A.N. I have been suffering from a severe writer's block for the last few months. This is a small attempt at getting over it. That said, I do like this story I have churned up. Also, standard disclaimers hold. This story is based on characters and plots written by JK Rowling.
A man stepped out of the innocuous blue police box that looked like a relic straight from the Victorian age, and looked around strangely. "Hello there," he called out. On receiving no response, he shut the door behind him, and raised his hand to cover his eyes from the sunlight as he looked to the distance.
"Strange," he muttered to himself.
He walked out of the park and to the empty street. Kicking an empty coke can to a corner, he walked with a deep frown. Suddenly, he removed a metallic rod from his pocket and clicked a button on it. An unearthly blue glow shone from its tip, not a blue light, but a sound that was visible. He moved the rod in the air as if trying to detect something.
"This is a strange signal," he muttered. "Some sort of mass hypnosis. A potent form of… compulsion… unlike any I have seen before. Strange." He kept moving the rod, increasing the frequency of the sonic discharges. Gaining speed as he walked, he kept muttering to himself.
"All locked to one specific genetic signature. A compulsion towards discrimination, neglect, lack of care, almost bordering on hate. But why?" he said thoughtfully. "Now where exactly am I again?" He closed his eyes for a moment and replied to his own question, "Right, 1982, Surrey. What is so important about this location during this time period?" As he walked, the frequencies became louder and louder, until he stopped in front of a specific house.
"No way!" he exclaimed in disbelief, but with a gleam of excitement hidden somewhere. "No freaking way!" He shone the strange beam from his device to the house number - Number Four, Privet Drive. "No freaking way!" he repeated.
The Dursleys at Number Four were having a very ordinary day indeed. The house was clean, the garden shiny, Dudley was happy, the freak was in his cupboard. Nothing was wrong at all. So when the bell rang, they had no reason to be worried.
But then a man came in. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties, and had a strange smile on his face as he flashed out his identification papers.
"HRM's Secret Service, Good Dursleys," he said jovially, entering inside. "I heard you have a 'freak' problem," he muttered, ignoring their shocked expressions. He walked straight to the cupboard under the stairs, and using his sonic device, opened it.
"H-How did you know?" Vernon Dursley asked with a splutter, fearfully.
"Oh please," said the man, as he picked up a skinny two year old kid. "We have our ways. Well then," he said cheerfully. "I'll be taking care of this for you. If anyone asks you what happened to young Harry, just say, 'National Secret.'" He ignored the blatant shock on both faces and left the house.
Walking across the street, he paused thoughtfully. "Can't really blame them. The entire neighborhood is hypnotized into making your life miserable, kid," he muttered, staring at the house for one final time. He looked at the sleeping boy and patted his head. "But I can't leave you there, can I? Stupid paradox overdrive," he said anxiously. "I can't even keep you. Who knows when it will throw me out of this fictional universe! But I have to do something…"
The Grangers were a happy family. Their baby daughter was already showing signs of being a genius, with the ability to rationalize things beyond her three years. But then they received the biggest surprise of their lives when a strange man entered their clinic.
At first, Jane Granger was about to ask him if he had an appointment, but her eyes fell on a skinny little boy, who fearfully clung to the man. Her heart went out to him. She had wanted another child after their Hermione, but a complication during her cesarean section prevented all chances of that. The little boy she saw made her maternal instincts go awry.
"Hello, Dr. Granger," the man said kindly. He approached her desk and placed a bunch of books on it. Ignoring the befuddled expression on the woman's face, he said, "It's kind of hard to explain. You know, the usual culprits - magic, time, dimensions and paradoxes. But suffice it to know that those books will explain to you why you need to look after this boy."
Jane Granger looked at the man in disbelief. But before she could ask a question, her eyes fell on the picture on the book. The resemblance it bore to the boy in front of her was uncanny. She blinked and read the summary. Then she read the summaries of all the other books, gasping when she saw the name of her own daughter. Hastily, she flicked through the pages of the first book. She took a deep breath and turned to the man, who merely shrugged and beckoned for her to do the same with the other books. Finally, she turned to the grinning man and said, "Is this some kind of sick joke?"
The man's grin disappeared and he shook his head sadly. Ruffling the confused boy's head, he sighed. "If you think it's unusual for you, think about me. For everything I know, in my universe, Harry Potter," he smiled when the boy looked up at him, "is merely a work of fiction. A popular children's book. But now I find myself inside it. Mind you, I do have a time traveling device far beyond the capabilities of the human race. But honestly, that's not important. I do not know when I'll be thrown back to my world but I'm worried about what will happen to little Harry when I'm gone."
"He can stay with us," Jane blurted out. "I don't know whether any of this is true, but this child clearly needs a proper home and a mother." Reddening, she looked at Harry and smiled. She got up from her seat, and walking around her desk, approached the boy. "Hello Harry, I am Jane Granger. I have a daughter about your age. Do you want to stay with us?"
The boy looked confused and turned from the strange man to the woman. But before he could respond, he found himself in the woman's arms. Blinking in confusion, he said the first thing that came to his mind. "Mami?"
Jane Granger sighed happily and nodded.
"Thank you Dr. Granger," said the man as he got up to leave. "You don't even have to adopt him. I did a clever little trick I am capable of to mask his genetic identity. For all purposes that anyone in this world is capable of with science or magic, Harry will be perceived as a Granger to all, unless he wishes to reveal his identity." When the woman ignored him completely in her newfound joy with her new child, he said, "I suppose this is my exit cue."
"Wait!" Jane said frantically, following after the man. "You didn't tell us your name!"
The man paused at the door, and turning his head, he grinned. "Good to meet you, Jane Granger. I am the Doctor."
"Leave my sister alone, you bullies," Harry screamed at a group of nine year olds, who scampered away when the strange Granger boy approached. Harry rushed to the bushy haired girl and grabbed her hand. "Don't cry, Mione," he pleaded. "What did they do?"
"They tore my book," she whimpered. "The one where Bilbo gets the ring."
"At least it wasn't one of those books," Harry said with relief. "I'll save my lunch money and buy you a new one for your birthday."
Hermione giggled. She pinched her brother's cheek and said, "You're the best, Harry. I'll share my lunch with you."
Harry smiled. The two of them didn't have many friends. Most people chose to stay away from the strange Granger kids. The girl was a know-it-all bookworm while the boy was a total freak and strange things happened around them both. Some of them even believed that evil spirits inhabited both children.
But they were content with each other. Hermione would read all kinds of book and talk to Harry about them, while Harry would listen with content, and do all kinds of silly things.
"Harry!" Hermione shouted angrily one such day. "Give me my book back, you!" She jumped up and ran after her brother, who was dangling the book out of the window. "Fine! Fine! I'll play cricket with you later, I promise! Let me finish reading that now! Gandalf is actually alive and not dead!"
Harry smiled and passed the book back to his sister and jumped aside when her hand came close to striking him. "Ha!" he shouted in triumph and scampered away to the kitchen.
"Hey mom," he greeted warmly but his smile faded away at the expression on her face. "What's wrong?"
"It's all my fault," Harry wept inconsolably an hour later. "If I had stayed away then none of this would have happened. It never happened in the book. It only happened because of me. You shouldn't have adopted me…"
Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.
"Stop it, Hermione!" Jane scolded her daughter as she kept hitting her brother. With a sigh, she said, "But I'm not going to punish you because I was very close to doing that myself." She turned to Harry with a stern but kind gaze and said, "I have raised my son better than that. Come here." She pulled Harry to her embrace and kissed his head. "I love you, sweetheart, and I wouldn't trade anything for that."
"But… but dad's gone… and you're…" Harry sobbed but flung his arms around his mother's neck. "You can't leave us too!"
"I'm not leaving you for another year, baby," Jane said with a weak smile. "But my cancer is untreatable." When Harry lurched painfully, Jane rubbed his back and said sadly, "People die, son. Nothing is more real than that. But they don't leave you. Will you ever forget me? Have you forgotten daddy?" She smiled when Harry shook his head vehemently on her shoulder. "See. He's still with you, and so will I. We will have the best time of our lives for the next year. I promise you, the next year will always remain with you." Sighing again, she added, "I don't know why things are working out differently here then in the books, but it is not your fault and I have never regretted nor shall I ever regret taking you in. You are my little baby."
"And my li'l brother," said a teary-eyed Hermione from behind. "I don't want to lose you too."
"Princess, I give you permission to hit your brother whenever he says something stupid like that. Hit him as hard and as long as it takes to stop being stupid." Jane turned to Harry. "Your saying things like that hurts us so much, baby. How would you feel if Hermione said she didn't want you as her brother. How would you feel if moments after hearing about my condition, she'd say something about leaving you too."
Harry froze for several long seconds and tore from his mother's arms and clutched Hermione tightly. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry, Mione! I'm sorry! Never again… I promise! Please don't hate me! I'm sorry!"
Hermione patted her brother's shoulder awkwardly as his tears streamed down in torrents. "Does that mean you'll let me read to you every night?"
"Yes! Yes! I'm your li'l brother!"
Hermione looked seriously and said, "Does that mean you'll always do your homework in time?"
Hermione smirked evilly. "Does that mean…"
"Princess," warned Jane as she tried to hide her smile.
True to her word, the Grangers spent an entire year away from school, though Hermione read more books than if she were at school, and instead did all kinds of things. They went to Switzerland and Sweden for skiing, to Thailand, California and Seychelles for relaxed weeks in the sun, to Disneyland, to New York, they took photographs at the Taj Mahal, explored the coral reefs, to name but a few of the things they did.
But as all good things come to an end, so did that year, and Jane Granger was hospitalized. She passed away two months before Harry's eleventh birthday. But by then, the two children had started coming to terms with it and hiding their inner loss, managed to remain somewhat cheerful in each other's presence. They had been taken in by Colonel Fubster, Dan Granger's cousin. When they had moved to their new residence, both Harry and Hermione had groaned in disbelief at the presence of Marge Dursley, Colonel Julius Fubster's constant companion.
"I hope she doesn't come for dinner tonight," said Hermione. "Cousin Julius seems a completely different person with her around."
"Yeah," said Harry. "And that's like… every day. But honestly… Dursleys! Again!"
"Hush," said Hermione. "At least you're not living with them."
"Good morning, Miss Granger, Mr. Granger," said the stern looking woman politely. "I am Professor McGonagall from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I trust you have received your Hogwarts letters?"
"Yes, Ma'am," said Hermione respectfully. "Although I'm afraid we don't have enough money to pay for our tuition right now. But from what little I recall from my childhood, my mother mentioned something about Gringotts. We might have an account there."
"So if someone could take us to Diagon Alley," added Harry thoughtfully, "we might be able to access the gold left behind for us."
McGonagall seemed surprised at the two children who she had assumed were muggleborn. She had been observing them all morning in her Animagus form, a usual habit to get to know potential students better, and there was no indication of them having any idea about the magical world.
"I suppose I could take you to Diagon Alley now," said McGonagall finally.
"Thank you, Professor," said Hermione looking at the older witch gratefully.
"Yeah," Harry added thoughtfully. "Just to let you know, I wouldn't advise any cats being around this neighborhood. Marge Dursley's dogs are a menace, especially Ripper!" he quickly picked up a summer jacket, ignoring the shocked expression on the Deputy Headmistress' face.
"Hello, Griphook," said Harry happily. He closed his eyes for a moment and said, "I am Harry Potter and I would be grateful if you could keep my identity secret. Fame and assassination attempts aren't really my cup of tea, you know."
The goblin gawked at Harry in disbelief.
"Yeah, you can do your magical checks," said Hermione. "He is who he says he is. He is also an idiot."
"Thank you, dear sister," Harry said. "Anyway, I'd like to seize control of my vault. No need to notify Dumbledore. He isn't my guardian. He is controlling my vaults illegally. The Dursleys are my guardians and as they are muggles, they have no authority to make any decisions on my behalf. So, by default, I'm the only person who can make any decisions on my behalf."
"Apart from me," added Hermione.
"No, not legally you can't!" Harry protested. But then he saw Hermione's fist rising dangerously and he wisely added, "But as my sister, I will always listen to what you say."
The goblin gawked in silence.
"I'd also like the Potter will to be read. You know, the one which says Sirius Black wasn't their secret keeper. Then I'd like to withdraw two thousand galleons for now. In two different weightless and internally enlarged money pouches. Oh, if it's possible, I'd like to key Hermione to my vault and remove the Weasleys from using my vault."
"Class, Harry," Hermione said with narrowed eyes. "I do all the reasoning and research and you get to show off."
"Division of labor, sis," Harry said cheerfully. "Oh and Griphook, there will be an attempt to rob the you-know-what from the vault you-know-which on the 31st of July. Hagrid will stop by to empty the vault, to the last stone, if you get what I mean. If he doesn't, then do take precautions."
The goblin gawked in silence.
"… packed with muggles, of course…"
Harry nudged Hermione. "There. They are doing it even without knowing if Harry Potter's here."
Hermione held Harry's hand tightly and whispered, "True. But let's not underestimate Dumbledore's cunning. He might have put things together, or McGonagall might have. Your name, appearance, Gringotts…"
"Now, what's the platform number?" said a matronly red haired woman, darting her eyes around, searching for someone.
"Nine and Three Quarters," piped a little girl enthusiastically. "Mom, can't I go?"
"Though, to be fair," Hermione added, "Ginny's reaction is quite natural. But I doubt they would include a ten year old in such schemes."
Ignoring the redheaded family, Harry and Hermione moved through the barriers and to the magical platform. Entering the Hogwarts Express, they found an empty compartment and relaxed. Soon, they received several visitors. One such was Neville Longbottom.
"Wait here, Neville," said Harry. "Mione, will you summon Neville's frog or shall I?"
"Don't you even think of depriving me of this opportunity to try my magic," said Hermione gritting her teeth, as she whipped out her wand and spoke firmly. "Accio Trevor."
As the toad came wheezing by, Neville looked curiously at Harry and Hermione. Finally, he whispered, "How did you know his name is Trevor?" He blinked and then asked again, "How did you know my name is Neville?"
But just then, the door burst open and a blonde boy sauntered in, clearly a spoilt aristocrat. He eyed Harry and Neville carefully, and then Hermione. "I'm Draco Malfoy."
"Hermione Granger," said Hermione cautiously. "My brother, Harry. That's Neville Longbottom."
Malfoy raised his nose disdainfully at the Grangers and then looked at Neville curiously. "A pureblood, at least," he said, shrugging as he left.
Then came a third newcomer. Harry's eyes brightened on seeing Ron Weasley enter. He was about to greet him, when the redhead blurted out, "Are you Harry Potter?"
"No, we are the Granger siblings, and that's Neville," said Hermione before Harry could respond. "You are?"
"None of your business," muttered Ron as he walked out. "I have work to do."
Hermione squeezed Harry's shoulder as his eyes darkened. She allowed him to lean on her shoulder, as he closed his eyes.
'Not Slytherin… not Slytherin,' Harry thought repeatedly even before the Hat was placed on his head.
'And why would I place you in Slytherin? Salazar Slytherin would want nothing to do with you. You are clearly a Gryffindor, Mr. Granger.'
'I am?' Harry asked in surprise.
'Yes. Despite your little shenanigans and deception, the one thing that describes you most is your desire to protect your adoptive sister. Godric himself would claim you for that. GRYFFINDOR!'
Harry grinned brightly as his sister approached the stool. Bowing, he handed her the hat and scampered off to the Gryffindor table.
'Hello, Mr. Hat,' Hermione thought. 'To save you some effort, I do not think I will be happy in Gryffindor this time. The desire to face a strange new world with courage that I might have had in the book is missing. I do not see myself associating with Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, not that I did much of that in the book either.'
'Neither do I, Miss Granger. I can only imagine why I might have sent you to Gryffindor. You would be a delight to Lady RAVENCLAW!"
Hermione removed the hat happily and walked to the Ravenclaw table. "Lisa, isn't it?" she asked to a girl who joined her a few minutes later. "So, have you read Hogwarts: A History?"
Harry entered the Transfiguration classroom with Neville and looked at the cat on the teacher's desk. "Sorry, Professor. Peeves led us astray."
McGonagall instantly transformed to her human form and smiled. "Five points, Mr. Po… Granger, for your keen observation of your surroundings."
Harry's eyes narrowed and he shot a cold glare at the teacher before he took his seat. The near slip of tongue couldn't have been more obvious than it was.
As the week progressed, Harry was expecting an invitation from the Headmaster, which didn't materialize. But the reason became apparent in the Potions class.
Severus Snape, evidently, had little doubt as to the true identity of the dark haired boy with green eyes. He immediately started quizzing him on advanced questions. Harry managed to answer the first three correctly, but failed the rest, losing a point for Gryffindor.
At the end of the class, Harry lingered behind.
"I suppose you have a good reason to keep yourself in my presence, Mr. Granger," sneered Snape derisively, when he noticed Harry staying behind.
Sighing, Harry lifted a book from his bag and placed it on Snape's desk.
"And what is that?" Snape asked icily, but the title of the book made him freeze. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
"What could have been," said Harry calmly. "But what I intend never to happen. This hostility isn't necessary, Professor," Harry finished, as he walked out. "If you want to read what happens after the events of this book, I will require an oath of secrecy from you."
As he walked away, he chuckled to himself at a well thought out and executed plan. There was no way Snape would show that particular book with its ending to Dumbledore, and yet he would desire to know what happened afterwards. Very Slytherin, and yet, very Ravenclaw. Hermione had outdone herself.
Harry whined before his sister, "I didn't risk my life!"
"This was the first time you were on a broom, Harold Granger! And that is not the point," Hermione screeched. "You promised not to do it! You promised! I can't lose you too!"
"B-But…" Harry protested, but Hermione ran away in tears.
That night, Quirrell ran to the dining hall and screamed, "Troll! Troll in the dungeons!"
Harry froze. "It's not Halloween," he whispered. "It's not Halloween."
"Good one, Granger," one of the Weasley twins nodded appreciatively. "It's not Halloween. Good one. But I think Queer-ill is being serious over here."
"It's not Halloween," Harry whispered frantically, jumping out of his chair and ran towards the girl's bathroom.
"Mione!" he shouted, when he heard the thrashing noises of the sinks being destroyed. "I'm coming!" and he charged on the troll, poking its eye with his wand.
The troll thrashed madly, flinging Harry aside. He raised his club at Harry, when "Wingardium Leviosa!" three voices shouted at once and the troll itself shot straight to the ceiling. Then it fell with a loud crash and fainted.
Harry slowly got his bearings right and gaped. He wasn't the only one who had used the charm. Hermione and Neville were standing beside him, concerned and trembling. Hermione seemed shocked and distressed beyond words.
"I followed you," Neville explained. "When you ran away. Let's return before one of the teachers finds us."
"Too late," Hermione groaned, seeing an irate McGonagall lead a group of Hogwarts staff members towards them.
Later that night, Harry was working on his Potions essay when two hands fell on his shoulder.
"Can we have a word, Granger?" one of the Weasley twins asked coldly.
"Right, Fred, isn't it?" Harry said, throwing aside his book and following them to an empty classroom. "I have a bone to pick with you. You made me lose my bet against Hermione that we'd be having this conversation in the first month. I'm sure you've been using the map more often. Why did it take so long to discover my identity?"
The twins gawked at him with wide eyes.
"You do realize that I'm not just Harry Potter but also the son of Prongs," Harry added cheerfully, "and the godson of Padfoot."
The twins gawked at him in silence.
"And Scabbers is Wormtail, an Animagus by the name of Peter Pettigrew, who is supposed to be dead, but is actually the true betrayer of my parents and a Death Eater to boot. How could you not have noticed it yet? I mean every time you sneak out at night, seeing your brother sleep with a Peter Pettigrew doesn't sound alarming?"
The twins gawked at him in silence.
"Merry Christmas, Mione," Harry hugged her, pushing a wrapped package at her. Then he opened his own present happily. "Gee thanks! Just the Broomstick Servicing Kit I wanted!" he yelled happily.
"Wow," Hermione said. "The Tales of Beedle the Bard."
The announcement made the Headmaster freeze. Only a handful of students had stayed back for Christmas, so there was only one table for everyone.
"I have wanted to read The Tale of the Three Brothers for so long," whispered Hermione joyfully.
Dumbledore nearly toppled his goblet, much to the amusement of everyone else. This was the first time they had seen Dumbledore so affected. But what was most shocking was when Snape chuckled mirthfully. Nearly everyone looked at the two men with disbelieving eyes. "Excuse me, Miss and Mr. Granger," Dumbledore said calmly. "Could I see you in my office after breakfast? It won't be long, I assure you, and you will have your Christmas day as you want to spend it."
Within the next half hour, Harry and Hermione were sitting before Dumbledore in his office. Harry turned to the red and green phoenix and smiled. The phoenix observed Harry with a tilted head, but didn't move.
"A lot of unusual events have happened surrounding the two of you, and especially Mr. Potter," began Dumbledore calmly.
"Please, sir," Harry said. "I have legal documents that name me a Granger."
"Ah, muggle laws," said Dumbledore, twinkling at the two children.
"Unbelievable," Hermione muttered. "Exactly how I had imagined it to be. Must have spent hours and hours practicing on the lighting."
"Excuse me?" said Dumbledore.
Harry chuckled. "Never mind her, Professor. My sister is very keen on books, and I'm sure she has read several about you." Then seriously, he added, "How can we help you, sir?"
"First of all, Mr. Potter," said Dumbledore, picking up a wrapped package and pushing it towards Harry. "Allow me to return to you something that belonged to your father. May I ask what happened to that legendary scar on your forehead? If I knew how to remove it, I would have."
Harry grinned and said, "Who says it's removed, Professor? Muggle cosmetics," he explained. "I suppose this discussion is eventually turning towards the Dursleys and my need to return to them?"
"I admit I am surprised at your insight and knowledge," said Dumbledore, completely surprised. "But I'm glad you understand the necessity of that."
"I refuse," said Harry quietly. "Pettigrew has been apprehended. Before soon Sirius will be released. If anyone has a legal claim over me other than the Grangers, it's him."
"You don't understand, Harry, my boy," said Dumbledore. "You must return for your own protection."
Harry turned to Hermione, who responded, "I'm sorry, Professor Dumbledore. Despite being our Headmaster, you are a stranger to us and I cannot allow just anyone to tell my younger brother where to go for the whole summer. I must insist that his legal guardian, Mr. Black, be present before any such decision is made." After a moment's silence, she added to the shocked face of the Headmaster. "Our mother always told us to stay away from strangers who offered candy and told us to cross the road with them."
"The question would rise then," said Dumbledore sharply, "how your parents got hold of Mr. Potter in the first place. Last I knew, he was in Surrey with his relatives."
"No, Professor," Hermione stated blandly. "The question would rise how Harry was removed from Godric's Hollow and whether it was a lawful removal."
Dumbledore gaped at the stony faces of Harry and Hermione and sighed. "What can I do to make you trust me?"
Harry chuckled. "Finally. For now, just keep my true identity secret and I promise I will be willing to listen to what you have to say. Mind you, I only said I will listen to what you say. Anyway, if nobody knows who I am, I will be quite safe. So if you do reveal my identity, I will know for certain you don't care about my safety."
"The Mirror of Erised, Mione," Harry said.
"What do you see?"
"Us," he said quietly. "You are sitting behind a desk. You are the Minister of Magic and have a big family. And I…" he paused, and then chuckled. "I keep traveling around the world as we did last year, the image keeps changing, I'm looking for… um…"
"Red haired girls?" Hermione asked teasingly.
"Hey, I'm eleven here," Harry protested. "I was going to say I'm looking for the same fun we had with mom, adventures and all. What do you see?" He stepped back and allowed Hermione to step forward.
"Wow," she gasped. "I see the same. Except that you seem to have a different girl in every other image!"
Both laughed happily and retreated the room. But before leaving, Harry sniffed a couple of times and muttered, "Odd. The same foul stench from the Headmaster's Office is present here too."
"You are absolutely correct, Hagrid," said Harry cheerfully. "A dragon would be an amazing addition to Hogwarts. But isn't it illegal to have one?"
"Err," said the half giant. "Not if a dragon comes by on its own. The forest offers sanctuary to all beasts."
"Right," Harry nodded jovially. "But what about Norbert? Wouldn't some of the horrible and beastly students from the school bother Norbert? And if Norbert accidentally hurts someone while trying to defend himself?"
Hagrid's jaws dropped. "I didn't think of tha'. Yeh are right. Poor Norbert, I must send him away for 'is own protection."
"There is another way," Harry said. "I've read of cases where a baby dragon, if willing, allows itself to be bonded to a wizard. They don't do that in dragon reserves because of the presence of other dragons for company. But if you want, I'll bond with Norbert. Then he can remain in the forest. I'll make sure he keeps himself at a safe distance from naughty students. Then even the Ministry won't have a problem."
"Excuse me," Hermione interrupted with a huff, glaring at her brother. "Did I hear you say that you had read about dragon-wizard bonds?"
"I read, you read… same result, Mione," said Harry, patting Hermione's back.
"Yeh… yeh would do that for Norbert?" asked Hagrid teary-eyed.
"Hagrid," said Hermione kindly. "You have to let go of Norberta. If you breed her, then you will be sent to prison. You must let her grow on her own. Besides, a dragon needs to learn how to hunt on her own. If you smother her now, she will never be able to look after herself."
She paused and turned to Harry for support but her brother was busy playing with the dragon. He had his hands raised and jumping around with the two-foot fire breather. She looked at Neville, who was crouched as far as possible from his crazy housemate.
"Besides, it's not as if she's helpless," Hermione added, coughing when Harry dodged a puff of hot smoke that came straight at her face. "Oh stop playing with the dragon, Harry! You're just as bad as Hagrid!"
"Killjoy," Harry muttered, picking up the dragon, and grinning, spoke to it happily, "Who's the baby dragon?"
Nearly an hour later, three students - one excited, one serious and one nervous, a hysterical gatekeeper, and a playful dragon set off towards the Forbidden Forest.
"Someone's been hurting them unicorns," said Hagrid.
"That's why Norberta needs to be in the forest, Hagrid," Harry muttered. He turned to the dragon and said, "Hey babe, stay away from any trouble, all right? But chase away the evil spirit that hunts the unicorns." When the dragon leapt to the air, Harry chuckled. "With fire, okay? From a distance! Don't get hurt! And don't hurt the unicorns!" The dragon seemed to comprehend every single word and did a circle around Harry, after which Harry seized it in a hug. Seeing them play, Hagrid burst out in tears of joy.
"Ouch, you singed my arm," Harry complained as he dropped the dragon to the ground.
"How was your exam?" Harry asked. "And don't tell me you learnt the 1637 Werewolf Code of Conduct and the uprising of Elfric the Eager, even when you knew you didn't have to?"
Hermione muttered something which Harry didn't quite catch.
"Can you speak a little louder, Mione?" he said. "In a frequency range that falls within the human hearing capacity, if possible."
"Idiot," she hit him playfully. "I said, just in case."
"Right, just in case," Harry said amusedly. "Time for Operation Stone. You sure you want to come? I'm just going to grab Queer-ill as fast as possible." The glare he received from Hermione was an adequate response. "Right, of course you will, silly me. Have you cast your message charm? Having Professor Snape arrive in time would be a good idea."
"Professor, fancy seeing you here," Harry greeted as he entered the final chamber and straight to Quirrell. "I'm so glad to see you that I feel compelled to give you a hug."
"Ew," he muttered as he saw the charred remains of Quirrell's arm as he flung him aside. Ignoring the Death Eater's screams, Harry spoke out, "Hey Riddle, ol' chap. Long time no see."
"Who are you?" the spirit of Voldemort hissed.
"Oh you know… mudblood muggleborn scum with an unusual penchant towards dramatics. Have you met my dragon, by the way?" he asked conversationally. "I gave her specific instructions to welcome you to the forest."
"You will die for your impudence," the spirit hissed and soared towards Harry, but just then two beams of light hit it at once. "What took you so long?" Harry asked Snape, as the dour man gritted his teeth angrily at Harry.
"There, life debt settled, you hellion," Snape hissed.
Harry continued cheerfully. "Actually, not yet. You still have to do the explaining to Dumbledore."
The Leaving Feast was wonderful. With Gryffindor winning the Quidditch Cup, they had amassed enough points to win the House Cup as well. Harry had promised to write to Neville, Fred and George during the holidays.
But a few hours before they were to depart, Harry received an urgent message to meet the Headmaster. Sighing, Harry entered the office and found, to his delight, Sirius Black sitting there. Hermione entered a few seconds later.
"Hey, Sirius. Good to see you at last," Harry said casually. "Dumbledore wants to send me to the Dursleys to be abused so that when he picks me up, I will see him as my savior. You won't let him do that, will you?"
"Mr. Potter," Dumbledore exclaimed in disbelief. "Let me assure you, I have no such intentions."
"Then why was there a compulsion charm to hate me in the entire neighborhood where you left me?" Harry asked quietly, trying to keep his rising anger under control. "What did you do? Flick a lighter on and off to send waves of hatred towards me?" Seeing Dumbledore's startled and guilty expression, he knew he had hit jackpot. Petulantly, he added, "Look, I know you want a closer relationship with me, Professor, but I'm frankly not interested in older men, or even men, in general."
"Harry!" Hermione chided, trying hard to stifle her laughter, but the looks on both Dumbledore and Sirius' faces were too much and she burst out laughing. After a few seconds, Sirius also joined in.
"Why can't I become an Animagus?" Harry asked stubbornly.
"Because," Sirius said patiently as he rubbed his forehead, "you are a fair handful as it is. I refuse to have a little puppy or kitten running around everywhere."
"Excuse me," Harry said dangerously. "I am not going to be a puppy or a kitten! I am going to be something with wings."
"Merlin, I hadn't thought of wings," Sirius groaned, falling heavily on his chair. He looked at Harry weakly. "That settles it! No Animagus for you, young man! And no chocolates for breakfast!"
Harry grinned evilly and called out, "Kreacher, can I have a chocolate frog please?" He chuckled at his godfather's expression when a chocolate frog popped inches above his hand. Happily nibbling the chocolate, Harry walked to the older man and patted his shoulder. "Look at it this way, Sirius. Hermione still listens to you."
Sirius shook his head. "To think… you could have been a sweet, innocent, obedient and disciplined little boy if you had lived with the…" he stopped, aghast at what he was about to say, and whispered hoarsely, "Merlin, I'm sorry, Harry," and he grabbed his godson in a hug. "I didn't mean that, I didn't…"
"Sniff," Harry said dolefully. "My own godfather doesn't love me… sniff… he won't even let me become an Animagus… sob…"
"Overkill, bozo," Hermione's voice preceded her entry, with her nose buried inside a book taken from the Black Library.
"So, who all are aware of you being you?" Sirius asked curiously.
"There's the staff of Hogwarts, or at least, McGonagall, Flitwick, Snape and Dumbledore," said Hermione thoughtfully. "Sprout might, as she was teaching during your parents' time as well, but I'm not sure if she has noticed it. Binns… never mind. Snape is the only one who's read some of those books, though."
"Snivellus? Why him?" Sirius asked, horrified.
"Stop it, Sirius," Harry said irritably. "He was Lily Evans' friend, and the last book was much about him too. And you have only read the first three, so please trust us."
At that, Sirius frowned. "Why can't I read the others? Do I die or something?"
"Yes, you do," Harry shouted. "And that's not the reason why. Those books are about MY life, and I don't want to share every single detail with everyone. Mum, dad and Mione have read them all and… stop that! If Lily and James Potter really cared for me, then they wouldn't mind me calling Jane and Dan Granger that."
"Harry," Hermione said warningly and Harry closed his mouth and sat back.
"You're right, Harry," Sirius said heavily. "I'm sorry, kid. I forget how much things have changed."
"Fred and George have the Marauder's Map," Hermione mediated after a long and uncomfortable period of silence.
"But we don't need it, as you have volunteered to help us make one each," Harry quipped in.
"I have?" Sirius asked in bemusement.
"Yep, this morning," said Harry. "In return for me not talking to your mom's portrait before breakfast." Reflectively, Harry added, "A pity, really. She's added a lot to my vocabulary."
Sirius and Hermione both groaned.
"And I think Hagrid might suspect something," continued Hermione. "And Dumbledore might have told some others."
"The Weasleys?" Sirius asked curiously.
"I hope not," said Harry sadly. "I don't feel for them what I could have but that doesn't mean I don't pity myself… what I could have been… for their deception."
"I have heard rumors the Weasleys might not be able to afford their youngest child's education at Hogwarts," Sirius added.
"Pity," Harry said distractedly.
"When I was in Gringotts, I overheard Molly blessing the person who made an anonymous donation to their vault," Sirius continued, eyeing Harry suspiciously. "A substantial amount."
"Oh, good for them," Harry said.
"Harry," Sirius sighed finally. "Did you make the donation?"
"Yes," Harry said calmly. "Not up for discussion."
Sirius opened his mouth again but Hermione shook her head. He looked at Harry, who had a dark expression on his face and shrugged helplessly. "I feel so helpless as the guardian of two kids who know so much more than I and unwilling to tell me." He sighed when neither Hermione nor Harry responded for some time.
"It's not a pretty future," Harry finally said. "And the Weasleys are right in the middle of it."
"Hey, Nev," said Harry in a friendly way, as he helped the timid boy bring his trunk to the compartment he and Hermione were in. "How was summer?"
"All right," he replied. "My good grade in Herbology impressed my grandma and I was allowed to set up my own greenhouse."
"Cool," Harry said.
Somebody knocked on the door and Harry opened it, to come face to face with Ginny Weasley. The redhead looked at Harry, Hermione and Neville for a few seconds and said in a small voice, "Can I come in?"
"Sure," said Harry, grabbing her trunk. "Just sit wherever you find a space."
"Thanks," she muttered and took a seat by the window. She looked outside in silence, obviously too nervous to talk to the second years.
"You're a Weasley, aren't you?" Hermione asked after a couple of minutes had lapsed.
Ginny turned red, no doubt having been asked that quite a few times. "Ginny Weasley," she muttered. "Yes, my parents can afford my fees."
"Hello, Ginny," said Hermione after an uncomfortable pause. "That's Neville Longbottom there. And we are…"
"The Amazing Granger siblings!" Harry finished with a flair.
Ginny blinked and looked from Harry to Hermione. Suddenly, her face split into a smile and she asked, "Twins?"
"Nearly," Harry stated. "Ten months difference. I'm older."
"No, you're not!" Hermione protested with annoyance, whacking his arm. "Don't listen to Harry. He's an bozo… and a baby."
"Watch it, you old crone!" said Harry as he warded of her blows. "You're sabotaging Gryffindor's Quidditch star."
As she watched the byplay between Harry and Hermione, Ginny's face darkened and she looked outside the window again. After a while, she wiped her eyes and muttered, "Excuse me," before running out of the compartment.
Harry and Neville looked at each other in confusion as Hermione got up and followed Ginny. They played a game of exploding snap while waiting for the girls to return. When they did, Ginny was considerably much more cheerful.
Harry opened a box of chocolate frogs and offered them all around. Ginny appeared hesitant at first, but she soon grabbed one, and muttered a thanks.
"Looking forward to Gryffindor, Ginny?" Harry asked after a while.
The girl nodded emphatically. "Yes," she said. "I hope I make it." But her smile faltered as she spoke, "All my brothers are there, though they don't really care much about me."
"Why do you say that?" Harry asked.
Ginny's face reddened and she muttered, "Forget it."
"We saved you a seat, Ginny," Harry beckoned the girl to come to where he and Neville were sitting. "We knew you would make it."
The girl sat down happily between Harry and Neville. She looked gratefully at Harry as she filled her plate with food. "The Hat said I'd do good in Ravenclaw."
"Oh?" Harry replied curiously. "You shouldn't have come here just because your family."
"Not because of them," she muttered as she dug into her chicken.
Harry looked at her thoughtfully but his attention was diverted by Neville suddenly exclaiming, "Lockhart's our new Defense Professor! That guy's a celebrity! I saw him in Diagon Alley!"
"Looks a nut to me," Harry muttered, biting a drumstick. "Looks more suited for a toothpaste commercial than fighting evil creatures."
Ginny giggled. "Don't be mean, Harry. I saw him too," her face reddened as she continued, "He gave me a set of his books free of charge because of my family…"
Seeing that the topic was a bit sore for the girl, Harry deftly changed subjects. "Do you like flying?" The girl nodded, chewing a mouthful of potatoes. "You should try out for the house reserve team. Something tells me you'd make a good chaser."
"You're the seeker, aren't you?" Ginny asked suddenly. Teasingly, she added, "Ron mentioned you during the summer… he said you were bigheaded and pompous…"
"He did, did he?" Harry puffed his cheeks in anger. "I know for a fact that my head size is quite normal, so there!"
Giggling, Ginny said, "But Fred and George said you're decent and they never call anyone decent. I think they adore you."
Harry was horrified. "No, please, no… First Dumbledore, now the Weasley twins. I am not into boys."
Neville snorted out loud at that and sent pumpkin juice flying all around, and Harry reached behind Ginny and patted Neville on the back. Ginny was laughing quite uncontrollably as well and had to support herself on Harry's shoulder.
"At this rate, I might ask you to become my girlfriend, Ginny," Harry said, now patting Ginny's head as she clung on to him in hysteria, his face still horrified from earlier. "Just to keep them away from me."
That of course sent her to yet another fit. "In your dreams, Granger!" The rest of the table watched at the three with amusement.
"Have you outlined all of Lockhart's lessons in little hearts, dear sister?" Harry asked innocently while in Double Defense with Ravenclaw. Which was a mistake, of course, as he would be sporting a sore elbow for the rest of the day. "Fine! Be like that, I only wanted to ask if you're free Saturday morning to visit Hagrid and Berta."
Saturday morning, however, started with Quidditch training.
"Why is our little sister tagging behind you, Granger?" Fred asked with a smirk.
"Is there something we should know," George asked, mirroring his twin's expression.
Harry raised an eyebrow and brought an amused Ginny as a shield between him and the twins. "Yep. We're seeing each other. Sorry boys, I'm spoken for, and I don't swing in that direction anyway," and hastily sidestepped, leaving Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet regard the twins strangely. They shook their heads and left.
"Brother dear, methinks we have just been pranked," said Fred as he mournfully watched the tall African girl soar to the skies.
"But there is no shame in falling to the son of Prongs," finished George as he kicked off and followed after Alicia, leaving Harry and Ginny alone.
"Alright, Granger," said Ginny after she managed to control herself. "Time to pay up. Where's the Nimbus?"
"That hurt, Weasley," Harry said mournfully. "One would think you didn't particularly want to be seen with me."
"Nimbus," she repeated with amusement, her hand outstretched for the broom that was due her.
Chuckling, Harry gave her the broomstick. As she kicked off, he called out, "Not too fast, okay? And look after the broom!"
"Babe!" Harry shouted joyfully, running forward as a five foot dragon staggered towards him. The dragon huffed and Harry yelled, "NO! Don't you dare!" But it was too late, a puff of black smoke left him choking for air.
"She's missed yeh loads, 'Arry," said Hargid. "She always comes to the edge, hoping to see yeh in the summah. But I keep tellin' her yeh'll be back later."
Harry smiled fondly at the dragon that, despite its much larger size, still wished to jump over her bonded wizard. "I missed you too, babe," Harry said as the dragon licked his face.
"Excuse me," someone said from behind and Ginny came forward, broomstick in hand, blinking in disbelief. "You… you have a dragon," she squeaked in a shrill voice. "A real, live, fire breathing monster. And you call it babe!"
"Norberta is no monster!" Harry corrected, appearing highly affronted. "Be nice to her, Ginny!" He patted the dragon's head and said soothingly, "There there… don't let that nasty little witch hurt your feelings, babe."
The redhead guffawed in a shrill voice. "Care to tell her to be nice to me, Granger?"
Harry looked at Ginny in confusion. "Why would she not?" Then, he said understandingly, "Ah. You want to come closer. Come on ahead, she won't bite. Come on, give her a nice pat." When Ginny froze in shock, Harry continued, "Don't be shy… Oh ok… Babe, care to give Ginny a warm welcome?"
"Granger," Ginny said slowly, inching backwards as the dragon turned to her. "Granger, stop the dragon… Harry… please… stop… the dragon…"
But the dragon had sent a puff of warm smoke at Ginny that sent her stumbling to the ground, before licking her face in delight.
"See, Norberta's just an overgrown puppy at heart," Harry said affably as he leaned down to blow the dust off Ginny's nose.
"Just an overgrown puppy," repeated Ginny, grinding her teeth in irritation. "Yes, that is a very good description for a dangerous and potentially lethal monster. It could have eaten me whole there and you…" she turned to Harry with clenched fists, "You were taking the dragon's side!" she said accusingly.
Harry chuckled. Ruffling the outraged girl's hair, he said, "Well, I have known Norberta longer than I have known you."
Huffing indignantly, Ginny saw Neville approach and said, "Fine. I'm going to talk to Neville, who I'm sure has no intentions of allowing a ghastly creature maul me to a horrible and painful death. Hey, Neville."
"Hey guys," said Neville, as he joined them. "Care to join me water the Devil's Snare in the greenhouse?"
Ginny froze for a long moment. Then she turned from a grinning Harry to a serious Neville and screamed, "AARGH!" and stormed away.
Hermione chose that moment to enter that corridor and stared at Ginny's retreating back. "What's with her?" she asked curiously, making both boys laugh uproariously.
"There's been an attack," deadpanned Hermione after Neville walked towards the greenhouse. "Mrs. Norris was found petrified."
"What?" Harry shouted. "That can't be!" Looking around to see if anyone was overhearing them, he added in a whisper, "I was with Ginny all along."
"I suppose that means…"
"Somebody else has the diary," Harry said gravely. He shook his head and dragged his sister to an empty classroom. "We should have expected this."
But Hermione didn't respond. She wasn't listening to her brother. Instead, she was fuming silently at his expression. Then she slapped him.
"What?" Harry asked, rubbing his cheek.
"For thinking how to distract me and run to the Chamber of Secrets to kill the bloody snake. You promised me not to do that," Hermione whispered quietly. Smirking in a superior way, she added, "Call it a pre-emptive strike. Mom allowed me to do those."
"I can't believe it," Harry said, shaking his head. "Why do girls like to bully me? Even Ginny's picking up pointers from you."
"She is?" Hermione asked curiously. "That's a big difference from… you know when." Nodding, she said, "Come to think of it, it's not that surprising for you two to become close. You two share much in common."
Harry groaned in frustration. "Twelve, sister, and I'm not interested in her like that."
"HARRY!" Ginny screamed as she ran to the dark haired boy in the common room. Gasping for air, she said frantically, "I overheard the teachers. Hermione and Neville have been petrified along with half a dozen other students and Sir Nicholas and Ron's been taken to the Chamber."
"Mione's been what? And Ron…" Harry froze. The timeline was all awry. It was barely a week since the first attack. It shouldn't have progressed so fast. Slowly, he got up and walked out of the Common Room in a daze. He turned to Ginny, who was following him and suddenly realized what was different - Ginny had fought the presence of Tom Riddle much harder than her older brother.
Shaking his head, Harry told her, "I think I might know where Ron has been taken. But you are not coming with me."
In response, he received a slap. Then a punch. "He's my brother, you git! So take me or…"
Harry gritted his teeth in exasperation. "Fine," he said finally. "But we're first finding Professor Snape."
"Why… Snape?" Ginny panted between breaths as they ran through the castle, towards the dungeons.
"Because he's the only capable wizard who'll take me seriously," Harry explained as he turned abruptly, only to find himself collide against something and fall to the ground. With his vision clouded by something dark, he muttered, "Smell of batwings and incense… Hello, Professor," he greeted, looking up to see the well-known sneer of Severus Snape.
Snape, to Harry's surprise, didn't ask any questions. All he said was, "Lead me."
"You fools," the shadowy form of Tom Riddle laughed gleefully. "You will all die here with that foolish boy."
"Let Ron go, Riddle," Harry said quietly. "He is innocent."
"Innocent?" Riddle laughed mirthfully. "You wouldn't say that if you saw half of what he wrote to me. Little Ronald has some really interesting ideas of what he would have done with the wealth and power I could have given him. Some of his ideas impressed Lord Voldemort himself. He would have made a good servant. He didn't even fight me until the very end, and that too in fear of his own life. Pity he must die for me to live."
"Nice speech, Tom," Harry said. "Well prepared, good delivery, nice effect with the evil laugh… full marks… but you overlooked one thing, Tom," Harry said loudly. "Just one thing."
"Fools!" Riddle hissed. "I have overlooked nothing. Now my basilisk will destroy you. Speak to me Slytherin, Greatest of the Hogwarts Four!"
As they waited, Harry said jovially, "While we're waiting, shall we have a game of chess? Or some tea? A sandwich, maybe? How about some chicken instead?" And he transfigured stones into roosters all around the chamber. As if on cue, Snape also did the same, while Ginny retrieved the diary.
Then several things happened at the same time. The basilisk emerged. All the non parselmouths closed their eyes. The roosters crowed in a chorus. The basilisk writhed in pain and died. Harry threw the diary at the wriggling snake's mouth just before it shut, stabbing the diary in the process. Riddle screamed in pain and Ron started moving.
"You overlooked one thing, Tom," whispered Harry dangerously, as the misty form of Tom Riddle began to fade away, "You hurt my sister!" He then turned to Snape and said, "You can take most of the credit, Professor, you did teach me that transfiguration after all," Harry told Snape. "As long as we split the gold from the basilisk parts."
The aftermath of the Chamber of Secrets incident saw Ginny become closer to Harry as their other friends were petrified. So when Valentine's Day came, Harry wasn't too surprised to receive a slightly modified and much less complimentary version of Ginny's singing valentine. Ignoring the sniggering crowd, he turned to Ginny sullenly and saw her laughing.
"Consider it payback, Granger, for your overgrown puppy," she managed to utter between fits of laughter. "Your face!"
At the same time, Ginny became much more distant to her brother. The words of Riddle remained fixed in her head despite Harry's attempts to convince her that Riddle used division and hatred as his most favored weapons.
"But he should have fought harder," Ginny had protested and Harry had no response to it. Ginny had fought him harder, and though he could not tell her about that, he could not argue Ron's point either. Not that he wanted to.
"You should visit me, Harry," Ginny said shyly. "Both you and Hermione. You must be curious about how wizards live."
Harry opened his mouth to correct her but remembered, just in time, that his relationship with Sirius Black was still a secret. He looked at Ginny, who was blushing after her offer, and started wondering how to dispel her crush. But he was glad to find her attracted to him despite being unaware of his true identity. Grinning, he said, "Would love to. Is my girl Norberta invited?"
Ginny bit her lip and shook her head vigorously.
When the students were revived, exams were cancelled as a school treat. Instead, Quidditch became a major focus. Ginny had to step in for a petrified Alicia Spinnet for half the matches that year, and due to Alicia's weakened body after waking up, also played in the finals. For the second year running, to the delight of Oliver Wood and his team, Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup.
The Leaving Feast once again saw Gryffindor colors adorning the Great Hall despite Snape's renewed vigor in docking points off them. But he wasn't too unhappy. He was looking forward to salvage ingredients from the basilisk.
Before leaving, however, Harry was invited to Dumbledore's office. The visit started with him and Ginny meeting her parents, who offered their gratitude to Harry. After they departed with Ginny, Dumbledore faced Harry.
"I am disappointed in you, Mr. Potter," said the Headmaster without his customary twinkle. "You should have approached me straight away with your suspicions. Many of the students might have been saved from enduring a terrible ordeal." Behind him, Professor McGonagall looked at Harry disapprovingly. Obviously, she felt begrudged to have her students run to the Slytherin head for support. Beside her, Snape smirked at Harry.
Harry narrowed his eyes at the Potions Master but responded to the Headmaster politely, "As you said, sir, they were only suspicions at first. I had no reason or concrete proof to believe they were true. And when the situation became dire, I went to Professor Snape. He chose not to inform you and led two students to the chamber." Harry smirked back at Snape, who visibly balked.
"About that, Mr. Potter," McGonagall began frostily, "why, may I ask, did you not approach me? I would have definitely approached Professor Dumbledore first."
'That is the reason, you old and stupid hag,' Harry thought, looking straight at Professor Snape's eyes, making him cough uncontrollably. Outwardly, Harry merely shrugged indifferently. "Last year, you didn't believe us about the Stone but Professor Snape did. I simply decided to skip the unnecessary stages this year as lives were at stake."
McGonagall bristled. She looked at Harry with narrowed eyes but didn't reply. After composing herself, she said, "I suppose I do owe you an apology for that. My reticence could have resulted in a grave blunder."
"It could," Harry agreed. "But I don't blame you for that. If anything, I only blame you for letting him," he turned his head to Dumbledore for a moment, "leave me with the Dursleys, even after seeing how awful they were. I just hope you won't join him in trying to send me there again this summer." He looked at McGonagall pleadingly, ignoring Snape's silent but impressed clap. Two - nil, to Harry Granger.
"Hey, Sirius," Harry shouted from across the table. "Have you met your old pal Lupin yet?"
"Not interested," Sirius muttered as he chewed his slice of toast.
Sirius frowned as he swallowed the food. He observed Harry eat his food casually but knew that the question was serious. "He didn't take care of you, kid. All of us promised Lily that should the situation ever arise, we would look after her baby. She was distressed at the possibility of you being raised by her sister. Remus didn't honor that promise."
Harry looked at his godfather and asked flatly, "Is this about now or from the book? Because I don't think its fair to treat him based on the book. Like Snape, for instance. I never got an opportunity to hate Snape this time and I trust him much more than McGonagall."
Sirius sighed. "It's both. Actually, it's more about his blind faith in Dumbledore over his trust in our friendship that bugs me. It's not the same anymore. On the other hand, I got myself an occupation."
"You?" Harry asked in disbelief. "You're joking right? Why do you need to work? More importantly, who would let you work?"
Sirius narrowed his eyes sulkily, but then he grinned at his godson and said, "I'm writing a couple of books. One is on Animagus Transformations and the other one is about my ordeals in Azkaban. Perhaps that will open the apathetic eyes of the people that dementors are simply not the answer to any problem."
"Oh," said Harry thoughtfully. "This is the year I receive my Firebolt, isn't it? Do you think my birthday would be a better occasion than Christmas?"
"Boo!" Harry shouted as he jumped on the unsuspecting redhead, sitting serenely by the pond.
"Eek," Ginny shouted and knocked Harry to the ground, pinning him with her wrists. She froze on seeing who it was. "Granger? H-Harry?"
"Um, Ginny," Harry said after a few seconds of inactivity. "You're taking advantage of me," he said complainingly, making the girl blush and get off of him. "And you're heavy."
"Sorry," she squeaked and blushed even more when she saw Fred, George and her father chuckle lightly, having witnessed the whole thing. "Is Hermione here?"
"No," said Harry, brushing the dirt off his pants. "She is visiting Lisa Turpin. Neville?"
"No," Ginny whispered. "His grandma took him out of the country." Slipping her hand into Harry's as they walked back, she said flatly, "So it's just you and me once again."
"You and I," Harry corrected before gritting his teeth in frustration. "Oh no. I'm channeling my sister. Somebody save my soul from eternal damnation!" Hearing Ginny giggle at his chagrin, he pouted.
"Hello dear," Molly Weasley greeted cheerfully. "It's good to have you with us for the weekend. You'll sleep in Charlie's old room. Ginny insisted on it, saying you'd like the posters of dragons." In a softer whisper, she added, "Please don't let Ron ruin your stay. He's just having a hard time."
After the woman retreated, Harry followed Ginny as she stomped to her room. Closing the door, she gave a light frustrated yell. "How can they keep making excuses for him after all the rubbish he says!"
Harry took her hand and made her sit on the bed, waiting patiently for her to continue. When she fumed silently without continuing, Harry said, "Bunny slippers?" He glanced at the fluffy pink footwear his friend had.
Ginny giggled. "Not my choice, I wanted something less girlish but my parents think I'm still a baby. I received it for Christmas last year." Then she blurted out, "Ron said you cheated and selected me over him for the Quidditch reserve team, that he should receive half of the gold proceeds from the basilisk salvage for all that he has suffered, that we both stole his glory and…"
"He's jealous," Harry said quietly. "All his brothers excel in something or the other, and now even his younger sister has played for Gryffindor, has received a Special Services plaque, and ten thousand galleons… which I'm sure you are sharing with your family… but he doesn't see it that way. He wants to shine at something, but he is just an average kid."
"Is that my fault?" Ginny asked angrily.
"No, silly," replied Harry patiently, hitting her lightly on the head. "But you shouldn't let his bad mood give you one too."
"Sorry," Ginny muttered, slightly ashamed. "I'm probably not the best company these days. You might want to go back home."
"Bored of me already, Weasley?" Harry said teasingly. "I knew I should have visited Norberta instead!" Sighing sadly, he got up. "Never thought that my best friend would throw me out of her home."
Ginny grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him down again. "Best friend?" she asked quietly and with hopeful eyes.
"Well…" Harry said thoughtfully. "Let's see… there's Mione, who's my evil and annoying little sister…"
"Big sister," Ginny corrected, rolling her eyes at what she knew would be Harry's long and lengthy monologue.
"Big sister," Harry grudgingly admitted. "Whom I couldn't love more even if I tried, but we have little else in common except the depths of our undying sibling affection," he said dramatically as Ginny rolled her eyes again. "Then there's Neville, who's a decent guy to hang around with… and a good and dependable friend… there's Norberta, who's a real babe. But there's a slight problem about us being different species and unable to communicate properly… then there's you," Harry eyed the redhead, satisfied at the expectant gaze he was receiving from her. "Come to think of it… hmm… nah, Neville's my best…"
"Prat!" Ginny whacked him with her pillow. "Idiot." With her teddy bear. "Lousy git!" With her pillow again.
Laughing, Harry let her work away her frustration for a while before pulling her against him. "You… who relates to me in so many ways, Quidditch, mischief and adventure… a caring and gentle yet strong personality that is so amazing… and a looker, to boot," he added appreciatively.
"That last bit killed the moment, Granger," Ginny muttered in a disgruntled way, pulling a board game from beneath her bed.
"Peter Pettigrew escaped from Azkaban?" Harry asked curiously the morning they were to go to Diagon Alley. "How did that happen? Didn't they keep the Animagus wards up?"
Arthur Weasley looked at the young boy in surprise. "It appears that there was a momentary lapse." He read the Daily Prophet and shook his head sadly. "Avery was in charge that day. Sirius Black has been drafted to hunt for his former friend."
Harry's insides squirmed and he excused himself. He stayed in his room until Ginny dragged him out for their trip to Diagon Alley.
"I'm getting a new wand," she chirruped all the way, making sure that Ron wasn't in hearing range. "I'm getting a new wand."
"How about a broom or an owl as well?" Harry asked curiously, keeping hold of the bouncing girl's hand.
"Nah," Ginny replied back. "I'm fine with just a wand." She shot a reluctant glance at the Owl Emporium before catching sight of her mother buying new robes for everyone and she brightened up.
Harry bit his lips and said, "Come on then, my treat. Your birthday's coming up anyway." Catching sight of a mass on bushy brown hair, Harry shouted, "Mione! Over here!" He hugged his sister warmly, toppling an armload of books and greeted her blonde friend, Lisa Turpin. "I'm buying Ginny an owl. Care to join us? You could buy a kitten, sis. I know you want one."
Hermione dragged Harry a bit further and whispered, "Can you stay with the Weasleys for the rest of the summer? Sirius is busy."
Harry nodded though his expression clouded. "Why must things always happen in a similar way? Hasn't the magical world heard about the butterfly effect and chaos theory?"
Hermione narrowed her eyes and said, "And what have you heard about it other than what I've told you, Harry Granger?" At her brother's sheepish grin, she relaxed. "I'm not sure about this and it's not as if we can talk about it with anyone. Are you sure you don't want to tell others about what will happen next year?"
"I'm sure," Harry whispered quickly, seeing Ginny approach.
"Remus J Lupin," Ginny said after reading the tag on the man's trunk. "Defense teacher." She sat down by the window and Harry took the seat next to her. Neville was sitting opposite them.
Within minutes, Hermione entered with her friends saying, "You don't mind me bringing my friends, do you? Lisa and Luna."
"Luna!" Ginny turned instantly with a wide smile. "It's been so long since we've done anything together."
"You know each other?" Neville asked curiously.
"We used to play together when we were little," said Ginny happily. "But then we drifted apart after…" she trailed off sadly.
But Luna didn't take anything amiss. She walked to her childhood friend and squeezed between Ginny and Harry. Softly, she said, "You used to make me marry you and the boy-who-lived."
Harry chuckled mirthfully and ducked to avoid the hand that came close to knocking his head off.
"I see. Since Harry Potter is missing," Luna said dreamily, getting up and pushing the other two closer. "You have turned your focus towards Harry Granger now. Is there something special about the first name?"
Both Ginny and Harry turned red and the rest of the occupants of the compartment burst out laughing. But just then the whole compartment turned chilly, and Harry put his arm around Ginny protectively. He whispered, "Think of the Burrow. Think of us flying together on the Firebolt and the Nimbus. Think of… you sneaking to Hogsmeade in my Invisibility Cloak."
Ginny looked at Harry with a faint smile and squeezed his hand as Neville fainted and Luna shook violently.
Harry watched Remus Lupin get up and chase the foul dementor away and distributed chocolate frogs all around. "Chocolate helps," he said, receiving an appreciative nod from Lupin.
"You coming to see Berta?" Harry asked Ginny after the first few days had passed and they had settled down for the new year.
"Of course," she replied. "Can't let a bloody dragon steal my man, can I?"
"I'm your man now, am I?" Harry asked curiously.
Ginny shrugged. "According to Luna at least." Giggling, she said, "Just kidding, Granger. Wipe that frown off your face and there's no need to get the twins to pretend to be your boyfriends to ward me off. I know you're gay."
"Excuse me," Harry protested indignantly. "You'll pay for that, Weasley." He jumped on her, tickling her mercilessly. "Say uncle!"
"Fine," she squealed, laughing painfully. "Fine… uncle… leggo…"
"Looks like the lovebirds are at it again, brother mine," Fred Weasley's voice sailed from the other end of the Common Room. Quite a few eyes were fixed on the two of them.
"Our baby sister… sniff… all grown up," said George. "Who would've thunk it!"
"Shut up," Harry and Ginny muttered at the same time and they hastily got up. Harry brushed his hair with dignity, and looked reproachfully at the twins. "At least I'm not as confused as you two. Don't string Angelina and Alicia along for too long, guys. And word is, Dumbledore's still available," he said loudly and scampered out of the Common Room, with Ginny behind him.
As they left, one of the twins voice could be heard saying, "A galleon says they'll be together by the end of the year."
"Two galleons say between start and end of fourth year," said the other.
Harry froze. The sight of hospital beds with two girls lying lifeless, frail and shriveled. He took a step back and gasped fearfully, "Mione! Ginny! No… not like mom…" and with trembling fingers, he croaked, "R-Rid… Riddi…" and sobbing, he faltered.
"Riddikulus!" Hermione shouted from behind him and grabbed her brother's hand as he fell on his knees and whimpered. "Just a boggart, Harry!" she said emphatically. "It was just a boggart!"
The rest of the class was shocked into a silent stupor at the ghastly image. Even Professor Lupin appeared stunned for a moment, resulting in Hermione's need to rush to her brother's aid.
News about Granger's boggart spread like wildfire and he started avoiding Ginny. For the next few days whispers followed his every step. Finally in frustration, he stormed out of the castle only to be accosted by a furious redhead.
"Stop, Granger!" she shouted as he jumped on his Firebolt. But before he could fly away, she pulled the broomstick back, sending him crashing to the ground. "Don't you dare run away!"
Harry grunted as he got to his knees but didn't turn around to face Ginny. Then he felt two soft hands rubbing his back.
"Did I hurt you?" Ginny asked hesitantly. "I'm sorry I pulled the broom. But you weren't letting me talk to you." When Harry didn't respond, she kept massaging his back and shoulder silently. "Does this mean we aren't best friends anymore?" she asked miserably when Harry remained stiff and unresponsive.
"Of course we are," Harry said firmly, grabbing her hand. "I… I'm sorry, Ginny. I don't know why I've been acting like I have. You'll always be my best friend." He felt Ginny's arms wrap around his back and her head rest against him.
"Sit down, Harry," said Professor Lupin calmly. "I must first of all apologize for not being fast enough to intercede your boggart in class."
Harry nodded. Inside, he was furious at being kept in the castle despite having a signed permission form from Sirius. Dumbledore had clearly stated that since Sirius Black had no relation to the Grangers, there was no way he could 'in good conscience' allow Harry and Hermione to go to Hogsmeade. That hadn't stopped him, not until he got caught.
"I'm not sure if you are aware but…"
"You were a friend of my father's," Harry interrupted. "Moony, Prongs, Padfoot and Wormtail - the Marauders. The names of your friends are related to their Animagus forms, which they acquired to give you company during full moons."
Lupin gawked at him in silence.
"And you are here because Wormtail, that is Pettigrew, might attempt to kill me. You're going to tell me not to waste the sacrifice of my parents on stupid things like Hogsmeade trips. You might also try to reinforce Dumbledore's desire for me to return to the Dursleys," Harry said quietly. "But guess what… that's what they, my parents that is, would want me to do… they would want me to live and be happy rather than be miserable about them not being here and holed up in some tiny cell, they'd want the same thing as Jane Granger did! And you have no right to say anything to me now after all these years of absence."
Lupin gawked at him in horror.
"You didn't honor your friendship with James Potter and I do not want you as a parental figure in my life. You could have tried to take custody of me… you could have tried to at least be in my life somehow but Dumbledore convinced you to stay away and I'd be happy with the Dursleys and you accepted it," Harry continued. "You acted selfishly."
Lupin gawked at him in grief.
Harry got up. "This conversation is over. If I need parental figures and guidance, I'll go to Sirius. I assume he's still not responding to you? Good. Because just as Pettigrew betrayed the Marauders to Voldemort, you betrayed them to Dumbledore."
Lupin gawked at him in tears.
"So what do you suggest?" Ginny asked finally, licking a strand of her hair as she pondered over the decision form in front of her. "Care of Magical Creatures, Muggle Studies and Divination?"
"Magical Creatures is fun, despite the near accident with the Hippogriff earlier this year," Harry said, lifting his head from above his essay to look at her worried face. "Divination is complete bollocks. You've seen your brother and his friends make things up all the time. They get the highest marks, from what I've heard… why Muggle Studies? Do you plan to follow your father's career?"
"No… not really," said Ginny, blushing profusely. "Just, you know, in case I need it later in life."
Eyeing her cautiously, Harry said, "Why not. Ancient Runes is fun after the first few lessons of foundation theory. You could take those three without overburdening yourself."
"Hmm," Ginny mumbled while putting tick marks against her selection. "Thanks, Harry." After a while, she suddenly turned to Harry and said, "Harry?"
"If I ask you for a favor, would you do it?"
"Depends," Harry said plainly, scribbling his essay furiously. "I'm not doing your History essay as well."
"Will you kiss me?"
Harry nearly broke his quill. He did ruin the last line of his essay. He turned to Ginny incredulously. "Kiss?"
"Never mind," Ginny muttered and hid her face behind her Charms text book.
"Kiss?" Harry asked, pulling the book out of her hand and grinning at her red face.
"I just… you know… I saw Percy with his girlfriend… and I… well… " Ginny babbled on. Taking a deep breath, she said, "I want my first kiss to be with my best friend. But it's okay if you don't want."
Chuckling, Harry leaned closer to Ginny, sensing her breathing become more and more rapid with each passing second. He brushed his lips against her chin and raised it above. With a smile, he touched her lips with his and kissed gently. Then he parted. Ginny's eyes were still closed, as if expecting more, but Harry brushed her hair aside and returned to his essay.
The end of his third year was also a happy one. Once again, Gryffindor won the Quidditch Trophy. Despite the presence of the dementors, Harry was only as badly affected by them as were the rest of the players. So Gryffindor managed to pile up a lot of points, and Ginny was allowed to play a match as well.
Without any life threatening situation that awarded Harry with hundreds of house points at the end of the year, Gryffindor did not manage to win the House Cup despite their performance at Quidditch. The Great Hall was decorated in Ravenclaw colors and Hermione smirked at Harry in a superior manner from her table.
"Oh right," Harry said when Dumbledore approached him and gave Ginny a quick peck on her cheek. Ignoring her flushed face, he said, "Go on ahead, hun. I'll see what the nice old man wants. Hello, Professor, have you met my girlfriend and future wife," he looked pointedly at Ginny to play along. "I don't think she likes competition on her turf."
"Your humor, Mr.…Granger," said Dumbledore, as he led Harry to his office without his customary twinkle, "leaves a lot to be desired. My purpose here is to request you, considering the dangerous situation with you-know-who about you-know-what that you should stay you-know-where."
"Brilliant!" Harry shouted in amazement. "Dumbledore finally says 'you-know-who' and it isn't even for the Old Mutt! This has to go down in your chocolate frog, sir."
"My patience is stretched to its limits, Mr. Potter," Dumbledore said in his office where McGonagall, Snape and Lupin were present. "I cannot allow you to return to your godfather's place as Pettigrew would surely target him."
"Pettigrew's a coward," Harry chuckled. "He'll do no such thing."
"Be that as it may, Mr. Black will be busy searching for Pettigrew," Dumbledore's twinkle returned and he said happily. "I have sent your luggage to the Dursleys with Professor Lupin. They were a bit surprised, from what I've heard but after some persuasion have very kindly consented to take you in for the summer. And now Professor Lupin will be taking you as well."
"Wait!" Harry shouted. "You can't do that! What about Mione!"
"You can explain your sister about your relocation through OWL post," said Dumbledore calmly. "Remus, if you will."
Harry watched in horror and Remus Lupin approached him and grabbed his hand and portkeyed away.
The lion eyed the wolf menacingly. With a dangerous growl, it leapt and pinned the wolf to the ground.
"Merlin, Harry!" a ragged voice came from beneath. "The moon's gone and you're heavy!"
The lion rolled away in mortification and transformed to a human. "Sorry, Remus," said Harry. A tabby cat purred at his feet and Harry picked it up. "Let's see. Would Mione-cat like an early morning bath in the river?" The cat suddenly became much heavier and Harry fell to the ground with a thump. "Ouch."
"Serves you right," scolded Hermione. Then her eyes brightened. "That was the most fun I've ever had. Thanks, Remus!"
Remus Lupin smiled weakly. "Don't. I should have done this long ago. And, Sirius made the potion the first time Harry asked. You've got him wrapped around your little finger, kid."
"What do you mean 'him'?" Harry asked in chagrin. Smugly, he added, "I've got both of you around my finger."
"As long as it isn't the same finger with which you pick your nose, Granger," another voice came from behind with a loud yawn. "You guys are so loud! How's a cougar to sleep?"
Several hours later, Harry was sitting near a running stream of water with his feet submerged. Ginny was sitting beside him, sighing happily from time to time. She had been invited by Harry for a week in the mountain resort Remus had spirited him and Hermione to instead of Privet Drive, and her mother had consented after a lot of cajoling.
"Why do you live with Professor Lupin and Sirius Black again?" Ginny asked curiously.
"Because they knew my parents," Harry replied.
"Huh," said Ginny in confusion. "Weren't you muggleborn?"
"My birth parents died when I was young and mum and dad adopted me," Harry said truthfully. "But they also died… So Sirius took custody of us after he was released," which was also true.
"Oh," said Ginny, fully aware that something critical had not been mentioned. Then she cheered up. "Race you to the peak!" She turned into a cougar and leapt up.
"NOT FAIR!" Harry shouted as he jumped up and ran after her. "You're the mountain lion here, I'm just an ordinary lion… just an ordinary lion."
"Why does she get to bring her friends along?" Ron asked sulkily as Harry and Ginny followed the Weasley family to the Portkey Point. Nobody responded. Except Charlie, who cuffed him lightly on his left ear.
"He asked Seamus," whispered Ginny as they walked, "but Seamus is staying with the Irish fans. Nobody's told him that Sirius paid for you and Hermione."
Harry nodded, slipping his hand in Ginny's nonchalantly and smirked when she stumbled suddenly, making her retaliate by digging her fingernails into his hand. "Point taken," he muttered after a moment of pain but tightened his grip. Both of them were completely unaware about the raised eyebrows and smiles being sent at them by Arthur, Bill and Charlie Weasleys.
"Ginny, please believe me," was the first thing Harry said after Dumbledore spoke out him name, "I didn't enter my name."
"Of course you didn't," Ginny said angrily, but Harry was glad that the anger was aimed at the Goblet of Fire instead of him. "I was with you all along and then we'd sneaked out to see Berta."
Sighing in relief, Harry walked towards the room with the Champions and waited for the Heads to enter, ignoring the annoying questions being directed at him. The moment Karkaroff started deriding him, Snape sneered, "I have a vial of Veritaserum. Shall we have this settled?"
"Severus," Dumbledore said calmly. "That will not be…"
"I agree, Professor," Harry nodded vigorously. "I don't want anyone to think I'm being given preferential treatment or that Hogwarts is cheating. Professor Maxime, would you kindly verify the vial is indeed Veritaserum?" He nodded at the gigantic woman, who seemed surprised and somewhat pleased by his response.
"Did you, Harry Potter, put your name in the Goblet?"
"Did you, Harry Potter, in any way whatsoever, cause your name to appear from the Goblet?"
After a pause, Snape suddenly asked, "Are you, Harry Potter, aware of who might have placed your name in?"
Amidst much surprises, Snape sneered and asked, "Elaborate."
"Professor Moody is a Death Eater, Barty Crouch Jr. under Polyjuice Potion, who wants to use this as a means to spirit me away to resurrect Voldemort."
"Lies!" Moody barked, whipping his wand out. "Clearly, the boy is deluded."
"Ludicrous," shouted Bartemius Crouch Sr. "My son is dead." But then he looked at Moody strangely. "Junior?" And that was all the opening required for Dumbledore and Bagman.
"Only you, Harry," yelled Ginny, "would get stuck in a life threatening Tournament and use it as a means of introducing your pet to the school!" When Harry grinned sheepishly, she said, "Alright! I admit, riding a dragon with a transfigured sword in hand to face another dragon looked quite impressive!"
"You dolt!" screamed Hermione at the same time. "Two dragons! Two fire breathing dragons! And you in the middle!"
"Oh come on, Mione," Harry said with a happy grin. "Berta and Nellie are good friends now. I even promised Nellie that we would come to visit her babies in Romania someday."
Hermione and Ginny looked at him in exasperation and the redhead shook her head. "Granger, please get a mental check up at St. Mungo's!"
Harry chuckled. "But Ginny, that was so fun! Okay, I admit, nearly getting burnt to a crisp wasn't so fun, but the rest of it was! At least, I didn't just freeze like Cedric and forfeit the task."
Ginny harrumphed but didn't reply.
"Will you go to the Ball with me?" Harry asked.
Ginny froze and turned to Harry in disbelief. "M-Me?" When Harry nodded eagerly, her knees gave way and she whispered quietly in distress, "I'm sorry."
"I-I thought you wanted to… you kept talking about Cho…" she began but Harry had stiffened. "I said yes to Michael Corner. I didn't think you wanted me… I'm sorry… I so wanted to go and you hadn't asked me… Harry, wait!" She looked forlornly as Harry stormed away.
"Hermione, how is he?" Ginny asked sadly.
"Unhappy and sulking," said Hermione with a thoughtful frown. "What happened?"
"He asked me to the Ball. But for the whole week before that, he had been wondering out loud whom he should ask and he never mentioned me. I thought he was deciding between Cho Chang and Parvati Patil," Ginny said woefully. "And then he asked me but I had already told Michael Corner I'd go with him. Now he's not talking to me again and I don't know what to do."
"Oh Ginny," said Hermione in frustration. "Harry needs to grow up. He loves teasing and being cheeky all the time that he overdid it with you. He probably thought you understood he wanted to go with you despite giving no clear indication. It's not your fault. Don't worry, just give him some time."
"But I don't want to go to the Ball anymore," Ginny said sadly. "Not without him."
But she did go to the Ball and looked sadly as Harry danced with a pretty Beauxbatons girl. When their paths crossed, Harry greeted her, "Hey Ginny. This is Rosé Delacour, Fleur's cousin. Rosé, this is Ginny, my best friend," and waltzed away.
"Will you look at that," shouted the eager voice of Ludo Bagman. "Our youngest Champion is back with not just his own sister but also with Miss Delacour's cousin. Clearly, he stayed back to ensure the safety of all present. What moral fiber! Full marks, on my account!"
Harry shot an annoyed glance at Bagman and received a kiss from both Fleur and Rosé Delacour as he emerged from the water. He saw Ginny look at him with a mixture of relief and sorrow and was about to wave. But then Michael Corner whispered something to her and she laughed. Frowning, Harry turned away.
"Sirius!" Harry called out when his godfather grinned from the stands, and letting go of the girls, ran to him.
"So," said Sirius teasingly. "Miss Delacour, eh?"
"Whatever happened to Miss Weasley?" he asked quietly, shooting a glance at Ginny. "She looks miserable."
"She chose Michael Corner first," Harry said nonchalantly. Shrugging, he walked towards the Forbidden Forest.
"Stop being silly, Harry! Talk to Ginny," shouted Hermione as she ran behind him and dodged a puff of smoke sent by Norberta. "And stop making your dragon attack me!"
"You stop slandering Berta!" Harry yelled back indignantly and patted Norberta's head affectionately, "You're my best friend, babe." He climbed on the dragon. "See ya later, sis, godpappy. Give my regards to Ginny."
"Mr. Potter," said Dumbledore calmly. "The Ministry has sent people to remove your dragon from the grounds of Hogwarts to a safer place."
"Not my dragon," muttered Harry. "Just a stray, catch her if you can."
"Stop fooling around, you brat!" shouted a toad faced woman. "You are bonded to the dragon! That was clear for everyone to see!"
"Oh is that so, Ms. Umbridge?" Harry rounded on her. "Then you would know that by law, any dragon that raised itself in the Forbidden Forest and bonded with a wizard is permitted to stay there!"
"Laws can be changed," snapped Umbridge. "I want that dragon executed!"
"Pity," said Harry. "She flew away to the north. I think someone might have told her about your intentions. Pity really," he turned to Rita Skeeter and a host of other reporters. "That the Ministry is more concerned with upturning perfectly fine laws instead of hunting for Pettigrew. I mean, a bonded dragon could have provided much security to the Castle. If something happens to me or any other student this year, then I put full blame on the Ministry and especially Umbridge." Winking, he added with a cheeky grin, "You must tell me where you bought that lovely scarf, Ms. Skeeter! That will save me a lot of bother before my sister's birthday."
"Ow!" Harry cried in pain. "What was that for!" He ducked to avoid another blow from his sister.
"You insensitive git!" Hermione screamed at him. "You foul, uncaring, big headed bozo! I am so ashamed to call you my brother! Do you know how badly you have affected that girl! Her grades are slipping, she barely pays attention anywhere, eats so little and cries herself to sleep! You… Mom would be so disappointed!"
Harry paled and took a step back.
"And whose fault was it in the first place, you loudmouthed and thick-skinned piece of flobberworm excretion!" she hissed at him. "You know how someone treated me in," she dropped her voice, "the book," and took a deep breath. "You are no better, Harold Granger!" She turned around and stormed away.
Harry turned to Norberta who blinked at him blankly and said, "I messed up, didn't I babe? Good thing it's Valentine's Day next week. Care to give me a lift to Hogsmeade?"
Ginny Weasley woke up for another harrowing day and sighed while rubbing her eyes. She opened her eyes and blinked. She blinked again. There were red, blue, white and yellow petals all around her bed and a bouquet of wild orchids at the foot of her bed.
Breathlessly, she grabbed the flowers and plucked the card out. A water mug lies on your bedside table.
"Huh?" she blinked at the strange message and turned to place the flowers in the water and gasped. There was a box of Honeyduke's Best fudge as well on the table. She smiled happily on recognizing the handwriting and hugged the flowers to her chest. After a few minutes, she placed the orchids in the water mug and opened the box of chocolates and found another card. Don't litter the floor.
Her head glanced down of its own accord and she laughed when she saw a pair of dragon's claws slippers with a note inside. I heard you cry last night. Are you afraid of monsters beneath your bed?
"Silly boy," she muttered dreamily as she dug her head beneath her bed and squealed as she pulled out a cuddly lion magical soft toy with soft fur and bushy hair. She giggled as the lion nibbled her hair and a card dropped out of its mouth. She picked the card and gasped. At least this lion will never act like an ass. Forgive me?
"Of course I do!" she yelled and squeezed the lion and another card spilled out of its mouth. She blushed when she realized all her dorm mates were staring at her enviously. She picked up the card. There's another lion waiting in the Room of Requirements.
She hastily placed the lion on top of her pillow and grabbed her clothes and ran to the shower. Within minutes, she was out and running towards the seventh floor. She stopped short of the corridor and took a few deep breaths, walking slowly and wishing for the door to appear.
She walked in and gasped in disbelief. She hadn't walked inside a room, nor had she walked inside anything. Bright sunlight and clear blue skies on a ridge overlooking green meadows and valleys. On a large rock sat a lion with its head lowered in shame.
Ginny ran to the lion and snaked her hands around its neck, burying her head in the thick mane. "You silly boy! Of course I forgive you! Do you forgive me?"
The lion instantly changed into a boy with glistening green eyes who grabbed Ginny in a tight embrace. "Always!" He took a deep breath and lowered his head and smiled when Ginny reached for his lips.
"So how did you manage to enter the girl's dorms?" asked Ginny as she leaned against Harry. They were sitting in the shade of the rock where Harry had hidden a picnic basket.
Harry smirked and said, "My secret. Will come in handy for future umm… surprises." Seeing Ginny's disgruntled expression, he amended, "But since you consented to be my girlfriend for real, I will allow you to guess."
Ginny's eyes narrowed. "Let's see. You could have asked someone else to do it?"
Harry shook his head. "Don't trust any other Gryffindor girls."
"You flew through the stairs?"
Harry shook his head. "Tried and failed. Anti broomstick charm."
"You flew inside from the window?"
Harry nodded his head. "Something like that. Oh all right, I hovered outside your window on my Firebolt and floated all the things into place. Took a fair bit of time to get everything in order."
Ginny gaped at him in surprise and kissed his cheek. "You needn't have worked so hard. I would have forgiven you regardless of any gifts."
"I know," Harry said, rubbing his lips on the side of her head. "But after all the grief I caused I had to make up somehow. The gifts were not that important, I just wanted to make my best friend smile again."
"You did," Ginny said softly. "Granger, you are incredible. I love you so…" she froze and turned red.
Harry felt her stiffen in mortification and brought his head to face her. "Hey Gin." He blew air at her eyes, making her blink and look up. "Do you know why I didn't kiss you properly the first time you asked me?" When Ginny shook her head, he replied, "I wanted to take you to the clouds on Berta and kiss you there. That's what I was planning to do on…"
"Christmas," she muttered apologetically. "I'm sorry. I should have had more faith -"
"Hey we're over that now!" Harry complained and pecked her lips. "But Gin, I need to tell you something."
Harry sighed. "I want you to believe me when I say that I haven't lied to you ever. But I haven't told you one critical thing about myself. Will you promise to keep it a secret and stay here until you know the whole story? Mind you, it's long enough to fill seven books."
Ginny looked confused. "I don't understand." Then she giggled. "Oh all right, I promise. It's not as if you're going to tell me you're truly Merlin or Harry Potter."
Harry remained silent.
"Great Merlin!" Ginny cursed.
"No, not Merlin, Harry Potter," muttered Harry and sighed.
"I don't know what to say," said Ginny after several hours had passed. She looked at Harry's doleful face and giggled. "You silly boy, I still want to be with you. It's just that… I don't know. I should have guessed. But at least now I understand why Dumbledore's always after you."
"I knew it!" Harry sighed dramatically. "It was never my looks but my fame he was after. Who would have thought even senile old men can act like fan girls."
Ginny giggled again and leaned against Harry. "Idiot. Hold me, Harry. We need to return soon and I want to spend what's left of the day as close to you as possible."
Harry grinned and pulled the redhead closer to himself. "You do realize what this means, Ginny dear. There's going to be one jealous dragon after your blood." Then he chuckled with satisfaction when Ginny stiffened against him.
The final task was a day Harry was looking forward to. Even as he disappeared into the maze, not even Ginny and Hermione were aware of his plans. With his prior knowledge of what awaited him in the maze, it took him very little time to make it to the cup and be the first to touch it - several minutes before Cedric Diggory even entered the maze.
"I knew it," he muttered to himself when he felt the familiar twinge of a portkey. "Someone else is a spy in Hogwarts. At least, this time I am prepared." The moment he reached hard ground, he was disarmed by Wormtail and tied to a tombstone.
"Ah," said Wormtail, looking at Harry. "The time has finally come. My master will be brought back once again and I will be greatly rewarded. And you, a mere mudblood, will realize the price of defying the Dark Lord."
"The Dork Lord?" Harry asked in surprise. "Is he around? I would much like to meet him. It's been years since we last met."
"Silence!" a high pitched baby's voice squeaked, and Harry burst out laughing.
"On the whole, an improvement since our previous meetings. At least this time you're not a turban or a diary," said Harry, giving Lord Voldemort a once-over. "But is that why you invited me to your fancy ritual, Tommy? Because I ruined your party last time? Oh you shouldn't have."
"I need your blood," said Voldemort. "And then I will kill you with my bare hands for defying me."
"You wouldn't stand a chance," said Harry. "In fact, it will be I who is going to defeat you."
But despite his brave words, the ritual proceeded and Voldemort acquired a body for himself and the Death Eaters were summoned.
"Excellent!" said Harry, clapping his hands when he was released for a duel. "Excellent! We have an audience. I invited some of my guests as well. I hope you don't mind?"
At that very moment, several Aurors led by Sirius Black made their presence revealed. They had been waiting since the very beginning for Harry's signal and battle started. Harry Granger, Sirius Black and the Ministry's best fighters against Lord Voldemort and his faithful Death Eaters. But with one difference. The Aurors and Sirius Black had come prepared for a bloody battle. The only reason they had waited was to flush out the rest of the loyal Death Eaters who had escaped conviction the first time.
Within ten minutes, most of the Death Eaters had been apprehended or taken out of action. Only Lord Voldemort remained fighting, seemingly without a struggle, until he was surrounded by dozens of opponents, fighting simultaneously.
"I may be defeated in this battle but I cannot be killed. I am immortal. I will return."
Harry and Sirius laughed when the Dark Lord's words seemed to have halted the Aurors in their tracks. At one corner, Harry emptied the contents of a bag that Sirius had brought with him - charred remains of some of the Founders' greatest treasures, and a decaying snake.
"I believe these belong to you," said Harry. "Pieces of your soul, aren't they? I apologize. I destroyed the diary in my second year."
Voldemort let out an inhuman shriek of pure fury. But then he smirked. "There is one final horcrux. Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived and he is lost but alive. He is my final horcrux and as long as he is alive, I cannot be killed."
Harry heard Sirius gasp in horror. He hadn't told that information to anyone. Instead, he took a step forward and said, "I am Harry Potter and I tell you this, Voldemort. I will defeat you and live to a ripe old age!"
For a long moment, there was no activity at all. The revelation had shocked the Aurors and Voldemort alike. Sirius, meanwhile, was trying to figure out how to remove the horcrux from his godson without hurting him.
"There was a prophecy," continued Harry. "You know of what I speak. Only I have the power to defeat you, Tom Riddle. Your time is up." And he laughed.
Those were the last words Harry heard before all went black and his last thoughts were, 'How utterly predictable.'
Harry groaned. He opened his eyes and found himself in a strange place, full of bright lights and strange noises. There was a man staring at him curiously.
"How did you get in here?" the man asked in a strange Northern accent.
"I don't know," said Harry truthfully. "Where am I? Last I know, I allowed Voldemort to kill me to destroy the horcrux inside me."
"Ohhh!" said the man, as understanding lit up in his eyes. He looked at Harry with a strange expression. "Harry Potter, I presume?"
"Yeah. How did you -"
"How did I know your name? Well, the thing is where I have just come from, everybody knows your name, but they wouldn't expect to see you in person. Not even in their wildest dreams. Strange thing, fiction, isn't it? Who's to say that what you're reading in a book is not more real than your own existence? And who's to say that the reality you live in is simply a story being read by someone else?"
"You're the Doctor!" said Harry suddenly. "You're the one who brought me to my parents!"
"I am indeed," said the man, with a happy expression. "And the question rises: where should I take you now? Interesting, isn't it, to have a space-time traveling machine that acts like a sort of life-death wormhole to a transcendental reality for a fictional world."
"Umm," said Harry. "I think you should speak to my sister instead. She would be able to translate your words for me."
"What I mean is," said the Doctor with a grin, "where to now, Mr. Potter, what does your heart fancy?"
Harry's eyes widened. "Can you take me back home?"
The Doctor shrugged. "I can try, if that's where you want to go."
Harry nodded. Then he said gasped for breath. "Mione's going to kill me, that is, if Ginny lets me live. Merlin! I am so screwed but yeah, I want to go back to them. I would love to travel around but not without them."
"Hogwarts, it is, then!" yelled the Doctor in glee as he started pressing buttons on a console table in the middle of the hall.
Harry walked into the Great Hall after waving goodbye to the Doctor and ignored the sudden silence.
"He's alive!" a chorus rose and before he knew it, his vision became a blur of brown, red and black.
"You no-good pile of skrewt droppings!" Whack. Whack. Whack. Whack. "It hurts, Mione." "Good!" Whack. Whack. "Ginny, please stop!" "No." Whack. Whack. "Sirius, et tu?" Whack. Whack.
"That will be enough," said a calm voice and for the first time in his life, Harry was glad to hear it. He jumped away from the group that had attacked him and walked with a dignified huff to safety. "I must say, Mr. Potter, we are all at a loss. We have believed you lost for near on two days and -"
"Two days!" Harry exclaimed. "No wonder." He turned to Hermione, Ginny and Sirius, whose faces showed signs of extreme grief. "That was thoroughly deserved then. In my defense, from my point of view, I have been gone for only half an hour."
"How?" asked Hermione.
"The Doctor," replied Harry, making Hermione's eyes widen in surprise. "So what happened after Voldemort struck the curse on me?"
Sirius took a deep breath and it was obvious he was haunted by his memory. "You - You disappeared in a blinding glow and the curse backfired - Voldemort died - and - and you were gone."
"Sorry," said Harry miserably.
"Please don't be like this, Mione." Harry walked after Hermione, who had been avoiding him since his return. "Please look at me."
The girl turned her face to the other side and kept walking.
"Please Mione!" Harry said, his voice completely heartbroken at his sister's lack of response. For a moment, Hermione nearly paused but then she resumed walking and Harry remained behind, frozen in his place.
At some point, he felt two soft hands come around him and he found himself in Ginny's embrace. He clasped his arms around her and sobbed on her shoulder.
"She's hurt," said Ginny quietly, as she patted Harry's head and shoulder. "You hurt her by playing with your life so callously."
"I know," said Harry dolefully. "I know. But I had no choice. I had to defeat Riddle for good."
"She feels let down," continued Ginny, "that you didn't trust her enough to confide in her. As do I. How can we trust you now that we know you would throw away your life without giving a second thought about us?"
Harry froze. He slowly looked at Ginny's face, which conveyed how much she cared for him and how much she had grieved for him at the same time. He looked at her silently but Ginny's grip never loosened for a moment.
"Promise me you will never -" began Ginny.
"I promise," said Harry urgently, "no matter what you ask, I promise it. Just don't leave me."
Ginny giggled. "You silly boy," she said, resting her head against his shoulder.
Harry sighed and ran his fingers against her hair. Leaning downwards, he kissed the top of her head. "I love you so much." He waited but Ginny didn't respond. "I know I have hurt you and I promise you, I will make you trust me again, even if it takes me the rest of my life. Both you and Mione."
"Good. Now come here and give me a hug."
Harry pried himself away from Ginny and literally jumped on Hermione, who was standing just behind him with a tearful face but a hint of a smile on her lips.
"Mione!" he yelled as he held her tightly. "I'm sorry. Please forgive me. I will never do anything like this again."
"Don't make promises you can't keep, bozo."
Harry was waiting expectantly.
He had officially changed his name to Potter, after both he and Hermione decided it was more convenient to do so. A year had passed since he had left Hogwarts and rejected several offers for employment. To all of them, his response was plain - Thank you for the offer, I will most certainly consider it when I am looking for a job. For the entire year after his NEWT results were out, a healthy mix of Outstandings and Exceeding Expectations, he had taken turns helping out Professor Snape with potions research, Charlie's dragon reserve with taming wild dragons, Sirius Black with his Auror responsibilities, and the Lupin-Longbottom greenhouse and potions business.
Meanwhile, Hermione had accepted an internship with the Amelia Bones, in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and was thoroughly enjoying her new role. Neville had started a business with Remus Lupin in growing rare plants and making rare potions. Severus Snape often collaborated with them in experimenting his new research ideas. None were to know that as time went by, the three of them would become extremely close friends and often joke about the incident with the Boggart in Neville's third year at Hogwarts.
Sirius Black, although not formally employed, was seen as a private crime expert whom the Aurors could approach for help whenever they faced a menace they couldn't resolve. His fame, however, reached its apex when the Ministry of Magic finally decided on a program to send all dementors through the Veil and outsource the Azkaban prison guard job to a mixed team of wizards, werewolves, giants and goblins.
Albus Dumbledore, upon Lord Voldemort's defeat and his own minimal role in it, began to reevaluate his own life and choices, and reached the conclusion that he was getting old. As a result, he resigned from the rest of his positions and concentrated solely on his responsibilities as Headmaster of Hogwarts. He occasionally delivered lectures on Transfiguration and rediscovered the joy of teaching that he had lost during the first war against Voldemort. His relationship with Harry Potter finally began to smoothen after he stopped meddling in the boy's life. The two, it was noted, could often be seen having a pint at the pub in Hogsmeade and talking about Dumbledore's younger days.
Norberta would remain a permanent fixture in the Forbidden Forest for nearly a century. Generations of students would dare each other to creep up to the dragon when asleep and poke her, and thus try to see for themselves why the Hogwarts motto was 'Let sleeping dragons lie' but most would be chased back to the castle by the irate dragon, who, legend has it, never hurt a student in all her long life. When her bonded-wizard was questioned, Harry would explain, "Berta prefers white meat. Good for the heart."
Which brings us to Ginny Weasley, the reason why Harry Potter was waiting expectantly. The redhead witch was sitting for her final exam, after which she would be done with Hogwarts. The two of them had made many plans and both were looking forward to the coming days. Their first stop was the Burrow, where both would face the wrath of the Weasley matron before hastily leaving the country for a long vacation, beginning in Egypt with Ginny's brother.
The castle doors opened and a red haired witch led the charge of students escaping from the school after the tyranny of exams. Her face was lit with a joyful smile and she flung her arms around Harry.
"Where to now, Miss Weasley?" Harry whispered in her ear after a long and passionate kiss. "What does your heart fancy?"