A/N: Hello my faithful readers, I hope you enjoy this update

A/N: Hello my faithful readers, I hope you enjoy this update. In case you don't know, I've been altering updates with my other story, Harry Potter and the Alchemist's Apprentice. I've also been slipping in a bit of time for original fiction, but that isn't posted anywhere. In response to several of the reviews concerning currency of the wizarding world and Harry's wealth, I'll be saying a few words.

I didn't make up the "Galleon 5 pounds" thing, I think that's a JKR-ism from an interview. I do, however, support it. The wand is one object that we have no idea how valuable it is, but others we have some idea. Harry's schoolbooks are stated as being something like 7 – 13 galleons each, keeping in line with college textbooks. Apparition lessons in canon are 12 galleons, which is not totally out of line with Driver's Education at that exchange rate. So I apologize if the wand seems underpriced, but I certainly don't think that a galleon is anything near 100 or something like that. Ron may have been jealous about Harry giving away a galleon to him for the D.A., but remember that he gave away about 30 of them total, so Ron was likely thinking about the 300 total, and not his own 10.

But thanks for the close reading!

Harry Potter and the Unlocked Knowledge

Chapter 14: The New Term

"Good morning, Professor McGonagall! I hope your Christmas break was wonderful!" Harry said cheerfully after he stepped out of the Professor's Floo.

"Indeed it was, Mr. Potter. I must say, your gift was unexpected and quite nice. I've never received such an intricate statue." She said with what appeared to be a hint of a smile. It disappeared after Ron and Ginny emerged, and she warned them, "Mind you don't get ash on the carpet, Mr. Weasley!" Before Harry responded, "Oh yes, Muggle porcelain, you know. I just gave them a photo of your cat form and they did the rest. Quite good work, I thought. Have a nice day in your classes, Professor!" Unlike previous years, Harry had gotten Christmas presents for just about everyone he knew and liked. He even sent one to Snape, though he doubted he would be getting any thanks for the rare and expensive Demiguise hairs. Regardless, Tom respected Snape even if Harry still thought him a git.

"Come on, Harry," Ron said, "Hermione'll probably be waiting for us at the common room." Harry somehow restrained himself from commenting on Ron's noticeable excitement at the prospect of seeing Hermione again. They were turned away by the Fat Lady when she, clutching her head, grumpily told them that the password had been changed.

"Ron! Harry!" They heard Hermione call out, "There you are! I've been back for ages, spending some time in the library before classes. The new password is 'Abstinence'." She finished somewhat breathlessly.

"Quite right, my dear." The Fat Lady said as she swung aside and they went through to the Gryffindor dormitories.

"She's been rather terrible today, I'm afraid. I heard that she and Violet got into some wine in the portraits down by –" Hermione started with a roll of her eyes. Harry interrupted her as he noticed a large crowd gathering.

"What's going on here?" He said, interrupting her explanation. Ron hurried to the front of the crowd and saw a sign advertising Apparition lessons that would soon be starting. Harry nearly had to laugh at the thought of Tom's Apparition lessons, which were unhelpful and useless. Since he could already Apparate to France and back, he figured that he didn't exactly need any lessons that the Ministry could teach him.

"That'll be wicked, no, Harry? Go wherever you want whenever you want…I can go to Honeydukes all summer!" Ron grew quite excited at this prospect.

"Oh, definitely! It will be ever so useful, of course…I wonder if Flourish & Blotts has their own expected Apparition point or if anywhere is fine…" Hermione's thoughts trailed away at this.

"12 galleons, though," Ron said somewhat warily, "That's pretty pricey…Good thing Dad is getting promoted at the Ministry, otherwise I don't know." Harry of course would have taken care of it for his friend if that had been the case, but merely kept silent.

"What about you, Harry, where do you want to Apparate to?" Harry looked questioningly at Seamus, who'd asked, and replied, "Away from Voldemort," before grabbing his Charms book and leaving the common room with the large group of Gryffindors. Hermione was next to him and leaned over to his ear.

"I got this from Professor Dumbledore, today, Harry. I think it's for another one of your meetings with him." She said as she slipped him the scroll of parchment; he merely nodded slightly. Around him, the Gryffindors were still discussing what they'd do when they could Apparate.

"Reckon I could go to just about any football game I want to, once I can Apparate! Support West Ham abroad!" Dean Thomas was saying excitedly to Seamus.

"Yeah, and trips to the pub every night! I could even go to McDon's back home!" Seamus replied with a gleam – and possibly a tear – in his eye.

"You know, Apparition isn't that common amongst adult wizards. Most Ministry employees use the Floo for everyday travel. Less risk of splinching." Harry said casually to them. This, of course, set their conversation on the less pleasant topic of splinching.

"I heard of a wizard back in Ireland who was missing his head for a full half hour. Muggles were all drunk, though, so they didn't even notice!" Seamus said in one of the more outlandish stories. When they arrived in class and Professor Flitwick started, no one paid much attention and were instead focused on Apparition, leading to a rather unproductive lesson.

That night, Harry skipped out of dinner a bit early to fetch the books he'd borrowed at his last meeting with Dumbledore. They were all quite interesting books, full of powerful and dangerous magicks and ward schemes. Of particular interest was the personal grimoire of Gellert Grindelwald, feared Dark Lord of the mid-20th century. Harry had studiously copied almost the entire contents of that tome as he'd learned the myriad of nasty curses and spells contained within. They were especially designed to be fast and deadly, which suited Harry just fine when he was fighting Death Eaters.

And so, eight o'clock found him sitting in the Headmaster's office as he and Dumbledore began the "lesson".

"So, Harry, I hope your break was enjoyable." Harry grinned at this.

"Oh, I had an excellent time, Professor. Remus and Tonks' wedding was lovely." Harry said, avoiding the topic Dumbledore was really interested in.

"It certainly was. And Grimmauld Place has never looked better, Harry – extraordinary how you've managed to earn the respect of Kreacher, even if he did spit on my own shoes when I attempted to talk to him." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled behind his glasses as he smiled mirthfully.

"I'm sure he was just offering a spit shine, Professor. He has a penchant for old fashioned things like that, I've found."

"Very nice job on St. Mungo's as well. Though from what I've heard about the press conference, Lucius was less than informed prior to the announcement." Dumbledore settled into one of the true topics of the meeting.

"Oh, did I forget to send that owl to him? How careless of me. Oh well, what's done is done," Harry said nonchalantly, causing Dumbledore to smile once more.

"I'm sure, Harry. However, I must say that it was quite a security risk for you, going there without any kind of protection – had you informed me, I would have been happy to provide a few Order members –"

"That's alright, Professor, no one knew I was going there. Safety through public ignorance. Besides, I could have Apparated or Portkeyed to safety if things blew up." Dumbledore looked thoughtful, but finally nodded in reluctant agreement.

"I suppose so, Harry. But I do hope that you are not taking your safety for granted – Voldemort has many informants, so you should not take him for ignorant unless you are quite sure. In any case, that is not the primary intention of our meeting. Do you have any questions about the memories of Tom Riddle's early life, Harry?" Ha! There is so much you don't even know, Professor, that Harry should be asking you! Tom thought with a smile.

"No, Professor, I think I understand him quite well. I did want to bring back these books I borrowed previously, and perhaps discuss some of them?" Harry handed back the pile, Grindelwald's grimoire shoved between the two warding books, to Dumbledore, who paused when he revealed the untitled black book.

"I…see. I take it that you found some of the potent magic in Gellert's book?" Dumbledore said, his eyes never leaving it.

"I did, sir. Several of them were, like the Bone-Shattering Curse, were just variations on existing curses." Dumbledore nodded slightly.

"Yes, Gellert was excellent at tweaking spells like that. Take a spell that everyone knows, make it quicker, easier to cast, more powerful. It made him devilish in a fight, I can tell you, perhaps better than any before him." Dumbledore finally looked back at Harry, the twinkle gone from his eyes.

"So that's why you were able to defeat him? Because he shared his knowledge with you?" Harry asked. The situation seemed to be remarkably similar to his own, in fact. Voldemort, undefeated until Harry comes along and, hopefully, bests him with his own secrets.

"Partially. But, in that fight…neither of us wanted to kill the other. I don't even know if either of us wanted to win. There's a reason it was called the greatest duel of the century, Harry. It was long, wearisome, and the magic thrown around was complex. Voldemort's duels could never be that way, because he'd grow tired or bored and shoot off Killing Curses until his opponent died. With Gellert and I…capture was the intended goal. Or maybe his was to drive me off." Things started to make sense to Harry now; indeed, Dumbledore's tone when he spoke of Grindelwald all but gave away his feelings.

"It must have been hard to fight someone you loved, Professor." Dumbledore peered rather intently at Harry and, though he felt no intrusion of Legilimancy, he felt that Dumbledore saw right through him.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done, Harry. Much harder than flinging about the magic." Quickly, he changed the subject, "Well, why don't you have another look at the bookshelf of mine there, Harry. Now, the book I used to erect the wards on Privet Drive were not in the book you borrowed, but instead in this one, written by one of my illustrious predecessors to the position of Headmaster. And here we have the most comprehensive source on Horcruxes that I've ever seen. Quite a horrible book, really, but terribly informative. I'm almost reluctant to show it to you, to be honest, but I promised you access. Here's another compendium penned by Alastor Moody about the curses he faced in his career as an Auror. The Ministry didn't approve of the knowledge being so accessible, even to its Dark Wizard catchers, so I believe that I have the only available copy." Harry almost thought to press the aged wizard for more information on Grindelwald, but obviously Professor Dumbledore would rather hand Harry the Darkest book he owned than discuss it, so he just let it die. Perhaps further discussion would have told how he had loved someone as notoriously evil as Grindelwald. No one was a saint, it seemed, not even Professor Dumbledore.

A few more minutes of discussion and Harry was ushered out of Dumbledore's office and told to return to Gryffindor Tower. He rather suspected that his lessons with Dumbledore had come to an end, unfortunately.

The following day found Harry in Potions class with Ron and Hermione, a rather interesting lesson on the horizon for them. Antidotes were difficult material, and identifying the poison an even more challenging prospect. Poisons were, however, well within the scope of Voldemort's focus of the subject.

The poison contained within his vial, a dirty black substance, could have been any number of different poisons, which is one reason he picked it. Several others he knew instantly from their coloring. The garish pink was, of course, Choleric Bowel Emptying Poison. An orange one was quite obviously a Skin-Eating Topical – excellent when used in torture, Tom knew. This black one, however, was mysterious. And likely rare.

Slughorn was trotting around from cauldron to cauldron, seeing the progress of each student, most of whom were trying to separate out the ingredients of each poison using a Revealing spell. Amateurs, as Harry knew. A poison was more than components, and it was fairly difficult to do anything more than narrow down the family of poisons using those spells. Instead, poison identification required something a bit more inherently dangerous.

Harry removed the cap from his poison and let the odor assault his nostrils. Acrid, sharp scent not unlike ammonia. It assaulted his nose viciously. Unfortunately the scent was too overpowering to aid him any, so he put one finger over the end of the vial and flipped it over, wetting his finger

By this point, he'd attracted the attention of Hermione, who was whispering that he was crazy. But he knew it wasn't a Skin-Eating poison, so any damage externally would likely be quickly reversible. Anything else…well, he was supposed to brew the antidote anyway. He stuck the poisoned finger in his mouth, and the taste brought back memories of Voldemort's own experience identifying and dealing with poisons.

"HARRY! What are you doing! Are you mad?!" Hermione screeched shrilly as she watched. Harry ignored her, focusing on the poison.

Noxious taste, and thick like boiled fat.

Hmm, yes…I believe I have it! With the black color, sharp scent, and fatty taste…and yes, your heart is definitely having palpitations. Deverrie's Heart Stopper is the poison. Instantly, Harry knew that Tom was right, even as Harry's brow furrowed with sweat as the poison went to work. He ignored it and quickly boiled the water in his cauldron with a rushed wave of his wand. He threw in a few other ingredients from his potions kit and went to work, Tom taking his attention away from his sluggish limbs and unfocused mind from lack of blood flow. As quick as the potion went to work, the antidote was quick to brew, so in fifteen minutes he scooped a sample and drank it down.

After a minute, he opened his eyes to see the entire class watching him with baited breath, Slughorn himself with his nose an inch from Harry's, looking at him, his monocle making his left eye comically large.

"I say, are you alright, my boy?!" Slughorn finally asked, removing himself from Harry's personal space. Harry smiled reassuringly at the professor and his awed classmates.

"Yeah, fine," he said, his voice only slightly rough, "The antidote works." Ron was the first one to chuckle appreciatively and slap him on the back, Harry grinning somewhat lopsidedly at his friend. Hermione wore a death glare aimed at both of them.

"My, my, Harry! Forty points to Gryffindor for sheer daring and marvelous brewing!" The Slytherin side of the classroom looked less than pleased – and Malfoy was eyeing his potion carefully, as though considering something similar for forty points – but all of the other students congratulated Harry and were asking him what it was like.

"My heart started beating irregularly, so that was really how I identified the poison, along with the color, taste, and smell. I think that it's important to use all of your senses in identifying poisons. Of course, some of that information – maybe everything but taste – can be used along with the known ingredients to get results without potentially killing yourself. Or rotting away your flesh or anything." Malfoy immediately tossed away his vial he'd been eyeing so keenly when Harry declared this, much to his amusement.

"Excellent points, Mr. Potter! Take another ten points for Gryffindor for such excellent instruction! Everyone, try to narrow down your poisons based on color and then cross reference the results of Scarpin's Revealaspell!" The students, even with the extra information about their poisons, generally were unsuccessful. Since the book had not organized the poisons by color, it was a lengthy process to find each poison possibility, so most were throwing in random ingredients by the handful to the antidotes. Hermione, however, had moderate success; though rushed, she was able to turn in a passable anti-venom to one of a Runespoor's toxins, which was the correctly identified poison in her vial.

Harry was half tempted to tell Ron, whose potion resembled drying tar, to just crush up a bezoar and hand it to Slughorn, but figured that only he could have gotten away with such cheek; Ron may have been liked, since his father was almost certainly going to be the new long term head of the DMLE and he himself was getting publicity for Quidditch, but he still wasn't Harry Potter.

"Excellent work, Ms. Granger! I see you took Mr. Potter's suggestion in narrowing down your possible poison. A bit more time, and you'd have done marvelously!" Slughorn said, beaming at her potion, which was easily the second-best next to Harry's. She smiled somewhat snidely at him, and quickly packed up her supplies, leaving Harry as the last in the room as Slughorn made certain that his favorite student was having no adverse effects from the bit of poison he'd drank. Harry waved him off easily, promising to visit Madam Pomfrey if he felt his heart stop, and hit the hallway when he packed up his supplies.

Hermione was waiting for him in the hall. Expecting a lecture, he didn't say anything and just waited for her to speak as they walked side by side.

"You know, Harry, I just can't figure it out," she finally said thoughtfully. "I initially thought the Imperius Curse, but everyone knows that you can resist that easily. Even full-blown possession is out for that reason, after your experience at the Ministry last June. Then I thought a Polyjuiced impersonator, but I've been watching you and you don't take a drink every hour. Metamorphmagi are too rare, and I don't think its Tonks impersonating you, since you were at her wedding. Besides, you've made an effort to remain friends with Ron and I…and even Neville and Luna, I suppose. But you're just so different, that I don't understand. I refuse to believe nothing happened over the summer. I want to be your friend, Harry, but I can't unless you trust me." During her rant, they both slowed until they were finally stopped in the hall. Harry realized that this was it – if he wanted Hermione, and likely Ron, to remain friends with him, then he needed to explain his sudden change in behavior.

"Work on Occlumency. I can't have everyone knowing, so I need to know that it can't be plucked out of your head before I tell you. Same goes with Ron…and I don't think he'll lend himself well to it, so it might be just you that knows." Her eyes widened slightly at the confirmation of her suspicions, but she nodded fervently.

"Does Professor Dumbledore know?" A look from Harry told her all she needed to know, and she became slightly guarded as she nodded slowly. She suddenly swept him into a hug and whispered, "Thank you for trusting me," before running off to her next class, which for Harry was a break.

With the stress of disclosure going from likely to imminent, if not necessarily soon, Harry felt the need for destruction and readied himself for a workout in his training room.

All day Saturday was also spent in the room, this time going over the new batch of books from Professor Dumbledore's office. A small ball of fire was hovering ten feet away from Harry, and sweat was beading on his brow as he focused rather intently on it. Unlike normal fire, this had a sense of wrongness to it, and the flames wicked out as though resisting any kind of containment. It was Fiendfyre, one of the most dangerous Dark magicks; primordial, cursed fire that burnt everything it touched.

Fiendfyre, Harry had known from Tom, was one of the easiest curses to cast – most first years, even, would be able to call it forth. However, once summoned, it was terrifyingly difficult to control, and constantly sought, as though through its own will, to get free and burn everything around it. It was only now, once he had gotten quite a bit of practice with so many other curses and improved his wand skills so much, that he dared even experiment with a bit of the cursed fire. It was a potent weapon, but just as likely to kill an unskilled caster as it was their enemy. It took every ounce of skill and concentration, but he could hold the fire and eradicate it at will now, his longest attempt so far ten minutes of a ball that expanded, contracted, and moved at his will. Voldemort, of course, could easily control the cursed fire, but had had years of first-hand experience using it as an implement of terror to learn it. Harry thought his own progress was quite good.

When the door to his training room was slowly opened, Harry quickly put out the cursed fire and was very surprised to find that the protections on the room were not quite as impenetrable as he'd previously thought.

"Mr. Potter, I was hoping to find you here!" A squeaky voice that Harry hadn't heard much outside of Charms class declared. "You're quite possibly the most challenging student to locate that I've ever encountered!"

"Uh…Professor Flitwick, what a pleasant surprise. Is there something I can do for you this evening? Trouble with my Charms homework, perhaps?" Harry began easily. If Flitwick could work his way through the layer of spells Harry had put on the room to prevent wayward students from disturbing him, then the diminutive professor was not to be underestimated.

"Not at all, Harry! Your work this past term has been splendid, much finer than in years past! You seem to have put a bit more thought into your studies; it is quite refreshing, from a student with as much raw potential as you've always shown. No, instead I came by to discuss the events of this past winter's break with you." Flitwick said, conjuring up a small chair as he motioned for Harry to do the same. Harry, with a bit more thought than Flitwick used, managed to conjure up a similarly comfortable stuffed seat for himself.

"Is that so, Professor? I imagine you're referring to the Death Eater attack on the Hog's Head pub during Remus' bachelor party?" Harry said, still cautious as he was uncertain as to what Flitwick wanted.

"Yes, Harry, precisely! Excellent conjuration, as well, by the way, I must give Minerva my compliments," Harry smiled indulgently at him as he continued, "You see, I was quite…incapacitated that night, but I managed to see that you have a remarkable natural skill at using magic in combat, Harry."

"Thank you, Professor. I've worked hard at it, given my history."

"Of course, Harry, that's wonderful. I did, however, notice that some of your techniques were…unconventional, shall I say? May I assume that you are primarily self-taught?" Harry considered this carefully. Voldemort had, in his travels, fought with and against many different people. He'd even fought under a few people, in the early stages of his delving into Dark magic. But for the most part, these people had always allowed him to learn on his own, rarely offering formal instruction. Particularly since Voldemort was so powerful, he'd never really needed to rely on anything except his frightful proficiency with Unforgivable curses and the skill and power to put behind them. Harry had gotten some rudimentary instruction from Moody this summer, as well, but he had still mostly gotten by on his own.

"Yes, that's correct, Professor, I'm mostly self-taught." Flitwick nodded eagerly at this pronouncement.

"Ah, then might you allow me, in thanks for that night, to be of some assistance?" Flitwick said, eager even by his own standards.

"Er…just what are you offering, Professor?" Harry asked curiously.

"Well, I don't know if you knew this, Harry, but in my youth I was an International Dueling Champion. I think that I can help you learn some of the more traditional skills that duelists have, to complement your own nontraditional techniques." Seeing Harry unsold on the idea, he continued quickly, "Most of the wizards you fight will only know of these techniques, Harry, so if you know them, and their weaknesses, then you might be able to better counter them." This did sound tempting to Harry, even if it meant another thing he'd be forced to juggle in his already taxing schedule.

"What kinds of things can you teach me, Professor?" Flitwick grinned eagerly at his question.

Harry was surprised when the door to his sanctuary burst open to reveal Ron, Hermione, and Neville all with exasperated expressions on their faces, but not nearly as surprised as they were to see Harry with his arms around a mannequin as he twirled with it around. Professor Flitwick, standing on a table, seemed to be conducting both the instrumental music playing and the mannequin's path around the floor.

"Er…Harry?" Neville asked, saying what was on all of their minds. Harry glanced at them, but kept dancing, ignoring them until he completed the rather elaborate routine. The mannequin bowed to him – he rolled his eyes in response – and finally Harry turned to his friends.

"Hello," he said as though nothing were odd about the scene, "What's wrong with you three? Apparition lessons go okay?"

"Just the bloody git of an Apparition teacher. I swear if I'd heard the 'Three D's' one more time, I would've kicked the stumpy little –"

"Honestly, Ron, he was just trying to help! I think that Apparition is just a very difficult thing to master!" Hermione said, predictably defending poor instruction as she had time and again.

"Harry does it easily enough. What's the secret, Harry?" Ron said, obviously the reason that he, and maybe the others, had shown up here.

"Harry, if you'll excuse me, I'll make my exit now, I've several stacks of papers awaiting grades. Excellent work today, keep in mind what we discussed and I'll see you next Saturday to continue the lessons!" Flitwick said, smiling brightly but leaving the mannequin with Harry. As he left, Harry turned to his friends to address their questions.

"Not really a secret…You just picture where you want to go, then picture yourself kinda…popping in there. Add in a bit of magic and bam, Apparition." Harry said, not thinking it would help his friends any. Ron, however, seemed to consider it.

"That's basically what Professor Tofty – that's the Ministry-approved Apparition Instructor, Harry – said the whole time. Some people just didn't listen properly." She said, eyeing Ron disapprovingly.

"Oh come on, what Harry said makes loads more sense than some idiotic D's. Maybe if he'd said that, people would actually have Apparated, instead of just one splinching." Harry winced appropriately. Tom's own Apparition instruction was likewise poor, and most of the class had splinched at some point. Besides himself, of course.

"Well, I suppose it was slightly better, but Professor Tofty was just trying to use alliteration to help everyone remember, Ron. It's a commonly used mnemonic." Harry rolled his eyes at his friends, but Ron thanked him for the advice and told him that he'd see if he couldn't show up Hermione's mnemonic next week with Harry's sound explanation. Harry chuckled slightly as the girl rolled her eyes. Ron and Neville left, leaving Hermione alone with Harry.

"Harry? What was that bit with Professor Flitwick about? Taking formal dance lessons?" She inquired mischievously, her lips quirked into a smile, "Does Katie know about this? Or is she behind it?" Harry's eyes narrowed dangerously, but the smirk he couldn't keep off his lips ruined the look.

"Actually, I've just bought into all that Pureblood propaganda and I'll be attending fancy balls from now on. And no, I've not seen Katie, so she probably doesn't know. Was something on your mind?" A silly question, really, since there was always something on the girl's mind.

"Well, I've read all about Occlumency over the past weak – why don't you try to break into my mind so I can show you what I've learned." Harry raised an eyebrow and got an amused smirk on his face. Of course, Hermione would believe that she could learn Occlumency in a week from a book.

"Legilimens!" He said, easily penetrating her mind as images flashed through their minds. Harry decided to go after every time Hermione had displayed any kind of affection for him, so he was bombarded with stunning smiles, tight hugs, and kisses on his cheek, which he managed to replay time and again for her in slow motion. When he finished, he was smiling broadly at her deep blush, and she just turned around on her heel and said, "Fine, I'll keep practicing…"

February flew bye for the Sixth years, most of whom were kept quite busy between increasingly difficult coursework and Apparition lessons. Human transfiguration lessons had continued under Professor McGonagall's tutelage, and even Ron had managed to progress quite well with it; he had to, because Harry and Hermione constantly gave him Snape's nose and greasy long hair, occasionally changed to the mid-back length white hair and beard, along with the crooked nose, of Professor Dumbledore for some variety, during each lesson until he learned to reverse it and attempt some revenge of his own. Anything more than this basic alteration of features was generally beyond sixth year material, but Harry had once given Ron a particularly persistent beard when he gave Ron cat hair.

Silent casting, the standard for N.E.W.T. level in all classes, continued to give many students trouble in Transfiguration, Charms, and Defense. Snape's constant testing of their repertoire, all non-verbal, of course, was particularly challenging to most students. His many repetitive lectures to a red-faced class on the necessity of variety in Spellwork was a constant source of frustration to some students, who looked up diarrhea-inducing spells, vertigo spells, and headache curses just for the chance to test them on Snape in revenge. Unfortunately, Snape nearly constantly used Legilimency on his students, and could tell when those stray curses were about to "accidentally" hit him in the back. Students with such poor aim were always assigned difficult additional homework, and the behavior eventually died down.

Charms class, even, was frustrating between Professor Flitwick's cheery attitude and the difficult Bubblehead Charm that the sixth years started. The diminutive professor told them that it was one of the constants on the N.E.W.T. Charms examination, though, so they all knew that their suffering was at least going to be worthwhile.

Potions class, at least, was a relief for them because, although their work with antidotes remained challenging and involved copious notetaking by most of the class, they could at least occasionally talk to a partner or curse when a boiling solution sprayed out of their cauldrons. Herbology was similarly cathartic for the students for the same reasons – Venomous Tentacula didn't mind course language, so Ron in particular waxed poetic while he was able.

Harry's friends all kept busy in their extracurricular activities as well. Ron, Hermione, and Katie were all very close to completing their Animagus transformations – even though Katie, due to the upcoming N.E.W.T.s, was unable to work as frequently in the training room. Neville, who'd focused mostly on working with Ginny and Luna, had brought them up to speed with himself and they now worked together to fight off the golems or practice their wandless magic. Neville's shields were instantaneous and powerful, now, and he'd started simple transfigurations, even though it was academically one of his weakest subjects. Inspired by the success of the three, as well as Harry's infrequent but impressive displays, he too wanted to become an Animagus.

Harry himself was kept quite busy between learning the Dark magic that Dumbledore had given him, which he most often did late at night after the others had gone away to finish homework or sleep, or his odd but undeniably effective lessons with Professor Flitwick. The others hadn't questioned Harry's use of the violent and somewhat vicious magic, but all the same they felt less comfortable around him when he was conjuring up Fiendfyre, and he certainly had never shown that to Professor Flitwick.

The diminutive dueling master's lessons were altogether unconventional. The dancing routine, it turned out, was Flitwick's own creation, and modeled his standard set of twirls, spins, dips, and dives to avoid curses and hexes. The professor must have been in incredible shape when he was younger, because it was more taxing to Harry than fighting off the three golems. Flitwick also showed Harry the simpler dodging routines commonly employed and their weaknesses, which he was more likely to encounter. It seemed that a practiced routine, even if predictable, was easier because it freed the mind to cast spells instead of dodging without casting, as Harry had constantly done before. Harry had even tweaked the routine just slightly to incorporate a few dodges that he and Tom had worked out in their own training, and Flitwick was pleased with the additions.

In addition to dancing, which eventually incorporated cleaning charms cast strategically throughout the routine, Flitwick would limit Harry to a single non-dueling charm while he himself employed more traditional tactics. Harry's victory with only Cheering Charms was his finest moment in this exercise, as Flitwick was reduced to a smiling heap on the floor, while Harry sported bruises, nicks, cuts, and was in general disarray.

February fourteenth, one of the most important days of the year to young, amorous witches, went by relatively uneventfully for Harry. So focused was he on training that other than an expensive bouquet of flowers owl ordered from Diagon Alley and a box from Honeydukes for Katie, with smaller boxes for Hermione, Luna, and – though it was against his better judgment – Ginny, the day went by like any other. So concentrated was he on Flitwick's new lessons that he didn't notice Katie's attempt to dress up in something slightly more feminine and appealing than her usual outfit, nor did he notice her crestfallen look when she left for the night.

As crazy as his schedule was, then, it was little surprise that Ron's birthday and the month of March approached so quickly and unannounced. Just two days before the first, which fell on a Saturday, Professor Dumbledore announced that the Hogsmeade visit would unfortunately be cancelled, much to Ron's disappointment. As a consolation, Harry promised fresh butterbeer for him, which improved his mood only a little. When Saturday came, however, Ron's excitement returned in full force as he woke up the entire boys' dormitory.

"Harry! Presents, mate! It's my birthday!" A load of presents littered the ground in front of his bed, more than Harry had ever seen for a birthday outside of Dudley's. His own large gift, finely wrapped in foil paper thanks to Kreacher, sat at the bottom of the pile.

Ron received candies from most of his friends in Gryffindor tower, of course, and a large book from Hermione about the development of magical candies along with a box of chocolate frogs that made Ron grin and laugh aloud – "Probably wants me to charm my own chocolate frogs!" His parents had given him a shiny new gold watch – a wizard's watch, of course, with planets that circled the center in a way that Harry supposed one got used to, but was bewildering at first – and his older brothers had gotten him a full case of Ogden's Finest Firewhiskey, which he promised to share with Harry later.

Philbert Deverill and Einion Llewellyn from the Puddlemere United Quidditch team also both left presents for their sponsored Keeper – apparently they were quite keen on getting on his good side. Ron's countless Cannons paraphernalia had a rival to Puddlemere, with all of the posters, signed, of course, and jerseys of each starting player. Ron could – and proceeded to, that first week of March – wear a different Puddlemere jersey each day of the week.

Harry's two gifts, wrapped together, however, made him gasp when he opened them. The first was a single box that held a red quaffle that said "training quaffle" written in quill in Harry's own pen. This was special, because he'd charmed the thing himself. It was similar to a bludger, in that it flew by its own power, but would stay within normal scoring distance of the hoops and pelt itself at them unless Ron stopped it. Unlike the bludgers, it only got a burst of speed at the beginning, like a real quaffle.

The larger box was not quite so personal, but contained six tiny golden hoops that would be enlarged to full size and set up behind the Burrow, as well as a full set of brand new balls. The case itself was a small trunk of tinted red cherry wood, and gorgeous golden lettering, the initials R.B.W., embossed on the top of it. Ron thought it far too extravagant, but Harry waved it off with a smile.

The day was mostly spent finishing homework and working on a bit of training – though Ron and Hermione had taken a break to exchange what Harry could only imagine was a more private gift that left him with even more of a goofy smile than he started with – as well as a bit of a pick-up Quidditch game on the Nimbus 2100's and with Ron's new set of balls. He also played around with the practice quaffle, which was apparently charmed only too well, as it was blocked much less often than even Katie's shots. Ron got a determined scowl on his face at the end, and grumbled about practicing a bit more with it later as he took off with Harry back to Gryffindor tower.

When he stormed through the portrait entrance, mud all over him from the hours of play outside, he stared a bit as the entire occupancy of the tower lounged about the common room. Snacks littered the common room tables as what seemed to be half the inventory of Honeydukes was spread around Gryffindor tower. Harry smiled as he saw his owl order, the other half of Ron's birthday gift, put to good use.

"Happy birthday, Ron – here's the other half of your gift, since we couldn't take you to Honeydukes!" Harry said over the din. Ron smiled brightly at his best friend and smacked him on the back before rushing off to the table and grabbing two great handfuls of the candy. Harry helped himself to a licorice wand before he was accosted by a witch he'd spent part of the past two weeks trying to avoid – Hermione had warned Harry that Romilda Vane had snuck love potions into Valentine's Day chocolates for Harry, and it seemed that she was right, as the boy-crazy girl had tried several times unsuccessfully to accost him in the hallways. Now, however, it seemed unavoidable as he saw the boys' dormitory entrance was blocked by the beaters on his own team.

"Harry! I've been trying to get you alone for ages now! You are very good at avoiding people when you want to," she said slyly. 'Apparently not quite good enough…' He thought with a grimace.

"Anyway, I bought these candies for you for Valentine's Day and I've just been trying to give them to you. So here you go!" Romilda said, thrusting the chocolates in his hand before winking and walking away in a manner she no doubt thought seductive. Harry managed to avoid vomiting, but it was a close thing.

'Apparently the chase through the hallways ending in you hiding behind the statue of the One-Eyed Witch wasn't enough of a clue for her." Tom said, amused.

"Hey, mate, what're those? Holding out on me, eh?" Ron said, grabbing to box of chocolates. Before Harry could say 'love potion', Ron had shoved three of them into his mouth.

"Go' 'o 'ample 'em 'irst, 'arry!" Ron said through the food. A glazed look very suddenly came over his eyes as two of the chocolates, some of the potion inside dripping out of Ron's mouth, fell to the ground.

"Ron? Ron, are you alright?" Harry asked concernedly. He knew Ron would need to be taken to see Professor Slughorn pretty soon here – Tom may have been able to name a poison from a mile away, but love potions were never exactly Voldemort's specialty.

"Oh…what? No, I'm great, Harry! Hey, have you seen Romilda Vane? Where is she at?" Ron started dreamily, but ended by loudly addressing his questions to the entirety of the tower. No guessing whether the love potion worked, Harry thought with a sigh.

"Sure you are, Ron." Harry spotted a red-faced Romilda Vane that everyone was backing away from about the same time Ron did.

"There she is! Romilda!" Unfortunately bad went to worse as Hermione walked up, confused.

"Ron? Are you feeling alright? Is there anything I can –"

"Sure is, Hermione! Look, we can't kiss any more. You're just a friend." Ron said somewhat harshly to the bewildered girl. "I'm in love with Romilda Vane – she's the most wonderful, beautiful creature on this earth!" Ron said, announcing clearly his morning's activities to everyone. Most chuckled, and a few outright laughed. Harry winced as Hermione turned redder than even Romilda before turning to Harry with tears in her eyes.

"What's wrong with him?" She demanded, turning her anger on her friend; this time, though, Harry didn't really mind.

"Love potion. Look, I need to take him to Slughorn. Bugger," Harry swore as Ron yanked out of his grip on his arm and made to head toward Romilda before Hermione grabbed him.

"Look, Hermione," Ron started angrily, "It was just a snog! We aren't dating! Romilda and I are going to be together forever, so bugger off!" The laughter had stopped now, the house growing quiet at Ron's tirade. Hermione withdrew her arm as though she'd been visibly stricken.

"Stupefy!" Harry said with just a bit more force than necessary. Ron was flung across the room, impacting with the wall with enough force to have knocked him unconscious again. As Harry levitated his unconscious friend, a Hermione who was tear-streaked but had turned to anger and an equally angry Katie Bell – it was almost her boyfriend who'd eaten the candies, not that Harry would have, after all – advanced on a humiliated Romilda Vane, penned in by her classmates. Harry winced at the sound of two smacks and the rising voices of two violent teenaged girls as he and Ron made their way through the portrait. By the time he closed it, wands had been drawn and Hermione had thrown the first of what would assuredly be many inventive hexes at the girl. Harry, however, couldn't quite force himself to feel sorry for the younger girl.

"Harry, my boy! What can I – oh dear!" Slughorn exclaimed loudly as Harry entered his office, an unconscious Ron sprawled in the air behind him.

"Hello, Professor. I'm afraid Ron here ate a love-potion laced chocolate that was meant for me. Had to knock him out to prevent Hermione Granger from killing him." Slughorn peered intently at Harry at this revelation – Harry may have cursed Ron with a Slughorn attempting to fix him up with his favorite bookworm, after all – but nodded sharply.

"I see, Harry…when were these sweets from?" Harry was a bit confused at first, but then remembered how love potions tended to get stronger with age.

"Er…probably from Valentine's Day, sir. The lady in question has been trying to corner me with them for some time, I suppose." Harry said, as Slughorn cleared off a bit of table in front of his row of ingredients and pulled out a small cauldron.

"Oh dear my, that makes things more complex!" He said somewhat cheerfully as he anticipated the challenge, "Age does increase the potency for love potions, after all. It might be just a bit tricky…aha! Here we are, camel spat! No surer thing to nip a love potion's effects. Takes the amorous out of anything, it does." The thick loogie oozed out of the small vial into the cauldron as Slughorn mixed it with quite a few other gross ingredients. Harry swore he saw 'troll boogers' on one jar, but Slughorn had removed it too quickly. He certainly didn't envy Ron having to drink this potion.

"Alright, Harry, why don't you wake young Ron up?" Harry complied with a silent spell as Ron woke up groggily, his hand on his head.

"Harry? Have you seen Romilda? I need to tell her how much I love her!" Ron said as his head cleared.

"Right, sure Ron. But…why don't you take this headache reliever and breath-freshening potion first?" Harry said as he indicated the cauldron of Professor Slughorn's. Slughorn winked at him as he handed Ron the potion.

"Wow…it does both?" Ron asked, eyeing the potion skeptically. Harry very nearly knocked him out and shoved it down his throat.

"Absolutely, I had Professor Slughorn brew it up special for you. Bottoms up, mate!" Ron shrugged and drank the contents before nearly gagging.

"Ugh, that was bloody awful! There's no way that was a breath freshening potion! Now Romilda…wait a mo'…why would Romilda Vane care what my breath smells like?" Ron said, looking around confused.

"Love potion, she tried to slip me one in some chocolates that you ate." Harry said easily as Ron looked confused, his head clearing.

"Ugh, happy birthday to me, eh mate?" Harry smiled at Ron's look; Ron's face soon dropped, however.

"Did I…I didn't say anything to Hermione, right?" Ron finally said, the tips of his ears growing red.

"You know, I think you might have mentioned something…oh yeah! The snog was meaningless and you are in love with Romilda Vane. When'd you snog Hermione, mate?" Ron's face whitened and Harry very nearly thought he would pass out again.

"Ronald, my boy! In these cases, I always find that a bit of a drink can help one summon up the courage to talk to the offended lass! Since it's your coming-of-age and all that, I have no problem fetching a glass of my finest mead!" Slughorn bustled off to his desk, where he withdrew a cask.

"Hmm, was going to give this to the Headmaster for Christmas, but…best not to let it go to waste!" Slughorn said as he busily cracked it open. Ron took the time to look seriously at Harry.

"She's going to kill me, isn't she?" His voice quivered slightly, but Harry just laughed.

"Nah, I think she got most of it out on Romilda. Poor girl, but I guess it serves her right. Anyway, I think the best apologies lead with a kiss." Harry said with a smile. Ron rolled his eyes.

"Oh really? Sorry for eating your chocolates, then, mate!" Ron said, puckering up before Slughorn shoved a drink in both of their hands.

Ron thanked him with a nod and took a large gulp for courage, quickly followed by another, longer draw.

"That's really smo- uh…" Ron dropped the glass, shattering it, as he clutched his head and quickly started seizing a bit, falling to the floor. Harry eyed his own glass quickly, also with a quick smell, as Slughorn looked on, bewildered. Harry cast a Revealing spell and almost immediately came to a conclusion about the obvious poison in the mead.

"Professor! It's Arsenician Seizing Poison, it smells too garlicky!" He shouted. There was no time to make an antidote to such a fast acting poison. Harry ran over to the ingredient shelf they'd just stood in front of and cast his eyes over the shelves. Bezoars…bezoars…there they were, near the top. He grabbed one from the box and went back over to Ron, whose eyes had turned red and bloodshot as his body convulsed spasmodically. Harry pried open his friend's mouth as Slughorn looked on in horror, and shoved the bezoar down his throat. After just a few moments, the bezoar took effect and the convulsions subsided, leaving Ron unconscious. Slughorn still looked on, his eyes drifting to his mug every few seconds.

"Professor? Why don't you put the poisoned mead down and go fetch Madam Pomfrey?" Harry said in a growl of exasperation. Slughorn nodded, his great walrus jowls flapping wildly, and hurriedly shuffled out of the room.

Harry looked down at the unconscious Ron and muttered, "Guess Hermione won't be getting that snog just yet…" before levitating him and waiting for Madam Pomfrey. Frowning, his own eyes flicked to the mead as he recalled a bit of a conversation just before a Death Eater attack.

"Ah yes, Tom, some of your special mead for me, if you will!" Slughorn had called out with a wink to Tom the Bartender at the Leaky Cauldron. "My favorite, you know, as well as Professor Dumbledore's…"

It seemed Professor Dumbledore's would-be assassin struck again.

"Harry?" Bill Weasley said uncertainly, seeing Harry with his eyes closed sitting on the floor outside the Hospital Wing.

"Bill?" Harry asked quickly, jerking awake. He'd been in the Hospital Wing all night, but Madam Pomfrey had tossed him out once the Weasley family arrived. He'd told Hermione, who had also been there the whole time, that he would stay and let her know when Ron woke up so that she could go back to her dormitory for some sleep. His neck, battling the crink, was less than pleased at his gallant offer.

"Ron's going to be fine, you know." Bill started.

"Oh, I know. I just told Hermione that I'd be here and let her know when Ron woke up. This interrupted a snog of theirs, I think." Bill grinned widely.

"Well, you know us Weasleys! Thanks for saving him, Harry." Bill said, his tone quickly changing.

"Ah, it was nothing. Just a little bezoar at the right time, is all." Harry said, waving it off as he yawned tiredly.

"That's not quite the story that Slughorn's telling, Harry, but I guess that's to be expected, from the tales mum tells of him. Anyway, I know mum's busy in there with Ron and she would love to be here to thank you herself, but thanks, Harry. Now," Bill cleared his throat and his voice rose, "Get yourself up to your dormitory, Harry dear, before you catch the death of yourself!" Bill's impression of his mum was spot-on, but Harry was too tired to do anything besides shake his head and smile a bit.

He couldn't remember the trip back to his bed, but he knew that once he hit the welcoming four-poster, he was asleep again.

"Harry!" A rather annoying voice called insistently, dragging him reluctantly from his blissful sleep.

"Go 'way." He muttered under his breath. To an angry witch, this was not a good thing to say. He yelped as Hermione's first hex hit his backside, before his covers were ripped off and he was Banished onto the floor. Perhaps Mad-Eye had always warded his bed so thoroughly to avoid angry witches, but Harry had had a term and a half to get out of the summer habit, so Hermione met no resistance as she did so.

"Harry Potter! Get out of bed and get a robe on now! I can't believe you just left him down there in the Hospital Wing! Didn't even think to come wake me up, did you?" She finally stopped her tirade as Harry vaguely realized she was looking for an answer. With only three hours' sleep, which he was unused to, to say the least, he wasn't quite sure of the question.

"Up! Get your robe on!" She barked again. Simple instructions he could slowly follow, and did, so the pair made their way down to the Hospital Wing. When they arrived, Hermione ran in while Harry just waited outside once more – it wasn't like she actually wanted him there anyway – for a few minutes.

When he finally did come in, he found Hermione leaning over the bed as Ron attempted to convince her that all thoughts of Romilda Vane were gone from his head. Harry cleared his throat softly and the two jumped apart, Hermione reddening slightly while Ron was just grinning.

"Glad to see you conscious again, mate." Harry said as he clamped a hand on his friend's shoulder.

"All thanks to you, mate! Honestly, first a love potion and then poison…now I know what your weekdays are like, huh?" Ron said, still grinning. At this point Hermione seemed to remember something and jumped up, embracing Harry in a hug.

"Oh Harry, I'm so sorry, I was horrible to you this morning and –" Harry shushed her as he returned the hug and they sat and talked to Ron a bit longer. He was anxious to get out, of course, though Mrs. Weasley was sure, and insistent, much to Madam Pomfrey's annoyance, that he needed another few days of rest to be sure he was fully recovered.

When Harry and Hermione left Madam Pomfrey's ward later that afternoon, just after lunch, it seemed that Filch was in a particularly foul mood.

"What are you two doing here?" He demanded after finding them walking near the entrance hall.

"Er…walking? Back to our dorms?" Harry said coolly to the frustrated squib.

"Don't you sass me, boy! I'll string you up by your ears, you no-good troublemaker!"

"Problem 'ere, Filch?" A booming voice said, not at all pleased. Harry and Hermione were quite glad to see the familiar face of Hagrid, who winked at them pleasantly.

"No problem, Hagrid. Just about to give these two detentions for back-talking me." Hermione's eyes widened at this. Only a few things, such as suspension, expulsion, and death, were worse than detention in her mind. Torture ranked closely behind it.

"'At's not much fair, Filch. 'Ese two were visitin' Ron in the 'Ospital, 'Ey didn' trash th' Seventh Floor." Harry ears perked up at this statement of Hagrid's, which caused Filch's eyes to narrow dangerously before he spun and slunk away.

"'E gets righ' upset when them floors get trashed, 'e does. Oh well. 'Arry! I was jus' abou' to go see Grawpy! 'E loves yer Christmas present, 'e does. Righ' nice of ye to think abou' 'im like 'at. Yer two wan' ter come wit' me?" Hagrid asked, excited. Hermione had quirked a suspicious eyebrow – that was two unknown Christmas presents Harry had delivered without anyone, as far as she knew, knowing about it. Harry smiled, ignoring his friend's silent inquiry.

"Of course, we'd love to come and visit Grawp a bit, wouldn't we, Hermione?" Hermione, remembering several near disastrous encounters with the amorous giant last year, stared at Harry like he was crazy. He grabbed her hand, ignoring that look, and accompanied Hagrid's long strides out to the grounds and through the dark forest, where Hermione made sure to keep close to Harry; had he not known of her feelings towards Ron, he might have thought her behavior less-than-platonic.

Grawp was no longer chained up like he had been the previous year when Harry and Hermione visited. In fact, he now looked quite respectable in Giant-sized trousers and a shirt. In one hand he gripped a massive white club with spikes on the business end of it; though he dragged it through the dirt, it remained gleaming clean. The small giant, however, had bruises on his face, more missing teeth than the teens remembered, and bruises all along his legs and arms. He looked as though he'd been a muggle suffering from a gang-beating.

"Har-ry! Herm-mie-nee!" Grawp exclaimed with a smile as he saw them. Though his pronunciation wasn't quite right, his accent was only as butchered as Viktor Krum's had been.

"Grawp, what happened? Did you get into a fight?" Hermione said, seeing his black eye and bruised face. Grawp kept smiling.

"Ah…big trolls live in mountains. Grawp a small giant, so four trolls fight me. I win with new club from Har-ry, though! Thank you, Har-ry!" The last expression had obviously been well-practiced, because Grawp made a face showing his concentration as he said it. Hagrid stood back and took in the scene, beaming like a proud parent.

"But Grawp, that's horrible!" Hermione exclaimed, "Hagrid, how could you let that happen?"

"Eh, not much I could do, 'Ermione. 'Em Trolls 're a good twelve feet tall, and strong 'ittle buggers, too." Hagrid said, spreading his arms in a shrug.

"Grawp bigger, but not big like big Giants. Trolls not fight big giants!" Grawp said while playing with his club, swinging it at a stray tree to knock in over violently.

"Grawpy's on'y sixteen feet tall or 'ereabouts. 'At club o' yours mus' be nice, 'Arry, to 'elp 'im figh' off four o' the big trolls!" Hagrid said, admiring the obvious craftsmanship on the Giant weapon.

"Yes…what is it, anyway, Harry? Some kind of wood? Where did you get it? And are those runes carved into it?" Hermione said, attempting to study it as Grawp swung it around happily.

"Er, bone, actually. Had it shipped in from Romania. Yes, there are runes carved in it." Harry said evasively. Hermione recognized this and her eyes narrowed.

"But whatever has bones big enough for…oh…Romania? Dragon preserve, then?" She concluded, raising an eyebrow. Harry neither confirmed nor denied, so she continued, "But how on earth did you manage to carve those runes like that? I mean, I know you learned a bit over the summer, but that's really advanced –"

"Not really, Hermione. After all, enchanting weapons used to be one of the most common things wizards did, hundreds of years ago. Even muggles always talk about magic swords and whatnot. The library here at Hogwarts has old books about it, since it used to be so common." In fact, Tom Riddle had eagerly devoured those books in his own fourth year, happily crafting deadly daggers for sharpness in his common room.

"Hmm, I suppose I'll have to check them out myself, then…" Hermione said, looking doubtful.

"They're good ones. Thanks for taking us to visit Grawp, Hagrid. I might have a few ideas about those troll problems he had, so I'll let you know if I make progress on them." They all said their farewells to Grawp, who parted with, "It was so good to see you again. Do come back and visit," in another obviously rehearsed way that made them laugh.

"You've done a marvelous job teaching him, Hagrid," Hermione said as they walked back through the forest.

"Oh, thanks! It was 'ard, o' course. But I 'aven't got N.E.W.T. students this year, so I 'ad a bit o' time off ter spend with 'im. It was fun, it was." Hagrid said. Harry and Hermione both felt slightly sad at the fact that no one continued in Hagrid's class, but supposedly there were a few O.W.L. students, particularly Luna Lovegood and Colin Creevey, who were quite interested in the subject and would be taking it at the N.E.W.T. level in upcoming years. Hagrid's discussion of his petitions to get dragons to study for them – he'd already filed six with the Ministry and been turned down five times – took them all the way to the castle, where Harry and Hermione took their leave of the half-Giant friend.

"Well, it might be dangerous, but I do think that Hagrid could teach a lot to the students about dragons, Harry." Hermione said as they made their way back up to Gryffindor Tower.

"I'm sure he could, but the Practical N.E.W.T. Creatures exam doesn't have anything on dragons. Though it's usually covered on the theory portion." Harry explained, making her wonder slightly just how he knew that.

"So you two've been together all day, then?" A fairly angry voice called out as they entered the common room. Harry immediately recognized the voice as belonging to Katie Bell. Things had been somewhat stagnant with her lately, as Harry was keeping ever more busy with lessons from Flitwick and his own training, along with Quidditch, and Katie likewise busy preparing for the N.E.W.T. exams. Perhaps their relationship had become a bit neglected, but that was bound to happen, right?

'I can't answer that one for you, Harry. I know well enough how to seduce women, and could give your inexperienced mind anything it needs to know about pleasuring a woman, but keeping a steady girlfriend was never a goal of mine.' Tom thought to Harry as he sought advice.

"Er…'lo Katie." Harry began weakly, "Yeah, we visited Ron in the hospital wing and then went to see Hagrid. Did you want to go to the room to work on –"

"No, I didn't want to go to the room! Did you at all think that maybe I wanted to see my boyfriend after he was very nearly tricked into a love potion by some fourth year harpy? It's been weeks since we've had any private time, Harry, not even on Valentine's Day!" All commotion in the common room had stopped at Katie's slightly raised voice, as everyone tried to look like they weren't eavesdropping on this gossip topic.

"Why don't you calm down a bit and we can go someplace private and talk –"

"I don't really feel like talking to you, Harry. I'm going up to my dorm. Maybe I'll see you tomorrow." She said, turning on her heel and walking away up the stairs. Harry cleared away the frustration with a deep breath and some Occlumency, his tightened jaw the only indication that he was upset.

"Maybe I should –" Hermione began.

"Sure." Harry interrupted coldly. Hermione turned around and followed the older girl up to the girl's dormitory as Harry attempted to ignore the stares of everyone in the common room and calmly ascend to his own dorm. Once there, alone, he let some of the anger out as he called Kreacher.

"Kreacher!" He bellowed, abusing the silencing charm he'd hastily shot at the door, "Bring me everything in the Black library about Giants and growth potions. And strengthening potions, too! I want to know how the Giant blood might affect them!" Kreacher, having never seen his new Dark Master so visibly upset, hurriedly disappeared to retrieve the books. Perhaps if he performed well, Kreacher would get punishments to abate his Master's mood.

Unbeknownst to the house elf, Harry was almost frustrated enough to comply with his desires. Witches tend to bring out the best and worst, after all.