Warning: Character Death


Faith, Friendship and Flames

Emma sent her letter demanding answers from Luna. Luna's reply was quick but it didn't tell them a lot.

"It just says that Demelza is with her and that they'll see us soon." Said Emma.

"It doesn't say anything else?" asked Ron.

"Just that they've made a nargle net." Said Emma.

"A what?" said Ron.

"Well I'd assume a net for catching nargles." Said Harry.

"But they don't exist." Said Ron in confusion.

"Luna would disagree." Said Ginny.

"But…"

"Ron, Luna would disagree." Said Harry "Ginny are you ok? You seem sick again."

"Yeah I'm fine." said Ginny feebly.

She did not look fine though. The holidays had done wonders for Ginny's apparent poor health, but with everyone due to return in a few days she seemed to be losing her colour again.

Harry for the life of him couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. Madam Pomfrey had mentioned the possibility of homesickness affecting her overall health but Ginny did not seem to be overly homesick. She and Emma had had a great time together over the holidays and also beforehand with her other friends.

"Maybe you should go back to bed." Said Emma "You look really tired, did you manage to sleep?"

"I think so." Said Ginny

"What do you mean you think so?" said Ron

"Well I don't remember…" Ginny paused "I don't remember anything about last night, so I must have been asleep."

Ginny's logic was sound but Harry got the general impression she didn't personally believe that she got to sleep the previous night.

"Maybe something to eat will help." Said Ron "Is it nearly lunch yet?

"Ron we just ate breakfast not an hour ago." Said Ginny.

"Has it only been an hour?" said Ron "How about we go flying, it's no longer snowing."

Harry looked out the window, up until today it had been snowing nonstop for weeks and although it had stopped now, the landscape, which held colours of green and brown in the summer, was completely white as the snow caked the ground.

"It has been a while." Said Ginny, perking up at the thought of being in the air.

"Let's go then." Said Harry "We'll use the school brooms."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

Ron's idea seemed to work, after a little time flying in the air, Ginny look much healthier and happier. They also managed to find a Quaffle in the broom cupboard and used it to play two on two, Potters versus Weasleys. No one player was bad, Emma despite having flown for the first time only six months ago was not without some minor skill. However the Weasleys won hands down, Emma, as good as she was, was the least experienced. Harry was a shade better than Ron when it came to Quaffles but Ginny outshone them all.

"Bloody hell Ginny you're good." Said Ron "When a chaser spot next opens up you should so take it."

"When will the next chaser position open up?" said Emma

"Assuming Alicia, Angelina and Katie keep playing till they leave school, Ron's and my sixth year your fifth year Ginny."

"Damn." Said Ginny

Harry had to concede that it would be good for Ginny to take part in Quidditch regularly, she seemed so much happier after their game at the Burrow during the summer and she seemed so much happier now.

"Though Oliver will leave after next year." Said Ron "You could go for the Keeper?"

Ginny gave her brother a look "Thanks Ronnie but you're the keeper in the family. I play Chaser, or at a stretch Seeker, but that particular position won't be available until Harry leaves."

"You can still play Quidditch for fun." Said Harry "You've got three brothers living at home who love Quidditch, you can play four on four games during the holidays."

Ginny nodded at that. "I'd still like to try out for the team."

"Couldn't you try out next year?" asked Emma

"Theoretically but Oliver won't change his team." Said Harry "He's a stubborn Bas… person and he thinks our team right now is perfect."

"In his defence it pretty much is." Said Ron "You haven't lost a match you've played with them. Last year's game doesn't count, you were in a coma."

"I can wait." Said Ginny "There is still plenty of time."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

The Christmas Holidays lasted about three weeks in total. It was the Saturday before classes resumed that the Hogwarts Express brought the rest of the students back. All of Demelza's friends wanted to swamp her with questions about what was going on but Harry and Emma between them had warned everyone off, in Ron and Ginny's case verbally and in the case of everyone else with letters.

For the Second time since she came to Hogwarts Emma thought she was about to be arrogant, but she and Harry discussed this and they agreed that the two of them were the best ones to approach Demelza.

The students arrived in the Great Hall for dinner after the train arrived. The four who'd stayed at Hogwarts caught up with the seven who'd gone home. But afterwards Emma and Harry accosted Demelza.

"Demelza can you come with us for a wee while." Said Emma

"Why?" said Demelza, her voice was a little shaky. She suspected why the two of them wanted to talk to her.

"Because we want to talk." Said Harry firmly. Demelza wanted to argue but Harry had a powerful effect on people. He looked at her directly, his eyes indicating that he was very serious but that he was also worried.

So she allowed the Potters to escort her to the Practice Room.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

Once inside Harry shut the door and Emma sat Demelza down on a chair. Then the brother and sister each pulled up a chair next to each other facing her.

"Demelza." Emma began "We need to know that you're alright."

"I'm fine." she replied. But she didn't look directly at Emma.

"Then why were you at Luna's house." Said Harry

"I…" Demelza tried to fish for an excuse, but Harry wasn't going to let her.

"Hermione contacted your home on New Year's but all she got was a rude reply from your Mum telling her that you left for a friends house. Do you want to tell us what happened?"

Demelza shuddered. "No!" she shouted, but looked at the ground regretfully.

"Demelza we're not trying to be nosy." Said Emma "Harry and I grew up in an abusive home and we put up with it because we didn't think there was anything that we could do about it. We can help you, teachers can help you if…"

"It's not like that." Said Demelza "I'm not being beaten all the time or getting molested."

"Neither were we." Said Emma "We were starved, locked up and hit irregularly, not often but it did happen."

"Demelza we want to help you." Said Harry "You said you aren't beaten all the time. But you were hit right?"

Demelza looked stunned "I… I… No… I… I… I…" She wanted to look away from Harry and deny what he was saying but she couldn't turn her eyes away from him.

"Demelza please." Said Emma

"It's never happened before." Said Demelza "My father…" she paused.

"Do you want to start from the beginning?" said Emma.

Demelza sighed and nodded. "Up until just over a year ago things were fine. I loved my parents and they loved me but… then out of the bloom one day they said that after primary school they were sending me off to a private boarding school in Wales. An all-girls school."

"You weren't overly keen I take it?" Said Harry.

"No, and it didn't make any sense to me. Mr Brothers never went to an all-boys' boarding school. Heck they didn't even go to a private school they just went to the local Secondary. It's not that I wanted a boyfriend last year or even right now, but I don't want to grow up with only Dad, Max and Zack for male interaction. I told them that I didn't want to, but they said it wasn't my decision."

"Did they ever explain why?" said Emma.

"No, I asked them, Max and Zack asked them. Even Eilidh, my little sister asked them, but we never got an answer. Eilidh is now worried that they're going to send her there in five years."

"And you won't be able to stop them if they do." Said Harry, he felt a little angry that her parents were doing this to their own daughter without an explanation.

But to his and Emma's surprise, Demelza smiled "I'm not sure I'll have to. She and I were playing in the park the day after I got back and she accidentally fell from the monkey bars, very slowly."

Harry's eyes widened "She might come here too?"

"Uh huh, my sixth year your seventh." Said Demelza "Of course I could have been wrong, but I don't think so. I confided with Max and Zack and they told me they had similar suspicions. We haven't told my parents because they'd just freak out. Anyway we kept asking and after a while they got angry, but we kept asking and as the months went by the four of us and our parents were getting on quite badly. Things culminated just before primary school ended and Professor McGonagall came round."

"She brought your letter right?" said Emma "Harry just received his in the mail, so did I but we're not technically muggleborn."

"Yeah. She explained the concept of Hogwarts and what it was all about. I thought Mum and Dad would see this as a brilliant opportunity, but they got angry and tried to throw her out. It was only the fact that she said that magical law obligated her to give me all the facts and that I would have to come and see her or one of her colleagues at another location if she was thrown out, eventually my parents relented and let her explain. My Dad tried to tell her it didn't matter because he was my father he would decide which school I was going to. But Professor McGonagall…"

"Told him that it was your choice and yours alone." Said Harry.

Demelza sniffed but kept herself from crying "I had spent nearly six months demanding explanations as to why I going to the all-girl's school, but they refused to say anything. I was dreading the day I would set foot in that school so when the Professor mentioned it was my choice alone, I said I wanted to go to Hogwarts. For the record it's been fantastic." She smiled.

"Yes it has." Said Harry returning her smile "I take it you never found out why they were so insistent on going to that school?"

"They never said anything but… I talked with Zack, he's at university most of the year now and… he told me that my Mum and Dad are a bit… old fashioned."

"Old fashioned?" said Emma "The Wizarding World is old fashioned, we still write with quills and ink pots."

"No you misunderstand, this is not about writing with quills and lighting with candles. My Mum doesn't work, she's a housewife."

"So is Ron and Ginny's Mum, there's nothing wrong with that." Said Emma.

"Yes but their parents probably don't think that all women should housewives." Said Demelza bitterly "My parents believe that girls should grow up learning how to look after the house, bring up children and shouldn't think about things like careers or anything. Zack apparently researched this school while he was studying in Exeter. They sent him a prospectus and… the curriculum seems to prepare girls like me for life as a housewife."

"That's… a bit disturbing." Said Emma

"Anyway. Professor McGonagall arranged to pick me up. My parents tried to be as uncooperative as possible. They told me that under no circumstances they'd pay for my school supplies. So she arranged for me to get access to this special fund. My Brothers took me to Diagon Alley, Eilidh wanted to come, but my parents refused to let her. They tried to refuse Zack and Max but Zack's an adult now so they couldn't stop him and Max just ignored them. My brothers were absolutely wonderful. The Fund was great and I could buy all the stuff I needed with it, most would have been second hand. But Max and Zack chipped in so I could get new robes, books and things instead of second hand stuff."

Emma smiled "You've told me this before, and I still maintain that older brothers are wonderful."

Demelza nodded "My parents spent the rest of the summer trying to talk me out of going. They said some pretty nasty things too, and tried to tell me that it wasn't my decision to make. Professor McGonagall told me to keep in touch, just in case any problems arose. When my parents told me that under no circumstances were they going to take me to the station, I was in a bit of a difficult situation. Zack had to go to Exeter to start his Degree so he couldn't drop me off. I posted a letter to the Professor and it somehow made it to Hogwarts. A few days later she wrote back saying that she'd arranged for a taxi to take me to Kings Cross. I got on the express, arrived here and met you guys."

"So what happened when you got back?" asked Harry

"Zack picked me up from the station. My parents were happy to see me again, I think after half a year of fighting and another half of me being absent had taken their toll. I thought we'd be able to work things out but… for three days we said nothing of Schools, magic or right of choice. Then one day, I was playing the Sega with Eilidh when Mum and Dad called me to the kitchen. I didn't realise immediately but Zack and Max were out Christmas shopping and this was the first time I'd been in the house without my brothers around. They told me that they could have me transferred to the Welsh school no problem and that I had to do it now because the longer I was out of the muggle education system the harder it would be to get back in. They didn't seem to realise I don't want back in."

"Sounds like they're stubborn." Said Emma "Go on."

"Well the rest of Christmas continued like last summer did, only this time my parents weren't the only ones to lose patients. I did to. Thanks to the two of you and the others, I feel like I'm part of something truly wonderful here. I don't think I could ever leave Hogwarts and I think that you two, me the others…" Demelza didn't say anything, but Harry and Emma understood.

"We're your Hogwarts family." Piped up Emma.

"That's one way to put it." Demelza smiled "I thought about everything that's happened here and everything we've done together, some of it has been crazy and on our first day here I nearly died but it has been fantastic, I thought about all that and I argued ferociously non-stop, I didn't give an inch. I think after that I scared them. I argued with my parents all the time until… on Christmas… I think my Dad must have drunk a little too much wine because… I told him that I had made my decision, it was my decision and there was nothing he could do to stop me, I said it in a voice that was a lot more derogatory by the way so in a way…"

"Demelza don't let me here you say it was in any way your fault." Said Harry warningly.

"He punched me. Right here." Said Demelza pointing at her left eye. "Luna rubbed some magic gel on it and it went away. He didn't mean it, he never hits me, us. It just doesn't happen. When it happened I fell onto the floor. I looked up and he just looked so… shocked… haunted even. I ran to my room. Luna's owl arrived late that night with a Christmas present, so I ask her if she could come round and pick me up. Then I told my family. I left everything unresolved, I haven't had a letter from any of them since it happened and…"

"Demelza calm down." Said Harry "Did you tell Luna what happened?"

"No, nor her Dad."

"You really should have told them." Said Emma "You can't go around keeping something like this to yourself."

"But it's no one else's business." Snapped Demelza.

"Maybe it isn't, but tell me you haven't been self-obsessing about this?" Said Emma.

Demelza looked at the floor.

"You need to tell someone about this." Said Harry "We'll help as much as we can but we have no understanding of what parent child relations are like."

"But who am I supposed to tell. I don't want to share this with the rest of the world…"

"I think you should talk to Professor McGonagall." Said Harry "She met your family over the summer so she'll already have some understanding of what's going on. She's also our Head of House so it's her job to give us guidance."

"We'll even go with you, if you want." Said Emma.

Demelza remained silent for a few seconds and looked at the floor "Can I think about this for a while?"

"Take all the time you need." Said Harry "We're not going anywhere and neither is the Professor."

Demelza looked up, smiled and said "Thanks Harry, Emma."

Harry thought she was about to cry.

Emma thought so to, she looked her brother in the eye then directed her head towards the door. Getting the message Harry stood up to leave. He patted Demelza on the shoulder before he exited the classroom.

Emma dragged her chair next to her friend and pulled Demelza close as tears started falling down her cheeks. After a while of just sitting there hugging and comforting her friend, Emma gave one last piece of advice.

"Whether or not you decide to go to McGonagall, write to your brothers. They're probably worried about you and are unsure what to do. You don't even have to mention what happened at Christmas, just simply write that you're back at Hogwarts and you're settling in or something." Said Emma

Demelza nodded "I'm sorry."

"Don't be, that's what friends are for… At least I think that's what they're for. I never had a friend before last summer, unless you count Hagrid. Then again he did visit last Easter when I needed him to."

Demelza suddenly realised something "You and Harry were abused?"

"Yeah. Can I tell you that story another time though, it's nearly curfew."

"You don't mind?"

"No. Ginny and Luna already know. We took refuge at the Burrow and Luna saw it on Harry's face apparently when we took the train over here."

"I wonder if Luna saw through me?" Said Demelza thoughtfully "She never asked any questions, she just brought me cups of tea and provided me with distractions."

"You mean this nargle net?" asked Emma standing up, taking her friend with her.

"Among other things. We mainly drew pictures. Luna is really very happy that we're all her friends, she drew all twelve of us and demanded my opinion on whether we were recognisable and on whether the pictures were good. I think deep down she didn't think she would get any friends here. It's a shame the Ravenclaws don't seem to like her." Said Demelza

"Yeah. But she's part of our Hogwarts family now, we'll always be there for her and she'll always be there for us. The Ravenclaws are idiots, except Ruth she seemed nice and friendly." Said Emma "Come on let's go."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

With the recommencement of classes, Harry also recommenced the Defence Group. While he was teaching the others jinxes and hexes, he himself was starting to learn about curses. One in particular he was considering: The Flagrance Curse. It was classed as considerably more advanced than anything else he had ever attempted. It was also beyond O.W.L level and potentially dangerous.

At the heart of the curse was fire. It had two functions, one was to curse objects so that they burn the skin and flesh of any who touch them. But it was the second function that caught Harry's eye. When wielding the curse in combat, a witch or wizard could use the curse to spray fire like, according to a diagram in Curses: their Uses and The Consequences of Those Uses, like a controlled flame thrower. The book lived up to its title, it gave a good description and warned of the dangers of the curse to both people and objects around them.

Harry carefully read through the instructions and the warnings, he was confident he could master this curse but he would need to practice it somewhere. There in lay a problem. He couldn't use the practice room because it was doubtful he'd have much control over the flamethrower and there was a high probability that he would burn something. He couldn't practice anywhere else in the castle for much the same reason. He didn't want to ask Professor McGonagall because there was a good chance she would discourage him from attempting such a thing, probably using a very loud voice. With that thought in mind he decided he would attempt it outside in the grounds.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

On the Tuesday afternoon when classes ended early, Harry went down to the grounds and walked around the lake. It had been snowing less in the last week but the previous night and for most of the morning flakes had fallen non-stop and a new white bed was coating the grounds. Harry took comfort in the fact that the ground was wet, ice-cold and covered with snow, thus reducing the risk he start a bush fire (if that was how they started).

After nearly half an hour of walking Harry found himself at the far end of the lake. It was a relatively peaceful and isolated part of the school grounds. No one tended to walk this area at this time of year, mainly because the snow and ice made the trail around the lake difficult as well as the outside temperature below zero. This meant two things: One despite wearing both this year and last year's Weasley jumpers in addition to other warm clothing Harry was freezing and two Harry was isolated. Perfect for experimenting with a difficult to control fire curse.

The difference between the two methods was the wand movements, the incantation was the same. Harry began by performing the flagrance charm of a rock on the ground.

"Comburet!"

Then to test it, he took out a piece of parchment and tore of a strip. Upon contact with the stone, nothing happened. A confirmation touch indicated that he had failed to perform the curse.

He tried again two more times without results. But the third time the results became obvious.

"Comburet!"

The snow around the rock melted away rapidly and when Harry had the parchment make contact it caught fire.

"Finite Incantatum!"

The curse cancelled out and Harry confirmed it by placing another slip of parchment. The book Harry had; recommended that he practice placing the curse on an object several times before he tried casting a flamethrower variant. Harry kept on trying until he could cast the charm easily enough four times in a row on a rock. Then until he could cast it four times in a row, each time on a different rock.

Then it was time to cast the curse in its second form. According to the book it required the same incantation but different wand movements.

"Comburet!"

Mindful that he was casting a magical flame thrower Harry aimed out over the lake. A Jet of fire burst from his wand. It wasn't overly impressive at that point in time. What Harry produced was an oval shaped concentration of flames in the rough shape of a small violin case. Fire was pouring out of his wand to maintain it and the flames and embers gradually either dissipated into thin air or landed on the water's surface.

According to the book Harry could increase the intensity of the spell by rotating his hand to the right and he could reduce the intensity of the spell by rotating to the left. He experimented and to his frustration the spell only ignited a little more. To his greater frustration, when he rotated to the left it stopped working entirely.

He experimented a few more times but was unable to improve his performance. According to the book after repeated use of the curse would get more intense and Harry could use it more effectively.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

The following morning Demelza received a letter from her brothers and sister, Emma was right they were worried about her. There was no direct mention of her Dad punching her in the eye, but Demelza could tell that things were heavily praying on their minds.

"Send them a letter telling them that you're alright." Said Emma "Tell them that you talked to me and Harry about it and we're helping you. They'll feel much better if they know that we're with you."

"Alright." Said Demelza "Should I write to my parents?"

"Do you have anything you particularly want to say?" said Harry

"No."

"Then I wouldn't. In fact at this stage, I would wait for them to contact you. It's your choice of course, but they're going to have to meet you halfway on this issue before it can be resolved. You and your siblings have done all you can on this." Said Harry

"Alright." Said Demelza "I don't really feel like going to see Professor McGonagall now, asides from anything else this might fix itself if I just let things play out."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

As January progressed into its final week, there was no further evidence of the Chamber of Secrets and no more attacks were carried out. Despite that though, people still kept their wits about them and Malfoy was the subject of at least one injury that landed him in hospital. A jinx had been cast at him when the Slytherin Quidditch team had been making its way back from practice. Harry had been immediately a suspect because it was the Seaweed-Hair Jinx he'd used on the blond haired Slytherin during Lockhart's failed Duelling club. The fact that Harry was in the Library in clear view of about twenty students, including a Slytherin prefect satisfied the Headmaster and the Heads of House, but of course Malfoy still tried to cast the blame on Harry. Even after a Third Year Gryffindor had been apprehended and admitted to Professor McGonagall it was him, Malfoy still ranted and raved that it was Potter who did it. He had failed to articulate this particular argument (not that a lot could be done in the first place) by loudly proclaimed it was "Potter and that Mudblood Granger" in front of half the staff. Only the fact that he'd been attack kept him from losing Slytherin points, but he still received a verbal dressing down from Professor McGonagall.

In other developments Wood recalled his Quidditch team and started up practices once more. Thankfully Hufflepuff, while a decent enough team in their own right didn't require any particularly exhaustive counter-Nimbus 2001 training schedules. If Gryffindor won there next match they'd be in either first or second place, depending on how Ravenclaw faired in their match against Slytherin, because they had won 260 points in their first game, Gryffindor were in the lead with Ravenclaw second and Hufflepuff third. Compared with the previous training regime things were much more merciful but Harry once more found himself doing all his homework on a Sunday.

"You know, I have the excuse of Quidditch and running our defence group Ron." Said Harry "Why did you wait until today to even start your Herbology report?"

"To make you feel better." Said Ron "Also I couldn't be bothered."

"Really Ronald you can't adopt that attitude all the time." Scolded Hermione "What would happen if I no longer decided to help you?"

"Neville would." Said Ron nonchalantly "You're good at Herbology right?"

"I can't help you now Ron, I'm doing my Defence Homework." Said Neville irritably.

"Harry set homework?" said Ron.

"No I didn't, besides if I did, only Hermione would do it." Said Harry.

"No mate if you set it, I would work my hardest to make you proud." Joked Ron.

"No you wouldn't." said Harry.

"Oh honestly you two." Said Hermione "And Neville why are you doing that? Even I don't bother with the Lockhart assignments."

"You don't?" said Neville.

"No, that twit has wasted enough parchment, no need to waste anymore on his account." Said Hermione

"Doesn't he punish you?" asked Neville

"Nope, I don't think he even notices." Said Harry "I also think he's scared of me."

Neville looked incredulously for just a second then crumpled up his parchment and tossed it in the Common Room fireplace."

"Right Ron let's see what you've got so far." Neville looked it over. "Oh dear."

"Problem?" said Ron

"Many. First and foremost: Weeds is not spelt with an 'a' and this here…"

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"How do you do this Harry." Said Ron, as the two of them walked down the Grand Staircase. Everyone else had finished their homework ages ago and had gone to play games in the Great Hall before dinner. Harry and Ron had just finished.

"With great frustration." Said Harry "Though I do wonder if we could talk Wood into giving us less practice time."

"Not likely Fred and George have been complaining about him for…" Ron stopped talking "Oh not again."

They had just reached the Second Floor Landing, just like on Halloween night it was completely coated with water. Harry and Ron suddenly jumped as they hear Filch yell in rage from down the corridor. They carefully approached the landing and heard a door slam in the distance, it seemed Filch had gone to his office to get cleaning materials.

"Come on let's go and see what's going on." Said Harry.

The two of them ran towards Moaning Myrtles bathroom and entered, despite the fact that they had both hoped never to do so again the last time. Inside, while the entire floor was flooded due to all the taps being turned on and the sinks blocked, Myrtle was hovering above one of the cubicles sobbing by an open window.

She turned her head upon hearing shoes splash against the wet floor and glared when she realised who they belonged to "What are you two doing here? Come to throw something else at me?"

"Why would I want to throw something at you?" said Harry.

"I don't know. Here I am sitting in my cubical, thinking about death and someone thinks it's funny to throw a book through the top of my head."

"But it can't hurt you…" said Ron "I mean you're already dead right?"

"SURE!" screeched Myrtle "Let's all throw books at Myrtle because she can't feel it, ten points if you get it through her stomach, fifty if it goes through her HEAD! A funny game don't you think? Well HA. HA. HA."

"But who threw it at you?" said Harry.

"I don't know." Said Myrtle more calmly "I didn't see them, I was distraught. Next thing I know it falls right through me." Myrtle seemed to tear up at the recent memory and floated off.

Harry and Ron walked over to the cubical and found a small black book lying there. Harry went to pick it when Ron grabbed his arm.

"Careful, you don't know what it is." He said

"Ron it's a book?"

"Harry it could be cursed…"

ORACLE2PHOENIX

Despite Ron's warnings about the book, Harry pocketed it anyway. Later in the Practice Room he looked it over and found it rather unremarkable. It was simply a Diary that once belonged to someone called T. M. Riddle, but Mr Riddle appeared not to have written anything in the book. The following day, when his practice group met he showed everyone the book.

"Y… you found that… where?" said Ginny disturbingly.

"Um… In Myrtles Bathroom. Ginny you look absolutely terrible is something wrong."

Ginny looked like she was struggling to say something. But any thought in Harry's, or anyone else's, mind about that vanished when Ginny began to keel over. Luckily Neville was sitting in the seat next to her, noticed and caught her before she could hit the floor. Emma and Hermione immediately rushed over, the latter put her hand on the sick girl's forehead.

"Holy Merlin Ginny, your head is as hot as a stove." Said Hermione "How long have you been feeling under?"

"I… I…" Ginny passed out.

"Ginny!" shouted Ron rushing over. With remarkable strength he lifted his sister into his arms.

Natalie ran to the door to the Practice Room and opened it for Ron to carry his sister out.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"She just started keeling over?" said Madam Pomfrey "What were you lot doing?"

"We weren't doing anything." Said Harry. "We'd barely all sat down to just talk about stuff when…"

"Is she going to be alright?" demanded Ron.

"Relax Mr Weasley, your sister should be fine, but I'm going to keep her in here overnight just in case.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

As it turned out Ginny didn't immediately start showing improvement for some time, her illness, or whatever it was, drove the discovery of the Diary completely from Harry's mind and the minds of everyone else. It wasn't until Ginny had been in the Hospital Wing for two weeks that Harry even remembered the thing existed, and even then that was only because he found it underneath the Standard Book of Spells. While she was in Hospital Wing, Ginny hardly said anything and the others were really worried. Hermione insisted that she keep up with her school work and supervised Luna and Emma placing it all on her bedside table.

All of Ginny's friends felt worried, she had picked up enough after a while to attempt her homework and keep up to date, but her appetite was half that of a healthy human and a third that of a conventional Weasley. But something happened that distracted them for a brief while.

It all began nearly two weeks into February. It had been two months since the Heir of Slytherin had done anything, leading some to speculate that they'd lost courage and that the monster that resided in the Chamber had resumed its slumber. Gilderoy Lockhart, whether or not he believed it personally was up for debate, bragged to anyone he managed to corner that the Heir had obviously decided to give things up now because it was only a matter of time before he personally stopped them.

This particular day it was a Professor Sprout "You know what this place needs? A Morale Booster. I'll say no more for now."

It was probably best that he didn't, because the male half of Hogwarts would have gone AWOL when 14th February came round had he done so.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

When Harry entered the Great Hall, he immediately felt uneasy, as the entire place was raining pink bits of confetti from the now pale blue sky that replaced the traditional ceiling Hogwarts was used to. Worse still was the presence of the pink love hearts and the presence of a pink clad Professor Lockhart surrounded by distinctly uncomfortable looking colleagues.

"Happy Valentine's Day everyone." Called out Lockhart "And may I thank the 43 of you who have so far sent me cards."

"Hermione, girls please tell me none of you were one of those 43." Said Ron

"God no." said Demelza "I don't do Valentine's Day."

"I… didn't send one to Lockhart." Said Vicky.

"Neither did I." said Natalie quickly.

"I haven't either." Said Emma.

"No I don't feel the appropriate feelings for him to make such a gesture." Said Luna.

"Enough papers been wasted on that…" Hermione trailed off as she was interrupted by Geoffrey.

"I did."

Everyone nearby, not just his friends turned to look at him. They didn't even notice the Great Hall doors opening letting about a dozen grumpy looking winged dwarfs carrying harps

"Of course I acted under the name Hilda Brunhilde and I sent a bit more than a card." He smiled then looked at his watch "In fact look at Lockhart because any second now…"

Everyone who heard him turned to look at the poor excuse for a Defence Professor.

"My Friendly card carrying cupids and the fun doesn't stop…" But Lockhart did suddenly as his voice left him, but that was not all that happened. His Blond locks curled up and turned red, while his nose turned into a large red ball and his cheeks emphasized by the appearance of pink spots. To top it all off Lockhart's bright pink robes into a red and white striped suite.

The hall completely burst out laughing at the sudden transformation into Ronald McDonald. Even Professor McGonagall and Professor Snape were laughing hard.

Previously the subject of incredulous looks, boys from three of the four houses were scrambling to pat Geoffrey on the back, while many of the girls were glaring at him.

"Oh impressive Firstie." Said Fred

"We salute the taking of an incredible opportunity on you part." Said George.

Lockhart gracelessly rushed from the hall. Everyone had just settled down to eat their breakfast when…

"Ah the mails here." Said Ron "My, that's a lot of owls."

Harry had to agree, especially as they all seemed to be heading for him. Hedwig fought ferociously to the front of the line. What seemed like hundreds of envelopes covered his plateful of scrambled eggs and potato scones. Every single one of them addressed to Harry Potter.

"Bloody hell." Said Ron "Who sent you all these?"

"Well Ginny sent the one with Hedwig." Said Emma. "I claim no knowledge of the others."

Hedwig had landed on Harry's shoulder to guard her territory, or in this case Master. Unlike the other owls, she hadn't merely dropped a letter in front of Harry like an undignified bird. She held out one leg, indicating the letter attached to it, so Harry could take it from her. Carefully, Harry untied and opened the envelope.

Dear Harry

Happy Valentine's Day, thank you for being such a great friend and teacher to me.

Ginny

"That's nice and friendly." Said Harry

Before anyone could comment on that though.

"Percy are you sending me a Valentine?" came Fred's voice from down the table.

"What?" said Percy looking up. His owl Hermes was holding up an envelope for Fred, who took the letter.

To the Gentlemen who gave me his coat on the cold night we first met.

Thank you Fred for the laughter you give us.

Emma

Fred looked up at the younger Potter who was now blushing slightly.

"I'm Speechless Emma, truly speechless." Said Fred

"You're talking a lot for someone who's speechless." Said George

"I mean it, this is truly… remarkable, unprecedented… Emma… oh Emma…. You managed to get Percy to lend you his owl."

People once more burst out laughing.

"It was a harmless gesture." Said Percy, in truth he had gained a soft spot for Emma and would have lent her the owl when he wouldn't anyone else, though as far as Emma knew it was because she and Ginny had blackmail material.

"Yes but a very rare one." Said Fred he stood up and approached Emma "Thank you my dear Miss Potter!"

Emma giggle, pulled him into a quick hug and gave him a light peck on the cheek. "You are most welcome. So who sent all this other stuff?"

"I don't know, half the girls in Hogwarts must have sent him something." Said Ron "Let's count them…"

A few minutes later…

"43, 44, 45, 46, 47." Said Harry

"Hey you got more than Lockhart." Said Ron

"Lucky me." Said Harry "Do I even know forty-seven people?"

"Well you probably know some of them." Said Emma, a thought occurred and she turned to her dorm mates and Luna "Did any of you send one of these?"

"Yes."

"Yes."

"No."

"No."

It seemed Vicky and Natalie had sent Harry cards.

"Ah good we'll start with yours." Said Harry "Which are yours?"

After opening half the letters Harry found them, both of them had simply and harmlessly wished him Happy Valentine's Day. Neither went for writing anything as creative or thoughtful as Emma or Ginny had. Upon opening some more letters it was discovered that not everyone was as restrained as the Vicky and Natalie or put as much thought into their messages as Emma and Ginny.

"Dear Merlin that's repulsive." said Hermione." Reading one she found "Must be an older student."

Ron looked over her shoulder "She must really like you though, what do those words mean?"

"I'll get you a dictionary." Said Hermione

"Who are all these people though?" said Neville "I don't recognise most of these names."

"Oh I know this one, she's in our Herbology class." Said George "Wouldn't go for her though, she's a nut job."

"Umm…" began Harry "Do I have to respond to all of these?"

"Well I'd respond to the ones from people you know." Said Hermione

"Ok." Said Harry "Apart from Ginny, Vicky and Natalie; who here do I know? By the way thank you two of the Valentines."

Natalie and Vicky giggled but nodded.

"Well Parvati and Lavender each conspired to send you one." Said Hermione.

Harry, unsure what else to do, stuffed the letters into his bag and with help from Ron and Neville relocated them upstairs to his trunk. Unfortunately for Harry Valentine's Day didn't end at Breakfast.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

Lockhart wasn't seen again all day but he had done his damage with the cupid dwarves. Much to the annoyance of the teachers they burst into classes at random to deliver valentine cards. But worst of all were the song melodies. Harry laughed along with everyone else when someone, Geoffrey he assumed, had a dwarf sing ode about Snape and his oversized nose. But the day turned into a nightmare when another dwarf came in a few minutes later and sung him an absolutely hideous love song and made several references to his wand that were really not appropriate for 12-year-olds.

The one in Potions turned out not to be the only song coming his way. As he and his friends emerged from the Dungeons another managed to corner him and sing a song in front of about thirty students of all ages, mortifying the poor Potter.

Two more dwarves came in Herbology. After the first one, poor Harry was at his wits end, so when three minutes later a second barged in shouting "I've got a singing valentine for Harry Potter." He made it 3 steps closer to Harry Potter before.

"Stupefy!"

"Harry!" said Hermione in a shocked voice.

"Really Mr Potter, you could have just told him to leave." Said Professor Sprout.

"He tried that, it didn't work." Said Neville.

"Yes, well Mr Macmillan, Mr Potter can you just lay him on a bench in the corner." Said Sprout.

Harry concluded that his desperate idea of incapacitating the noise polluters was a great idea and proceeded to stun every Dwarf that shouted "Harry Potter." That day. Which included two in Transfiguration and another two in Charms, Professor McGonagall docked him ten points for each stunner and Flitwick docked him five. Unfortunately on the way from Charms to History another jumped Harry, pinning him to the ground and got as far as singing:

"His eyes are as green as a Pickled Toad…"

Before Ron could reach for his wand and incant a stunner on him. Harry's bag during this process had been knocked to the ground and an ink bottle had broken coating his books and parchment in ink. Thankfully later in the common room Hermione revealed that these could easily be cleaned up with the right spell.

But strangely Riddle's Diary wasn't the least bit damaged by the ink. Working on an inspiration Harry went up to his dormitory.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"I wonder who sent Harry all those horrible songs." Said Emma when they all gathered in the practice room.

"It wasn't me, I was in Hospital wing all day." Ginny said coming through the door.

"Hey Ginny you feeling better?" said Emma to her best friend, pulling her into a hug.

"A little, now I understand Harry's aversion to that place. There is nothing to do."

"I wonder who sent that Pickled toad song?" said Neville

"Pickled Toad?" said Ginny

"Yeah, a dwarf got as far as singing: 'His eyes are as green as a Pickled Toad' before Ron stunned him." Said Emma.

"Poor Harry." Said Demelza.

"Poor Harry?" said Geoffrey "You do realise that he has become the envy of every man in this school?"

"What including you?" said Vicky.

"Well yeah, how can you not be impressed by someone who got 47 valentines without even trying? Lockhart got 43 and one of those was me sending him a letter with tampered perfume."

"Tampered perfume?" said Emma

"Yeah Ginny's twin brothers gave me a catalogue from Gambol and Japes just before we left for Christmas. I owl ordered the perfume from them, it turned Lockhart into a clown."

The door to the practice room flung open and Harry came in looking haunted, Ron and Hermione just behind him.

"What's the matter Harry?" said Emma "Another Valentine?"

"It was Hagrid. Hagrid opened the Chamber of Secrets fifty years ago."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

It took a few minutes for Harry to calm down. But he took a seat and started from the beginning.

"Bloody hell you talked to him." Said Ron "What is he doing trapped in a book?"

"I'm not sure it was him. I think it was a memory of what happened while he was at school." Said Harry "He caught Hagrid."

"So Hagrid set those monsters to kill that girl?" said Emma

"Well… Riddle seemed to think so… and he did catch Hagrid with a spider."

"A spider?" said Demelza "The 'Horror within' is a spider?"

"I'm just telling you what I saw." Said Harry "Riddle challenged Hagrid and this spider, about the size of a cat crawled out of a cupboard. It escaped and Riddle apprehended Hagrid, after that I woke up."

"A spider the size of a cat?" said Demelza "You're sure it wasn't a scorpion, because Hermione said…"

"Even if it was a Scorpion the solution to modify it has been lost for decades and it took over 24 hours to take effect. Not to mention Madam Pomfrey examined Justin, Colin and Mrs Norris and found no wounds indicating a sting, to say nothing of Nick; he's a ghost a stinger would have just gone through him." Said Hermione

"Something about this isn't right." Said Harry "Even if for a second I believed that Hagrid did this, Professor Dumbledore taught back then, he wouldn't employ Hagrid if he thought he was dangerous or responsible for all that."

"This spider?" said Hermione "You said it was about the size of a cat?"

"Yeah?" said Harry

"I'll be back in a minute." Said Hermione and she left the Practice room.

"Where do you suppose she's going?" said Emma

"The Library!" said Harry, Ron and Neville at once. Causing everyone present to grin, despite the situation.

"It can't be Hagrid, he'd never set a monster on anybody, he thinks they're harmless." Said Emma

"No but he might here about a monster locked away in a dark chamber and seek to let it loose." Said Ron "This is the same man who tried to foster a Dragon's egg and the same man who just so happened to have a pet giant three headed dog, when Dumbledore needed a guard for the Philosophers Stone."

"But still, Dumbledore would know if it was Hagrid." Said Natalie "He wouldn't just let him do this all again."

Hermione came back in with a book on magical creatures and opened it.

"Was that the creature." She asked.

"Yes." Said Harry "It was slightly bigger but…"

"Harry are you sure? That's an acromantula?" said Hermione

"What?" said Emma "But Acromantula are supposed to be far bigger than a human? You said it was the size of a cat?"

"This picture is just a baby." Said Hermione "When humans are born they're the size of an adults arm. Then they grow up. It's the same with spiders."

"So Hagrid's 'monster' was a baby acromantula?" said Ron

"Yes it looks that way." Said Hermione "But it make absolutely no sense, acromantula have no means to petrify someone and there has been no method I'm aware of that could give them that ability."

"I can spot another hole." Said Harry. "If the spider I saw was a baby then it couldn't possibly have been released from the Chamber of Secrets. The Monster is after all supposed to be hundreds of years old."

Hermione nodded "That's a good point."

"So Hagrid is not the Heir of Slytherin." Said Vicky "This Tom Riddle was mistaken. But everyone thought it was Hagrid."

"I doubt Dumbledore did." Said Harry "After all Hagrid is still here. The Professor probably used whatever influence he had to keep Hagrid from being prosecuted and had this Dippet guy hire him as gamekeeper."

"But they still expelled him." Said Hermione bitterly "His wand was snapped."

"And he was never allowed to use it again." Said Ron.

"There was likely insufficient evidence to prosecute Hagrid." Said Luna "So they simply expelled him and confiscated his wand."

"But kept him at Hogwarts just to make sure." Said Harry "We need to know more about what happened back then. If Riddle was wrong we need to look at what happened then, compare with what's happening now and see if we can learn anything."

"How? We can't ask Hagrid." Said Ron

"Why not?" said Natalie.

"Well how do you ask him something like this?" said Harry "Hagrid's our friend. If we let it on that we know how he got expelled then he'll think we're going behind his back."

"Couldn't we tell him that the Diary told us?" said Geoffrey

"I'm not particularly looking forward to explaining the Diary to anyone. Let's also not forget that the Professors know that the Chamber was opened once before and they don't want us to know that." Said Harry

"But we need to approach Hagrid, we have no other leads." Said Natalie.

"How about a compromise." Said Demelza "We only ask him if there is another attack. It's been two months since anyone got petrified after all. Then there's the mandrakes, they can't take that much longer to get ready right?"

"They can." Said Neville "Mandrakes take about 6 months to a year to mature. The ones Professor Sprout has are only just 6 months old."

"You mean Colin could be stuck until next year?" said Emma "That's not fair, he's going to miss the summer and get held back."

"Not necessarily." Said Neville Quickly "The majority of Mandrakes take eight or nine months. It's like a pregnancy usually takes 40 weeks but some can end far earlier and some can last far longer. Only difference is that we won't get any complications with the mandrakes, also don't forget Professor Sprout has several specimens, one is bound to be ready soon. In May or June probably."

Emma took a few breaths "Maybe even sooner?"

"I won't get your hopes up Emma." Said Neville "Six or Seventh month maturities are very rare. It's possible but highly doubtful."

Emma frowned.

"I think Demelza might be right." Said Harry "Things aren't as desperate as they were two months ago, the Heir of Slytherin may have indeed got cold feet and chosen to stop. If Colin and Justin don't have anything helpful to say when they wake up, we'll ask Hagrid.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

Harry and Emma went to Hagrid's hut three more times after the discovery, not once did they mention the Chamber or his expulsion. Every time they looked him in the face, they found it harder and harder to picture him as a man who would harm anyone. Things got tense when two days after Valentine's Day; Harry, Ron, Neville and Hermione were playing exploding snap after a really nasty and exhaustive Transfiguration Project when Dean and Seamus burst out of the doorway leading the Boys dormitories.

"Harry!" called Dean "You'd better come quick."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"Gone?" said Emma "What do you mean gone?"

"Someone broke into my dormitory and stole the Diary." Said Harry "My stuff's a mess, but nothing else is missing."

"But how could anyone know, the eleven of us are the only ones who know that you had it?" said Demelza.

"And Myrtle." Said Ron "Harry also took it out of his bag on Valentine's Day to deal with all the messed up ink. Anyone in the Common Room at the time could have seen him with it."

"But who would want to steal the book?" said Vicky "It makes no sense."

"Probably whoever tried to get rid of it in the first place." Said Hermione "It was after all dumped in a 'permanently unused' bathroom. But then there is the question of why did they want it back."

"Maybe someone knew the Diary had information on the Chamber of Secrets and sought to keep it from us." Said Harry.

"Well that wouldn't help them, you've already spoken to the book." Said Ron.

"But it might have had more secrets." Said Hermione "You didn't look at it after Valentine's Day did you?"

"No." said Harry "If I'm honest, the whole experience freaked me out, I stuffed the Diary as far into my trunk as it would go."

"But who could have taken it?" said Neville "I didn't see anyone go up."

"You weren't looking." Said Ron "Also none of us have been in the dorm since Breakfast, whoever did this could have come in anytime, it could have been anyone."

"Not anyone, only Gryffindors know our password, and the Teachers." Said Hermione.

"Snape!" said Ron

"Ron we've been over this, just because we don't like Snape, we can't just randomly point the finger." Said Hermione

"Also he would have been teaching when Justin was attacked." Said Luna "Not to mention he's not fifty years old and we've no proof he knows anyone who was here at the time."

"It was just a thought." Said Ron "But I am surprised by the Gryffindor notion. Why would a Gryffindor steal from another?"

"I don't know." Said Hermione "Come on it's nearly curfew."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

As February came to a close the Second Years were given something new to think about. Third Year choices. Unfortunately they were not given any form of career guidance from the school faculty and they had to rely on leaflets placed in the common room to understand what was going on. The process was simple. There were five elective subjects: Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, Muggle Studies, Care of Magical Creatures and Divination; and they had to pick out a minimum of two.

"I wish we could give up our current subjects." said Harry "Then I'd never have to worry about Snape again."

"Or Lockhart." Said Ron.

"Oh don't worry Lockhart will be gone by the end of the year." Said Hermione.

"He will?" said Harry

"He'd better, because if I have to sit through one more year of listening to his… fiction…" Hermione once more adopted her demented 'I hate parchment wasters' look.

"Alright there!" said Fred sitting down "Ah choices, know what you what to do?"

"Yes." Said Ron "I'm doing Divination and Care of Magical Creatures."

"Ah Care of Magical Creatures." Said George "I wonder what that's like."

"What did you two take?" asked Hermione

"Divination and Muggle Studies." They answered unanimously.

"Are they part of your career aspirations?" asked Hermione "What sort of careers can you get from them?"

"Ah Hermione dear." Said Fred

"You're asking the wrong Weasleys." Said George

"Oi Perce!" shouted Fred.

Percy was just heading up to the dormitories "What do you two want now?"

"Our ickle brother Ronnikins and friends are choosing their new subjects." Said George

Percy seemed to brighten at that realization, he sat down along with Harry, Neville, Hermione and Ron and began explaining.

"What you want to do is really dependent on your interests and strengths." He began.

Emma and her friends heard him talk about it and went over.

"Can we listen too?" asked Emma

"Oh course, it's never too early to think about the future." Said Percy "So I would recommend divination."

"Way ahead of you." Said Ron

"I don't believe it, Percy told a joke." Said Fred

"This is quite an effect you're having on our dear brother Emma." Said George.

Emma and Harry, along with their friends listened intently.

Percy sighed "Anyway, there are five electives as you probably know. Study of Ancient Runes is both a study of old magic and a study of Runes themselves. Rune magic is older than the wand and carving Runes in order to magically operate or enchantment stuff is still the basis of modern magical technology. Virtually anything can be run by carving Magical Runes into it and one can independently sustain magic by carving Runes into objects or Rune stones."

"Sorry what is a Rune?" said Demelza

"It's a sort of magical crest. A magical formula drawn or carved out then activated with magic." Said Percy "I can give you all more details later."

"He means a lot more details." Said Fred

"Lots, lots more." Said George.

"Anyway." Said Percy "Arithmancy is ultimately about spell creation and understanding of magical formulae. It is hugely fascinating however it involves and abhorrent amount of mathematics. In fact the first year of study is mainly teaching hard-core equations, differentiation and algebra."

"You should take that Harry." Said Emma "You were really good at Maths back in Primary School."

"Maybe but what are the others?" asked Harry

"Well Muggle Studies is obvious." Said Percy "I took it but as you and Hermione are Muggle raised there is no point in you taking it, you can sit the O.W.L and the N.E.W.T for it without having taken the classes, all you need to do is register for the exam."

"But wouldn't it be fascinating to study the topic from a Wizarding point of view?" said Hermione.

Percy looked thoughtful then nodded "It could, if you want to go for it. But academically you might be more beneficial studying something else. Care of Magical Creatures, well the clue's in the name. It is all about learning how to handle creatures exclusive to the magical world. Very important when one stops to consider how many of these creatures are kept secret from the Muggle World."

"What about divination." Said Hermione "Why is Ron so keen to take it."

"Divination is mainly about predicting the future. There is allegedly an art to the whole thing and Divination is allegedly about a great understanding of spiritual magic." Said Percy

"What do you mean allegedly?" said Ron "You got an O in your O.W.L."

"That may be but I still have no idea what Professor Trelawney was talking about in class." Said Percy "What you want to take really depends on what your interests and strengths are."

He looked at all of them.

"Well I'm always happiest in Herbology." Said Neville "I like tending to plants."

Percy nodded "Well none of these are likely to help you then. You might consider taking Care of Magical Creatures simply because both creatures and plants are found outdoors and they have a lot of intermingled interests."

"I've no idea what I want to do." Admitted Ron "My interests are mainly Quidditch, I don't know if I want to play professionally but…"

"Well then I suggest you take what you want, but also think carefully about other options because there aren't a lot of well-paid or stable jobs in the Quidditch industry."

"I don't know what I want to do." Said Hermione "I actually kind of want to do everything."

"Well if you really want, you could try taking everything." Said Percy.

"You can do that?" said Harry

"Yes, however the Professors like to discourage it because the workload for taking all those subjects is intense and they only really allow it for students with really excellent academic performances. They probably wouldn't object to you personally doing it Hermione, but be warned. I took all twelve subjects and I still take all twelve, my workload is ridiculous and I only have very little time to myself."

"Very little time for your girlfriend more like." Thought Emma.

Hermione, looked thoughtful for a moment then marked down everything. Percy turned to Harry.

"I… I like Quidditch and Defence… that's the best I can do… I'd probably get my career in Defence."

Percy nodded "That is probably a good idea. From what I can tell you are exceptionally proficient in Defence Against the Dark Arts, which is even more impressive considering we haven't had any properly qualified Professor at Hogwarts since you came here."

Harry went red as everyone nodded.

"If you have a particular career aspiration in mind then I can be more specific. But at this stage I'd recommend you take Arithmancy, Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures." Said Percy

"Three subjects?" said Ron "We only need two, no offence Hermione."

"Well those three and Muggle studies are generally the ones that go best with a Defence qualification. As do all your current subjects except for Astronomy and History of Magic. Muggle Studies is good, especially for law enforcement because quite often Aurors, Law officers and Hit Wizards will have to deviate to the Muggle World. I personally think Muggle Studies should be mandatory for all students not from a Muggle background. If I ever get to the Ministry I will do everything I can to make sure they at least add the qualification to their entry requirements, so many jobs there require interaction with Muggles. Care of Magical Creatures is also important for Aurors because they often have to deal with dangerous creatures in emergencies. During peacetime, their main job is combatting illegal trading and breading of dangerous creatures. They also fight against Dark Magic, but that task mainly occurs in times of war, it still happens in peacetime but nowhere near as often."

"What about Arithmancy and Ancient Runes?" said Harry "Why them?"

"Well if you wish to enter the private sector the best thing you can do with a Defence Qualification is Curse-Breaker. My brother Bill works as one in Egypt, he constantly has to deal with combating protective wards and traps, most of which are powered and operated on by Runes. Gringotts hires more Curse-Breakers than anyone except the Ministry, and Gringotts will not hire you unless you have an O.W.L in Arithmancy."

"Curse-Breaker, Auror." Said Harry "Is there anything else one could do with a Defence qualification?"

Percy looked absolutely delighted "Well there is warding, many rich families out there will pay a high amount of money for setting up Defensive wards, though against Ancient Runes and Arithmancy are absolutely necessary for that, especially as Gringotts is one of the lead recruiters for this industry. Then there are most jobs involving dangerous magical creatures that require knowledge of advanced curses."

"I'm not really sure if any of those jobs would suit me." Said Harry "I mean Auror sounds interesting and Madam Bones said she thought I might be one day be one, but I don't know."

Percy regarded Harry for a minute "If I'm truly honest Harry I think you might be happiest doing Defence academically."

"Yeah I like to study it." Said Harry.

"And teach it." Said Hermione "You are very good."

"So you think I should become the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher?" said Harry.

"It is certainly a thought." Said Percy "Merlin knows we need one. But I think you should think about doing Defence Against the Dark Arts in Further Education."

"Further Education?" said Harry.

"Well there are three levels of education in the Wizarding World." said Percy "Ordinary Wizarding Levels, Nasty Exhaustive Wizarding Tests and the third level of education, not covered at Hogwarts, Mastery and Degree's at Magic, M.A.D.A.M's. This level is not really like the others in that you are not taught by a teacher. The closest thing I can compare it to is a Postdoctoral degree in a Muggle University. The basic idea is that you prearrange your aims with the Wizarding Education Authority and then complete your research inside a year, at the end of which you will submit the results of your research and an academic paper which later on get published."

"That sounds like more school to me?" said Ron

"That sounds wonderful." Said Hermione "You can do this for any subject?"

"Yes, however a witch or wizard needs to be able to prove themselves before they can hope to get accepted by the Education Authority. At the successful end of a M.A.D.A.M, a witch/wizard gains the title of Master/Mistress of their subject."

"So if Harry tries for one and succeeds…" began Emma

"He would become a Master of Defensive Magic and Sorcery." Said Percy "All the subjects have different names at Degree level. For example if a witch got hers in History of Magic she would become: Mistress of Historical Analysis and Interpretation. But I wouldn't think too hard about that. Most people shouldn't even start to think about this sort of thing until at least their O.W.L year. But if you want to get a Degree then, in general, you need to take both Arithmancy and Ancient Runes because they are so important to the advanced natures of most of the magical disciplines and it is virtually impossible to research without a background in both subjects."

"I think I'll take them then." Said Neville "I don't know if I'm good enough to be Master of Herbology or whatever it's called but I don't think I'll rule myself out."

Percy nodded "The term for Herbology is: Master of Magical Botany and Herbalism. I wouldn't necessarily go for it, because if you do you're looking at least a year of academic work and you may have trouble financially supporting yourself. But if you want to be a teacher, ordinarily you need a Degree."

"Ordinarily?" said Hermione.

"Yes, however out of all the Defence teachers I've had only one, my Second Year, actually had the qualification."

"Harry for the sake every witch and wizard yet to be born, get a Defence Degree and rid us of all the Lockharts and Quirrells." Said Ron.

"What the heck." Said Harry "I was good at Maths in school."

"Well good luck Harry." Said Percy "There has been a shortage of Defence and Potions Masters in recent decades. If anyone I've met has a chance of becoming a Defence Master though it's you."

"Thanks Percy." Said Harry. He marked himself down for the three courses Percy recommended: Arithmancy, Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures. Neville put down the same, despite the fact he had serious doubts about being able to cope with Arithmancy.

"It's a shame we're not doing the same subjects." Said Ron

"You could put down Ancient Runes and Arithmancy instead of Divination." Said Neville

"Nah, I don't think I could cope with that kind of workload."

"Why don't you put down Muggle Studies." Said Hermione "Let's face it you never understand what Harry or I talk about back at home."

Ron looked thoughtful "Well I am a Weasley. Might as well live up to the name." So like hundreds of Blood Traitors before him, Ronald Weasley signed up for Muggle studies.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"You know I'm really looking forward to this match." Said Harry as he, Ron and Hermione descended the Grand Staircase "At every game I've played so far, someone has tried to kill me, or I've thought that someone was trying to."

"Well don't get your hopes up Harry." Said Ron "Strange things happen around you. Though now that you mention it, the two matches where someone did try to kill you, were Slytherin ones."

"I wonder if there's a pattern." Said Harry

"Oh honestly you two." Said Hermione "I should point out that Dobby wasn't trying to kill you Harry. In fact last time the two of you met it was the other way round."

"Yeah well he deser…" began Harry

"Let me kill this time… rip… tear…"

"That voice again." Said Harry "Please tell me you heard it?"

"Sorry mate we didn't hear anything, right Hermione… Hermione?"

Ron and Harry glanced at their friend she looked as if someone had just flashed the secrets of the universe in front of her eyes.

"Harry I think I know what you're hearing, there's only one monster that can do that and have any chance of petrifying people… and it could certainly… I'll see you after the match I need to go to the library."

"Harry what just happened?" said Ron

"Hermione must have had an epiphany. It has been a while since I heard the voices though, should we be worried?"

"I don't know." Said Ron "We can only do what we can do."

"I guess you're right, come on let's go to breakfast."

"Harry?"

"Yeah?"

"What's an Epiphany?"

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"Where's Hermione?" asked Emma organizing a plateful of food.

"She had to run to the library." Said Harry "I heard the voice again, did you?"

Emma stopped scooping food and shook her head. "N… no when did you hear it?"

"Not two minutes ago." Said Harry

"Well I have been in here a while, maybe I simply didn't hear it over all the noise." Said Emma indicating the surrounding hall.

"Maybe." Said Harry "But I have a horrible feeling, the last two times happened just before an attack.

"It'll be fine Harry." Said Emma not looking wholly convinced.

"Hey guys." Said Demelza "Where's Ginny?"

"H… here I am." Came Ginny's voice. "Sorry I was… in the bathroom… on the Ground Floor."

"Relax Ginny, I'm not… Dear God what happened to you?" said Demelza

Ginny was completely ghost white, she looked almost as bad as she did a month previously.

"I… I did something really stupid…" said Ginny "I…"

"What's the matter?" asked Ron

"I… att… I… threw up." Said Ginny

"Alright this has gone on long enough." Said Ron "If you're not better by the end of the day, I'm writing to Mum."

"Ronnie." Whined Ginny.

"I'm serious, you've been to see Madam Pomfrey more times that Harry recently and he's had a nutter trying to kill him." Said Ron

"Alright." Said Ginny, she looked defeated.

Both Harry and Emma were worried. Since the Christmas holidays ended, Ginny had been very sickly and very depressed a lot. But she had barely left their company so they weren't sure what could be causing it.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"This match has been cancelled." McGonagall shouted into a megaphone. "All students are to return to their dormitories where the Heads of House will give further details and instructions."

McGonagall brushed off Wood's protests that one couldn't just cancel Quidditch.

"Potter come with me please." She called.

Harry found this curious. Was Malfoy blaming another attack on him?

As Harry descended to meet his Head of House he saw Ron fighting his way through the crowds and coming towards them.

"Professor what do you want Harry for, can I come too?" asked Ron

"Yes Mr Weasley perhaps you should."

The two of them followed McGonagall back to the castle.

"I'm afraid there has been another attack." She said as they climbed the stairs "Another double attack. I warn you this may be a bit of a shock."

As they entered the Hospital Wing, Harry and Ron indeed got a shock.

"Hermione!" cried out Ron. He and Harry rushed to her bedside. On the bed next to her was an older girl, who Emma would have been able to identify as Penelope Clearwater.

"Both Miss Granger and Miss Clearwater were found in a corridor outside the library." Said McGonagall gravely "Along with this." She indicated a handheld mirror. "I don't suppose either of you can explain this?"

"No Professor." Said Harry "On the way to breakfast Hermione had some epiphany about something and then rushed to the library. She didn't say what it was, just that she had to get to the Library."

"I see. I'm going to escort you both back to the Gryffindor Common Room." Said McGonagall.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

The rest of the Gryffindors had managed to gather in the Common Room by the time McGonagall, Ron and Harry had returned. As the boys took their seats, their Head of House made her announcement.

"There has been another attack." That statement alone clammed everyone's mouths shut and directed all collective attention to her "Our own Second Year Hermione Granger and a Sixth Year Ravenclaw Penelope Clearwater have been petrified just outside the library. As a result of these and the other attacks the following procedures are to take effect immediately: All students are to return to their House Common Rooms by 6 o'clock, every evening. No student shall be allowed to enter the Hospital Wing without permission unless they are in need of medical attention. All students will be escorted to and from classes by their teacher. No exceptions."

Emma felt her gut twist, she had been regularly visiting Colin in the infirmary, now she wouldn't get to do that anymore. But she knew Harry must be feeling terrible. She went over to him and pulled him into a hug.

While the rest of the Gryffindors began discussing what McGonagall had just said, Harry, still in the process of being hugged by his sister, turned to Ron.

"We've got to go to Hagrid, find out what he knows and also what else happened." Said Harry

"But how." Said Ron "All our movements are watched now. After everything that's happened they've probably got all the teachers on patrol."

"The Cloak." said Emma.

"Oh right." Said Ron "Harry and I will go down under there."

"I think a slight modification is in order actually." Said Harry looking at Emma.

"What? Why Emma?" said Ron

"No offence Ron but this is very delicate. It will be better for Hagrid if it comes from the two of us." Said Harry

"He's right." Said Emma "Harry and I have known Hagrid longer than you, we're closer as well."

"Couldn't all three of you go?" asked Demelza "I'm mean, it's taken three before."

"Not a good Idea." Said Harry "We don't know what the patrols are like, we can move faster with just the two of us."

"We need to get a message to Luna." Said Emma "Tell her what's going on."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

The day was a long one. With the new restrictions in place, no one was allowed to leave the Common Room until classes restarted the day after tomorrow. Meals were all provided in the Common Room and despite the fact that many people had homework assignments no one was even allowed to go to the Library.

Eventually evening came and the day for everyone had on the whole been so uneventful that the Common Room emptied earlier than usual as everyone went to Bed. Emma, Demelza and Ginny found themselves cut off from Luna and only Hedwig allowed them to have any form of communication with her.

After everyone except members of Harry's Defence Group, who now were no longer allowed in the Practice Room, were still awake; Harry and Emma got under the cloak and made their way through the castle.

The amount of security was intense. There was hardly a corridor that wasn't inhabited by prefects, teachers or ghosts who were now patrolling the castle in pairs. Harry and Emma found that they couldn't risk taking any of their usual shortcuts simply because opening doors and secret passages would immediately get them noticed. Thankfully they were able to get out of the castle and onto the grounds.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"Hagrid what is that for?" said Emma, as she and her brother found themselves on the receiving end of a crossbow.

"Oh this, nothin' it's jus'… nothin' never min' come in I just made a pot o' tea." Said Hagrid.

He looked rather terrified of something. His huge hands shook as he poured the tea and the brown fluid coated the table.

"Hagrid let me do that." Said Emma taking the teapot from his hands.

"Th… thanks." Said Hagrid. He sat down.

"Hagrid." Said Harry "We need to ask you…"

But Harry was cut off by a sudden knocking at the door.

"Quick under the cloak." Said Hagrid urgently. Both Potters went under the cloak as Hagrid answered the door.

Harry had to hold his sister tightly as they both recognised the idiotic man who'd tried to arrest Emma at the start of the year come and do the same for Hagrid. This was despite Dumbledore warning Fudge that nothing good would come of it. To make matters even worse, Lucius Malfoy showed up with an order to suspend Dumbledore signed by the Governors. All four adults, at least two of them unaware of doing so, left Emma and Harry alone in the hut. But both Hagrid and Dumbledore had left with parting words.

"Help shall always be available at Hogwarts to those who ask for it."

"If anyone wanted ter find out some stuff, all they'd have ter do would be ter follow the spiders."

Once they were left alone Emma sat on the bench. "So what do we do now?"

ORACLE2PHOENIX

The following night Professor McGonagall came into the Gryffindor Common Room to give more details of the new strict procedures involving escorting of students between classes, Common Rooms, the Great Hall and the Library.

Before that happened Harry and Emma filled the others in on what had happened.

"He just took him to Azkaban?" said Neville "He can't do that, not without a trial and certainly not without the DMLE's approval."

"Well he did." Said Emma bitterly.

"What did he say though?" said Vicky "Follow the Spiders?"

"Yeah." Said Emma "And Dumbledore said: help would be available to those who asked for it."

"But how is that supposed to help us?" said Ron "Besides you all know how I feel about spiders, what good is following them supposed to be?"

Harry looked thoughtful "What happened to the book Hermione had on the Acromantula?"

"It should still be in her dormitory." Said Ginny "Why?"

"I thought I read something but I want to make sure." Said Harry

"I'll go get it." Said Emma

A minute later Harry was skimming through the book.

"Here we go. It says that Acromantula over time can learn to speak in the tongue of humans."

"Harry I don't understand, what have Acromantula got to do with this?" said Emma

"Well the one Hagrid had was a baby and it escaped when he was caught, according to this they can live for 5 or 6 decades. What if Aragog is still alive?"

"Aragog?" said Geoffrey

"That's what Hagrid called it." Said Harry "Think about it, if it escaped, Hagrid could have found it again and given it shelter somewhere."

"Oh come on Harry, how many monsters can this place hide?" said Ron

"Ron last year they hid a three headed dog and a troll behind a locked door on the Third Floor corridor." Said Emma

"Point." Conceded Ron

"I don't think it's inside the castle." Said Harry.

Emma looked at Harry then her eyes widened. "The Forest?"

"It is the most plausible." Said Harry "No one knows their way around their like Hagrid does and it's easily large enough to hide a Giant Spider."

"Well, all we need to do is find some spiders and follow them if you're right." Said Geoffrey "But where do we find them?"

"Wait ordinary spiders or Acromantulae?" said Demelza

"I'd assume ordinary spiders." Said Harry he looked down at the book and read a bit more… "Ah!"

"Harry that didn't sound healthy?" said Ron

"The Acromantula are the most domineering arachnids in the world. In times of terror all spiders will seek sanctuary in a nest of Acromantula." Harry recited.

"Well that's good isn't it?" Said Geoffrey "The spiders will lead us straight to Aragog."

Everyone seemed happy which perplexed Harry "Didn't you hear what I said? I said nest."

"Nest?" said Emma

"Oh!" said Demelza "As in more than one Acromantula?"

Suddenly the rest of the group realised the implications of what the book said.

"We cannot go into a nest of… how many giant spiders?" said Ron

"According to the book, a nest can have up to a hundred fully grown Acromantula, give or take a dozen." Said Harry

Ron visibly squirmed "We have to go into the forest?"

"Slow down there." Said Emma "We still haven't told Luna everything. Let's fill her in and see if we can find some fleeing spiders first."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"It sounds a little dangerous to get information from this source Harry Potter." Said Luna

"We don't particularly have a lot of choice. We have no other leads and McGonagall's talking about closing the school."

"That may be but I do not think we should enter the forest without preparation." Said Luna.

"Preparation?" said Natalie "How can you prepare yourself for meeting a nest of these things?"

"Well how to kill them would be a good start." Said Ron feeling heavily repulsed by the idea of being so near spiders.

"Alright." Said Harry getting the book out again "This is going to take some research. But just so I know, who would like to come with me into the Forbidden Forest to find a nest of spiders?"

"I'll come, for Hagrid." Said Emma

"I'll come for Hermione." Said Ron looking at the seat where she normally sat.

"I'll help out to." Said Demelza "I do not want to end up like Colin and Hermione."

"Sometimes I think you need a bit more logic." Said Luna "In Hermione's place I will give you mine."

"Hey I'm not a Gryffindor for nothing." Said Ginny "I'll come along to."

"The forest is a scary place, but I want to be of help." Said Neville.

The expected had all said yes. Now it was up to Vicky, Natalie and Geoffrey to say so.

"I don't know about this." Said Geoffrey "I mean it really depends on the plan, can you get back to me once you've read the chapter?"

"I'll take the same position." Said Vicky "You've taught us some useful stuff and I'd like for you to do so again."

"Depending on the plan we'll help." Confirmed Natalie.

"Alright!" said Harry "Everyone keep an eye out for spiders, we'll meet in the library after classes tomorrow."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"I found the spiders." Said Demelza "You were right there is a whole line of them heading to the forest past Hagrid's Hut."

"How's the research going?" asked Geoffrey.

"Pretty good actually." Said Harry "Acromantula are quick on their feet and super-strong but they have a number of weaknesses."

"Such as?" said Ron eager to gain some form of weapon against his greatest fear.

"Their eyes mainly. They can't close their eyes and they're used to living in a dark places with little light. A Lumos Maxima aimed at the right point would temporarily incapacitate them."

"That's encouraging." Said Ron.

"Also their eyes are their softest point. A Good Reductor Curse would kill them instantly. They're also incredibly partial to fire. Even being hit by a Flipendo Jinx will harm them far more than it would us. An Incedio Charm would set them ablaze."

"So are we ready to go then?" said Geoffrey

"No. We need to practice this." Said Harry "We need to practice the right spells and work on our overall targeting practice."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

Natalie, Geoffrey and Vicky confirmed they would help out. Unfortunately the Defence Group, along with every other group and club at Hogwarts were forcibly cancelled by the new security measures. So they had to sneak out to do it. A year previously McGonagall had cast a silencing charm on the Hospital Wing door so Harry could talk with her without Malfoy and Neville hearing what he said.

A quick curious word to Percy and Harry learnt the charm. Over the next two weeks Harry and the others snuck out after hours to use the Defence Room. Luna borrowed Harry's cloak so she could make it there undetected. Thankfully the Defence Room was only a corridor away from Gryffindor Tower and that one corridor was unguarded by the new patrols. They usually spent two hours a night practicing. After two weeks Harry was convinced they were ready to enter the forest.

He had personally mastered the Flagrance Curse and could now use it effectively should the need arise.

The next big challenge was getting the ten of them out of the castle and into the Forest undetected.

"We can't all use the cloak." Said Ron "What if we take it in turns?"

"It would take hours to get us all down there and hours to get us all back up." Said Emma "Not to mention we might be spending hours in the Forest, we'd easily get missed."

"It's just not possible." Said Demelza "We can't all make our way through the castle without being seen."

"Maybe not through the castle but we can go outside." said Luna.

Everyone turned to look at her.

"Brooms?" said Natalie "We can use brooms to fly down."

"But only Harry has a broom?" said Ginny

"Maybe now, but we can get some school brooms." Said Harry "Tonight I can sneak down to the Quidditch Pitch and liberate some. We'd need to share, two to a broom, I can't carry anymore, but then tomorrow night we can enter the forest."

"We can store them in the Practice Room, even if we're not allowed to use that room, no one will search it." Said Ginny "Then we fly down to Hagrid's and leave them there."

ORACLE2PHOENIX

The next day it was after midnight when the Gryffindor Common Room emptied. The Gryffindors met Luna in the Practice Room.

"Sorry we took so long." Said Harry "The fifth and seventh years have been up late all week, never this bad though."

"They are sitting highly important exams at the end of this year." Said Luna "They were up late in Ravenclaw as well. I just got here ten minutes ago."

"Well let's do this." Said Harry "Two to a broom."

Harry paired up with Neville, as he was the most timid on a broom. Before mounting, Harry opened the window.

"Ok let's go." Said Harry

Five brooms carrying ten people stealthily soared towards the ground. Once they arrived at Hagrid's hut, Harry opened the door and they placed the brooms on the kitchen table.

"Fang! Down." Said Harry, as the dog began barking with enthusiasm. Ron rapidly fished out a slice of Hagrid's homemade treacle tart which glued the dog's mouth shut.

"Should we take him with us?" Said Neville "He knows the forest well."

"Maybe." Said Harry "That's probably a good idea, especially if have to leave the trail."

Harry looked over his group… his friends… what they were about to do was very risky and they all knew it.

"Right, let's see if we can find the spider trail." Said Harry "Lumos!"

The others also incanted their own lighting charms.

"There." Said Vicky.

The other turned to see a line of spiders rapidly traveling towards the forest.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

"Y… you two served detention in here last year right?" said Demelza

"Yeah." Said Neville "The place hasn't lost its charm."

"Do you think we'll meet the centaurs?" Emma asked

"No they lived further that way." Harry indicated towards his right.

"Do you think we'll encounter any werewolves?" asked Vicky

"No the full moon was nearly two weeks ago, so the next one will not be until April." Said Luna.

"Regular wolves then?" said Natalie.

"If you see a wolf just hit it with a Reductor." Said Ginny smiling. Unlike most of the others she seemed to be much perkier than normal. It seemed that a sneaking out into the forbidden forest for a potentially dangerous mission was just what Ginny needed.

"To be honest, realistically speaking there are too many of us for a predator to want to attack." Said Luna "So long as we don't represent a threat, we should be fine."

"So maybe the Acromantula won't try to kill us?" said Demelza

"So long as they don't consider us entering their nest a threat." Said Harry

More than one person groaned at that statement.

"Harry they're leaving the trail." Said Neville he pointed at the spiders.

"Right." Said Harry "Wands out and eyes in all directions, the nest probably isn't much further and we don't want to be surrounded."

Emma took her brothers hand and raised her wand with him. Between them, all areas of the forest around them were illuminated. They walked on a bit further.

"I think there is something over there." Said Ron

Harry squinted "Move the light away from it slightly."

Harry looked it over. It was an Acromantula alright. But it was not a baby like the one in Riddle's Diary. It caught site of them and edged closer slightly.

"Can you speak?" Harry tried.

The creature stopped "I… can…" it uttered in a deep but croaking voice.

Harry glanced at the others quickly, they were all ready for this.

"Is there one known as Aragog here…"

The spider rapidly began clicking its pincers.

"How do you know that name?" demanded the huge arachnid

"We are friends of Hagrid. He's in trouble, please let us see Aragog."

Suddenly two more spiders appeared, but they kept their distance for now. There was some rapid clicking between the three of them and Harry heard clicking behind the spiders.

"Hey…" said Demelza pointing her wand to left. Another spider was trying to get behind them, but it retreated in the face of the light.

"And you…" said Geoffrey pointing at one to the right. Harry had warned them to keep a lookout in case the Acromantulae tried to surround them.

The three spiders directly ahead were joined by a further two.

"Aragog will speak with you." Came the voice of the first spider.

"Thank you." Said Harry "Please lead the way."

The Spider began crawling deeper into the forest and the other four backed away as the glare of the Lumos Charms became discomforting. Harry had talked the others through this beforehand, they were to use the Lumos Charms to keep the spiders at a distance.

Harry and the others followed cautiously as they were lead into the spiders nest. It was one large crater surrounded by cobwebs and hundreds of spiders of all sizes, including several dozen Acromantulae.

"Who disturbs me…" came an old croaking voice "Who are these people?"

"Human's… They seek an audience with you."

"How unusual. Who are you to speak with me…?"

"My name is Harry Potter. My friends and I are students at the castle, are you Aragog?"

"I am…"

"We're friends of Hagrid? He's in trouble, there are those who think he's attacking students. Like before."

"THAT, was not the work of Hagrid."

"I didn't think so." Said Harry "I take it you were accused as well?"

"Yes, though it was in my nature to do so, at Hagrid's request I never harmed any humans in the castle. The monster that did is an ancient creature that was born in the castle centuries ago. I was born in a land far from here. Hagrid brought me to the castle in a box."

"You know what the monster is?" said Harry "What is it?"

That was apparently the wrong question, because all the spiders began twitching their pincers violently.

"We do not speak of it. It is an ancient creature we spiders fear above all others. Hagrid too has asked many times but I have never told him, not even when the girl died in the bathroom and he was accused. Hagrid is the reason I can live here, he provided me with this territory and my mate Mosag whom with we started this family you see around you."

"Do you have any idea where the monster resides?" said Harry "If we find it, we can stop it, two of our friends have been petrified."

"No, I saw only the inside of the box Hagrid brought me in. I did not see the outside until the snake-speaker cast me out."

"Wait the snake-speaker?" said Harry "The prefect that caught Hagrid could speak to snakes?"

"Yes he conversed often with the monster. There were many a time I could hear them talk through the walls."

Harry chanced a look at the others, this news was incredible.

"Thank you for seeing us." Said Harry "We'll leave you alone now."

"Leave?" roar Aragog, almost mockingly "I think not. I cannot deny my sons and daughters fresh meat when it wanders so willingly into our hideout."

"We asked first." Shouted Emma as she began scanning for surrounding spiders.

"That is of no concern to me." Said Aragog. "Goodbye friends of Hagrid."

"ARAGOG!" shouted Harry "This is your last chance, we know how to kill you and your tribe. Let us go and no one dies."

"You are outnumbered ten to one human." Said Aragog "I'm sure you will make a juicy meal."

"I'm warning you." Shouted Harry

But the Acromantulae started moving in closer, their movements being only slightly hampered by the presence of the lighting charms.

"Everyone, eyes!" shouted Harry.

He mentally counted a second then shut his eyes and pointed his wand high in the air.

"Lumos Maxima!"

A blinding solar flare erupted from his wand and engulfed half the forest in light. It had the desired effect, every spider facing the group became disorientated.

"STRIKE!" shouted Harry.

Then he trained his own wand on the spiders in front of himself.

"Comburet!"

A stream of liquid fire erupted from his wand and turned two spiders nearest to him to smouldering remains. Three others caught fire and began wandering around erratically.

Around him, Harry's friends had resorted to using, Flipendo, Reducto and Geoffrey had managed to set two more on fire with a well-placed Incendio Charm on the ground beneath them.

"Everyone move out." Shouted Harry, he redirected the Flagrance curse towards the route back towards Hogwarts.

Using the sheer force of the liquid fire, Harry carved a path out of the ring of spiders.

But they were not safe yet, even as they got out of the nest and to the edge of their territory, spiders continued to try and get at them.

"Don't let them get in front of us!" shouted Ron "Ginny focus your fire on the left, I'll do the right."

The spiders kept coming but thanks to their preparation, the group managed to get to get back onto the forest path, the Acromantulae were now outside their territory, but were still going for the students.

Suddenly Harry heard a distinctly unwelcome pop.

"Harry Potter sir, you must go…" Dobby trailed off "AHHH horrible hairy beast!"

"Dobby?" said Emma "Get out of here, you'll get yourself killed."

"Dobby must get Harry Potter to safety." He tried to reach for Harry but Emma pushed him away.

"Are you insane? Harry's curse is the only thing keeping us alive do you want to kill us all."

"Harry Potter must live." Said Dobby

"I'm not going anywhere Dobby, you'll never get me away from Hogwarts, and this is my home. This is where I belong and I am so going to kill you if you get any closer spider."

Harry flared his curse at a spider, causing it to back off as its legs got scolded.

"Flipendo!" incanted Emma at a spider try to get round the curse. The sparks of her spell set its back on fire and it began retreating away.

As they got further down the path, the spider attack became less frequent. Harry stopped his curse so he could get a better look at what was coming for him and the others.

While he was doing that Dobby made a lurch for Harry, but Emma had been keeping an eye on the little elf.

She aimed her wand "Expelliamus!"

Dobby was flung away from the main group.

"I told you not to try anything." Said Emma angrily "You are not taking my brother back to Privet Drive."

Dobby looked up and saw a spider jump at the group. Harry was about to knock it away with a spell when Dobby, in panic jumped "No! Do not hurt Harry Potter."

To his absolute horror, Harry saw the elf jump on the spider's head and start battering it feebly with his fists. The Acromantula threw off the elf with one good shake then pounced.

"NO!" shouted Harry "Reducto!"

But it was too late. Even as the spell collided with the Spider, knocking him several feet away, Harry could see the House-Elf impaled on its pincers. Forgetting all the animosity and hatred he had for the mad little guy, Harry ran over to the spider and semi-obliviously fired a silent Reductor Curse killing the it. Dobby fell off the pincer and Harry caught him just before he hit the ground.

It was with great relief Harry discovered the elf was still breathing. But he was soon brought out of his musings.

"Harry look out." Shouted Ginny.

Two more spiders were making a lunge for him.

"Flipendo Maxima!" incanted Ginny.

Her red sparks exploded above Harry lightly stinging him with hundreds of little sparks, but the spiders attacking him got hit much harder and were now on fire.

Harry ran over back to the group and trained his wand, he felt anger that someone had died alongside him, even if it wasn't someone he was particularly fond of.

"Reducto! Flipendo! Reducto! Incendio!" he incanted in his rage he fired random spells, none of which proved ineffective. It got to the point when Harry just started firing spells non-verbally focusing all his rage. Hexes, Jinxes, Curses and Charms rained down on the spiders.

Throughout this process, Natalie and Vicky had each snaked an arm under his shoulder and were dragging him further and further from Aragog's lair.

After a while the spiders stopped showing up and they ran out of things to fire at. They made it out of the Forest and emerged back at Hagrid's hut, where the dog Fang immediately ran inside.

"Dobby!" said Harry "Dobby are you still there?"

Dobby's eyes creaked open "Harry Potter… you is not safe… please… leave… Hogwarts…"

"I can't! Colin and Hermione have both been attacked, Demelza is in danger too, I finally have something that's important to me… something that's important to Emma too. People we care about. We need to get you help…"

"It's too late." Said Dobby "Please stay safe… On the Seventh floor opposite the ballet trolls walk past three times… nowhere else… here is… safe… Harry Potter… must… stay… safe."

And that was it. The life completely left Dobby's eyes and his breath stopped. The House-Elf was dead.

ORACLE2PHOENIX

Harry didn't know how long he sat in the mud staring at the lifeless form in his arm. True Dobby had been difficult and had caused serious harm to both him and his friends, but he had tried his best to keep Harry safe, even if what he'd done amounted to grievous bodily harm.

Emma dropped next to Harry and hugged him round the chest, he used his free arm to embrace her to himself. Ginny was crying against Neville, Demelza against Ron and Vicky against Geoffrey. Natalie stood crouched on the ground her head in her hands and Luna stood looking sadly and stoically at Dobby's form.

There was not a dry eye they could find, when Professor McGonagall and a Fifth Year male Ravenclaw prefect came storming towards the group.

"What in blazes are you all doing out here." She demanded.

No one said anything. But gradually the all turned their heads to look at her. First Luna; then Natalie; then Geoffrey, Neville and Ron; then Vicky, Demelza and Ginny; and finally Harry, with one arm cradling the dead Dobby and the other wrapped around his sister, stood up from the ground lifting them both up as he did and looked towards Professor McGonagall.

The look of horror and shock on her students stopped McGonagall several meters from where they had congregated. The Prefect that she had been on patrol with stood still by her side, unsure what he was to do in this situation.

Harry and Emma moved to the front and McGonagall got a good look at the house-elf.

"M… Mr Potter… What's going on?" she asked, her voice shaking.

Harry solemnly looked up and said "Professor… This is Dobby… This is the House-Elf that's been trying to kill me all year. I couldn't save him."