CharmedMilliE, thank you. Memory King, I'm glad you're interested. The Ministry...yes, that's going to be entertaining to deal with. Please excuse me while I laugh sinisterly. malko050987, don't get that stuck in there. I too am looking forward to getting to the H/L stuff; I've had snatches of it written and in my head for months. It's actually the reason I'm finally doing this story. GinnyLover14, thank you. I agree Gringotts and Diagon are pretty old hat staples of Harry getting his own life - but I'm still going to milk them for everything they're worth. I'm glad you liked Hedwig, I wasn't sure if readers would take well to her perspective and intelligence or not. There's going to be plenty of Luna. annoyed, While Harry didn't give the Weasleys anything, he did allot Sirius one hundred thirty Galleons more than what was already being expended towards him. Not everyone has a perfectly rational relationship with money. The idea of helping to keep his godfather safe and healthy, or for that matter, alive, soothes some of his present worry for the person most important in his life and far outweighs any concern he may have for his financial future. In addition to this, giving money to Sirius is not only keeping it in his own family, but also carries the assumption that it will be used to benefit the closest thing to a parent he has, which in theory nurtures his future a great deal more than a new wardrobe can. Vellouette, yes, I agree that Remus certainly could have worked a way out to see or at least contact Harry, if he'd wanted to. After all, Sirius fire called him while on the run, by breaking into a house for Pete's sake (well, not for Pete's sake). Then again, Sirius also lived in a cave and survived off of rats just to be near him in GoF, so I'm guessing the two Marauders have very different ideas about how important it is for them to support Harry. Giving Remus the benefit of the doubt, he may not understand that he has anything Harry would need or value. So, your suggestions for Harry's biological father, if not James, are Tom Riddle, Albus Dumbledore and Lucius Malfoy? ;) Kidding. Breathe easy, none of them are contestants in the 'Who's my Daddy?' game. Fibinaci, thank you, I'm glad you agree. Now that you mention it, I can see how that was the root of people saying Dumbles was actually evil - knowing the prophecy, he wasn't exactly handling the newly endangered hero very well. killroy777, here you go. Only one at a time though. ;) dead feather, thank you. I'm glad you think it's fun, though as far as chapter one went, I wouldn't dare call it 'new.' But then, I've read much more than a healthy share of fanfiction (more like a hardcore junkie's share), and this particular brand used to be my favorite kick. codewarriorace, thank you for the approval. Bobboky, thank you.

Notes: I've taken minor liberties with Madame Malkin's character. I'm not sure if she'd mind or not. I've also taken full advantage of Florean Fortescue, but I don't think he'd mind at all.

Chapter 2: Clagg Memorial

As he stepped into Madame Malkin's, he felt relieved to get the weight of strangers' stares off from his back. If he'd thought it was his imagination when he first got there, now he was certain it wasn't. People really were gawking more openly than ever before. On one hand, there was a possibility that the thought of Voldemort being back simply increased the fanfare of watching the Boy Who Lived walk down a public street. On the other, they didn't look much adoring; somewhere on the scale between curious and wary was more like it, depending on the witch or wizard.

At least when Madame Malkin came out, all he got from her was the typical slight moue of disapproval at his clothes before she met his eyes and smiled brightly. "Here for your school robes early, Mr. Potter? You don't appear to have grown much."

Don't I know it... "No, Ma'am, I'd just like some normal robes," he said with a slight flush, "for the summer. I want to spend more time in the Alley this year."

For just a second, a look came over her face that reminded him of a vulture. "In the Alley, dear?"

"Um, yeah?" Wow she's got a lot of teeth...were they always that pointy?

"Splendid, love," she said happily, and as she ushered him in the predatory expression was wiped clean from her face. He thought he still saw a slight gleam in her eyes though. "I suppose you're going to ask for red and gold."

He nodded. "You've got me."

She shook her head in feigned exasperation. "All teenagers..." she trailed off with a roll of her eyes and gestured for him to sit in one of the plush chairs beside the pedestals and mirrors, then turned and went through a heavy purple curtain in the corner that went into the back of the shop.

Harry leaned back in the chair and started chewing on his hangnails. He knew that how trussed up a wizard was didn't change the make of him at all. Just looking between Remus Lupin and Gilderoy Lockhart could prove as much. However, his own opinion on the matter couldn't change that at fourteen, nearly fifteen, he now cared about what other people thought of his looks. Just as he didn't like standing in a crowd of wizards looking like he was some bum muggle who'd wandered in by mistake, he wasn't keen on the idea of running into any pretty witches while he was wrapped up in rags either. For pity's sake, there's even a three year old sauce stain on these pants!

He had already worked out earlier that between automatic withdrawals and his school shopping, he'd be about twenty thousand Galleons poorer by the time he graduated. That still left another forty-three and while the idea of it was slow to sink in, he knew it meant that he was more than just a bit taken care of, at least for a few years after Hogwarts. Provided I don't blow it all before I even graduate. I'll have to work out a budget when I get home. No more than X number of ice creams a week. Something like, say...three hundred.

Madame Malkin came back out carrying a short stack of thick books, followed by one of her assistants, who was levitating several rolls of fabric before her with a bored expression on her face. Once the fabrics were set down upon a side table, the girl was shooed away and Madame Malkin turned to Harry. "Now, how many sets of robes were you looking to buy, dear?"

He shrugged. "Two or three?"

"Alright then, up onto the stool and we'll see what we can put together."

After nearly two hours, though it felt more like twelve, what Harry had put together was that he hated selecting and being fitted for custom clothes. Yes, the four robes he was practically asleep on his feet over all looked very nice. No, he really didn't care anymore. If he'd thought he could get away with it, he would have bolted out the shop door. As it was, the only time he'd taken a step towards it, he'd been deliberately stabbed with a pin. He was sure it was deliberate...

He thought it had turned out that he was right about that gleam in her eyes. Whyever people were staring at him, it was apparently a good thing to Madame Malkin for them to stare while he was in her robes. There was simply no other explanation for how eager she was to dress him up. He ended up leaving the shop sixty Galleons poorer, wearing a light cotton v-necked scarlet robe with crimson trim thrown over his muggle clothes, with the promise of three more sets coming via owl post the next day, and a suggestion that he come back and let her know if he wanted anything else. If he didn't know that he was being cut a deal, he would have moaned aloud at the thought of doing the past two hours over again.

Coming out into the alley once more, he went straight towards Florean Fortescue's. He definitely needed some sugar, and he liked Florean personally; the man had not only given him free sundaes when he'd stayed in Diagon before his third year, but had also offered homework help. It was probably a bit hard not to like an inventor of ice cream flavors who was so friendly. He treaded tiredly up to the window, relieved to find no line, and gave Florean a smile. "Blueberry Banana Smash with hot fudge?"

Florean grinned widely. "Harry! Of course, lad, of course. Just give me a moment." He stepped away from the window and around a partition which was directly behind him, going around and assembling the ice cream dish with many crackles and bangs. Leaning against the extended sill of the service window, Harry caught sight of a bright yellow flash against the right wall and wistfully wondered just what the man did back there. Of course, it's entirely possible that he just does a sound and light show for the sake of being mysterious...but somehow I really doubt it. It seems like that would be beneath him.

The cracks and bangs stopped and a moment later, Florean stepped out the side door and came over to hand Harry a dish of blue and yellow swirled ice cream in a bed of hot fudge, topped with a few inches of whipped cream and a confetti assortment of small candies. "First ice cream of the summer?"

Harry nodded, taking the dish with an expression of childish excitement.

Florean chuckled and leaned closer, cupping a hand to his mouth. "On the house then," he said with a wink. "Now, what brings you to the alley this early in the summer?" he asked as they walked to the nearest table and sat down. "Haven't blown up another relative, have you?"

He chuckled. "I wish. No, I was just bored. I hate having to be away from everything in the summer. I thought I'd spend time around the Alley this year."

"Ah. Well, you're probably better off here, where you'll have plenty of wizards around you at all times. Merlin forbid something were to happen when you were with the muggles," he added as he shook his head, growing uncharacteristically somber.

If I haven't blown Dudley up yet - oh, something. "You've heard, then," Harry murmured to his ice cream. He felt Florean's gaze on him and looked up warily.

"News travels fast in Diagon. It's already been two weeks since Dumbledore's speech. I think even Madame Malkin could have recited it for you," he said with a slight nod at Harry's new robes.

"Well, she didn't." He took another bite of ice cream, trying to enjoy it as much as he had before Voldemort was brought up.

"Is it true, Harry?"

He swung his eyes back up and glared defensively. "I wouldn't make it up." His face twisted. "Cedric didn't just trip and fall, you know. I don't know why the Minister-"

"Alright, alright," Florean said as he raised his hands, "I didn't mean it like that at all, kiddo. It's just...are you sure? If anyone could be sure of this," his eyes flickered up to Harry's scar and then back to his gaze, "it would be you."

Harry squared his shoulders and tilted his chin upward. "I'm positive," he said levelly, "Voldemort is back."

Florean seemed to deflate at this, as though it was the final word on a death sentence. "Merlin," he said with feeling, and leaned back into his chair with a small frown marring his usually jubilant face.

"Yeah," Harry agreed as he poked at his cooling fudge.

There was a brief moment of mutual despondency, something which makes ice cream consumption most awkward, before Florean nodded his head and began pulling himself back together. "Well.'s certainly something to have warning, at least."

"I think that's what Dumbledore was aiming for. But the Minist-"

"Harry," Florean said seriously, "everyone who will agree with you about the Minister or the Ministry in general doesn't need to be told. They already know." He leaned forward and spoke lowly. "Those who would disagree have already decided not to see the truth. Understand?"

"What's the harm in repeating myself though? I didn't know Fudge was a basket case until last spring. Before that, I just thought he was a pompous berk. Plenty of people might be under the same misapprehension."

A grin flitted over Florean's face against his will. "Indeed. However, keep in mind that the Ministry is located very close by. So, if you're going to be spending a good piece of your summer here, you may want to keep in mind that the walls have ears." He looked around in over dramatized suspicion, then leaned across the table and cupped a hand to his mouth to block his lips from sight of the alley. "You're not on Minister Basket Case's list of favorites anymore," he whispered conspiratorially.

Harry couldn't help it. He choked out a surprised laugh and as he tried to quell it, found himself chuckling harder. The pall of gloom had been dispelled and his Blueberry Banana Smash was suddenly the most appetizing thing in the world once more. He smiled lightly. "I'll have to keep that in mind," he agreed, and dug back into his treat.

Florean nodded in approval. "See that you do."

"So, what is there to do around here besides shop? Summer before third year, you told me there were some museums...?"

"Yes, there are. Further up Wizarding London. You haven't gone too far past Gringotts, have you?"

"Only as far as Ollivander's."

"Well, if you'd keep going down that end of the alley, you'd come across a few side streets, much like Knockturn at this end."

"Except without the danger of being horribly murdered?"

"Well," he said with a sly grin, "there is an opera house." He winked.

"I'm not going anywhere near fat ladies who sing. It's been my greatest luck to have never run into one. This," he said as he gestured to his scar, "is the result of carefully selective culturalization."

"Ah. Lack of culture-"

"Equals survival," Harry finished with a serious nod. "If I'm really careful, it'll never be over for me."

Florean gave an indulgent smile. "One can hope."

"So, the side streets?"

"Yes. Fen Alm Alley, Fine Alley and Historic Alley."

"Bet I can guess which one has the museums."

"Fen Alm has them. Historic Alley is largely residential," Florean provided.

"What? Then why-?" Harry's nose scrunched up as he thought it over. "Old pureblood homes?"

"Some of them house old families but that isn't where the name came from. You see," he said in an eager voice as he leaned forward, "in the war with Grindelwald, when he was trying to make headway in England, there was a great duel in Diagon Alley between his followers and Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore was at his peak then, just flaring with magic, and he'd always been a good sort. He was defending a muggle affiliated printing house, owned by a friend of his, which the Germans were attempting to set ablaze. There were civilians in the street, fleeing their works and the flats kept above the shops at that end of the alley. Some of them were stopping to help and most of the ones who did were made quick work of," he said grimly.

"They killed them?" Harry asked in a quiet tone. I guess I really shouldn't be surprised. They were probably worse than Death Eaters.

Florean tapped the table between them as though making a point. "Six deaths and eleven casualties, with three crippled permanently." He huffed and shook his head, speaking as though to himself, "Braver wizards in those times. Or more foolish."

Harry frowned. Having willingly confronted Dark Wizards and a thousand year old basilisk, he didn't think it sounded so foolish to defend innocent people from criminals, particularly not so if the person was in a group. How could they lose, anyway? "Maybe they just weren't taught dueling well enough."

"Yes. Perhaps." He shook himself. "But I'm rattling on. The crux of the story is this; one of the Germans made the mistake of firing a Reducto at the printer's daughter, Belinda Grimm, who just happened to be Dumbledore's goddaughter, freshly graduated from Hogwarts. She lost an arm, and there wasn't more than three seconds that went by between Dumbledore seeing it and turning back around and sending his own Reducto." He leaned back and looked well-satisfied. "Thus, Historic Alley was created."

"What? It's the end block of Diagon?"

"No, no. It's the path of the Reducto curse Albus Dumbledore used. There was so much trouble covering it up from the muggles when it happened and the destruction was so severe that the area was warded off and hidden just like Diagon; it only made sense to take advantage of the situation. A bit of work and just two years later, it was fit to be habitable."

Harry blinked, no less than astonished. He slumped back and tried to wrap his mind around a blasting curse strong enough to pave a new street. "Muggles had to have been killed," he said as he realized it. There's no way that blast had a clear path.

"Unfortunate, but yes. Some say that it was the lengths he'd been pressed to go to in defending Wizarding Britain which pushed him to seek out Grindelwald. The cost of the muggles' lives wasn't something he could discount. A battle fought with magic often turns explosively dangerous, and from then on he led the effort to keep the war off from British soil."

"Wow," Harry said as he blinked again. "Tell me again: Why can't you teach history instead of Binns?"

Florean gave a long-suffering sigh, then a quiet chuckle. "But then who would make the ice cream?"

"Point," Harry conceded easily, "someone has to make Fortescue's ice cream. The Alley needs it to go on."

"Precisely. Now, I've got to go tend to that customer, before she decides that isn't so," he said with a wink as he stood, gesturing towards the window, where a young witch in hot pink robes stood staring at them impatiently. "And you," he said in a louder tone, lightly clapping a hand down onto the crown of Harry's head, "get thee to a library. It's in the center of Fen Alm Alley. One Galleon to get your card but you'll use it all your life. A bad teacher is no excuse for a poor grasp of history," he teased as he ruffled Harry's hair and wagged a finger at him.

Harry snorted. "Right. Thanks, Florean." He stood and his empty dish vanished from the table. "That at least gives me somewhere to hang out more than once this summer. Do they have comic books?" he asked with a small smile.

"History Section, Harry," he said mock sternly, and then he turned and began walking towards the waiting witch. Looking towards the service window, Harry reeled back a bit when he saw her. She was staring straight at him, looking frustrated with something.

They don't make 'em like that in Surrey. Or Hogwarts. Or possibly planet earth... She looked to be in her early twenties, with startling violet eyes and long curled blonde hair. She was wearing hot pink robes opened to a white belly shirt with the Weird Sisters logo printed on it and black leather pants. Harry blushed as he noticed her belly ring and turned his eyes back up to her face, to find her smirking at him. Taking a step back, he wheeled around and started walking up towards the deep end of Diagon. Right. Able to face Voldemort and dragons, but not a pretty witch with piercings. I'm alright with that. This isn't cowardly fleeing at all.

As he went further on, it came to him that it wasn't really the belly ring which had gotten him speedwalking down the alley. There was something unnerving about the way she'd looked at him, as though she had a personal interest. And the way she stood... He stopped walking suddenly. Her hand was ready to grab her wand. He looked back from whence he had come, feeling his gut chill and his heart rate pick up pace. Could she have been...? His own wand was in his hand before he'd even decided to reach for it. Was she a Death Eater?

He stood still, staring back uncertainly, before deciding that whether she was or not, attracting more of her attention would be a mistake. The last thing he wanted was to have a fight start in Diagon and certainly not at Florean Fortescue's. Besides, I've dealt with the like in Malfoy's father. If I can ignore him of all people, after what he's done to Ginny and Hagrid...and Dumbledore, Hermione, and Hogwarts in general... He turned back around and pressed on, wanting to find Fen Alm quickly so that he could make the most of his time; neglectful or not, the Dursleys would want him home before late evening.

When he reached Ollivander's, he marked it in his mind as he walked on that he was officially in new territory. He looked at both sides of the street carefully, not wanting to miss Fen Alm or a glimpse of Fine or Historic Alley. The shops continued on in the same scattered palette of colors and novelties as the rest of Diagon, ranging from a music shop with ornate reed instruments and guitars to a blacksmith's with wrought iron furnishings and cauldrons in the windows.

Eventually he came upon a wide turn off from Diagon on the left side. Standing out beside a glassworkers' shop was a white street sign which read in dark blue paint, 'Fen Alm Alley.' Harry stopped beside the sign and then looked further down Diagon, to a sign standing by a narrow opening on the opposite side of the street, just far enough away that it was difficult to read the lettering as 'Fine Alley.' Well, that's two out of three found. Taking the corner, he started down Fen Alm with great interest.

Passed the flanking of Diagon's shops, he saw the alley stretched out before him in a streak of dusty pearl white stately structures, with the odd golden dawn of a few yellow stone buildings. Bursts of lush green crept into the scene, from ivy which seemed to reach down from the rooftops towards the pedestrians and the occasional overflowing window box. A few of the buildings had moss creeping up their foundations. Plaques or wooden signs identified most of the buildings, though some remained anonymous in purpose.

The Museum of British Wizardry towered over him, a manor-like structure which seemed to go on forever. Across the street was the Morning Star Art Gallery, then a busy café, another gallery and so on. He picked up his pace, wanting to find the library quickly. When he did spot the center of the street, as he could see the end in the distance too, he knew it not from any distinction in the buildings there but from a long gap inbetween structures on the left. Coming upon it, he looked out over the park in mild disbelief.

Harry had always thought of Diagon as something unobtrusively wedged into the muggle world; a clever secret with an air of discretion. Apparently Fen Alm wasn't so humble as that. Aside from the initial rush at seeing so much healthy, living green, he was immediately struck by two words at once; 'impossible' and 'magic.' It was quite too large, perhaps two acres wide and four long, the lush lawn and low hills sprawled out as though unaware they were in the middle of London. It was populated with statues of various sizes, ranging from a granite House Elf to a painted Welsh Green surrounded by flowers in the center. Cobblestone paths wound their way through the park in seemingly random loops, going from this fountain to that bench, this statue to the gazebo, this strong oak tree to the duck pond. It's beautiful. And does it ever beat Little Whinging.

Though he could easily picture spending the rest of the day wandering around, aimlessly investigating the busily landscaped park, he instead pivoted slowly and looked to the other side of the alley to pick out the library, wanting to get his membership card if only so that he could say he had the next time he went for ice cream. All that free ice cream is really just a guilt-incentive to learn. Sneaky confectioner...

Directly across from the center of the park were the opened front doors of a beautifully aged grey stone building, smothered in ivy from the top and crept up upon by moss from the ground. He crossed over to it and read printed in bright green block letters upon a large bronze plaque bolted to the right of the doorway, 'Clagg Memorial Library.'

He pursed his lips and searched his memory for any Claggs. It seemed he'd read of one on a chocolate frog card once. Then again, most everyone important has gotten a card. Even Voldemort might end up with one. Shaking his head at himself, he looked up to the two tall opened wooden doors of the library and then glanced over his shoulder for a last peek at the park before going in.

Harry stepped into the small alcove beyond the open doors, pausing slightly as his eyes were drawn to the colorful animated flyers papering most of the wall space on either side of him. Book releases, events at the different museums on the street, restaurants and even daycares were all brightly advertised. Looking ahead towards the gleaming lightwood floor of the main room, he saw a witch with loosely pinned white curls sitting at a smooth polished desk set in the center of a wide circle of open space, around the edges of which stood towering dark wood bookshelves, nearly as high as the ceiling. He came further into the room, approaching the desk warily.

As she heard his steps, the witch looked up from the book she'd been tapping the wrong end of a quill against. She smiled as a friendly habit. "Good afternoon."

"Hi," Harry returned in a pitiful mimicry of her enthusiasm. "I've been advised to get a library card...?" He trailed off awkwardly and shifted self-consciously.

She gave him a brilliant smile. "A new-comer! Wonderful, dear. Of course! But it's one Galleon to join, you know."

He nodded and fished the gold coin out of his bag, laying it on the desk between them.

Digging into a drawer on the right, she pulled out a wallet-sized card, shimmery green with black print, and then went to her left drawer and retrieved a pink quill. Beginning to scrawl her signature on it, she said, "Now, I'm Miss Pentwish. And you are...?"

"Harry Potter," he said in a slightly hushed voice.

"Oh!" She looked up with round eyes and stared at him in surprise. After blinking a few times, she seemed to come back to herself as she looked back down to the card and quickly wrote his name in. "Oh, finally! Really, fifteen is it?"

Fourteen...but let's not be fussy. He gave a cautious nod, wondering if he should be offended by her behavior or not.

"Well," she continued as she tapped her wand to the card, "it's about time you made an appearance." A gold glimmer shone over the green and she looked back up to him. "Your turn," she explained.

Biting the corner of his mouth, he reached his wand over and tapped it to the card. The glimmer effect was repeated, though in red.

Miss Pentwish nodded in satisfaction and tapped her own wand to it once more, sealing the deal. There seemed to be a diffusion of white electric but it was gone in only a second, and then Harry was being handed his new library card from the head librarian who smiled at him like a Cheshire cat.

He looked at the product of all that drama and felt faintly disappointed. It looks muggle. Tilting it from side to side, he couldn't even get a hint of something magical.

"When you check out a book, the title and due date will appear on the back in black. If they become overdue," she added with a slightly severe expression, "then the print will turn red. You can renew a book yourself only once, by tapping first the card in the back of the book and then your library card. If you want to renew it again after that, you'll have to come in to do it. You may return books via owl, but if anything happens to them you will be held responsible."

Harry gave a slight nod. "That's only fair," he muttered.

"As a member of this library you are expected to follow the rules and I reserve the right to toss you out if you don't." His eyes widened a bit and she gave a little smile. "Fortunately the rules are rather simple. No book can leave the library without being checked out first. Treat everything in here with respect, as none of it belongs only to you and all of it exists in memory of a revolutionary historical figure. Don't shout, not unless something's on fire or there's some other, similar emergency. Show respect to your fellow readers. Last, and pay attention because this is most important, you are underaged and thus only cleared for the majority of the library's material."

She pointed across from herself, to the dozen or so high bookshelves making up the left half of the circle they were in. "That end and the second floor are yours to paw through at your leisure."

"Respectfully paw through?" he clarified to show he was paying attention.

"Right," she agreed, failing to rebuke him at the sight of his slight grin. "This end," she said as she jabbed her thumb to point behind her, "is inadvisable reading for youths, but negotiable on a case by case basis. It's warded so that I'll be made aware of your presence there, and chances are you will find yourself supervised."

"Romance novels?" he guessed.

"Mostly. The stairs on that side go to the basement. They're more heavily warded. Care to guess why, Mister Potter?"

Gosh, that's a tough one. "They're the way to the Restricted Section, off-limits to everyone under seventeen?"

She nodded. "Strictly forbidden."

And probably more fun than anything else here. "Right, got it. No trespassing." I wonder if the books on ward-breaking are in the restricted section. On one hand, it would make sense but on the other, it wouldn't be very fair to the subject if they banished it.

"Good," she said as she regained her former brightness. "Just bring me whatever books you want before you leave."

Harry nodded and sauntered away, drifting over to the open access half of the first floor and skimming over the topics. The euphoria of standing on wizard's ground was fading to an ember as he felt the similarity between this library and the one in Hogwarts; there were problems to cope with in both worlds and his last days at Hogwarts had been overshadowed by the same griefs which still smothered him in his sleep at the Dursley's. Walking through a row of magical theory texts, he stopped at the end to stand and read the plaques on the shelves around him, feeling more comfortable where he couldn't be seen. Arithmantic Theory and Practice, Runes, Potions, Potions and yet another tall long bookcase dedicated to Potions. Like anyone needs to bother that much with it. Crafts of Magic, Warding, Herbology, Herbology and I bet it would really peeve Snape to know that Professor Sprout's subject has four bookshelves when his only has three. Take that, stinking Slytherin. Magizoology, he continued to read as he slowly crept through the shelves.

Moving towards the end of the room, he turned a corner and saw sunlight streaming in through a high federal window, splashing over the lightwood floor and onto a mahogany staircase set unobtrusively against the wall. Distracted as he looked at the almost-hidden route to the upstairs, he was surprised when he reflexively checked what section he'd come into and found that it was just what he'd been looking for. His heart began pounding and he checked back what would have probably been a noise unsuited to a library. He was in an alcove of three wide walls of books, uninterrupted by the sight of any other subject, with a small pinewood table surrounded by padded dark brown leather chairs. He was in the Defense section, and it was making him dizzy just to look at it.

A few hours later, the chorus in his head which resounded with something like, Heaven, heaven, heaven, had at least faded to the back of his thoughts. He was sitting at the table, absorbed in watching an animated pair of duelers repeat a carefully choreographed fight scene over and over. Dueling Dynamics by Trent Jacobson was his new best friend. It broke things down until he could see how much of a difference a single motion could make in who was champion. There were tips in little blue blurb boxes beside the main articles, advising the reader on everything from stretches to make them more limber to clever gadgetry which could be easily concealed and 'be the decider of who survives an unsporting match.' Sporting, because dueling was apparently an approved recreational competition, like Quidditch, and Harry was just on cloud nine. Considering the size of the Defense section, he was willing to bet that every book mentioned in this one was somewhere around him at that moment.

For the first time, he could almost sympathize with Hermione - with the exception that his hunger for knowledge was practical, rather than academic. As the scene ended, he tapped the point of his wand to the picture, as the beginning of the book had instructed, and it restarted once more.

Chewing at his fingertips, he looked up as he heard someone coming down the stairs and he caught sight of the window, filtering in far less light than before. Great. What time is it, anyway? Fourish? Five? He shook his head at himself and closed his book, picking it up along with another which had snatched his interest earlier, The Best of the British Dueling League in the Twentieth Century, which played out some rather spectacular real life duels on painted animations similar to the ones in Dueling Dynamics, but with statistics and biographies of the competitors in place of the in-depth analysis of the plainer book. I can read one to understand the other.

His books cradled in one arm and the paper sack holding Hedwig's things and his money bag in his opposite hand, he took a step back from the table and turned around to head to the librarian's desk, nearly walking into the girl who'd just come down from the upstairs. She was carefully balancing a small stack of books with colorful bindings but she barely reacted to the near-collision, only tightening her grip around the books.

"Sorry," he said hurriedly, and he was, since he really wouldn't want to have bowled over someone who was actually smaller than him.

She raised her gaze from the floor to eye-level, her silvery blue eyes going from glazed to intensely focused as she stared at him. It felt as though she was trying to stare him down, and he unconsciously leaned back away from her. "No harm done," she eventually said in a surprisingly musical voice, sounding light and casual. She continued to stare, though her eyes gradually lost some of their clarity.

"Um, right," he said uncomfortably. He looked her over, wondering if she was one of those types of magical persons, like Uric the Oddball. There wasn't any jellyfish on her head, though her wand was tucked behind her left ear and she wore two long strings of mismatched buttons as earrings. She was wearing a light blue robe opened over a pink shirt and a beige knee-length skirt. Before he could decide whether she was pretty or just pretty mental, she twitched her head slightly as though calling herself to attention, and the life returned to her expression as she seemed to see him once more.

She gave him an absent smile. "Good luck with your practice," she said politely, and continued on her way at a languid pace.

Well. That's an odd one. He shook his head a bit, unknowingly imitating the same motion the girl had just used. Going towards the front desk, he found himself following her through the shelves and came up beside her, slowing his steps. "What practice?"

Her head tilted so that she faced him as she walked and her eyes ran over him curiously. "Dueling. It's what you have the books for, isn't it?"

"Oh. Right." That's a brilliant response, Potter. Can't we do better? "Thanks for the luck, then," he said with what he hoped was a smile. I'll need it, if the last four years at Hogwarts have been anything to judge by.

A happy little hum was his only response, as she slowly turned her face away from him and towards the Head Librarian they were walking to.

He hung back then, letting her get to the desk first and waiting patiently.

"Miss Lovegood," Miss Pentwish greeted, "I thought I'd see you earlier than this. Too much summer homework?"

"Oh, nothing unnecessary, I don't think. Professor Snape gave a research project, and that was rather fun to work on. They're good practice for real investigations."

Snape's homework was fun? Fun? What year is she in? Is that the same Professor Snape, or does Hogwarts have the evil half of a set of twins?

"And how was your school year, dear?"

There was a moment's silence. "Interesting," she said in a distant-sounding voice, "I learned quite a lot."

"Oh," Miss Pentwish said in a slightly disappointed tone, "well, that's lovely dear."

"Yes," the girl, 'Miss Lovegood,' agreed as her mind came back into the room, "there's nothing quite as magic as understanding."

Miss Pentwish gave her a fond smile. "I can certainly understand that." She passed the stack of books back and the girl took them, stepping back from the counter and walking away slowly.

Harry came forward with his own two books and set them down with his card on top.

"Found something to entertain yourself with?" she asked with a smile as she pulled the books over to her side of the desk and glanced at the titles. A slight frown flickered over her face as she saw them but then it was gone, and she flipped to the back of one and then the other, tapping with her wand first the card in the book and then Harry's library card. She looked up with a tired smile. "All settled then."

"Thanks," he said, feeling strangely shamed that he wasn't more friendly or talkative. "I'm glad Mister Fortescue sent me over," he offered in a quiet tone, "that Defense section is just - huge."

"Florean sent you?" Her eyes brightened and she smiled more brightly. "Oh, that man. Trying to shuffle you off to the History section?"

He blushed lightly. "Yeah."

"Well," she said with laughter in her voice, "I won't tell on you." She tapped the two Defense books and gave him a wink.

He grinned in return. "Thanks. I'd rather not have lectures over ice cream. It kind of spoils things."

She nodded. "Just make sure you work your way over there eventually. With Professor Binns still teaching, I imagine every Hogwarts student could use a good tour through the History section. Most especially in your OWL year."

"I will. Eventually." He tried to guess just when she had sat in Binns' class, since in spite of her mass of white hair she only looked middle-aged.

"He was still living when I went to school," she said as though she'd read his mind. "Not a whit less boring, in spite of it. Probably more so, as I never got to watch him float through his blackboard."

He gave a small smile. "It stops being cool after the first couple years, mostly."

She shook her head in exasperation. "I would hope that the distraction wears off."

"Do you know what time it is?" he asked as the strain of his spent time continued to catch up to him.

"It's," she consulted a watch on her wrist which Harry wasn't sure he could read, "quarter after five."

"Oh." Good thing the Knight Bus is always on call.


"Not yet. Goodnight, Miss Pentwish."

"Goodnight, Mister Potter."

He turned about and went back onto the alley street, starting up towards Diagon. He'd grab a bite to eat at the Leaky Cauldron and hopefully be home by seven, or else he'd be put under a bit more scrutiny than he cared to stand from his relatives, who had apparently been neglecting him while kept on a salary for nearly fourteen years.

The Knight Bus dropped 'Neville' off right where they had picked him up that morning. Harry gave a sigh, half content from the day he'd had and half exhausted at the thought of returning to Number Four. Setting his things down on the side of the road, he slipped his robe off over his head and folded the edges in, so that the trim wouldn't show. Hiding the paper bag and books in the middle of it, he wrapped it all up and hoped he could pass the bundle of cloth off as a jacket if he met up with a Dursley.

He took the walk home with a deeper feeling of accomplishment than sneaking in owl and wizard time in the local park had ever provided. This must be what teenaged rebellion feels like. Real rebellion, not just the 'I don't want to live in a cupboard' stuff. I'm just normal all over, today.

When he got to the Dursleys', he took a deep breath outside the door, bracing himself for a random explosion. His aunt and uncle were never happy with him in general, but this summer they were acting borderline neurotic. He opened the door and slipped inside, shutting the door quietly.

"And where were you?"

Harry sighed in resignation. Vernon was seated on the couch in the living room, looking over his shoulder with a frown. Of course he's frowning; he's looking at me. "I was at the park."

His uncle scowled. "Dudley went to get you. He's told us you weren't there."

Dudley, slumped in an arm chair and previously staring listlessly towards the television, picked his head up at this and looked over at Harry as well. "I called for you," he added in a slightly accusatory manner.

Did he actually go look? Chances are, no. "I was sitting against a tree and I fell asleep. You probably just didn't see me."

Dudley nodded, placated by the lack of blame on his shoulders.

Vernon's face twisted in disgust but he turned back to the television all the same, muttering to himself, "Sleeping in the park like some bum..."

Harry gladly took the opportunity to retreat and went up the stairs to his room.

Hedwig was rudely roused from her sleep as her Harry crashed into the room, swinging the door closed with a snap and going over to his bedding where he set down a large bundle. She was less irritated by his inconsiderate behavior than usual and it took her only as much time as she needed to come fully awake for the reason to be clear to her. She cooed out to him and when he turned to her with a grin, she ruffled her feathers into order and lifted her head high, feeling a bit smug. Her master felt happy again. Not as he used to be but much more than he had been.

"Hey, girl," he said in a warm voice, "I got you something."

She hooted in interest. Though she would often bring him gifts of dead mice, he'd hardly ever reciprocated the gesture. Not that she was bitter about it, of course. No, she just blamed it on wizarding stupidity. Her Harry was a good boy, and the poor thing tried.

He buried his hand into the paper bag and withdrew a winged ball of white fluff. He squeezed it and the wings began flapping. It zoomed over to her and began circling her cage, occasionally squeaking like a mouse. Trying to ignore it, she looked back to her master. He had gotten her an annoyance which would make her hungry?

"Um, I got you some Owl Treats, too."

Oh. Well... She gave a soft hoot, slightly appeased. Her Harry did try.

After opening the package and putting two of the large treats in her food dish, he sat on his bedding and chattered at her about his day away from the nest. She listened patiently, letting him carry on in his hushed tones until long after she would have normally left to go flying.