Albus Dumbledore Severus Snape
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 10/14/2004
Updated: 11/05/2004
Words: 419,861
Chapters: 24
Hits: 157,499

Harry Potter and the Veil of Mystery


Story Summary:
Suddenly with a higher profile after being proved right about Voldemort's return, Harry's use of Voldemort's name around Hogwarts gains popularity. It also attracts Voldemort's attention in the form of a series of attacks, and Harry soon finds that he is shouldering a burden even greater than the prophecy--the likelihood that Sirius's fate could come to his friends, who will stop at nothing to protect him.

Chapter 11

Chapter Summary:
Sure that he is the only one in danger from Voldemort at the moment, since the attacks come through the telepathic link, Harry is dealt an emotional blow when the first person other than himself suffers for his actions.

Chapter 11

The Price of Leadership

Harry wandered through a department store looking at socks. He thought of Dobby, because the store was having a sale on unmatched pairs

Suddenly, he was standing in a graveyard. He started walking, having decided to keep walking the whole time, to see if it could prevent him from thinking he was immobilized. Come from a place of love, Dumbledore had said. Harry thought of his friends, listened to the phoenix song. Again, Voldemort materialized in front of him.

"Keeping busy, Potter?" The familiar voice sounded greatly amused.

"Yeah, I was very busy being supported by all my friends, thanks. How about you? Plans for world domination still on track?" Keep thinking about love, Harry thought. Keep that feeling in mind.

Voldemort ignored the question. "And will this support help you, in here, where they cannot reach you?" he sneered.

In spite of his effort, Harry suddenly stopped walking in surprise. Could Voldemort really not understand this?

"Of course it helps," Harry said, in a tone that suggested that it was obvious. "Do you not even understand how people work? Is any trace of humanity that far behind you?" Think about love, he thought. He saw Ginny's face. He saw Dumbledore's.

"I did not come here to discuss my humanity with you, Potter. You will cease using my name, and cease encouraging others to do it."

"Yeah," Harry replied, "but you know I'm not going to do that. So why are you really here?"

"If you do not stop what you are doing, you will continue to suffer."

Harry almost rolled his eyes. "No kidding? Thanks for telling me, I had no idea. I thought you were just here to socialize." He thought of Hermione, of Ron.

"You dare to mock me?" Voldemort looked disgusted and outraged. "Do you know what happened to the last foolish individuals who mocked me?" His tone suggested that he couldn't believe Harry was so stupid.

"Umm, let me guess... you had a good laugh, and then shared tea and biscuits? Oh, no, wait, you tortured and murdered them, I'll bet. See, the problem is, torture and murder are what you do anyway, whether people mock you or not. And especially me... you've been trying to kill me anyway, since you got back, so it's not as though I have a lot to lose. I think I'll keep on mocking you." He listened to the phoenix song.

Voldemort was snarling, obviously furious. "Very well, Potter... I weary of this discussion anyway. I will weaken you, and destroy you, and the last voice you hear will be your own, pleading for mercy before you die. You will regret your attitude." Knowing what was coming, Harry readied to dodge out of the way. But what to get out of the way of? Voldemort did not seem to be holding a wand.


All Harry knew was pain. He was screaming, but he was barely aware of it. He did manage to have a thought this time: I have to wake up, he thought, but it was a dim one, next to all the pain. Then he was grabbed, by whom he didn't know, and shaken. He reached out, and felt something solid. More by reflex than by thought, he grabbed it and held on. The sixth year boys' dormitory swam into view. He stopped screaming as he looked down and saw red hair below the shoulders of whoever was holding him. He moved back just enough to see Ginny's face, near tears and terrified. He took a deep breath, and said to Ginny, "Thanks." Then he held her again, fiercely, feeling like he never wanted to let go. She squeezed him so hard he had to make an effort to take his next breath. "Sorry," she whispered, and eased off, squeezing him nearer the shoulders instead.

Looking up, Harry saw the deeply concerned faces of Ron, Neville, Hermione, and Professor Dumbledore, who were at the side of his bed. He appreciated their concern, but he didn't feel like he could talk just yet. He kept on holding Ginny; it seemed like something that he had to focus on, that he drew strength from. He just held her, and she him, for as much as two or three minutes, he wasn't sure. He started feeling better, more quickly than he had the morning before. Holding Ginny a little more tightly, Harry found his voice. "This really helps," he said seriously.

"Part of the effect of the Cruciatus Curse is to make one feel cut off from everything, everything except pain," Dumbledore said. "After even a short time of such isolation, human contact is very healing." He paused. "Are you ready to tell us about it, or would you like more time?"

"I guess I should go ahead and do it," he said, starting to slowly disengage himself from Ginny. "Much as I'd like to, I can't hug Ginny all day."

Playfully grabbing Harry again and holding him tightly, Ginny said, "Sure you can." He chuckled and let himself be held again, not protesting.

Dumbledore chuckled as well. "You can hold her for as long as you like, Harry. I will have Fawkes fetch Professors Snape and McGonagall." Fawkes was gone instantly, but echoes of his song remained. Within less than a minute, Snape and McGonagall were in the dormitory, and Fawkes resumed his song. Snape and McGonagall conjured chairs at the side of Harry's bed and sat.

Harry finally, reluctantly, let go of Ginny, but he kept an arm around her shoulder, and she, one around his waist as they turned so that both were facing the side of the bed. Hermione walked over to the bed, sat on Harry's other side, and took his free hand. McGonagall took in this scene with obvious discomfort; it looked as though only iron self-control was keeping her from criticizing the blatant display of affection in front of her. Harry couldn't help but smile.

"What is it you find so amusing?" McGonagall asked, but Harry thought she knew.

Feeling more fond of her than careful, Harry said, "The look on your face. I know what you're thinking, what you're trying not to say, and how hard it is. I appreciate the effort."

Embarrassment, annoyance, and affection all flashed across her features in seconds, though in such subtle ways that only people who had spent much time around her would have noticed. Affecting a stern expression, she replied, "My expression of support will take the form of allowing you to have this moment of humor at my expense."

"Thank you," he said, looking at her with unabashed fondness. She looked down, and he thought he saw a small smile on her face.

"The dream, Professor Potter?" prompted Snape, in the tone of one whose forbearance was being sorely tested.

"Yes, sorry," he agreed. He told them about it, every detail he could recall. He saw eyebrows raised near the end, especially Ron's.

"You deliberately mocked him?" Ron exclaimed, eyes wide. "What in the world did you do that for?"

"I believe, Mr. Weasley, that he was trying to anger the Dark Lord, to provoke him. To try to goad him into a mistake of some sort."

Harry nodded to Snape. "It doesn't look like it did much of anything, but it seemed at the time like it was worth a try. He had this look of outrage, as if he was shocked that anyone would mock him, like he couldn't believe it. I thought that might be a weakness."

"It may yet prove to be one," Snape replied. "The result of this endeavor may not be one that is immediately apparent. One thing which is highly likely is that he will redouble his efforts to harm you."

"That was also what I had in mind," agreed Harry, as he saw Ron and Neville look shocked at the idea. "The harder he tries, the more likely he is to make a mistake. I was hoping that I could provoke him into trying again tonight, maybe it would be harder for him to do it two times but he might try anyway. If I could get back to sleep, I think it's worth trying."

"It is profoundly brave of you to wish to try, Harry," Dumbledore said gently, "but I think that you will not be able to get back to sleep. The stress of the Cruciatus Curse tends to keep one awake for a while. I suggest that you think about some kind of diversion. As for me, I must leave, and discuss this with Professors Snape and McGonagall." Snape grasped Fawkes's tail, said "Headmaster's quarters," and was gone.

Neville asked, "Why did he have to use Fawkes?"

"He can't be seen leaving Gryffindor Tower," Harry explained. "There's probably people who heard me scream outside the dormitory door, and if they see him, it'll be all around the school. People would wonder why."

"Neville," said Dumbledore seriously, "I must ask you not to reveal to anyone Professor Snape's presence here, or any inferences it may cause you to make. Can you do that?"

"Of course, sir," Neville said. Harry got the impression that Neville only kept indignation out of his voice because it was Dumbledore he was talking to.

"Thank you, Neville. Minerva and I will be off. Harry, I am of course at your disposal at any time." They left.

"Oh, Harry," said Hermione, burying her head in Harry's shoulder. "You're so brave, I really fear for you sometimes."

Harry looked puzzled. Ron, seeing this, said, "I think he's trying to work out whether that's a compliment or not, Hermione."

"You know exactly what I mean, Ron," she said, a bit sternly.

Ron sighed. "Yeah, I suppose I do." To Harry, he said, "It's like, it's great that you're so brave and everything, but sometimes I think we wonder if you're a little too brave... if you know what I mean. I mean, one of those in one night, that's plenty."

"Maybe you're right... I just want to win this, I want to beat him," Harry said.

"You will, Harry, you will," assured Ginny. "And we'll be right here with you."

"Hey, how about another fly? That was good yesterday. Ginny, you can come with us."

"That sounds good," Ginny agreed. "Hermione, you might want to try to get some sleep. It wasn't that long after I relieved you that this happened, you couldn't have hardly gotten any sleep."

"No, I think I had just dropped off when it happened," Hermione said. "I don't know if I'll be able to, but I'll give it a try. If I can't, I'll just take a nap in the afternoon. You all have a nice fly." She gave Harry's hand a last squeeze and climbed into Dean's bed. Ginny Summoned her broom from her dormitory as Ron and Harry grabbed theirs, and they headed out the portrait hole.

Only the very beginnings of dawn were visible as they strode out of the castle. "Why were there no Gryffindors in the common room?" Ginny asked. "Some of them had to have heard it."

"Bet you anything there were some, and McGonagall sent them back to their beds on her way out," said Ron. "Well, Harry, you lead. We'll follow."

They kicked off the ground, and again, Harry felt a refreshing breeze. Fawkes left his shoulder and flew freely, never straying far from Harry. They had flown for about five minutes when Harry saw a lone figure run out of the castle toward the Quidditch pitch, which they were flying over. Harry wondered if it was one of the first years and whether he should ignore it, but it was still very early, so he decided he'd at least find out who it was. Maybe Hermione wanted to tell them something, or even Dumbledore.

"Ron! Ginny!" He got their attention, and pointed toward the ground and the lone figure, who was still running. He motioned for them to follow, which they did.

Harry had just headed for the ground when he heard a terrible scream coming from roughly where the figure was. A huge burst of adrenaline flowed through Harry as he went into an all-out dive. He yelled over his shoulder, "Fawkes! Get Dumbledore!", but he couldn't see Fawkes now. Harry assumed he must be doing it already. The figure continued screaming; Harry peered to try to see who it was. He was almost close enough...

It was Hermione.

Harry felt dread as he zoomed down even faster. As he focused on getting to the ground as soon as he could, out of nowhere, he was hit by the pain again. Every square centimeter of his body felt excruciating pain, and he forgot that he was on a broom, where he was, and what he was doing; there was just the pain. He fell off his broom, but he had no idea that he had done it.

Fairly quickly-faster than either of the last two nights, but Harry still couldn't say how long-the pain stopped, and Harry slowly became aware of his chaotic surroundings. He thought he was falling, but he realized that Dumbledore was holding onto him. If he had been falling, he wasn't anymore; Dumbledore was holding Fawkes's tail.

"Harry! Grab his tail!" Dumbledore shouted, moving Harry's hand to near Fawkes's tail. He held it with all his strength. "Do you have it?" Dumbledore again shouted. "Yes," Harry shouted back. Dumbledore made a motion that Harry couldn't see, then released Harry. Harry couldn't imagine what Dumbledore was doing. How could he release him and Fawkes? He was in midair too, wasn't he?

Harry had no further chance to worry about it; still carrying Harry, Fawkes disappeared, and reappeared just above the ground on which Hermione lay sprawled. Harry released Fawkes, who immediately started to sing. Hermione weakly looked up at him. "Oh, Harry..." Harry sat on the ground, pulled Hermione to a sitting position, and held her tightly; he had to fight back tears. This war he had started had claimed its first victim other than himself. In despair, he wondered whether there would be more, and who they would be.

Harry was soon made to wonder if Hermione was reading his mind. She looked into his eyes, and said, "It's not your fault, Harry. Don't ever think that it is." He tried to answer, but choked up instead, and he put his head on her shoulder and hung on. He briefly wondered who was comforting who. I guess both of us, he thought.

After a minute, she said, "Oh, Harry... I thought I had some idea... you and Neville are right, it just can't be described..." She trailed off as Neville came running up.

"Hermione! I thought I heard you scream! Did they do the Curse on you?" he asked, breathlessly.

Still holding Hermione, Harry nodded. "Both of us."

Hermione's body jerked suddenly as she looked at Harry. "You too? Again?"

Harry realized it made sense that she hadn't known; when he was attacked, it was the initial few seconds after hers, and he knew that she was bound to be badly disoriented. "They got me in midair, I fell off my broom. Professor Dumbledore saved me, but I don't really know what happened. He had Fawkes drop me here, I guess so we could take care of each other."

Hermione held him again; Harry knew that she was now thinking of what happened to him, rather than to her. "It wasn't that long, less time than with Voldemort. I think you had it longer. I heard you scream too; I was diving toward you when whoever it was got me."

"Nott," she said.

"Not what?" he asked, confused.

"No, it was Nott. Theodore Nott, the Slytherin sixth year, one of the ones whose father is a Death Eater."

"Did you see him?"

"No, but..." she released Harry and took out her wand. "Accio Map!" she said, and the Marauder's Map flew into her hand. "I took out the map back in the dormitory a few minutes after you guys left... I was sure I was over-worrying, but I did it anyway. I saw Nott heading out to the pitch, and I knew it wasn't good. I ran out there as fast as I could, and started yelling for you. I never saw him; either he was hiding, or was under an Invisibility Cloak. I saw you start to fly down, and then..." She shook her head.

Harry looked at the map. It showed two groups of dots: one, which included Snape, McGonagall, and Nott, was heading toward the castle; the other, comprised of Dumbledore, Ron, and Ginny, was heading toward them. Harry looked up and saw them approach.

"Are you and Hermione all right, Harry?" asked Dumbledore.

"I guess the answer is yes, but neither of us feels great right now," Harry said.

"No, I would not think so. I would suggest you go to Madam Pomfrey's, but I suspect there would be little she could do for you. You may want to head back inside, to your dormitory. It is probably safe outside here now, but given what has just happened, inside would be better. Hermione, I assume you saw Nott on the map, and came out to warn the others?"

She nodded. "She very probably saved your lives, all three of you," Dumbledore said to Harry, Ron, and Ginny. "Nott had an Invisibility Cloak and was on a broom; he would have Cursed each of you in turn, causing you to fall off your brooms and be killed, then flown off, away from Hogwarts. It is highly questionable whether Fawkes could have summoned me in time to help you, and I could not possibly have saved all three in any case."

"Why did he do this, sir?" asked Hermione. "It isn't because..."

Dumbledore nodded somberly. "He cheerfully admitted it to me when I apprehended him. He was acting on Voldemort's instructions, given within the hour."

Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville sat in a semicircle of five chairs in the Gryffindor common room at a few minutes before 5:00 a.m. The rules said that no one was supposed to be in the room until 6:00, but none of them really cared about the rules right then.

Harry was in misery. Hermione, the one Cursed longest and for the first time, should have been the one worst off, but Harry was drowning is a sea of guilt. I caused this, he kept thinking. This wouldn't have happened if not for what I did. He didn't say anything about it, because he didn't want to seem to be whining about his own guilt when Hermione had been Cursed. But the others could tell.

Neville simply came out and asked, "Harry, did you blame yourself for what happened to me at the Department of Mysteries?"

"Of course I did, Neville," Harry answered. "I was responsible for everything that happened there. I was the one who took us there."

"See, I don't think so," replied Neville with uncharacteristic boldness. "I don't think that you 'took' me there; I think that I made you let me come. You didn't want me, Ginny, or Luna coming because you felt responsible for us. But you weren't. We were. We chose to come. You need to understand that, Harry. Only I am responsible for what I do. Even if you ask me to do something, and I do it, I'm still choosing. You have nothing to feel responsible for. And Hermione... you know very well that she would have knowingly run full-on into a Cruciatus Curse if it even meant a chance at saving your life. And there was no reason to think anyone would be in any danger except you, and you chose that. Do you think Ron and Ginny blame you because they could have been killed by Nott along with you? We do this because we believe in you, Harry, and what you're doing. You don't help us by deciding that you're responsible for everything that happens to us.

"Do you know why I ran into that room at the Department of Mysteries? Ten of them and one of you, and I think I knew that I had no chance. But I couldn't live with myself if I had done anything else. I didn't want to have to look in the mirror and know that I ran away while a friend was cornered. You wouldn't have wanted me running into that room. You would have wanted me to be safe. Maybe it was a stupid thing to do, but you didn't ask me to, I chose to. So appreciate what Hermione did and think about helping her, and stop feeling guilty. She deserves better." Neville looked around as if expecting someone to challenge him, then looked ahead again, as nobody did.

There was a short silence, then Ron said, "You know, Neville, I'm sure that's the longest I've ever heard you talk. You made a lot of sense." He looked at Harry.

"You should do it more often," said Ginny, to Neville. "He's right, Harry. We all know it. You know it too if you'll admit it. I understand why you feel that way. Something horrible happened to Hermione. But it's Voldemort you should be angry at, not yourself. Neville is really right. We all make our choices."

Harry was silent for a moment. He looked at Hermione to see if he would see an accusation in her eyes, but all he saw was a plea. He exhaled.

"Look... I know Neville's right, of course, especially about you, Hermione. This goes back to our conversation, remember, in the library on my birthday? You talked about this exact situation, about how it was your choice if you want to risk yourself for me. I guess I understood it in my head, but not in the actual situation. I know it's right. But if you were in my position... I know I have to get used to it. I just wonder if I can."

"I know it must be hard, Harry," Hermione said. "But remember what I said; imagine how you'd be if our positions were reversed. If you had to endure the Curse for a few seconds to save all our lives you wouldn't hesitate, and you'd be annoyed at us for worrying so much about it. Look at you. You're enduring the Curse for far less tangible reasons. They're important, and I agree with them, but you see what I mean."

"Again, you're right," Harry admitted. "I don't know what else I can say."

The others by unspoken agreement decided to leave it there, and let Harry work through whatever he had to work through. They talked for a while about various aspects of the situation. Harry, Neville, and Hermione exchanged impressions of the Curse, while Ron and Ginny voiced their fervent hope that they would never face it. Sometimes they went silent for a few minutes at a time.

As 6:00 approached, Harry said, "You know, maybe we should all go back to the dormitory. People are going to start coming out here, and I don't know if I want to be asked twenty times what happened."

"We'll just tell them once," suggested Hermione. "We'll pick a time, like 6:30, and tell people that's when we'll tell anyone who wants to know what happened." Seeing Harry's reluctant expression, she added, slightly reproachfully, "Look, I know that speaking to a large group of people about something like this isn't your idea of fun. But they support you, they're concerned about you, they want to know what happened. We happen to be out here, and it seems wrong to hide."

He knew she was right, and felt somewhat abashed that wanting to hide had been his first impulse. "I didn't say I wouldn't do it," he said defensively.

She opened her mouth to respond, then changed her mind and said nothing. After a few more seconds she said to the others, "So, 6:30, then?" Ron, Ginny, and Neville nodded. Harry reflected that it was strange that he hesitated to do as Hermione suggested, but had made a special effort to tell the first years what had happened yesterday. He had done it mainly for the Slytherins, he knew, because he was proud of how they were defying Malfoy. Remembering how he'd felt at the Hog's Head, how he hadn't wanted to talk to that group, he wondered if he didn't mind talking to the first years because unlike this or the Hog's Head, it had been his idea. He also wondered if being a teacher and having more experience speaking in front of groups, even if for only a week, had made him less resistant to what Hermione was suggesting. He knew that last year, he would have strenuously resisted telling seventy people what had just happened. This is what I get for urging people to say Voldemort's name, he thought.

Hermione spoke, with more compassion this time, and Harry was again made to wonder if she could somehow read his thoughts. "It's important to let people know about this, Harry, because after getting people to say his name, you're even more of a symbol. People are still nervous about saying his name, and what's happening to you is the reason why. They fear the consequences. Part of what you have to do is win this fight, but you have to do it publicly, so people can see. The more people know about what happened, the more confidently they'll say his name once you've won this, and that's the whole point of what you're doing."

He nodded solemnly, again knowing that she was right. He hadn't intended for his life to become a public spectacle, but he now understood that by urging others to say Voldemort's name, he had involved them in what had happened. Once word starts getting out, he thought, the Prophet's bound to send someone out. Boy, I hope it's not Skeeter. That thought prompted him to ask, "Hermione, whatever happened with Skeeter? The year's up, is she back reporting again?"

A hard expression came over her features, and she shook her head. "She called me in the fireplace after the school year ended, to make sure she could write again, since I'd said she couldn't write for a year. But we got into an argument, because she was being horrible and nasty. I tried to tell her that she shouldn't write about us, or write to hurt people... she seems to have a big problem with that. I ended up telling her, fine, you can wait another year, if you're going to be that way about it. She was really angry, but there's nothing she can do about it, and she knows it. Maybe she'll think it over, and decide that writing responsibly is better than not writing at all."

Harry's first reaction was to wonder whether that was such a good idea, but he didn't feel like debating Hermione right then. Also, he wasn't unhappy that if the Prophet sent someone, it wouldn't be Skeeter. He hated to imagine how she would twist what was happening

At 6:00, students started coming down from their dormitory rooms. Word about what would happen at 6:30 started to spread; people who were sleeping in were woken up. The first year boys had been awoken by Harry's scream and had not gone back to sleep. One of them, David Finch-Fletchley, approached Harry shortly after 6:00. Harry told him what would happen, and on an impulse, asked him if he had arranged with the Slytherin first years how they were going to find out about the dream.

"Yes, I'm supposed to meet Hedrick at 6:15 to talk about whatever I know, and plan how to meet them to tell them more later."

"If you can do this very quietly," Harry said, "tell them that they, the Slytherin first years, can come with you to Gryffindor Tower and hear it for themselves." David's face lit up.

Hermione looked askance at Harry. "You do know that it's against the rules for one house's students to enter the common room of another house, right?" she asked. Harry just looked at her, and she sighed. "I was just mentioning it. You could probably break any rule you wanted right now and no one would say anything."

"Just this one, right now. You think that can be done in time, David?"

David nodded. "They stay pretty close to each other. Hedrick'll run and tell them, and they'll all come. I'll go try to find him now." He ran off.

"These first years seem to do a lot of running, don't they?" Harry mused. "I don't remember running so much when we were first years."

"Kind of depends on whether you include running away from three-headed dogs, I reckon," said Ron.

"We didn't have much to tell the other houses then," Hermione said. "They do, and it's nice to see all the first years united about something. That something being you, of course, Harry."

"Good idea to tack that on, there, you never know when Harry's going to be in one of his 'thick' periods," joked Ron.

"Thank you for that, Ron," said Harry, deadpan.

"No problem, mate."

The room filled up quickly. Nobody said much to the five that had been in Harry's dormitory, because they would soon be telling the story anyway. Two minutes before they were to begin, Harry saw the portrait hole open, and one by one, the ten Slytherin first years came in. This caused a minor stir, but nobody particularly objected.

At 6:30, Harry stood up. The room was very full; he assumed that everybody from Gryffindor was there. As he was about to start talking, the portrait hole opened again, and David Finch-Fletchley appeared. He was followed by, to Harry's surprise, Justin and Ernie.

"Heard there was a spot of rule-breaking going on here, Harry," smiled Justin.

"Yes, and as a prefect, I had to check it out," added Ernie.

Harry couldn't help but glance at David, who shrugged in a please-don't-be-mad-at-me way. Harry smiled, and said to the room, "These are my friends, Justin and Ernie, from Hufflepuff. I didn't invite them, but I'm glad they're here. Now, these ten," he said, gesturing to the Slytherin first years, "I did invite, on my personal authority as a Hogwarts teacher." He paused for a second, then said with a small smile, "However, if nobody happened to mention this to Professor McGonagall, that would be all right with me." Most everyone laughed. "I've pushed her far enough with the rules, with Hermione and Ginny sleeping in our dormitory."

This did not cause a stir among Gryffindors, who already knew, but the Slytherins were quite surprised, and Justin and Ernie were astonished. "McGonagall let you... you mean she..." Ernie trailed off, still shocked.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Ernie Macmillan is speechless," grinned Justin. "Mark this day on your calendars." This got a big laugh; Ernie gave Justin a dirty look that Harry could tell was not serious.

"There is actually a good reason for it, Ernie," Harry explained. He told them about the need for and helpfulness of physical contact after the Curse, and that it was better for him if someone was standing by. "Now, for some reason," Harry went on, "my friend Ron here wasn't up for the job."

As the laughter died down, Ron responded, "Sorry, Harry, you're just not my type."

"Anyway," Harry continued, "I invited the Slytherin first years because, besides the fact that I like them, they're having a hard time in Slytherin, because of a certain ex-prefect, and I want to support them. I want them to know firsthand what's going on with me." The Slytherins smiled, and Justin and Ernie looked stunned.

"You mean, Dumbledore took away Malfoy's badge?" asked Ernie. When Harry nodded, Justin and Ernie made animated gestures of triumph, which got more laughs.

Having given them the background, and with Fawkes on his shoulder, Harry told the story about the dream. As he proceeded, the gasps from the crowd got bigger and bigger as he mocked Voldemort more and more blatantly. Harry's tea-and-biscuits comment got something between a laugh and a gasp. When he relayed Voldemort's final threat, there was silence. Harry added that he wasn't all that bothered by it, because it was probably nothing Voldemort wouldn't do anyway. "He just wants to find another way to threaten me, and I think it frustrates him that his threats don't work. Since he can't really threaten me with much worse than will already happen if he catches me, if anyone's going to defy him, I'm the perfect person to do it.

"Now, some of you are probably wondering why I went out of my way to mock him like I did." There were quite a few murmurs of assent. "Part of it was natural; I think he was being a bit dense, as if everyone's just going to bow before him if he makes a threat. But I was also hoping to make him angry, maybe get him to make a mistake."

"Like what?" asked a fourth year named Jennifer.

"I was hoping to recognize it when I saw it," chuckled Harry wryly. "I mean, if I know I'm going to get tortured anyway, I may as well try to accomplish something. So, he had enough of talking and hit me with the Curse. Ginny was there to catch me, help wake me up, and cling to for dear life for five minutes or so. It is really amazing how that is. Nothing was so important as holding onto someone. Then I told Professor Dumbledore about the dream. But, unfortunately, there's more that happened this morning, so I'll just tell it, with help from my friends as needed."

Harry explained how they'd gone out for a fly, then asked Hermione to give them her version of the next events. "I used this magical device we have that lets you know where people are at Hogwarts," she said, not wanting to be too specific about the Map. "I saw that Theodore Nott was heading out onto the pitch, and considering what time it was, I knew I had to warn them. I ran out, yelling to them; I didn't see Nott, but I knew he was there. I saw Harry start to come down. Then the next thing I knew, I was on the ground in unbelievable pain. Nott had done the Cruciatus Curse on me." Most gasped, especially the younger students.

"I can't believe it... I know he's a sixth year, but isn't he still a bit young to be doing that kind of thing?" asked Ernie.

"His father's a Death Eater, Ernie," Harry pointed out. "They probably teach it to their kids at a young age. Anyway, I still have no idea that Nott's there, I hear Hermione scream, I'm going to the ground at full speed. Then he hits me with it, and I fall off my broom." There were more gasps, and the Slytherins looked especially frightened. "I don't exactly know what happened next, so I have to hand it over to Ron and Ginny, who were behind me."

Ron stood next to Harry. "Well, I saw Harry scream and go over, and to be honest, I thought he was done for. I dove for him, was going to try to catch him or at least break his fall, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have made it. But a lot of other stuff was happening. First, when Hermione screamed, Fawkes disappeared. He'd been flying with us. I figured Fawkes was going to get Professor Dumbledore. A couple of seconds later, Dumbledore is there, holding onto Fawkes' tail. Now, several things happen at once here, and Ginny may have to help me. Dumbledore sees Harry falling. Fawkes disappears, and reappears next to Harry as he's falling-and Fawkes stops flying, they both are falling with Harry. Dumbledore Summons Harry's Firebolt, grabs Harry, and-still falling-grabs Fawkes's tail. Fawkes starts flying again." There were low whistles and other noises of appreciation from the audience. "They must have been ten feet from the ground at the end. Ginny, can you pick it up here? I think you saw more of the rest than I did."

Ginny stood on Harry's other side. "When Dumbledore got ahold of Harry, he had to do something with him, quick, if he was going to catch whoever did it. Remember, it's been only about fifteen seconds or so since Harry got Cursed. But Dumbledore tells Harry to grab Fawkes's tail, and Harry manages to do it. Then Fawkes takes Harry over to Hermione. They'd both been Cursed, they could hold onto each other. See how Dumbledore's thinking of stuff like this, even with so much going on.

"Now, Fawkes disappears, and Dumbledore should be hanging onto nothing in midair, but he grabs Harry's Firebolt that he'd Summoned. He immediately did a spell that sent a kind of a... wave of the color red, is the best way I can put it. It looked like it was designed to make everything it touched red; suddenly we can see someone on a broom who we couldn't see before. Ron and I tear off after him, but it wasn't like Dumbledore needed our help. Nott could've Cursed us off our brooms and made Dumbledore's job harder, so we weren't thinking really straight. We just wanted to get whoever did this.

"I don't think Dumbledore ever moved. He sent another spell at Nott, and just yanked him toward him, like with a big hook or something. They set down, and Ron and I did too. Dumbledore takes off the Invisibility Cloak and sees who it is. Dumbledore says, 'On whose instructions was this done?' Nott smiles and says, 'I have the honor of serving the Dark Lord.'" The room gasped. "Dumbledore asks him when he got the instructions; Nott says it was just minutes before Harry, Ron and I went out on the pitch."

Harry took the floor again. "This makes sense when put together with my dream. I was going out of my way to get him angry. So, he finished talking to me, contacted his spy at Hogwarts, and he must have basically said, kill Potter the next chance you get. He had a perfect chance there; he could have snuck up on all three of us, Cursed us off our brooms, had us fall to our deaths, and flew away. It should've worked. It would have, but... Hermione saved all our lives by running out there. She knew she was running straight into danger, but-"

"But I followed the example you have set for us, many times," she pointed out. And suffered like I've suffered, many times, Harry thought, but did not say.

"Anyway, so it looks like Voldemort was mad enough at me to try to order me killed, but given what happened, it looks like a bad idea. He had a spy at Hogwarts, and he got his cover blown just so he can try to kill me? Without a plan worked out well in advance? You don't blow a spy just because you're mad. I think I really ticked him off, and he took a chance, which failed. Not good planning. So, this can be seen in a good way overall."

"Yeah, but maybe there's more than one older Slytherin he can use as a spy," said a seventh year. "Malfoy, and those two baboons."

"Somehow I don't think he's going to use Malfoy," Harry said. "Anyone they use has a decent chance of being caught, and I don't think they'll take that risk. But Crabbe and Goyle, yes, I can see that. They don't do much but take up space around Malfoy."

"We'll try to find out what we can," said David Septus. "We'll let you know if we find out anything." The other Slytherins nodded.

Harry walked over to them, and crouched to be at eye level with them. "Look... if you do that... please, be extremely careful. This has changed now, you're not just risking getting bullied by Malfoy. If you find another spy, and they know you found them, they could torture you, they could kill you. Think about that."

The Slytherins mostly looked somber, but a few looked defiant. "Do you think he actually would? Kill us, if we found out something?" asked Helen.

"No, probably not, because that would blow his cover, too," Harry admitted. "What would probably happen is that he would do a Memory Charm on you, make you forget what happened. But we can't be sure. Not everyone can do a Memory Charm, and they can be broken. If you find a spy and he knows it, he could decide his best chance is to kill you and get out of the school before he's caught. You just can't know. But this is serious. I know you understand that idea, but it feels different after something really bad happens to you, or someone you care about." He glanced over at Hermione.

Hedrick stepped forward. "We'll be really careful, we promise."

Harry nodded. "Okay... well, we should finish up now, and go over to the Great Hall while breakfast is still being served."

"Can't, Harry," Ron said. He was looking at the Map, but holding it low and behind a chair so no one else could see it. "Pansy Parkinson's right outside the portrait hole."

"Great," Harry muttered. "Obviously, Justin, Ernie, and the Slytherins can't leave until she's gone. I'll step outside and tell her to go away. Nobody leave until I come back."

Harry climbed outside the portrait hole, and was face to face with Pansy Parkinson. "You know, this is an odd place for you to be hanging out," he said.

To his great surprise, she looked anxious. She said, "Oh, Harry, I'm glad it's you that came out. I want to talk to you. I want to help you."

Harry was stunned; this was the last thing he expected to hear. He said nothing, but his expression spoke volumes. Parkinson seemed to understand.

"I know what you're thinking, why should I believe her, she's Draco's friend, she's still with him, she just wants to find out stuff to help him. Is that about right?"

Harry nodded. "Also, 'she's dumping him like a hot potato because he lost his badge and his power, but if he ever gets it back...'"

She looked down. "Yes, I understand that too. The timing looks pretty suspect. And it is related, but not in the way you'd think." She paused, then looked at him intently, as if it were very important that he be made to understand. "You see, Draco's just gone off the deep end. He's been in a rage against you being made a teacher. It got worse all week, especially after you embarrassed him both times in the Great Hall, and then last night, when he lost his badge, he just lost it. He says he wants to kill you if he gets a chance. I don't mean that as a figure of speech, I mean, he actually wants to kill you. I think he's serious.

"I had no problem with the Snackboxes thing at first. It was a prank, fine, no problem, no one gets hurt. But after you found out, and told him to stop it, I tried to get him to stop, told him it wasn't worth it. But he wouldn't listen. Something's changed... it's like, he's become this ugly person I want nothing to do with. I mean, he's always hated you, but he had some perspective, knew not to break the rules. And especially, now that he's not a prefect anymore, I think he just doesn't care, he's that mad."

She exhaled. "I've been thinking about this for a few days now. I'm not proud of a lot of what I've done, Harry. I've been really mean to you, and Hermione, for no reason except that it made Draco happy. I've been mean to other people, for him. I heard about what you said to the first years, that they should think for themselves, and what you said to him yesterday, that he should go spend time with the people who agree with everything he says. I realized I'm one of those people. I'm not sure how it happened. But I don't want to be that anymore." She stopped talking and looked at him expectantly.

Harry was still stunned; this was so opposite the character he'd seen of Pansy Parkinson. The obvious thing to think was that this was a transparent attempt to curry favor with those who she saw had more influence now. But there was something about her that told Harry that she was sincere, at least at this moment. All he knew for sure was that he could not afford to take her at her word.

He wondered if he looked as confused as he felt. "Pansy... if you were me, what would you be thinking right now?"

She looked frustrated and impatient. "I already said I know it looked suspicious. This isn't easy for me to do, Harry. Please don't play games with me. I want to know what you think."

"I'm not playing games with you, Pansy, at least I don't mean to. But... did you hear what happened to Hermione this morning?"

She nodded. "Some of the seventh years saw what happened from our window. They said he Cursed Hermione, and then almost killed you. That's another reason I'm here. I mean, I'm not saying I like her all of a sudden. It's easy not to like her-you and Ron didn't either, at first, you know, the look-at-me-I'm-so-smart thing. But I wouldn't wish that on her, and I know it was brave of her to run out to help you. When Draco heard about it this morning, at first he was really happy, but soon all he could do was moan that Nott didn't manage to kill either of you. I was disgusted." She finished talking, then added, "But you still haven't told me what you think."

He nodded. "I asked if you knew what happened to Hermione because I wanted to make sure you knew how serious this is. People's lives are at stake, Pansy. This thing I've started against Voldemort"-she flinched-"has gotten serious. What Nott did, he did on direct orders from Voldemort." She gaped in astonishment, and he was sure she was not faking that. "He admitted it to Dumbledore. My point is that I'm kind of the leader of this, and there's now violent resistance to it. If I trust the wrong person, people I care about could die, literally." She nodded evenly, showing she understood.

"Now, that doesn't mean I don't believe you. What you say and your reasons for it make sense. Professor Dumbledore is always saying that people can change, and do. I want to believe you. Part of me does believe you. It feels like you're telling the truth. But you have to understand that for now, I can't confide in you with information that could hurt me or my friends if it got out. I think you can understand that."

Again, she nodded. "I'm not saying I want to be part of your inner circle or something. I mean, you people get in a lot of trouble, and I'm not sure I want that. I don't support... I'm sorry, I can't say his name... but I don't want to get killed by him, either. Anyway, I can help you without you trusting me. The question is, should I be more open about it, or pretend I still like Draco and get you information you couldn't otherwise get?"

Harry was startled; she was offering a potentially major resource. "The problem with the second one, Pansy, is that you could end up dead. These people have shown that they will kill. I mean, you might be able to find out some helpful things, but I doubt they'd be worth risking your life over. You have to be the one to decide, but the first one seems a lot safer. I wouldn't ask anyone to do the second."

She smiled, but somehow even this was strange to Harry; he hadn't ever seen a genuine, happy smile from her, but only one reflecting satisfaction from having pleased Malfoy. "I think I'm beginning to see why the first years like you so much. You don't even like me, you don't know that I'm not lying to you, but you're still worried about my safety. Well, I'll think about it, and decide which one to do.

"I should go before I'm seen, but I want to say a few other things quickly. One, I really admire what you're doing with saying the Dark Lord's name. I'm too scared to do it, or to be seen to be doing it, but I still admire it. Also, a lot of older Slytherins were saying they thought there was something wrong with Nott, ever since he got back. They said, and I thought so too, that he seemed somehow a different person, somehow colder, like he'd lost his personality. I guess that makes sense, if he was a Death Eater all of a sudden. Anyway, I don't know if that's helpful to you or not, but I thought I should mention it. Lastly, I wanted to admit that I was the one trying to listen in on you yesterday. Draco gave me the Ears and told me to, but I was curious for myself anyway. I was shocked when you Summoned them away. It was you, wasn't it?" He nodded. "I heard about your 100, I shouldn't be surprised. I'm sorry about that, but I wasn't going to tell him what happened anyway. By the way, Draco got 78, he was furious at being lower than Longbottom. I'll go now, I'll talk to you again when there's a chance." She hurried off.

Harry's head still buzzing, he waited until she was out of hearing range, then said "Pepperoni pizza," and climbed in past the open portrait. He was met by curious stares. "That took an awful long time," observed Ernie.

Harry knew he couldn't say anything about what had happened in front of so many people. "She was giving me a hard time, saying that I had no right to say where she could walk or stand. I eventually got tired of her arguing and threatened detention, and she finally left."

"Should've threatened it a lot sooner," grumbled Ernie. "I'm pretty hungry."

"I'm a little hesitant to give detentions to prefects unless there's an excellent reason. That's something you should appreciate, Ernie."

"Well, I guess you have me there," Ernie agreed. "Ron, is the coast still clear?"

Ron checked the map, and gave the thumbs-up sign. Ernie and Justin were the first out, followed by the Slytherins, then finally the Gryffindors. Harry motioned for Ron, Ginny, and Hermione to follow him into his dormitory, which they did. They sat down on his bed, and he told them about his conversation with Parkinson. They seemed as stunned as he had been.

"She's always been so awful," Hermione said with disgust. "Do you believe her, Harry? I mean, you were the one who saw her, only you can judge."

"Everything she said made sense. Let's put it this way, if she's lying, she was extremely clever about it, like she knew exactly what to say to make me believe her. She didn't overdo anything. She said she didn't need to be trusted, and understood that I couldn't. She admitted that she still doesn't like you especially, Hermione, but that you didn't deserve the Curse."

"Very big of her," said Hermione, unimpressed.

"The point is, she wasn't all, 'oh, it's terrible about Hermione, that poor girl,' that sort of thing. She said you still have a look-at-me-I'm-so-smart kind of thing-"

"The girl obviously has no idea what she's talking about," interrupted Ron, smirking.

Hermione shot him an angry look. "I'm really not in the mood for that right now, Ron," she warned.

He looked startled, then said, "Sorry," and looked down.

Harry continued, "She's not sucking up, I know that much. Also, she didn't have to admit that it was her with the Ears; she didn't know we knew it was her. Deep down, I think she's genuine, but I, we, can't afford to take that risk. I'll take what information she gives me, but with a big grain of salt. I'm not giving her anything that could hurt us. I think she understands that. We'll just have to see what happens."

"Are you going to tell your first years?" Ginny asked, meaning the Slytherins.

"I thought about it, but if Parkinson is genuine and does end up risking herself, ten people is too many to know. And they don't need to know, because I don't exactly trust her myself, so there's not much I could tell them anyway. They'll deal with her as if she were hostile, which is probably for the best."

Ron agreed. "She was right, the timing was extremely suspicious. Right after Malfoy falls from power. But like you say, it could be legitimate, and we'd be stupid to just tell her to get stuffed."

"It doesn't sound quite so stupid to me," Hermione muttered. "But, yes, I understand."

"Well, let's go get some breakfast," Harry suggested.

They started to get up, but Hermione looked at Ron. "Ron, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have snapped at you. I know we do that all the time, I'm just not in a good way right now."

Ron nodded. "I understand, thanks. I know you haven't slept. I assume you're going to come back here after breakfast and get some sleep, right?"

"Yes, I did plan to. Harry, could you do me a favor? I'm still kind of emotional right now. When I come back to sleep, would you come too, and ask Fawkes to sing? I could really use it."

"Sure. I can't say for sure that he will, but I'll ask him."

"Thanks." They headed off for breakfast.

They walked back into the dormitory an hour later, having had breakfast and fended off numerous requests for recaps of the night's dream from many Hufflepuffs, Ravenclaws, and a few Slytherins. Hermione took the initiative to patiently explain that Harry had gone through it once for the Gryffindors, and couldn't really tell it to everybody individually. Ron would then add that the gist of it was that Harry refused again to cooperate, was defiant, and suffered the Curse again. That seemed to satisfy most people. Most people didn't ask about the incident with Nott, not having yet heard that anything had happened.

They headed back to the dormitory, and Hermione got ready to sleep. There was nothing special for Ron or Ginny to be doing there, but they were still concerned about Hermione, so they stayed with her. She curled up in bed. Harry said, "After you're asleep, I'm going to go see Dumbledore. Ask him about what he thought of the dream, and get his advice about Parkinson."

"Okay, Harry," Hermione said, "but take Fawkes with you when you go. It's more important that he keep bonding with you than that he sing to me." She had that pleading look again, and Harry swallowed the objection he had ready.

"I'll tell you what," he offered. He turned to Fawkes, as ever on his shoulder.. "Fawkes, I wonder if you'd be willing to sing for a bit, to help Hermione to sleep. When she's asleep, I'm going to visit Professor Dumbledore. You can either come with me, or stay with her, depending on which you think is best. Is that okay with you?"

Fawkes's response was to start singing. Hermione let out a contented moan as she got comfortable. "Thank you, Harry, and you, Fawkes," she said.

Ron turned to leave, then looked at Hermione. "Umm, Hermione... I wanted to thank you for saving our lives." Ginny, obviously proud of Ron, put her arm around his shoulder and nodded in agreement.

Hermione smiled. "I was glad to be able to do it. It makes what happened worth it, something I can be proud of instead of feeling like a victim." Ron and Ginny thanked her again and left.

Harry sat down next to the bed, and started petting Fawkes. He watched Hermione close her eyes. She opened them again in a minute, looking at him. Remembering last night, he smiled, mouthed the words "I love you," and made the same from-the-heart gesture that she had made. She smiled, closed her eyes again, and was asleep in minutes.

Harry waited for about fifteen minutes before getting up to go see Dumbledore. When he did, Fawkes stayed on his shoulder. Harry gave Fawkes an 'are you sure?' look, then continued out. Fawkes let out a last, long note, then stopped singing.

Harry knocked on Dumbledore's office door, which promptly opened. Harry walked in to find a man sitting across from Dumbledore. "Oh, I'm sorry, sir, I didn't know you had-"

He was interrupted by Dumbledore's welcoming gesture. "Not at all, Harry, we were discussing you anyway, so your arrival is fortuitous. Harry, this is Hugo Brantell, and he is working on a story for the Daily Prophet."

Harry stiffened. He knew this was probably unavoidable, but his first inclination was to think that any reporter would be similar to Skeeter, and even if he wasn't, the Prophet still was the instrument of the campaign against him last year. To his surprise, the man chuckled and stood. He was tall, in his mid-thirties, Harry guessed, with an expression that radiated both humility and confidence. "I understand your reaction, Harry, but let me put your mind at ease. I am not one of those who were writing negative stories about you last year. I am what Muggles would call a freelance reporter, and I refused to work for them at a time when they had such an obvious political agenda."

"I have known Hugo for some time now, and have read much of his work. I am confident that he will be fair and straightforward in his article," said Dumbledore.

Harry's concern evaporated. If Dumbledore thought that, it was good enough for him. Hugo proffered his hand, which Harry shook, and took a seat.

"Now, Harry," said Brantell, "there is something I want to tell you before we start. I have a very unusual magical ability. Professor Dumbledore is a Legilimens, which as you know means he can tell if someone is being truthful or not. This can be learned, though by relatively few wizards. I have this talent naturally, and a knack for understanding a person's mood. Now, we can all read moods from faces and gestures; it's a necessary human social skill. I have that skill to an unusually high degree. I don't recall having ever been wrong in estimating a person's mood."

Harry couldn't resist asking, "Have you ever met Professor McGonagall?"

Brantell and Dumbledore laughed. "Yes, on several occasions," Brantell chuckled. "It is a bit more of a challenge. You're quite fond of her, aren't you, Harry?"

Harry raised his eyebrows. "I can see where people don't get to keep many secrets from you. Yes, I am. She's strict, but fair, and I think most of the students in her house know she likes them, even if she doesn't show it much."

"Now, before I ask you some questions, I believe Professor Dumbledore wanted to mention a few things to you. Oh, and I hope you don't mind me taking the liberty of using your first name." Harry shook his head. "Please call me Hugo. You will be referred to in the article as 'Professor Potter,' of course."

"Harry," said Dumbledore, " I thought I would explain why I agreed to this article, and tell you some of the ground rules, so you will know. First, there has been great interest from the Daily Prophet in doing an article about you ever since it became known that you had joined the teaching staff. As I am able to dictate who enters the Hogwarts grounds and who does not, I was able to impose some conditions, such as who would be allowed to write the article. As I said, I am comfortable with Hugo's presence.

"I also agreed to allow the article because the interest in you is very understandable. Of course I respect your privacy, and I know that being the Boy Who Lived, you have had precious little of it. But being a teacher at Hogwarts makes you a public figure, after a fashion-you have an impact on people's children, so they will want to know about you. It is also the case that your campaign has been getting back to parents' ears; some approve, some are concerned, and a vocal minority are ruled by their fear and disapprove. I would like your reasons and activities to be a matter of public knowledge so that parents will understand why you are doing what you are doing. I know you hope that what you do will inspire the magical community in general; this will help that occur, if it is to occur.

"One of the ground rules is that sixth and seventh year students can be quoted by name, but others cannot, for family privacy reasons. Also, you will of course be using Voldemort's name, which the Prophet does not wish to print. But obviously we cannot have a situation in which you are saying 'Voldemort' but the article quotes you as saying 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,' as it would defeat the purpose of what you are doing. After some negotiations, it has been agreed that when you or any student or teacher use Voldemort's actual name, what is printed in the paper will be the letter 'V' followed by eight dashes. This was not entirely satisfactory to me, but the paper was highly reluctant to do even this much; they fear reactions from their readers, not to mention Voldemort himself. But they did agree to this, and also, to offer their readers a choice; if they use their wand over the article, Voldemort's full name will appear. All this will be explained to readers in a short accompanying article. Is all that acceptable to you, Harry?"

"If it's acceptable to you, sir, it's acceptable to me. So, go ahead," Harry said to Hugo.

"It is not difficult for me to notice, Harry, that you have a deep bond with Professor Dumbledore. You trust him implicitly. How did this come about?"

On the spur of the moment, Harry decided to open up, though his natural inclination would be to give minimal answers. Dumbledore had told him that Brantell could be trusted to be fair, and he remembered what Hermione had said about the whole wizarding community now being involved. He hadn't looked that far ahead when he had started, but he knew it was true. This could be my only chance to say what I want to say and have it not be twisted around, he thought.

"I don't know if I could say easily, Mr., uh, Hugo. But you know him; I can't see how anyone could get to know him and not like him. I suppose you could say that it evolved over time. He's never been anything but kind, patient, supportive, understanding, and very wise. He seems to always know exactly what to say or do in any situation. I can't think of anyone who could be a better role model for students than him." He looked at Dumbledore, who was smiling, apparently not at all embarrassed.

Hugo stared at Harry for a moment, grinning broadly. It struck Harry as an unusual reaction. "What?" asked Harry.

"I'm sorry, Harry... I'm smiling at what I picked up from your answer. Most people are embarrassed to say such things. Not only are you not embarrassed, you were positively happy for the opportunity to let Professor Dumbledore know how you feel. It's very... sweet, if you'll pardon the expression. Now, to move on a bit... which other people in the wizarding world would you say you are close to?"

"Well, the Weasleys, of course. Arthur and Molly Weasley are great people, they've always been very good to me. They regard me as one of the family, which makes me very happy. And of course their two youngest children, Ron and Ginny, are very close friends of mine. Also, I'm very fond of the twins, Fred and George, who looked after me quite a bit in their time at Hogwarts, and who now own a great joke shop in Diagon Alley-"

"Which you would like mentioned in the article?" grinned Hugo.

"I really would," agreed Harry, also grinning. "They were also on the Quidditch team with me, which was one of the ways they looked after me. They were a great pair of Beaters, and if anyone took a cheap shot at me, Fred and George made sure they regretted it. A Seeker is pretty vulnerable, so it was nice to know that they were there. Apart from the Weasleys, I'm very close to Hermione Granger, who's a very sweet person. I'm also close to Ruebus Hagrid, the Care of Magical Creatures teacher, and the kindest man and best friend a person could want; Neville Longbottom, a very nice person; and Remus Lupin, who taught Defense Against the Dark Arts a few years ago. I'm especially grateful to him because he took extra time with me to teach me how to ward off dementors, which has saved my life more than once. There are other people in the magical community who have been good and helpful to me, but those are the main ones."

"Professor Lupin resigned at the end of that year at the insistence of parents who discovered that he was a werewolf, isn't that correct?"

"Yes, that's right, and I was very unhappy about that. Those people who complained didn't even know him, didn't know what a good person he is. I've found out through knowing him that being a werewolf is a manageable condition, if the proper care is taken."

"What are your feelings about being the Boy Who Lived, whose name and scar are known to every person in the wizarding world? It must be a very unusual life."

"Yes, it has been," Harry answered. "Of course, I was raised by Muggles, my mother's sister and her family, so I didn't even know about my history until I came to Hogwarts. I had no idea that everyone would know me; Hagrid had to explain it to me when he came to get me for the first year at Hogwarts. But yes, it was very strange. Can you imagine people coming up to you, recognizing you, and commenting on something that happened when you were too young to remember? Acting like you were someone special when you hadn't done anything to merit it? From my point of view, it was bewildering. I think I've gotten used to it by now, though."

Hugo went on to ask Harry questions about the D.A. and how it led to becoming the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, his campaign to use Voldemort's name, the situation with Fawkes, and the current dream encounters with Voldemort, ending with Nott's attempt on his life that morning.

"...so, even just this morning, both Hermione and Professor Dumbledore saved my life, which was one of the reasons I came up here in the first place, to thank him for that. But it's typical of the support I've gotten at Hogwarts. In the past few days, since this started, so much of Hogwarts has supported me and helped me, it's been really great. I really appreciate it."

Hugo got up; so did Harry and Dumbledore. "Thank you, Harry, you were very patient. What I'm going to do now is go around the school, talking to people, asking them about you and your campaign. Then I'll ask for some of your time just before dinner, to get your comments in response to what others have said. Is that okay?" Harry nodded.

Hugo left, and Dumbledore looked at Harry. "I am sorry not to have warned you about that, Harry. That took a good part of your morning. I felt that it was important for the wizarding community to understand what you are doing and why, to see you for who you are and not what the Prophet claimed for much of last year. Now, I gather you came up here to discuss a few things?"

"Yes, sir. But I did want to thank you for this morning as well. And of course, thank you too, Fawkes," he added, turning his head toward the phoenix on his shoulder. "I know he couldn't have done it without you."

"Yes, I am glad you recognize that, Harry. We were very pleased to have been able to help, although I admit to having had pangs of regret that I failed to discourage you from flying without adequate protection. Yesterday, I was there to look after you. Today, I was not."

"It's not like you could have known what would happen, sir. I thought we assumed that Hogwarts was secure. I should be able to go out onto the pitch alone with no problems. You can't go rooting out any spy that there might be at any time."

"All true, I admit, but the feeling of regret is there nonetheless. But you know how I feel, Harry. I can see that you have been deeply pained over what happened to Hermione. Is that what you came to talk about?"

"Yes and no," Harry said. "My head knows that it was her decision and not my fault. Neville gave quite a speech about it, you should have heard it. But my... heart, I guess... is having a hard time catching on to the idea."

"I should hope so, Harry. The better your heart is, the more the people you lead will respect and love you, but you will also suffer in this way more. That is as it should be; that is the price of leadership. A life, an injury, should never be spent without regret. If we ever look at humans or other creatures as pieces on a chessboard, we forget what life is all about, and lose our humanity.

"I hate to say this to you, but I must. You are leading an important part of the resistance against Voldemort, something important to the morale of the wizarding community. Voldemort feels very threatened, and what happened this morning will not be the last such attempt. People you care about may die, and you will conclude that it was your fault, for leading the campaign. I have been through this. It is agonizing. We lost many good people, including your parents, in the last struggle against Voldemort. Many of those lost were carrying out my instructions. I wept, literally, for all those dead, all those tortured. I imagined myself at fault. I knew I truly was not, that those who suffered had chosen their actions and were proud of them. But, like you, I could not easily salve my conscience by telling myself this.

"You must accept your pain without becoming debilitated by it,. Your head keeps you dispassionate, helps you to make hard decisions. Your heart reminds you that you are human, and cherish life and love above all else. If your heart is good, as yours is, the people under your leadership will know it, and respond. The Hogwarts community is stirred by your bravery, and is rallying to help you. They respect both you and the cause you fight for. If some are injured or die, they know that you would have gone in their place if you could. There is nothing more you can ask of yourself. You must remind yourself that the cause is just, and the dead and injured, willing. You will be deeply pained, but know you must continue. You are not a good leader if both of those are not the case."

Harry was silent for a few minutes, mulling it over. Dumbledore waited patiently. Finally, Harry said, "I think I'd rather deal with the Cruciatus Curse."

"I have had the same thought, Harry. At least that affects only the one person. No doubt that is why you felt this way about Hermione; you thought it was only yourself you were placing in danger. For someone like you, that seems ideal. But, unfortunately, life does not work that way."

"I guess not, sir. I do want to thank you for what you said. It may not be some easy solution, but knowing there is no easy solution is helpful too. I can get used to the idea that I'll just have to deal with this.

"But this topic reminds me of something else I wanted to ask you about-"

He was interrupted by knocking on the door, which opened to reveal Snape and McGonagall, who entered. "Yes, Severus, Minerva, I'm sorry not to be ready for you. Harry came to see me, and Hugo waylaid us a bit. By the time Harry got to what he wanted to talk to me about, quite a bit of time had passed."

"I understand, Headmaster," McGonagall said. Turning to Harry, she said, "I assume your look of distress is for Hermione."

Harry's eyebrows rose. "Is it that obvious?"

"I have seen a very similar look on Professor Dumbledore's face on more occasions than I would care to recall. I sympathize with you, Harry, but as the headmaster has undoubtedly told you..."

"...there's nothing for it, yes. Not what I wanted to hear, but it is something to work with, anyway. I'm glad that what I'm feeling is normal, that I'm not alone in feeling this way."

"Indeed not, Harry. If the professors do not mind, and you do not, perhaps you can ask what you were going to when they entered." McGonagall and Snape made no objection.

"Yes, sir... I was wondering, in both the dreams, Voldemort has made all kinds of threats against me, which, especially in the one this morning, are almost laughable. For myself, I have nothing to lose, and he should know that. But if he wants to threaten me, he couldn't do it more effectively than by threatening people close to me. Why hasn't he done that? It seems so obvious."

"One would think so, Harry. Fortunately, he does not. This is a blind spot of his. He simply does not think in these terms. I have mentioned to you that for him, love and friendship do not exist. They might as well be alien concepts. He would laugh at a threat to his followers; he would evaluate it strictly in terms of its impact on his power. So, he does not think to threaten us in this way, nor do his followers."

"But he must know, as facts, that love and friendship do exist, and impact people's lives. I mean, why does he think I'm doing this?"

"He thinks you are doing this," Snape supplied, "either to gain power for yourself, or in a vain and stupid effort to gain notoriety in the magical community. That is why he cannot understand why his threats have not been effective. They usually are. He is wondering whether you are not actually as deranged and attention-seeking as the Prophet has suggested."

Harry looked at Snape open-mouthed. "You're kidding!" he gaped. He looked at the others. "Well, this is a good thing, isn't it? If he has that little understanding of the situation?"

"Yes, it is," agreed Dumbledore. "He appears to be vastly underestimating you, which can only be to our advantage. He still perceives a threat to the awe and fear with which he is regarded, but it appears that he feels that if you are responsible, it is largely by accident, as if some members of the community are so misled as to believe in such a foolish person as yourself. He will probably still feel this way even after tomorrow's article is printed. He will continue to threaten, and attack you if he can, but he does not know what he is up against.

"Recall the words of the prophecy: 'He will have power the Dark Lord knows not.' As I have already told you, one of those is love; you have demonstrated the ability to use it to push Voldemort from your mind. We now see that another such 'power' of yours is the ability to inspire others to rise up against him. He understands this not at all."

"It appears, Professor," added Snape, still amazingly even-mannered and not in any way hostile, "that your choice of tactics against the Dark Lord was inspired, though you could not in any way know this. I believe that he suspected that you were unbalanced for no other reason than that you were openly opposing him; what you did last night seems to have confirmed that impression. Who but an unbalanced person would mock him so, or be so disdainful of the Curse? The Curse inspires terror in those who have experienced it; that you are unbalanced is the only explanation he can accept of why it does not do so for you. He cannot recall the last time he was spoken to in such a way. I have attempted to reinforce this impression, with only minor exaggerations necessary."

Harry couldn't help it; he laughed out loud. Snape looked a bit startled; Dumbledore smiled. "I'm sorry, Professor," Harry said to Snape. "I know you weren't deliberately joking, but it was funny. I assume, then, that my impression was right, that he was really mad? I mean, he went and blew a spy because he was mad. That doesn't seem like a really good idea. If I can set aside what happened to Hermione, it seems like last night was an overall plus for our side."

"Exactly right, Professor," confirmed Snape. "He acted in anger, and lost an operative. But the decision, while impulsive, was not a foolish one. The Dark Lord did not yet know that Fawkes is with you, and if not for Fawkes, you and the others would have died, at his hands. Overall, last night was a plus for us, though more by chance than by design."

"I'll take what I can get," said Harry, as much to himself as anyone else.

"One thing I will say, Harry," said Dumbledore, "is that you were in good form. Were the situation not so grave, I would have laughed out loud at the 'tea and biscuits' comment. No doubt it infuriated him greatly."

Harry smiled. "It just seemed like a stupid question. I mean, what did he think I was going to say? So... does anyone have any ideas about what I should do tonight?"

"First of all, do you, Harry?" Dumbledore prompted. "Your intuitive choices have been good ones, and you are the one in the situation. Your ideas will be more important than ours."

"Well, I haven't had much time to think about it, but I was thinking of taunting him even worse," Harry said. "It seems to be working."

"We have considered the question, and that is one of the two main options we see. The other is an idea of mine, which I will run by you now. Do you recall that I suggested yesterday that you 'come from a place of love'? I am thinking of suggesting that you talk to him while coming deeply from such a place. If you do this, you would focus on love while talking to him, let it emanate from everything you do and say. Express sorrow and pity for what he has become, but in a loving way. My thinking is that this would have two positive effects: one would be to further confirm his impression of you as unbalanced, and the other is that he would be disgusted and appalled. Those two facts combined may encourage him to abandon the current enterprise as fruitless."

Harry considered for a moment. "Yeah, that's good. I like the idea. It seems like it should work, or it could have unintended benefits. What I like most about it is that he won't understand it. I'm not sure how he'll interpret it, but if I can project it well enough it could affect him the same way it does when he's tried to possess me."

"Yes, Harry, that possibility had occurred to me as well. In any case, you should keep the flexibility to change your plans, if your intuition should lead you a certain way."

"No, I really like this," Harry said. "This is what I'm going to do."

"In that case," said Dumbledore, with a serious expression, "I would advise you to, until the end of this crisis, focus your efforts in that direction--not only in the dreams, but during the day as well. Two years ago, you spent hours one day working on the Summoning Charm, in preparation for the one time you would have to use it. If you spend as much time as possible during the day developing the frame of mind that you want to have when facing Voldemort, it will be easier to come from such a place mentally when you do encounter him."

Harry could see that it made sense, even though it seemed strange. "How should I do that, exactly?"

"Simply stop frequently during your normal activities, and make a conscious effort to summon the feelings you have used before, especially when you drove him from your mind in the first dream," explained Dumbledore. "The more you do this, the easier it will be to do, and the stronger it will get."

A lot like learning a new spell, thought Harry. "I understand; I'll do that." He resolved to try as hard to do this as he did the Summoning Charm; he had seen how Voldemort had reacted to love, and he badly wanted to win this fight.

"Very well, Harry," said Dumbledore. "Was there something else that you came to talk to me about?"

"Yes, Professor. I wanted to ask you... how you decide whether to trust someone or not. I've always known who was with me or against me, but now I realize it may not always be so clear."

"Certainly, Harry, but... may I know why you ask at this particular time?"

Harry involuntarily glanced at Snape before answering. "There's an older Slytherin student who's come to me, offering to be helpful to me and what I'm doing, but it's someone who I never would have thought-"

"Professor Potter," interrupted Snape in an annoyed tone, "it is obvious why you have not said this person's name. I assure you that whatever is said in this room does not leave it, nor will any actions indicate it. I would have thought you had known this by now."

Harry looked at him seriously. "I do know that, Professor, about things that relate to Voldemort. But I didn't know how you would feel about things that related to your house. You might feel that I was interfering and insist on handling things your own way."

"Why should I think you are interfering, Professor? You have only turned my house upside down and caused a struggle for control and influence. I see no reason to think you are interfering in any way." Harry got the impression that Snape was trying to keep the sarcasm out if his voice, but not very successfully.

"I think you know, Professor, that all I want is for the students who like me or my class not to have to fear saying so. I don't think that's too much to ask." He paused. "Anyway... the person who came to me is Pansy Parkinson."

Snape's eyebrows went up a bit, as did McGonagall's. Harry related some of what she'd said. "On the surface, I find it very hard to believe, given how she's always acted. But what she says is believable, and she seemed sincere. My intuition, if that is what it is, says that she's being truthful."

"Always listen to your intuition," urged Dumbledore. "If it is ever wrong, it is probably because you mistakenly took some other feeling for intuition. When you learn to always recognize intuition for what it is, you will make fewer mistakes.

"I cannot, naturally, offer an opinion on whether Miss Parkinson is sincere or not. You will have to make that judgment for yourself. But to answer your general question, obviously the person's stated motivation for offering help is very important. There are many other factors to consider, of course. Almost too many to mention. May I ask how you responded to her offer?"

Harry related what he had said. "It seemed important to her that I believe her, as if something emotional was at stake for her, but I can't imagine why."

"It is sometimes hard for us to understand how other people think. The obvious possibility is that despite herself, what you have done has inspired her as well, and she suddenly realized better possibilities than being Mr. Malfoy's sycophant. But, again, I cannot pretend to know. It must come down to your judgment. Another of the burdens of leadership, I fear. I am sorry I cannot be of more help."

Harry nodded. "I understand. I know I can't tell her much. I don't want anything to happen to my Slytherins." To Snape's expression, Harry said, "You know what I mean, Professor."

"They might as well be yours, Professor," Snape said, and again Harry was very conscious of Snape trying to keep his voice level. "I expect them to be starting a Harry Potter fan club any day now."

"It appears that the club would quickly grow in membership," chuckled Dumbledore.

"Speaking of your Slytherins, Professor," said McGonagall in one of her sterner tones, "Two Hufflepuffs, including a prefect, and your Slytherins were seen heading away from Gryffindor Tower this morning, followed by the whole of Gryffindor house. What do you suppose might have been the reason for that?"

Harry knew full well that she knew what he had done, and suspected that she was not truly serious, so he decided to risk a joke. Not totally able to keep a smile off his face, he said, "I wouldn't want to speculate on that, Professor."

"I'll bet you wouldn't," she scoffed. Dumbledore was smiling. "You are aware that that is against the rules?" she asked, but Harry was sure now her heart wasn't in it.

"Hermione did mention that to me," he admitted.

"At least she did that much," McGonagall said resignedly. "Well, I suppose that given what is going on, I can't pretend that it's of great concern. I will ask you not to be too blatant about it."

"I won't, Professor. I only did it because-"

"I know why you did it, Harry. The impulse is admirable. It just... does not sit well with me. I am used to the rules being followed."

"I understand, Professor, and I appreciate your tolerance." He turned to Dumbledore. "Anyway, I think that's all I wanted to talk to you about, Professor. I'll let you get on with your meeting now." He stood up.

"Always a pleasure, Harry," said Dumbledore. Harry nodded to all of them and left. As he walked away, he mused that Dumbledore had not been able to offer him any specific advice about Parkinson, but he felt more comfortable with the situation anyway.

It was a slow afternoon for Harry. He went back to Gryffindor Tower, to sit with Hermione for a while as she slept. Fawkes sang, and Harry found it soothing to just sit there, watching Hermione and listening to Fawkes. It occurred to him that he had never really watched anyone sleep before. She seemed very content, he thought.

After getting some lunch, Harry went back to the kitchens to say hello to Dobby, which he hadn't done since the term had started. As usual, Dobby was thrilled to see him, but very fearful for Harry for what he was doing, and in awe of what Harry was going through. Having heard more superlatives in a short time than he would have thought possible, Harry wished Dobby well, and headed off to see Hagrid, of whom he had not seen much either.

His knock on Hagrid's door was greeted, as usual, by loud barking. Hagrid opened the door and welcomed Harry as Fang slobbered all over Harry in an affectionate sort of way. "Come in, come in," said Hagrid.

Harry stepped in and, to his surprise, was greeted by Hugo Brantell. "Harry, what a surprise," he said. "I was just finishing up talking to Hagrid here. Like most people at Hogwarts, I'm finding, Hagrid didn't need much prompting to talk about you."

Harry grinned at Hagrid, who looked embarrassed. Harry said, "Sorry, I didn't know you were in here. I just wanted to visit Hagrid, since I haven't seen as much of him as I'd like, what with all that's going on."

"Well, sit down, Harry," Hagrid urged. "Like he said, we were almost done."

"Did he tell you," Harry asked Hugo, "that he got me my owl? It was the day he got me, before I'd even been to Hogwarts. I didn't even know what owls were for. He got me one because it was my birthday, but I think he also just felt bad for me."

"Yeh should've seen him," said Hagrid to Hugo, sounding nostalgic. "Little tyke, wide-eyed, not knowin' anythin' about anythin', I mean about who he was. So innocent, there was jus' somethin' about him that yeh couldn't not like."

"That was very nice of you, Hagrid," Hugo said. "Owls aren't cheap."

"And mine's a really nice one, too," Harry added. "Snowy white."

"So, Hagrid, what were you saying when Harry knocked?"

"Well, like I said, he and Hermione and Ron were always gettin' inter stuff they shouldn't have been. If somethin' was happenin', they had ter find out what it was."

"Well, that's not fair, Hagrid," Harry protested. "I mean, for the first year, yeah, maybe, but I had to do it, I didn't want Voldemort to get the Sorcerer's Stone, so I think I had a good reason. And the second year, I got involved because I was the one hearing voices all over the school. If you heard voices that no one else could hear, you'd want to find out what was going on, too."

"Well, maybe yer right," Hagrid allowed. "Always jus' seemed that way ter me."

"Well, thank you, Hagrid," said Hugo, standing up. "Thank you for your time, I enjoyed talking to you." He reached up to shake hands with Hagrid, smiled at Harry, and then left.

"Nice man, nice man," said Hagrid after Hugo had left. "Unlike that one a few years ago, he didn' seem ter mind if I said nice things about yeh."

"Sorry I haven't been able to see you much, Hagrid," Harry said. "I've been kind of busy..."

"That's one way o' puttin' it," Hagrid said. "I'm glad yeh came ter see me, yeh know it's hard fer me ter come see yeh. Low ceilin's. But I wanted ter. I'm glad everyone's been supportin' yeh so well. Yeh deserve it."

"Thanks, Hagrid." Harry said. "Let me ask you, do you think what I'm doing is the right thing to do?"

Hagrid hesitated. "It is, Harry, yeh know it is. Yeh don' need ter ask me."

"But you wouldn't do it, if it were you," Harry guessed.

"Only because I wouldn' be brave enough," Hagrid grunted in embarrassment. "Yer the brave one. I know it's a good thing ter be doin', I know the reasons. But yeh know how hard it is fer me ter hear the name, never mind say it."

"But that's exactly what I'm trying to change, Hagrid."

Hagrid rolled his eyes and fidgeted, then sighed heavily. "All right... his name is... Voldemort. Yeh happy?"

"Yes, thank you, Hagrid." Harry smiled and patted him on the back. "That's the best way to support me. Keep doing that."

"Wish I could jus' give yeh money instead," Hagrid muttered. Harry chuckled.

They talked for a while about recent events. Then Hagrid said, "Yeh know, Harry, I've been proud of yeh for a lot o' things since yeh've been here. But Fawkes choosin' yeh, that's one o' the big ones. Tell yeh what I think, I think he was used ter Dumbledore, and chose yeh because yeh have the same qualities Dumbledore does, or yeh have the potential ter."

Harry was touched. "Thanks, Hagrid. I don't know if you could think of any nicer thing to say about me than that."

"Well, I should be off," Hagrid said roughly. "Time ter go see Grawpy."

"Oh, yeah, how's he doing?"

"He's fine, fine, vocabulary's comin' along. Still gets a mite impatient now an' then, but doin' better. Don' need ter tie him down any more, that was a big step. I'd invite yeh ter come see him, but I know yeh're really busy."

Harry was certainly glad for the excuse; he had a feeling that Hagrid said 'gets a mite impatient' where others would say 'throws a fit.' He really did want to see Grawp again, but preferred to at such a time when he didn't feel in danger of being accidentally crushed. Harry bade Hagrid goodbye, and headed back to the castle.

Hermione got up in mid-afternoon, feeling much better; she petted Fawkes and thanked him as soon as she saw him. Ron joined them for some Transfigurations practice and homework, and then Harry and Hermione worked on Potions for a while. Harry was not going to enormous effort to keep up with his homework in most classes-he knew his teachers would excuse it while his crisis with Voldemort continued-but he was determined not to lose a step in Potions. Harry didn't assume Snape's tolerant attitude would last, and so took nothing for granted.

Later in the afternoon, Hugo visited Gryffindor Tower to interview Ron, Ginny, and Hermione, before doing his final one with Harry. He asked for Ron first. Harry suggested they use the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, and Hugo and Ron went off. Hugo took a half hour with each of the three, then asked Harry for his final interview.

Harry asked if Hugo minded if they joined him for that interview; Hugo agreed but asked that they try not to comment unless asked a question, as his time was limited. They agreed, and walked to the classroom.

They sat down in students' chairs. "Harry, I've been talking to Hogwarts students for seven hours today, and even after only a week, your students are effusive in their praise of your classes. Are you surprised by this?"

Harry nodded. "Very surprised. I mean, Hogwarts has never had a sixteen-year-old teacher. I didn't know what to expect, and even though I led the D.A., I didn't think it'd be the same as teaching. I was just hoping not to do badly."

"You said you felt a lot of support from the Hogwarts community. Do you think it is support for you personally, or what you are encouraging others to do?"

Harry raised his eyebrows; he hadn't thought about that. "You'd know better than me, you've been talking with people for seven hours," Harry joked. "I honestly couldn't say. I hope it's both, but I'd really be the least qualified person to answer that. I'm just happy for the support."

"The only reaction I got from most people today about you other than support was a general nervousness that more violence might come to Hogwarts, such as happened this morning. Are you concerned about this?"

"Yes, I am. I know it could happen. I hope it doesn't. I do know that Hogwarts is a very secure place, and it couldn't be in better hands than Professor Dumbledore's. Especially after this morning," he involuntarily glanced at Hermione, "I know that what I'm doing could bring danger to Hogwarts that otherwise wouldn't have come. But the problem is, nobody fights Voldemort because they're afraid of the danger, and that makes him stronger. Somebody has to do this, and it just happens to be me, and I happen to be at Hogwarts."

"Some parents would say, 'I appreciate what he's trying to do, but he could be putting my children in danger.' What would you say to that?"

Harry paused. "I think that's the toughest question you could ask me. I don't deny the possibility. But, thinking about what you just asked a minute ago, I think a big part of the reason that so many people support me must be that they feel that what I'm doing is right. If they thought the effort wasn't worth the danger, I'm sure I'd be hearing that from people. So far, I haven't. As I think I said before, we can't fight Voldemort if we can't say his name, and no one else is. If someone else was, I wouldn't have to. But I'm very sure we do have to. I've never been so sure of anything."

"Harry, the other teachers expressed virtually unanimous support for you, and their admiration. The only exception was Professor Severus Snape, who would not comment, on this or anything else. Why do you think that is?"

Harry paused again. "I think it's probably best that if he didn't comment on me, then I shouldn't comment on him."

"Some other sixth years have told me that he's been unusually harsh on you, singling you out for criticism, and worse. Is that true?"

"I'm sorry, Hugo, but again, I'm not going to say anything about that."

Hugo nodded. "Okay, I understand. Would it surprise you to learn that, unfairly using my intuitive sense today, I discovered quite a bit of female interest in you?" Ron, Hermione, and Ginny all burst out laughing. Harry gave them a humorously annoyed look as Hugo chuckled at the scene. "Well, you did ask if they could sit in," he observed.

"They're laughing because they know that I'll be embarrassed, of course," said Harry. "But, yes, it surprises me. I'm not sure I'd believe you if you didn't have that sense of yours."

"Well, then, Harry, would it surprise you to learn that when I used the phrase 'quite a bit of female interest,' I was understating the case, to spare you embarrassment?" Ron, Ginny, and Hermione broke up again.

"Yes, Hugo, that would surprise me even more. I see you decided not to spare me the embarrassment in order to give my friends a good laugh. That was very nice of you," Harry replied, his sarcasm fairly apparent from his tone.

"So, the obvious question is, why don't you have a girlfriend?" asked Hugo.

Harry thought about not answering, but decided to try after all; he wasn't sure why he did. "Well, there was someone I was interested in last year, but it didn't work out. But to be honest, I'm just not sure I can think about having a girlfriend right now."

Hugo stared at him, seeming to temporarily abandon his role as interviewer. "You're scared..." he said softly, with compassion. "You're afraid of what could happen... either to her because of you, or to you and how it would affect her. That's why you won't do it." He looked deeply affected. Ron, Ginny, and Hermione were silent, somber.

Harry nodded. "I have a huge target on my head, all over me. It's bad enough that my friends are exposed to the danger that I attract. If I had a girlfriend, it would be even worse. I don't know if I could deal with that."

"But Harry," said Ginny, ignoring Hugo's request that she and the others not interrupt, "if you had a girlfriend, she would know all this, and want to be with you anyway. She would want to help you, she wouldn't care about the danger."

Harry looked at her. "Maybe you're right. Goodness knows you three are like that. Maybe she could deal with it, but I couldn't. I couldn't possibly enjoy having a girlfriend. I'd be constantly worrying. Maybe she wouldn't want me to, but I would. I know that. Of course, I'd like to have one. But I just don't think I could do that right now. You saw what I was like today, you saw what I went through with Hermione..." He trailed off.

"I'm very sorry, Harry," said Hugo, sincerely. "I can't imagine what that must feel like." He got up. "I've really enjoyed meeting you, Harry. All of you." He started to leave, then paused. "There are a couple of things I picked up from people that I thought you should know. Draco Malfoy... a few said the same things he did about you, but their hearts weren't really in it, not like Malfoy's is. He loathes you. He's so filled with hate, it was disturbing to talk to him. He said horrible things about you, but his true feelings are worse, Harry. I think if he thought he could kill you and get away with it, he would. I'm going to tell Professor Dumbledore the same thing. You need to watch out.

"Now, Pansy Parkinson, the Slytherin prefect... this was the strange one. She said some pretty nasty things about you, Harry, but she didn't mean them. In fact, I got the sense that she likes you, admires you, and that she only said what she said because it was what she wanted other Slytherins to hear. She was hoping I would print what she said, so they would read it. I see from your faces that this is highly useful information, but also is connected to something you'd like to keep secret... ah, I see. Don't worry, I'm not going to tell anyone. She's disgusted with Malfoy, Harry, and wants to help you. Normally I don't go around telling people things I got from other people by using my ability, but with Parkinson, I think this is something she actively wants you to know, and with Malfoy, I want you to be on your guard."

"Thanks, Hugo," said Harry. "By the way, did you ever think about being an intelligence agent?"

Hugo smiled. "I did, actually, but I realized it would be too stressful. I like being a journalist better. Well, I'd better get going, I need to do my article in time for the Sunday Prophet, tomorrow."

Hermione was surprised. "That soon?"

"I write fast," Hugo replied. "Thanks again, you all. See you 'round." He left.

"So, what about Parkinson?" Ron asked. "Looks like you were right, Harry. Boy, I never would have thought it."

"I wouldn't believe it if Hugo hadn't said it," said Hermione. "We still have to be careful, though. She could change her mind, nobody can know that she won't."

"But I have to take her more seriously now," said Harry. "I'm going to see if I can find a way to talk to her."

"Give her detention," Ginny suggested.

"Well, there kind of has to be a reason," Ron pointed out. "Also, McGonagall is doing Harry's detentions."

"Couldn't he give her a few detentions, schedule them for the same time as Malfoy's, and say that Harry'll do them so Malfoy and Parkinson don't get to do them together?" asked Hermione.

"That could work," agreed Ron. "Say, Harry, you don't suppose she's one of the ones that's keen on you, do you?" He grinned wickedly.

"Don't say that," Harry said fervently. "Besides, maybe they won't think that anymore after they read what I said about not wanting a girlfriend."

Hermione laughed out loud. "Are you kidding, Harry? It'll make them want you more than ever. They'll feel like, you'd overcome your fear if you could see how much they love you. If something is unobtainable, people want it more."

"That's it, Hermione," teased Ron. "Buck him up, lift his spirits."

"It's true," she said defensively. "Sorry, Harry."

Harry sighed, but said nothing.

"I assume everyone noticed that what Hugo said backed up what Parkinson said, that Malfoy actually wants to kill Harry," Ron noted. "We'd be stupid not to assume he knows how to do a Killing Curse. He's not going to do it in the crowded hallways, though. Only if he gets Harry alone. I think we'd better start thinking about how vulnerable we are at any time, because something could happen like happened to Hermione. We're going to want to use the Marauder's Map a lot more. We can't just walk around the school like nothing could happen to us."

"Ron's right," agreed Hermione. Ron raised his eyebrows, as though those were not words he heard often. "We have to be careful, especially in terms of Harry and his safety. Not only from Malfoy, but any other Slytherin spy."

"How will we handle this, though? We all know how Harry doesn't like to be protected," Ron said humorously, as though Harry were not there.

"He'll have to deal with it," said Hermione in the same vein.

"It's nice to be a part of the decision-making process," commented Harry. "Do let me know what you decide, won't you?"

"You'll be the fourth to know," Ron assured him.

"C'mon, let's go get some dinner, I think it's time," suggested Ginny. They got up and started to leave the classroom, but as soon as they stepped out of the classroom, they saw Pansy Parkinson approaching from down the hall. Harry quickly said to Ron, "You've still got the Map, haven't you?" Ron nodded. "Could you stay in the classroom, keep your eyes open?" he asked, as Parkinson walked up to them. Ron nodded again.

Parkinson glanced at all of them, then Harry again. "I assume they all know?"

Harry nodded. "Let's go into the office," he said. They walked into the teacher's office, while Ron, Hermione, and Ginny sat back down in the classroom.

Harry sat down at his desk and gestured Pansy to the other chair. Fawkes was still on his shoulder; Harry marveled at how he could forget Fawkes was there for long periods of time. "Well, I want you to know first that I've gone from 'I want to believe you,' to 'I believe you.'" He gave her a small grin, which she returned.

"Thank you," she said, sincerely. "What made you decide?"

"I had kind of already decided. I just really felt like you were telling the truth. But I just had my last conversation with Hugo before he wrote the article. He said that you said nasty things about me, but you didn't mean them, that in fact you liked and admired me." He couldn't help but smile now, at her embarrassment.

"He's pretty amazing," Pansy said. "I just got the feeling that he was looking right through me. I put on an act, but I didn't think he believed it. What else did he say?"

"That he could tell you were really hoping he'd print what you said, that you wanted the other Slytherins to know you'd said it."

"Amazing," she repeated. "Yeah, I did the usual stuff about how you have to be the center of attention, because you're the Boy Who Lived, that sort of thing."

"I'll try not to be too offended," he said.

"Are we safe here?" she asked.

Harry nodded. "The others are keeping an eye out. And in the worst case, if we were found, there's nothing so overly suspicious. I'll say I wanted to have a chat with you about your attitude."

She looked amused. "Which would be true, really."

"Pansy, can I ask you something?" She nodded. "I'm not trying to be critical, I'd just really like to know. What is it about Malfoy that you like, or liked, before he got like he is now?"

She considered his question. "He's very confident; I think people find that appealing. He acts like he's born to command. And he comes from a wealthy and powerful family, I guess that doesn't hurt."

"And it didn't bother you that being nasty to people was a part of that?"

She gave him a glance, as if to assure herself that he was sincere in asking, then thought again. "All I can think is that it's easier to ignore it when you're the one doing it, or your friends. You think it's justified somehow. But it started bothering me last year, I'm not even sure why. I tried to ignore it, but it wouldn't go away. This year, I've been acting like I usually do, but my heart hasn't been in it, to say the least.

"I think what made me go looking for you," she said unprompted, as if she wanted to get this off her chest, "was what you're doing with the Dark Lord. I know you want me to say his name, but I can't. Not now. I've heard about the Curse, I know that it's horrible beyond words. That you would face it voluntarily... it's just an act of bravery that I can barely understand. That, combined with Draco's attitude, just made it crystal clear to me just how... bankrupt I was, what I was doing was. Laughing at his jokes, hanging out with him... it just seemed so stupid. You're trying to get people not to be afraid of the Dark Lord, and he's obsessed with you being a teacher and wanting to hurt you. I just had enough. You can use all the help you can get."

"That's for sure," he agreed. "But you seem to be doing it undercover, and like I said, I'm not sure that's a good idea. You could still do a lot of good by steering away from Malfoy gently, or trying to talk him down from where he is now."

She looked at him as if trying to figure out what made him tick. "I heard that you felt very bad for what happened to Hermione, that you felt responsible. Would you feel responsible if I did this for you and something happened to me?"

"Of course," he said, surprised that she should have to ask. He continued, feeling as though she had shared a confidence, and that he should too. "I talked to Professor Dumbledore about it. He said that you're not a good leader if you don't feel this way, that it's part of the price of leadership. Hermione and the others wouldn't risk their lives for me if they thought I was going to be careless with them. But I don't feel this way because I want them to risk their lives for me. They risk their lives for me because I feel this way. If you see what I mean. It's very, very serious. I would feel that way about anybody, you included, who had placed any trust in me, put themselves in danger for me. I couldn't feel any other way."

She stared at him for a moment. "Sorry, that kind of thinking just seems... unfamiliar to me. I can understand it, but... Draco would laugh at it. His attitude would be, well, if they get hurt, then they didn't do their jobs well enough."

"And that's why, I'm very sure, nobody in Slytherin would ever risk their life for Malfoy," said Harry.

"That's for sure," she agreed. "Well, then again, Crabbe and Goyle might, since they might be too stupid to know that they were doing it."

He chuckled. "Are they really as stupid as they seem? I never hear them talk, so I'm not sure."

"To tell you the truth, I haven't heard them talk much more than you have. They laugh at his jokes, mainly. Of course, that's what I did, too."

"Well, fun as it is to sit around making jokes about Crabbe and Goyle, since that was one of the things I didn't like about you, I shouldn't do it too."

"I'm going to have to still do it, you know. It'll look too strange to the others if I don't."

Harry looked at her seriously. "Are you really sure you want to do it this way?"

She smiled again at his concern. "I know how things work in Slytherin, I can take care of myself. I won't do anything stupid."

"Yeah, but you'll still have to sit there and agree with Malfoy and laugh at his jokes, which you really don't want to do anymore."

"Yes," she agreed, "but now I'll be doing it for a reason, one I can be proud of instead of ashamed of."

He nodded; he could understand that. "Pansy, could you tell me what's going on in Slytherin these days? Is Malfoy still as powerful as he was, or are people going to abandon him because he lost his badge? I mean, even in fourth year, he had power and influence even when he didn't have a badge. How does that work?"

She thought for a moment. "It's still kind of early to tell. Draco's influence doesn't come from his badge so much, but from his personality and his family's power. With his father in jail, that's taken a dive, but I think he's trying to use fear instead now. Now that everybody knows his father's a Death Eater, he wants Slytherins to think he has some influence with the Dark Lord through his father, so they'll fear him. He wants them to think that if they cross him, the Dark Lord will get them. He hasn't had to make many threats; students younger than him are so used to being cowed by him that they never make waves. It's only you and the first years that have changed things. The first years hadn't learned yet that they should kowtow to Draco. They loved your lesson; you told them not to kowtow to him, so they didn't. He couldn't believe it. And what hurt him worse was that it wasn't just one or two, it was all ten. He usually just makes an example of one or two, and the rest fall in line. He couldn't make an example of all ten. He cursed one, but the others didn't budge..."

Harry couldn't help but smile with pride and interrupt. "I taught them that. I told them they had to hang tough to win, but they could. It's a little like my situation with Voldemort. He's trying to make an example of me, to get everyone cowed. But if I can hang in there and, you know, not be killed, then that's a victory right there."

She shook her head in wonder. "Anyway, Draco had a feeling you were responsible, and that just made him madder at you. But by then, your second and third years had had their lessons, liked them, and they saw what the first years were doing, and it was like they realized that they could do it too. They're not quite as bold as the first years, but I think they'll be sticking it to Draco pretty soon. I think the others will be waking up soon, too, if they haven't already. I heard the fifth years all bailed on him. So, I think Draco's power is falling apart, but it's only beginning to. Maybe the rest will happen this week. Having to do all those detentions means less time in the Slytherin common room to make sure people aren't saying things about him. So, that's good."

"I did warn him," Harry said. "I'm still amazed that he did it anyway."

"Like I said, he's just losing it. He can't deal with what's happened. When he sees that article tomorrow, he'll go berserk. He'll get himself expelled if he's not careful."

"I was thinking, Pansy, we should have some kind of way of getting in contact if one of us needs to talk to the other. Obviously we can't if either of us is in our dormitories, but that shouldn't be urgent. I'll try to work out something for emergency situations. I was thinking, if you want to talk to me, you should insult me when you see me... unless there are teachers around, then you really would get detention."

"Besides, I'll have to insult you from time to time anyway, just so Draco doesn't get suspicious." She shrugged in apology.

He shrugged in indifference. "I'm kind of used to it. But maybe then we should make it a specific insult, one that'll signal me that you want to talk. Any ideas?"

"How about something about your scar?"

"Nah, there isn't anything really to say about my scar, except that it's ugly or something. Not one of Malfoy's better insults. How about something about dementors?"

"Oh, you mean from third year, when you were fainting? Why were you fainting, anyway?"

Harry decided to share another confidence, since it wasn't anything that could hurt them if it got out. He wanted her to feel comfortable with him. He looked her in the eyes and said, "When dementors get close to me, I see my mother and father being killed."

She gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. "Oh, Harry, I'm so sorry... I had no idea, and I kept making fun of you..." She looked distraught.

"Don't worry about it, Pansy. You're not that person anymore," he said earnestly. "Really, don't worry about it."

"I know, I just feel so stupid. I don't think I want to use dementors as a signal."

"Okay, how about this," Harry suggested. "You just call me 'Professor Potter' in a really snide voice. And if I want to talk to you... well, I can't insult you, I'm a teacher...I'll just stare at you, as if you've done something wrong. Then we'll try to meet in the Defense Against the Dark Arts room as soon as we can. If it's really an emergency, just go to Professors McGonagall or Dumbledore, tell them you need to see me."

As he was talking, she had started petting Fawkes. "He's so beautiful, and his feathers are so soft..." Like Harry yesterday, she was having trouble stopping.

"You did get what I said, right?" Harry asked.

"'Professor Potter' snide, you stare at me, Dark Arts classroom, emergency go to McGonagall or Dumbledore. I was listening," she said, a bit defensively. She stopped petting Fawkes.

"I didn't mean that you weren't, it's just that Fawkes can be pretty mesmerizing. I just wanted to be sure."

"Harry... I want to ask you something, and I'm sure that people have asked you this, but if you could tell me..." He nodded, gesturing for her to continue.

"I overheard a few Gryffindor first years telling someone about hearing you scream, both nights. They were pretty vivid descriptions, and knowing about the Curse, I'm sure they were accurate." She shook her head. "I couldn't do what you're doing, I just couldn't. I know it. I really want to know how you do it. I don't mean why, I know why. I mean how." She stared at him earnestly.

He kept eye contact with her for a few seconds, thinking. "Honestly, I'm not sure that I could tell you. In a case like this, I treat it as something that has to happen, that I have no choice about, since giving in is unthinkable. And if you have no choice, there's just nothing to do but deal with it when it happens.

"Also, there's them," he said, gesturing to the classroom in which Ron, Hermione, and Ginny sat. "They care about me, they would do anything they could for me; they have, many times. You can't imagine what a source of strength that is. One thing I know for sure, I couldn't do this without them. This is where Voldemort is weak, this is what he doesn't understand. Love and friendship are powerful, and he doesn't understand them at all. I mean, look at what almost killed him; the protection my mother gave me, by dying and with her love. He didn't understand it, he still doesn't.

"But that's the best answer I can think of to your question. You say you couldn't do it, but maybe you could if your situation was different. You can't know."

She appeared to be fighting back tears, but Harry wasn't sure. After a moment, she asked, "He really doesn't understand why you're doing this? What does he say in the dreams?"

Harry was surprised this hadn't gotten back to her, or maybe she just wanted to hear it directly from him. He related a lot of what had happened in both dreams. Her eyes got very wide when he had reached the end of the second one.

"Oh, my... I can't believe you mocked him like that... why in the world...?"

"Like I said, he can't threaten me any worse than he has. I want him underestimating me, I want him mad at me, so mad he won't think straight. He was so mad that he sent Nott after me right away last night, so obviously what I've done has been a good idea."

She was amazed again. "Leave it to you to think of a murder attempt as a good thing. I understand what you mean, but still..." She paused, thinking.

"You know what I feel like, Harry? I feel like I just heard music for the first time, or just had chocolate for the first time. It's like, there's this whole other thing that I never knew existed, and it's just amazing. I can't do what you're doing, but I can try to keep you safe while you do it, and I will.

"I suppose I should go before I'm missed for too long. I'll look for you if there's something I need to tell you."

"Pansy... thank you for doing this. It really helps. It could save my life, I don't know. But even if it ends up doing nothing practical... it still helps, believe me."

She smiled, and they left the office, stepping into the classroom. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny stood. Pansy walked up to them and faced them.

She took a deep breath before speaking. "I want to help you. I want to help him, what little I can, doing what he's doing. I know he believes me. I hope you will too. And I want to apologize to you, for how I've treated you in the past... especially you, Hermione, I've been extra nasty to you, and I'm sorry about that. I've acted like an idiot. You don't deserve it."

Hermione's face, stony at first, melted a bit, and then she did something that greatly surprised Harry. She raised her hand as high as she could, straining to go higher, mocking herself as she appeared in class at times, desperate for the teacher to call on her. Pansy, Harry, Ron, and Ginny all broke up laughing.

Pansy smiled at Hermione. "Thank you, Hermione. I appreciate that. But I still shouldn't have done it. If I need to give him a message and I can't find him, I'll give it to one of you instead. I'm sorry I have to treat you like my normal stupid self in public. But like Harry says, I have to be careful." She looked briefly at all of them, then lingered on Harry for a few seconds. Then she turned and left.

Ron took out the Map and watched the dot move away, then he looked at Harry, as the others were doing. "Let me tell you, mate," he said to Harry, "Hermione says I'm clueless, and she may be right... but I don't have to be Hugo to understand that last look she gave you."

Ginny nodded. "It was pretty revealing, that's for sure."

Harry was puzzled. "What, are you saying she does fancy me?"

Hermione shook her head. "It's more than that, Harry. It's like... she's never met anyone like you before, and she's amazed. She wants to think that one day she'll be worthy of someone like you, like something to aspire to."

"I also got the feeling that she really wants to prove herself, to do something that's really helpful, " Ginny added. "But, yes, you look pretty good to her right now."

"Spending all that time with Malfoy, anyone who's not a power-hungry bully is going to look pretty good," said Harry.

Hermione sighed. "Harry, come to dinner with us, and I'll tell you about how annoying it is for us when you put yourself down like that." They headed out the door.

"I don't mind it when he does that," said Ron.

"Shut up, Ron," replied Hermione.

Author notes: In Chapter 12: An intensified dream attack by Voldemort pushes Harry to his limits, causing him to take defensive measures that begin to shed some light on the prophecy.