The Awakening Power


Story Summary:
Complete! Challenges fill Harry's busy sixth year: growing powers, Snape becomes defense teacher (and Harry's not in the mood for abuse), a new Potions teacher, a girl with a new crush on him, Quidditch, Voldemort, and a certain redheaded girl named Ginny who may help him through all of it. What are the goblins up to? Will Ron win Hermione back? And what exactly is Voldemort's diabolical plan to kill Harry and plunge magical society into anarchy? Lots of romance, drama, action and humor! Voted Phoenix Song's Best Novel-Length Story (along with Best Harry and Best Kiss).

Chapter 07

Chapter Summary:
Harry’s powers are growing very strong, and Dumbledore is worried about his control. Meanwhile, Snape has become the new Defense teacher, and Harry resolves not to take his abuse this year… Will Harry notice Ginny? Will Ron win Hermione back? Who has a new crush on Harry? Who is the new Potions teacher? And what exactly is Voldemort’s diabolical plan to kill Harry and plunge magical society into anarchy? Lots of humor, drama, action and romance as all these questions are answered and much more in Harry’s busy sixth year.
Author's Note:
Harry sixth year, after OotP. H/G, R/Hr, PG-13 rating.

Chapter 7: Girls, Goblins and Getaways

* * *

Harry was sitting at the breakfast table, along with Ron, Hermione and Ginny. Mrs. Weasley had fixed yet another huge pile of food, and now was upstairs taking care of some chores. Harry couldn't believe how much he had been eating lately. His ribs had been showing embarrassingly when he had arrived at the Weasleys', but in the weeks since he seemed to have gained a lot of weight.

But his appetite still didn't compete with Ron's. He watched in fascination as Ron piled up another enormous plate of food. He idly wondered exactly where it all went. Hermione seemed to notice as well as she cast a disapproving look at Ron.

"Great Merlin, Ron, don't you ever stop eating?" she asked.

Ginny giggled. "Give it up, Hermione. He's always been that way."

Ron took a generous helping of scrambled eggs, shoveling them into his mouth with gusto. Ginny paused, appearing to wait for him to commit to the bite, and then said with a grin, "His future wife is going to have to be able to keep him well fed."

Ron choked on his food and glared at Ginny.

As he started to respond, an owl flew through the window and dropped several letters on the table. Seeing the seal of the Ministry on the official looking envelopes, Harry felt a cold chill as he realized what had arrived.

Ron's retort to Ginny forgotten, he stared fearfully at the letters. His voice grew hushed as he asked, "Are those...?"

"Ooooh! Our OWL results!" Hermione said excitedly.

She grabbed her envelope and ripped it open eagerly. Quickly reading the letter, her face fell. "Oh, no!" she said with horror.

"What!?" asked Harry and Ron together.

"How many OWLs did you get?" asked Ginny.

"Oh, well," said Hermione, embarrassed.

"How many?" Ron asked.

"Er, thirteen," she said, turning away and blushing.

"Thirteen! How the bloody hell do you get thirteen? You didn't have that many classes!" said Ron loudly.

"Um, well, I took some independent study courses," said Hermione.

"You never told us that!" said Ron, a bit annoyed.

"After I overdid things in the third year, I received permission to just make independent studies of certain subjects without having to attend classes. I was able to make more efficient use of my time. I also did extra study during the summer. I didn't know how it would go, so I didn't tell anyone in case I ended up, well, failing."

"So what's wrong then?" asked Ginny.

"Oh, that." Hermione appeared to blush even deeper. "You remember the History of Magic OWL that got interrupted last year? I wasn't able to finish, much less go back and check all my answers. My grade was, uh, a little lower than I expected," she said.

"Let me see your letter!" said Ron suspiciously, as he reached over and snatched it from her hands.

"Congratulations, Hermione. You deserved it," said Harry, smiling. Hermione beamed back at him.

Ron looked awed. "You got an 'O' in every subject! Well, except for the one where you only got an 'E'." He snickered. "Wait until Percy hears about this with his twelve ruddy OWLs. I might have to let Fred and George know... they'll for sure want to hear about this."

"All right, Ron, how about yours?" said Ginny, with a smile.

Ron looked at the letter on the table like it might explode in his face if he opened it. "I-I can't." He reached over, grabbed the letter, and thrust it at Ginny. "Here, you do it."

"Honestly, Ron. Are you a Gryffindor or aren't you?" She opened the letter, taking out an official looking piece of parchment. She took her time reading it over, expressionless.

"Well?" said Ron with exasperation.

Ginny looked at her brother with a sad expression. "I'm sorry, Ron," she said as she patted his shoulder. Ron looked stricken.

"Hermione beat you. Only eight OWLs," she said, her face breaking up in a laugh.

"Eight?" he said, as if the number wasn't quite registering.

"Oh Ron! I'm so proud of you!" Hermione said. She jumped up, hugging him excitedly.

"Eight bloody OWLs?" He grabbed the letter back from Ginny and skimmed it quickly. "I passed Potions!"

He turned to Hermione. "Thank you, thank you," he said sincerely. "I couldn't have done it without your help." Hermione blushed deeply at this, and Ron looked uncomfortable about his emotional outburst as well.

"Well done, Ron," said Harry, grinning at him.

Ron cleared his throat. "Well, Harry, how about yours?" he asked.

Harry took a breath as he reached for his letter. He opened it up and began reading. He felt a sinking feeling as he read the contents.

"What's the matter? How many?" said Ginny.

"Oh, uh, nine, I guess," Harry said.

"That's great, mate! Congratulations!" said Ron enthusiastically.

"Yes, Harry! That's wonderful!" said Ginny.

"What's the matter, Harry? Those results are fantastic!" said Hermione.

Harry passed his letter over. Hermione read it over, looking distressed as she realized the problem. "Oh, Harry, an 'E' in Potions, but..."

"McGonagall said that Snape only accepts Outstanding potion OWLs in his N.E.W.T. classes, and to be an Auror I need to take advanced Potions," said Harry, his face a mask.

"I bet if you spoke to McGonagall or Dumbledore, they would make Snape take you!" said Ron.

"No," said Harry forcefully.

"But Harry, you need Potions! And if Snape wasn't such a horrible teacher, you would have received an 'O'!" said Hermione.

"No! It's done!" said Harry, angrily.

"But why? Harry, if anyone should be an Auror, it's you!" said Hermione fervently.

"Stop!" Harry shouted, losing his temper. "I'm not going to talk to bloody McGonagall or bloody Dumbledore! I messed up, I don't deserve the class!" Harry stood up, knocking his chair to the floor. "Now drop it!" He stalked out of the kitchen.

He went to the living room and slumped into a chair. He already felt guilty about yelling at Ron and Hermione. He wasn't even sure why he had become so angry. He buried his face into his hands, tears threatening to burn his eyes. He pulled them back, struggling for control over himself. The memory of McGonagall at his career meeting came back to him.

"Potter, I will assist you to become an Auror if it is the last thing I do!" she had said.

Harry felt a deep shame, thinking that he had let her down. What other career could he do? He had no idea. Becoming an Auror was the only thing he had ever thought about. Maybe he could talk to McGonagall or Dumbledore about Snape, but he just felt a deep aversion to the whole idea.

Ron and Hermione came out of the kitchen, looking concerned and contrite. "Harry, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have pushed that on you," Hermione said.

"Yeah. Sorry, mate," said Ron.

"I'm sure it will all work out someway. You deserve to be an Auror. You heard Tonks - she said you're an unofficial one anyway," said Hermione.

"I'm sorry, too," said Harry. "I shouldn't have shouted at you. I guess it was the disappointment."

"How about we finish our breakfast?" said Ron, trying to restore normality. Hermione gave him a suspicious look, but said nothing.

"In a minute. I just want to - think. I'll come back in a few minutes," said Harry.

"All right, mate. Anything you say." Ron headed back into the kitchen.

Hermione paused and said, "Harry, I should have realized that you wouldn't want special treatment after all the attention you already get, and especially with Snape who accuses you of that all the time anyway."

"Thanks, Hermione, for understanding," he said gratefully. She was right. She had managed to sum up his feelings concisely, and somehow hearing it made it a little easier to deal with.

Hermione smiled at him. "Well, don't thank me, thank Ginny. She explained it to Ron and me after you left."

"Ginny?" said Harry.

"You know, she understands you very well, Harry," Hermione said, and she headed back to the kitchen.

Harry walked over and sat next to a window, gazing out at the bright morning sunshine. He pondered his future, and pondered how it was that someone knew him so well.

* * *

"Come on you lot! Hurry up! The Ministry car will be here any second to take us to Diagon Alley!" Mrs. Weasley yelled up the stairs.

Ginny sighed as she tried to pull herself together. Their school letters had come a few days before with their book lists. As expected, Ron and Hermione were prefects again this year. Ginny's mum had hoped she might make prefect, but no badge had appeared with her letter.

"Mum, it's no big deal. I wasn't expecting it. My marks are decent, but I'm not the prefect type," Ginny had said.

"Too much influence from Fred and George! If only you had taken after your other brothers... even Ron..." Mrs. Weasley said. Ginny rolled her eyes.

Harry had tried to act disinterested in whether she was a prefect, but she suspected that he was secretly happy. With his two best friends being prefects, it would have been hard for him if yet another of his friends became one without him. I'll have to keep him company on the train again this year, she thought.

Hermione was busy packing up some stuff to take with her.

"Ready to go?" Ginny asked.

"Yes. Let's find the boys," said Hermione.

Ron and Harry were already waiting downstairs. A few minutes later a Ministry car pulled up, and they all piled into the car along with Mrs. Weasley.

"Are they ever going to let us travel by floo powder again?" asked Ron, annoyed.

"Ron!" glared Hermione, glancing at Harry. Harry just sighed. Ginny thought that he was probably tired of making everyone take special precautions.

Mrs. Weasley shot Ron a glare as well. "I've heard that they are working on setting up some secure floo channels to make it harder for You-Know-Who to attack," she said. She turned to Harry, "You know, dear, it's not just us that are taking precautions. Many people in the Ministry have to take special measures."

Harry nodded glumly. He didn't look particularly eased by the news.

Soon they reached the Leaky Cauldron. Mrs. Weasley counted the bricks, and then activated the entrance. The bricks pulled back, giving access to the street.

Ginny always loved Diagon Alley. It had such a phenomenal range of items for sale. Of course, her family had always been short of money, so she couldn't buy things very often. Nevertheless, she always enjoyed poking through the shops.

They walked along the street, coming to a large fountain. "Mum, how about if we meet back at this fountain? Didn't you have some errands to run?" Ginny said.

Mrs. Weasley looked uncertain. "Well, I do, but..."

"We'll be fine! Didn't you say Diagon Alley has tight security nowadays? We'll go off and do our shopping, maybe have some lunch, look around a bit, and then meet back here. We'll be fine! No one is going to attack with all these people around," Ginny said persuasively.

"I suppose we could meet back here..." Mrs. Weasley said reluctantly. "But promise me you lot won't get into trouble! Hermione, you'll look out for them, won't you?"

Hermione got a rather officious look on her face. "I'll keep them out of trouble, Mrs. Weasley."

"Right then, shall we meet back here at two o'clock?" Mrs. Weasley asked.

"That sounds fine. Thanks, Mum," said Ginny, beaming.

Mrs. Weasley opened her bag. "Here is some money for your books and some lunch. Just remember your promise. Stay out of trouble!" Mrs. Weasley said sternly, before wandering off.

"Ginny, that was brilliant! I never thought we'd be able to convince her to let us go off by ourselves," said Ron enthusiastically. "What first? You know, I heard about this pub where they don't check ages..."

"Ron!" said Hermione authoritatively. "You heard your mum. We're supposed to stay out of trouble. We should go shopping for our books!"

Ron's face fell. "But, Hermione! You're not taking my mum seriously, are you?" he asked, then imitated his mother's tone. "Hermione, you'll look out for them, won't you?"

"Ron! Do you want to get in trouble? And we have books to buy," Hermione said heatedly.

The argument continued as Ginny cast a glance at Harry. He seemed to have already tuned them out, being used to five years of it. She grinned at him, and Harry smiled back.

Harry spoke up. "Look, Ron, why don't we get our books out of the way and then we'll be free to do whatever we want? Then we're not rushed at the end."

Hermione shot Ron a superior look, but mercifully didn't say anything else.

Ron grudgingly agreed. "All right, mate. Maybe you're right. The book shop is on the way to that pub anyway." Hermione rolled her eyes. Ginny snickered.

They walked into the bookshop. It was very crowded, filled with students buying their books for the year. Ginny recognized a few students from her year.

"I heard that the new edition of Which Broomstick is out. I think I'll check it out," Ron said, heading over to the Quidditch section.

"Right. I think I'll start with the Defense section," said Harry.

"I've got my fifth year books to buy, so I'll see you all in a few minutes," said Ginny.

Hermione waved at everyone as she headed to the Potions section.

Ginny started walking over to the Standard Studies section, which contained textbooks for pre-OWL students. She had just found The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 5 when she saw a book that had been misplaced in the wrong section: a familiar book that she had joked about during the summer.

Ha! Speak of the devil, Ginny thought. She felt a teasing instinct come over her as she spied Harry over in the Defense section. She pulled the book down and casually walked over to him. Harry was busily flipping through a book when he noticed her coming up. Ginny fought to keep the smirk off her face with only moderate success. Harry seemed to notice.

"What's up, Ginny?" he asked suspiciously.

"Oh, nothing. Just wanted to see what you thought of this book," she said. She handed him the book.

He looked at the title and blushed furiously. It was The Dating Guide for Young Wizards. "Uh, uh, what?" Harry said, speechless.

Ginny managed to keep her face straight, as she gave him a wide-eyed look. "What do you think?"

"Well, it looks - informational, I guess," Harry said, barely able to glance at the book.

"I've heard it's very informational for young wizards. Here, take a look." Ginny reached over and flipped it open to a random page. "Read it and tell me!"

Harry's hands shook slightly as he looked down at the book. The title of the section was, "How to know when the witch is ready to be kissed."

Harry's mouth seemed to have stopped working, so Ginny came around next to him where she could see the book, and began to read.

"Hmm. Let's see. This is interesting. 'Many witches will send subtle signals. For example, they might stand or sit a bit closer than normal, touch your arm, or speak in a low voice,' " Ginny read. She stole a glance at Harry, whose jaw was hanging open in shock.

Ginny continued reading. "Or, listen to this! 'For more information, please see the step-by-step pull-out chart on flirting.' That sounds interesting. Shall we look at the chart?" Ginny asked innocently.

"No!" Harry quickly closed the book, as if it was about to attack him. "No, uh, that's all right, I... uh..."

He's almost too easy, she thought. Ginny decided to take pity on him. "I was thinking of getting that for Ron. You know, so he'll know what do with Hermione," she said. Finally she couldn't hold back and started laughing loudly.

Harry's face fell, as he realized he had been had. He groaned. "You are a cruel one, Miss Weasley. How about if I go get the Guide for Young Witches, and you can read that?"

She grinned at him challengingly. "Harry, I'd like to see you walk over into the teen witch's section, find that book, and carry it back. You do that, and I'll read anything you like."

Harry knew he was defeated, again. "Am I ever going to win something against you?" he asked forlornly.

"Nope," said Ginny with mirth.

"It would be kind of funny to get this book for Ron, though..." Harry said, grinning. His hand was rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

"Harry!" A loud female voice called from across the bookshop.

Turning around, Harry saw Parvati Patil strolling over to him. She looked very pretty in some sunny yellow robes that fit rather snugly, accentuating her curves. Her long, dark hair hung loosely over her shoulders, and was pinned back with a matching flower hairclip. Harry eyes seemed to look her up and down of their own accord.

"It's so good to see you!" she said.

"Hello, Parvati," Harry said politely. Suddenly realizing he was holding a rather embarrassing book, he quickly hid it behind him.

"Oh, hello, uh, Ginny?" Parvati appeared to suddenly notice her presence. "You're Ron's little sister, right?"

Ginny felt irritation rising. "Yes. Hello, Parvati."

Turning back to Harry, Parvati said in a low voice, "Are you doing all right this summer, Harry? Of course, we all know what happened at the Ministry. It was so brave of you."

Harry fidgeted. "Um, I'm doing fine, thanks. It wasn't really anything, I had a lot of help..."

"Perhaps," she smiled coyly at him.

Ginny felt herself growing very irritated.

Parvati took a step closer, causing Harry to gulp in response. "Still, you always seem to do very well in those - situations." She looked him straight in the eye, and her voice went even lower. "It's very inspiring to many of us. I can't wait to learn - more - from you this year."

Ginny thought Harry looked about to collapse. Must resist urge to Bat-Bogey Hex her, she thought furiously.

"I'll see you on the Hogwarts Express, won't I?" she purred at him.

"Uh, sure, yeah, of course, yeah," said Harry.

She touched his arm, sliding her hand down as she moved away. "I'll see you soon, then." With that, she breezed away.

"Harry?" Ginny said, annoyed. Harry was still watching Parvati's back as she moved away. "Harry? Harry!"

"Huh?" He seemed to come out of a trance.

"Oh, never mind." Ginny stalked off.

She spotted Hermione in the Charms section. She wandered over and started looking for her fifth year Charms book. She must have had a look on her face, because Hermione raised her eyebrows at her.

"What's up with you? You look like you want to hex someone."

"Too right. The Bat-Bogey is too good for a certain sixth year Gryffindor by the name of Parvati," Ginny said, teeth gritted.

"What'd she do?" asked Hermione.

"She came up to Harry and was practically drooling all over him. It was absolutely revolting!" she said, making a disgusted face.

"Parvati? She's never shown any interest in Harry before, not even at the ball."

"Well, she's showing interest now. She couldn't have been more obvious about it. And Harry ate it up!" Ginny said.

"Ah, I see," said Hermione, with a slight smile.

"What's that supposed to mean?" said Ginny, as she pulled books out of the shelf and slammed them back in without even looking at them.

"Ginny, Harry is not going to be interested in Parvati."

"What do I care? He can be interested in her if he wants." She slammed a book back particularly hard.

"He's not interested in her, Ginny."

"You didn't see him, Hermione. The git's jaw was practically hitting the floor," said Ginny.

"I mean, Parvati is pretty, of course, ..." Hermione started. Ginny glared at her. Hermione continued quickly, "but Harry won't be taken in by just a pretty face."

"Cho Chang," said Ginny.

"All right, touché. But Harry didn't know Cho. What happened once he got to know her better? A pretty face wasn't enough, was it? And Harry has known Parvati for five years. He took her to the ball, and didn't exactly give her the time of day after that. She just caught him by surprise, and his hormones erupted," Hermione said, giggling.

Ginny snickered a bit at that. "Well, maybe you're right. What's wrong with me, anyway? Great Merlin, I can't believe I'm letting myself feel jealous. It was just such bad timing, Hermione. Harry and I were having a good laugh together, and she just had to spoil it. And then she looked down her nose at me and gave me a, 'aren't you Ron's little sister'? Like I need to hear that, especially with Harry right there."

Ginny sighed and said, "Listen to me. I am not going to worry about Harry's love life. Just continue down the road, right? If something happens, it happens, if not, then it doesn't. I'm not going to get worked up about this."

"That's the spirit," said Hermione. "Just remember that Harry's going to be a long road for anyone."

"That's for sure. No one knows that more than me," said Ginny, rolling her eyes. "Thanks, Hermione."

* * *

Hermione smiled to herself, as Ginny moved to another section to find the rest of her books. I hope Harry notices her this year, she thought. He needs someone to help hold himself together, and Ginny knows him so well. She sighed. She knew he probably wouldn't do anything about it even if he did start to notice. As she told Ginny before, he'll probably need a push.

Her thoughts drifted to her own situation, causing her smile to fade. She knew it shouldn't, but Ron's failure to say anything at the lake had hurt her. It had felt like rejection, and it had been a major blow to her confidence. She had been so sure the searching look he had given her was some sort of signal, but he had stepped back and hadn't said or done anything since. Maybe he just figured out that he didn't really want anything to happen, she thought morosely.

It had certainly been business as usual lately. They had fun together, Ron teased her about her studying, and they bickered about small things more than they should. It was as if the lake had never happened.

Finished with Charms, she had started looking through the Arithmancy section when she noticed a short, skinny boy casting glances at her. He looked slightly familiar, and then she remembered that he was a sixth-year Ravenclaw named Joseph. He had a bit of a reputation as quite a smart student.

Joseph moved a bit closer to her, and finally spoke up. "Ahem. Aren't you Hermione Granger?" he said, a bit shyly.

"Yes. You're Joseph O'Donnell, right?" said Hermione politely.

He seemed pleased that she knew his name. "Yes! Of course I know you; you have the highest marks in the school. It's unusual that you're a Gryffindor and not a Ravenclaw."

Hermione blushed a bit. "Well, the Sorting Hat considered me for Ravenclaw, but chose Gryffindor in the end."

"I see you are looking at Arithmancy books. I take it you're planning to take advanced studies?" he said.

"Yes, it's one of my favorite subjects!" said Hermione enthusiastically.

"Mine, too," he said, warming to the subject. "You know, I have to say that your essay on Deblume Theory that the Professor copied onto the bulletin board was brilliant."

"Oh, well, I didn't think anyone read those postings. I mean, I do, but I've never noticed anyone else reading them," she said, pleased.

"I read all of your essays that get posted," he said bashfully. "I really admire your work."

"That's very sweet of you to say," she said, flattered.

He launched into an analysis of her Arithmancy essay, and they discussed it for several minutes. Hermione found herself enjoying the conversation, as it was rare that anyone wanted to discuss her papers with her. Ron and Harry certainly didn't.

"You know, I know you get a lot of rubbish about it, but I admire your S.P.E.W. idea," said Joseph.

"Really?" Hermione was a bit stunned. She almost never got positive reactions to it.

"Yes. It's so obvious that it's slavery, isn't it? I think the Wizard world could learn something from the Muggle world about that. I should say that I'm muggle-born, like you. I think the wizard-borns have just lived with it for so long that they don't see the intrinsic immorality of it," said Joseph.

"Yes! That's it exactly," said Hermione excitedly.

He seemed to grow more nervous. "Um, Hermione, next year at school, would you like to, uh, maybe study together? Sometime? You know, you and I?"

Hermione's brain suddenly froze up. She wondered what he was really asking. On the one hand, it was perfectly innocent to have a study partner, but she was getting a feeling that Joseph was looking for something more. A part of her wanted to say "no," so as to not introduce any more problems into her relationship with Ron. But another part of her surged strongly. She wasn't feeling particularly wanted right then, and it was very flattering to have a boy interested in her.

She was about to give him a vague answer when Ron walked up.

"Hi, Hermione. Getting all your books?" he said, giving Joseph a fishy eye. "Who're you?" Ron said, somewhat rudely.

"Oh! Ron, this is Joseph," Hermione said.

"Hi," Ron said, frowning at him suspiciously.

"Er, Hello," Joseph said nervously.

"Well, better get your books, huh?" said Ron.

"Uh, yeah, maybe you're right. Hermione, I better be off. I'll see you at school." Joseph scurried away.

"Ron, what's the matter with you? That was rude!" Hermione said angrily.

"I didn't like the looks of that one," Ron said mulishly.

"What? What was wrong with him?"

"He looked - shifty," Ron said with a scowl.

"He's a student at Hogwarts!"

"So's Malfoy. Hermione, do I need to spell it out for you?"

"Maybe you'd better," Hermione said, crossing her arms.

"You-know-who could be recruiting anybody," Ron said.

"That's Joseph O'Donnell! He's one of Hogwart's best students!"

"Riddle was one of Hogwart's best students, too! For all we know, his parents are Death Eaters!" Ron said.

"His mother and father are muggles!"

Ron's eyes narrowed at her. "How d'you know that?"

"He told me!"

"You seem to know an awful lot about this O'Donnell character," he said, annoyed.

"That's it! I've had enough of this from you, Ron Weasley!" Hermione turned, looking for Joseph.

"Joseph!" she called out to him. He turned from another section. "We didn't finish our conversation. Of course I would love to study with you when we get back to school," she said, and then flashed him the nicest smile she could manage.

Joseph's face lit up. "Great! I'll look for you at Hogwarts," he said, giving her a wave.

Hermione waved back and then glared at Ron, daring him to say anything. Ron's jaw had fallen during the exchange, and he hastily closed his mouth.

"Right then," Ron said. "Well, I guess I'll go look for more of my books." He walked off, his face looking tense and unhappy.

Hermione turned back to her books, trying to keep her tears from falling.

* * *

After paying for his books, Harry walked out of the bookshop to wait for his friends. He had decided to buy the Potions textbook just in case Snape decided to be reasonable. He didn't hold out much hope, but it didn't hurt to be prepared, just in case.

He was still a bit rattled from his encounter with Parvati. She had certainly never spoken to him like that before, and he had to admit that she looked very pretty today. He gulped a bit at the memory. Does she fancy me or something? he wondered, a bit alarmed. He wasn't a good judge of that sort of thing, but even he had to admit that something seemed to be up.

He considered Parvati. She was always nice, if a bit flighty. He hadn't really thought anything about her at all since the ball. Of course, she was a member of the D.A., and that earned her some respect in Harry's mind. She had done well enough in practicing defense.

Still, without her in front of him now, he just couldn't find any attraction for her. But when she had been in front him, a part of himself had felt very attracted. He gulped again at the memory. What is with me? he thought, I do NOT fancy Parvati. He shook himself, trying to push Parvati out of his mind.

Leaning against the wall, he had an odd feeling. He looked around and thought he saw a wizard look away suddenly. The wizard was rather tall, wearing a black hooded robe that hid his head. He was casually reading a notice pinned to a bulletin board, but Harry could have sworn the wizard had been looking at him. Mad-Eye Moody's voice seemed to yell in his head, Constant Vigilance!

Growing suspicious, Harry decided to try an experiment. He walked down the street a few shops, and then stopped to tie his shoe. He sneaked a look behind him, and sure enough, the wizard had followed him, maintaining his distance.

Harry frowned. It still might be a coincidence, he thought. He continued walking, to buy time while he thought about what he should do. Every so often he would stop to look in the window of a shop, and the mysterious wizard appeared to find an excuse to stop as well. Harry felt certain the wizard was tracking his movements.

Harry came to a decision, ducking into a curio shop. He moved quickly into the back of the shop, where he could watch the door unobserved. He waited several minutes. Finally he saw the wizard come up to the window and peek in. He appeared to be looking for Harry in the shop. He moved over to the door, pushing it open.

There was no doubt in Harry's mind now that the wizard was after him. Adrenaline surged in him as he desperately tried to think of a plan. Suddenly a bottle containing an odd animal skull burst apart, making a loud noise. Not accidental magic now, he thought, peeved.

The wizard started in surprise at the noise and then spotted Harry watching him. Harry bolted toward the back of the store, frantically looking for a way out. He could hear footsteps behind as the wizard gave pursuit.

Harry saw a back door and quickly ran through it, breaking out into a dank alley behind the curio shop. He took off in a dead run. The backstreet was sparsely populated, but he got curious looks from some frightening looking hags. He turned down a side alley, ducking into a shadowy alcove. He waited, trying to calm his heavy breathing from running and nervousness.

He saw the mysterious wizard creeping into the alley. The wizard stopped and pulled a small box out of his pocket. Waving his wand over the box, he spoke something into it. He began to wave the box around in a circular pattern. Harry couldn't see what the box did, but it appeared to indicate something to the wizard. The wizard waved the box in smaller and smaller arcs. Harry realized that the arcs were converging on his position in the alcove, somehow telling the wizard where Harry was hiding. He had only seconds before he was discovered.

Harry began running again, the wizard soon following in hot pursuit. "Wait!" the wizard yelled at him. Harry ignored him. He was not going to be captured by a Death Eater that easily.

Panicking a bit, he flew open the first door he came to and ran in. It was the back of a large warehouse, stacked with a large quantity of crates. The crates were opening themselves, as merchandise floated in from another part of the building to pack themselves into the boxes.

Harry ducked behind a particularly large box and waited, catching his breath. He thought about trying to stun the wizard, but he wasn't completely confident of catching the wizard off-guard. He had learned a tremendous amount over the summer, but he had precious little practice. If Harry's spell was blocked, then his position would be given away. He didn't want to risk getting into a duel. An alternative idea started to form in his head instead. If it worked on a Troll...

He took out his wand and whispered, "Wingardium Leviosa!" He levitated one of the boxes up into the air and held it there. He could hear the mysterious wizard moving around, but couldn't see him. He waited anxiously for the wizard to show himself.

Finally he saw the wizard walking slowly toward Harry's position, holding the strange box out in front of him. Just a little farther, Harry thought nervously.

Now! Harry released the box, and it came crashing down on the wizard's head, causing him to crumple to the ground. Harry ran over to him, waving his wand as he gave an incantation. Ropes emitted from his wand, wrapping tightly around the man.

Harry crept up closer, not certain if the wizard was really out. He saw the wizard's wand nearby and slipped it into a pocket in his robes. Pulling back the wizard's hood, Harry saw a strange man that he had never seen before. The wizard appeared to be knocked out.

Harry was tempted to just leave the wizard where he was, but thought that he better bring him in. Someone might want to question him, and he also felt that he might need medical attention. Death Eater though he probably was, Harry didn't want to kill him.

Harry levitated the body and walked out of the warehouse. With a sinking feeling, he realized that he was lost and wasn't sure how to get back to the main street. He started walking back down the way he came. The people in the alley gave him strange looks as the levitated body moved in front of him.

Finally he found a side alley that looked familiar, which took him back to the main street. He started walking back toward the bookstore, hoping to find Mrs. Weasley, along with Ron, Hermione and Ginny. All he really wanted to do was pass on the responsibility of the stranger to some Aurors.

He started getting more and more curious stares, and then he noticed that some people in the street were actually following him. With some chagrin, he wondered if they recognized him. Finally he saw Ron, Hermione and Ginny up ahead.

"Hey!" Harry called.

"Harry!" said Hermione shrilly. "Where have you been?"

Ginny looked extremely worried as well. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. This wizard was chasing me," said Harry. "I was able to knock him out and tie him up."

"What!" said Ron. "Who is he? Where did he come from? Is he a Death Eater?"

"I don't know," said Harry. "I just want to get rid of him. Where's your mum?"

"We found her after you disappeared. She got hysterical and went to find the Aurors that are supposed to be keeping track of us," said Ron.

"Aurors?" said Harry. "Tracking us?"

"Of course, mate. Diagon Alley normally has a lot of beefed up security these days, but they assigned some extra detail to you."

"Harry Potter!" Mrs. Weasley ran up to him, and pulled him into a desperate embrace. "What happened? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Mrs. Weasley, really." He noticed that Mrs. Weasley wasn't alone. Two men that Harry didn't know were with her.

"Harry, this is Mr. MacGregor and Mr. Blackhorn. They are Aurors providing extra security to Diagon Alley. Please tell them what happened."

The two men turned their attention to Harry. "Well, uh, I noticed this wizard following me, and I ran away. He followed, and I managed to knock him out."

The Aurors raised their eyebrows. "All right, Mr. Potter, let's have a look at your pursuer, here." Walking over to the wizard, they pulled back his hood. They shared a stunned look and began laughing. A groan came up from the mysterious wizard, as he began to regain consciousness.

"What's so funny?" said Harry, somewhat annoyed.

"Well, Mr. Potter, you managed to capture a dangerous wizard," said MacGregor. "Normally dangerous to Dark Wizards, that is. You captured an Auror who was supposed to be protecting you. We know him quite well. His name is Robert Page."

Page gave another groan. "Well, Page, it isn't every day that one gets captured by Harry Potter," said Blackhorn, with a huge grin.

"All right, all right, just untie me, Blackhorn. Oooh, my head," said Page, moaning.

"I'm really sorry, Mr. Page," said Harry.

"Don't be sorry, Mr. Potter. You did what you had to do," said Page, stepping out of the ropes. Harry handed him back his wand. "I should have identified myself once my cover was blown. That was nice work. I just wish it hadn't been against me."

Harry flushed at the compliment.

"Just another day in the life of a future Auror, eh, Potter?" said Blackhorn, grinning.

"How did you know I wanted to be an Auror?" said Harry.

All three looked at him in disbelief. "It that a joke?" said Blackhorn. "What else would you be, a ruddy filing clerk?"

"Tonks told us about seeing your memory of taking on You-Know-Who in the Pensieve," MacGregor said, with some good-natured jealousy. "Wish I could have seen it for myself. Of course, everyone in the Department knows your track record. You're going to be a great Auror someday. Right, Page?" He gave Page another grin.

Page looked at him sourly. "You lot are going to be merciless about this, aren't you?" he sighed. "Well, I suppose there are worse people to get captured by. This'll be a story to tell the grandchildren."

Harry was burning with embarrassment at all the praise, but also felt a whole new emptiness about falling short in his Potion's OWL. He was tempted to tell the Aurors that his career option was closed, but held himself back. He had to hope that Hermione was right and somehow it would all work out.

"Well, we'd better get back to duty," MacGregor said. "By the way, Potter," he continued conspiratorially, "don't worry about any underage magic usage issues. We'll make sure nothing comes to anybody's attention. Not that you should have to worry about anything, but..." Anger flashed on his face for a split second, and then he smiled again.

Blackhorn grew serious, looking Harry in the eye. "It was an honor meeting you, Mr. Potter. Good luck to you in the future." He shook Harry's hand solemnly. MacGregor and Page followed suit, both nodding their heads in agreement.

"Mr. Potter, someday I might try and get a Firewhiskey out of you over this incident," Page said, smiling.

Harry smiled back. "I'll be happy to."

The three Aurors strode off.

"Are you all right, Harry?" said Mrs. Weasley, concerned.

"Really, Mrs. Weasley, I'm fine. Why don't you go finish your shopping? I'm sorry to have worried you," said Harry.

"I do have a few more things to pick up..." said Mrs. Weasley uncertainly.

"I think everything is all right now. False alarm, right? Please go ahead, and we'll meet you back at the same spot," Harry said, with what he hoped was a convincing expression. He just wanted to get the day back to normal.

"Well, all right, Harry, if you're sure," she said.

"I'm sure," Harry said.

"I'll see you children later, then," said Mrs. Weasley, heading off.

They all said goodbye and waved her off.

"How about we head over and get some lunch?" said Ron. "I'm starving."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Why doesn't that surprise me? But I'm getting a bit hungry myself. How about you two?"

"Sounds good to me," said Ginny.

"There's a restaurant right across the street from Gringotts. I need to get some money for the year. How about if I meet you at the restaurant afterward?" said Harry.

"Fine by me," said Ron, and everyone nodded agreement.

They walked down the street, marveling at the variety of merchandise on display. Finally they reached Gringotts and Harry split off from the group.

He walked into the bank. He noticed that in addition to the normal multiple sets of doors, there seemed to be some extra security about. There were many Goblins standing around looking meaner than usual. He walked up to one of the desks and addressed a rather ugly Goblin.

"I'm Harry Potter. I'd like to access my vault, please."

The Goblin looked surly as he gazed over his half-moon glasses. "Potter, eh? One moment, please."

The Goblin scurried away, and Harry was left alone for several minutes. Just as he was about to find someone else to help him, the Goblin returned. "There is someone who would like to speak to you. This is Garnak. He will lead you." The Goblin gestured to his right at a beefy Goblin.

"Please come this way, Mr. Potter," said Garnak. He looked as if he would rather be leading sewage than Harry.

"Wait, what's this all about?" said Harry, nervously. His paranoia level was very high after the events earlier in the day.

Garnak looked at him with contempt. "You are perfectly safe. Minister Ragnok would like a word with you."

Harry looked unconvinced, but allowed himself to be lead through a nearby door. They walked down a long tunnel that started angling down. They made a series of twists and turns, and soon Harry was hopelessly lost. He had to trust they would lead him out again.

Finally they reached an ornate door. Garnak knocked on the door once and said, "Mr. Potter to see you, sir."

"Enter," said a quiet voice.

Harry entered a very large office, filled with magical artifacts in glass cases. At the end of the room was a large desk, with a small, gnarled Goblin behind it. He looked as if he were very old. Garnak led Harry over to the desk.

"My name is Ragnok. Please have a seat, Mr. Potter." Harry sat in a chair in front of the desk. "Garnak, please leave us." Garnak left the room, closing the door behind him.

"Mr. Potter, I asked to see you to discuss a very important matter. Namely, the return of Lord Voldemort."

Harry looked surprised.

"Yes, we dare to speak his name." Ragnok smiled. "Goblins generally agree with Dumbledore on that issue."

"Why do you want to talk to me about it?" asked Harry curiously.

Ragnok's expression grew grim. "Before I answer that, Mr. Potter, allow me to give you some rather inside information. You need to understand that Goblins are divided on the issue of Voldemort. Some of us actually welcome his conquering of Wizard society." His voice grew contemptuous. "Some of us believe that he will give us freedoms that the current regime denies us.

"Others, such as myself, know that Voldemort only cares about his own power, and any promises he gives us are only designed to mislead and use us. Voldemort is about enslavement, not liberation."

Ragnok laced his fingers. "Something else you need to know is that Voldemort is working to destabilize the Wizard world's economy. It is not entirely clear what he's doing, but there are suspicious fluctuations in the Galleon currency market." Harry's eyes began to glaze over. "Well, the details are unimportant. Just know that a war is not only fought on the battlefield, but can also be fought economically. I suspect that I have traitors within my own ranks who are making this possible for him."

"Now, why am I telling you all this?" said Ragnok. "Simply put, Mr. Potter, you are key to defeating Voldemort."

Harry wondered if he knew about the Prophecy.

"I see that this statement doesn't seem to surprise you. I can only surmise that Dumbledore has his own sources of information. Mr. Potter, Goblins have our own brand of predictive magic, and we keep our ears very low to the ground. Your power is great - greater than I believe you know.

"Frankly, there are those in the Goblin community who would like to turn you over to Voldemort. They believe that this would win great rewards. And it would - temporarily. But there are others, a majority I hope, that are prepared to put our power behind yours when the final battle is ready to be waged."

Harry was trying to keep up with the flood of thoughts threatening to drown his brain. "Why tell me? Why not tell Dumbledore? He seems to know a lot more about all of this than me, frankly."

Ragnok smiled. "What makes you believe I haven't? I have told all of this to Dumbledore, just recently in fact."

"So why tell me as well?" asked Harry.

Ragnok paused, rubbing his chin with his long fingers. "Mr. Potter, Goblin society has a long memory. As you've no doubt noticed in your studies, there have been many Goblin rebellions. There is nothing new about Wizards seizing control of magical society.

"As I said, you are an exceptionally powerful wizard. If you defeat Voldemort, then what? What is to stop you from taking his place?"

Harry was stunned at this. "I would never become another Voldemort!" he said emphatically.

Ragnok looked gloomy. "Oh, I would not expect you would rule using the same methods. But when one has great power, one is tempted to use it. I am sure that you would use it for 'good,' as you define the word. But a good ruler is still a ruler."

Harry shook his head. "I don't want to rule magical society!"

"You may not have a choice. If you were faced with the fall of society, anarchy in other words, and through your power you could bring back order, would you turn away? Would you refuse?" asked Ragnok.

Harry just kept shaking his head, not knowing the answer - fearing the answer.

"It may not happen that way. Our predictions are not that specific." Ragnok fixed Harry with a steady look. "But if it does, Mr. Potter, please remember who your friends were this day."

Ragnok made a gesture, and Garnak quietly reentered the room. Ragnok stood up, and Harry followed suit. "It's been a pleasure, Mr. Potter. If you need anything, please do not hesitate to contact me." He solemnly shook Harry's hand.

Garnak led him from the room and up through the maze of tunnels. Finally he arrived back in the main lobby. Still dazed from his conversation, he almost left without doing his original business. But he managed to stumble his way through the transaction, and withdrew some money from his vault.

Harry walked across the street towards the restaurant. He noticed his friends sitting at an outdoor table, talking animatedly in the warm sunshine. Walking up to the table, Harry staggered into a chair. He must have looked rather haggard as they all turned to stare at him.

"I'm not sure how much more I can take today," Harry said.

"Bloody hell! What now?" said Ron.

"Ron!" said Hermione, glaring at him. "What happened, Harry?"

"Did something happen at Gringotts?" said Ginny, concerned.

Harry paused, gathering his thoughts. He rubbed his temples, as if trying to massage some order into his mind. Ron passed him a Butterbeer, and Harry took a long drink.

"I don't even know how to explain this. I better just tell it from the beginning."

Harry went on to give a more-or-less complete account of the events at Gringotts. He was tempted to leave out the part about their fear of him ruling magical society, but found he didn't have the energy to edit his thoughts.

"Whoa! Harry Potter, King of Magic!" said Ron, grinning. "Can I be a knight?"

"Ron! This isn't funny!" said Hermione, glaring at him.

Harry chuckled. "No, it's not. But laughing about it helps a little."

Ron smirked. "Of course, we know who wants to be the Queen," casting a sideways look at Ginny. She glared dangerously at Ron, and Harry felt embarrassed and annoyed as well. Payback was in order.

"Sure, Ron, you can be a knight. But who will you pick to be your lady-in-waiting?" Harry asked with a smirk of his own.

Ron froze. Hermione looked a bit embarrassed, but raised her eyebrows and looked at him, waiting for his response. Ginny looked like she was fighting not to laugh out loud. Harry just waited; there would be no bailing him out this time.

"Are you ready to order?" A house elf had come up to the table. "I believe you all were waiting for your friend?"

Ron's face lit up. "YES! I think we are ready to order! An order of food! Right then!" He grabbed the menu, holding it upside down, but didn't seem to notice. "Fish and chips! That's the ticket. You all finish ordering, I think I'll find the toilet." With that, he ran off.

Ginny rolled her eyes and said below her breath, "Lucky git."

Author notes: Thanks as always to my beta readers, Allie Kiwi and DM. Please review!

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