A/N – I have had several queries about Harry's injuries and how they could have lasted as long. Well my background is in nursing so I can explain a little about my reasoning. Bones that are not static often don't heal without help. In this case Harry's wrist did heal but out of alignment and his ribs were not properly in line so couldn't. The fact that he was malnourished and constantly using glamours meant that some of the cuts became infected and therefore didn't have the chance to close. I hope that is clearer.

Chapter 15

)O(

The next few weeks were strange for Harry. In some ways it was just another term at Hogwarts. There was Quidditch practice and homework and someone spiked the Gryffindor tables food with a potion that made all their hair turn a horrid mustard yellow. In other ways though it was very different.

There were extra Defence lessons in the evenings as each year struggled to catch up with a terms works. Last term there had been no Defence teacher and the lessons had been covered by different professors but at a much slower pace than they should have been. There was also the fact that Malfoy and his goons were gone. The effect of this on the school had been profound. Mixed classed were much less tense and the rest of the Slytherin's were too busy fighting in-house to cause anyone else much trouble.

For Harry there was also the fact that he felt well; really well, for the first time in years. He had to visit the hospital twice a week to be checked over and finally got the cast off his wrist ten days after the start of term. He was taking a nutrient potion every morning and had managed to put on four pounds over the last few weeks. It wasn't a lot but on his skinny frame, it had made all the difference.

All in all, things were going well. Ron and Hermione had been great and had not asked too many questions although Ron was still acting a little weird and stiff. Harry had caught the pair having a furious row in the common room which had swiftly stopped when he entered and he suspected it had been about him.

A few terms ago he might have been tempted to eavesdrop but now he was just grateful to Hermione for whatever it was she was doing to keep Ron on an even keel. The only slightly awkward thing was that he hadn't spoken to Ginny yet. He knew that Hermione had spoken to the youngest Weasley the first night of term to tell her what had been going on but Harry had been strangely embarrassed to seek her out.

He wasn't sure why he was worried about Ginny knowing the details of his awful summer, but he was. He couldn't bear to think of Ron's little sister looking at him with pity. Fortunately, Ginny was in a new relationship with Dean Thomas and the two of them were rarely anywhere to be seen. That had left Harry feeling simultaneously relieved and upset for no particular reason. It had given Ron something to rant about though and Harry had been able to deflect any awkward questions directed his way with a casual enquiry about Dean.

All in all, Harry felt as though an enormous weight had been lifted off his shoulders. It was still scary not knowing what was going to happen next summer or how things were going to be different in school.

Because of the catch up going on in Defence Studies there had been no potions classes for the first two weeks of school and Professor Snape had been noticeably absent at mealtimes. Harry had only seen him twice since the start of term and then from a distance. He was a bit worried about classes starting again and how things would be between them. Even Remus had been too busy to really talk to him although the man's very presence in the school had calmed Harry enormously.

There had been a whole front page story about 'The Werewolf of Hogwarts,' in The Daily Prophet the first week of term and Harry had been worried that Remus might lose his job again. In the end, surprisingly little seemed to have happened. There was an upsurge in mail from worried parents and one or two howlers which the headmaster had banished before they could even open, but otherwise things seemed fine.

Remus made a point of giving Harry a smile and a wave every day and Harry knew it was his way of reminding Harry he was here for him, despite how busy and exhausted the man looked.

Harry and most of the school were delighted to have the very capable teacher back.

Meanwhile, Harry had avoided the headmaster like the plague; he didn't think he had even made eye contact with the man, although he had often felt the older wizard's eyes on him in the great hall. It was just too frightening to even go near the mountain of rage he felt whenever the man was near him. He knew he would have to deal with it at some point but for once Harry thought he needed to take things slowly.

)O(

It was with some relief that Harry found a note on his bedside table the second Sunday of term from Professor Snape. The man's continued absence had been worrying him.

Harry,

Could you please come to my office at 7pm this evening for tea. There is nothing to worry about, I only wish to see how you are coping with the new term.

Sincerely,

Professor Snape

Harry let out a breath he hadn't even realised he was holding. Snape still wanted to be 'friends' then. He plopped down on his bed with a sigh, his hand snaking around his pillow to hold it tightly. Pretending everything was normal day after day had been starting to take it's toll, despite how much better everything was.

After a quick shower and change, he wandered down to the great hall for dinner, sitting himself beside Neville at the table. Neville had been brilliant about everything. Ever since events in the Ministry the year before, Neville had radiated a quiet calm that had taken many by surprise. Harry had been too absorbed in his own grief the previous term to really notice the difference, but now he had the change was startling.

'How's your day been, Neville?'

Neville shrugged and started loading his plate.

'Not bad; I've got a tonne of homework though. I wonder if there is such a thing as a study elf?'

Harry snorted. 'I could do with one of those too. I'm almost caught up but these extra Defence essays are killing me.'

'Yeah, poor Professor Lupin looks ready to fall over.'

Harry glanced up at the head table and frowned when he realised the older man had actually fallen asleep at the table; his chin resting in one hand and his dinner left uneaten before him.

'It's only three days until the full moon. He's probably trying to mark everything before then so we don't get behind again. I hope he's OK.'

Neville looked back to his friend with a thoughtful expression on his face.

'How are you doing Harry? Has the first few weeks been OK?

Harry loaded his plate with roast veg whilst he thought how to answer. There were still empty seats on all sides and this was probably the first time he and Neville had

had privacy to really talk. Harry wanted to be honest with his friends, even if it was hard.

'All right,' he said tentatively. 'Things are really good but it's still all a bit scary. I don't know where I'm going to be living this summer and I'm still a bit worried about how safe it's going to be for anyone who takes over my guardianship. It really hurts to know I could have been living with Sirius if...well, you know.'

Neville nodded seriously. 'Has Ron been all right with you?'

Harry smiled at Neville's perceptiveness.'He's been...well, Ron. He's just acting as if everything is normal and has been extra cheerful. I think he's doing his best.'

Harry took a mouthful of food and chewed slowly, enjoying the fact he could eat a full portion now without feeling sick.

'How are you Neville? Did you get into trouble with your Gran over the Ministry? I forgot to ask.'

Neville grinned.

'Not at all,' he said, visibly straightening in his seat. 'She was really proud. She cried all over me and said how brave I had been and when she heard I had duelled Bellatrix, she bought me a new wand as a reward.'

Harry couldn't help the huge smile that spread across his face. Neville's Gran had always seemed a harsh woman who didn't fully appreciate her grandson. He was glad to hear things had changed.

'Did you get in trouble?' Neville asked and then blushed furiously as he realised what he had said. 'I mean, not with the muggles but...'

'It's OK Neville, I know what you mean. I think there were a lot of people who were disappointed in me for leading you all into danger like that but I didn't really get shouted at. It has been a bit difficult with the headmaster since but that's more me than him, I think.'

'Are you better now?' Neville asked quietly and Harry nodded.

'Madam Pomfrey has fixed me all up. She says I have to put 18 pounds on to be a healthy weight but I'm getting there and Professor Snape gave me this potion that helps. I'm still taking one of those every morning.'

Neville smiled at that and shook his head. 'It's strange how it was him that helped you after the rest of us all missed what was happening to you. I'm sorry I wasn't a better friend Harry.'

Harry blushed furiously, his stomach clenching in guilt. 'It's not your fault Neville. You've been a really good friend. I wasn't very honest with people and it's not like I spent a lot of time helping you out. I know things haven't been easy for you with your Gran.'

Neville shrugged. 'It's better now. I had a really good summer and Christmas break with her and she has even started taking me out to balls with her. I think she was always embarrassed to before.'

'Well, I think we will both have to work harder at being good friends this year. '

'Yeah, maybe we could try and study together more,' Neville suggested tentatively and Harry nodded, his eyes glancing over to the Hufflepuff table.

'Actually, I've been thinking that we could try and do some more stuff with the other houses. It seems really stupid that we only mix with people in our own common rooms.'

'Like the DA?' Neville said, his eyes lighting up and Harry winced.

'I'm not sure about that. It's because of the DA that you all got hurt last year. I don't know if I want that kind of responsibility again, but maybe we could still use the room of requirements and have an all house study session. I bet Hermione would help organise things.'

Neville frowned, chewing his lip thoughtfully. 'How about Sunday evenings? There aren't any Quidditch practices then and we might even be able to get sandwiches and stuff for those who come.'

Harry glanced back up at the top table. 'Do you think I should get permission this time? I mean it would be good if we could get some Slytherin's to come too but I'm a bit nervous about that.'

'We could ask one of the Professors to sit in the first few times to make sure it doesn't turn into a battle ground,' Neville suggested and I agree we should try and get some snakes there. With Malfoy gone, I think they might be more open to the idea.'

Harry grinned. 'Especially if the head boy is on board. The Slytherins's wouldn't miss a chance to get a bit closer to him.'

Neville glanced over. 'Eric? Do you think he would help. I don't know him very well.'

'We could ask after dinner. He's really nice and we talked a bit over the break about trying to get the houses to do more together.'

Neville nodded and sat back as all the plates and platters disappeared and were replaced by desserts and ice- cream.

'Harry,' he said quietly. 'There's more to this than just making friends isn't there? This is about the war and working together to overthrow Vol...Voldemort?'

Harry nodded. 'The hat keeps telling us we need to be united. I think it's time we started doing something about that instead of just waiting for it to happen.'

Neville glanced over to where Eric was sat and smiled. 'Harry, is there any rule that says we have to sit at our own house table?'

'I don't know,' Harry answered honestly. 'I've never heard of one.'

'Well, why wait until after dinner then. Half the upper years are still at Hosmeade so there are loads of empty spaces. Why not have dessert with Hufflepuff and ask Eric over chocolate?'

Harry grinned and the two boys stood and walked over to the other house table, ignoring the questioning looks of the Hufflepuffs as they seated themselves opposite the head boy.

'Hey Eric, do you mind if we join you? We wanted your thoughts on an idea we've been knocking around.'

After a moments hesitation, Eric smiled and welcomed the two lions, listening with interest as they explained and filled their plates with treacle tarts.

At the head table, Albus had been watching his exhausted defence teacher with concerned eyes when a slight ripple in the castle's magic distracted him. He closed his eyes and mentally checked the wards and protections around the grounds before focusing in on the new vibrations.

'Headmaster?' Albus opened his eyes and glanced sideways at his deputy and potions master who were looking at him warily. 'Is something wrong?

Albus smiled at them both. 'No, all is well. I felt a ripple in the castle that I can't identify but the wards are fine.'

There!

Albus closed his eyes as he felt the tingle flow through him a little stronger than before. With a flash of fire, Fawkes appeared and settled on his shoulder, a trill note of contentment escaping the familiar as he looked out over the hall.

'You felt it too my friend?' Fawkes trilled again, a long note of happiness that made everyone at the top table smile.

The Arithmancy lecturer pulled a notebook from the pocket of her robes and started scribbling furiously, her expression intense in concentration.

'My dear, what are you picking up?' Albus asked quietly. By now the entire staff table was listening in to the conversation as Professor Vector drew a tangle of strange lines and symbols on her pad.

Luna wandered in after her visit to Hosmeade, her eyes searching the hall for Neville and finding him at the wrong table. She waited for her friend who was changing her muddy shoes to catch up before deciding where to sit. A few minutes later a flushed blond haired girl ran into the room.

'Thanks Luna, you didn't need to wait for me. Shall we catch up again after pudding?'

Luna watched Neville and Harry thoughtfully. 'Why don't we have pudding together with Neville and Harry? They are sat with the Hufflepuffs.'

The blond girl snorted. 'You can if you want. You're Ravenclaw, they wont mind. I'm a snake. They'll probably hex me if I tried.'

Luna smiled gently. 'I don't think that's true but I can understand if you don't want to. I wonder what Harry's writing on that parchment? They all seem very interested in it.'

The two girls walked over, curiosity overriding the young Slytherin's nerves. The head boy saw the two girls hovering and exchanged a grin with Harry before standing and making some room on the bench. 'Luna, and...Leoni is it? Why don't you join us. We are talking about a project you might be interested in.'

At the head table Septima Vector paused and with a violent jerk, ripped off the top page from her notebook and threw it over her shoulder, where it fell to the floor. She quickly started all over again with a fresh page, her quill movements furious.

Albus sat with his eyes closed, his expression curious. It had been many years since he had felt just distinct vibrations running through the castles walls. She was happy, almost rejoicing. It was making him feel quite giddy.

'Albus, what on earth is going on,' his deputy asked crossly and Albus chuckled.

'I don't have a clue my dear, except that to tell you that the castle is extremely happy just now. Something has awoken in her.'

Fawkes trilled quietly in agreement.

'It's unity,' Septima stated suddenly, looking up briefly from her parchment.

Severus stood and moved to look over her shoulder at the intricate Sigil being created before their very eyes.

'Unity?'

She locked eyes with the headmaster. 'The whole direction of the war just changed, a massive shift, it's...it's overwhelming. I shall have to start my calculations from scratch.'

'Can you tell what's happening Septima? Severus asked quietly.

'It's exactly what that blasted hat has been nagging about for the last three years. The houses united.'

'My goodness,' Minerva exclaimed. 'If that could truly be achieved..well..'

'It would be a miracle.' Severus stated wryly, earning a slap from Septima before she returned to her drawing.

They all glanced up briefly as Hagrid lumbered into view. 'Sorry I'm late headmaster. A few of the third years got lost in 't village. 'ad to go searchin for 'em. Is there any puddin' left?

Minerva huffed impatiently as he dropped his bag with a clung that shook the whole table. Hagrid glanced up at the tables and smiled happily.

'Now ther's a sight yer don't see ev'ry day. All four houses at one table!'

Every head at the staff table snapped up to look out at the students, quickly finding the small gaggle of sixth and seventh years at the Hufflepuff table. The plates were long gone and the table was now covered with pieces of parchment as Harry and Neville wrote down all the ideas and suggestions being given.

Albus exchanged a significant look with his Arithmancy Professor and they both grinned happily.

'Well done boys,' he said quietly to himself. 'Well done indeed.'

)O(