Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
Harry Potter
The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Published: 04/17/2002
Updated: 01/04/2004
Words: 584,432
Chapters: 31
Hits: 808,247

Harry Potter and the Triangle Prophecy


Story Summary:
Harry's 7th and final year of school. In a time of uncertainty, the Muggle world has found a source of comfort and stability. Only Harry suspects that it isn't safe. Wizards are more concerned about themselves than Muggles since Voldemort's return, but are only Muggles at risk? Will anyone listen to Harry? He must decide whether to make a sacrifice that will change him--and the wizarding world-- forever.
Read Story On:

Chapter 02 - Facade

Chapter Summary:
Harry's seventh and final year of school. In a time of uncertainty, the Muggle world has found a source of comfort and stability. Only Harry suspects that it isn't safe. Wizards are more concerned about themselves than Muggles since Voldemort's return, but are only Muggles at risk? Will anyone listen to Harry? He must decide whether Draco Malfoy is ultimately friend or foe and discover the identity of the Daughter of War and get her help in defeating Voldemort; and finally, Harry must decide whether to make a sacrifice that will change him--and the wizarding world-- forever.
Author's Note:
The quotes at the beginning of the chapter are from pages 405 and 349 of

Harry Potter and the Triangle Prophecy

Chapter Two


...at the Royal Pavilion at Brighton...Nash used
cast-iron onion domes and minarets to achieve a
lacy Picturesque luxuriance and movement of silhouette,
which mask the ...building with which he started....

Borromini's S. Carlino façade was a "showpiece"
--architecture turned into theater....

--Marvin Trachtenberg & Isabelle Hyman,
Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modern

Harry wasn't sure that he'd ever seen anything quite so beautiful. The shimmering figures pulsed and vibrated with life. He lowered Katie's wand and just stared. "Sitting," if it could be called that, in every chair, was the figure of a person who had attended Rodney Jeffries' most recent engagement, earlier in the evening. Harry looked at the dais; oddly, there were no magical signatures there, only in the audience. If Jeffries was a wizard, wouldn't there be some blue signatures? he thought. He knew from his other life that blue signatures were for wand magic, pink for wandless or accidental magic. He looked around the tent. Could everyone who had attended be a witch or wizard? Could Jeffries have made all of them perform some kind of accidental magic? What of the old man who no longer needed his wheelchair, the one Harry had seen on the television in the Bells' flat?

As stunning a sight as it was, thinking about the ramifications of what he was seeing was starting to hurt Harry's head. He jumped when he heard Katie hiss at him through the tent opening.

"Harry!" she said in an excited whisper. "Someone's coming!" She ducked into the tent nervously. "I think it might be someone who works for Jeffries."

Harry swallowed. "What do we do?" he said, thinking aloud.

Katie held out her hand and Harry put her wand into it. "I have an idea," she said tersely, not sharing her thoughts.

She stood very close to him, and when the man she'd evidently seen walking toward the tent entered and saw them, he only had time to say, "Here, now, no one should--" before she pointed her wand at him and cried:


He went rigid and then lost his balance, falling over, knocking over some chairs, but not disturbing the magical signatures. Harry couldn't tell if he'd had a chance to take notice of the ghostly pink figures populating the tent. He turned to Katie.

"Um, was that your plan?"

"Not completely," she said, still sounding very businesslike. "I'm waiting for the signatures to fade."

Harry looked around. "It takes a few minutes."

"I know," she said, looking around. Then Harry saw that she was really looking at them. "It's quite beautiful, isn't it?"

"Yes," Harry agreed. "I just wish I knew what it meant. Who did the magic? What spell or spells are we talking about? I thought doing this would tell us something, but in some ways I feel more confused than ever...."

"There!" she said triumphantly, pointing at some glowing people near them. "Fading a bit. Shouldn't be long now."

Little by little, the images became fainter, until Harry could no longer see them at all; it was as though he had blinked and they had all Apparated away. Katie motioned for Harry to help her stand up the man whom she had stunned. She pointed at the opening in the tent and Harry nodded, then helped her position the man outside the tent. The stiff figure was somewhat precarious; Harry was worried that he was going to topple over again at any moment. Katie quickly revived the man, then immediately pointed her wand at him again, saying, "Impedimenta!"

He looked frozen once more, although Harry knew he was merely moving very, very slowly, and that the spell would wear off in a matter of minutes. While the man was standing there, his eyes staring past them, unseeing, Katie reached into his jacket pocket, pulling out his wallet.

"What are you doing?" Harry demanded. She made a face at him.

"Information gathering." She found a driver's license with a London address, and some business cards with the same name on it. The cards were for a law firm in London: Shaw, Booker, Forrest and White. There was also a key in his pocket which hung from a plastic disk bearing the name and logo for The Hare and Hounds, a pub in the village where Jeffries and his retinue had presumably taken rooms. "Hmm," she said, staring thoughtfully at it. "Still using actual keys here. Of couse, it's not an international hotel chain, so that's probably to be expected...."

"What are you talking about?"

"Many large Muggle hotels don't use keys for the rooms any more, just electronic passes. They don't even confiscate them when people leave the hotel, they just reprogram the door. I wasn't terribly surprised that I wasn't chosen to be Head Girl, since I only had seven O.W.L.s, but four of them were in Defense Against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies, although that's not where I learned about hotel keys. That's not in the text. For my summer homework I did a lot of research on Muggle security measures."

"I thought you were visiting relatives in America?"

"I was--that's where I learned about this; the Americans even require many people to use electronic security passes to get into their offices, much more advanced than most businesses in the British Isles. There are exceptions, of course. You wouldn't believe what--"

"I think we'd better keep moving before the spell wears off," he said quickly, not liking the look on the man's face; he definitely thought his facial expression was changing; it was changing very slowly, but changing.

Katie was squinting at one of the business cards in the dim light. "His name's Adam Justice. Isn't that perfect? He's probably been pressured to read the law all his life. Oh, wait--he's not a solicitor or a barrister. According to this he's just a clerk."

"Well, clerks can be very important to their bosses."

"Sorry; I just meant that the theory about being pressured to read the law is probably a bit off."

"Not necessarily--this just means he did the next best thing. He's probably happier, I should think. Shouldn't we--"

"Obliviate!" she cried suddenly, pointing her wand at Adam Justice. Then Harry noticed another figure was in the distance, heading toward them. Katie saw too, and cursed under her breath, surprising Harry.

"Back in the tent!" she hissed, and Harry found himself obeying. Adam Justice had hopefully blocked the other person's view, so they hadn't been seen, but if they made a break for the car that would no longer be true.

When they were standing in the tent, Harry threw up his hands and whispered, "Now what? Hide behind some chairs? Under the platform?"

The other person's footsteps were growing nearer, and then they heard Adam Justice start moving as well; the Impediment Curse had worn off.

"No time!" she hissed back at him. Then suddenly, she pulled his face down to hers and he stumbled; the next thing he knew, they were on the ground, her mouth attached to his still. Her hands were locked around his neck and just as her mouth opened he felt the earth vibrating very subtly as two people entered the tent. He realized what her plan was then, and threw himself into the pantomime wholeheartedly, also opening his mouth and running his hands up into her hair.

The intruders didn't say anything at first. Harry's lips had moved to her neck and she was breathing warmly into his ear when one of the two people behind them finally spoke.

"This tent," said a very indignant man's voice, "is the property of Rodney Jeffries, and no one is authorized to be here when tickets to hear Mr. Jeffries are not being sold. We have permission from the town council to have this tent in this location and have paid all of the appropriate fees for the use of public property; you, I daresay, have not."

Harry finally pulled his mouth away from Katie's neck. Her breathing was very shallow and her eyes looked slightly glazed-over; she was either an excellent actress or had utterly forgotten the original purpose of what they were doing.

"Oh, hello," she said brightly, as Harry helped her to a standing position. "Are we not supposed to be here?"

Adam Justice threw his hands in the air with exasperation. "That's what I just said."

Then Harry noticed who the other person was: Grace, the girl who'd been working at the American Embassy in Paris. "Well, hello again," Grace said, smiling at Harry. "Thought you'd broken up with your girlfriend."

He turned and smiled briefly at Katie. "New girlfriend." He turned back to Grace. "Sorry. We thought this would be, erm, more private than the car. We'll be going. Very sorry..."

Katie gave the two a lopsided grin and buttoned two open buttons on her dress. (When had she opened them? Harry wondered). She walked past them looking very different, to Harry's eyes, than she usually did, and he realized that she was moving her hips much more than usual. She obviously wanted there to be no mistake what they were up to. Normally she walked with a very focused, no-nonsense stride, he realized, although he'd never really thought about it before. Somehow, there was something very eye-catching about this new walk....

When they were back in the car, they noticed Grace and Adam zipping up the tent again and walking across the grass in the other direction to another car. When they suddenly they turned their faces toward Katie's car, she yelped and abruptly pulled Harry's face to hers. He found their mouths locked again, and then he opened his eyes and saw that hers were open, too; she was looking over his shoulder, presumably watching the other pair until they reached their car. She didn't actually do anything with her mouth this time except keep it in contact with Harry's while she watched Grace and Adam Justice. Harry couldn't decide whether he was disappointed about this.

Finally, she pulled back from him, then put her hand up to her mouth, looking mildly horrified. "Oh, Harry--sorry about that. I didn't want them to see us looking at them. Are you all right?"

"Well, you know, it's pretty traumatic to be forced to kiss a pretty girl as a subterfuge..." he said, trying to keep a straight face, but then couldn't help smiling at her. He could see that she was blushing in the moonlight.

"You are too charming by half, Harry Potter. That will get you in trouble, you know," she said, starting the car. He leaned back and grinned at her.

"Oh, it already has. It already has."

They both laughed. As she started the car, he realized that she was probably heading for Privet Drive. "Let's go to Mrs. Figg's instead," he said. "I think we should tell her about the magical signatures we found in the tent. For one thing, we should say that you're the one who did the spell, since I'm not seventeen yet and I did use your wand. Plus--I just think she should know as soon as possible so she can tell Dumbledore."

"Mrs. Who? Dumbledore? What are you going on about, Harry?"

"Mrs. Figg. That's where Draco's staying. She was his nanny when he was small and also my babysitter when Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia wanted to do something nice with Dudley and didn't want me around. She's really a witch, and she's going to be the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in September. She's also Mad-Eye Moody's little sister."

She didn't take her eye off the road as he told her all this, but said dryly, "You're not serious."

"Completely. Turn left here instead of right."

She followed his directions and they were soon at Mrs. Figg's house. When they reached the door, Harry rang the bell, hoping somehow that Draco would be the one to answer. Unfortunately, it was Mrs. Figg.

"Harry! What the hell--and who's this?"

Katie swallowed, the look on her face making it clear that she was very glad to be out of school, with no danger of having Mrs. Figg for her teacher in September. Harry saw her steel herself as she thrust out her hand, saying in an only slightly-shaky voice, "Katie Bell. Sam Bell's my father."

Mrs. Figg took her hand and shook it firmly. "Ah. Sam Bell. Yes, yes...Come in, come in."

In the entrance hall, Harry told her, "We've been to the park, to that tent Rodney Jeffries is using. We've something important to tell you, something Dumbledore may want to know, too."

She raised her eyebrows. "And what were you two doing in the park at this time of night, may I ask?"

Katie seemed to be gaining confidence. She lifted her chin and looked her in the eye. "No," she said raising her own eyebrows at the old woman. "You may not."

Harry was expecting Mrs. Figg to respond with a typically Moody-like retort, but instead she chuckled and moved toward the kitchen. "I see we have a feisty one here..."

She motioned for Harry and Katie to sit at the kitchen table, then moved her finger a tiny bit, causing the tea things to start zooming around the room. "Draco should probably hear all this too," Harry told her. Mrs. Figg immediately howled Draco's name, making Harry and Katie wince (Harry fought the urge to cover his ears).

"WHAT?" came the annoyed response from the second floor.

"JUST GET YOUR ARSE DOWN HERE!" was Mrs. Figg's answer. Harry glanced at Katie; he had become accustomed to this from having stayed in this house during the previous summer, but he was a bit embarassed to have Katie witness the usual mode of communication for the Figg household: top-of-the-lungs bellowing. Katie, however, only winced the one time.


By the time he was entering the kitchen, all of the tea things were laid out on the small table. Draco stopped short when he saw Katie.

"Oh, hello," he said, suddenly attempting to turn on the charm, smirking and looking her up and down pointedly. "Don't you look different...."

Harry pretended to swat at him. "Sit down and put your eyes in your head. She's my date tonight."

Draco Malfoy sat in the empty chair, laughing. "Some date, Potter. Giving her a tour of Figg's kitchen. You really know how to show a girl a good time." This time Harry wasn't pretending about the swatting. "Hey!" Draco yelled, holding his arm.

"That's enough, the pair of you, or I'll start telling the girl about how I changed both your nappies," Mrs. Figg threatened. The boys clamped their mouths shut and Katie did too, but in her case, she seemed to be suppressing laughter.

"If you're on a date, what are you doing here?" Draco asked them as he poured the tea. He looked disgruntled about the fact that he wasn't out and about on a Friday night.

Harry explained to them that they'd stopped by the park on the way back to Little Whinging and Katie (they said) had cast the Revelatio spell. He told them what they'd seen--but not that they'd been seen by Muggles (at least, for the time being, he was assuming they were Muggles).

Mrs. Figg had a very strange look on her face when she'd heard why they'd come to her. She stood and started pacing. Then Harry said, "Mrs. Figg--can I tell Katie about the--people working for--um, You-Know-Who--no! Wait! I don't mean Voldemort. I mean--"

"You mean Dumbledore," Mrs. Figg nodded. "You mean about the operatives." She sat again and nodded at Katie, actually patting her hand affectionately. "I daresay she's a good girl. Trained your dad, I did, when he was fresh out of school. Excellent Auror. Such a shame what happened...." She patted Katie's hand again and smiled sympathetically at her. Katie acknowledged this silently with a small smile.

Once Katie understood that Sirius Black had been working as an operative before he'd been cleared, and that Remus Lupin and Severus Snape were also operatives, they brought her up to speed concerning the milkman who wasn't.

"Do you think Jeffries is connected to the milkman?" Harry asked Mrs. Figg. "And have they found out who he is?"

Mrs. Figg looked very disturbed. "We already suspected there was something funny about Jeffries, but it's not what you think, Harry. And I do think there's a connection with the milkman--but not for the reasons you might assume...." She trailed off, frowning into her teacup. "We're still trying to work out some problematic things concerning the milkman...."

"Like what?" Harry wanted to know.

"Well--like the fact that he's not a wizard. He's a Muggle."

"I know Otto's a Muggle. Of course he is."

"I don't mean the real milkman. I mean the fellow you disarmed, Harry. He's a Muggle."

"But--but he was using a wand to get into the house--"

"Was he? Are you certain?"

Harry's head was spinning. "I don't understand--he was breaking and entering, wasn't he? And the Nelsons were away when they normally wouldn't have been--"

"Actually, it turns out that Mrs. Nelson's neice had a baby and she and her husband flew to Florida to spend a fortnight visiting. I severely doubt that someone forced a young woman in America to give birth to a child and then arranged for her aunt and uncle to fly to America to visit her just so they could break into their house and be two doors away from you."

"Well--they may not have done it because of that, but they may have taken advantage of the fact that the Nelsons were gone for a little while...."

Mrs. Figg sighed. "And then there's Jeffries."

Harry sat up. "Yes?"

"No wand magic. No accidental magic. Absolutely nothing goes on in the hotel rooms where he stays, either. No magical signatures of any kind. His staff all seem to be Muggles, too. If he himself is a wizard, he's not doing magic."

"But--but we saw the signatures."

"Right. He doesn't seem to be doing magic. But the people who come to see him--"

"How could his entire audience have been witches and wizards? It just seems so unlikely--"

"They're not. They're Muggles."


She sighed. "Exactly, Harry. That's what we're trying to figure out. And I do think that your Muggle milkman imposter used that wand to break into the Nelsons' house. The question is--how? Did someone teach him the spell? Where did he get the wand? It's a good one, chestnut and dragon heartstring. And how did he manage to get it to perform magic?"

Harry frowned. None of this was making sense. Muggles performing magic?


"So we have been paying very close attention to Mr. Jeffries since last November and we are as mystified about him as you are right now."

"Well, I'd also like to know how he just happens to be in Little Whinging just as I happen to be starting my holiday...."

"Harry, trust me when I say that the Ministry is very concerned about Jeffries in general, and that the operatives are specifically interested in the fact that he is in Little Whinging and interested in working out your milkman imposter problem. Plenty of highly qualified people are on the job, Harry, and you should go home and get some sleep and let others do their jobs. Your job is to be a teenage boy home from school for the holidays."

Harry frowned; he felt so useless. This was very frustrating after being the captain of the Dueling Club, leading the other club members into battle in the forest....

Katie was standing. "Mrs. Figg is right, Harry. I'll drive you home. You've got a day off tomorrow. Relax and do nothing. We've all been working hard this week."

He couldn't argue with that; while he was getting more used to it now, after the first few days of working for Aberforth again he'd had muscles aching that he'd forgotten he possessed. A day or two of rest sounded wonderful. Whether he could stop worrying was another story.

They said goodnight and left--although Harry noticed Draco Malfoy ogling Katie's legs again as they departed. When they were in the car once more, Harry simply stared out the window while she drove the short distance from Mrs. Figg's house to Privet Drive; he spoke only to give her cursory directions.

When they pulled up in front of number four, Harry turned to her. "You know, you really were good back at the park."

In the illumination from the street lamps he could see her blush. "A good kisser? Or--"

Now Harry was the one blushing. "Well, that too. But--I meant your response to that--that Adam Justice. You made sure he wouldn't remember the magical signatures, and you came up with a plausible reason for our being in the tent...."

She shrugged, her hands still on the steering wheel. "It was nothing."

They were silent, both staring out the front window of the car. When Harry finally spoke, Katie seemed startled. "You know why you can't figure out what to do for a living?"

She turned her head, frowning. "I have a feeling you're going to tell me."

"It's because you already know what you want to do, but you've promised your dad you won't."

She looked down at her hands, her mouth very thin. "Yes," she sighed. "You're right, Harry. The only thing I've ever seriously considered doing is being an Auror. Defense Against the Dark Arts was my favorite class in school. Any time I paid any attention in any other class it was only if it was something I could use against dark wizards. I'm not the fastest dueler in the world, but I can usually figure out a way not to be in a position where I have to be dueling someone, which is probably wiser, really. That's why I didn't join the Dueling Club. And I found History of Magic and Potions to be unbelievably dull. Transfiguration wasn't bad--I actually had two O.W.L.s in that one. And I had one in Divination. Beginner level. Beyond that I lost interest. And Astronomy--well I don't even want to think about that...."

She looked up at the sky. "If you asked me what part of the sky to look in for Orion's Belt or Sagittarius, I'd have no idea, but if you want me to follow someone through Diagon Alley without their knowing they're being followed, I'm the one for the job."

He grinned. "Why'd you say that?"

She ducked her head. "Because before Lee and I were going out, I saw him in Diagon Alley shopping for school supplies during the summer and I followed him because the twins had told me he had a girlfriend and I wanted to see if he was going to meet her. Turned out they'd been lying to me; they knew I fancied him and they were trying to get us together. Sneaks. But Lee never suspected I was following him. People can be really daft, you know?"

He smiled at her. "So you know I'm right." It wasn't a question. "When the time comes--what are you going to tell your dad?"

She sighed and leaned back with her eyes closed. "I don't know. I suppose that's what I'm really doing here this summer. Trying to get dad to see that I really am an adult, that I can make these decisions for myself. Spend a little more time with him before he disowns me..." She turned, and on seeing Harry's frown, she gave a feeble smile. "Joking. I know he wouldn't do that. But--oh, Harry. The way he goes on, sometimes. Did you know that his best friends arrested him? Not your mum--she was on holiday. And these so-called 'friends' treated him like any other criminal. I know, I know, technically they should have. But--but he was one of them. And he was protecting me. The way they suddenly didn't seem to think he was the same person, the way they took him away--that's something he's still not gotten over. Not that he's gotten over Mum; even after sixteen years. I just wish...I wish he could be happy. The only time he seems happy is when he's working, but I think that's just a distraction. And he won't talk about prison; I've tried asking him. The only thing he's said about it was that if he'd known what he was sending people to, he might not have been such a good Auror. And now I'm supposed to tell him that's what I want to do with my life?"

Harry put his hand over hers. "Most of the people in Azkaban really deserve to be there. It's true that there need to be some changes in wizarding law, so we're not punishing people who are defending others, but that's a problem with the law, not with the people enforcing it."

She grasped Harry's hand. Her voice had become very soft. "All those years when dad was in prison, I thought of his being an Auror, and how I would make him proud of me, how I would be just like him when I grew up. I played at being an Auror with my friends and for a while I tried to get them to call me 'Aurora,' since I hated the name Katie...."

"I rather like the name Katie," he said quietly. Suddenly he realized that they were sitting very close together, their faces only inches away. They looked at each other for what seemed a very long time.

"Do you want to go to Kew Gardens?" Katie asked suddenly, in a strangled sort of voice. Harry backed up and cleared his throat, taking his hand from hers.

"Um--all right. I've never been."

"We--we could go tomorrow."

"What happened to relaxing tomorrow?"

"Kew is relaxing. It's one of my favorite places in the world. After--after Dad came home, it's the first place he took me. We've been gardening all week--we can enjoy the fruits of someone else's labors for once."

She smiled at him, although it looked a bit forced, and he nodded. "When?"

"I can pick you up at ten-thirty. We can have lunch in London."

"All right then." He opened his car door and was mildly surprised to hear her open hers and follow him to the front door.

"Goodnight, Harry. Except for the people gawping at us in the Leaky Cauldron, the horrid film and meeting your Mrs. Figg and having to see Draco Malfoy again it was the perfect date," she said with a mischievous look in her eye.

Harry winced. "That's just about everything. What's left?"

"I think just--this--" she said, standing on her toes and brushing her lips against his. He reached for her shoulders and held her in place before him, barely needing to touch her, preventing her from leaving him immediately, so he could kiss her properly. She didn't complain but behaved rather as though she'd been hoping he would do this. He shivered in the night air; her fingers were brushing his bare forearms lightly, making the hairs there stand on end. Their bodies didn't quite touch; he was aware of her being very near, but she wasn't pressed against him. They seemed to stay like that for rather a long time. When he finally pulled his face back from hers she had a look in her eyes he'd seen before. He'd definitely seen both Ginny and Hermione look at him that way when they'd been snogging, as well as Cho, for that matter....

"Good night, Harry," she said so softly he had to strain to hear the words, then she turned and walked back to the car. While she started the engine and prepared to move off, he raised his hand, and she nodded back at him with a small, secret smile. He went into the house and leaned on the closed door, hoping his aunt and uncle weren't waiting up, hoping they wouldn't say anything to him about Sam "letting" his daughter go out with him. He closed his eyes, smiling to himself as he remembered the long, slow, leisurely end-of-date kiss. Unbidden, then, the image of Ginny in the greenhouse with Draco crept into his mind, and he had to abruptly open his eyes to banish it. Katie, he told himself. Think about Katie. She wasn't someone else's girlfriend, and she wasn't in love with his best friend and his best friend wasn't in love with her. He hadn't done anything to lead to the death of her last boyfriend. For once in his life, maybe he could feel almost-normal and go out on a few dates with a perfectly nice, perfectly normal girl.

For once.

As he strode up the stairs two at a time, he couldn't help smiling to himself. If his aunt and uncle ever found out she was a witch, not to mention Sam and "Dick" being wizards, they wouldn't think she was so "normal" any more.

She wasn't in love with his best friend....

Suddenly, having been able to talk so easily to Katie, he realized how much he missed Hermione. Still with a calm, contented feeling filling him from the date, and putting Rodney Jeffries and the milkman out of his mind, he sat at his desk and pulled out a piece of parchment. He found his favorite eagle quill that Hermione had given him and the ink that changed colors as you wrote; he'd bought it on his very first shopping trip to Diagon Alley with Hagrid, when he was eleven but he didn't use it very often, so there was plenty.

Dear Hermione,

I'm sorry I didn't write sooner to officially congratulate you on becoming Head Girl! Everyone knew for years you would be, of course, so it's a good thing you didn't disappoint anyone!

He stopped and flicked the feathery part of the quill over his chin as he thought. He couldn't write a letter that was punctuated by nothing but exclamation marks. It sounded like false laughter or something. He thought for a few minutes before continuing writing.

I also wanted to write to you to tell you something that should probably come from me, instead of someone else. I went on a date tonight with Katie Bell. I know this comes out of the blue, but it seems to be just what I needed. It was actually her dad's idea, but Katie's very nice and we had a nice time--

Erg. He was going to wind up using the word "nice" to describe everything at this rate. He scribbled out the end of the sentence and wrote, "good time."

I know you were hacked off at me for breaking up with you, but I still think I did the right thing. Have you written to Ron? How are the two of you getting on? Please don't be too cross with him; he has a lot to deal with right now. Not that you're cross a lot. I'm not putting this very well....

He thought for a very long time before continuing.

You're my two best friends and I want you to be happy. Please forgive me for being such a prat and handling things so badly. I love you both very much and you both mean the world to me.

He was unsure about including the last part, but before he could lose his nerve, he signed it and tied it to Hedwig's leg. He watched her fly into the night, silhouetted against the moon for a moment before swerving and disappearing in a stand of pines. Then he thought she was coming back. Already? he thought. But although he could tell that a small flying object was heading toward him, it never seemed to grow larger. When the object practically zoomed into his forehead, threatening to replace his old scar with a larger, messier one, he ducked and saw Ron Weasley's owl, Pigwidgeon, flapping around the room excitedly, like a flying, fuzzy, tennis ball on too much caffeine.

He watched it for a while, waiting for it to tire out, but Pig's enthusiasm for his work was boundless, and finally, Harry gave up and used an old butterfly net that had been in the room when he'd moved in to snag the little bird. He took the note off its leg while it continued to jump about excitedly and discovered that there were actually two notes; one in Ron's handwriting and one in Ginny's.

He swallowed. Ginny. Damn. Why couldn't he just have gone to bed? Why did he have to sit down and write to Hermione? Of course, that wouldn't have kept Ron from sending Pig with the letters. He opened Ron's leter first, hoping for a little sanity.

Dear Harry,

Congrats on being Head Boy. No surprise there, of course.

You haven't wasted much time, have you? But you better hope Hermione doesn't have that Prophet subscription any more. You know she hates finding out about things that way.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that later this month, Remus Lupin and I are going down to London to try that dungeon thing the Ministry has for werewolves who want to be locked away safely. And before we go, Snape's going to be using the fireplace to give us potion every day for a week. (Lupin's back in Manchester most of the time, but he's come here a couple of times to do some training with me. We'll probably do that twice a week.) It's possible I could stay here for the full moon, since I'll have the potion, but somehow I just don't want anyone at home to see me that way, especially Mum.

Sirius wrote to me and said that I'm invited to spend August with you at Ascog Castle, so I'll be there for the next full moon. He's invited Lupin too, so you and Sirius can keep us company again. And Snape can still get the potion to us. You know Sirius told Lupin he might even invite Snape to stay as well? Dunoon isn't that far from Bute. Did you ever think Sirius Black would invite Snape to his home? I had to ask Mum to pinch me after I read Lupin's letter (Lupin told me, not Sirius). Unfortunately, the twins were visiting Mum and Dad, so they straightaway put a pinching hex on me and my bum was black and blue in seconds. I miss the buggers sometimes.

Ginny's sending a letter too. I think it's about Draco Malfoy's birthday. Just imagine me making retching noises right now and you'll understand how I feel about that. Now she's hit me (she's reading over my shoulder). I have to go now. I have a little sister who needs throttling. See you soon.


His signature was somewhat distorted, as though he'd already started scuffling with Ginny. Harry smiled, remembering good-natured squabbling and wrestling with Jamie and the twins. Putting a pinching hex on someone who said, "Pinch me, I think I'm dreaming," was exactly the sort of thing Simon and Stuart Snape would have done.

Then he looked at the other piece of rolled-up parchment. So, Ginny was writing him a letter. He unrolled it slowly and then read:

Dear Harry,

Draco tells me the landscaping work is going well so far and that Katie Bell is also working with you. You both already get on well with her dad, so that's nice. When Draco wrote to me last summer he told me that the two of you had become good friends with him.

I'm writing to ask you for your help in planning a birthday party for Draco. I've already written to Mrs. Figg, and she's arranging most of the details, but we need some way to keep him away from the house on Monday (his birthday) so he won't know what's happening. The trouble is, he asked off from work, so he won't be with you. I don't have a clue what to do. You're coming to the party, too, I hope? Tell Katie and her dad that they're also invited. Draco didn't have a party on his birthday last year, and he's turning seventeen now, so he'll be of-age. I want it have a proper party for him. Let me know what ideas you might have.



Harry stared into space for a moment. He could think of plenty of places he'd like to send Draco Malfoy, none of them particularly nice. Then he tried to think of something he could actually tell Ginny. Finally, he pulled out a piece of parchment and wrote:

Dear Ginny,

I went to the cinema with Katie Bell tonight. Have you ever been to a Muggle cinema? If you choose a better film than we did you might actually like it. Ha ha. Of course, Malfoy may not have been to a film either, in which case you'll need someone with you who knows what to do. So I was thinking you could ask Hermione and Ron to come along, so Hermione can act as your Muggle guide and Ron won't complain about the two of you being out alone together (and Hermione might be able to distract him so you can forget you're not really alone and you might actually get some privacy).

Tomorrow Katie and I are going to Kew Gardens. If the film you go to see on Monday isn't long enough, perhaps you can do something like that, or just wander around Diagon Alley for as long as you need to in order to let Mrs. Figg get the house ready. Sam and Aberforth and Katie and I can come after work. Maybe while we're in London tomorrow Katie and I can get him a gift. Do you have any ideas?



Harry went back and scribbled out the "ha ha." How stupid, he thought. After that he scribbled out "Malfoy" and wrote "Draco." Then he worried that mentioning Ron and Hermione would make it sound like he was the one who didn't want Draco and Ginny to be alone in London together. Then there was the casual way he'd mentioned Katie. Would she think he was trying to make her jealous? (Was he trying to make her jealous? he wondered.) If he didn't mention Katie, would she think he was trying to keep it from her when she found out? It's just been one date, he thought irritably. They liked each other and so far they seemed to get on well together. He didn't have some pre-existing best friend or sister-of-best friend relationship to muck up by going out with her. (Although he did have a daughter-of-co-worker relationship--a co-worker who was doubling as a matchmaker.)

Suddenly he understood the appeal of Parvati for Ron. Katie was uncomplicated for him, as Parvati had been uncomplicated for Ron. It was a relief, really. He wasn't sure it would really stop him completely from thinking about Ginny (being with Parvati had clearly not taken Ron's mind off Hermione) but it was worth a try.

He set aside Ginny's letter and wrote a brief note to Ron:

Dear Ron,

Thanks for the letter. Sorry I didn't write much this week. I'm knackered from work and also rambling around on the roof of our house in the early evenings. Don't ask. I'll explain when I see you.

I'm not sure what you mean about wasting time. And what are you expecting Hermione to read in the paper? She knows she's Head Girl and I'm Head Boy. Do they usually put that kind of thing in the Prophet?

I hope the dungeons at the Ministry aren't too bad. I understand you not wanting your mum to see you. I'm glad you're coming to Scotland in August! I really wanted to be there for you during this full moon, but at least you'll be with Lupin. You know, I think I might need to get Aunt Petunia to pinch me too. (She'd be very happy to.) Sirius is inviting Snape to Ascog? Maybe we can go up to Dunoon for a day, get Snape to give us a tour. Dunoon's a nice place, and the Firth of Clyde is great. His uncle has a sailboat and Snape knows how to use it. A cloudy day would probably be best so he doesn't have a problem with the sun.

I suggested to Ginny how she might get Draco Malfoy out of Mrs. Figg's house during the day on Monday so he won't see her getting the place ready for his birthday party. I said the two of them could go up to London and see a film. Don't scream at me! I also said that they could take you and Hermione along, which means you could keep an eye on them and Hermione could be a Muggle guide for the three of you. (Have you ever been to the cinema?) Then you and Hermione could both come to the party afterward as well and keep me company. I need some other friendly faces there; I just cannot handle the idea of celebrating that git's birthday (insert retching sounds here) without the pair of you to talk to.

Don't throttle Ginny. Be nice to your sister. You can't be too careful. Remember--she's learned a lot from the twins and she's one of the top duelers in the club. (Do you want your bum to turn black and blue again?)

By the way, I'm going to start working on finding those people we talked about. I hope I'll be able to tell you more soon.


Harry tied both letters to Pigwidgeon's leg, gave him an owl treat, and watched him fly off again. He climbed into bed thinking about how he might go about finding the missing Weasley sisters in this life, but before he could come up with a plan, he was fast asleep.

* * * * *

In the morning, he met Draco at Mrs. Figg's, Dunkirk in tow. When he returned home from running he noticed a letter from Ginny had been left on his desk by Pigwidgeon. He showered and dressed, stuffed the letter in his pocket without reading it, and waited for Katie. She drove up right on time and he strode to the car, smiling. When he got in, she said, "Oh!" suddenly and pulled a newspaper off the dashboard, throwing it quickly into the backseat.

"That's okay," he said. "Uncle Vernon doesn't really keep his car nice and Aunt Petunia's always nagging him about it. She's pretty compulsive."

"Um--right," she said, blushing for no reason Harry could figure out. She started the car without saying anything else.

After driving in uncomfortable silence for a while, Harry said, "While we're in London, can we stop in Diagon Alley?"

She looked startled. "Oh, um--I thought we'd avoid wizarding London today. That's why I borrowed the car from Dad, so we wouldn't have to Floo to the Leaky Cauldron."

"Are you sure we couldn't just make a quick stop there? I need to get Draco Malfoy a birthday gift. By the way, you and your dad are invited to his birthday party. It's to be at Mrs. Figg's on Monday night."

Katie turned her head slightly. "You're celebrating the birthday of the boyfriend of the girl you're crushing on?"

He grimaced. "I'm not--oh bother. I'm trying to be big about all this. Get Ginny out of my mind. Treat him like a human instead of a flesh-eating slug, which is my first impulse, frankly. So I'm going to get him a birthday present and go to his party and smile and be nice even if it kills me. Which it might." He gave her a lopsided smile.

"Well--maybe I can help you put Ginny out of your mind." Her tone of voice was light, but Harry took a good look at her now. She was wearing a blue skirt and white blouse. Her arms looked very tan from her work outdoors and her legs looked--

He turned at faced the road, trying not to think about her legs. He had a feeling he knew now how she was going to try to get him to put Ginny out of his mind. He remembered the two of them at the front door the previous night. Katie is uncomplicated, he reminded himself. Then why did he have the sudden nagging feeling that he was cheating on Ginny?

He found that Kew Gardens was a wonderfully relaxing place. There were fountains and waterfalls and marvelous plants and a generally peaceful atmosphere. He found himself wanting to talk to Katie about his other life, about Jamie, but he didn't quite know how to bring it up without her thinking he was barking mad. So he sat with her on benches and walked holding her hand through leafy arbors and once, in the shadow of a huge old chestnut tree, he kissed her again. While he kissed her, he thought that maybe he could show her some things in the Pensieve and then she might not think he was insane. But, he realized, he probably shouldn't show her something like his initial meeting with Maggie Parrish, which only came about because of his years of experience with stalking Ginny....

Maggie Parrish.

He stopped kissing her abruptly. She looked up at him and gave him a small smile, then stopped when she saw the look on his face. "Is everything all right, Harry?"

"Um--yeah. I just--I just had an idea for how to do something--I mean, for how Ron can do something. I want to make sure I don't forget it before I can put it in a letter to him."

She grinned. "I'm glad kissing me can be so inspirational, but weren't we trying to get you to stop thinking about a Weasley?"

He grinned back mischievously. "Well, it's a different Weasley, anyway." She swatted him playfully and they walked on, laughing. He finally looked at Ginny's note while they drove to the Leaky Cauldron, so they could get to Diagon Alley. Frowning while he read, he decided not to get Draco the all-too-practical school items she'd suggested. That wasn't a seventeenth birthday present. Instead, he picked out a new broom for him, and told Katie that she and her father could go in on it with him. If Ron and Hermione also wanted to contribute, he thought, then it wouldn't amount to as much for each person. He thought she was looking rather twitchy and nervous when they were in Quality Quidditch Supplies. She kept looking around at the other people in the shop and then away again, as though she were trying to make it look like she wasn't looking at them at all.

When they were back on Privet Drive saying goodbye, Harry kissed her without hesitating this time, holding her against him, feeling her warmth and life, the contours of her body. Do it right, he told himself sternly. She's a nice girl. Don't daydream about Ginny all the time. Enough's enough.

But once she was gone he raced up to his room; he had an idea for how to go about finding one of Ron's older sisters and he wanted to see whether it would work. He took out his Pensieve and put it on his desk. He locked the door to his room, but just as he was getting out his wand, Hedwig came soaring in the window with a reply from Hermione. She dropped it on his desk and landed on top of her cage and began preening. Harry unrolled the letter and began to read.

Dear Harry,

I hope you are having a ripping good time with your new girlfriend, Katie Bell. Ron and I are going to London with Draco Malfoy and Ginny on Monday to see a film before we come to his birthday party. I suppose we'll see you there.


It was extremely terse and, he thought, rather snippy as well. What was her problem? He looked at the note again; he couldn't remember ever getting a letter from Hermione that wasn't signed, "Love from Hermione. No love was being sent this time.

Then he saw that a newspaper clipping had fallen out of the parchment. Uh-oh; now he saw what her problem was; she had sent him a page from the "People" section of last night's Evening Prophet, the late edition, which had a story about him and Katie going out and a picture of the two of them eating dinner; Harry was leaning over and kissing her at the table, it seemed. Under the table, her foot was snaking out of her sandal and toward his, without quite making contact. I didn't kiss her at dinner, he thought. Maybe that was when I was whispering to her about the people looking at my scar. And if her foot really was doing that, I was certainly not aware of it...

He wondered who'd taken the picture. He hadn't noticed a camera. He knew that modern Muggle cameras could be very small and unobtrusive. Perhaps there was a wizarding equivalent (or someone had simply taken the photo with a Muggle camera and developed the film the wizarding way). Then he sat down with a thump as he read the story. Oh, this just keeps getting worse, he thought.


by Daisy Furuncle

Former Gryffindor prefect and Chaser Kathryn Bell was seen dining at the Leaky Cauldron this evening with none other than Gryffindor Seeker and newly-minted Head Boy, Harry Potter. Bell and Potter dined very cozily in a secluded corner of a private dining room, away from prying eyes. Potter has apparently parted ways with new Head Girl, Hermione Granger, also of Gryffindor, who has evidently been his paramour since before the Triwizard Tournament, although they only owned up to their secret relationship in June of last year. During the Tournament, Miss Granger was linked romantically both to Potter and to the late Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum, who died in suspicious circumstances in the forest at Hogwarts just over a month ago. Potter was seen bent over Krum's dead body; Krum had been seeing another cast-off girlfriend of Potter's, the former Head Girl and Ravenclaw Seeker, Cho Chang. Potter started seeing Chang not long after her previous boyfriend, Hufflepuff Seeker and Triwizard champion Cedric Diggory, died in Potter's presence under still more suspicious circumstances.

During the summer holiday, Bell and Potter are both working for a landscaping concern owned by Albus Dumbledore's brother, Aberforth (who has had legal problems of his own in the past), along with Bell's father, convicted killer Sam Bell, and Draco Malfoy, Slytherin prefect and son of convicted Death Eater Lucius Malfoy. Sam Bell has earned his living doing this work ever since he was released from Azkaban, and Potter and Miss Bell are evidently doing it on a lark, but young Malfoy reportedly needs the money very badly, his finances having been in dire straits ever since his mother disowned him for conspiring with Potter and Granger to send his father to Azkaban.

Bell, Chang, Granger and Alicia Spinnet (another former Head Girl) are the four girls whom Lucius Malfoy had allegedly placed under Imperius, part of the basis for his life sentence. All of the girls were ordered to pursue Potter romantically while under the curse, which would explain how the very pretty Miss Chang in particular came to be his girlfriend for a time (it was certainly convenient for Potter that her boyfriend happened to be killed). Has your curse not worn off yet, Miss Bell?

Potter is evidently continuing his practice of befriending rather dodgy people, following on his friendship with the Hogwarts groundskeeper and Care of Magical Creatures instructor, the half-giant Rubeus Hagrid, who was expelled from Hogwarts years ago following a student's death. Hagrid's mother is infamous giantess Fridwulfa. He also did a stretch in Azkaban four years ago.

Although Potter is credited with helping to recover the kidnapped Hogwarts Potions master, Severus Snape, who was once accused of being a Death Eater, he is also being blamed by Ambrose Davies for his son Evan's death. The Ravenclaw prefect received burns over 95% of his body and died of asphyxiation during Snape's rescue, which Potter recklessly spearheaded without permission from the headmaster nor any other members of the Hogwarts teaching staff. But then, Potter has shown a tendency to disregard authority before (the Triwizard Tournament was to have been for students over the age of seventeen, while Potter entered at the age of fourteen) and has yet to get his comeuppance for it. Instead he is rewarded with the post of Head Boy.

Miss Bell should perhaps consider more carefully whether she wishes to compromise her future by consorting with someone whose actions have led to two Hogwarts students being killed in two year's time (Diggory being the other) through his carelessness and bravado, but as she seems to have a cavalier attitude about forgiving her father for killing her mother, perhaps such advice would simply fall on deaf ears.

Harry just groaned continuously. Almost no one he knew was not being dragged through the mud in this article. Mrs. Figg miraculously escaped the reporter's notice, but he half expected to see something about his aunt and uncle, and he probably would have if they weren't Muggles. Sirius wasn't mentioned, and neither were Ron and Ginny. That was good. But even Snape's history as a Death Eater was brought up, and that was ancient history--let alone the question of why Hagrid was expelled. Damn damn damn, he thought.

The tone of the article was distressingly familiar. He checked, but the byline wasn't Rita Skeeter, it was Daisy Furuncle. He frowned. Where was Rita Skeeter, come to think of it? he thought. Hadn't she gone missing about the same time as Snape the previous summer? He would have to write to Dumbledore to ask him. Or maybe Mrs. Figg would know, since she was also an operative.

He perused the article again. Bell and Potter dined very cozily in a secluded corner of a private dining room, away from prying eyes. Yeah, we were so far away from prying eyes that they managed to take a picture to make us look like we were snogging when we weren't.

Hermione didn't come off very well, as the reporter clearly believed the rubbish Skeeter had put out during the Tournament concerning her and Harry. Was the writer accusing him of killing Krum and Diggory? So he could get Cho Chang? And then Aberforth and Sam were portrayed in the worst possible light, and Draco Malfoy would have a fit about the "dire straits" part. He was very touchy about his money situation. As if that weren't bad enough, the reporter had to go and bring up Hagrid again. And had Ambrose Davies really been putting around that it was Harry's fault Evan had died? Harry shuddered, seeing Evan again, screaming, clothed in fire....

He balled up the article and threw it across the room. Just what I need right now. He hoped Katie hadn't seen it. Then he realized she probably already had; she must have been throwing a copy of the Prophet into the back seat of her car when she picked him up. That's why she was behaving so awkwardly, and why she didn't want to go to Diagon Alley.

And Hermione. Eerg. That wasn't going to help him mend fences with her.

Bloody hell.

He felt distracted and upset. What on earth was he doing when the owl arrived from Hermione? He looked up and saw the Pensieve on his desk. Oh, right. Looking for Peggy Weasley. Or Maggie Parrish. Or whatever Maggie Parrish's name was before she married Bernard Parrish.

He knew he couldn't count on her having married Bernard in this life, so he needed to know the name of her adoptive parents. He remembered seeing a framed copy of their wedding invitation near the door to the flat, but without magic he couldn't pull the names on it out of his brain. He had decided to put the memory of that visit to Maggie and Bernard into the Pensieve and enter it, try to really see the invitation this time....

He thought of that day, of following her on the tube and then ringing her doorbell; he thought of the conversation he'd had with her and Bernard in the foyer of the building, with the dog Billy. He thought of sitting in their flat, talking....

Harry put his wand to his temple, then drew it away slowly, sending the thought arcing in a silver stream to the large stone bowl. When he was done he put his wand to the viscous surface, stirring until he saw in the bowl the living room of the Parrish flat in his other life. Bending over, he touched his nose to the viscous fluid, and suddenly found himself tumbling head over heels into the Pensieve once more.

He was back in Maggie and Bernard Parrish's sunny London flat during the previous autumn. The two of them were sitting on the sofa with their dog, talking to the other Harry, without the scar. Harry stared at himself; he seemed so different, and he had that accent. Somehow it made him sound older, he thought. He understood now why Maggie had thought he looked a bit old to be with her fifteen-year-old sister.

He wandered into the corridor that led to the front door of the flat; it was here, he thought; I'm sure of it. Finally, he found it. He had seen it in his other life, he had even read it, but to know what it said in detail, he needed to enter this memory physically, walk up to it and take a really good look.

He read the Parrishes' wedding invitation:

Mr. and Mrs. Sean R. Dougherty
request the honor of your presence
at the marriage of their daughter

Margaret Mary Beatrice


Bernard R. Parrish, III

Saturday, the third of August, nineteen-hundred and ninety-six
one o'clock in the afternoon

St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church

Reception to follow at the White Swallow Inn, Dorchester

The favor of a reply is requested.

Harry swallowed. Her name had been Margaret Mary Beatrice Dougherty and her father was Sean R. Dougherty and they went to the parish of St. Bartholomew in Dorchester.

He flipped himself out of the Pensieve again and after stumbling for a moment, he scrambled for some parchment and ink and scribbled down the information he'd just found. Now--how to find out what he needed to know?

He itched to just go into the next room and use Dudley's computer, but he didn't dare; his aunt would skin him alive if he touched any of Dudley's things, and until now he'd been unwilling to disturb the shrine for his own reasons. But this was important; this was restoring the lost Weasley sisters--or one of them--to their family. He paced and thought for the first time, If only Aunt Petunia had fixated on me after Dudley died instead of Dunkirk....

Harry stopped his pacing and smiled to himself. He knew how to get into Dudley's room to use the computer.

* * * * *

"Hello again, Mrs. Dursley."

"Hello, Draco," Aunt Petunia simpered. Harry tried very, very hard not to roll his eyes. "Do come in," she added, ushering him into the entrance hall. "How are you today?"

"Quite well, quite well," he said, sounding more aristocratic than ever. Well, Harry had told him to use the Malfoy charm (trying not to gag at the oxymoron). "You're looking quite lovely today," Draco added. Harry would have to talk to him later about laying it on so thick. It was starting to verge on the--

"Oh, thank you, that really means something, coming from such a handsome young man--"

--vomit-inducing, Harry thought, trying to swallow his gorge.

"So," she said, looking very pleased with herself for having him in her home. "What brings you to our humble abode?"

"I'm, er--Harry. When he stayed at Mrs. Figg's last summer he was reading a book of mine, and he said I could come over and get it back." Harry groaned inwardly; that wasn't the story they'd agreed on, but evidently the Malfoy brain wasn't capable of remembering more than--

"Harry!" his aunt immediately reprimanded him. "I knew we were right not to get you a library card. You shouldn't have made the poor boy come over here looking for his book! Now go get it, and apologize when you get back!"

This was not how it was supposed to go. "Um--I'm not sure where it is now. I may have left it in Dudley's room--"

"You left it in--!" his aunt started to say, turning white. "You know you are forbidden to go in there!"

Harry tried to look sheepish. "I know. I'm sorry."

"Is it all right if I go into your son's room, Mrs. Dursley?"

She smiled on him with beneficence. "Of course, dear boy, of course." She gave Harry a cold look over her shoulder as the three of them ascended the stairs. When they reached Dudley's room, there was no sign of a book anywhere. When Harry had moved into Dudley's second bedroom not long before he turned eleven, the only things in the room other than the bed and desk were broken toys and books-- in other words, things which had been banished because they were of no use to Dudley. Books were not usually part of the landscape for Dudley Dursley, and if there were one in his bedroom now, it would have stood out like a wizard's hat on Vernon Dursley's head.

Instead, Draco had the desired reaction to the computer on Dudley's desk. "Oh! Is that an Alpha--4000X?" he asked in apparent rapture, upon seeing the simple putty-colored machine, but pronouncing the name awkwardly, as though he were trying to remember what Harry had coached him on.

Petunia Dursley smiled. "Yes. Do you enjoy computers?"

"Do I! Mine is in storage right now, and I probably have ever so many amails--" Harry dug his elbow into his ribs and mouthed the letter 'E' at him. "Er--emails waiting for me when I leg on--I mean, log on again..."

"Well, why don't you just use Dudley's machine while you're in Little Whinging? It's just gathering dust. Harry wouldn't know what to do with it," she said contemptuously, her voice dropping. She rolled her eyes, as though Harry were far too stupid and hopeless to ever learn how to use a typewriter that had only two keys.

"Really? You mean it? That would be smashing. I'd really appreciate that."

"Oh, don't mention it," she said, blushing. "Go right ahead. Harry! Get him a chair!" There had been a desk chair at one time, but Harry noticed that it was broken and the pieces were piled in a corner. Harry scrambled into his own bedroom and returned with his own chair. Petunia watched Draco sit down and stood looking at him and the dark computer monitor expectantly. Harry was afraid she wouldn't leave; Draco Malfoy knew nothing about computers. Harry was going to have to be the one to operate it, and if she didn't get out that wouldn't be possible.

"Actually, shouldn't we get over to Mrs. Figg's?" he said suddenly to Draco. "We were going to, er, do some gardening for her. Perhaps Draco could come back tomorrow afternoon. I can look for his book tonight." He knew that on Sunday afternoons, Petunia usually pretended to be cutting roses to put in the house when she was actually craning her neck over the garden fence, spying on the neighbors. This was an important part of her week, and she tried not to miss it. He also knew that Draco wouldn't come in the morning as he reveled in having Mrs. Figg's house to himself while she was at church.

"Why not the morning?" she asked. Harry grimaced; did she want to hang about? he wondered. Draco's eyes were very wide; he was clearly thinking furiously to figure out a way to avoid giving up his empty-house time. "Well, er, we go to church in the morning. Right. Every Sunday. Did last summer too. Except Harry. He wouldn't come with us."

Harry resisted the urge to kick him in the shins. Prat. Brown-nose.

"Harry!" Aunt Petunia said in her most disapproving tone. (And she had some very disapproving tones.) "You are to respect the rules of the home in which you are staying!" Then she turned back to Draco, smiling. "Well, isn't that a good idea. We, er, would have seen you in church last summer except that we were on holiday, of course, which is why Harry wasn't staying here. We'll see you in church tomorrow morning, then, won't we? And then in the afternoon you can come use Dudley's computer, all right? Say you'll come after church?"

Harry groaned. "Church? We're going to church tomorrow? We never go to church. Only Christmas and Easter."

Aunt Petunia became very military. "You will attend church tomorrow morning young man and you will behave yourself accordingly." She tsk-tsked with her tongue and looked at Draco again. "Your parents must be so proud to have such a fine young man, going to church with your old nanny. There aren't many," she looked pointedly at Harry, "young people still willing to do what's right these days."

"And when's the last time you were in church, I wonder?" Harry muttered under his breath, but not so softly she couldn't hear; she chose to ignore him. When they left number four and were walking to Mrs. Figg's house, Harry resisted the urge to push Draco Malfoy into a prickly rose bush.

"You never did tell me why you need to use that thing--" Draco Malfoy began, but Harry wasn't interested in that conversation.

"Thanks a lot, Malfoy," he said instead, kicking a fence post irritably. "Now we're stuck going to church tomorrow morning, thanks to you."

"How did I know she was going to do that?" His voice rose in pitch to a squeak. "You think I want to go to ruddy church?"

"Well, you shouldn't have pretended to so pious. Don't know why you're being such a toady with my aunt anyway."

But now Draco Malfoy had stopped and he became very quiet, fingering a piece of shrubbery. "She fusses over me. She--she reminds me a bit of my mum." He started walking again then and Harry frowned for a moment before catching him up.

"What did you say?"

"You heard me. I'm not repeating myself," he answered irritably, striding forward purposefully. They had actually gone past Mrs. Figg's without noticing and were headed toward the park now. Harry remembered when Ginny was telling him about how she and Draco Malfoy had become friends, the way she'd held his hand in the infirmary when he'd called out for his mother in his delirium.

"She wasn't bad, you know. When I was younger. Always gave me whatever I wanted."

Harry pursed his lips disapprovingly. "That's called spoiling. That's what my aunt and uncle did with Dudley, too." Then he remembered that the first time he met Draco, in Madam Malkin's dress shop, he had immediately been reminded of Dudley, due to Draco's saying that he was going to bully his father into buying him a racing broom (despite the fact that brooms were forbidden to first year students).

Draco remained silent as they walked. Soon they were at the park; evidently Rodney Jeffries was putting on another show, for people were in a queue that wrapped around the huge tent and across the grass to the pavement, waiting to pay their twenty pounds. Harry stood and shook his head, watching, then noticed Draco Malfoy doing the same thing. Well, he thought, at least there's something on which we agree.

Then Harry noticed a lone figure at the edge of the green, a man around thirty, small and thin, wearing a pale grey suit and a clergyman's collar. He recognized Mr. Babcock, the vicar. He wasn't shaking his head, like Harry and Draco, but he was visibly shaking, and in fact looked quite ill as he beheld the queue of people waiting to hear the charismatic speaker. Harry watched him turn away from the park and walk toward St. Bede's, as though he were a doomed man walking toward the gallows.

* * * * *

When he returned to Privet Drive he noticed what appeared to be a flock of owls clustered on the tar-papered roof. One of them was nibbling at the evergreen branch attached to the gable. When he began to walk toward the front door, they started to descend on him and he had to beat them away. "Wait on the roof again!" he told them irritably. "I'll go upstairs and open my window!" The birds retreated to the roof once more and when Harry opened his bedroom window and whistled to them, they began to stream in. Soon there were owls perched all over the room. Harry went to a medium-sized tawny owl first so he could get it off his bedstead and removed the letter from its leg, shooing it out the window afterward.

"No, I'm not giving you anything! I don't have enough owl-treats for all of you!" He unrolled the parchment, irritated. What he found didn't surprise him a bit. Letter after letter had been sent on the heels of the Prophet article, vilifying him for causing Evan Davies' death, asking him what sane father would allow his daughter near him, and how could Albus Dumbledore allow such a person to be Head Boy. He was making the rounds of the letters as quickly as he possibly could, shooing the owls out the window again as soon as he'd retrieved the parchments they were carrying, but a couple of times he didn't get to a howler in time and soon there was screeching all over the house from irate witches and wizards who now thought he was the scourge of the wizarding world.

"What's going on up there?" Vernon Dursley bellowed from his previously-peaceful living room, where he was watching football.

"Nothing!" Harry bellowed back, just as another howler burst open. This time phrases like "wizarding Don Juan" were being shouted at top-volume, and Harry winced and shoved the alarmed owl out the window. When he was finally down to three owls, and it didn't look like they had howlers, he approached them cautiously and took their parchments, prepared for more personal attacks. The first one, however, was a surprise.

Dear Harry,

I hope you haven't read the Prophet lately, but I should warn you that there's a dreadful article in it which may get some people wound up for a while. If you get any negative reaction from it--

If? Harry thought ruefully.

--don't pay it any mind. The people who know you and love you know not to believe any of that rubbish. I just wanted you to know you have my complete support.

When did you start seeing the Bell girl? I remember Sam Bell; he worked with your mum. At any rate, this will all blow over. I have some interesting things to tell you about Wormtail's confession when you come to Ascog Castle, and the entire family is looking forward to meeting you.


Harry smiled. The people who know you and love you....

He opened another letter and found, to his surprise, that this one was from Mariah Kirkner.

Dear Harry,

I've used our fastest owl, so I hope this reaches you quickly. I am writing this just after reading that thing passing for journalism in the Prophet. No one who was in the forest blames you for Evan Davies. We know he turned on you and the rest of us. You have the support of the entire Dueling Club, and the rest of the students at Hogwarts as well. Those of us who are prefects elected you Head Boy by acclamation for a very good reason. I am writing to the Prophet as soon as I send this to you. They will be getting a storm of owls from the rest of the students and teachers as well. I will see to it. Say hello to Draco for me.


Harry sat down on his bed with a thump. He was floored. He remembered in his fifth year when Will Flitwick declared that he wasn't to blame for Cho and his great-uncle being in the hospital wing, and all of Gryffindor House had joined in the show of solidarity. When he read the article he hadn't expected either attacks or support to come to Privet Drive from the wizarding world. Except for letters from Ron, Hermione, Sirius and Hagrid he usually didn't have much contact with the wizarding world during the summer. Even the previous summer, when he was working with three other wizards, he didn't feel that his summer had any more of a wizarding component than usual.

There was only one owl left, which Harry recognized now as Hermes, Percy Weasley's owl, which he had received from his parents when he was made a prefect. Harry didn't remember whether Ginny had received anything in particular when she'd been made a prefect. He unrolled the parchment and read the letter.

Dear Harry,

I expect you've seen the Prophet article by now. I've had such a time getting Fred and George to shut up about it! They think it's riotously funny, of course. Ron and I are staying in Hogsmeade with Percy and the twins this weekend, and on Monday we're Flooing to the the Leaky Cauldron, where Hermione and Draco are supposed to meet us. Thank you for thinking of all this. I've never been to the cinema and I'm quite looking forward to it. I hope Draco doesn't suspect anything about his party.

I'm assuming you were only talking to Katie in that photograph, since the reporter seemed determined to make you look as terrible as possible. Katie's very nice and you're working together; I'm sure you were just out together as friends. Why do other people have to twist things so? No one who knows you will believe anything in that dreadful article, and that means everyone at the school, students and teachers alike. We all know you should be Head Boy even if this Daisy Furuncle doesn't.

Thank you again for helping with Draco's party. I'll see you Monday night. Ron says hello and that he already wrote you last night. He's been spending quite a lot of time out back today with Remus Lupin doing what seem to be very strange dances. Don't ask; when I did I received an answer that made my eyes glaze over. I'm sure he'll be happy to enlighten (which is to say bore) you on Monday.



Harry stared at the letter. She didn't believe he and Katie were anything more than friends. He felt himself flush, remembering kissing her. Ginny always believed the best in everyone until it was absolutely proven that something else was the truth. He thought of the way she'd befriended and then become more than friends with Draco Malfoy. She'd given him a chance where many, many others never would have. What was between him and Katie? We're just dating a little, he told himself. But somehow he felt embarrassed at the idea of Ginny finding out that it was actually a date.

He waved Hermes out the window, still holding Ginny's letter. It sounded like Lupin was keeping Ron busy, so he wasn't surprised that he didn't get another letter from him. Hermione had only written to send him the article and to be snippy; she obviously believed that he was already "involved" with Katie. Was she upset that he seemed to be over her so quickly, or over Ginny? Did she even realized the depth of his feelings for Ginny?

He sighed, watching Hermes fly out of sight, then looking down at the letter in his hand from the girl he needed to try to forget. The final two words kept echoing in his head:

Love, Ginny.

* * * * *

Harry managed to get through the service the next morning by daydreaming about Quidditch. He was also occasionally afforded some amusement by the fact that Draco Malfoy had no idea what he was doing and would invariably stand, sit or kneel at the wrong time. Several times he read words aloud from the prayer book along with Mr. Babcock, who was eying him in a very unfriendly way by the end of the service.

When they stood to sing the final hymn, Harry looked around while the organist played the verse through once. There weren't very many people present at all; it seemed there had been a lot more when he was young. Of course, he'd only ever experienced Easter and Christmas services, which were well-populated. He understood now why St. Bede's could no longer afford a rector. There couldn't be more than twenty-five people in attendance, and four of them (Harry, Draco and the Dursleys) weren't normally there.

As the postlude was cranked out on the rickety-sounding organ, Mr. Babcock walked down the aisle of the church, his cassock slightly frayed and a haggard look on his face. Harry already felt the heat of the summer day making his white shirt stick to his back, and it was only noon. There was no ventilation in the little stone church and it felt like an oven. The flowers on the communion table were already wilting. It's probably much cooler outside, Harry thought, yearning for the shade of leafy trees and cool grass to walk on barefoot.

But they weren't allowed outside yet. They filed into the parish hall for some weak tea, stale biscuits and tea sandwiches, and Harry grew nostalgic for the lovely soft bread with egg wash he'd had after the Sabbath service at Rabbi Pelta's synagogue. There had also been crunchy pickles and salty fish salad and crisp raw vegetables and other good food.. He watched Draco Malfoy pick desultorily at a very sad specimen of cucumber sandwich.

While they were drinking the horrible tea, Mr. Babcock meandered toward him and struck up a conversation. "Well! Some unfamiliar faces are here today," he said, trying unsuccessfully to sound cheerful. Harry had actually made a go of listening to the sermon for a little while, but the man's voice was uniquely downbeat and he'd had to tune it out or go mad. Perhaps that's what's happened to the other parishioners, he thought.

"Well, the last time I was here was for my cousin's funeral," Harry said evenly, trying to get rid of him. Mr. Babcock looked at him now through narrowed eyes.

"Oh, yes, you're Mr. and Mrs. Dimsley's nephew--"

"Dursley," he correct Mr. Babcock, trying not to laugh. Maybe he wasn't so bad after all.

"Your name is Dursley? I thought it was Henry."

"Er, no, my name is Harry Potter. My aunt and uncle are Mr. and Mrs. Dursley."

"Oh, right, of course, of course."

Harry felt somewhat sorry for him; he seemed prematurely addled (although he might be older than he looks, he thought) and was as terrible as ever at making small talk and doing simple things like remembering people's names and relationships. To change the subject, Harry said, "I saw you yesterday when that lot of people were queued up for Rodney Jeffries."

He saw immediately that he had hit a nerve. "Rodney Jeffries," Mr. Babcock said bitterly. "Charlatan. He puts on a good show, that's all. Do you know we have virtually no choir now because he's taken all of the best singers to work for him while he's here? They're doing selections from stage musicals, of all things. Yes, I'm sure I could attract plenty of people if we decided to perform 'Phantom of the Opera' during mass. Bread and circuses, just bread and circuses...."

"So," Harry began, interested in the fact that he'd never seen Mr. Babcock remotely animated about anything, "you don't believe then that he's healed anyone?"

"Healed? Oh, yes, I daresay he's healed several people of hypochondria...."

"You think they were faking their illnesses? What about that man's burns on Bonfire Night?"

He snorted into his tea just as a balding man came upon them. "Who says he was ever burnt? The reports were so cloudy."

"Really? So no one can corroborate the report that the man had burnt himself?"

The balding man spoke now. He looked vaguely familiar to Harry. "Ah, you've gotten him going on Rodney Jeffries again, it seems."

Mr. Babcock looked up, startled, then calmed again. "Oh, hello, Forbes. Harry--er--"


"Yes, of course. Harry Potter, this is Dr. Forbes. As you can imagine, the medical community isn't exactly throwing parties in Jeffries' honor, either."

"Hello, Harry. I remember you, of course. You look quite different, but I'd know that scar anywhere. Been many years since your aunt and uncle brought you and your cousin for check-ups. I suppose once you both went off to boarding school you had your school matrons to care for you....I was so sorry when I heard about your cousin. My condolences."

"Thank you, sir," Harry answered. He quickly changed the subject. "So--are you as upset about Jeffries as Mr. Babcock?"

"I don't know whether 'upset' is quite the right term....I mean, there are safeguards in the medical profession, you know? The government ascertains whether someone is fully educated and fit to be a doctor. If you feel you have not received competant care, you have channels you can go through for redress of grievances. Who has ascertained that this Jeffries fellow is only helping people and not hurting them? Even if he convinces someone that they don't need a wheelchair any longer, what happens when they suddenly become convinced again that they do and go tumbling downstairs? If someone believes he has in fact hurt them instead of helping them, how do they get satisfaction?"

Harry frowned. "Do either of you actually know what he does when all these people come to hear him?"

Both men shook their heads. "No idea," Mr. Babcock said. "I'm not about to throw away twenty pounds finding out."

"Hmmm..." Harry said, his hand on his chin. "I admit--I'm curious. I don't think I believe he's really doing what people say, but I'd like to at least see it, find out why people are so thoroughly convinced. I can tell you about it afterward, if you like."

Mr. Babcock nodded. "I'd appreciate that. Mind you don't get sucked into his world, though."

Dr. Forbes agreed. "He's seems to be like some sort of Svengali, hypnotizing people with his eyes and whatnot. I daresay they'd believe him if he told them all they were purple hippos."

Harry thought it was possible they were exaggerating and grew more and more curious to see the real thing and judge for himself. "Well--I'm not usually taken in by people like that. I have a pretty healthy skepticism."

Dr. Forbes clapped him on the shoulder. "Good boy. That will serve you well, mark my word."

After they returned home, Draco came with him to Dudley's room, and they were able to use Dudley's computer without Aunt Petunia hanging over them. (Harry had secretly chuckled at the way she'd hung over Draco Malfoy in the parish hall while he ate his tea sandwiches.) Harry didn't have any trouble finding several search engines so he could attempt to locate a Sean or Margaret Dougherty. The problem was the sheer number of people with those names in Great Britain. Harry saved all of the information the search engines found so he could plow through it later and Draco went back to Mrs. Figg's (he'd found Dudley's hand-held games machine and quickly became addicted to it--Harry let him take it with him, assuming his aunt wouldn't notice).

The next day Harry took Draco Malfoy's new broom out to the car when Sam and Katie picked him up for work, since Draco had taken the day off. When Katie saw him she looked quite red; perhaps she had also received some owls in reference to the Prophet article. Sam turned around before starting the car and Harry braced himself, but then he saw that the older man was smiling sunnily at him.

"Have a good laugh over that Prophet article, Harry?" he said, before facing front again and putting the car into gear. Harry turned in confusion to Katie, who was sitting next to her dad.

"Erm--" was all he could think of. Sam laughed.

"Oh, don't worry Harry. I don't particularly care what the wizarding community thinks of me or I'd spend more time in Diagon Alley than I do--which is no time at all. I didn't even get the Prophet or have the flat on the Floo network before this summer. Katie already explained to me that you two weren't really kissing in that photo. I know how these things work. What did you think, Harry, I'd be hexing you as soon as you came out here this morning? If I didn't trust you I never would have suggested the two of you go out. Katie thought I was mad because when the tenth owl came flying into our flat Saturday night with yet another marriage proposal, I couldn't stop laughing for almost twenty minutes. A number of young--and some not-so-young--wizards want to rescue her from you. I've never seen anything so funny...."

Harry swallowed and smiled feebly at Sam, who had glanced at him in the mirror, a merry look in his eyes. "It wasn't just what they said about Katie and me, though. They said awful things about--about why you went to Azkaban, and about me being responsible for Evan dying, and Cedric and Viktor Krum. And all that about Hermione and Cho being my 'cast-off' girlfriends. Hermione sent me a copy of the article. She was not happy. You wouldn't believe the horrid letters I've been getting--including some howlers. I also had three letters from friends, which made me feel a little better. My aunt and uncle were screaming back at me about the noise from the howlers--the neighbors must have thought we were having a terrific row--"

Sam pulled onto the motorway leading to New Stokington. "Oh, Harry. Buck up. It'll blow over in no time. And just think--Nigel and Trevor don't know anything. You won't have to think of it at all today. And later we've a party to go to. Thanks for getting a gift, by the way. I brought some wizarding money to pay for my portion and for Katie's. What kind of broom did you say it was, Katie?"

"Nimbus 2001," she said. "It's the same kind he had before, but now the price has come down. They've a new model."

"I still need to get a new broom for me, as well," Harry said. "My Firebolt bit the dust in the forest, like Draco's. This'll be my third broom since starting school."

Sam shrugged. "I never much fancied traveling by broom. I used to Apparate a lot. Once you've been to Azkaben, though, you get your Apparition license revoked and don't ever get it back. I haven't found that I miss it, actually. And by the time I was released it had been so long that I was afraid I'd splinch myself if I tried. Out of practice. These days I like to keep the car in good repair, and then I feel like I can go anywhere...."

Harry leaned back, watching the other cars whip past them on the motorway (it seemed that Sam was driving very fast) and he tried to take Sam's advice about not letting the article get to him. He hadn't received any nasty letters on Sunday, and only two before he went running with Draco early that morning (neither were howlers, fortunately). He wondered whether Mariah had gone through with her plan and whether, if the Prophet received letters of support for him, they'd print them. Then he thought again about Ginny's letter; it was really very sweet of her to write to him and reassure him. Then he shook his head as if to dislodge this thought from it. No. I am not going to be spending my time thinking Ginny is sweet. He looked at the back of Katie's head. I'm sure you were just out together as friends. The trouble was, he wasn't so sure. Did he want it to be more? I just don't want to go for years fixating on someone who doesn't want to be with me...

Katie was slightly awkward around him at first when they arrived at the estate, but as the day went on, she behaved more naturally with him. While they were eating lunch, sitting near each other, Harry asked her quietly, "Are you as all right about the article as your dad is?"

She blushed again now and took a bite of her sandwich. "I was telling the truth about the photo, of course, but, well--Dad doesn't know about--"

"--about the other kissing."

"And about the tent in the park. And that I want to be an Auror."

"Oh, right."

"Of course, I've gotten rid of that ridiculous idea now..."


She frowned. "How stupid was it for me not to notice that someone was photographing us? I mean, a fine Auror I'd make if I couldn't detect that..."

"That's the sort of thing you learn in your training, I'm sure. You shouldn't let that discourage you. I didn't notice either. You know, I think you're overlooking something that may indicate you'd make a very good Auror."


"The fact that Lucius Malfoy put Imperius on you and you resisted. That stupid article aside, you and I both know that you were mad about Lee that year and the curse had very little, if any, effect on you. Except at that Christmas party you threw. If that isn't an excellent indicator that you might do well as an Auror, I don't know what is. I'm the only one in my class who almost overcame Imperius on my first try, in fourth year."

"What do you mean?"

"You know, when we all thought Barty Crouch, Jr. was Moody and he was putting Imperius on us all?"

She shook her head. "He didn't do that with us."

"Really? I didn't know that..."

"And what do you mean 'except at that Christmas party?' What did I do at the Christmas party that made you think I was after you?"

"Well, um, when we were dancing...."

"Oh, that. I was trying to get Lee's attention again. We'd already been seeing each other--well, I think you figured that out after I had mononucleosis." She smiled shyly. "He was being a little-stand-offish for a while after that. And it was my birthday, so I was trying to get him to--"

"Your birthday?"

She sighed. "Well, I wanted a party for my seventeenth birthday, but I was shy about inviting people to a birthday party so I said it was a Christmas party. I still got my wish. I'm just not as comfortable about these things as the twins; they're so outgoing. Maybe that's why Lee and I finally fizzled--I suppose we're too different. It's just hard getting someone out of your head when you've crushed on them for so long, and then you're actually a couple for a while...."

Suddenly, someone cleared a throat; it was a high-pitched clearing, and obviously for the purpose of getting their attention, not for actually throat problems. A girl with strawberry-blonde hair and rather tight clothing was standing before them. Harry hadn't noticed her walking up from the house, but now he recognized her as the daughter of the people they were working for. He'd so far only see her from a distance.

"Um--excuse me," she said in what seemed to be a very upper-crust voice. "You wouldn't happen know the whereabouts of Draco, would you?"

"Home. He took the day off, as it's his birthday," Katie told her tersely. Harry thought she sounded a little hostile and this surprised him.

"Oh--oh, that's too bad. I was--well, just tell him that Felice Harrington-Smyth wishes him many happy returns of the day."

"Right," Harry said, suddenly feeling mischievous. "Felicia Hampton-Sims wishes him many--"

"No, no, Harry," said Katie, quickly catching on. "It's Felicity Harper-Smee--"

The girl did not look pleased. "That's Felice Harrington-Smyth," she said icily before walking away. Harry and Katie waited until they thought she was sufficiently distant before bursting into laughter.

"Oh, we're terrible people," Harry said, practically crying with glee.

"Horrid, awful people," Katie agreed, holding her middle, then wiping tears from her eyes.

"Have you seen her before?" he asked her. She surprised him by looking rather embarrassed.

"Well--last Thursday I was going into the kitchen up at the big house so I could use the loo, and they were, um talking in the scullery. Except that they weren't talking all the time--"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I heard their voices--both rather unmistakable, I think you'll agree--and then the talking stopped...."

"You're not saying--"

"I'm saying I don't know anything. Technically I didn't see anything. I know that they've talked and she wants to wish him a happy birthday, that's all. I didn't like to say anything because--well, I didn't want to get your hopes up--"

He frowned. "Get my hopes up? That he'd be cheating on Ginny?"

She sighed. "Yes. I mean, if they break up--"

"Oh," he said, suddenly understanding. "I see."

She frowned. "I should have told you. I'm sorry. Maybe this is good. For you. If he breaks up with Ginny--"

"That doesn't necessarily mean she'd want to be more than friends with me," he said bitterly. "And anyway--we don't know they were doing anything other than talking, do we?" They were sitting very close together and speaking in low tones; Harry wondered whether she was being completely open about why she didn't mention Draco and the Harrington-Smyth girl.

Then he flushed the same red as Katie as Nigel and Trevor started ribbing the two of them about planning to go off into the hedge maze for some snogging, now that they'd started dating (the brothers had awoken from their brief lunchtime naps). Harry was startled at first, then remembered that they probably had heard Sam arranging things when they were on Privet Drive. Harry threatened to turn the hose on the two of them and they finally stopped, after making loud kissing noises and and love-sick faces at Harry and Katie.

After Sam and Katie took him home (they kept the broom in the car) he went in to shower and change for the party. When he was coming downstairs in clean trousers and a blue-button-down shirt open at the collar, his uncle stopped him abruptly. "And where do you think you're going?"

His aunt was coming out of the kitchen wearing an apron, clearly in the midst of dinner preparations.

"Oh, I, ah--Sorry I forgot to mention it, but I won't be here for dinner tonight--"

"To hell with you eating dinner. When is my roof going to be finished?" he bellowed. Oh, Harry thought, having forgotten all about this. There was still only tar paper protecting the house.

"We'll get back to work on it tomorrow, but today's Draco's birthday, and Mrs. Figg's giving him a party. The--the lads are coming to celebrate. And Katie. I may be back late."

Suddenly his aunt's eyes had lit up. "Birthday, you say? Party? At Arabella's?"

"Er--yeah," he said uncertainly. He didn't like the way she looked.

"Well," she said, suddenly sounding testy, "why don't you have a present?"

"I, er--I'm going in on one with Sam and Katie. They're bringing it."

She made a harrumphing noise as thought doubtful of this. He mumbled his goodbyes and managed to escape from the house, practically running to Mrs. Figg's in case they proposed coming along.

When he reached Mrs. Figg's block, he slowed down to a walk so he wouldn't knock on the door looking as though he'd run a marathon. Katie answered the door.

"Oh, good, you're here. They're not back from London yet. Hermione is supposed to be guiding them through the process of getting a bus to Little Whinging." She smirked. "I can't wait to see what Draco thinks of that."

He laughed and entered the house, and in a moment he was overwhelmed by Sirius slapping his back and giving him bear hugs. He sheepishly accepted the affection and hugged him back, remembering the article again. At least Sirius' name wasn't mentioned. A reporter could make quite a lot of his connection to Sirius Black.

"So," he said, dragging Harry into the living room, where he gave him a cup of punch, "when's the wedding?" His dark eyes twinkled at Harry and Katie.

"Sirius!" he exclaimed, mortified, just as Sam entered the room. "We aren't--"

"I know, Harry!" he laughed. "I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. You're not taking that seriously, I hope?"

Harry grimaced. "I'm not very happy about it, if that's what you mean. That article as much as said that I killed three people, two of them in order to get their girlfriends, that I shouldn't be Head Boy because I'm always flouting authority, including entering the Tournament when I was too young, and it implies that Katie went out with me because she's still under Imperius. Yeah. I'm thrilled with the article. Never happier."

Sirius laughed again, and just as the doorbell rang and Mrs. Figg went to answer it, Harry found himself face-to-face with her brother, Mad-Eye Moody. Harry grinned at his homely visage.

"Professor Moody! I didn't know you were coming!"

"Ah, well--I can spare some time for a crafty Slytherin who's going to be of-age," he said with a crusty grin. "And who's managed to put Lucius Malfoy in Azkaban," he added. "That doesn't hurt."

Just then a tremendous amount of noise assaulted his ears as Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Draco spilled in the door and everyone started screaming, "Surprise!" Harry wasn't sure he'd ever seen Draco Malfoy look more shocked and pleased. There was general mayhem then, with Hermione looking very pleased to see Sirius and even Moody, who congratulated her upon being Head Girl (it seemed to Harry that she was avoiding him), Ron whispering to him amid the hubbub, "So, Katie...?" with his eyebrows dancing up and down madly, making Harry frown as he glanced at Ginny. Time seemed to stop for a moment then, and Harry almost thought someone had cast the Tempus Fugit spell, making everyone else in the world freeze while Ginny launched herself at him and gave him a huge hug. He held her for an agonizing moment, his nose in her hair, her warmth pressed to him, before she was gone again, laughing and talking with the others; he felt his heart turn over inside him. He had thought he was doing so well, too, forcing himself to get over her, and all he had to do was see her and receive one hug and he was hopelessly mooning over her again....

Katie walked up to him and smiled with understanding. He looked down and then up into her hazel eyes, knowing that she knew what he was feeling.

"I'm sorry Katie. I really am hopeless, aren't I?"

She shook her head. "No more than I am. You're fine, Harry. You're just human is all. Hardly a chargeable offense," she added with a smirk.

"Now don't you go harking back to that article," he warned her, "or I just may--"

"May what?" she said, a laughing challenge in her voice. But just then the doorbell rang again and Katie went to answer it. Harry looked around the room; who else was supposed to be coming? he wondered. Then he realized that Aberforth wasn't there yet, and reckoned that must be him.

It wasn't Aberforth.

An all-too-familiar voice wafted into the living room from the entrance hall, and to his horror, Harry looked up to see his aunt and uncle standing in the doorway.

"Harry told us that it was the dear boy's birthday, and we just wanted to stop by to give our good wishes," Aunt Petunia was saying. Harry noticed that she'd taken the trouble to put on a different dress and some fresh makeup, and that his truculent uncle did not look the least bit interested in wishing Draco Malfoy a happy birthday.

Very unfortunately, at that moment, the birthday boy was opening his new broom, grinning over it. When he noticed Petunia Dursley staring at him with a blank expression, he blanched (he actually had tanned a little already, so the difference was noticeable). Mrs. Figg came in the room then from the dining room and also noticed her former employers standing in her living room doorway.

"Oh--oh, Petunia, dear. Um, how--how unexpected--"

But what Harry's aunt had noticed was the presence of Sirius Black.

"You!" she said, her eyes wide, pointing at him. Next she noticed Hermione. "And you!" Hermione looked distinctly uncomfortable. Then she noticed Mad-Eye Moody and screamed at the sight of him. His sister immediately whipped out her wand and caused the still-open front door to slam shut.

"Quiet, you stupid woman! Do you want the neighbors to hear?"

Petunia Dursley turned to her now, to the woman she'd always thought was a cranky old woman who hated Harry enough to make his life miserable in her place when she couldn't be on hand to personally oversee making his life a misery. She was pointing shakily at Arabella Figg, who still held her wand. "You--you too--" she said feebly, with some effort, before putting her hand over her eyes and crumpling to the floor.

Harry's Aunt Petunia had fainted dead away.

* * * * *

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