Hermione frowned as the carriage cleared Hogwarts' gates. Harry had brightened up during the train journey to Hogwarts but he'd fallen quiet again when they'd arrived at Hogsmeade, and during the ride to the school he had been positively moping. She wound her arms back around Harry's left arm and gave him a sympathetic squeeze.

Her eyes caught on the silvery gaze of Luna across from her and Luna gave an imperceptible nod of pleased understanding at Hermione's action. Hermione had come to appreciate the quirky Ravenclaw during their time on the Express. Yes, Luna had odd moments – very odd moments – which were disconcerting, and some of the creatures she talked about Hermione was sure Luna had made up, but Luna was otherwise very sweet with a remarkably sharp intellect that Hermione had quickly come to respect. Their discussion on Divination had been fascinating and Hermione thought she might try and look up some of the references Luna had quoted to get a good understanding of the subject. Although she didn't take the subject anymore but she didn't want her knowledge to be lacking.

Ron caught her attention and he unsubtly looked at how she was holding onto Harry and back up to her with wide questioning eyes. Hermione tried to indicate Harry's state of mind by looking deliberately towards Harry, who was staring out the small window of the carriage with a pensive expression, and gesturing with a subtle jerk of her head. Ron frowned but nodded in understanding.

Hermione sighed heavily.

The carriage came to a halt.

The noise outside was the usual maelstrom of childish chatter. Neville got out and helped Luna down. Ron clambered down and surprisingly held out a hand to Hermione who took it with a murmured thank you. Harry exited last, and his reluctance told in his hesitant glance toward the castle.

"Mister Potter." Professor McGonagall's Scottish burr washed over them as she hurried to the group. "Glad to see you've arrived safely."

Harry managed a smile. "Thank you, Aun – I mean, Professor."

"I'll mirror call Lord Black while I wait for Hagrid. You should get yourselves inside for the feast." Professor McGonagall ushered them towards the doors and they complied swiftly.

They'd barely made it past the doors when other students started to converge on them. Malfoy beat everyone else by a mile, and he had regained his minions of Crabbe and Goyle.

"Weasley, Longbottom, Granger." Malfoy's eyes took in Luna and a small frown appeared. "Lovegood." He turned his gaze to Harry. "My father said you would arrive with everyone else." He proclaimed grandly. "I thought it best not to seek you out beforehand."

"Thank you, Draco." Harry said dryly. "Did you have a good journey?"

"Entertaining for the rest of us." Nott said, falling into step beside Malfoy, Goyle dropping back to let him. "Parkinson has a plan to get her arrangement with Malfoy reinstated." He said in a stage whisper.

Malfoy blushed bright red. "Thank you for sharing that with the world, Nott."

Nott grinned at him. His dark eyes slid over Luna sandwiched between Harry and Neville. He raised an eyebrow. "Protected?"

Harry followed his gaze and nodded. The Slytherins peeled off as they crossed the threshold to the Great Hall.

"Harry!" The girlish shriek had them all wincing. They turned to find Lydia and Ginny barrelling towards them, along with another third year girl, Jessica, who was Lydia's best friend.

"Save me!" whispered Harry urgently.

Hermione stifled a giggle and gave Harry a nod. "Harry," she raised her voice a touch, "why don't you and Neville escort Luna over to the Ravenclaw table? Ron and I will save us some seats."

Harry shot her a grateful smile. Neville immediately offered his arm to Luna and Harry hurried to follow his example. The young blonde girl gave a delighted smile and winked at Hermione as they led her away. Hermione saw Harry was aiming for Michael and Anthony; no doubt Luna would be given over to their care.

Hermione pushed Ron towards the benches but their progress was arrested by the arrival of Ron's sister and the two other girls. Hermione felt a surge of irritation with the youngest Weasley. She couldn't exactly blame Ginny for grasping the others' offers of friendship – Merlin knew she knew herself what it was like to go without close friends – but it made a mockery of Ginny's professed desire to seek a genuine friendship with Harry when she hung around with girls who so blatantly wanted the Boy Who Lived not Harry.

"Who is that with Harry?" demanded Lydia.

"Luna," replied Ginny absently, tucking a strand of red hair behind an ear, "we used to play together when we were small."

"Luna who?" Lydia frowned.

"Lovegood." Hermione supplied. "Is there something you wanted Ginny because we'd like to sit down?"

Ginny flushed. "When did Harry arrive?"

"He was on the train." Ron said pushing past his sister to get to the table where he slid onto the end of the bench near to the door. Hermione sat down next to him as he moved up a space, exchanging a quick look with him that confirmed Harry would take the seat in between them when he returned.

"What do you mean he was on the train?" Ginny sat down opposite her brother and her new friends quickly took the spots next to her.

"Sirius put him on the train this morning and sent Dobby with a note to let us know so we could find him." Ron said succinctly.

"You could have found me on the train and told me!" Ginny argued fiercely.

Ron shrugged. "Couldn't give Harry's position away, could I? It wouldn't have been safe and Sirius would have had my head, not to mention Mum."

Ginny opened her mouth and snapped it shut again, obviously realising the validity of Ron's words.

"Why's Looney with him?" Lydia asked snootily, casting a look back over her shoulder to where Harry and Neville were stood by the Ravenclaw table.

Hermione pursed her lips disapprovingly. "Luna," she stressed the girl's name, "is Harry's friend." She shot a look at Ginny who got her meaning immediately if the bright red blush was anything to go by. She ignored her own twinge of jealousy that Luna might fit Harry's criteria for a girlfriend since it was clear that she saw him for himself and not for his titles.

"Ron!" Lavender took the seat next to Ron and smiled at him coquettishly as Parvati took the seat beside her.

Hermione blinked. Had Lavender just batted her eyelashes at Ron?

Lavender ran a hand over Ron's arm. "I love your new robes! Very stylish! Where did you go? This isn't Madame Malkin's work."

Ron swallowed hard. "Um, well, Bill has this mate and…"

"Oh, does he do women's clothing?"

It was all Hermione could do to not to start laughing herself silly at the utter horror on Ron's face at the question.

"No!" Ron said immediately.

"That's a shame, but he obviously does good work." Lavender smiled again. "You look smashing!" She suddenly took on an air of concern. "I was really sorry to hear about your family getting attacked, Ron!"

"It looked awful in the papers!" Parvati commented, settling her robes around her.

"Awful!" echoed Lavender. "But you were a real hero rushing into the tent to save your Dad!"

"And Neville and Harry are heroes too, of course!" Parvati frowned, her lips forming a perfect pout. "Where are they?"

"Over there at the Ravenclaw table." Lydia remarked sourly, pointing behind her.

"Here, budge up, Gin-Gin! Angelina wants to talk with the team over dinner" Fred slid onto the bench, immediately followed by the Chaser girls and then George. They forced Ginny and the other third year girl to slide further up the bench and away from where Harry would be sitting.

Fred grinned at Hermione and she mouthed 'thanks' at him. She craned her head to sneak a peek at Harry who had been accosted on his way back to the Gryffindor table by some of the Potter alliance Heirs including the new Head Boy. Neville had stayed with him.

Ron followed her gaze and sighed. "They never give him a minute of peace, do they?"

"Well, politically he is their leader." Hermione murmured unhappily but she was in agreement with Ron. The alliance members were great but they needed to remember Harry was just Harry now he was back at school.

"Children!" Professor Dumbledore's voice rose above the babble and commanded silence. "Please take your seats! Our first years are awaiting their Sorting and I'm sure we are all hungry enough not to wish to delay our welcoming feast any longer than necessary."

Everyone not seated immediately scattered for the tables.

Harry slid in between Hermione and Ron as Neville took the seat Hermione had left at the end for him with a grateful smile.

Hermione gave Harry a quick smile as the side door opened and Professor McGonagall led the first years in. They looked so small and scared. Hermione knew intellectually that she and her peers must have looked the same but it seemed so unlikely.

The stool and the Hat were placed solemnly, and the Hat opened its mouth.

"I am the Sorting Hat

Not a mat, a bat, a cat.

I will Sort you once tonight

Making sure your home here's right.

Those with cunning,

Slytherin bound.

Those with loyalty,

Hufflepuff sound.

The brave and noble,

Gryffindors be.

Knowledge and witty,

Ravenclaws, see?

But the cunning need

To watch for greed.

And the loyal may hide

A too trusting side.

The brave always fall

To the reckless call.

Thinkers fail to look

Further than a book.

But you are all these things

And our battle will be won

Only when this truth is known

And Hogwarts stands as one."

Hermione absorbed the words of the Sorting song and sighed. It was paradoxical to harp on about Sorting people by attributes one moment and to talk about unity in the next. Of course, their idea for an inter-house Common Room was the same foolishness in some respects but maybe that was the Hat's point; that they should try to see beyond the differences of their House placements and see the similarities of being Hogwarts' students. She politely clapped as the first student was Sorted into Hufflepuff.

Harry fidgeted beside her and she heard Ron tell him in a loud whisper that the first years were midgets. Hermione shifted against the hard wooden bench and tried to keep her mind on the Sorting. It was a traditional part of the school, she berated herself firmly; she should pay attention and be respectful. It was an effort. Ron continued his side whispers to Harry the entire time despite her chiding looks which were partially because she felt jealous that she couldn't be as sanguine as he in ignoring the Sorting. Harry only came alive as a Michael Gilligan was sorted into Ravenclaw, clapping loudly and cheering. She remembered that the boy was the first recipient of the Lily Potter scholarship.

The Sorting Hat finally finished and the Headmaster made his usual bizarre and eccentric welcome of odd words before food appeared.

Ten minutes later, Harry sat beside her, poking at his chicken dinner without enthusiasm.

"Eat, Harry!" Hermione remonstrated in a whisper. "You can talk with Sirius as soon as the feast is over."

"Luna said pudding would cheer me up." Harry muttered, pushing his chicken away and reaching for the treacle tart.

"You're going to be starving by breakfast if that's the only thing you eat." Hermione pointed out, exasperated. "It's just sugar!"

"Save a slice for me." Ron said, waving a forkful of mashed potatoes.

Hermione noticed Ron was eating much more neatly than ever before. She wondered if it was Andy's influence or the new robes Ron wore. Perhaps, she considered, having new things had increased his want to keep them nice whereas he'd never had any respect for his second-hand things, not even his wand.

Harry's plate consisted of a huge slice of treacle tart, a large blob of cream, and nothing else but he was at least eating it. Hermione sighed.

"So, I wanted to talk to you about Quidditch, Harry." Angelina spoke up, gaining Harry's attention. "You're my Seeker right?"

"I meant to say congrats at getting Captain." Harry grinned. "And sure, if you'll have me!"

Angelina beamed with pride and rubbed the shiny badge that was pinned to her robes. "'Course I'll have you; you're the best Seeker here! We need a try-out though; apparently we're allowed a reserve for each position this year and we need a Keeper."

"Ron's going to try-out for Keeper." Harry said immediately, nudging Ron who almost dropped his fork.

"Yes…me." Ron managed to get out as Angelina pinned him with an interested stare.

"Well, you're a Weasley which is a good start." Angelina nodded sharply. "You've been practicing?"

"All Summer." Fred chimed in.

"Him and Ginny." George added.

Angelina peered down the line of her Quidditch team on their bench to the younger Weasley. "Chaser or Seeker?"

Ginny almost swallowed her tongue. She went bright red but her chin was up. "Chaser but I didn't think I'd get a place till next year."

"Charlie helped us practice when he was over from Romania." Ron blurted out.

Angelina smiled. "Well, try-outs are this weekend."

"This weekend?" Ron went white under his freckles.

Harry scooped up more tart. "Don't worry, Ron, we can have a practice session tomorrow evening."

Ron calmed down a bit.

"Can I come along, Harry? I'd like to get some more practice in too." Ginny asked.

Hermione's eyes snapped to Ginny, surprised she'd been brave enough to ask. Maybe her advice to Ginny for her to find something Ginny and Harry both liked as common ground was actually helping Ginny overcome her timidity where Harry was concerned.

"Sure," Harry motioned at Angelina, "we could make it an official practice session for anyone wanting to try-out, right?"

Hermione bent her head to head her smile. Poor Ginny. Harry was either completely oblivious or far too knowing for him to have suggested that. She was thinking oblivious.

"Sounds good to me. I'll get the pitch booked soon as dinner is finished." Angelina said, grinning. "I want that Cup, Harry!"

"As long as you don't drag me out of bed at five o'clock in the morning like Oliver, I'll do my best." Harry countered, grinning back at her.

Angelina gave a very unladylike snort. "No chance! And if you catch me making airy-fairy speeches to motivate you, you have my permission to douse me with cold water?"

"So," asked Fred.

"How are you going…" continued George.

"…to motivate us?" Fred leered at her. "I vote for…"

"Kissing!" chorused the twins.

Harry went red and almost choked on his tart.

Hermione patted his back and handed him some pumpkin juice.

Angelina snickered. "I'll consider it for Harry," she said with a wink at Harry, "but definitely not for you two!" She laughed at the over-the-top outraged expressions on the twins' faces.

Hermione laughed along with the others and tried to ignore the plummeting sensation in her tummy at the idea of Angelina kissing Harry. Angelina was very beautiful. This, Hermione reminded herself, was why she had originally decided looking at Harry as a potential boyfriend was a very bad idea.

A clinking sound of a goblet drew their attention towards the Headmaster.

"Ah! Thank you for letting me interrupt the end of your splendid meals!" Professor Dumbledore smiled benevolently around the Great Hall. "I have some announcements…" he presented the new members of staff and everyone politely clapped.

Hermione spotted Harry's wide smile at the announcement of the new Healer. "Do you know her?" She whispered.

"She was one of my Healers at The Valley Clinic." Harry said.

Hermione brightened. Perhaps she could go and talk to Doctor Jordan? It would be useful to get an idea of what she needed to do from someone who had already attained both a Healing Mastery and a Doctor's qualification.

There were yells of approval for Tobias Hilliard and Hermione rolled her eyes at how Parvati and Lavender squealed. Great, she mused; no doubt she'd have to listen to endless rambling about Hilliard's eyes and his hair and his perfect duelling body – not that she paid attention to that kind of thing herself.

Lockhart, prompted her conscience. She mentally stuck her fingers in her ears at the memory of liking that insufferable obliviating prat.

She sighed.

"Now, some serious notices." Professor Dumbledore intoned, regaining her attention. "We have a new security policy which does affect curfews. Please take a moment to read it as it is there for your safety. It will be posted outside the Great Hall and in your Common Rooms. There is also a new Anti-Bullying policy, again posted in areas where you can read it but the gist of it states that we will not tolerate any kind of bullying behaviour."

His surprisingly stern gaze swept over the student body.

"Associated with this, the policy on detentions and points has been updated and republished. Please give it your full consideration. Your Heads of Houses will hold a House meeting within the next few days to cover the necessary details."

Hermione glanced over toward the Slytherin table and bit her lip as she took in the disgusted looks; the anti-bullying policy was going to be a shock to them. Or maybe it wouldn't be. It was one thing to have a policy on paper – another to actually put it into practice.

He clapped his hands. "On a more cheerful note, I have exciting news! We will be hosting the Tri-Wizard Tournament this year!"

The Hall erupted as students cheered, hollered and clapped. Hermione applauded politely, but she was more interested in watching everyone's reactions. The teachers had fixed smiles and were also only clapping politely (Professors Moody and Snape were both glowering); many of the muggleborn in the Hall were whispering frantically with their wizarding friends trying to understand why it was a big deal; a lot of the purebloods looked excited.

"Order, everyone!" Professor Dumbledore quietened the room. "Now, only those of age on October 31st when the names will be drawn will be allowed to enter…"

"AW!"

Fred and George turned to each other and pretended to weep copiously.

"The other schools, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, will arrive the weekend before the draw so they can settle into the castle and get to know you all. There is a new inter-House, inter-school Common Room for years six and seven just along from the library." Professor Dumbledore smiled out at the listening students.

"Those entering the tournament should also be aware that they will no longer be eligible for playing Quidditch should they be chosen to compete." Professor Dumbledore continued. "Speaking of our Quidditch season, it will be compressed to accommodate the tournament; the captains should meet tomorrow morning with Madame Hooch to agree the match schedule."

He waited until the unhappy murmurs about what that meant for the Quidditch Cup died out before speaking again.

"I am also thrilled to announce that we will have a Duelling Club this year. Notices are posted in your Common Rooms." Professor Dumbledore waved a hand towards Professors Moody, Flitwick and Hilliard. "The Club will be primarily led by our three illustrious Professors but fourth year will be led by Lord Black and our former DADA Professor, Remus Lupin."

A cheer went up in the Great Hall. Hermione couldn't help noticing how Professor Snape sneered at the mention of Sirius and Remus.

Professor Dumbledore regained order. "Finally, I will remind all students that the Forbidden Forest remains forbidden to all; that items listed on the door of Mister Filch's office remain banned; and that learning should always be fun so let's sing!"

Hermione cringed and mouthed the words of the school song. Harry and Ron didn't even attempt it. As the song ended and the prefects stood to call together the students, Hermione climbed out of the bench and fell into step beside Harry, Ron and Neville as they made their way to Gryffindor Tower.

The three boys were talking about Quidditch leaving Hermione alone with her thoughts. She was exhausted, she mused tiredly. Somehow the travelling to Hogwarts always left her tired and ready to climb into bed as soon as they got back to the Tower. She almost stumbled through the portrait but Ron reached out and steadied her.

"See!" Harry proclaimed with a smile. "You're a natural Keeper! You caught Hermione!"

"Are you suggesting that I look like a Quaffle, Harry?" Hermione teased.

"No!" Harry immediately said. "No! That wasn't…" he caught the glint of mischief in her eye and mock glared at her. "Funny!"

"I thought so." Hermione said satisfied.

"Harry!" The twins descended on him. "Our man! Our biggest fan…our…"

A sharp whistle broke through the chatter in the Common Room. They all turned to find Tanya Liddle, the seventh year prefect, stood on a table.

"Right, now I have your attention, Professor McGonagall has called a House meeting before breakfast tomorrow at seven o'clock." Tanya whistled again as protests were shouted across the room. "Seven o'clock." She said again. "The Gryffindor Lecture Theatre will be opened up. This is on the floor below us. The staircases that usually lead to your dorms will also go down another flight tomorrow morning to lead you there. Any questions? No. Good."

Hermione yanked her arm down and muttered under her breath. Why ask for questions if you weren't going to answer any?

The students began to disperse, the fifth year prefects leading the first years up to their dorms. Hermione covered her mouth with her hand as she yawned.

"I'm off to bed!" announced Harry, taking a step towards the stairs.

Hermione gave him a knowing look. "Say hi to Sirius from me."

Harry grinned at her and disappeared up the stairs.

"See you in the morning!" Ron shouted as he and Neville followed Harry.

She shook her head, feeling the bounce of her frizzy brown hair and made for her own dorm room. Lavender and Parvati were sprawled on Lavender's bed gossiping. Hermione got her nightshirt and toiletry bag out of the trunk and made for the bathroom. A quick change of clothes and her night-time routine completed, Hermione went back to the dorm room. She drew the curtains around her bed, set an alarm charm, and climbed under the covers gratefully.

She closed her eyes and tried to block out the chatter of how good Ron's robes looked; how cute Neville was; how hot Harry looked...Dear Merlin! Was she going to have to put up with this prattle all year, Hermione thought…although Harry really did look hot…

It was her last thought as she slipped into sleep.

o-O-o

September 4th 1994

"…but thankfully Ron made this great save and Angelina put him on the team!" Harry finished his tale of the try-outs, laughing. He was so pleased that Ron had made the team; he knew how important it was to Ron and his future aspirations.

Sirius grinned at him through the mirror. "Sounds like an eventful afternoon between the Slytherins trying to steal the pitch…"

Although to be fair to Draco he'd looked completely miserable and hadn't said a word as the rest of the Slytherin team had tried to claim the pitch only to find out exactly how great an aim Angelina had with a Quaffle.

"…and the Harry Stalkers' antics."

Harry went red but he nodded. Ron had coined the phrase after Harry's first three days at Hogwarts had found him followed everywhere by the trio of Ginny, Lydia and Jessica. The boys' dorm room was quickly becoming a sanctuary and Harry thanked Merlin he had his Dad's cloak.

"I swear they have a tracking charm on me!" complained Harry.

Sirius chuckled. "At least they haven't followed you into the showers yet."

"Don't say that!" Harry protested. "You'll give them ideas!" He adjusted his position on the bed. "Anyway, that's it for me! How are you and Remus? Where is Remus anyway?"

The werewolf usually said at least hello at some point during the nightly conversations between Harry and Sirius. Harry had to admit that it had helped his feeling of homesickness a lot being able to talk to Sirius and he felt guilty that the rest of his school mates didn't have the same ability to communicate with their parents.

"We had an issue in Russia which led to us thinking we need to do a review of the overseas properties; he's in Moscow for the rest of the week." Sirius admitted, and Harry saw a flash of loneliness cross Sirius's features before it was pushed away.

"Did he really need to go now?" worried Harry out loud. Harry had a feeling Sirius was missing Harry just as much as Harry missed Sirius, and for Remus to go away now of all times…Hermione had been right that it had been his friends who'd helped Harry over the worst of it – they'd helped pull him out of his moping and made him feel better. He was sure Remus was doing the same service for Sirius.

Sirius shrugged. "We wanted to make sure he didn't have to go away once the Tri-Wizard Tournament begins. Between the Potter and Black estates we have enough abroad to keep him gone a month but he's going to break the trips up – home one week, abroad the next – over the next couple of months. He should be done by Halloween."

Harry frowned. It made sense but he didn't like Sirius being alone so much. "Why can't he go after the tournament starts?" He could see Sirius debating his answer and wondered why.

"Because we're concerned someone will try and include you in the tournament." Sirius confessed.

"Oh." Harry's eyes widened.

"Look, it's a concern but a small one. Like I've said to you before there'll be plenty of security around the artefact that's being used to decide the Champions for each school but…"

"But you think someone will try to make it choose me anyway." Harry sighed. Probably the 'someone' was Voldemort. "I understand why you're concerned. It'd be just my luck if someone did that."

"Well, besides that, there's also the fact that security at Hogwarts will be compromised during the tournament. You'll have Ministry officials on the grounds; the other schools; the press is being allowed in – not to mention on the days of the tasks, there'll be spectators around." Sirius ranted in a familiar way that made Harry miss him all over again. "We want to make sure both of us are around if you need us so…Remus is going now and then he'll be back for the tournament and won't have to go again until next Summer."

Harry nodded but something of his lingering concern must have shown on his face.

"Hey, don't worry about me!" Sirius reassured him. "Penny has me booked up with so many meetings, lunches and dinners I'm barely going to be home myself."

"And you're OK?" pressed Harry.

"I'm OK." Sirius said firmly. "I miss you lots, but like you I'm continuing to see Healer Allen, and as long as I can talk to you so I can see with my own eyes you're OK, I'm OK. OK?"

"OK." Harry shifted against his pillows. "I mean, I, um, miss you lots too." He coloured rapidly. Talking and seeing Sirius helped him although he was going to confess that; it was embarrassing enough admitting that he missed him.

Sirius's grey eyes lit up though and made the effort of telling him worthwhile. "We'll see each other on Wednesday for your first duelling club session." He promised.

Harry nodded enthusiastically. He'd almost forgotten about that.

"Go get some sleep, Pronglet. You have classes tomorrow and Minnie will yell at me if you're too tired for them." Sirius said.

"Goodnight, Padfoot." Harry carefully ended the call once Sirius wished him goodnight in return and he gently placed the mirror under his pillow. He snuggled down into the comfortable covers to sleep.

In some respects he knew the mirror was a crutch. It kept both him and Sirius from having to deal with the reality of their separation too much. Harry also knew that apart from the first night when Sirius had asked him to confirm he was safely at Hogwarts, there was no real reason or expectation for him to call Sirius every night.

Just a nagging instinct that he should.

On the other hand, Healer Allen had thought the mirror was a good idea while they adjusted. He was going to continue to see the mind healer using the new therapy room in the infirmary early on Sunday mornings. Harry figured he was eventually going to have to tell Ron or Neville; his excuse that day that he'd gotten up early and hadn't wanted to wake them would only work a couple of times.

He chewed on his lip. He didn't want to tell anyone about the mind healing. Mostly because it raised questions of why did he need healing, and he didn't want to tell anyone about the Dursleys…and he couldn't tell anyone about the prophecy.

Except he already had, hadn't he? He'd told Neville. And Neville would understand the need for discretion about mind healing more than most.

Harry winced.

Ron would go nuts if he knew Harry was confiding in Neville and not him. He sighed and rolled over. He'd just have to deal with the fallout if it happened. Maybe Ron would understand.

Maybe.

He either confided in Ron or he didn't. It wasn't a question of trust but safety. The more people who knew the prophecy, the more the danger of it getting out – and if Voldemort thought Harry's friends knew the prophecy...it would place them in immense danger. It was bad enough that he had told Neville but Harry felt deep down that Neville needed to know, deserved to know why Voldemort's supporters had targeted his family.

He fell asleep still turning the problem over in his head with no resolution.

The first Monday dawned bright and early. Harry made it out of bed at six. He did his yoga and tai chi by his bedside to the sound of his dorm mates snoring; it was strangely relaxing. He woke Ron and Neville before diving into the shower. Half an hour later he was dressed and waiting in the Common Room.

Hermione clattered down the girls' staircase, looking slightly flustered. "Morning, Harry. Have you been up long? Are you worried about the results of the Runes exam we had yesterday? I think I am. I don't think I really answered the essay question at all and…"

"You probably aced it, Hermione." Harry reassured her as he pulled her down to sit on the sofa and wait for Ron.

Her brown eyes narrowed on him. "Why aren't you worried?"

"I did my best." Harry said simply.

And he was really not bothered about whether he skipped ahead to the fifth year Runes class or stayed with the fourth year. It would be an achievement but if it didn't happen Harry was content to stay with his own year group. He just hoped that whatever happened, he and Hermione stayed together – which probably meant that he should be rooting for good marks and progression because there was no way Hermione hadn't gotten through to the fifth year class.

He poked her. "I know you did your best so…we'll find out this morning and we get the reissued schedules if they're needed, yes?"

Hermione nodded, her hair cascading over her shoulders. Ron and Neville joined them and they all trooped out to breakfast.

Harry decided on a bacon sandwich and he assembled it as he watched Ron serve himself a full English. Neville had gone for poached eggs on toast smothered in brown sauce. Hermione had porridge with a side of fruit.

"Have to admit I was kind of expecting to see your stalkers by now." Ron admitted as he tucked in.

Hermione hummed. "I think someone snuck into their dorm and cancelled their alarms."

The three boys looked at her in shock.

"I had nothing to do with it!" Hermione said quickly. "I just overheard Parvati and Lavender giggling about it this morning."

Harry shrugged and took a bite of his sandwich. He owed Parvati and Lavender a thank you. It was the first restful breakfast he'd had since he'd gotten back to Hogwarts.

"I don't have the faintest what's gotten into Ginny, mate." Ron said somewhat apologetically. "I mean, I know she, uh, liked you but…"

"Not your fault." Harry quickly said.

"I think it's a mob mentality." Neville offered. "She's just going along with Lydia and Jessica, well mostly Lydia." He frowned. "I only hope they're being true friends to her and not just you know…"

"Using her to get to me?" finished Harry grimly. It was a thought.

"They'd better not or I'll…I'll…" Ron searched for a suitable punishment. "I'll set Fred and George on them!"

"Set us on who?" asked the twins joining them.

Ron quickly explained and the dark looks that the twins exchanged sent warning bells ringing for Harry.

"Hey," he said firmly, "we don't know yet that they're doing anything other than being Ginny's friends. We should see how things turn out. If they are friends that's a good thing for Ginny, isn't it?" The timing of the friendship was suspicious though and Harry was concerned even as he smoothed the older brothers' ruffled feathers.

"It is." Fred sighed heavily. "If they are her friends…"

"…for the right reasons…" George slipped in.

"…it's a good thing." Fred completed.

"How do we know?" demanded Ron, who looked very much like he was in favour of trapping the girls in a room and interrogating them.

"We don't." George admitted.

"Some things…"

"…have to be worked out for themselves." George sighed unhappily. "Ginny has to be the one to decide whether they are her real friends or not."

"We'll just have to wait and see how it plays out, Ronniekins." Fred didn't seem any happier about it than Ron who sported a scowl that could have felled dragons.

"Why can't she be friends with someone smart like Luna?" Hermione said as she placed her napkin down finished with her breakfast. She loved the healthier options that the house elves had started to provide.

Harry snagged an apple to make up for the bacon and rubbed it absently on his robes. Luna had slowly become part of their wider group. He knew the Ravenclaws in the Potter alliance had befriended her and were looking out for her within their House. But Harry had used the Map to track her down during the weekend and they'd all ended up sitting together by the Black Lake talking about many interesting creatures much to Hermione's bemusement.

Hermione and Luna made an odd friendship but they were solidly progressing in that direction. Maybe, Harry considered, Luna finally provided Hermione with someone who could give her an intellectual challenge.

"Why did they stop being friends anyway? Luna said they used to play together when they were younger." Hermione asked bluntly.

The Weasleys exchanged looks.

George was the one evidently elected to answer; he cleared his throat. "Luna's mother followed the Old Religion."

"Mum didn't want Ginny to pick that up." Fred said.

"Wiccan magic based on worshipping the Goddess?" Hermione asked, surprised. "I thought it wasn't practiced anymore."

"It isn't openly." Fred confirmed. "A lot of it is blood based."

Like the protection his mother had given him.

Neville and Ron darted a look in his direction obviously remembering the blessing ceremony.

Harry sighed. "It doesn't sound so bad to me."

"It isn't…"

"…really. Just…"

"…not done." George finished. He slapped his twin's shoulder. "Tabby is on the prowl. We should…"

"…go." Fred snatched some toast from Ron's plate but before Ron could do more than bellow a 'hey!' the twins had disappeared.

"Mister Weasley," Minerva said sternly walking up to them, "a little decorum, please."

"Sorry, Professor." Ron mumbled.

Hermione practically vibrated off the bench. "Professor?" She asked hopefully.

Minerva's lips pressed together, trying to prevent the smile that made them twitch from emerging. "Congratulations to you, Miss Granger, and to you, Mister Potter. You have both made it through to the fifth year Runes class." She produced two new schedules as Hermione almost squealed. "You will be joining Mister Goldstein and Miss Greengrass."

"Oh Harry!" Hermione suddenly hugged him hard for a second before she released him. "Isn't this wonderful!?"

"What's so wonderful about having to sit an OWL this year?" Ron said grumpily as Minerva walked away.

"Have to agree with you on that." Neville commented.

"We get one out of the way and have one less to sit next year." Hermione answered logically. She nudged Harry. "Come on! We have double Defence first thing."

Harry bit back a smile at Ron's rolled eyes but he gathered his things and followed Hermione out of the Great Hall.

Robert Ogden stopped them just outside the entrance. "We got the permission for the lower year Common Rooms!" He grinned at them. "Didn't think Dumbles would go for it but he did! Must have been mentioning your name!" He waved at Harry. "Find me in my office tonight, yeah? We can talk about how it'll work!" He sped away.

"Honestly, that Robert! He's the Head Boy! He should show some respect!" Hermione remonstrated as Harry pushed her gently to get her walking forward again.

"I dunno," Ron said deliberately to wind her up, "I quite like the name Dumbles."

"Ronald Weasley!" Hermione began.

"We're here!" Harry said loudly.

They split up, Neville sitting by Ron and Harry sliding in beside Hermione. Professor Moody sat imposingly at the front of the Defence classroom on the desk.

Draco slid in just before the class was due to start, followed by Crabbe and Goyle. He gave a respectful nod to Harry before finding his seat.

Moody closed the door with a swish of his wand and it slammed shut with a bang that startled Lavender into a shriek. "CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"

Harry tried to hide a smile and failed. Moody's magical eye whirled in his direction.

"Professor Lupin informs me that you lot have potential." Moody said gruffly. "But you've got a lot of catching up to do." He motioned at the blackboard behind him and the chalk sprang to life.

"Situational Awareness." It wrote elegantly across the black.

"Mister Potter," Moody growled, "when did you realise your first DADA Professor was possessed by a Dark Lord?"

Shocked looks were the order of the day in the rest of the students, Harry noticed as he grimaced and tried to think. "Um, probably just before he tried to kill me."

There was an outbreak of whispering that quickly stopped when Moody's hard glare landed on the perpetrators.

"And in hindsight, what would you all say the signs were?" Moody asked sharply. "Come on! Don't be shy! Miss Granger?"

"He stank of garlic probably to cover up the smell of decaying flesh caused by his possession." Hermione replied, dropping her arm.

The chalk wrote up her suggestion on the blackboard.

"Good. Anyone else?" Moody looked around the other students.

Nott put his hand up and Moody nodded at him.

"His fake stammer, sir." Nott said.

"Correct." Moody said. "A fake stammer should have been a warning sign."

Lavender raised her hand nervously. "The turban, Professor?"

Moody's good eye blinked and the magical eye snapped to Crabbe snickering. "You think that's funny, lad? Girl's got a sharp eye. Odd dress accessories or just oddly dressing might be a cause for concern."

"Does that mean the Headmaster's possessed then?" Seamus asked in a loud voice.

"Good question, lad," he motioned at Lavender, "why don't we ask the expert here?"

Lavender squirmed in her chair and nervously flicked her hair back. "Professor Dumbledore has an unique style; he likes clashing colours and abstract patterns often featuring cute creatures and beautiful flowers. So…I would say he was possessed if he suddenly began to wear something different, Professor? A more sedate wardrobe or an even more over the top one?"

"Excellent observations and deductions, lass! Take ten points for Gryffindor!" Moody said firmly. His wand pointed at the chalk and the item of 'change of dress/odd styling' made its way across the black. "Anything else?"

Harry raised his hand warily and almost regretted it when Moody nodded at him. "My scar hurt in his presence, Professor." He tried to ignore how everyone turned to stare at his forehead.

"Curse scars caused by Dark magic often will be pained in the presence of more Dark magic or certainly the one who gave you the scar in the first place." Moody agreed as the chalk wrote it up on the board. "'Course, not everyone has useful scars like ours, Potter."

There was a smattering of chuckles in the classroom.

"Let's move on." Moody said. "Weasley, when did you realise that Lockhart was an obliviating fraud?"

Ron gaped a little before he snapped his mouth shut. "Uh, I think we realised the fraud part when he didn't teach us anything and set the crate of Pixies on us. The obliviating bit…" his eyes briefly met Harry's, "well, like Harry said, just before he tried to, uh, well, he didn't try to kill us just obliviate us."

"Same question to you lot. What gave him away way before he got the opportunity to try and obliviate your school mates here?" Moody asked.

Hermione's hand was ignored in favour of Daphne's.

"The timeline of his books was inconsistent and filled with errors." Daphne said succinctly. "The impossibility of it should have alerted people to the fact that he was fraudulent and therefore had to have acquired the inherent facts of events in some nefarious fashion."

"Good. What else?" Moody's chalk was writing up 'blatant lying' on the blackboard.

Parvati was given the nod. "Um, he wore impractical clothing during his heroics according to his books. A real hero doesn't pay attention to what they're dressed in."

Her dark eyes fell on Neville who blushed bright red.

"You've got the heart of it right, lass." Moody agreed. "Why so much time spent on his appearance and dress? You don't wear Acromantula silk when traipsing through muck."

Draco put his hand up and Moody motioned for him to speak.

"Lockhart was easily defeated in a duel." He said crisply.

"Heard about that, and again, you'd be right about the main point. A man with Lockhart's reputation shouldn't have been taken by surprise although your Head of House is no slouch at duelling so there may have been extenuating circumstances – a difficult opponent." Moody's chalk wrote up 'weak performance.'

"His spells never worked." Dean offered.

Moody nodded again. "Example?"

Dean sent Harry a sympathetic look. "He banished Harry's bones instead of healing them."

"Bloody idiot." Moody muttered, obviously meaning Lockhart as he sent a proud look in Dean's direction. He waved his wand at the chalk. "Let's move on again."

Harry's heart sank; he had a feeling he knew where this was going.

"Miss Granger, when did you realise Professor Lupin was infected with lycanthropy?" Moody asked roughly.

Hermione frowned at him, almost disapprovingly. "After I completed the essay on werewolves Professor Snape set when he deputised for Professor Lupin."

"Who else realised Professor Lupin's condition before it was revealed to the masses?" Moody asked.

Greengrass, Nott, and Zabini put their hands up.

"What gave him away for you, Greengrass?" Moody pressed.

"Like Granger, it was the essay that prompted it. I did an analysis of the times he was absent with the occurrence of the full moon." Daphne answered crisply.

Moody huffed. "Anyone have a different reason?"

Zabini threw an apologetic look towards Harry, understanding that Harry was uncomfortable with the discussion revolving around someone he cared about. "I put it together during the boggart lesson when his boggart turned into the full moon. That coupled with his distinctive scars made me conclude he was likely a werewolf or had been marked by one."

Parkinson raised her hand and shot Parvati and Lavender a smug look. "His shabby clothes also gave it away in hindsight."

"I suppose they would." Moody said flatly. "Werewolves are labelled as Dark creatures and struggle to find work especially since most of them don't have the advantage of the education Mister Lupin was able to undertake." He said grimly. "Most folk forget that the majority of them are wizards who had no choice in whether they were bitten or not. Wolfsbane, if they can get it, keeps them docile during the full moon unless they feel their pack is threatened."

Parkinson sniffed. "You're not suggesting werewolves should be treated the same as wizards, Professor, are you?"

"They are wizards." Harry retorted angrily.

"The lad's right." Moody glared at Parkinson. "Put it this way: who was the more dangerous out of your previous three Professors? The one possessed by a Dark Lord, the idiot who had no idea what he was doing when he held a wand in his hand except when it came to the spell to make you forget your own name, or the one who took Wolfsbane and locked himself in his office on a full moon?"

Harry felt vindicated as he saw some of the students beginning to understand.

Moody turned back to Harry. "However, you shouldn't forget that without Wolfsbane they are dangerous even ones who don't want to hurt anyone. Defences?"

"Silver weapon curse." Tracey Davies offered.

"Silver in general." Nott added.

Neville put his hand up. "A plant called aconite."

"Yes, that's very poisonous to them." Moody agreed.

Harry raised his hand. "Being an animagus."

Moody smiled at him. "Yes, if you're animagus, a werewolf's bite won't turn you if you're in your animal form when bitten. Werewolves will also accept an animagus as part of their pack if they recognise them and not attack, but an animagus outside of the pack will sometimes be viewed as prey."

The chalk had fallen silent.

"Right," Moody said, "how could you determine if I'm the real me?" He gazed around the room. "What's to say I'm not a polyjuiced imposter who's got the real me locked up somewhere?"

"We could do a detection spell?" offered Nott.

"Standard protocol for aurors. But the spell has issues with Polyjuice." Moody said swiftly. "Who knows why?"

Draco raised his hand. "The potion properties distort the detection spell."

"And there's the issue of genetics." Nott added. "If someone polyjuices themselves as a member of their own family, the detection spell can't work out there's a difference."

"What else could you do to discover if I'm me?"

Hermione raised her arm. "We could trap you into a room so you couldn't renew the Polyjuice as it has a limited working time."

"Good although you may have to wait twenty-four hours to be certain there isn't an improved version the imposter is using." Moody gestured out at the students. "Any other ideas?"

"Blood identification." Zabini offered.

"Good," Moody agreed, "a blood identification will reveal the real identity of someone although you run into problems if the person being impersonated shares the same name with the person impersonating them. What else?"

Harry put his hand up again. "Well, I've met you before so I could ask you something that I know only you would know."

"You're on the right lines, Potter." Moody agreed gruffly. "What would you ask me?"

Harry ran through various options and settled on something he hoped wasn't too embarrassing. "Um, what was the first story you told me about my Dad?"

"An alright choice, Potter. It's something personal so a tick there but I told you that story in front of Amelia Bones so she would know you told me it and might have informed our imposter." Moody said. "What else might you ask me?"

"Um, where was my wand the first time we met?" Harry felt his cheeks heat up.

"Excellent choice!" Moody said. "And for the record it was in your bedroom but I won't say where in case you actually need to ask me in the future."

Harry blushed.

Daphne raised her hand. "Wouldn't a code word be a better choice as confirmation?"

Moody nodded. "If it's something you've arranged beforehand because you have an expectation of someone trying to be an imposter, that's a grand idea." He pushed himself off the desk. "Split into pairs; one Gryffindor, one Slytherin; a boy and a girl to each pair. We tend to see things differently. I want you to spend the rest of the time working out how you would spot if someone was impersonating each member of the staff. So, what are things that would be suspicious for Professor McGonagall? Professor Snape? Madame Pomfrey? Write it up on parchment; you hand them in at the end of the lesson."

Harry got up and made his way over to Daphne who was motioning for him to join her; he absently noted Draco had slipped into his seat by Hermione.

Daphne smirked at him. "Shall we get started then, Potter?"

Harry nodded, happy with the assignment and his partner – Daphne was snarky and wonderfully free of any kind of awe for him. They wrote out a list of the current staff and started through them methodically. Daphne was a good partner; she was very observant with a fine eye for detail; Harry provided the more off-the-wall suggestions. Harry's previous knowledge of Doctor Jordan and Firenze proved useful; Daphne's family turned out to be related to Hilliard's which meant they had information on him. Both of them only had political information about Alison Bunting and nothing on the new History of Magic professor.

With about five minutes to go, Moody called a halt and collected the parchments. He sat back on his desk. "So, the first part of situational awareness is people. Most murders and violent crimes are not done by strangers but by someone known to the victim. Why? Because they're the ones that have the most access and opportunity. Be aware of who is around you; be aware that they might not be all that they seem. Anything suspicious, report it to someone you know is who they say they are."

The bell rang.

"And remember: CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" Moody dismissed them.

They all trooped out.

"That," Ron declared, "was bloody brilliant!"

And Harry had to agree.