a glare at Neville and he squirmed satisfactorily, but held his ground.

Harry shrugged. "Fudge didn't want me to have much contact with the wizarding world this summer."

"It appears he failed. Just like he failed to keep the Heliopaths secret," Luna said with a sage nod.

"We both wanted to say thank you, Harry," Neville said, "for letting us go with you. I know you didn't want us to, and can understand that. But thank you."

Harry shook his head. "I think you misunderstood me, Neville. It's not that I didn't trust you or want you at my back. I didn't want you to come because I didn't want you to get hurt." He looked up at Neville, remembering the other boy writhing under the Cruciatus Curse. "I'm glad you were there, but I'm not glad you got hurt."

Neville nodded. "Thank you again, then, for believing in us."

Harry looked uncomfortable, but before he could say anything, Luna jumped in.

"I hope you're running the DA again. It was fun. Almost like having friends." She said it so artlessly, so innocently, that Harry felt like someone had punched him in the stomach.

He looked Luna straight in the eyes. "You do have friends. Me. Neville. Ginny. Even Ron and Hermione."

Even if I have to beat them into it.

Ginny stopped glaring at Neville and looked over at Luna. "I am your friend Luna. We all are. Don't ever doubt that."

For a moment, Luna looked a little closer to reality, the expression in her eyes a little more real. "Oh."

Neville just smiled at her.

"As for the DA..." Harry was uncomfortable. "I just don't know. Maybe. I'll talk to Dumbledore, but if we've got a good Defense teacher, we might not need it."

Luna looked at Harry the same way people usually looked at her. "Why wouldn't we need it, Harry?"

"Why would we?" He countered. I don't know if I want to run it again. I don't want to draw more attention to me than I have to.

Luna's smile was sad as she looked at him. There was nothing distant or distracted about her then. The sadness she felt was almost palpable. "You don't know who are you, and because you're my friend, that hurts all the more. We need the DA, Harry, because we need you. It unified us. You unified us. For those of us who were a part of it, we were part of something greater than ourselves. We were part of the war against darkness – which is far more than the war against Voldemort."

Harry looked up sharply. "You said his name."

She nodded. "I'm not afraid of his name anymore. It's the first step to not being afraid of him. You gave me that. The DA made hope real. We need hope, Harry Potter."

She stood up and walked away.

Ginny reached out and grabbed Harry's hand in her own.

"She's right, Harry," Neville said. "The DA meant a lot to a lot of people. I don't know what happened to you this summer, but you look like hell, and here I am asking more of you. I don't particularly like doing it." He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue. "But I'm asking anyway."

Harry shrugged uneasily. "I don't know if I can, Neville. I don't know if I'm the person you think I am."

"Luna's right," Neville said, standing. "You don't know who you are, and that is sad."

Harry just sat there, thinking. What do they mean, I don't know who I am?

"You don't have to do anything you don't want to, Harry," Ginny said softly.

He just nodded, closing his eyes and leaning back in his chair. He felt so drained. So empty. He just let the sun pour down on him and held Ginny's hand.

Bill watched from the porch, his face unreadable.

He'd almost fallen asleep and didn't notice two more redheads make a beeline for the chairs Luna and Neville had vacated.

"Oi! You!"

Harry was awake again as someone slapped him hard on the shoulder. Harry winced, but didn't say anything.

Oh, that's gonna hurt later.

"Hey, you louts!" Ginny kicked George's shin as he walked past. "Be gentle with him!"

Fred and George gave each other knowing looks.

"Fragile, is he now?"

"Indeed, he must be for us to have incurred the little imp's wrath."

The twins looked at Harry with matching expressions he had come to know and dread. And then sat down.

"If we might take a moment of your valuable time," George said

"That is," Fred continued, "if we can pry you away from our lovely younger sister –"

Harry shook his head. "I'd rather she stayed, if it's all the same to you."

Fred shrugged. "It's your secret to reveal,"

"-and your funeral if she gets mad."

Harry looked over at Ginny, who looked up at him with a small pout. "If I promise to be a good girl and keep it a secret and not get mad, can I stay?"

Harry nodded.

"Sad," George said.


"She's already got him so well trained."

Ginny blushed bright red, making both of her brothers grin wider, but her glare made them decide it was time to change subject.

"Yes, well, you see Harry, my esteemed brother and I have discussed," Fred said.



"And even thought about how to repay what you did for us."

"You set your terms, of course, but a set of dress robes was hardly worth your investment."

"Respectable businessmen such as we two,"

"Just couldn't let that stand."

The twins shared a look and nodded at each other, their faces becoming serious.

"We profited from your misery, Harry," Fred said. "And we don't exactly feel comfortable about it. We bought Ron the dress robes. We gave Mum and Dad some money. We're helping buy school stuff this year."

"But we're not repaying the person who helped us get our start. The only person who believed in us."

Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Fred cut him off.

"No, Harry. You don't know what it means to us. You really don't. So whether you like it or not, you've been made a silent partner in Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. You own twenty-five percent of our company and get twenty-five percent of the profits. You will never pay for a thing in our store."

"You've already paid for it. We'd have given you more than twenty-five percent if we didn't think you'd throw it back in our faces."

Harry looked back and forth between them. "I'll accept it," he said, "but on two conditions."

They both nodded.

"The first is that you keep this as secret as possible. I don't need any more publicity. The second is that I don't have to help with any business decisions. I gave you the money because I trust you. That hasn't changed."

Fred and George looked at each other and nodded again. "Done."

They both shook Harry's hand and left to go torment Ron.

"So that's how they got the money," Ginny said. "And why they bought Ron those robes."

Harry held up his hand. "I only asked them to buy him robes. The rest of it they did on their own. I did it because the world needs laughter right now and because they've always supported me."

Ginny smiled at him and leaned against his shoulder. "Luna and Neville are right. You don't know who you are."

- 0 -

"Presents?" Harry asked incredulously as Mrs Weasley sat him down in front of an impressive pile of packages that Ron and Bill were bringing out to the patio table. "I get presents too?"

"Of course you do!" Ginny slapped his arm lightly. She had barely left his side since her initial hug that morning – and Harry wasn't sure how he felt about it. She gave his hand a squeeze.

"Hey!" Fred pouted at his sister. "How come you get to hit him and we don't?"

"Yeah!" George said. "He's our friend too. Besides, we have a sacred obligation to mock him forevermore for forgetting he gets presents on his birthday."

"Truly! Next he'll be acting shocked about getting cake!"

Sheepishly Harry blinked. "Cake?"

"Honestly!" Neville's grandmother sniffed. "Such an act! You'd think he'd never had a birthday celebration before!"

"I haven't," Harry answered simply.

There was a sudden silence after Harry spoke, and he looked around nervously.

Luna broke the silence. "There is a first time for everything. Some first times are cherished more than others."

Mrs Weasley smiled. "Thank you, Luna. Harry, dear, open your presents."

Harry didn't get a chance to respond before a shadow fell across them all, accompanied by the sound of heavy boots clomping on the Burrow's porch.

"Hope I'm not too late!"

Harry looked up. "Hagrid!"

Ginny watched Harry's entire body light up when Hagrid arrived. The Gamekeeper had been his first friend in the magical world and had supported Harry steadfastly since then.

Professor Dumbledore flicked his wand, and an extra-large patio chair appeared. Hagrid settled himself into it with a sigh as he set a large box next to the other packages. Harry couldn't help but notice the box had holes poked in the side.

"Thank you, Professor. Go on now, Harry, open yer presents! I've been waitin' five years ter watch you get ter do it!" The half-giant paused. "Well, erm, best wait on mine 'till last, Harry."

A little nervous at that, Harry nodded. "Sure Hagrid."

Molly passed out cake while Harry regarded the surprisingly large and somewhat intimidating pile of presents being assembled in front of him. Along with an equally large crowd of people gathering to watch him open them.

Ginny, still holding his hand, whispered into his ear, "Most of the members of the Order are here because they feel like they have to be, and they got you presents out of obligation. Start with people you don't know first and work your way to Hagrid's. Hermione will keep tally of who gave you what so you can send thank-you notes. Once you open their gift, they can go back to what they were doing, and you'll just have your friends here."

Harry was uncomfortable with the idea people had bought him gifts out of obligation, but set the thought aside to deal with later. Instead, he followed Ginny's advice, and started in on his presents, making approving comments on each. With each successive package, members of the Order drifted off or Apparated away with excuses about work or family or other obligations. By the time Harry was getting to presents from people he knew, he'd amassed quite a collection of sugar quills, chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott's Every-Flavor Beans, sneakoscopes, Zonko's products, potions supplies, books on the Dark Arts, and various magical trinkets he'd never seen or heard of before.

At one point, Ginny leaned in to whisper in his ear. "We can spend some time later tonight going through everything and figuring out how much of this stuff is actually useful."

Harry shivered at the feel of her breath caressing his ear.

Finally, it was just down to people he knew.

"Open Mad-Eye's," Tonks said. "After all the junk you just got, I have a feeling it'll be appreciated!"

The package from Mad-Eye Moody ended up being a large trunk with seven locks, and Mssr. Ollivander's Deluxe Wand Care Kit, complete with a Do It Yourself Wand Care brochure.

"Mad-Eye thought you might need a bit more space in your trunk after seeing your 'room' last year," Tonks explained, "So he threw his spare trunk in with that kit." She tossed him two key rings, each with seven keys. "Works the same as the one he was trapped in that year. Don't think you'll run out of space any time soon, eh?"

Harry stuffed them into his pocket. I don't think I'll ever fill that much space.

"Tell him I said thanks, will you?"

Tonks nodded. "Now do mine!"

Tonks' was a wand holster that magically adjusted to fit just about anywhere. Once his wand was in it, the magic of the wand would interact with the magic of the holster. Not only would the wand never fall out, but he was the only one who could draw it. She gave him a mock stern look.

"So you can stop taping it to the inside of your trousers! Might give a girl the wrong idea!"

Harry blushed and suddenly knew who had been watching him that summer, but shot back: "Really, Tonks? Never knew you cared! Or looked, for that matter!"

Tonks' hair flashed bright red, and she put a hand over her heart and fell backwards into the twins. "Oh, you wound me!"

Harry laughed, and grabbed the next package he saw; it was from Bill and Charlie.

Inside, he found a pair of dragonhide boots, vest, pants and jacket.

"Cute outfit," Tonks sassed. "Got anyone to wear it for?"

Harry felt his face burn, but Ginny came to his rescue.

"You sound a mite too interested in what he'd look like in all leather. Thinking of stealing yourself a younger man?"

Tonks spluttered a bit, and then grinned at Ginny. "Nah, Harry's too much man for me. I'll have to settle for your eldest brother."

Bill playfully wrapped an arm around Tonks' waist and spoke for the Weasleys who had bought him the dragonhide. "Suffice it to say that we know something you don't."

"Doesn't everyone?" Harry grumbled.

The next package was from Dumbledore and came with a note asking him to open it in private, so he slid it to one side. He looked over at his mentor, who merely smiled, his eyes twinkling.

McGonagall's gift was something of a surprise to Harry. A small, velvet box of Gryffindor red turned out to contain a Golden Snitch held in place by a spell, and a note written McGonagall's neat, precise handwriting.

Mr Potter,

It has recently come to my attention you have very little that belonged to your parents. This was your father's. I was forced to confiscate it from him his sixth year. I find it appropriate that it should find its way into your possession on the eve of your own sixth year at Hogwarts.

It has also come to my attention that you may have some confusion regarding your parents, especially your father. I knew them both well, both as children and adults. If you would ever care to make time for an old woman's reminiscences, I would be pleased to tell you of them.

Harry smiled to himself, and tucked the note back into the box. He'd show Ron, Hermione and Ginny later.

Ron's present was a replacement of the penknife Sirius had given him; like Sirius' it was able to open any lock. Mrs Weasley scowled, but said nothing.

Ginny was surprised to see the knife. It had been their Grandfather's.

From Mr Weasley, Harry got a complicated looking wizard's watch, but Mr Weasley promised to explain how it worked later. From Mrs Weasley, he got a black cloak with a gold griffon clasp.

"For Hogsmeade visits, dear," she said with a warm smile. "I seem to remember you not having a good cloak."

The present from Neville and his Grandmother was quite large. He pulled out the exquisitely detailed scale model of the solar system he had eyed just about every day the summer before his third year. Within the glass sphere, the planets and stars floated slowly, exactly matching the movement of the heavens.

"Thank you Neville..." Harry had been talking about the model since his third year. Everyone in Gryffindor tower knew how much he wanted it, but he'd never been able to justify buying it for himself.

Ron just shook his head. "Way to go, Harry. No more astronomy for you!"

"Thank you, Neville." Harry thought the present was far too expensive, but he wasn't going to say that to Neville or his Gran. "And thank you, Ma'am."

Augusta Longbottom just smiled at him.

The other boy shrugged. "You've helped me come so far. I figured the least I could do was get you a nice birthday present."

Harry squeezed Neville's shoulder. "No one has come farther than you. I'm glad to have you with us."

"I'm still getting used to being your friend," Neville admitted sheepishly.

Harry just shook his head. "You've always been my friend, Neville."

Neville blushed, but Luna had calmly looked at him. "The truth of friendship is that there is no definition or understanding. That's why father never publishes any articles about it."

Luna's gift was what appeared to be a small collapsible telescope, but at the surprised murmurs from around the room, it was something else.

"It is a glass of True Seeing," she explained a moment later. "You and I both see what others do not. Maybe you can see farther with that."

Harry nodded. "Thank you, Luna."

Neville's Gran stood up with a sigh. "I hope you'll all excuse us, but we have to be going. Harry, I had hoped to speak with you – about your family – however, I have run out of time. Perhaps you can visit us later this summer, and we can speak then.

"This has been a wonderful morning, but Neville, Luna and I are meeting my brother Algie to purchase plants for Neville's greenhouse."

Harry was surprised Luna was going with Neville and is Gran, but shook hands with Neville and hugged Luna good-bye, promising to write them both soon if he could. Only Hermione and Molly seemed to notice Ginny's glower as Luna hugged Harry.

From Remus, he got another set of keys, but the former professor only grinned and shook his head, a finger over his mouth. Harry shrugged and pocketed the keys.

The twins gave him a very large box of magical pranks, candies, and assorted other goodies that he made a mental note to sort through later. He was grateful to see they'd included a helpful little guidebook explaining what everything was.

Finally, there was only one gift left.

Hagrid was on the edge of his seat when Harry picked up the box and put it on the patio table. It was surprisingly light, but Harry could feel something moving around inside.

Ron, Hermione and Ginny all gave each other worried looks, and Bill discreetly drew his wand. Hagrid's predilection for dangerous pets was well known, and well-feared.

Charlie looked as eager as Hagrid, which, considering Charlie's profession, was not comforting.

Carefully, Harry opened the box, and looked inside. It was lined with grass and leaves, but there didn't seem to be anything there. He thought he caught a faint shimmer of light, but it was there and gone again so fast he couldn't be sure he saw anything.

Hagrid leaned over Harry and chuckled. "Aww, she's sleepin'. Got a baby 'un for ye, Harry. So you can train 'er up a bit. Thought you might make a bit o' a project out of it this term."

"Umm...what is she, Hagrid?"

Hagrid coughed, looking a little sheepish. "Well, she's a kyreshin, Harry. Right smart they are, and dead useful."

"If you happen to be a Parselmouth!" Hermione snapped, her eyes wide. "Hagrid...that snake...it's deadly!"

"I am a Parselmouth," Harry muttered under his breath, trying to see what was in the box.

He glanced at Dumbledore nervously, to make sure the old wizard was sanguine with the idea of Harry having whatever was in the box. The Headmaster smiled and nodded at Harry, his blue eyes twinkling.

Hagrid looked at Hermione a little sadly. "I thought you of all people, 'Ermione, wouldn't judge a fellow creature like that, considerin' wha' a fuss ye' make over house elves!"

Hermione looked a little abashed. "Sorry, Hagrid. It's just...well, I've read about them."

Harry looked back into the box and saw the snake as clearly as he could. It was difficult. Her scales reminded him of the collectible crystal his Aunt was so proud of; her scales were translucent and she shimmered and rippled, as if a Disillusionment Charm had been cast on her.

"So," he asked tentatively, "what is a kyreshin?"

Hermione looked furtively at Dumbledore as if she expected the Headmaster to answer Harry's question. Dumbledore graciously gestured for her to speak.

Hermione looked a little nervous about showing off her knowledge in front of Dumbledore. What if she got something wrong?

"Come on, Hermione, don't make us beg! Tell us what it is!" Ron touched her shoulder, and she jumped a little. Everyone was looking at her expectantly.

She collected herself and explained in her best 'know-it-all' voice. "Kyreshin are highly intelligent magical snakes – vipers, really – that first appeared in the Achaemenid, or Persian Empire, as written about by Assyrian wizards. Most theories agree they were bred to be companions to Parselmouths, though most recorded stories of kyreshin cast them in the role of being familiars for Dark Wizards – mostly assassins."

Hagrid frowned at the last part but let Hermione continue.

"There aren't many facts known about them, really. They're mostly found in desert climates, but a few have been found in grasslands or rocky plains. No one is sure how rare they are because they're very hard to see. Their scales refract and bend light, much like invisibility cloaks or the Disillusionment Charm. Muggles consider them a cryptid, which is an animal that doesn't exist. Some theories suggest they're empaths – emotion sensers. It is known that they have several kinds of venom. Some can kill, others paralyze, and some only put someone to sleep. They are...er, sought after for several important potions."

Hagrid chuckled. "The little buggers almost never get caught. A friend o' mine raises the odd reptile or two, and he gave me this wee girl for ya' Harry. He was right excited for you ter have her, too!"

Harry continued staring into the box, looking for the kyreshin.

Just what I need. The baby cousin to Voldemort's snake.

"Who was that, Hagrid?"

Harry saw Hagrid look over at Charlie Weasley, who shook his head and made a slashing motion across his throat. Molly Weasley didn't notice this exchange; she had gone pale and was gripping her husband's hand so tightly his fingers had turned white.

"Well, go on there, Harry. Say somethin' to 'er!"

He concentrated, trying to remember how to speak Parseltongue; he didn't do it very often. It took a bit of concentration on the fact that he was talking to a snake, but he was able to form a single word.


As soon as the strange hisses had left his mouth, the grass and leaves rustled, and a pair of gem-like black eyes had risen up to greet him.

He could see her clearer now; her body was transparent and shimmered like a prism, a cascade of colors falling down her scales.

"She's beautiful," Ginny whispered in an awed voice from beside him. Harry nodded, in complete agreement with her.

"She is."

Ron coughed. "Well, what are you going to name her?"

Ginny shot her brother a dark look. "He's not going to name her anything, are you Harry? She'll tell you her name. Honestly, Ron! What good is being able to talk to her if he treats he like a pet instead of a friend?"

Mrs Weasley made a whimpering sound, but Hagrid smiled proudly at Ginny.

Charlie and Fleur were watching Harry intently, waiting to see what happened. They seemed to be watching for something.

Harry was lost in her black eyes; a strange warmth was falling over him. The snake slithered up and around his arm, her cool scales wrapping firmly around his arm.

"I am Corceca."

"And I am Harry Potter. I'm pleased to meet you."

"It is my honor, wizard."

Ron wore a pained expression. "You know it's freaky when you do that, right, mate?"

Harry rolled his eyes at his best friend while Corceca rested her head on top of his hand. Hagrid was beaming like a proud father, and Ginny was staring at Harry's hand.

"May I?" Her hand was poised tentatively over his.

"Of course," Harry answered, somehow sensing Corceca didn't mind.

Ginny brushed her fingertips over Corceca's head, and looked up at Harry smiling.

Harry just looked up. "Her name is Corceca."

- 0 -

Harry was glad he had saved Hagrid's package for last, because the appearance of the kyreshin just about killed the festive atmosphere.

Then again, it wouldn't be my birthday party without something weird happening, would it?

Harry wasn't sure how he felt about his new companion yet. She was wrapped around his arm, quiet and still. She felt comfortable there, as if she belonged with him, and to his surprise, Harry found he didn't mind. At the same time, the idea of having a pet serpent made him uncomfortably aware of the parallels between himself and Voldemort.

I wonder what kind of project Hagrid has in mind?

He'd gotten the impression Hagrid had wanted to talk to him about it as everyone had started cleaning up, but Fred and George had pulled Hagrid aside before Hagrid could talk to Harry.

Mrs Weasley had shooed him away from the clean-up, so he'd drug one of the patio chairs out into the backyard and sat down to enjoy the sun. Somehow, he got the impression Corceca was enjoying the sun as much as he was.

Of course. Snakes are cold-blooded. He didn't remember everything from primary school, but he did remember that much.

He felt a bit guilty, just sitting outside, but at the same time, he knew he needed rest. Phoenix tears could heal him, but they couldn't do much about the exhaustion from the past six weeks – to say nothing of having never recovered from the previous school year. Though, he did feel a bit odd about how easily he'd come to terms with the having nearly died the day before. Then again, he'd had plenty of practice surviving.

I lived another year. It was both a morbid and triumphant thought.

He had lived another year, and had actually celebrated the fact. He had eaten birthday cake and opened presents of his own. Some of the presents had been mysterious – such as the dragonhide clothing from the Weasleys and the keys from Remus, though he was fairly sure he'd be told what they were for long before anyone explained Mr Weasley's watch to him.

I don't trust this. Just sitting and relaxing. Something told him it was the calm before the storm.

Corceca uncurled and turned to face him. "Think no thoughts of the dark. It will poison your mind. Sit in the light and bask in warmth."

Harry blinked, surprised to hear Corceca speak to him. He concentrated, forcing himself to speak Parseltongue. "Is this what you do? Advise me?"

The snake seemed to consider this. "I have only given you knowledge, not counsel."

He was definitely curious what kind of project Hagrid had in mind, and was starting to wonder just what he had wrapped around his wrist. It would certainly make an interesting year. Come to think of it, I need to find out what Dumbledore wants me to do with her at Hogwarts.

He felt, more than heard someone walking up behind him just before Corceca hissed softly, "Someone comes."

The breeze wafted her scent over him just before Ginny sat down at his feet, resting her head on his leg, but she didn't speak, leaving him in silence. For a moment, he just sat there, marveling at how good it felt. The subdued bustle of people cleaning behind him, the faint shadows cast by the Burrow at the edges of vision; the feel of Ginny resting against him, and the cool of Corceca's scales on his arm.

For that moment, Harry Potter felt complete. At home. At peace.

"She is fond of you, Harry Potter." Corceca hissed to him, her tongue flicking across his knuckle. Harry just smiled. He was pretty fond of Ginny, too. Even if he wasn't sure, what, exactly, that meant yet.

He looked down at the diminutive redhead, almost afraid to say anything, to spoil the peaceful moment.

"Harry?" Ginny asked.


"Happy birthday." She reached up behind her and handed him a small box, and resumed her silence.

Harry was a bit surprised at first. He hadn't noticed she hadn't already given him something, but he opened it, and poured a pendant out into his hand. The chain was made of delicate gold links, and the pendant itself was a red and gold phoenix with its wings spread wide. The workmanship was exquisite and detailed; he could see and feel each individual feather.

He slipped it around his neck, a little awed at it. "Thank you."

"Dumbledore gave it to me after the Chamber. He said it was to remind me that 'like a phoenix, you too can rise from the ashes and become something new.' I'm giving it to you to remind you that your 'saving people thing' saved me."

"We've never talked about that, have we?" His voice was soft, and hesitant, but the realization had hit him like a blow.

"No." Ginny whispered. "We haven't. I never said thank you."

He reached down and brushed his hand through her copper hair, admiring its silken feel under his fingers. It caught the light and glistened like strands of captured fire.

"There's no need."

"Yes, there is." Ginny said. "You saved me. You fought a basilisk, and nearly died. You faced him, when I couldn't."

Harry was shocked at the bitterness in her voice.

"I told you, Ginny, you saved my life too." He bowed his head. "I'm still sorry I forgot."

Ginny hugged his leg. "It's okay. You remember now, and that's important, too."

"You've never really recovered, have you?" Harry mentally cursed himself. I have got to start paying better attention...while I was moping and pitying myself, she was really hurting.

"I'll never be a little girl like I was. But I'm okay." He leaned down, his hand reached a little lower, caressing the top of her face. She pressed into his touch. He felt that strange pulling in his guts again and a strange pressure in his head. The two sensations seemed to push and pull at each other as he touched her. One wanting to touch her, the other scared of what touching meant. He swallowed and pushed words out around the lump in his throat.

"Do you still dream about it?"

He felt her nod. "Sometimes. Not as much, anymore."

"I'm always here, if you need me. I know I wasn't before, but I am now."

She was quiet for a minute. "Thank you."

He leaned back a bit, but not so far that his hand broke contact. They sat quietly again, and Harry realized how different it felt to just sit with her as opposed to sitting with Cho or even with Hermione. With Cho, he'd felt this horrible, crushing expectation to do something, say something. With Ginny, even though he had a good idea how she felt about him, he didn't feel the same expectation.

Do I really have a good idea how she feels about me? Even as he asked himself the question, he knew he really didn't. He knew she was attracted to him, and he was fairly sure she was attracted to him, not the Boy Who Lived. He was also fairly certain she wanted more than just friendship. But he also knew she cared deeply for him and was trying very hard to be content with what he could give her.

He didn't know how he felt about her. He wasn't in a hurry to figure it out, though; she deserved him figuring out how he really felt, not what he thought he felt. Voldemort-related complications aside, her brothers' probably reaction to him dating their baby sister aside, Harry wasn't sure it was fair to her not to try to figure it out. He just wasn't sure how.

She deserves a real answer, not something I figure out just to give her an answer. I just wish there were someone I felt comfortable asking about this.

Harry felt his stomach clench with grief. He missed Sirius. He missed Gracie. They'd both tell me not to waste this moment. Or any moment.

He took a deep breath in and ran his fingers through her hair, trying to recapture that feeling of peace and contentment.

"You are at peace with her, even while you are both in turmoil."

"I am," Harry answered, surprised at the answer. "But I am finding more peace than I ever knew I had, because now I look for it."

Corceca hissed smugly. "I am bound to a wise wizard. This is good."

Harry shook his head. "I wish I knew why everyone was saying that these days."

"Saying what?" Ginny asked. She had scooted closer, and his fingertips grazed her cheek.

"That I'm wise. I'm really not, you know."

"I know." He could hear the grin in her voice. "But let's leave everyone else their little delusion."

"I dunno," Harry said. "I could get used to being wise if it means I get to sit out in the sun with pretty redheads."

"You missed being outside, didn't you?" she murmured into his hand.

Harry nodded. "Not just outside. Outside in the sun...I spent a lot time outside with Dudley at night, but never much during the day. Mostly though, I missed the sunrise."

"The sunrise?" she asked.

"Yeah." Harry smiled. "Early morning Quidditch was always before the sun came up...and I loved watching it from up there...feeling the wind and the sky, knowing I was up there while the sun rose."

Ginny giggled. "I didn't know you were so...poetic."

"I have my moments," Harry answered a little sheepishly, his fingers playing with her hair. He felt her wince as they brushed over a good sized lump. "My uncle did that, didn't he?"

"Yeah," Ginny whispered, only half paying attention to what she was saying. Most of her attention was taken up by the feel of him close to her. "I mouthed off to him, because I saw the...cupboard."

The surge of protectiveness that rushed up in him banished the guilt and shame that had been trying to creep back in. Harry growled deep in his throat, and his eyes narrowed. Hitting him was one thing, but hitting Ginny?

She must have felt his anger. She jumped to her feet and looked at him imploringly. Her hands were on his chest, even warmer than the sun.

For once, he didn't feel like flinching. Once again, Ginny Weasley had slipped in under his guard.

As soon as she touched him, his anger faded.

"I'm okay. Mum fixed me up. Ron got him good for it. I'm okay."

"I don't like that you hurt because of me." He reached out and brushed away a strand of her hair, refusing to release her eyes. He hadn't realized he'd stood too. His hand slid through her hair again, and he noticed how tiny she seemed compared to him.

He found himself staring at her. Memorizing her. She was tiny, elfin. Vibrant copper hair contrasted with porcelain skin marred only by the sprinkle of freckles cover the bride of her nose and the tops of her cheeks. It made her look mischievous. Playful.

Loose strands of her hair framed her face, accentuating delicate features; her eyes were dark brown, reminding him of brandy or the cinnamon Hermione liked on her toast; and like her hair, her eyes had captured highlights of amber.

She's beautiful.

He could see her chest moving up and down as she breathed; a vein on the side of her neck was pulsing with her heartbeat.

Mutual attraction made the air between them seem volatile; she had always been attracted to him...now it was reciprocated. She could see it in his eyes, in the way he was looking at her, the way he was breathing.

All he had to do was reach up and pull her closer, into his arms.

The temptation was overwhelming. He slid his arms around her waist and she leaned into him, her palms still pressed into his chest. She leaned her cheek against him.

"You're getting good at holding girls." She whispered, but her voice vibrated his chest.

His mouth was dry. "No. I'm getting good at holding you."

"I don't mind." Her eyes were closed and she was drinking in the feeling of him wrapped around her.

"Someone comes."

Harry turned, loosening his arms around her, but didn't let go entirely.

"Harry! Get inside! McGonagall wants to see you!" Charlie Weasley stood on the porch, vastly amused with his little brother's best friend. Or was it annoyed?

I hope not annoyed.

Charlie met Harry's eyes from across the yard.

Not annoyed. Furious. Great.

Ginny stepped away from him, her bare foot brushing over his. She had her arms wrapped around his. Harry shifted, slipping his hand into hers, and walked back towards the house.

- 0 -

Hermione watched Harry and Ginny walk hand-in-hand back to the Burrow and frowned. She was worried about them, about what the bond could be doing to them.

What's going to happen to them if this isn't real? The thought chilled her. She wanted them to be happy, but she'd already seen what kind of hold the bond had on Ginny. It's not fair. They deserve to be happy.

She noted the phoenix pendant around Harry's neck. She'd seen Ginny wear it back at school and knew it had been a gift from Dumbledore. Interesting. But not as interesting as that.

Ginny was holding the same hand Harry's new kyreshin was wrapped around. The same hand he wore the dragonhide glove on.

Hermione's gaze shifted and she watched Charlie watch them. McGonagall had been there for several minutes before Charlie had called them in. He'd waited until Harry had held Ginny. If Hermione hadn't been about to go outside and call them in herself, she never would have noticed the look of fear on Charlie's face when he saw them embrace.

Why would Charlie be afraid of them being together?

She watched Charlie's eyes follow them inside.

As soon as they stepped in the door, Ginny and Harry pulled away from one another and Ginny ran upstairs as if chased by a ghost. Harry watched her leave, a small frown on his face.

Hermione watched Harry as Ginny ran up the stairs and knew the girl had just made a mistake. If she knew Harry, he would feel abandoned, and probably blame himself. His emotions were already ragged and he was probably more twisted up inside than he'd ever been. It was exactly why she was afraid of what was growing between Harry and Ginny.

But Hermione wasn't sure she knew what to say to him about it. So she didn't say anything. Trying to get him to talk about what was going on between him and Ginny when Dumbledore and McGonagall were waiting for him was the worst sort of timing imaginable.

"They're waiting in the kitchen for you." Hermione handed him a shirt – one of the black button-up shirts from the shopping bags.

Since no one else had seemed to think about it, while McGonagall had chatted with Dumbledore and Molly, she had taken it on herself to track down somewhat suitable clothes for Harry. Having him meet with the Deputy Headmistress shirtless was not a good idea.

She had been a little dismayed to find the only clothes he owned were either black and still in shopping bags, or were so big they would swallow him whole.

Well, at least it's short sleeved.

"Thanks," Harry answered distantly. He pulled on the shirt, quickly buttoning it up. He was a little embarrassed; he'd gotten so used to working out shirtless with Gracie he hadn't even thought about it.

"Are you all right?" She gave him a discerning look, and tried to appear stern.

"I'm fine." Harry said with a sigh. "I think. Just confused."

"About Ginny?" Even if Harry wouldn't listen to her, she could be a sympathetic ear.

"Yeah." He nodded. "I noticed something today. I probably should have noticed it before."

"Hm?" Hermione quirked an eyebrow at her friend, trying not to sound approving or disapproving while still sounding interested.

"She's not eleven anymore."

"So Michael Corner and Dean Thomas noticed."

Harry winced. "Oh damn. Dean." He hung his head.

"What about him?"

Harry looked at her in disbelief. "My roommate. Ginny's boyfriend. I had forgotten. I can't just go about..."

"Go about what, Harry?" Hermione asked softly. Falling for her? You shouldn't, but you are. And I'm scared it's going to destroy you.

"Never mind," Harry said, a little darkly. He sounded depressed again as he stared up the stairs, as if trying to see her. "I think I might have made a mistake."

He turned away from her and strode into the kitchen, leaving Hermione wondering if her friend would ever be okay again.

He's not the same person I knew two years ago. The Tournament and Voldemort's return changed him. Hermione knew he hadn't had time to really recover from Cedric Diggory's death and everything else he'd endured fourth year, let alone what he'd gone through fifth year. If she were honest with herself, she was afraid Sirius' death had broken something in him – to say nothing of the summer.

There was something grimmer, more focused about Harry. He'd never been the most carefree or light-hearted person, but it seemed everything he did was more intense, sharper-edged now. It scared her, because as much as she tried to believe she didn't see Harry as the Boy Who Lived, she was terrified her friend was the only hope for the wizarding world to defeat Voldemort.

She was even more terrified he wouldn't be able to do it; not because he lacked the skill or power to do so (she was determined he wouldn't, by the time came to face the Dark Lord), but because the Order and the rest of the world had beaten him down to a point where there wasn't enough left of him to fight.

There was just too much she didn't know, and that bothered her as much as anything. As long as she had the knowledge she needed, she knew she could find answers. She didn't know enough about the prophecy – or prophecies in general. To say nothing of the strange glow she'd seen around Harry the evening he'd woken up.

Charlie walked in and looked to Hermione. He seemed about to say something, but he stopped and his eyes narrowed at something just past her shoulder.

Hermione turned and followed his gaze to see Ginny coming back down the stairs, looking around for Harry, her face revealing that she'd just realized what she'd done when she ran away from him.

Ginny looked at Hermione, who nodded towards the kitchen. Ginny nodded back and climbed back upstairs, trying to get away from Charlie's relentless gaze.

Hermione pursed her lips. There were things going on she wasn't aware of yet, and it was time for her to find out what was going on.

Before it destroyed even more of Harry Potter.

End Chapter

Posted 9-1-9