The Next Dance


Story Summary:
Harry Potter and Parvati Patil have beaten back an attack by Voldemort early in their fifth year and are now a couple. Lucius Malfoy is on the run and Draco is penniless. But will an injured Voldemort lash back? Or will an angry and embittered Draco strike first? And will Harry's romance survive Parvati's legendary temper, especially with Hermione there for him? And what of the brooding character that makes this fic decidedly A/U? Sequel to Dance With Me Harry.

Chapter 11

Chapter Summary:
Harry Potter and Parvati Patil have beaten back an attack by Voldemort early in their fifth year and are now a couple. Lucius Malfoy is on the run and Draco is penniless. But will an injured Voldemort lash back? Or will an angry and embittered Draco strike first? And will Harry’s romance survive Parvati’s legendary temper, especially with Hermione there for him? And what of the brooding character that makes this fic decidedly A/U? Sequel to Dance With Me Harry. This Chapter: The nature of the beast; Harry and Draco doubt themselves; Parvati, Hannah and Blaise
Author's Note:
Author’s note: This is a sequel to my earlier novel, Dance With Me Harry. In the first novel, much happened, familiar characters and minor canon characters were developed, and over 30 OCs were introduced, so reading the first part of this series is highly recommended. Also, this is an A/U fic, taking place in Harry’s fifth year. However, there will be elements from OotP that may surface from time to time, so be aware of the potential spoiler effect for all five books. Thank you for all your wonderful reviews. Please continue to read and review.





* * *

It was a long walk back to Diagon Alley.

Sirius felt old. Older than he had felt in a long time. He was 36 years old. And he was still acting like a lusty teenager.

Lakshmi's lecture had disturbed him more than he realized. He thought about his life. He had been in Azkaban for 12 years and been on the run for over two years. It was a long dry spell. But now that he was free, there was something missing from his life. Something that all the Merries of the world couldn't fill.

He had found that, in hanging out in the Knockturn Alleys of the Wizarding World, he had something of a reputation. He was known as the man who could tie tin cans to the tail of the Auror service and sit back an laugh as it ran around in circles, chasing him. And there was no end of witches who were enamoured of his image as a 'bad boy.'

But his series of one night stands, while enjoyable, left him unfulfilled.

Now he was being lectured by a witch 10 years his junior about the family life of a friend who was seven years his junior. And he realized that Lakshmi was right. He was being immature and was becoming a threat to lead Shane in the same direction. He had come to look forward to his missions more as just a chance for a good time and a little play-acting than as information-gathering for the Order. And he felt guilty.

He sighed. Fun was fun. But returning to an small, empty flat above a store in Hogsmeade was all he could look forward to at the end of the night.

And his flat. He chuckled without humor. He was heir to one of the more substantial fortunes in Wizarding Britain. But it was all tied up in the Ministry courts. While still alive, cousin Narcissa Malfoy had put in a claim, freezing the Black estate. And somehow, a lawyer had stepped forward on behalf of another cousin, Bellatrix Lestrange, despite her life sentence in Azkaban.

Sirius had even received an owl from a third cousin recently, Andromeda Tonks. She had explained that, even though he was now cleared and free, the estate was still tied up because of political pressures and Ministry greed. Because Narcissa's and Bellatrix's claims to the estate were now subject to confiscation by the Ministry, some people high up in the Ministry were campaigning for a prolongation of the dispute in hopes that a substantial measure of the proceeds would end up in Ministry hands through settlement or court ruling. So Andromeda, with Sirius' blessing, intervened to state her own claim. In doing so, she announced there was no chance of settlement and sent Sirius a letter promising to recognize his superior claim.

This left Sirius with nothing at the moment. Well, not exactly nothing. Thanks largely to a wheezing old man who no one paid attention to in the Ministry, he had title to No. 12 Grimmauld Place, his childhood home. As keeper and recorder of all Wizarding land and real property, Elphias Doge, a member of the original Order of the Phoenix, managed quietly to transfer free and clear title to the old manor to Sirius Black. Sirius laughed at the thought. The one thing he wanted no part of in the entire Black fortune, Black Manor in London, was now his. He was grateful to present it to the Order of the Phoenix to use as a headquarters.

So here he was, soon to be 37 years old, with no real income beyond the pitiful Ministry blood money of 100 Galleons a month, and maybe another 20 to 30 Galleons a month in consultancy fees for teaching at the Auror Academy. He doubted that he could be employed in any legitimate job. After all, he was an ex-convict, albeit a wrongfully imprisoned one, who a large percentage of the Wizarding world still believed was guilty. He lived in a tiny a one-room flat in a modestly prosperous but very much out-of-the-way town in Scotland. So, at the end of the day, he had nothing and no one to come home to.

He sighed as he entered the Leaky Cauldron and, after chucking a sickle into the jar on the fireplace mantel, flooed home. Home to that flat in Hogsmeade.

He lay down and drifted off into a fitful sleep.

He did not hear the pops, as six new Aurors apparated into Hogsmeade and headed for Hogwarts on the run.

* * *

Harry was in the hospital wing after carrying up a violently ill Willie Peters, who had eaten too much left-over Halloween candy and then tried to mimic Ron's appetite at supper on top of it, when he heard the commotion.

Willie's partner in crime, Maura Duffy, was fretting and clucking over Willie's antics and illness when she turned around and gasped at Wayne Hopkins' bloodied form being levitated in by Professors Snape and Sprout, with Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall in their wake.

Harry Stood up and ran to the group. "What happened?"

McGonagall shooed Maura out and grabbed Harry, pulling him aside. "Mister Potter. I think you should leave."

"I'm here with little Willie," Harry said as he peered over McGonagall's head. "Wayne Hopkins?" he asked in amazement.

McGonagall grabbed Harry again. "Another attack. Just like Malfoy."

Harry blinked in concern for a friendly rival Quidditch player. "Is he...Is he going to be all right?"

McGonagall pulled Harry's face so he would look at her. "The Headmaster gave him a quick scan. He is badly hurt, but he will be all right. Now I want you to get back to Gryffindor House and let people know that Mr. Hopkins will be all right, but that everyone should be on their guard. We don't know who did this, but whoever it was is extremely dangerous."

Harry stared. "Were they Death Eaters?"

McGonagall pulled Harry toward the entrance of the hospital wing. "It wasn't a magical attack. He was physically beaten, just like Mister Malfoy. He kept muttering about the beater cage and a creature. Don't say anything about that. Just tell everyone to be aware. And don't let any wild rumors to spread. He's going to be all right. It may take a few days, like Mr. Malfoy, but he should recover."

Harry looked at her with wide eyes. "We have to do something."

McGonagall nodded. "We'll call the prefects together once we get things organized. But until then, your place is with your housemates."

Harry nodded.

* * *

Hannah Abbott shed silent tears as she rocked her best friend, Susan Bones, sobbing in her arms.

This whole year was turning into a hell. First it was the return of Voldemort and the attack on her friends Harry and Parvati. Then Malfoy going around cursing out everyone in sight, including poor Susan. Then the fight between Malfoy and Wayne. This led to Wayne, Susan and her wandering around in fear that Malfoy would turn Wayne in for beating that little blond bastard. All three worried that this could get Wayne expelled or worse, and could get Hannah and Susan expelled for mending his broken knuckles and keeping their mouths shut about the fight.

Then last night. Hannah now had no more tears to shed for herself over last night, when she and Susan were in opposite roles of comforter and comforted. Hannah had finally discovered that Ernie had been sleeping with Betty Lewis. It had been an ugly scene in the Hufflepuff common room, with shouting and name-calling, ending the five-year friendship and three-year relationship between Hannah and Ernie.

But that was nothing compared to what Susan was going through. Susan was hard-pressed to admit it to anyone besides Hannah, but she desperately loved Wayne. And now Wayne lay in the hospital wing with severe injuries. Madam Pomfrey and Professor Sprout had done her best to reassure them that Wayne's injuries were not life-threatening--that he had escaped in time. But the thought that Wayne had almost died at the hands of an unknown force was terrifying.

And Hannah wept for her friend. Susan had lost everything before she even had time to know she had anything. An attack by Voldemort had taken her grandparents, her parents and her older sister and, but for the grace of a heavy blanket hastily thrown over her crib that caused her to go unnoticed in the carnage, Susan would have been murdered as well.

So Susan had been raised by her Aunt Amelia. Hannah had met Aunt Amelia on several occasions, and knew that she was caring, but was also hard-nosed and often preoccupied as she pursued her political career at the Ministry. Probably not the best person to serve as a single parent to a frightened, moody orphan.

Susan had found true friendship for the first time among her roommates at Hogwarts. There was Pamela Hutchinson, the tall, dark-haired beauty who was forever cracking wise and sharing beauty secrets and making them all up. And Megan Jones, the black girl from Sheffield who had such a bubbly sense of humor and warm smile. And Karen Holmes, the gawky, plain-faced girl who would sit dreamy eyed at the rest of the group's romantic tales of triumph and woe. And, of course, Hannah, who was always there to listen, laugh, confide in and be a consolation.

And Susan had found love at Hogwarts for the first time in her life. Wayne was not the most handsome boy in the world. But he was strong and brave and loyal, and he would sit stolidly by her side through Susan's occasional fits of depression and be there for her whenever she needed him.

And last night she almost lost him.

Classes had been canceled tomorrow and a special prefects meeting had been called for 10:00 tonight. Hannah didn't know what would happen there, and didn't want to leave her friend. But she had to be there. She had to know what to do to help. She had to do whatever she could to help keep her friends safe.

Maybe Harry would know. Maybe Harry and Parvati could teach her.

* * *

"Mr. Malfoy, please answer the question."

Draco continued to stare down at his quill as he rolled it between his fingers. Harry and the other prefects watched Malfoy intently and waited for his answer to McGonagall's question.

Finally, he looked up at McGonagall. "Probably," he said blankly.

McGonagall gave Malfoy a fierce look. "Do you or don't you think that the creature who attacked you was the same one that attacked Wayne Hopkins?"

Draco took a deep breath. It wasn't the creature. It was Wayne Hopkins who beat him. Draco could remember it all clearly up through the second punch. He had been 'borrowing' Dark Arts volumes from Madam Pince's locked supply cabinet for a couple weeks and had come across some nasty potions he wanted to try to brew. But some required exotic ingredients. He knew he couldn't ask his head of house for all of them for fear of raising Professor Snape's suspicions. So he decided to break into Greenhouse 4 to steal a couple rare herbs he needed.

What he hadn't counted on was the presence of that big ox, Wayne Hopkins. Hopkins had challenged Draco on what he was doing, skulking around the greenhouses after hours. Draco had replied with a few choice epithets aimed both at Hopkins and his girlfriend Susan and about how a big clod like Hopkins could possibly be boning bony Bones. A furious Hopkins had rushed him, literally walking through a couple sharp hexes as if they we mosquito bites. Draco remembered the crack and the pain in his jaw after the first punch. Then nothing after the second one.

But he would never admit it was Hopkins. To do so would raise questions as to the origin of the creature, possibly pointing to Draco and his activities to create the avatar. But Malfoy was prepared.

Draco hadn't started out a great liar. He did tend to get a little full of himself. But as a child growing up, he would occasionally say something boastfully out of turn or mention something he shouldn't. Then Lucius would let loose with a terrifying tirade, and an occasional beating, to let Draco know in no uncertain terms that some things stayed within the family. This led to Draco learning a kind of cunning when it came to the truth.

He found it ironic that his often arrogant, blustering behavior provided an excellent smokescreen for the crafty lie. No one expected him to be able to fabricate an intricate story when he always seemed to be shallow and self-absorbed.

And he had learned how to push people's buttons. This worked so easily with people like Weasley and Potter, and to a lesser extent, the Mudblood, Granger. But he also knew instinctively how to go for the heart. And now was his greatest opportunity. It was a story he had been working on for several weeks and he knew just how he wanted to set it up and just how to go for the heart.

He looked up at McGonagall. "It sounds like it," he said flatly.

McGonagall stared at Malfoy in exasperation. "And why didn't you say so before, Mr. Malfoy."

A most convincing angry look passed over Malfoy's face. He paused, dramatically, taking a couple deep breaths and then stared defiantly back at McGonagall. "What was I supposed to say? The bogeyman beat me up? Who would believe me? No one believed the Boy Wonder over there when he said the Dark Lord was back," he snapped, gesturing to Harry. "It took a personal appearance by Him and his Death Eaters..." Draco said in a sudden choking voice " front of dozens of witnesses before anyone would believe Potter."

Malfoy was breathing hard now under the strain of his performance. "So who's going to believe me about some wild story about a monster on the loose? The son of a Death Eater. An orphan for all intents and purposes," he snarled. "And don't think I haven't heard the comments. 'Malfoy's gone mental.' 'He's begging for sympathy.' 'He tried to kill himself.' So I kept my mouth shut," he said, angrily tossing his quill on his writing tablet.

McGonagall's expression softened momentarily, then became stern again. "Don't you realize how valuable your information could have been if you had chosen to talk sooner?"

Draco stared at her. "How? I was beaten and put in the hospital wing for five days. You all knew there was something out there. How would my subjecting myself to even more ridicule have helped you any more than evidence of my own injuries?"

McGonagall was annoyed, but understood Malfoy's point. He had acted foolishly by not saying anything, but his rationale was understandable, she thought. "Well, you must tell the investigating Aurors everything you can remember about your attack."

Malfoy shrugged. "He was about as tall as Macmillan, or Potter. But wider. And had flat features, like oriental, except he didn't have slanty eyes. That's all I remember before he hit me."

Harry looked at Malfoy as he gave his recitation. He didn't trust the Slytherin, and tried to pick apart what Malfoy was saying and how he was saying it. He was being strangely forthcoming all of a sudden. And there seemed to be a hint of nervousness, but also a trace of smugness, in the way he was telling his story. Harry frowned. It didn't really sound like Malfoy. But maybe, Harry thought, it was because he'd mostly heard the arrogant, sarcastic Malfoy, not the bitter, frightened Draco. It may be that Malfoy was now worried about the reappearance of his attacker, and feeling a bit of vindication that he wasn't being singled out by this thing. But still, Harry didn't trust his rival.

But his thoughts were interrupted by the door opening.

A group of six individuals stepped in. They were all wearing back robes with reds stripes on their arms. Harry nodded. Aurors.

He smiled to recognize a couple. One was Ben Chadwick, the Hufflepuff Auror who was Cyrus Thomas's friend. Another was Nick Giannis, who he had seen around Hogwarts and Hogsmeade and who Harry had already come to like before he found out that Giannis had been a Slytherin at Hogwarts.

The other four were an odd mix. There was a senior Auror who was black and completely bald, with a severe, serious look on his face. An equally severe looking woman in early middle-age with a trim bun in her hair who looked like what McGonagall may have looked like 30 years before. An athletic looking man who may have been in his early 30s with swept back blond hair and a look that may have been what Malfoy could aspire to become. And a cute young woman whose dark blond hair showed short pigtails sprouting in about a dozen places all over her head.

McGonagall cleared her throat. "I would like to introduce you all to some people who have been sent over by the Ministry to help us with our patrols. They are Aurors and will help patrol at night, both within the Castle and outside. Some of them you already know from before."

McGonagall nodded to the group and then turned back to the Aurors. "This is Lila Carpenter," McGonagall said of the severe-looking woman with the bun. "You may have already met Benjamin Chadwick and Nicholas Giannis."

"Ben," Chadwick said with a smile.

"Nick," said Giannis without a smile.

McGonagall returned to her introductions. "This is Nymphadora Tonks..."

The young female Auror gave McGonagall a furious look. Harry could have sworn that her pigtails suddenly jumped and flashed bright red, but shook his head and dismissed the thought.

"Tonks," the young woman said in an annoyed tone. "Just Tonks."

McGonagall gave Tonks what looked like the tiniest of smiles and turned to the blond Auror. "This is Werner Shaw."

Shaw merely gave a vaguely superior smile and nodded.

"...and this is Kingsley Shacklebolt, who will head the team within Hogwarts," McGonagall concluded.

* * *

It was an odd amalgam of people who approached the Quidditch pitch at lunch the next day. Madam Hooch was there, of course. And Ernie Macmillan, as a close friend and teammate of Wayne Hopkins. Jack Bletchley, the Slytherin keeper, ambled over out of a sense of curiosity. Anthony Goldstein, a Ravenclaw beater and one who used the beater cages as much as anyone was there. Harry Potter was there as both a prefect and a Quidditch player, as Angelina Johnson was as player and head girl.

They approached the beater cages as two Aurors, Shacklebolt and Giannis, leaned against the side of the sphere, chatting. Chadwick suddenly peered out and shrugged, shoving his wand up his sleeve before hoisting himself up from within the cage back to ground level.

The three Aurors looked at the group with limited interest. "Quidditch Association coming to check up on us?" Chadwick asked with a raised eyebrow.

Madam Hooch frowned. "Is there any damage?" she said in her most serious tone.

Suddenly, Goldstein walked past the Aurors to look into the cage.

Harry shrugged. He knew this was the cage they all called 'Goldstein's Globe.' Tony Goldstein was small and frail looking at first glance. He was about Malfoy's size but smaller boned. And he had dark, doe-like eyes that made some of the girls talk excitedly about him. But Harry felt Tony was an okay guy from his courting of Rachel Weiss, the fourth-year Gryffindor. If he wasn't okay, Harry was sure he would have heard it from Ginny, one of Rachel's best friends.

But Goldstein had a dark olive complexion and, surprisingly for a boy his age, a dark, relatively heavy stubble that highlighted a thin, angular jaw line. And Harry knew from watching him fly on his own and in the Ravenclaw tryouts and, even more so, from watching him come bruised and sometimes bloody from his long bouts in the beater cage, that he wasn't fragile. He was one of the few on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team that Harry believed needed to be reckoned with.

Goldstein turned to the Aurors. "Is it all right?"

Shacklebolt turned to Madam Hooch and shrugged. "We've been at this for four hours. No magical signatures beyond what you'd typically find in a beater cage, except for the stunning curse the Hopkins boy told us about this morning," he said in a flat tone. "There was some blood stains on the walls and floor. A little dirt and mud. A couple of small pieces of skin, probably from Hopkins when he slammed against the wall. We checked them, but they seemed to be neutral."

Harry blinked. "Did you check for footprints and stuff like that? Like clues? Don't you have some lab you could take the blood and skin to analyze it?"

Chadwick and Giannis turned to Harry with puzzled looks, but Shacklebolt cleared his throat. "The blood is all consistent with that of Hopkins. As for Muggle labs, I don't know what they could do."

Harry looked at Shacklebolt in surprise. "I saw on the Muggle tele this summer. Their police are always taking hair and skin samples and checking them for clues. There's something called DNA that they always check for. I'm not sure what that is, but it seems pretty important from the shows I watched. Things like that."

Shacklebolt sighed. "There are no Muggle-born Aurors. And precious few mixed-birth Aurors, most of them a lot older. I'm quite sure they don't know anything about this...DNA. The Ministry sees Muggle methods as plodding and a lot of make-work."

Harry frowned. "I might know someone..." but he was cut off by Goldstein.

"Can I go in?" he repeated.

Madam Hooch shrugged and Shacklebolt turned to the Ravenclaw beater. "Why not?"

Goldstein jumped down into the pit of the beater cage. Without asking, Harry followed, then turned to help Madam Hooch down. She shrugged and shook her head, staying outside to look around the cage. Harry noticed the faces of the other Quidditch players appeared in the doorway as they looked around to survey any possible damage to the cage.

Harry looked around. The cage was kept immaculately clean and the walls were kept a bright white for visibility. He looked down to keep from stepping on the dried blood and gave a shiver. That was Wayne Hopkins' blood. He could have been killed here, Harry thought.

He noted that Goldstein was running his hands over the curved, studded sides of the cage as if testing for imperfections. Harry then stooped down to finger the tiny pile of debris at the bottom of the cage. He shivered at the sight of a small patch of skin with tiny reddish-brown hairs poking out.

Suddenly, he paused. Wayne Hopkins had dark brown hair. Not reddish brown. Slowly he reached and picked up the slice of skin, no bigger than the nib of a quill and looked at it carefully. Reddish hair. He turned it over and, instead of flesh, there seemed to be reddish clay.

He looked up at Hooch and then Shacklebolt, who now had joined the group, idly peering in.

"There's no blood on the inner side of this skin. Just some red clay or mud or something," Harry said in a puzzled voice.

Suddenly, Bletchley snorted. "Just as I thought," he said with a grin. "A Mudblood did it."

"Shut up, Miles," Ernie growled, using Bletchley's real, and very much hated, first name.

Goldstein grabbed Harry's wrist and looked closely. He turned over the piece of skin in Harry's palm and looked even more closely. Slowly, he raised his eyes to Hooch, Shacklebolt and the rest of the people gathered around. With a shiver, he said only one word.


* * *

Snape scowled. "I don't see why they are here," he snarled, pointing at Harry and Tony Goldstein.

Professor Dumbledore templed his fingers, giving a quick glance at Snape to quell his protest, and then peered over his half-moon glasses at the assembled group. Snape, Moody, Flitwick and McGonagall were there from the faculty. And Shacklebolt from the Hogwarts Aurors and Cyrus Thomas, who headed the part-time Hogsmeade Auror team, also were present. The final member of the group was William Masterson, the Chief Auror and the one everyone called MLE--Minister of Law Enforcement.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Harry, tell us what you found."

Harry simply explained how he took a careful look at the skin after noticing the hair on it didn't match Wayne's hair color.

Masterson shot an angry look at Shacklebolt, who sank down in his chair.

The Headmaster turned to Goldstein. "And how did you come up with your conclusion, Mr. Goldstein."

The Ravenclaw tore his eyes from all the devices in the Headmaster's office and returned his attention to Dumbledore. "Skin on the outside, but no blood on the inside. Just clay. It's just like Rabbi Lowe in Prague."

Shacklebolt raised a questioning eye to Goldstein but held his tongue for fear of bringing any more attention to himself.

Dumbledore nodded. "And you can tell us about Rabbi Lowe and the Golem?"

Goldstein nodded. "It was a time of persecution of the Jews in Prague. They needed a protector. So Rabbi Lowe made up the Golem out of clay. It served the ghetto, protecting people from attack and harm."

Dumbledore and Moody nodded, and Flitwick tiled his head. "And then what happened?"

Goldstein took a deep breath. "Rabbi Lowe could control the Golem by placing a shem--a sort of instruction or activator--in its mouth to bring it to life, and removing it when the Golem was not needed. But one Sabbath, when the Rabbi forgot to remove the shem, the Golem went off on its own, destroying at will. The Rabbi had to use the power of God to force the Golem's mouth open to remove the shem and take away its life force. Only then, could Rabbi Lowe destroy it."

Snape snorted, but Moody stared with his good eye at the Ravenclaw. "You seem to know an awful lot about this, Mr. Goldstein."

Anthony shifted uncertainly, but turned to look directly at Moody. "My grandfather and my father are both Kabbalists as well as wizards. They used to tell me stories. The story of the Golem was one of my favorites, and one of the scariest."

Dumbledore again peered intently at Goldstein. "And do you know how to create a Golem, Anthony?"

Goldstein shrugged. "Nobody really knows, I don't think. My grandfather said that Rabbi Lowe burned the incantation after destroying the Golem."

Dumbledore pursed his lips. "Ah, yes, Mr. Goldstein. But did not the good Rabbi have assistance in his task?"

Tony Goldstein frowned. "He had two, I think. My father said it was his two sons. But my grandfather says it was his son-in-law and a pupil."

Dumbledore merely nodded.

Cyrus Thomas scratched his short, wiry hair and frowned. "Lowe was a wizard?"

Goldstein nodded. "At that time in the ghettos, Jewish Muggles accepted Jewish wizards as part of their own, as protectors and friends. Remember, this was 1580, when there was greater interaction between our world and their world."

Masterson was thinking deeply, then glanced up at Dumbledore. "It sounds like the young man is right."

Dumbledore nodded, sadly. "It would seem so based on my own examination of the evidence."

Masterson frowned deeply. "There hasn't been an avatar like this in Britain in nearly 200 years."

Harry gave the Chief Auror a surprised look. "Why not?"

Dumbledore spoke up. "Because, Harry, such avatars, or Golems, are inherently unstable and unpredictable. Once loosed, they protect only up to a point. But they have to be that the word you used, Mr. Goldstein? They have to be deactivated almost immediately after they finish their tasks, or their creators lose control of them. They develop a mind of their own."

Harry stared wide-eyed at the Headmaster. "Frankenstein," he murmured.

Several of the people in the room nodded, but Shacklebolt frowned.

Cyrus Thomas gave a deep chuckle and turned to his compatriot. "As I recall, Kingsley, you always hated Muggle Studies when you were here. This is where more attention to that class would have paid dividends."

Dumbledore sighed deeply. "Yes, Harry. The creation turns on his creator. Legend has it that, once loose and unsupervised, they become obsessed with their place in the world and lash out. A form of insanity."

Harry gave Dumbledore a quizzical look.

The old Headmaster gave Harry a vague smile. "Imagine being thrust into a world having no guidance and no knowledge, being locked away and suspected by those who desire your protection and not given any instruction other than that you are expected to protect that world from harm. Add to that, not knowing of your purpose or future beyond your immediate task."

Harry stared at Dumbledore, but the Headmaster had already turned back to the rest of the group.

Harry sank down and sighed in annoyance, looking back and forth between the various senior people in the room. "So? Now that we know what we're looking for, shouldn't we track it down and destroy it?" he asked in a bitter voice.

Dumbledore closed his eyes in sorrow. "It's not that easy, Harry. Golems are artificial beings. They are neither alive, nor inert. They have no souls and are immune to magic. They cannot be tracked by magical means. We would have to track it like Muggles searching for game. That would require us to go blundering about in the Forbidden Forest, with all the dangers that implies."

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "But now there is an added dimension to such a search. There are residents of the Forest who no longer are willing easily to accept such intrusions into their home," he said in a sad voice. "And they would be reluctant to aid us in our search unless their own world also was threatened."

Dumbledore paused as this notion was absorbed by the group. "Further, Golems are immensely strong and surprisingly clever, according to the literature. And no one that I have heard about knows how to kill them. I would welcome any input from any of you on this matter."

Snape cleared his throat. "Perhaps Mr. Goldstein can enlighten us about this...shem."

Tony shrugged. "It is supposed to be a basic instruction followed by the true name of God."

Snape snorted.

Moody looked over to Masterson with a questioning eye. Masterson simply shook his head. Neither McGonagall nor Flitwick had anything to add.

Masterson finally cleared his throat. "Albus," he started quietly. "This may call for some drastic measures."

Dumbledore looked up at the Chief Auror with concern. "I do not think that would be a good idea, William. It is still dangerous out there. Voldemort has been quiet, but there is no guarantee that he will not begin attacking again. The children are safest while in the castle."

Masterson shook his head sadly. "They may be safe from the Dark Lord, but can you guarantee their safety from this...Golem?"

"We're taking every precaution..." McGonagall started to object, but Masterson cut her off.

"Albus," Masterson began again, in a much quieter voice. "With the return of Voldemort acknowledged and Lucius on the run for a capital offense, the Board of Governors here have given you a free hand. But when this comes out, and it will, parents will begin to panic. You've had two students severely beaten, almost killed. So the Board will be forced to act, in part by pressure from Fudge."

Masterson frowned at his mention of the Minister of Magic's name. "Fudge would like nothing more than to see you dismissed in disgrace," he said softly. "Amelia has been running interference for you, you know."

Dumbledore nodded. "Miss Bones has always had her heart in the right place," he replied.

Masterson nodded reluctantly. "She's got Fudge convinced that, if he were to move against you now, he would suffer greatly at the hands of the press, and it would set you up to step into his shoes by public demand. The Wizangamut's hand would be forced. But the situation we have here, with this Golem harming innocent students, could give him an excuse he's been waiting for if you don't act quickly and with discretion," Masterson said. "But more importantly, the action may be forced on you by a sense of duty on the part of the Governors, whose first concern should, and I hope now is, the safety and welfare of the students."

"What action?" Harry exclaimed in a worried tone, startling all those who had forgotten he and Tony Goldstein were still in the room.

McGonagall reached over and grabbed Harry's arm with a worried look. "They're talking about closing Hogwarts, Harry," she said in a thick voice.

Dumbledore nodded sadly. "Give us some time. There is some reading and thinking I'd like to do on this."

Masterson nodded. "I will keep quiet for now. And I will stay here for a few more days to investigate before making my report."

The group broke up and went their separate ways with heavy hearts.

* * *

"A Golem?" Hermione said in hushed tones.

Harry nodded.

"What...?" Ron said in a worried voice. "What's a Golem?"

Hermione turned to Ron. "It's an avatar. Like a monster, the undead, which stalks people and destroys everything in its path."

Hermione grasped Harry's arm even tighter, but Harry didn't react. "Is it magical?' she whispered.

Harry shook his head and took a deep breath. "Look. None of this is to be repeated. You already know that we are restricted to the castle or its immediate surroundings inside the outer wall."

Ron gave a humorless, barking laugh. "Right. That wall is, what, three feet high?"

Harry shrugged. "But there's a clear field of vision out to the Forbidden Forest beyond the walls except for Hagrid's hut and the Whomping Willow and that small patch of trees on the far north side of the Great lawn. If we are within the outer wall perimeter, we would see the Golem coming from 100 yards away, at least. Plenty of time to escape."

Ron nodded. "Plenty of time to get off a few good stunners."

Harry shook his head. "Magic won't help. Dumbledore said that Golem's are immune to magic," he said quietly, his head down.

Hermione seemed lost in thought, but Ron became restive. "So what do we do?"

Harry frowned and looked up sadly. "They're talking about closing the school, just like what almost happened when the Chamber of Secrets was opened."

Ron looked up, startled. "No way!"

Harry's head jerked up. "Keep it down, mate."

Harry glanced around the common room. A couple Gryffindors had glanced over at the fifth-year study table, but they shrugged it off as another Weasley tantrum and went back to their business.

Ron lowered his head in annoyance.

Suddenly, Hermione looked up. "It's resistant to magic, like Giants?"

Harry shook his head. "They aren't like Giants. Giants a resistant to magic. But this thing is immune. You can't keep hitting them with blaster spells to wear their resistance down, like you would a Giant. Golems don't even feel it."

Hermione paused, thinking again. Finally, she glanced up with an uncertain look. "So, if you can't attack it magically, what about physically?"

Harry simply shrugged. "It's too strong. It nearly killed Wayne Hopkins, and he's twice my size."

Hermione looked up in surprise. "I'm not talking about getting into a fist fight with it. You can't use direct magic, but indirect magic."

Harry frowned. Like what?"

Hermione frowned, biting her lower lip. "I don't know. But something like when you and Parvati fought Voldemort. She couldn't hurt him with stunning spells, so she set him on fire."

Harry looked thoughtfully at Hermione. Finally, he shrugged, then nodded. "Let's hope we don't have to find out."

* * *

With virtually all the grounds closed to students who weren't also accompanied by a faculty member or an Auror, the library was more crowded than usual. Students huddled in groups around library tables studying or discussing the latest developments, much to Madam Pince's annoyance.

With Harry on his way down to the dungeons to take his private defense instructions with Moody, Parvati and Lavender decided that it was time to at least make an effort at studying. With a History of Magic essay due, Lavender felt she couldn't put off things any longer. And Parvati found that, for the first time in her life, people were actually asking her for help in classes. Somehow, reading her texts now generally was less of a chore as long as she got to do so snuggled up next to Harry on one of the squashy couches in the common room.

The two were idly paging through History of Magic texts, with Parvati occasionally leaning over to impart something interesting she'd find to her best friend, when finally Lavender rolled her eyes. "I mean, who cares? Like these people lived 300 years ago. So what if Danagril divorced Ethelred the Egregious and ran off with some banker?"

Parvati stared at her friend. "Don't you see? These were real people. Like you and me. And Ethelred was like the Minister of Magic and he's fighting this war against the Goblins and doing a plain cock-up job of it. And the clans were getting on his case. So all he can do is come home to cry on his wife's shoulder. She's his one true love and his only consolation."

Lavender suddenly turned to Parvati with interest. "Oh, like a romantic triangle?"

Parvati frowned for a moment, then shrugged and nodded. "I guess. So one day, Ethelred comes home and finds a note from Danagril that says she's gone and here's the divorce papers and she's off to marry Cuirtain the banker. Cuirtain is like one of the richest wizards in Britain."

Lavender sighed. "Was he handsome?"

Parvati rolled her eyes and turned the book around for Lavender to see. "Ugh. He looks like my Uncle Seymour," Lavender said, making a face.

Parvati nodded. "Ethelred is heartbroken. So he goes out with the troops and makes his last stand against the Goblins at Foresby Castle. He doesn't care if he dies or not because Danagril dumped him. Without her, he's got no reason to live. So he's going to win the war or die trying."

Lavender sighed again. "All for the love of the woman who betrayed him," she said with a dreamy look on her face.

Parvati nodded. "So the Goblin attack is stopped. Next thing you know, the Goblins call for talks. Ethelred doesn't care any more. Everyone hates him. The Goblins want to kill him. Danagril dumped him. So what's the use?"

Lavender nodded.

"Then, Crawdrup, the chief Goblin, sees Ethelred is really around the bend and is going to do something really mental if the war keeps going. So he offers a treaty. The Goblins will end the war if the Wizarding world accepts them as free. No other terms or conditions."

Parvati paused to make sure Lavender was following all this, then continued. "The big problem is that the Goblins had no way of supporting themselves. And everyone starts asking whether you can trust the Goblins, seeing as they have no real money or anything," she said.

Lavender made a face. "I guess I understand...I think."

Parvati shrugged. "It's simple. Everyone accepted that Goblins are shrewd and could be trusted to keep their word. And they are the best people...err, business around. For generations, Goblins took care of administering clan estates and businesses as servants. But now that they were going to be free. They had the ability to do all this business stuff, but no one wanted them to enter into businesses, because they would drive any wizard out of whatever business they chose of go into competition against."

Lavender nodded. "Imagine having Goblins in the import business."

Parvati shook her head and snorted. "They might even give my sister Shi-Shi a run for her money," she said with a chuckle.

Then Parvati composed herself again. "So then Ethelred remembers what Cuirtain did to him, stealing his beloved wife Danagril. Cuirtain pretty much ran the banking business in the wizarding world. He like held the mortgages and loans on everyone and was pretty nasty to deal with. Nobody liked him. So Ethelred proposes turning the banks over to the Goblins. That way, the Goblins have a trade, the wizarding world has a bank they can trust, and Cuirtain is screwed. So that's how a broken heart ended the last Goblin war."

Lavender looked at her best friend with wide eyes. "Wow!"

The two girls were chuckling when Parvati noticed Hannah approaching their table. She gave a sympathetic smile to her friend. Parvati had heard about the blow-up in the Hufflepuff common room a few days earlier. In fact, the incident had been so spectacular, with Susan Bones and Pamela Hutchinson screaming at Ernie and his lover Betty Lewis and Hannah weeping on the floor with Megan Jones and Karen Holmes, and Betty Lewis and Ernie yelling and Ernie being restrained by Wayne Hopkins and Tony Goldstein, that the whole school knew about it almost the instant it had happened. Were it not for Wayne being attacked the next day by the creature, Parvati would have come to Hannah sooner.

As it was, Parvati rose to embrace her friend. "How you doing, Hannah," she whispered in her friend's ear.

Hannah looked at her with sad eyes. "I'm okay," she said in a small voice. Suddenly, Hannah's eyes took on a different look and her face turned more serious. "I'm going to be all right," she said firmly. "Can we go somewhere and talk?"

Parvati looked down at Lavender, who simply motioned Parvati away. "I've got to check on Seamus, anyway. He probably got lost trying to find the library."

Parvati started to follow Hannah out of the library, but the Hufflepuff stopped. "Have you talked to Blaise about the Slytherins?" she whispered.

Parvati shook her head.

Hannah motioned with her head. "She's over in Iceland again."

Parvati turned her head to see Blaise over in the far corner of the library, where she almost always went to study. Occasionally she would be joined there by her sister Gina and some of Gina's third-year friends, or Leah Greinglass and, on rare occasions, Leah's twin Glenn and Aubrey Blythe. But mostly she studied alone, thus reinforcing her nickname as the Ice Queen.

Hannah motioned toward Blaise and raised her eyebrows. Parvati nodded and the two girls made their way to the study table everyone called Iceland.

"Blaise?" Parvati whispered.

Blaise Zabini looked up and suddenly all the memories of the Little Witches and Wizards School came rushing back to Parvati. Parvati and Padma were not considered particularly pretty in primary school. Hannah was an enthusiastic, fresh-faced young girl in pink robes and blond pigtails. But Blaise stood apart. She had truly golden blond hair, a few shades lighter than Hannah's. And she had piercing blue eyes. She was simply the prettiest thing.

But more than anything, it was the way she carried herself that set her apart. She was reserved and always kept herself prim and proper. While Hannah could be found digging in the dirt to gather flowers and Parvati and, to a lesser extent Padma, were always looking for physical outlet, whether it be dancing or the kiddie training brooms, Blaise simply seemed to glide from classes to the library to the fireplace to floo home. Parvati had at one point been annoyed to hear two of her primary school teachers chatting and heard one remark that Blaise was 'the last lady in the wizarding world.'

Parvati remembered once trying to drag Blaise into some game and then flopping down in frustration when Blaise refused. She asked Blaise why she was such a poop. Blaise's face had taken on a very serious look. She explained that her dad and her uncle ran the best restaurants in the wizarding world, catering to the cream of wizarding society. She told Parvati how she had once witnessed a drunken Ministry official berate her father over an imagined imperfection in the service 'from a mere merchant, a servant.'

Blaise admitted how she had broken down in tears on hearing her father being abused and said that her father comforted her. He explained that the Zabinis had a bloodline as long as anyone, dating back to their Swiss origins, and they had always taken pride in their work. He went on to emphasize that what they did, they did with pride, and that she should always take pains to have as much if not more dignity than those who she worked with, associated with or served. So Blaise said she had to maintain the pride and dignity that her beloved father had instilled in her. And that precluded her from playing in the dirt with Hannah and others like her, or doing cartwheels, showing her knickers, like Parvati and Padma and their friends.

Parvati was furious at Blaise at the time. But she often thought about that conversation through the years. Here was a young girl whose father owned at least seven of the most elegant and expensive restaurants in Britain, and another dozen or so on the continent, and who could buy and sell a dozen Ministry officials before breakfast. And yet he had the grace and dignity not to react to some Ministry lout who most likely could only afford to eat at a Zabini restaurant thanks to bribe taking.

No, Parvati had never been close to Blaise down through the years, but she always respected her, even when she was sorted into Slytherin. And now she looked down at Blaise and saw the same pretty, dignified, if somewhat aloof, young girl she had known in primary school.

But the flash of recognition in Blaise's eyes also showed her to be at least as lonely as she was in primary school. Blaise hadn't blossomed as quickly or fully as Hannah. And she didn't have the trim, athletic figure of Parvati. She seemed to be a pretty, blond young lady, waiting patiently for adulthood and whatever life would present her with. And, most likely, waiting for a friend to appear in her life.

Slowly, a smile appeared on Blaise's face. "Is this a reunion?" she said softly. "Please, sit down."

Parvati and Hannah slipped into the chairs across from Blaise. After a few minutes of small talk, Parvati reached across the table and grasped Blaise's wrist. "How are the Slytherins reacting to what happened to Draco and Wayne?" she asked urgently.

Blaise frowned and was silent for several moments. Finally, she looked up with a serious expression. "They're scared."

Parvati nodded, and began to say something, but Blaise cut her off. "You don't understand. You're up in the Gryffindor Tower. The Ravenclaws are up in their tower. But we're down in the first level of the dungeons, at ground level. They say this thing is immune to magic and doesn't set off the wards. Leah says that a Golem is a vicious monster that has not conscience and doesn't stop. And that, unless it is carefully controlled by the person who made it, it can go off on its own."

Blaise frowned deeply, her brows furrowed in worry. "Our windows are small and barred, so there's little chance that he could get in that way. But if he entered the dungeons, we'd be trapped," she said urgently.

Blaise then turned to Hannah. "You must be going through the same thing, Hannah. But I hear you have a couple doors to the outside. We don't. We have...well, no one is supposed to know this, but we have a sally port, but there's always a chance we can get cut off."

Hannah and Parvati nodded. "What does Draco say?" Parvati asked.

Blaise shook her head. "Nothing. He rarely talks to anyone. Not even to Glenn or Aubrey."

Parvati cocked her eyebrow. "Not Pansy?"

Blaise pursed her lips. "Well, they do talk. But I think it's more like two outcasts casting their lots together."

Hannah blinked. "Pansy?"

Blaise shrugged. "She's got a few friends, I suppose. Millicent talks to her, but they aren't really close. Same with Tracey Davis. There's a couple fourth year girls who talk to her. Cronin Montague talks to her, but he's such a creep that not even Pansy can abide him. Then there's Theo Knott."

Parvati and Hannah cringed at Knott's name. The sixth year Slytherin was given wide berth by nonSlytherins. Everyone assumed he was a Death Eater already and made no pretense about his absolute disdain for anything but other pure-blood Slytherins.

Parvati looked down at the table. "Blaise," she began softly. "We were wondering if there were any of the younger ones in your house who might be trusted."

Blaise's eyes narrowed. "Trusted about what?" she asked quietly.

Parvati sighed softly. "Well, a group of us are getting together to teach the first and second years self-defense. You know, in case of attack, and to give them...self confidence."

Blaise paused and stared. "Who? Moody?"

Parvati looked up in surprise. "No. Harry."

Blaise, for once, lost her poise. "Harry Potter? Your Harry?"

Parvati nodded. "Well, it started in Gryffindor. But some people in Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw have gotten interested. And we figured there might be a couple young Slytherins who might want to learn," she said in barely above a whisper.

Blaise leaned across the table and stared earnestly at Parvati and Hannah. "You mean someone wants to help Slytherins?"

Hannah nodded slowly. "Why not?"

Blaise leaned back with a suspicious look on her face. "And this was Harry's idea?"

Parvati frowned. "Well, I suggested it, and Harry and most of the others agreed."

Blaise gave a quick nod. "So what do you want?"

Hannah looked over to Parvati, who took a deep breath. "We would like to know if there are any Slytherins in the first or second, or even the third years, who would like to learn hands-on defense against the dark arts and who can be trusted to keep their mouths shut. You know what would happen if any of the Death Eater types got wind of this. They'd want to join to disrupt it or raise a fuss to get it stopped."

Blaise was silent for a long time. Finally, she looked up at Parvati, then Hannah, then back to Parvati again. "There are probably a few. The first years are okay. In the past, Draco used to strut around the common room like some lord holding court and had a lot of influence on the younger ones. But that hasn't happened this year. And, between dealing with Draco going mental and enduring Montague and Knott, the first years basically keep to themselves. And there are a few in second year who have been picked on a bit by the pureblood crowd who are pretty tight and can probably be trusted. And my sister has a few friends who might be interested."

Hannah took a deep breath. "Could you sound them out?"

Blaise looked deep in thought. "Who else is involved?"

Parvati looked thoughtfully at Blaise. "Granger, Ron Weasley and me from Gryffindor. Entwhistle and Morag and a couple of fourth years from Ravenclaw. Hannah and Ernie..." Parvati suddenly stopped and looked at Hannah, who frowned.

Blaise reached over to squeeze Hannah's hand. "Sorry Hannah. I heard."

Hannah lowered her eyes and deepened her frown. "It's...okay, I guess," she whispered.

Blaise gave a slow nod, then turned back to Parvati. "I don't like Ron Weasley. He's one of the most obnoxious people I've ever met...except for Draco and Theo. And Granger...well, I suppose I'm not that friendly, either. The rest are okay." She turned to Parvati with a smile. "Draco hates Harry, and that's a point in his favor, as far as I'm concerned. And he's with you so..."

Parvati chuckled. "Is that a plus, or a minus?"

Blaise smiled, then turned thoughtful. "This is just first through third years?"

Parvati shrugged. "Some others kind of watch. At least they did in Gryffindor."

Blaise looked down again. "I'll do it on one condition. That I can take part."

Hannah looked up, surprised. "Are you that good? I mean, you never seem to say anything in DADA classes."

Blaise blinked in surprise. "No...I think you misunderstood. I want to learn, too."

Parvati tilted her head and looked at her friend in surprise. "You?"

Hannah cleared her throat. "I was wondering the same thing, Parvati. Some of us in the later years aren't as confident in DADA as you are."

Blaise nodded and took a deep breath. "Look, I know I'm not that good. And I don't have the same chance as you two to learn," she said quietly.

Parvati frowned. "I'm not that good, either. Harry's been helping me..."

But Hannah was staring at Blaise. "What do you mean?" she whispered urgently.

Blaise lowered her head again. "You don't know what it's like in Slytherin."

Hannah and Parvati gave Blaise a puzzled look.

Blaise's face darkened and she took another deep breath. "Slytherins tend to group into cliques. You know, this group and that group. The Death Eater types. The pure-blood doubters. The shopkeepers," she said quietly. "And it's not just us against the other houses. It's us against them within the house."

Parvati nodded but Hannah looked concerned. "There always will be groups within houses," Parvati whispered.

"Not like in Slytherin," Blaise whispered. She looked down at her hands. "Do you know what someone posted in the common room last year? A new house motto: 'It's Not Enough That I Should Succeed. All Others Must Fail'."

Blaise looked up again. "That caused a big uproar. Unfortunately, it struck too close to home for many Slytherins. Angry people in the house were trying to figure out for weeks afterward who did it. Professor Snape was furious."

Hannah frowned. "You mean some people in Slytherin don't help their housemates?"

Blaise looked up in surprise. "Not only don't they help. There are some who actively try to hinder their own roommates."

Hannah looked at Blaise in shock, while Parvati grasped the Hufflepuff girl's shoulder in reassurance.

Blaise sighed. "I'll give you an example. You know that text that Moody told us to check in the library on rebound spells a couple weeks ago? Well, I got to the library that evening and found all the copies were gone. Later, when I got back to the dorm, I overheard Draco asking Pansy for a copy of the text. I looked around the corner and saw her reach into her trunk. She had nine copies of that text from the library in there. I had to scream and threaten to report her unless she lent me a copy to share with Leah, Tracey, Glenn and Aubrey."

Parvati blinked. "I wondered about that. Hermione had already checked out a copy the previous week so we all shared that copy to do our homework. And Mandy said there weren't any copies left in the library so they had to search the Ravenclaw library until they found a copy to share with everyone."

Hannah's face was showing anger. "We couldn't find a copy. Moody wasn't happy. He practically accused Hufflepuff house of doing nothing but partying all day and night."

Blaise nodded. "That shows what it's like. I often wish that I was sorted into Ravenclaw, or even Gryffindor..."

Parvati let out a giggle. "Not Hufflepuff?"

For the first time since Parvati and Hannah had known her, Blaise actually giggled. "No. Too much partying there all day and all night." And Hannah and Parvati joined her laughter.

* * *

Harry couldn't help but mull over all that was happening. A Golem at Hogwarts -- an artificial being with no heart and no soul, impervious to magic and resistant to control. And a being bent on harming students, even professors possibly. And the students now, not just the young ones but his contemporaries, even some sixth and seventh years, placing their trust in him. Trusting him to teach them, to protect them, to anticipate what they would need and how they should act.

All this trust and hope placed on him.

And who was he? 'A cheater. A thief,' he thought as he pondered the stonecutter test and the Earth Drawer. His Quidditch cups and victories which belonged as much to an NHS optometrist in Little Whinging as it did to him. And Richard Burton's trunk, entrusted to Hogwarts only to be stolen by some 15-year-old who couldn't keep his curiosity in check.

Harry felt like pounding on the walls as he walked morosely through the dungeon corridors toward his private lesson with Mad Eye Moody. 'Let him ambush me,' Harry thought. 'Let him do his worst. It's all that I deserve.'

As he rounded the corner toward Moody's classroom, he heard voices. One was clearly Moody's. The other he also recognized -- Masterson, the chief Auror, the MLE.

"Damn it, Alastor! I knew my duty! I didn't need an order. Yet I had to wait several minutes before Amelia gave the go-ahead," Masterson was shouting. "And minutes can mean the difference between life and death!"

Harry could hear Moody grumbling and paused. "She's on the side of the angels, Bill, that you can be sure. Surely she doesn't have you on that short a leash."

Harry heard Masterson grumbling. "No," he muttered. "Gave me hell for waiting for her..."

Moody made a rumbling sound. "Four years you're working together. You're just going to have to learn to talk with her more. Damn the protocols. Work with her."

Masterson barked a bitter laugh. "But I should be the Minister of Law Enforcement! That's what they call me on the streets!"

Moody grumbled again. "Better that Fudge reorganized. Keeps you at arm's length from him and his gang. Amelia's shrewd. She'll protect you like you couldn't protect yourself."

Masterson's own growling became less distinct. "Still, it should go back to like it used to. Let her be Justice Minister and me as MLE. Even if Amelia and I can work together, what'll happen when we're replaced. It'll be a police state like back before Orville Williamson. One person to hunt them down, arrest them, try them and sentence them. I tell you, you wouldn't put up with it."

"Nae, I wouldn't," Moody said with a humorless laugh. "Now if you will, Bill, I got me some teaching to do and my star pupil is just about here."

At that, Harry resumed his pace and walked in the door to the classroom.

"Harry Potter. We meet again," Masterson said with a serious look.

Harry simply nodded. "Mr. Masterson."

At that, the chief Auror rose and, with a quick handshake, left the classroom.

Moody grinned evilly at Harry. "You heard all that?"

Harry gave a vague shrug.

"Good. Understand it, did you?"

Harry simply blinked and shrugged again.

Moody nodded, his magic eye twirling in its socket. He gestured for Harry to sit. "It's good you know what's what in the world. You seem to be a magnet for Dark Arts and Voldemort, and the Ministry knows it. But you're like a fish swimming with the sharks. You got to know how to keep out of reach of their teeth."

Harry grunted in disdain.

Moody nodded. "Politics and law enforcement don't mix. You know one of the reasons I tell people to be constantly vigilant?"

Harry shrugged. "Because you never know who might be lurking to attack?"

Moody nodded. "And not all attacks come by the wand. Bill Masterson was one of the most respected Aurors since Orville Williamson. And he had a lot of friends. Our friend, the Minister of Magic knew that. He knew he couldn't keep from appointing Masterson as the next Chief Auror and Minister of Law Enforcement. So to blunt Bill's power, he ordered a Ministry reorganization...for efficiency's sake. He combined the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Law Enforcement to be headed up by Amelia Bones. He figured he could control a witch easier than a tough old wizard. So instead of being Minister of Law Enforcement, Masterson became Chief Auror. Not even an assistant minister's title. It's stuck in old Bill's craw ever since."

Harry blinked. "But I thought he was the MLE Minister."

Moody snorted. "Fudge's idea. Figured he'd undercut Masterson by putting him under Amelia. And he figured no one would take Amelia seriously because the MLE has always been an Auror -- the top Auror, and a wizard, not a witch. But they're both too smart and too tough to fall into that. The Amelia Bones I taught here at Hogwarts would've cut your heart out if you caused trouble."

"Sounds like a Slytherin..." Harry muttered.

"She was," Moody said firmly. "But raising that gel, her niece, softened her enough to know what she's about and it ain't just ambition. And Bill has patterned himself after Orville Williamson, worships the man's memory. Two good people, them. But just about anyone else in the Ministry would curse you as soon as look at you to get ahead."

Harry hung his head. "Aurors are ... well, they always seem to be after the wrong people. Like Sirius."

Moody snorted. "It ain't the dog's fault if he's sicced on the wrong person. Masterson's been Chief Auror for four years. He knows what he's about. And he ain't about going after the wrong people. He just has to play the cards he's dealt, and that means playing a bluff when he's got nothing and keeping his cards covered when he's got a winning hand."

"So he never really went after Sirius after all?" Harry asked.

Moody simply winked with his normal eyes.

Harry blinked and shook his head. It was hard to bluff in Exploding Snap. That's probably why he was so bored with the game. Maybe he should learn more about poker.

"Now let's see what you got today, young Potter."

* * *

What Harry had was not much. After pondering Moody's remarks about Ministry politics, his mood turned dark again. And with that, Moody's mood slowly turned darker.

"What the hell was that?" he growled menacingly when Harry failed to counter a stinger. "You want another? Maybe it'll take two or three to wake you up."

Harry simply slumped into the nearest chair. "What's the use?" he whined.

Both Moody's eyes suddenly focused on Harry. "What the hell's into you, Potter?"

Harry didn't respond.

Suddenly, Moody hit Harry's knees with a series of stingers, causing Harry to jump out of the chair in anger and pain.

"What, you want a real duel?" Moody shouted. "Give you something to fight for? You can take a little pain. You want a lot?"

Harry turned and gave Moody a foul look. "Oh, what's the point," he said dully and began to leave the classroom."

"Expelliarmus!" Moody shouted. "Locomotor Mortis!"

Harry suddenly tumbled to the ground as his legs locked.

"Now you'll be telling me what's eating at your innards if you want to be walking out of here under your own power," Moody growled.

Harry turned over and scowled. "Why waste your time with a cheater?" Harry growled back.

Both Moody's eyes zeroed in on Harry again. "What cheating? You ain't been cheating in my class. Or down here."

Harry turned away from the DADA master. "No," he muttered. "Except during the stonecutter test. And at Quidditch..." he said softly.

Moody leaned over Harry, staring in shock. "Quidditch? How?"

Harry took a deep breath. "Madam Hooch explained about seekers with glasses..."

Moody suddenly let out a howl. "Not that again," he exclaimed in a bizarre tone that Harry finally recognized as laughter.

Harry frowned deeply at Moody. "Well, it's an unfair advantage, isn't it?"

Moody guffawed again. "Like your Firebolt ain't an advantage against anything but another Firebolt."

Harry blinked. "Still..."

"Oh, shut up, you young arse. You takes what God gives you and does your best," Moody. "Them glasses of yours is as much a disadvantage as an advantage. What's it like searching for that snitch when the rains come? Eh? And how was it when that match of yours against Hufflepuff was pushing three hours? Bet you had to take one of them potions old Hooch hands out afterwards. Missed the firewhiskey party afterward, I'm betting," Moody said with a braying laugh.

Harry simply frowned. "We don't have firewhiskey parties. Just regular parties."

Moody shook his head. "Should have been around in my day. Plenty of firewhiskey."

Harry managed to hoist himself up into a nearby chair, his legs still locked. "What about the Stonecutter test?" he said softly, his head down.

Moody started. "And how did you manage to cheat that? Got advance word and been practicing all along?"

Harry shook his head morosely. "I had an Earth Drawer on," he muttered.

"A what?"

"An Earth Drawer. It draws power from your surroundings..." Harry said.

"What the hell is an Earth Drawer?" Moody asked in puzzlement.

Harry simply pointed down to his right wrist at the bracelet.

Moody blinked as his magic eye zeroed in on the artifact. Suddenly, Moody burst into cackling laughter again.

Harry looked up in annoyance.

Moody regained his composure and gave what appeared to be a smile at Harry. "Potter, do you know how many witches and wizards collect all kinds of talismans and flapadoodle to try to make them more powerful? Hell, Isaac Earwhorn got rich selling Isaac's Wand Wax. It was guaranteed to help spells slide off the wand easier."

Harry pouted. "Professor Dumbledore says Earth Drawers have real magical properties. They can amplify magic."

Moody stared at Harry. "Okay, laddie. If you say so. We'll see how you do without such magical amplifiers." Moody waved his wand and unlocked Harry's legs and grabbed his arm. "We'll see what you got."

Moody waved his wand at a far wall and a door appeared. "Time to retest our block breaker without all his cheating trinkets and such. Come along, laddie."

Harry was surprised to be escorted through the doorway to the same room where he took his original Stonecutter test. He was equally surprised that the blocks were still set up.

"All right, laddie. Time for the retest," Moody exclaimed. He tapped Harry's wrist and the Earth Drawer, which Harry couldn't budge, suddenly loosened and fell off his wrist.

"Here, stand right here. You remember the spell? Petrus Liqueficare. You got 30 seconds," Moody growled.

Harry looked up at Moody. "My wand?" he asked, putting his hand out.

"Auch, no, young Potter. You said no magical amplifiers. Are you ready?"

Harry looked up at Moody, then to the first granite block. "But how...?"

Moody gave Harry an evil look. "You insisted. No cheating. No magical amplifiers. So, go to it. You got 30 seconds, starting now."

Harry looked at the granite, then at Moody, then at the granite again in confusion. "But how can I...?"

"Your wasting time, now, young Potter. You got 15 seconds and I don't see no hole in the block. Let's go."

Harry was totally confused now. He started to give the spell, then stopped and looked at Moody in a near panic.

"Time!" Moody exclaimed. "Well? No blockbreaker here. Would you like to try again? Or do you want to be the first one in 147 years not even to mark the block."

Suddenly, Harry was angry. He was being mocked and he didn't like it. As the anger built, he stared at Moody, then down at the granite. "Again," he growled. "I'll play your game."

Moody snorted in laughter. "Very well, young Potter. Wouldn't want to leave the block without a little singe on it, would you? Well, ready."

But Harry was staring furiously at the block. As with the first test, he was focusing on a small spot on the block, looking to the subtle graining within the rock. Suddenly, his focus drew down to a pinpoint. "Now!" he shouted.

He pointed two fingers at the granite and muttered the spell. Harry didn't think. He didn't look. He simply focused on the spell and his anger.

"Time," Moody shouted.

Harry opened his eyes to see a ragged, smoking hole in the granite about three inches in diameter and two inches deep.

"Sweet Merlin," Moody muttered. "Never seen anything like that."

Harry turned toward the DADA master. "Well, at least you can say I singed it," he said sarcastically.

Moody reached up and grabbed Harry. "Hold on, Harry. I ain't never seen that kind of wandless power before. Let's try it again with the wand."

Harry still was breathing heavily in his anger. He grabbed the wand and closed his eyes again. "Petrus Liqueficare."

Moody watched as the beam of red light blasted into the first block, then the second, then the third.

"Time!" Moody shouted and Harry raised his wand. The old Auror slowly walked down the line of blocks and stopped that the back of the third block. He slowly lowered his thumb and then jerked it back, sticking it into his mouth. Then he lowered his head and peered with his normal eye.

"I see some daylight there," he said softly. "Triple block." Moody then looked at the fourth block and saw a singe mark on it where Harry's spell had already started to burn it even while breaking through the third block.

Moody looked up at Harry. "What did you have on your first test? Three blocks and what?"

Harry, who was now calming down, shrugged. "Snape said 14 inches or so."

Moody sat down in deep thought, his magic eye wandering lazily around the dungeon room but continually coming back to the granite blocks. Finally, he looked up at Harry.

"Young Mister Potter. You have a gift. I've never seen the likes. But that thing you were wearing helps you use your gift. I suggest you put it back on and never take it off. And maybe learn to use it."

Harry nodded, now deep in thought himself.

Moody looked at Harry closely. "What is it? Where'd you get it?"

Harry shrugged. "It's from the Ojibwe Indians," he said quietly.

Moody frowned. "Your sweetheart, the Patil gel give it to you?"

Harry shook his head in puzzlement. "No. Not those Indians. American Indians. I got it from Hermione for my birthday. Except she called them First Americans or something."

Moody leaned over, deep in thought. Finally, he nodded. "Mysterious people, them Indians. I studied a little about them when I was a young one. Great power, but they never had much experience with Dark Wizards from what I hear. Except maybe in the mountains by Mexico. One destroyed an entire nation--Anasazi, I think they were."

Harry simply nodded, not knowing what else to do.

Moody returned the nod. "I'll have to find my old books. Maybe you want to take a look."

Harry nodded again. If it would help him fight Voldemort, he would read anything.

* * *

The class was somber. It was Wayne Hopkins first day back. And McGonagall was quiet.

Transfiguration was not the easiest of subjects. And her stern demeanor fostered a sense of seriousness among the students, even among the easygoing Hufflepuffs and the often intense, suspicious Slytherins. McGonagall sighed. Her Gryffindor-Ravenclaw classes were easier. The Ravenclaws usually could be counted on to pay attention and be prepared. And the Gryffindors--well, they were her people. And even the Gryffindors seemed to be a little more serious this year. And both Houses seemed to be coping better with the recent attacks than the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins, who had suffered directly from the Golem. And the Ravenclaws and Gryffindors seemed to get along better than the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins, whose disdain for each other was surpassed only by the near state of war that existed between the Gryffindors and Slytherins.

McGonagall chuckled to herself. She remembered the old saying. Gryffindors hated Slytherins, competed with Ravenclaws, and married Hufflepuffs. Well, maybe not much anymore, she thought with a smile. But Hufflepuffs and Slytherins treated each other like different species. Hufflepuffs looked at Slytherins as dangerous beasts to be avoided at all costs. And Slytherins looked at Hufflepuffs with a disdain as if they were unruly pets, to be tolerated only when absolutely necessary, but otherwise to be pushed out of the way or out of the house.

McGonagall looked over at the Hufflepuff side of the room. The scars on Hopkins' face and head had healed well, she noted, although he still showed discoloration on his cheek. But he still walked stiffly, favoring his ribs, as he entered the classroom flanked by Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones.

As they took their seats, McGonagall noted that the Hufflepuff seating arrangements had shifted. Hannah no longer partnered with Ernie Macmillan, who was now in a different row and partnering with Zacharias Smith. She nodded, knowing the story. And she gave an internal shrug. Perhaps it was for the best. Smith was bright, and Ernie was powerful but unfocused. And when he was with Hannah, his focus had more incentive to wander. Now with Zach as a partner, maybe he would finally start concentrating.

And Hannah was now partnering with Karen Holmes, the plain, dreamy-eyed girl with the vivid imagination who sat next to the aisle between the Hufflepuffs and Slytherins. Hannah was reasonably bright and attentive. Karen, on the other hand, was smarter, but had a tendency to drift in class, sometimes surprising everyone with her work, and sometimes needing as much prodding as Ron Weasley to pay attention. Maybe, from an academic standpoint, the breakup between Ernie and Hannah would have its benefits.

"Settle down, please. We have much to cover," McGonagall announced. "We have already lost several precious days of class time in the past two months, and we must cover all the material we've missed."

McGonagall then looked down at Wayne Hopkins. "Welcome back, Mr. Hopkins. I pray that you are feeling better," she said with a soft smile.

Hopkins nodded. "Yes, thank you," the large boy said in a small voice as Susan grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.

"Now, we have been covering transfiguring multiple objects into a single object," McGonagall began. "Now, we are moving to the next step in our studies: Transfiguring multiple objects into an animate object. Please note the water goblets in front of you. You each should have three. Today I will show you how to transfigure these goblets into a rabbit. Once you have mastered this, you should be able to use this spell, with variations, to transfigure other sets of objects into an animate object."

Thus the lesson began. And it was the usual comedy of errors whenever a new concept was introduced. McGonagall noticed that Draco was now partnering with Pansy Parkinson, after considerable friction had developed between them after Pansy's notorious public humiliation in the Great Hall with Harry Potter and Parvati Patil the previous month. But McGonagall was disappointed that Draco was still having trouble concentrating. It was understandable, she supposed, given the return of the Golem. Only Blaise Zabini and Leah Greinglass seemed to be having any success.

On the other side, Justin Finch-Fletchley, partnering with Megan Jones, was the first to succeed, as usual. She looked over at Smith and Macmillan and was surprised to see them struggling. Suddenly, she heard a soft voice singing and turned in surprise to see a smiling Karen Holmes cradling a white rabbit with a brown muzzle as if it were an infant child, while Hannah smiled softly and stroked its head.

McGonagall recognized the tune as a common lullaby.

When the sun goes down,

Little baby nods

Under a sky of stars

In his dressing gown

Little baby nods

And dreams of lands afar

On his broomstick light

Little baby nods

And dreams of flying soon

Over clouds of white

Under silver stars

Under a golden moon

Suddenly, Holmes seemed to remember where she was and looked up with an uncertain smile.

"My mum used to sing that to me and my little sister when we were small," Wayne Hopkins said in a soft but audible voice.

McGonagall simply smiled.

* * *

Draco heard the song and looked up across the aisle. He saw that Holmes girl cradle the rabbit, singing softly. Then he heard Hopkins far-away voice.

Suddenly, Draco shivered and looked down at his desk, fighting tears. His mother used to sing that to him when he was small. He remembered being held in her arms when he had awakened from a nightmare, or was lonely or upset, to feel his mother's reassuring voice and feel her warmth surround him and protect him.

He remembered once when she was singing to him, his father suddenly enter the room, annoyed.

"You're going to turn him into a milksop," his father had growled and grabbed Draco away from the warmth and comfort of his mother's arms. He remembered his parents arguing in quiet voices, but didn't understand. He only wanted to go back to the security of his mother's embrace.

But he felt that embrace no more after that night. He was three years old.

Draco them looked over at Hopkins. Wayne Hopkins was a couple inches over six feet and broad and muscular. He could see a patch in Hopkins thick, dark hair where Pomfrey obviously shaved it in a narrow band to magically stitch the gash there. And he saw the vague swelling under Hopkins' left eye from where another gash had been repaired. And he saw Susan Bones slip her thin arm around Hopkins' broad, strong back to rub it in reassurance.

Draco remembered how his mother would reassure him that he would grow up to be tall and strong and handsome and always be the best in everything and be gloriously happy with the girl of his dreams.

He closed his eyes and series of flashes seemed to erupt in his brain. He realized that every mother told their sons that. That every child was the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of the future to their parents. And he looked back once again to see Hopkins seeming to lean against the small Susan Bones for reassurance.

The huge and strong Wayne Hopkins was once merely an infant cradled in his mother's arms as she sang softly to him just as Narcissa Malfoy had done for Draco. Wayne Hopkins was once that tiny infant, sharing all the love and hopes that every parent, every mother, invest their children.

'And I nearly destroyed that,' Draco thought.

He had heard what a close-run thing it was with Hopkins. His creature had set about not just to teach Hopkins a lesson, to extract a portion of revenge for his beating of Draco, but to kill the boy. To kill the son of a mother. To kill the person who once was an infant boy who was cradled in the warm and secure arms of a loving mother as she sang her lullaby to him.

And Draco thought of his mother and her hopes and dreams. What had happened? Had he grown up to be tall and strong and handsome and always be the best in everything and be gloriously happy with the girl of his dreams?

No. He was not tall. Perhaps he would one day. He was not particularly strong. Not like Crabbe or Goyle. He was not bad looking, but, in brief moments of self-reflection, he concluded he might be striking, but he was not particularly handsome. Was he the best in everything? He shook his head. He was struggling to keep in the top third of the class. He was embarrassed at the end of last year to find that he was No. 12 in the class and Harry Potter, despite all that was going on with the Triwizard tournament and Professor Snape's abuse, ranked No. 13. And Potter ended up on the Quidditch Cup team in third year.

And had he ended up with the girl of his dreams? Draco gave a silent snort. Pansy Parkinson? An ambitious, boring little twit who had abandoned him at the first sign of trouble only to return to him when she had no place left to go. And she wasn't even that pretty. But Potter had Parvati, who was one of the prettiest girls in fifth year and who seemed to know everyone and be full of fun.

Was he gloriously happy?

Draco lowered his head. No.

Potter had it all.

But did Harry Potter deserve to die?

Draco slowly turned his head toward Wayne Hopkins again and saw him turn his head from Hannah on his left to Susan on his right and smile. Hopkins shrugged and raised his wand to the goblets and, with a sigh, try his spell again.

Potter didn't have a mother to mourn him, Draco thought. Or a father. But he probably once was held in his mother's arms and was probably sung to in the same quiet, maternal voice of hope that Narcissa had sung to him.

Draco lowered his head. No, Potter didn't deserve to die. He deserved to be taken down, punished, humiliated. But not killed. Draco sighed. He was not his father. He knew that now. He would succeed. He would triumph. But he would not kill. Not even Harry Potter.

* * *

It was not easy. There were Aurors patrolling the grounds as well as the interior of the castle. It was now nearly impossible to slip out at night. But moving toward the Forbidden Forest in broad daylight, or even twilight like this, would be risky. The headmaster and the Aurors had made it clear that no student should even approach the Forbidden Forest, much less enter it. The only time they were allowed beyond the low outer wall of the castle was during their Care of Magical Creatures class or in the company of a faculty member or an Auror.

Draco knew he had a measure of freedom of movement as a prefect. And he could talk to the Aurors. The bald, black one in charge was distinctly unfriendly to him. And the young woman treated him like a particularly obnoxious young boy, teasing and baiting him both in subtle and overt ways. The others showed some professional interest in his experience with 'his Golem,' but otherwise did not talk to him.

Then he saw a possibility. Nick Giannis. The Auror was in his 30s and quiet. But Draco also knew he was a Slytherin. Giannis was patrolling the Great Lawn. Maybe this would work.

Draco crossed the lawn and greeted the Auror.

Giannis turned and looked at Draco. "Young Master Malfoy," he said with a nod.

Draco blinked. "Master Malfoy?" he said in surprise.

Giannis nodded. "Your father has always been Mister Malfoy," he said in an ambiguous tone. "You're not your father, are you?"

Draco narrowed his eyes. "No," he said firmly.

At this, Giannis' expression softened. "Shouldn't you be out practicing Quidditch or studying for your O.W.L.s?"

Malfoy shook his head. "Ravenclaw has the pitch for practice. And I study best at night," he muttered. Giannis nodded and turned his gaze back toward the Forbidden Forest.

"What's it like to be an Auror?" Draco asked casually.

Giannis turned to Draco in surprise. "You interested?"

Draco shrugged. "I don't have any money anymore. So I'll have to do something. Something interesting, I hope. And being Auror beats being a shopkeeper," he said as if he had just spoken an epithet.

Giannis gave a snort. "Interesting as taking strolls around the Great Lawn all day," he said with a trace of sarcasm,

Draco shrugged. "You don't do this all the time, do you?"

Giannis shrugged. "Most of the time, it's boring as hell," he said as he strolled the grounds, keeping an eye of the Forest. "Some investigation...detective work. An occasional raid. A few real fights. But mostly, sitting around waiting and reading, writing or studying reports on crime or Dark activity.

Draco frowned. "Not exciting?"

Giannis snorted. "Your Professor, old Mad-Eye Moody, helped teach me at the Auror Academy. He used to say that being an Auror was 99% boredom and 1% pure terror. The problem was that you never knew when that 1% would happen, so you had to be constantly vigilant."

Draco nodded as he watched for his opportunity.

"You think I could be an Auror?" he asked.

Giannis stopped and looked at Draco. "Possibly. You have the grades and power?"

Draco shrugged. "I'm in the top third of my class. And I did well on my Stonecutter test. Flitwick said so."

Giannis nodded. "That's well and good. But can they trust you?"

Draco looked at the Auror sharply. "What do you mean?" he said icily.

Giannis turned to look at him levelly. "You are the son of a notorious Death Eater. His Imperious Curse excuse may have washed back after the Dark Lord's first fall. But he will not walk away this time. Last time, Fudge was new and the MLE was old and sick. And the Justice Minister," he said with a snort of disgust, "was greedy and ambitious."

Draco lowered his head in thought. "I'm not my father," he muttered.

Giannis looked at Draco. "Maybe not," he said softly. "But you'll have to be able to convince some pretty skeptical people of that. Some people who have lost family and friends to Death Eaters like your father and his master."

Draco suddenly felt his burden weigh even heavier on his shoulders. This was just supposed to be a diversionary conversation. He hadn't expected it to hurt so much. "Is there any chance...?"

Giannis continued to walk toward the lake near to entranceway to the castle and paused a moment before turning to look Draco squarely in the eye. "I don't think so. No."

Draco closed his eyes. What's the point, he thought. "I'm...I'm going back to the castle," he said quietly and turned to leave."

As Malfoy had anticipated. Giannis turned and started walking quickly in the opposite direction, probably in sorrow for his young companion. Draco silently ducked behind a bush near the underground waterway that the boats always used when first years first came to Hogwarts. He watched as Giannis lowered his head. When the Auror was 100 yards away and hadn't looked back, Draco made his move.

After a quick glance at the castle in the dying light, Draco donned his camouflage robe and pulled the hood up. Quietly, he made his way in the lengthening shadows and entered the Forbidden Forest.

* * *

The creature looked down at his creator. "Tell me," it said in a rumbling voice.

Draco blinked, not a little fearfully. "What?"

The creature simply stared at him. "I need to know...what is life. I need to know...about the living."

Draco stared back, confused. "I came to tell you not to attack Potter or Parvati."

The creature continued to stare at Draco. "That is what I know. It is the only thing I know. I must take your revenge."

Draco's mouth opened but nothing came out. He continued to stare at his creation.

"I know I have a purpose. To hurt the two. And that I must survive to do so. But there are other things I wish to learn. Tell me."

Draco looked anxiously around, then turned back to the Golem. "You can't. I'm not a murderer," he whispered harshly.

"It is what I know. It is my purpose. And I wish to know more. There is more. You will teach me."

"No," Draco said, his panic growing. "You can't."

The Golem turned to look up at the castle through the dense foliage. "They tell you things up there. They...teach. I must know things. You will teach me."

Draco looked up at the Golem. It kept repeating the same things over and over. Draco didn't understand. And he didn't care. Draco had to stop it from making him a murderer. "You have to stop. You can't...kill them."

The Golem looked back at Draco. "It is what I know. It is what I am. I must. You will go back and discover. And then you will come back to me and tell me what I must know. What it is to live."

Draco's fear was now palpable. "No!"

The Golem reached out and grabbed Draco's arm. "I must take your revenge. Then you will teach me."

Draco leaped back as soon as the Golem loosened its grip. "No, you can't!" He was suddenly running. It was less than 100 yards to the edge of the Forest and the Great lawn. He looked around. It was now dark. Dinner was probably well underway. He had to get back. He glanced around and dashed toward the Whomping Willow until he was with its shadows but still out of its reach. He skirted around its perimeter and, once satisfied that it was safe, ran to the entrance of the castle.

Stuffing his camouflage cloak into his hand-tooled leather knapsack, he made his way into the castle and entered the Great Hall. He quietly cursed that the House tables were rearranged each year and that the Gryffindor table was now next to the Slytherin table and that the seventh years took careful notice of his late arrival at the meal. But, after a quick glance, they mostly just ignored him.

He made his way up to the front of the table and found his seat next to Pansy, who gave him an annoyed look and returned to her meal.

He was back. He was safe.

But he knew he would soon be guilty of murder.

* * *

It was early, but not that early. Just six weeks ago he would have been wrapping up his run. Now, it was still dark. He quietly pulled on his sweatshirt and leaned down to tie his running shoes. He could get in a good 30 minutes and still get upstairs for a quick shower, and make it down to the Great Hall in time to grab a bite to eat. In a week or two, he would have to find a substitute for running in the morning. It wouldn't be light until well after 8:00 am, leaving him no time to wash, eat and get ready for classes.

He ran down the staircases in his sweatshirt and gym shorts and was out the door of the main entrance in no time. He regretted that he couldn't take the wide sweep around the Great Lawn and around the Quidditch Pitch, but Professor McGonagall warned him not to go anywhere near the Forbidden Forest, as that would be the likely place for the Golem to lurk as it awaited its next victim. So Harry was stuck running around the perimeter of the castle.

Not that running around the perimeter was such a bad thing from a conditioning standpoint. It was often uneven ground, with a drop-off at the start of his run past the Greenhouses, followed by a gentle incline as he passed the back of the castle, then uneven ground as he passed the sunken windows of Slytherin House, followed by a straight run back to the entrance of the castle. Not the leisurely run he was used to, and quite a challenge in the low light, but still, good to keep the conditioning and stamina up.

He exited the main entrance and walked over to the left around the corner to begin his warm up routine in the false dawn at the side of the castle.

* * *

Hannah sighed as she entered the Hufflepuff greenhouse. Since her breakup with Ernie and the attack on Wayne, she had taken to rising earlier than her roommates. The main greenhouse complex was off-limits to students during off-hours, but the Hufflepuff House greenhouse, which was set against the wall of the castle itself, had two entrances into Hufflepuff House. One led directly to the common room. The other led to the end of the corridor at the seventh year students end of the house. So, if she encountered this Golem, or any other intruder, she knew she wouldn't he trapped and could get into the house for help.

She really needed this time early in the morning to be by herself. Each student had a plot in the Hufflepuff greenhouse to grow whatever they would like. Well, at least anything that wasn't dangerous or on the banned list. And since most of the boys, and several of the girls, in her year didn't bother, she had five plots together to grow her beloved orchids.

Hannah couldn't remember a time when she didn't love flowers. It was probably in her blood, she thought. Her family ran one of the biggest nurseries in the British wizarding world. And while they made a steady income from herbs and other potions necessities, it was their orchids that made them rich.

Somehow, 25 years before, a few Muggles had discovered that the best and rarest of orchids could be obtained from a small, out-of-the-way nursery in the Southern part of Surrey. And the Muggles came. They would look over the acres of greenhouses and sigh, imagining such wonders these greenhouses might contain. But they were only allowed in the first six greenhouses, where the orchids were propagated and grown. They were occasionally allowed to look beyond, only to be disappointed to see more common house plants, albeit of the more expensive variety. They were never permitted to see into greenhouses 9 through 22, where the truly exotic potions plants were grown. What would a Muggle make of a Mandrake?

So Hannah was busy puttering around in the Hufflepuff greenhouse in the false dawn, trimming a plant here and checking the odd root system there, paying particular attention to her favorite salmon- and pink-colored orchids, when she caught a movement from just outside the end of the greenhouse.

Hannah quickly ducked down and made her way to the end, past the spare bonsai garden that her friend and classmate, the plain and forever forlorn Karen Holmes maintained, and past the decorative cabbages and mini squashes that a fourth-year named Cecilia kept, and peered cautiously out of glass.

It was Harry Potter.

Hannah blinked in surprise. Harry was about 40 feet away, leaning his hands against the wall of the castle as if he were trying to push it down. Slowly, he bent his back so he was hunched over. Then he backed off and placed one foot on the wall and seemed to lean forward, stretching the muscles of his left leg into a near split. Then he did the same with his right leg.

Hannah watched mesmerized. She had seen some of the boys in the house wander around in short the beginning and the end of the term, these seemed to the Hufflepuff uniform of the day for everyone whenever robes were not required.

But she had never seen Harry out of his regular robes or his Quidditch robes. And his shorts were ever so much shorter than the walking shorts the boys in the house wore. She marveled at how she seemed to be able to see each muscle on his thin legs flex as he went through his routine. She notice a faint dusting of black hair on the front of his legs, but little on his calves or the backs of his thighs.

She couldn't take her eyes of Harry as he continued his routine, twisting and stretching, then going into a soft jog-in-place that slowly accelerated.

She had seen other boys' legs. Ernie's were thick and muscular, but soft in comparison to Harry's lean, sculpted calves and thighs. Harry wasn't quite as tall as Ernie, but he seemed to radiate power and vitality in his every movement.

She was totally lost in thoughts and feelings alien to her when Harry suddenly turned and began running quickly past the greenhouses. He had to swing wide to get around the school greenhouse complex so Hannah got to watch his form as it slowly receded into the distance.

Two more times she watched him as he rounded the corner from the direction of the main entrance to the castle. She waited each time. But after three times, he didn't return. She finally realized he wasn't coming around again and sighed. As she slowly made her way back to the common room, all she could think about was how lucky her friend Parvati was.

* * *

It simply stared up at the castle. Somehow it knew that there were many answers within. It had so many questions. Maybe the silver-blond creator could help him understand some of the things the creature wanted to know. Maybe the creator could teach. It wanted to know.

But it also had its purpose. As it peered out from the Forbidden Forest into the gradually increasing light, it saw the target running around the castle toward the entranceway. The target had run past twice already. It knew it should have been prepared. It should have been waiting for the target.

But the creature had too much to think about. About how it came to be. About what its true purpose was. About what it could expect once it had killed this Potter. About the meaning of it all. It watched as the target disappeared around the corner and quickly run up the stairs to the entrance.

No matter, the creature thought. There would be another time.

Author notes: A/N: Sorry for the unavoidable delay in posting this. I hope to post more frequently now. And please read and review.