Chapter 14

The Empty Dormitory

Four weeks later, Harry and Ron walked across the Hogwarts grounds, just having finished an hour-long fly. "Oh, I miss Quidditch," said Ron wistfully, for what Harry guessed was the twentieth time in the past two months. Still, Harry felt he couldn't blame Ron.

"Me, too," he agreed. "At least McGonagall says the new stadium is being built on schedule, so it'll probably be finished in January."

Ron didn't look very reassured. "I don't see why they don't at least let us practice. There's plenty of airspace, even if we don't use what's above where the stadium should be."

Harry glanced at him in surprise. "I thought you agreed that practicing wouldn't be the same without a proper set of hoops."

Ron appeared mildly chagrined that he had ever said such a thing. "That was before going two months without any Quidditch. I'm really starting to feel it now, since this is about when we'd be playing our first match."

Harry shrugged. "I know. But as I'm sure you know, I can't pick the Slytherins' team without hoops, and it's not fair for them not to have a team while the rest of us practice. And before you say anything, I'm aware of the irony of talking about what's fair to the Slytherins."

"Just so long as you're aware of it."

"How are the second years doing with their flying, by the way?"

"Not bad," said Ron, with some pride. "They're getting the hang of it, and they're surprisingly disciplined for a bunch of second years. I have to admit that I was just sort of humoring them when I started, but it's turned into kind of a nice project for me. I've spent some of the last few Saturdays in the library researching broom-based battle information, which of course Hermione had some fun with me about. Like, that seeing me in the library is like seeing her on the Quidditch pitch."

"I can understand that," said Harry. "You'd probably say the same thing if she suddenly started flying for fun."

"I probably would," conceded Ron. "Anyway, I'm getting pretty interested in the whole concept of combat flying, probably because there are elements of it that are a little similar to the kind of flying you do in Quidditch. And since I'm Quidditch-starved right now, this is the next best thing."

"Funny, I was planning on starting to teach it the week after next, and starting to research it myself later today. You could point me to the right books. Then again, I could just turn the class over to you for that."

"Hadn't thought of that," said Ron. "I suppose you could, since I've been teaching the second years. Of course, you should research it and know it anyway, but if you want me to demonstrate something or teach it, sure, I wouldn't mind. D'you want to go to the library and get started now?"

"No, not now, though I am going there. Hermione and I are going to do our Legilimency practice in a few minutes."

Ron nodded. "So, how's that going?"

"Pretty good," replied Harry, as they approached the castle entrance. "I feel like I'm getting better all the time. I'm improving both at viewing memories and discovering lies. Hermione and I are doing this thing lately where we always check each other, and we deliberately lie to each other every now and then, as a test to see if the other person catches it. But it can't be something the other person would know was a lie anyway. Like, I said I was taking the N.E.W.T.s very seriously, and she just looked at me like, you have to do better than that."

"Hard to think of anyone who needs N.E.W.T.s less than you," agreed Ron. "In the library, Hermione's always telling me I should study more Herbology or Transfiguration, to prepare for the N.E.W.T.s. To be honest, she's probably right, since in the winter and spring there'll be lots of Quidditch practice. She must have gotten through to Pansy, though, because Pansy's really serious now about studying. She's usually been so-so about it, like the rest of us except Hermione, but she's spending a lot of time in the library too."

"I hadn't known that in particular," said Harry, "but I had noticed that when we study together in the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, she seems pretty focused on the books. I just assumed she was always that way, since we'd never studied with her before."

"I don't think so," said Ron. "I don't have the impression that they were very big on studying." Harry understood that 'they' referred to Malfoy and whoever else studied with him; he couldn't imagine that Crabbe or Goyle ever actually studied.

"I assume that's something you'd prefer not to think about," said Harry.

The look on Ron's face told Harry that he had made a vast understatement. Glancing around to make sure they weren't being overheard, he said, "Don't get me wrong, I love her and I know she's totally changed. And I'd never say anything about it, because I know how it affects her. But you could say it was a bit of a hurdle to get past when we got together. So, yes, I really do try not to think about it." Harry guessed that Ron was admitting that the length of time it took for him and Pansy to become a couple was at least somewhat affected by that consideration. Given how close Pansy had been to Malfoy, Harry found he couldn't blame Ron at all.

They entered the library and found Hermione at a table in front of her usual pile of books, Pansy opposite with a much smaller pile. Subtly putting a hand on Pansy's shoulder and keeping his voice down so as not to draw the attention of Madam Pince, Ron said, "Hi, how's it going?"

She glanced up at them, putting her hand on top of his. "Not bad. You know, hard as usual. Except for Harry's class, of course, which is pretty easy."

"Glad I could help," responded Harry. "It's all part of my plan to be an extremely popular teacher."

"It seems to be working," said Hermione. "I assume you're here for..." She trailed off, not wanting to say the word 'Legilimency' at any volume. He nodded, and she picked up her books, put them into her bag, and got up as Ron sat next to Pansy.

"Where are Ginny and Neville?" asked Harry as they headed out of the library and towards Harry's office.

"I think they're studying in the common room," said Hermione. "Neither needed to use the library especially." Harry understood that most people preferred to study in the common room, as people could speak at whatever volume they wanted to. "Speaking of studying, it's interesting how it works out. You have the easiest schedule, but because of teaching you're the busiest. The only study-intensive classes you have are Transfiguration and Potions."

"And I can take it easy in Transfiguration, since I'm a good friend of the teacher," joked Harry.

"You were a friend of the teacher before, and it really didn't matter," she responded. "Anyway, it's not me you have to worry about, it's the N.E.W.T. I know, you don't care especially, but I do hope you'll at least manage an 'Acceptable.' If you become headmaster, it won't look good to the students if you failed one of the important N.E.W.T.s."

Harry thought it was funny that Hermione would think of that. "I think most students didn't know, and didn't care, how many N.E.W.T.s Albus got. They probably just assumed he got a lot, like I did. Maybe if I'm headmaster, people will assume I got a lot, and not research it."

She gave him a penetrating look. "I'm not trying to bother you, but I do wonder something... whenever it comes up about you being headmaster in the future, you seem kind of... I don't know, solemn, maybe. My impression was that you'd rather not think about it, or that you don't want to do it but think you will anyway. Am I right?"

They walked in silence as he mulled it over. Finally, he said, "The first, I guess. It's not so much that I mind the idea, it really is an honor. I think it's that I feel like being an Auror is what I want to do, and staying here is what I feel like I should do, the most logical thing to do. I remember talking to Ron after a fly, the day after Albus died. He said he was taking so long to let Pansy know how he felt because they were the only two of the six not paired up, and he wanted to be sure that if they did it, it was for the right reasons, not because it just seemed like the natural thing to do. I feel like if I decide to stay here, it should be because I want to, not because I feel like I should. If that makes any sense."

"I can definitely understand that," she assured him. "It is your life, after all. Maybe I shouldn't make jokes about it, that probably doesn't help."

"I don't think it matters," he said, as he opened the door to his office and saw Fawkes and Flora standing on his desk. "Hello, you two," he said, now smiling. Soon after Flora joined Hermione, the two phoenixes had taken to being present during Harry and Hermione's Legilimency sessions. "I bet I know what Fawkes would prefer I do."

She gave him a reproachful look. "You are joking, I hope. You know very well that he'd want you to do whatever made you happiest."

"I know," he said as they sat in their chairs. "I was mostly kidding. It's probably better to say that he'll be pleased if this is what I decide I want to do, since you and I would be spending a lot of time together."

"You should be completely kidding, since you know better." She opened his desk drawer with her wand, and the Pensieve floated out and landed at her side. She extracted a memory as usual, then asked, "So, who'll go first?"

"You go ahead," he said. "Are you going to try to view memories again?"

She nodded. "I want to keep working on that, it's good practice." He cleared his mind, and she pointed her wand at him. Soon he felt a memory playing in his head, of events that occurred during the trial in early September of the previous year in which Voldemort had invaded Harry's dreams, prompting him to find the first of the energy-of-love spells. After fifteen minutes, she changed her focus, and moved ahead to the first Hogsmeade weekend of that year. Harry remembered his conversation with Professor Dumbledore the day before the first Quidditch match. As he felt Hermione view it, he was again impressed by the fact that she could view it in much better detail than he could remember it himself. She quickly glanced at their lunchtime conversation and their lesson with Professor Dumbledore, and viewed in more detail his later conversation with Pansy. A few minutes later, Hermione put down her wand for a break.

"You really didn't take her very seriously, about her warning," she gently chided him. "It's interesting how I get your emotional perspective from these memories. I guess it's more accurate to say that you didn't take the threat seriously, you were sure there was nothing Malfoy could do to you."

He shrugged. "I wasn't really thinking about artifacts."

"It's that, but also that you didn't take threats very seriously in general. Ironically, now you do–at least, more than before–but there's quite a bit less that can threaten you."

"Probably artifacts, mostly," agreed Harry. "Not that I couldn't be killed any other way, but of course I've been studying lots of defenses against advanced Dark magic, both from books and working with Snape. I think I could deal with most of what they could throw at me. But it's hard to defend against artifacts. Like, what would I do against a Confundus Beam?"

"There must be some way to defend against it," said Hermione. "I guess I should try to research artifacts, at least the known ones, and defenses against them."

"No, I should do it. You're really busy now, especially since you're teaching ten hours a week as well as taking nine classes. Not that I'm not busy, but as you pointed out, I don't have that much homework."

"Well, I won't argue with you, but maybe I'll help you find the books, get started. So, are you ready to continue?"

Harry nodded, and she pointed her wand at him again; again he was calm, not resisting. After a minute of searching, she found where she had left off, at the point just before she had entered the room that day a year ago. In his mind, Harry saw Hermione proudly display and explain the new maps, and recalled how impressed he'd been. Then he saw Pansy ask Hermione why she'd never fallen in love with him, and Hermione's answer. As she answered, in his memory, he recalled what he had been thinking: that part of the reason he hadn't thought of her romantically was her bossiness and tendency to control, that he wouldn't want to live his life dealing with that. In the present, he saw her face fall, and realized with a start that she was experiencing the memory as he was. She put down her wand and withdrew from his mind, then looked off to Harry's left, her expression crestfallen.

He felt awful, but he paused, not knowing what to say. Tears came to her eyes, and in seconds she was sobbing, her head down. He wanted to hold her, but felt as though he shouldn't, considering that he was the one who had caused her distress. The phoenixes showed no reaction; Harry wondered what they were thinking.

Finally, he felt he had to say something. "Hermione, I'm so sorry–"

Through her sobs, she cut him off with a gesture. She started making an obvious effort to rein in her emotions. "It's not your fault," she said through the last of her tears. "We all have our thoughts, you can't blame yourself for that. Besides, you were right." As she said that, new tears seemed to threaten. "Most men wouldn't want that. I was lucky you and Ron put up with me being like that, even as a friend."

"Oh, come on, that's not true," he protested vigorously. "It's not like Ron and I didn't have our things that annoyed you. We all have things like that, at least I assume we do. I know I do, you know how unpleasant I was to deal with in fifth year, for example. Looking back on that, I could easily wonder how you put up with me. It wasn't a very nice thing of me to think, I just..."

"Never thought anybody would see what you thought," she finished for him. She paused a minute, her immediate emotional reaction having passed. Harry waited for her to speak, as she obviously had more to say; he fervently hoped that his friendship with her wouldn't suffer because of what had happened.

"I want to lie to you, and just say, 'it's okay, don't worry about it,' but I couldn't really lie to you anyway," she said.

He knew she wasn't finished, but cut in before she could continue. "Hermione, I'm hardly going to be checking you right now."

"I know, but you know it happens automatically sometimes in emotional situations, which this is," she pointed out. "Anyway, it hurts, I'm not going to deny that. And not because of some idea that I had a chance at you and missed it, of course. It's just because it's so true. It bothered Neville, even though he didn't say anything about it until the Skeeter thing happened, and he knew I was like that beforehand. It also hurts because it was one of the main things Skeeter used to hurt me, it very much has that association.

"But you have a right to your thoughts, and you shouldn't feel bad about it. That this happened is just because of what we're doing; humans aren't used to sharing their thoughts like phoenixes do. If you think something, you assume it'll go no further, and that's reasonable. You know I've read a few books about Legilimency; one of them said that doing what we're doing is much more intimate than being naked around someone, in some ways more intimate than sex. We don't tend to think about that aspect of it much, but it is true. It could destroy a relationship fast unless the people make efforts to make sure that it doesn't happen. That's another reason I didn't put you off and say everything was all right; you'd know soon enough that it wasn't, and it would just be worse. It can take the same kind of effort that maintaining a married relationship can take. We have to face up to that, and this is a good example of why."

He shook his head. "I'm sure you're right, I just don't feel like I'm good at dealing with this kind of thing. I mean, I'm still stuck on, 'I'm really sorry.' I feel terrible that I even thought that–"

"It was true. You can't keep apologizing for something you thought, something that was true."

"Maybe that's what I mean when I say I'm not good at dealing with it. It's hard to think about anything but that I feel bad for hurting you."

"Harry, do you want to help me?" she asked, raising her voice a little. "You can help me, or you can sit there feeling bad that I got hurt. It's up to you."

He felt as though she'd slapped him in the face, but it got his attention. "I'm sorry, I'll try." He focused on the situation, trying to be as rational as possible. After a minute, he said, "I do understand what you mean. You're right... I knew this was intimate, but I never really thought about it like this. I guess I only thought of it being intimate in a good way, like when we see memories of our friendship, how we love each other."

She nodded a little. "That's understandable, since there's far more of that kind of thing, and we tend to seek it out anyway. This is the kind of thing that comes up by accident. Harry... this doesn't matter, but I feel like I'm going to wonder if I don't ask you. Was that just a passing thought, or was it something you'd thought about consciously, more than once?"

Embarrassed but determined to be honest, he searched his memory. "I'm pretty sure that until that point, I'd never had a conscious thought like that. I guess when I had the thought, I assumed that it was the unconscious reason I'd never thought of you that way. Well, that's not true, obviously I'd thought about it. I don't think you could be friends like we were and never have thought about that. It's just that most of the time I was way too young, or focused on Cho, then worried about the idea of having a girlfriend. If I thought about it, it was a passing thought, and I never thought, 'oh, no way, because of such-and such.' It was more like, it didn't enter my mind much at all. I mean, at that point, I had barely thought about Ginny in that way either. It was your getting together with Neville that made me start thinking about having a girlfriend in the first place."

"I can understand why. And I'm sorry I was checking you." He had noticed, but decided not to say anything. "I was just afraid you might lie to me to spare my feelings, it would be a natural impulse if you'd had more of those kind of thoughts." She shook her head as if angry with herself, then continued, "This really shouldn't bother me, especially not this much. I love Neville, and I wouldn't trade him for anyone, including you. I'm not the same anymore, at least, I'm trying not to be. And it was just a passing thought." She looked at him, with a small smile, her expression a mix of emotions that seemed to include sadness and vulnerability. "So, do you think I can talk myself out of feeling bad?"

Already highly emotional because of what had happened, he felt intense sympathy for her, followed quickly by an equally intense feeling of love, stronger than he had ever felt before except for Ginny. Memories of their friendship flashed through his mind, all they had gone through together, suffered together, celebrated together. He knew how lucky he was to have her in his life. He looked at her, wanting her to know how he felt, and on an impulse silently asked Fawkes to send what he was feeling to Hermione through Flora.

A few seconds later, she smiled, and he could tell from her face that his message had been received loud and clear. She stood and hugged him; he held her tightly, pouring his feelings into it. "Thank you," she said, now holding him equally tightly. "I think I knew you felt that way, but actually feeling what you're feeling is a different thing altogether. It's so strange... I can feel how much you love me, how important I am to you." She paused, then added, "Well, I think you managed to talk me out of feeling bad, even without saying anything."

He smiled, wondering if it would be transmitted and she would feel it though she couldn't see it. "It's the energy of love."

She chuckled, continuing to hold him. "It really is. And there's something I want to say to you." He waited for her to continue, but she said nothing. Instead, he received an impression from Fawkes, a feeling of love similar to the one he'd sent out, along with an image of Hermione and Flora. The feeling was slightly different from what he would feel; he guessed that each person's feelings of love would feel a bit different, like voices or handwriting were different. One impression he got strongly from what she sent was that she felt connected to him in a way that she felt was very special. Not like a married relationship, but closer than even a close friend. He wasn't sure there was a word for it, but he knew he felt it too. He sent what he was feeling through Fawkes.

"Thank you," she said, her voice heavy with emotion. She gave him a last squeeze, then let go of him and sat back down, which he did as well. "I wasn't sure you felt exactly that way about me, I'm glad that you do. It certainly makes what happened before seem very minor by comparison."

"I'm glad," he said. "I guess it's just one of the dangers of Legilimency. Now I feel like I understand a little better what Professor Sprout was talking about a few weeks ago, when she mentioned that there could be privacy issues with Fawkes and Flora sending stuff back and forth. Of course, they're not going to send anything that might be hurtful to one of us, but just the idea that problems can happen when you don't have the normal privacy that people have."

"To tell you the truth, I had wondered if something like this might happen. One of the Legilimency books I read said that it's not at all uncommon for relationships to break down in the face of that kind of intimacy, whether they're romantic, friendship, or blood relationships. I like to think ours is stronger than most, but we can't be overconfident. Interestingly, I think part of what helps us is what you've been doing with Snape. You already got accustomed to a loss of your privacy, with the stress that goes with that. Making that mental adjustment is part of what's hard about this."

"You managed it pretty well, though," he pointed out.

She nodded her thanks. "Not that people can't, just that it's not easy. So, should we get back to it? I've done enough, you should practice now."

He agreed, and they started again. This time, he focused on trying to get into her mind through Occlumency barriers. They practiced for twenty minutes, then took a break, intending to go for ten more minutes before stopping. As they were about to start again, Harry's pendant blinked pink. Exchanging a look of mild surprise with Hermione, he answered it. "Pansy?"

"Hi, Harry. Can I talk to you for a few minutes?"

"Sure, I'm in my office with Hermione. Did you need to talk to me alone, or–"

"No, that's fine. I'll be there in a few minutes."

Harry's pendant stopped blinking. "That's interesting. I don't think she's ever called to ask to talk to me like that. I wonder what's up."

Hermione clearly had no idea. "Well, we'll find out in a few minutes. I guess we may as well stop now, then."

He nodded. "I don't know what made me think of this, but I wondered; are you worried that the time you spend teaching will affect your chances of getting ten Outstanding N.E.W.T.s?"

"It occurred to me, of course, and Professor McGonagall mentioned it to me the day before I started teaching, when we met to discuss the classes I'd be taking over. I'm not thrilled, obviously, but that's just the way it is. Even if they didn't need me for this, which they do, I'd do it anyway; it is good practice for next year. And... I'm sure you never thought you'd hear me say this, but now that I know what I'm going to be doing, it's less than crucial that I get all Outstandings. I still want it, of course, and I'll work as hard as I can to get it. But teaching has to come first."

"I guess that makes sense," he said. They were silent for a minute; Harry found himself wondering how it happened that a person, especially from such a young age, was motivated enough to spend so much time studying. He could barely be bothered to study enough to get acceptable marks, and he knew that there were far more students like him than like Hermione.

His train of thought was interrupted by a knock on the door. He and Hermione stood as he opened the door with his wand. Pansy walked in, followed by Thomas Dalton, the Slytherin sixth-year prefect. "Hi," said Thomas to Harry and Hermione.

They both greeted him, then Harry asked Pansy, "What's up?"

"There's a kind of a... situation," she started, looking uncertain as to exactly how to say what she wanted to say. "Thomas found out about it, and he came to me, but I'm not sure what to do either, so I wanted to talk to you. Both of you, I'm glad that you're here," she added to Hermione. "Not because you're teachers, of course, just because... well, I'll tell you after you hear what happened. First of all, I want you to promise not to repeat what we're going to tell you to anyone. Can you do that?" Harry nodded promptly; Hermione thought for a second or two, then did so as well. "Thomas, could you tell them what you told me?"

Thomas looked as though he wasn't happy about it, but spoke anyway. "I was looking for Blaise, I wanted to tell him something. This was about an hour ago, by the way. I figured he must be in his dormitory, so I thought I'd check there. I walked in and..." He took a deep breath, obviously uncomfortable. "Someone else was in there, they were... doing stuff. Robes off, underwear down, hands places... I'd rather not get a whole lot more specific, you get the idea."

Harry did, of course, but couldn't understand why Thomas appeared so bothered at a violation of the rules. "Well, it doesn't seem all that different from what goes on at the couples' places," he pointed out. "Why didn't they just go there? Or were they going to do more than that before they got caught?"

"There's one detail that Thomas hadn't gotten around to mentioning yet," explained Pansy. "The other person was a boy."

Harry and Hermione exchanged startled looks. "I don't know who it was," continued Thomas. "They were on a bed, and my coming in startled both of them. The other one seemed to be trying to hide, and he fell off the other side of the bed; I never saw his face. I saw enough," he added, with a look of disgust, "to know that he was an older student, probably a fifth or sixth year. I'd hate to think it was one of my dormitory-mates. To be honest, I'm just as happy not knowing. I'd have been even happier not to have walked in at all. I really didn't want to see that."

"I can really understand that," agreed Harry. "Oh, my God..." His first thought was to recall that Blaise had asked him for a hug, and he couldn't help wondering whether Blaise asked him for reasons other than what Harry had assumed. He felt thoroughly uncomfortable, at both that particular thought and the whole situation in general.

"Well, the fact that they're both boys really isn't relevant from the standpoint of the rules being broken," said Hermione reasonably. "Thomas, what would you have done if it had been a girl he was with?"

Thomas and Pansy looked surprised at Hermione's cavalier attitude, and Harry was as well. "I would have left in a hurry, like I did this time. Then I would have found Blaise later and talked to him, told him to be sure never to do it again, maybe made sure he knew about the couples' places. But I sure as hell don't want to talk to him about this."

Harry could understand that, too. "Just out of curiosity, Thomas, why didn't you report him?"

Thomas shrugged. "I thought about it, before I talked to Pansy. He'd be expelled, just like that; I know Snape doesn't like him, he usually treated him worse than other Slytherins. And I know that as a prefect, I'm supposed to... but I know, well enough, anyway, what he went through from the other four, for six years. Snape let it happen, the school let it happen. I think the school owes him a break or two. I just would really rather not have anything to do with it. I mean... I know it's illegal, Harry, but if you offered to do a Memory Charm on me, I wouldn't say no."

"Sorry," he said, empathizing with Thomas once again. "But I see what you mean about not reporting him, I wouldn't disagree. This is his last chance to have a decent year, I don't want to see him expelled. But why in the world would he do that?"

"People experiment, Harry," said Hermione, as if surprised he would ask the question. To his raised eyebrows, she rolled her eyes and added, "Okay, you didn't and I didn't, but some people do, when they're teenagers. It doesn't mean they're gay, maybe they were just curious. It could be anything, we have no idea."

Again, the other three seemed surprised at how casual she was about it. "I actually meant, why would he do it when he could be caught so easily," said Harry.

"Oh. That, I don't know," she admitted.

"I think I know," said Thomas. "He's been the only one in that dormitory since April. Probably no one but him's ever gone in there, I'd never done it before. It must be that he got so used to the idea that he just assumed that no one would ever go in there."

"So, what do you two think should be done?" asked Pansy.

"First of all, we should tell no one," said Harry firmly.

"But we have to tell McGonagall, don't we?" asked Hermione. "I mean, we are teachers, and you're a Head of House."

Harry shook his head. "Pansy and Thomas didn't come to us to report what happened to a teacher and Head of House. They came to us to get advice from friends. McGonagall might not expel him, but she would feel obligated to tell Snape, as Head of Slytherin House. Snape would want to expel Blaise; even if McGonagall wouldn't let him, what he would then do is start spreading it around, making sure the whole school knew. Remember what he did to Professor Lupin four years ago. That would be the same as expelling Blaise; his life would be so miserable that he'd have to leave. Not to mention, it would mark him for the rest of his life. The wizarding community is a small one; it could even get put on those new internet pages. Also, Thomas and Pansy came to us in confidence. If they'd wanted McGonagall to know, they'd have told her."

Pansy nodded. "It's not as though either of us is a friend of Blaise's or anything. But I agree with Thomas, he's suffered enough. He made a mistake, but he deserves another chance. So, what do we do about him? Not say anything, and hope he knows not to do it again?"

Harry received an image from Fawkes, sent by Hermione, of Harry and Snape sitting in Snape's office. The meaning was clear: she was pointing out that Snape would probably find out anyway, through viewing Harry's memories. He sent back the image, letting her know with an emotional impression that she shouldn't worry about it.

"Someone should talk to him," said Hermione, "and Harry, I know you won't want to, but you're the best person to do it. Thomas already said he doesn't want to, I have no relationship with him, and Pansy... doesn't either." Harry knew that her pause indicated that Pansy was probably the least well suited of the three to talk to Blaise. "You've at least talked to him, he seems to have a certain respect for you. I think he'll listen to you."

"What would I say?" asked Harry, feeling at a loss. "Stop fooling around with boys?"

Hermione sighed impatiently. "Harry, the fact that it was a boy has nothing to do with it. There's not supposed to be any intimate physical contact anywhere in the school; the couples' places are a well-known and understood exception to that. Just be nice, explain that you're not going to tell anyone, you just wanted to make sure he understood that he's not supposed to do that, and tell him about the couples' places. Who knows, he might not even know about them."

"Hermione," said a surprised Pansy, "It's, uh, nice that you're so open-minded about this kind of thing, but there's no way that two boys are going to go to the couples' places. Even if they went separately, there's way too much risk of being caught. They wouldn't be seen inside the place, but everyone knows who the couples are. If people see someone new going into or coming out of one, they'll wait to see the other one leave, out of curiosity. If Harry suggested that, and Blaise did it, he'd be found out very soon."

"Yes, you're right, I hadn't thought of that," admitted Hermione. "Well, Harry, just talk to him and make sure he knows not to do it. But please, don't make an issue out of the fact that it was another boy."

"Why not?" asked Harry incredulously. "How can you act like that doesn't matter? I mean, it's so..." He couldn't think of a word, but made a bodily gesture to indicate revulsion. Glancing at Thomas and Pansy, he could see that they agreed with him, especially Thomas.

"Harry," she said earnestly, "What if it had turned out that I liked girls? Would you have not wanted to be my friend anymore, because of that?"

"But you wouldn't have decided to–"

"People don't decide that," she said, her tone adding emphasis. "The Muggle world is discovering this, a lot faster than we are. I read a lot, Harry. Trust me when I say that some people are just this way naturally, they can't control who they're attracted to. Now, answer my question: if I liked girls..." She waited expectantly, eyebrows raised.

"No, of course I wouldn't not be your friend," he acknowledged. Nodding, she looked at Pansy, asking the same question without speaking.

Pansy looked discomfited. "Well, it would be weird, but yes, I agree with Harry. I think you know that, and that's why you asked." An unfamiliar thought flashed through Harry's head, and he quickly realized that he had unconsciously used Legilimency on Pansy. He felt her feeling of revulsion at the thought of Hermione being attracted to women, and Pansy's understanding that she would never have become friends with Hermione had she even suspected such a thing. He understood that Pansy had lied partly because she didn't want to hurt Hermione's feelings, and partly because it could provoke an argument with Hermione that Pansy didn't want to deal with. Harry found he didn't blame Pansy for lying, and hoped that Hermione didn't get the same information he did.

Seeming not to have, Hermione nodded. "I certainly hope so, anyway. People usually start thinking differently, getting past the initial reaction, when it's a close friend or family member. They put more effort into understanding it. But for now, I'll just say one other thing: even if they could choose, there's nothing wrong with it, because it doesn't hurt anyone. Yes, it's... yucky, and my gut reaction about two women would be the same. But nobody's making us do anything we don't want to do. If they're not hurting anyone, they should be left alone to do what they want. If you ask Albus– well, if you could ask Albus," she quickly amended, because of Thomas's presence, "he would say the same thing."

Harry was having a hard time grasping this, as he had always simply assumed that it was wrong, and that was all there was to it. Thinking about it, he realized that this idea had mainly been passed to him by the Dursleys; he had agreed with it because of his visceral reaction to it. But he couldn't dismiss or argue with what Hermione had said, and she had a particular impact when she mentioned Dumbledore. Harry resolved to ask him that night.

"Well, they shouldn't do it in places they could be walked in on," pointed out Thomas.

"Yes, of course," agreed Hermione, "but that goes for normal couples too. You just would have reacted differently if it had been a girl with him."

"Yeah, I'd have said, 'good for him,'" said Thomas. "But this... sorry, Hermione, this is just too strange."

"I understand, it just takes time to get past that kind of reaction. Thanks for letting us know, Thomas. We can't give you a Memory Charm, but you don't have to think about it anymore."

Thomas nodded, understanding that he'd been dismissed. "I should get on back to the library," said Pansy. "You can help Harry with what he's going to say." She and Thomas left, and Harry and Hermione were alone again.

"How can you be sure that Snape won't do anything, if he finds out by viewing your memories?" she asked. "It's his House, he'll be furious at you, at all of us, for not telling him."

"Maybe, but he knows he can't use this information," argued Harry. "I asked him about this when he used the information he got from me to decide to kill Skeeter. He said he accepted the idea as a general principle, but that circumstances could cause exceptions to be necessary. This is definitely not like that, nothing important is at stake. He won't like it, but he won't do anything."

Her face reflected her doubt. "I hope you're right. Now, would you like some advice on what you should say to Blaise?" He just nodded, feeling that to say yes would be an understatement.

Two hours later, Hermione entered his office and sat down. "So, how did it go?"

"As well as could be expected," he replied. "He was pretty scared. He thought that I wanted to talk to him as a professor; it took me a few minutes to convince him that it was unofficial, that I was just a student. I told him that he needed to be more careful, that other people can walk into the dormitories."

"Did he say anything?"

"Surprisingly, yes, a lot, for him. He insisted, in kind of a panicked way, that it was the other boy who had 'started it,' as he put it. I told Blaise that I didn't know who the other boy was and didn't want to know, and he managed not to tell me. He just said–I should say that there was a point when he seemed to be trying to explain what had happened, not that I asked him. He kept pausing, saying a few disjointed words, interrupting himself, it was almost amazing I understood anything he said at all. What he seemed to be trying to get across was it was the other boy who initiated everything. Which I can believe, given Blaise's personality; I can't see him doing something like that. Basically, he said that the other boy started touching him, and it felt good, and one thing led to another. At one point, he said, 'I'm not like that,' as if it was important that I believe him. Also, he said, 'no one's ever...' He didn't finish that sentence either, but even I figured out what that meant."

She nodded sympathetically. "He'd never had any sexual contact at all, so it was easy for him to go along with what was happening."

"Yeah, but I hadn't had any until late last year, and I wouldn't have gone along with someone trying to do that."

"No, most people wouldn't," she agreed. "I think what's happened to him at Hogwarts comes into this somewhere. I mean, I don't know–no one can know except him, and maybe not even him–but he probably had an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Whatever abuse Malfoy and the others dished out over the years was something he couldn't control; he was at their mercy, at the mercy of his situation. He probably got used to the idea that he had no control, over anything. Things just happened. So, maybe it caused him to be very slow to say 'no' to anything in general, to assert himself."

He shrugged. "I don't know much about psychology, but what you say sounds like it makes sense. It sounds like you mean he had weak sales resistance."

"Yes, I don't think they have that phrase in the wizarding world, but that's close to what I mean. I'm a little surprised you're familiar with the phrase."

"My uncle Vernon liked to say it about Petunia. He would say very approvingly that she had excellent sales resistance."

"Not only sales," muttered Hermione. Harry assumed she was referring to Petunia's reluctance to help him a month ago.

"Do you think I did the right thing?" he asked. "I mean, telling Blaise not to tell me who it was. What if he approaches some other student the same way, maybe somebody younger..."

She shook her head. "That's really unlikely. This only happened because Blaise has a dormitory to himself, which will never happen again. There's just no opportunity for that sort of thing to happen. If we're going to worry about what happens in dormitories, I'd rather worry about the kind of thing that happened to Blaise for six years."

"Yes," he agreed. "I've wondered about that, how that was allowed to happen. I don't wonder why Snape let it happen, he has this 'the strongest will survive' attitude. I do wonder why Albus let it happen. I mean, four sons of Death Eaters in one dormitory with someone like Blaise, it wouldn't take a genius to figure out what would happen. Why didn't he do something about it?"

"I'm not sure what he really could do," said Hermione. "It's hard to regulate what goes on behind the doors of a dormitory. There are magical monitoring devices which are the equivalent of Muggle cameras, but then you start getting into privacy issues, and you know how Albus would have been about that."

"Yes, I know. But you'd think there was something he could do... warn Malfoy, something like that." Harry knew he was grasping at straws, but he hated to think that the kind of abuse that Blaise had suffered couldn't be prevented.

"He might have, for all we know," said Hermione. "But the other thing you have to keep in mind is that the Head of House is ultimately in charge of what goes on in any House. Albus might not have wanted to step on Snape's toes, so to speak, especially if there was little or nothing that could be done anyway. We know Snape didn't care, but even if he had... Well, you're a Head of House. If you thought four students in a dormitory were bullying and abusing the other one, what would you do?"

Harry thought about it for a minute. "I'd keep an eye on them, and ask the other teachers to do so also. One of the things we talk about in the staff room is what seems to be happening among the students. Between classes and seeing students in the corridors and in the Great Hall, the teachers have a pretty good idea of what goes on. If I thought there was bullying, I'd talk to the ones I thought were doing it, and ask them. I'd know if they were lying, of course, and–"

"But not every teacher can do Legilimency," pointed out Hermione.

"Yes, but you asked what I would do. Anyway, if they lied, I'd tell them I knew they were lying, that bullying was unacceptable, and I'd warn them that if it continued, they would end up being expelled. And I'd do it, too. Not immediately, I'd give them a few chances, a few owls to the parents. But eventually, if it didn't stop, I'd expel them."

She looked at him sympathetically. "I suppose you're thinking about when you used to get bullied by Dudley."

He nodded. "That stopped after I came to Hogwarts, of course, he was too afraid to do it then. But before then, there were plenty of times when I'd run for my cupboard, happy that it was so small that he couldn't get in there. So, yeah, you could say I'd be pretty strict about that."

"Is that something you think about much? Do you try to work out whether that's happening or not?"

"I don't know how conscious it is," he replied, "but I'm pretty sure that if there was any sign of it, I would've noticed. I don't see it much over the whole school, really. Based on last year, I might have wondered about a few of the Slytherin fourth and fifth years, but I don't see any signs this year. I wonder if it has to do with people trying to study the energy of love."

"It wouldn't surprise me," she agreed. "I've also noticed that things seem to be calmer than usual. I wonder partly if that's because Malfoy's gone, and so is his influence. Not that there are no bullies anymore, but they can't be so open about it."

Near the end of Hermione's sentence, Harry felt his hand tingle. Just as Hermione finished speaking, he heard Ginny say, "I'd like to talk to you when you're finished, no hurry." He relayed the message to Hermione, who got up. "I think we were almost finished anyway, tell her to go ahead." Harry gave Ginny the message and put down his hand. "I think you did fine with Blaise," Hermione assured him. "It wasn't easy, I would have been uncomfortable too. See you later."

Ginny walked in a minute after Hermione left, and gave Harry an enthusiastic hug and kiss. She sat down next to him and held his hand as she spoke. "It's strange... the way the privacy situation is, every moment alone with you is precious, but after we've both graduated, it won't be. I wonder if we'll take it for granted after a while."

"At some point, I imagine we would," he said. Sensing that his answer seemed to have disappointed her, he added, "Not that it still wouldn't be important, of course. Just that, for example, if we couldn't eat for a few days we'd be starved, but it wouldn't mean that we... okay, maybe that's a bad example. But you know what I mean."

"You're not making me feel any better," she said teasingly. "I know you're right, of course. At some point you and I will be in the house doing different things, alone but not thinking about the other one especially, like Mum and Dad do now. But I still want us to be obnoxiously affectionate, even if it annoys the children."

"We could tell them it's important to the energy of love," he joked. "They'd believe me, since I'm the one that discovered it."

"Assuming we both make it that far."

He raised his eyebrows; it wasn't like her to be so pessimistic. "Are you thinking about the thing with the wasps?"

She shrugged dispiritedly. "Not just that, but the ones before, and the ones to come. I know, I shouldn't say that. That night," and he understood that she meant the night he told her he was in love with her, "I said we had to not think about the dangers, just dive into it. I was right, it's just hard to do all the time. Sometimes I feel like when we talk about the future, about children, we're just tempting fate."

He leaned over and put an arm around her shoulders, squeezing tightly. "I think we'll make it," he said reassuringly. "Somehow I just think we will."

She leaned against him. "I know, I'm sure you're right. Most of the time, anyway." After a minute of silence, she leaned over and kissed him. "I love you."

"I love you," he said.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't be like this. There's all these burdens on you, and sometimes I feel like I just add one more."

He shook his head vigorously, and ran a hand through her hair. "You're what makes all the burdens bearable. The others too, of course, but especially you."

She smiled at him, conveying her thanks. After another minute, she asked, "How did the Legilimency go?"

He chuckled mirthlessly. "Funny you should ask that. She ran across a passing thought I had during a memory she was viewing, last year when she gave us the maps. I'd forgotten I'd thought this, but when Pansy asked Hermione why she'd never fallen in love with me, I thought that maybe I hadn't thought of her that way because of how bossy and controlling she was."

Ginny winced. "Oh, poor Hermione. I mean, the problem is, of course, that it's not as though what you thought was unreasonable."

"She said that too. But, still..."

She nodded. "It had to have really hurt. I bet she broke down." He nodded, grimacing. She took his hand. "Funny, I feel sorry for you. More for her, of course, but it's you I'm with right now. It must have made you feel really bad to feel responsible for hurting her like that, even though you really didn't do anything wrong." She looked at him in a way that suggested she was about to say something she didn't want to say. "You know, sometimes I really envy Hermione. She has this connection with you that I can't have. You can communicate through the phoenixes, know through them what the other one is feeling. You do Legilimency, which lets you get really close, like you know each other's minds. Sometimes I... resent it a little, I feel bad that I can't have that with you. I feel as though the advice Albus gave you, not to do Legilimency with me, wasn't worth the loss of what I could have with you. But then something like this happens, and it reminds me again why he said that. I'm not sure I could deal with it if you had that kind of thought about me, and I found out about it."

"I would never–"

"I know," she interrupted him, squeezing his hand. "We haven't really had a big fight yet. But we will get into fights, no couple never fights. I'd hate to accidentally run across what you were thinking during a fight."

"Maybe the energy of love will stop us from getting into fights," he half-joked.

She chuckled. "That would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath. So, are you and Hermione okay now?"

He nodded solemnly. "Fortunately, she doesn't hold it against me. She kept saying I was right, which only made it worse. I think what made her feel better finally was, ironically... there was a lot of emotion in the situation, and I focused on how much I loved her, and sent her that through the phoenixes. That made her, both of us, I guess, feel better."

"I can imagine," responded Ginny with mild sarcasm. At Harry's surprised look, she said, "Come on, Harry, I just got through telling you that I envied her that. What you did with her is exactly, exactly what I wish you could do with me. You didn't necessarily have to tell me that, you could have just said you patched it up and everything was fine."

He looked at her intently, puzzled. "Are you saying you don't want me to tell you things?"

She sighed. "No, it's just the timing. There are certain times when it may be better not to say certain things."

"But how am I supposed to know which times those are? And also, if I start not saying things because I'm worried that it'll upset you, then I'm afraid I may end up not saying things I should be saying. Does that make any sense?"

"I don't know," she said, frustrated. "Maybe you should just go ahead and say them, I'll get upset sometimes, and you can learn that way."

"Look, that's not fair, you know I don't want to upset you. But it's like you're asking me to read your mind or something–"

"It's not reading my mind, it's just understanding the situation, understanding how I'm feeling. Remember, Albus said that we have to be able to see through each other's eyes, more or less, to be able to–"

She stopped talking as Harry's pendant made a sharp noise, the one he had been taught meant that Bright had touched his ring, signaling that he was under attack. The particular tone meant that he was in his living room.

Harry had discussed with his friends what would be done in this situation; they had made it clear they wanted to be with him, as quickly as possible. Phoenixes would take them, but he would escort one person in his presence and close enough to him that he would lose no time in taking them. Ginny leaped out of her chair as Harry stood; they drew their wands and put their left arms on each other's shoulders.

Instantly, they were in Bright's living room. Bright and his wife were sitting on their sofa, and Killing Curses were headed for both of them; the one aimed at Bright clearly had been issued first, a half-second ahead of the other. Again acting as had already been discussed, Harry put up a shield around Bright while Ginny did so for his wife. Harry turned toward the source of the Curses, and saw Voldemort for a tenth of a second. As Harry whirled to face him, however, Voldemort disappeared with a popping sound. Harry managed not to vocalize his frustration that he had not only not caught Voldemort, but had not had a decent look at him to try to work out where he kept the device which allowed him to disappear when unconscious.

As Bright and his wife started to recover from their shock, Ron and Pansy arrived with Fawkes, and a second later, Neville and Hermione arrived holding Flora's tail as two Aurors burst into the room. "Where are they?" asked one of the Aurors.

"He's gone, it was just Voldemort," said Harry, to the Aurors and his friends. After another few seconds, six more Aurors came through the front door, including Kingsley; Harry knew that these had been the ready-status Aurors. One of the first two to arrive spoke into her pendant, giving the all-clear signal.

"It was only Voldemort, he Disapparated out," reported Harry to Kingsley. "Two Killing Curses, one for each. Ginny happened to be with me; another half a second would have been too late. He Disapparated before I had a chance to do anything."

Kingsley nodded his acknowledgment. "Minister, Mrs. Bright, are you all right?"

"I daresay I will be, once my heart returns to its normal rate," said a shaken Bright. His wife just nodded. "He just Apparated in, as if he knew somehow exactly where we were in the house. Granted, the living room is a good guess, but... I just touched the ring reflexively. He sent the Curses at us very quickly, perhaps a second after he arrived."

Kingsley looked at Harry. "You six, go to the meeting room near the detection area. I'll be along shortly."

Harry turned to head for the fireplace, but Bright spoke before he moved. Looking as though he wasn't quite sure what to say, he paused for a second, then said, "Harry, Ginny... thank you very much."

"No problem," said Harry, as Ginny nodded. He walked to the fireplace, exiting after Ron and Pansy.

They had just sat down in the meeting room when Kingsley entered, followed by McGonagall, who Harry assumed had been taken there by Flora. Kingsley sat at one end of the table; McGonagall, the other. "First of all," said Kingsley, looking at Harry and Ginny, "and needless to say, but... well done."

"Thanks," they said, in unison. "The fact that he left so quickly kind of surprised me," added Harry. "Was that because I showed up, or do you think he was he planning to do that anyway?"

"It's a good question," said Kingsley. "We kept it a closely held secret that you would be guarding him, so Voldemort may not have known. He might have suspected, of course, and done what he did partly to see whether it would get you there or not. But I see what you mean; that was the first time we've seen him run away from a fight before it even started. I doubt he would have run away if not for your showing up."

"I agree," said McGonagall. "I assume this means that Harry will have to create an anti-Apparation plot around the Minister's home."

"It looks that way," agreed Kingsley. "We had thought the one that was there might keep Voldemort out, but apparently not."

"I also wonder why he didn't try at night," said Harry. "When we started this, we talked about the fact that it would be the best time for him to try, since being asleep would slow me down by at least a second or two."

"We'll be wondering about that as well," said Kingsley. "We have to wonder whether this was a totally serious attempt, or an attempt at intimidation."

"I'll bet it seemed serious to Bright," put in Ron. "From what Harry said after we got here, he was a split second away from being dead."

"That's part of why I said 'totally' serious," said Kingsley. "Clearly he would have killed him if Harry hadn't shown up, but the point is that he probably could have done it in a way with a better chance of success. Unfortunately, we can't really know his motives, just take what may be poor guesses."

"So, if I put down a new plot, then the only way Voldemort can get to him at home is to overpower the Aurors."

"Yes," nodded Kingsley, "and that would give you plenty of time to get to Bright before he did, so it's rather unlikely he'll try that. No, after the new plot, I suspect that the Minister will be quite safe, at least from direct attack. We still have to worry about other things, like remote-control methods such as the wasps that almost got you, that kind of thing. Of course, that's not really your department."

"So, from now on," clarified Hermione, "he'll have to take Fawkes if he gets that signal."

"From the Minister's home, yes," said Kingsley. "He can still Apparate to the Minister's office, where of course an attempt is much less likely."

They talked for another ten minutes, and it was decided that Harry would put down the plot the next day at five o'clock, after his last class. McGonagall and the six decided to return to Hogwarts via the Owl Office fireplace, rather than use the phoenixes. When asked "What about safety?" by Ron, McGonagall's deadpan reply was, "Oh, with the six of you around, I feel quite safe." Ron nodded, acknowledging her point that any attack other than a major ambush was likely to fail against the seven of them.

* * * * *

Having been notified by McGonagall of what had happened, Snape summoned Harry to his office for a session twenty minutes after his return. Snape explained that he was planning to request a session later that evening anyway, so it was fortuitous that he would have the opportunity to view what happened.

After having taken the usual time to get in the proper state of mind, Harry entered Snape's office and sat down. Snape started viewing, and put down his wand for a moment when he finished viewing both the incident and its aftermath. "Do you have any opinion," asked Harry, "on whether it was 'totally' serious, like Kingsley mentioned?"

"Any opinion of mine would be no less speculation than yours or Mr. Shacklebolt's," said Snape. "Though I believe he feels there are more likely to be active guards at night, when the need for them is more clear. He did take something of a chance by simply doing what he did. I would speculate that he was confirming that you would come, and testing your reaction time."

When no further comment was forthcoming from Harry, Snape resumed viewing Harry's memories. He started with that day, viewing Harry's Legilimency session and the emotional difficulties it caused. Then Pansy's interruption, and her and Thomas's entry and relating of what had happened with Blaise. Harry saw Snape's eyes widen and a scowl form, but he was silent and continued viewing. He then viewed Harry's conversation with Blaise, and put down his wand when it was finished.

Harry looked up to see Snape looking at him with considerable and undisguised anger; Harry was surprised, since Snape normally repressed such reactions even when the fact that he was having them was clear. "I shall leave for the headmistress the lecture about a teacher, a Head of House no less, who so flagrantly disregards the rules. I will, however, promptly expel Mr. Zabini, though not until he informs me of the identity of the other... perverted individual involved in this disgusting affair."

"You can't do that!" Harry almost shouted.

Now Snape did shout. "Do not presume to tell me what I can and cannot do!" Harry quickly reached for his wand and soundproofed the room. "Expelling both is what I absolutely should do, for the protection of the other students!"

"You don't give a damn about the protection of other students!" Harry shouted back. "If you did, you would never have let what happened to Blaise happen for six years!"

"And how do you suggest I should have prevented it?" asked Snape smugly. "If I had known he was a pervert, I could have informed the other Slytherins, who no doubt would have left him alone out of disgust."

"Yes, I'm sure they would have," said Harry sarcastically. "But you know very well you can't tell anyone, you can't use this information. You only got it from viewing my memories, you wouldn't have known otherwise. You just can't use any information you get from this."

"I have used such information before–"

"Yes, you gave me a Memory Charm and sent me to the restaurant so you could pretend to be me and kill Skeeter," interrupted Harry, his voice raised again. "I know that she knew too much and was dangerous, but it was still McGonagall's decision. But this is nothing like that, and you know it. It isn't important to the Order, nothing is at stake from two boys touching each other in an empty dormitory. You wouldn't be this worked up if one of them had done the Cruciatus Curse on the other! It's only because you hate homosexuals–"

"Why are you arguing with me?" thundered Snape, who Harry feared was on the verge of losing his equilibrium. "It disgusts you! I could feel it in your memory! You find what they did disgusting, as well you should! You should be pleased that they'll be expelled!"

"I tried to do," said Harry, trying to calm himself, "what I thought Albus would have done. You know perfectly well that he wouldn't have expelled them. If I'd wanted them expelled, I would've gone to you myself. And yes, I do find it kind of revolting, but they didn't hurt anyone."

"Yes, they did; they hurt each other," snarled Snape. "If they are told that such behavior is acceptable, they will continue it, and it will harm all of society in the long run. There is a reason why such activity is viewed with disgust by wizarding society. Or perhaps you would like to see this occur in all dormitories, of all Houses?"

"I'd rather it was that than bullying," responded Harry. "Anyway, you can't expel them. You have to act as you would if you knew nothing about this."

"They will be expelled!" shouted Snape. "I will not have perverts in my House!"

"You can't expel them!" said Harry, raising his voice again despite his attempts not to. "You should never have known about this in the first place. The reason we do this, in case you've forgotten, is to keep you viable as a spy against Voldemort. That's the important part of all this. What happened today just isn't important, not in the big scheme of things. You would recognize that if you weren't so emotional about it."

Snape gazed at Harry coldly. "They will be expelled," he repeated.

Harry gave Snape an equally cold look in response. "You need McGonagall's permission to do that, and I'm going to make sure you don't get it. So if you want to expel Blaise, you'd better do it in the next five minutes. If you'd like to come with me to McGonagall's office to make your case, fine. But I'm going."

He waited for a second to see if Snape would follow or not. Finally, his face a mask of barely controlled rage, Snape stood. They walked out the door, into the Potions dungeon, and to McGonagall's office.

Once there, Snape spoke first, giving what Harry knew to be a highly distorted and selective view of what had happened. Harry managed to interrupt only twice, though he knew he would get his turn. Finally, he did, and told his story, McGonagall listening silently.

"Professor Snape," she said firmly, "I can very much understand why you wish to see them expelled, though I feel that expulsion is a rather harsh penalty for such a first offense–"

"We have no idea how many offenses may have occurred!" shouted Snape. "I must conduct an interrogation–"

"Professor Snape!" McGonagall stood and glared at him. "You indeed have quite an emotional view of this, if you have forgotten my well-known aversion to being interrupted." Snape remained silent, though clearly furious. "I mean that it is a first offense for our purposes. You may recall that last year when Malfoy was being disciplined for the Quidditch incident, only established prior offenses were considered, even though we all understood he had committed many more. You did not object at that time.

"As I was saying, while I understand your wish to see them expelled, unfortunately, Professor Potter is correct. Information you receive from your arrangement with him must be considered confidential. It has no connection to the functioning of the school per se, but since I know about the situation, I must abide by these guidelines as well."

She leaned over and stared at Snape, clearly trying to impress on him how serious she was. "You will tell no one of this, Professor. You will question no one, and you will act as you would have had you not known this." She resumed her seat, looking at Snape appraisingly; Harry wondered if she was trying to decide whether Snape would follow her instructions.

Snape was still furious, but trying to control himself. "And what is to stop Zabini from turning the seventh year boys' dormitory into a den of perversion?"

Harry cut in before McGonagall could answer. "Oh, come on, you saw my talk with him. The whole thing wasn't his idea, and he was scared to death by being caught. There's no way he's going to do it again."

"And supposing he decides he liked it?" Snape challenged him. "He was engaged in quite willful activity when he was walked in on."

"I will place a monitoring device in the dormitory," decided McGonagall, to Harry's dismay. "It will record images only if anyone other than Mr. Zabini enters the dormitory, or if there is any magical activity. That should allay your concerns about any repetition of this incident."

Snape looked as though he felt it was barely adequate, but it was too much for Harry. "We can't just trust him not to do it again? I mean, Albus wouldn't have done this, violated his privacy like this–"

"You just heard me say, Professor, that the device will only record if something unauthorized is happening. After what he did, he has forfeited any reasonable expectation of privacy; I think this is more than fair." Harry didn't think so, but held his tongue. "Professor Snape, you may go. I have a few more things to say to Professor Potter."

Snape headed out, then paused at the door. "When you are finished, Professor Potter, I would like to finish the session we started." After what had happened, Harry was surprised that Snape would want to, as he was clearly still very angry. Harry just nodded, and Snape left.

McGonagall regarded Harry solemnly. "I would like to know, Harry, why you did not tell me of this."

"Pansy and Thomas came to me in confidence," he said. "They didn't come to me because I'm a teacher, or a Head of House. They did it because they wanted advice from a friend, and they thought that since I had... well, not a relationship with Blaise, but as much of one as anyone does, that I could help."

"They may have come to you as a friend, but you cannot separate your roles as student, friend, teacher and Head of House so easily," she said. "You do have a responsibility to the school, to the welfare of the students. I admit I am concerned that this other student may attempt to do the same thing with a younger boy. I know, there will not be a similar opportunity, but I would still feel better at least knowing who it was. Failing to even allow Mr. Zabini to tell you the name was not in the best interest of Hogwarts."

"I would have let him tell me, maybe even asked him, but I didn't want Professor Snape to know. It's bad enough that he knows about Blaise, and I was mainly thinking about what he did to Remus at the end of the third year. Albus instructed him not to tell anyone about Remus, but he just disobeyed it, because he was angry. He's angry here, too. I don't have a lot of confidence that he's going to follow the instructions you just gave him."

"That is my worry, not yours," she informed him. "While I am not as... emotionally invested as Professor Snape in this kind of matter, I have enough difficulty in tacitly approving of encounters which take place in the couples' places. I am particularly disturbed at the idea of this kind of thing happening between students of the same gender."

"Albus wouldn't have cared–" he started to point out, but was quickly interrupted.

McGonagall stood, eyes ablaze. "I am not Albus!" Her voice was raised only a little above normal, but her tone and eyes made her anger clear. She glared at him for a few seconds, then seemed to recover herself, and sat back down. "That will be all, Professor," she said abruptly, looking at a document on her desk. Harry hesitated, understanding that he had made her very angry, but not completely understanding how he had done it. After a few uncomfortable seconds, he turned and left.

Walking away from her office, he wanted to talk to all of his friends, but knew he should only talk to Hermione and Ginny, since a lot of what had happened had to do with Snape, and their arrangement. But he couldn't talk to them at the moment, because Snape had asked that their session resume. Am I in any emotional condition to do that? wondered Harry. He approached Snape's office, then stopped for a minute to try to summon a loving state of mind. It was very difficult, considering what had just happened, both with McGonagall and Snape. He tried, and did his best.

He entered Snape's office, and sat down. Without a word, Snape pointed his wand at Harry, and images started to flash in his mind. He saw himself and Ginny, in his Hogwarts quarters, naked, on his bed...

Harry looked into Snape's eyes, and found what he saw very disturbing. Not only was Snape still very angry, but there was a gleam in his eyes, as though he was enjoying what he was doing, for all the wrong reasons. Making an impulsive decision, Harry grabbed his wand and shoved Snape out of his mind.

Snape looked at Harry in disbelief. "You're not going to do that," said Harry. He'd had almost no chance to think about it, and he knew it could have serious consequences, but he strongly felt that it was the right thing to do.

Snape glared at Harry, anger mounting again. "I can look at anything I want! This was explained to you–"

"Not this, not now," Harry interrupted him, adding to Snape's anger. "The only reason you're looking at this right now is because you want to embarrass me. You're angry with me, so you want me to feel embarrassed at that kind of thing being viewed, and enjoy the feeling. That's not what this is about, and I'm not going to let you do it."

"You must," insisted Snape. "You agreed to this, you agreed to allow anything to be viewed. There were no conditions, no stipulations."

"There's one that's implied, and that's what Muggles call 'good faith,'" replied Harry. "This is to help you cope with everyday life. That's why I'm doing it, that's why you're doing it. It is not so you can enjoy my embarrassment. I don't think enjoying my embarrassment is helping you, but even if it was, it wouldn't be acceptable anyway. For me to do what I do, I have to have a certain amount of affection for you. Hard as that seemed at first, I have managed it. But your doing something like this jeopardizes that. You can't do something to me that I know is malicious."

"You talk about me being malicious," sneered Snape. "You know how I feel about perverts, and you go out of your way to protect them!"

Voice slightly raised, Harry cut in before Snape could continue. "Nothing I did was to deliberately hurt you, and you know that. You would never have even known about this if it wasn't for our arrangement, this had nothing to do with you. I have to do what I would normally do even if you couldn't see my memories. Not only in private with Ginny, but in situations like this, or even when talking about you to Ginny or Hermione. You know that, too. This is just because you're angry right now. I understand that, but what you're doing is destructive, and I won't allow it." Harry stood and took a step to the door, then paused before leaving. "The next time you call, I'll assume it's because you're ready to do this properly, the way it's supposed to be done." He could see nothing on Snape's face but anger, but figured that it wasn't surprising. He opened the door and left.

Mentally exhausted, he headed for his own office. He held up his hand, and asked Ginny to find Hermione and for them both to meet him there. She said she would, and he was only waiting a few minutes in his office before they arrived. He conjured a third chair, and as they sat, he said, "Boy, I can't wait for this day to be over."

"I was hoping it wasn't quite over yet," said Ginny. Harry knew she was referring to their weekly visit to his quarters, which they usually did on Sunday evening.

"I hate to say it, but I'm not sure tonight's a good night for that," he said sadly. Ginny looked at him quizzically, and he told them about what had happened; both meetings with Snape, and the one with McGonagall in between. They shook their heads at least twice each throughout the story, and Ginny was angry by the time he finished.

"I can see why you're not keen on going to the quarters tonight, I wouldn't be either," she said, adding, "Bastard. It's bad enough that that kind of thing has the possibility of being viewed at all, but the idea that he'll do it maliciously is really something else, Like you said to him, that wasn't part of the deal. He really did abuse it. What is his problem with gays, anyway? I've never seen anyone get like that."

"Maybe he 'experimented' when he was younger, and hates himself now for having done it," said Hermione, half-seriously.

Harry chuckled humorlessly. "He views this memory and hears you say that, he'll go ballistic."

"I don't care," said Hermione defensively. "Okay, granted, I'm not the one that has to be around when that happens, but you know that we have to be able to say anything we would normally, as if he weren't listening. So, you're just going to wait for him to signal you again? Do you really think he'll behave appropriately next time?"

Harry shrugged. "He'd better, or I'm stopping it again. I really don't have any choice; I'm angry with him too, for doing that. I'm trying to be as understanding as I can about it, because I know his situation and how hard it is for him. It's probably pretty hard for him to deal with it if he gets really angry. But I'm exactly the person he's not supposed to take it out on. I have to think that once he has some time to work this through, he'll realize it, and do what he's supposed to do next time. I hope so, anyway. Of course, I plan on asking Albus and the other Snape for advice tonight. I hope they tell me something useful."

"I have a feeling they will," said Hermione. "I must say, I knew Snape wouldn't be happy about the Blaise thing, but I never thought he'd react quite like that. He's really irrational, not only for the thing with you just now, but even trying to use the information he got from you when it wasn't that important. He should know better, he would if he weren't so emotional about it."

"And I managed to tick McGonagall off, too," said Harry, annoyed at himself. "I'd like to know how I did that." Taking in Hermione's incredulous expression, he sarcastically added, "Okay, and if you could tell me without making me feel like a total moron, that'd be even better." To her wounded look, he said, "Come on, you were looking at me like you couldn't believe I was so stupid. I've had a long day, and not really fun recently."

Hermione sighed, apparently trying especially hard to be tolerant. "Sorry, it just seems so obvious. You compared her to Albus, twice in the same conversation. That has to be a sensitive spot for her. You criticized her actions by saying that Albus wouldn't have done it that way. Considering how you feel about him, that's a lot like saying to her that she's doing poorly, because she made decisions he wouldn't have. It's hard for her, taking the position of someone who was legendary and as well-loved as he was. She's bound to compare herself to him, and feel she comes up short. And there you are, vocally confirming what she probably fears. And this is coming from the person who she feels is going to be the next Dumbledore, so to speak, stronger than he was and even more well-loved than he was. She probably feels sometimes like she's a temporary and insignificant figure, a placeholder between two great headmasters, one past, one future. But she has to do what she feels is best, even if it's different from what Albus would have done. For her to react like that, what you said must've really hurt her."

Harry looked down, upset that he hadn't seen it. "Today seems to be my day for that. Both of you, then her. I wonder what Professor Trelawney would say about my astrological chart for today."

Hermione smiled a little. "Probably, that you're going to die."

Ginny looked at Hermione askance, but Harry burst out in laughter. "Yes, she probably would," he agreed, his laughter dying down. "What?" he asked Ginny, who was wearing a distinctly unhappy look.

Ginny didn't answer for a few seconds, then Hermione did. "I think–"

"Let him figure it out," snapped Ginny. "He needs the practice."

"Why?" asked Hermione defensively. "I'm the one you're upset with, not him."

"Ginny, I'm really not in the mood to be trying to figure things out," said Harry.

Ginny spoke immediately, to Hermione, giving no sign that she'd heard Harry. "You could always tell him through the damn phoenixes, anyway."

Hermione gaped at Ginny. "What?! What does that have to do with anything?"

Harry put his head in his hands, feeling as though he couldn't deal with anything more. He was about to look up when there was a knock on the door. Without asking Ginny or Hermione if they minded, he waved his wand and the door opened, and Pansy walked in. She looked wary as she took in everyone's expressions. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but... there's kind of a situation that you need to know about."

"I don't suppose it'd be a good situation, would it?" asked Harry wearily. "I think I've had enough of the other kind."

"No," said Pansy seriously, "it's a bad situation. I'm not sure just how bad, you'll know better than me. Helen just came to me to tell me this. One of the second years overheard you talking to Snape... well, arguing, apparently. They told the others what they heard, and now all ten of them know lots of stuff they shouldn't. Some of it is stuff even I didn't know."

Harry cringed. "Oh, this day just keeps getting better," he muttered. "All right, what do they know?"

"They know all about the Blaise thing, pretty much everything I told you, and they knew that Snape wanted to expel him and the other one and you argued with him. They know that Snape's a spy for the Order against Voldemort, and that he killed Skeeter." Harry exchanged alarmed looks with Ginny and Hermione. "But that's stuff I already knew," continued Pansy grimly. "Helen also said that whoever it was overheard that... Snape is viewing your memories, and something about it being important for him to be 'viable' as a spy against Voldemort. Which raises more questions than it answers, but never mind that. I assume this has to do with what the three of you know about Snape that you can't talk about. I had a feeling this was bad."

Harry almost laughed out loud at the understatement. "Oh, this is worse than bad," he said incredulously. "This is... the scope of how bad it is, is immense. Kingsley doesn't know this, or Bright, or Hugo... only we three, McGonagall, and Snape. That's it. Now ten second years know? Okay, not all of it, but enough for it to be dangerous. Enough that if Voldemort found out, we'd lose Snape. I don't believe this..."

Clearly trying to be reassuring, Pansy said, "If we found out one thing last year, it's that they can keep a secret. They kept mine for a long time."

Harry couldn't argue with that, but found it hard to be reassured. He felt as though if this had been less bad, he would have lost his temper, but that this was so bad that it was almost ludicrous, comical. At the same time, he understood that it was very serious. "How did they overhear, anyway? As soon as Snape started yelling at me, I soundproofed the room."

"I don't know. Helen didn't give all the details, she just told me the main stuff. She was really nervous, she feels like they're in over their heads. She came to me to ask what I thought they should do. I told her I'd tell you, that you'd know what to do."

Harry did laugh out loud now, as the other three glanced at each other, concerned. "I appreciate your faith in me, Pansy, but I don't have a clue what I'm going to do. Well, not quite. I am going to talk to them, I know that much. What I'm going to say, or do beyond that, I don't know. But I suppose I'll think of something." Turning to Ginny and Hermione, he asked, "Would you mind if I talked to them now? I'd like to get this over with, maybe... I don't know, relax for some of the evening. Doesn't seem likely, but you never know."

They nodded somberly, and dogs started coming out of Harry's wand one by one, until the tenth had run off. "I'll go out there, put out the carpet. Would you mind staying here? I'll probably need to talk to you when I'm finished." They nodded again. Turning to Pansy, he said, "Maybe you should be with me when I do this." Smiling a little, he added, "You are their mother, after all."

"Sure," she said, with a sad smile, obviously seeing how stressed he felt. He walked out into the classroom; Pansy followed and closed the door behind her.

Harry moved the chairs aside and conjured the carpet. He was about to sit when, on a sudden impulse, he reached out to hug Pansy instead. She hugged him back tightly. "It's been a really bad day," he said, as he felt himself seem to gain emotional strength from the hug. He felt her nod into his shoulder.

After about a half a minute, he let go. "Thanks," he said, looking at her appreciatively. "That really helped."

"Well, you're the one who said in his class that hugging is a good thing to be doing," she reminded him. They both sat down, Pansy slightly behind Harry to emphasize that he was the one speaking to the second years. Less than a minute later, they filed into the room and sat on the carpet in front of Harry. Looking at them, Harry saw something unusual for them: they looked frightened. He wondered why they should feel that way for knowing things they shouldn't know.

"Why do you all look like that?" he asked, then wondered if he should have been more diplomatic about it.

"It was the dogs," said David.

Harry looked at them blankly; Helen explained. "They usually jump up, they're happy to see us. This time, they just sat there, waiting. We think it means you're mad at us."

Harry nodded, more to himself than to them. It makes sense, he thought. "No, I'm not mad," he said wearily. "It's just been a bad day, and this... well, this is really bad. I called you because I wanted to find out how it happened, exactly what you know if there was anything you didn't mention to Pansy. First of all, it was a good idea to go to her. Now, how did you hear what I said to Snape?"

"One of us went to talk to you," said Helen. "The map told us you were in Snape's office, so that person went there to wait for you to finish. Then that person heard Snape yelling at you, and was concerned for you... and that person happened to be the one carrying the Extendable Ears. That person put them under the door to listen."

Harry looked at Pansy in astonishment, then back at the second years. "Why? Why would you do that?"

"They were scared, Professor!" said an obviously distressed Helen. "We know how Snape can be, but we know he's not supposed to yell at other teachers. The person thought it might be really bad, like I said, they were scared for you. They... just wanted to know what was happening."

Harry sighed; he was still angry, but he could understand why they would do that; he could see himself doing it, since he had done something like it as recently as fifth year. "You keep saying 'that person.' I assume that means you don't want to tell me who it was."

She nodded. "We all think we would have done the same thing, so we should all take responsibility for it." Her voice trembling a little, she added, "If you're going to be mad, you have to be mad at all of us."

He looked at them one by one. All were nervous and unhappy, but Hedrick was much more so than the rest, and he had an obviously guilty look. Harry instantly understood that Hedrick was the one who had done it, and wondered fleetingly if this was what Dentus had meant when he'd said that Harry's emotions showed very clearly on his face. Deciding he wanted to confirm it, he reached for his wand inside his robe sleeve, but didn't take it out. Holding it, he cast Legilimens on Hedrick, and immediately got a memory of Hedrick standing outside Snape's office door, listening on the Extendable Ears. Harry knew that Hedrick would notice the flash of memory, but would just assume it was a random memory caused by his guilt.

Harry decided not to tell them that he knew who it was. "I really think it'll be better if the person who did it just tells me–"

"We have to stick together, Professor!" said Helen, with emotion. "You taught us that!"

With equal emotion, Harry replied, "Stick together against enemies, against adversaries! Not me! Or is that how you see me right now?"

On the verge of tears, Helen pleaded, "Professor, don't say that! You know how we feel about you. We just knew you'd be mad at the one who did it, and we'd rather spread it out over all of us, because I really do think we would have all done the same thing."

Harry tried to calm himself, but still felt very emotional. "If I'm upset at you, it's more for not trusting me enough to tell me who it is than for the actual listening. If whoever did it trusts me, they'll tell me, and trust that I'll be reasonable about it."

Most of the Slytherins were looking down, upset but determined to stick to what they'd decided. Hedrick appeared to be in even greater distress, clearly feeling guilty over the difficulty his actions had caused.

Pansy spoke. "Listen, I think you should tell him. I can see it really bothers him that you won't, and here's why. You would tell each other this, you would admit you did something to each other. If you won't admit it to him, it means you don't trust him like you do each other, it gives a stronger idea that he's 'outside' the group. I kind of feel the same way. I'd like to think it was the twelve of us, not ten plus two on the outside–"

"I did it," interrupted Hedrick.

"Hedrick!" exclaimed Helen sharply. "We agreed–"

"But we didn't think of it this way, and they're right," said Hedrick firmly. "Pansy and Professor Potter aren't outsiders, we should be able to tell them anything we tell each other. I don't want them to feel that way."

"Thank you, Hedrick," said Harry sincerely. "I appreciate it." To the others, he said, "Look, I know your instinct is to protect each other, to stick together, and that's great. But you should do that against people who are trying to hurt you, not people who..." He paused to take a breath. "Not people who love you. I love you, all of you. I just wanted to make sure you knew that."

Most of them were trying not to cry, some unsuccessfully. "We love you too, Professor," said Helen, her eyes brimming with tears, as others nodded.

"I know, and it makes me really happy," he told them. He felt as though he wanted to wade into the group and hug all of them, but there were still serious things to talk about. "Okay, now we need to think about what to do, how bad this is. First of all, I need to mention your knowing that Professor Snape is a spy against Voldemort. It's very, very important that no one know about this. If this gets out, Professor Snape would be killed, and we would lose him as a spy. His being a spy is extremely valuable. I can't say this strongly enough. We could lose the fight against Voldemort if anything happens to him. Do you understand?"

All ten nodded. "Professor," said Augustina, "When Hedrick told us, we understood that it was really serious, way more than we're supposed to know. After Pansy went to tell you, we talked some more. We agreed that you should do Memory Charms on all of us. It's better if we don't know this."

"I can't," he replied. "It's illegal, you're not seventeen."

"We don't care," said Hedrick.

"I do, though," said Harry. "Besides, I think you can keep these secrets, you've kept other important ones before. And doing that would only solve part of the problem; the other problem is what happens if Professor Snape finds out that you know this, that you were listening."

Helen nodded. "We were going to mention that, we're worried about that too. You said that he killed that reporter for knowing too much. We know too much. He doesn't know we know, but he will by viewing your memories, the same way he found out about Blaise."

"He wouldn't kill you," said Harry with slightly more confidence than he felt. "Ten of you would be too many, it would be noticed. He couldn't take the risk."

"I was hoping you would say 'he wouldn't do it because it would be wrong,' said Sylvia uneasily. "Or because we're students in his house, or something like that."

Harry shook his head. "He doesn't operate by what's right and wrong; his ultimate motivation for everything is defeating Voldemort. He wants that really badly, and would do anything to accomplish it, including get killed himself. He's risked his life, endured enormous difficulties, to do that. Doing anything to all ten of you would expose him."

"I'm not so sure, Harry," said a concerned Pansy. "They're in his house, after all. What if he did something that was made to look like an accident? I mean, I don't think he would either, but I'm not so sure that I'd risk their lives on it."

"No, I agree. I mean, I really don't think it would happen, but I won't take the chance either. But if he would kill them for knowing, then Memory Charms wouldn't stop him; he didn't think a Memory Charm on Skeeter would have been enough." Harry saw a few Slytherins exchange frightened looks. "No, we have to see to it that he doesn't find out about this, and there's only one way to do that. I'm going to have Hermione do a Memory Charm on me. I won't remember anything involving the second years about this situation."

"But Snape will know it's there, like Hermione found the other one that Snape gave you," pointed out Pansy. "Won't he wonder what's behind it? And he'll know it happened recently, because it wasn't there before."

"He can wonder all he wants, but he won't find out," said Harry firmly. "And I wouldn't be able to tell him anything anyway." He knew Snape would be angry at the breach of their understanding regarding Harry's memories, but he didn't want to get into that with Pansy and the second years.

"Are you sure, Professor?" asked Augustina, clearly worried.

"Yes, it's fine," he assured her. "There's nothing dangerous about getting a Memory Charm, you were all ready to do it. It just makes sense for it to be me instead. Hermione will remove it when it's no longer necessary, and I'll remember again."

Hedrick still looked stricken. "I'm really sorry, Professor–"

"It's okay, Hedrick," said Harry. He moved forward on the carpet and reached out to Hedrick, who moved closer to Harry. Harry wrapped him in a hug. "It's all right. I forgive you."

"Thank you," said Hedrick, his head on Harry's right shoulder, sniffling and clearly trying very hard not to cry.

Harry patted Hedrick's back. "It's the kind of thing I would have done."

"Helen said that," said Hedrick. Over Hedrick's shoulder, Harry glanced up at Helen with a playful frown and a smile. She smiled back through her own tears.

Harry let go of Hedrick, who went back to his seat on the carpet. "I don't suppose I need to give you a lecture on not saying anything to anybody, or anywhere but your dormitory. Not only the super-secret stuff, but the stuff about Blaise too. The whole reason I was arguing with Snape was that I don't want him expelled, I don't want everyone knowing. He made a mistake, but like Thomas said, he deserves another chance. I think you all could imagine what it would be like to be in a dormitory with Malfoy and the others like that.

"There's a few things you have to keep in mind, before I let you go. One is, and now you would know this anyway, but anything that I know is something Snape could know. Obviously don't mention any of this around me, but also don't mention to me anything that you don't want Snape knowing. He doesn't know everything that happens to me, mainly just the important things. If you're not sure, or are worried, talk to Pansy. Don't make any reference to the Memory Charm, that you know about it. If he sees that, he'll know you're connected to it, and we don't want that.

"Also, be sure to act around Snape like you normally would. If you act all nervous around him, he could figure out that something was going on, maybe even connect it to my Memory Charm. Just pretend that everything's as usual in Potions, or if you see him in the Slytherin common room.

"Okay, I'm going to go have Hermione do the Memory Charm now. When it's done, I won't remember any of today's events that involved you; it'll be as though I never saw you today. Like I said, when it's not necessary anymore, she'll lift it. I hope that happens soon, because I want to remember this. You're all very important to me."

He stood, and they did as well. As he was going to say goodbye, Helen rushed forward and hugged him. Soon he was getting hugs from all of them, even the boys, as was Pansy. When he had hugged all of them, he felt his emotions rising again. "Okay, now I definitely want to remember this. That was very nice, thank you. And I promise the next time my dog finds you, it'll be happy again." They thanked him and filed out.

Pansy put an arm around his shoulders. "You handled that very well, for someone who had such a bad day."

"There's something about being in a room with ten people who love you that helps your mood."

She raised an eyebrow. "Eleven people," she corrected him.

"Sorry, I didn't mean–"

"Don't worry about it," she said, squeezing his shoulders and letting him go. "I know what you meant, I didn't take any offense."

"It's just that I've managed to offend three people today without meaning to," he explained. "I didn't want to make it one more."

They walked back to his office, and opened the door. "So, how did it go with them?" asked Hermione.

"Pretty well, I think they understand just how serious it is. There's still the problem of Snape knowing they know, of course. I've decided to deal with that by having you cover up anything to do with them with a Memory Charm."

Hermione nodded reluctantly. "That was kind of the only answer, but Snape's not going to like it at all. He'll expect everything to be available."

"That was before he showed that he can't be counted on to maintain any kind of discretion. Of course, I won't be able to tell him... well, I guess I can. You'll just have to tell me after you do the Charm why you did it, so I'll know what to tell him. I'll still remember that he abused his discretion with this Blaise thing, so at least I'll understand what I'm telling him, if not exactly why. I need you to cover up everything from when Pansy interrupted to just before you do the Charm."

"Are you sure you don't want to wait a day, ask Albus what he thinks?" she asked. "There might be a reason why this isn't a good idea."

Harry shook his head. "I think Albus would tell me to do what I was comfortable with, but I'm not going to ask him anyway. I just don't trust Snape right now, and while I'm 99.9% sure that he wouldn't harm them, I'm not willing to take the chance with that other point one percent. Also, he'd make their lives miserable if he knew, especially Hedrick. I know what that's like, I don't want them put through that. No, I'm doing this. Albus won't be able to talk to me about it, but that's livable. I'm sure he'll respect the Memory Charm and not say anything about it."

"Okay, if you're sure," said Hermione. "Is there anything in particular you want me to tell you afterwards?

He couldn't think of anything specific. "Just what you'd probably tell me anyway, keeping in mind that Snape will know whatever you tell me afterwards."

"Obviously," she agreed. "Shall I?"

"Go ahead."

Standing near the stream, Harry reached down and put his hand into the water. It was cool, clear, and felt very real for something he knew wasn't physical. He turned to see Dumbledore smiling at him. "As I have said before, while it is not... permanent as you understand it, it is no less real than your normal physical environment. It is no surprise that it should feel real."

"I guess some things are hard to get used to," he said as he sat down, noticing that Snape was suddenly there.

"I knew I would be needed, after today's events," explained Snape. "Today was quite a challenge in terms of your attempting to help him."

"I wish I hadn't had to have Hermione do the Memory Charm... wait a minute, I can remember it! What happened with the second years! How can I remember? I couldn't after she did it."

"This is different from your waking conscious state," Dumbledore explained. "You are asleep; Memory Charms only function when you are awake. People sometimes dream of events covered by Memory Charms; the mind categorizes them and does not allow them to be remembered upon waking. When you wake up, you will not remember the events you had covered, nor any part of this conversation relating to them."

"Well, that's convenient," said Harry, surprised. "So, let me ask you first... did he ever try to do anything like that to you that he did to me, viewing my sexual memories to deliberately embarrass me?"

"Not as such, because he knew I could not be embarrassed," replied Dumbledore without false modesty. "But I take your meaning, and there were two occasions on which I believe he would have if he could have. One was immediately after the events at the end of your third year, in which Sirius was set free. We had a session later that night, but he was in no emotional condition to have one. I knew that beforehand, but I preferred to let him find out for himself. If he is too angry, the sessions do not work as they should; he gets no emotional sustenance from them. Your decision to stop the session, while impulsive, was correct for more than one reason: he was getting nothing out of it except the sort of enjoyment he should not be experiencing, and as you pointed out, he was deliberately acting maliciously toward you, which is counterproductive."

"I wasn't happy about stopping," said Harry. "I just knew it was the right thing to do. How long will it be until he's back to normal?"

"It should be a few days," said Snape. "Maybe sooner. Certainly not long enough to jeopardize his overall mental state.

"You wish to know why he reacted so badly to what happened, which you viewed as relatively unimportant," continued Snape, responding, as Snape and Dumbledore often did, to the next question in Harry's mind. "He would not wish me to tell you, and will be angry that I have. But considering that you have had no secrets from him, and that this caused him to behave in a way that caused you distress and violated your understanding regarding how information was to be used or not used, you deserve to know.

"Many years ago, when I was a child–again, of course, when I say 'I' in this situation I refer to the fact that I was a part of him at that time–I was sexually abused by an associate of my father's. I was sufficiently confused and frightened at the time that I did not resist or fight, something about which I later came to be bitterly unhappy. I engaged in self-loathing for a period, but after I discovered the existence of homosexuals, I directed my anger in that direction, blaming them as a group for what had happened to me. It was also a very formative experience in that the bitterness it produced helped steer me to my interest in the Dark Arts: partly as a means to defend myself against any such future attempts, and partly because it appealed to my anger, the dark part of me which was becoming stronger and stronger."

Good Lord, thought Harry, that sure explains a lot about Snape. The Cleansing explained how he became the way he currently was, but this explained how he ever got to a point where he would agree to the Cleansing. Harry felt great sympathy for Snape, and wondered how he would have been affected if he had endured what Snape had.

"It is a good question, and one which is useful to ask if you wish to empathize with him," said Snape. "No one can know, of course, not even you, but it is certainly a great trauma. Many who suffer it experience repercussions lasting a lifetime."

Harry nodded. "I can imagine. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. At least now I understand why he reacts so violently to anything to do with homosexuality, even making jokes about it."

"Yes, but there is something you should understand, which you currently do not because you lack the life experience to do so," said Dumbledore. "You see, Severus is placing blame where it does not belong. He refers to homosexuality as 'perversion,' and if referring to such abuse as he suffered, would use the same word. He does not make a distinction between the two, but there is an enormous difference. Children are deeply harmed by sexual abuse. Homosexuality, if practiced between consenting adults, harms no one. The only way in which they are similar is that they both involve sexual preferences other than is normal. Some men are sexually attracted to other men; a few are attracted to children. The latter are particularly cursed by their inclinations, one could say, since they cannot avoid causing harm in satisfying their desires. Two men can make love and harm no one, but a man attracted to children must repress his sexual desires for all his life if he wishes to cause no harm.

"Like many others, Severus equates the two because they both involve sexual activity among two males, but this analogy is deeply flawed. Men such as the one who abused him are attracted to boys because they are children, not because they are male. Homosexuals have suffered from this prejudice for most of recorded history; only now, in the Western Muggle world, are large segments of the population becoming tolerant and accustomed to homosexuality. As Hermione explained, the wizarding world, being insular as it is, is quite behind this trend. One cannot be openly homosexual in the wizarding world and be accepted, whereas it is quite possible in much of the Muggle world. While not directly relevant to the situation with Severus, this is useful information for you to be aware of."

Harry was reminded of Hermione having given him similar informational lectures. "I assume that you were very accepting of this when you were physical."

"Of course. Throughout my life, a number of homosexuals sought me out for advice; not because I had any special understanding of their situation, but because they knew I would be understanding and as helpful as possible. More than once I attempted to explain to Severus what I have just explained to you, but unfortunately, he was simply irrational on the subject, and could not be persuaded. For the most part, we simply avoided the subject.

"You are correct when you say that Severus violated the understanding you had regarding how information obtained from you was to be used, but you may wish to consider that he did not do so willfully, in a sense. This subject is so sensitive for him that one could almost say he was not in control of his actions. Even so, it is understandable that you found it necessary to have the Memory Charm done. You could not know when else he might breach your understanding. It was thoughtful of Hermione to suggest that you consult with me first, but you were correct; you did not need my assistance. Your 'gut' told you to do what you did, and you will do well to listen to it."

Harry addressed Snape. "Would he have actually killed them?"

"I cannot know that any more than you can," said Snape. "I can only reach the same conclusion as you: it is highly unlikely, but not impossible."

"How do you think he'll react when he finds the Memory Charm? Or, better yet, maybe I should ask, does he understand that he shouldn't have done what he did, what he tried to do, with Blaise?"

"Yes, they are very related questions," agreed Snape. "He does realize it, and this realization will become stronger as time passes. I believe he will resent the Memory Charm, but accept it as a consequence of what he did. As further evidence that your decision to have the Memory Charm done was reasonable, I will tell you that he spent some of last night considering ways in which he might have Blaise expelled which would not directly violate Minerva's instructions, but could not think of any. He plans, the next time he sees Blaise, to do Legilimens on him in order to discover the identity of the other person involved, and look for pretexts to expel them if possible. Yes, that does violate Minerva's instructions, but he can easily justify it to himself."

Frustrated, Harry shook his head. "I can't believe it... well, I can, but... I want to ask you if you think I should tell Professor McGonagall, but I know that's the kind of thing you won't give an opinion about. I'll think about it after I wake up. About Blaise, the only thing I can do is give him a Memory Charm, if he'll agree to it."

"He may well not agree," suggested Dumbledore. "A Memory Charm is not a small thing, and he may not have such a great interest in protecting the identity of the other person involved. It also may not be in his best interest to be unable to access the memory; such experiences are an important part of how we learn."

"Damn," muttered Harry, sure that Dumbledore was right. "Doesn't Snape know that this jeopardizes what we do even more?"

"He is irrational on the subject," Snape reminded him. "Also, he thinks that you will not find out what he plans, at least not until he has found a way to expel them. And yes, this is not information I would normally provide. But I will tell you things about him, because I am him, in a sense, and therefore somewhat entitled. I also believe that your being aware of this will help in the long term."

"Okay, thanks," said Harry. "I'll think more about this in the morning, also." He talked with Dumbledore and Snape for a little longer, then resumed his sleep.

* * * * *

"Harry!" John greeted him as he and Hermione walked into the staff room with their phoenixes after lunch the next day. "So, how much are you being paid to protect the Minister?"

Harry chuckled. "He'll be in my debt, which is better anyway," he joked. He knew that the staff would all have read the story in that morning's Prophet.

"May I ask, Harry," asked Dentus, "how the decision was reached to make that information public?"

"I'm not sure. I don't participate in that kind of decision, of course. I guess Professor McGonagall would know." He glanced at her, asking the same question without words.

"Since Voldemort knew, there was no advantage in keeping it secret," she said. "We find it generally preferable not to keep secret that which is not necessary to keep secret. I assume you are thinking of the political repercussions of it being publicly known that Harry saved the Minister's life."

Dentus nodded. "Harry's joke aside, Bright will be in Harry's debt, in a public way. I'm sure Bright understood this might happen when he asked for Harry's protection, but it was understandably a second priority to staying alive."

"You mean, he'd just as soon not be in Harry's debt in quite this way," clarified John.

"Politicians would rather not be in anyone's debt, at least not in debts such as this one, which can't be easily repaid with a political favor. But I'm sure he considered the fact that it's better to be indebted to Harry in this way than most anyone else."

"Why is that?" wondered a puzzled Harry.

Dentus glanced at Hermione, giving her a silent quiz. Smiling briefly in response, she said to Harry, "You're less likely than most other people to call in the debt. He'd know that you'd be uncomfortable going to him one day and saying, 'I saved your life, so please do this for me.' As he said last month, that's not the way you work."

"But if I ever needed something from him and asked him, even if I didn't mention this, he'd think about this as a factor, right?"

Dentus nodded, mildly impressed. "Yes, he would. He would know you didn't intend to imply that he should, but he would anyway. If an Auror had saved him, he wouldn't really have a debt; that's their job. But you, you didn't have to do this."

"But he knows I did it because it was the right thing to do."

"Yes, and a politician's version of the right thing to do is to make what you've done for him a consideration in this kind of situation," Dentus pointed out.

"There is one thing he has done already," said McGonagall. Turning to Harry, she explained, "He contacted me this morning and asked me to relay an invitation: he would like you and Ginny to join him and his wife for dinner."

Harry glanced at Hermione, who was wearing an amused smile. "Yes, I thought you'd like that," he said.

To the other teachers, she explained, "Harry would rather spend the evening with Arthur and Molly, if he had the choice."

"We may not know him as well as you, but we do know him well enough to know that," said Sprout. "You will go, though, won't you, Harry?"

He shrugged. "I wouldn't feel right saying no. And it's not as though I don't like him, he's interesting to talk to. I just don't have much experience being invited to dinner."

"I daresay that's only because you haven't made yourself available," said Sprout. "If you did, you wouldn't have to pay for food for a year."

Hermione chuckled. "I think I'd rather buy my own food," said Harry. "Speaking of which, did he say where it would be?"

"Yes, he said it could be at his home, or the Golden Dragon," said McGonagall. "Whichever one you'd prefer. I hope I was not too presumptuous, but I did inform him of your likely choice."

There were chuckles all around. "I would say that he was giving Harry a test, but I don't think he'd bother. No doubt he was just being polite," said Dentus.

Harry tried not to be annoyed, knowing that they were amused both by knowing which he'd choose before he had, and that he wouldn't understand Dentus's reference. Sighing, he asked, "What test?"

"Most people, especially politicians, given this choice would choose the Golden Dragon, because being seen having dinner publicly with the Minister of Magic means that you have his support and endorsement, it's a kind of political currency," explained Dentus. "He would know that you wouldn't seek it because of that, though. Ironically, he would benefit by being seen with you in a way he wouldn't with anyone else; it would be like getting your endorsement. But he knows that you'll choose his home because you don't care to be a spectacle in public, talked about in whispers, and so forth. As I said, he was just being polite in giving you the choice."

Harry grunted. "I should choose the restaurant, just so you'd all be wrong. But, unfortunately, I don't like being a spectacle in public, talked about in whispers, and so forth. Oh, well."

"It's good of you to have a sense of humor about it," said Sprout encouragingly. "I'm sure it won't be so bad."

"No, I don't mean I think it will be," said Harry. "I'm just not that comfortable in that situation with people I don't know that well. But I know this is another thing I have to get used to."

"Oh, Harry," said Hermione, "How did your first years do?"

"Not bad, better than I expected," he replied. Seeing that the other teachers didn't know what they were talking about, he explained, "This week, I'm doing the 'Blue' test for all my classes, for the first time since the first class. It's only been two months, so I don't expect much change. But most of the first years' numbers went up; I don't know if that would be normal, because we don't usually measure them that young. I've got the Gryffindor/Ravenclaw sixth years this afternoon at three; that should be a better indicator."

"Do you think anybody will have it?" asked Flitwick.

Harry shook his head firmly. "No, it's way too soon. I'd be amazed if anyone had it."

"Just out of curiosity, if you had to guess who'd be the first person to get it, who would it be?" wondered John.

Harry thought for a minute. "I guess I'd say Luna."

A few teachers were surprised, but John wasn't. "I can see that. She's comfortable in her own skin, and that probably counts for a lot with what you do."

"Do you think girls are going to get this faster than boys?" asked Sprout.

"I think so. In classes, the girls are generally more comfortable with it. Not that some of the boys aren't doing well, but they seem to have to make a bigger effort."

"Who do you think will be the first boy to get it?" asked Hermione.

After more thought, he answered, "Justin and Colin are the first two that come to mind." None of the teachers seemed surprised at his guesses. He found that despite his attempt to maintain low expectations, he definitely had hopes that at least one student would manage it.

Near the end of the hour, McGonagall got up to leave, and asked Harry to come with her. They walked to the Transfiguration teacher's office, and sat. Before she spoke, Harry did. "Professor, I wanted to apologize–"

She waved him off. "I actually called you in here to tell you that I regret having lost my temper. I appreciate your apology and understand the reason for it, but this is another of those 'he is only seventeen' situations. Even some adults might not have recognized my sensitivity to what you said."

"Hermione explained it to me, of course," he admitted ruefully. "I wouldn't have figured it out. I really didn't mean to compare you to him. I know that's what I did anyway, and I feel bad about it. I'm sorry."

She nodded understandingly. "It would be very hard for you not to. Anyone would think it, it is just a matter of whether they would say it or not. People will compare me to him, Harry. It is unavoidable, and I must get used to it. May I ask what Albus said last night? I assume you talked to him."

"We talked about a few things; he spent some time saying basically that there's nothing wrong with two men or two women being in love if they want to. I guess from what you said last night that you don't agree with him."

Looking uncertain, McGonagall replied, "We discussed the topic more than once; this is hardly the first time such a thing has happened at Hogwarts. I cannot say I think he is wrong; he has an excellent point. I simply cannot make myself comfortable with the idea." Eyeing him appraisingly, she added, "I have a feeling you will, though."

He shrugged lightly. "Hermione agrees with Albus. She compared it to a food that you really hate: you wouldn't want to eat it yourself, but you wouldn't stop someone else from doing it if they wanted to. I could see where that made sense; I just have to think more about the concept and less about the details."

"Yes, that would be helpful," agreed McGonagall wryly. Turning more serious, she said, "Harry, I understand why you did not come to me about the matter regarding Mr. Zabini, but I would like to think that I can be trusted with such information. I would like to know that you would tell me things that you know I would want to know. Is that something you think you can do?"

Uncomfortably, he nodded. Part of him didn't want to, because the fact was that he didn't regard her like he did Dumbledore, and knew she would make different decisions than he would. On the other hand, he felt she did deserve his trust. "There is one thing. Last night, the Snape that's with Albus told me that Professor Snape plans to disregard your instructions about the Blaise thing. He plans to yank out the memory from Blaise about who the other boy was, and see if he can find a pretext to have them expelled eventually."

McGonagall sighed in frustration. "Well, you predicted it. Very well, I will take what action I feel is appropriate. You should do nothing further regarding this. Is there anything else?"

Harry realized that she wasn't telling him what action she planned to take because Snape would view the memory. He briefly considered telling her about the Memory Charm, but realized that there was nothing he could really tell her. He had a feeling that whatever was under the Memory Charm was something she would want to know, but he couldn't be sure. Also, if he told her about the Charm, she might go to Hermione and ask to be told what it hid, and he didn't want to put Hermione in the position of choosing between what he wanted and what McGonagall wanted.

"No, nothing else," he said.

"Very well, then, I believe it is almost time for Charms," she said. They left the room and went their separate ways.

After his sixth year Defense Against the Dark Arts class ended at four-fifty, Harry took Fawkes to the Aurors, then went with Kingsley to Bright's residence. Putting down the plot only took an hour, after which Ginny joined him in Bright's living room, where they were joined by Bright's wife, Madeline. Like her husband, she was attractive; she had brown hair, large eyes, and a slightly large nose, which didn't detract from her appearance. Harry felt she looked younger than what he assumed her age to be.

"I'm very happy to be able to thank both of you properly," she said in greeting them. Harry didn't know whether to offer to shake her hand or not, but was soon spared the decision: she approached him and kissed him on the cheek. "That was for saving my husband," she said, and moving on to Ginny, added, "And this is for saving me." She kissed Ginny's cheek as well. "Thank you both so much."

Slightly embarrassed, Harry just nodded. "We were happy to do it," said Ginny.

Rudolphus motioned them to chairs, and they all sat. "We were also implored by our house-elf to pass along her thanks. Apparently one of the Hogwarts house-elves has made it his mission to spread your legend among the house-elf community, not that they wouldn't know about you anyway." Noting Ginny's smile, he asked, "Is there some story about that?"

Harry explained his history with Dobby, relating the incidents involving him five years ago and ending with how he tricked Lucius Malfoy into giving Dobby a sock. Grinning, Bright said, "Why, you clever little rascal. I'd love to have seen his face."

Ginny took up the story. "Naturally, that earned Harry Dobby's eternal adoration, and he wastes no opportunity to talk about Harry in ways that he doesn't understand Harry finds extremely embarrassing, since to Dobby, it's just the obvious truth."

The Brights laughed. "House-elves aren't too sensitive to that kind of thing," remarked Rudolphus. "I offered to let her tell you herself, but she was far too embarrassed, to be in the presence of someone so... you get the idea."

Ginny reached over and squeezed Harry's hand for a second, saying, "Yes, sometimes I feel that way too."

Harry smiled tolerantly as the Brights laughed again. "The last thing you ever are is embarrassed," he retorted. "I don't think I've seen you embarrassed once since we've been together."

"Maybe once or twice," she allowed. "But I really don't need to, you get embarrassed enough for the both of us."

"It must be very strange, being Harry Potter's intended," commented Madeline. "I don't mean that in a bad way, of course," she added to Harry.

"It's wonderful," said Ginny, with a smile at Harry, "but I know what you mean. Things do happen to me that wouldn't otherwise, and not only good things. But when you love someone, you take whatever comes along with them, good or bad."

"Yes, I know about that," Madeline responded, with a fleeting look of fear; Harry wondered if she was remembering yesterday's attack. "I can't say I was thrilled that Rudolphus decided to go for the Minister's job, but as he said at the time, someone had to do it. Not that he was the only one who tried, but if you let yourself be intimidated into not doing something you would normally do, you're not really living your life. It's easy to understand that in the abstract, just a little more difficult after yesterday."

No one said anything for a moment, then Rudolphus broke the silence. "Harry, it could be my imagination, but are you a little happier today than usual?"

Harry and Ginny broke out in smiles. "You should have seen him earlier, he was delirious," said Ginny. "He was almost as happy as I've ever seen him." She gestured for Harry to explain.

"This week, I'm checking all my students to see how they're coming along with the energy of love. You may have read that the way I know if they have it is if their non-vocalized spells are as effective as their vocalized ones. I didn't expect that anyone would have it already, after only two months, but one person did it."

Rudolphus's eyebrows rose. "Who?"

"Luna Lovegood."

"Oh, yes, her father runs that magazine, the one that ran the interview you did when you were trying to get the word out about Voldemort," recalled Rudolphus.

"It happened in the class that I take from him," continued Ginny. "When Harry saw that '100' show up after she did the spell, he reacted as if Gryffindor had just won the Quidditch Cup. I won't embarrass him by imitating what he did, but he was... exuberant. Then he walked over and hugged her. It was great."

Now the Brights smiled. "That's wonderful," said Madeline.

"I recall that you were hesitant about teaching it," added Rudolphus. "I suppose that makes this even sweeter."

"I was worried that maybe only a few people would get it, and I still don't know for certain that that won't be the case. But this is a really good sign, which is why I was, I am, so happy. I always knew Luna had a good chance; she's very serene, not much bothers her. It's also really good that this was the first one to happen in a classroom, not just my friends and I together. If she can get it, others can too. I think this'll help other people's motivation, give them more hope."

"It's funny that it happened to be her," said Ginny. To the Brights, she explained, "Her personality is kind of... odd, I guess. She wears strange clothes, she believes the stuff her father prints, she says odd things. She's a very nice person, just strange. I have a feeling this is going to change how people see her."

"I hope so," said Harry. "Actually, I think she won't care about that. The thing I've always liked about her is that she doesn't care what people think about her."

"Harry can identify with that," grinned Ginny. "Being so famous as he's always been, he's happiest when he can manage that."

"As opposed to someone like me, whose primary concern at all times is what people think of me," said Rudolphus in a self-mocking way.

"That's from professional necessity, not ego," pointed out Madeline.

He shrugged. "Maybe, but you know that I've wondered whether anyone gets into politics without having a pretty healthy ego in the first place. And even if you didn't start with one, you're bound to end up with one." To Harry and Ginny, he said, "You'd be amazed at the number of politicians who forget, at least occasionally, that people are being nice to them because they want something in return, not because they're such wonderful people."

"Well, I want to know more about what happened in that class, I think it's fascinating," said Madeline, with a glance at her husband that suggested that he had wrongly steered the topic in a different direction. "How did the class react?"

"Everyone was quiet, because they were so surprised," said Ginny. "But after Harry finished hugging her and she went back to her seat, she got a round of applause. After Harry finished testing everyone else, he asked her to talk about what she had done, what it was like for her. I think she did the best she could, but I'm not sure what she said will help anyone else. It would be like if Harry tried to explain what makes him a really good Seeker."

"Some things, like natural talent, aren't easy to put into words," agreed Rudolphus. "Like Madeline and her art."

"Oh, you do art?" asked Ginny. "What kind?"

"Mainly two-dimensional paintings, but when I get four I really like, I get ambitious and try to do a Ring of Reduction based on them," she said. "Often it doesn't turn out how I'd like and I don't keep it, but a few have been all right. It's a real challenge to do something in three dimensions and have it look good."

"It shouldn't surprise you to know that I think she's just being modest," put in Rudolphus.

"Professor Flitwick said you needed strong magical ability to do that kind of artwork," noted Harry.

"Oh, you'd be working on that right now, wouldn't you," said Madeline. "What is yours going to be?"

"He won't tell anyone, he says he wants us to be surprised when we see it," said Ginny, feigning annoyance at Harry's behavior.

"That's really just because I'm not sure what it's going to be," joked Harry. "Well, okay, I think I know what one is going to be, but I want that to be a surprise. The others, I have a few ideas, but I haven't decided."

"With your strength, you could do something really impressive," said Rudolphus.

"Professor Flitwick mentioned that. In class, in front of everyone." The others grinned, imagining his reaction, part of which was currently reflected on his face. "It was mainly to tease me, I'm sure. Also, I think it was partly because of Hermione. She said in the staff room last week that my strength is annoying in Transfiguration, because I can do some of the things without really learning the way I'm supposed to. She said she won't call on me anymore when asking for volunteer demonstrations. Something about it being a bad example for the other students. Also, a few times when she's assigned essays, she's given me this look, like, yes, you have to do it too, even if you might not need to. So Professor Flitwick is letting me know he's holding me to a higher standard."

"How is Hermione liking teaching?" asked Rudolphus.

"She really likes it," answered Ginny. "She gets all excited telling us about it, how one of the first years did this or that. But some things frustrate her, like students who obviously didn't study and do poorly, or who studied a little the day before, just enough to write a not-very-good essay. She knows that not everyone's going to be like her, but she didn't realize it would be quite like it is."

"She's complained about it a few times," added Harry. "The last time she did, I told her that she shouldn't be surprised, that that's the kind of work Ron and I would have done most of the time if we hadn't had her around helping us. For some reason it didn't make her feel better."

"I wouldn't say that to her again, if I were you," advised Ginny, as the Brights chuckled.

"That must be an interesting aspect to your group now," said Madeline. "Two of you teachers, with phoenixes. Does that change how the group feels, or interacts?"

Ginny thought. "And two Legilimens, which may be even more important. But no, I don't think it changes how we feel as a group. They don't act differently because of it; it would affect the group if they did. Their status as teachers doesn't really matter, because they're already sort of the unofficial leaders of the group. Harry is like the heart of the group. We look to him for leadership; he inspires the rest of us to do what we do. Hermione is the brain of the group, the one we can count on to know what to do and how to do it. The things you mentioned that they have in common affect the relationship between the two of them, not their relationship with the rest of the group. They definitely have the closest relationship of any two of the group that aren't a couple."

She turned to Harry. "By the way, speaking of the phoenixes, after the class I found out that Hermione knew what happened right away. You were so happy that it traveled from Fawkes to Flora to Hermione; she said she got an image of Luna and the gold '100' in the air, and of course she got your feelings. She was with Neville in the common room, and she used the pendants to tell Ron and Pansy. They were happy too, though apparently Ron's exact words were, 'You couldn't have had a look at the map first?'

Harry giggled briefly, then explained the maps. "So, it means that they were in one of the couples' places at the time."

A door opened, and Madeline looked across the room at it. "It seems that dinner is ready." Everyone got up, and Madeline led them into the dining room.

They took their seats, and they ate slowly as they continued their conversation. Rudolphus made a reference to a security-related matter, inspiring Harry to ask about something he'd wanted to for a while. "Rudolphus, can you tell me what's going on with the Ministry's ability to keep Death Eaters locked up?"

"Or, lack of ability, you mean," corrected Rudolphus unhappily. "I'm not surprised you ask, I can see where that would be a subject of some interest to you. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of thing that has any quick solution. Losing Azkaban was a real blow, obviously. We have to start from scratch, and it's not easy. What we need is a real facility, designed for this purpose, which we don't have now and can't be built quickly. As you know, the problem isn't keeping the people from escaping, but keeping others from breaking them out. There just aren't any places that are both that secure, and suitable for holding prisoners.

"We're in the planning stages now of building a modern wizard prison. Right now we're looking at building designs and plans for magical safeguards; naturally, the magic that's put in place in and around the building is as important for security as the building itself. Once that's done, then we'll be able to start construction; with any luck, that could begin before the new year. But the unpleasant fact is that at best, this prison wouldn't be ready for another year. There's just no way around it, and nothing to be done in the meantime but do what we've been doing and hope for the best."

"And I'm guessing that it wouldn't be all that hard for Voldemort or Death Eaters to sabotage this while it's being built," said Harry.

"Very true," confirmed Rudolphus, "and that was part of the reason that nothing had been done until now. It's been almost two years since the dementors left Azkaban; you'd think we'd be further along than this. Even after Fudge saw Voldemort and started turning things around, nothing was done, mainly out of bureaucratic inertia. It wasn't until the prison break the day Hogsmeade was attacked that the question was even considered. Fudge was persuaded not to even make a start on the project, and he cited this as the main reason. I don't agree, of course; that it might fail isn't a good reason not to even try. We'll keep trying until we do it."

"I'm glad to hear that," said Harry. "Besides the obvious reason, part of the reason I wondered was that editorial in the Prophet last month. I'd hate to think it would get so bad that people would think that killing prisoners was the way to do things."

"Certainly, that's not something I want to see either," agreed Rudolphus. "As Dentus probably told you, it was written by an undersecretary who wanted to see what kind of response the idea would get. I don't even think the person who wrote it particularly advocates it. We haven't killed people for a long time; we like to think we're beyond that. On an individual basis, the relatives of a particular murder victim would tend to be in favor of it, but that's revenge, not justice." Harry thought of Molly saying she wanted Percy's killers to suffer, and Neville, in his grief and rage, wanting to drive Bellatrix Lestrange insane. He wondered what Molly would think of the execution of Death Eaters, over half a year after her son's death.

* * * * *

Harry had just taken his usual lunch seat the next day when he saw Pansy walking toward them, smiling broadly. "Congratulations," she said.

"You, too," he said, as she took her seat. Seeing Ron and Ginny's quizzical looks, he explained. "The early class, my early class, was Gryffindor/Slytherin second year. Helen and Sylvia got 100."

"Wow, that's great," said Ron. "You two must be really happy." To Hermione, he asked, "Did you get this through the phoenixes too?"

She nodded. "They were a couple of minutes apart, I think. I was teaching the other second years, and I told them about it. They were pretty impressed, both with the information, and how I got it. So how did the class do as a whole?"

"I felt a little bad for the Gryffindors, because they were so far behind the Slytherins. None of the Gryffindors were above 80, and none of the Slytherins were below 80. Brian asked the Slytherins how they did so well; Hedrick said they had sessions of their own. Then Helen stood up and hugged him from behind, around his neck, and said that they'd been 'practicing.' It got a huge laugh, of course. Then Andrea said maybe the Gryffindors needed to practice, which got another laugh. The Slytherins didn't mention that you'd been helping them," he said to Pansy. "I'm sure that that, along with their general closeness, had a lot to do with it."

Pansy and Hermione exchanged a glance, a look that suggested to Harry that they knew another reason the Slytherins had done well. "I hope so. Thanks for calling me on the pendant after the class to let me know," said Pansy.

"I just wish you could have been there. Anyway, they did fantastic. Not only the two 100's, but Hedrick and Augustina were both at 94, Vivian at 91, and David at 90."

"Wow..." marveled Pansy. "That's so great. If you'd told me they were all in the eighties, I'd have been happy with that. Of course, they've been doing it longer than the others too, since we started in August. This is going to get a lot of attention around the school."

"Yeah, it will," agreed Harry. "The Hufflepuff/Ravenclaw class knew about the 100's because Hermione told them, and they seemed kind of discouraged that none of them did better than 80 either. They had improved over two months ago, and I told them that. When they asked why the Slytherins had done so well, I explained that they banded together strongly last year while fighting Malfoy, and by keeping track of Malfoy and the others; they had a mission, and they had to stick together to do it. Not that you need a mission, I told them, but it helps to be close, to do things together."

"That may be a good aspect of what happened," suggested Neville. "If the other classes ask why the Slytherins did so well, and they probably will, you can explain that to them. The fact that they work together so well can be sort of a model for other classes."

"That's true, I hadn't thought of that," said Harry. "It can be something to aim for, not something to be jealous of. I wonder if Luna, Helen, and Sylvia are going to get asked to help other groups."

"That would be funny, other students asking Luna for help like that," remarked Ron. "Considering the opinion that people have always had of her."

"Yes, it reminds me of that Christmas song, 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,'" said Hermione, drawing puzzled looks from the others. "You would know the song, Harry, but for the rest of you..." She recited the lyrics, then continued, "So, the other reindeer didn't like him, because he was different. But then when it turned out to be useful, all of a sudden they loved him, they wanted him to help. I always felt like Rudolph should have made sure they understood how wrong they'd been before he agreed to help them."

Harry raised his eyebrows. "I hadn't thought of it like that, but I see your point. Kind of makes the song more depressing."

"Leave it to Hermione to read deep meaning into a children's song," said Ron, rolling his eyes.

"But it really is a comment about human nature, an allegory, even if it is unintentional," protested Hermione. "That's the way most people are. Harry's experienced both sides of that. His aunt and uncle treated him badly because he was a wizard–different–and people in the wizarding world treated him better because he was different in a good way, when neither had to do with who he really was." No one had any immediate comment. "Well, it's true," she muttered.

"I have a feeling that Luna would help anyone if they asked her," said Pansy. "As I found out last year, like this Rudolph, she seems not to hold grudges."

"Maybe she can advise people that one way to help reach the state necessary is to not hold grudges," suggested Neville humorously.

"Makes sense," agreed Harry. He realized that probably no other students would have developed the ability to use the energy of love so quickly. Still, three had, which was three more than he had expected. He resumed his lunch, reveling in the satisfaction he felt. Three was a good start.

* * * * *

Next: Chapter 15, Grindelwald: Harry gives a lecture to Dentus's class on Dumbledore's past; the younger Slytherins are given their first chance to use the energy-of-love spells.

From Chapter 15: "Why us?" asked Sylvia, puzzled. "Just because we can use the energy of love? Other people are going to learn it, too."

"That's the point," explained Harry. "Voldemort wants to scare other people into not learning it, because it's a threat to him."

Harry saw satisfied, determined looks on a few faces. "Well, then, we're just going to try twice as hard," said David firmly.