Fifth Year – Part I

"YOU!" both Harry and Vernon shout in unison at the sight of their visitor.

"Me," Remus agrees quietly with a small, uneasy smile.

"How do you know him?" Harry says incredulously, looking at his uncle.

"GET THE HELL OUTTA MY HOUSE," Vernon bellows at the same time.

"Vernon," Petunia says with an odd edge to her voice. "He says he wants a word with the boy."

Vernon splutters. "Don't you remember what happened last time he was here? Well we haven't done anything to the little freak. We've almost treated him as well as Dudley—" he rounds on Remus suddenly, "And if you think I'm going to let you threaten me in my own home again you're bloody mistaken!"

Remus spreads his hands placatingly. "I apologise for my behaviour that night; I was not myself. I promise that nothing of the sort will occur again. I just want to speak with Harry," he says.

Harry is looking between the three adults with an agape expression. "What the hell is going on between you people?" he says.

They ignore him. "Fine," Vernon snarls. "You have five minutes."

He and Petunia march out of the kitchen and Harry immediately pulls out his wand. With the Dursleys gone the werewolf relaxes slightly, disregarding the new threat to his wellbeing. He smiles gently at Harry who just tightens his grip on his wand and stares back warily.

"You really have a talent for leaving old acquaintances pissed with you," he remarks. "What was that all about?"

"I came to check on you when you'd first been left with them. It was right after I, ah, ran into Sirius," Remus says, wincing.

"Oh, you mean that time you attacked him with legilimency to make him think I was dead and then tried to send him back to Azkaban?" Harry asks coldly.

"Yes. After that I came here to make sure you were okay. My temper was already short and when I discovered their attitude towards magic, towards you," Remus sighs. "I snapped. I described quite graphically all the things I'd do to them if I ever found out they'd mistreated you and, well, I pushed them around a bit to show I was serious."

Harry blinks. "Huh," he says, looking almost impressed. "Thanks, I guess."

"Of course. Any time, Harry," Remus says, creepily earnest. "But I fear I've done you far more wrong than such a small thing can ever make up for. That's why I came here, actually. I want you to know how sorry I am. If I'd had any idea of the truth, of the repercussions of my actions I would have never done what I did. I know I don't deserve it but I can only beg for your forgiveness."

"Okay," Harry says uncomfortably. "That's enough. It's fine. I believe you, and forgive you and all that. But you know I'm not the one you should be apologising to, right? I mean it was Sirius' brain you fucked around with."

"I know, but I still can't get within a hundred meters of him without him trying to curse my face off," Remus says.

"I can't say I'm surprised. I don't really talk about all that heavy stuff with him but it's obvious he was messed up bad by it." Harry shrugs. "Give it time. Half the reason he's so angry is because he still thinks of you as a friend. If you wait long enough he'll probably get over it. Well, maybe. He can hold a grudge like a champion."

Remus smiles fondly as if it's an endearing trait. "I know. But I'm heading off to live with the werewolves up north and I don't know when I'll be able to come back. Will you tell him that I regret nothing more than what I did that night, and that to pay back the debt I owe him I will do anything he asks?"

"You know, you're a really intense person, Lupin," Harry says looking a bit disturbed.

"Please," Remus begs.

Harry scratches the back of his head. "Look, I don't think that's a good idea. You two need to sort out your issues on your own. I'm playing Switzerland, or was it Sweden? I always get them mixed up; muggle history isn't really my forte. Either way, I'm not getting involved."

Evening is falling and Harry is heading back to the Privet Drive munching on the burger he bought in lieu of family dinner with the Dursleys. It's a bit cold out, especially for a summer night, but he doesn't think anything of it until he feels ice prickling against his skin and sees his breath ghost in the air.

"Twins?" Harry calls, looking around suspiciously and frowning to himself. Their pranks tend to be funnier than this but he can't think of anyone else it could be. Except maybe a Death Eater with a flair for the dramatic. Harry considers the possibility for a moment and then dismisses it; surely Voldemort wouldn't accept any wannabe minions with more drama than practicality. He fumbles with his burger and pulls his wand out anyway since he's feeling irrationally scared, though he tells himself it's for vigilance.

It's cold enough that his fingers are starting to go numb and it feels like there is a shadow falling over his heart. Two shadowy wraiths appear at the end of the alley. "Oh," Harry says, feeling hopelessly stupid. There is an overwhelming sense of dread taking over his mind. He is such a banshee-cursed idiot.

The dementors drift closer and Harry shakes his head to clear it. "Right. Of course. Happy thoughts," he reminds himself as he pulls out his wand. "Expecto Patronum!"

The silvery stag bursts forwards and drives the two dementors away and it is as though all the colour rushes back into the world. With the fear gone Harry is only left with embarrassment at how long it took him to realise what was happening, especially considering all his previous experiences with the soul-sucking bastards.

It's not as though he was expecting to run into dementors in the middle of suburbia, he justifies to himself. He didn't even know there were dementors just wandering around wherever they wanted.

"That just doesn't seem safe," Harry mutters to himself, his brow furrowed, as the dementors disappear around the corner. While they couldn't give away the existence of magic since muggles couldn't see them, surely they were dangerous enough that the Ministry would want to regulate them.

Harry shrugs and stuffs the last of his burger in mouth before wiping his hands off on his jeans. "Oh well. Good thing I finally managed to block the trace..."

"Okay, time to clear out Harry. The Order's meeting starts in half an hour and people are going to start arriving any minute now," Sirius says, breezing into the kitchen. He wrinkles his nose at the sight of his godson prodding at an antique music box with his wand and muttering under his breath. "Still trying to un-curse all my family's heirlooms? I don't know why you're wasting your time. Just throw them in storage with the rest of the junk we cleared out from this place."

"I know you get grumpy seeing anything that reminds you of your childhood but you did say I could do what I want with all that stuff," Harry reminds him patronisingly.

Sirius sniffs. "I thought you were interested in the things you could actually use. Not the ones that'll turn you as batty as my dear mum just for looking at them."

"Go talk to a shrink about it Mr Psychologist's-wet-dream," Harry suggests, getting to his feet and packing up the various knick-knacks laid out on the table. "Don't forget to save me some of whatever Molly makes tonight. I'm going to head over to the Weasleys'. Fred and George said they have something new to show me."

"What, again? You've practically spent your whole summer with those two. Sure you don't want to hang around here and listen in?"

"Tried that already," Harry says. "I thought the whole 'secret society' thing meant you'd be talking about, I don't know, something exciting maybe. But since it doesn't I'll just count on you to keep me updated on the interesting two percent of the meeting. Catch you later, Sirius."

"I feel so used," says Sirius, adopting a tragic expression.

"Yeah, whatever, I practically rebuilt your bloody house just because you didn't like the decor, I cook dinner most nights – even when it's your turn – and the number of times I've patched you up after your little 'errands' for Dumbledore..." Harry says, grabbing a handful of floo powder and throwing it in the fire. "The Burrow!"

Harry tumbles out of the fire in the Weasleys' living room, knocking Ron into the coffee table as he does.

"Sorry about that," Harry says as he waves his wand to move the table back in place.

"Oh hey Harry," Ron says, rubbing his shin.

"Alright?" Harry asks.

Ron shrugs. "Can't complain. I'm heading down to the village to pick up some groceries for Mum if you want to come."

"Maybe next time. I've got some stuff to sort out with the twins," Harry says vaguely, waving his hand around in a gesture that could mean anything. "Want to play Quidditch when you get back though?"

"Do you even have to ask?" Ron says, looking eager. "It'll just be us though. Ginny's off at a friend's place and you know that nothing'll drag the twins from their room these days. What are they doing anyway?"

Harry not so subtly avoids the question by pretending he didn't hear it. "That's okay. We can brush up on your Keeping skills again. By the end of this summer you should be a shoo-in for the team for sure."

"D'you really think so?" Ron asks, predictably forgetting all about his curiosity.

Harry shrugs. "Well, maybe. I don't pay a whole lot of attention to the reserve team so it's hard to say."

"Oh." Ron looks disappointed for a minute and then cheers up again. "Hurry up and do whatever it is with the twins so we can practise. This is my best chance to get on the team since they'll probably start training up one of the younger years to take over for McLaggen if I don't make it."

"Actually I wanted to have a word with your dad first. Is he around?"

"Over here, Harry," Arthur calls, coming down the stairs. "What can I do for you?"

"Two things," says Harry. "First of all, are you free this weekend?"

Arthur frowns pensively. "I'll have to check but I think I've got Order business on Saturday. Sundays are usually free though. Did you want to work on the car again?"

"Yeah, if you've got time. I'm pretty sure I worked out what the problem is," Harry says.

Ron scoffs. "Sure. That's only the fiftieth time you've thought so. Why do you keep wasting your time trying to 'fix' the car? It works fine as long as you don't take it out for more than an hour or two. Which no one ever does."

"Isn't there something you're supposed to be doing?" Harry says pointedly.

Ron sticks up his finger at him as he leaves the room. Unfortunately it is just as Molly enters the room.

"RONALD WEASLEY," she shrieks and then loses her train of thought when she spots her husband, "Arthur! There you are. I hope you're ready; we're going to be late if we don't leave now!"

"Of course, dear," Arthur agrees.

"I just need my travelling cloak, and where on Earth did I leave my wand? I had it just a moment ago," Molly says, sweeping away as quickly as she came.

Harry sends a furtive glance after her. "I was also thinking of bringing Sirius' bike over," he says quietly. "It'd be great to be able to compare the enchantments on the two."

Arthur's eyes light up. "Brilliant idea! I've always wanted to know how the muggles keep those things from falling over. And it will be fascinating to see what enchantments Sirius used..." he trails off for a moment, looking starry eyed at all the possibilities before he comes back to himself and clears his throat. "Although perhaps it would be best if you could bring it round Saturday morning when Molly is out at the local farmers' market."

"Gotcha," Harry says just as Molly rushes into the room again. "I'll see you later Arthur, and you Molly."

"Of course, Harry dear," Molly says distractedly. "I'm sorry I couldn't spare a moment... What have you been doing, Arthur? We're going to be late."

Harry grins fondly as he heads up the stairs to the twins' room, taking the opportunity to waterproof his robes. The last time he visited they were trying to create a portable lake based on the permanent one they'd created for him the year before and he'd fallen in when he jumped out of the way of the boxing glove prank they'd attached to their doorway.

It's just past eleven on September the first and Ernie and Justin are dragging their trunks down the corridor of the Hogwarts Express, looking for a compartment. Ernie had actually been early – it was important to make a good impression since he was a prefect now – but after helping a few first years get settled and running into Justin he'd lost the advantage of punctuality and is now stuck dodging other students, doing his best not to hit anyone with his unwieldy luggage, while trying to find someone he knows to sit with.

"Justin, Ernie," a voice calls and the two Hufflepuffs look up to see Harry leaning out the door of one of the compartments further down the train. "Over here."

"Harry, hey, how was your summer?" Ernie puffs, struggling with his trunk.

"Great. And yours?" says Harry, levitating the heavy piece of baggage with a swish and flick of his wand and floating it into the compartment.

Ernie barely has time to feel a flash of embarrassment for not thinking of that when he's struck dumb by the sight of at least a dozen fifth year Gryffindors, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs are all comfortably seated inside with plenty of room to spare. Behind him Justin is equally shocked although less speechless. "What the...?" he says. "Did you do this or are all the compartments this big now?"

"Oh right," says Harry. "Nah, it's just us. Hermione and I were comparing notes on space expansion charms; I've only ever used them incorporated into permanent wards before. This one's temporary so it was a lot easier to put up but it's a completely different process."

"It's not going to pop on us, is it?" Justin says suspiciously.

"Relax. It'll be good for a couple days if we did it properly," Harry says not very reassuringly. "Come on in."

"Where are all the Slytherins?" Ernie asks. Due to Harry's influence most of their year-group has gotten used to consorting with people from all the Houses, some more willingly than others. Ernie likes to think he is fairly open-minded and has made quite a few non-Hufflepuff friends in recent years.

Harry frowns. "Not talking to anyone outside their house. Any of them. They're all holed up together down the end of the train. It's weird."

"Maybe it's because Voldemort's back," Seamus says with a grin and about half the group laughs while the others look uncomfortable and a bit worried.

"Maybe it's a disease," says Dean. "Slytherinitis. Definitely sounds nasty; I'd hide in shame if I had it too."

"Nah I'm pretty sure they all had that already. Symptoms include generally sliminess and an ego bigger than the moon. Diagnosis is confirmed upon sorting," Anthony says.

"Hey they're not all bad," Ernie protests. "Daphne—"

"Is playing your dumb ass because she's too stupid to even pass Herbology without your help," Zacharius says. "Mate, you've got to realise—"

"Ernie's right, actually. The Slytherins that don't have sticks up their asses generally have a pretty wicked sense of humour," Harry interrupts before they can rehash that old argument, "Have you ever talked to Miles Bletchley? Funniest guy I know after the twins."

"Miles Bletchley?" Terry repeats dubiously. "Didn't he put some sixth year in the hospital wing for a month last year?"

Harry makes a face. "Well, yeah, I'm not saying he's a nice guy but he's got it bad for Patricia Stimpson – seriously, he'd do absolutely anything to get her approval. Last year we convinced him he needed to understand muggle culture for her to like him so we took him down to Elgin for some firsthand experience. Funniest day of my life. At one point we ran into some crazy old homeless guy trying to sell the whole flower power and free love thing, and had to try to explain what a hippy was."

The muggle-raised laugh while most of the others just look confused, prompting a convoluted, highly detailed and wildly incorrect explanation of 1960s counterculture and what, exactly, being a hippy entails.

Harry whistles cheerfully as he heads towards Gryffindor Tower late Saturday afternoon. It's a good day – second weekend back at Hogwarts so there's no homework that can't be put off for later, the weather is warm and sunny, and Mandy Brocklehurst let him get his hands up her shirt before she decided she didn't want to go any further.

"Mimbulus Mimbletonia," Harry says to the Fat Lady with a grin and a wink that makes her giggle and blush as she swings forwards.

There aren't many people in the common room which isn't a surprise – this sort of day is all too rare in the Scottish highlands and no one wants to waste it. Neville's over in the corner though, sitting with a blonde girl Harry doesn't recognise.

"Hey Harry," Neville says cautiously as he approaches them. "This is my friend Luna. Luna, this is—"

"Harry Potter," Luna says dreamily, not paying the slightest bit of attention to Neville. "Everyone has been talking about you since you were chosen for the Tournament, you know. Of course it got much worse after you disappeared and the last task had to be cancelled. Padma says you ran away because you couldn't handle the pressure but I think she's just upset because you took her on a date and she liked you and then you said you didn't want to go out with her."

Harry blinks and looks over at Neville who has an expression that is caught between apology and warning. "Nice to meet you Luna," he says after a pause because it's good to see Neville showing some backbone even if it's totally unnecessary since Neville knows he's going after Mandy and while Luna's not ugly, the combination of her arched eyebrows and slightly too wide eyes make her look constantly surprised which is a bit off-putting. Plus, she doesn't seem to be completely there.

Although come to think of it Mandy is more than a few crayons short of a box and that hasn't deterred him in the least. Still, he's not Dean Thomas and Neville knows it so his lack of faith is a bit disheartening. Maybe he's just that into Luna which would be odd because he's fairly sure Neville's never spoken to the girl before.

"You've got an infestation of giblestarps," Luna says to Harry.

Harry blinks, his thoughts completely derailed. "Excuse me?"

"On your left elbow," Luna clarifies. After a moment of silence in which Harry struggles to find an appropriate reply she adds, "They're usually repelled by bad dancing."

A sideways glance at Neville reveals the other boy is just as nonplussed.

"So, uh, what are you up to?" Neville says to Harry after a beat.

"I was thinking of going down to see Hagrid in a bit," says Harry, trying not to stare at Luna. "He's really excited about some new fertilizer he got. You should come down – that's more your thing than mine. You're more than welcome to come along too," he adds to Luna.

She smiles serenely. "That's very kind of you to say. I don't think anyone's ever invited me to go somewhere with them before."

"Huh," says Harry. That explains Neville's unusual behaviour. He makes up his mind to encourage Luna to hang around Neville more often; maybe having someone to stand up for will teach Neville to stand up for himself.

Harry is on his way to History of Magic with Su Li and Kevin Entwhistle when out of the blue he drops his books, whirls around and yells, "Protego! Pulvisseri!"

A spell splashes against his shield and then a wave of dust explodes down the corridor and collides with what is revealed to be a vaguely man-shaped figure.

"Not bad," says Moody, pulling off an invisibility cloak. "But you need to stop falling back into verbal incantations when you're taken off guard."

"What's the problem? I blocked it, didn't I?" says Harry.

Moody grunts. "I was going easy on you. In a real attack you need every second you can get. If you were casting silently you could have gotten off three spells in the time it took you to say 'protego.'"

"Yeah, yeah," says Harry. "What are you doing here anyway? I thought the Ministry had you teaching full time since they tripled the auror intake."

"Those fucking morons," grumbles Moody. "You wouldn't believe some of the idiots they expect me to turn into aurors. And they want them ready in a year?" He scoffs.

"The whole Ministry is acting like they were hit by a mass confounding charm," says Harry. "But expanding the DMLE is the closest they've gotten to a smart decision since Fudge was elected so I wouldn't complain too much."

Moody gives him a dirty look, which is downright menacing considering his scars and eye. "Shut your damn trap. We'll see who's complaining when I'm done making sure you're keeping sharp."

"Really, Moody? Right now?" says Harry exasperatedly.

"I need to work out my frustration on someone who won't piss their pants every time I look at them," Moody grunts.

"Go find Kingsley. Or, you know, anyone else that can actually keep up with you for more than half a minute," Harry says.

"Everyone at the Ministry is busy. You know that," Moody says. "Come with me, boy. Let's see if you remember everything I taught you."

"Alright, fine. But you'd better teach me everything you know about tracking spells afterwards," Harry says. Then he turns to Su Li and Kevin and tells them, "I'll catch you guys later."

"Harry. We have class," Su Li reminds him, giving Moody a measuring look and quickly looking away again when he glares at her.

"It'll be fine; it's not like Binns'll notice." says Harry.

Su Li shrugs and says, "Fine. But don't expect me to cover for you if anyone else asks."

"Fair enough," says Harry, already heading back the other way with Moody. "See you at lunch, yeah?"

Hermione is in the library with Sally-Anne, Justin, Ernie, Lisa, Terry, Stephan, Sue Li and Padma. For what she has planned she would have preferred it if Harry could be here too but in a far from uncommon occurrence he is not to be found.

"So what's this about, Hermione?" Padma asks once the Gryffindor witch has finished putting up a silencing charm.

"Erm... well, I was thinking," Hermione stutters nervously, "The way I see it, we're all going to fail our Defence OWL. I mean, Umbridge is absolutely rubbish at teaching, and she won't even let us cast the spells so we can't learn them on our own. So, um, I had the idea that maybe we should, you know, take matters into our own hands."

Ernie looks interested but a bit cautious too. "What do you mean, exactly?"

The other fifth years all turn to Hermione expectantly. She takes a deep breath. "Ah, I thought we could study it on our own? Not just the curriculum from this year, but from all the years so far since most of the Defence teachers we've had have been fairly useless. Well, Lupin was good but Quirrell and Lockhart didn't teach anything and Moody didn't follow the syllabus."

"That's all very well, but where would we do that?" Lisa says, "The spells we learn for Defence tend to be a bit difficult to practise without calling attention to yourself, and Umbridge is always poking her nose around for any signs of trouble."

"The hall in the East wing of the sixth floor," Hermione answers, having thought of that already. "It's already partially warded since that's where Harry trained for the Tournament last year and it's out of the way so no one will stumble on it accidently. Half of it is a lake but it still has plenty of room for what we want to do."

"If we're doing this, and I think it's a good idea, then we should spread the word to the rest of the year. Everyone's in the same boat here and it wouldn't be fair to keep it to ourselves," Sally-Anne says.

"Spoken like a true Hufflepuff," Ernie commends, beaming.

"Of course," Hermione agrees, "And we should think about including the other years as well. Spread the word around to anyone you think will be interested but be careful; Umbridge won't be happy if she hears of it."

"Have you guys seen the 'educational decree' Umbridge put up?" asks Dean as he joins Harry, Ron, Neville, Lavender and Hermione at breakfast.

"No student organisations," Harry confirms grimly. "According to Angelina that includes Quidditch teams."

"She disbanded Quidditch?" asks Ron, looking horrified. "Is that even legal?"

"Unfortunately it is completely legal," says Hermione. She purses her lips and the rest of the table takes that as their cue to tune out. "Magical law is so backwards. The whole system of government is just a sham so that purebloods can do whatever they want..."

"That... that bitch," says Ron as Hermione continues to rant.

"I can't wait until she kicks it," Lavender says viciously, stabbing a sausage with her fork and hacking it to pieces with her knife.

Everyone at the table stares at her.

"That's a bit harsh, Lav," Harry says carefully. "Especially for you. Is everything okay?"

"Have you seen what she did to Dennis Creevey?" says Lavender angrily and ploughs on before anyone can answer. "She made him write lines with a blood quill for hours because he stuck up for Dumbledore and called the Ministry incompetent."

"A blood quill?" Ron repeats incredulously.

"That can't be legal," says Neville. "Have you – has anyone told McGonagall?"

"McGonagall can't do anything; Umbridge has got the Ministry's full backing," says Lavender. "I'm just hoping she kicks it before too soon."

"Not everyone with the jobs dies," Hermione says. "Look at Moody last year. He retired with no problems."

"Just wait for it," Lavender says darkly. "The last defence professor who didn't die ran off with a student. Her father hunted him down and I hear didn't go slowly or easily."

"Wow, Lav, I never knew you had such a bloodthirsty streak," Dean says, looking mildly impressed.

"I hope you're not serious about wishing her dead," Hermione says primly, "That's absolutely horrible."

"I'm not wishing her dead," says Lavender. "Her job is cursed; she's going to die anyway. I'm just hoping she goes out early like Lockhart rather than sticking out the entire year like Moody."

"That's an awful thing to say," Hermione insists.

Harry rolls his eyes. "Loosen up a bit, Hermione. You're the one who hasn't shut up about how bad she is since the start-of-term feast."

"Well yes." Hermione looks flustered for a moment and then collects herself as best she can. "I mean, she is a terrible teacher and I don't approve of the way the Ministry is interfering with the school but I'm not speculating about her death like it's... it's the weekend Quidditch match, or something."

Ron looks at Hermione slyly and grins in a manner reminiscent of his twin brothers. "Five sickles says she dies before the new year."

"Ten on a painful death," Lavender says immediately.

"Five on it being revenge from someone she's pissed off," says Dean.

Hermione purses her lips so hard they turn white, grabs her books and walks off in a huff.

"I don't want you going down Knockturn Alley anymore," Sirius says.

Harry squints at his godfather's face. It's a bit of a weird angle and the small mirror doesn't show much but it doesn't look like he's joking. "But I need to," Harry says. "And I've been hanging around there since before third year without any issues."

"That's not the problem. The number of Aurors stationed in Knockturn has increased by over a hundred percent."

"A hundred percent of zero is still zero," Harry mutters.

Sirius ignores him and continues, "And the Ministry's accusing everyone they find there of being dark wizard."

"Really? Why are they doing that?" Harry says, his curiosity overwhelming his resentment at being forbidden from doing as he likes. "Don't get me wrong, I know dark wizards are a dime a dozen down there but there's got to be at least ten of regular criminals for every one of them and it never bothered the Ministry enough to do anything about it before."

"Don't you ever pick up the paper? The elections in a year and a half and if Fudge doesn't turn things around he's going to go down faster than a sinking ship full of muggles. He wants to make it look like he's doing something."

"I thought Fudge was fairly popular," Harry says, frowning.

"He was. Past tense. But people think that if the Boy Who Lived can be kidnapped from his dorm in the middle of Hogwarts then Fudge must be doing something very wrong. That and ever since the Tournament international relations have gone down the drain."

Harry looks gobsmacked. "Are you saying I'm the reason Fudge is doing this?"

"I wouldn't go that far," Sirius says. "But the Tournament was a big deal and having to cancel it before the last task reflected pretty badly on the Ministry. They couldn't even blame it on you because of Skeeter's articles. She had the public on your side before they had time to even consider it."

"Yeah," says Harry fondly. "I owe Creevey for that one. He might be an obsessive little stalker but he does a good job with a little direction. The Ministry couldn't have suffered too much from that mess though. Even I know Dumbledore copped it for everything that went wrong with the Tournament. Gotta say, it's really not his year. Seems like every decision he makes ends up blowing up in his face."

"Dumbledore taking the blame doesn't fix any of the problems the Ministry's facing," Sirius says distractedly, looking over at something Harry can't see. "So you'll stay away from Knockturn?"

"Sure," agrees Harry easily, with no intention of actually doing so.

"Great," says Sirius. "Look, I have to go now. It sounds like Podmore blew something up again."

Neville has no idea why he was chosen for prefect. Okay, that's not actually true, he knows exactly why. Between the fifth year Gryffindor boys Harry acts like there is no such things as rules and actively tries to convert others to his way of thinking, Seamus is half way to becoming an alcoholic already, Ron is such an opportunist he'd probably set bribe rates for breaking each rule, and Dean is a budding skirt chaser when he's not off getting high.

Still. That doesn't take away from the fact that no one except Harry ever takes him seriously, and even Harry would probably just clap him on the shoulder and say something like, "That's the way, Nev, show some confidence," if he tried to tell him what to do.

But just because Neville is far from exuberant about his new position, doesn't mean he's about to shirk his responsibilities. He always sticks to his guns after all, even if he has no faith in them. In truth, however, it's honest concern just as much as duty that brings him to pull Harry aside after Herbology a couple months into the school year.

"Got a moment Harry?" he asks, subtly rubbing sweaty palms on his pants. This is going to be awkward, he can just tell.

"Sure, Nev," Harry says, either ignoring his discomfort or unaware of it. "What's up?"

Neville's mind goes blank. "It's... um. I've noticed you haven't been around much this year," he hedges.

"Yeah, I've been really busy," Harry answers easily. Neville curses him silently for not getting his drift. This time Harry seems to notice his distress because he suddenly looks concerned and says, "Hey, you're not thinking that I'm trying to avoid you or something ridiculous like that, right?"

"N-No," Neville stutters, completely thrown off track. He hadn't even considered it. But what if that is the reason–? Neville shakes his head, snapping out of his momentary insecurity. "It's not that," he says firmly. "I– we– that is, everyone's been worried about you. There are all kinds of rumours that you're disturbed. From, you know, being used in a Dark ritual. Or depressed which is why you're so withdrawn this year. And, I mean, you seem pretty okay to me but you have been different this year. It's not like you to disappear all the time; normally you're in the middle of everything. And anyone would be a bit messed up after that sort of thing, so I just thought, what if—"

Thankfully Harry decides to have mercy on him and cuts off his rambling. "Nev. You've got it all wrong," he says, looking a little bemused.

"Oh," Neville says eloquently. And then, "Well, what have you been doing?"

"Too much," Harry grumbles with a wry smile. "I got two part time jobs. And, uh, I've been hawking Sirius' family heirlooms in Knockturn."

"You're been what?" Neville says, his voice going embarrassingly squeaky at the end.

Harry ignores him and hurriedly continues, "And me and Ron started up a business. Anything you want we'll get. For a fee. You can have the friends and family discount though. What'd'you reckon? It's been really popular, and most of it's even legal. Usually just first and second years wanting stuff from Honeydukes or Zonko's or something."

"What's with the sudden need to make money?" Neville asks, deciding to turn a blind eye when it comes to Harry. He can stick to his guns with everyone else. Although maybe he'll skip the rest of his dorm mates too; they're all a law unto themselves. "I thought your family was fairly well off."

Harry laughs guiltily and scratches the back of his head. "Well I had enough to get through school and have a bit left over but... I made this deal with Fred and George at the end of last year. They want to start up a business. Pranks and stuff. You know. Except they didn't have the money, so I gave them enough to get started which used up a big chunk of my vault and now I've got to earn it back before Sirius notices."

Neville stares at Harry incredulously.

"It's a long term investment," Harry says defensively.

Neville just shakes his head and changes the subject. "So where are you working?"

"I'm helping out at the local mechanic in Little Whining Wednesday afternoons and all day Saturday, and then on Friday and Saturday evenings I work at the Hog's Head," Harry says.

"... Is there anything you do that isn't dangerous or illegal?" Neville asks.

"I've been helping Hagrid train the new thestrals since he's come under a lot of pressure from Umbridge lately," Harry says. He grins slyly. "It's pretty tricky because I can't see them and they're really high spirited when they're so young but it keeps my reflexes sharp."

"What are you reading?" Hermione asks despite herself after fifteen minutes of trying and failing to concentrate on her potions homework. She's supposed to be focusing on OWLs this year but Harry's independent research topics are always so interesting and, "That's not a library book."

Harry looks at Hermione in absolute disbelief. "Okay I know you spend a lot of time there and you're a bit of a genius and everything but you can't have memorised every book in Hogwarts' Library. You just can't."

Hermione huffs. It's obvious the book is ancient and while she's can't even begin to date it, the handwritten script tells her it's from far enough back that grimoires were one of a kind and heavily enchanted to prevent theft, duplication or unauthorised reading. But she's annoyed at being distracted, even if unintentionally, so she just gives Harry a superior look and snatches the book from his hands while he gapes at her.

"Necromancy!" Hermione squeaks, loud enough that Harry looks alarmed at quickly waves his wand, presumably erecting some sort of privacy wards. "Necromancy?" Hermione repeats faintly. "Why are you trying to learn necromancy?"

"Hey, it's not like that," Harry grumbles, snatching the book back. "Nearly-Headless Nick's been forcing 'swordplay' lessons on me ever since he found out I had Gryffindor's stupid stick but for that to have any success I need to figure out a way to enchant a weapon so we can spar."

Hermione's shock disappears, replaced with fascination. "Have you had any success? It shouldn't be too difficult, in theory at least. I know it used to be very common to enchant physical weapons to deal with spirits."

"Yeah but those would degrade, disperse or exorcise the spirit if you got them good enough which I don't want to do," Harry says. "It's turning out to be a lot harder than I thought; there isn't much on ghosts other than getting rid of them or binding them to a place. My most useful source is a guy who fell in love with a ghost and tried to make her tangible so they could advance their relationship."

"Ew," says Hermione, looking mildly revolted at the idea. Then she asks curiously, "Did he do it?"

Harry grins and shakes his head. "You're such a Ravenclaw. Unfortunately for him and for us, nothing worked. But our understanding of magic has advanced pretty far since then so I reckon I can improve on his experiments. The later ones in particular I have a lot of hope for. That's all NEWT level and beyond though so I have a lot of work to do before I can get anything done."

Hermione hesitates, but only for a moment. "Oh stuff it," she says, rolling up her potions essay. "Can I have a look at your notes?"

Harry stares very hard at the main staircase between the third and second floors. After a long minute he looks up at the roof, then down to the floor and after examining them each in turn his eyes slowly crawl up the walls back to the roof.

"I think I'm starting to understand why you get on so well with Luna, mate," Ron says, looking a bit embarrassed for him as a gaggle of fourth years walk past, giggling and whispering and pointing at Harry.

Harry doesn't immediately reply, too busy trying to pick his jaw up from the floor. "Did you know that the second floor is upside-down?" he asks slowly, astonishment clear in his tone, his gaze now roving around the blank stone wall in front of them as though it is the most fascinating thing he has seen in his life. He shakes his head without looking away. "I was told Ancient Runes would change my life but I have to say that until now I didn't believe it."

"They're not runes."

Ron whips around and Harry looks almost as surprised. He even deigns to stop examining the local architecture which Ron hasn't been able to get him to do with more than fifteen minute's effort. Though Ron would rather fail than resort to acting like Luna so he's not jealous at how easily the younger girl grabs his friend's attention. Not that he'd ever say as much in front of Harry.

"They're not?" Harry echoes with surprise.

"Of course not. The runic scripts anchor magic; they aren't active in any way. These," the blond fourth year says, waving her hand towards the wall which to Ron still appears to be ordinary stone, "Are seals. They channel magic instead of just holding it in place."

Harry frowns. "I don't understand. What's the difference? And how do you tell? They look just like runes."

"It's..." Luna trails off and blinks, seeming rather lost for words. "Runes have an effect similar to holding a spell in place once it has been cast. If you use that analogy then seals constantly cast the spell. It's a subtle difference but it's very important. Daddy can explain it better."

"Why haven't I heard of anything like this before?" Harry asks, looking equally curious and confused. Ron is reminded of a cross between the most common expressions on Hermione and Goyle's faces, which makes him snigger.

"Because there's no such thing," Padma says, coming around the corner.

Luna stares at Padma in a disconcerting manner that would have Ron shifting uneasily within seconds, but the older Ravenclaw doesn't flinch. "Most people don't believe in Seals," Luna agrees. "It's a Lost Arte, you see. Hogwarts is the only surviving example and Rune Masters like to claim that it is just advanced runes, which is nonsense of course. There's was a very interesting article in the Quibbler about it a couple years ago. I can lend you the issue if you'd like."

"Yeah, that'd be great," Harry says.

Padma huffs and rolls her eyes. "I don't know why you bother reading all that rubbish," she says.

"If you're still holding a grudge about last year, fine, whatever, that's your choice. Even if it's pretty immature. I don't care. You can be a bitch to me if it makes you feel better, just don't take it out on my friends," Harry says.

"You're calling me immature?" Padma says in disbelief, "That's still better than being a two-faced liar. If you're not interested in a person don't take them out on a date, tell them you had a lot of fun but you don't have time for a girlfriend and then go suck faces with some foreign slut!"

"Ooh, she's really mad," Lavender says, popping up behind Ron. "I don't think she's even noticed the irony in going after that French girl for being foreign. That's a big slip up for a Ravenclaw."

Ron jumps. "Merlin! Where do all you girls keep popping up from?"

"Yeah, I snogged her a couple times when the pressure of the Tournament was getting to me, but that was it. I didn't think you deserved to be treated so casually," Harry says sounding a bit annoyed. "Excuse me for trying to look out for your feelings."

"Damn," Lavender whispers admiringly, "I didn't think anyone could defuse Padma's temper like that.

"Stop trying to justify yourself," Padma says scathingly. "Just own up to your mistakes like a man and admit you were a dickhead."

"You call that defusing?" Ron hisses incredulously.

"Wait for it..." Lavender says softly.

"I was a dickhead," Harry says frankly. "And I'm really sorry I upset you. Want me to take you to another movie to make up for it? Just as friends, of course."

Padma glares at him. "Only because the muggle world is really interesting," she sniffs.

"Smooth," Ron and Lavender mutter, impressed.

"Peruvian Atera Pods," Harry says smugly, holding up a hessian sack roughly the size of his head as Fred and George haul him out of the statue of the humpbacked witch. "The legendary base component of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder. Come on – tell me I'm amazing."

"You're amazing," Fred says, sounding genuinely awed. "No seriously."

"I have no idea how you manage to get your hands on these sorts of things," says George.

"Restricted items are one thing," says Fred. "But this—"

"This is incredible," says George. "Those Peruvian wizards are so secretive we weren't even sure they were real—"

"Let alone the rumoured main ingredient to their prized darkness powder," Fred says, seamlessly continuing on from his twin again. "And you went ahead and got a whole bag of the stuff."

George shakes his head admiringly. "Is there anything in this world that's out of your reach?"

Harry polishes his nails on his robes as they make their way back towards the Gryffindor Tower. "Let me think..." he says, "Ginny?"

"Ginny?" repeats Fred, his brow wrinkling.

"You're after our sister?" says George.

"You? As in chronically-afraid-of-commitments you?" says Fred, starting to sound a bit threatening.

"I'm not afraid of commitments," says Harry, sounding mildly affronted. "I've used up most of my money investing in your fledgling business which you've straight out told me has no guarantee of success, and even if it does all work out it'll be at least a few years before you can pay me back."

"For which we're eternally grateful of course," George says. "But we were talking more about the very short list of girls you've dated."

Fred raises an eyebrow at Harry and says, "Especially when compared with the not very short list of good-looking birds who practically throw themselves at you."

"Well... That's not what I meant anyway. I'm pretty sure I just saw Ginny go around that corner ahead of us," Harry says.

"Dear, sweet Ginny out after curfew?" George grins.

"This is excellent!" says Fred.

They hurry down the corridor and around the corner, and sure enough Ginny is there leaning against the wall partially supported by Megan Jones.

"George-o! Freddy!" Ginny giggles.

"You're drunk," says Harry in surprise.

"We went out to muggle London," Megan explains helpfully. "It's ridiculously easy to trick them into believing we're of age."

"Clubbing? Aren't you a bit young for that?" says Harry, one eyebrow raised sceptically.

"That's why we stuck with the muggle side," replies Megan. "There isn't much trouble you can get in that a confudus charm won't fix."

"That's true enough," Harry says, edging himself and Megan away from the three Weasleys, the elder two of whom appear to be about to launch into the Concerned Sibling routine. "Why don't I walk you back to your common room," he offers to Megan.

"It's fine; I'm barely tipsy," says Megan.

"Right. Just humour me then. I really don't want to get in the middle of all that," says Harry, gesturing at the Weasleys.

Megan rolls her eyes. "Well since you're so concerned I can hardly say no," she says. "Okay, walk me back to my door, Mr Gallant."

Harry offers her his arm with a flourish. "Milady."

Luna finds Harry sitting on the edge of the Astronomy Tower looking up at the stars. Death is lazily curling around him like smoke in a crowded bar and though she is no less terrified of him than when they first met it is no longer enough to make her avoid him. He's nice to her which is rare enough that she treasures it perhaps more than she should. It isn't his fault that he's being stalked by danger after all.

And while she knows that's no reason to get caught up in the mayhem that spreads to everything he touches, he is far too interesting to stay away from. She doesn't understand why she feels like a fool every time she seeks him out.

"Hello Harry," Luna says. "I need your help."

His brilliant green gaze (sharp like a knife to the gut; unyielding enough to dash yourself to pieces against) falls away from the sky and zeros in on where her right hand tightly clutches her left. She wonders if he can hone in on blood in the same way as a shark, and then tells herself she's being unfair.

"What happened?" Harry asks.

Luna shrugs lightly. "Neville says you're good at healing. Can you fix it?"

"Let me see?" he says, reaching out for her hand.

Luna blinks, hesitates and meets him halfway with her pale hand, caked with dry blood. "Don't," she says, her voice catching in her throat, "Don't clean it."

Harry frowns, but doesn't question the odd request. That's another thing Luna has come to like about Harry; he doesn't pry. A flick of his wand and his brow wrinkles. "There's magic in it..." The corner of his mouth twists. "I don't have a lot of experience with this; I'm better with physical damage... give me a second..."

He mutters a few spells under his breath, eyes fixed intently on the fine cuts. Luna waits patiently. There are calluses on his palm which is unusual for a wizard and she wonders what they are from. The hand encased in his larger, stronger one feels strange and vulnerable. Like a raven crouched willingly before a griffin, Luna thinks with some amusement, a smile drifting across her face.

As a metaphor it doesn't work as well as it would have in previous years because these days there is a spectre of a raven that follows Harry around. Or maybe it was always there and Luna is only just now noticing it. Perhaps it is a sign that she will acquire a griffin for a companion in the near future to complete the backwards reflection, though she rather doubts it.

Finally Harry taps her hand with his wand one last time and looks up at her with a bright grin. Luna forces herself not to look away. "Got it," he says. "It was some sort of curse to make it scar. Good as new now."

Luna takes her hand back with no small measure of relief. She looks into his too-green eyes. In the darkness they nearly glow. "Thank you," she says and pretends she is not feeling as though the stones beneath her feet are falling away.

"No problem," Harry says amiably. His not-there raven caws for blood, its feathers puffed up angrily. "Uh, you know if you ever have a problem with anything you can come to me, right?"

"Yes," says Luna because she has no doubts of his veracity. But she is not willing to invite that sort of havoc into her life so she says nothing more.

Astoria Greengrass is in the dungeons attempting to brew the Draught of Living Death when Harry Potter slips in the door with a cheeky grin.

"Astoria Greengrass, right?" he says.

Astoria freezes. Brewing potions unsupervised is one of the more serious rules to break, especially since Snape is the one to decide the appropriate punishment. "What are you doing here?" she demands when she finds her tongue again.

"I hear you're not much of an Umbridge fan," Potter says, watching her closely.

It's slightly unnerving to have those bright green eyes trained on her but Astoria pretends she's not affected and carefully measures out a hundred and fifty ounces of powdered root of asphodel. She may as well continue the potion since it's too late to hide what she's doing. "What about it?" she asks.

Potter smiles, vicious and smug like the cat that got the canary and Astoria promptly decides never to get on his bad side. "She crossed a line so I'm declaring war on her," he says. "How would you like to help me take her down?"

"I don't like her," Astoria says slowly as she stirs her potion ten times counter clockwise, and then changes direction. "But it's not worth the risk of getting caught to try to 'take her down.' And what does that mean anyway?"

"Quite simply, I'm going to drive her out of Hogwarts," Potter replies. "I've got a few ideas to start with and there's almost no risk to them at all. If everything goes successfully she won't even know she's targeted."

"I'll hear you out," Astoria decides as if he hasn't got enough blackmail material to make her help him whether she wants to or not.

So. It's been a while. That's for a couple reasons. I have a life and it's been pretty busy. I have a bit of a break right now but then it's only going to get busier. Also, I'm in two minds about this fic. On one hand there are quite a few bits that I look back at and think, 'Hey, that's really funny.' And with all the time I've put into it I want to see it through to the end. But there are also a lot of things I really dislike about it too. I'm not going to go into all that but suffice to say that if it wasn't for all the favourites and alerts and whatnot I probably would have happily forgotten all about it.