Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Echoes of Power, Part I: Anger

5. A Rolling Stone . . .

by moshpit 4 reviews

Chapter 5

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: R - Genres: Action/Adventure - Characters: Andromeda Tonks, Angelina Johnson, Arthur Weasley, Barty Crouch Jr., Bellatrix, Bill Weasley, Blaise Zabini, Cho, Colin Creevey, Crabbe, Dean Thomas, Dobby, Draco, Dudley, Dumbledore, Ernie, Fleur, Flitwick, Fred, Fudge, George, Gilderoy Lockhart - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-12-30 - Updated: 2006-12-31 - 6040 words


Chapter 5: A rolling stone...

WARNING: Disturbing imagery ahead. This story is rated R for many reasons. This is one of them.

The pain in his leg was throbbing slightly as Harry moved slowly down the sidewalk. The air was crisp and cold. His jacket was too large, and the wind was more biting and less enjoyable than it should have been. While December was only gone in part, it was going to be a long holiday at home soon. The houses were nice enough in an abstract way from the outside, but the people on the inside had long since shown their nature. Limping a bit as he moved closer to the end of the road, his eyes scanned the area for the other neighborhood children. Harry wanted to just get home in peace and not be bothered by the usual factions. He felt ambivalent about the weekend starting, but maybe he could get some rest for a change.

As he turned and moved up the walk to one of the cookie cutter houses, he could vaguely understand why so many people would enjoy a house like this and what made the area desirable. It was modest but large enough for a growing family, built of superior materials with a bit of yard, not jammed in like the row houses with their shared walls. The yard was clean, the leaves of trees and blooms of flowers long since fallen, but the order and overall impression of careful cultivation endured. It was a safe haven from the elements, a place of privacy, a place of refuge, and a place of love - if your name was other than Harry Potter, at any rate.

Opening the door carefully, he tried hard to make sure that any dirt that had accumulated on his shoes was knocked off on the entry mat, otherwise he would be cleaning the floors for hours before dinner. Closing the door behind him, he moved into the corner by the hinges. He struggled a bit with his oversized coat, before he could get it on the foyer hooks. Only recently had Harry been able to stand on tiptoe to reach the hooks. His right leg shook a bit from the strain, but he managed to get the coat hung without falling down.

Harry could hear voices coming from the kitchen, his cousin's piping voice with a nasal whine, his aunt's voice echoing to drown out any of his words as her words became increasingly shrill. It was normal in many respects, ever since starting public school at the beginning of the year. Dudley always came home whinging about how the teacher treated him unfairly or how Harry had caused Dudley to do something which got Dudley in trouble. It always amounted to punishment of one degree or another, followed by another long lecture. It mattered little what the truth was; Harry learned that lesson by the end of the first month.

If his aunt decided the offense was severe enough, like the time he got a star on his paper solving a hard puzzle and Dudley had none, she would tell his uncle. As long as his uncle remained ignorant of Dudley's latest claim, Harry would get dinner and then spend the evening in the cupboard, another normal day for a freak with parents who were unable to keep a job and had forced his relatives to take him in even though they said they had too little money to spend on him. Dudley needed his presents and special things, after all, and Harry would get whatever was left. Out of their generosity and kind hearts. His parents had been so stupid and ungrateful that in a drunken stupor they had driven into a tree, killing them both. Leaving him as a burden. An unwanted mouth. And no money. A problem that they had graciously deigned to try and solve. By the end of the second month, Harry knew not to do well on his assignments at school.

And he should be thankful. Grateful. Happy to do anything they needed, since otherwise he would be out there, in the street, at an orphanage, and the world out there would treat him horribly. He would be hungry. He might be imprisoned. Harry was less than clear why he might go to prison, but his uncle told him he would. He could be killed. Harry wondered sometimes if it would really be that bad. Surely his parents missed him, even if they were bad people who never did an honest day's work.

The sudden scraping of a chair in the kitchen and the tread of a heavy foot made Harry start shaking for reasons that had nothing to do with his leg. He knew running would only make it worse if his uncle had decided that he needed to be punished again, so the simplest course was to just wait for what was coming.

He kept his eyes on his shoes, which were larger than his feet by a good bit, loose despite the extra socks he had stuffed inside. Making eye contact was unpredictable. Sometimes it made things worse; other times it saved him from the punishments when he was extra bad and just made them normal bad punishments. It was safest to look down until the voice gave away what was right to do.

"BOY!" The shout drowned out the whinging and screeching of his aunt and cousin in the kitchen. The deadly rage in the voice told him everything. A heavy silence descended, and Harry knew this was a time to keep his eyes down. "GET OVER HERE!" Harry shuffled to stand near his uncle and could see Dudley smirking at him through the kitchen portal. His aunt was moving around the kitchen, preparing dinner. The desire to know why his uncle was home early never crossed his mind.

Harry risked a quick glance at his uncle's face. It made him wish he had kept his eyes down, for his uncle saw the glance. He knew it was going to be worse now. The deep purple of anger was so vibrant Harry had never seen the depth of it before. "Dudley told me you asked to see the school nurse today. Is this true?" His uncle's voice had gone from deafening to sibilant whispering, a promise of pain soon to come.

Harry shook his head quickly. "No, Uncle, I didn't ask! I swea-"

The backhand left Harry dazed and staring at his uncle from the floor. Something warm was oozing down the side of his face, and he felt mildly surprised; he had no idea why he was on the floor.

"DON'T YOU LIE TO ME, BOY!" A spot on his uncle's forehead began throbbing slightly, an oddly fascinating pulsation making the red and purple skin bulge unpleasantly, almost like a maggot trying to break free from a rotting carcass. A foot made heavy contact on his already injured right thigh, and Harry cried out involuntarily. "What did you tell them?!" his uncle screamed at him, drawing the foot back for another blow. Harry's memory was a little scattered, panic starting to set in.

"Nothing! The teacher took me! I didn't ask for-"

The foot landed again, and Harry curled into a fetal position to try and protect himself. There would be no real rest this weekend. "After all we do for you! GET! UP! NOW!" Harry struggled to his knees, then his feet. His uncle was holding a belt by the end, the shiny buckle glinting in the afternoon sunshine from the window as it dangled freely. Harry could see the dust particles swirling in a crazy dance of jubilation as his leg and back ached from the kicks his uncle gave him.

Harry was shoved hard into the wall before his uncle ripped the door open to his cupboard. Throwing Harry on the floor of the cupboard, the whistling snap of leather cracked across his back with the buckle digging painfully in his shoulder. He cried out, unable to stop the tears. "I'm sorry, uncle, I'm-" The crack again landed on his back, and time seemed to go askew as he watched the spiders in his cupboard scuttle away in slow motion.

"You! Will! Never! Talk! To! The! Nurse! Again!"

Each word was accompanied by a crack, and Harry could hear the giggles from his cousin in the background. The sound of pans on the stove made a strange counterpart to the whistling belt, giggles from his cousin, and grunts from his uncle. Harry tried to look up one more time to explain, to say that he tried to avoid going, to say anything at all, but all he saw was the buckle coming back down, now arcing toward his head --

"Unnnhhhh!" Harry shot out of the blankets into a half-kneeling position, his heart pounding in his chest so hard he thought it was trying to escape. His forearms were extended, crossing in front of his head, warding off the blow that would never land. His lungs were burning from trying to inhale great gulps of air. He could feel the adrenaline pumping wildly, his body ready to fight to survive. Sweat was trickling down his face. His old scars gave minor echoes of pain from injuries long past, a subtle reminder of days gone but not forgotten. He hated thinking about the Dursleys and his life there from /before/.

After nearly a decade of freedom, the memories were more distant, obscured by clouds of hazy mist, as though unreal, until something would trigger his subconscious to remind him. The memories would sharpen, shattering the barriers he kept in his own mind.

Harry put his hands down and tried to relax. His heart was still trying to run a marathon, his breathing was heavy and erratic, and his control over his magic was slipping as a soft glow started to manifest near his fingers. The jarring impact of remembering his long-buried emotions, coupled with his present, deeper understanding of them always left him feeling slightly nauseous.

Talking with Albus was the most likely trigger; that was obvious. Hearing that so revered man confess to being the reason he had no parents, and then to harboring the other man that rushed to lick the arse of that ponce Voldemort hoping to see the world fall to a tyrant by relating that prophecy... Looking at the man of the Light who had casually made a life altering decision about what to do with Harry, well intentioned or not, and had never once checked on him during those four long years was bound to have consequences. It was certain to stir those things he wanted buried, he wanted eradicated, he wanted pushed out of his mind for all time. As his breathing slowed and his anger bubbled, Harry reached out and began the meditation and relaxation exercises Nicholas Flamel had taught him. Sometimes it would take a while, but the methods were most successful if practiced regularly.

As he slowly worked his way back to consciousness, he could hear the regular breathing of the other boys in his dorm. With his heart rate and breathing relatively normal and the adrenaline induced shaking of his body all but ceased, Harry lay back in the bed to stare at the canopy stretched over the four posts.

"Bee in your bonnet, Mr. Potter?" Floppy asked quietly.

Harry twitched in surprise. Sometimes he forgot the hat was there. In general, he chose to never wear a silly wizard's hat at all, but he knew he agreed to wear Floppy until a proper sorting could happen. The idea that he was less than aware of the hat bothered him. He would have to be careful of what he said until he and the hat could reach some level of agreement and trust with each other.

"You would know if you were a bonnet," Harry replied equally quietly. The hat offered nothing in response, as though it did not get the joke, or, more likely, its sense of humor had lost the appreciation for pedantic jokes after a few hundred years.

It was odd, but talking to the hat seemed like a good idea even if he would never be able to tell it everything. "Just some dreams, Floppy, just some dreams."

"Do you normally wake up from dreams ready to kill people, Mr. Potter?"

Harry smiled wryly at the hat's attempt to probe him verbally rather than mentally. "Depends on the people, Floppy. I thought you couldn't tell what I was thinking or feeling?"

Floppy pulled the long, frizzy nightcap tail into itself, shuddered momentarily, and turned into a baseball hat with the brim pulled down over his eyes. "Do you think I was made yesterday? And I thought you could see." The tone Floppy used lacked the dry sarcasm Harry expected but instead carried hints of disappointment.

"Look, how do I know I can trust you? After all, you serve the school, and Dumbledore runs the school." Harry lifted the brim of the cap slightly, so he could see the grey pre-dawn light filtering in from the window. "How do I know that what we talk about won't come back to bite me later?"

"A fair challenge, Mr. Potter. I am, by design, not allowed to speak of what I learn when talking to people. Just as I cannot tell you what drives Mr. Ronald Weasley, I cannot tell the Headmaster what drives /you/." Floppy lightened in color from dark blue to pale beige. "There should always be someone to confide in, Mr. Potter. I am here for that purpose, though they never use me anymore except to sort the students."

"What?" Harry was puzzled at the last statement. "You mean originally, you were put out for students to talk to, or whinge at, or whatever?"

"Indeed. Godric felt that the students needed an impartial ear to discuss things with, one who would not, or rather , /could not/, betray their confidences. Since he had already enchanted me to understand their minds and sort them, it was a minor modification."

Harry could almost hear the shrug in Floppy's voice. "So why did they stop using you for it?"

"It's the stigma, Mr. Potter. Would you want to be seen talking to someone that was there to help you adjust? To help you feel better about yourself and your situation? Would your pride allow that?"

Harry pulled his curtains back and spent a few minutes looking out the window from his bed. The sky was cloudy and it was promising to be another dreary day in the hills, but rain would not likely fall today. Quiet moments like this let him reflect more than he was able to during the day when plans and counter-plans dominated his thoughts. "I think we all could use that, Floppy. But no, I wouldn't be comfortable doing that in front of others."

Deciding it was time to get up, Harry unlocked his trunk and pulled out some basic Muggle style clothes for the day. After getting dressed and activating his next sensory monitor, dropping it into the special pouch inside his clothes, he noticed something odd in the bed by the corner. There were too many arms and legs in that bed for one person, but the semi-transparent curtains made it impossible to see what exactly was going on. Taking a couple of steps closer, Harry realized that there were two boys snuggled up next to each other. This was either a sure sign that people were very open with relationships here, or someone fell for his switched door plates last night. Harry quickly fetched his camera from his trunk and walked quietly over to the foot of the bed. Pulling back the curtains all the way, he proceeded to shoot several photographs as the camera's flash lit up the room.

The bright light was apparently enough to wake up the bigger boy slightly, who grunted and tried to roll over. Harry kept taking pictures as the boy suddenly realized he was trying to roll on top of someone else, and his eyes shot open as he quickly sat up.

"Wha' in tha' hell?" The boy had a bit of an accent and sounded like he came from the northern areas, but his hand reached out and smacked the smaller blonde boy on the head before Harry could hear more of it. "COLIN!" he yelled. Harry snapped a few more pictures as Colin woke up and looked blearily at the other boy.

"Seamus?" he asked in a sleep-induced fog of confusion.

The other boys in the room were waking up at the commotion and came fully awake as Seamus nearly screamed his head off. "What'r'ya doin' in me bed?!"

Ron and Neville jumped up to investigate, and another boy that Harry thought was named Dean leaned out of his curtains, wiping at his eyes.

Colin looked horrified. Click! Harry's camera took the last shot on the roll of film as Colin yelled back, "Your bed?! This is my bed!"

Chuckling to himself, Harry hurriedly put his camera back in his trunk before locking it. As he looked up, he could see both Seamus and Colin starting to realize that someone had been doing something while they were sleeping together.

Harry grinned evilly, needing to leave before they realized what the bright lights had meant. "Good morning, boys. You looked awfully comfortable together. I'm glad you're so honest with your feelings for each other. Cheers!"

Harry strode away as Colin stammered out an explanation involving an early morning, the bathroom, and the door, while Seamus started smacking Colin in the head with his pillow and yelling for him to get out. He could hear Neville's muffled voice telling them that it was okay with him if they continued to sleep together.

As Harry closed the door behind him, he heard Ron cat-calling and whistling at the two. "Mr. Potter, that was rather inappropriate of you." Floppy actually seemed a bit upset with Harry.

"Oh, come off it, Floppy. In a couple of weeks, when they're over their embarrassment and what not, I'll give them the photos, and we'll all laugh about it. It didn't really hurt anyone, and it will teach everyone to be a little more alert." Harry felt that it was no big deal, but then he was used to being embarrassed regularly in some way. Floppy had no response, so Harry just settled down in an arm chair partially facing the fire burning merrily away in the common room. He pulled out the book he had borrowed from Dumbledore, The Foundation of Wards by Bruce Forte.

Right as Harry was getting settled and had begun reading the introduction, a loud scuffling on the boy's staircase drew his attention. Fred and George were coming down the stairs complaining about how amorous younger students kept people from getting a decent lie-in on a Saturday morning. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Fred let out a loud yell, "Harry! Still alive, eh?"

George ran over to Harry with one hand extended. "Harry Potter! Oh, I'm your biggest fan! Would you autograph something for me?" His batting eyelashes and simpering demeanor had Harry chuckling.

Before he could respond, however, there was a yell from the girls' staircase that sounded faintly like "POTTER!" which was rapidly followed by a thunderous clattering. Fred and George just looked at each other, both confused by whatever was going on.

The sound of running footsteps caused all three boys to look at the girls' staircase as a fiery red-head shot into the common room. Her long hair streamed behind her, her wand was clutched tightly in her right fist and emitting random sparks, and her eyes were flashing as she marched over to Harry.

Fred and George took one look at their sister before diving behind a sofa on the opposite side from Harry.

Harry smirked at the girl who was almost literally on fire. "Why, good morning, Ginny. Sleep well?"

Ginny marched up to him, her teeth clenched together tightly, clearly fighting an inner battle not to point her wand at him. "You owe me, Potter, you owe me!" she hissed at him.

"Oh?" Harry raised his left eyebrow, amused to see Fred and George peeking over the back of the sofa.

"You set us up. You provoked me, embarrassed me, and then fled before you could get your just desserts. And then Dumbledore tells us we can't get payback!" She was breathing heavily through her nostrils, torn between the urge to hex him - damn the consequences - and the knowledge that it was more logical of her to bide her time and strike when he was least suspecting. "You. Owe. Me!"

Harry chuckled. "That's what this cute little display is about? Your hostility to a little flirtation?" Harry shook his head theatrically while Fred and George ducked back behind the sofa, paler than he recalled seeing anyone with so fair a skin. Ginny, if possible, became even more enraged. "Right, so what if I give you the freedom to try to get back at me under the same rules as Fred and George?"

Ginny's wand was beginning to rise steadily as a glint of malicious intent crept into her eyes. "Ah-ah", Harry cautioned her. "This weekend is declared off-limits. If you want in, you have to wait until Monday." Harry sat back to watch the fuming girl, once again amused that her brothers held her in such fear. It seemed very inconsistent with her being in fear of other people like Draco, but surely there was a logical explanation in there somewhere.

Ginny stood staring at Harry for a few minutes as she began to regain control of her ire. "Fine. This is a two-front war, Potter! You'll be begging me for mercy when I'm done with you!"

Harry laughed at her, before looking at Fred and George who had just now peeped back over the sofa. "And what should I ask her for if she gives up first?" Harry called to them.

Fred and George frantically shook their heads in a warning, but Harry was enjoying the idea of a three-way prank war. It was reminiscent of being back home. "I know. If you can't get your payback on me within a month, Ginny, then you have to do whatever I ask of you for a weekend. Fair?"

Ginny shook her head. "I'm not agreeing to that. You could ask for anything!"

Harry waved her complaint off. "Fine, fine, you have to do anything that Fred and George and Ron agree to, how's that?"

Ginny looked dubiously at her brothers who were finally coming out from behind the sofa. "As long as Ron agrees, alright then. His judgment I trust. What are you three doing at this hour, anyway?"

Fred winked at Harry before standing straight and throwing his chest out. "Harry here has a little business proposition for us, ickle Gin-Gin."

Harry chuckled quietly at the nickname. It was another wonderful inconsistency in these people that they went from fear to antagonizing their sister so casually.

Ginny squinted closely at them before sitting down across from Harry. Motioning her brothers down, she looked back at Harry with a smirk. "Let's hear it then, Potter."

"Oh? I didn't know you were joining the twins in this." Harry smiled blandly back at her, causing her smirk to become a frown.

George just sighed dramatically. "She's bound to worm her way into it sooner or later, Harry. Might as well include her in it now to minimize the damage later."

Harry looked at Fred who just nodded in acceptance. Looking back at Ginny, Harry nodded briefly. "Right then. You lot go get dressed, meet me here in 10 minutes, and we'll talk over breakfast. Yeah?" The three Weasley's nodded in turn and ran off to get dressed.

"Is it me, Floppy," Harry asked, "or is that family completely mental?"

"I already told you, Mr. Potter, I'm not at liberty to say what I know about others." Harry thought that Floppy sounded downright smug.

"Yeah, yeah," Harry muttered as he looked longingly at the book in his lap. "So much for some quiet reading."

"I thought you'd spend the morning thinking about the Headmaster's comments last night, Mr. Potter." Harry was unsure if the hat was being slightly reprimanding, but that was one area he was not interested in thinking about right now.

"Oh, I was certain you wanted me to while away my time pondering your words of wisdom, Floppy." Harry was striving for a breathless and idolizing voice. "Should I pay more attention to the old man instead?"

"Really, Mr. Potter. Must you be so difficult?" Floppy made a loud popping noise before reverting back to the wizard's hat once again leaning over his right ear.

Fred and George came and sat back down across from him, winking while they waited for Ginny. Fred leaned over and asked quietly, "So what was the commotion in your room earlier?"

Ginny arrived before Harry could answer. "Commotion? What commotion?"

Harry, Fred, and George rose and walked with Ginny out the door. "Well," Harry said, "I was curious to know how many people actually read those little plaques on the doors. You know, 'FIFTH YEAR BOYS' and what not. So I swapped them around last night."

Fred and George just looked at each other, while Ginny shook her head. "Tell me it wasn't that easy," Ginny mumbled.

"Anyway, this morning I took some fantastic pictures of, uh, Colin and Seamus, I think, sharing a bed. They were really cute, too. I was sorry to wake them up taking the pictures, but you know how lovers can be. They had quite the quarrel over who was in whose bed." Harry shook his head theatrically while Fred and George just started laughing evilly. Ginny was looking thoughtfully at Harry.

When they reached the Gryffindor table, Harry sat next to George while Fred and Ginny sat opposite them. After they each loaded their plates with breakfast, Harry leaned in a bit as he started cutting up his pancakes. "Right, you recall I said I had a little proposition. Some of your time in exchange for you getting good publicity?"

"And profit!" Fred reminded him.

Harry nodded. "And profit, but that conversation has to wait until tomorrow. Let's meet down here around this time for breakfast then, and we'll talk about that part of it, right?" The three red-heads nodded back at him. "Right, so let's get to it." Harry pulled his wand out and waved it in a few intricate patterns before putting his wand back. "Perimeter charm, it will let me know if anything alive is close enough to listen."

Pausing to work on his pancakes while the others ate and did a little Harry-watching, he took a moment to collect his thoughts. "First off, I've put Snape on notice that his time here isn't going to be like it has been." All three stared at him hard. "I got him arrested, but the charges won't stick. I suspect he'll be back here no sooner than tomorrow evening and no later than Monday morning in time for lessons." Harry resumed eating, while the other three had given up on eating to stare at him.

Ginny leaned in a bit. "You got Snape and Malfoy and Crabbe and and Goyle arrested?" Harry nodded. "I love you!" she whispered to him. "You're my hero!"

Harry smirked. "It gets better. I've got a copy of a law here I plan on using to get him fired. I need your help with it, though." Harry pulled a scroll out of his pocket that he had secured there earlier in the morning. "Take a look."

George moved around the table to lean between Fred and Ginny to read the parchment.

Regulations Governing Cauldron Thickness, Wizengamot Law 23.145-A

In order to redress the growing influx of teaching supplies, in particular cauldrons for potions work, this decree is passed to hereby set minimum acceptable standards for cauldrons in potions work. To wit, the effect of poorly designed ...

Fred looked up puzzled. "What good is that prat Percy's daft law for us?"

Harry was surprised. "Percy?"

Ginny shrugged. "He's another brother, the pompous git."

Harry shook his head. "Just how many brothers do you have, ickle Gin-Gin?"

Ginny's eyes flashed fire as she glared at Harry. "Six. Call me that again and that whole truce thing will end before you can blink."

Harry smirked back at her for a second. "Yes, fair and compassionate Gin-Gin, my angel with a dented halo." If anything, this just caused Ginny to glare harder at Harry while fingering her wand on the table top. Harry pointed toward the bottom of the scroll. "Try reading that part, it might help you find enlightenment."

The three Weasleys once again leaned over the scroll. After a minute of silence, George looked at Harry and wiped an imaginary tear from his eye. "Brilliant!"

Harry grinned back at him. "That's what they call a rider. I know some people that wanted to get some, ah, standards set for tutors that teach students independently of the schools. They just, err, happened, right, happened to get it worded such that it applies to teachers and professors at regular schools as well. Then they slipped it into this other bit of business on cauldrons... An oversight, I'm sure..." Harry was enjoying the fierce looks of conspiracy from the other three.

Fred nodded his head. "A shame, really. We'll have to point that out to our brother sometime next century." George and Ginny both put on solemn faces as they nodded along with him. Fred rolled the parchment up and handed it back to Harry. "Okay, so we need witnesses to report on his teaching methods and how he deals with students. How do we set that up so there won't be any debate over the witnesses' honesty?"

If possible, Harry's grin became even more evil. "Ever heard of a sensory monitor?"

George whistled. "Blimey, Harry! Those are expensive! Something like 5,000 galleons!"

Harry nodded. "I have a few. In fact, I have one running right now. Due to recent events, I never leave home without it." Looking around, he noticed that the Great Hall was slowly starting to fill up a bit with other breakfast seekers. "Right, we need to wrap this up. I want you to find one volunteer in each year of Gryffindor. They'll wear the monitor during their Potions class. Each one is able to hold just over 30 hours of material, so we ought to be able to get a whole week's worth of his lessons in just one of these babies. Tomorrow, after our breakfast meeting, I'll take you off to show you how to work it. But you have to get the volunteers first. Clear?"

His three conspirators nodded back at him. Harry flicked his wand a couple of times to release the proximity alarms. Ginny leaned over briefly before Harry could go back to his breakfast. "One quick question. We're still students with little money. How are we going to bring charges against him? How will we get out of here to do that?"

Harry smiled beatifically at her. "Trust me."

The three Weasleys shook their heads and resumed their seats. While Harry finished his pancakes and started helping himself to some eggs and bacon, he listened to the playful banter of the three. It was quite sharp and pointed at times yet friendly and caring in a way that made him miss his mentors a bit.

As he sat back from his second helping of breakfast, Hermione, Ron, and Neville strolled in and sat next to them. Ron noticed Harry glancing around a bit and sat down next to him, on the other side from George. "Looking for Seamus and Colin, Harry?" Ron asked.

Harry nodded vaguely. Ron chuckled a bit. "Colin is hiding from Seamus, and Seamus is trying to figure out how to get your trunk open to get that camera. He spent a good five minutes cussing you out. I think I even learned a couple of new ones."

Harry just shook his head. Rising to his feet, he replied to Ron, "He's welcome to try. If he can get past the locks and protection spells, he's welcome to it. I've got to run, so I'll see you all later." Harry looked over at his trio of evil plotters. "And I'll talk to you lot at lunch, right?"

Hermione looked up at Harry expectantly. "Where are you going, Harry? I was hoping we could talk a bit about those spells you cast yesterday!"

Harry winked at Neville again, before leaning over the table. "I'm off to London. Need anything?"

Hermione looked puzzled. "But how?"

Harry pulled out his wand, traced a couple of patterns in the air, before looking at Hermione and saying "Magic!" while simultaneously disappearing with a soft 'pop!'

Hermione looked outraged. "You can't Apparate in Hogwarts!" she nearly shouted in a shrill voice.

While the other students looked alternately puzzled and impressed, Harry struggled to stay as still as possible and not laugh. If he moved too quickly, the disillusionment spell would cause ripples in the air giving away his position. It was a hard fight, but he managed to slowly walk out of the hall and stroll past the gates of Hogwarts before truly Apparating to the back entrance of the Leaky Cauldron at Diagon Alley.

Harry stood around waiting for the back door to open so he could enter unobserved. Since this was the main entrance to Diagon Alley, it usually only took a minute or two. As an old crone came out of the pub, Harry slipped inside and scanned for his friend. Spotting him by the exit to Muggle London, Harry moved over slowly and tapped him once before whispering in his ear, "Outside!"

The thin man with slightly greying hair in jeans and a T-shirt rose and walked out into Muggle London. Harry followed him. Once they were far away enough to avoid attention, Harry asked Floppy if he could go back to the baseball cap for a while. With a soft shudder, the light beige cap was back on his head. Harry then dropped the Disillusionment charm and looked at his friend. "How are your skills these days?" he asked while gesturing sharply at the hat on his head.

The man looked at Harry and shook his head briefly. Harry nodded his understanding that his friend's shields were insufficient for talking mind-to-mind. "Getting there, Harry," he said quietly. "Shall we?"

Harry nodded briefly. "Lead on, Remus, lead on."


Yes, believe it or not, I actually know someone who left their bed, went to the restroom, came back and climbed into bed with someone else, and both of them woke up in the morning quite... surprised. We, however, were most amused. I've heard even more outrageous true stories of similar nature.

As my betas raised concerns, let me specify here to avoid Ginny-related flames: there is a reason she is acting like this. You'll have to ride it out to find out why.

A big thank you to my genius betas who have valiantly strived to make this story better, despite my crafty attempts to make it incomprehensible. Immeasurable thanks to cwarbeck and Chreechree.

I think they deserve more than a casual thank-you, actually. They have spent the past week working on the original chapters as well as this new chapter, and the three of us have had to cover a lot of background material, a few hints about direction overall, and get to know each other a bit as well. Their input has made this story better in so many ways, it's very amazing to me. It's been a lot of work for them, and I appreciate it greatly. Now that we've sorted out our internal issues, the updates will hopefully happen more easily. If you appreciate their work, drop them a note and say "thank you!"

Hopefully this will also be the longest A/N of the entire series.

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