Categories > Books > Harry Potter > I, Alone

The House of Red & Gold

by EJDaniels 0 reviews

Chapter 14

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst,Drama - Published: 2014-11-23 - 15482 words


Chapter 14 – The House of Red & Gold

A flash of lightening illuminated the dark sky in the distance, quickly followed by the low deep rumblings of thunder that sounded much akin to the loud grumbling of some monstrous beast's stomach. The first storm of the autumn season had arrived with whipping winds, blinding flashes of lightening and boisterous thunder. The fall storms were anything but gentle in the Scottish Highlands, blowing in from off the sea with little to no warning. The end of October was a mere five days away, meaning that winter, with its freezing temperatures and furious snow storms, was not far off.

The seasonal rain storm had arrived earlier that morning, beginning its assault upon the castle and its outlying buildings with little regard to their inhabitants. Rain pummeled the weathered stones of the great fortress relentlessly, adding a dampness to the atmosphere within. Those foolish enough to venture out were quickly soaked to the bone unless they knew an adequate water repellant charm.

The pudgy dark-hair boy paid the elements outside no mind. He knew well and good that he would have to contend with them upon his return trip to the castle, but for now he was safe, dry and warm, tucked within the number three greenhouse as he was. The metallic sent of the soil, the sharp smell of fertilizer and the slightly damp stagnant fragrance of water all combined to wrap the boy in a cocoon of familiarity that he knew so well. The scion to the Longbottom name, one Neville Longbottom to be precise, was no stranger to greenhouses. Quite the opposite in fact! For the young lad of eleven, agreenhouse would always remind him of home.

Longbottom Manor, where Neville grew up, was an old and prestigious structure which had seen several remodeling's over its long life. Once, back further than any could remember, it had been a stone keep castle. Over time the outer protective walls had been removed in preference to the pleasant view afforded from the keep's windows. What had once been the bailey now were impeccably manicured lawns of green which rolled out well past where the moat once was, its indent upon the landscape all but removed by time. The road leading to the impressive structure had been cobbled by a distant ancestor, the lane now splitting in twain to form a circle whose apex ended before the front doors of the residence. A large fountain sitting in the center of the cobbled round-about, depicting Hippogriffs and Centaurs, merrily greeted guests with the faint musical sounds of its water which was enchanted to play different melodies throughout the day.

Each generation of the Longbottom line had made modifications to their hereditary seat till it no longer remotely resembled the rugged castle that had marked its beginning. The modifications had left the building, with its several dozen outlying structures, looking as modern as could be. To the average Muggle it would have been seen as an antiquated Victorian era structure, fairly modern by Wizarding standards. The manor house sported several dozen bedrooms, numerous studies and libraries, three ball rooms, more dining rooms than could be used in a month of Sundays as well as its own great hall, complete with a sunken fire pit at its center! For all its vastness there were but two rooms that mattered to the young heir, his parent's room being one and the greenhouse attached to it being the other.

Growing up, the young boy hadn't known what exactly had happened to his parents only that they weren't there, no matter how much he had wished for them to be. His paternal grandmother, Augusta Longbottom, had seen to his upbringing and home schooling instead. Neville had quickly learned that it was best to be seen but not heard around the stern elder stateswoman, better yet to not be seen at all. The woman could be downright frightening at times, or so the lad thought. It wasn't that Neville didn't love his grandmother, for he did greatly, but rather that she always found him lacking. Time spent in her presence almost always deteriorated into a comparison between Frank Longbottom, his father, and himself. A comparison which always found himself on the diminutive side, in almost every manner conceivable. It wasn't long before the young boy realized that he would never be able to live up to the Longbottom name, a fact his grandmother oft reminded him of.

Neville had spent his youth exploring the enormous mansion, often finding out of the way nooks and crannies that hadn't seen a human for many ageneration. It was a lonely time for the young boy but he made the best of it, exploring the castle, pretending to slay dragons and imagining that he was as great a wizard as his father had apparently been. There were only a few areas that were off-limits to the boy, being the suite of rooms belonging to his grandmother and a set of rooms on the North side of the mansion. The latter of the two areas was only accessible through a single set of doors, which always remained locked, the key within Augusta Longbottom's possession at all-times via a chain about her neck. There were a handful of occasions when he had spied his grandmother entering the suite of rooms behind the locked doors but he himself had never been in there as yet, despite his many attempts to find ingress to said rooms.

Neville placed an empty pot before him on the workbench and filled it with a mixture of soil, fertilizer and water, just as Madam Sprout had shown him. With the index finger of his right hand he made an indentation in the soil before dropping in a seed. The seed itself was a light brownish color and oval in shape. To the young wizard the seed looked for all the world like an egg. The Mandrake seed was quickly covered by a layer of soil and water was added before the boy set the pot aside with the other dozen or so he had already done. This is almost like being home, Neville thought to himself wistfully, missing the greenhouse at the Longbottom mansion. Thinking of the large greenhouse, with its glass walls, brought to mind the day he had first stepped foot within it.

"Say hello to your Great-Uncle and Great-Aunt, Neville!" Augusta Longbottom snapped at the boy, disappointed that she had to remind the scion of the Longbottom name of his manners yet once again. It's important that he learns his manners, she thought to herself as she glanced out the third floor windows to hide her annoyance. My Frank was a perfect little gentleman by the time he was Neville's age!

"H…hello, Uncle, Auntie," stammered the shy and reserved lad. "I hope you are doing well," Neville added, nervous about being within his Gran's presence. Usually he was only called upon if he had done something to displease the elder Longbottom. Today, however, it appeared that his Gran was merely entertaining family. Neville almost let out a silent sigh of relief until he realized just who those relatives were that had come to call upon them this day.

Enid Remington was Augusta Longbottom's sister-in-law, being the sister of the late Mitchem Longbottom, Augusta's husband and Neville's Grandfather. The quiet and shy woman, whose demeanor was much the opposite of the slightly older Longbottom Matriarch, was dressed conservatively but tastefully, while seated within the parlor that Augusta always liked to use when passing the time with family members. "Hello, Dearie," the witch offered with a warm smile, always having possessed a soft spot for her great-nephew who was the spitting image of her brother. "I'm sorry we missed your birthday this year, Neville. I was under the weather, I fear."

"That's alright!" bellowed Algie Remington, Enid's husband, "It was only his eighth birthday. Not like it was a special one or anything…like his eleventh birthday might be." The short, heavy-set wizard with thinning hair eyed the boy as if he were appraising a piece of livestock for purchase. It irked the man that in the eight years of the boy's life Neville had as yet to show any signs of magical abilities. Many within the family suspected that the poor boy might even be a squib!

Algie had taken it upon himself to 'force some magic' out of the lad. The wizard silently contemplated to himself if sufficient time or not had passed since he had pushed the boy off of Blackpool Pier, nearly drowning Neville in the process. If only his magic had shown itself, Algie lamented as he recalled the event, it wouldn't have been that big of adeal. Best wait a bit longer before trying anything again, he finally decided after further deliberation, remembering the tongue lashing he had received from both Augusta and Enid after that disastrous incident.

"Please give it a rest, Algie," Enid chided her husband."I'm certain that Neville will be a fine wizard when the time comes," she said with a reassuring smile towards the lad she was speaking of. "The best things in life sometimes take a little extra time to create. That's what makes them so special," she added only to be rewarded by a small shy thankful smile from Neville.

"It's just not natural," Algie responded gruffly."A lad, especially one who is the scion of the Longbottom name, should have shown signs before now," the wizard maintained staunchly. "Our Wilbur was giving us fits before he could even write his name!"

"That will be all, Neville," Augusta interjected before her brother-in-law could gather steam for one of his infamous tirades on just how much a disappointment her grandson was. "You'd best run along now." It's not as if Idon't know Neville isn't living up to the Longbottom name after all, Augusta thought to herself, I just don't need to be reminded of it every time Enid and her husband visit!

"Yes, Gran," Neville responded with quickly, knowing adismissal when he heard one. Turning, the boy walked to the door, pausing only upon hearing his grandmother's voice behind him.

"Neville, please be sure to be on time for the evening meal. I do not want to have to send one of the house elves to fetch you once again," Augusta warned him sternly.

Neville turned back and gave a slight nod, one hand still upon the door handle. "Yes, Gran," he told her. As Neville opened the door and stepped through it he could hear his grandmother behind him.

"Really, Algie? It's not Neville's fault that he's nothing like my Frank was," Augusta stated reproachfully. "If we're fortunate, he may at least be the equivalent of his mother, the poor dear."

"I can always go after him and," Algie's voice paused as he made a gesture, "give him a nudge and all," the elder wizard offered helpfully.

Whatever else Neville's great-uncle said or what his Gran's reply may have been was lost as the door closed and the frightened youth sped down several adjacent hallways before quickly ducking into an unused bedroom. Spying a large wardrobe, Neville quickly crossed to it and climbed inside, moving to the back of it after closing the door. The boy was frightened that his great-uncle might try drowning him once again or something as equally dangerous as well as life threatening. As Neville leaned against the back of the wardrobe there was a sound of a /click/and he suddenly found himself falling backwards only to land painfully upon his bum.

Neville froze in panic as he sat in the total darkness around him. Finally, gathering his courage, the young boy reached out and felt about himself in an attempt to determine where he might be. It wasn't long before he realized that he was in some sort of tunnel or passageway. His exploring hands, reaching to where he had fallen from, only encountered a stone surface. Swallowing heavily he mustered his courage and shakily climbed to his feet.

"Well, now what?" Neville asked himself softly, his voice seeming overly loud in the darkness. The boy thought of calling for help but realized that it might be his great uncle Algie that came to his rescue. That might make matters worse, Neville thought to himself fearfully. Turning towards his left the young scion slowly started making his way down the passageway with one hand before him and the other trailing along the wall. Neville's caution soon paid off when he stepped forward only to have his foot encounter nothing but air. A desperate grab as he fell forward found him holding onto a handrails that was attached to the wall.

Neville slowly eased himself down the stairs, testing each one carefully before placing any substantial amount of weight upon it. The wizard-to-be's heart thumped so loudly within his chest that Neville was certain the entire house could hear it. Just how long it took to reach the bottom of the stairs the youth was uncertain of but it felt like an eternity. Neville felt along the smooth wall beneath his tiny hand and was surprised to locate a handle. It took several hard tugs to get the door to open put the young heir managed it. Stepping through the new doorway, Neville found himself in one of the many bedrooms within the mansion. Behind him the door closed on its own accord, vanishing into the wall as if it had never existed.

"I wonder which set of rooms these are?" Neville asked himself as he glanced about at the unfamiliar room and its furnishings. Whichever it was it appeared to not have been used in some time. Even the drapes had been closed, adding to the semi-darkness of the room. Crossing to the thick fabric he pulled it aside, opening the curtains and allowing a flood of light to enter the room. Behind the curtain was no ordinary window though.

Neville squinted against the later afternoon sunlight that flooded the room. Behind the thick velvety curtains were windows that ran from floor to the ceiling, which accounted for the extra amount of sunlight seeping into the bedroom. Never let it be said that the then lad of eight years did not possess a strong sense of curiosity. It was only moments before Neville had the curtains pulled back as far as they could go. What he found was something he would never have expected to be there, especially having played all around the outside of the mansion and never having seen this before.

Neville stared in wonder at the wall of glass before him that had been hidden behind the drapes. Through the translucent panes of silicon the lad could make out the shapes of plant boxes, pots and workbenches. Like a moth drawn to a flame the boy of eight quickly moved towards the door and, upon opening it, stepped through into the other world of the greenhouse. "I wonder why I've never seen this from the outside." Neville mumbled aloud absently, suspecting that magic was perhaps involved in some manner.

The rich scent of soil, vegetation and fragrant flowers assaulted his olfactory senses. All about him were exotic plants, many of which he had never seen before. It appeared that one side of the greenhouse was nothing but flowers, offering a near prismatic array of colors for his eyes and an overwhelming flood of sweet fragrances for his nose. The other side of the room was filled with plants of every shape and size. Some of them even seemed to move on their own accord as if they were alive in some manner other than how normal plants ought to be. There were small plants, big one, vined ones and some that looked like small trees even.

The young boy, over the course of the next several hours, lost himself within the sights and smells of the greenhouse. I can't believe that something as amazing as this was here all along and I knew nothing of it, Neville thought to himself. The lad's over-active mind was already conjuring up images of wading through exotic jungles while fighting dark wizards, like he suspected his father had done. The young scion's imaginary battle came to an abrupt halt at the sound of a small POP right in front of him. "Nitzy?" Neville enquired with a surprised expression as he regarded the house elf.

"Nitzy's come to fetch young Master, she has," the house elf replied with a happy smile, glad to be of service to her family. Suddenly the elf's bulbous eyes grew even larger as she took note of where they were."Young Master, ought not to be here!" Nitzy exclaimed as she started to wring her hands nervously. "This is bad! Very, very bad!" the frightened elf said before reaching out and grasping Neville's hand, taking it within her own. There was a moment of slight disorientation before Neville once again found himself within the upstairs parlor.

"There you are!" Augusta's voice barked upon seeing Nitzy arrive with Neville in tow. "Must I always send Nitzy to fetch you?I would hope that you would possess a better sense of time like your father did at your age!" Spying the house elf hastily release Neville's hand only to start wringing hers before her, the Longbottom Matriarch knew that something was agitating the diminutive elf. "Nitzy, whatever is the matter?" Augusta enquired with a note of concern, her grandson momentarily forgotten.

"Nitzy knows nothing! No she does not," the house elf replied with drooping ears, her eyes darting about the room to look at anything other than the woman speaking to her. "Nitzy did her best. She warded the door, just as Madam requested. Mustn't let the young Master in Nitzy was told." The elf's uncharacteristic display of fear caught the attention of all three adults currently present. "Nitzy is sorry Madam Longbottom and will accept her punishment, even if she is to accept…cl…clothing," the small elf added with a shudder around the large lump in her throat.

Augusta sat with her mouth agape, a most unusual pose for one as dignified as the elder Longbottom. "Whatever are you on about, Nitzy? You know good and well that we are not in the habit of punishing our house elves." Try as she might, Augusta couldn't fathom anything that could have upset Nitzy as much as the elf apparently was at the moment. She looks like she's about to inflict physical harm upon herself, Augusta thought to herself. As if I would allow her to do such a thing. We're the Longbottom's after all, not the Malfoys! "Perhaps if you tell me what happened, dear?"

Neville had remained silent during the exchange between his Gran and Nitzy. For the most part he was as flummoxed as the rest of them as to the reason for the house elf's distress. When Nitzy mentioned wards and keeping him out he soon realized what was happening. Gathering every scrap of courage that his eight years could offer the boy stepped forward. "It was me, Gran," he stated boldly, squaring his shoulders to take whatever was coming for his transgression. "Nitzy had nothing to do with it."

Augusta's grey eyes darted to her grandson even as her ears heard a tone in Neville's voice that she had never heard before, defiance."What, pray tell, manner of mischief have you gotten up to that could upset Nitzy so greatly?"

Neville swallowed audibly before replying, "I found my parents rooms and the greenhouse connected to them!" he declared boldly, the tip of his chin jutting out slightly as he spoke. It's alright if Gran punishes me, the boy thought to himself. It wasn't Nitzy's fault that I was there. "Nitzy found me there when you sent her to fetch me."

"I see," Augusta said into the shocked silence that permeated the room after the boy's disclosure. "Were you not specifically told never to enter that room?" the Matriarch enquired in a tone of voice that was filled with disappointment. There are any number of plants in there that could harm Neville. It is for his own safety that he not be allowed in there.

Neville's eyes dropped to the floor. The young boy greatly hated to disappoint his grandmother. The elder lady was his only real family and perhaps the one tie he had to his parents, of which he knew so little. No matter what I do I always seem to upset Gran. I may not be my father but if I work hard then maybe one day Gran will be proud of me too. "Yes, Ma`am," Neville replied softly.

"I see then," Augusta continued upon hearing his reply, her voice low and sad. "So you just decided to disregard my words and do whatever you pleased? Is that how it is?"

"No Ma`am," Neville hastily replied. "That's not how it was at all."

"Then how was it, boy?" Algie bellowed as he grabbed the boy by the scruff of the neck and gave him several shakes.

"Algie, please," Augusta stated, her eyes momentarily shifting towards the older man before returning to her grandson. "Perhaps you'd care to tell me then, Neville, just how it was?"

"It…it was an accident," Neville stammered, overly aware of the hand firmly grasping him by the nap of his neck.

"You just accidently wound up in your parent's room and then wandered into their greenhouse?" Augusta enquired with a heavy note of disbelief in her tone. Seeing the young boy nod she sighed heavily. Honestly, is that the best he can come up with? For a moment there I thought I say a bit of my Franks' backbone in him. "You are never ever to step foot in there again! Do Imake myself clear?" Augusta asked in a stern tone. "What's that?" the Longbottom Matriarch asked upon hearing the boy mumble a reply which she couldn't understand.

Neville mumbled an incoherent response, his mind replaying what his Gran had just said. It's their greenhouse! Neville replayed his Gran's words once again, she called it 'their greenhouse'./It must be Mum and Dad's!/If he lived to be two hundred, Neville was certain he would never figure out why he did it. The boy suddenly felt an anger welling up inside of him and before he could stop them the words just seemed to leap from his lips.

Neville's head snapped up, his eyes ablaze with young righteous anger and frustration. "Why should I? They're my parents! I want to know everything about them! I know next to nothing of them, not even what they looked like! What right have you to keep them from me? You're just being selfish and keeping them all to yourself!" Neville yelled as tears of pent up frustration and longing trickling down his pale cheeks as he body shook with the anger it failed to contained.

Augusta's mind froze upon hearing the boy's outburst. Frank? The elder witch, for a moment, was drawn back in time when her son had told her that he was marrying Alice and there was nothing she could do to prevent it. My Mitchem was the same way, which is no doubt where our Frank got his stubbornness from, she thought silently to herself. Neville is more like his father and grandfather than I thought, Augusta realized, the thought warming her heart with joy.

"Why you impertinent little brat!" Algie exclaimed as he tightened his hold upon the boy and shook him furiously before bragging him towards the nearby window. "You've been far too lax with him Augusta," the wizard called over his shoulder at his seemingly stunned sister-in-law as he drew his wand and with a flick opened the windows. In the blink of an eye Neville found himself dangling out the window by his ankles."Perhaps if we drop him on his head it will knock some sense into him," Algie stated as he looked at the now screaming youth.

"Algie! You unhand that boy!" Enid directed her husband crossly. "Come finish your meringue and tea before it grows cold."

"Dreadful!" Algie exclaimed as he turned to regard his wife. The very thought of drinking cold tea was very displeasing. The loud piercing wail of Neville as he fell, having been release by his great uncle when the wizard turn to regard his wife, silenced all conversation within the room."Oh dear," Algie said aloud as the color drained from his face, fearful that he had once again messed up where his great nephew was concerned and perhaps had actually managed to kill the boy this time.

Augusta and Enid quickly ran to the window and were just placing their heads through it when Neville's screams drew nearer. To the astonishment of all three adults, as well as Neville himself, he suddenly popped up into view before dropping once again. The two women leaned out the window and watched as the boy reached the ground and bounced back up. Twice more the frightened youth popped up before drifting away to finally settle with a wet splash into the pond in the back yard.

Algie cleared his throat as the two woman turned to glare at him angrily. "Knew he had it in him all the time!" the frightened wizard declared with a nervous tremor in his voice.

Later that same evening Augusta Longbottom sat Neville down. She had realized that Neville hadn't been far from the mark with his accusations. She was so afraid of losing Frank and Alice that she had kept them all to herself. That night was the night she told Neville all about his parents and what had happened to them. Augusta explained that there were dangerous plants in the greenhouse which is why she didn't want him to go in there. Botany was aLongbottom specialty it seemed. Neville agreed to not enter the greenhouse without Nitzy or his Grandmother with him and Augusta agreed to teach him all about the plants in there. The next day they went to St. Mungo so that Neville could visit his parents for the first time.

It's funny how things work out, Neville thought to himself as he finished the last of the pots and sat it next to the others. Uncle Algie nearly killed me twice, but in the end his actions lead to not only my accidental magic, but more importantly coming to know who my parents are. The first year student cleaned up the workbench and returned the tools to where he had found them. I'm rather proud of my parents, just as Gran is. I still hope that one day I'll be able to do something to make Gran just as proud of me as she is of them.

Neville surveyed the greenhouse one last time to make certain all was in order. The young boy crossed to the door and opened it only to be surprised. The storm that had been raining continually since this morning seemed to have let up finally. Stepping from the security of the greenhouse Neville started for the main entrance of the castle. Glancing up the wizard saw that the clouds were finally dispersing and the last rays of sun were beginning to break through.

As it was near the time for the evening meal Neville headed for the castle and Gryffindor tower to wash up. After the change of robes and athorough cleansing of his hands the boy set out for the great hall. As he approached the open doors to his destination he froze upon hearing his name spoken behind him. Turning about to see who it was the Gryffindor's eyes grew large in disbelief for it was one of the last person he would have expected it to be. What's he want with me? Neville thought as he waited for the other boy, who was wearing Slytherin House colors, to approach him.


Daphne adjusted the shoulder strap to her book bag as she ascended the stairs from the Dungeon, her best friend beside her. It was the appearance of the young Malfoy scion, with his paired bookends Crabbe and Goyle, which had driven the two first year students from the dungeons. The best friends had been seated at one of the many tables within the Slytherin common room, so that they might work on their homework, when the trio had sauntered over and attempted to start a conversation with them.

Most of the rest of their housemates were similarly working on school assignments as the inhospitable weather outside didn't leave them with many options when it came to occupying their time. The few who had braved the deluge of rain had quickly returned drenched to the bone when their water repellant charms had worn off. The round of laughter, jeering and finger pointing quickly dissuaded others from attempting the same feat. It was far better to remain inside where it was dry and considerably less humiliating. Despite the weather, the Slytherin Quidditch team still held their daily practice session, which accounted for the absence of a certain bespectacled wizard normally found in the company of the two first year witches.

The young girls paused at the top of the stairs, trying to decide where to go. "I'll wager that Hermione is already in the library and has been for some time," Daphne said to her best friend next to her who simply gave a nod in agreement, seemingly lost in thought. The two of them set off towards the grand stairway and the third floor. I wonder if Granger started on her report on the Bouncing Bulb for Herbology yet or not, Daphne mused as they worked their way up the shifting flight of stairs. It would be just like her to get a jump on the rest of us, Daphne thought to herself with a small mile. Wish I had thought of it first! Next time Granger!

Thoughts of the bushy-haired brunette called to Tracey's mind the young witch's suspicious behavior over the past few weeks. There's definitely something going on with her, the auburn–haired witch thought silently to herself. When she had previously mentioned her speculations to the others they had listened, but were at a loss for what to do just as she was. Harry had surprisingly suggested that they give her some time and space. Not knowing what other action they should take, all they could do was watch, wait and worry about their friend.

Daphne frowned as she waited for the finicky stairs to connect to the second floor landing. "Whatever shall we do about her, Tracey?" Tracey, apparently, wasn't the only one that had noticed their friend's unusual behavior.

"That does seem to be the question," Tracey replied, knowing just whom the blonde next to her was speaking of. The two of them had been friends since they were very small and hence almost knew what the other was going to say before they said it at times. The concern for Hermione had all started several weeks back with a missed study session in the library and had escalated since then. "Hermione missing a study session is nothing; we've all done that before."

"Yes," Daphne agreed as she watched the stairs continue to adjust and shift about above them. "But to miss three in a row is a bit excessive, isn't it?" Daphne stated as she recalled that their friend had said it was due to House duties. Being in Slytherin House she had no basis to disbelieve the Gryff, yet something just felt off to the young witch. I doubt very much that our house is the same as theirs, Daphne reasoned. If anything I would wager that they are as opposite as can be. Far be it from a Pure-blood centric house such as Slytherin to want to be anything like the other houses.

"If it were only the missed meetings in the library," Tracey continued with as they ascended the stairs to the second floor. "I couldn't believe Hermione stopped sitting with us in classes as well!" This was a rather new development, having just started the past week. Where Hermione used to take the seat directly next to Harry, she was now more often than not found seated next to the youngest Weasley boy.

"It's like she's avoiding us," Daphne added, her brow creased in thought. When she is with us though it's like nothing has changed at all. Hermione's behavior and her apparent desire to not be with them confused the young girl to no end. "I just don't understand it."

"She told Harry that Weasley was doing rather terrible in his classes and she was sitting with him to straighten him out and bring his marks up," Tracey offered. "If you ask me I think she's doing it to keep him from costing Gryffindor any additional points." They both recalled Professor Snape's angry outburst at the frightened red-head, as well as the ten point deduction the Potions Master had handed out to the youngest Weasley Friday during class.

"Well, we can't fault her for that, now can we?" Daphne stated wistfully as the two of them moved on to the next section of stairs which had just then become aligned. Truth be told she missed the other girl's presence. Blaise is always good for a laugh and Harry…well Harry is just Harry, she thought as a warmth spread within her chest as it had started to do of late whenever she thought of the dark-haired wizard. I miss having another girl around I guess. Daphne snorted slightly in humor, realizing just how funny it was for a Slytherin to be missing the presence of a Gryffindor.

"What's so funny?" Tracey asked as she turned her head and regarded her friend.

"I was just thinking what a funny group we make," Daphne replied, not wanting to state exactly what she was thinking as it was a little embarrassing to admit and she worried it might hurt her friends feelings. For as long as she could remember it had just been the two of them as friends, with Astoria tagging along when they allowed her to. Suddenly Daphne found herself having another friend that was a girl and worried what Tracey would feel if she knew she missed Hermione. "I can't help but wonder if we'll be adding aPuff and a Claw next to our group of Outsiders." Daphne stated with aforced smile that nonetheless brightened her face.

Tracey grinned, finding her friend's smile infectious. "Got your eye on perspective candidates already, do you, Greengrass?" Tracey teased, giving the other girl's shoulder a playful nudge. School was all about making connections with others. The contacts made at Hogwarts would follow you through to adulthood, it was believed. In no other House was this more well-known and cultivated than in Slytherin. The Muggles call it Networking, Tracey recalled, not entirely sure what that meant or was in reference to.

"None that come to mind," Daphne replied, realizing that was actually the truth. While she knew there were just as many Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw first year students as there were Slytherin students, now that she thought about it, none of them from the other houses came to mind. There has to be at least one or two who are noteworthy, she contemplated to herself.

"And you call yourself a pureblood Slytherin!" Tracey snorted in amusement. The half-blood witch decided not to mention that fact that they both had already made perhaps the best contact that anyone could, The-Boy-Who-Lived. The fact that Harry was who he was really didn't matter to the young witch so much as the fact that he was her friend.

Daphne tossed her blonde strands over one shoulder in an exaggerated haughty fashion. "I call myself an Outsider! Please remember that from now on, little girl," she replied in a snobbish tone of voice. Amoment later both girls broke down into squeals of laughter, stumbling from the stairway onto the third floor of the castle.

By the time they reached the doors to the library they were both still giggling, though softly enough not to draw the ire of Madam Pince, the school's Head Librarian. In short order they arrived at the table usually used by the Outsiders only to discover they had been wrong in their assumption. There was no sign of their friend from the house of red and gold. A quick survey of the surrounding area did not turn the young witch up so they settled at their usual table and began to work on the arduous task of their latest transfiguration report for Professor McGonagall.

"Perhaps she just had a lie in," Tracey offered as she dipped the tip of her quill in the Ever-fill ink well they were sharing. They had been working in silence for some time now but had mutually paused to dip their quills. "A bit under the weather is all."

Daphne gave a short snort of disbelief before replying, "And perhaps the sun won't rise tomorrow. I'd believe that more likely than Granger missing a chance to revise, even if she wasn't feeling her best."

"Given the weather outside, you may not be too far off," Tracey countered with a slight grin. Outside there was a flash of lightening followed by the roll of thunder, as if to give credence to her words. "She has been missing a great many sessions with us of late," Tracey added in athoughtful voice, not liking the fact of their friend's absence.

"It's almost as if something is keeping her away from being with us," Daphne replied. Something or someone, the young witch thought to herself though she couldn't at first conjure up a reason for that to happen. It can't be because she's a Gryffindor and we're Slytherin…can it? It's not as if which house we're in will matter once we've graduated. Being raised by loving parents with open minds, regardless of the fact that they were pure-blood themselves, Daphne had very little experience with the prejudice tendencies of others, hence the thought that it might be because Hermione was a Muggle-born witch never entered her mind.

"With all the Gryffindor house chores she's been doing of late it is no wonder she hasn't been able to join us," Tracey offered."I tell you, I don't fancy being her…or any Gryff for that matter, if they make everyone in that house be so diligent! House of the Brave? Sounds more like the House of Menial Labor if you ask me," Tracey stated with ahumorless snort. "It's a wonder she even has time to complete all her assignments!"

Daphne's eyes suddenly grew larger at hearing her friend's words."It is a wonder!" the blonde witch exclaimed. "Just how and when is she finding the time to do her assignments? It certainly isn't here with us!" Granger hasn't been falling behind in classes either so she must be doing the work at some point!

Further speculation on the bushy-haired witch was curtailed upon hearing the last voice either wished to hear at that moment. "See Crabbe," Draco's refined voice said from behind the seated girls, "I told you that they would be here. This is where those who are smart come to do their homework."

"I don't think I've ever been in the library before," Crabbe replied, looking about at all the books and thusly missing the pointed look the young Malfoy pointedly shot him.

"Funny, Draco," Tracey was quick to pipe up with,"I think this is the first time I've seen you in here as well."

Draco's smile slipped slightly at Tracey's words, however the innocent smile on the girl's face made it difficult to tell if she was having ago at him or not. "Yes, well, some of us are intelligent enough to not even need to come here at all," Draco replied after a long awkward moment. The witch's answering smirk left little doubt to the young wizard as to what she thought of him or his intelligence. The young Pure-blood wizard bit back an angry retort in an attempt to gain favor with the Greengrass girl.

"Daphne, didn't you say that Madam Pomfrey was expecting you," Tracey enquired as she turned to regard her friend. At least I can get you away from the arrogant brat, Tracey thought to herself as Daphne gave her an appreciative look. You owe me one, girlie. I'll just add it to the list, Tracey mentally chuckled to herself.

"Yes, that is correct. Thanks for reminding me Tracey," Daphne said as she gathered her things and packed them away rather quickly."I better not keep her waiting," the first year witch offered as she stood and slung her book bag over one shoulder. "She gets dreadfully cross if I'm not there on time."

"You're leaving already?" Draco enquired, a look of disbelief and disappointment on his face. The pale boy had thought that he would finally have a chance to have a normal conversation with the blonde witch. More and more it seemed to Draco that the girl was avoiding him for some reason which he couldn't fathom. Doesn't she realize I'm a Malfoy? She should be delighted that I've taken an interest in her!

"Unless you'd care to explain to Madam Pomfrey why I wasn't there on time?" Daphne asked, only to see all three boys pale at the prospect of having to do so. "I thought not," Daphne said with a slightly smug look. "I'll see you at the evening meal, Tracey," Daphne told her friend before turning and striding purposefully away as quickly as she could without actually running or giving the impression that she was fleeing.

Once free of the library, Daphne realized that she still actually needed to complete her assignments. I seriously doubt Professor McGonagall will accept Malfoy following me about as an excuse for not having her report completed on time. Returning to the Slytherin common room wasn't an option as the Malfoy scion may very well go back there she realized. With a resigned sigh she headed down the stairs to the first floor and the Hospital wing of Hogwarts.


Poppy Pomfrey frowned. It wasn't all together unusual for the Head Mediwitch of Hogwarts to frown. If asked, the staff and students would be hard pressed to find anyone who had come under the Mediwitch's care, who hadn't been frowned at. Some, like the Weasley twins, even elicited the occasional scowl as well to drive home the witch's mandates. It took a firm, hard-nosed witch to care for all the people within the school after all. On this day though it was neither student nor faculty member that was recipient of the elder witch's frowning countenance, but rather a bit of parchment.

"It just doesn't make sense," Poppy spoke aloud to herself, a habit that she found herself doing with more frequency as the years passed. "I'm certain that it was the right dosage. It just doesn't make sense," she said once again as she let the report she had read for the fifth time drop to the desktop before her.

"What doesn't make sense, Poppy?" enquired a cheerful voice from the office doorway. "I'm not disturbing you, am I?"

Poppy glanced up, a smile slowly spreading over her troubled features. "Aurora! What a surprise. Do come in," the Mediwitch instructed as she gestured with one hand for the Astronomy Professor to come in. "I could use a bit of distraction. What brings you to my office? Not ill are you? Running short on your monthly, Dear?"

The young Professor smiled warmly as she entered and took a seat near the Mediwitch's desk. "No, no. I haven't run short since you first taught me how to brew it," Aurora Sinistra replied. "I wouldn't be caught dead without a few extra bottles, just in case."

"No cramps or bloating and next to no bleeding aren't the only advantages," Poppy said with a grin, thinking of how the potion also stabilized a witch's emotions and chemical balance as well. "Could you imagine how it would be here if none of the young witches in my care had the stuff?" she asked with a roll of her eyes. "The male population would be decimated within the first month alone!"

The two witches chuckled merrily at the thought of what would happen if such a thing occurred. For a while the two exchanged pleasantries with one another, catching up on what they had done over the summer as well as sharing the latest gossip to be had at the Three Broomsticks. Poppy, much like most of the staff at Hogwarts, liked the young dark skinned professor. She could clearly remember back when Aurora was a student at Hogwarts and had assisted her with brewing potions in the back room. It seemed just like yesterday to the matronly Mediwitch. At times it's still hard to not think of her as that same young girl who had amillion and one questions, Poppy mused sentimentally to herself.

"So, Poppy," Sinistra asked when there was finally apause in their conversation, "What is it that has you so perplexed?Perhaps I can help." Aurora had always enjoyed the company of the older woman, even when she was a student herself. She knew that behind the stern exterior of the Mediwitch there beat a heart of gold that cared greatly for all the children that were entrusted into her care. For some students, such as herself, the Mediwitch had taken on the role of surrogate mother during the long school years at Hogwarts.

Poppy paused and pondered the matter for a moment before replying."What do you know of Mr. Potter?" she finally asked.

"Mostly just what the Headmaster has told us," Aurora replied with a slight shrug. "He lives with his Aunt and Uncle in the non-magical world so that he can have a normal childhood. But….," the dark skinned woman paused, only continuing after receiving a slight nod from the Mediwitch with her. "I would guess that he hasn't had the best of it, though."

"What would make you think that?" Poppy asked, curious as to the other woman's thoughts on the boy. Poppy recalled that Aurora Sinistra had always been very adept at reading other people and seeing things that others didn't. Perhaps it comes from staring at all those stars every night? She's always had an uncanny insight into others.

"Where to begin?" Aurora asked aloud to herself as her eyes dropped to her lap while she gathered her thoughts. "He's excessively small for his age. Something has certainly stunted his growth. It's almost as if he was undernourished while growing up. Perhaps some genetic trait that the Muggle doctors are always coming up with?" Sinistra glanced up only to continue when she did not receive a confirmation from the medical professional seated with her.

"From what I have seen, Harry is socially awkward. It's not just that he's shy but rather like he isn't used to interacting with other people," Aurora continued to explain. "Certainly not large groups of them at least. I would say that he's lived a sheltered life, which could be what the Headmaster meant to happen by sending him to live in the non-magical world, but I feel it is more than that. Something is just…off, I guess is the best way to put it," Aurora concluded with, wishing she could find the right words to explain it.

"The Headmaster also noticed that Mr. Potter was smaller than the other boys his age and it concerned him greatly," Poppy confided in her fellow professor. "We started Mr. Potter on a potion regiment that was designed to not only improve his health but also to assist him for the growth he has apparently missed." Poppy frowned as she once again thought of the scroll and the results she had been reading upon it. "The results have been less than satisfactory, shall we say."

"Maybe the formula is off on the potion," Aurora offered as a possibility.

"No," Poppy tsked with a shake of her head. "I wish it were that simple. I designed it and brewed it myself. Given his size, age and weight he should be much further along in his development than he currently is." Madam Pomfrey's frown deepened into a scowl as she tried to puzzle out the answer to the riddle she had been presented in the form of one Harry Potter. "I just don't understand it."

"Has he mentioned any headaches?" Aurora enquired only to receive a shake from the Mediwitch's head. "Well at least then the eye glasses helped in that regard. I still don't know how he was even managing to read at all with his old lenses."

Further conversation was halted by the soft clearing of a throat near the office door. "You're talking about Harry, aren't you?" The young witch tried not to fidgets under the stares of both Professors but was finding it increasingly hard as the silence stretched on for several long moments. "Harry isn't getting better, is he?" Daphne asked, believing she already knew the answer to her question just from what she had overheard.

"It is an unattractive habit to listen in on the conversations of others, Ms. Greengrass," Madam Pomfrey scolded with asmall frown even though she could clearly hear the note of concern in the girl's tone. I wonder just how much she heard. "How long were you standing there?"

"Harry's my friend!" Daphne declared earnestly. "I just want to help him if I can. He's already suffered enough," the blonde witch added in a softer tone of voice, mentally kicking herself for saying so much. She wasn't certain just how the older witches would react if they leaned what she knew. Then again, maybe that is exactly what it will take?

"I'm certain you do, Ms. Greengrass," Aurora offered in a gentler tone than the Mediwitch had used. "Your desire to help your friend is commendable and says a great deal about you as well. I'm sure Harry would be delighted to know that he has such a friend as yourself, however, it would be best to allow Madam Pomfrey to handle this matter. She is Hogwarts'Mediwitch after all."

"I…I know about his…," the young girl paused for amoment as if searching for the best word to use before she continued,"Condition," she finally settled on. "I know about Harry's condition," she reiterated for good measure.

"Condition?" Aurora asked, confused as to the girl's meaning. As the Astronomy Professor looked towards the Mediwitch, Poppy gave her a look that said she would explain latter.

"Ms. Greengrass, it is admirable that you want to help your friend, as Professor Sinistra stated," Poppy said, turning to regard the girl once again. "I'm not sure what you know or think you might know concerning Mr. Potter-"

"I overheard you speaking with Professor Dumbledore," Daphne confessed in a rush. "I know all about it and have for some time now. Please, I want to help Harry! He's my friend," she added plaintively.

"Does Harry know this?" Aurora asked gently, even though she wasn't certain just what /this/could be. The young professor trusted in her friend, and mentor, to fill her in later.

"No," Daphne replied with a shake of her head."Please don't tell him that I know! Please!" the young witch pleaded.

"Doesn't he have the right to know?" Poppy countered with, one brow lifting in question. Always the practical witch, she realized there was little that could be done now if the girl truly knew of Harry's abuse. Short of a memory charm there isn't much we can do now. The fact that Daphne had known all this time and not said anything to anyone spoke in the girl's favor.

"Yes. No. I don't know!" Daphne replied anxiously, at aloss for what to say or do.

"Why don't you want Harry to know?" Aurora requested of the clearly distraught first year student.

"Well," Daphne started with before pausing to moisten her suddenly dry lips, "if I had a…condition, like Harry does, I think I might find it rather embarrassing to have others know of it." Daphne saw the dark skinned Astronomy Professor give a slight nod in agreement. "Also, I discovered Harry's condition on accident. It wasn't my intent to overhear what you reported to the Headmaster, Madam Pomfrey. I would rather that Harry tell me himself, in his own time and way, when he wants me to know."

"She is rather close with Harry," Sinistra informed Poppy, thinking of her favorite group of first year students. "It might be a good thing to have her on our side."

"Our side?" Poppy asked with a small chuckle as she eyed her former assistant.

"I am on Harry's side!" Daphne declared a tad louder than she had intended to."I'll always be on his side, he's my friend after all!"

"As are we, Ms. Greengrass. As are we," Poppy assured the young girl in a soothing voice, far different from the one she had used previously. "We only want to help him get better, I assure you. I had hoped that he would have progressed further than he currently has though," Poppy confided in a disappointed tone of voice. "At this rate we may have to continue the process on into his second year."

"Does this have anything to do with his night treatments," Daphne asked, suspecting that it did. The young witch had taken to staying with Harry in the hospital wing every evening he had to drink his potion, at least until the young wizard fell asleep or just before curfew. Harry had informed Madam Pomfrey that he had difficulty falling asleep unless Daphne was there with him. Though she hated to see her friend in pain, Daphne did what she could for Harry, allowing him to lay with his head in her lap as she ran her fingers through his dark strands. Truthfully the young witch enjoyed the time spent as such, though she would die before admitting it to anyone due to it being far too embarrassing.

Madam Pomfrey gave an affirmative nod after a moment's pause and then began to explain in greater detail what the treatment was for. While the Mediwitch was speaking Daphne took the seat next to Professor Sinistra, who had motioned her over and indicated she should be seated rather than stand in the doorway. The young witch dropped her book bag next to the chair absently as she listened to the Mediwitch explain the properties of the potion.

Daphne thought for several long moments. Everything that Madam Pomfrey had said made perfect sense to the overly bright witch. If the potion calculations were correct then there was no clear reason for it not to produce the desired results. We have to be overlooking something. Mommy always says that it is the simplest of things that usually trips us up the most. Daphne thought of Harry and tried to figure out what they could have missed.

"What can you tell us of Mr. Potter?" Poppy asked the young girl. "From what Professor Sinistra says, the two of you are close."

Daphne, for some reason she wasn't sure of, felt her cheeks blush slightly at the implications of the older witch's words. "We….we're housemates after all," she stammered as she replied. "We have the same classes and study together in the library with several others."

"What's his daily routine like?" Aurora enquired, trying to hide the smile she wanted to let out upon seeing the girl blush.

"Well," Daphne said, as her brow creased in concentration, "He has breakfast and then classes of course. Another apple for lunch and then more classes. After that he's usually fairly busy with Quidditch practice till the evening meal. After that we all go to the library to do our assignments," the Slytherin witch concluded with, looking up hopefully that something she had said might be able to help the Mediwitch as well as Harry.

Poppy frowned. "He has another apple for lunch?" she asked for confirmation.

Daphne nodded. "One for breakfast as well," she offered, wondering what bearing that could have on the issue at hand.

"What does he usually eat for dinner?" Aurora asked, seeing just where the Mediwitch was going with her question.

"I'm not sure," Daphne confessed. "We don't usually sit together at meal times."

Poppy arched a brow in question. "You're housemates and have classes together, you do revision together and yet you don't sit together when you eat? Why is that?" Seeing the young witch give a slight shrug, the Mediwitch absently waved away her own question. "Regardless, I think I know why the results have been so dismal."

"He's not eating correctly?" Aurora hazard as a guess.

"Correct." Poppy replied. Upon seeing the questioning look upon Daphne's face the Mediwitch went on to explain. "Your body is amachine, as the Muggles like to say. As such it needs a constant source of nourishment to keep it working correctly. The food you eat provides the appropriate energy your body needs to run at its best. Our Mr. Potter isn't eating nearly enough," Poppy said disapprovingly.

"I'll wager what energy he does gain from the little food he eats is used up on Quidditch and his school work as well as spell practice," Aurora added.

"So when it comes to Harry's treatments," Daphne said, suddenly grasping what the older witches were getting at, "his body doesn't have the sufficient amount of energy required by the potion to obtain the results Madam Pomfrey is expecting."

"I see you are your mother's daughter," Poppy said with a warm smile. "Abigail was a very bright witch as well, Ms. Greengrass," the Mediwitch added only to see the girl blush at the compliment. "Well, now that we know what the issue is I shall speak to Mr. Potter and set up a dietary plan for him to follow. A growing boy cannot live on apples alone!" Poppy declared, eliciting a chuckle from the other two present.

"Well, I had best be on my way," Professor Sinistra said as she stood. "Those parchments aren't going to grade themselves. You'll let me know if there is anything I can do to help with Harry, Poppy?" the young professor asked, while giving the Mediwitch a look that said she would expect a full explanation of the situation later.

"Of course, Aurora," Poppy replied with a warm smile to answer both the asked question as well as the one not spoken. Once the Astronomy Professor had left Madam Pomfrey turned to regard the remaining witch. "So what brings you to my office, Ms. Greengrass? I'm certain it wasn't to listen in on conversations at my door step."

Daphne had the good grace to be embarrassed. "I…I came so that I could work on my assignments," the blushing witch stammered in way of reply.

"I see," Poppy replied. "Perhaps you'd care to assist me with something first?" the Mediwitch enquired. After receiving anod of agreement, Poppy lead the first year student to the back room, which was where she brewed potions to replenish her continually dwindling stock. After explaining what assistance she expected of Daphne the Mediwitch turned and walked to the desk in the corner. Once seated the elder witch began reading over several parchments that were there awaiting her attention.

Daphne gathered the diced ingredients and set them aside to be measure later. She had been at her assigned task for nearly an hour now. Outside the rain hammered against the large glass windows of the hospital wing. Flashes of lightening and the low grumblings of the resulting thunder had been a continual backdrop to the sound of the paring knife in her hand as it worked to prepare the potion ingredients. Sliding the next bit of dried Valerian sprigs over, the young witch set to work on them.

Perhaps this is payment for coming here and doing my studies, Daphne thought to herself. If it is then it is certainly worth it. The bright witch glanced over towards the desk in the corner where Madam Pomfrey currently sat going over reports and annotating medical logs from the looks of it. It certainly can't be easy taking care of all the students as well as the staff, she reasoned.

"Madam Pomfrey," Daphne ventured to say, causing the Mediwitch in question to look up from the scroll she was currently reading."What are these for?" Daphne enquired with a quick glance down towards the ingredients before looking back to the woman seated at the desk.

"Given the day's weather, and certain students disregard for common sense," Madam Pomfrey said, her words drawing a smile from the blonde witch, "there will likely be a string of colds within Hogwarts soon. The young boys here just can't seem to keep out of the rain when they ought to," she explained. "Those will be used in a batch of Pepperup potions we'll brew later this afternoon."

"Pepperup potions? The one created by Glover Hipworth?" Daphne asked, having read about it previously in one of her mother's many books.

"The very one and the same, Ms. Greengrass," Poppy replied, impressed that the first year student knew who had created the potion."It is a good general tonic and does wonders with the common cold."

Daphne hesitated, gathering her courage, before asking the question she really wanted to. "You won't tell, will you?" Daphne asked softly. "Harry, I mean. You won't tell him I know, will you?"

Madam Pomfrey stood and crossed to the nervous witch before she answered. "I guess there isn't much that I can do about you knowing, Ms. Greengrass," she told the girl, laying a comforting hand upon Daphne's shoulder. "Just as there isn't much good to come from informing Mr. Potter that you know of…his /condition/. I think for now it will remain our secret."

"Thank you!" Daphne replied from the bottom of her heart. The last thing Daphne wanted to do was cause Harry to not trust her or feel uneasy around her. I'm sure he'll tell me eventually, she thought, certain of the fact.

"Yes, well, I believe you said you had some school work to do," Poppy asked only to see the girl before her nod. "Then you'd best be about it. Afterwards you can help me brew a batch of Pepperup potions as payment for listening in on conversations you ought not to have," the Mediwitch said with raised brows.

"Yes Ma`am," Daphne answered with, far too happy that Harry wouldn't find out about what she knew to realize that she would be assisting the Mediwitch with brewing a potion she'd never done before.


The day had been brutal! Lightening had flashed as it raced across the sky, nearly blinding in its brilliance. Not to be out done, the thunder which followed had been loud enough to deafen a person for a short time afterwards. The rain falling from the laden clouds above felt as if he was being pummeled by pebbles as he raced through the sky. Visibility was barely past the end of his broom as the rain made it difficult to see out of the goggles worn by all the players. All in all it had been a very chaotic and exhausting Quidditch practice, one that Harry thought had been bloody brilliant!

Harry trudged up the hill, trying his best to stay on his feet in the rain and the mud. The other members of the team all knew water repellant charms, though none offered to spell his robes for him. Even being drenched and chilled to the bone did little to diminish the adrenaline rush the young seeker was still on from the days practice. Hastening his pace, Harry climbed the remainder of the hill, slipped through the partially flooded courtyard and made it into the safety of the castle finally. The young wizard paused and looked back out at the rainstorm as he shook as much water and mud from his clothes as he could.

"I suppose you'll just being leaving that for me to clean?" asked the rough humorless voice of Argus Filch from behind Harry."Gave no thought to who would have to clean up his mess, my sweet, did he now?" the squib added, his eyes darkening as he continued to stroke Mrs. Norris's fur gently.

Harry turned about slowly at the sound of the Caretaker's voice behind him. Argus Filch was well known for his dislike of students, especially those who tracked dirt into his castle. "N….no Sir," Harry stammered in reply. "I was just going to my room to change, Sir. I'll be more than happy to clean it up," Harry offered.

"Oh you'll clean alright," Argus said with a slowly growing smile. "You'll be joining me for detention tonight, you will," he informed Harry. "A pity they abolished the old punishments," Mr. Filch said wistfully. "A day or two in the Maiden would set a beastie like you right, I'll wager. You best be at my office after the evening meal. Don't try and run as that will only make it worse for you if you do!" Argus gave a last pained look at the growing puddle beneath Harry's feet before he turned away to find a mop. "God I miss the screams," he mumbled to himself.

Harry made his way down to the Dungeons and into the Slytherin common room. Paying little attention to anyone there, the young wizard quickly went to his dorm room and gathered a fresh change of clothes after depositing his in the dirty clothes chute. In short order the chilled Quidditch player was standing in the shower, the hot water spraying down his back and driving the cold of the weather outside from his weary muscles.

As the young wizard closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall in front of him, his thoughts turned to his friends. Daphne and Tracey are worried about her, he silently mused. They've been mentioning Hermione's absences more and more of late. Harry sighed heavily, wondering not for the first time just what he should do to help Hermione. It's not right that her entire House is treating her this way!

The dark-haired boy reached for the soap and began to wash, being certain to get behind his ears as well as other hard to reach places. His aunt had been very big on cleanliness, at least as far as he had been concerned. More than once she had told him that she didn't want to have to smell him. Harry suspected that she was fearful that she might inhale some of his freakiness or something.

At least things haven't gotten any worse, Harry thought thankfully. On the few occasions when Hermione had managed to join the other Outsiders in the library Harry had ensured that they had a chance to speak privately about the bushy-haired witch's circumstances. Still, she shouldn't have to put up with their pranks and insults just because of who she decides to have for friends! No stranger to nasty pranks himself, Harry could well understand just what the girl was going through. At least she has a friend in that Weasley boy to help her through the roughest parts.

I can't believe that I actually expected the Wizarding world to be different than the one the Dursleys are from, Harry thought in frustration. I guess no matter where you live there will always be bullies. Suddenly feeling less than exuberant, Harry finished showering and got ready for the evening meal. When he returned to his bed he found his clothes already cleaned and folded on his bed awaiting him. Magic is bloody brilliant, he thought not for the first time since coming to Hogwarts. Beside the cleaned clothes was a rolled piece of parchment that hadn't been there previously. Cautiously Harry picked up the scroll, opened it and read the contents.

Mr. Potter,

It has recently been brought to my attention that your eating habits are not sufficient for the work we are attempting to accomplish. Below you will find the minimum requirements that you will need to consume each meal to achieve optimal results. You may of course eat more, though I caution you not to do so to excess, as that too would be detrimental to our goal. Everything in its proper amount. I will see you tonight after the evening meal for your regular treatment.

Madam Pomfrey
Hogwarts Head Mediwitch

Harry looked down at the amount of food he would be required to eat and his eyes grew large. "There's no way that much will fit inside me!" he exclaimed aloud. Almost everything on the list required serving sizes that were at least twice the size he was used to, if not more. "Not only am I allowed to eat meat at every meal but now I'm apparently required to," Harry uttered in disbelief. Growing up if he had meat more than twice a year it was miraculous, and now he would have it three times a day it seemed.

"This truly is a different world," Harry said with ashake of his head before he put his clothes away, finished dressing and headed out of the dorm. As it was nearing dinner time the bespectacled wizard made his way up to the main floor of the castle and headed for the great hall, only to hear Argus Filch's voice raised in anger.

"Yet another of you little beasts, tracking your filth across my floors without a care in the world," the irate man screamed in a high pitched voice.

"It's not my fault my water repellant charm failed before Icould make it back inside," said a voice that Harry knew all too well."How else am I to get to my House and change into dry clothes without leaving a trail?" Draco's condescending voice enquired of the caretaker.

Harry eased up to the corner of the hallway and glance around it. There, standing not far from the main gates of the castle stood the light-haired Slytherin wizard. The dark robes worn by the boy were soaked through and through as well as plastered to his body. Harry thought he looked for all the world like a drowned rat, with his hair matted and flattened to his head.

"I don't know," Filch replied sarcastically,"perhaps a little thing called magic?" Harry had to stifle a chuckle as Malfoy's face turned a bright red. "You'll have plenty of time to think about it tonight when you're serving detention with me," Argus informed the young Slytherin.

"My father will hear of this!" Draco exclaimed angrily, his fists balled up at his sides. "I'm a Malfoy! We don't take detention from squibs!" the Pure-blood scion spat out disdainfully as if only just realizing then who was lecturing him. "My father is on the school board. Ican have you sacked at any time!" Harry heard the boy threaten.

"That will be ten points from Slytherin and a week of detentions!" snapped the angry voice of Professor Snape who had apparently stumbled upon the confrontation. "You will apologize immediately, Mr. Malfoy!"

Draco visibly paled at hearing his Head of House. "S…sorry, Professor Snape," the scared boy stammered.

Severus fought the urge to roll his eyes in frustration. It was bad enough that one of his Snakes was mouthing off but it was even worse that they had gotten caught at it. "Not to me, you dunderhead!" barked the Potions Master. "To him," Severus stated, pointing toward Mr. Filch.

Draco turned stiffly towards the Caretaker, his jaws clenched in anger for a long moment before he spoke. "My apologies, Sir. I was in the wrong."

"If it were the old days I'd hang you by your ankles from the ceiling for a day or two," Argus replied irritability. "That would teach you some manners! It's too bad they won't let me do that anymore. I still have the shackles though. I keep them nice and oiled, just in case."

"Run along back to your common room, Draco," Snape ordered. "I'll see that food is brought to you," the Potions Master added upon seeing the boy begin to object. "That is unless you want to cost your House even more points?" Draco sped off, hurrying past Harry without even noticing he was there.

"Perhaps it would be best if the boy served his detentions with me," Snape offered. "I have all manner of nasty work that Icould have him do."

"As you wish, Professor," Argus replied with a slight dipping of his head. The Caretaker envisioned the boy having to prepare all manner of foul potion ingredients. "I'll leave the little beastie in your hands," he added before turning away and ambling off while muttering about missing the old punishments.

Harry ducked back around the corner and waited a moment before stepping forth once again as if he had just then gotten there. The dark-haired wizard nearly ran into the Potion's Master. "My apologies, Professor Snape," Harry quickly offered.

"Potter," Snape drawled as he eyed the boy over once."Out for a…stroll?"

"No, Sir," Harry replied as he adjusted his glasses which had slipped down when he had attempted to avoid colliding with his Head of House. "I was on my way to dinner, Sir."

"Fascinating," Snape drawled out slowly in a monotone voice. "On your way then," the Professor finally said after a few long and uncomfortable moments. Harry quickly headed towards the great hall once again only to freeze upon hearing the Potion Master ask, "How's the new broom?"

"Fine, Sir," Harry replied after turning about to regard the teacher. "Flint even thinks that I'll manage to keep from falling off it by our first game."

"I see," Snape replied flatly before making a shewing gesture.

Harry turned and all but ran towards the great hall. As he neared the entrance he saw a boy ahead of him and called out without even thinking about it. "Longbottom!" The boy in questioned turned upon hearing his name called. Harry approached the larger boy, noting the look of surprise on the Gryffindor's face. "It's Neville. Neville Longbottom, correct?"

"Y…yes," Neville replied, shocked that a Slytherin would stop him in the hall.

"Harry Potter," Harry offered. "I was wondering if I might speak with you for a moment." Harry asked, trying desperately not to show just how nervous he felt. He had never before approached another boy or even attempted to strike up a conversation before. I have to do this, he told himself. It's the only way I'll find out what is really going on.

Harry led them over to a small alcove that was off the main hallway and would afford them a measure of privacy. "I'm sorry for calling you out like this, however I am hoping you'll be able to help me with something."

"W…what could I possibly help you out with, Potter?" Neville enquired, baffled by what the other boy was saying. He's The-Boy-Who-Lived! What could he possibly need from me?

"Harry," the Slytherin first year replied. Upon seeing the confused look upon Neville's face, Harry explain. "Please, just call me Harry." Seeing the other boy give a nod of acceptance he continued."Hermione Granger, she's in your House. I'm worried about her. I'm hoping you can tell me how she is fairing."

Neville frowned, wondering if this was some prank at his expense."Why would you care about what happens to a witch in another House?" Neville asked, a note of disbelief in his tone.

"I could care less what House Hermione is in," Harry replied truthfully. "She's my friend and I know the way your Housemates are treating her is hurting her!"

"But why me, Harry?" Neville pressed. "Why didn't you ask some other Gryff?"

Harry shrugged slightly as he replied, "Hermione has never spoken badly of you. I thought that maybe, as you've been bullied before, you might be a bit more sympathetic to her plight." Harry had witness on more than one occasion, Draco and other Slytherins giving the Gryffindor first year a difficult time. "Honestly, I was just hoping that I could count on you to tell me how she was doing."

He wants to count on me? No one has ever wanted to count on me before, Neville thought in stunned disbelief. "I…I've been meaning to tell you for some time but haven't been able to. Thank you," Neville stated only to see a puzzled expression appear on Harry's face. "I know it was you that took the Rememberall away from Malfoy. I may be a bit slow, however when most the school is talking about how you knocked him off his broom, it's a little hard to miss," Neville told him with a small chuckle."It was a present from my, Gran. So thank you for that."

"I'm just glad you got it back before Malfoy had a chance to hide it or worse, break it," Harry stated awkwardly, hoping that the boy wasn't going to try and kiss him on the cheek. Harry's thoughts were interrupted as the Longbottom scion thrust out a hand. Harry hesitantly accepted the proffered member only to have his hand shook twice and then released. So that's how guys say thank you?

"I don't see much of Hermione," Neville offered thoughtfully. "She's been spending a lot of time in her room. Not that Iblame her," the first year Gryffindor was quick to add. "When she does come down to the common room everyone tends to glare at her and whisper about her behind her back. Eventually she leaves, either to the library or back to her room."

"Some people are pranking her I understand, as well as messing with her personal things. You wouldn't happen to know who, would you?" Harry asked. Maybe if we know who it is I can talk to them and ask them to stop what they are doing.

"I heard about that," Neville admitted, "but Idon't know who's responsible for it. Some of the spells are beyond us first years though."

"I see," Harry replied in a disappointed voice. I didn't learn anything new but at least it was worth a try. "Thanks, Longbottom," Harry added, sticking out his hand as Neville had done before.

"You're welcome," Neville replied accepting the offered hand, "and it's Neville. Just Neville."

Harry gave a small smile and a curt nod to show he understood. At least not all Gryffindors are after her, he thought to himself. Harry had only gone a few feet when he heard the boy behind him speak once again.

"Harry, I don't believe them you know?" Neville said only to see the first year Slytherin turn to regard him.

"Believe what?" Harry asked, confused and curious at the same time.

"Those stories that Ron's been telling everyone," Neville replied. "About Hermione wanting to be resorted into Slytherin rather than stay in Gryffindor."

"Ron?" Harry asked in disbelief. "Ron Weasley?Isn't he the only one being nice to her? I thought he was her friend?"

"I don't think so," Neville answered, his brows creasing in contemplation for a moment. "He's been telling everyone else in our House that's he's staying close to her to gather more evidence."

"Evidence? What for?" Harry enquired earnestly. Evidence is usually used in a trial. Is there some way they could have Hermione tried just for being friends with the rest of us? Could she be expelled? The young wizard suddenly realized that there was a great deal about this world that he didn't know or understand.

Neville shrugged before replying, "I don't really know. It's just what I heard."

"Thanks, Neville," Harry said. "You've been very helpful." The-Boy-Who-Lived adjusted his glasses once again as he eyed the Gryff. "You should come and study with us in the library some time," Harry offered.

Neville visibly paled. "I…I don't think I would be able to deal with all that Hermione is going through right now," the boy admitted. There was little doubt in his mind that if he were to start being seen in the company of Harry and the others that he would find himself in the same predicament that Hermione was currently in. The young wizard was certain that he wouldn't be able to handle the additional abuse. It's bad enough with Malfoy and his group after me. I can only imagine what it would be like to have all of Gryffindor after me as well.

Harry gave a slight nod in sympathy as well as understanding before turning about and making his way to the great hall. As he walked the length of the hall towards the end of the Slytherin table he puzzled over what to do with the information he had just learned. If Neville is right, then this was all caused by Weasley. If I tell Hermione, will she even believe me? What if she doesn't and thinks I'm just making it all up, he worried. The young wizard's chest seemed too tightened suddenly. What if she decided that we couldn't be friends any longer?

Harry glanced over at the Gryffindor table to where Hermione was seated with her back towards him. Across the table from her was seated Ron Weasley, shoving food into his mouth haphazardly. As Harry regarded his friend the red-haired boy caught his eyes and shot him a satisfied smirk. Does he know that I know? Maybe Neville told him, Harry wondered only to see the Longbottom boy himself enter the hall and find a seat next to Hermione at the Gryffindor table, as none of her housemates wanted to sit anywhere near her apparently.

Reaching the end of the table finally, Harry sat and began to serve himself some food. The young wizard recalled the parchment from Madam Pomfrey and added additional quantities of food to his plate, even though he doubted he would be able to eat it all. How can anyone eat so much? Harry mused as he once again looked in the direction of his bushy-haired friend only to see the grinning face of Ronald Weasley. Quickly looking away, Harry began to eat, taking a sudden keen interest in the food upon his plate apparently. With the first fork full of potatoes Harry knew something was wrong.


Hermione Granger wasn't happy. Not in the least! The past week had been the worst so far. Her clothes had been stolen and hid from her. Someone had ripped her sheets to shreds. Worst of all her books had gone missing that morning and no amount of searching had turned them up. Even the weather seemed to conspire against her with raining which stopped her from taking a walk along the lake. Her walks along the edge of Black Lake had become her refuge, the one place she could go and others, who were more intent on what transpired within the Gryffindor tower, let her be.

The only bright spots in her entire week were the classes that Gryffindor shared with Slytherin, as it allowed her to see her friends. She hated the fact that she could no longer sit with them, a suggestion Ron had made, as he believed it would help others see her more favorably. A lot of good that did me, she lamented silently. At least I can see them, she told herself, recalling the quick smile she had exchanged with Harry in their last class.

I wish I could go to the library and study with the others, but every time I try to go Ron has some homework emergency that he needs my help with! Truthfully, the young witch was grateful for her newest friend, as he allowed her to feel needed. This was all the more important as everyone else in her House wanted nothing to do with her. I don't know how I would manage to get through the day without him, she thought as she looked at the red-head across from her. "You look altogether too pleased with yourself, Ronald," Hermione said, taking stock of the grinning wizard since they sat down to eat.

"It's a beautiful day," Ron replied with a grin as he added another fork full of food to his mouth.

Hermione couldn't help but scowl at his cheerfulness, even though she knew she had no reason to be upset with the boy. "Ronald, it's been raining all day long, or is that your idea of beautiful?"

"Let's just say that the day is about to get much better," Ron replied around the food in his mouth, drawing a round of humorous snickers from several others seated at the table around them.

"Whatever are you up to, Ronald?" the bushy-haired witch enquired. Try as she might Hermione couldn't get the boy to tell her anything further. Frustrated, Hermione returned to pushing the food around upon her plate without actually eating much of it. The week's events had left her without much of an appetite.

"It should be any time now," Ron finally stated, his eyes darted towards the Slytherin table as a grin spread across his lips.

Hermione saw several others cast glances towards the table of Silver and Green but she couldn't figure out why. Shortly thereafter she had her answer. It started as whispers and giggles and progressed to barely suppressed laughter. Turning about once more to look at the other table she noticed that several of them were pointing and laughing behind their hands. Following their gaze she saw why. The young witch's eyes grew large in disbelief.

At the very end of the Slytherin table, all alone, sat Harry. This was not unusual as it had become pretty standard after the welcoming feast. Harry always chose to sit apart from the rest of his housemates. What wasn't normal though was the young wizards coloring. Harry's hair lightened from its normal dark strands to a light amber-red coloring. While this was transpiring the wizard's skin turned to a shade of gold. The youth's robes even changed coloring till Harry Potter was covered in the Gryffindor house colors.

Hermione watched in horrified fascination as the red turned to gold and gold to red and back again. Those from the other houses were pointing and laughing at brightly colored wizard who was her friend. It was more than Hermione could take, seeing her friend turned into a joke was perhaps the final straw of all. The young witch thrust herself to her feet and slammed her hands down upon the table top, causing many plates and cups to rattle in the process."RONALD WEASLEY! How could you be so childish!" the irate witch exclaimed in a loud enough voice to be heard over the buzz of laughter and bad jokes at Harry's expense.

"What?" Ron yelled back, small particles of food flying forth with no regard as to where they would land. "He's had it coming for a while. He needs to learn that his place is with the other snakes and not with one of us Gryffindors!" Ron declared. "He's just a stinking snake," the red-head added with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders.

Hermione stood there, mouth agape, shocked into disbelief."No…," she finally managed to reply with, "Harry's my friend."

"I thought we talked about this, Hermione? You don't need him," Ron said. "You've got me and your housemates. Face it, this is where you belong, Granger."

"Thank you, Ronald," the young witch told the red-head."Thanks to you I know exactly where I belong now."

"Glad I could help," the boy replied only to nearly choke upon his food. Ronald Weasley couldn't believe his eyes as the young witch turned around and headed for the Slytherin table. That's not what she's supposed to do, his mind yelled. She's supposed to stay here and help me with my school work! "You'll regret it, Granger!" he called after her after swallowing hastily.

I think I regret ever listening to you Ronald, Hermione thought to herself as she marched over and seated herself across from Harry. "Hi, Harry," she said, suddenly realizing that she was happy to be talking to her friend after all this time.

Harry, who had continued to eat as if nothing had happened, froze and the sound of Hermione's voice and slowly looked up in disbelief."Hermione? What are you doing here? Your House will be angry with you!"

The Gryffindor witch shrugged slightly. "I think they're going to be angry with me regardless, Harry." Reaching across the table Hermione liberated the fork from the shocked boy's hand before scooping some food from his pate and popping it into her mouth.

"Hermione, don't!" Harry exclaimed, attempting to stop the witch from eating his food but it was too late. "You'll turn colors too," he added in a softer tone even as he watched his first friend chew and swallow the food.

"I would rather have one true friend, than a house full of prejudiced fools who can't see past the house name to the people within it," Hermione declared as she reached over and scooped some more food from Harry's plate, suddenly finding herself incredibly hungry, and popped it into her mouth.

"Don't go eating it all, Granger!" Daphne scolded as she took the seat next to Harry and liberated the fork from the Gryffindor's hand. Before either realized what the blonde witch intended to do Daphne speared several potatoes and deposited them into her mouth and started to chew before handing the fork across the table to Tracey who slid into the seat next to Hermione.

"You guys…," Harry started to say only to trail off, unable to figure out why they were doing this.

"How many times do I have to tell you, Harry, we're girls, not guys!" the auburn-haired witch scolded him with a playful smirk just before filling her own mouth with food from the wizards plate.

"Sorry," Harry automatically apologized, causing the three witches to chuckle softly behind hastily raised hands. About them the rest of the students and staff looked on in disbelief as the three witches started changing colors between red and gold as well.

"This is so not going to be a good look for me," Blaise Zabini intoned as he took the vacant seat next to Daphne, one arm extended, requesting the fork from Tracey they had all used. Once the dark skinned wizard received it he scooped up the last of the potatoes from Harry's plate. Too shocked by this point, Harry didn't even attempt to stop him.

"Why?" Harry asked softly. "Why would you do this?You didn't have to, you know?"

Hermione gave the bewildered wizard a soft smile and reached across the table to lay a comforting red hand upon the boy's golden arm."Of course we did, Harry. You're our friend."

"We're Outsiders," Daphne added with a grin as she slipped her gold colored arm around Harry's and gave it a tight squeeze.

"As Outsiders, we've only got each other," Tracey said while Blaise nodded in agreement as he chewed Harry's food.

A soft clearing of a throat stopped any further conversation as all heads turned in that direction from which it came. There, standing at the end of the Slytherin table was the Headmaster, a soft smile on his lips and amerry twinkle in his eyes. "My apologies for interrupting what was most certainly a touching display of friendship," the Headmaster said softly,"However I feel it would be best if we were to move this to a more suitable environment," Albus offered with an arched brow. "Perhaps the Hospital wing?"

"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, startling the others Outsiders. All turned and saw what had caused the witch's outburst. Dark spot had begun to appear on the young wizard's skin. The spots soon began to bubble and fill with puss as they became boils. The first one grew to a large size and then burst, drawing a wince of pain from the dark-haired boy.

Albus Dumbledore turned and motioned with one hand,"Professor Sinistra, Severus, would you be so kind as to escort our young students to the Hospital wing so that they might receive the benefit of Madam Pomfrey's most excellent care?" Both called upon Professors left the head table and escorted the boiled covered students from the great hall of Hogwarts as requested.

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