Content Harry Potter
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Standard Disclaimer:
Act 1, Scene 1:  
The stage is dark. Cue spotlight to the center of the stage. Cue Ron Weasley   to walk to center of the stage.
"Ahem, the authors would like you to note that JKR owns all rights to these characters."

Cue Piano Drop.
Cue spotlight on Hermione trying to hide the knife.

Sunset over Britain
Chapter 7

Hogwarts Entrance Hall…

Professor McGonagall met Minister Fudge and Director Bones at the entrance to the castle. With them were twelve Aurors, Remus and the Grangers.

"Good Morning Minister, Director. Headmaster Dumbledore is expecting you in his office," said McGonagall, smiling at them.

"Yes well, obviously not all will be going to his office, Professor. Mr. and Mrs. Granger, along with Mr. Lupin, are here to check on Harry Potter, if you have no objections?" asked Fudge.

"No, no objections at all, Minister. I understand the Granger’s daughter is upstairs in the infirmary with Mr. Potter," replied a confused McGonagall. She wondered how the word had leaked out so quickly, but was glad for it.

Amelia nodded to her people, and the Grangers and Remus were escorted from the Hall with four Aurors accompanying them. McGonagall escorted the remainder to Dumbledore’s office.

Hogwarts Infirmary…

The four Aurors split up as they reached the infirmary.   Two were stationed outside the doors, one was stationed inside the infirmary and to the right of the doors, while the last positioned himself closer to Harry’s bed.

Dan and Emma noticed Hermione sleeping on a bed next to Harry, still dressed in her robe and pajamas from the night before. Emma went to see her, while Dan and Remus stood at the foot of Harry’s bed looking down at him.

Harry’s face was pale, but he was sleeping. Hearing the doors open, Madam Pomfrey stuck her head out of her office to see who had come in. She was surprised to see two uniformed Aurors and the others.

Walking to Remus and Dan, she smiled at the two men. "Well, this is better than the last visitor. I just finished chasing Hagrid out. He wanted to keep the spider for his Care of Magical Creatures class!"

Remus smiled and shook his head, bemused by Hagrid’s idea of proper study material. Looking back at Harry, his face fell. "Poppy, how is he?"

Madam Pomfrey’s smile slipped from her face as she looked down at her patient. "He’ll live, that’s not in doubt anymore. But there was extensive damage to the muscle in his right leg. We can fix that, but it’s a long process. It will be months before he’s fully healed. In the meantime, he’ll need a cane and a stiffening spell to help him get around for a while. We’ll cast the spell on him to keep the leg straight, and the cane will help offset the strain he’ll be putting on the leg. He’ll also need to do a lot of exercises to build up the muscles in his leg."

"What about swimming?" asked Dan. "Harry enjoys swimming and it’s good exercise, especially for legs. The water would give him buoyancy that he’d need."

Madam Pomfrey smiled at the muggle. "Mr. Granger, while that’s an excellent idea, this is a thousand year old castle. As you might have guessed, we have no pool he can swim in."

Dan shrugged and said, "Well from what Hermione’s told me, the Room of Requirement should be able to make one."

Poppy looked at him in shock, then she stammered, "Y-y-you know, that just might work! Why didn’t I think of it before!"

Remus chuckled. "Now you understand why Hermione’s the smartest young witch in this school."

Emma joined the three of them, while Hermione sat up on the bed and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Everyone turned as Harry groaned and opened his eyes. Hermione bolted from her bed and rushed to his side.

"Hey you," she said softly. "How do you feel?"

"Tired… mmmm…. hurts some too…," he whispered back, smiling at her.

Poppy ran a few diagnostic checks on him while he watched her silently. His hand slipped into Hermione’s.

"Mr. Potter, I want you to stay awake for a while. I’ll get an elf to bring you some breakfast, then you can take a nap if you like. You’re not going anywhere for a couple of days. I’ll talk to you later about what we need to do to finish healing you later. Right now, I’ll leave you in the company of your friends," she said gruffly.

Harry nodded and turned back to Hermione, smiling weakly.

"So now I know it’s a myth…," he murmured to her.

"Myth? What’s a myth Harry?" she asked confused.

"You girls… always say you look terrible in the morning… but you look real good to me…," he said with a grin.

Hermione blushed, while Dan and Emma chuckled. Remus murmured to the two of them, "Well, he’s getting better."

There was a popping sound and a house elf appeared, carrying a tray with breakfast for Harry. Remus and Hermione helped Harry sit up and the placed the tray on his lap and left.

"Remus, what’s wrong with my leg? I can barely move it," Harry asked, grimacing.

Remus shared a look with the Grangers.

Dan turned to Hermione. "Pumpkin, why don’t you take your mum back to your dorm room and change? I’m sure she’d like to see where you’ve been staying," he said softly.

Harry watched Hermione lead Emma from the infirmary before putting his fork down. Then, folding his arms across his chest, he eyed Remus.

"Remus… what do you have to say that Hermione can’t hear?" he growled. It would have been an impressive growl, were it not for the fact that he was still very weak.

"Nothing Harry, honest," began Remus. "She’s heard this at least once, so she didn’t need to sit around to hear it again."

Remus sat down on the bed next to Harry while Dan sat in a chair.

"Your leg has been badly injured. Madam Pomfrey assures me that it will heal, though there may be some small, permanent impairment. It’s going to be a slow recovery however, several months at least. In the meantime, you’ll need to use a cane to help you get about," Remus said.

"Madam Pomfrey is going to suggest some exercises for your leg that will help Harry," Dan said. "But the healing process will be slow and it’s going to hurt a lot. I suggested swimming and using the Room of   Requirement for the physical therapy. It will probably be easier on you than weight training. I’ll talk to Hermione later, and let her know what you’ll need there and maybe get her a book on the subject so she can help you."

Harry frowned and absently picked up his fork to begin eating again. Remus and Dan watched him closely for a while, not sure how he was taking the news.

The infirmary doors opened and Tonks walked in, a folder under her arm and Hermione and Emma at her side. Hermione had changed her clothes, and was now answering Emma’s questions about the ceiling in the Great Hall.   When she noticed Harry was still awake, she rushed past Tonks and sat in a chair next to his bed.

Tonks smiled impishly. "You know Harry, you really should avoid playing with venomous spiders," she said, approaching his bed.

"Very funny, Nymphadora," he said, smiling when she cringed at the use of her first name.

"I see the anti-venom didn’t improve your sense of humor any," she said with a mock scowl, placing her folder on the bedside table.

Harry eyed the metamorphmagus’ uniform and frowned.   "Are you here on official business?" he asked.

"The Ministry and the Board of Governors had decided to station twelve of us here at Hogwarts to improve security after the attacks on you and Hermione." Tonks confirmed.

"How did you know about that?" Hermione asked, stunned that the news had traveled so quickly.

"One of the Hogwarts house elves told Dobby, and he reported it to Remy and I after he told us of the attack on Harry."   Tonks said.

"What’s this?" Dan demanded.   "Hermione was attacked too?"

"Daddy, it wasn’t serious…" Hermione started.

"Hermione, are you insane?   Of course it was serious!" Harry exclaimed.

"Harry, you’re not helping," she said in a pained voice.

"Just what is going on here?" Emma asked in a no-nonsense tone.

Seeing no way out of it, Hermione explained about Ron Weasley’s attack on her the night before. She tried to downplay the situation, but Harry wouldn’t let her.   He was the one to explain what happened in the Great Hall afterwards.

Once the story had been told, Dan paced the infirmary, raging about killing the young man who dared to put his hands on his daughter, while Emma moved to Hermione’s side and pulled her into an embrace.

Tonks did her best to calm Dan down, but it wasn’t easy.  Both Remus and Harry agreed with the furious man and weren’t helping matters.

In a desperate bid to gain control of the situation, Tonks finally barked out, "Yes, we get the point, Dan. You’re going to gut the bloody git and spread his entrails throughout England.   Now sit down!"

Dan sat down, surprised.   Tonks had always seemed so happy-go-lucky that the furious anger in her eyes was almost shocking.

Once she had everyone’s attention, she beat back her own emotions and began to explain.

"The Minister and Director Bones are in Dumbledore’s office as we speak, explaining the situation to him.   He is being informed that the Aurors will be here for a while, improving security and keeping an eye on things.   All wands within the castle are being checked for the Imperius curse, which we believe was used to control the spider that attacked Harry."

"All wands?" Harry asked.

"Yes, including those belonging to the staff," she confirmed.

"And the attack on Hermione?   What’s going to happen to that Weasley bastard?" Dan asked coldly.

Tonks removed an object from her pocket and enlarged it.   She held out a Pensieve and looked at the young witch, still in her mother’s embrace.   "I’ll need a written statement of the event, and a copy of the memory to confirm it, Hermione," she said gently.

When Hermione nodded and eased from her mother’s arms, Harry frowned.   "Once her account is confirmed, what will happen to Ron?   Dumbledore refused to do anything about it."

"That’s another reason why the Ministry and the Board of Governor’s is involved, Harry.   They won’t allow this to pass.   A hearing has been scheduled, though I don’t know the date.   Dumbledore and Ron will attend, the evidence will be examined, and a decision will be made."

When Hermione approached the young Auror, preparing to remove the memory, Emma frowned.   "This won’t hurt her, will it?"

"No, it won’t hurt, though it may tickle a bit."   Turning to Hermione, Tonks smiled. "Do you know how to do this, or do you need help?"

"I’ve read about it," Hermione said, frowning, "but I’ve never done it before."

"It’s not difficult, but I’ll go over the process with you, just to be sure," Tonks said reassuringly.  

The two spoke quietly about the process and, a few minutes later, the others watched as Hermione drew her wand and placed it next to her temple.   A few seconds later, she pulled a long, silver string from her head and, with a flick, deposited it into the Pensieve.  

Tonks muttered something softly under her breath while waving her wand over the small, rune-covered bowl. The quicksilver substance doubled in size and, with quick movements, the Auror re-deposited the memory into Hermione’s mind, keeping the copy for the official record.

"Good job, Hermione," Tonks exclaimed.   "I’m not surprised you were able to do it the first time.   Remy always said you were an excellent student."

Hermione blushed at the comment. "Thanks, Tonks. You said something about a written statement," she asked, sitting back down in the chair next to Harry’s bed.

Tonks brushed off the young woman’s gratitude and explained what needed to be included in her statement. Pulling the proper form from her folder, she handed it to Hermione.

While the adults spoke quietly, Harry watched Hermione write her statement.   When she paused and nibbled on the end of her quill, he tried not to smile.   When she scratched her nose, he grinned outright.

Finishing a few minutes later, Hermione gave the form back to Tonks.   Seeing Harry’s grin, she raised an eyebrow questioningly.   When he crooked a finger at her, telling her to come closer, she leaned down to him.   She frowned when he reached up and rubbed her nose.

"Harry?" she asked, wondering what he was doing.

"Ink," he replied, showing her his finger, now smeared with ink.

She sat up suddenly, rubbing her nose vigorously and blushed when Harry laughed quietly, his eyes starting to droop tiredly.

Finishing his meal, Harry leaned back against the pillows with a sigh. His leg had started to throb with a dull ache and it felt like a lead weight.

"Harry, the Grangers and I will be staying in Hogsmeade for a few days. I’ll pick up a cane for you to use and bring it by either later today or tomorrow. We’ll probably be around until you’ve been released from the infirmary," said Remus.

He nodded and looked at them all. "Thank you for coming," he said to Remus and the Grangers.

He turned to look at Hermione, who was sitting on the edge of his bed, and grinned reassuringly at her before slipping off into sleep.

Carefully, so as to not wake him, everyone moved to the other side of the infirmary. Dan explained some of what Harry would have to do to Hermione. She nodded and brightened when he said he’d get book that would explain the process better than he could.

With Harry asleep, there was no reason for any of them to stay in the infirmary. Hermione had classes to go to and the adults didn’t want to risk running into Dumbledore.

Three of the Aurors who had accompanied them to the infirmary followed the adults. One remained on station in the infirmary, now wrapped in an invisibility cloak.

Headmaster’s office, Hogwarts…

"Cornelius, Amelia, it’s so nice to see you," Dumbledore exclaimed jovially. "Please, sit.   Would you care for some tea?"

"No, no, Albus," Fudge replied, waving Amelia towards a chair before taking the one beside her.   "We have little time for pleasantries.   We are here for several reasons, not least of which was the attack on Mr. Potter last night."

"Terrible business, that," Dumbledore said as he sat down behind his desk.   "But Madam Pomfrey tells me the child will make a full recovery, so there is no need for concern." That wasn’t exactly what Poppy had told him, but they didn’t need to know that.

Amelia raised an eyebrow.   "No need for concern?   A student was nearly killed last night, Headmaster.   I would say there is every need for concern, and the Board of Governors agree with me."

"Now Amelia," Albus said condescendingly, "There is no need to involve the Board in this matter."

"You’ve caught the perpetrator of the attack, then?" she asked.

"Well, no, but…"

"Then it’s obvious that Hogwarts is no longer a safe environment for students.   The Board is concerned that, once news of this attack leaks out, parents will start removing their children from this school."

"There is no reason to expect the news will be leaked," Dumbledore said, frowning.

"Oh come now, Albus," Fudge said in disbelief.   "How do you think we found out about it?   You obviously didn’t contact us, though you should have."

"I am the Headmaster of this school, Cornelius.   What happens here is my business," Dumbledore said firmly.

"When you take care of business, yes.   But it’s come to our attention," Fudge said, waving a hand to encompass Amelia and himself, "that you are not doing your job!"

"Not doing my job?   The boy is alive, is he not?"

"Just, yes.   But the attack should never have happened.   But it is not only the attack on Mr. Potter that I speak of.   It has come to our attention that there was an attack on another student that same day, of which you did nothing about."

"Another attack?" Dumbledore asked in confusion.

"Miss Hermione Granger was attacked and sexually assaulted by one Ronald Weasley," Amelia said incredulously.   "Surely you are aware of it!   The reports we have of the incident say you did nothing to punish Mr. Weasley and refused to investigate the matter."

"You know how teenagers are, Amelia.   The whole thing was a simple misunderstanding. Mr. Weasley has feelings for the girl that she does not return.   He insulted her and she made up this story to punish him for it, that’s all."

"We shall see if that is the case, Albus," Cornelius said, ominously.

"Whatever do you mean, Minister?" Dumbledore asked.

"We will come to that in a moment.   First, I am here to inform you that twelve Aurors will be stationed in Hogwarts for a time.   They will be here to insure the safety of the students and to help increase the security around the castle."

Dumbledore frowned.   The Order could not meet in a castle full of Aurors!   "I really do not think that is necessary…"

"What you think is irrelevant, Albus," Amelia said testily.   "The Board has decided that this is the best course of action and has given their consent for Cornelius’ plan.   My Aurors will be stationed here regardless of your thoughts on the matter."

A knock at the office door startled the Headmaster.   "Come!" he ordered sharply.

Nymphadora Tonks entered the office and greeted Dumbledore and the Minister before standing beside Amelia.

"Your orders have been carried out, Director," she said firmly, handing a small, bowl-like object to Amelia.   "The memory’s been placed in the Pensieve and a stasis charm has been cast on it.   I’ve also taken statements from the victim and a few witnesses to the incident in the Great Hall."

"Very good, Miss Tonks," Amelia said, placing the Pensieve on Dumbledore’s desk.   "And the other situation?"

"The others have begun the wand check," Tonks said.   "With so many student and staff wands to check, it will take some time."

"Understood," Amelia said.

"Please inform us if you find anything else, Auror Tonks.   And thank you for the update," Cornelius said seriously.   "Your timing could not have been better."

"It was my pleasure, Sir," Tonks said.   Understanding a dismissal when she heard one, she turned and left the office, trying to not smile.   The expression on the Headmaster’s face was priceless.

As the door closed behind her, Dumbledore closed his mouth and frowned at the Pensieve on his desk.   "What is this all about?" he asked in confusion.

"This," Amelia said, laying her hand over the Pensieve, "is a copy of the memory of the attack from Miss Granger.   The statements from witnesses should be obvious."   Taking the Pensieve from the desktop, she shrunk it and placed it in her pocket.

"This really is not necessary…" Dumbledore began again, watching the small bowl disappear.

"The evidence will tell its own tale, Albus," Cornelius stated. "If you are right, then there’s been no harm done.   However, if Miss Granger’s account of the incident is correct, action must be taken against Mr. Weasley. A rapist must not be allowed to run free, even you must admit that."

"Rapist?   I think you overstate the case!" Dumbledore exclaimed in alarm.

"We shall see," Fudge said. "A hearing with the Board is scheduled for November 15th to examine both the evidence and the witness statements.   Mr. Weasley will attend the hearing, as will you, as Headmaster of this school.   He will be able to present his own testimony about the events of that evening.   A Pensieve of his memories may be used, and the Ministry has authorized the use of Veritaserum, if necessary."

"You go to far and are taking the matter much to seriously," Albus sputtered.

"And you are not taking it seriously enough," Amelia raged.   "A student under your care may have been sexually assaulted in the halls of this school, and you would rather sweep it under the rug and call it teenage hormones?   Where is your sense of outrage, Albus?"

Dumbledore stood and leaned towards Amelia threateningly.   "How dare you imply…"

"Enough!" Cornelius barked.   "Sit down, Albus. The evidence will either prove or disprove the young woman’s claims.   Either way, the hearing is set and you will attend with Mr. Weasley."

The Headmaster collapsed back into his chair and rubbed his aching temples.   He had Aurors in the halls of Hogwarts to deal with and now a hearing? Things were getting out of hand.

"What was this about checking wands?" he asked, not sure he wanted to know the answer.

Fudge blinked in surprise.   "I would have thought it obvious," he began.

"Explain it," Albus said, more sharply than he’d intended.

When Fudge bristled in annoyance, Amelia stepped in to avoid an argument.

"The Aurors are checking wands to see who cast the Imperius curse," she said calmly.

"Imperius…what are you talking about?" Dumbledore said, puzzled.

"We believe the Razorback was under the Imperius curse when it attacked Mr. Potter.   It is the only thing that explains why its handler wasn’t also bitten, as the species is hyper-aggressive.   If we find the wand that cast the Imperius, we find Mr. Potter’s attacker. As the attack happened in his dorm, his roommate’s wands will be checked first.   If they’re cleared, we’ll examine the wands of the other students in Gryffindor House and move on from there.

"I believe you said the staff’s wands would also be checked?" Albus asked.

"Of course.   The staff has access to all common rooms as well as dorm rooms," Cornelius said, unable to believe Dumbledore could be so thick. "As Amelia is an Auror in her own right, she will check your wand while we are here."

"My wand…this is an outrage!" Dumbledore thundered.   "I would no more harm the boy than you would, Cornelius!"

Fudge shrugged, enjoying the moment.   "No one who was in the school at the time of the attack is exempt from this, Albus.   As such, your wand must be examined. One would think you would be happy to set an example for your students."

Drawing his wand in indignation, he placed it on the desktop and watched, stone faced, as Amelia check his wand.   When she passed it back a few minutes later, announcing him cleared from suspicion, Fudge smiled.

"Come now, Dumbledore," he said, his eyes dancing, "that wasn’t so hard, was it?"

Refusing to be baited, Dumbledore tucked his wand up his sleeve and eyed the Minister over his half-moon glasses.   "How long will the Aurors be with us?"

"Oh, not long.   Two weeks, a month tops.   Once the wand check has been completed, they will start working on security measures for the castle. Your full cooperation is expected, of course."

"Of course," Albus said, shortly.

"Excellent!   Well then, as I have nothing further, I think that concludes our meeting," Fudge said as he and the Director stood and moved towards the door.   "If you have any questions, feel free to floo me, Albus.  Have a pleasant day," he called, escorting Amelia from the room.

Once the office door had closed, Dumbledore ripped his glasses off and threw them down on his desk.   Gripping the arms of his chair tightly, he leaned his head back and ground his teeth in frustration.   He wasn’t sure he could protect the Weasley boy and that meant dealing with Molly.

"Bloody hell!" he growled to the now empty room.

Hogwarts Infirmary, later that day…

Harry opened his eyes and looked around. He stretched, or tried to, but his right leg wasn’t very responsive. The flash of pain caused by his movements caused him to inhale sharply.

"I see you’ve finally decided to wake up," said a familiar voice.

Harry turned to see Hermione sitting on the edge of his bed. Ginny and Neville were on the bed next to his, watching him. He tried to sit up, but his leg made the movement difficult.

Neville leapt off the bed to help him, while Hermione piled pillows behind him. The movement caused his injured leg to flare with pain and he hissed his breath through clenched teeth, waiting for it to go away.

Hermione took a potion vial off the nightstand and uncorked it before handing it to him. "Drink this, it will help with the pain," she said softly.

He drank the offered potion gratefully, and then smiled as the pain eased. Ginny and Neville filled him in on the details of what had happened the previous night, while Hermione sat quietly.

Later, when Neville said he and Ginny should head down to dinner, Harry nodded and thanked the pair for coming to see him.   As the infirmary doors closed behind them, he turned slightly and watched Hermione. She was staring at her hands, refusing to meet his eyes.

"Are you angry with me?" he asked, unable to stand the silence any longer. "You seem… distant… like you have bad news you need to tell me."

When she didn’t say anything, he sighed. He didn’t really know what was on her mind, but he thought he knew. It was then that he made a classic mistake and started talking without having any real clue as to what was bothering her.

"Hermione," he said, his heart ripping from what he intended to say. "You knew my life would be a dangerous one… I’ll understand if you don’t want a part of that kind of life. Heck, I don’t want a part of that kind of life. I won’t make a scene… if you want to move on…" he trailed off, choking up, and turned his face away.

He felt the bed dip slightly and her arms snake around him carefully, avoiding his leg as she curled her body into his.   When she started to shake, sobbing, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer.

When the storm had passed, she looked up at him, lips trembling, her face wet and her eyes red-shot. "I thought I was going to lose you last night… and when Ginny and Neville talked about what happened, all those feelings came rushing back. That’s why I wasn’t talking," she whispered.   Then his words finally sunk in and she sat up and glared at him. "If you weren’t in the hospital, I’d put you in here myself. What makes you think I wanted to leave you?" she hissed angrily.

She was about to poke him when he grabbed her hand and pulled her back into his embrace. She struggled for a moment before relaxing against him.

"Once again Harry Potter makes an idiot of himself in front of his girlfriend by assuming he knows what she’s thinking. I’m sorry," he murmured. He smiled softy when she chuckled.

They both looked up when someone nearby coughed and saw Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall watching them, amused.

"I’m please to see you’re recovering, Mr. Potter," said McGonagall. "Madam Pomfrey has informed me of the requirements for your therapy, so we’ll adjust your class schedule accordingly.

Now Miss Granger, if you would kindly let go of Mr. Potter, I do believe Madam Pomfrey needs to check her patient," she continued, her lips twitching.

Blushing, Hermione sat up when Harry reluctantly released her.

Madam Pomfrey stepped a little closer, while Hermione sat in the chair next to his bed.

"Mr. Potter, I’m afraid that what I’m about to do will be painful, but muscle regeneration spells are not pleasant. We’ll have to do these once a day for at least ten days. It’s important that you remain still I’m done, so I suggest you brace yourself. The spell will run it’s course in five minutes, but it will feel much longer to you, I’m afraid," she said sympathetically.

Madam Pomfrey looked at him for a moment and, when he nodded, she pulled out her wand and murmured an incantation over him. He gripped the sides of the bed and laid his head back.

Madam Pomfrey wasn’t surprised by his small reaction to what she knew to be a very painful spell.   After all, the patient before her had suffered far worse in his lifetime. She only regretted that she had to add to his memories of painful experiences.

Harry turned his head to Hermione and looked at her, trying to smile. She was chewing on her lip as she watched the spell do its work. Once Madam Pomfrey’s spell had run its course, Harry sighed heavily and tried to relax his trembling body. Near the end, it had been difficult to remain silent as the agony ripped through his leg.

Pomfrey ran a few more tests and seemed pleased with the results. "I expect I’ll be able to release you by lunch tomorrow, Mr. Potter, if you can master the stiffening spell for your leg. Mr. Lupin informs me he’ll bring you a cane, which you’ll need for a while still. For now, I’ll have a house elf bring you and Miss Granger some dinner. I expect she has your assignments for today."

Madam Pomfrey went back to her office, leaving Harry with Hermione and McGonagall.

"Miss Granger, since you share all the same classes with Mr. Potter, I expect you’ll be the one helping him get to class?" Professor McGonagall asked.

"Yes, Professor."

"Very well, then. Madam Pomfrey doesn’t want him going back to his classes until the day after tomorrow. As his pace through the halls will be slow, I will give you both passes, excusing any lateness. Mr. Potter, Madam Pomfrey warned me to tell you, any signs of excessive pain and you are to return to her immediately. Am I understood?" asked the stern Professor.

"Yes Ma’am, understood perfectly," he replied.

"Good. I will have Mr. Longbottom bring you something casual to wear for tomorrow when you are released. Your dinner will be up shortly and Miss Granger has your assignments. I suggest getting to work on them."

Hermione started pulling out her books eagerly and Harry smiled in resignation.

"I think, Professor, that I have little choice in the matter about my assignments," he said, his lips twitching in amusement as he watched his girlfriend.

Plans in Motion…

The plant was heavily guarded. Increases in the threat of terrorism had caused the company to vastly increase security. Armed guards, video cameras, all were useless when the time came.

There was a small popping sound as a figure appeared near the tank wall. With a wave of her wand, the witch, currently under the Imperius curse, sliced open a ten-foot long portion of the tank, near the bottom. She watched and waited as hundreds of gallons of refined, high-octane gasoline spilled out, surrounding her.

When the time was right, she pointed her wand at her feet and murmured, "Incendio."

Alarms sounded throughout the complex, which, in turn, triggered automatic alarms in every nearby fire station. But it was already too late.

As men from the plant rushed out to fight the flames, the blaze traveled the short distance to the tank the witch had cut open and reached inside, hungrily. They watched, frozen and horrified, knowing it was too late to stop it, too late to run. Then, with a tremendous, deep-throated roar, the tank exploded.

Millions of red-hot fragments lanced outward, piercing other nearby tanks and causing them to burst into flame. The survivors never noticed the four-foot long tank support beam as it was blown away from the fiery hell that had descended upon them.

The beam traveled nearly a thousand yards before arrowing downwards and collided with a liquefied natural gas tank. The impact created a hole and, being heavier than air, the gas began to flow across the ground like water. As the gas was odorless, the ketones giving it the distinctive rotten egg odor only being added once it was ready for commercial use, no one realized the dangerous situation forming around them, as they fought conflagration caused by the exploding gasoline tanks.

The escaping gas should have set off more alarms, but the electrical disruptions from the fire caused the system to fail. Flowing into the sewer system, and running down streets, the liquefied natural gas passed unnoticed.

Nearly an hour after the support beam had first pierced the tank, the port area of the city of Bristol exploded.

The shock wave traveled out, shattering windows five miles away. Buildings nearly a mile away from the tank farm burst into flame. Men and women died before they heard the explosion that had ended their lives. Vehicles were incinerated and, before the tugs in the nearby harbor could prevent it, an oil tanker tied up at the port waiting to be offloaded caught fire.

A commercial airline pilot, in route to London, spotted the explosion and radioed Heathrow approach. It was the first notification for those outside of Bristol that the city had suffered a major disaster.

Voldemort’s second war against the wizarding world had begun with an attack on those least prepared to deal with it.

Hogwarts, The Great Hall, Lunchtime the next day…

Neville was just leaving the infirmary after delivering clothes to Harry when Remus entered.   Twirling the cane he’d brought, he watched Harry relax on the bed as Madam Pomfrey completed the muscle regeneration spell.

Hermione helped Harry put on the shirt Neville had brought him and Remus grinned.   Emma and Hermione may have hated the t-shirts, but even they had to admit that the young man had flair.   This one read: Official Participant of Voldemort’s Second World Tour, 1996.

"Remus," Hermione said, spotting him, "have you made any progress on that little research project yet?"

"No, not yet Hermione," he replied as he sat down in a nearby chair. "I’ve checked the Ministry records and several libraries, but other than a few obscure historical references, I haven’t found anything useful."

"Maybe the Shelf of Requirement would help?" asked Harry.

"Of course! The Shelf of Requirement should at least give him a starting point," replied Hermione with a snap of her fingers.

She then proceeded to explain the Shelf of Requirement they had discovered in Padfoot Manor. Remus’ eyes lit up, echoing the gleam in Hermione’s eyes.

As Harry watched them, and idea began to form, but it was something he’d need to consider later. Right now, he needed to bring Hermione and Remus back to earth.

"The two most important people in my life are book hounds, intent on bending me to their wicked ways," Harry said with a laugh.

Remus looked startled for a moment, and then engulfed Harry in hug, while Hermione looked on, smiling softly.

Harry, startled himself by Remus’ reaction to his words, felt his eyes well up as he realized that the older man’s hug was something he’d spent his entire life wishing for. It wasn’t the embrace itself, but the meaning behind it. He’d always wanted a family, and now he had one.   It wasn’t a conventional family to say the least, but they were his.

"Now how about helping me get out of here?" asked Harry plaintively as Remus released him.

Between the two of them, they managed to get Harry to his feet. They then watched as he cast the spell to stiffen his leg at the knee, allowing him to put weight on it.

Remus handed Harry the cane he had picked up for him and spent several minutes helping him learn to use it. Once he felt confident enough with it, the three slowly walked out of the infirmary.

Remus wanted to stay with them, but he also wanted to avoid encountering Dumbledore. He cautioned Harry not to rush his recovery, before leaving them at the entrance hall.

Harry walked slowly, his stiff right leg making any significant speed difficult for him. Hermione walked a foot or two away, not helping, but watching him carefully in case he needed it. At the entrance, they paused for a moment and the room fell silent as the student body noticed them.

Frowning at the stares, Harry headed for a large empty portion of the Gryffindor table. He had a little trouble sitting on the stone bench and had to grab his leg and swing it over before turning to the table itself.

As Hermione settled herself beside him, Neville and Ginny sat down across from them, both grinning widely.   A few moments later, Susan and Luna joined them.

At the Slytherin table, Draco Malfoy stood up and walked over to the Gryffindor’s. A hush fell over those in the Great Hall as the two enemies faces each other. When Ginny slide over to make room and Draco sat down, the hall broke out in excited chatter.

"Welcome to the Outcasts of Hogwarts, Draco," Harry said with a smirk, offering him a drink.

Draco sniffed in disdain. "I prefer to think of them as the outcasts. I can’t help it if they are unable to understand that."

Reactions to Draco sitting at the Gryffindor table were mixed, at best. Most of the Gryffindor’s were glaring at the group. At the Head table, Professor McGonagall was trying not to smile. She loved her House, and felt pride that at least some of them had managed to look beyond House boundaries. Dumbledore watched, his expression blank, and wondered if he might use this new development to his advantage. Snape, a man who always guarded his outward show of emotion, was clearly shocked.

Malfoy Manor…

"Well Lucius? What news have you?" Voldemort snapped at the man standing before him.

"My lord, the attack on Potter failed. Although, from what I understand, it was close and Potter was severely injured, he is recovering from that attack. Rudolphus is now planning an attack that will take advantage of his injuries…"

"No! I have other plans I wish to implement in regard to Potter. Tell Rudolphus to send word to our little Gryffindor spy to await new instructions," Voldemort said, interrupting him. "Now, what else can you tell me?"

"The attack on Bristol went off as I expected. According to the muggle newspapers, over four thousand muggles died and there are many thousands injured. They’re blaming the attack on terrorists. The technique was so effective I suggest we start employing it more often. It costs us little to use wizards and witches under the Imperius curse, and wastes none of our resources, my lord.

"Finally, my contact in the Ministry suggests the MLE is tied up with a major investigation against a high ranking member of the Wizengamot. I can only suspect at this point that they are targeting Dumbledore, but that is not confirmed. I am trying to find out more information, but my contact has limited information available to him," concluded Lucius.

"Very well Lucius, I am pleased. Continue the attacks on the muggles. As to the Ministry, I think we must find other ways of penetrating it. Perhaps we could even come up with a way of clearing your name. Would you like to walk those halls again as a free man?" asked Voldemort, his face twisted into a sneer.

"I will walk wherever you command me to walk," replied Lucius bowing low.


Dumbledore sat in his office pouring over some old volumes. During the last two weeks he had survived by locking himself in his office or by spending time researching in the library of the Wizengamot, while Aurors roamed the halls of the school. He had wiled away the hours by plunging into research.

If he was correct, he’d finally have the means to bring Harry back under his wing, but he’d have to be cautious.

Carefully jotting down all his notes and references, he rolled up the parchment and sent them to his clerk to tidy up into the proper legal terms.

Yes, he mused, this will put Potter back into a position where I can control him again.

Giving the parchment to a school owl, he sent it off to his Ministry office. As the owl took wing, he leaned back and smiled.

Gryffindor Common Room…

Ron waited until the portrait banged shut behind Harry and his friends before turning to Dean. "Look, I don’t like the idea of them having a Slytherin at our table. It isn’t right! Those slimy Slytherins are all Death Eaters. Everyone knows that."

"I know, Ron. But you saw the teachers. They allowed it, so there isn’t anything we can do about it," replied Dean loudly.

"Did you know that the sorting hat wanted to put Potter into Slytherin when he was sorted? He talked it into putting him into Gryffindor instead," Ron said, glancing at the small crowd of fifth through seventh years trying to eavesdrop.

"And look what he’s done! He’s turned Neville, Hermione and Ginny against their own house. Bunch of bloody traitors, they are," growled Dean.

"I bet Harry brought that spider into the dorm himself and it bit him accidentally, instead of biting one of us," said Seamus.

"Stupid git refused to play Quidditch this year, too. He’s ruined our chances to get the cup!" said Ron angrily. As the new Quidditch captain, it still burned him that Gryffindor would lose the House cup on his watch.

As the three continued to talk, a number of the faces in the crowd darkened and a sense of anger grew towards people they had known for years.

Room of Requirement…

Hermione had learned a lot about herself in the past two weeks since Harry’s attack and some of what she had learned had not pleased her. The course of spell work to rebuild Harry’s muscles in his leg was complete, but his leg was still dreadfully weak. The exercises he needed to do were extremely painful to him and each time he was ready to collapse in exhaustion, nearly weeping from the pain, she’d browbeat him into getting up and pushing himself harder.

Helping Harry did have one perk as far as Hermione was concerned. Every night, before starting his exercises, she’d massage his leg, and then do it again when he was done. The problem was what happened between those massages. Since his release from the infirmary and the start of his therapy, Harry seemed to be either too tired, or just not interested in holding her. And that worried her more than she’d like to admit.

On more than a few occasions she had crawled into bed, nearly exhausted and emotionally spent, wondering how she could be so cruel to someone she loved. Twice she had brought Harry to a towering rage trying to goad him into working harder on his leg. Other times she watched impassively as he broke down in tears from the pain, and then pushed him harder. While the effort was paying off, he could now walk for brief periods without the stiffening charm, she kept asking herself was it hurting their relationship.

Tonight she was with Harry again in the Room of Requirement. When the Outcasts, as they now called themselves, learned that Harry and Hermione were spending time there every night and that he was using a pool, they joined them.

Usually the Outcasts continued working on their Occlumency, while Harry and Hermione worked on his leg. After an hour or so, they’d join the couple in the pool.

The group had been shocked the first time they saw what Hermione did to Harry during his therapy and it had disrupted their practice.   Now, when the Outcasts joined them, she was smart enough to split the room into two sections.

Hermione had just finished massaging his leg from his ankle to his thigh, and was about to strap on the weights he used, when he grabbed her. She squeaked in surprise when he pulled her roughly to him.

"Tonight," he whispered to her huskily, "I need a different kind of therapy."

Then he kissed her. He pulled her on top of his prone body on the low massage table and ran his hand up through her hair. Surprised, she wasn’t sure how to react, but his passion was contagious. She returned his kiss, surprised that she wasn’t embarrassed to be lying on top of him.

When he finally broke the kiss, he looked into her dilated eyes, and gently rubbed her cheek with the back of one hand. Although his hands had not strayed far from her back or face, she was surprised to find her own hands had slipped up under his shirt.

"I know this hasn’t been easy for you," he said softly. "It hasn’t been easy for either of us. But never think I don’t appreciate what you’ve done for me."

She buried her head in his shoulder. How could he know what I was thinking? She thought wildly.

He stroked her hair gently. "I think this has hurt you more than it’s hurt me, Hermione, and I’m truly sorry for that. But it will get better, love… I promise."

She lay quietly against him, allowing his words to sink in. Then her head popped up and she stared into his eyes. "What did you say?"

Harry started to repeat what he said, but she interrupted him again. "No, what did you call me?" she asked. How could he be so dense she asked herself.

He suddenly looked like the proverbial toddler caught with his hand in the cookie jar and Hermione had to stifle a laugh.

"Umm… love?" he whispered, blushing.

"And when did you start thinking of me that way, Mr. Potter?" she asked him softly, her eyes intent on his.

"Before the attack… and then after. No matter how angry you made me, I couldn’t stay mad at you… it hurt me to see you hurting… I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, Hermione. I don’t know if it’s real love, but I don’t know what else I can call it…" he said in a low, husky tone.

Her smile lit the room and kissed him deeply.   His arms wrapped around her, pulling her close. Neither heard the opening of the door.

"Well, it seems like muggle ‘therapy’ might make it worth getting injured, after all," said a droll voice.

Hermione and Harry turned to see Draco standing in the doorway with the rest of the Outcasts behind him, grinning.

Luna pushed Draco into the room. "Oh, leave off them, Draco. We all know they’re attracted to each other because they’ve both been bitten by rabid Dweebles," she said airily.

Draco looked at Luna with disdain. "There’s no such thing as Dweebles," he stated firmly.

Luna made a clucking sound and looked at him. "And I thought you were smart, Draco. Everyone knows the Potion of Pruning requires ground up Dweeble wings," she said airily and started to hum as she removed her shoes.

Hermione climbed off Harry and rolled her eyes at Luna’s comments. Draco caught the motion and turned towards Luna once more. "Look Luna, even Hermione doesn’t believe you."

Luna waved a hand as if chasing away a fly. "Hermione is smart Draco, but not all knowledge comes from books. Besides, she doesn’t believe in the Crumple Horned Snorkack, either." She then unbuttoned her blouse.

"Luna!" Hermione shouted. "You can’t undress in front of the guys!"

"Why not, Hermione? How are knickers and a bra different from a bikini?" asked the pretty Ravenclaw.

Hermione stood for a long moment, trying to come up with an argument, while the other girls went into the nearby dressing rooms to change. Fuming, Hermione turned to Harry, expecting to have to glare at him for staring at the half naked Luna.

Instead, she saw Draco watching the blonde undress and dive into the pool, while Harry stared at Hermione.

Stepping closer, she could see a gentle hunger in his unfocused eyes. "Harry?" she asked softly.

He shook his head slightly. "Sorry, Hermione. I was just thinking about you in that bikini over the summer," he murmured, blushing.

Her face flamed in response.

And Counter Moves…

As a matter of routine procedure, all new potential laws were circulated among the Ministry Department Heads so they could point out conflicts and possible flaws in the proposed legislation.

Amelia was reviewing one such proposal when she gasped as she realized the potential problem the newly proposed law would cause. Standing quickly and moving towards her office door, she jerked it open to find an aide sitting at the desk outside.

"Summon Auror Tonks to my office as quickly as possible," she growled.

It was more than hour before Tonks returned from the field and entered Amelia’s office. "You sent for me Director?"

"Yes, Tonks. Take a seat and look at this," Amelia said grimly, handing the young woman a piece of parchment.

As Tonks read the proposed law, her hair cycled through a variety of colors. She paled visibly and, with a trembling hand, passed the parchment back to Amelia. "How much of a chance does this have at passing?" she asked quietly.

Amelia sat back and considered the current makeup of the Wizengamot. "I’d say it’s slightly better than fifty-fifty right now, Tonks. Of course the Ministry will oppose it, but I think we need to come up with contingency plan and then warn Mr. Potter about what may be coming. The real problem is coming up with an alternative that’s acceptable to Harry," she concluded.

The two women sat in silence for a while before Amelia broke out into a grin and looked at younger woman intently. "Tell me, Tonks, you were a cousin to Sirius Black, were you not?" asked Amelia

Alarm bells started to ring in Tonks’ head. "Yes I was, Director. But you know if I do this I’ll have to resign from the Order."

Amelia pursed her lips for a moment, considering the options. Tonks had not been actively providing information concerning the Order for over a month now. Her current assignment had precluded her from fulfilling that role. Resigning from the Order might provide a minor inconvenience to the investigation, but at this stage, her resignation would not affect things to greatly.

Making her decision, she looked across her desk at the young Auror. "I think that you should go craft your resignation letter to Dumbledore, while I have our department legal people file all the necessary paperwork. Remember to tell Mr. Potter that this is merely a legal fiction, and will not really change his status. In fact, if the new law isn’t approved, his status will remain unchanged," she said evenly.

Tonks nodded, surprised and a little shocked at the sudden turn of events.

Breakfast, Great Hall…

Harry and the Outcasts sat at one end of the Gryffindor table and, as he watched them interact as a group, he smiled inwardly. Most of them had already picked up occlumency and he figured that the rest would have it down before the month was out.  

He broke from his reverie when a non-descript owl arrived, dropped a parchment in front of him and took wing quickly, not waiting for a reply. Frowning, he picked it up and opened it.

Important we meet this weekend. Three Broomsticks, room five, at noon. Be there.

Harry passed the note to Hermione and watched as she frowned while reading it.   When she passed it back with a questioning look, he shrugged, balled it up and banished it.

At the Head table, Dumbledore received an entirely different note from another owl.

It is with regret that I must tender my resignation, effective immediately, to the Order of the Phoenix. Demands at work and personal life are making it increasingly difficult for me to play any sort of significant role in the organization and I expect those demands to increase in the weeks to come.
Nymphadora Tonks.

Dumbledore frowned. He had just lost an important asset into the workings of the Ministry. Sighing, he placed the letter in his pocket. Her resignation didn’t affect much in the Order except access to Ministry happenings and he had alternate sources for that sort of information.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Class…

Back at the Gryffindor table, Harry packed his books back into his bag, getting ready for class. He and Hermione, along with Neville, Susan and Draco had Defense Against the Dark Arts next. Turning to Hermione, he picked up her bag and stood holding both bags. She looked up from her seat and smiled at him before standing.

Over the past weeks Harry had managed to work with Professor Blackthorne in reducing his power output. It hadn’t been easy, but he’d managed to achieve a near instinctual level of control over the entire range of his power. He still couldn’t participate in some of the dueling that took place in class, as his stiff leg prevented it.

Romany stood in front of the classroom, watching as the students filed in. Once they were seated, she called Seamus to the front of the class.

"Last month we talked about concealment methods, how to use them and how to detect them. Now we begin a new phase, where we’ll look into different shields and their uses. Seamus, go to the other end of the platform and shield against the stinging hex I’ll be sending at you."

Seamus nodded and walked down to the end of the platform. He turned to face her, wand drawn and ready.

"Attero," said Romany calmly

"Protego!" shouted Seamus.

The bright blue beam lanced down the platform, hit Seamus’ shield and bounced off, hitting the ceiling.

"Thank you, Seamus, you may return to your seat. Five points to Gryffindor," said Romany. "Now, there are many types of shielding spells you can rely on. The Protego shield charm is one of the most common, although it will not block some spells. In some cases you’ll use transfigured objects as shields to block those spells that cannot be normally blocked by a spell. The key to using any shield spell lies in understanding its flaws and its strengths. For example, a shield that cannot block physical objects, but blocks most spell energies, is only as good as long as you understand that fact.

"Now, let’s try something a little different. Weasley, Potter, up on the platform," Romany called out.

As the two men walked up to the platform, taking positions on opposite ends, Romany continued to speak. Ron had left Harry and Hermione alone the past few weeks, but the knowledge of his upcoming hearing grated on him. He had already received one howler from his parents over the subject.

"Mr. Weasley will send stinging hexes at Mr. Potter, while Mr. Potter will block them using a transfigured object. Got that?" Romany asked.   When both young men nodded, she smiled. "Excellent.   Begin!"

Harry moved his cane to his other hand and transfigured it into a small, metal shield.

Ron started firing off stinging hexes and Harry deflected them, one after the other. Frustrated, Ron increased the pace. With his stiff leg, all Harry could do is stand and move his shield.   Dancing around was nearly impossible.

Several in the class started to snicker as Ron kept up his pace and seemed to be unable to touch Harry. His face turned a bright purple and Seamus yelled, "Get him, Ron!" Romany turned to admonish Seamus. During her moment of distraction, Ron decided to change tactics.

"Solitudo visagigo!" he shouted.

Romany’s head whipped around, but it was too late and the spell burst against Harry’s shield in a blinding flash of light. Because it was aimed low, Harry was hit full in the face with the blinding light.

Groping blindly, Harry quickly cast two spells in rapid succession.

"Refugium multiplicitus" he muttered and his body was surrounded with a soft glow as the full body rebounding charm took hold.   "Serpentsortia regina," Harry murmured next, and a figure formed in the center of the platform.

The twenty five foot anaconda raised its head and looked at Harry. The class gasped and several of the girls moved back. Even Romany took a step back in surprise.

"Your command, master?" hissed the snake.

"Disarm my opponent and bind him," Harry replied in Parseltongue. He still couldn’t see but he knew Ron had stopped firing hexes at him.

Ron stood transfixed by the sight of the huge snake slithering towards him. The head reared up fully to look Ron in the eye while the tail swung around and curled around his legs, wrapping him securely. Ron started whimpering as the snake pinned his arms to his sides. The Slytherins in the class started laughing. Several of the Gryffindor’s turned and looked ready to pull their wands.

"THAT IS ENOUGH!" roared Romany. "Potter! Release Mr. Weasley immediately."

Harry nodded in her general direction, then hissed again at the snake. "Your task is complete, my friend. Take my thanks and return to your home."

"Until we meet again, master," the snake replied, and then faded from sight.

Harry dispelled his body charm and stood at the ready, still unable to see anything. Romany charged up the platform and looked at the two with disgust. "Mr. Weasley, twenty five points from Gryffindor and a week’s detention with Mr. Filch."

Turning to Harry, about to admonish him, she realized he wasn’t quite looking at her. Frowning, she walked over to him. "Mr. Potter?" she asked.

His head swung around, trying to see her. His eyes still didn’t meet hers, but looked over her shoulder.   She took his head in her hands and peered into his eyes, noting their unfocused quality and realized he was blind.

"Mr. Malfoy, would you run on down to Professor Snape and request a bottle of eyesight restorer please?" she said, carefully leading Harry back to his seat.

Hermione gasped and turned to glare at Ron as Draco left the room.

"What’s the matter, Potter? Can’t see your hands in front of your nose? Bet you still smell like a Slytherin," drawled Ron. Several Gryffindors laughed with Ron.

Romany glared at him. "Mr. Weasley, you are excused from class with a failing grade for the day.   Go directly to your Head of House and explain to her why you’ve just lost Gryffindor an additional fifty points on top of your original twenty-five."

Ron glared back at her, then started shoving books into his bag. With a sneer on his lips, he stomped from the room, barely missing Draco who had just returned with a small vial and an eyedropper.

Draco handed the potion to Professor Blackthorne and Hermione moved to Harry’s side, helping him to tilt his head back.

"Three drops should do it, Professor," Hermione said softly as she held Harry’s head.

"I am aware of that, Miss Granger.   Hold still, Mr. Potter.   This will sting, but you’ll be as good as new in a few minutes," Romany said.

Harry blinked furiously as his eyes stung.   When his vision was restored, the class continued.

Hogwarts Library…

Saturday rolled around and Harry and Hermione were walking to the library to meet up with the Outcasts. Just outside the library, he threw on his invisibility cloak.

"I’ll be back as soon as I can, Hermione. Cover for me if anyone asks, alright?" he said in a hushed tone.

Nodding, she leaned up and kissed him briefly. When she stepped back from him, he vanished. She turned resolutely and entered the library. The Outcasts looked at her questioningly when they noticed Harry was missing. She cast a privacy charm over their table and looked around before speaking.

"If anyone asks, Harry was just here and he’ll be back soon…" she whispered.

The Three Broomsticks…

Harry entered The Three Broomsticks and quietly made his way up to room number five.   Slipping into the room silently, he found that Remus, Tonks and Amelia had already arrived. When he removed his invisibility cloak, wand in hand, he startled the three of them.

"Merlin, Harry! I never even heard the door open," exclaimed Tonks.

Harry held up a hand for a moment, silencing them, and his eyes became unfocused. Then his wand flared briefly and his eyes focused on them. Remus leaned across the table, staring at him intently.

"Alright Harry, what did you just do?" he asked with a grin.

"I set up a ward around Hermione, Remus. If any of the teachers approach her in the library, I’ll know about it and be able to return before it’s a problem for her," he replied.

"You set up a ward in Hogwarts from here? Astounding," exclaimed Amelia.

"Alright then, next weekend is a Hogsmeade weekend. What’s so important that we had to have this meeting now?" asked Harry intently.

"Harry," Amelia began, "Dumbledore’s introduced a new law and, right now, it looks like he just might have enough votes to get it passed. While it doesn’t specifically say it’s aimed at you, the intent of the law clearly is. We have a counter move prepared that we wanted to warn you about, should this law come to pass. Our counter move will automatically go into effect…"

Headmaster’s office, Hogwarts…

Dumbledore looked up when one of his instruments emitted a startled squeak, then fell silent. Intrigued, he stood and approached it. The instrument’s purpose was to monitor the anti-apparation ward on Hogwarts and, should those wards be breached or fail, it would scream in a shrill voice. A squeak was not normal behavior for the device.

He ran a few spells on the wards, but they appeared fine. Still, he mused, it wouldn’t hurt to do a head count and see if any students are missing.

An hour and a half later, the teachers converged on the library. Four Gryffindors, one Hufflepuff, one Ravenclaw and one Slytherin were still unaccounted for. Dumbledore, Snape and McGonagall skidded to a halt when they came upon all but one of the missing students.

Dumbledore strode forward angrily. He had suspected that Harry was the one who’d left school grounds.   As the headcount was completed, his suspicious were confirmed. Damn that child, he raged. I will bend him to my will or break him for this.

"Miss Granger, where is Mr. Potter?" asked Dumbledore, his eyes flashing with anger.

"He got up a moment ago, Professor. I’m sorry, he didn’t say where he was going." replied Hermione coolly.

"I will deduct 100 points from each of your houses if you don’t tell me where Harry Potter is right this instant," said Dumbledore.

"I’m right here, Professor," said Harry, stepping out from behind a bookshelf, holding a thick volume in his hand. "I found that book I told you about, Hermione."

Sitting down at the table, Harry looked up at the three adults innocently. "Yes, Professors? Is there something you wanted?" he asked with a smile.

"Where have you been, Harry?" asked Dumbledore.

"I’ve been digging through the stacks, Sir. Hermione and I are working on an independent research project and I was looking for a book I’d seen in here a few years ago, but was having problems finding it," Harry replied with a smile, holding up the book for Dumbledore to see.

"Celtic Music and Its Use in Rituals? I didn’t know you had any musical talent, Harry," the Headmaster said, bewildered.

"Come off it, Potter. You have no talent! Why would you want a book like that," sneered Snape.

Harry looked at Hermione and smiled before pulling out his tin whistle. Raising innocent eyes to the three suspicious Professors, he began to play a Scottish ballad from the seventeenth century called, ‘I Once Loved a Lass’.

Dumbledore blinked in surprise, while Snape threw up his hands in anger and stomped off. McGonagall’s eyes lit up in delight. She recognized the instrument and the song Harry was playing.

When he finished, he smiled at Dumbledore and put his tin whistle back in his pocket. The Headmaster shot him one last suspicious glance and left the library, all but vibrating with annoyance.

McGonagall smiled faintly at the young man once Dumbledore left. "I must say, Mr. Potter, that I wish more students were willing to partake in the gentler arts. You have a fine gift and an ability for consistently displaying talents that irritate certain Professors."

Harry looked surprised by her comments and watched mutely as she left the library. He waited a moment longer before turning to the others and casting a privacy charm.

"Alright, then. Neville, you’re the only one whose occlumency shields aren’t quite there," Harry began. "I want you to work with Hermione and me this week to get you up to speed. Next weekend is a Hogsmeade Weekend. I’ve reserved a room for us at the Three Broomsticks. With everyone up to speed on his or her shields, I’ll finally be able to fill you in on what’s going on. Until then, keep up with your exercises."

The Great Hall, lunch, a few days later…

Harry and Hermione were sitting together, having finished lunch, and were working on their homework. They both had the next hour off before going to their Arithmancy class. Harry put his quill down and reached for a teapot to pour himself a hot cup of tea. Although lunch was technically over, the house elves usually took it upon themselves to see that there was always something to drink and a bit of food on the tables when students were working.

Harry took a drink, closed his eyes and reached out with his senses. Most of the auras he felt were basically pure ones, or ones with only some minor darkness to them. A few were very dark, like Nott… and several at the Gryffindor table! Zeroing in on one of the auras, he examined it carefully. It was very dark…almost pitch black!

Alarmed, he turned to Hermione. "Are you done? I think we better go see if Professor Blackthorne is free this period," said Harry in an urgent whisper, shoving his things into his bag.

Hermione looked at him in surprise. Frowning at the look on his face, she started to pack her books and parchment into her bag. When she was done, Harry grabbed both their bags, took her by the hand and led her from the Great Hall.

They found Romany in her office, grading papers. Harry knocked, and then opened the door, sticking his head in. "Professor, can you spare a moment?" he asked.

"Of course, Mr. Potter. You and Miss Granger are always welcome," replied Romany, smiling. She waved a hand at the stack of parchment, commenting, "Any interruption from grading third year defense homework is a welcome change."

"Professor," Harry began as he sat down next to Hermione, "I’m wondering what you can tell me about auras. I was sitting in Great Hall and I was sensing the auras around me. Some of them are very dark. Does the color mean anything?"

Romany blinked, a bit startled. "How can you sense auras and not know what the colors mean, Harry?"

"Well, after I got sick, I found I could just do it. Most of the people I spent the summer with have pretty much the same colors with some variations. But here in school, there’s so much variation, going from nearly white to almost black, plus the outer layer colors…" he trailed off, his confusion evident.

"Well Harry, the colors change as a person grows. For example, a new born infant starts with a white aura and white layers. By the time the infant is two years old, colors are creeping into the mix. The current thought is that core of the aura, the inside portion, represents the fundamental personality of the person, be they good, evil or somewhere in-between, while the outer layer or layers represent unique personality traits.

Reading an aura is not an easy skill. It took me years to learn and I can only sense them with great difficulty. To be able to read auras easily requires great skill and concentration." She paused for a moment, curious. "What colors do you see for me, Harry?" she asked.

Harry reached out for a moment. "Your core is a dirty white, almost but not quite gray. You have two outer layers, one red and the other light blue."

"Very good. The light blue represents strength and determination, while the red indicates a willingness to fight. But it also says I have a quick temper, something I’ve been working on for years. Now, how about Hermione?"

Harry reached out again, smiling as he did. "Her core is a very light white. She has three layers going from light yellow to light green to a blue."

"The light yellow represents bravery and pride, not in herself, but for someone close to her. The light green is for serenity and love. The blue indicates a powerful personality and a very strong mind."

"Well, no surprise there," Harry murmured, grinning at Hermione. She smiled back at him.

"But Professor, what about the darker cores?" Harry asked, turning back to Romany. "Nott, for example, is almost pure black, and several of the Gryffindors are pretty dark."

"You can’t use the core colors to find Death Eaters," Romany said. "The core colors mark a predisposition for good, neutral or evil, but they do not indicate actions. A black cored person can still be good, it just means that they are weaker to temptation to do something bad. And likewise, a white cored person would find temptation less of a problem."

"Romany, I’m curious now," asked Hermione. "What colors are in Harry’s aura?"

Romany looked at Harry for a long moment before saying anything. "Harry do you mind if I make your aura visible? It’s easier to make it visible than for me to try to sense it."

"Not at all. Professor. It’s the only aura I’ve not seen so far," Harry replied intrigued.

Romany cast a spell over Harry and he felt a strange sensation, almost as if someone had dumped a bucket of warm water over him. Looking at his hands he was surprised to see only one color and no outer layers! He gasped and looked up at Hermione, afraid to see her reaction. His aura was a perfect gray. Not white, not black, but gray.

"W-w-what does this mean?" he stammered.

Romany cancelled the spell and sat back, thinking. Hermione was looking at Harry as if he were an interesting new puzzle.

"I’m not sure…" began Romany. "It seems your aura is totally in balance, which isn’t supposed to be possible. I don’t think its anything you need worry about, Harry, but it’s interesting. I’ve never heard of anything quite like it before."

Romany saw the expression of horror on Harry’s face and nearly rolled her eyes. It was time to put a stop to this before it got any further.   "Oh Harry, this doesn’t mean you’re going to become the next Dark Lord. The fact that you have no outer layers suggests that your aura is unlike any on record, and therefore under different rules than ours. As I said, you seem to be in perfect balance and that’s not necessarily a bad thing."

Hermione smiled encouragingly at him. Reluctantly, he nodded to Romany. "So I can’t assume anyone with a really dark aura is automatically a bad guy," he said with a sigh. "It was a good idea while it lasted."

"Don’t get me wrong, Harry. You shouldn’t trust someone with a really dark aura, but by the same token, don’t automatically assume they are a Death Eater either."

"Is it possible to affect an aura, Professor? I’ve been able to sense and alter some spells just by adjusting the aura around them. Would it be the same for people?" asked Harry curiously.

Romany looked at him strangely, then shook her head. "Harry, I’ve never heard anyone describe what you say you can do. Can you demonstrate it for us?"

Harry nodded and closed his eyes. Reaching out, he touched Romany’s aura and, through his connection, he sent her the emotions of trust and friendship for a brief moment. Then reaching out to Hermione, he touched her aura and sent her some of what he felt about her through the connection.

Opening his eyes, he saw Romany’s startled look and smiled. Glancing at Hermione, he couldn’t help but laugh. She stared at him, wide-eyed and flustered. He reached out to touch her hand and felt the shiver that ran through her.

"Merlin, Harry! That’s the most amazing sensation I’ve ever felt. It was almost like being surrounded by a feeling of trust and security," Romany exclaimed. Then she turned to Hermione and her eyes narrowed, noting the dazed look on the young woman’s face. "I take it what you did to Hermione was different from what I experienced?" she asked drolly.

"Not really, Professor. When I touched each of your auras, I sent each of you what I felt about you. It’s hard to explain. It’s like reaching out and making a connection. Touching your aura was easy, Professor, as was breaking the connection. Touching Hermione’s was easy too, but breaking the connection was difficult. It was like she didn’t want to let go of the link."

Hermione remained silent, considering the feelings and emotions that had washed over her. There was great joy and friendship, of course, and a deep love that reached down into her soul, moving her. There was also a restrained hunger, a passion that ignited a fire in her belly. In that brief moment of connection, he had deposited a gestalt of his feelings into her and she understood the fires that burned within him for her. The closest she had ever come to experiencing those feelings before was when he had performed Harry’s Song for her.

Glancing up at the clock, Harry realized they needed to go. "C’mon Hermione, it’s time for us to go to Arithmancy. Thank you, Professor. You’ve given me a lot to think about," he said.

Hogsmeade and Explanations…

It was the first Hogsmeade weekend of the year, and Harry and Neville waited anxiously for Hermione and Ginny to come down from their dorm. Harry opted for muggle clothing today, black jeans, a windbreaker and a t-shirt. This one read: Everyone Is Entitled To Be Stupid But Voldemort Is Abusing The Privilege.

From the Gryffindor common room, they went to the Entrance Hall. Once there, they met up with Susan, Luna, Draco and, surprisingly, Professor McGonagall.

"Mr. Potter, a word with you please," said McGonagall.

"Yes, Professor?" he asked, approaching her.

"The Headmaster considers it unsafe for you to leave the castle this weekend and he insists that you remain inside."

"With all due respect, Professor, the Headmaster has no authority to make such a demand. Now if you’ll excuse me, my friends and I are going to Hogsmeade," replied Harry curtly.

"But Potter, the Headmaster…"

"The Headmaster may say what he wants, Professor, but he is not getting his way on this matter. He has no valid reason to confine me to the castle and, as an adult, I do not need or require his permission to leave," said Harry angrily.

Harry turned his back on McGonagall and started to limp through the entrance with his friends close behind.

Minerva stared at their retreating backs for a moment, angry. Never had she felt so used by Dumbledore before. Harry was right. There was no real reason for keeping him here.

Although Hogsmeade was not much more than a mile and half from the school, it was the longest walk Harry had taken in at single time since the injury to his leg. Half way to the village, he was leaning heavily on his cane and his breath whistling between gritted teeth.

Hermione watched him carefully as he walked and cursed the fact that she had fallen in love with such a stubborn man. Then he did something she didn’t expect him to do. He veered off the road and sat on a small boulder surrounded by grass. Dropping his cane, he started to massage his leg.

"Alright there, Harry?" asked Neville.

"Yeah, Nev. I guess the leg isn’t used to walking this far. Why don’t you all go on ahead and enjoy some time in Hogsmeade? I’ll catch up with you in The Three Broomsticks," he offered.

A look passed between the group and, almost as one, they sat down on the grass, talked among themselves and waited. Hermione smiled at them and parked herself next to Harry on the boulder.

"Hurt much, Harry?" she asked softly.

He nodded grimly. "Worse than after an exercise session."

"You know this is your own fault. You could have apparated," she said.

"Hermione, I have to keep pushing. My leg won’t get better by itself. You know that. This time last year I could have run to Hogsmeade in five minutes and wouldn’t have been breathing hard. Now I can barely make it half way there," he replied.

"Harry," Draco said, "it’s true then? You can apparate?"

Harry nodded. "Yeah, Hermione and I got our licenses over the summer due to circumstances that I’ll explain once we get to The Three Broomsticks. If you want, Draco, we’ll show you how over the holiday. It’s a useful skill to have, even without the license."

Ginny looked around and, seeing no one, she turned to Harry. "Why don’t you just explain here? There’s no one to overhear us," she asked.

"No, Ginny. I’ve arranged a bit of a surprise for someone and it’s at the Three Broomsticks," he said firmly.

"Well in that case then, I think we should get going. She whipped out her wand, pointed it at Harry and muttered the levitation charm.

"OY!!! HEY!" Harry yelled as he rose.

Hermione grabbed Harry’s cane and laughed, while Ginny deftly maneuvered Harry back to the road. The others rose, grinning and following the floating young man down the road.

"I’ll get you for this, Weasley! Let’s see how you like waking up atop the school flagpole! I’ll turn your hair blue…no, green!" Harry shouted at the little redhead.

"Violent, isn’t he?" Ginny asked Hermione.

"Not really. This is just one of his good days," she replied with a laugh.

By the time they reached Hogsmeade a few minutes later, Harry was reduced to glaring at Ginny. He didn’t dare cast at her while he was floating twenty feet above them, but his glare said he would figure out some way of paying her back.

When Ginny gently lowered Harry to the ground, both Neville and Hermione were there to steady him and give him back his cane. With a nod of thanks, he led the group into The Three Broomsticks. Harry waved to Madam Rosemerta when they entered, then led the group up the short flight of stairs to the upper level of the inn.

Entering room number five, they found themselves confronted with three cloaked figures. While the room wasn’t large, it was big enough for everyone to take a seat around the table in the center of the room. A moment later, Madam Rosemerta knocked on the door and came in carrying a large tray loaded with Butterbeers and snacks. Harry thanked her and waited until she’d left before he cast a privacy charm on the room.

"Alright then, we’re secure. We have a lot to talk about but before we get started, there’s someone here who I think you need to see, Draco," he said, turning to the cloaked figured, who pushed their hoods back at his nod.

Remus and Tonks smiled at Harry, while Narcissa looked at him with a curious express before she turned to face her son and smiled at him. She was pale, and her hands trembled slightly, but she was free from the influence of the potions and recovering nicely.

Draco gasped in stunned amazement as he gazed at his mother. She had started to put on weight again, although she was still very thin.

"Mum?" he asked in a near whisper. He bolted from his chair and rushed to her side.   Falling to his knees in front of her, he wrapped his arms around her too-thin waist and held her tightly.   She laughed in delight and returned his embrace.

"Lets give them a few minutes alone," Harry suggested softly, standing.

Harry motioned to the others to step over to the bed. He deliberately walked over to Ginny and pushed her so she was sitting on the bed, then he sat next to her.

"Ginny," he began in a hushed tone, "what you are going to hear today is going to hurt you, and I’m sorry for it. It’s not going to be pleasant so I want you to be strong. You’re the little sister I’ve never had and you’re not alone in this."

Ginny looked solemn and confused, but nodded in reply. Neville sat down next to her on the other side and put an arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, a little afraid now.

"Harry," Tonks said quietly, "we never did find who released the Razorback in your dorm room, nor did we find the wand that cast the Imperius curse."

"I didn’t really expect that you would," he said, frowning. "It would have been too simple, and nothing Voldemort does is ever simple."

The young Auror nodded. She’d been disappointed in their lack of results during the search, but there was nothing they could do about it.

Harry, noticing that Draco and Narcissa had finally stopped talking, motioned for the others to move back to the table. Draco sat next to his mother, holding her hand. When Harry approached the table Narcissa reached out and took his hand as well. He stopped and looked down at her curiously.

"My niece, Nymphadora, tells me you’re the reason we were rescued. Is that true?" she asked softly. Years of potion abuse had made her voice slightly gravelly.

"I’m one of the reasons, Mrs. Malfoy.   Your son had the courage to ask me to help, despite all the differences we’ve had over the years.   Tonks and the others removed you from this place when I asked them to, and saw to your medical needs," he replied quietly.

Draco was watching the interplay carefully. He, too, had wondered why Harry had helped them.

"But why, Harry? After all the terrible things my family has done to you and your friends?"

"You’re family, Mrs. Malfoy. Sirius…" he trailed off for a moment and looked away, too choked up to continue.   Sirius’ death still caused him pain. "Sirius made me his heir and the patriarch of the Black family. Besides, there was no one around when my mum needed help. I couldn’t let someone else’s mother go through that." he finished, brushing a tear from his cheek with the sleeve of his shirt.

"My son and I owe you a wizard’s debt, Harry, and more importantly, a family debt." She paused for a moment and looked at her son, her eyebrow raised in question.   When he nodded, she turned back to Harry. "We will support and stand by you. As the head of the Black family, I ask that you dissolve my marriage to Lucius Malfoy."

"Dissolve your marriage?" Harry asked, glancing at Remus in confusion.

"It’s just a matter of filling out the paperwork for the Ministry, Harry.   I can do that, but you’ll have to sign them as the head of the family," Remus said reassuringly.

"If this is what you want, I’ll be glad to do it," Harry said, a little unsure of this latest development.

"I’ve made many mistakes in my life, Harry, but it’s not too late for me to change and I intend to start today," Narcissa said with conviction.

Harry chuckled. "Mistakes? Sounds like the story of my life." He stopped for a moment and peered at her intently. "Mrs. Malfoy, I promise you this. Neither you, nor your son, will want for anything again. All I ask in return is that you work on getting yourself well.   I know that Draco wants nothing more than to spend the holiday with a mother who’s healthy, and it’s something I would like to see myself."

She cocked her head to one side and looked at him carefully. "You look like your father, but you have Lily’s heart," she said quietly.

Harry looked away from her, unable to speak.   Many people had said the same thing to him, people who’d known his mother.   While he was glad that she was remembered kindly, it was also painful for him, because he’d never really gotten the chance to know her himself.

 Sighing, he sat down between Narcissa and Hermione, who reached out for his hand. Everyone faced him expectantly and he took a deep breath, shook off past regrets and gathered his thoughts.

"Remus, Hermione and Tonks know everything I’m going to tell you and Susan knows some of it. They may jump in from time to time to clarify points, so listen to them. Some of this isn’t going to be easy to say, so I ask you to be patient.

"I guess the best place to start is at the beginning. After the attack on my parents, I was supposed to go stay with Sirius Black, my godfather. If that wasn’t possible, Remus Lupin, also a very close friend of my parents, was to get custody of me. As most of you know, that didn’t happen. Instead, I was sent to live with muggle relatives who…" Harry stopped and shook his head.   Looking at Remus, he sent the man a pleading look.

Remus sighed, but smiled gently. "His muggle relatives beat and starved him. He didn’t even know he was a wizard until he got his Hogwarts letter. All those years he he’d been told that his parents were a couple of drunks who were killed in an automobile accident while driving under the influence of alcohol," Remus said, looking around the table.

"Starting shortly after his placement with the Dursley’s, money started to be drained from his trust fund vault, nearly one million galleons per year," Remus continued. "Most of the money was going into the hands of the Headmaster of Hogwarts, with occasional payments to his muggle relatives.

"During the summer before his first year, there was a change in where the money went. I’m sorry to say this, Ginny, but your parents started getting payments from Harry’s trust fund also."

Ginny’s jaw dropped and she paled. Harry, still staring at the table, refused to meet her eyes. The revelation of the abuse he had grown up with was something that shamed him deeply.

"It’s true, Ginny," said Tonks. "At the start of summer, the Ministry began to quietly investigate the whole affair. They’ve found an obvious pattern of planned abuse and neglect, as well as theft, all aimed at Harry. I want to be clear on this. Everything points to the Headmaster and the Order of the Phoenix orchestrating a deliberate campaign to rob Harry of his money and set him up as V-V-Voldemort’s main target by fulfilling the first half of the prophesy."

"Your brother Ron, Gin." said Hermione. "Didn’t you wonder where he got the money for that promise ring?"

Everyone watched as the young woman cringed back from the table, her expression ashen.   She raised a trembling hand to her mouth and watched Harry with large, wounded eyes.

"You see, Ginny? That’s why I told you that you had to be strong. Of all the people here, you’re the only one related to the people involved and, come the holiday, you’ll be going home to them. I wish I could take you home with us, but until you turn 17, they could charge us with kidnapping," added Harry.

Neville put his arm around the trembling girl. "Harry, I’ll talk to Gran. Maybe we can have her come visit with us for a few days over the holidays. Miss Tonks, would it be possible for you to speak with my Gran?"

Tonks nodded, smiling. "That’s a good idea, Neville."

"If she can stay with Neville and his Gran, maybe she can visit with me as well," offered Susan.

Harry sat back and relaxed a little as the group came together to support Ginny.

"Harry, I don’t understand this," said Ginny. "You’re saying my parents are involved in stealing from you, but haven’t you been checking your vault?"

"The last time Dumbledore let me go to my vault was the summer before second year. Until this past summer, I hadn’t been back to Diagon Alley at all. Your mum bought my supplies for me the last couple of years, remember?" he asked.

Ginny sat back and thought about what she’d just heard. As the truth started to sink in, her expression changed. Tears slowly rolled down her cheeks as her carefully constructed and safe family life fell apart. Neville pulled her close as her face crumpled and she wept on his shoulder.

Alarmed, Harry stood to go to her side. In his rush, he rammed his chair as he turned. Pain exploded down his leg and he swayed dangerously, nearly losing his balance. Hermione and Narcissa grabbed his arms and helped him back into his chair.

"Ginny," Harry said through gritted teeth, "I’m sorry this comes as a shock to you and I’m sorry for what it’s going to do to your family. But I promise you that you and your other brothers will get through this. I wish to god your parents hadn’t done this…"

"No, Harry," said Ginny, her voice steely, "they betrayed you, they betrayed their own honor and they betrayed the wizard’s debt they owe to you for saving my life. I cannot believe the hurt they have caused you. I’m the one that should be apologizing to you, not the other way around."

Harry looked away, knowing this would tear the Weasley family apart.   He knew it wasn’t his fault, but his heart ached for it anyway.

"Please understand, Harry," Ginny said pleadingly, "Fred, George, Bill and I think of and loved you like another brother.   Charlie does too.   I’m sure, if someone were to tell him what was happen, he’d support you."

"I know, Ginny," he replied softly.

When the room remained quiet, he sighed.   They still had a ways to go yet, and he needed to finish it.

"Since it seems that we’ll be able to see that Ginny’s taken care of, let’s continue," Harry said, glancing around the table. "I was in terrible shape at the end of last term. You all know that I watched Sirius go through the veil.   What you do know is, an hour after watching him die, the old bastard, Dumbledore, explained the prophesy to me.   I was a mess, wanting nothing more than to join Sirius. What I didn’t know was that, by the time I got off the Express, I was ill.

"Remus came to visit me a few days later and found me burning up with fever and having hallucinations. He’d just come from a private reading of Sirius’ will and wanted to tell me about it. Since he couldn’t take me right then, he came back later that night and rescued me from the Dursley’s. He took me to a place of safety and tried to care for me. Ultimately, he brought in Hermione and her parents to help because he knew I trusted and cared for her, and her parents had muggle medical experience that might help."

"Illness in a witch or wizard is pretty rare," Narcissa said. "What were you sick from, Harry?"

Harry couldn’t answer her. He wasn’t embarrassed about undergoing his Matura, but the reasons behind it shamed him still. Hermione, sensing his hesitation, answered for him.

"He was undergoing his Matura, Mrs. Malfoy. We think it was delayed because of the abuse and starvation he lived through with the muggles. When it finally hit him, it was so severe and lasted so long that it nearly killed him," she said.

"I know this is something we don’t normally talk about, but I’ve been dying to know for months now. How long was his Matura, Hermione?" asked Tonks.

Hermione looked at Harry. When he nodded, she faced Tonks again. "He was ill for nearly fifteen days," she replied.

"Cor! That would be…"

"Three hundred and sixty hours, give or take a few."

The room grew deathly quiet as they all stared at Harry. He smiled weakly in return, feeling rather freakish.

"Just how strong are you, Harry?" whispered an awed Tonks.

Harry shrugged. "I don’t know. I took out eight Death Eaters in Diagon Alley with one spell and I wasn’t casting at full strength. A full strength light spell from my wand will blind anyone staring at it and light up a Quidditch pitch.   Wandless, it’s even stronger.   But how do you measure magical strength?   No one seems to know."

"Merlin!" Tonks breathed, staring at him.

He rolled his eyes. "Well, there you have it. The life of Harry Potter in a nutshell, and now you understand why I’ve insisted that you all learn occlumency before I explained this to you. Our illustrious Potions Master has already mentally assaulted Hermione and myself as he tried to find out where we were over the summer. Now you know why you must keep up with the exercises and be very cautious around the teachers. There’s a criminal investigation going on and we can’t let them know about it. But you all deserve to understand what’s happening and why the Headmaster’s treating me the way he is."

Remus passed around the butterbeer and the only sound in the room for a few moments was the twisting off of bottle caps.

Luna raised her bottle and looked around the table, smiling.   "To the Outcasts…May we never be chased by the Gnarled Footed Twitter Bug!"

When Hermione started to sputter, Harry grinned. "To the Outcasts!" he said, joining Luna and the others in a toast.

Authors Notes:

Warning! The Sturgeon General has determined that reading these author’s notes may cause excessive blood pressure, unwanted pregnancies, heart palpations, trembling in the ears and nose, teeth itching and your eyeballs may fall asleep. If you’re reading this while drinking, You must scroll to the bottom of the page and take our online sobriety test. If you can’t find it, you are too drunk to read this.

WE DO NOT HATE RON. We just think he’s fun to throw on the rack and torture for a bit.

Who is the spy in the house Gryffindor? (Diabolical music playing) We’ll not tell.

Why didn’t Harry heal himself from the spider bite. Well let’s be honest here, there are limitations to magic, even for one as strong as Harry. The damage done to Harry’s leg was the result of poisoning and was quite extensive as you will come to see. They can rebuild the muscle tissue, but it will still take time to recover from the bite. Besides, if he’s that strong, why bother with a spider? Let’s nail the little green eyed bugger with Kryptonite and be done with it.

Dumbledore and company are in a world of their own and won’t realize it for quite a long time. Ahhhhh rose colored glasses.

Lets get one thing straight. Harry may threaten to press charges, but it’s an empty threat. He cannot really do anything that might interfere with the investigation underway. But he’s not the only one capable of pressing charges or seeing some sort of justice done.

OK, a couple of side comments here. 1) Harry will not be a phoenix animagus or get a phoenix, soon you will find out why. 2) We apologize for the mistake about the Narcissa/Tonks relationship. In fact Tonks is standing behind me right now morphed into the incredible hulk and is making me type this. HELP!!!!

Let us state right now that you should not bet any money on anyone like Dumbledore getting redeemed in this story. It just isn’t going to happen and would ruin the plotline.

Harry did not have his earring charmed to alert him that Hermione was in danger at the point of the attack. Harry’s oversight is rectified in a later chapter.

The response to the assault on Hermione and Harry is coming, just not in the next chapter or two. So be patient grasshoppers, here, have a cookie.

Folks, please carefully consider the time frames here. Some of these chapters cover a span of several weeks, and several, like the last one, barely covers a few days. The attack on Hermione took place on the morning after her birthday, Harry’s spider attack took place that night. Everyone is screaming for retribution, charges, court cases, hanging and quartering while poor Harry still lies exhausted from his ordeal in the infirmary. ITS GONNA HAPPEN FOLKS.

Pet Peeves:

Would it be too much to ask that authors who spend the time and creativity to actually write something substantial try to name chapters? Nothing is more annoying that finding what looks like a decent story, but the author is too lazy to name the chapters.


Step 1: Turn your mouse upside down.

Step 2: Remove ball from mouse. Place ball in secure location.

Step 3: Pee in ball receptacle.

If you’ve followed all three steps, you are too drunk to be here. Go home and sleep it off.

You really don’t believe this is going to work do you?

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