I would like to offer my apologies to any following this story after so many years - despite my best efforts, it's not done yet. Last year I managed to get more done on average than I had previously, but I can be a bit of a perfectionist about the story and sometimes either a) the plan isn't coming together perfectly or b) the time or inclination to write isn't there either. I always appreciate reviews and comments, but like anyone, I always focus on the negative, even well meaning ones. I continue to promise to do my best at updating as fast as I can, but I'm not a college kid anymore - I hope you cut me a little slack as I try to increase the pace of updates.
Thanks to my beta Mogul for his constant questioning of my characterization choices. Keeps me honest.
Previously: Harry gets a gift of a Mysterious Map from the Weasley Twins, and soon ends up hanging up with Cho and Cedric in a sort of ersatz 'Seeker's Club', much to Parvati's chagrin. All the while, Draco Malfoy is a real prat and Daphne Greengrass is unusually friendly. And then Neville reveals two grave secrets to Harry: He needs help asking Hannah out and Lockhart has remembered Harry and wants to see him...
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Harry blinked and didn't have an easy reply, and he sat there in silence for a few seconds, Neville looking more and more uncomfortable.
Finally, Harry thought to say, "Visiting him? Is that possible to arrange during the school year?"
"I don't see why not," said Neville with a shrug. "I mean, I visit usually once a month, so maybe you can try to see Lockhart then. You'll need to get permission from McGonagall, though. Her and my grandmother work it out every month so I don't miss anything important. I usually go on weekends, of course, since we don't have class then."
Harry frowned and scratched his nose. "Okay, but this whole situation is odd, right? Did Lockhart recognize you?"
"He seemed to, although he didn't remember my name, just yours and that we were in the same class. But he thought maybe seeing someone he recognized would help bring back more memories, and the Healer there agreed it was a good idea."
"I mean, I suppose I ought to try," said Harry with a sigh. "Lockhart was a complicated bloke, wasn't he? But he wasn't evil or anything, at least that's how I figure." He shrugged. "Okay, then I suppose just let me know when you're going and I'll ask McGonagall. I think she'll think it'll be safe enough at St Mungo's with all those adults around."
Neville nodded. "Alright, Harriet, I'll let you know. Probably three weeks or so, okay?"
Harry thought about it and nodded in agreement. "If it's a weekend, I just need to work around Quidditch practice and whatnot."
"I can't imagine it'll take that long to see Lockhart," said Neville with an amused look. "But okay. And um, about Hannah?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Okay, okay. I'll talk to Susan when there's a good time, Neville. Although if you do muster up your Gryff courage before then and ask Hannah out yourself, let me know so I don't have to bother getting in the middle of it."
Neville's face reddened. "I, um, doubt that'll happen, Harriet. She makes me nervous."
"Hannah does?" Harry tried to think of the Hufflepuff girl but only an image of a shy, silent girl popped into his mind. He couldn't even quite recall how she sounded at the moment, but Harry supposed there was someone that made everyone nervous. Not that he could think of anyone like that about himself, of course.
Afterwards, Parvati questioned him about the conversation, but Harry only told her about the Lockhart news.
"Harriet, come on!" Parvati said in a whine to him. "You can tell me the secret. I don't know why Neville needs you to keep it from me."
"Honestly, I don't know why either," said Harry with a shrug. "Maybe he thinks it'll be embarrassing if people talk about it."
"Talk about what?"
"I'm sure he'll be okay with me telling you eventually," said Harry with a soothing tone. "It's not really much of anything. The Lockhart thing is more of a big deal if you ask me."
Parvati rolled her eyes. "Sometimes you really can be a bit of a pain, Harriet. This isn't the first time you've kept a secret from me, like what you talk about with the Headmaster."
"Oh, well, I mean..." Harry then winced. "I didn't realize you had picked up on that."
"Harriet Potter, you think I don't know you by now?" Parvati put her hands on her hips and gave him a piercing look. "I think you enjoy keeping a few secrets from the rest of us. Keeping confidence with the great Dumbledore."
Harry paused and thought it over. "Well, Parvati," he said finally. "Wouldn't you?"
"Shut up," said Parvati although her mouth was twitching a bit as she tried to hide a smile. "I'm going to pretend you're not right because I plan to have won this argument."
Harry laughed. "Now then," he said and rubbed his hands together. "On an unrelated note, hypothetically whom do you think might fancy Neville?"
Parvati's eyes lit up. "I don't care if that's the secret or not, I love a challenge like that!"
"Thought you might," said Harry with a grin.
Over the next few days, although Harry had still not brought up the awkward question to Susan, Neville seemed to be in far better spirits. Harry still held out hope Neville would manage to ask Hannah out himself because as nervous as Neville was about it, Harry felt just as awkward asking Susan.
He couldn't tell Parvati, at least not yet. Maybe there was someone else he could talk to. Lavender would certainly not be able to keep it secret at all, especially not from Parvati, and he wasn't sure Hermione or Luna really had a great handle on the whole "asking out people" thing. He even considered Katie Bell or one of the other Quidditch ladies, but the idea of asking them about something so personal felt weird.
And then Harry had it: Cho. She seemed, for some odd reason, to like Harry, even if it bothered Parvati a bit. But Harry had a feeling Cho would have some good advice about the topic. Feeling better, he allowed his attention to return to the banter at the table.
"I'm just saying," said Ron with a vehement swing of his fork. "Being afraid of spiders is perfectly natural. They can be poisonous or deadly, but when's the last time you even saw a mummy outside of Egypt?"
"Depends on the mummy," said Neville with a snicker. "Your mummy can be a bit deadly, Ron."
Ron glared at Neville theatrically and then Ginny laughed loudly from a few seats away.
"Nice one, Neville," she said. "You're not wrong, deadliness runs in the females of the Weasley family. Good eye."
Neville smiled at the compliment.
"So Harriet, when are you lot starting Quidditch practice?" Ron asked loudly.
"Start of next month is the first official meeting," said Harry and he turned to face the Weasley twins. "Right?"
"Yeah, unless Wood decides to make it earlier out of some sense of cruelty," said Fred with a shake of his head.
"Or if he can convince McGonagall we actually have time in between classes," added George. "Which we don't."
"So cognizant of the class schedule," said Fred as he narrowed his eyes. "Planning something nefarious there, Georgie boy?"
"It is said that once the student is ready, the teacher arrives," said George with a pompous tone. "Now all we need to do is figure out which one of us is which."
"Right, so you heard them," said Harry with a grin. "McGonagall won't allow it until two weeks or so."
"So you won't miss Hermione's birthday party!" Lavender said with a bright smile and Hermione choked on her water.
"Lavender, did you plan a party?" Hermione asked in a rough voice.
"I suppose it wouldn't be much of a surprise now," said Lavender sadly. "And I was planning to invite all your friends, like all of the Ravenclaws and their parents."
"Not funny, Brown," Hermione said in a low growl.
"Oh, I quite disagree," said Lavender with a smirk.
Parvati giggled and Harry tried to contain a laugh of his own.
"I think I have it," said Parvati in a whisper to Harry. "I think I know whom fancies our Neville. It's your little fangirl."
"My little... Parvati!" Harry scowled at her. "I don't like that word," he said in an angry whisper.
"Fair enough, but I'm still right," said Parvati with a smile and she patted Harry on the shoulder before turning back to her food.
Harry tried to surreptitiously glance at Ginny, who did seem to be smiling in the general direction of Neville. Although wasn't she a bit young for all that talk of who's fancying whom? Harry was pretty sure none of that was going around their second year, although maybe it was and nobody had mentioned it to him.
Either way, it wasn't particularly helpful as he doubted Neville returned her feelings, whether she had them or not, as she wasn't Hannah. So Harry tried to think of a different way to hint it to Parvati without saying anything outright, while he pondered when he might have a moment to ask Cho her advice.
This wasn't that difficult ultimately to figure out, as prior to their next planned meeting of "his" Seeker's Club, he intimated to Cho that he wanted to ask her for advice after they met. So after only a bit of casual racing, and just a little while into their hang out, Cho cleared her throat loudly.
"Ced, don't you have that awful homework due?" She said with a very thoughtful expression on her face, exaggerated to be an obvious performance.
"I always do, although I don't know which one you mean, pet," said Cedric with a laugh. "But I get the message, I'll leave you to it, ladies. And don't forget, no walking by yourselves, safety first!" He wagged his finger in front of Cho's face, and then brought it closer and closer until she slapped it away.
"Yes, yes, you win Cedric," said Cho with a scowl. "You've successfully made me annoyed." She waved her hand at him. "Now shoo." Cedric turned to Harry and nodded his head, still smiling widely and he started to walk back to the castle.
"That boy knows how to foul my Floo, that's for sure," said Cho in a grumble. "Alright!" She clapped her hands and looked over to Harry with a smile. "What's the big problem?"
Harry quickly explained Neville's request and how he had not wanted Parvati to hear about it.
"He didn't forbid telling you, or anyone other than Parvati," said Harry. "But honestly, I feel like Susan has an odd relationship with me. I feel off about doing this for Neville, even though I don't know why."
"Hmm." Cho stroked her chin thoughtfully. "Well, there's clearly a bit more here than maybe I know about, but I certainly get the awkwardness. It's not like he's asking if, say, Susan, fancied him, which I think you'd be more comfortable with since she's the one friends with you, right?"
"So he's asking you to ask Susan, which does put you in a bit of an embarrassing position with Susan and Hannah both. And if you ask me, he's not showing much of that vaunted Gryffy courage is he?"
"Hah, I said something similar to him," said Harry with amusement.
Cho smiled and winked. "Great minds, right Harriet? And all that, plus Neville asked you not to tell your best friend about it without giving a reason. But I think we should be honest here, the only reason I can think of is that he didn't want it going around that he was afraid to ask Hannah out and Parvati would likely not manage to keep it a secret."
"Huh." Harry thought about that. "I guess that does make a sort of sense," he said. "And I guess if he said that maybe he thought I'd be insulted on her behalf."
"So I say, just do what you're comfortable with," said Cho with a shrug. "I think ultimately it'll be fine, I'm sure Susan and Neville will still worship you even if something goes wrong. Just be polite and when there's a good time, there's a good time."
"Well, maybe," said Harry as he thought it over. Most of that made sense, aside from the 'worship' part but he supposed that was just Cho exaggerating.
"Now then, I don't suppose you're willing to tell me why you and Susan have such an 'odd' relationship?"
"Did I say that?"
Cho nodded. "But I won't pry if you don't want to get into it."
"I suppose it's not a bad idea. Just... you aren't friends with Mandy Brocklehurst, are you?"
Cho's eyebrows rose. "Ooh, is this about your little feud? I remember when she threw pumpkin juice in your face last year. Flitwick gave her a talking to, or so I heard. But I don't really interact much with people outside my year, or even inside it for that matter. It's sort of like you and Parvati and then less so the other people in your year, that's me and Marietta."
She shrugged. "So if you want me to prank Mandy or something, I suppose I can help, I just need to be sure not to get caught."
Harry felt very pleased at this offer, despite not really thinking about that sort of plan at all. "I'm not really the pranking sort," he said. "But thanks. No, I think she's planning something against me, Susan mentioned that maybe Mandy and some of the Slytherin girls are plotting something. That was the end of last year, but nothing so far."
"I haven't heard anything," said Cho with a frown. "But Mandy doesn't confide in me, I don't think she has many friends other than Lisa Turpin. But I can keep an eye out, okay?" She grinned. "Look at us, a couple of Unspeakables! What are they planning?"
"Cho, if I knew that..." And then Harry grinned and gave an exaggerated shrug. "That's why I need you as my Ravenclaw spy."
"What we need is a Slytherin spy," she said with a bit of a scoff. "Not that I know whom that ought to be. Maybe I can think about that. And you should too."
"The only Slytherin that's nice to me is Professor Snape," said Harry with annoyance. "And I somehow doubt he's the right one to ask about any of this."
Cho laughed. "Very true, Harriet." She looked down at her watch and clucked her tongue. "Getting a bit late, ready to head back? You think I've helped at all?"
"You really have," said Harry with a big grin. "Thanks, Cho. And don't tell Parv about this, I think she's jealous of you. Um, really don't tell her I said that either, okay?"
"Oh, you don't have to worry," said Cho with a wink. "I know how to keep a secret." And the two of them walked back as the sun began to dip towards the horizon.
It was a few days later when Harry and Parvati were called to McGonagall's office, where Professor Lupin was also present. The Defense Professor's robes were in slightly better shape than usual.
"I suppose you two know what this is about?" McGonagall asked, giving them a severe look.
"I don't suppose we've achieved a new high set of marks in Gryffindor history?" Parvati tried with a tentative smile.
"Don't try to charm me, Miss Patil," said McGonagall with a frown, although her tone was not harsh. "No, Professor Lupin has told me about your request to learn the Patronus Charm. It is a difficult charm to learn, let alone master, and it can be potentially dangerous to practice."
"Well, not necessarily..." Lupin started to say but then McGonagall gave him a sharp look. "Never mind, I've already said my piece."
"I think it's pretty important," said Harry with a firm tone. "Professor, I was already attacked once by those Dementors, and they're still around, looking for Sirius Black aren't they?"
McGonagall sighed and nodded. "Yes, I am afraid so. I suppose there is legitimate cause, as those horrid beasts don't always stay where they're told. And you, Miss Patil, what is your reasoning?"
Parvati gave the Professor a confused look. "Much the same, Professor. What if Harriet's under attack and she can't defend herself while I'm near enough to help? Really, it's the sort of thing that ought to be taught to everyone, don't you think?"
The Professor rubbed her temples. "In theory, that is a fair point. In practice however, the Charm is quite difficult to use and you already have your classwork. And Miss Potter also has her Quidditch responsibilities, on which I will not tolerate any dilly-dallying!"
"Of course I won't," said Harry. "I'm in tip-top shape, naturally, and ready to win. I've seen how Cho and Cedric fly already, so I'm familiar with their playing styles."
"Yes, I've heard about your little 'club'," said McGonagall with a frown. "Wood was quite concerned about it."
Lupin chuckled. "Minerva, we've gone a bit off, haven't we? I think if these two promise to stay up with their coursework and I provide you regular updates, the potential safety gains are worth it."
McGonagall tapped her fingers on her desk for a few seconds and then sighed. "Fine, fine, yes, alright then! Remus, you can teach them the Charm, with those caveats as you've just explained." She gave him a stern glance. "Where was this sort of responsible perspective when you were a student?"
"Thankfully I've matured past that," said Lupin. "At least I would hope so."
"Professor Lupin's a great teacher," Parvati in an excited voice. "Everyone in Gryffindor thinks so."
McGonagall held up a hand. "I don't need any more convincing, young lady. You can learn the Charm."
Parvati grinned at Harry and squeezed his hand, and Harry felt pretty pleased about the challenge.
But Lupin did not have a good time for them to learn until the week after Hermione's birthday, one Sunday in particular. This would not have been a problem except that this was also when Neville's grandmother would be taking him to visit St Mungo's.
"I gave you permission to learn the Patronus Charm," McGonagall told him sternly when he brought up the subject. "Are you certain you will have time to handle both that day?"
"I can ask Remus to schedule things in the morning," said Harry. "Since Neville's grandmother wants to go in the afternoon. Besides, I think it's a good idea to try to help Prof- I mean, Mister Lockhart recover from his accident."
McGonagall pursed her lips and made an annoyed sound. "I suppose you are not wrong about that. And I assume that Neville's grandmother will be coming here to retrieve you two?"
"This is more risk than I really want, but I suppose that going with Augusta to a very crowded building in midday is fairly safe. But be sure you are both back before nightfall, is that understood? And if you are too tired from practicing with Professor Lupin - and please use that title, Miss Potter, when you are in Hogwarts - then do not go."
"Fair enough, ma'am," said Harry. It did seem reasonable, and it wasn't like he couldn't try to visit Lockhart another week if it became impossible the same day. He put aside any thoughts of talking to Susan about Neville, knowing that he was procrastinating and it would become a bit awkward soon.
They shared a Herbology class with the Hufflepuffs, and Harry realized halfway there that Hannah and Neville would be in the same general area.
He tried to pretend he wasn't thinking about it as he worked with Parvati on their new assignment. At some point Professor Sprout came over and examined their work.
"You're handling the Fluxweed a bit too tentatively, Miss Potter," she said. "It's a good start, though, don't be afraid to get a bit rough with it. If you take a look over at your housemate, Neville has the right idea."
"He usually does," said Harry, carefully holding a smile on his face.
"Yes, that is true," said Sprout with a smile. She patted Harry on the shoulder and whispered, "I've heard some good things from Cedric Diggory, very pleased to see some unity between Houses." Then she winked and moved on.
Parvati shook her head at him. "Harriet, I don't really think it's fair how you keep making favourites of the professors. First Snape, now Sprout? And Lupin already cares too much for you, we know that."
"You have plenty of opportunity to become Flitwick's favourite, or McGonagall's for that matter."
"I've tried plenty with her," said Parvati in a grumble and she roughly pulled off bugs from the fluxweed. "But she's not charmable. Flitwick likes everyone, so that's no help. I thought I was getting somewhere with Lupin, but I'm not the best in the class, Harriet, and my winning personality only goes so far."
"How's your assignment going?" Susan said, who apparently had just appeared near them.
"Harriet is becoming a favourite of Sprout," said Parvati and she gave him a mock glare. "Infuriating, isn't it? And I suspect it's because of that weird friendship she suddenly has with Chang and Diggory."
"Ooh, right, how's that going? A lot of people have pestered him about your club, but he's always just changed the subject."
"It's fun," said Harry and he chuckled a bit. "No need to get all in a tizzy about it. We don't do anything that mad, mainly we just fly around and talk about pointless things. We're all different years so we don't even have the same assignments, although sometimes they do offer some bits of advice here and there."
Susan raised an eyebrow. "If you say so, Harriet. I think it's nice that you're doing this sort of thing with other Houses."
"You mean like you?" Parvati asked with a bit of an acid tone, prompting a concerned look from Harry. "Um. " She saw his expression and cleared her throat. "I mean, I bet Diggory thought it was okay since Harriet was already friends with you, another Hufflepuff."
"Maybe," said Susan with a shrug, and then she giggled. "Do you think he was noticing me like that? He doesn't really talk to me, outside of prefect duties and that sort of thing."
"Hard to say," said Harry, who knew Cedric hadn't mentioned Susan before. "I suppose it's sort of like reaching out to other Houses, although I've had some troublesome experiences with two of the Houses in particular. But Cho doesn't mind the way some of the Ravenclaws and I aren't fans of each other."
"Well, you don't mind Padma or Anthony, right? And I know you're sort of friends with Luna." Susan smiled. "That's really sweet of you, Harriet, I know I've talked about that before with other Hufflepuffs. I think some of them are trying to reach out a bit more, I think I saw Justin talking with two of the Slytherin boys in our year."
"Ahem." Professor Sprout cleared her throat and walked over to them. "Miss Bones, I know you have completed your assignments, but your Gryffindor friends aren't there yet, so I would ask that you let them finish, please. You have more than enough time outside of class to talk, don't you?"
"Oh, yes, sorry Professor," said Susan with a chagrined look. "Sorry to you two also," she said to Parvati and Harry and quickly nodded her head, before hurrying away.
"Sorry about that," Harry said to Sprout with a smile.
"No worries, Miss Potter," said Sprout with a chuckle. "I don't mind much for that sort of thing unless it impacts your work, so next time finish up, alright?" She didn't wait for an answer, but instead nodded to them both and moved on.
"Well, now I want to know whom Justin was talking to," said Parvati with a pout.
"Well, I don't," said Harry with a laugh. "Not even a little."
Parvati giggled. "I'm not surprised. But that's what makes us such a great team, right? Potions aside, since we have no choice there." And then she gave Harry a sort of mock glare. "But I hope you're not getting too close to that Greengrass girl. I don't trust her."
"Not to worry, Parv," said Harry with a roll of his eyes. "Neither do I."
Harry was successfully able to dodge Neville's further questions for the next few days with answers related to 'haven't had a good moment yet', but he knew it could only be kept up so long. He had hoped to use Hermione's birthday as a distraction, but she had disappeared that entire Sunday, only to come back far later in the evening refusing to talk about where she had been, instead exiting to the washroom.
Both Lavender and Parvati were convinced she was meeting up with a boy, but Harry didn't feel comfortable enough to agree with their speculation or dispute it.
"Harriet, I'll tell you what I think," said Parvati with a giggle. "I'll bet it's that Anthony Goldstein. Finally getting a life, those two nerds who practically live eight hours a day in the library. Clearly he's entertaining there. Why else would Hermione be there so often?."
"Interesting reasoning, Parv," said Lavender with a snicker. "Maybe you're right, and maybe you're wrong. I get the feeling, and no offense, that he and Padma are hooking up."
Parvati made a face. "I don't like to think about that sort of thing. Besides my parents hating on it, I mean, there's also that I just don't reckon her much for the snogging sort, she doesn't have that sort of thought process."
"Bet?" Lavender held out a hand, palms up and put her other hand on her wand.
"Don't be so serious, Lav," said Parvati and she made a dismissive motion with her hand. "I'm not going to do a witch's wager over whom Hermione is snogging."
"Harriet, you have to have some opinion," said Lavender to him. "Parv clearly thinks Hermione is snogging her pet Ravenclaw boy, but I think that he's too intimidated by you to try it."
"Me?" Harry said in surprise. "I mean, he did say something like over the summer."
"I know," said Lavender with a smirk. "Parvati mentioned it to me, which she shouldn't have." She winked at Parvati who rolled her eyes. "And obviously our dear twin here can't fathom the notion of her sister lusting after anyone, which I suppose is understandable. I don't have any sisters, but I'd probably be odd about them snogging a boy."
"So fine, Lav, who do you suppose it is?" Parvati asked with a bit of a snarky tone.
"Well, it's not Cedric, because he's taken, by Cho at the least," and then she winked at Harry.
"Don't start that nonsense," said Harry with a growl.
"It could be Ron, but I've only seen him watch Susan's arse when we walk by, and mine of course," said Lavender with a shrug and then she giggled. "I don't think he realizes I noticed."
"Boys don't notice anything," agreed Parvati with a giggle. "Right, Harriet?"
"Er, definitely," said Harry, who realized he had certainly not noticed anything himself.
"Ron might be fancying Greengrass," said Parvati and she scowled. "Stupid bint. I don't trust her one whit."
"Forget Ron, we're talking about Hermione, remember?" Lavender said. She tapped Parvati on the nose, who pouted. "Stop making that adorable face, Parv. It doesn't work on me... when I close my eyes."
Parvati and Harry laughed.
"It's not Neville," said Harry, who was surprised that he was getting interested in the conversation. "I'd have thought it was Anthony too-" He nodded at Parvati, who beamed in response "-but if not, maybe one of the Hufflepuffs?"
"Not Justin," said Lavender confidently for some reason. "Obviously."
Parvati nodded. "Obviously. Only a few other 'Puffs in our year, like Macmillan. Actually Ernie isn't such an awful choice. Oh, Merlin, you don't suppose it's Malfoy, do you? That love hate thing you hear about? She'd certainly want to hide that from us."
Lavender made a disgusted face. "Gross, Parv! Only Pug Faced Parkinson could fancy that weasel face. Not 'Weasley', just to clarify."
"Of course," said Parvati and she laughed. "But on that idea, maybe it's an older boy? One of the Weasley twins or Percy?"
"Percy's too old," said Lavender with a thoughtful expression. "Despite how similar they are. But ooh, Fred or George. Now, wouldn't that be a scandal?"
"Would it?" Harry asked in amusement. "What if she's dating both and telling them both to keep it a secret from the other one?"
"Harriet!" Parvati shrieked. "You sneaky little minx! That's utterly brilliant."
"Not a chance in hell it's true, of course," said Lavender. "But I don't mind acting as though it is." And she laughed so boisterously, Harry couldn't help but join in and soon Parvati did as well. After only a few moments of this, Hermione walked into the room in her pyjamas.
"What are you harpies nattering about?" She asked with an annoyed expression.
"Nothing, Hermione," said Harry, calming himself down. And then he grinned at her. "Just baseless speculation on your dating life."
"Or lack thereof," added Lavender.
"Shut it," said Hermione and she threw a pillow at the other Gryffindor.
"Ouch, Hermione," said Lavender with a laugh and she tossed it back onto Hermione's bed. "Kind of a Muggle sort of tactic, ain't it?"
"We don't learn the Banishing Charm until fourth year," said Hermione with a grumpy look. "Otherwise I'd have done that."
"I hope you're not too cross, Hermione," said Parvati. "We're just teasing."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Very well, but perhaps you can allow me some secrets then?"
"Never!" Lavender said dramatically and then she burst into giggles.
"You're impossible," said Hermione and she plopped onto her bed, grabbing a book from nearby. "I'm going to read a bit, then I'm going to sleep," she said with a similarly dramatic tone. "I suggest you lot try the same."
"Don't have to tell me twice," said Harry, who flipped through his books before settling on his already read copy of the September edition of International Quidditch Monthly. "This'll do nicely."
"How many times have you read that blasted thing?" Hermione asked in annoyance. "It's a monthly magazine!"
"I'll get a new one next week, so no reason not to see if I missed anything," said Harry, smiling as he kept his eyes on the magazine. "Oh, and by the way, happy birthday Hermione."
Hermione snorted but then said. "Oh, alright, thank you."
Lavender and Parvati shared a look and then said at the same time, "Happy birthday, Hermione!"
Hermione cleared her throat loudly. "'Chapter Seven: The Plants of the Forgotten Peninsula'".
"Birthday bedtime story," said Lavender in a loud whisper to Parvati. "I'm looking forward to it."
Harry laughed. Despite their differences, he thought he was perhaps finally a bit used to living with girls after all.
And before he knew it, a week had passed and the busy day had arrived. Harry had made certain to complete all of his homework and revision on Saturday, and had pestered Parvati until she had done the same.
Harry was so excited (and to be honest to himself, a bit apprehensive) about his busy Sunday he even eschewed rereading International Quidditch Monthly and went to sleep early. He awoke the next day feeling oddly tense, but a quick mental review of his plans helped to settle his mind.
He ate his breakfast so quickly, he was even finished before Ron, surprising his yearmates.
"You in a hurry, Harriet?" Lavender asked, who had not even touched anything other than some juice.
Parvati rolled her eyes. "She's excited about our extra lesson with Professor Lupin. Too excited, honestly."
"An extra lesson?" Hermione perked up suddenly. "Can anyone be a part of it?"
"No, Hermione," said Parvati with an annoyed tone. "I mean..." Then she frowned. "Well, maybe at some point. It was hard enough to get McGonagall to agree to let the two of us learn the Charm."
"Which Charm?" Hermione asked, a very interested look on her face. "Something outside the normal curriculum."
"Are we meant to be keeping it secret?" Parvati asked Harry. "I don't think Professor Lupin or McGonagall said that."
"They didn't," said Harry. "Although we probably shouldn't spread it around. I think it's fine if you lot know, but too many people around to overhear and worry for the moment. Professor Snape would probably be cross with me if I was incautious."
"Only you would worry about that," said Lavender with a giggle. "The rest of us Gryffs just have to accept that Snape being cross with us is simply a fact of life."
"Being 'cross' seems an understatement," said Neville in a grumble.
"So how's your new girlfriend, Ron?" Lavender asked, taking another sip of her juice.
"What?" Ron jerked up with surprise and his ears reddened. "Girlfriend? Who, um, who did you say that was?"
Parvati laughed. "Lav's just poking fun at you, Ron. Or trying to guess if you have one." Her eyes narrowed. "But if you do have one, it had better not be that Greengrass, Ron, you hear me?"
"Oh, um," said Ron and visibly swallowed. "Yeah, who knows?" This was clearly meant to sound confident, but it came out in a shaky voice and his attempt at a smile was a bit crooked. "Perhaps I have one, Lav, you interested or something? Thought you fancied Cho." But if this was Ron's attempt to reverse the teasing to Lavender, Harry knew he was way out of his depth.
"Who says I don't?" Lavender said with a laugh. "I can fancy more than one person, Ron." She raised an eyebrow at him. "As I'm sure you know, right?"
Ron's face paled and his mouth dropped open. He seemed to be struggling to say anything.
"Merlin, Lavender!" Harry got up from his seat and glared at her. "You're going to give Ron a heart attack or something at this rate. Just leave him be and tease someone who can handle it, like Hermione."
Neville ducked his head and covered his mouth to hide his laughter, but Parvati laughed fairly loudly.
"Oh, thanks for that, Potter," said Hermione with a pinched voice. "You owe me the truth about the Charm now after that remark."
"No worries, Hermione," said Harry with a grin. "I better go check with Lupin about the lesson, enjoy your breakfast."
"Oh I shall," said Lavender with a huge smile, her eyes now focused on a very uncomfortable looking Hermione.
Harry walked over to the High Table to where Professor Lupin was sitting, looking quite amused,
"I haven't forgotten, Harriet," he said when Harry had gotten within earshot. "But I suppose it's good to see you're eager about the lesson."
Harry looked over to all of the professors looking at him and suddenly felt a bit nervous. He supposed they probably all knew all about the Patronus Charm lesson, or at least the Heads of House. Both Flitwick and Sprout were smiling widely, but McGonagall had a frown and Snape looked almost angry. At least Dumbledore only glanced for a moment, and then turned back to his food as if the situation was of no consequence.
"Sorry to disturb the table," Harry said. "I was just confirming something with Professor Lupin."
"Nothing to worry about, Miss Potter!" Flitwick said with a smile. "I believe all of us are pleased with the idea of a student pushing themselves to learn something new."
At this, both McGonagall and Snape rolled their eyes, although neither seemed to realize they had done it at the same time. Harry took a deep breath to keep from laughing at the sight. "Ten-thirty, right, Professor?" He said when he collected himself.
Lupin nodded, and he looked just as amused by the situation. "I'll see you two there."
Harry nodded back and quickly headed back to the table to whisper to Parvati. "Ten-thirty." After she nodded back with a grin, he said, at normal volume, "Now then, if you'll excuse me, I have to go have a laugh."
At just a little after ten-thirty, Harry and Parvati arrived at the Defence classroom.
"Ah, you're here, excellent," said Lupin as he rubbed his hands together. "It's sort of an interesting challenge, teaching the Charm effectively. The good news is that I hear from Professor Snape that you apparently have already been practicing the primary principle of it."
"You mean, a good memory?" Harry asked.
"I was about to say that, Harriet!" Parvati said with a frown.
"Alright, alright, this isn't a competition," said Lupin soothingly. "You're both trying to learn the Charm as best as you can, after all. And yes, Harriet, you have to recall a very strong, very potent, very happy memory while you use the incantation."
"Expecto Patronum, right?" Harry said.
"Harriet, stop showing off," said Parvati with a pout and Lupin laughed.
"Yes, that's it, although that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves. The idea behind the Patronus Charm is a bit tricky, but I've always believed that understanding the magical theory helps with the practical parts. You see, a Dementor feeds upon positive feelings and memories, and when they do, it brings about despair in their victims. This leaves them in a vulnerable state that ultimately allows them to be attacked and their souls drained."
He shook his head. "It's a horrid thing to think about, I know. And if you need to take a break at any point-"
"Please sir," Parvati interrupted. "We can handle it. Please continue."
"Alright, Miss Patil," said Lupin with a small smile. "I will. I've seen victims of Dementors, and it's not a pleasant sight. And unfortunately, very little works against them with any consistency, aside from the Patronus Charm. Because the Patronus is powered by such a positive memory, which itself contains positive feelings, it's a barrier that's like poison to the Dementors. They can't feed on the energies of the Patronus at all, so it drives them away, at least temporarily."
He held out his wand, moved it very clearly in a few perfect circles and said "Expecto Patronum!" A beautiful silver light began to glow from his wand, and the light began to grow quickly until it became the shape of a wolf made of pure silvery light. The wolf made no noise, but it paced around them, as if looking for something.
"Professor, he's gorgeous," said Parvati, holding her hands to her face. "Um, may I touch him?"
"I'm just showing you how it looks," said Lupin and he made a gesture with his wand, causing the wolf to disappear. "But I don't expect you to get to this point, making what we call a "corporeal" Patronus. That means it has the form of an animal, like you just saw. They are particularly useful against Dementors."
"Professor McGonagall's is a cat," said Harry and Parvati gave him a look of surprise. "Lav and I saw it when you were knocked out last year," he explained to her.
"Yes, that's right," said Lupin, who looked surprised. "Knocked out? I feel like there's a lot I don't know here. I still don't think I have the full story about what happened last year."
Parvati laughed. "The short summary is that Harriet saved the day, just like our first year."
"Your first... never mind, I'm getting distracted," said Lupin with a shake of his head. "We can talk about that business later. Let's go over the hand motions, and then you can practice the spell."
After a few minutes of drawing circles until Harry's wrist began to twinge a bit, Lupin let them try the spell.
"Now remember," he said. "The most positive memory you can think of. It should be so positive that if you think on it, you immediately feel better. And of course, feel free to keep it to yourself. Naturally, it's often a very private thing."
Harry had been thinking about it for a while, and had quite a few memories in mind. Winning that first year Quidditch championship was one and another was seeing Hogwarts again coming back from the summer. He also thought of that first Reparo when fixing his parents' house, that made him pretty happy when thinking back on it. Although he had also been a bit lonely in the house over the summer, which made the memory a bit complicated.
"Um, I think I have mine," said Parvati, and for some reason her face seemed a bit flushed. "Can I try?"
Lupin nodded and Parvati held out her wand. "Focus on that memory," he said.
Parvati nodded and then she looked at Harry. "Watch this, Harriet," she said and smiled very widely. Her smile was infectious and Harry grinned back. Parvati took a deep breath and said loudly, "Expecto Patronum!" Instantly a small cloud of glowing silvery motes appeared out of her wand and floated in the air for a few moments before vanishing.
"I did it!" Parvati shrieked and she grabbed Harry in a hug. "I finally beat you in something Harriet!"
Harry laughed and Lupin seemed to be holding back a chuckle.
"It's not a competition, like I said," Lupin said in an amused voice. "And yes, Parvati, a very good start. Harriet, let's see your attempt."
Harry thought for a moment and looked over at Parvati, who was smiling so happily back at him. A memory came to him then, a bittersweet moment, when she had hugged him in the Hospital Wing at the end of last year. When Harry had been afraid she had been hurt or worse, but that moment, where she was okay, suddenly gave Harry a feeling of such nostalgic pleasure, a smile appeared on his face without trying.
"I see you have something," said Lupin with a grin. "Excellent, excellent. Give it a go!"
Harry took a deep breath and held the moment in his mind, "Expecto Patronum!" A wave of silver energy came out of his wand and then seemed to hit the wall, where it dissipated. "Wait, did I do it right?"
"And more importantly, was it better than mine?" Parvati added with a smirk.
"You too remind me so much of us back in Hogwarts," said Lupin with a laugh. "We were quite competitive too, your father and Black especially, Harriet. But no, Parvati, it's not better, not exactly. It's a good start, that's all."
He frowned and tapped his chin. "I've been considering for a few weeks about how to practice this more effectively. It's all well and good to get the charm right enough when no Dementor is about, but when you're feeling one's terrible effects, it's a different story. I had considered using a Boggart, since that will seem close, as long as it's reacting to Harriet, and it can be easily contained if we need to."
"So let's do that," said Parvati eagerly. "Maybe we can also help with my fear of mummies too." And then she shuddered. "Brr. Mummies."
"We will," said Lupin. "Eventually. McGonagall only agreed to the idea once you have the basics completely down. And even then, she said she would insist on being here for that session." He chuckled. "Snape almost insisted too, but Minerva convinced him that was unnecessary."
"Harriet is the only Gryffindor Snape favours," said Parvati with a grin. "As you know."
"Parvati!" Harry glared at her.
"It's okay, Harriet," said Lupin with a calming tone. "I do know. It's because he was so close to your mother, as we talked about last summer, and feels guilty about how awful he was to her." He stopped. "I assume you told Miss Patil about that story?"
"Alright, good, I wasn't trying to tell secrets out of turn, after all. But in any event, I don't mind Snape being protective of you, even if he's a bit harsh otherwise. We need all the help we can get." Lupin sighed. "Ah, listen to me, you don't need to hear me carry on. That's not the point of any of this, so let's get back to it!"
He clapped his hands together loudly. "Now, I know this will get a bit tiring, but I'd like you to keep practicing the charm for the next hour. I'll keep an eye out and we'll see if we can improve it at all. If all goes well, perhaps we can try with a Boggart next time. Alright, ladies?"
Harry and Parvati nodded.
"I'm ready to beat Harriet again," grinned Parvati.
"Oh, we'll see," said Harry, grinning back. "Let's go."
It was a somewhat tired Harry that went to lunch after their Patronus lesson. He was able to get Neville's attention before they all sat down.
"Hey, Harriet," said Neville, a bit nervously. "Still ready to go today? My grandmum will be here in a few hours."
"I am," said Harry, willing himself to wake up more. "I'm sure it'll go fine." Although after he finished eating, Harry did decide to take a light nap in the Common Room until they were supposed to leave.
When the time came, Parvati poked Harry to wake him up.
"Leaving without me?" Parvati asked with a grin.
"You'd be bored by it," said Harry. "I'm just going to see if Lockhart recognizes me. I didn't think you wanted to see him."
"I don't," said Parvati with a scowl. "But I also don't like being left out of things. When do you plan to be back?"
"Probably around dinner time," Neville said. "At least that's how long it usually takes."
"Well, I'll figure out something else to do in the meantime," said Parvati with a dismissive tone. "Me and Lav will hang out or something." She gave Harry a raised eyebrow. "Jealous?"
"Completely," said Harry with a laugh. "See you when I get back."
Mrs. Longbottom was just as Harry had recalled from their last adventure to St Mungo's, but she was polite enough despite her brusque manner.
"It is good of you to help out your troubled professor," she said as they walked to the long-term ward. "Little actual recovery I suspect it'll make."
"Grandmother..." Neville gave her a sort of look.
"I'm being perfectly polite, Neville," said his grandmother with a sniff. "Miss Potter agrees, don't you?"
"Um, sure," said Harry, repressing the desire to roll his eyes. "Yes, ma'am, I'm fine."
"There you are, Neville," said Mrs. Longbottom with a pleased look. "Come along then, time's a-wasting."
When they arrived, Lockhart was still in the same place, although with a thicker curtain around his bed. When he saw them, he waved and smiled toothily. "Hullo there!" he said and then chuckled. "I recognize you. You're that Potter that this boy was talking about. I remember something about you."
A nearby Healer, a tall, husky man, smiled widely and nodded at Harry. "It's very good that you came Miss Potter," he said. "Would you be willing to talk to Gilderoy a bit to see it jogs anything in his memory?"
"I've been jotting down everything I can think of," said Lockhart, and he waved about a small journal. "Almost like having a conversation, eh? Just a bit one-sided." And then he winked at Harry, who realized with a start that recognized it - it was Tom Riddle's diary.
Carefully keeping his breathing level, Harry managed to smile back. "Yes, I quite agree," he said. "Keeping some sort of personal log probably helps keep track of your memories." He looked up at the Healer. "Do you think I could talk to Lockhart in private for a few minutes? There are a few things I think I could try talking about."
"Isn't there such a thing as a Privacy Charm?" Lockhart asked the Healer, scratching his head. "I'm sure I remember using something like that.
"Yes, there is," said the Healer with a smile. "But no reason for that, if we close the curtains it will trigger an automatic Privacy Charm. Although I will be alerted if something goes wrong, just in case." He nodded to Harry. "But I won't be able to overhear, if that's your concern Miss Potter."
"I appreciate it," said Harry. "Neville, will you be okay?"
"I'm just going to talk to my parents and sit with them for a while," said Neville. "I guess let me know if you need anything."
After Neville and his grandmother walked away, the Healer started to close the curtains. Before he had completely closed them, he said, "Now, I'll check back in a few minutes, but are you sure you'll be alright by yourself?"
"Do you really think there's a risk of me talking privately to him?" Harry asked.
"He doesn't have a wand," said the Healer. "And he shouldn't be given one, for multiple reasons, but I don't think Gilderoy is dangerous." He shook his head. "He's just suffered a great deal of mental damage, so attempting to cast magic might cause unintended effects. Do you understand?"
"I mean, I understand the warning," said Harry and he looked over at Lockhart, who shrugged.
"Don't worry about me," he said with a smile. "I don't even remember how to cast any spells."
"Alright then, um..." Harry stopped as he realized he didn't know the Healer's name.
"Just call me Healer Roberts," said the Healer with a chuckle. "Very good, I'll check in a few." And he closed the curtains.
Lockhart continued smiling for a moment, looking around at the curtains.
"So Professor," said Harry, breaking the silence. "How much do you remember?"
"He doesn't remember anything," said Lockhart. "How much do you remember, Harry?"
Harry's breath caught in his throat. "Tom. How did you get the diary? I thought I had lost it."
"You did, but thankfully it was here," said Tom with Lockhart's face. "As opposed to some random place in Diagon or worse." He gave Harry an odd look. "I expected you to be more careful with it."
"I'm sorry, really," said Harry quickly. "I had made sure to keep it on me when I left the house for a while, but I guess I didn't think to check after Lockhart..." He frowned. "Is it when he knocked into me? Was that you?"
Tom laughed. "No, Harry. I would have preferred to stay with you, of course. But being found by this... man has had unintended gains."
"You're talking through him," said Harry. "How?"
"It's not the sort of thing I could do very easily," said Tom and then he gave a small grin. "But I could do it with enough time and effort. The problem is that it would gravely injure the possessed person's mind, and if I lost the connection, I would be forced back to the diary. But your hapless ex-professor here already had such an injured and porous mind, it was actually easier to talk through him than to him."
Tom shrugged and he seemed very pleased with himself. "The man is unlikely to recover. I was able to pick up on enough chatter about that prognosis from the Healers. Ironically, by my efforts, I may actually help rebuild his mind, even if his memories are completely lost."
"Normally I'd be suspicious that someone was pretending to know me," said Harry. "But you're the only other one who's called me 'Harry'."
"Yes, that is so," said Tom and he gave Harry a look through lidded eyes. "I have heard your apology, but I would ask that you make things up to me for your error in judgement."
"I don't think I can give you a wand," said Harry. "No offense."
Tom laughed and he gave Harry a more pleasant look. "That's fair enough, Harry. If you had simply given me a wand, I'd have lost a lot of respect for you and your sense of judgment. No, it's too early anyway to use magic with this body." Tom tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Eventually I shall be able to, but I'd rather use it in my own body instead."
"Is that possible?"
"You offered to try that yourself, giving life to life, remember?" Tom said with a raise of his eyebrow. "But here we have an even better opportunity."
"You won't... kill him though, right?"
Tom laughed, and the sound was a bit cold. "No, not as long as I take my time. It's an unusual situation, to be honest. Possessing a heavily mentally damaged person as... a spectre like I am. A contained spectre, that is. But as I said, I need something from you."
"Alright," said Harry, feeling like he had to tread carefully, but glad that Tom wasn't angry about Harry losing the diary. "What do you need?"
"Books will do," said Tom. "Anything you can get on memory curses or mental recovery. Magical cures and that ilk. It wasn't something I was quite an expert on, back at Hogwarts. But I had studied enough that I believe such books will be easy enough for me to follow."
And then he chuckled again, a soft, unsettling sort of chuckle. "And I don't want to lose my mind due to boredom, do I?"
"Alright, that sounds more than fair," said Harry. "I'm not sure what I can get from Hogwarts, they don't let those out of the castle."
"No, they're charmed against removal," Tom said in agreement. "There are ways around it, but it's a bit too advanced for you just yet." He frowned and paused for a moment. "Maybe I should teach you the way to do it anyway."
"I can also get some things from Flourish and Blotts," said Harry. "If you have any particular titles in mind."
"Unfortunately, I don't have any way to get title names from here," said Tom with a touch of anger. "Ah, but wait... I believe there was a sort of catalogue they had back when I was a boy. If you can get me that, and whatever books that seem reasonable, that'll be a good start."
"Maybe I can ask one of the professors about it," said Harry. "Not the specifics, of course, just basics about medical cures that I can explain since I've just been here."
"Hmm, I was concerned about your judgement there for a moment," said Tom with a sharp laugh. "I know that this is an odd situation, but if we are ever going to solve this Curse, we will need to work together." He gave Harry a knowing look. "That also means not telling anyone about this possession, especially not Dumbledore. He wouldn't understand, he'd just call it 'Dark' and we'd lose everything."
"I guess I wasn't thinking about that," said Harry and he frowned. "Is it actually Dark magic?"
"Harry, that is a complicated question," said Tom, and he gave Harry a crooked grin. "But I know you can handle the answer, although we don't have time today before we'll be interrupted. Next time you visit, we can go over that and some of your other questions, I know you have them." He looked down at the diary. "Eventually, we will be able to meet in person again, and destroy this dreaded Curse that has plagued us so."
"I've almost gotten used to it," Harry admitted. "It's easier that way."
"Don't give in, Harry," said Tom sharply. "Do you really want to be seen as a girl for the rest of your life?"
Harry shook his head. "Of course not, it's just... well, my life is complicated even besides the Curse."
Tom laughed. "That's just life, Harry. Especially life at Hogwarts. But I'd be happy to listen and provide some of my own hard-earned advice."
The curtain suddenly opened and Healer Roberts poked his head in. "Everything alright in here you two?" He stepped next to Lockhart and looked him over. "I'll need to check up on things here, Miss Potter. But I'm sure Gilderoy appreciates you coming by to talk to him."
"Oh, I do," said Lockhart brightly, with a big smile. "And M... Miss Potter, I certainly hope you come and visit again soon. I think some of our discussions about our classes last year have helped me a great deal."
"I hope so," said Harry, feeling like he'd need some time himself to think over the conversation. Ironically, he thought he could use a diary or journal himself to jot down some of his thoughts, but that was far too risky. After all, if he had lost a diary once, it was always possible he could lose one again.
"How was he?" Neville asked when Harry re-joined the Longbottoms.
"I think he does remember a bunch of things," said Harry, trying not to directly lie. "But he can't use magic right now. Maybe if I keep talking to him about it, maybe demonstrate some spells, it's possible he'll be able to use a wand again."
"I suppose that's good," said Neville with a grimace. "But I still haven't really forgiven him for Obliviating me, even if he's forgotten it himself."
"It was a pretty low thing to do," said Harry in agreement. "Although I really do think he was trying to protect us, despite his errors in judgement."
"I'm not about to let the man near Neville again if he ever does recover," said Mrs. Longbottom with a bit of a prim tone. "For now I suppose he's harmless."
"Hmm," said Harry with a nod and an agreeable sound. Certainly Tom was harmless (most likely) without a wand with Healers always about, and Lockhart was entirely suppressed if he was present at all.
"Um, Harriet, I don't suppose you want to try talking to my parents?" Neville asked nervously.
"Oh, I'd be happy to," said Harry in surprise. "I just thought you wanted me to stay out of it."
"I think any friendly discussion is only helpful," said Neville and he looked over at his mother, who was staring blankly at the wall. "C'mon, let me introduce you, I don't recall if I did already."
Harry glanced quickly at Mrs. Longbottom, but the intimidating matriarch didn't seem to have any issue with it.
"Mum, hullo, it's Neville."
Neville's mother turned, and her eyes were still glassy even though she was at least looking in her son's direction.
"Mum, this is my friend Harriet Potter. Potter. You were friends with her parents, Lily and James Potter, remember?"
"Nice to meet you," said Harry and he almost extended a hand, before thinking it might be awkward if she didn't respond. "Neville's told me a lot about you."
Neville glanced over to Harry in surprise but then he shrugged and smiled. "Yeah, sure I have," he said.
"Alice was very close with Lily in particular," said Mrs. Longbottom, and Harry nearly started at the unexpected words from her. "Alice, dear, you remember Lily Potter, don't you? This is her daughter, the spitting image of her don't you think? Well, aside from those eyes, they do look rather Potter-ish, don't they?"
"People say that," said Harry in agreement.
Alice seemed to notice Harry for a second and then her attention faded and she turned down to the floor.
"That's not bad," said Neville with a big grin. "I think she recognized you, Harriet. Mind if we try talking a bit more to her?"
"Um, I don't," said Harry, swallowing a lump in his throat. He wasn't sure if Neville was being optimistic or not, but he was certainly willing to give it a go. All that talk of his mother had affected him a bit more than he had expected, but he was careful not to let it show. Instead, he did his best to stick with Neville's flow of conversation as the day sped by.
When they returned back to Hogwarts, it was actually near the end of dinnertime and most of the tables were empty. From their year, only Ron was still there, and he was oddly picking at his food.
Before they walked back to the tables, Neville cleared his throat softly.
Harry turned to look at him curiously.
"You were a real help today, Harriet," said Neville and then he looked uncomfortable. "I supposed if you really think I can try asking out Hannah myself, maybe... maybe I can muster the courage."
"Oh, I just haven't had a good moment," said Harry without thinking about it and then he considered the question a bit longer. Maybe it was how exhausted we felt, but after spending those hours with Neville's parents, he felt a lot more reasonable about Neville's request than he had before. "I don't see her still out here, but maybe she's back in her dormitory. I'll ask this week, I promise."
Neville grinned. "Thanks, Harriet, you really are a great friend. Um, and on that note, I may have mentioned that I asked you to ask Susan about this to Ron."
"Why didn't he ask her about you then?"
Neville's face flushed. "He has a pretty good reason, which I'm afraid he'll probably tell you. Again, sorry."
Harry was confused but he was too tired to worry about it for the time being.
"Harriet, you're back! Oh, Nev, you too, I suppose," Ron grinned as they walked over. "So Nev, do you think that... I mean, Harriet, might I ask-"
Neville cleared his throat. "We need to eat something before you bombard us with questions, Ron. And there's an awful lot of people about."
"Um, right," said Ron as he gave Harry an awkward glance.
Harry sighed, and hoped he'd feel a bit better after some warm mulled cider and a tasty Hogwarts dinner so he could deal with whatever Ron was worried about.
After they had finished walking back to the Common Room, Ron gave Neville a meaningful look. Neville rolled his eyes but told the Fat Lady the password.
"See you two in a bit," he said. "Don't stay out here too long, McGonagall wouldn't be happy."
Ron gave Neville a dismissive wave and stuck out his tongue. Neville laughed and walked inside the Common Room as the portrait closed behind him.
"Yes, Ron, what is it?" Harry asked, far too tired to pretend to be polite.
"Harriet, can you tell me if... I mean..." Ron took a deep breath and said, "Does Susan fancy me?"
"Susan? Does she... how would I know that?"
"So she hasn't mentioned it?" Ron's face fell. "Is she going out with someone else?"
Ah, suddenly it made sense to Harry's bleary mind - Ron couldn't ask Susan about Hannah fancying Neville because he fancied Susan himself. At least he thought it made sense.
"I'm sure I don't know," said Harry a bit shortly and felt bad about that. "But as I'm sure Neville told you, I'll be talking to Susan anyway about him and Hannah so I guess I can find out if she fancies you."
"Well, don't just ask her that, Harriet!" Ron said, his face pale.
"Merlin, Ron," said Harry with a roll of his eyes. "Fine, I'll be subtle about it, okay? You and Neville really aren't showing that classic Gryff bravery are you?"
"It's not that easy, Harriet," said Ron with a low voice. "I can talk to you or Hermione or Parv or Lav - when she's not teasing me, that is. But Susan is different. I mean, I don't know how to explain it."
"It's fine, Ron," said Harry with a sigh and then he yawned. "I'll talk with Susan about it this week."
"It's not that late," said Ron and he bit at his fingernails. "We aren't at curfew quite yet."
"Susan's probably in the Hufflepuff dormitory," said Harry, really not wanting to walk over the grounds searching for where Susan might be.
"She could be the library, I mean, maybe we could find out where she is..." Ron gave Harry a hopeful look. "I'm pretty sure Hermione went there to study with her 'Claws."
Harry was about to just refuse when he thought of the magical Map he had been gifted from the Weasley Twins. "I actually do have a way to know for sure where she is," said Harry with a small smile. "Something Fred and George told me about, but it's a secret."
"That birthday gift is it?" Ron asked with his eyebrows raised. "I almost forgot about that. What was it again?"
"Nice try," said Harry with a laugh. "So just wait in the Common Room and I'll check on it. It's with my things."
"Oh, okay, I suppose that makes sense," said Ron and he turned back to the portrait. "Um, but don't take too long, please, curfew is soon."
"Right, Ron," said Harry and he suppressed an annoyed roll of his eyes.
He walked the stairs up to his shared bedroom, his mind full with thoughts of such a full day and a desire to simply fall into bed. But he knew the Map wouldn't take too long, and when he found out that Susan was in her dorm after all (which Harry was nearly completely certain of), he'd tell Ron and then go to bed.
When he opened their door, Harry felt his heart skip a beat and he stopped breathing for a second. Parvati and Lavender were kissing on Parvati's bed, but at the sound of the door, they broke apart and turned to him, both with shocked looks on their faces.
"Harriet!" Parvati's face looked flushed and she put her hands on her face. "I thought you weren't back yet."
"Is it curfew already?" Lavender asked, her cheeks pink.
"Um, sorry, I didn't mean... Sorry." Harry felt like he was about to break into pieces, his mind sputtering like a broken faucet. The sight of the two girls kissing had affected him in some way he didn't understand, and his body felt hot and cold at the same time. And something else, something past that, was hurting him and he had to leave.
"I'll leave you be," he said and turned to leave them, not trusting himself to say anything else. As he started to go back down the hallway to the stairway, he heard Parvati shout behind him, "Wait, Harriet!"
Harry kept walking, not wanting to see her for some reason, but Parvati grabbed his shoulder. "Parvati, I don't-" Harry didn't finish his thought and didn't turn around.
"Please, Harriet, it's not what you think. I mean, I can explain, please, come back."
Harry took a breath in to try to calm himself, and it somewhat helped.
"Harriet, at least look at me, you're scaring me."
Harry exhaled and gritted up his nerve. Hadn't he just accused Ron and Neville of being lacking in Gryffindor courage? He could at least try to do better.
He turned around and saw Parvati's face, and there were tears in her eyes. Oddly enough, this made Harry feel a bit better, although he couldn't explain why.
He followed Parvati back into their room and closed the door behind them.
"So... yes?" Harry looked between the two girls. Parvati still seemed very distraught but Lavender now had a small smile on her face.
"Harriet, I know it's a bit odd," said Lavender. "Seeing two girls snogging in front of you like that."
"We're not bent!" Parvati said suddenly.
"Speak for yourself," said Lavender with a laugh. "And I'd be careful about asserting that too, love." She looked over at Harry and seemed amused. "We were practicing kissing, Harriet. Neither of us had ever snogged someone, and we didn't want to be the last girls in our year."
"I haven't either," said Harry without thinking about it and then stopped, his face heating up.
"I know," said Lavender and now she gave Harry a very kind look. "I know I've teased you about Cedric and Cho, but Hermione is the one I was talking about. We didn't want to be so behind Hermione Granger of all people!"
"Lavender!" Parvati gave the other girl a bewildered look. "What are you going on about?"
"We were just practicing, Parvati," said Lavender again with a firm voice. "Isn't that so?"
"I mean, yes, it is, but..." Parvati's voice trailed off and she looked confused.
"Harriet, you haven't kissed anyone so... would you like to practice?" Lavender gave Harry a wink and a very wicked smile.
Harry's eyes opened and his mouth dropped open. Absolutely no words came to his mind and the only thing he could think was that his face was clearly about to melt off.
But Lavender seemed to consider this a great opportunity and she slinked over to him and kissed him. The shock of the contact was like a spark to Harry's mind and his thoughts began to move again. But the main thought was that Lavender kissed really well.
Lavender moved back and she had a pleased look on her face.
"Wow," said Harry and then he realized what he had just said. "I mean, nice practice."
Lavender and Parvati giggled.
Lavender gave Parvati a piercing look. "Well, Parv, do you want to try?"
Parvati's eyes widened hugely but she started to walk towards Harry who felt his limbs lock in place. When she kissed him, Harry felt something twinge in his chest, an unfamiliar but very happy feeling. It was quite different from how he had felt with Lavender, something that hit his heart in some way he couldn't put into words.
After they moved apart, Parvati had an odd but familiar look in her eyes, but Harry couldn't help but feel that maybe she had felt the same way.
Lavender giggled. "Why, you two! That wasn't the same as with me at all!"
"Lav, don't!" Parvati whirled at her and gave Lavender an angry look.
"I think you two ought to have a chat." said Lavender and she stretched her limbs. "And I need to wash my face, so you two ought to talk fast before Hermione comes back."
"Um, Lavender, don't you..." Parvati stopped talking as Lavender just ignored her and went into the washroom. Then Parvati looked at Harry and then quickly looked away.
"Parvati," said Harry. "Can I tell you something?"
"Okay," said Parvati in a soft voice, looking at the floor.
"Want to know what my Patronus memory is?" Harry asked, his voice also soft. "It's when you woke up in the Hospital Wing and I knew you were okay."
Parvati let out a kind of odd, wheezy laugh. "Harriet, you know, we aren't meant to talk about that sort of thing, remember?" Then she looked up at him. "Heh. My memory is basically the same, except the other way around, when I woke up and saw you waiting for me."
Neither of them said anything for a few beats and then Harry said, "So what does this mean?"
"I... oh, I don't know," said Parvati and she threw herself on her bed. "Maybe I'm confused."
"Are you confused?"
Parvati looked over at Harry. "No," she said in a small voice. "But I'm scared."
"I'm confused," Harry admitted. "I don't really know what I'm feeling."
"Lavender seems to know," said Parvati with a snort. "Maybe we should ask her."
Harry chuckled. "Maybe we should, I mean- oh, bloody hell, I forgot about Ron!" He grimaced and went to his trunk to search for the hiding place of the Map.
"Ron? What about Ron? Harriet, what about Ron? Harriet!"
"Parvati, calm down and give me a minute," said Harry with a groan as he finally fished out the Map. "Ron asked me to find out if Susan fancied him. I guess he didn't say I couldn't tell you about it, but if he meant to, that's his problem."
"Oh." Parvati sounded relieved. "Well, you know, I'm not sure, Harriet. Maybe she does. Or maybe she fancies Ernie. She certainly fancies Cedric Diggory, but we both know that's not happening." And she laughed, almost hysterically.
Harry glanced around to make sure neither Lavender nor Hermione were back and whispered, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good".
"Ooh, are you using that Map? Let me see!" Parvati ran over and pushed up next to him. They looked at each other for a moment.
"Um, I wasn't trying to kiss you again," said Parvati, and she looked away.
"If you were, I suppose I wouldn't mind," said Harry in a burst of bravery and Parvati looked back at him with her eyes wide open. Then he looked down at the Map and felt his own eyes widen.
"Wow, would you look at that?" Unlike on the train, the Map was now filled with every student of every year milling about, although nearly everyone was in their respective dormitories.
"This is so cool," said Parvati with a squeal. "Ah, there's Susan! She's with Hannah. That's her Common Room, I think. I've never been to the Hufflepuff dorm, but if this map shows the way..." She grinned at Harry. "Wow, we could sneak around with this thing."
"We do have the Invisibility Cloak," said Harry and then he noticed two names in the Library. "Hmm, it looks like Hermione and that Anthony Goldstein are still in the library. Really, they should be back by now."
"Let's sneak out and bring them back!" Parvati said and squeezed Harry's arm and then she pulled her hand back, looking like she had burnt herself. "Um, well." She looked away for a moment and said, "We, uh, can hide under the Cloak. It can be an adventure."
"Well, I was thinking about going to bed early," said Harry, but then he realized he was not tired anymore. He definitely did not want to talk about what had just happened. "But now I can't imagine that. What about Ron?"
"We'll tell him that you fell asleep early," said Parvati shrug. "Or I'll tell him. I know you don't like lying."
"I don't," said Harry with amusement. "But you kind of do."
Parvati grinned. "We do know each other a bit, don't we Harriet Potter?"
It was a kind of a surreal experience, sneaking in the empty Hogwarts hallway under the Invisibility Cloak, which only clearly covered the two of them if they hunched over and stayed close. But Harry didn't mind that at all. He checked back at the Map every so often, but Hermione and Anthony were still in the library and he began to wonder if something had gone wrong.
"It's after curfew for sure," he whispered to Parvati. "We better not get caught by Madam Pince."
But when they arrived at the Library, the door was still unlocked but the Madam was nowhere to be seen.
"That's odd," said Parvati with a frown. "Hope she's okay. Maybe I should go find a professor?"
"How about this? According to the Map, there's no one else in the library, so Pince isn't going to just stumble across me. In fact..." His eyes scanned the parchment to see that Madam Pince was actually in McGonagall's office. "See, there she is. But she might come back here any moment, so can you keep an eye on the Map while I go get Hermione and Anthony?"
Parvati scowled. "I bet they're snogging or something and lost track of time. I mean, I'd be surprised that they lost track of time, but I mean... oh, I don't know. Just let me know if you need me to run over, and I'll run over with the Cloak to warn if I see Pince too close."
She gave Harry a look and then nodded silently.
"Right," said Harry and he patted Parvati on the shoulder. She gave him an annoyed look and he chuckled softly. "See you soon then."
He walked through the stacks to the area of the map he generally saw Hermione and the Ravenclaw in, and it took him a bit longer than he expected to wind his way through the maze like shelves.
Then for the second time in an evening, he came across two people snogging.
"Harriet!" Anthony's eyes widened and he seemed suddenly terrified.
"Oh, dear," said Hermione and she glanced at her watch. "It's past curfew! I thought we were only here for eighteen minutes or so."
"That's why I came looking for you," said Harry dryly.
"Don't be cross, Harriet," said Hermione. "And let's everyone please hush... for a moment." She closed her eyes and then opened them. "Listen, Harriet, this is a personal matter, alright? Don't say anything to anyone, please? Especially Padma, I'll talk to her."
"Alright, alright, fine," said Harry, now wanting the long day to just be over. "But Parvati's actually waiting for us near the Library entrance to keep an eye out for Pince."
"She is?" Anthony asked and he seemed even more alarmed.
"Anthony, keep your wits about you," said Hermione with a touch of annoyance. "Harriet isn't going to hex you. And neither is Parvati, right?"
"Not unless he gives me a reason to," said Harry and he gave Anthony a flat look, who gulped.
"Harriet, you are incorrigible!" Hermione said with a giggle and then she grabbed Anthony's hand, whose limbs were hanging very limply. "Lead the way, please."
When they got near the front desk, Parvati was there without the Cloak, glaring at Hermione and Anthony. "You two gave us quite a fright! Now we have to walk back to drop off Anthony and then to our own Tower without getting caught."
Hermione winced. "This is quite embarrassing."
Parvati then looked over at Harry who waggled his eyebrows in a motion towards the Ravenclaw boy.
"I see," said Parvati and she laughed. "I suppose we know your secret boyfriend now, don't we?"
Hermione frowned. "Please keep it to yourself, Parvati. Especially don't tell Lavender, you know she can't keep a secret."
"What? Come on, Hermione," said Parvati in a whine and she made an annoyed motion with her hand. "Oh very well, I'll keep it secret, much as it pains me. But you owe me."
"Fine," said Hermione with a sigh and she looked as tired as Harry felt.
Harry leaned over to Parvati and whispered, "Is the path clear?"
"For now," she whispered back. "But we ought to hurry."
"Alright," said Harry to Hermione and Anthony in a normal voice. "Let's go."
Thankfully it was entirely uneventful dropping Anthony back at his dorm, where he answered an odd riddle to open his door. The Gryffindors had a mild scare when Mrs. Norris was creeping nearby, but the cat and Filch were successfully avoided.
When they got back to the Common Room, only Ron was there, sleeping on one of the chairs. He awoke then, looking at them with bleary eyes.
"Oi, what time is it?" Ron rubbed his eyes. "Um, hullo there all of you." He glanced at Harry who shook his head.
"We had to go sneak Hermione back here," he said, and was pleased it was the truth. "She had forgotten it was past curfew and was still in the Library."
Ron snorted. "I always say you study too much, Hermione. Um." He then gave Harry a look. "Um, anyway, Harriet, I guess we can talk about that idea I had tomorrow. Obviously you didn't have time tonight except to rescue Hermione from her spat of excessive revising."
"It's a good point," said Hermione with a sniff. "Next time I'm caught up, I'll have to ensure I charm some sort of alarm to ensure I don't stay out past curfew."
"I made a good point?" Ron said with a grin. "Okay, I'm not doing better than that today, so g'night ladies." He nodded his head and after they all responded in kind, he went up to the dorm.
Once they returned, Lavender was asleep but she had a magazine (Young Witch Mostly Weekly) halfway over her face.
"I think she was trying to stay up to catch us," Parvati whispered with a gleeful expression. "So keep it down and we can tease her tomorrow."
Hermione smiled slightly. "That'd be nice for a change. Um, Harriet, do you want to use the washroom first?"
"Thanks," said Harry in relief. "I'm quite tired, so it won't be long."
"Quite a day," said Parvati softly as moved over to her own bed.
"Yes, it was," Harry said, partially to himself as he busied with his things. "But not that bad after all."
End of Chapter Twenty-Five
Next Time, opinions are aired and mistakes are made.
"This is what you call talking?" Harry grimaced as he ran his fingers through his hair.
"Don't you start with me, Harriet Potter," snapped Hermione.
POST NOTE: Yes, I realize this chapter is over 13K words. It ended when it had to end, as it turned out. FYI, the official song of this chapter is "Midnight Sky" by Miley Cyrus. Take that as you will.