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 25 - Altar

Chapter Summary:
Harry's seventh and final year of school. The search for Lucius Malfoy, the other escaped Azkaban prisoners and the dementors is on, but finding them is easier said than done. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius and Snape receive the Order of Merlin for their parts in the rescue of the Aurors from Azkaban, but there is more than one surprise at the award ceremony. Meanwhile, Harry and Ginny are not able to celebrate in quite the same way as Ron and Hermione, and try to get Maggie's help in rectifying the situation.
Author's Note:
The quotes at the beginning of the chapter are from pages 50 and 51 of

Harry Potter and the Triangle Prophecy

Chapter Twenty-Five


Stonehenge was built in the form of concentric rings. At the center was an altar.
Around it, in horseshoe plan, were originally five so-called trilithons, each formed
by two uprights weighing about forty tons apiece and supporting a single colossal lintel.
Beyond the trilithons was a circle of smaller uprights, made not of the local Wiltshire
sandstone that formed the rest of the structure, but of "blue" stone blocks transported,
amazingly, 140 miles over water and land, from the Prescelly Mountains of South Wales....

Solstice worship does not fully explain the complexities of the rings and markers at
Stonehenge....the notion that the site was actively used for ritual, rather than being
merely an inert solstice marker like some giant sundial, is in keeping with our
anthropological knowledge of colorful, dynamic, primitive customs: in some way, the
site must have been the setting for elaborate ceremony.

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

Ron and Hermione watched Harry pace the length of Sirius' sitting room as Sirius finished writing a letter at a desk tucked into a corner.

"Where are you going to look for him?"

Sirius paused in his writing. "Drat! A blot." He took out his wand to fix it. "I don't know yet, Harry. I'm trying to write to the other operatives, some of whom are in places where they cannot be reached by Floo." He waved his hand at some other rolled bits of parchment on the desk. "So if you don't mind...." Sirius went on writing.

Hermione burrowed into Ron's arms on the couch before the fire, her eyes large and worried. Ron held her tightly as though someone would steal her away next. Harry paced some more.

"What will you do to him when you find him?"

Sirius sighed and looked up at Harry. "That rather depends upon our reception, don't you think?" He bent over the letter again.

Harry frowned. "What's that supposed to mean? If he offers you tea and crumpets everything is okay?"

Sirius sighed again as he put his quill down. "Do you want me to finish writing this letter or not, Harry?"

Harry swallowed. "I'm sorry. It's just that--he can make her do anything he wants with that selkie skin. It's not like someone who's placed under Imperius. You can fight Imperius. This is her nature. She can't fight it."

Then he realized that that was exactly why Slytherin chose the curse that he did. It was his revenge. The woman he was going to marry had made him feel that he had no choice but to be in love with her, and when she broke his heart he turned her into a selkie, not just a seal, because if someone else had the skin, she'd know what it was like to have to do things against her will, which was how she had made him feel....

He explained this theory to Ron and Hermione. Sirius was thoroughly distracted now. "What are you going on about, Harry?"

"Mariah told Harry the story of how her family was cursed by Salazar Slytherin himself, so that all of the children in each generation are selkies, but only the daughters pass it on....The first one he cursed was his fiancee, whose twin sister married Godric Gryffindor," Hermione said in a breathless rush.

"They were Muggles," Harry said, nodding. "And after that, Slytherin tried to get the school to stop taking Muggle-borns, and he wasn't thrilled about Gryffindor, either, since his fiancee had fallen for him."

Sirius looked at Harry thoughtfully. "Twin sister married Gryffindor, you say? Muggle?" He stared into space, his quill poised over his parchment. "Hmmm...There's something I read in a book when I was young....Or maybe it was a story my mum told me....I don't remember anything about selkies, but there was something about Gryffindor's wife..."

"Well, Rowena Ravenclaw's son married the sister of Gryffindor's illegitimate son, the one who was born to the other sister. Which means that Mariah's family is descended from one of the founders, Ravenclaw herself."

"Huh," Sirius said, as though he wasn't paying this much heed. "Right. Ravenclaw married a Muggle by the name of--damn, now I can't remember that either..."

Hermione brightened. "Perhaps it's in the library?" She looked anxious for something useful to do. Ron looked sympathetically at her.

"Right. I could help you look for it, if you like," he said quickly.

Sirius signed his letter with a flourish and rolled it up. "If it is, it'll be in the Restricted Section. I think they started that section of the library as far back as when the Founders themselves were still running the school. Their diaries and journals are in there, in addition to early class registers, timetables, you know the sort of thing."

Hermione frowned. "Why would those things be in the Restricted Section? And why didn't they just include all of that information in Hogwarts, A History?"

Sirius shook his head. "Hogwarts, A History was first written centuries ago, specifically to be a gloss on what really goes on here. It's updated every fifty years or so by someone approved by the school governors to continue to present an impeccable image to the wizarding world. No, the real dirt on the school history has been shunted into the Restricted Section for years, Hermione. Don't trust all of the sanitized claptrap you read in Hogwarts, A History."

Hermione looked highly offended. "I know not to do that. I told Harry and Ron years ago that it just glossed over the less savory parts of the school's history, in that there's nothing in over a thousand pages about the house elves who've been enslaved here," she said with a sniff.

Ron put his arm around her shoulders. "Well, seeing as we can't get what we need elsewhere, we'll definitely have to check out the Restricted Section." He smiled at her, clearly hoping this would cheer her up.

Instead, she crossed her arms grumpily. "Yes, but even though I'm Head Girl, I don't have carte blanche to just skip into the Restricted Section and browse through the stacks for hours on end." Harry wondered how she knew this; had she bothered Madam Pince about this before? He imagined that this would be her ultimate fantasy.

Ron shrugged. "Didn't say you did. Sirius will give you a pass, though, won't you Sirius? You're a teacher," Ron reminded him, raising his eyebrows.

Sirius hesitated a moment, then nodded. "All right." He signed and waved the letter he'd written. "I should get this up to the Owlery before I go."

Hermione had hastily scribbled out a note for her to show Madam Pince; Harry watched her write, I give Hermione Granger permission to research the marriages of the Founders in the Restricted Section. She thrust it at him. "I just need your signature."

Sirius glanced at it quickly, then scribbled his name across the bottom. "She'll probably wonder, of course, what the Apparition teacher is doing having you look this up, especially as you have your license and aren't my student anymore, but hopefully she won't think about those things....Well done, though, Hermione. You've made it specific enough that she won't think you're just on a fishing expedition for, say, potions you shouldn't know how to make...."

She went beet red while Sirius winked at her and Harry and Ron laughed, remembering the Polyjuice Potion in their second year. Hermione and Ron left the staff wing to go to the library, and Sirius was about to go back through the tapestry in order to have some school owls deliver his notes, but Harry put his hand on his arm to stop him.

"Sirius--can I ask you something else? Are you going to be leaving the castle at all to see anyone?"

Sirius nodded. "Yes. Some of our operatives are pretending to live as Muggles; I don't want anyone seeing owls flying to their hiding places. Why?"

"Well, if you happen to be down in Surrey, could you--could you find out how my uncle is? Based on the last letter he sent me, I don't think he's getting on very well without Aunt Petunia. When did you see her last?"

Sirius thought about this. "Not too long ago, although obviously before we went to Azkaban. She was all right; very excited about Jeffries' upcoming event. In Muggle villages and especially the larger cities there are notices all over the bollards about it, and in every shop window you can imagine. It's on the radio and telly as well, and in every paper. It's also on our Wireless and in the Daily Prophet. Jeffries is all over the international press as well; people will be traveling from around the world for this, wizard and Muggle. It's going to be huge."

Harry frowned. "Doesn't that worry you? It sounds as though it's really getting out of control. That many people in one place, wizards and Muggles mingling..."

Sirius shrugged. "The Ministry doesn't restrict wizards from going to Muggle events, you know, Harry. If wizards want to go see Manchester United play or attend Wimbledon or go to a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, they've every right. The wizards just aren't supposed to let the Muggles see them doing magic. As long as that restriction is observed, there shouldn't be any trouble."

Harry was unconvinced of this, given the way the wizards at the Quidditch World Cup couldn't resist "showing off," as Mr. Weasley liked to put it. He was still troubled. "But what about the Ministry? Do they realize that Jeffries might actually doing magic, of a sort? Does they know that Jeffries seems to have acquired this power from Voldemort, and that he turned my aunt into a witch?"

Sirius put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Now you're onto Jeffries again. I thought you wanted me to check in on your uncle?"

Harry grimaced. "On second thought, he'd probably slam the door in your face." But then he had a thought, and he brightened considerably. "But perhaps you could go to see the vicar, or Dr. Forbes. Or both; if you don't find Dr. Forbes in his surgery, he might be at the vicarage, playing chess with Mr. Babcock. Maybe you can talk one of them into checking on him, making sure he's getting on all right..."

Sirius laughed. "Since when do you care about Vernon Dursley?"

Harry swallowed. "Well, if it weren't for me, he wouldn't be all alone, would he? Without my aunt and Dudley." Harry sighed. "I wonder if this was exactly what he was worried about when I was young, that if they didn't stamp the magic out of me he'd end up alone. I mean, he was always a lot more insistent about it than my aunt. She and Dudley thought he was a complete nutter the way we were driving across the country and backtracking to avoid my Hogwarts letters. And it was his idea to lock me in my room and put bars on the windows, and to tell people that I go to St. Brutus' Center for Incurably Criminal Boys."

Sirius guffawed, but was quelled by a look from Harry. "Sorry. I'll go see your Mr. Babcock and Dr. Forbes, Harry. Perhaps one or both of them can check in on your uncle and make certain he's all right."

After Sirius was gone, Harry walked down the corridor toward Maggie's rooms, where Ginny, Draco Malfoy, Mariah and Munro Kirkner were. Maggie herself was there as well, and Snape, who nodded at Harry when he slipped in the door.

"Sirius has sent letters off to some of the operatives and is going to visit others in person. Lucius Malfoy will be tracked down, don't you worry, Mariah," he tried to reassure her. Draco Malfoy had his arm around her and Mariah's eyes were a bit bloodshot. Snape stepped forward with a steaming goblet and held it out for Mariah.

"Miss Kirkner," he said stiffly, "drink this. It will help you to rest."

She looked up at her head-of-house with a blank expression, then took the goblet and slowly drank it, looking a bit disoriented when she was done. "Oh," she said, putting her hand to her head. "I dinnae know how I'll get back to me dormit'ry...."

Maggie helped her to stand. "You're not going anywhere. I insist that you stay here. You've already missed your morning lessons. Professor Snape's draught will help you to rest. Don't worry--everything will be taken care of--"

Ginny helped her walk Mariah to the bedroom and Harry threw himself into a chair, looking dolefully at Draco Malfoy and Mariah's brother. But it was Snape who spoke.

"Mr. Kirkner," he said slowly to Mariah's brother, sounding more than a little suspicious. "Please tell us precisely what happened."

Munro Kirkner looked very white. "I--I had gone to me favorite pub after wairk." He looked a bit embarrassed. "It's--it's not hard to meet gairls whain--" He hesitated, but Harry nodded. When you can turn on the selkie charm any time you want, he thought. Munro had his lips pressed tightly together and continued. "I was at this gairl's flat all night..."

"Where was this?" Snape said suddenly.

"Inverness," Munro answered quickly. "I dinnae want to have to go too far to gait hame in the mornin'." He flushed now. "I'm not the baist at Apparatin'. Passed on me thaird try, but whain I'm knackered..."

Snape waved his hand impatiently. "Yes, yes. When you returned to your parents' home, what did you find?"

His dark eyes looked wet now. "I--I was afraid to go inside. When I arrived in the garden--I usually do that so me mum 'n' dad wouldnae bump into me, nor me into thaim--I saw--saw--" He swallowed. "The Dark Mark was over the house." There were all silent, digesting this. After a minute he was finally able to go on. "I--I found me dad just inside the door, daid, with the kist in 'is hands, open fer all the wairld t' see..."

Harry frowned. "The what?" he said, perplexed. He noticed that Draco Malfoy wasn't looking confused. He hadn't said a thing said since Munro started talking. Something about the word was vaguely familiar to Harry. If he had time to think, really think, he could almost remember something from his other life....

Snape looked at them all. "The family treasure chest. Kist, from cistum. Box." He turned to Munro. "What treasures did your family keep in there? Where was it usually hidden?"

"Under the hearthstone in the kitchen. Our skins used to be in there," he said dully. "All three--Mum's, Mariah's and mine. I asked to take mine oot whain I finished school. I wanted ta be able to keep it with me so I could have it whainaiver I wanted. That made Mum nairvous, but she agreed....An' now I'm glad I did it." He withdrew what looked like a shapeless brown oilskin from inside his robes. "I've still got me skin, but Mariah's is gone, and our mum's too. An while I sat there with me dad, hardly believin' what I was seein', I knew I should go upstairs an' look for me mum, but thain an owl flies into the open door and drops this in me lap..."

He withdrew a parchment from his pocket and handed it to Snape, who read it silently, his eyes darting over the page. He nodded grimly. "Your mother was kidnapped and Lucius Malfoy took both her selkie skin and your sister's."

Munro Kirkner nodded miserably, his dark eyes hooded. Draco Malfoy squirmed, visibly uncomfortable. Munro looked up at Snape and said, "He knew. About Mariah and our mither," he said, slipping more firmly into the Orkney way of speaking. "Ye can taill from the laitter. Someane told'im." His eyes slid over to Malfoy's face; Draco was squirming even more.

"I didn't tell him!" he said suddenly. "I didn't!"

Harry crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. "Then how did he know?"

Draco Malfoy clamped his mouth shut and wouldn't meet Harry's gaze. Harry looked at Snape, who raised one eyebrow. "I think you should come with me, Mr. Kirkner. Have you been to the Ministry?" Mariah's brother shook his head. "This should be done properly. We will get you an appropriate escort." Snape raised his eyebrow at Harry again, as he led Munro Kirkner out of the room, and he nodded almost imperceptibly at Malfoy. Harry caught on and nodded back.

He turned to Malfoy and surveyed him; he was worrying his robes with his hands, a nervous habit which did not make him look cool, calm and collected. "You care about her," he said to him suddenly, making him jerk his head up and glare at Harry.

"Of course I do, you prat. Why do you think I hit you after I saw the pair of you in that big oaf's hut?" he spat at Harry.

"I don't mean Ginny," Harry said quickly, although he was surprised--and more than a little disturbed--that that was the first thing Malfoy thought of. "I meant Mariah. You care about her. You made out that you were basically using her, that she was convenient and willing. But you actually care about her, I can tell." Even if you don't care as much about her as you do about Ginny.

"Yeah, I care about her," Malfoy admitted grudgingly. "What of it?"

"Now that your dad has killed her dad, I think the public relations problems you had with the Weasleys will look like nothing compared to what you're going to have to do to get into the Kirkners' good graces. Especially if anything happens to Mariah's mum. Unless you come clean about being partly responsible, I doubt Mariah will come near you again. If you hadn't told your dad about her being a selkie--"

"I did not tell my dad!" he growled at Harry. "Clean out your ears, Potter." He glared at Harry, who didn't back down.

"Oh, really? Well, who did you tell, because I doubt that your dad made a trip all the way up to a remote Orkney island just on the off-chance that he'd get a couple of selkie skins and a convenient slave out of it. He knew. Who'd you tell, if it wasn't him?"

But Draco Malfoy had his mouth clamped shut again. Ginny emerged from the bedroom, holding the door open slightly. She looked at Draco.

"She's asking for you. Just--be with her. Keep her company. She's still not dropping off; her mind is too restless..."

Draco looked triumphantly at Harry. "You doubt she'll come near me again, do you?"

"She's not going to accuse you right now. She's distraught. But she won't stay that way. You know she's got a temper. When this really hits her--watch out. If you're not part of the solution, she'll consider you to be part of the problem. Don't say I didn't warn you."

"I don't need your warnings, Potter," Malfoy said as he walked to the bedroom.

Ginny looked questioningly at Harry, but he shook his head. Later, he mouthed to her, as Malfoy closed the bedroom door behind him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On the last Saturday in February, just over a week after Mariah Kirkner's father was murdered and her mother kidnapped, the Order of Merlin medals were to be awarded at the Hogsmeade village hall. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius and Snape were all getting the Order of Merlin, and Ginny secured special permission to go along, ostensibly to see her brother get the highest honor in the wizarding world, making him the first werewolf ever honored in this way. This also meant that she would see Harry get his O.M., second class.

Harry looked out over the crowd filling the village hall. Ron and Hermione sat next to him. Glancing at Ron out of the corner of his eye he could see that he was producing enough perspiration from his brow to turn the Hogwarts lake into a Scottish version of the Dead Sea. Hermione was the color of parchment, and on her other side, Sirius was compulsively twisting his robes in his fingers. Harry swallowed; if anything, looking at the others and seeing their signs of terror had made him more nervous, not less.

Ginny was sitting in the front row with Hagrid and Professor McGonagall, who had turned to beam at him. Harry almost fell off his chair at that sight, hardly a common one, but his gaze was drawn back to Ginny, who was listening attentively to something Hagrid was saying. Some of Hagrid's gruff voice carried above the din of voices echoing in the hall. Harry thought he heard, "...wonder where yer parents learnt it all?" He was evidently regaling her with the tale of the first time he and Harry had met, which made him smile. It was one of his better memories, finding out that he was a wizard, and that he didn't have to live with the Dursleys year round any more, nor go to Stonewall High and wear Dudley's old clothes dyed grey, like elephant skin that had misplaced the elephant.

Harry looked fondly at her and Hagrid, and just then she turned and met his eye. His breath caught; the love and trust he saw there made all of his nerves disappear, and he knew everything was going to be all right. She saw that he was looking right back at her and she smiled. Then he noticed that Maggie, on the other side of Professor McGonagall, was also smiling at someone on the stage. He turned his head, seeing that Snape had met her eye and was letting the corner of his mouth to turn up subtly.

Suddenly, under his robes, Sandy hissed at him, "The wolf shall howl."

Bloody hell, Harry thought. That's just what we all need, for Hermione to be getting up in front of this crowd, making speeches about house elves. And sure enough, while she and Ron were waiting, she was saying something to him about "hundreds of them," and "no choice" and "the Ministry has got to do something." He grimaced, wishing he dared just Apparate out of the hall. He had been looking forward to this, but now...

The ceremony finally officially began; the wizarding anthem was played by a small orchestra while Celestina Warbeck herself sang:

Witches and wizards all
We do not stand in thrall
To Muggle might.
We, whom they never see
Flying aloft and free,
We ever shall hidden be
From Muggle sight.

Not slaves of king or queen
And never clearly seen
By Ministers.
Free to be what we are
Free as a shooting star
All equal and on a par
Brothers and sisters.

Over a thousand witches and wizards stood respectfully for the anthem, hats off, and sat again afterward. Cornelius Fudge stepped to the podium and began what Harry thought must have been the world's most tedious speech.

"...and in conclusion," Fudge finally said, rifling through his notes, "we are indeed fortunate to have such fine wizards--" Hermione cleared her throat pointedly, but he ignored her and ploughed on; "--standing up to the forces of darkness. I promise you that, just as the Aurors who were thought lost have now been recovered--" Hmph, Harry thought, they weren't all recovered. And some of us didn't think they were lost. Or at least, we didn't give up on them. "--so shall we soon recapture all of those prisoners who escaped from Azkaban..." Oh, really? Harry's mind bashed on. You can actually promise that? And what about the dementors?

He didn't hear the rest of what Fudge said. He was startled by the applause ringing through the hall, which baffled Harry, as he could only think that everyone must be as grateful as he was that Fudge had stopped speaking. He joined in automatically, but half-heartedly. To his surprise, Sirius was shaking Fudge's hand while the applause continued. On Sirius' robes the Order of Merlin, third class was gleaming, a bronze image of a wizard's hat bearing various runes and astrological symbols, behind which rose a castle. Most of the applause seemed to come from the Weasleys in the front row, plus Hagrid and Professor McGonagall (and Maggie, who was a Weasley by blood, if not by name). Harry, Ron and Hermione were also clapping as loudly as they could, and Ron was stomping his foot on the wooden stage floor, making Harry's teeth rattle, but he just laughed and joined in the foot-stomping. He met Sirius' eye as he bowed his head slightly, acknowledging the applause. For the first time, Harry noticed the people ranged around the perimeter of the hall, standing and clapping, and he realized that they were Aurors, and from the look of them, Aurors who'd been rescued from Azkaban. (More than a few of whom had also been rescued from the sea by Sirius and Buckbeak.)

The noise ebbed again and now Fudge was speaking about Hermione. "It now gives me even greater pleasure," he finally said, "to award the Order of Merlin, third class to--Hermione Granger." Hermione was shaking Fudge's hand and wincing as he leaned over to plant a rather damp kiss on her cheek after he'd pinned the bronze emblem to her robes; to Harry's surprise, she didn't seem inclined to make a speech of any kind. Harry clapped more enthusiastically now, hoping that if she changed her mind about speaking, the noise of the clapping would make it impossible for her to be heard.

Hermione sat again, her face glowing, and Ron leaned over to give her a kiss, grinning hugely at her and making her turn deep red, although Harry heard the applause increase noticeably in volume when Ron did this.

There was a buzzing in his head and he realized that Fudge had said, "--the Order of Merlin, second class, to Harry Potter." His name came next in the alphabet, but he still wasn't quite prepared, standing up awkwardly and walking what felt like twenty miles to where Fudge was standing, waiting to pin a silver version of the emblem to his robes. The noise was a bit louder than it had been for Hermione and Sirius, and Harry saw Katie and Percy standing at the edge of the hall, both beaming at him and clapping loudly, while Ron engaged in more foot-stomping and Sirius joined him. As he turned to sit, feeling like his face was flaming, he glanced at Ginny, whose mouth was forming the words I love you, even as she continued to clap.

"And now," Fudge said, as the applause finally began to fade, "we have that rarity, an Order of Merlin, first class. For his leadership and bravery, for his level-headed thinking and outstanding ability as a sailor, having brought home to their families both the fine men and women who were taken prisoner at Azkaban and those in the rescue party itself, I award the Order of Merlin, first class to Severus Snape."

The gold version of the emblem was on a wide purple ribbon, and Snape bent to allow Fudge to place it around his neck, where it shone brightly in the dim hall. The applause was polite, but it didn't satisfy Harry. He stomped as loudly as Ron had done, pounding his heel into the floor, bashing his hands together so hard that they were starting to go numb. Maggie and the Weasleys, Hagrid and Professor McGonagall also joined in very enthusiastic applause for Severus Snape. When he walked past Harry to his seat again, he was actually smiling. Harry caught Ginny's eye again and she grinned at him.

Finally, Fudge stood to announce Ron's award. Harry watched Ron's face as the words echoed around the hall. He seemed very tense, anxiously biting his lip. "--Order of Merlin, second class to Ronald Weasley," Fudge managed to get out, looking like he was going to be ill. The jowls of his pasty face were quivering with indignation, and Harry wondered what Dumbledore had done to browbeat Fudge into giving Ron the O.M., second class. At least Harry hadn't needed to decline his own award, which was what he had been prepared to if the Ministry had overlooked Ron.

Applause began moving through the hall again; Harry and Hermione grinned at each other as they clapped loudly, and Harry saw that Snape was also striking his hands together with a solemnity that bespoke more than doing his duty by Maggie's brother. Ron stood before Fudge now, but he didn't come closer to him as the others had done, to allow him to pin the silver emblem to his robes; instead, he put his hand on Fudge's arm, to stop him trying to lift the medal up, and the applause in the hall petered out as those gathered began muttering in confusion.

Ron cleared his throat, looking more nervous than Harry had ever seen him. "Minister, I'm sorry, but I can't accept this." Harry dropped his jaw and looked at Hermione, who looked as shocked as he felt. Clearly, Ron hadn't warned her about this. And then Harry realized how stupid he'd been to think that 'the wolf' would be Hermione, rather than Ron, the werewolf. The confused murmuring quickly grew to a deafening rumble, and Ron tried to motion to the crowd to quieten again. "I'm sorry, I should explain," he said loudly, his voice carrying easily over the rumble, which again began to subside. "I can't accept this," he said again, his voice ringing out now into the silence, "while Remus Lupin still stands accused of having any part in the Death Eater attack on Azkaban, and while werewolves all over Britain are treated like scum, like worse than scum, like the nasty residue you have to clean out of a cauldron after making a really nasty potion..." Ron paused. "Oh, bugger," he said clearly, the word echoing across the hall, causing some tittering. He reddened. "Sorry, Mum," he said quickly, glancing down at Molly Weasley.

"That's all right, love," she said stoutly. "You go on." Harry saw how proud she looked.

"I--I'm no good at speaking like this unless I've written it down first," he explained to the hundreds of witches and wizards as he took a parchment out of his pocket, his ears turning red. He cleared his throat and began again. "As I was saying, I can't accept this while an innocent man is being used as a scapegoat," Ron read now from the parchment, "and while werewolves are second-class citizens. We're people most of the time, decent people, Muggles and wizards both, and yet the Ministry hasn't done anything to make Wolfsbane Potion universally available to all werewolves. I'm lucky that our Potions Master--" he nodded at Snape, "--is able to brew it, so I can take it every month. And it wasn't Remus Lupin's fault that Professor Snape wasn't around last year to make it for him, and that the place where he was hiding as a wolf was set on fire. He was doing everything he could to avoid hurting someone. Werewolves don't plan to attack people. Remus Lupin didn't want to bite me, but he did it, and since then I've found out a thing or two about how friendly some people in the wizarding world can be," he said bitterly.

"When the Ministry finds out a Muggle has been bitten, you know what they do?" he asked rhetorically, his voice rising; he was hitting his stride, Harry realized, and he watched, fascinated, as his best friend continued. "They basically kidnap them and take them off to be registered. Suddenly these people who didn't even know magic existed and who've just been mauled by what they thought was a wild animal are being told what to do by a government they didn't elect, and still can't elect because they're not witches or wizards." Harry digested that; he'd never really thought before about Muggles gaining an entry into the magical world by becoming magical creatures, werewolves. The only problem was that they didn't fully enter into the magical world, they were forced to remain at the perimeter. "And someone like me, or Remus Lupin?" Ron continued. "Do you think people are lining up to give us jobs? I had a job, a good job. I was playing Quidditch for England!"

Some scattered cheering erupted from various spots in the hall, and a particularly loud wizard shouted, "Best Chaser they've had in years!"

Ron smiled shyly now, almost as though he just realized what he was doing. "Thanks," he said to the Quidditch fans. "But I had to stop, didn't I? It wasn't just because England lost--and I did not throw that game!" he exclaimed, as though someone had just accused him. "My best friend," he gestured toward Harry, "just happens to be a brilliant Seeker. He caught the Snitch before our Seeker and Wales won, fair and square. Anyone who says I threw the game is insulting Harry Potter. He didn't need help with anything but staying alive, as a rogue Bludger was coming after him." Harry saw that he'd abandoned his notes. "But did the Department of Magical Games and Sports do anything about that? Not a thing. And did the Ministry go get the Aurors in Azkaban? No, we did. This has gone on long enough!" He turned to Cornelius Fudge. "You need help from everyone who's willing to fight Voldemort," random gasps moved through the hall at the sound of the name, "but you don't seem to get that! I'd never dream of joining him, but if I heard that another wizard werewolf had done it, I wouldn't be at all surprised, the way the Ministry treats werewolves. What have you done to make werewolves feel they owe anything to the Ministry? I'm sick of it, and every werewolf I've met since I registered is sick of it, too," he finished, sounding disgusted. Fudge had backed up against the podium and was visibly shaking.

The hall was utterly silent.

Very slowly, a single pair of hands at the rear of the village hall began clapping slowly. Harry couldn't see who it was; he thought it was coming from a slim hooded figure standing in a far corner, with spectacles glinting from under the hood. Harry stood and started clapping as well, and Hermione sprang to her feet immediately after him. Everyone in the front row was now standing and clapping, the twins and Charlie roaring their approval, while Bill, Maggie and their parents were applauding more sedately. Harry saw that Ginny was crying as she stood clapping, looking at Ron proudly.

Harry stepped forward as the applause grew; he removed his Order of Merlin emblem from his robes and placed it in Fudge's hand, followed by Hermione and Sirius. Finally, giving Harry a solemn nod, Severus Snape stepped forward and took off his Order of Merlin, first class, and handed it to a flabbergasted Cornelius Fudge. The noise in the hall was deafening. Then Harry saw him; Remus Lupin was being led down what passed for a center aisle (although it was crowded with witches and wizards) by Professor Dumbledore. They climbed the few steps to the stage when they reached the front and Dumbledore quickly subdued the crowd with a gentle wave of his hand.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I am dreadfully sorry that we were delayed in getting back here from the Ministry, but it seems that there is something which you all should know. The Ministry have apprehended eight of the Death Eaters involved in both the Azkaban attack and the siege at Gringotts, and although they did try to implicate Remus Lupin," he said, putting his hand on Remus' shoulder, "it was easily determined that they were all lying, trying to discredit a good man who has worked tirelessly against Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Of course, these Death Eaters knew that the Ministry would be eager to credit their claims that Remus had colluded with them," he said, looking pointedly at Fudge, who was quailing under his gaze; "but I knew better, and now the Ministry does, too."

He looked at Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius and Snape. "Goodness, Cornelius, aren't you taking quite a lot of time to give out a handful of awards? May I offer you my assistance?" Fudge nodded dumbly and Dumbledore presented the emblems all over again, first taking Sirius and Hermione's bronze O.M., third class emblems from Fudge's trembling hand, then Harry's silver one, and finally, Snape's gold O.M., first class on the wide purple ribbon and Ron's silver emblem, which he finally allowed Dumbledore to pin to his robes.

"I have brought another award with me from the Ministry," he went on, "one that is a bit overdue, I believe..." He took another wide purple ribbon out of his pocket, another gold Order of Merlin, first class dangling from it. "For your outstanding work in bringing the Gringotts siege to a peaceful conclusion, you were recommended for the Order of Merlin, first class, and now you shall finally have it," he said, smiling at Remus Lupin. He placed the ribbon around Remus' neck, where the shiny purple ribbon and gleaming gold medal caught the light and shone in high contrast to his shabby brown robes.

Dumbledore turned calmly to the assembled company and said, "Go on. You know you want to." He smiled and clapped his hands, turning to look at the six of them. Sirius had caught his old friend in a fierce hug and Ron was grinning ear to ear at his mentor as the cheers and whistles and clapping bounced off the rafters and windows and walls.

At length, it broke up in a most disorganized fashion, with a photographer from the Daily Prophet asking them to pose together in a dizzying number of configurations, until Harry couldn't see anything because of the flashes blinding him. He was strongly reminded of having to pose for photos on the day Alicia had married Roger Davies. But although he couldn't see very well, he could hear.

"So," the cold, distinctive voice was saying, "would you say that the Ministry should approve stricter interrogation policies if the words of eight prisoners concerning the involvement of a ninth co-conspirator aren't enough?"

He finally reached her through the crowd; she wore sweeping robes of deepest black and her long pale hair was bound up in a twist, secured by a green parrot's feather. She clasped a parchment notebook; a Quick Quotes quill danced over an open page.

He didn't notice to whom she was speaking; instead, he walked straight up to her and said, "Hello, Mrs. Malfoy. Or should I say--Daisy Furuncle?"

She froze, then got that look he remembered, as though she were being forced to smell something putrid. "Worked that out finally, did you?" she said acidly. "Well done," she added, voice dripping with sarcasm, as though a flobberworm that had been dead for two weeks would have known in five seconds.

"I knew about you some time ago. And even though I know you're supposed to ask the questions, I have a question for you: Where is your husband, Mrs. Malfoy?"

Her mouth twisted unpleasantly. "I don't know. That's the truth. He's probably assuming that I'm being watched. That's the usual sort of thing, isn't it? The Ministry would be daft if they didn't keep an eye on the wife of an escaped convict." She glanced disdainfully at the silver medal on his chest. "Not that the Ministry is displaying an inordinate amount of sense these days," she sniffed.

Harry was finding it very difficult not to throttle her. "Not while they don't lock you up, no," he agreed.

She examined him with cold amused eyes. "I've done nothing wrong."

"No?" he said. "Writing lies isn't wrong?"

She laughed. "Truth is in the eye of the beholder," she drawled lazily. "If you'll look at my work, you'll find that it is truthful. There are certain aspects of the truth that some may find distasteful, when given a public airing. Rita taught me that," she said.

He grimaced. "I should have known that you would become friends with Rita Skeeter."

"Ah, that's where you're wrong. We were already friends. She came to me long before my husband went to prison and I lost my home. She wanted to know whether my son ever included interesting information about you in his letters. I suggested that she ask him herself, and she did. It was soon after that Mudblood captured her and Rita was trapped into working for your headmaster that she and I came up with the idea of my succeeding her. She taught me everything she knew about reporting and writing, and even edited my early efforts. It was through her contacts that I landed my first job, after I found myself homeless and without a Knut to my name. They agreed to keep my identity a secret at the Prophet; they liked my work, but they were as doubtful as I that the wife of a convicted Death Eater could have her writing received objectively by--certain people."

"Sometimes other people turned in your articles. Was one of them your niece?"

Narcissa Malfoy's mouth curled up at the edge with amusement. "Not quite full marks, but getting closer. Yes, Nita helped me sometimes, when a little bird told me that certain people were watching the Prophet offices...."

"She's not on your side anymore, though, is she?"

Narcissa Malfoy no longer looked amused. "No. Incredibly enough, she seems to have forgotten what she was taught about certain people when she was growing up." She sounded very, very bitter now. "I have found accommodations elsewhere," she sniffed. "Ungrateful, that's what she is. Everything my husband did to help her in her career..."

"Ungrateful because she's finally thinking for herself?" Harry said, making a face. "Those people she saw at the reservation in Sweden were ruthlessly cut down by the same people who used those dragons to help your husband and others escape from Azkaban."

She lifted her chin and looked at him through narrowed eyes. "You have no proof of that. No one knows where those dragons are."

"The Aurors who were taken prisoner testified that that's what happened!" he said angrily.

"You mean those poor deluded souls who were hallucinating after days and days without food and water?" she said innocently. "Yes, they had some interesting tales to tell..."

"You claim to write the truth, but what you really do is twist the truth to fit your own twisted goals," he growled at her. "Just because they hadn't eaten doesn't mean they couldn't remember what they saw. They saw the dragons before they'd been without food for days. They saw Death Eaters use the dragons to cart off the dementors. And Percy Weasley himself talked to your husband before he escaped."

"Oh, really? How interesting. You have the most interesting version of events that I have heard. Unfortunately," she added, her mouth twisting again, "you do not have a friend in the press who will print your interesting version."

"You didn't think they were deluded when some of them told you about my being a golden griffin Animagus. Even though that's true, that sounds a lot more far-fetched than the rest of the truth. But once again, it was something that you were able to twist..."

"Twist? I? I can't be held responsible for what people tell me..."

Harry felt very close to hexing her. "Your husband will be caught, Mrs. Malfoy. And if there's any justice, you'll be sent to prison too, for aiding and abetting him." She looked startled for a second, as though Harry had hit the mark, but then she recovered.

"Aiding and abetting? Is that what you call corresponding with my son? And then corresponding with my husband, to tell him how his son is doing? While he was still in prison, of course. I already said that I don't know where he is now. Draco wasn't feeling inclined to write to his father. I felt he had a right to know how he was doing in school..."

"Since when are you and Draco on speaking terms?"

She ignored this. "You may have all day to chit-chat, but I do not. Thanks to you I do need to work for a living, so I think I'll just be filing my story about this little travesty--" she said, waving her hand at the hall, "--before my deadline, if you don't mind. Thank you for your time, Minister," she said to the person to whom she'd been speaking before Harry had accosted her. He saw now that it was Cornelius Fudge. In the blink of an eye, she had withdrawn her wand and Disapparated with a pop, leaving Harry sputtering at no one. Fudge's eyes wouldn't meet Harry's, and Harry started to move toward him, determined to find out what he'd told Narcissa Malfoy. But Ginny had finally made her way through the crowd to him, throwing her arms around him; he hugged back half-heartedly and she frowned. Ron and Hermione also made their way toward him.

"What's wrong, Harry?" Hermione wanted to know.

"I was trying to talk to Fudge," he said impatiently, kissing Ginny on the cheek quickly, then whipping his head around; Fudge was gone. Had he Disapparated? He'd once been very friendly with the Malfoys. Harry didn't trust him for a minute, but he wasn't sure who would believe him if he started accusing the Minister of working with Death Eaters.

"Why?" Ron wanted to know.

"I just noticed that Malfoy's mum was talking to him before I started in on her. I told her that I know she's Daisy Furuncle."

Hermione frowned. "Should you have done that, Harry? Wouldn't it be better to let her think you don't know?"

He grimaced and shrugged; Hermione had a point, but it was a bit late for that. "Probably. I didn't think of that. I just--I couldn't not tell her off."

Ron nodded. "I don't blame you, Harry. If you told her off, she definitely had it coming."

"How can you say that?" Hermione exclaimed. "After telling me not to get on Rita Skeeter's bad side? You were right about that. And then there were the howlers I got..." She shuddered. "I think Harry was very stupid," she declared hotly. "There's no telling what she'll write now."

Harry frowned at her. "Thanks for your support. I can take whatever she can dish out..."

Hermione glared at him. "That's what I thought. And I hadn't got on the bad side of a woman whose husband I sent to prison, and whose son was turned against her."

"I really doubt it would be possible for Mrs. Malfoy to like me less than she already does, so I don't see the harm. As for Malfoy, he's been writing to his mum." Suddenly, his eyes widened and he smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. "That's how his dad knew about Mariah! He must have told his mum, she told his dad..."

Then he noticed that Ginny was glaring at Hermione. "You've got a lot of nerve, calling Harry stupid..."

Hermione glared right back. "Well, I'm not his girlfriend anymore, so I don't have to pretend that I think the sun rises and sets on him..."

"When did you ever?" Harry asked her, feeling rather irritated with both of them.

"Here now, here now," Ron said, gently putting his arms around his sister and his girlfriend. "Let's settle down now, shall we? I know Daisy Narcissa Malfoy Furuncle has got all of our knickers in a twist, but we shouldn't let her bother us..."

"Quite right," Sirius said, appearing at Harry's elbow. "That's for others to worry about."

"You might, for instance, let me worry about it," came a familiar voice at Harry's elbow. He turned and saw the hooded figure that had started the applause for Ron from the rear of the hall. She carefully took down her hood and Harry saw that it was Nita Anderssen. He just realized that the slight lilt in her voice was probably leftover from her childhood in Sweden.

"Let you worry about it?" Ron said, raising his eyebrow. "I thought you weren't on speaking terms with your aunt."

"I'm not. But I could be on lecturing terms, if required," she said, giving him a small smile. Sirius cleared his throat and Ron looked as though he'd awoken from a nap.

"Oh! Sorry, of course. Erm, I told you about Nita, when we were in Sweden, didn't I, Sirius? This is Nita Anderssen, Draco Malfoy's cousin. Nita, this is Sirius Black, Hermione Granger, and my sister, Ginny."

Nita shook Sirius and Hermione's hand in a no-nonsense way, although it seemed to Harry that she hesitated for a moment about Sirius. Ginny had her hand out as well, but suddenly Nita, biting her lip, leaned forward and hugged Ginny briefly. Ginny patted her back awkwardly; Nita stepped back quickly, her cheeks a little pink. "I, er, Ron told me all about you," she said quickly. "You've really stood by him."

Harry frowned; Hermione had stood by him as well, and she wasn't getting any hugs. Ginny's brow was furrowed as she regarded Nita, who suddenly pulled her hood up again, peering around the edge of it warily. "Sorry to be paranoid, but you never know who's watching these days," she said softly.

"Such as--?" Sirius asked her.

"Such as Death Eaters no one knows are Death Eaters. Believe me, the ones the Ministry knows about are only a drop in the bucket. I have to be very careful at work these days. If it weren't for the fact that I went to Durmstrang--"

"You went to Durmstrang!" Sirius exclaimed too loudly. They all shushed him and he looked quite abashed. "Sorry. I mean--I was just wondering--did you study under Karkaroff?"

She nodded. "But he wasn't headmaster until I'd left. I finished school ten years ago, you realize," she added stiffly, as though he was someone else holding her youth against her. To Harry's surprise, Sirius bristled.

"And I finished school twenty years ago, not that it matters....Why were you saying, 'If it weren't for the fact that I went to Durmstrang?'"

She peered around the edge of her hood again, the candlelight glinting off her glasses. "I had to be tough to get through Durmstrang. A lot of students--well, that place can chew you up and spit you out pretty quickly if you're not careful. It's not for the faint of heart." She looked fondly at Ron. "I wanted to congratulate you for your Order of Merlin, and here you must think I'm a great coward for not wanting to be seen..."

Ron shook his head. "No, not after seeing the way things are run at St. Mungo's. I wouldn't be surprised if they held against you that you were cheering for the 'wrong' Quidditch team."

She gave him a rueful half-smile. "Well, my 'wrong' Quidditch team are the League Champions, so I hardly think anyone can hold that against me. But I know what you mean. Yes, every little thing about you is held up to scrutiny right now to determine what side you're on. I don't want the Ministry to think I'm on my uncle's side, but on the other hand..." She looked around furtively again. "There are more than a few of my colleagues who probably are on his side, and I don't want them to think that I've lost all family loyalty. It wouldn't exactly be safe." She lowered her voice to a whisper. "I've been trying to get information that suggests that certain doctors and nurses have been helping wounded Death Eaters. People with loads of burns, if you know what I mean."

The missing dragons, Harry thought, his eyes widening.

Sirius looked very keen to hear more. "Have you actually seen anything?"

She shook her head, her lips drawn very thin. "No. But my senior keeps bothering me about whatever it is I did for you," she said to Harry, surprising him. "You know--when you were so miraculously cured of those burns last summer. I keep telling him I didn't do anything, but he seems to think I'm holding something back...It's been more than a little inconvenient," she added, giving Harry a hostile glare.

Harry swallowed. "Well, I might as well come clean about that. It was Rodney Jeffries who healed me."

They were all utterly silent for a fully a minute before Nita said, "You mean that Muggle faith-healer?" She looked like that was the last thing she expected. "He's all I've been hearing about for months now. Some of my colleagues have even gone to him. So--he can really heal?" she whispered in awe.

Harry nodded. "Evidently. He did it for me, at any rate."

She looked like she needed to sit down, but settled for clutching the back of a chair. "I miss that so much..."

Hermione looked concerned and put her hand on Nita's arm. "What?"

Nita looked at her blankly. "Before I started my formal training at St. Mungo's, I--I could heal. Oh, I probably couldn't do what this Jeffries did for you," she said to Harry. "But I--I could do more than I can now. It's--it's as if learning about the 'proper' ways of doing things has driven the other way out of me..."

Harry spoke very softly to her. "Maybe--maybe you don't believe anymore that you can do it. If you did believe--maybe you still could. But learning about the 'proper' way, as you call it--perhaps that's keeping you from believing in yourself, in your own abilities. When Jeffries cured me, he told me to believe. I tried and I did--and I was cured..."

She looked at him strangely, not answering, and he couldn't tell what was in her eyes. But he didn't have a chance to work it out, because suddenly, Hermione was prancing about excitedly and clapping her hands together.

"Oh! I've just had the most wonderful idea!" she said. "Sirius, I've been reading in the Muggle papers about this huge gathering that Jeffries is going to be holding. Do you think--do you think Ron and I could go? You know the one. It's a Friday evening, but--but what if he can cure Ron?" she said breathlessly.

Ron was clearly alarmed by the idea. Sirius looked back and forth between the two of them; he could see Ron's reaction for himself. "Well, I'll speak to the headmaster about that. We'll see," he said noncommittally.

"And Harry could visit with his aunt!" Hermione said excitedly, suddenly full of plans. Harry thought about this.

"I would like to make sure she's all right..." he conceded.

"Well," Sirius said, clapping his hands together, "if we do this, one thing I can say is the man certainly knows how to put on a show. You know that, Harry. Whether or not anyone is 'healed,'" he said, looking pointedly at Hermione, "if we go, it's probably best to just expect a good show, an interesting time, and nothing more. I wouldn't get your hopes up."

Nita surveyed him, her eyes narrowed behind her glasses. "So you don't think he really heals people?"

Sirius shrugged. "I've been to my share of his shows and seen loads of people who seem to be healed. And they really seem to think they're healed. He makes them happy, and entertains me, certainly. I don't really see any harm in him. He seems to mean well." He sighed. "I'll talk to the headmaster about it, all right? But he may want to be very cautious. Don't get your hopes up." Hermione nodded, but she was still smiling rapturously, her hands clasped together. Harry felt a doubt prickle at the back of his mind, but he didn't say anything; there would be time for that. "At any rate," Sirius was saying to Nita, extending his hand again, "it was very nice to meet you."

Nita shook his hand briskly. "Yes, and you," she said, nodding. She turned to Ron. "And I'll see what I can do about taming my aunt's poison pen," she added with a small smile before taking out her wand and Disapparating with a swift pop!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A week later, the Azkaban rescue and the Order of Merlin ceremony seemed like distant memories. There was no word on Lucius Malfoy, Mrs. Kirkner hadn't turned up, and Mariah was by turns hysterical or confined to the hospital wing in a state of near-catatonia. Ginny was visiting her quite a lot, and frequently came back looking very disturbed, saying that Draco had come to visit, so she thought it best to leave. Her face looked strange when she said this, and Harry wondered what he'd said to her.

He and Ginny sat in chairs near the common room hearth along with Hermione, who was doing N.E.W.T. preparation for Astronomy and trying to interest Harry and Ron in it. Both boys groaned simultaneously.

"I'm never getting a N.E.W.T. in Astronomy, Hermione," Ron informed her, "so I don't see the point of--"

"But look what I've found right here!" she exclaimed, spreading out a wizarding Astronomy magazine on the rug and pointed adamantly at it. "It's not just the N.E.W.T.s that are at stake here. Sinistra has mentioned one or two things about what will be happening in a few weeks, but there's loads that she left out...Haven't you two been paying an attention at all in Astronomy?"

Harry and Ron looked at each other and laughed. "And haven't you been paying attention to the fact that Harry and I haven't been paying any attention in Astronomy for the last seven years?" Ron said through his laughter. Harry shook his head.

"I still can't find my way around the night sky..."

"Well, you should be particularly interested in this, Harry, because I think some of it pertains to you."

He frowned. "What, me personally?"

She raised one eyebrow. "Have you forgotten that you and Malfoy are part of a prophecy? And that the Centaurs have been seeing things about you in the stars for a while? Remember your first year?"

"Yeah, but what have we been learning in Astronomy that has to do with that? And isn't this dangerously close to Divination?" he said, smirking.

She pursed her lips together primly, ignoring this. "Starting this year, and every year for the next three years, at the time of the equinoxes and solstices, the earth will be aligned with the center of the galaxy, which only occurs once every six to seven thousand years. And the first equinox is the vernal equinox, the spring equinox. That's when Jeffries is having that big gathering." She dropped her voice. "You know--the one I asked Sirius about going to."

Harry was jolted. "Oh. So you're saying that something significant is supposed to happen that day? The same day we might be going to see Jeffries?"

"Not only that," she said, warming to her subject, "But next Thursday, there's going to be a solar eclipse. It's supposed to take place right in front of Regulus, which is in the center of the constellation of Leo, which is also called the 'Lion's Heart.'" She looked triumphant about this, and Harry looked at Ginny, his face feeling warm. "The eclipse is really special because it's leading up to the galactic alignment. The last one was just prior to the last Age of the Lion, about ten thousand years ago."

Ron was sitting up very straight now, looking at how alarmed Harry was. "That's enough, Hermione," he warned her. Harry felt like there was a block of ice in his stomach, as though he was hurtling forward into something he couldn't stop or control. The prophecy. It all comes back to that prophecy...

"No," he said, barely able to make a sound. "I want to know." He looked at Hermione. She nodded, leafing through her Astronomy text.

"The Lion is the galactic pole's guardian," she said, paraphrasing the article. "Regulus is the brightest star in the constellation of Leo and 'key to its mysteries,' this says. It's also the only bright star that lies along the path of the Sun as it moves through the zodiac." Hermione looked up. "It should be really interesting seeing the alignment from Stonehenge. I hope there aren't too many people to make it impossible to appreciate...and we might not be able to see it in the day..."

Ron raised his eyebrows. "Stonehenge?"

"Yeah. That's where Jeffries is having that gathering."

Ron snorted. "Oh, that'll be lovely, that will. All of those Muggles showing up who think they're witches and wizards. You want to take me to that zoo to be 'cured' by a charlatan?"

Hermione drew her lips into a line. "He healed Harry, remember. And turned his aunt into a witch."

Harry dropped his jaw. "But--but there's people who get really upset when too many people walk all over Stonehenge. You know--"

Hermione nodded. "The National Trust. Yes, normally they take a dim view of really big crowds gathering there. They're expecting between twenty-five and thirty thousand for the summer solstice, which is usually the biggest gathering, because of the sun rising over the heelstone, and Jeffries will probably have a lot more people than that. But I thought I told you what happened? Or weren't you paying attention--again?" she said pointedly.

"Erm, what?" Harry said guiltily.

"Parliament has declared that he can have as many people as he wants at Stonehenge. Can you believe it? They've overridden the National Trust. At least he has a lot of followers who are wizards; if people tromp all over the place, they can discreetly put it right again..."

Harry frowned, more disturbed than ever. Why would Parliament do such a thing? Unless--

"Did Harrington-Smythe have anything to do with it?" he asked her, but Ron was dragging her to the portrait hole now, grinning.

"Sorry Harry," he said, "but I have declared that she has been working too hard and needs some rest and relaxation now..."

"Yes," Hermione called as they left. "I already told you that she did, Harry. Don't you pay any attention when I'm reading things from the Muggle papers to you at breakfast?"

But he couldn't respond, as she and Ron had both disappeared into the corridor. Hermione hadn't exactly been fighting Ron; she'd practically leaped out at the last moment. Harry sighed, looking across the hearth at Ginny; she looked disgruntled.

"Where are they going?" she wanted to know.

"Probably to Fluffy's old lair," he told her. "Hermione and I used to--"

He stopped himself, his face feeling hot again. Ginny smiled ruefully. "Ah. I see."

He clamped his mouth shut, breathing through his nostrils. He'd been going mad since returning to the castle, thinking about being with her, about the fact that she'd taken the potion, but she seemed to spend all of her time visiting Mariah, or they had Dueling Club, or Quidditch practice, or something to occupy their time. This was one of the first times they'd just been sitting about, not doing anything in particular, since returning, and that was only because Ron had 'convinced' Hermione to lay off the N.E.W.T. revision, for the moment. He thought about what Hermione had said about Regulus, the 'heart' of the Lion. "I don't suppose--when they get back, you'd, um, want to--"

Ginny made a face. "I'm sorry, Harry. It's just that--I'm not sure how Ron stands it. Knowing that you and Hermione--that the two of you were together, in the same place--"

He nodded. "I understand. But I doubt Ron has considered that at all." He thought for a minute. "There's that dungeon where we spend the full moon with Ron. I mean, they've been there, um, together, but I was never down there with Hermione..."

"A dungeon? Not only does my brother not think, he--" She stopped abruptly. "I'm sorry, Harry. It's not that I'm saying you're not thinking..."

Harry was feeling a little insulted, and a bit like she was being fussy. But then he thought, A dungeon? How romantic. Just because Ron and Hermione--

"You shall see her," Sandy hissed at him, under his shirt.

"We could go into the corner for now," Ginny suggested softly, nodding across the room; she hadn't noticed that Sandy had spoken. Ginny's words had sent Sandy out of his head. "At least until they get back."

Harry dropped his jaw. "The corner?"

She laughed. "Don't be silly! I'm not suggesting--just--well, there are some other things we can do...You look like you could use a little rest and relaxation yourself," she added with a wicked smile.

He nodded and tried to smile back. It was something, at least. Now that he was thinking about this--it seemed to be all he could think about. "Right, right. Sorry. Being thick."

She rose and held out her hand to him, laughing. "No, you've just got the same thing on your mind all of the time that I have." He swallowed, his pulse quickening upon hearing her say this, following her willingly across the room, the other students ignoring them. She was thinking about this all of the time? he thought.

When they reached the corner armchair, which was already facing the two walls, Harry sat down and Ginny draped herself across his lap, putting her arm around his shoulder. "We'll think of something," she whispered. "Maybe you can ask Sirius if I can come to Stonehenge with you and Ron and Hermione..." She traced his cheek with her finger before removing his glasses. He nodded, not interested in thinking as he pulled her face down to his, feeling her open her mouth and slide her fingers into his hair. He trembled, loving her so much, wishing Fred hadn't been with them that last night at Hog's End....

He moved his lips down her neck and she nimbly slipped her fingers under his shirt, her palm burning against his skin. Her breathing grew more erratic as he traced his tongue down to her clavicle and moved his hand up her leg. She sighed his name and he covered her mouth with his again, shivering. He didn't know how much longer he could take what they were doing. He was only human....

But she didn't seem to be stopping, and so neither was he--yet. He had slipped his hand into her robes and was cupping one breast through her blouse, causing her to make an undulating animal noise in the back of her throat. That was almost his undoing; he pulled his mouth away from hers reluctantly, but before he could speak, she was moving her mouth up to his ear, sending an electric jolt through his body and making him momentarily forget how to speak English.

"Mmrrmm--Gin--er--ah--Ginny!" he finally managed to say, breathing with difficulty. She raised her head, fine beads of sweat on her upper lip and a glazed look in her eyes.

"Too much?" she whispered breathily. He nodded vigorously, holding her tightly. "I'm sorry, Harry. I--I want you so much, and--"

"Ginny!" he said again. "Much as it's nice to know that--hearing it actually doesn't help me very much...."

She laughed. "Let's just sit and hold each other," she said, taking her hand from under his shirt. "We'll think of something."

He closed his eyes, holding her tightly, trying to calm down. "I know, I know..." he murmured into her neck, But he wasn't sure he knew anything of the kind. Ginny, however, seemed determined to solve the problem; it was a challenge.

"Yes." She sounded more sure than he felt. "We'll think of something," she repeated. After a little while, she lifted her head and put her mouth near his ear again. "I've just thought of something," she whispered.

He looked at her mischievous face. "What?"

"Well--I've decided that I'm feeling like taking a shower."

He furrowed his brow. "What?" he said again.

She gave him a lopsided smile, putting her hand inside his shirt and bringing out his basilisk pendant. "And you have this convenient little gift I gave you...."

The meaning of what she was saying--and what Sandy had said--finally dawned on him. "Oooh," he said, feeling daft. He swallowed. "Are--are you sure?"

She gave him a very naughty-looking smile. "Well, if I'm inviting you to look, it's hardly wrong for you to do it, right?"

She stood and walked toward the stairs to the girls' dormitories. Harry put his head around the side of the chair, watching her, then sat back in the chair again, holding the amulet tightly, wondering whether this was really a good idea. He saw her walking up the winding spiral stairs with a hypnotic slowness that was making him feel like his blood was being heated in a cauldron. She entered the sixth-year girls' dormitory, where Zoey Russell and Annika Olafsdottir were sitting on the floor, books spread out between them, rolled bits of parchment scattered amongst the books. She walked past them to a corner of the room; he saw her close the hangings on one side of her four-poster, to conceal from her roommates what she was doing. She began to undress slowly, as Harry continued to clutch the amulet, his mouth going dry. When she was undressed down to her underwear, she donned a dressing gown and slippers and padded through the room again, past Zoey and Annika, then across the landing to the shower room, next to the lavatory.

He released the amulet, aware that his breathing had grown rather erratic. Even though she'd virtually given him a written invitation, he still wasn't completely sure he should be doing this. He sat, staring into the corner, trying to work out whether he should or shouldn't touch the amulet again, when he found that his hand had already crept toward it and he was clasping it firmly once more, unable to resist doing this.

He gasped; he wasn't sure how many minutes had gone by since he'd let go of the amulet, but Ginny had completely disrobed and was standing under the shower spray. Harry felt like he was holding his breath; she was so beautiful, and not at all like the too-thin Ginny in his other life. He had seen the way she ate after going on morning runs; she had a healthy appetite, and it showed. She looked strong and solid, not like she would break if bent too far, and he was starting to wish they'd snuck down to the girls' prefects bathroom, so they could do this together (although at this hour they'd be risking someone else intruding upon them, and it was another place where he'd been with Hermione). The water cascaded over her body as she tipped her head back, wetting her hair, and he felt that he'd been incredibly stupid for not having done this before, and wondered how many times Draco Malfoy had done it, without being specifically invited.

He watched her wash her hair, wishing those were his hands sinking into the red tresses, washing it for her, watching the soap run down her body, caressing her curves, starting to make him feel like he was going mad....


He screamed without meaning to, releasing the amulet, and staring around wildly. Neville was standing over him, looking concerned.

"Are you all right, Harry?"

"Erm, what? What is it, Neville?" he sputtered.

"You were over here making very odd noises. I thought Ginny was still with you," he added, turning deep red, "but then I remembered seeing her go upstairs. Are you sick?"

Harry wondered whether his thoughts were very obvious; he fought the urge to move his hand to cover the evidence. "No, I'm fine. I just--think I'll go have a lie-down..."

"Okay, Harry. As long as you're all right..."

Harry bolted for the stairs and skipped every other step on his way up to the top of the tower. He clasped the amulet again when he reached the top, panting, and the sight of Ginny made it completely impossible for him to consider releasing the amulet again. He opened the door and immediately ploughed into Dean and Seamus, sitting on the floor, building a card castle with a pack of Exploding Snap cards. Most of it blew up in their faces.

They waved their arms to dispel the smoke, coughing. "Damn, you, Harry!" Dean choked. "Look what you've gone and done."

Seamus was examining his singed hair in the mirror on the nearest wardrobe door. The mirror was jeering at him and starting to say a rude limerick. "Look what you've done to me, Harry! You wanker!"

Harry sped from the room again, still clutching the amulet and thinking, Yeah, Seamus, that's about right. All thoughts of prophecies, Stonehenge and Rodney Jeffries fled his brain as he bolted for the lavatory on the other side of the landing and locked the door securely behind him.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A few days later, Harry and Ginny were sitting next to each other at the Gryffindor table, eating lunch, when Ginny whispered to him out of the corner of her mouth, "I'm finished. I'm going up to the library. Follow me in a few minutes. I need to talk to you."

He had watched her take another shower the day before, but he wanted to be in the same room with her...it was driving him mad. He hoped she'd come up with a solution; he'd suggested the Muggle Studies classroom, where they'd met in his other life, but she'd told him that room was locked with a password now. When he reached the library, he found her at a table in the rear, far from Madam Pince's desk. As the rest of the school were still eating lunch, the library was deserted. "What is it?" he asked anxiously.

"I've talked to Maggie about our situation, and she said we could use her rooms," she whispered. "Isn't that perfect? Especially since it means that we could actually spend the night together, instead of just rushing out of there again. This way we don't have to wait for the trip to Stonehenge." They'd received permission to go, accompanied by Sirius, Remus, Maggie and Snape. She smiled sweetly at him. "I did like sleeping next to you, though, in your old room. Even with Fred there."

Harry gazed into her eyes and ran his hand up her arm. "I did, too. That would be brilliant, to not have to run off. But--where will Maggie be?"

Ginny smirked. "Maggie hasn't actually slept in her own bed for ages, if you get my meaning..."

Harry shook his head. "Well, there goes that theory."

She frowned. "What theory?"

"Well, erm," he hedged, wishing he hadn't brought it up. She nodded with understanding.

"You mean the theory that Professor Snape needed regular shagging to be a nice person."

He covered her mouth with his hand. "Ginny! You shouldn't--"

She grinned against his hand, then kissed his palm and slowly ran her tongue along his life-line, making him gasp and pull his hand away again. She was still grinning wickedly when he could see her mouth again. "I was saying what you were thinking. And he is happier. You can see it if you look. But he has his reputation to maintain. Now--he seems to be forcing the nastiness a bit, don't you think? When he gives detentions, it seems that his heart isn't really in it. I do hope they wait to get married, though. It's selfish of me, but I think it would be odd next year to be calling my brother-in-law 'Professor Snape.'"

Harry's jaw dropped. "You think they're going to get married?"

Ginny nodded. "He's already asked her, actually. She said it was the night they spent in Fred's room at Hog's End." She laughed. "Don't tell Fred. He'd never get over it."

Harry laughed too. "I wouldn't dream of it. So they're keeping quiet about it for now?"

"Yes. Maggie said she was just telling me, but she said it was okay for me to tell you. Ron doesn't even know, or Hermione. They'll go public eventually, but for now--"

"--for now they're living in his quarters and not letting on that she's not using hers."

Ginny nodded. "Right. Which leaves Maggie's rooms empty and available...."

"And I know the staff wing password, so it's just a matter of working out a time."

She pulled out a parchment with the patrol schedule on it. "Exactly. That's why I have this. We need to know what we're doing." They pored over it together; Harry kissed her on the cheek, grinning at her, and she grinned back, then bent over the parchment, brushing a stray lock of hair behind her ear, which was somehow very distracting to Harry. "Okay, now, we're on duty together during the second shift on Sunday," she began; "after our shift is over, we could just go to the staff wing and spend the rest of the night there."

Harry stared at it. "We'd have to avoid Mrs. Figg--I mean, Professor Figg--returning after her shift. She's on with us. Not to mention--won't Ron wonder where I am in the morning? And I'm not sure it's a good idea for me to miss sleep on Sunday night; I have McGonagall first on Monday. She's hard to take with a full eight hours."

She frowned. "Good point. Oh, wait--don't you have Friday morning free?"

"Yeah, I do," he said, catching on, perusing the schedule for Thursday. "Oh, and this is perfect! You're on the first shift Thursday and I'm on the second, with Hermione. We can get her help with Ron. Let's see--you can use my Invisibility Cloak to go through the corridors safely and I can go right to the staff wing after I'm done. Hermione will help us, I know she will; if Ron has questions about where I am during the night or in the morning, she can tell him I agreed to fill in for someone else. And let's see...The staff on the second shift are Flitwick and Hagrid. Hagrid goes back to his hut, and Flitwick isn't difficult. I'll just walk upstairs slowly; he goes amazingly fast; he'll be back in the staff wing in a blink, certainly by the time I get there. You meet me there in the Cloak and I'll let us in."

"And on Friday morning, we'll just make sure we get out of the staff wing before Trelawney and Vector get back from their shift."

He nodded. "We can share the Cloak to get back to Gryffindor Tower. None of the prefects on that shift are Gryffindors, so we won't run into any of them."

They looked at each other, grinning. It was the perfect plan. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him soundly as the bell marking the end of lunch sounded. "I love you. See you later," she said, turning to dash out of the library.

He watched her go, still grinning uncontrollably. It was perfect.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"A surprise will sprout up unexpectedly."

Harry resisted the urge to criticize Sandy's choice of words. When is a surprise not unexpected? he thought. But he pretended he hadn't even heard. He wasn't sure he liked the sound of it, at any rate, and he didn't want to get into a long hissed conversation by asking Sandy what she meant. She probably wouldn't be able to tell him anyway.

He wished he knew how to perform Dumbledore's Chameleon Transfiguration. He pressed himself up against a stone wall, his heartbeat like a bass drum in his head. He hoped Ginny was all right; he was glad she had the Invisibility Cloak. At least he knew she couldn't be seen by any of the staff or prefects patrolling the corridors. He waited for footsteps to pass; Mandy Brocklehurst and Darren Ellerby, who'd been appointed to take Evan Davies' place as the seventh-year Ravenclaw prefect, were moving with maddening slowness. He hoped that the surprise was a good one. Surprises could cut both ways.

Finally, he reached the tapestry hiding the entrance to the staff wing. He whispered the password to the wall, then looked over his shoulder at the corridor, whispering, "Are you here yet, Ginny?" He started to reach for his amulet, fumbling in his robes for it so he could see her. "We need to hurry before someone co--" He felt someone's eyes on him, but it wasn't Ginny's eyes. He turned slowly; on his other side stood Professor Sprout, who was evidently returning to the staff wing. He was tempted to just run like the wind, but he swallowed and tried to maintain his composure. "Erm, hullo, Professor Sprout..." he began, not sure what to say next. He stopped trying to reach the basilisk amulet.

Her mouth was very thin and her normally mild eyes were blazing as he let the tapestry fall. "I am returning from greenhouse number six to see to the Erechtheus dracunculoides giganthes," she said with a sniff. "What is your excuse for being out of your house? I know the patrol schedule, Potter, and you are not on this shift. And even if you were, you should not be patroling without a partner, plus the interior of the staff wing is not on the approved list of areas of the castle to patrol--for students, at any rate. The staff wing is to provide a haven for the staff," she said pointedly. "And did I hear you say the name 'Ginny?' Would that be Ginny Weasley?" She blanched and put her hand over her chest, looking faint. "Are you--are you and she--meeting in a teacher's quarters while they are out patroling the school to keep you safe?"

Harry's mouth worked without a noise emerging. To make it worse, a silky voice behind him said, "Yes, Potter. Please explain yourself. Are you so unconcerned about your academic career that you are arranging assignations in the middle of the night in the staff wing?" He turned to find Snape regarding him with one of his nastier expressions. Professor Sinistra was with him, looking more alert than most people who patrolled in the dead of night, as she slept during the day and got up after dark to teach Astronomy.

Harry was feeling grumpy about being called up on the carpet by Snape, given what he knew about his relationship with Maggie. Considering that you've proposed marriage to one of your students, you can hardly talk. Even if she is in her twenties... He didn't dare speak, though, regardless of the acid remarks leaping to his tongue. Or especially considering the thoughts he longed to say, and there was also the fact that he wasn't supposed to know about the proposal. Harry swallowed, suddenly very glad that Ginny didn't seem to be about; she must have had a hard time getting past some other patrollers.

"Well, um, yes," he said to Professor Sprout. "I tried to convince Ginny to meet me here, but I can see she had the sense not to do it. I'm sorry. It was stupid and thoughtless. You're quite right. I'll just be going back to Gryffindor Tower," he said, turning.

"Not so fast, Potter," Snape said smoothly, putting a hand on his shoulder. Even Sinistra was looking disapprovingly at him, her arms crossed on her chest. Harry wondered whether Maggie had told Snape about the plan. "I believe that, along with that night that you claimed that Mr. Malfoy and Miss Kirkner had drowned in the lake," he said, his mouth twisting with what passed for amusement for him, "this would make your second time being out-of-bounds after hours for no good reason. Please tell me if I am mistaken," he added, crossing his arms and staring down his nose at Harry,

Harry forced himself to look him in the eye. "No, sir," he said. "You are not mistaken."

Snape's eyebrows flew up. "You admit then that you have no legitimate reason for being out of your house at--" he checked his pocket watch; "--two-fifteen, which would make this your second infraction. If you recall, Potter, the headmaster was very clear in September that the first infraction would warrant three detentions, which you served with me," he added. Harry knew, of course, that Snape knew that he had a perfectly good reason for thinking that Draco and Mariah had drowned, but Professors Sprout and Sinistra did not know this. "The headmaster was also very clear that the second infraction would mean--" he said, inclining his head toward Harry, waiting for him to answer.

No, Harry thought. He wouldn't. He won't. He--would he?

Harry didn't say anything, his mouth hanging open in shock, so Snape finished his own sentence: "Suspension, Potter," he said, as though relishing every syllable.

Harry couldn't keep the distress from showing on his face. "Suspension? But sir--"

"Unless you have a legitimate reason to present to explain why you are out-of-bounds--"

"I put him up to it!" Ginny said suddenly, coming round the corner, her robes and hair flying out behind her. All three professors were startled to see her. Harry felt his stomach drop into his shoes, and Professor Sprout looked faint again.

"Miss Weasley! Well! I never!"

"Well, I do, Professor Sprout!" she said stoutly. "Don't you remember catching me in the greenhouse with Draco Malfoy last year?" Sprout clutched at the wall for support.

"Ginny!" Harry hissed at her. "You shouldn't--"

"What? Tell the truth?"

"Um, Ginny," he hissed at her, "you and Malfoy didn't do that, so why are you--"

"That's right!" Ginny said loudly, drowning him out and looking squarely at Professor Sprout. "I'm a--a--scarlet woman!" she said with some hesitancy, perhaps thinking about how all of this would sound to her mother, Harry thought. Then he shuddered to think what Molly Weasley would think of him. He thought he'd much rather be suspended from school than face Ginny's mother on charges of attempting to seduce her baby girl.

Harry covered his face with his hands; peering between his fingers he saw that Snape had an evil-looking half-smile. Oh, you're just enjoying this to pieces. Harry Potter, Head Boy, suspended for sneaking into the staff wing with his girlfriend. Brilliant.

"Well, Miss Weasley, you may be whatever color of the rainbow you choose, but you cannot do it outside of your house after nine o'clock at night. As this is your first infraction you will serve three detentions. With, I should think, Professor Sprout," he said, nodding to his colleague, who was surveying Ginny with tight-lipped disapproval. Ginny looked more than a little cowed by this prospect.

"As for what to do with the two of you tonight, Professor Sinistra and I will escort you both back to Gryffindor Tower. After that we will inform Professor McGonagall of what has occurred here." He bowed slightly to Professor Sprout. "I expect you are tired from your greenhouse duties, Professor. You will be wanting to go to your rooms..."

She nodded to him, patting her hair, still appearing quite flustered. "Yes, Professor. Thank you for taking care of this." She surveyed Ginny with a gimlet eye. "I'll see you for detention at seven o'clock sharp tomorrow morning, my girl," she said to Ginny.

Her jaw dropped. "Detention in the morning!"

"Until nine o'clock," Professor Sprout pronounced.

Harry protested, "But we usually go running at that time. And she'll miss breakfast!"

"Well, she should have thought of that before planning this little tryst with you, shouldn't she?" Professor Sprout sniffed. She glared at Ginny. "Seven o'clock sharp, down at the greenhouses," she intoned before turning and entering the staff wing. A very subdued Harry and Ginny followed Snape and Sinistra through the corridors, sneaking glances at each other periodically. Harry longed to reach out and take her hand; she really had been magnificent. She could have got away without getting into any trouble at all. He was glad that this was her first time being caught out-of-bounds, so she wouldn't be suspended. Mrs. Weasley might not hear about Ginny's detentions with Professor Sprout, but if Ginny were sent home to the Burrow, the reason for it would be bound to come out.

When they reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, Harry gave the password and started to follow Ginny into the common room; Snape detained him. "Go ahead, Miss Weasley. Professor Sinistra will escort you up to your dormitory." He nodded to his colleague. "I need to discuss Mr. Potter's suspension with him."

Ginny gave him a sympathetic smile as she entered Gryffindor Tower, followed by Sinistra. Harry turned to Snape, not feeling that there was a particular resemblance between him and his old dad at this moment. This Snape was behaving far too much like the one who'd spent Harry's first year making his life a misery. And second year. And third year....

"You will report to the entrance hall with your luggage at seven o'clock sharp, Potter," he said in a quietly ominous voice. "I will accompany you to the village hall, along with another operative, where you can Apparate to my uncle's apothecary in Dunoon. It is no longer possible to Apparate in and out of Ascog Castle, and the fireplaces can only be used to communicate. There has been a security lockdown there in anticipation of your arrival..."

Harry frowned. "What? In anticipation?"

Snape sighed. "Use your head, Potter. No progress has been made in finding Lucius Malfoy for the last three weeks. With Draco Malfoy living here, as well as Miss Kirkner, whose selkie skin is in Malfoy's possession, it is generally agreed that Hogwarts castle is no longer the safest place for you. I have been finding it extremely tedious to keep track of you during this time," he said, sounding quite irritated, and Harry dropped his jaw. He'd been spying on him! Snape ignored his reaction. "Malfoy has managed to infiltrate the school before. We are taking every precaution to prevent him from doing this again, but the headmaster agrees that it would be prudent to also remove you from the premises, without making it seem planned. You will be permitted to continue with your studies while you are away for a fortnight, by which time we will hopefully have Malfoy in custody." He looked amused now as he said to Harry, "Luckily, young people have rather predictable hormonal urges....Oh, and hand over the map."

Harry wanted to say a thing or two about Snape's own "hormonal urges," but he instinctively put his hand over his pocket. He tried to make this seem innocent. "What map?" Did he sound unconcerned about it? he wondered. "And what are you saying? Was--was all of this a set up?" he demanded, incredulous. Was even Dumbledore in on it? He was unpleasantly reminded of when he'd gone on trial for causing his mother's death, in his other life...

Snape peered at him. "Miss Dougherty told me what her sister asked of her. I had already expressed my concerns to her and the headmaster that if Lucius Malfoy found a way to influence or control Draco Malfoy or Mariah Kirkner, you could be in danger, especially if Malfoy managed to deliver his son to the Dark Lord, who could bend him to his will. We still need to be concerned about that Obedience Charm. After I spoke to the headmaster we both agreed that if you were suspended it would be an excellent cover story to explain your leaving the castle, to avoid there being any appearance of paranoia concerning Mr. Malfoy's and Miss Kirkner's presence here. Miss Dougherty provided the perfect means to accomplish that, and she is hopeful that her sister will forgive her quickly, as the goal was to keep you safe. If you hadn't been planning to be out-of-bounds, we would have needed to invent a reason, so for once your predilection for rule-breaking is useful," he said dryly, raising one eyebrow. "You will be safe at Ascog; during the interim we can monitor Mr. Malfoy and Miss Kirkner, as well as continuing to try to locate the elder Mr. Malfoy. Several operatives will be living with you at Ascog, and the concealment spells have been altered so that even magical people can no longer see the castle. It will appear, to Muggles and magical folk alike, to be an abandoned old wreck, just the shell of a centuries-old tower house on the edge of the loch. The only way anyone can find it is if the Secret Keeper divulges the location to them."

Harry was shocked. "Secret Keeper! Who's the Secret Keeper?"

Snape's mouth had gone very thin. "Never mind. I've said too much. Professor Sinistra will be back any moment. Be in the entrance hall at seven o'clock. Now, I'll say it again: hand over the map. We need it to keep track of Mr. Malfoy and Miss Kirkner. They are members of my house; I have a right to do this. Surely even you cannot object."

Harry grimaced as he removed the map from his pocket. "Here," he said reluctantly. "To activate it you say, I solemnly swear that I am up to no good. To deactivate it you say, Mischief managed."

Snape's mouth was twisting again. "How--like your father and his friends," he said sardonically, forcing Harry to bite back a retort. Snape pocketed the parchment. "Goodnight, Potter." He nodded at Harry, who began to climb into the common room.

"Good night," Harry said, feeling more than a little irritated. He didn't add a "sir" this time. Professor Sinistra appeared and climbed out of the portrait hole, a distinct look of disapproval in her dark eyes.

He felt betrayed. Had Ginny had a part in it? He didn't think so; Snape had said it was Maggie who'd told him. He was seething in general now, and stomped across the common room to the stairs, feeling like he wouldn't sleep at all, he was so angry. He understood that it was for his safety, but that didn't make him feel any better about it all. He'd been wanted to spend the night with Ginny, not with a proper snit and a general feeling of discontent. Knowing that Snape was going back to the staff wing, where Maggie was waiting for him, only made matters worse. He spent a good deal of time punching his pillow into shape before finally attempting to sleep, imagining, with each blow, that the pillow was Severus Snape.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When Harry, Snape and Mundungus Fletcher, who'd accompanied them, reached the village hall the next morning, Harry had turned to Snape and said bitterly, "I reckon this means that I can't go to see my aunt on the twentieth of March, now. Sirius was going to ask Professor Dumbledore for permission for me to do that, but now that'll be my first day back, after my suspension."

Snape's eyes betrayed no emotion. "I am aware of that arrangement, and on the contrary--it will be a further excuse for you to be away from the castle. We will not tell anyone that you are going, naturally. And everyone involved will be disguised. But that has not been canceled. I will also be with you." Harry nodded; that was something, at least. He'd be able to see Ron and Hermione again, and maybe even spend the night with Ginny, if Ron didn't interfere.

Even though his suspension was essentially a ruse, Harry felt more than a little abashed when Sirius' mother met him at the harbor where Duncan MacDermid had tied up the yacht he used to get them down to the Isle of Bute from Dunoon. (It was a borrowed vessel, as the Patricia was being given a much-deserved rest, and they didn't want anyone recognizing their craft.) When Harry had Apparated to the apothecary shop with Fletcher, Snape's uncle had greeted him tersely, his mouth drawn into a grim line; Remus Lupin was already there, waiting for them. Harry had had to leave Sandy behind with Ron, but Remus said that he'd probably be able to fetch her for him within a couple of days; he needed to go to Hogwarts to have a meeting with Dumbledore and Sirius concerning the Lucius Malfoy situation, and Remus said he might also come to Stonehenge with them.

Remus was at least a bit friendly upon seeing Harry (friendlier than Harry's sixth-year Potions Master), but he also looked a bit distracted. Initially, he told Harry to remain belowdecks during the short trip down the Firth of Clyde, but he reminded him that MacDermid would probably need his help. Finally, Harry switched clothes with Remus, who stayed as close as possible to Harry without getting underfoot. Fletcher, for his part, spent the time spewing over the side. Remus also looked green from time to time.

Sirius' mother was silent while driving him, Remus and Fletcher to Ascog Cottage, though which they all had to enter Ascog Castle. When they had drawn near to the castle, Harry got quite a shock, even though he'd been warned about it. He could no longer see it as it really was, a rebuilt tower house reaching up to the sky; he saw instead a ruin with partial walls around its square foundations, the grey late-winter sky not the least bit obscured by the crumbling carcass. He swallowed, but Sirius' mother seemed cheerful enough as she drove, so he tried to remain calm and remember the house as he'd last seen it.

When he'd reached the Hogwarts entrance hall that morning, to his surprise, Snape had told him where to find the Black house; Harry wondered why on earth he would do such a thing, but then Harry had realized He's the Secret Keeper. Of all people to be protecting the Black house! Harry hadn't thanked him. He didn't speak during the entire time they were walking to the village hall. He was more than a little cross with Severus Snape for his part in setting him up to be suspended. He wasn't interested in pretending to be all right about it, plus he'd given Harry a long essay to write while he was suspended.

After four days at Ascog, Harry was pacing his room, feeling like a caged animal, even though he knew that he had the run of the house. He'd gone down to the pool every day, which helped relax him a little, and he'd written some letters to Ginny, Ron and Hermione, which the Blacks' owl had delivered for him (he'd left Hedwig at Hogwarts), but he was still feeling at loose ends. He could work on Snape's essay, and another for McGonagall, but he wasn't feeling very motivated. Finally, he decided to explore; he'd never taken the time to get to know Ascog. He couldn't run around the loch and didn't have lessons, Quidditch or trying to sneak off with Ginny to occupy him, so he thought he might as well learn more about the Black home, which was also his home now.

Sirius' room shared the top floor with his bedroom; there wasn't much to see, but on the wall above the desk Harry noticed a familiar photograph: Sirius and Harry's parents on his parents' wedding day. They were all young and happy, laughing at something probably long forgotten. Harry reached out to touch his mother's face, then withdrew his hand again; he no longer wondered what it would be like to grow up with her. He knew. He thought of the day she'd broken down in her office and confessed that she did love him, but was afraid to love him at the same time, because he was destined to be a Death Eater.

"You never meant me to be a Death Eater, Mum," he said softly, looking at her young, unlined face. The face he'd come to know in his other life had become care-worn, dark circles under her eyes, even a few grey hairs amidst the deep red. He had seen her by turns frustrated, angry, strict, disappointed and distraught (especially when Stuart died). When he and his brothers and sister had been very young, she'd even been indulgent, at times. He remembered her hugging and kissing him goodnight when he was very small and she was expecting the twins, calling him her little lion cub. He briefly patted the image of his laughing father, remembering his ghost scolding him in the Quidditch changing rooms. "She's back with you, where she belongs," he whispered.

Other than the one photo on the wall, Sirius' room was like a monk's cell. Even snooping in the desk drawers didn't net Harry anything more interesting than some old Daily Prophets. He went down a flight, where he decided to skip over both the guest room and Alan and Ursula's bedroom. He continued on down to the second floor, where the children's rooms were. Like the other bedrooms, these also had large bay windows overlooking the ground floor courtyard. He tried Leo and Orion's first. Now that Orion was off at Hogwarts, Leo had it to himself, but he didn't seem especially happy about this.

Leo Pierson was sitting at his desk, writing, when Harry knocked at the door, which was already slightly ajar. Leo put down his quill when Harry pushed the door open a little and poked his face in. "Hullo. Didn't realize you were home."

Leo's mouth was open very slightly; he looked as though he was thinking Harry Potter is in my room! Harry Potter is in my-- He snapped his mouth shut again, evidently realizing that he was gawping at Harry. "Yeah," he said, his still-high voice sounding a bit strangled. "It actually takes a bit longer for us to get home from school these days. We used to take Floo to our cousin Ian's, then get the school bus from there, since it can't travel across water. Now Dad drives us over to Wemyss Bay on the first ferry of the morning. He's not upset, though; he finally talked Mum into letting him buy a car."

Harry laughed. "Your grandmother used his car to drive us from the harbor. I noticed it's a Mercedes," he said, remembering how Leo's sister had come by her name. Leo nodded.

"Yeah, but you may also have noticed that it's a really old one. It's all he could afford. It was made the same year that Uncle Sirius was born."

"That old, eh?" Harry grinned. Leo didn't seem to understand why.

"It's ancient. And Dad loves messing about with the engine. Mum says he's just like Uncle Sirius used to be about his motorbike."

Harry was glad that Leo had relaxed; he was speaking quite naturally now, and Harry realized that he'd hardly had any chance at all to get to know the ten-year-old during the Christmas holiday or during the previous summer.

"Well, I'm getting to know your house a bit better. Can I have a tour of your room?"

Leo's eyes opened wide and he sprang to his feet. "Sure. Okay, erm, well, there's my desk," he said feebly, waving his hand over the messy surface.

"Homework?" Harry suggested.

Leo shook his head. "Letter to Orion." He frowned. "I can't wait until I get to go to Hogwarts. I've got a calendar where I'm counting off the days until I can get my wand."

Harry grinned at him. "I used to have a calendar where I marked off the days between the terms every year. I could never wait to get back to Hogwarts."

Leo looked at him in awe now. "But--but you were suspended," he breathed. "For a fortnight. And--you're Head Boy."

Harry pressed his lips together. "I did something stupid. Being Head Boy is no guarantee that you're never going to do something stupid. It's also no guarantee that you're going to escape punishment if you do something stupid."

"In fact," came a high, soft voice from the doorway, "it's probably a guarantee that you're not going to escape punishment. They had to make an example of you," Mercy Pierson said, watching Harry and Leo with her arms crossed.

Harry was startled, but Mercy was an inherently startling child. Her pale eyes shone out from under her dark brows, luminous and disturbing.

"Hullo, Mercy. How are you?" He decided to look at her chin while speaking to her.

"Why is it," she began, "that adults think they can distract children by just being polite?"

Harry frowned; he hadn't been trying to do that. "An adult? Me?" He stopped and thought for a moment. "I certainly don't feel like an adult."

"But you are," Leo said quickly. "You're of age. You have your Apparition license. And remember, last summer Uncle Sirius said we're to behave for you, like the other adults."

"Well, I can't exactly Apparate here," Harry reminded him.

"Yeah. Mum's not too happy," Leo said, grimacing. "And Nana and Granddad. Aunt Cass and Uncle Floyd are really upset. Dad's the only one who doesn't mind. He can't Apparate very well."

"And he gets to have another Mercedes now, besides your sister," Harry said with a grin.

Mercy looked cross about that, folding her arms more tightly. But to his surprise, she didn't comment on her father's car. Instead, she said, "That was much better."

"What was?" Harry asked in confusion.

"The way you changed the subject. A lot smoother than just saying, 'How are you?'"

"Erm, okay," Harry said awkwardly. "You interrupted us, you know. Leo was showing me his room." He'd been trying to put her in her place, but he didn't think he succeeded.

"Thank you," Mercy said to this. Harry frowned again. He had thought that maybe he didn't understand eight-year-old girls, but he was quickly coming to the conclusion that his problem was with this eight-year-old girl in particular.

"Thank you for--" he prompted her.

"--for telling the truth."

Harry felt more than a little cross. You'd think everything I ever said was a lie.

"I like that girl," a voice hissed from under his shirt.

"You stay out of this," Harry hissed back at Sandy. Remus had brought her from Hogwarts the day before. Different operatives had been circulating in and out of the house since he'd arrived.

"There is no need to be snippy," Sandy informed him, sounding a bit snippy herself.

"Ooh!" Leo said suddenly. "That's right! Uncle Sirius told us about your snake. I almost forgot that you speak Parseltongue. Can I see her? Your snake?"

Harry took out Sandy and let the children see and touch her, followed by Leo finishing the tour of his room and Mercy showing him her room, while Leo made disparaging remarks about her dolls. She stuck her tongue out at her brother and Harry had to stop himself from giving them detentions, reminding himself that he wasn't at school.

"You be nice, Leo Pierson, or I'll take out my eyeballs," Mercy said to him

Harry dropped his jaw. It seemed like an odd threat. He turned to Leo. "She doesn't mean that."

Leo looked guilelessly at Harry. "Oh, she does," he said calmly. "She knows I hate it." He gave a little shudder. "It's like looking into something with bloody eyes..."

Harry shuddered himself, remembering the bloody eye-sockets of the blinded basilisk. He looked at Mercy. "You shouldn't say things like that, Mercy."

The disturbingly eyes looked calmly at him. "I'm not just saying it. Mum hates it, but not as much as Leo. I'm blind," she said simply to Harry. "No one told you?"

"No! I'd no idea. You get around so well, and you never bump into things. Those are glass eyes? They look so real!" And yet, he thought, they could look more real. That certainly explained a lot, he thought.

Leo laughed. "Oh, she's not really blind. Well, she is. What I mean is--"

But Mercy had taken out her eyes after all and was holding them in her hands; empty eye-sockets stared at Harry from beneath beetle-black brows. He fought back the scream trying to get out of the back of his throat. "What he means is I have magical eyes."

"Don't do that!" Leo complained, covering his own eyes so he couldn't see her. Without hesitating, she popped the magical eyes back into place; they swiveled uncertainly for a moment, then righted themselves and stared directly at Harry. He felt a bit faint.

"Erm," was all he could think to say.

"You weren't expecting that, were you?" she said, correctly judging this.

He swallowed. "Not for a minute," he admitted. "I--I know someone else with a magical eye," he said, trying to forgot how she'd looked without her eyes. "Mad-Eye Moody."

She nodded. "I know all about him. All magical eyes used to be like his, too strong, but they got better at making them more like normal eyes. The way they behave, anyway. But since he was an Auror he wanted to have one of the old-style eyes, from before they improved them so that people weren't seeing through wall and things. As if that's an improvement. I know they say it's a distraction to see through things, but still...When I first heard about his eye, I begged Mum and Dad to get me eyes that could do that, but they said I get into enough trouble without being able to do that."

Harry breathed a little easier. "So, you can't--"

"--I can't see through walls or my own head, no," she admitted. She sighed. "When I grow up I'm going to get some really good eyes. These are so boring."

Harry shrugged. "Most people don't have that option. Were--were you born blind?"

She shook her head. "Accident. Dad had bought some magical fireworks, and when I was four and Orion was eight, we got into them. One exploded without warning, and--"

Harry winced. "Ow. Sorry."

She sighed. "It was the bright light that did it, really. You have to be careful with magical fireworks. I looked right at it, from about two feet away. It's meant to be seen when it's far up in the sky, at night."

"Worse than looking right at the sun," Leo confirmed.

"And magic couldn't just--just heal you?"

Mercy scrutinized him, and he tried not to be distracted by the fact that he knew her eyes weren't real. He realized that another disturbing thing about them, apart from the very pale silvery-grey color, was that the pupils never changed size, the way a normal person's pupils would in different lights. "There's only so much magic can do, you know. It was easier to take out the damaged ones and put in magical replacements."

"Didn't they have a variety of colors?" he ventured, hoping she wouldn't be insulted.

She laughed. "I could have chosen a darker color. Except for blue; those are the ones like Moody's. I chose this pair because they look cool. Other people think they're weird. They can't ignore me."

That's for sure, Harry thought, unable to take his own eyes off her pale irises.

He thanked the children for the tour and continued down the stairs, going past the bedrooms belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Black and to Sirius' oldest sister and her husband. In the sitting room he found Sirius' mother sitting by the fire, reading a newspaper. "Oh, hullo, Mrs. Black," Harry said politely. She smiled placidly at him.

"Hello, Harry. Out and about, I see."

He nodded. "I reckon I could spend a fortnight in just my room and the pool, but then I'd probably be sent off to St. Mungo's after that, instead of back to Hogwarts."

She looked rather sternly at him now. "I know that Sirius is in charge of you, but when he and your father were suspended during their seventh year, I made them stay upstairs and didn't allow them to use the pool," she said stiffly. Harry goggled at her.

"My dad and Sirius were suspended? Why?" But even as he asked, he knew why. The Prank. Trying to get another student killed. Only--his dad had saved Snape.

She cleared her throat. "Well, it's not really my place to say..."

"Was it because Remus almost killed Snape?" he asked her. "Because I don't see why my father should have been suspended for that. He saved Snape's life."

She patted down her robes. "Ah, you know about that. Well, at the time, I didn't even know that Remus was a werewolf. So the story the school gave us was that Sirius and your father had been out after hours, sneaking into Hogsmeade, and were trying to lure another student into leaving as well. I didn't learn of what occurred until last year."

Harry nodded. "That's right--Dumbledore was trying to keep Remus a secret."

She sniffed. "There is such a thing as too many secrets, in my opinion."

Harry agreed. "I know what you mean." He sighed. "For instance, my aunt and uncle never told me anything about my parents when I was growing up. I only recently learned about my grandmother having been in Clan MacGregor, but I still don't know much at all about the Potters. Don't I have any Potter relatives?"

She drew her mouth into a line. "Not by blood. You have an elderly aunt by marriage. Great aunt, actually. Or great great. Something like that. She's in Alaska, I think. If you'd like to look through the old family Bible, you could find out more. It was rescued from your poor parents' house after they died..." She rose and pulled down a book from the shelves near the fireplace; it was quite as large as some of the largest spell books in the Hogwarts library. The leather cover bore a symbol that looked like an upside-down "V." "That's a drafting compass," she explained. "The Masonic symbol. And this is a pickaxe," she continued, moving her finger to that image.

Harry frowned. Strange things to have on a family Bible. She laid it on the low table before the sofa and opened it in the middle; there were a number of thick parchment pages inserted between the whisper-thin pages of the actual Bible. The thicker pages bore the record of the family births, baptisms, marriages and deaths. Harry flipped to the last parchment page with writing on it and found the record of his own birth. Only one event appeared after that--someone had written the date that his parents had been killed.

He sat next to Callisto Black on the squashy sofa and turned the pages backwards, seeing the record of his parents' marriage, of his own father's birth, of his grandparents' marriage. Elspeth King to Henry Potter at St. Andrew's, Glasgow. His grandfather's birth in Godric's Hollow, Wales. His great-grandfather's birth, and the birth of his brother, Jeremy, who later married an Othalie Chatham. There were no children from the marriage. She must be the aunt-by-marriage who's in Alaska, he thought.

Harry continued moving backwards through the nineteenth century, and then the eighteenth and seventeenth. To his surprise, the very first name in the book--a birth--recorded in the late sixteenth century was not Potter but Pitter. He reckoned that a lot of people weren't very good at writing in those days. But then he looked much more closely at the other early entries; they all said "Pitter." He hadn't been looking very closely at the last names, assuming them all to be the same.

"Erm," he said uncertainly, "did my father mention the family name changing?"

Mrs. Black looked where he was pointing and nodded. "Oh, that wasn't unusual. And I remember that your grandfather actually told me that before that, the story in the family went, the name was just plain Pitt. It had been changed from Pict, before that. Very old family, you have. The Picts were here long before the Scots came to the west coast of Scotland, from Ireland."

"So," he said, frowning, "that still doesn't explain why the changes were made."

"Well, you know mining has been going on here in Britain for quite some time. It was about a thousand years ago that coal started to replace wood and charcoal as a common fuel in the British Isles. Henry the Third granted a Royal Charter for the mining of coal at Newcastle over seven-hundred years ago. Your family were miners going way back. Why do you think there's a pickaxe on the front of that Bible? That's what a Pitter is, after all. One who goes 'doon the pit,' as they say."

"As who says?"

She laughed. "The pit means down into the mines. Colliers. That's where the Black family name comes from as well. 'Coleman' was another common name for colliers. Harry once told me--" Harry looked at her, very confused, so she explained, "I mean your grandfather, of course. That's what everyone called him. He once told me that the family wasn't called 'Potter' until moving to Godric's Hollow. Trying to get away from the mining tradition, put it behind them. His dad was Muggle, but his mum was the last heiress to the fortune of Bowman Wright. That's where the money comes from, of course."

"Bowman Wright?" The name sounded familiar to him, but he wasn't sure why. He knew he'd heard it somewhere.

"You didn't ever wonder? Bowman Wright invented the Golden Snitch. He became a rich man because of that."

Harry dropped his jaw. "You mean, the Snitch I go after when I play Quidditch?"

She nodded at him. "You're descended from the inventor. Yes."

Harry shook his head. "I never knew. Wow. I'm related to a famous wizard!" he crowed, then colored, remembering that he was rather famous himself.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "You have no idea. And it's not as though you're the only one. Bowman Wright came from Godric Gryffindor's line, but then, so did others."

Harry dropped his jaw. "Gryffindor? I'm--I'm actually related to Godric Gryffindor?"

She sniffed. "Well, he had three children, you know, and they all married. Oh, of course, the son was illegitimate and didn't have his name, and his daughters didn't carry on his name either. He was the first and last one to have the surname, 'Gryffindor.'"

Harry narrowed his eyes, thinking. "Wait--I'm remembering the story now. His son was the one born to his wife's sister, the one who was supposed to marry Slytherin..."

It was Callisto Black's turn to look surprised. "Well! I'm surprised you know that story! That one didn't make it into Hogwarts, A History, after all. Too risqué for some, I imagine. How do you know it?"

He looked at her grimly. "That's why I'm here, in part. Because of the descendent of Slytherin's fiancee, the one he cursed and turned into a selkie. My--my friend, Mariah, is descended from her. She's a selkie. And her mum, too. She's the one Lucius Malfoy kidnapped, and he stole Mariah's selkie skin, too. Mariah told me the story."

Mrs. Black shook her head. "No family loyalty, that man. I shouldn't be surprised..."

Harry frowned again. "What do you mean?"

"Well, he's a distant relative, but a relative nonetheless. But he shows no respect..."


"Malfoy. That was the surname of the twin sisters who were to marry Gryffindor and Slytherin. Gryffindor married his bride, of course. But Slytherin never married the other, and when she bore Gryffindor's child, she gave the child her own surname, Malfoy."

Harry couldn't believe it. "Godric Gryffindor's son was named Malfoy?"

She shook her head. "I couldn't believe it when young Draco Malfoy showed up here last summer. I had to bite my tongue at how funny it was to have all of you under the same roof. You, also from Gryffindor's line, young Malfoy, and then all of those Weasleys..."

"What do the Weasleys have to do with anything?"

She smiled. "I thought you knew the story? There were two brothers who married Rowena Ravenclaw and Helga Hufflepuff. They were named Weasley. I reckon I shouldn't have been so surprised that you all happened to be here last summer, now that I think about how terribly inbred some wizarding families are..." She stopped quickly, reddening. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply--"

"That's okay. I'm trying to remember...Didn't Rowena Ravenclaw's son go up to Orkney with Gryffindor's son and marry Gryffindor's half-sister? So, she would have been a Malfoy on her mother's side, and she married a Weasley..." He had to stop and laugh. Draco Malfoy would die. It also meant that Draco and Mariah were probably very distantly related. As well as Draco and Ginny, and the rest of the Weasleys.

"Wait--if I come from a Potter who married a Wright, who came from Gryffindor's son, who was named Malfoy, then I'm related to the Malfoys!" he said in horror.

She patted his arm sympathetically. "Many quite decent people are. But actually, I think the Wrights came from one of Gryffindor's daughters. Don't take it to heart. It was a long time ago. A thousand years! I wouldn't worry about it..."

He shook his head. Even if the Wrights came from one of Gryffindor's daughters, their mother was still a Malfoy. Maybe that was the real reason the Sorting Hat wanted to put me into Slytherin. He realized that, like Draco, he was also distantly related to Mariah, whose ancestor almost married Slytherin. She was devious enough that she probably would have been a good match for Slytherin, he realized. And considering that he had originally intended to give the amulet to his bride, and Harry might be one of her many descendants, it didn't seem so wrong for him to have the amulet.

He took the amulet out of his shirt. "This is how Slytherin saw his bride betray him."

Now Callisto Black looked truly shocked. "Where on earth did you get that? No one's seen it for centuries! It was always assumed lost..."

He grimaced. Should he give the version where he lived another life and gave it to himself, or the version where Munro Kirkner got it out of the lake and pawned it at Borgin and Burkes, where Ginny bought it? "It's a long story," he said simply, fingering it lightly.

She stared at him, speechless.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

He passed the rest of his suspension quite enjoyably, discussing wizarding genealogy with Sirius' mother. When Sirius came to visit on the nineteenth of March, it seemed almost sudden. The whole family gathered around the long kitchen table for their tea (Harry had stopped eating his meals in his room) and Sirius told him that they would be departing for Salisbury Plain in the morning, meeting Snape and the others in a wizarding pub nearby.

Harry slept that night only after rolling about restlessly, as he was anxious to see Ginny again--in person. He'd used the amulet to look at her from time to time during his suspension, but it just wasn't the same. He was also nervous about seeing Jeffries perform. He had bizarre dreams--at least they seemed so while he was dreaming them--which he could not remember in the morning. A general feeling of weirdness and forboding was all he retained from them.

They took the Portkey from the entrance hall of the castle, arriving in the wizarding pub with their hoods up, obscuring their faces. While he still had his hood up, Harry concentrated and made his hair grow out so that it was covering his collar now, and he did the same with his facial hair, which he hadn't bothered shaving that morning. It wasn't as long as when he'd gone to the British Museum in his other life, but it was all a lot longer than he usually wore it. He smoothed his fringe over his scar and took off his glasses, putting them in his pocket. The world around him was rather blurry now, but that couldn't be helped. When he took down his hood, Sirius was jolted.

"Hullo! I, erm, wasn't expecting that..."

Harry grinned at him. "Just don't forget to call me 'Neville.' It's my alias, ever since third year. Long story. Herm--I mean, one of my best friends goes by 'Lavender.'"

Sirius smirked. "Oh really? And how did you do that, anyway? With your hair?"

Harry shrugged. "Animagus training. Don't you do that?"

He grimaced. "I reckon that's the difference between being trained up properly and cadging what you can out of books." He took what looked like a wrapped sweet out of his pocket. "Thank goodness for Weasley Wizard Wheezes," he said, popping it into his mouth. He still had his hood up and was turned away from the bar patrons. After he'd chewed and swallowed, his face starting to look as though it was in flux, the features and coloring shifting and pulsing, until it finally resolved itself into Aberforth Dumbledore, alias Dick Abernathy. Harry grinned at him.

"Nice one, that. Hullo, Dick."

"Watch yer mouth, Neville." Sirius grinned at him with Aberforth's leathery face.

"The thing is," Harry said, starting to worry, "how will the others know we're us?"

"Perhaps it will be through your inimitable talent to be painfully obvious," came a familiar voice at his elbow. Harry whirled, seeing the face of Duncan MacDermid (and hearing his voice, as well) but seeing a look in the eyes that was pure Severus Snape. He assumed that it was Maggie standing next to him; she bore the appearance of a dark-haired witch he'd never met, and her arm was laced through his.

"Shall I call you--Peggy, perhaps?" he said to her.

"That could work," she agreed. "But then again--anyone who sees me who knows me will call me Dorcas Sinclair, so you should probably do the same."

When the others came forward, Harry had to get used to Ron being about six inches shorter and having short brown hair and dark eyes, Hermione being willowy and blonde and several inches taller than she'd been, with hazel eyes, and Ginny--

"Erm," he said uncertainly. "Katie?"

She grinned. "No, it's Ginny," she whispered in Katie's voice. "But you should probably call me Katie." He nodded, dumbfounded that she'd taken on the appearance of his former girlfriend. He was also finding it interesting that Hermione was a blonde, and one that bore more than a passing resemblance to Fleur Delacour. He could tell that this also wasn't lost on Ron.

"Remus is on another assignment, unfortunately, so he won't be joining us. Shall we be off?" Sirius said in Aberforth's voice.

They joined a long procession of robe-wearing people, many of whom Harry though had to be Muggles, based on their speech and behavior. They were playacting at being witches and wizards, which was mildly bizarre to him since the last time he'd been out in a large crowd of wizards, for the Quidditch World Cup, the wizards were supposed to be imitating Muggles. He could spot some real witches and wizards in the crowd, who were visibly sneering at the Muggles and their games of pretend. Their clothes also had an air of authenticity, whereas the Muggle robes all looked too clean, too perfect. Their hats were especially odd looking. Snape saw him looking at a very stiff wizard's hat going by on the head of a Muggle wizard-wannabe.

"Mass-produced," he sniffed. "The best hats are still hand-made."

Harry tried not to smile; he was still a bit cross with Snape. As they drew nearer to the standing stones, Harry looked around at the crowd in which he found himself; there were people as far as the eye could see. On the green plain around their goal there was also a sea of tents where some people had been camping out, which he was fairly certain would normally be frowned upon by the National Trust. It looked like it was shaping up to be far more than the thirty-thousand Hermione said were expected for the summer solstice, which was still three months away and usually more popular than the spring equinox.

It was difficult for him to think of the tall blonde girl as Hermione, but he said to her, as she walked beside him, "Why are there so many people? This is just the spring, after all."

She grimaced. "Well, it's also Jeffries, isn't it? Not to mention that since you went away on suspension, there's been the whole NHS debacle..."

He frowned. "What NHS debacle?" He didn't know much about the National Health Service, but he had acquired his glasses through the NHS since he was very small. The thought made him take his glasses out and put them on, to see better.

"Oh, they probably don't get any Muggle papers at Ascog, do they?" She grimaced. "It's that Harrington-Smythe woman again. She's dismantled the National Health Service. I mean, if he cures Ron of being a werewolf, that would be one thing. It isn't as though he could just walk into a doctor's surgery and ask for something like that. But that's something--well, really extraordinary. The Prime Minister himself has been encouraging people to go to Jeffries as an alternative, even for little things, if you can believe it."

They finally drew near enough to see the ring of standing stones properly. With his glasses on, Harry could see that there was a broad stone in the center, over which Rodney Jeffries himself stood, with his arms raised, welcoming the faithful. He wore a robe of purest white and presided over the huge stone as though it was an altar, his altar, the place where someone or something would be sacrificed to the glory of him. Harry looked at Jeffries and swallowed.

"I can believe it."

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