Chapter 9

The Last Car of the Hogwarts Express

The last two weeks of the summer passed without incident, and much too fast for Harry, who felt as though he hadn't had enough of a chance to enjoy the summer. He resumed sessions with Snape two days after finding out about the Memory Charm, and resumed training with the Aurors at the same time, having six days of training before the summer's end.

Hermione arranged for the purchase of a computer and the necessary equipment to use the internet, but soon after they received their payment from the Aurors, the six decided to contribute fifty Galleons each to pay for it. Arthur was extremely pleased, while Molly noted wryly that she would now always know where to find her husband. Phone service to connect the computer to the internet would not be installed until the students' first day back at Hogwarts, but Arthur wasted no time in learning about the computer's functionality. "Amazing, the things Muggles come up with," Harry heard Arthur say twice. Harry decided to send Dudley a letter (not an owl) thanking him for the idea. Dudley wrote back with his e-mail address, prompting Harry to have to ask Hermione what e-mail was.

Harry had to write another letter, to Woodridge, politely declining his offer to try out for the Quidditch World Cup team. He could have called Woodridge in the fireplace, but preferred not to have to listen to Woodridge try to persuade him to change his mind, given the temptation the offer represented. He did have to field a fireplace call from a stunned Wood a few days later, and found it unpleasant to try to explain his reasons for declining while avoiding mentioning the most important one.

A week before the term started, Dentus visited Harry at the Burrow; Harry had offered to meet Dentus at his home, but Dentus refused to have Harry over even for a prearranged visit, fearing for Harry's safety. Dentus told Harry that he had decided to accept the position of History of Magic professor. Harry was pleased but also saddened, understanding that Dentus would have declined the position had his wife not died. Dentus pointed out to Harry that the position would keep him occupied as he coped with his loss, and would make sure he was around people, both of which he felt would be positive things at that time. Dentus reminded Harry of his promise to take his class, and Harry said that there would probably be a scheduling conflict with the classes Harry was teaching; Dentus said he would talk to McGonagall to see if his class could be arranged so that Harry could take it. Harry smiled, imagining Snape's reaction when told to make a last-minute schedule change.

On Saturday, the first of September, Harry had to go to Hogwarts for the first of his responsibilities of the year: the teachers' pre-term meeting. He recalled how intimidated he had felt at that meeting last year, and how he had bickered with Snape over the question of assigning detentions. He was pleased to recall that he had not had to give detention to anyone other than Malfoy. The meeting was scheduled for three o'clock, but he went to his quarters at two, then wandered around the castle, taking it all in. He decided to pay Hagrid a visit, and headed out to his hut.

"Jus' a minute," came the familiar shout when Harry knocked on the door, followed by the equally familiar barking. Hagrid opened the door and broke into a broad grin. "Harry! Come in, come in. Good ter see yeh. Have a seat." Harry started to do so, but Hagrid suddenly said, "Actually, if yeh could help me o' bit firs'..." Harry stepped over closer to where Hagrid prepared his food, wondering what the problem was.

"Could yeh... get the fire goin' for me?" asked Hagrid, embarrassed.

Surprised, Harry said, "Sure," and pointed his wand at the burner. Flames suddenly burst out from below the pot of water.

"Great, thanks... er, could yeh make it a bit lower? Tha's it, thanks."

"No problem. How do you usually get the fire going?" It had just occurred to Harry that Hagrid's hut wouldn't have gas or electricity, but he did cook.

"Uh, the same way yeh jus' did, usually," Hagrid said confidentially, as he got down cups and tea bags. "Bin havin' a problem lately, fer some reason. Can' seem ter do any magic, like I jus' don' know how anymore. Strange thing..."

"That is strange," agreed Harry. "Have you talked to McGonagall about it? Maybe she could figure out what it was."

Hagrid looked reluctant. "Well, yeh see, technically, not supposed ter be doin' magic at all, yeh know," he pointed out. "Rather not go talkin' abou' it."

"I'd forgotten about that," Harry admitted. "I've seen you do it often enough that it doesn't occur to me. Do you think she'd have a problem with it? I mean, Albus never did."

Hagrid looked at Harry in surprise, then nodded. "Hard ter get used ter yeh callin' him that... jus' sounds strange. Not sayin' yeh shouldn', o' course, I know he wanted yeh ter. Anyway... I don' know, jus' don' wan' ter bother her. It'll come back, I'm sure."

Harry nodded, but made a mental note to ask Hermione if it was common for wizards to suddenly lose their magical ability temporarily; he had never heard of it. "I hope so. So, how's Grawp doing?" Harry had visited Hagrid a few times during the summer, once with Ginny, but the subject of Grawp hadn't come up.

"Better an' better, thanks," answered Hagrid enthusiastically. "Temper's much better, hardly ever gets mad anymore. His English is really comin' along, too, he can communicate real well, long as the conversation doesn' get too hard. Would yeh like ter come fer a visit?"

Harry found the idea didn't intimidate him like it would have a year ago, even though he didn't completely believe Hagrid's assurances about Grawp's behavior. "I would, actually, but I can't right now. The pre-term meeting's pretty soon, I just came early to wander around a bit."

"Ah, yes," said Hagrid, nodding. "Yeh know, Harry, sometimes I'm jus' as happy tha' I can' go inter the castle, 'cept fer the Great Hall," he confided. "Meetin's, conferences... I'm happy jus' stayin' here, doin' what I wan' ter do."

"I can understand that," agreed Harry. "Probably most of the teachers wouldn't mind skipping stuff like that, they just don't have a good excuse like you do. But you will be there for the teachers' dinner tonight?"

"If it's in the Hall, sure," said Hagrid agreeably. "Don' mind talkin' to people, jus' the meetin's aren' so good. Good thing they don' have the meetin's in the Hall, so I'd have ter come."

Harry chuckled. "I'll be sure not to mention it to McGonagall, but I'd bet she knows how you feel anyway." Harry talked to Hagrid for another half hour, then left so he could be a little early for the meeting. He headed back to his quarters, and to his surprise, ran into Dentus, who was leaving his own quarters.

"Archibald! Good to see you. So, what do you think, so far?"

Dentus shook his head, looking around. "It's been forty-eight years, as I was telling Professor McGonagall last night, but Hogwarts has barely changed. Which is nice, I think; some things should stay the same." Gesturing to the quarters he had just left, he added, "She told me that these would have been your quarters last year, but you didn't need them, and you ended up with Albus's. Which has a nice symmetry, considering their plans for you."

"I don't know what I'm going to do yet," Harry pointed out.

Dentus nodded. "I know, that's why I said 'their plans,' not 'your plans.' Anyway, that's another good thing about this job, these quarters. There were so many things to remind me of Sarah at home, which there won't be here. Not that I won't think of her, of course, but I've recently become rather conscious of the difference between thinking and obsessing." Harry nodded, saying nothing, but soon found that Dentus knew what he was thinking. "Harry, do you remember at that dinner, I made that joke about how bad you are at lying? Most of the reason for that is that your feelings show very vividly on your face, even if you don't mean for them to. I may mention Sarah from time to time, and I don't want you thinking that it was your fault every time I do."

"Sorry," said Harry, embarrassed. "It's just..."

"I do understand, I'm not trying to give you a hard time," Dentus assured him. "I know you're very young to be doing what you're doing. One of the things that came up in my conversation during dinner last night with Professor McGonagall was last year's attack on Hogsmeade. I know you suffered a lot from that, and probably what happened to Sarah is a little like that. Voldemort goes after you, and people... get in the way."

"I know," agreed Harry heavily, "and I also know that people would die anyway, even if I wasn't doing this. They'd just be different people, people I didn't know. It's just hard for that to make me feel less bad when something like that happens." He paused. "I've been looking forward to the school year, in a way, even though I was able to relax a lot during the summer... I guess I always look forward to the school year, because until this summer, I always lived with my aunt and uncle in the summer, and I couldn't wait to get away. But coming back here this year, I can't help but think there's going to be another Hogsmeade, something like that. If there is, I just hope I'm in the middle of it."

"I can understand that," said Dentus sympathetically. "I know you won't want to hear this, but a lot of us will want to be there with you. I didn't use a wand much in politics, but I'm no slouch."

"Thanks, Archibald. I'm sure you're not. So, how was your dinner with Professor McGonagall?"

"Very good," said Dentus. "We're more or less contemporaries, so we had a lot to talk about. I'm six years older than her; it turns out that I was a seventh year when she was a first year. You remember I said I was Head Boy; she told me she remembers me scolding her for running in the halls."

"It's hard to imagine her running in the halls," grinned Harry. "Of course, it's hard to imagine her as being eleven. I should see if I can get her to show me some pictures sometime."

"Somehow I doubt she would, but I suppose you never know. That dinner made me think, the one last year was with you and Albus. That must have been very nice for you."

"I was kind of intimidated at first," recalled Harry, "but not for long. He was always good at making people feel comfortable. It was really nice. He told me stories about Hogwarts... getting to know him the way I did was the best thing about being a teacher."

"Better than helping all these young wizards and witches learn how to defend themselves?" asked Dentus humorously.

"That's a close second. I will say, it is nice... last year, at the end, I got to see how far the students had come, how much they improved over the year. It was a good feeling."

"I can imagine," agreed Dentus. "I'm looking forward to that, too. At the end of the year, I'll get to see how much they've..." Dentus trailed off, looking uncertain. "No, wait, it doesn't work for me." He then smiled to make sure Harry knew he was joking.

Harry laughed. "You'll get to see them apply their knowledge of history. I have a feeling they'll come out knowing a lot more than when they came in. I definitely have a feeling I will."

"Thank you, Harry. By the way, just to let you know, I'm not expecting you to do the homework in my class." Noting Harry's raised eyebrows, he continued, "You're only taking it because I asked you to; it's not as though you need the N.E.W.T., and I really just wanted you to hear my lectures. I know you'll have very little time as it is."

Trying not to smile, Harry said, "I'll get Hermione to read me the important parts of the textbook."

Dentus laughed. "Like she does from the Prophet. You're certainly lucky to have her as a friend."

"In more ways than one," Harry agreed. "So, Professor Snape was able to change the schedule enough so I could take your class?"

Dentus seemed to be trying not to smile. "Yes, though he did make a very dry remark about it being no problem, that he needed something to keep him occupied."

Harry couldn't help but laugh, but stopped after a few seconds. "Yeah, I knew he wouldn't be happy about it. Well, I feel like I'm allowed to laugh, since he's said more than once that he'll be happy when I have to do it eventually."

"Professor McGonagall did say last night that not having to do that anymore was one of the good things about not being deputy headmistress," observed Dentus. "The bad thing, of course, is that she has to deal with politicians more than she used to."

"I assume you had a bit of a laugh at that," said Harry.

"Yes, we did," agreed Dentus, as he gestured to Harry that they should head to the meeting, and they started walking. "We talked about politics for a while, and I told her some stories. They're the type that would bore you, but she was pretty interested."

"Maybe I'll be interested in fifteen or twenty years," suggested Harry.

"Even if I'm still around, it's questionable whether I'll still be able to tell them to you then," said Dentus humorously. "I'll be saying, 'now, there was this man... oh, what was his name?'"

"Somehow I think you'll be all right."

"I hope so." They walked in silence for a moment, then Dentus said, "It's strange to think about that long from now... you'll have a nice, quiet life, and you'll probably remember this as the most exciting time of your life, but the most difficult as well. Not that I think you'll have nostalgia for it, but there's an energy to it, caused by the dire circumstances, that probably won't come again."

"I really hope it won't," said Harry fervently. "I don't know, Archibald. All I can tell you now is that I just want this to be over. Maybe some things are exciting; I guess I couldn't deny that the Apparation crisis was kind of exciting, trying so hard to get out there really fast, and helping in captures. But that happened because two Aurors were killed, and it was just a fight we had to win. I've cried so many times for people who got killed... I feel like that's what I'll always remember, not how exciting it was. Right now, I really want to have a nice, boring life."

Dentus put a hand on Harry's shoulder for a few seconds as they walked. "I can very much understand that. Perhaps 'exciting' was the wrong word; maybe 'intense' would have been better. 'Exciting' has a positive connotation which is definitely not appropriate to this situation."

They entered the staff room and sat next to each other, Harry exchanging greetings with some of the other teachers; everyone was there except Trelawney. Harry noticed that the large table at which they were sitting wasn't usually in the staff room, and he wondered if it was conjured. He looked at the clock on the wall, which read two minutes to three. Sprout, sitting on his other side, leaned over and whispered, "Sybil likes to come exactly on time. She really does prefer it up in her tower." Harry smiled a little and nodded. Harry noticed that Dentus was talking to John, who was sitting on his other side, and who thanks to Harry he already knew. McGonagall was sitting at one end of the table, Snape at the other.

At exactly three o'clock, Trelawney walked in and took the last seat, one of the two nearest Snape. "Excellent, we are all here," said McGonagall, who Harry felt was trying to conceal annoyance at Trelawney. "Welcome to another year, everyone. It is good to see you all again. Before we begin, I would like to introduce the newest member of our staff. Former Ministry of Magic Undersecretary Archibald Dentus has kindly accepted the post of professor of History of Magic."

Dentus exchanged nods with most teachers. "Has Professor Binns resigned?" asked Trelawney, clearly surprised. "I spoke with him from time to time; I would think he would not have left without informing me of his plans."

McGonagall seemed to be trying to choose her words carefully. "He did not resign, as such, but it was clear that he intended not to return. He decided it was time to move on, and we must respect his decision. Now–"

"Excuse me, Professor," interrupted Trelawney, as Harry was sure he saw irritation flicker across McGonagall's face. "How was it 'clear?' I saw no portents, and I was his closest friend on the staff."

McGonagall glanced at Harry, and was about to answer, when Harry put up a hand to stop her. "It's okay, Professor," he said to McGonagall. "I'm not going to tell most of the students, but I did plan to tell the staff at some point." Looking at Trelawney, then others, he explained what had happened with Dumbledore. Like others he had told, they reacted mainly with awe, except Trelawney, who either didn't believe him or was trying to appear unimpressed. "So," he concluded, "he told me that Professor Binns wouldn't be back, and I told Professor McGonagall."

"Heavens..." said Sprout, amazed. "And he stays where he is to talk to you?"

Harry glanced at McGonagall, who answered the question. "As was his intention all along, he stays where he is to assist in the struggle against Voldemort. More than that I cannot say, for security reasons."

There were more impressed looks. Flitwick shook his head and said, "I must say, if he can die and still help against Voldemort, then Voldemort's in trouble."

"That is the idea," agreed McGonagall. "Returning to the topic, I wish to thank Professor Dentus for taking the position. In other personnel-related announcements before we get underway, the Head Boy and Girl this year will be Ernie Macmillan of Hufflepuff and Hermione Granger of Gryffindor."

Harry had to fight off an urge to interject, 'And if we were Aurors, money would be changing hands right now.' McGonagall continued, "And as I am now the headmistress, I cannot continue in my role as Head of Gryffindor House; the new Head of Gryffindor House is Professor Potter."

Harry got some impressed looks. "So, as a student and a Head of House," said Sprout with amusement, "you could end up having to discipline yourself."

Several teachers laughed, including Harry. "I hope it doesn't come to that," he replied. "I think I'll try to talk to myself first, see if I can get myself to listen to reason. Knowing me, though, I doubt it'll work."

"You could have Hermione talk to you, on your behalf," suggested John. "You would probably listen to her."

"Fascinating though the ramifications are," said McGonagall dryly, "we should get on with the meeting. Before we discuss our plans for the year, is there any business anyone wishes to discuss?"

"Yes, Headmistress, I have something," said Snape, to Harry's surprise. "It concerns the Slytherin Quidditch team. As you know, six of the seven members of last year's team graduated last year, and the remaining player is inexperienced. I myself am not well versed in the nuances of Quidditch, leaving open the question of how new players for this year's team are to be selected."

"Couldn't Madam Hooch do it?" asked Sprout.

"I discussed it with her; she informed me that she does not feel competent to evaluate talent," said Snape. Looking at McGonagall, he asked, "I assume I may choose the person I wish to choose the team members?"

"If the person agrees, certainly," said McGonagall.

"Thank you," said Snape politely. "I would therefore request that Professor Potter choose the six new team members."

Harry gaped in surprise, as heads turned and eyebrows rose. He looked at Snape as if not sure he'd heard correctly. "You're jo– okay, you're not joking," he quickly amended, as he remembered who he was talking to. "But not only am I the head of Gryffindor House, I play on the Gryffindor team! I don't think there could be a much bigger conflict of interest than that."

"I am perfectly willing to stipulate the conflict of interest," replied Snape calmly. "I remain confident that you will choose the best players possible; I am given to understand that those chosen by a phoenix possess a certain integrity of character. Or is that merely a misconception?"

Harry gave Snape an annoyed look. "You're just getting back at me for those comments about the schedule, aren't you."

Snape raised an eyebrow. "Hardly. I chose you because you are the person on staff with the most Quidditch experience. However, your reluctance is understandable. No doubt you are concerned that you will do such a good job of selecting players that your hold on the Quidditch Cup may be threatened. I am sure no one would think less of you were you to turn down my request for that reason."

Annoyed as he was, Harry couldn't help but smile a little. Also smiling, Flitwick said, "Gee, Harry, do you think he's trying to manipulate you?"

"No, he's just getting in a few shots at me," replied Harry. "He knows I'll do it anyway. Okay, Professor, I'll choose the best team I can, and we'll still win the Cup."

"It would hardly be a surprise, as your team is experienced, whereas mine will not be," admitted Snape. "In three or four years, though, things may be different."

Harry nodded. "Yes, they might," he agreed. "And don't worry, I'll choose younger rather than older, other things being equal."

"Just out of curiosity, why?" asked John.

"You always want to choose younger if you can, so the players can get more experienced and be better when they're older," explained Harry. "If I choose mostly second and third years, they'll be pretty good when they're sixth and seventh years."

"Sounds like you're going out of your way to be fair," commented Flitwick.

Harry shrugged. "If I do it, I have to do it like I would if it were my team."

"Well, that is settled, then," said McGonagall, in an unmistakable 'let's move on' tone. "Are there any other questions before we proceed?"

"Yes, I have a question, Professor," said Harry, a thought suddenly having popped into his head. "Are there contingency plans in case the castle comes under attack?"

He got a few surprised looks. "What makes you think that'll happen?" asked John.

Harry was surprised that John should have to ask. "I'm here," he said simply.

"He tried hard to kill you last year, but he didn't attack the castle," John pointed out.

"And nothing has worked, so he might try," argued Harry. "Besides, he's had a whole year to prepare, he might have figured out a way." Harry found he didn't want to say what he thought was the most important reason Voldemort wouldn't have tried it the year before: that Dumbledore was there then, but now was not. He knew McGonagall probably understood that as well, but saying it somehow seemed insulting to McGonagall.

"The castle is a highly secure environment, protected by many kinds of ancient magic, as you know," said McGonagall to Harry reassuringly. "The founders made sure that this was so, and Hogwarts has never in its many-centuries history been successfully invaded. However, we do take the possibility seriously, and the Aurors have plans for its defense. I suggest you take up the matter with Mr. Shacklebolt if you would like further information."

"I will, thanks," he said. He specifically wondered what would happen with the students, how they would be protected. He also knew that many would want to join the fight, and he felt that at least sixth and seventh years should be allowed to. He decided on the spot to teach advanced dueling to the sixth years as well as the seventh years.

"If there is nothing else, then," prompted McGonagall. "Very well, as usual we shall go around the table and get each professor's thoughts as to how they will approach their classes, from most junior to most senior. Professor Dentus, if you would begin."

With a glance and a smile at Harry, Dentus said, "I never would have thought I'd be junior to a seventeen-year-old. Well, as I told the headmistress and the deputy headmaster yesterday, I plan to generally follow the established curricula for each year's classes, but emphasize the current situation and link it to similar historical events. I am interested in having the students understand that we are in the midst of historically significant events, which will one day be written about in history books. I think it will help them to empathize with those who lived throughout other historically significant times."

"Interesting, it sounds like a very good idea," commented Sprout. "Will you be mentioning the fact that they'll also be taking classes from a historically significant figure?"

Dentus smiled at Harry again. "Well, this particular historically significant figure tends to get embarrassed rather easily, so I shouldn't answer here. But I imagine it'll come up once or twice."

"Come on," said Harry to Dentus, annoyed and embarrassed. "If I dropped dead tomorrow–which, you know, could happen–then I wouldn't be very historically significant, would I?"

Dentus gave a mild shrug. "Less so, I admit; I understand you haven't exactly defeated Voldemort yet. But I was speaking more of the energy of love. If you died tomorrow along with your friends, then yes, the energy of love might die in its crib, so to speak, and your historical significance would be diminished. But if its use becomes even somewhat widespread, it will have great historical significance, even more so than if you defeat Voldemort. I see that you hadn't thought of it quite that way."

"I'm just busy trying not to be killed, it's hard to think about things like historical significance," said Harry, trying not to be obviously embarrassed.

"That's why it's good to take History of Magic, you can understand these things better," teased Dentus.

McGonagall cleared her throat. "Well, amusing as it is to make sport of Professor Potter, we should stop there." Harry had a feeling of gratitude until she added, "There will be plenty more chances throughout the year." He gave her a long-suffering look as the other teachers laughed. "I apologize, Harry, that was hard to resist. Now, as you are the next most junior professor, the floor is yours."

Harry paused for a few seconds. "I guess I'm going to do things similarly to last year–focusing on practical things–but even more so. Like I said, I'm expecting an attack on the school; at least, I can't ignore the strong possibility. I want every student to be able to defend him or herself as well as possible. I'm going to focus strongly on dueling, real dueling, for the sixth and seventh years, maybe even start the topic for the fifth years. I'll be teaching the Patronus Charm to anyone I think can learn it. Lots of emphasis on Stunning, Disarming, Protection, Impediment, that sort of thing."

The other teachers exchanged glances, but said nothing. Finally McGonagall said, "That sounds fine, Professor. But I am sure you know that most of us are wondering whether you will attempt to teach students how to use the energy of love."

"You, and everyone I came in contact with all summer," said Harry. "I can't answer it exactly, though, because it depends a lot on the reactions I get when it comes up in class. Obviously Hermione being able to use the new spells against Voldemort got people's attention, and I understand that. But it's going to be very difficult for a lot of people, which I'm going to tell them. And just because I was able to teach my friends doesn't mean it'll be easy to teach anyone else. Part of me wants to take it slowly, take a few years to try it out on different groups before I try it in classes. But I also know that it could save lives if even some people get it fairly quickly, like my friends did. In the classes, I'm just going to watch what happens, and decide as I go. Professor Dumbledore was always telling me to use my intuition, and this seems like a good time to do that."

McGonagall nodded. "As your intuition has provided you with two highly useful spells, I would not want to argue with it. John, your turn."

As John explained that his course's main change would involve making students aware of the internet, Harry mentally drifted, wondering if he would actually be mentioned in history books. He had never contemplated such a thing before, even though at their first meeting Hermione had told him he was mentioned in books of recent history. He felt that it would be great in other circumstances, but as he had said to Dentus, all he could think about was how much he wanted a nice, boring life.

After the meeting, the group moved to the Great Hall for the teachers' feast and social event, from which Snape was again absent. After the meal, everyone stood and circulated; Harry felt far more comfortable than he had at the previous year's event, now that he knew everyone and was comfortable with them. Well, except Trelawney, he thought, as she took twenty minutes pressing him for details as to how he communicated with Dumbledore.

She finally let him go, after which he was approached by an obviously amused McGonagall. "I assume you heard that conversation?" he asked.

"Enough of it," confirmed McGonagall. "It was clear even at the meeting, when you told the room about what had happened, that she was most put out. She clearly feels that you are treading on her territory."

"But this has nothing to do with Divination," pointed out Harry. "Albus doesn't know the future."

"It is close enough, apparently. It seems that anything... otherworldly is enough to draw her attention, and that she wishes Albus were talking to her rather than you."

Harry shook his head. "Was she really that close to Professor Binns? I wouldn't think so, if he didn't even say goodbye to her."

"I don't know, really. All I can say is that they both tended to avoid the staff room."

"Speaking of which, will we be seeing you in the staff room, now that you're the headmistress?"

"Yes, I think you will," she said. "I will still be teaching this year, and it will be more convenient than going to... I want to say, Albus's office. He was here for so long, it simply seems like his, rather than that of the headmaster or headmistress. Next year, I will not be teaching, so I will probably spend more time there."

"That reminds me, is there a portrait of him in there now, along with all the other ones of past headmasters?"

"Yes, there is," she said. "Of course, it has no relationship to what you see when you talk to him at night; the portrait may not even know that you are unless you tell it. Then again, he did plan it, so it is possible. It will certainly not know what you talk about with Albus, though. You do understand that the portrait will not be quite the same as he was, though it will be similar."

"Yes, I know," he agreed. "Let me ask you, Professor... how does it feel, knowing that you'll be the next one whose portrait goes up there?"

"I could ask you the same question," she pointed out. "You could be after me. How would it make you feel?"

He hadn't thought about that. "I suppose since I'd be dead, it wouldn't matter much one way or the other."

She nodded. "And that is exactly how I feel."

"I understand," he said. "Professor, do you think Albus will be written about in history books?"

"He already has been," she pointed out. "But I assume you mean, in the ones written a hundred years from now. I'm not sure, Harry. But let me ask you: if he is, what do you think will be said about him?"

Harry thought for a moment. "It's hard to say... history's never been my subject, I'm not sure what they say about people in history books, only what they did. I guess it would say the same things that are on his Chocolate Frog card."

"And how would you remember him to someone else, if you had to do it in only a few sentences?

He thought again. "That he was a man of principle, that he did what he thought was right... and that it would be hard to imagine someone more kind, caring, and loving than he was."

She smiled, emotion in her eyes. "Yes, exactly. That is why I feel that what is written about us in history books is not so important. What is important is how we are remembered by those we leave behind, and I know for a fact that even those who knew him far less well than you and I remember him the same way. That is surely as much as any of us can hope for."

She drifted off to talk to someone else, leaving Harry alone with his thoughts. He was approached by Dentus. "I heard most of that, Harry, I was waiting to talk to you when you and she were finished. She's certainly right, and I don't think Albus could be summed up better than you did. But unfortunately, I come to bring you back down to reality, the here and now, the world of moral compromises."

Harry gave Dentus a quizzical look. With a wry smile, Dentus continued, "Of course, that seems to be my role in your life. Anyway... I didn't talk to you yesterday, but I'm sure you, or Hermione, saw in the Prophet that Rudolphus Bright was made Minister of Magic." Harry nodded. "I spent some time before today's meeting talking to old friends in the Ministry, and one of them said that he wanted to talk to me. Of course, everyone knows now about my relationship with you. I talked with Bright in a fireplace, and he wants to have a meeting with you. I explained our schedule today, and how busy you usually are, especially once the school year starts. He asked me to ask you if you would be willing to see him tonight, after the social event is finished."

"Well, you did say this would happen," said Harry resignedly. "I suppose so, better to do it now than once I get really busy. Does he want me to meet him at the Ministry?"

"No, Harry. He'll come here. You can decide where to meet him; your quarters might be a good place."

"He'll come here? Why? I can just take Fawkes to see him, but he has to come through Hogsmeade, guarded by Aurors. Is there something else he wants to do here?"

"No, Harry," Dentus explained patiently. "This is a gesture on his part, or you could say it's part of political theater. In politics, where you meet is important. In your office? His office? Someplace neutral? He knows he could ask you to come to the Ministry, and you would. By coming here to meet you, he's making a show of respect, for you and your accomplishments."

Harry was impressed. "I didn't know it worked like that. When should I meet him?"

"I talked to Professor McGonagall, and she said we would be finished here by about a quarter to eight, so eight seems like a good time. I can go off to a fireplace and let him know, and I'm sure he'll be here by then."

"Okay, that's fine," agreed Harry. "Do you have any advice for what I should say to him? Do you know why he wants to talk to me?"

"To answer the second one first, you're one of the most important wizards in the country, right up there with him and Kingsley; he wants to have a relationship with you. If I had to guess, I'd say he'll talk to you with an unusual–for a politician–degree of respect and honesty, because he knows what kind of person you are, and what will have a good impression on you. I don't know exactly what he'll say, but I do understand that his goal will be simply for you to think well of him. He almost certainly will not ask you to protect him; he knows that since you're very brave, he won't impress you by not acting bravely. As for advice, I wouldn't suggest anything in particular to say to him. I wouldn't bother asking him his opinions on issues, since he would just tell you what you wanted to hear, and you're not that well versed in them anyway. I would say, just get a sense of how he presents himself, of who you'll be dealing with in the future, because you almost certainly will. You'll be fine. Just think of how Albus would have dealt with him. Be honest, be yourself, don't concern yourself with questions of how much power or influence you have, and you'll be all right. Okay, I'll go let him know. You should just go to your quarters a little before eight." As Dentus walked away, Harry thought about how ironic it was that most people would think it was a great honor to be paid a visit by the Minister of Magic, but he would just as soon return to the Burrow. He held up his hand to tell Ginny why he would be back later than he had thought.

Harry walked into his quarters at five minutes to eight, wishing that Ginny could be there with him. Not that she would want to talk to Bright either, but he always felt better with her around. Partly out of a lack of anything else to do, he sat and focused on love, much as he would before a session with Snape.

A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door; Harry stood and opened it with his wand. Rudolphus Bright walked in; Harry got a quick glimpse of Dawlish outside the door, providing security. Harry knew that Bright's age was forty-five, but he looked at least five years younger. He had brown hair with no gray in it, and was about the same height as Harry. "Professor Potter, Rudolphus Bright. I'm very pleased to meet you."

As he shook Bright's hand, what Harry particularly noticed was Bright's eyes; they were quick, intelligent, seeming to show more of Bright's character than a politician would want them to. Harry reminded himself that Dentus had said that Bright was very skilled with people, so he should assume that Bright could present himself any way he wanted to. "Thank you, Minister, it's nice to meet you. Please, sit down." They sat in the two chairs in which he and Dumbledore had sat a year and a day ago.

"Thank you for seeing me, Professor," said Bright. "I know you're very busy, maybe busier than I am."

"Well, I will be starting tomorrow, but today isn't so bad," said Harry. "But I admit that I was surprised when I heard you wanted to see me. You were made minister just the other day; you must have a lot of things to do."

"Yes, I do," said Bright agreeably, "and one of those things is to see, and hopefully get to know a little, some of the people I'll be working with, that I'll be in contact with. You are high up on that list; you must know that."

"Only because Archibald told me," said Harry humorously. "I would have had no idea otherwise."

"I guess that's understandable," said Bright. "You're only seventeen, you haven't had much time to get used to the idea that you're an important person. But you are, of course. For me, this is like starting a new job and talking to the people I'll be dealing with. You and I may not have anything to do with each other right away, but it seems inevitable that we will at some point, with me leading the Ministry, and you leading the fight against Voldemort. Also, we may know each other for quite a while. I could be Minister for a long time–at least, I hope so–and you'll always have influence, be important. It just makes sense that we should get to know one another."

"I understand," said Harry, "but it doesn't seem right to say that I'm leading the fight against Voldemort. I mean, there's Kingsley, and Professor McGonagall, they're the ones who make the important decisions."

Bright smiled at Harry's modesty. "They may be in charge, but you're leading the fight. Leading is done by example more than with words; you don't say a lot, but you do a lot. At the end of June, a whole class of students saw you go off to face Voldemort, your only concern being for Professor Dumbledore's safety, and for Mr. Longbottom's. Things like that are what inspire people to want to follow you. Whether you like it or not, you have influence, and you deserve that influence."

"Why do you say, 'whether you like it or not?'" wondered Harry. He was fairly sure he'd never said any such thing publicly.

"Well, now, I can tell just by talking to you," said Bright. "But of course I've read all the interviews you've done with the Prophet, and reading between the lines of what you say, it's not hard to tell. You'd just as soon do what you do and be left alone."

Harry nodded. "I... as Hermione would put it, I have 'issues' with fame."

"My only issue with fame is that I'd like more of it," said Bright with a self-deprecating chuckle. "Well, not fame as such, but just as it relates to political power. There is a definite correlation between being well-known and having power."

"I've never understood the appeal of having power," said Harry. As he spoke, he became aware of an odd feeling in his head, something fleeting, yet familiar, which he couldn't quite place.

"Spoken like a true Gryffindor," said Bright with a smile.

"I guess you were a Slytherin?" asked Harry.

"No, a Ravenclaw, actually," replied Bright. "Considering how ambitious I've always been, I could easily have been a Slytherin. But many people have characteristics that could place them in more than one House, and the Sorting Hat just has to pick which one it thinks is best. For example, from what I've read, Hermione could easily have been a Ravenclaw. The Hat must have just decided that her courage was more important than her intelligence, and clearly it was right."

"Can I ask you... to you, what's the appeal of having power?" asked Harry. As he asked, he decided to check Bright with Legilimens when he answered. He had practiced checking for lies enough at the Burrow over the past two weeks, and with the Aurors, that he felt comfortable that his checking would not be detected.

"Now, there's an interesting question," mused Bright, "and one I'm not asked all that often, because the answer seems to most people to be self-evident. But..." Bright trailed off, a slightly puzzled look crossing his face. His eyes widened, and he looked at Harry with undisguised surprise. "You're a Legilimens?"

Now Harry was surprised, and somewhat embarrassed, but nodded. "Professor Dumbledore taught me, or started to, before he died. He thought I needed it to be able to deal with Voldemort, who is one as well. But I'm sorry, I shouldn't have–"

Bright waved off his apology. "Please, Professor, you don't have to apologize. If there's any time you need Legilimency, it's when you're talking to a politician, especially one you don't know. I completely understand."

"I don't mean anything about you personally," Harry said anyway. "But I'm surprised you could tell; I thought I was good enough by now that people couldn't tell, unless..." Now Harry was surprised, as he recalled something that Dumbledore had told him about Legilimency: that checking for lies could usually be detected only if the other person was a Legilimens as well.

"Unless I was one too," said Bright, finishing Harry's sentence. "Which I am. Had you noticed that I was checking you before?"

"I noticed something," said Harry, "but I wasn't sure what it was. I'm still sort of new at this, so I don't recognize everything."

Bright nodded sympathetically. "It's a very delicate skill, which I'm sure you've noticed by now. You know, you're the first person who's caught me out with this. There are very few Legilimens, and I try not to check people until I'm fairly sure they're not one. It never occurred to me that you might be, since you're so young. But I shouldn't be surprised, since you have enough power to do it, plenty of incentive, and an excellent teacher. I didn't even know that Dumbledore was, though I had heard rumors."

"If only people who are Legilimens can recognize it, then why do you try so hard not to be noticed?" asked Harry.

Bright smiled. "I can see why you wouldn't have thought of this, but if it became publicly known, it would be the end of my career." Harry's face reflected his surprise. "People would assume that I advanced by devious means," explained Bright. "People are nervous around Legilimens, which is why we don't make it known that we are. I would never have made it to this position if people had known."

"I guess I can understand that," said Harry. "Hugo has said that people sometimes react badly to him. But to tell you the truth–" Harry laughed, saying, "That's kind of a funny phrase to use when talking to a Legilimens; you might think, 'I'll be the judge of that,' but anyway, I've been considering going public with it."

Bright's eyebrows rose high. "Why would you do that?"

"It has to do with teaching people to use the energy of love," explained Harry. "Ron was having a very hard time, and he asked me to go looking for stuff that might be stopping him. I did, and it worked. I might want people I'm teaching to know that I can do that if they want me to; it could be the difference between them being able to do it or not, and it's the kind of thing that could save their lives."

Bright looked impressed and doubtful. "I can see what you're saying, Professor, but–"

"Please, call me Harry."

"Thank you, and you should call me Rudolphus. As I was saying, I find it hard to imagine that many people would request it. You know very well what an invasion of privacy it is. People would have to want it very badly to allow that."

"Rudolphus, practically everyone I've met this summer has asked me if I'm going to teach it. I think people want it pretty badly, and this would only be for people who asked for it, obviously."

"I understand, but my point is that you would be making quite a sacrifice. People would react to you differently if they knew; at least, a lot would. I assume you've gotten to know Brantell fairly well; you should talk to him about it. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it, just that you should think about it carefully. Maybe teach it for a while, see how it goes; maybe most people won't need it. Letting it be known would be a big thing." Bright paused, then regarded Harry with a very serious expression. "I'd like to ask you, Harry... who, if anyone, do you plan to tell about this?"

Harry had to think. "My inclination would be to tell the other five, and Archibald; I can't really think of anyone else who I would bother to tell. I assume you'd really rather I didn't tell Archibald."

Bright chuckled. "What I'd really rather was that you told not a single other person. It's nothing personal about Dentus, who I respect and think is a good man. But I just don't want anyone knowing, especially someone in politics. It's easy to be tempted to use information in unethical ways."

Harry frowned. "Do you mean that you've never used information you've gotten from your ability to advance in politics?"

"No, of course I have," admitted Bright. "That's how I know how easy it is to be tempted. I do try not to behave unethically, and you should feel free to check any of my answers that you want to. I don't mind."

Harry sensed that Bright was telling the truth, but that he had used the word 'try' for a reason. "Do you think it's ethical to use this information at all, or only to use it when someone else is being especially dishonest? I mean, people can lie for privacy reasons, and they should be able to."

"I know, that's true," agreed Bright. "And I have wrestled with the ethical implications of it, more than once. To answer your question, the more deceitful they are, the freer I feel to use the information I get. I'm not saying I have a right for nobody else to know, just a preference, one that I'm sure you can understand."

"I suppose I do," said Harry. "But with Archibald, the problem is... he may not be a Legilimens, but he can read my face very well. If I tell him about this meeting and don't tell him this, he'll know I'm not telling him something. I don't want him feeling that he can't trust me, and he can't give me as good advice if he doesn't know something like this. I do feel like I need his advice, it's very important to me. I'm pretty lost in politics."

Bright sighed in displeasure. "I see that, though I won't pretend I'm not unhappy about it. All right, but if you're willing, I'd very much like you to ask him, as a personal favor from you, not to tell anyone, and to check his answer with Legilimens. Will you do that?"

"Yes, I will," replied Harry. "And I won't tell my friends unless there's some very good reason. Except Hermione; she'd probably find out anyway, she's the one I practice with."

Again, Bright looked impressed. "I guess you really are close friends. You know that there are serious privacy issues with this. But, Harry, I know you're being truthful, but I'm getting the sense of a lie of omission. There's something else, a part of your answer to my question, that you're not telling me. I don't mention noticing things like that most of the time, but this is very important to me."

Now Harry sighed, knowing that Bright had noticed him omit any mention of the fact that Snape would find out. "There is one other person who's going to know, but everything connected with the situation is extremely confidential. I promise you that the information will go no further than this other person. I'm sorry, but I just can't tell you any more than that."

"Harry, I am now the Minister of Magic," pointed out Bright. "I can be trusted with confidential information."

"It's confidential as much for personal reasons as anything else," said Harry, hoping Bright would stop asking him questions before he stumbled onto something. "Trust me, I just can't talk about it. If you knew the situation, you would understand and agree. This is something that's important to the fight against Voldemort."

Harry got the sense of Bright checking his truthfulness. "I'm not happy with this, either, but I know you're telling me the truth, so I'll live with it."

"Thank you," said Harry sincerely. "By the way, just how common are Legilimens? Do you know how many there are?"

Bright shook his head. "There's no way to know, since we don't announce ourselves. My grandfather, who taught me, said he heard it estimated that it's one in every five hundred to a thousand wizards. It sounds reasonable to me; I am very sure it's not common." He paused, then continued, "We got started on this because you asked me what I found appealing about power, and you considered my answer important enough to check, which you hadn't done until then. I will answer, but I'd like to ask you first: why is it such an important question to you, considering that most people would find the answer obvious?"

"I don't have positive associations with the idea of power," said Harry. "Albus kept his distance from it, didn't chase it. Voldemort thinks it's all there is to life. Lucius Malfoy was able to buy it with money. And Cornelius Fudge abused it two years ago, used it as a weapon instead of a responsibility. So..."

Harry paused long enough that Bright finished his sentence. "If someone does chase it, you feel like you want to know why, what they plan on doing with it when they have it. It's a very good question, Harry, and it's been quite a while since I thought about it in those terms. The answer I would give if asked publicly, the standard politician's answer, is 'I want to do good, I want to help the people of the wizarding community, to create the best possible lives for them,' and so forth. Now, on some level, that's true. I do want to do good, and I think many people at the Ministry do, as well. I think most of us start out that way. But the real challenge is to reach a position where you can do good while not getting so corrupted by the process that you forget to do it when you get there. Power starts to become an end in itself; the reason to have it, just so one can keep it. That sounds like a circular answer, but it really is true. I'm sure Dentus would say something like this if you asked him. Power is so hard to get that it takes all of your effort just to get it, and keep it.

"I realize I haven't exactly answered your question yet, but it is a difficult one, if you try to go beyond the obvious answer of 'it's good to have power.' I suppose the answer that comes to mind right now is that it's a way of testing myself, that I want to see how well I can do with power, with this job. I really think I can do it better than it's been done recently, not just Fudge, but others before him as well. Maybe it's like you wanting to do well at Quidditch, or teach your classes well. I think I have talent at this–hopefully, not only at getting power, but at doing well with it once I have it. And I think I don't delude myself by saying that there's some level of unselfishness in it: after all, the person I'm replacing was killed for no other reason than that he had this job. The safe thing to do, and what some candidates did, was to pass on trying for it this time, and try again in the future, after Voldemort's gone. But somebody had to do it, and I decided I would. I still don't know if I've answered your question, but I think I've done the best I can. I will say that it's very possible to have power and not mess it up, even though that's not been your experience. Maybe your History of Magic teacher can tell you about that."

Harry chuckled at the last comment. "I'll definitely ask him. And I appreciate your answering the question like you did. You could have just given me the standard politician's answer, and I would never have known the difference."

Bright's expression suggested that there was something obvious that Harry wasn't seeing. "Dentus would. If I had, and you told him, he would tell you that I wasn't worth listening to, treating you like you were some idiot. And he'd be right."

"But when it comes to politics, I'm not too far from that," Harry pointed out.

"Especially considering your age, you don't deserve to be treated that way, though. Maybe you don't know about politics and couldn't be Minister of Magic, but I don't know about the energy of love, and couldn't face Voldemort without fear. You deserve to be treated with respect, no matter what the context. And in terms of talking to you, it's simple common sense, from a political point of view. I'm sure Dentus told you something like that."

Harry nodded. "He said, 'the next Minister of Magic is going to want to be your friend.'"

Bright laughed loudly as Harry smiled. "He's absolutely right, of course. It must seem strange to you, but it's a given to any politician. As I said was the reason I wanted to see you, you have influence, and as the Minister of Magic, of course I want to have working relationships with people of influence. That doesn't mean we'll agree all the time, but we probably will sometimes, and it's good for each of us to know where the other stands. You see, Harry, there are different centers of influence in any society, and I'll never be able to make all of them happy, but I'll want to make as many of them happy at the same time as I can. For example, the Aurors have a lot of influence, and I want them to be satisfied with what I'm doing, which I can do by supporting things like the ARA. Now, I also want to keep business leaders happy, but they don't like the ARA, because it costs them money. They grudgingly accept it, but you see what I mean. There are many such groups, in politics called 'constituencies.' Some are more powerful, some not so much, but I have to pay attention to all of them.

"Now as for you, you're a very unusual constituency, from a politician's point of view. My impression is that you're going to be the constituency that wants me to... simply do what's right, I suppose you could say. You're not going to care about trade policies or business regulations, but if I do something that you think is just plain wrong, I think that's when I'm going to hear from you. Does that sound about right?"

"I suppose so, but it would have to be pretty important to me before I'd think to call you and tell you that."

Bright nodded. "That's as it should be, of course. You want to save your influence for what's important. Now, that doesn't mean that if you do, I'll say, 'you're right, Harry, I'll do it your way.' I may recognize that what you suggest is the right thing to do, but it may be that I'll upset a lot of powerful constituencies by doing what's right. You'd be amazed at how often that can happen. I may say, 'you're right, Harry, but the problem is that I'll lose a lot of support by doing the right thing, and I can't afford that.'" His expression became more serious, and Harry got the impression that to Bright, what he was about to say was the most important thing he would say in the meeting. "What you need to always keep in mind is that a politician's political standing is the most important consideration in almost any decision, and that's the way it has to be. I simply can't do my job if I don't have political support. Nine times out of ten, if I have a decision to make, I'll make the one that gets me the most support. That may seem crass and self-serving, but it's also the will of the people, as expressed through constituencies. People essentially put you into a position, then say, 'do what we want you to do.' For things I feel very strongly about, I can buck the will of the people and get away with it. But not very often."

Dentus had said things like this, thought Harry, though he hadn't made this point quite so specifically. "I'm wondering... what made you think that my main interest would be in your doing the right thing?"

"You were chosen by a phoenix, Harry," said Bright. "There tends to be a consistency in the kinds of people phoenixes choose. Historically speaking, it's extremely rare for a political leader to be chosen by a phoenix, and when it happened, it was always someone upon whom political power was thrust, rather than someone who sought it. Look at Dumbledore. People were pleading with him to be Minister sixteen years ago, but he wouldn't do it, and he was right not to do so. He didn't do it because he would have done what was right in every situation, not what was popular, and he would have slowly lost popularity and support until he eventually would have been replaced. Both Muggles and wizards have used the phrase 'we get the government we deserve,' and there's a lot of truth to it. We certainly didn't deserve Dumbledore. Anyway, I tell you this because there may come a time when you get upset with me for doing something that's arguably wrong. I may agree with you in principle, but feel I have to make a decision based on politics." Humorously, he added, "If I made my decisions based on what would be approved of by people who were chosen by phoenixes, I really wouldn't last long."

Slightly embarrassed, Harry smiled, but then asked, "If that's true, then why am I a constituency? Why pay attention to anything I say?"

"See, you're definitely not an idiot, Harry. That you ask that question shows that you're absorbing what I'm saying. To answer, you have the support of people who admire your bravery; you're like a symbol for what's noble. Because of what you've done, some people will support you to an extent even if you say things they don't agree with. If I do something you disapprove of so strongly that you feel you need to speak publicly, I'll lose support. If I do the right but not-so-popular thing, like Fudge did with the ARA, I may ask you for support to help me do it. Either way, what you think and say will figure in my support in certain situations, so I have to consider it as a factor. That's why you're an important constituency."

Harry shook his head. "I guess I understand; Archibald has told me some parts of this already. It all just seems so... I don't know, like a big business deal or something. Things are decided on how much political support they have, not on..." he trailed off, realizing what he was about to say, and smiling a little as he did so.

"Not on whether or not they're right," finished an amused Bright. "See, that's it, you're that constituency. And I do see what you mean; part of me wishes it could be like that. I just know it can't. I feel like, sometimes I'll get to do what's right, if I'm lucky. Maybe occasionally I'll call you and ask you what you think is the right thing to do, in some situation. You'll tell me, and I'll say, yes, I can't do that, but wouldn't it be great if I could."

They both chuckled, then Bright stood. "Well, I really should be on my way. I don't want to keep you too long, and I want to visit Professor McGonagall before I leave. But I appreciate your taking the time to see me."

"I'd imagine most people have time to see the Minister of Magic," said Harry as they walked to the door. "But I enjoyed talking to you. It was kind of like talking to Archibald; I learned a lot."

Bright smiled. "That's probably the most genuine compliment I've heard in a long time. Thank you." He shook Harry's hand and left. Harry silently summoned Fawkes, who took him back to the Burrow, for his last night there before the start of the term.

* * * * *

Harry awoke at his usual time, glad that he had kept his sleep schedule similar to what it was at Hogwarts. At breakfast, he and his friends talked excitedly about the term ahead, though Molly was subdued, making a few comments about how sad it would be to have an empty home again. Hermione pointed out that they might be back again next summer, though Harry realized it would be less likely that all of them would be back if Voldemort were defeated.

After breakfast, they all went upstairs to pack, except for Hermione, who had done it the day before, and went to Harry, Ron, and Neville's room to be with Neville while he packed. Harry noticed Hermione at one point start to make a comment about what Neville packed, then stop herself; he wondered whether this was part of her effort to change the way she dealt with Neville. Harry half-seriously called Hermione over to ask which of his slowly growing collection of books he should take in his trunk, though he knew that if he didn't take a book and needed it later, he could always take Fawkes back to the Burrow and get it. Also, he knew that Dumbledore had a small library of personal books which was now his, in his quarters. He told Hermione she should feel free to visit his quarters any time and look at them, knowing that she would, and fill him in on the contents later. He knew he should look at them himself, but he never seemed to have the time. One of these days, he told himself.

After he finished packing, he took his trunk downstairs and sat on the sofa next to Ron. Hermione and Ginny were also there; Neville and Pansy were still packing. "So strange," mused Ron. "It's the last time we'll be doing this. It always feels like such a big day... still does, I suppose, but other things seem bigger now."

"You mean, like Quidditch?" teased Hermione.

Ron smiled. "Yes, exactly. Actually, I'm pretty confident about our chances this year. We've won twice in a row, and nobody else is that strong. If the Hufflepuffs get a decent Seeker, they could be a threat, but I still think we could beat them."

"Hard to argue with that," Harry agreed. "Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you yesterday... at the teachers' meeting, Snape asked me to choose this year's Slytherin team."

"And you said 'no,' right?" asked Ron, as though it were the only sensible answer.

"Sorry, Ron," he replied, and related the details of the conversation. Finishing, he added, "I really didn't feel like I could say no. Not because of what he said, but... I don't know, it just seems only fair that every team should have the best players it can."

"And he would have done the same for you, if your positions were reversed," said Ron sarcastically.

"I know he wouldn't have, but I don't want to be that petty," said Harry. "It did surprise me, though, that Madam Hooch thinks she couldn't choose the team well enough. I wondered if she just didn't do it because she doesn't want Snape blaming her if they don't do well."

"Or, maybe because she just doesn't like him," suggested Ron. "Can't imagine why, with the charming personality he has."

Harry exchanged brief but meaningful glances with Ginny and Hermione, knowing they were all thinking that Ron might not say that if he understood Snape's situation. Harry knew that normally he would have made a remark agreeing with Ron, but he decided to try to change the subject. "Hard to say. I still think we won't have any problems, though, since they probably won't be that good at first. With our two Firebolts, we're going to be hard to beat."

"Not to mention," added Ron, "a Chaser who scored twenty-one goals last time, and a Seeker who could play on the Quidditch World Cup team." Harry shot Ron a look that was part anger, part sadness. Ron sighed. "Look, Harry, it is true. That twit Woodridge may have messed it up for you, but I really do think you would have made it anyway."

"I think he knows that, Ron, at least at some level," said Ginny, obviously sympathetic to how Harry felt. "It just reminds him of it, is all." To Harry, she added, "I guess you probably won't be able to enjoy the World Cup when it happens this summer, because of this."

"I don't know," said Harry. "England may not make the finals anyway, then it wouldn't matter so much. I suppose I'll know how I feel when the time comes."

"It seems safe to say that we'll get to sit in the Top Box again," said Hermione.

"I'm not sure," said Harry. "I'm not about to go to people and say, 'I'm Harry Potter, so give me good tickets.' Even if someone offers, I'm not sure I'd want to take them. I don't want people thinking I owe them something."

"Harry, I think she means the Aurors," pointed out Ron.

"Oh... right," said Harry sheepishly.

"Don't worry, Harry, we know you aren't going to trade on your fame, nor would we want you to," an amused Hermione assured him.

"I don't know... Top Box..." mused Ron, deadpan, then glanced at Harry for a reaction, which Harry gave him by rolling his eyes.

"As his future wife, I could trade on his name," teased Ginny. Adopting a dainty, helpless tone, she said, "Excuse me, but I'm the future Mrs. Harry Potter, is there any way you could possibly..." She stopped, enjoying Harry's annoyed expression, as Ron and Hermione laughed.

"That voice is really not you," said Harry humorously.

"Well, how about this," she said, switching to a seductive tone as she walked to the sofa and sat on his lap, arms around his neck. "Is this me?" She kissed him vigorously as Ron hastily moved further away on the sofa.

"It sounds like her," said Hermione, smiling. "What do you think, Ron?"

"I don't know, I'm trying not to look," responded Ron, with an exaggerated nervous expression.

Trunk over her shoulder, Pansy walked down the stairs, and chuckled when she saw Harry and Ginny. "I see things down here are as usual. Ron, why do you never kiss me like that?"

"You mean, in front of an audience?" retorted Ron. "Besides, she's the one kissing him." As Ginny continued the kiss, Harry reflected that little he did was without at least a potential audience, so it didn't seem to matter much.

"It looks like he's an active participant," said Pansy, as Ginny finally broke off the kiss. "But I'll keep that in mind." She raised her eyebrows and smiled at Ron.

Harry looked into Ginny's eyes. "Yes, that was definitely you," he agreed, as she slid off his lap, remaining very close to him.

"Sorry, Ron," said Ginny. "Well, not really. Just getting in one more, since it'll be much tougher once we're back at Hogwarts."

"Yes, you would never have done it otherwise," cracked Ron. "You're so reserved about that most of the time. Now can someone tell me again, why we're taking Fawkes to King's Cross, but not just taking him straight to Hogwarts?"

"Tradition, Ron," said Hermione earnestly. "This is our last chance to do this, at least in this direction. There are so many memories associated with this, it'll be nice. We can look at the countryside, buy stuff off the trolley..."

"Buy Chocolate Frogs, hoping to get Harry's card," grinned Ron, as Harry tried not to react.

"Oh, that's right, you'd better take a quill, Harry," said Hermione, opening her trunk to look for one. "They'll be doing a huge business in Chocolate Frog cards, and if anyone gets yours, they'll want it autographed. Or, some people might have gotten them during the summer."

"Ah, yes, tradition," said Ron, now enjoying himself. "Harry walking up and down the train, signing autographs. The fond memories..."

"I know," said Harry. "We'll get there early, get a compartment in the back of the train, and I'll hide there for the whole trip."

"Come on, Harry, it'll be fine," Pansy assured him. "There won't be that many looking for your autograph." Harry wasn't so sure, and remained firm in his intention to stay in his compartment. He wondered if he could go five hours without going to the bathroom.

Neville came down, Molly and Arthur came in, and they all talked until ten-forty, at which time Harry wanted to leave. The others agreed, and Molly made the rounds, giving everyone a hug and a kiss. "Now, you all take care of each other," she said, obviously worried.

"We always do," Ginny assured her.

"And keep in touch," instructed Molly. "If there's anything happening, call me from the fireplace in Harry's office."

"We will," said Ginny.

"And look after Pansy especially, she's all alone in Slytherin."

Pansy smiled. "Really, Molly, I'll be all right. I mean, I don't have friends like them in Slytherin, of course, but after April, it was fine. I'm not isolated."

"Also, we've worked out a system to compensate for the fact that she can't be with us in Gryffindor," explained Hermione. "The other five of us usually sit together in the common room and do homework; we'll do that, and Pansy can sit on her bed and do homework, and have an open pendant channel to the rest of us. We'll be able to hear her, and she us."

"Well, that's very nice, I'm glad you can use the pendants for something like that," said Molly. "Okay, I could probably think of ten other things to tell you, but you'd be late for the train. So, go ahead." Harry felt bad for her, she looked so sad to see them go.

"Have a good term, everyone," said Arthur.

"Okay, how are we going to do this," wondered Ron. "I guess two trips, three of us each?"

"Sounds right," agreed Harry. "Who first?"

"How about you three," suggested Ginny, motioning to Harry, Ron, and Hermione. "You're the founding members of the group, you should go together."

"I never thought of it quite that way," said Harry. "But, all right." He slung his lightened trunk over his shoulder, and picked up Hedwig's cage. Hermione scooped up Crookshanks, but Ron paused as he was about to pick up his trunk, looking lost in thought. Then he walked over to Pansy and kissed her, in much the same way Ginny had kissed Harry a short time ago. The others exchanged pleased glances, and when Ron and Pansy finished, Harry, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville broke into applause. Slightly pink with embarrassment, Ron walked back over to Harry and Hermione. He picked up his trunk and Pigwidgeon's cage in one hand, and put the other around Harry's shoulders as Hermione did the same. Harry gave Molly and Arthur a wave goodbye before grasping Fawkes's tail. Fawkes took off, and they were gone.

The first thing Harry heard was a gasp, then a few others, as people on Platform 9 3/4 reacted to the sudden appearance of a phoenix bearing three people. Harry would have preferred to make a less conspicuous entrance, but using Fawkes had been the best thing to do from a security point of view. Harry let go of Fawkes, who disappeared, returning in a few seconds with Neville, Ginny, and Pansy. As they made their way along the platform toward the end of the train, Harry was intercepted by the mother of an embarrassed-looking Hufflepuff third-year boy; the woman asked whether Harry would be teaching his new spells. Harry asked the rest to go on without him as he answered her question, but Ginny stayed with him as the others moved off.

He and Ginny found the others five minutes later, in the last compartment of the last car. "Here you go, Harry, this is about as secluded as it gets," said Hermione.

"Thanks, I could use some seclusion right about now," said Harry as he took a seat next to Hermione.

"I guess so," she said sympathetically. "That woman kept you all that time?"

"No, there was another one," said Ginny. "The mother of a first-year girl, same question, of course. You should have seen the look on the daughter's face, she was looking up at Harry with awe. It was really cute." Hermione and Pansy chuckled at Harry's discomfort with Ginny's description.

"I tried to be polite, but I really didn't want to spend all day explaining to them exactly what's involved," said Harry. "Especially the second woman... I didn't want to say, 'there's no way I'm going to try to teach this to first years,' but it's close to the truth."

"Well, you're safe now, and we'll Stun anyone who tries to come in here and talk to you," said Ginny.

"Ah, if only you meant that," responded Harry.

"We should head up to the front, sit with the prefects," said Hermione, as Ron and Pansy got up along with her. "We'll be back in an hour or so."

"Say hello to the new Head Boy for me," said Harry.

Hermione chuckled. "I will." She picked up Crookshanks, and left the compartment with the others.

They sat in silence for a minute, enjoying the atmosphere and looking out the window at the still-busy platform. Ginny turned to Neville, sitting next to her. "How do you feel, Neville? About going back to school?"

Neville considered the question. "Funny, usually I used to be scared, or worrying that I forgot something. Now, classes don't seem so important. Protecting Harry, helping the Aurors if we get called, that's what feels important. The rest is just... something we're doing in the meantime." He paused, then continued. "You know... if you take out that one day, that one night... except for that whole thing, this was the best summer of my life." He looked up at them, his shyness reasserting itself momentarily. "I got to spend it with the rest of you, I got to do something useful. It was really good."

Touched, Ginny reached over and put an arm around Neville's shoulders. "Thanks. We're really glad you feel that way." Letting go, she asked, "Neville, you don't have to answer this if you don't want to, but... how are you doing, with what happened with Lestrange?"

Harry had wondered that as well, but hadn't wanted to ask; he wondered if she felt that he might be more open with fewer people around. Neville paused again. "A lot better. It's taken a while; it's obviously pretty hard to get past what she did, what kind of person she is. But I know, at least I assume, that if I want to use the energy of love, I can't wish her dead. I have to know I wouldn't torture her again if I could, no matter what she'd done. I asked Ron, and he said he wasn't sure whether it was overcoming his embarrassment at saying 'I love you' or giving up on the idea of torturing or killing Malfoy that did it for him, but I have a feeling that Harry's right when he says that you can't feel that way and use the energy of love. I'm almost certain I couldn't use the shield against Lestrange when they were torturing me because I had so much rage. But she really does deserve to die. It was hard not to think that, not to want it."

Harry could definitely understand that, and felt he knew how hard it must have been for Neville. "What really helped was something Kingsley did," said Neville. "A few days after the Apparation crisis was over, also after Skeeter was killed, Kingsley took me aside. He suggested that I visit Lestrange where she's being kept, he would arrange it so I could see her privately, even though she's supposed to be allowed no visitors, no one to get near her. He said that doing so might help my recovery from what happened. He also said that nobody except Aurors knew that we had her, knew who she was. At first I didn't understand why he was telling me that, but while we were on the way to where they were keeping her, I worked it out." Neville looked at each in turn, his expression very solemn and serious. "Without saying it directly, he was letting me know that if I wanted to, I could kill her. No questions would be asked." Ginny and Harry looked at each other, amazed, then back at Neville.

"I wasn't even sure why I decided to visit her," Neville said, now looking at Harry. "I mean, what could I possibly say to her? And I knew what she would say to me, there would be no point in asking her questions. But I decided to do it. Kingsley pointed me toward where they were keeping her, then left.

"The first thing I did when I saw her was a Silencing spell; I knew I didn't need to hear what she was going to say. She just looked at me, like, you know I'd kill you the second I got the chance. I just didn't say anything for a long time, a few minutes, just stared at her. I wasn't even sure why, I just did. Then I suddenly realized why. Looking at her face all that time, it was... I guess like a mirror of what's inside of her, how empty and terrible it must be in her mind. I didn't feel sorry for her, of course, but... it was just like, something became really clear to me. There's something about her that's really wounded, that's missing. Maybe a conscience, something like that, I'm not sure. I guess if you're a Death Eater, it must be the case that something's really wrong with you, period." Harry couldn't help but think how close Neville was to describing the consequences of the Cleansing.

"Finally, I decided to speak. I said, 'You know, nobody knows you're here but Aurors. I could kill you if I wanted. I could do to you what you did to my parents.' She just looked at me with this expression of, go ahead, do it. I said, 'You seem not to be bothered by the idea, which is a pretty good indication that you're not all right. Any sane person wants to live, wants to not be in pain. Well, I'm not going to do that, because it's what you would do, and the last thing I want is to be like you. Looking into your eyes for a few minutes is enough to tell me that. When Voldemort was attacking Harry in his dreams, in one of them Harry said that he pitied Voldemort. I didn't understand why he said that then, but I do now.' Then I just left. There was nothing else to say, or to understand."

Proud of Neville, Harry just nodded. Ginny reached for him again, pulling him into a hug. "Hermione's very lucky to have you, you know."

Neville smiled, embarrassed. "She said that too, after I told her this. All I know is, I don't think about it so much anymore, I don't feel like I need revenge against her anymore. Pity just seems like the right emotion."

The train suddenly started to move, and they slowly pulled away from the platform. Harry looked out the window and saw parents waving goodbye to their children, some walking along with the train for a few seconds.

They were silent for a minute, then Harry said, "I wonder if Kingsley knew you would do what you did. You might have killed her, for all he knew."

"I have a feeling he knew I wouldn't," said Neville. "I can't be sure, of course."

"If you had, Neville, do you think it would have ended your chances of becoming an Auror?" asked Ginny.

"I don't think so," Neville replied, as Harry had the same thought. "I think if I had, Kingsley would have seen it as justice, and not gotten worked up about it. Considering her history with my family, I think he thought I deserved to have that chance. But Hermione thinks, and this makes sense to me, that he did it partly because he wanted to see what kind of person I was, what I would do. You know how there are these character tests when you become an Auror; she thinks that this was one, just an unscheduled and unofficial one."

"I have a feeling that wasn't what Kingsley intended, but yeah, he probably got the same kind of information he would get from one," said Harry. "But to tell you the truth, Neville, it may be that he wanted to see what kind of person you are, but I think it's more that he wanted you to see what kind of person you are."

"That makes sense, too," agreed Neville. "And also, the fact that I had her in my power, I could think of her and remember that instead of all the stuff she's done to me. Like you with Malfoy, when you caught him."

Harry nodded. "Unless they get away, that is."

"They're not likely to," said Neville. "I'm sure you know, some of them, including Malfoy and Lestrange, are being held by the Aurors."

"No, I didn't know that," said Harry. "Why only some of them?"

"The Aurors can't hold them all, they only have about ten," explained Neville, "the ones who they think are most important, might know the most, or have the greater connection to Voldemort. The rest are being held by other departments of the Ministry. I think they don't assume that Malfoy has any special connection, though, just indirectly through his father. I also think that they're holding him out of consideration for Pansy."

"That would be nice of them," said Ginny. "Neville, since I've already asked you a highly personal question, would it be okay if I asked another?" Harry smiled a little as Neville nodded, conveying by his expression that she could ask anything she wanted. "How's it going with Hermione, how are you two doing?"

"You mean, with our issues after the Skeeter thing," filled in Neville. "I suppose she wouldn't mind if I told you. Fine, but maybe a bit slow. We're both trying to change our habits, and it's kind of hard. Her tendency is to tell me what I should do, and mine is to do what she suggests even if she's not telling me what to do, or to ask her what she thinks when it should be obvious. It's funny, you don't even realize you're doing things like that until you've already done them. Then you look back and say, 'oh, did I do that?' Or you do it, then you realize it the second after you did it. We decided we were going to change how we were, but neither of us realized quite how hard it would be. But at least we're doing it together, so we both know how hard it is, and neither of us gets mad at the other for slipping back into our old habits... well, not usually, but I guess we can get a little irritated if we aren't in a good mood, and it's not that hard for us to rub the other one the wrong way. But usually, we just make jokes about it, and try to do better next time."

"Well, I'm glad it's going okay," said Ginny.

"Yeah, so are we," agreed Neville. "We still kind of shudder to think of what could have happened, if not for the message we got from Gran." He looked up at Harry, gratitude on his face. "Not that we would have broken up otherwise, but it would have been much harder, we'd have gone through all kinds of grief trying to work it out, whose fault it was, and so on. And that would have been on top of our other problems–mine with Lestrange, hers with Skeeter. Both of us have had to deal with impulses we'd rather not have, and if we'd been fighting, it would have been so much harder. Instead, we were able to help each other. It's been a pretty hard summer for us, emotionally, but at least we had each other. And, of course, the rest of you. You know, Harry, it meant a lot to her that you never got mad at her or blamed her once, when we thought Skeeter's book and the other stuff was going to happen. She was really vulnerable, and you supported her when you had to have been pretty worried yourself."

"Well, I had my own support system," said Harry, looking at Ginny.

"I distracted him," said Ginny.

Neville burst into giggles, then suddenly stopped. "Sorry. She told me about that, what you meant by that word. I hope that doesn't bother you."

"No, it's all right," Ginny assured him. "Besides, I only started using it because she said that you managed to distract her. I wasn't sure that was what she meant, I just sort of assumed it. I think I was right."

"By the way, where did you guys go to..." Harry trailed off.

Somewhat embarrassed himself, Neville smiled at Harry's embarrassment. "Distract each other? My Auror quarters."

"Really?" asked Harry, eyebrows rising high. "I didn't know that. That was nice of them to let you use it for that."

"I think Kingsley and Cassandra felt bad for me, that Hermione and I didn't have much privacy at the Burrow, and they weren't using the room anyway. We would take the fireplace from the Burrow when nobody was in the living room. Sometimes Aurors would see us walking from their fireplace to the quarters, and they'd smile, but nobody ever said anything. I'd bet Cassandra told them they'd better not."

"Well, I'm glad you had someplace to go," said Harry. To Ginny, he asked, "I assume Ron and Pansy used the girls' bedroom?"

"Yes, but they used the boys' bedroom when you two were off doing Auror training," replied Ginny. "Made more sense."

"That's true," said Harry. "At least they got some privacy sometimes. That's going to be pretty lacking at Hogwarts, looks like it's back to the couples' places."

"Can't you still use your quarters?" asked Neville, surprised. "You can take Fawkes there, nobody has to know."

"That's not really clear to me," said Harry. "I know it was okay during the summer, but during the school year, I'm not sure how McGonagall would feel about it. It may be that she would think we shouldn't use it for that, or it may be that she'll just turn a blind eye towards it. I'm just not comfortable doing that, especially imagining a situation where she's looking for me, and that's where we are."

"Obviously, Harry and I differ slightly on this topic," said Ginny, giving him a teasing look. "I'm willing to take more risks than he is, but I do reluctantly understand why he feels this way. He is a Head of House, after all, and has to set an example. And that's probably not quite the example he wants to set."

"I wouldn't care, personally," clarified Harry. "I just worry about what McGonagall would think. Just for myself, students could spend all the time they wanted in the couples' places, or private rooms for all I care."

"Now, there's a very enlightened attitude," remarked Justin Finch-Fletchley, stepping into the compartment, with Susan Bones right behind him. "Makes me wish I were a Gryffindor."

Harry smiled. "Hi, Justin, Susan, have a seat." He moved over as Justin sat next to him, Susan sitting opposite, next to Neville.

"Don't worry, we'll leave when the others come back," said Susan. "We know the other three aren't here just because they're in the prefects' car. We were just there, saying hello to people. You should go say hi, Harry."

Neville and Ginny laughed. "That would involve him walking the length of the train, which is exactly what he's trying to avoid," explained Ginny. To Harry's further embarrassment, she told Justin and Susan about him being stopped on the platform, and imitated the awed look the first year had given him, making everyone but Harry laugh. "I'd love to see the faces of his first year students at the beginning of his first class."

"I'll be sure to show you in the Pensieve, the next time I feel like being made fun of," said Harry. Turning to Justin and Susan, he asked, "So, how are you two doing? Have you had a good summer, since the party?"

"Yes, we did, especially since the party," said Justin, smiling and taking Susan's hand. "The four of us ended up going out to dinner afterwards, and one thing led to another..."

"Oh, that's great!" said Ginny enthusiastically, as Harry nodded. "So, you two are..."

"Seeing each other," supplied Justin.

"Not getting the Joining of Hands done anytime soon, though," added Susan, with a smile.

Harry tried not to roll his eyes. "You know, just because Ginny and I did it, doesn't mean that we think–"

"I know, Harry," Susan interrupted him. "I'm kind of teasing both you and Justin."

"But that's why I was interested in what you said about the couples' places," said Justin. "And the concept of 'private rooms' is definitely intriguing."

Harry chuckled. "I'll be in trouble if it gets back to McGonagall that I even said that. Well, not really in trouble, but she wouldn't think it was funny, let's put it that way."

Justin and Susan stayed for a half hour, catching up with the others on news. Harry discovered that Susan's aunt was a friend of Bright's ("a political friend, not so much a personal friend," she clarified), and had supported him for Minister of Magic, so Susan was interested to hear Harry's impressions of Bright. Justin related that Ernie was getting "a little puffed up" about being Head Boy, but was confident that Ernie would get over it in time. Neville told them that Hermione's summer had been difficult enough that she had no chance to get puffed up about anything, but he gave no details.

Ron, Hermione, and Pansy came back a little over an hour after the train had left the station. The trolley came by shortly after that, and they all bought food. Ron teased Harry by buying five Chocolate Frogs, but to Harry's relief, his card wasn't included in any of them. When the trolley came by again two hours later Ron tried to buy more, but to his great amusement discovered that they were sold out. His grin at Harry's expense grew wider when the woman pushing the trolley said that they had stocked five times the usual amount of Chocolate Frogs. "They must be trying to get the Merlin card," said Ron. "Yes, that must be it." Then an hour later, to his friends' further amusement, Harry relented and finally got up to go to the bathroom. A few people waved to him, but no one stopped him or asked him to sign his Chocolate Frog card.

Five hours into the trip, Neville looked out the window carefully. "We must be almost there," he said. He slid down in his seat and looked up out the window. "Oh, I just got a glimpse of one of the Aurors." Crookshanks, as if having understood, jumped onto Neville's lap and looked where he was looking.

"There are Aurors out there?" asked Ginny, surprised.

"Sure," replied Neville. "Four of them, on brooms of course, at all times. It's pretty well understood that this train would be a huge target, both because it has Harry and the rest of us, and because it has three hundred people, who they'd love to kill all at once. They accompanied the train to and from Hogwarts last year, as well."

"But that only helps if the train is attacked," said Hermione. "What if they'd put a bomb on the tracks, set it to go off when the train passed it?"

"I don't know," admitted Neville, "but I'm sure they thought of that. I would say that's not something that Voldemort would try, except for what he did with Crabbe and Goyle. Anyway, my guess is that they wouldn't bother trying, since the train is such an obvious target that they have to imagine that the Aurors would have it well protected. I think when they try something, it'll be in a way and at a time that we won't be expecting."

There was a pause, then Harry commented, "It'll be kind of nice this year, I'll get to sit at the teachers' table for the whole ceremony, not like last year. I missed the Sorting Hat's song and the Sorting last year. At least–"

The compartment door opened and Hedrick and Helen burst in, clearly having run. "Professor!" exclaimed Hedrick.

Harry was slightly alarmed, as were the others. "What is it?"

"We just found out, we heard people talking... some first years... one of the first years on the train is named Marcus Avery," said Hedrick breathlessly. "Some people are saying his father is a Death Eater."

Concerned, Harry exchanged glances with the others. "His father is one of the ones you named in that article for that Quibbler magazine," added Helen.

The name was familiar to Harry, of course. "Do we know for sure that that's his father? Could it be someone else with the same last name?"

"We don't know for sure," admitted Helen. "But I heard that someone asked him what his father did, and he wouldn't say, just said he didn't know. That sounds pretty suspicious."

"This is really bad, Professor," said Hedrick, whose expression suggested to Harry that Hedrick felt he was understating the case. "We thought there were no more of them, and now, there's one more... he could be under the Imperius Curse, he could have a bomb... what are we going to do?"

"First, let's not panic," said Harry firmly. "We have no idea what the situation is. I'm sure Professor McGonagall knew this when he was invited to attend Hogwarts. His family situation could be different, he could be being raised by someone else, for all we know." Hedrick and Helen still looked very anxious. "Look, I'll start looking into it tonight, I promise. I'll talk to Professor McGonagall, and to the Aurors if necessary, find out more about his background. But I really don't think he has a bomb or anything like that. He's only eleven, and even if they had control of him, they wouldn't consider him reliable. They would wait to try to use him. If he is the son of that Avery, he'll probably get put in Slytherin. Pansy, you can check him out after the Sorting. Talk to all the first years, see how he seems." Pansy nodded.

"Is there anything we can do, sir?" asked Helen.

Harry thought for a minute. "Yes, there is. Be friendly to him."

Helen and Hedrick gaped. "What??" asked Hedrick.

"Listen to me," instructed Harry. "This is very serious." He made sure he had their complete attention, then continued. "It's true that he may be a tool for the Death Eaters. But he also may not be. It may be that his father wants him to help the Death Eaters, but he doesn't want to. Anything could be the case. We have to imagine that there's a chance that if they're telling him to do things, that he doesn't want to. There's a chance that they want him to be a Death Eater in the future, but he doesn't want to. If other Slytherins treat him badly, suspiciously, excluding him because of his name, he'll be angry and upset, and that'll push him to want to be a Death Eater. Death Eaters thrive on negative emotions. But if he makes friends, if he's treated like everyone else, if he has good experiences, he might see an alternative to being a Death Eater in the future. My point is, right now, we just don't know. It's not going to hurt to give it a try. I'm not saying be extra nice to him, nicer than the other first years, but just treat him the same way you'd treat any other first year. Talk to all of them, be friendly with them. It's the best thing to do, and if he is a danger, doing that will probably help you find out faster, as well. Let's just find out what's going on first."

"He's right," added Pansy. "Look at me, I used to be pretty nasty before I decided I wanted to change, and Harry trusted me, gave me a chance when he didn't have to. We have to find out what he wants to do. He may not know yet, and it's better to encourage him in the right direction. Do you think you can do that?"

Hedrick and Helen looked at each other, clearly finding the suggestion a hard one to get used to. "We'll try," said Helen. "We'll go back to the others, tell them what you said."

Pansy nodded. "Thank you. I'll talk to you all tonight, after the Sorting and the feast. We'll all go to the boys' dormitory, have a talk about this. Okay?"

They slowly nodded, and started to leave. "Hedrick, Helen... thanks for letting us know about this," said Harry. "I know you're concerned for me, and I appreciate it. I promise, I don't take it lightly." They nodded again, and left the compartment.

Harry looked at the others. "Well, what do we think?"

He expected Hermione to respond first, but she didn't. "I think you did the right thing," said Neville. "Obviously we have to be concerned, but you didn't emphasize that so much because they're already very concerned."

"No point getting them more worked up than they already are," agreed Harry. "And that was a good idea, Pansy, talking to them later."

"I just want to make sure they're all on board," she said. "Those two will go back and tell them what we said, but it won't have the same effect as hearing it from us. About the situation, yeah, I'm a little concerned. After last year, it'd be stupid not to be. But I really don't think they're going to use an eleven-year-old for that kind of thing. Like you said, too unreliable. If they thought he was going to be an asset, they'd wait, give everyone some time to get used to him. So even if nothing happens at first, we still have to keep an eye open."

"The second years are going to do that, no matter what," said Harry. "But yes, you're definitely right. I just hope the other seconds, or even the firsts, don't start treating him badly once they find out."

The train started slowing down. "Ah, almost there," said Ron. "Should be seeing Hagrid any time now."

"Well," said Harry, "instead of taking the carriages, I think I'll have Fawkes take me into the castle. I want to ask Professor McGonagall about Avery, and see if I have time to talk to Archibald about my chat with Bright yesterday. I suppose I could talk to him tonight, but I'd rather just go to Gryffindor Tower after the feast. There may be enough time."

"One of us is going to have to take a different carriage than the others," pointed out Hermione. "They only seat four."

"Pansy could sit on Ron's lap," suggested Ginny.

Pansy chuckled on seeing Ron's annoyed glance at his sister. "I'm sure you'll work something out," said Harry. The train came to a complete stop, and the others let Harry go first to get his trunk and Hedwig. He stepped out of the train and opened Hedwig's cage, knowing as she flew off that she would go to the Hogwarts owlery. He waved at Hagrid, and grabbed Fawkes's tail.

In his dormitory, Harry put down his trunk and Hedwig's cage, and mentally thanked Fawkes for taking him. He walked out of the dormitory into the empty common room, imagining it full, as it would be later in the evening. He walked over to the portrait hole and swung the portrait aside, then climbed through.

"How did you get in?" asked the Fat Lady, annoyed.

"Magic," said Harry over his shoulder.

"If he can do that, there's not much point in my being here, is there?" the Fat Lady said to herself as he walked away.

Harry knocked on the door of McGonagall's quarters, having found her location on his Hogwarts map made by Hermione last year. The door opened. "Ah, Harry come in," McGonagall greeted him. "I see you decided to skip the carriages this year."

"There was something I wanted to ask you about, and then I wanted to talk to Archibald about my meeting last night. Bright said he was going to talk to you too, how did that go?"

"Just fine, thank you. But his meeting with me was an afterthought, for the sake of courtesy. You were the one he came to see."

"That seems hard to believe," Harry protested. "You're important; you're the Hogwarts headmistress, and you help lead the Order."

"Yes, but I do not have political influence, as you do," McGonagall explained patiently. "My words will not move people to action, or sway public opinion. In any case, Harry, I am sorry to be inhospitable, but there are things I must do before the ceremony. What did you wish to ask me about?"

He quickly explained what the second years had said about Avery. She nodded. "Yes, his father is the Death Eater. We did look into the situation, of course. The father seems to have separated from the mother; he apparently left when Voldemort returned, and has not been back to her since. We made a few discreet inquiries, and discovered that the mother has told those she knows that she did not know her husband was a Death Eater, and was appalled to find out. We do not know for certain that this is true, but it is verifiable that the father has had little or no contact with Marcus for over two years. Professor Snape and I find it highly unlikely that Voldemort will try to use him as he used Crabbe and Goyle last year. We assume that he will be Sorted into Slytherin, and if so, Professor Snape intends to observe the situation closely."

"Okay, thanks," he said, satisfied. "I was sure you knew about it, but I just wanted to know what was going on. I'll let you get back to the stuff you have to do." He quickly exited her quarters.

He found Dentus in his quarters, and talked to him for fifteen minutes. Apart from his amazement in discovering that Bright was a Legilimens, Dentus found nothing remarkable about their conversation. His main comment was regarding Bright's statement that he felt it necessary to do the politically popular thing ninety percent of the time; Dentus felt that Bright was exaggerating. "Ministers have substantial power, as you know. He could do the 'right thing' more than ten percent of the time. I think it would be more appropriate to say that the more important the issue is, the more he'll suffer if people aren't happy with what he does. What he said to you is a highly defensible opinion, but my strong impression is that he's trying to lower your expectations, so you'll appreciate it more if he does some 'right' thing you ask him to do. But he knows I'll be telling you the political ins and outs of any given situation." When Harry relayed his favorable impression of Bright, Dentus nodded and said, "I told you, he's good. Now we just have to wait and see what he actually does, with regard to fighting Voldemort." Harry agreed that though it hadn't come up in the conversation, that would be a large part of how he would decide whether or not he approved of Bright.

It was ten minutes before the ceremony was to begin. Harry headed to the Hall, ready to take his seat a little early, but stopped at the room in which he had waited for Dumbledore's dog at this time last year. He looked into his hand. "Where are you?" he asked.

"Sitting in the Hall, we just got here a few minutes ago," Ginny replied.

"Are any of the teachers sitting at the table yet?"

"A few," she replied. "Sprout, John, Sinistra, and Flitwick. Oh, here comes Vector. Why?"

"It's still a little early, I just wanted to make sure if I went and sat down, I wouldn't be the only one. I'm surprised Snape's not there."

"He's the deputy headmaster now," she pointed out. "He'll be meeting the first years as they get off the boats, and taking them up here."

The thought 'those poor first years' flashed through Harry's head, and he wondered if she had the thought too, and neither said it because Snape could view it later. "That's right, I forgot," he said. "Well, I guess I'll go out there. Too bad I can't talk to you like this from my seat at the teachers' table."

In his palm, he saw her smile. "No, it wouldn't look good," she agreed. "We'll save a spot for you, you can join us for some of the feast. I love you."

"I love you, too," he said, and put down his hand. He walked out to the teachers' table, looking for the nameplate indicating his spot. He found it to the left of the podium, near the end, between Sprout and John. He greeted them both, then looked out into the Hall. It was dark outside, and as always, the ceiling was enchanted to look like the night sky; many stars were visible. Also as usual, hundreds and hundreds of candles hovered high in the air, providing light; he wondered whether in addition to being charmed to hover, they had also been charmed not to drip wax onto the heads of the students below.

Harry chatted with John, telling him about the computer he and his friends had bought for the Burrow and relating Arthur's excitement about it. John laughed, finding it easy to imagine. "I wish I could have a computer here, just to show people in my classes how it works, but electronic equipment doesn't work around Hogwarts."

Hagrid came into the Hall and made his way up to the teachers' table, saying hello to Harry and the others as he walked by them to his seat. Other teachers drifted in; McGonagall and Trelawney arrived at about the same time, and everyone was there. Within seconds, the Great Hall's doors opened, and in walked Snape, followed by about forty intimidated-looking first years. They walked up to an area near the teachers' table, off to Harry's left. Harry now saw the familiar stool, the Sorting Hat on it, looking as old and worn as ever.

Many first years gasped as the Hat opened its... it wasn't a mouth, thought Harry, but he thought of it as one. It started its song, which seemed to Harry to be a lot less jaunty than in other years. The Hat sang:

For near a thousand years now

I've performed this simple chore

To sing of Hogwarts' history

While trying not to bore

And then you'll put me on your heads

I know not what I'll find

But once you do, I'll take a little

Peek inside your mind

I'll get a look at who you are

And very soon I'll know

What your talents are, and then

Into which House you'll go

The ones who'll go to Ravenclaw

Are clever, sharp, and fast

The ones who'll go to Gryffindor

Have courage unsurpassed

The ones who'll go to Hufflepuff

Give everyone a chance

The ones who'll go to Slytherin

Know just how to advance

Now, o'er the years and centuries

Advancement's been our aim

But generations come and go

And magic's much the same

A brand-new potion here and there

An upgrade for a charm

A few new uses for a plant

A new way to disarm

But one time in a great long while

There comes a seismic shift

The world of magic shakes and stirs

There's continental drift

From chaos unexpectedly

An island will appear

Where kindness, love, and peace of mind

Make everything so clear

And anyone, from any House

This island you can find

The energy, the path, is

In your heart and in your mind

The trail's already been blazed

By one, and then by five

And many more now have the chance

To seek, and find, and thrive

In centuries I've never sung

A song just quite like this

But so rare an opportunity'd

Be such a shame to miss

So keep in mind that you may know

What you think you do not

And what you think that you don't have

You have already got

A chill ran through Harry as the Hat stopped singing. He asked himself, did that song mean what I think it meant? He almost couldn't believe it. He glanced down the table at the other teachers, most of whom were looking at him. Then they started applauding the Hat, as was customary, and he joined them, feeling awkward doing so.

He felt his hand tingle. "Can you believe that?" he heard Ginny say, obviously as amazed as he was. "That song was about the energy of love!" He felt he couldn't reply in his hand, as he was in full view of many students, and because of the song was probably being looked at more anyway. He found he was looking forward to reviewing the song in the Pensieve later, as he had only gradually realized what it was about as he was listening.

Snape looked nonplused, but recovered quickly, and turned to face the first years. "Your names will be called in alphabetical order. When your name is called, sit on the stool and put on the Hat. When the Hat announces the name of your new House, take off the Hat, place it back on the stool, and proceed to the proper table." He picked up a parchment scroll, and read the first name.

"Avery, Marcus!"

A small boy, though average-sized for his age, stepped forward. He had light brown hair and slightly narrow eyes. He sat on the stool and put on the Hat, looking nervous, but no more nervous than the other first years. The Hat paused for ten seconds, then fifteen, then twenty; Harry found it a good sign that the Hat hadn't put him into Slytherin instantly, as it had Malfoy. Finally reaching a decision, it shouted, "Slytherin!" The Slytherin table applauded, though in a somewhat more reserved way than they had in years past, Harry felt. He wondered how many of them had heard about Avery's father.

Snape read the next name. "Barrington, Joseph!"

A slightly larger boy with black hair walked up to the stool, and excitedly put the Hat on his head. This time, the Hat only paused for a few seconds. "Huff–"

With the suddenness of a light being turned off, two things happened simultaneously: the Hat went silent, and all of the hovering candles plummeted to the floor.

* * * * *

Next: Chapter 10, Lutas: Responsibility falls on Harry and his friends to defend a nearly-defenseless Hogwarts, as Voldemort again attacks multiple targets simultaneously.

From Chapter 10: "You will retreat NOW," shouted Harry, "or in five seconds I'll Apparate you off to St. Mungo's!" As he glared at Snape, it fleetingly crossed his mind that his anger was motivated by genuine concern for Snape's safety; he realized he would be upset if anything happened to Snape. I wonder when that happened, he thought. With an angry glare back at Harry, Snape turned and jogged away, looking behind him as he did.