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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Thirty-six


September 19

“Again, Mr. Potter,” Covelli said calmly.

Harry staggered to his feet.  “Again?” he croaked.

“Again,” she repeated, “but first - what did you learn from the attempt?”

“That I’m hopeless,” he bit out.  “Maybe we should just give up?”

Covelli shook her head.  “To walk down a corridor at Hogwarts or to walk through Hogsmeade, it must be very difficult for you; your time in the classes, it must be torture.  After what was done to you, the choice is stark – either master proper Occlumency or risk insanity.”

Harry braced himself.  “Again, then,” he said.

“Begin the exercise,” Covelli told him.  “Think of the information to be concealed, then visualize the walls rising… the roof being placed atop them… the bars on the windows… and now… picture the building shimmering… fading… disappearing into nothingness… and there is nothing more to be seen.”  Her voice held the same soft, slow pitch.  “I will begin seeking the information in ten seconds.  There is nothing to be seen… remember that there is nothing to be seen…”

The pressure at his temples was softer this time.  He didn’t want to think about Covelli’s mental intrusion because to think about the intrusion endangered the hidden information… but he knew that she knew he was thinking about not thinking about it and that was just as dangerous.  She pushed and the building was revealed, and then the pressure mounted.  He began to repel her, careful not to fall back on instinctive Legilimency though that would have been so much easier.  This was difficult – in its own way it was as brutal as the sessions with Snape, though Covelli seemed to mean well.  When the pressure relented, Harry fell to his knees.

Covelli said nothing while Harry slowly recovered.  He felt nothing from her, not a flicker of her true feelings – she had exercised great care since he had crashed through her barriers and accidentally recovered a very dark moment from her past.  He was slow to meet her eye.

When he did, she asked very calmly, “Who is she?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry said quickly.

“But for a minor error, I would have believed you,” Covelli said.  “Remember that an experienced Legilimens will be an experienced judge of expression as well.  Your mind did not betray you; it was your eyes.”

“This is impossible,” sighed Harry.

“If it were impossible, then I would leave you to the madness.  You will need to learn what is called a ‘poker face’,” she said.  “I learned of this from my former husband.  Dumbledore also makes this face well; he should be the one to teach you, I think.”

Harry’s shoulders drooped.  “So I’m supposed to block my mind, control my face… how can I do that all at once?”

“You will cross the room one step after the next,” Covelli said.  “Repetition is the key.  It will become second nature to you, this I promise.  From this time forward, I will randomly probe your mind.  This may happen in the corridors, it may happen any time that I see you in passing.  I may attempt it at a distance, although it is very difficult to accomplish.  You will be given no warning.”

“Wait – from a distance?  I didn’t even think that was possible!  This is so unfair!” Harry protested.

“It is possible but rarely practiced.”  Covelli’s expression went cold.  “This is necessary, and you will learn to resist me,” she said.  “I would prefer that two Legilimens were regularly testing you, but the creature Dumbledore assigned to teach you was utterly unacceptable.  Dumbledore will not assist; he will not enter your mind unless you ask it of him.”

“He said that?” Harry asked.

“You are surprised by this, as you should be,” Covelli said.  “It appears that you know Dumbledore better than I knew him in my youth… but perhaps neither of us knows him now.”

“I’ve had a lot of experience with him,” Harry said.

Covelli slowly lowered herself into one of the two armchairs in her office.  Harry hadn’t considered that their training might be as exhausting for her as it was for him.  She took a handkerchief and dabbed at her forehead.  “The memories and emotions that I recover from you are privileged,” she told him.  “They will not be discussed with Dumbledore or anyone else but you, not unless you expressly permit me to do this.  You are not my patient, however; you are my pupil for this subject.  This means that I will not explore these things with you either, unless I feel that they impact upon your training or are of sufficient importance that they must be discussed.  So, I ask you again: who is she?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Professor Covelli,” Harry said. 

Covelli flinched ever-so-slightly.  “My title is ‘Doctor’, Mr. Potter – not ‘Professor’,” she said icily.  “Understand this: I will not allow you to antagonise me without consequence.  You are also aware that I know you are lying.  I press because this must be discussed.  Shall I ask once more?”

“It’s not your business, right?” Harry snapped and headed for the door.  He tugged hard at the handle, but the door wouldn’t open.  After an unexpected squelch, it wouldn’t even move within the frame.

“As you suspect, I already know who she is,” Covelli said quietly, “but I would have preferred that you tell me.  At least our distrust is mutual – we can work with that.  Now you will sit down and we will have our discussion – please.”

Harry sat hard enough to make the armchair creak, and tightly crossed his arms.  “So you don’t trust me either?  Good!  Glad to hear it!” he spat.  “Since you already know who Heather is, what else am I supposed to tell you?”

“I think that we should discuss your feelings for this girl and I will explain –” she began.

He cut her off, “Discuss?  I’m sitting here against my will and you’re being a scold – that’s more Dumbledore’s style, isn’t it?”

I am nothing like –” She stopped and let out an audible hiss, then continued more quietly, “I am not being a ‘scold’, as you say.  We will discuss your feelings for this girl and then I will explain why I believe that she affects you, in particular your Occlumency shield and your emotions.  Is this acceptable?”

He refused to uncross his arms.  “You must know how I feel; you’re the one who pulled it out of my head.  What’s to discuss?”

“I know what you felt in that moment.  I do not know how you feel in this moment.  Do you understand it yourself, I wonder?” Covelli said slowly.

“Fine.  Where do I start?” he snapped.

“How did you meet her?  This would be the best place to start, I think,” Covelli said.

She had to draw him out at first.  He didn’t want to talk about St. Ebb, not with her.  It felt to him like talking to Dumbledore, and he didn’t want Heather to be Dumbledore’s business.  Whatever there was between he and Heather – and the longer he talked, the more he knew that Covelli was right about his lack of understanding – it wasn’t anyone else’s business at all.  With great reluctance, he gave a spare outline of his time in St. Ebb.

“In this world, you are seen as either demon or saviour.  In her world, there were no expectations of you.  You had two weeks in which to be something other than your public persona,” said Covelli.

She captured Harry’s full attention with that.  He pulled his churning emotions close, and said without feeling, “Fair enough.”

“You say she was avoiding permanence?  She is well-known in certain circles.  Perhaps she was also temporarily shedding her persona?” Covelli suggested.

Harry thought about how different Heather seemed on the telephone than when they had been together, face to face.  “All right,” he mumbled.

“For a person who is well known to the public, it is difficult to create a life or even an identity separate from the public persona,” Covelli said.  “This is a matter of control, experience, resources and access.  For you, Mr. Potter, there is also personal safety to be considered.  These two weeks you describe, they were a meeting between the person you wish to be and the person this Heather wishes to be.  Your interactions now, they are of a different character?”

“I’m not seeing her any–” Harry quickly began.

“Do not offer me a lie,” Covelli cut him off.  “I know that you have remained in contact with the young lady somehow, and I also know that this has been forbidden in some way.  The things I know from your memories and emotions, they are privileged – do you remember this?  I know this, and I will not share that knowledge.  Your interactions – they are changed?”

“Yes, but there’s still…” Harry trailed off.  He didn’t want to lie to her gain – he wasn’t entirely certain whether he could lie to her – but he didn’t want to tell her the truth either.

“I have accessed memories of encounters at a discothèque and on an oceanfront.  I have some sense of your feelings at those times,” Covelli said.  “Do you feel this now, as you think of her?”

“I don’t know.  Every time I’m around her…” Harry hesitated, and then added, “If you know who Heather is… do you know what she can do?”

“Yes,” said Covelli.  Harry waited for her to offer something more.  She didn’t.

“Do you think that’s why I get like this when I’m around her, on account of the Legilimency?” Harry asked.

Covelli let out a soft chuckle.  “No, I do not.”

“Right, what am I missing here?” Harry fumed.

Covelli shook her head.  “I believe we’re finished for today, and I am certain you do not wish to keep Dumbledore waiting.  I am setting you an assignment.”

“An assignment?  You’re not part of my tuition!” Harry protested.

“I am within my rights, given the tasks that Dumbledore has set for us,” Covelli returned.  “You will write a paper explaining the difference between love and lust –”

Pardon?” Harry blurted out.

“Three pages… excuse me – three feet should be sufficient…” She put on a wicked smirk and Harry shuddered.  “This will be an opportunity to put your Gryffindor house traits to use.  The research for this paper will be conducted by speaking at length with six persons of your choosing.”

“You want me to talk to six people about…?” He felt the blood drain from his cheeks.  “What sort of assignment is that?”

“One which I have assigned,” Covelli said curtly. “You will complete the assignment no later than tomorrow evening.”

WHAT? By tomorrow?” Harry shouted.  “We don’t even meet on Fridays!”

“You will be off the grounds this weekend, Mr. Potter, and I am aware of your destination.”  Her voice became a bit strangled and he picked up a hint of emotion, painful and conflicted, despite her efforts.  “Dumbledore will take responsibility for your security, but I know Keith MacLeish all too well.  To meet with him unprepared… this would be a grave mistake.  You are in need of competent advice.”

He was surprised that she knew MacLeish, and more surprised that she was willing to help.  He thought of Flitwick and the goblins, and suspected that he needed counsel over MacLeish even more than he’d needed it with Grishtok and the Volvar.  “I have some… er… there’s time Friday, I think…” Harry stammered, still thrown off by the peculiar assignment.  He wondered whether he should bring it up with Dumbledore, but guessed that the Headmaster would be more amused than helpful.

“That is amenable.  Send me a post with a time of your liking, or use a messaging spell if you have learned one,” she said, her eyes already turned to an open notebook on her desk.

“Love and lust?” Harry muttered as he left Covelli’s chambers, his mind already drifting to the lesson upcoming.  “What is she on about?”

The students avoided Harry in the corridors now, even the Gryffindors.  Monday breakfast had been filled with whispers about the weekend’s events.  By mid-week the rumours had reached a hysterical pitch.  Harry had gone on an unsanctioned hunt for Death Eaters; he had started a brawl at the Leaky Cauldron resulting in at least one death; or he had joined forces with a goblin army to plot the overthrow of the Ministry.  Luna hadn’t helped matters by telling her Transfiguration class that the last rumour was the most plausible of the three.  She had gotten a stiff rebuke from McGonagall for it, to which she had shrugged and then proposed that the Ministry would be well served by a proper coup d’etat.  Her further insistence that the coup would best be led by Harry and his army of rampaging graphorns had earned her a detention from Flitwick – it had been ‘for her own good’, he had said.  Luna had become absent-minded and quite peculiar – the Luna that Harry remembered from fifth year, more or less – since returning to Hogwarts; try as he might, he simply couldn’t figure the reason for it.

Harry paid the rumours no mind; he was accustomed to being seen as a demon, as Covelli had put it.  At least no one was suggesting that Hermione had slashed open a Death Eater, who had then been allowed to bleed to death by the leaders of the British goblin community.  No one accused the goblins of then beheading said Death Eater and sending the head as an owl post to Voldemort, to be immediately followed by high tea and a feast.  The truth in this instance was far stranger than a Quibbler headline. 

Harry still hadn’t had an opportunity to go over the events of the hunt in detail with Flitwick in detail, and he wanted – needed – the professor’s insight.  Talking about that day with Hermione wasn’t an option.  Talking to her at all had become a problem.  Flitwick had shuffled Hermione to the Hospital Wing for an overnight stay upon returning from the goblin hunt; he had shifted her to private tuition in Charms upon her release.  Detheridge had relieved her of practical lessons in Defence, and Harry knew that she hadn’t attended Dumbledore’s NEWT potions class since the week prior.  She was indeed the subject of rumours, but these concerned her sanity.

The former D.A. members were still looking after Hermione, Harry knew, but at a greater distance.  Ron and Ginny were the only ones to sit near her at meals.  She otherwise avoided them as surely as she avoided him, and she positively snapped at anyone else who drew near.  He had tracked her movements through the castle for four days, and was surprised that she had only visited the library once.  Most of her week had been spent either atop the Astronomy Tower or in the dungeons.

If he hadn’t looked up at the proper moment, Harry would have piled directly into Hermione as he rounded a corner.  “Hermione! I –” he started.

She stooped to pick up her book bag.  Her hair was a tangled mess and she wouldn’t meet his eye.  “I’ve no time right now,” she said quickly.  “I can’t talk to you –”

He bent his knees and lowered his head, and whispered, “Look, if this is about what happened at the hunt, I don’t –”

Somehow she still managed to avoid looking at him.  “I can’t do this right now, Harry.  I have to go.”

“Happy birthday,” he said softly.

She slowly raised her head.  “I’m sorry?”

“Happy birthday,” he said again, “or at least I think I have it right.  This is the 19th, isn’t it?”

“Birthday… I’d forgotten, honestly,” she said.  “Erm… thank you, but I really –”

“Have to go, I know,” he finished for her.  “I have a gift for you, if that’s all right.  Oh, and I’ve a gift to deliver you as well.”

She took his hands and said, “Thank you”; there was a subtle tremor in her voice.  “I really have to go, or I’ll be late for class.”  She left quickly – it wasn’t quite fleeing, but close enough to sting.  By the time he reached the Defence classroom, he looked forward to taking it out on Detheridge.  He was quite thrown when Tonks met him at the door.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded.

Tonks wasn’t put off at all.  “It’s your dancing lesson today, love – oh, I’m sorry, your ‘movement studies’,” she laughed.

“Bloody hell,” he huffed.

“Even more disappointed than usual, eh?  Has someone eaten your treacle this morning?” she said.

“I was looking forward to a duel,” Harry grumbled.

Tonks reached toward his face and pinched his cheek before he realised what was happening.  “Such a charming lad… I’ll be happy to put you arse-over-teakettle when we’ve finished.”

Fine.  Let’s dance,” he growled.

Tonks led him to a vacant room down the corridor from the Defence classroom.  She tapped her wand against a wireless in the corner and a wizard’s voice squawked, “It’s all tango, all the time!”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up.  “Are you serious?  I’ve never heard that before!”

Tonks shrugged.  “You just have to coax out what you want.  Molly never goes beyond WWN One… my mum either, come to think of it.”  She sauntered to Harry and waited for him to take the lead.

He was precise, he was determined, and he was angry.  After a half hour of charging around the room, Tonks waved him away and silenced the wireless with a quick snap of her wand.  “What do you think… we’re doing here?  Are you… are you trying to kill me?” she panted.

“Good enough?  Are we finished here?” Harry asked.

“No, we aren’t,” Tonks returned.  “The point of this is to recognise how a partner moves.  Dragging me around in a circle isn’t going to do –”

The room went black and then a bright red bolt sliced through the darkness.  Harry rolled to one side and Tonks dove in the opposite direction.  He could see her for an instant with each successive flash; she was slowly circling toward the source.  The attacker spotted her and Tonks barely managed to raise a shield.  Harry fired off two quick stunners at the attacker’s back, but they were somehow deflected and the second nearly rebounded on him.

Harry reviewed the room in his mind as he dodged a curse.  There was no furniture save the small table for the wireless, so there were no objects of any size to banish or levitate.  He tried to conjure a spread of cannon shot, but the conjuration failed; nothing he’d ever read had even hinted at an anti-conjuration jinx or anything of the like.  With the next spell flash, he spotted an old house banner hanging high above.  Tonks shifted to her left and Harry moved to his right.  She began to fire a barrage of spells and Harry did the same, adjusting his position to assure that he didn’t catch her with any stray casting; he spied a pattern to her spell choices and began to alternate his from the pattern, hoping to catch the attacker off-guard. 

In the midst of the onslaught, the attacker dropped to the floor and simply disappeared.  “Lumos!” Harry called out anxiously in hopes of slicing through the unnatural darkness.  The room was flooded with incredibly bright light. 

Tonks muttered, “Torca ignis… bloody twit!” The wall sconces lit after several flickers, and Harry cancelled his spell.  As the tip of his wand dimmed, he saw movement – a familiar sort of rippling in the air.  He moved quickly to the left and Tonks circled to the right.  With a quick flick of the wrist, he ran a slashing spell across the top of the banner and then propelled it quickly downward.  He followed with the strongest stunner he could muster; it singed the fallen banner and drew a yelp from the attacker now shrouded beneath.  The attacker fell flat and didn’t move.

Petrificus totalis,” Harry said.  Tonks vanished the banner and Harry tugged away the invisibility cloak beneath, to reveal a rigid and unconscious Bill Weasley.

“I figured it was a set-up,” Harry said.  “You were moving too slowly.  Besides, if I was really under attack inside the castle, Dumbledore would have had help here within a minute.”

“First off, wish for backup but never count on it.  There are a score of things that can come off wrong,” Tonks warned him.  “Are you beginning to understand why Aurors learn to dance?”

“I knew where you were going to go next,” Harry recognised.

Tonks nodded. “Exactly.  Now… moving on… never hold back!  Stunners, Harry?  I know that’s not the best you have; Shacklebolt’s given you more than that!”

“Like I said, it was a set-up,” Harry insisted.

“You can’t assume that, not ever,” Tonks said.  “As to the spell choices, what in Merlin’s name were you thinking with lumos?  The only reason we weren’t both put on our backs is because you cast a bloody lighthouse!  I’m still seeing spots!”

Harry shrugged nervously.  “I figured that if someone made it go dark, it was for a reason; if you light up the room, then you create a problem.”

“Suppose that you light up the room, and an opponent’s right behind your partner?  There’s a green flash, and then you’re alone,” Tonks fired back.  “Did you notice that I backed toward the walls?  It’s best to have something solid at your back, if nothing else.”

“How do you know the walls aren’t dangerous?  There could be… openings for wands, I suppose? Spikes that pop out – that sort of thing?” Harry ventured.

“None of that’s likely, but I suppose you could use proximity wards,” Tonks suggested.  “We can ask Bill about that.  First, I’d like to know what Detheridge is doing with you, because he’s surely not teaching you how to fight.”

“No, Shacklebolt’s going to do that.  Dumbledore’s trying to bring him on; otherwise I’ll go to him.  With Detheridge, we’ve focused on healing spells.  He’s gone over a lot of things, though.  It’s like Shacklebolt, I suppose – you learn a lot just listening,” Harry said.

“Healing?  You’re still taking on Charms with Professor Flitwick, right?  He’s the one to cover healing,” Tonks insisted.

“Not healing charms – healing spells.  Detheridge keeps coming back to the difference,” Harry explained.

“Healing spells?”  Tonks shook her head.  “Looks like I need to wake up the genius, eh?  Pity… I was so hoping to put him in a tutu first.”  She cast the enervating charm and Bill abruptly sat up.

“Oi, what sort of stunner was that?” Bill blurted out.  He fingered a charred hole in the back of his trousers.

“I’ve got a question for you – a couple, actually – if you can stop rubbing your bum,” Tonks laughed.

Bill scowled in return.  “It needs rubbing – that stung!”

Tonks waggled her eyebrows.  “Is that an invitation?”

“Not in front of the children, dear!” said Bill with a grin.

Harry crossed his arms.  “Seems like the child did all right – who’s the one with a burned bum?”

“Fair point,” Bill chuckled.  “A couple of questions, then?”

“You were five minutes early, by the way,” said Tonks.  “So, what’s the difference between a healing charm and a healing spell?”

“I was on time by my watch.  Healing spells, eh?  Well, they’re a sight more powerful than the usual charms,” Bill said, “but most are fairly dangerous.  Why?  Is this an Auror bit?”

“Harry’s been learning them from Professor Detheridge,” Tonks said.

“Is that so?  Which spells?” Bill asked.

Consanesco, medelafocilare…” Harry began.  Bill’s brow tufted even as Harry mumbled, “…morior mora…”

Morior mora?  That’s… are you serious?  He’s called that a ‘healing spell’?  It’s… well… it’s rooted in the work of a Babylonian necromancer – terribly dangerous work, that!” thundered Bill.

“Yeah, I can see how it could be dangerous,” Harry agreed.  “It’s really complex; very tiring to cast, as well.”

“Tiring?  Tiring, he says?”  Bill threw up his hands.  “You’re expelling part of your life force, more or less – of course it’s tiring!”

“It’s not life force, it’s just energy, and you do get it back –” Harry fired back.

“It isn’t just energy, and yes, it comes back if the spell is flawlessly cast,” Bill warned.

“Dunno, doesn’t sound very useful to me,” Tonks said.  “If you cast that during a fight, it sounds like you’d be left defenceless.”

Bill looked carefully around the room.  He cast in quick succession a personal ward, an imperturbable charm and a silent space, then conjured three chairs and motioned for Harry to sit.  “Here’s the thing, Harry: you need to take more care with Detheridge,” he said.  “The man’s clearly very bright and well qualified for the subject… but there’s something dodgy about him.”

“He’s a Defence professor at Hogwarts; that’s dodgy on its own.  Do you know how many Defence professors Hogwarts has had in the last thirty-five years?” Tonks asked.

“Why do you know that?” Harry wondered aloud.

“Go on, make a guess,” Tonks prodded.

“Thirty-five?” Harry offered.

“Professor Dumbledore told me that no one’s repeated since ’62, but the answer’s forty-one.  They don’t always finish the year,” Tonks said.

“It isn’t just the post,” Bill said.  “Three times now, I swear to you Detheridge didn’t know who I was.  A couple of other times, he’s known things that he couldn’t possibly know… um… things that only our mutual friends would know.”

“Maybe Dumbledore’s talking to him?  Maybe he’s part of the old crowd?” Harry suggested.

“No, no, I’ve noticed the same, and it’s not just things to do with our, uh, friends,” Tonks added.  “Sometimes I swear he knows about things before they happen.  A couple of people I know at the Ministry are prescient, and it isn’t nearly so sharp… and then there’s the fact that he looks different now and again – older, then younger, then older…”

“He does, doesn’t he?” Bill muttered.  “It’s sort of like Remus.  You don’t suppose…?”

“He’s not a werewolf,” Tonks said.  “It is a bit like Remus with all the changes, but we just met the man three weeks ago.  I can’t see a pattern to it, can you?  Sometimes he seems so worn out, and sometimes I think he could run circles around us.”

“Maybe he’s just sick?  I know St. Mungo’s can fix just about anything, but look at Moody…?” Harry offered.

“He’s not right, Harry, and he’s giving you tuition in some very dangerous magic.”  Bill shook his head.  “I know you’re going to have to learn some dangerous spells in the end, but morior mora?  It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Dumbledore reviews all the lessons,” Harry pointed out.  “He knows what I’m learning.”

“It pains me to say it, but I don’t think that’s good enough any more – not after this summer,” Bill said nervously.  “These are your decisions to make, and I don’t want to be like Mum on this.  Just promise me that you’ll keep your eyes wide open, right?  Be careful, and don’t go off half-cocked if you do see something odd… and don’t just tell Dumbledore, either.  I’d like to know about it as well.  Tonks feels the same.  We’re working with Detheridge too, you know – consider it a matter of safety, if you like?”

“All right… if it makes you feel better,” Harry allowed.

“We’re serious about this, the both of us,” said Tonks.  Harry glanced at his watch, and she crooked an eyebrow.  “Sorry, are we boring you?” she laughed.  “That must mean it’s time for me to knock you senseless.”

“No, no… erm… it’s just that I have this stupid assignment –” Harry began, but stopped himself quickly.

“An assignment?  They’re still setting papers for you?” Bill asked.

Harry shook his head.  “It’s mostly practical now.  Croaker gives a lot of work, but I’m three years behind in Runes.”

“Bill can help you with Runes, you know,” Tonks said.

“Nice of you to offer me up,” Bill groused.

“Anything for you, love,” Tonks smirked.  “Is it time to rub your bum yet?”  Bill showed the barest hint of a Weasley blush.

Harry hastily rose from the conjured chair.  “It’s nothing, really.  I’ll take care of it myself –”

“I am willing to pitch in, actually,” Bill assured him.  “He must be blazing along if you’re going from nothing to NEWTs; are you beyond elementary aetts?”

“It’s not from Croaker,” Harry muttered.  “I’ll just be off…”

Tonks crossed her arms.  “What sort of assignment?  You seem twitchy over it.”

“Really, it’s nothing – just one of Covelli’s mind games,” Harry insisted, and made to leave.

Bill pursed his lips.  “Covelli… she’s the new History professor, right?  I didn’t think you were going to sit for History.”

Tonks’s face screwed up in concentration.  “She was Hermione’s… hold up… she’s a mind healer.  Is she helping you block out You-Know-Who?”

“Use his name,” Harry huffed.

“I understood that Snape was trying to teach you Occlumency last year,” Bill said.  “Something of a disaster, that?”

“Quite,” said Harry.  “If we’re through here, I really should –”

“So she’s teaching you Occlumency and she set you a paper,” Tonks concluded.  “What, struggling with your focus?”

“What would you know about Occlumency?” Harry snapped.

“Only what I picked up in the Auror training on mind magic,” answered Tonks.  “I know that it blocks Legilimency, that it uses a focal point and a good deal of concentration… I remember the trainer saying that strong emotions can muck it up…” She stopped abruptly, and then slowly assumed a predatory grin.  “Aww, ickle Harry’s having focus problems.  This doesn’t have anything to do with emissions, does it?”  Harry felt the blood drain from his face.

Bill dropped the charms on the room with a quick slash of his wand.  “Out,” he said to Tonks.

“Oi, I was just winding him up!” Tonks pouted.

Out, Tonks!” Bill demanded.  When her grin turned to a frown, he added a quiet, “Please.”

“Wasn’t trying to be upsetting… not too much…” she pouted on her way out.

As soon as the door was again imperturbably sealed, Bill motioned to the chairs.  “I recall an embarrassing assignment or two during my Hogwarts days,” he said; “mostly around healing, as I think on it.  I don’t know much more about Occlumency than Tonks does, Harry, but I figure that you couldn’t learn it without someone mucking inside your head.  That sounds pretty awful to me.  Do you want to talk about it?”

Harry really didn’t want to talk about it, but he didn’t know how to get out of the assignment and at least Bill came across as a fair-minded fellow.  “Covelli wants three feet on the difference between love and lust,” he blurted out.

Bill’s lip twitched.  “Wha…?  Love and lust… er… I’m not laughing, honestly I’m not…” He covered his face with his hands.

Harry sighed.  “It isn’t funny, you know?  She’s serious.”

Bill took a deep breath and then let down his hands.  “If anyone had set that assignment for me when I was your age, I’d have given myself over to the Giant Squid,” he said.  “You’re supposed to research lust…?”  He snickered and looked away; Harry heard him mutter, “Oh, thank Merlin I made Tonks leave.” 

“She… wants me to, um, talk to six people about… oh, this is a nightmare…” Harry stammered.  Bill’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped; Harry wondered if he’d made the same face when Covelli had given him the assignment.

“‘Nightmare’ sums it up nicely,” Bill said at last.  “Do you, er, want me to weigh in on this?”

Harry’s throat felt thick.  “You aren’t going to tell anyone about…?” he managed.

Bill frantically shook his head.  “Absolutely not!  Your life is messy enough, without this getting around!  Can you imagine if word got out that you’d been assigned this topic?”

“I’ve been trying not to imagine it, actually,” Harry groaned.

“That’s understandable,” Bill said.  “So… do you want…?”

Harry forced himself to nod.

“This is as awkward for me as it is for you,” Bill assured him.  “Is that your satchel over there?  I suppose you’ll want a quill and parchment – you know, notes and such?”

Notes?” Harry squeaked.

“Like it or not, you’ve a paper to write – a quick incendio afterward, and no one’s the wiser,” Bill said.  “Look… I’m trying to be honourable here, you being an unofficial Weasley and all.  It could be worse.”

“Worse?  It couldn’t possibly be worse!” Harry insisted.

Bill rolled his eyes.  “Is that so?  Who would you rather be sitting with right now – me or Dumbledore?” he asked.  Harry summoned his satchel so quickly that it took all of his Seeking reflexes to catch it.

After twenty minutes, Harry discovered that after a certain point, it simply wasn’t possible to feel any more humiliated; there was a strange sort of numbness that eventually set in.  At first Bill seemed to be heading toward the “Talk” that Harry had heard all about from his schoolmates but had always managed to avoid for himself.  Everything drifted significantly from that point onward, and eventually Bill seemed to run out of things to say – at least things he was willing to say to Harry.  For his part, Harry had no idea what to do with any of it.  He now knew that Tonks was without a doubt seeing Bill; that a girl wasn’t a slag just because she showed some physical interest in a bloke; that there were serious advantages and disadvantages to dating a half-Veela; and that not a few Chilean women had been impressed by Bill’s ability to tie knots in a cherry stem with his tongue.

“That’s all I have,” Bill said at last.  “Next week, we’re going over a few ways to make this Covelli woman suffer.”  He shuddered.  “Horrible assignment, Harry – just horrible.”

“Erm… thanks,” Harry managed.

Bill stroked his chin thoughtfully.  “Could you do me a favour?  How close an eye is Professor Dumbledore keeping on you?”

“I can go where I want, if that’s what you’re asking?” Harry said.

“You know that Dad is mad for all things Muggle, right?  I try not to feed it too much – gives Mum fits – but now and again I like to give him some widgety thing or another,” Bill explained.  “Tonks picked up this Muggle wireless for him, with the earpieces and a couple of the music things… er… the square things made out of the plastics, with the spools inside of them –”

“It sounds like a Walkman,” Harry said; “my cousin Dudley’s had a few of them.”

“Sometimes I forget that you’re Muggle-born for all intents and purposes,” Bill said.  “I’ve seen one of these things before, but never gave a thought to picking one up.  All you had to do was make for the nearest bodega to find good music in Chile, and there wasn’t time for much other than work in Egypt.”

“So…?  You want me to take this Walkman out to St. Ebb?” Harry asked.

Bill nodded.  “If you wouldn’t mind?  Mum and Dad would love to see you.  Dad’s become very fond of you over the years, Harry.”

“I like your Dad,” Harry said.  “He’s always gone out of his way for me.  Your Mum has, too… it’s just…”

“There’s no need to explain,” Bill said.  “While you’re there… you know, Dad managed to take six of us through these sorts of questions.  None of us ended up too badly damaged for it.”

Harry thought about how Mr. Weasley had reacted when he’d come across Harry and Heather on the beach – he had been calm and helpful and very understanding.  “You think I should talk to him, then?” he confirmed.

“I wouldn’t bring it up around Mum, but yeah… if you can get him free, I think you should,” Bill said.  “You can get yourself a decent meal –”

“Hogwarts food is rather good, you know,” Harry pointed out.

“Of course it is, when you actually eat it,” Bill countered.  “You’re avoiding the Great Hall as if it were cursed.  So… you can get yourself a decent meal, and knock down another one-sixth of this assignment of yours.”

“I’d have to do it tonight.  There isn’t even time to send an owl,” Harry said.

Bill laughed.  “You don’t honestly think that’s necessary, do you?  You could drop in at four o’clock in the morning and Mum would have something whipped up for you by half past.  I’ve got the Walkthing in one of my cases; let’s fetch it for you.”

Three hours later, Harry pushed away his third plate of an absurdly heavy midday meal and smiled at Mrs. Weasley.  “I couldn’t possibly eat another bite,” he said.  “This was wonderful, really.”

Mrs. Weasley beamed at him.  “With more notice, I could have managed those treacle tarts that you like so much – not that we mind an unexpected visit, of course!  Isn’t that right, Arthur?”

Mr. Weasley set aside his copy of the Daily Prophet.  “Don’t mind at all,” he agreed, “and I know it’s been said, but I’ll say it again: we can’t thank you enough for allowing us to stay here through the winter.”

“I could never have left you to those tents,” Harry said earnestly.  “It wouldn’t have been right, not after everything you’ve done for me.”

Mrs. Weasley’s hands kept smoothing the tablecloth in the same place, over and over.  “Harry dear… we’ve had some rough patches over the summer… things have been said, things that hurt you…”

Harry sighed.  “Mrs. Weasley, you don’t need to –”

“Yes, yes, I believe that I do,” she said.  “We’ve tried to do right by you, all of us, but somehow… especially of late… I’ve… I’ve…” Mr. Weasley produced a handkerchief and Mrs. Weasley dabbed at her eyes.

“It’s all right, really,” Harry insisted.

Mrs. Weasley took a handful of heaving breaths before she set the handkerchief on her lap.  “All I’ve wanted to do is to keep you happy and safe, all of you… Arthur, the children, you, Hermione – you’re all family, as far as we’re concerned.  Did you know that Hermione sent me a Howler…? Of course you did; I’m sure she told you straight away.”

“You haven’t hurt me, not really, but you did hurt Hermione,” Harry said.  “Mr. and Mrs. Granger were very upset over it.” 

Mrs. Weasley lowered her eyes.  “I never meant for that.  We’re terribly fond of Hermione.  She’s been like a second daughter to us – and with all these men around, can you blame me for wanting another?”  She seemed to expect that Harry would say something; when he didn’t, she went on, “So many Muggle-borns live on the edges of our world or leave it altogether.  I don’t want that to happen to her, Harry.  It would devastate Ron and Ginny… it would devastate all of us.  Hermione expects to accomplish so much.  I… I thought that with her coming of age, it was best that someone soften the blow; you see?”

Harry balled his fists beneath the table.  “I’m sure you meant well,” he bit out.  “Did you know that she thought you were setting her up?”

Mrs. Weasley’s brow crinkled.  “I’m afraid I don’t understand –”

Harry latched on to Covelli’s exercises; he took a long slow breath and pulled in his emotions as close as he could manage.  “She thought you were planning to make sure she’d receive a… an offer from the right sort of pureblood,” he said.  “Do you understand now?”

Mrs. Weasley was horror-stricken.  “No!  I didn’t intend that at all – not that I’d have minded in the slightest if Hermione had taken up with Ron – but I never intended… oh, this is dreadful… she’ll never forgive me for it…”

“I think that you should give her more credit, Molly,” Mr. Weasley said.  “She’s a bright girl, bright enough to see that you had good intentions.  Now… would you rather that I help to clean up, or should Harry and I go for a stroll?”

Mrs. Weasley waved her hands toward the door.  “Off with you – picking up after three isn’t even a trifle,” she sniffed.  “Besides, Harry needs to slip you whatever Muggle thing that Bill’s sent along.”  Harry’s eyes widened and Mr. Weasley looked away sheepishly.  She stood before they could and kissed Mr. Weasley on the forehead.  “Go ahead – restock your collections if that’s what you want.  I’m letting up on you, dear, at least until you manage to clutter the entire tower,” she laughed.  “We should find something for you to do besides puttering around.”

“Let’s go, Harry – I know when I’m not wanted,” Mr. Weasley said with a wink.

“Do come back in before you leave?” Mrs. Weasley said to Harry.  “I thought I might send Hermione a note, perhaps a few sweets?”  He nodded briskly and followed Mr. Weasley to the courtyard and then the path that led toward the cliffs.  Neither said anything; Mr. Weasley seemed deep in thought, and Harry let his irritation disperse in the warm September sun.

When they stopped at the overlook, Mr. Weasley grinned at Harry.  “So, what did Bill send along?  Give it over, would you?”

Harry could feel Mr. Weasley’s curiosity and enthusiasm in the air.  He smiled in return and pulled Bill’s gift from his knapsack.  “It’s called a Walkman,” he said.  “Muggles use it to play music.  These things are called cassettes; that’s where the music is kept.”  Harry put in a cassette and pressed the Play button.  He was surprised to find that the Walkman had working batteries.  “You put this headset over your ears.  These buttons make the cassette go forward and back.  This one stops it.  This little thing here makes it louder or quieter.” 

“Amazing… simply amazing…” Mr. Weasley muttered.  He put on the headset and turned the volume dial far too quickly.  “Bloody sodding…!”  Harry’s brows shot toward his hairline; he quickly reached for the Walkman and set the dial back.

Mr. Weasley nearly tore the headset off.  “Er… have to experiment with that later.  Now this works by… what, exactly?  It doesn’t need plugs, does it?”

Harry shook his head.  “It runs on batteries.  If they wear out, I can get you some more.  Plugs will work in the tower, by the way, provided you don’t rely on too much magic.  It’s the same idea as the lights.”

Mr. Weasley laughed.  “I nearly found that out the hard way… rather unpleasant to admit this, but on our first day here I very nearly set the kitchen on fire.  An Ignition spell does rather ugly things to those glass bulbs – did you know that?  Ted Tonks has come by a time or two to set us right.  I’ve been a bit afraid to try any of my new plugs, in truth.  I think I’ll wait on Ted, perhaps see if he and Andromeda might spend a weekend?”

“I can show you how some things work.”  Harry hesitated for a moment.  “I should tell you, though… a lot of the things you used to keep around were broken.”

Mr. Weasley sighed.  “Tom Granger told me the same.  It didn’t hurt quite so much to lose it all, knowing that.  Harry… if you knew, why did you never say anything to me?”

“Dunno… it would have been strange, me saying it,” Harry admitted.  “You were happy keeping everything, and I didn’t think it was my place.”

“Fair enough,” Mr. Weasley said, “but no one wants to look a fool.  I’d like to think I would have listened to you on this, even when you were twelve.  It surprises me more that Hermione said nothing about it, actually.  Imagine me with a shed filled with broken things… and here we are, living in a place with wires and plugs and glowing glass lights, and the greengrocer comes to us in one of those… it’s called a lorry, right?”  He made for the steep path down the cliffs to the beach, and Harry followed.  “I’ve learned more about Muggles in the last few weeks than in twenty-five years on the job,” he went on.  “You know, the Ministry should be ashamed of Muggle Studies?  If they’d commission a Muggle-born to write the texts, they’d… well… of course they won’t.  It would make wizards that much more interested in Muggles, and we can’t have that.”  He sighed.  “I’ve had a lot of time to think, Harry.  I don’t pine for my days at the Ministry, I can tell you.”

Harry couldn’t shake what Mrs. Weasley had said about Hermione’s future.  “Mr. Weasley, has it ever crossed your mind that maybe I might go back into the Muggle world, you know, when everything’s finished?” he asked.

Mr. Weasley slowed his pace.  “That would be a tragedy,” he said without looking Harry’s way.  “When V-Voldemort’s well and truly gone, you’ll have great influence – far greater than you have now.  I’d rather it be you guiding affairs of state than a Nott or a Parkinson or someone else from the dark families who always seem to ride out these things.  At least the Malfoys are cornered, for once.”  He stopped altogether.  “My family wouldn’t fare well if you were to leave, Harry.  It would be like losing Per… well, it would be like losing one of our own.  I don’t expect that would be your only consideration, but bear it in mind.”

“I won’t stay if Hermione leaves, you know,” Harry said.  “I won’t stand by if she’s held back like Mrs. Weasley said.”

“When all of this is behind us… if you stand behind her, if you’re known to be a good friend, then I imagine that will carry a good deal of weight,” Mr. Weasley suggested.  “Molly’s made a worst-case point.  I understand that the goblins have taken a great interest in Hermione; she could exert considerable influence from inside of Gringotts.  I don’t think she should expect to hold a high Ministry position, Harry – not unless the world changes a good deal – but that won’t prevent her from making a difference.”

Harry’s emotions pulled free for a moment before he could rein them in.  “She won’t be unhappy with her life, not if I can help it,” he promised.  “I’d do the same for Ron, you know, or you and Mrs. Weasley –”

“You already have,” Mr. Weasley said.  “You’ve really no idea what you’ve accomplished to this point.  That’s not a bad thing, it seems to me.  You’ve avoided serious arrogance –”

“Really?” Harry asked.  “I know I was impossible this summer…”

“You’re sixteen years old; that earns some latitude,” Mr. Weasley chuckled.  “You take your responsibilities seriously, and I admit to being impressed by that.  We didn’t know them especially well, but… I believe I’m on solid ground in saying that your father and mother would be proud.  Yes, quite proud indeed, I’d say.”

They were both quiet until well after they bared their feet and began to stroll southward across the sand.  Mr. Weasley broke the silence.  “Bill sent an owl ahead of you.  I understand you’ve been given a troubling assignment by one of the professors?  He wasn’t very specific, but he suggested that I might bring it up if you kept your head down on the matter.”

Harry’s throat tightened.  “Er… sent an owl… trying to be helpful… nice of him, that… yes, very nice… um… you see… it’s just… ehh…”

Mr. Weasley pursed his lips.  “I’ve never seen you so tongue-tied.  Is it really this awful?”

“Love and lust…” Harry ground out.  “She wants three feet on the difference between them.”

“Lu –!”  Mr. Weasley cleared his throat noisily.  “I… I can’t believe Minerva would do this to you!”

“It wasn’t her,” Harry said quickly.

“Er… that’s something of a comfort, I suppose…”  Mr. Weasley pulled a face.  “All right, then… can you take detention instead?”

Harry laughed despite himself.  “I don’t think that will work.”

Mr. Weasley continued to walk, his hands pensively clasped together behind his back.  “Well… well… you’re in quite a spot, eh?  I won’t even ask what could have provoked this.”

“You know, you really don’t have to –” Harry began.

“Bill did mention that you weren’t left time to tarry,” Mr. Weasley said, “and I must confess… well, there’s ample evidence that I’m at least familiar with both…”  He stopped when Harry began making faint choking sounds.  “I won’t go there, Harry – you can take a proper breath now.”

“Sorry,” Harry muttered.

“No need,” said Mr. Weasley.  “I remember when the very thought of my parents having those sort of feelings –”

Harry ground his teeth.  “You said you weren’t going there.”

“True enough,” Mr. Weasley laughed.

Harry reached down, picked up a small stone, and threw it at the surf.  “I can’t believe this,” he sighed.

“You know, love and lust aren’t just about pretty girls,” said Mr. Weasley.

“I’m sure that’s the idea, though…” Harry sulked.

“So you do have some idea why this assignment came about?” Mr. Weasley snorted.  “Well, that’s neither here nor there… the point is that there’s more than one sort of love.  There’s more than one sort of lust, as well.  Do you think that Molly and I love our children?”

“Of course you do,” Harry said.

Mr. Weasley nodded.  “And there you are.  Parents love their children; there’s the love between friends, of course… we even love our familiars and pets.  You can write about that, can’t you?”

For the first time since the assignment was set, Harry felt a flicker of hope.  “That’s brilliant,” he said, “but… what about… um… lust?”

Mr. Weasley shook his head.  “You can say… that name without the slightest flinch, but the word ‘lust’ stops you flat.  There’s nothing wrong with a bit of lust; it’s good to be enthusiastic.  The problem comes when it’s carried too far.  Cornelius Fudge has a lust for power… so does V-Voldemort, of course.”

“I never thought of it that way,” Harry admitted.

“I’m not surprised, not after raising six boys,” said Mr. Weasley.  “Now then, if you really need to pursue this in a different way… er… I am willing to help you.  I’d feel terrible if I left you in the lurch -”

“No, honestly!” Harry blurted out.  “What I mean is, thank you; I appreciate the ideas…”

“Glad to be of help,” Mr. Weasley said.

They both went silent again.  Harry needed the release of a long walk and Mr. Weasley kept pace.  As Harry slipped on his trainers for the walk back to the tower, Mr. Weasley broke the silence.  “Have you thought about what I said to you the last time we were on this beach?” he asked.

“You mean what to do about Heather?  It’s been on my mind, yes,” Harry said hesitantly.

Mr. Weasley waited for Harry to start up the path.  “This really is a horrid assignment, Harry – I figure you’re miserable right about now.  Still… if there’s no getting out of it, you may as well put it to good use, right?” he said as they started the climb. 



After a very uncomfortable hour in the staff commons and an equally unpleasant two hours in the staff reading room, it was perfectly obvious to Harry that he was being avoided.  Sprout and McGonagall had made polite excuses; Croaker had glared at him; Marchbanks had harrumphed for two minutes before burying herself in a book older than she was; and Vector had ignored him as obviously as possible. 

He sought out Flitwick to see if he might shed some light.  The Charms professor had very energetically begged off, but had then insisted that he would happily see Harry the following evening.  It was the particular timing that set Harry to thinking, and he didn’t care for the conclusion.  They all know about the bloody assignment! he realised, and he began to concoct increasingly diabolical ways of hexing Covelli.

Harry was still grumbling to himself when he came upon Luna Lovegood.  She planted herself directly in his path.  “Hello, Harry; you’re having a perfectly miserable day,” she sing-songed; her hand twirled absently at long hair that was no longer there.

“Hello, Luna,” he sighed.  “I haven’t a graphorn army, you know, and I’m not putting on a coup.”

“Graphorns… ooh; I didn’t say graphorns, did I?  I meant flugelhorns, of course,” she said.

Harry’s eyes involuntarily crossed.  “Flugelhorns?  Erm… I’m not sure, but I think you play a flugelhorn?”  Luna’s eyes were fixed on a point a foot above Harry’s left shoulder.  “Luna…?”

Her eyes cleared for a moment.  “I’m sorry,” she said; “it was rude of me to carry on two conversations at once.  So, what can I help you with?”

“Help me with…?  You’re the one who stepped in front of me,” Harry pointed out, “not that I’m unhappy to see you.  Did you want something?”

“Want something?  Oh… I thought you might need help with your assignment,” she said absently.

What do you know about that?” Harry gasped. 

“I was walking the grounds, and the centaurs were having a chortle over it,” Luna told him. 

Harry desperately hoped that she was being fanciful.  “I… I think I can finish it on my own, thank you,” he managed.

She fixed him with an unblinking stare; her pupils contracted into pinpoints.  “Lust dies.  Love does not,” she said.

Harry couldn’t look into her eyes any longer.  “Er... I don’t know if I can get three feet from that, but… thank you?”

“It’s the only truth there is on the matter,” she said with a shrug.  “If you write large, the truth can fill six inches.  I could explain the mating habits of a Will ‘o the Crisp for you… that could take up six feet, easily.”  Her eyes drifted off toward the end of the corridor and she shuddered.

“What is it?  Are you all right?” Harry asked.

“It will pass,” Luna said.  “You were about to ask me something?”

“I was, actually…” Harry admitted.  “Um… it’s like this… when we were in St. Ebb, you were so… well… normal?  What’s happened to you?”

“I have thestrals in my belfry from fall to spring,” Luna laughed.

Harry’s brow furrowed.  “Fall to spring… are you… are you saying that Hogwarts does this to you?”

“Everything dreams, Harry – the students, the professors, the ghosts, the owls, the portraits… even the castle dreams,” she sang out.  “Be seeing you!”  She skipped off before he could get in a word.  He couldn’t begin to imagine what Luna was trying to say; it was much more confusing than her dottiness from the year prior.  He considered a return to the staff commons and a confrontation with each professor until the truth came out, but decided instead to kill Covelli in her sleep and thus be over and done with it.  As he continued along the corridor, it occurred to him that killing her in her sleep was not only too kind, but would be thoroughly unsatisfying.  He clenched and unclenched his fists for the rest of the walk to Dumbledore’s chambers. 

Dumbledore’s gargoyle Gareth was civil, almost stately, in stark contrast to Cyril and Godfrey who guarded the staff commons.  It still startled Harry when any of the gargoyles spoke to him.  They didn’t speak to or in the presence of students – he’d had no idea until the end of August that they spoke at all; it was another measure that he was now different than before.  “The Headmaster is indisposed,” the gargoyle said in his slow and grave way.

Harry’s temper was in full flush.  “Indisposed, is he?  Well, he needs to be… uh… disposed, right now!”

“I shall enquire,” Gareth said.  “Know that disposed is not the opposite of indisposed… and would that they taught the Queen’s English in this castle.”  Even the gargoyles are against me, Harry thought.

Several minutes later, the gargoyle allowed the door to open without comment.  Harry dashed up the stairs.  Dumbledore was seated behind his massive desk and a stack of papers.  He had a snifter of something reddish in one hand and a quill in the other that he set down as Harry entered.  “Oh, dear… that is the sort of expression one wears following a great tragedy,” the Headmaster said.  “Have a seat, would you?”

“I’ll stand, thank you,” Harry said.

Dumbledore set down his glass.  “Good gracious, Harry, should I be concerned?  What could have happened–?”

Harry held up his hand.  “Covelli set me an assignment – a nasty bit of work,” he said.  “I don’t suppose you know anything about that?”

Dumbledore held an impassive face.  “An assignment?  Is that so?”

Still, Harry spotted the barest hint of a twinkle in Dumbledore’s eye.  “I’m in a foul mood right now, Professor, so please don’t draw this out.  Either Covelli spread the word or you did.  Which is it?”

“I see you’ve found me out,” Dumbledore said with an impish grin.  “It is customary for the Headmaster to prank each member of staff at the commencement of each new term… except for Mr. Filch, who possesses no sense of humour whatever.”

A prank…?”  Harry pushed his feelings down as deeply as he could manage.  “You could have added a sleeve to all of my robes, or turned me purple, or… or transfigured me into a newt, but… this?”  He lost his reserve, and added with a catch in his throat, “How could you?”

“You can trust that the staff will stop avoiding you after tomorrow, and I assure you that neither Mr. Filch nor Severus was given any knowledge whatever,” said Dumbledore calmly.

“You honestly think this will stop tomorrow?  They must think I’m some sort of… of… pervert!” Harry fumed.

Dumbledore sat back in his chair.  “Nonsense, Harry.  Why ever would they think that?”

“They have to wonder why I’d be stuck with an assignment like this one!” Harry railed.  “They have to think there’s something wrong with me or that I did something –”

“Ah, I see,” Dumbledore said.  He took a sip of his red beverage before he went on, “In order for that to be the case, the staff would have to know what the assignment was.”

Harry was left flat-footed.  “Wha…?”

“The staff was told that I’d set you to ask them particularly embarrassing questions,” Dumbledore laughed.  “Having been pranked a number of times, they not only understood but were most willing to be complicit.  I dare say that Filius was best at putting on, wouldn’t you agree?”

Harry’s mouth opened and closed silently several times before he forced out, “Not funny, not in the slightest.”

Dumbledore continued to chuckle.  “Is that so?  I found it quite amusing – in fact, I find it quite amusing even now.”

“You’ve a dodgy sense of humour, then!” growled Harry.

“So I have been told,” Dumbledore agreed. 

“I’m not sure this isn’t even worse that I thought!  They didn’t know what the question was, so they could have imagined something even worse than the assignment – not that there could possibly be anything worse!” complained Harry.

“No one has thought poorly of you,” Dumbledore insisted.  “It’s more likely that they’ve thought poorly of me for setting you some sort of horrid question.  Lemon sherbet?”

No!  I don’t want a lemon sherbet!” Harry snapped.  “I can’t believe that you… today was enough of a nightmare without this!

Dumbledore set aside his snifter and steepled his fingers.  “I should have anticipated your sensitivities, having once been of your age and station.  There was no intention on my part to upset you so.  I offer you a sincere apology, Harry.”

“I suppose I’ll accept it,” Harry said reluctantly.

“Your anger would be well and truly justified had I disclosed the terms of the assignment, or if those terms had somehow reached the students,” offered Dumbledore.

Harry’s inclination toward accepting the apology quickly waned.  “So how did Luna Lovegood find out what Covelli set me?”

Dumbledore was noticeably startled.  “Miss Lovegood, you say?  Oh dear… I do hope that this has gone no further – that was certainly not my intention –”

“- and a fat lot of good that did!” Harry cut in.

“I did not share the particulars with the staff, nor did I share anything of any sort with Miss Lovegood… yet I cannot imagine that Lucia is responsible.  Such petty cruelty is beneath her,” Dumbledore said firmly.

“Is it really?” Harry sneered.

“Have problems arisen between the two of you?  You can ill afford more diversions or delays in your training, and certainly where Occlumency is concerned,” said Dumbledore.

Harry grumbled, “She’s not as bad as Snape, if that’s what you mean.”

Dumbledore rubbed at his eyes and let forth a long sigh.  “We will have too little time as it is, you and I, without expending it on rancor,” he said.

“Then don’t prank me again.  Ever,” Harry said flatly.

“This has been quite the misadventure, I see,” Dumbledore said sadly.  “I had no intention of angering or upsetting you beyond the mild upset one associates with a prank.  Regrettably, circumstances often overwhelm intentions.  I had no intention of carrying two apprentices at the same time, for example, but… yes?”

Harry was stunned.  “Two apprentices?  But… who else?” he blurted out.

“Lucia did not tell you?  It seems that her embarrassment runs deeply, indeed.”  Dumbledore directed Harry to a chintz armchair, and he willingly sat.  “Lucia invoked some very powerful and very old magic long ago,” the Headmaster went on.  “It was necessary as she assisted me in vanquishing Grindelwald.  That invocation came at a price.  In the same way as the protections cast upon you imposed certain timing on your stays with the Dursleys, so this magic imposed a time of service upon Lucia.  No vows or oaths of apprenticeship were sworn – just as with you – but she remained my apprentice for all intents and purposes, and that relationship was rejoined simply by entering this castle.  I did not know that this would happen, or I would not have asked her to return.  I would not have wished her to be bound here against her will.”

“So that’s why she won’t go by ‘Professor’?” Harry asked, still dumbfounded.

“She prefers the title ‘Doctor’ in any case,” said Dumbledore, “but it is not acceptable for an apprentice to adopt the title of ‘Professor’, even if she is a fully qualified instructor.”

“And what about ‘bound’?  What do you mean?”  Harry didn’t like the sound of it, whatever it meant.

“Yes, Harry – bound.  Lucia is bound in service to Hogwarts for another eight months; this was the remaining term of her apprenticeship,” Dumbledore told him.  “Having triggered the binding by her return, she can only leave the confines of the castle for brief periods – a few days at most – without extending that term.  I have been unable to negate the binding, despite considerable effort.  It is a testimony to the magic involved that the connection remains so powerful after fifty years.”

“It is just like the Dursley’s, isn’t it?  Well… at least it’s Hogwarts, I suppose.  At least she’s not trapped in a house with Uncle Vernon,” Harry pointed out.

“A cage is a cage, however large it may be,” Dumbledore returned.  “I wish that you had not endured the Dursleys and I wish that Lucia was free to come and go from a place that she does not hold fondly.  Now then…”  With a flick of his wand, a silvery phoenix raced across the study and down the stairwell.  “I expect that Lucia will join us within the hour.”

Perfect!  There are so many things I’d like to say to her…” Harry said with relish.

“Keep in mind that it was I who pranked you.  If you wish to be angry, please direct it toward me,” said Dumbledore.

Harry shook his head.  “She set the assignment in the first place.”

“You will have opportunity to air your anger, though I do hold that some of it is misdirected,” Dumbledore assured him.  “In the mean time, I would like you to speak of your Occlumency training.”

Harry begrudgingly recounted his sessions, and admitted that he had made progress.  “We don’t trust each other, not really, but until this morning I’d have said that things were coming along.”

“Your description and the reports from Lucia are very similar,” said Dumbledore.  “I am pleased that your abilities are developing.  I wish the same could be said about the relationship between apprentices.”

Harry sat in silence for a while, before he quietly said, “The more she teaches me, the more I worry about Heather.”

“Miss Magruder?  Has something happened of which I am unaware?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry related a portion of what Heather had said on the beach about her experience at Hogwarts and about the way that the world seemed to be pressing in upon her now.  “I know I’ve asked it before, but is it possible that Snape did to her the same as he did to me?” he finished.

Dumbledore gave his beard a thoughtful stroking.  “Efforts were made to teach her Occlumency,” he said slowly; it was obvious that he was choosing his words.  “Those efforts were not fruitful, but she did not disclose her experiences in the castle… very curious, indeed.  Your concerns may be warranted.  May I contact Remus?  I would prefer not to wait, but I shall defer to you.”

Harry swallowed audibly.  “What… do you mean to contact him now?  Erm… are you going to tell him that this came from me?  I mean, it might not be for the best…”

“What would you have me say, Harry?” Dumbledore asked.  “It has been three weeks since she left us.  By what other means would we know of her circumstances?”

Harry took a deep breath, and then set his jaw.  “Sod it.  If she needs help, I won’t stand in the way.  Go ahead… Floo him.”  He fidgeted for a moment, but then added, “I’ll speak to him myself.”  Dumbledore’s twinkle made an appearance, and Harry resisted an impulse to poke the Headmaster’s eye.

“I am unable to contact Remus by Floo; however… Fawkes, would you be so kind?” Dumbledore let fly a second silvery phoenix, and Fawkes sang a single trill before giving chase.

While they waited, Harry asked Dumbledore about Detheridge’s tuition.  He managed to work in Bill’s concerns without giving up the source.  The Headmaster took a long time to answer and he chose his words carefully.  “Marcus understands the importance of his instruction as well as anyone who has ever taught at Hogwarts,” he said.

“You said you wouldn’t keep things from me,” Harry warned.

“I have made promises to Marcus regarding the details of his past, present and future,” Dumbledore said.  “He is a cautious man, as he should be.  If you wish to know more, you must ask him directly.”

Fawkes reappeared just then with Remus Lupin in tow.  Lupin was rumpled and particularly weary-looking.    “You needed to see me, Albus?” he croaked; when he caught sight of Harry, he stammered, “Hello!  I… er… never expected…”  He stopped and sniffed.  “What’s happened?” he demanded.  “Something’s happened, I know it!”  Harry tried to stand by way of greeting but was assaulted by a flood of raw emotions.

“Some concerns have been expressed that impact upon you, Remus,” said Dumbledore.  He nodded at Harry, and added, “The floor is yours.”

Harry put his hands to his temples.  “Er… it’s about Heather –”

“What?  What’s happened?  Where is she?” Lupin growled.  “Did someone find out… has there been an attack?  Why are we standing here when we could –?”  Dumbledore put his hand on Lupin’s shoulder and the werewolf quieted, though he was still panting.

There wasn’t so much anger as guilt and hurt and shame – it was simply raw, unrestrained.  Harry recovered himself just enough to blurt, “When is the full moon?”  He slid out of his chair and fell to his knees before he could muster one of Covelli’s techniques.

Remus crossed the room in an instant.  “What on Earth…?  Albus, I understood you were teaching him to sort this out!” he snarled.

“He is progressing,” Dumbledore said, “but your feelings are overwhelming, Remus – even I can feel them.  I know it is difficult, but please settle yourself.”

“Heather… she’s… she’s your cub… I didn’t get that… didn’t understand…” Harry bit out against the onslaught.  “Should have said that… straight away…”  He tried to shake off the overwhelming sense of protectiveness that washed over him, but there was a second wave of it. 

“I’m sorry, Harry” Lupin said quietly, “I didn’t set out to hurt you.  I’m so sorry.”

“Stop, just stop…” Harry managed.  His defences almost fell a third time when Lupin knelt next to him and pulled him into an awkward half-hug.

“All right… now… about Heather -?” Lupin started anxiously.

Dumbledore made Lupin move off.  “You were asked to settle yourself,” the Headmaster said firmly.  “Miss Magruder is in no immediate danger.”  A small bar of chocolate appeared in Harry’s hand.

Harry stayed on his knees, eyes closed, as he found his centre and imagined a wall.  His forehead was damp from the struggle by the time he opened his eyes.  “I… I thought I was catching on to this,” he sighed.

“You are doubtless ‘catching on’, as you say,” Dumbledore assured him.  “Remus is a good man, a good man indeed, but he is also a sentient magical creature.  To answer your earlier question, the full moon rises tomorrow afternoon.  As I said, even I could feel what you felt.”

Lupin slumped into a hastily conjured chair.  His breaths were long and slow and forced.  “You’ve never spoken of this before, Albus.  I had no idea…”

“With few exceptions, this phenomenon is exclusive to a Legilimens,” explained Dumbledore, “and passive Occlumency dulls the sense of presence.”

“Is this why Severus has always disliked me so?” Lupin wondered aloud.

“I rather doubt that.  It may contribute to his animosity but you are aware of Severus’s reasoning, however flawed it may be,” Dumbledore said.  He extended a hand to Harry.  “Harry, you will fare better seated than kneeling upon a stone floor.”

Harry stumbled back into his armchair.  “What was that?” he said.  “It was… I don’t know… it was so out of control…”

 “Breathe easily, Harry.  You felt Remus’s uncontrolled aspect,” Dumbledore said.  “The wolf was upon you.”

Lupin’s voice cracked.  “That’s the state of my life once every four weeks.  I’m truly sorry, Harry – if I’d truly understood what you were experiencing… it’s safe to say that I would have handled many things differently…”

“The wolf…” Harry murmured.  “The wolf…?”  His eyes widened.  “The Wolf!  But… but… she isn’t a werewolf, I mean, we know that much… I don’t understand it – how could…?”  Remus edged forward in his chair, but this time Harry had control of his senses.

Dumbledore stroked his beard thoroughly before he said, “I gather that the ‘she’ in question is Miss Magruder?  Explain yourself, please.”

“I… I’m trying to figure how much I have to tell.  It’s private, and I know what it means to have that violated,” Harry protested.

The Headmaster’s gaze was penetrating, though Harry didn’t feel any sort of probing.  “Is this a matter of Miss Magruder’s personal safety?” Dumbledore asked.

Harry relented.  “It was in her memories, see?  There’s something always there, in her mind – The Wolf, she calls it.  When she uses Legilimency, it comes as a wolf.  She even left scratches on Snape when she forced him out at the club – real scratches.”

“Scratches… do you mean to say that he attacked Heather?” Lupin shouted.

“He complimented her for it,” said Harry.  “He was impressed.”

“Severus said nothing of this,” Dumbledore murmured.  “What you describe should not be possible…”

Lupin bared his teeth; even in human form, it was a frightening sight.  “I’m going to pay Severus a visit – TOMORROW NIGHT!” he roared.

“You will do nothing of the kind,” Dumbledore said calmly.  He summoned a dark green bottle and an empty snifter from his desk.  Harry thought the liquid inside smelled faintly of wood and grass.  The Headmaster poured the snifter half-full and held it out to Lupin.

“Now is not the time –” Lupin started.

Dumbledore stopped him with a look.  “I had planned to visit you later this evening, but yes, I believe it is precisely the time.”

Lupin took it and raised it to his nose.  “It smells… how odd… it’s not Wolfsbane Potion, of course – too aromatic – but there’s a hint of the scent… what is this?”

“It is from the cellars of an old friend.  He tells me that a mutual acquaintance used it long ago to ‘temper the humour of werewolves’.  This is absinthe,” Dumbledore explained.

The snifter shook in Lupin’s nervous grasp.  “Absinthe?  But – but that’s been banned by wizards and Muggles alike!  It’s lethal, isn’t it?  I may as well take the Wolfsbane potion and off myself properly!”

Dumbledore shook his head and smiled faintly.  “A handful died from absinthe a century ago, and those deaths were as a result of improper distillation.  Properly prepared, this is no more deadly than Firewhiskey – be it to Muggles or to magical folk.  The scent you identified is wormwood.  Now, this particular bottle dates to the year of my birth.  I have made it my occasion to sample it on my birthday each year, but you are in more need of it than I.  Raise your glass, Remus.  It is not Wolfsbane Potion, but it may ease your pain.”

Lupin looked dubious, but he slowly lifted the snifter and sipped.  “It certainly tastes better than the potion,” he allowed.

“I suggest that you drink it down,” Dumbledore said.

Lupin’s foot twitched oddly.  “Bottoms up, then,” he said and then drank the remaining absinthe in a single swallow.  “That’s peculiar…” he mumbled just before his eyes rolled back in his head.

“Steady him,” Dumbledore commanded, and Harry bolted to Lupin’s side.  The werewolf shuddered and his hands shook for most of a minute before he went slack in his chair. 

Dumbledore waved his wand in odd fashion and muttered approvingly at the blue light that shone around Lupin’s head.  “A better result than I had imagined, Harry,” he said.  “He will not be lucid at the full moon, but I expect that he will obtain more control of the days preceding and following the transformation.  Enervate.”

Lupin took in an exaggerated breath and sat up, glassy-eyed.  “Goodness…” he mumbled.

“Do take a moment, Remus,” Dumbledore said.  “My friend suggested that this might possibly happen.  The combination of wormwood and angelica causes the absinthe to react differently to your essence than would be the case for, say, Harry or myself.”

“I feel… I… I feel myself again,” Remus said slowly.  “Good Lord, I was raving, wasn’t I?”

“I do not pretend to understand what you experience each month, Remus.  If this burden could be lifted from you, I would do so without hesitation,” said Dumbledore.  “As it stands, my friend has agreed to re-examine the Wolfsbane Potion in order to see if your sensitivities can be alleviated.  He is the greatest intuitive Potions Master I have ever known.”  He turned to Harry.  “I have also asked him to consider taking up the Potions position here at Hogwarts, at least for the balance of this year.  If he agrees, then I will give over responsibility for your tuition in that subject.”

“I’m in control, Albus, but don’t mistake that for happiness or satisfaction,” said Lupin.   

Harry nodded in agreement; he would not be deterred any longer.  “So, did Snape turn Heather into a weapon, or not?” he asked.  Lupin shifted uneasily in his chair.  There was another wave of protectiveness, but Harry found it far easier to weather.

Dumbledore closed his eyes and released a heavy sigh.  “I must confer with Lucia on this matter.  Our efforts in this matter were undertaken without key information, and Severus’s omissions merit concern.” 

Remus gripped the arms of his chair so firmly that the wood creaked.  “Concern?  Concern?  We were concerned about Heather going mad, and it’s now suggested that dear old Severus somehow cocked up the whole business?  To hell with control!  If this is true, Albus – if we find out with certainty that it’s true – I swear to you… tomorrow night I pay a visit – tomorrow night, and the consequences be damned!”

“Calm yourself – let the absinthe do its work,” Dumbledore said.  “We will determine what has happened and take steps to remedy it.” 

Harry stared boldly at the Headmaster and said, “If Snape did to her what he did to me, I’ll force him outside the gates.  I wonder how long it would take the Death Eaters to collect him.”

“We require Lucia’s expertise,” Dumbledore said.  “She was unable to participate in Miss Magruder’s examination and instruction, though I did consult with her at the time.  It is clear that critical information was withheld.”  He looked to the portrait wall.  “Ethelred, has Dr. Covelli left the History classroom?”

A portrait of an ancient wizard wrapped in ermine robes snapped to attention.  The wizard left his frame for a few moments.  Upon his return, he reported, “Madam has retired to her study, in the company of a student – a fair young maiden with locks of brown.  I regret to say that Madam spied me as I entered.”

Dumbledore released another silvery phoenix.  “I expect that she will find this second message more provocative,” he said.  “If not, then I shall dispatch Fawkes to collect her.”

“I’d be happy to collect her.  Please allow me,” Harry said with malice.

“It would be best if she were collected intact,” Dumbledore deadpanned.  Harry grunted, and then the study went silent until Covelli reached the top of the steps. 

“What has happened, Albus?” she asked briskly.

Harry stood and glared at her.  “Snape’s done something terrible to my friend, that’s what… oh, and I hate you.”  Lupin crooked an eyebrow at the last.

Covelli took two long, calming breaths before speaking.  “I presume we speak of the same young lady as this morning?”  She turned to Lupin.  “We have not been introduced.  I am Lucia Covelli, instructor for the History of Magic and... and Albus’s apprentice.”

Confusion played across Lupin’s face for a moment before he rose and took her hand.  “I’m Remus Lupin,” he said.  “Heather Magruder is my daughter, and Harry’s parents were among my closest friends at school.”

“Remus taught Defence here at Hogwarts three years ago,” Dumbledore added, “and it is indeed Miss Magruder of whom Harry speaks.  It seems that when you were consulted, key information about the nature of her ability was absent, and perhaps withheld.”

Covelli turned to Harry.  “There is more than that which I have seen?”

“How am I supposed to know what you have and haven’t seen?” Harry shot back.

“Did the young lady mislead you, Albus?” Covelli asked.

“It appears that we underestimated Miss Magruder’s desire to end her time with us,” said Dumbledore.

“It was awful for her –” Harry started without thinking.

“Explain, please,” Covelli interrupted.

Harry winced.  “Er… what I mean is… she didn’t want to… um…”

Lupin looked to him with heavy eyes.  “Harry, I know that you’ve continued to speak with Heather since that night; it was obvious from the start.  I’m not stupid, you know?  I suspect you’ve seen each other as well.  If you truly care about her… if you know anything that would be helpful, anything at all… please…”

Harry began to retell Heather’s description of her time at Hogwarts, which led to her difficulty in managing the emotions around her, which in turn led to Heather’s defence against Snape’s Legilimency attack at Cabaret Moliére.  Lupin’s face became more ashen with each revelation.  Dumbledore listened intently.  Covelli wouldn’t meet Harry’s eye.

When Harry finished, Covelli said, “If you wish my involvement, Albus, then I must speak with the girl.  Her reaction to magic, it brings to mind similar reactions of non-magical patients over the years.  Would someone explain the meaning of the wolf, please?”

Lupin’s shoulders hunched and his eyes fell to the floor.  “You see, Madam Covelli –”

“‘Doctor’ Covelli is preferred to ‘Madam’,” said Covelli, “but I am called Lucia by my peers.  Please consider yourself as such.”

“Remus, if you prefer that I…” Dumbledore began to offer.

Lupin shook his head.  “No, I’ve borne it for over thirty years.  I’m well aware of what I am.”

Covelli’s eyes widened.  “Licantropo…” she murmured.

“Yes, I carry the lycanthropic curse.  I am a werewolf,” Lupin confirmed sadly, “and thus I understand why you are unwilling to offer any further assistance.”

“No!  No, you misunderstand!” Covelli said quickly.  “I am… I am simply taken by surprise… and I am very confused.  How is it that the young lady is your daughter?  You married her mother, yes?”

“Actually, no,” Lupin said.

“Miss Magruder is Remus’s daughter by birth,” Dumbledore explained. 

Harry was surprised and not a little pleased to see Covelli taken aback.  “But… but… how is that… how?” she spluttered.

Remus frowned.  “In the usual way, Doctor,” he said briskly.

“I… had understood that lycanthropes could not produce or bear offspring to term,” Covelli said.  “As I recall it, the literature states –”

“The literature is wrong in this instance.”  Dumbledore smiled.  “I knew prior of two cases where a werewolf had sired a child.  The common factor had not occurred to me until just now.  In those cases and in the case of Remus, the mother of the child was a Muggle.”

Covelli raised one hand to her mouth and her fingers tapped at her lips.  Her eyes narrowed, and Harry was reminded of Hermione’s expression when she picked her way through a problem.  “In these earlier cases, did the offspring have magic or did they not?”

“I do not know,” Dumbledore admitted.  “That is an interesting question, most interesting indeed.”

“This Heather, she is not a lycanthrope herself?” Covelli asked.  “You would of course have told me this was the case, Albus.”

“No, thank Merlin,” Lupin said.

“Yet the talent manifests as a wolf…” Covelli said.  “The other two cases may be important.”

Dumbledore nodded.  “I shall make enquiries.  As to arranging a meeting between yourself and Miss Magruder… Remus?”

“There’s no earthly way it could take place before Monday,” Lupin said.  “Shona could never persuade her to do it prior to the performance.  Is it… is it safe to wait?”

“There is no reason to believe otherwise,” Dumbledore said.

“We must know what has and has not been done.  I will speak to the brewer,” Covelli spat.

Dumbledore frowned.  “In future, please refer to Severus by name.  Despite his actions and circumstances, he does still reside within these walls and certain decorum is expected.”

“You still offer a defence, but the brewer has lost the right to a name.  The brewer is a creature, nothing more,” Covelli said coldly.  For an instant, Harry felt the same darkness that had filled Covelli’s violent memory from the war with Grindelwald.

Dumbledore’s eyes bored into her.  “You will not confer with Severus alone.  I will be present.  Is that understood?”

Covelli noticeably shuddered.  “I understand and will comply,” she said bitterly, “but you will not compel me to name something so undeserving – I refuse.”  Harry was startled by the exchange, both by Dumbledore’s command and by Covelli’s acceptance of it; Lupin appeared equally startled.

“So be it,” said Dumbledore, and he turned his attention to Lupin.  “Am I to assume that Miss Magruder’s unavailability is due to Keith MacLeish’s upcoming soiree?  He has extended an invitation to me for the entertainment and a reception following.  I dare say that everyone of standing in Britain has been invited.”

Lupin seemed to shake off the exchange between Covelli and Dumbledore.  “Shona’s invited, and intends to take me as her guest,” he said.  “I haven’t agreed to it at all; my presence would be difficult to explain and I don’t want to take any more unnecessary chances.”

“I can’t imagine many from the Ministry making an appearance, especially Fudge,” Harry said.

“Oh, indeed he will.  I did say everyone of standing in Britain, Harry.  Although I understand that Her Majesty possesses a long memory for public slights and doubtless would refuse to appear in the same building as Miss Magruder, it is likely that someone will represent the Royal Family,” said Dumbledore.

“You’re having me on!” Harry said. 

“I only wish that were true,” Dumbledore said.  “The Muggle Prime Minister will be attending, and Cornelius is not one to be upstaged.  This is a significant event, Harry, in addition to being an untenable secrecy and security risk.”

“It’s sheer madness,” Lupin agreed.  “If I could pull Heather free of it, I’d do so in an instant.”

 “The Ministry has made its bed and now we must all lie in it,” Dumbledore continued.  “The rest of the world will be watching us and many will be hoping for a debacle.  Mr. MacLeish has been a masterful manipulator in all of this.  If nothing else, I do hope that we shall gain a clearer view of his true aims.  It seems that he does nothing by halves.”

“Truer words have not been spoken,” Covelli said.  “I have asked Mr. Potter to meet with me tomorrow in advance of meeting –”

Spending an extra minute with Covelli was simply too much after the events of the day; Harry’s temper blossomed at the thought.  “I’ve changed my mind on that!  I’d rather – I’d rather – oh, sod it, I’d rather spend tomorrow with a Dementor!”

“That is completely uncalled for, Harry,” Dumbledore scolded.

“Uncalled for?”  Harry gritted his teeth.  “With all due respect, Headmaster, you’re not the one stuck with this… this… assignment…”   

“I realise that this assignment lies outside your zone of comfort, Mr. Potter –” Covelli began.

Harry shouted, “Outside of my zone of comfort?  Where do you get off, you effin’ –”

Harry!  Enough!” Dumbledore cut him off.  Lupin’s mouth dropped open in shock.

Covelli went on as though nothing had been said.  “– and I am sympathetic to your prior experiences – believe me when I say this – but I stand by my reasoning in the selection of the topic,” Covelli said.  Harry crossed his arms tightly and his fists balled.  Breathe, just breathe, he thought.

“Albus, I need a word with Harry – now, please,” Lupin said.

Dumbledore gestured at the door that led into his private library.  “Please avail yourselves of the room beyond.  Lucia and I will address student-related matters.”

“You have that accursed twinkle in your eye, Albus,” Covelli said.  “What have you done?”

“A great many things,” Dumbledore sighed as Harry entered the library.

Lupin closed the door as soon as he and Harry passed through it.  “I won’t have this woman involve herself in Heather’s situation until someone explains to me what in Merlin’s name that was all about. You can be rather intemperate, Harry, but that’s not how this feels to me.  You’ve been wronged, I think, and I don’t like it.”

Harry felt a flicker of Lupin’s protectiveness again, and it was even clearer to him than before that the feeling didn’t stop with Shona and Heather.  He let himself breathe in and out and forced himself to pull back from his own anger.  “Erm… thank you for that, but the assignment is my problem.  I don’t like Covelli, not in the slightest,” he said at last, “but she’s the proper one to sort this out.”

Lupin hesitated, and then said, “Your word on this is enough for me… but I can’t help wondering what sort of assignment could cause you to be so agitated?”

“This isn’t something that I can talk through with you,” Harry said seriously.

Lupin looked baffled.  “Come again?  It’s not as though she has you revising the twelve ways to kill a werewolf with silver implements.  Short of that, I can’t see any school topic we couldn’t touch upon – if you want to, that is.”

Harry paced the room, faster and angrier with each crossing.  Lupin finally stepped into his path and said, “That’s quite enough stomping about!”

No matter how much he wanted to hold it back, Harry couldn’t manage it anymore.  “Love and lust – she’s making me write three feet on the difference between them, and it’s to be based on discussing the point with six people… and then Luna found out about it somehow and Dumbledore pranked me over it and… there!  Satisfied?

The blood drained from Lupin’s face.  “That’s… disturbing…” he managed.

“I told you!  I wanted to keep quiet, but you wouldn’t let it go,” said Harry.

Lupin walked unsteadily to the nearest chair.  “No… no… it’s right that I know when something’s troubling you… and this certainly qualifies… is there water in here?  I need water…”  He radiated confusion and frustration and such a jumble of other emotions that Harry felt the need to sit as well.

Harry conjured a rough-hewn glass of water and held it out to Lupin.  “It’s been a long day,” he said.

Lupin downed half the glass immediately.  “I imagine so,” he acknowledged.  “This Dr. Covelli… she must have had a reason for setting an assignment like this.  Did you provoke her, or is she merely as abrasive as she seems?”

“She saw some things during our Occlumency sessions,” said Harry

Lupin rubbed at his temples.  “Who have you spoken with, may I ask?” he asked.

“Mr. Weasley and Bill Weasley, so far… and Luna, I suppose,” Harry answered.

“Those are, uh, interesting choices,” Lupin said.  “Have you learned anything worthwhile?”

“Well… Bill… let’s just say that he knows how to hook up with women in Chile,” Harry offered. 

Lupin had tipped up the glass and was in mid-swallow at that; Harry barely avoided the spray.  “I don’t imagine you’ll find that useful,” he coughed.

“Mr. Weasley, he made me think,” Harry went on.  “He talked about family and friends, and about lust for power.  That hadn’t occurred to me.”

Lupin nodded.  “He’s a good man, Arthur is.  I’d have expected him to mention family.  Lust for power… he’s certainly correct on that point but I wouldn’t have thought of it either, at least not on the first pass.”  He added with a wince, “Do I want to know what Luna had to say?”

“It was the only thing she said that I could make sense of,” Harry said, “but I still don’t know what I think of her answer.  She said that lust dies, but love doesn’t die.  I can’t believe she found out about it – Covelli must have told her!”

“Perhaps Albus is giving a dressing-down for that, as we speak?” Lupin offered.  He finished the remaining water, vanished the glass, and then settled in his chair slowly, almost painfully – the movement made him seem very old to Harry.  “Luna certainly went straight to the heart of the matter,” he said.  “I think that your mother and father would have agreed with her.”

“Were they in love, my mum and dad?” Harry blurted out.

Lupin smiled a smile that was sad and warm all at once.  “Never doubt that, Harry,” he said.  “It took them long enough to arrive at it, but by the outset of our seventh year there was no question.” 

“I have my mum’s journals – not sure I told you that,” Harry said.

Lupin’s eyes lit.  “That extra trunk from the Dursley’s – of course, it belonged to Lily!  I imagine there was more inside than simply the journals?”

“She had all of her school things packed away,” said Harry.

“If you want an idea of what happened between the two of them, then give Lily’s journals from sixth and seventh year a go,” Lupin suggested.  “I don’t know what she wrote, of course, but I know what I saw and I know what she said to me.  She loved James, and I know that James loved her.”

They sat silent for a time while Harry thought about tackling the journals again, and while Lupin appeared to reminisce.  Harry cleared his throat.  “I’ve read most of Sirius’s journal, but… er…”

“I doubt his observations on the matter were printable,” Lupin snorted.

Harry nodded.  “Erm, he had a lot to say about lust… I suppose that’s why I asked…”  Lupin said; his lips twitched for a moment before he burst into laughter.  Harry quickly joined him but it didn’t last.

An awkward silence followed until Lupin broke it.  “Do you think we’ll be able to move beyond all of this?  I want that very much.”

For an instant Harry wanted to lash out but the feeling passed.  He had to talk his way through an answer.  “Last time you were here, it was just words,” he said.  “This time, it’s not.  I didn’t understand how it is for you, not until just now.”

Lupin fidgeted and wrung his hands.  “It’s not an excuse – I have no excuses to offer - but I found myself confronted by something I’d never felt,” he sighed.  “The focus of my life has been control, as it must be.  Shona was the only person for whom I’d ever… in any case; I thought she was gone forever.  When I saw her standing there in front of me – and when I knew for certain that Heather was… well, it was too much to hold inside.  I looked at you, and all I saw was danger.”  He met Harry’s eyes and added, “The worst part is that I was correct.  Something’s been opened up inside of her and no one knows how to put it back.  If the Death Eaters were to find out that you fancied Heather, it wouldn’t be a day before they had her.  If they were to find out what she can do, then Merlin only knows what would happen.  In either case, Harry, she wouldn’t survive it.  You don’t understand how difficult this is… I can’t let that happen, Harry – I can’t.”

Harry couldn’t look at him anymore.  “I know that,” he said.  “I know it, and I know I’ve been selfish, but… how do you know if feelings are real?  Maybe it’s just something my mind conjured up?  Maybe I’ve just picked up on something inside of her?  Maybe… maybe getting inside her mind burned out something in mine?  Look… I know I haven’t shown any good sense, right?”

“I wouldn’t put it quite so sharply,” said Lupin.  “You could have been more open that you’ve been in contact with Heather; you could have done something as foolish as taking her to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley, I suppose.  In fact, I have it on good authority that you took Hermione to Hogsmeade recently, even so far as visiting your rooms.  As much as I don’t want to see Hermione injured again… at least she has the capacity to defend herself or escape.  What I truly don’t understand is where she fits into this puzzle.  I was fairly certain that there was something blossoming between you and she, and apparently you’re not at odds… was it the attack that changed everything?”

“Have you seen Hermione since then?” Harry asked.

“No, I’ve not, but I’ve been given a rough sense of what happened,” Lupin said.  “Has she improved?”

Harry frowned.  “Sometimes it seems that way, but since the goblin hunt…”

Lupin’s brows beetled.  “Pardon?  Did you say ‘goblin hunt’?”

“Oh, right – Hermione, Ron and I went to the goblin hunt over the weekend,” Harry said as if it were nothing of importance.

Lupin shook his head.  “It’s never simple with you, is it?  Explanations are in order, I believe.”

Harry detailed the hunt and its aftermath.  He wavered over telling Lupin the whole truth even as he told the story, but decided that Lupin could be trusted despite everything.  Lupin’s the one my mum and dad should have trusted, after all – not sodding Wormtail, he thought.

“I’m pleased that you’ve stuck by her.  She’s earned that,” Lupin said.

“She didn’t have to earn anything.  Hermione’s my best friend,” Harry returned.

“And that’s where it ends?” Lupin asked.

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted.  “Kissing her certainly didn’t clear matters.”

“You… seem to be working toward a mastery in that subject…”  The werewolf’s jaw twitched, and for a moment Harry thought of readying his wand. 

Lupin seemed to settle after a while, and at last he said, “I understand now why your professor set this assignment.  You’ve been kissing your best friend while you’re still somehow involved with my daughter – please don’t explain the details, as I don’t want to know.  There’s no kind way to say this, Harry: you’re being a wanker where all of this is concerned.”

Harry’s eyes widened.  “You… you just called me a wanker!”

“Yes, I did - it seems descriptive of your choices,” Lupin agreed.  “You didn’t inherit this sort of behaviour from James.  Sirius, on the other hand, was quite comfortable with stringing along two girls at once.  I am being as… restrained as I can muster, given the parties involved…”

“I’m not trying to string anyone along,” Harry insisted.  “I told Hermione what I wanted but she was the one to back away, and Heather’s the one who started snogging –”

Please don’t explain yourself!” Lupin insisted.  “All you’ve managed is to reinforce my point.  You, sir, are a wanker – a big bloody wanker.  My question is this: what do you intend to do about it? Well?  What of it?”

“You called me a wanker again!  I can’t believe you said that!” Harry gasped.

“Why ever not – because I was considered the reasonable one amongst my friends?  Sirius and your father were the standards of comparison; I assure you that my reputation was very easily earned,” Lupin said.

“But… but… you called me a wanker…” Harry mumbled.

“We’ve established that, yes, and you’ve bloody well earned it!  I shall continue to say it until you’ve sorted yourself!  There should be one and only one object at a time for your affections – is that understood?” Lupin snapped.  “I loved Sirius like a brother, but you don’t need to honour him by being as he was.  He wouldn’t want that, and you damn well know it.  You’re Harry, not Sirius and not even James, and you don’t need to be anyone other than yourself.  Remember that!” 

Harry bristled but he couldn’t completely set aside the concern and the fear and the love and the fierceness in the room.  He couldn’t keep himself from understanding.  “I’m not trying to be Sirius,” he fumed. 

Lupin’s expression lightened.  “At heart, you’re the same person who I had the pleasure of meeting three years ago – decent, loyal, self-effacing,” he said.  “I do understand that you’re confused about these things.  Every teenaged wizard is something of a wanker, you see – it’s all a matter of degree.”

“Would you please stop saying that?” Harry huffed.

Lupin held up his hands in defence.  “All right, all right – I’ll let it pass for now.  Just… will you please promise me one thing, Harry?”

“That depends on what it is,” Harry said warily.

“I think you earned this assignment honestly, and I want you to promise me that you’ll take it seriously,” Lupin said.  “You don’t have the luxury of making choices based on lust, and yes, I know that life is unfair.  It’s not as simple a matter as hurt feelings - there are very real risks surrounding you; we’ve gone over this before.  I can accept those risks for myself but I still haven’t the faintest idea how to protect Shona, let alone someone who leads as public a life as Heather.  We’ve both had our summer, you and me, but now it’s a different season.  You admit you’ve been selfish, and so have I… Merlin knows I’ve been terribly selfish.  There are so many difficult choices to be made...”

Dumbledore and Covelli were having a quiet but clearly fierce exchange when Lupin opened the door.  He gave Covelli a stare hard enough to cut glass and snapped, “Did you share Harry’s assignment with Luna Lovegood?  If you did, then I will prevent you from seeing Heather with everything available to me.”

Covelli was clearly taken aback.  “Are you suggesting…?  I would never… the very suggestion… it is true that I took some small pleasure in setting this assignment but… to divulge this…”

“You shouldn’t take pleasure in making a sixteen-year-old with the weight of the world on his shoulders feel just that much more miserable,” Lupin growled.  “Merlin knows I’ve managed that these past weeks, and I’ve felt guilty about it almost from the start.  Having come to my senses, I’m not keen on having someone else do the same!”

Before Dumbledore could intercede, Covelli raised a hand.  “I swear upon my magic that I disclosed Mr. Potter's assignment to no one save Albus Dumbledore.”  A flash of white light leapt from her fingertips.

Harry quickly deflated.  “Then how…?”

Covelli began to pace.  “Miss Lovegood is an interesting person to me.  This is not the first time that she has been a part of something curious, you see?  Did she explain how she came to know of the assignment?”

Harry closed his eyes.  “She… she said the centaurs told her; she said they were having a laugh over it.”

Covelli raised an eyebrow.  “The centaurs?”

The corner of Dumbledore’s mouth twitched.  “When Miss Lovegood was having her chat in the Forest, might she have related her recent theories regarding a certain impending goblin insurrection?” he asked, the twinkle in his eyes fully stoked.

“You have no right to find humour in any of this, Albus,” Covelli hissed.

Harry ploughed on.  “I admit Luna’s a bit dotty, and even more so since the start of term… she said something strange about dreams...”

Covelli’s attention immediately returned to Harry.  “She mentioned dreams in a specific way?”

Harry nodded.  “She seemed awfully confused,” he admitted; “I think she was trying to tell me that Hogwarts makes it worse for her somehow.  She said that even the castle dreams; I can’t imagine what she meant by it.”

Covelli’s eyes lit.  “Albus, I will seek out the girl unless you have objection to it.”

Dumbledore hesitated for a moment, and then nodded.  “I would appreciate a report by the close of next week.  Well, then… despite everything, it seems that this evening has had one unabashedly good outcome.”

Covelli said tiredly, “I’m hard pressed to name one; what would it be?”

“Harry and Remus have put aside their differences – a splendid thing, indeed!”  Dumbledore turned to Covelli and added with a twinkle, “Reconciliation is good for the soul, it seems.”

“Reconciliation?  How dare you even speak the word!  I shall speak of reconciliation, you… you old fraud!” Covelli spat.  She launched into a bewildering rapid-fire string of what Harry assumed to be Italian.  Remus took an unconscious step backward.

Dumbledore was reduced to staccato interruptions.  “Oh, my… I have never before been referred to as… that could not be done without a de-boning hex… I have no earthly idea what that means, but it sounds… now, that is simply gratuitous… good heavens, woman!”  He groaned and waved his hand.  Covelli continued railing at him for several seconds before she realised that she could no longer be heard; her face exploded in deep crimson.

“This seems like a perfect opportunity to borrow Fawkes, wouldn’t you agree?” Remus said.  He was clearly straining to hold back laughter.  “It was a pleasure to meet you, Doctor; I do hope that we meet again under better circumstances.  That was a smashing assignment, by the way.”  Harry groaned at that.  Lupin put a hand on his shoulder, and said more seriously, “Harry, my door is open to you… excepting tomorrow night, of course.  I hope you feel the same.”

Harry shook his other hand.  “Give my regards to Shona, eh?”

“Fawkes, if you would be so kind?” Dumbledore asked wearily.  The phoenix crooned softly and offered his tail to Remus.  They disappeared in a flash. 

Covelli remained in a shuddering rage, and it wasn’t lost on Harry that Dumbledore had moved to the opposite side of his desk.  Still, he wasn’t about to miss a golden opportunity.  “So, I understand that we’re both apprentices,” he smirked.  “I suppose there was enough to think about – that must be why you didn’t tell me, right?  Well, I’m Mr. Potter, but my peers call me Harry.  I think your assignment’s finished, and you won’t be setting me another.” He turned to the Headmaster.  “It’s Hermione’s birthday today and I have a gift to leave with her.  If it’s all right…?”

Dumbledore gave his beard a stroke.  “It is Miss Granger’s birthday?  This would be her seventeenth, no less.  A token of some sort is in order… would you wait for a moment, please?”  He disappeared into his library and came out with a book that appeared to be very old.  Covelli tried to see the book’s spine but Dumbledore moved in a way that blocked her view.  Gold wrapping appeared around it, finished with an elaborate red ribbon and bow.  He put the package into Harry’s hands, and then waved absently toward the stairs. 

“Good evening, Headmaster,” Harry said.  “Good evening… Lucia.”  Covelli’s eyes narrowed into slits, and Harry returned a fatuous grin.

Harry could hear the Fat Lady speaking to a student as he approached the entrance to Gryffindor House.  “I see your dilemma, Miss, but the common room is set aside for studying – certainly not the corridor.  Kindly return inside,” the portrait said sternly.  He stopped short to observe.

“I have a scroll to finish for Potions,” the girl returned, “and this is the quietest place for it.” 

“It is fifteen minutes past curfew,” said the Fat Lady, “and I do not want to see points taken from this House –”

“Then perhaps you can tell the stupid, stupid girls in the dormitory to stop nattering about boys and open a book now and again, or perhaps you might ask the upper years to stop carrying on in the common room as if there was a party every evening, or perhaps you could tell the whole of Gryffindor that this is a school – that some people are here to learn?” she said angrily.

“That is quite enough, young lady!” the Fat Lady scolded.  “You must learn the virtues of your House like any Hogwarts student worth her salt –”

“Do you mean boasting and eating?  I… I wish I could be Sorted again!  I’d beg with that stupid Hat!  I’d… I’d rather be… I think I’d rather be in Slytherin than here!” wailed the girl.

“That is an outrage!” railed the Fat Lady.  “I’m calling for a prefect this instant!  Oh, Violet…?”  She leaned to one side and her head disappeared from the frame.

Harry took the opportunity to emerge from the shadows.  “I remember you – you’re Laura Davies,” he said.

“M-Mr. P-Potter… I didn’t… you… you’re so quiet…” she stammered. 

He fought the impulse to grin when she unconsciously gave him a half-curtsey, and said, “It’s best to keep the Fat Lady on your good side, you know?”

Just then the portrait hole opened and a frowning Parvati Patil came through.  Her eyes narrowed and she advanced on Laura.  “Not you again,” she sighed.  “Do you seek out new ways to cost us points?  It’s occurred to Ron and me that we might be better off asking McGonagall to deduct ten points a day and be done with it!  Collect your books and come inside – now, please.”

“We were just having a chat, Parvati; there’s no need for a snit,” said Harry.

Parvati raised a hand to her chest.  “OH!  I didn’t see you there!”

Harry assumed a professor’s posture as best he could.  “Since I’m on staff, Miss Davies can’t be out of bounds – wouldn’t you agree?  I’ll take matters from here,” he announced.

“Of course,” Parvati said quickly.  “When she returns, would you please be sure that she actually comes inside?”

“We’ll be in shortly,” Harry said.  “Is Hermione about?”

Parvati’s face fell just a little; Harry felt a flicker of sadness, but couldn’t place the reason for it.  “We’ve managed to get her to stay with us in the common room for once.  It’s her birthday, you know?”

Harry nodded.  “I have some things for her.  If you could keep her from slipping upstairs…?”

“If Seamus would stop teasing Neville, it would be a little easier,” Parvati sighed.

“Are they still on about that redheaded boy’s wand?” Laura grumbled.

Parvati stood straighter.  “That’s none of your concern, Davies,” she said.

“It’s my concern if other students can’t use the common room, and it should be yours as well,” said Harry.  “Where else should a student study after curfew?”

“Why would anyone study after curfew… well, other than Hermione?” Parvati asked.  “This isn’t Ravenclaw…”

“Only Ravenclaws are supposed to study, is that it?” Harry returned.

Parvati crossed her arms.  “You aren’t the most studious person in the castle yourself, Harry.”

“Things change when you’re the Headmaster’s apprentice,” Harry said flatly.

Something shifted in Parvati’s eyes.  Harry had seen the same shift many times since returning to Hogwarts: it marked the moment when Harry changed from fellow student to something more in a person’s mind.  Sometimes he found it painful to watch; with Parvati, he didn’t feel that.  “I… I suppose they do,” Parvati said.  “Still… first years should keep a stricter curfew, you know?”

“If you can’t find a place for Laura to study, then talk to the other First Year girls, or cast an Imperturbable Charm on her bed curtains, or something.  If you’re going to be in Hermione’s place, then act like a prefect,” Harry snapped.

“I’ll…er… just be going inside, then… no need to get shirty with me…” Parvati said nervously as she edged back through the portrait hole.

The nervous first-year tried to scoot past Harry and into the common room but he blocked her path.  “The first weeks here can be difficult,” he said.  “My best friend was miserable until Halloween.”

“I’m going to hate the next seven years, I just know it,” Laura said.  A tear rolled down her cheek, and Harry hoped he wouldn’t have to console a crying girl – he knew he wasn’t very good at it.

“It can’t be all that bad,” he assured her.  “This was my house, you know?  I promise you it isn’t terrible.”

“The girls are all giggly, and the boys are more interested in how loudly they can belch than anything of importance,” she huffed.  “I haven’t seen anyone study except the fifth and seventh years… and Hermione Granger.”

“You know her name, do you?” said Harry.

Laura rolled her eyes.  “Anyone who follows the papers knows her name and she’s very bright – that wouldn’t be hard to tell even if everyone didn’t say so – but it’s not as if she could help me because I’m just a first-year who no one likes and she’s… well, she’s Hermione Granger, for goodness’ sake!”  Her cheeks abruptly burned red.  “Oh!  I can’t believe I’m telling you about her – what was I thinking?”

“I don’t mind it,” Harry said.  “First off, you might have more in common with her than you know.  Still, I’ll bet you think she’s a bit… erm… scary?”

The girl squeaked, “I wouldn’t have said ‘scary’, not exactly…”

Harry shrugged.  “It’s all right.  Hermione’s had a rough go of it – that’s been in the papers as well.  If enough people think you’re scary, then it’s not hard to actually become scary, you know?”

“What a horrible thought!” Laura gasped.  “Do you… do you think she feels like she’s all alone?”

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted, and he hoped that Hermione didn’t feel that way – he knew the feeling too well.

“I don’t think she’s scary,” Laura insisted, “but even if she wasn’t… intimidating... I don’t know what I could do.  She’d never study with someone like me.”

Harry pursed his lips in thought, and then nodded.  “I don’t suppose she would study with a first year, no.  She might tutor a first year, though.”  He hesitated a moment, and then decided, “I think I might consider that as well.”

Laura’s eyes widened.  “What…?  You actually mean that she might…? And you might…?”

“I’ll make you a proposition.  If you can convince a dozen first years to form a study group –” Harry began.

“A dozen?  But… but there are only nine in all of Gryffindor House!” Laura protested.

“I know that,” Harry started again.  “If you can convince a dozen to form a study group – and at least one from each house –”

“From each house?  How can I do that?  No Slytherin’s ever going to speak to me!” she pleaded.

Harry didn’t acknowledge her objection.  “If you can manage that,” he promised, “then I’ll personally tutor your group in Defence.”

The first-year let out a tiny gasp.  “You’re not joking, are you?  Please tell me you’re not having me on!”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Harry assured her.  “In fact, I’ll make it one better.  I’ll try to convince Hermione to pitch in – she might cover Transfiguration or Charms, maybe even Potions.  If she won’t do it, I’ll find others.  If you put the work into bringing together a group, then we’ll come through.”  He stuck out his hand.  “Are we agreed?”

Y-yes!  Of course!” she said instantly.  “I… I don’t know what to say… I…”

“You could say that you’ll stay inside the tower after curfew, for a start,” Harry said with a smirk.

“I promise!” Laura said earnestly.  “I won’t cost Gryffindor any more points!”

Harry laughed, “Don’t promise that!  I’d rather you think about how you can earn points.”

“I know!  I could answer more questions in class!” she beamed.

“That sounds like a good starting place,” Harry said.  He nodded to the Fat Lady, who waggled her eyebrows at him and then moved aside.  “Shall we?” he asked, with a wave toward the opening.  The girl nodded enthusiastically and burst into the common room ahead of him.

Parvati had been perched near the opening and nearly had to jump aside.  She crooked an eyebrow at Harry.  “What did you say to her?  She looks like it’s Christmas come early!”

“I just set her a task, that’s all –” Harry stopped as soon as he realised where Laura had gone.  “What on Earth is she doing?”  The first-year stopped by the fireplace, right in front of where Hermione was seated.  Neville stopped telling off Seamus and turned to watch quietly along with most of the students in the room.

Laura quailed, but cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me… Miss Granger…?”

Hermione looked up from a book in her lap.  She appeared far more composed than earlier in the day.  Her hair was neatly brushed, and if there were still circles under her eyes then she’d made an effort to cover them.  She gave a faint smile.  “My name is Hermione.  May I help you with something?”

“Um… you see…”  Laura clasped her hands behind her back and fidgeted as she blurted out in one breath, “Mr. Potter said that if I managed to organise a study group with eleven other first years and at least one from each house he would tutor us in Defence Against the Dark Arts and he said he would ask you to tutor in some of the other subjects but I wanted to ask you myself because I think you’re brilliant and I want to score Outstanding on all of my OWLs like you did so I figured that if I can learn how you do your revisions I might have a better chance of it and I’m not asking because I think you’re feeling all alone now even though I kind of think you are and I don’t think you’re scary – not at all – even though you’re sort of intimidating but I really do want you as a tutor assuming I can actually manage to put together a group and… and…”  Seamus burst into loud guffaws and the first-year turned crimson.  Hermione looked out-of-sorts.  Harry began to edge across the room.

“I don’t know… er… wow… just wow,” Neville managed.

Parvati called out, “I think you’ve said more than enough, Davies – off to bed with you.”

“Davies?  Are you Roger’s sister?” Hermione asked quietly.

“You know him, too?  Mr. Potter told me he knew him when he took me for a broom ride in Diagon Alley which was really nice of him and…”  Laura blushed even brighter.  “I’m saying too much again, aren’t I?”

“I know your brother.  He helped me a good deal with my Arithmancy when I was a third year.  You know, I never considered at the time that he was in his OWL year – it was especially generous of him,” Hermione said.

“I’m sure he’ll love to hear that…” Laura said politely, but her head was tilted down and she seemed very small.  Harry wondered if Hermione had looked so tentative at the outset of her own first year; it was hard for him to remember her that way.

“As for the rest,” Hermione went on, “I… it was a lot to take in at once.  I’ll need some time to consider it and to discuss this with Harry… apparently it didn’t occur to him to mention this in advance...”

Laura looked up abruptly.  “Oh!  I didn’t really give Mr. Potter a chance – I mean, he just made the offer – but if you want to talk through it with him, he’s right behind you.”  Hermione turned slowly in her chair; as soon as she’d turned far enough to leave Laura’s view, she gave Harry a stern glare.

“Och, he’s so doomed…” Seamus muttered.

“Come on, Davies, it’s well past time for you to go upstairs,” Parvati said.  She gave Laura’s arm a tug until the first-year followed her away.

“Do you think Dean would be up for a game of Exploding Snap?” Neville asked Seamus.  “I know we don’t ordinarily play it upstairs for fear of the hangings catching fire, but since he’s already up there and Ron’s still on rounds I figured that we could start a game… you know… upstairs?  In our room?”

“Subtle, Neville,” Seamus chuckled.  “We’re off, then.”  He mouthed ‘doomed’ at Harry on his way past.

Neville stopped at the foot of the stairs and tapped his foot.  “Well?  Come on, you lot!” he called to the half-dozen other students still milling about.  Two fifth-years grumbled a bit, but they all made their way to the stairs before Neville gave Harry a nod and disappeared up the spiral.  

Harry forced himself toward the fireplace, one step at a time.  “The thing is –” he started.

“I assume you had planned to discuss this with me?” Hermione said frostily.

“Of course I did!  I didn’t expect her to just dash in here and spill her guts!” Harry shot back.

Hermione’s glare faded away.  “No, I suppose you didn’t…”

Harry took a seat across from her.  “You look like you’re feeling better since this morning.”

“I was a mess, wasn’t I?” she sighed.  “There’s just so much to consider, so many things happening at once, and none of it is easy… I suppose I’m still a mess, only a freshly washed one.”

“I’m sorry she was all over you like that,” Harry said.  “The girl certainly says what’s on her mind.”

“She meant to be nice, I’m sure.  Was… was I like that during first-year?” Hermione asked.

“Sometimes, yeah,” Harry admitted.  “You like to say what’s on your mind – or at least you used to like that.”

“I don’t do that so often anymore, do I?  There are so many things that can’t be said, too many things,” said Hermione.  “Some things can’t be said in front of others, some things are supposed to be said in front of others… how does a person keep it all straight?”

“Keep what straight, exactly?” Harry asked.

“Never mind, it’s not important,” Hermione said quietly.

“So… was she right?  Do you feel all alone?” Harry asked.

“Not just now,” Hermione said.  “What about you?  You’re living alone, studying alone… how do you feel?”

Harry thought about it for a moment before he said, “Busy, for the most part.”

“Do you miss living here?” she asked.

“I… I miss being part of the House sometimes,” he said.  “I miss Quidditch, but I wouldn’t have had time for it this year, and I admit it’s a lot easier to quit because you’re Dumbledore’s apprentice than because you’re too busy for it.  I’d have never heard the end of it.”

“That’s true,” she said, “and I think it’s good that Ron’s the Captain now.  He’s really coming into his own, you know?  It looks good on him.”

Harry’s brow furrowed.  “Oh?  Oh… I see…”

Hermione rolled her eyes.  “I didn’t mean it like that, for goodness’ sake!  Besides, he’s had Lavender on his arm for the last several days.”

“You said her name without shouting!” Harry teased.

“I think she might be good for him, in a way,” Hermione said slowly.

“But you still think there’s something better for him?” asked Harry.

Hermione nodded.  “I do, but I doubt he’d agree with me.  I won’t bully him into something, that’s for certain.”

Harry felt a catch in his chest.  “I can’t imagine he’d say ‘no’ if you asked.  You know he still fancies you, even if he won’t say so.”

Hermione’s eyes widened.  “Wha… you thought I was talking about myself?  Harry… I can’t believe you would think that!  If I fancied Ron, why on Earth would I have let you kiss me?”

“All right, you wouldn’t have… but do you…?” Harry stopped himself before he could ask her a question that he wasn’t sure he wanted her to answer.

She sat forward on her chair.  “Do I what?”

Harry scrambled for an answer.  “Erm… do you think there’s someone else for Ron, then?”

Hermione looked at him as if he had lost his senses.  “You need to pay better attention.  Luna, of course!” she said.

Luna?  Um… have you spoken with her recently?” Harry asked.

“Not for a few days, no,” said Hermione.  “Why do you ask?”

“Something’s very wrong.  She was raving at me earlier today about dreams.  I think that there might be something about Hogwarts that affects her,” Harry said.

“Why would you think that?  It would have to be something that only affects her, and that’s rather unlikely… wait, did you say that she mentioned dreams?” Hermione asked.

“The castle dreams, she said.  I actually thought about trying to lure her to the Hospital Wing,” Harry admitted.

Hermione’s eyes lit.  “Do you suppose…?  Thank you for telling me, Harry.  I’ll be sure to seek her out tomorrow.”

The portrait hole slid open and Ron bounded into the common room.  “Harry!  I didn’t expect… Hermione!  You’re not upstairs!”

“That’s a brilliant observation, Ron,” she said.

“I’ll be back in a snap – don’t go anywhere!” Ron shouted as he raced up the stairs.

“What was that all about?” Hermione wondered aloud.

“Has he given you a birthday present yet?” Harry asked.

“Birthday… oh, that.  No, he –” she began.

“Here I am!” Ron said.  He hopped over the back of the sofa that separated Harry and Hermione.  “Just the three of us, eh?  No matter… I’ll start!” 

Hermione squinted at him.  “Start…?”

Ron shook his head.  “Your birthday party, of course.  I’d sing but then you’d have to pay Madam Pomfrey a visit for your ears, so we can skip that bit –”

Harry held out a hand.  “Ron… mate!  Slow down, would you?  Were you hexed on rounds or something?”

“It’s nothing like that,” Ron assured him.  He produced a rectangular package.  “I’m just excited because I have at last managed a good gift!  It’s thoughtful, even!”  Harry nearly fell out of his chair with laughter.  Hermione politely covered her mouth with one hand. 

Ron roughly handed Hermione the package.  “What?  I’m not allowed to be impressed with myself?”

“I’ll open it straight away, then; I could use a good impressing,” Hermione chuckled.  She opened her eyes unnaturally wide.  “See?  I’ve just the expression for it.”

“Ha, ha.” Ron pouted.  “See if I go all out for you next year, then.”

“Ron, I hope you didn’t spend a lot of money on this,” Hermione said seriously.

“I wouldn’t tell you if I had,” Ron said.

“All right, now I’m curious,” said Harry.  He picked up his chair and set it down beside Hermione.

Hermione slipped open the wrapping.  Inside was a white leather-bound book with elaborate inlays in various shades of crimson and gold.  A title was illuminated on the front cover and the spine: “The Granger Grimoire”.  She opened the cover with shaking hands.  The book was filled with blank sheets of parchment that looked very soft and very expensive.

“I don’t… I don’t know what to say… I…” Hermione stammered.

“Dad told my brothers and me that we could start adding to the Weasley grimoire when we come of age… ‘course none of the books fared well…”  Ron’s throat seemed to tighten before he went on, “Anyway, I figured that you should start your own, now that you’re seventeen and all.”

Hermione set the book down and enveloped Ron in a fierce hug.  “It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant,” she said before she let him go.

“Good on you, mate,” Harry said.  Ron hadn’t exaggerated – it was a smashing gift, a thoughtful gift.  Hermione slowly released Ron and took up the book again.

“You have one of these somewhere, Harry,” Ron said.  “The Blacks must have had one as well.”

“It’s probably in the family vault,” Harry figured.

Hermione traced the inlays with her fingertips.  “This must have cost a fortune, Ron… I love it, but I don’t know if I can accept this.”

“It’s not the sort of thing you can return,” Ron said.  “You didn’t open the other one.”

There was another rectangular package inside the wrappings.  This one was smaller.  As Hermione began to open the second package, Harry noticed an acrid smell.  “Take extra care with this one,” Ron said; “It’s practically falling apart.”

The book inside looked as if it had been through a fire, but it gave off a subtle sense that something far worse had happened to it.  Hermione shivered as she touched it.  “What happened to this book?” she whispered.

Darkened flakes fell away as she slowly brushed her hand across the cover.  Harry squinted at it, and with a little imagination he could make out the tattered gold lettering: “The Grimoire of the Honourable House of Prewett”.

“I couldn’t possibly…!” Hermione gasped.  “I care for you very much; truly I do, but…” Her brow furrowed.  “You can’t give this to me, Ron – you’re not allowed.  Isn’t it expected that this would go to Bill, if he should marry and have children?”

Ron shook his head.  “Bill gets the Weasley Grimoire; this one goes to Ginny someday, actually.  Problem is, the magic’s bleeding out of it – look at it crumble!  No one’s even opened it since… well, since we picked it out of the rubble.  Mum doesn’t know I brought it here, but Dad does, and… look, this isn’t exactly a normal gift …” He fidgeted as he went on, “I was hoping that you could copy whatever spells are still in there before they’re gone altogether, see?  I figured they could be the first to go into your grimoire –”

“And you’d like me to make a second copy for your Mum?” Hermione finished for him.

Ron’s voice diminished to a mumble as he stammered, “Er… I did get a second book made, but I could ask Professor Flitwick… there must be some Ravenclaws who would jump at something like this… suppose it’s not right for me to make you work for a birthday gift, anyway…”

“This isn’t something trivial like asking to copy class notes; it’s important to your family, and it’s obviously important to you,” Hermione said.  “It would be a privilege – of course I’ll do it, Ron.”

Ron brightened up considerably.  “There were some dead useful charms in there, at least that’s what I remember.  I think you’ll be impressed,” he said with not a little pride. 

Hermione very carefully set the charred book aside and pulled Ron into a second hug.  “Anything I ever said about your lack of sensitivity, Ron… I take all of it back, every last thing,” she sniffed. 

Harry reached out and gave Ron’s shoulder a brotherly squeeze.  “How am I to follow that?” he said.  Ron simply smiled at him, and then slowly eased Hermione an arm’s length away.

“Honestly, Harry – this isn’t a competition,” she tut-tutted. 

“Why, thank you for reminding me,” Harry said casually.  “I’ll just hold these until Christmas –”

“Not hardly!  Give them over!” Hermione laughed.  She grabbed at the first of three packages that Harry had stacked atop the low table.

“That one’s from Dumbledore,” said Harry.

Hermione’s eyes went wide.  “The Headmaster sent me a birthday gift?”  She quickly dispatched the crimson ribbon and tossed aside the gold paper.  Ron and Harry leant in for a closer look.

“A book – figures, I suppose, but what is it?” Ron asked.

“Give me a moment to read the runes…” Hermione said.

“He took it from his library,” Harry said.

Hermione set the book down and frowned.  “I can’t believe he referred to this as a gift.”

“It’s not from the Hogwarts Library – it’s from his own library,” Harry repeated.  “I don’t think you’re meant to return it, if that’s the issue.”

“This relates to the research I’ve been set, and it’s something I would want to keep,” Hermione said flatly.  “I’d rather not read it at all.”

Ron put on a smile.  “A book you don’t want to read?  That’s not possible –”

“There are things I know now that I wish I didn’t,” Hermione said harshly.

Ron shifted uneasily in his seat.  “Er… how about that next package, eh?  It looks too small to be a book.  That’s a good thing, right?”

“This one’s from a friend,” Harry said.  “I told him I’d pass it along.  I can’t say who he is – it’s a secret.”

Hermione stared at the red-wrapped package for a long time.  “Tell your friend that I don’t want to know where they are.  It isn’t safe for me to know,” she said at last.

Harry thought on that and decided to answer, “I’m fairly sure there isn’t parchment inside.”

“So it’s a gift…?” She reached for it quickly and tore at the paper.  A small square mirror tumbled out.  There were a few faint spidery lines etched in the surface.  

Ron raised an eyebrow.  “Isn’t that…?  Didn’t that belong to, um, you know…?”

Hermione started to breathe rapidly.  “I never actually saw you use this,” she said.  “I’m guessing that it doesn’t require a wand?”

Harry cleared his throat.  “Um… if you want to talk to her, you just say her first name.  There was a note with the other one, so I figure she knows what to do.”

She looked at Harry wild-eyed.  “I don’t need this, you know – I don’t need it.  I can do this myself.  I can do what has to be done.”

Ron reached out to put a hand on her shoulder.  “I don’t know what this is all about –?”

She swatted his hand away and snapped, “No, you don’t.”

“I don’t know what this is about,” Ron said again, “but you’re not doing anything on your own.  You sound like Harry did last year.”

“This isn’t about what you want,” Hermione said angrily.  “There are things I have to do – there are things I know – and you can’t help me, not you and certainly not Harry.”

“And now you really sound like Harry did,” Ron fired back.  “So much for being the brightest witch in our year, eh?”

“Stop it!” Harry growled.  “Hermione’s nothing like I was last year, and it’s her birthday – I won’t have us at each other’s throats!”  Ron sullenly crossed his arms and Hermione shrunk in her chair.  He reached out and took Hermione’s hand.  “I didn’t think this was something you needed.  I figured it was something you might want.  Keep it, in case you change your mind.”  Hermione brought her legs up and wrapped her arms around her knees.

“Is the last one from you, Harry, or is it from your friend?” Ron asked.  Harry glared at him.

“I’m sorry I was cross with you both,” Hermione said quietly.

Harry hefted the last package.  “This can wait until tomorrow if you like,” he said.

She let her legs loose and shook her head.  “Best that I open it now,” she said.

He handed her the package slowly, and hoped she would like the gift inside.  The bookseller in Edinburgh had taken a full week and a good deal of money to secure it.  After her response to the mirror, he was more than a little worried about the response that the book might provoke.

She stopped when the publisher’s box was half-revealed.  “What on Earth…?”

Harry started, “It’s…”

“I know what it is,” Hermione whispered.  She removed the rest of the wrapping and stared silently at the box for a long time before she took out the book inside.

“Erm… it came from a limited edition – the bookseller told me there were only two hundred made – and, um, you might want to open the cover,” Harry said nervously.

Ron leant in, perplexed.  “Where’s Pooh Corner, and who has a house there?”

She turned open the cover.  “It’s signed… good heavens, it’s signed by both A.A. Milne and the illustrator…”  Her eyes were misty when she looked up at last.  “How could you possibly…?”

“I saw the photo in your Dad’s study,” Harry said.  “He told me it was the first book you ever read, so I thought you should have it.”

“You could have gone to WH Smith and picked up a new edition for ten pounds,” she sniffed.

Harry felt his cheeks warm and he looked down at his feet.  “I figured you’d like this better,” he said softly.

“And Harry catches the Snitch again,” Ron said with a disbelieving shake of the head.  “Oh, well – I gave it my best effort.”

Hermione sprang to her feet and dragged Ron to his.  “Remember, it isn’t a competition,” she said and pulled him into a third hug.  Harry hummed the first bars of “Weasley Is Our King” and Ron stuck out his tongue.

She released him and slowly advanced toward Harry.  “And as for you…” 

Harry wasn’t sure what to make of the look in her eyes.  “You… you did like it… right?”  She answered with a breath-taking embrace.  When she loosened her hold, she didn’t pull away; instead she brought one hand up to his cheek.  The combination of the look in her eyes and the emotions flowing from her nearly made his knees buckle.

“If you’re going to kiss him, would you get on with it?” Ron said.  “I’ll turn away and count to ten… don’t think I could stand watching you snog his face off.”

Hermione’s lip quirked and she started to chuckle.  Her arms fell to her sides and she lowered her head against Harry’s chin and nose and lips.  He instinctively kissed her forehead, and she raised her head as if stung.  The same look was still in her eyes when she put one hand around the back of his head and brought him to her.  It wasn’t as clumsy as the first time they’d kissed – they only bumped noses once.  It wasn’t at all lost on Harry that this time she had kissed him.

TEN,” Ron called out. Hermione buried her head against Harry’s shoulder and laughed so hard that she shook in his embrace. 

Harry pulled a face at Ron.  “If you weren’t such a good friend…”

“That’s right, and best you don’t forget it,” Ron returned with a smirk.

Hermione turned to face Ron, but her left arm stayed firmly against Harry.  She was still flushed from laughing.  “Will you be all right with this, if… you know…?”

Ron pursed his lips, and then said, “I will, actually.  I’m a little surprised myself, but I will.  So, are you…?”

Harry wouldn’t have noticed that Hermione tensed if they hadn’t remained so close.  Still, she didn’t pull free or let her arm fall.  “I don’t know,” he said before she could speak.  “It’s like this…”  He struggled for the right words.  “Hermione and me, we just… we just are.”

“We are, aren’t we?” Hermione agreed.

Ron rolled his eyes.  “Completely mental, the both of you.”

“You should probably head back to Hogsmeade while there’s still light,” Hermione said, even though she made no move to let him go.

“Oi, I have something to say about that,” Ron said; he made an attempt to look stern that Harry thought missed the mark.

“What, about going back to my rooms?” said Harry.

“Look, Hermione won’t say it and it doesn’t seem like anyone else will, so I suppose it’s my place to do it.”  Ron took an exaggerated breath, and said, “Come back to Hogwarts.”

Harry’s brow furrowed.  “I am back at Hogwarts, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“No, you twit!” Ron huffed.  “What I mean is that you should let those rooms go and come back to Hogwarts.  You should be here, that’s what I think.”

Harry abruptly pulled free of Hermione.  “Why?  I’m under Dumbledore’s thumb enough as it is.  I’m free, living in Hogsmeade –”

“Free to do what?” Ron pressed.  “You’re working with the teachers most of the time anyway.  What, you think Dumbledore would lock the gates as soon as you brought in your trunk?”

“He might!” protested Harry.  “Who put you up to this?”

Ron’s jaw clenched.  “I put myself up to this.  We need you here!  Dean’s painting all the time and Seamus is trying to get in a different girl’s knickers every week and Neville… well, he’s Neville… and Ginny’s driving me mad and there’s no one to look over my Quidditch plays or for me to crush in chess now and again.  You know that Hermione needs you here, but apparently she’s decided on a holiday from bossing the two of us –”

“That’s enough,” Harry said.  “Hermione, do you really…?”

She wouldn’t meet his eyes.  “It’s not important what I think on this.  If you like living in Hogsmeade, then you should live there.”

Harry said, “Still, I’d like your opinion.”

Hermione seemed to fight an internal battle before she said with clear reluctance, “I think you should live wherever is the safest, Harry.  You’re too important to leave that to chance.  Now, I have a bit of revising left this evening.  Thank you so much for the gifts.”  Before Harry could say anything else, she darted forward and kissed him on the cheek.  He found that he didn’t want to take his eyes off of her, and stood there as she vanished the stray wrapping and settled in with a tattered textbook.  He could see that there was writing all through the margins.

“Are you going to stand there all night?” she asked without looking up.  He knew that the corner of her mouth was crooked in a smirk even though he couldn’t see her face.

“I’ve never seen you write in your books before,” he said, rather than stand there dumbly.

“Flourish and Blotts couldn’t obtain enough copies,” she said, and held up the book.  Harry could barely read the faded title: Advanced Potion Making, by Libatius Borage.  “It’s been out of print for years, apparently.  I was given this one by Professor… er, sorry – by Snape at the end of the first class.”

Harry felt a flash of anger at the name.  “After he took points and insulted you, I’m sure,” he said.

“The side notes are intriguing,” she said.  “It’s going to be dark soon; you should go.”

“I can take a hint,” Harry said.  A quick glint of light caught his eye, and Harry noticed that she’d slipped the mirror inside the cover of the book.  He hoped she would use it.

“I’ll walk out with you,” Ron said.  As soon as they cleared the portrait hole, he grabbed Harry firmly by the upper arm.

Harry pulled away.  “What gives?”

Ron snarled.  “You’re done with Heather, do you understand me?  Finished.

“I know,” Harry said.

Ron was thoroughly red.  “I told you what would happen if you hurt Hermione, and I meant it.  You’re not invincible, you know, and I’m not the only one who would give you what-for.  I’ll bet I could get Bill to hex you from here to Egypt!  The twins might come back to finish seventh year, just out of spite!”

“Ron – I know,” Harry repeated.  “Someone reminded me today that we’re not on holiday anymore.  It’s over, all right?  It couldn’t work out even if I wanted that… and I don’t want that, not really.”

“I don’t want to hear ‘not really’,” Ron said.  “Do you fancy Heather or not?”

Harry took a long time to answer.  “I liked the idea of it,” he said at last.  “I don’t really know her, and I don't think that's going to change.”

“And there are more important things to do, aren’t there?” Ron added.

Harry nodded.  “I know what I have to do.  The summer’s over now.”

Ron crossed his arms.  “Well, you still can’t hurt Hermione, right?  As far as I can see, if the two of you ‘are’, then you and anyone else ‘aren’t’.”   

Harry smiled.  “I understand,” he said, and he started on his way down the corridor.

“I expect to see that trunk of yours,” Ron called after him.  “You’re moving back in here.”

“Good night, Ron,” Harry returned.

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