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

6. . . . Keeps Moving . . .

by moshpit 4 reviews

Chapter 6

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, Gi - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-12-30 - Updated: 2006-12-31 - 6635 words

Chapter 6: ... keeps moving ...

Harry leaned back on the bench and enjoyed watching the locals and tourists gawk at the bronze statue of Eros across from him. He never really understood why tourists would travel hundreds, or even thousands of miles, just to have their picture taken in front of some landmark where everyone else had already posed for pictures. What was the point of going on vacation only to travel to the places everyone else went to? Was it some secret desire to go where no one else had been... recently? Regardless, the centerpiece of the fountain at Piccadilly Circus, combined with the five intersecting roads and loads of shops, ensured that there were all types of people from all walks of life within a stone's throw of his seat. It was always easiest to blend in when the masses of people were so used to random appearances that walking nearly starkers through the area would fail to get much of a glance. The advantage, of course, was that most wizards and witches who would be looking for Harry would dress so ridiculously that they would be easy to spot long before they could see Harry through the crowds.

Enjoying a bit of sunshine warming his clothes and face, Harry watched a big black dog dart in and out of clumps of people. Fat gulls and pigeons would squawk in indignation as they flew into the air, but the dog paid their protests no mind. Turning his attention back to his companion, Harry suddenly realized how tired he was. They had been having this conversation since arriving a few hours before. They would get up and move periodically so as not to stay in one place too long, but the subject matter was unpleasant regardless of the setting.

"But do you understand, Harry?" Remus had a concerned glint in his eye that made Harry slightly uncomfortable. "They are still trying to decide what to do since Nicholas died. This situation has never happened before."

"Yes, Remus," Harry sighed. "I'll try to keep a low profile for the moment."

Remus reached out and clapped Harry on the shoulder firmly. "Thanks, Harry. This bit should blow over soon, and by then, some of those other pieces ought to be settled. You can always get things done. Just don't be directly involved in anything political."

Harry nodded, watching a few people milling in front of the row of Chinese restaurants. "Look, I need to be getting back to work on my conspirators in training. Will you have those things I asked for finished by tomorrow?"

Remus wolf whistled, causing the big black dog's ears to perk up. Making a come-hither gesture toward the dog, Remus smiled at Harry. "Of course. I can't wait to hear how well they work. With our afternoon free, you should have them in the box when you wake up. You do know they won't really stop any attack at all, right?"

Harry shrugged. "It will let people know, and knowing..."

" half the battle." Remus finished Harry's sentence and chuckled. "All right, Harry. Don't quote that at me anymore, please."

Harry smiled and then leaned down to hug the big dog blithely sitting on his feet. "I'll be in touch with a letter tonight if anything of importance happens. I don't know if Dumbledore plans to talk about anything of merit today, and honestly, I'm not up for another session with him after yesterday. It took a lot out of me to push him that hard, even if it was fun, but listening to him after dinner was harder than anything since this past summer." Harry was unable to shake the somber mood that the memories of the summer had evoked.

Remus looked closely at Harry for a moment. "Don't overdo it, Harry. You've made your point, now back off and let him have a chance, right?"

Harry nodded and tossed his head toward the restaurant row. There would be plenty of deserted alleys back there that he could leave from. Harry and Remus looked on as Padfoot romped into the clusters of people milling and shopping. Harry was happy to be out in the sunshine, surrounded by people that had no clue who he was, why he was there, or what was at risk. The illusion of normalcy was always pleasant when he allowed it to eclipse his natural instincts to be paranoid.

When Remus gave a quick nod, Harry ducked into the alleyway, made sure it was empty, disillusioned himself, and Apparated back to the gates outside Hogwarts. Only allow your enemies to see what you want them to see... Sun Tzu may, or may not, have actually existed, but some of his doctrines were practical at all times. The scholars could argue about who wrote it, while Harry was much more concerned with how it applied to his everyday circumstances.

Taking care to move stealthily, Harry strolled back into the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Lunch appeared to be in full swing. Most of the hall was packed, and as he entered, he picked up snippets of conversation. The Slytherins seemed ominously quiet, with no real conversation taking place. A handful of them near the Head Table were whispering quietly, but the rest seemed to be either eating or watching the hall. As Harry passed the Hufflepuff table and walked toward Gryffindor, he heard bits of dialogue that could have been about anything.

"... says that there aren't any more real ones ..."

"... pass that, would you? I mean, really, what ..."

"... Dumbledore's been out all morning, Flitwick was ..."

"... no! When did he do that? I heard he was taught ..."

"... took her an age to start fixing his ..."

While not in the general habit of eavesdropping on random people, and even though none of the conversations seemed particularly sensitive, Harry was surprised that no one really seemed to be trying to prevent others from hearing their discussions. Well, no one that was at a table other than Slytherin.

Harry slowly walked directly behind Hermione. This was going to be unpleasant since it required a short cut with the wand movements, but it should make the time needed to release the disillusionment fast enough to not give away his trick yet. Concentrating briefly, Harry made a sharp flick and then smacked his hand hard before making a loud 'pop!' noise. Hermione jumped up from her seat in shock while Harry smiled blandly at her, a short but intense sensation of heat flashing across his skin.

"Hermione! Is something wrong? You seem tense." Harry tried for a worried expression, but he was less than positive it was working since the corner of his mouth kept smirking despite his efforts to control it.

Hermione glowered at Harry before calming down. "You can't Apparate in Hogwarts, Harry!"

Harry feigned shock. "You can't? Are you sure about that?" A bead of sweat was slowly rolling down the side of his face despite the cool temperature.

Neville was smiling at Harry behind Hermione's back, while Ron was vainly trying to drown his laughter in food. The end result was a bit of food spraying across his plate to the mild disgust of the people sitting around him. Hermione, however, stamped her foot. "Yes, I'm sure! It says so in /Hogwarts, A History/!"

Harry just shrugged. "Okay, so you can't Apparate in Hogwarts. Does that mean I can't?"

While Hermione was staring at Harry like a fish out of water, Harry leaned around her to see what book she was reading. "Magical Societies and Ancient Disciplines. A little light reading, there, Hermione? You could just ask me about the War Mage history, you know." Harry looked away from her as she sank back into her seat. He needed to find Fred and George, who were possibly colluding with their sister.

"But you ignored my questions on magic yesterday and this morning..." Hermione seemed like a child with one of her favorite toys just out of reach.

Having located Fred's and George's distinctive red hair farther down the table, Harry glanced back at Hermione. "There's really only one question there. Do you honestly think that the Chinese invented Latin?" Harry waved to Ron and Neville before strolling off to meet his temporary partners.

"What does that have to do with my questions?" Hermione called after him.

Harry paused to smirk at her. "You tell me." To some extent it probably was not fair to tease Hermione; after all she was a product of the times and texts she had been subjected to. If her curiosity and passion for learning were as strong as Neville and Ron had been hinting at, however, that one question should keep her occupied for some time.

"Fred, my good fellow, look what the magic dragged in!" George seemed rather chipper as he waved to Harry while elbowing Fred in the ribs. "Have a good trip Harry?" Harry nodded before sitting across from Fred and George.

Harry leaned over the table in the most outrageously suspicious manner he could, constantly looking from side to side and checking behind him. "So, I've just got to know, why are there always empty seats around you two?" Harry asked in a mock whisper.

Fred put on a surprised face. "No! It's true! My dear brother, I do believe the commons are unwilling to sit too near us. Whatever have we done wrong?"

"Try bathing more regularly," Ginny said as she dropped into the seat next to Harry. "It helps." She was grinning impishly at the twins. Turning to Harry, he immediately noticed she appeared decidedly more relaxed. "Hello, Harry, did you bring me back something from London?" Her eyes were flashing with laughter, which surprised him a bit.

"Err, should I have?" This new facet to her personality was throwing Harry off, since she was lacking the burning pools of brimstone in her pockets.

"Harry, Harry," she shook her head, "for someone who claims he's flirting with his intended lady, you surely have a lot to learn. You're supposed to bring me candy, or maybe flowers, some kind of little gift to let me know how much you've missed me."

Fred and George started laughing at him, which was enough for his standard reflexes to kick back in.

"Offering to tutor me in the ways of pleasing a woman, now are you?" Harry winked at her while reaching for the pumpkin juice.

Ginny laughed with delight. "As you well know, there are standards for tutoring these days - thanks to Percy, even if he doesn't know it. Are you sure you'll be able to handle my lessons? Will I need to give you any remedial lessons first? Hand-holding, basic courtesy, that kind of thing?"

Harry almost choked a bit on the last question but just managed to keep calm. "I shall be at your disposal, Gin-Gin of the fallen angels. You are free to assess my skills. Just tell me when, where, and most importantly, how you want me."

Fred and George had their heads bent low in conversation, while the two girls -- one on either side of the twins -- shook their heads in silent laughter.

Ginny flushed slightly before calmly nicking the drink he just poured himself. "I'll see when I can fit you in, Harry..." Apparently, her unintentional innuendo caught up with her as she nearly went scarlet. Fred and George rolled their eyes and watched the two of them with a type of strange tolerance.

George held his palm up to Harry. "Right, enough of the flirting, you two. Harry, meet Angelina," George indicated the girl on his right. "She's a Chaser on the Quidditch team." Harry and Angelina nodded politely at each other, although the hint of humor on her face left Harry a bit puzzled.

Fred jerked a thumb at the girl on his left. "This here's Katie, another Chaser and beside her is Alicia, the last Chaser. We're the Beaters, our sister is Seeker and we're holding try-outs for Keeper soon. You wouldn't happen to play, would you?"

Harry shook his head. "Nice to meet you all. I fly well enough I suppose, but I've never had the opportunity for anything other than a bit of pick-up playing. I don't Keep well at all."

Ginny smirked at Harry with that glint back in her eye. "Bit spoiled then, are you? Can't stand a little heat?"

Harry tried to puzzle out her meaning while the rest of the team chuckled at him. "Spoiled? What?"

Ginny patted his arm. "Don't worry your little head over it, Harry." She made no effort to conceal her slightly patronizing tone.

Harry was starting to wonder if he really would survive the next few weeks fighting the Weasley clan. While he would not be directly pranking Ginny, only evading whatever retribution she was planning, the wild inconsistencies in their attitudes were starting to cause him reservations. How do you plan for something when your opponent is unpredictable or perhaps even mentally unstable? Finding the patterns in their actions would take time, and it was more than likely that a good bit of his pride would get bruised in the interim.

Since she had swiped his goblet, Harry took the empty goblet in front of Ginny and poured himself a drink. "Made any progress since this morning?" Harry addressed the twins as he absently pulled a sandwich together on his plate.

George nodded. "Yeah. Between us we've got fifth and seventh year covered, and we rounded up someone trustworthy in every other year."

Harry shook his head. "No, the four of us cannot be involved. Find someone else for fifth year and your year and don't include family like Ron. It all needs to be from the perspective of an independent third party. As the people pressing the claim, none of your family can be independent witnesses even with the monitor."

Ginny was the first to ask what all of them were wondering. "How do you know these things?"

Harry smirked and ignored the question. "So, here's the plan. You three find the rest of the volunteers and then plan on spending a good hour or two with me after breakfast tomorrow. I'll show you what you'll need to teach your volunteers. Right?"

George and Ginny agreed, but Fred spoke up. "Let's not be hasty, Harry. We'll need plenty of time to get into that whole profit promise, too." Harry started to nod but was distracted when he realized that Ginny was munching on his sandwich.

Harry laughed at Ginny's pilfering and Fred's determination to discuss the profit issue. "Right, but that's over breakfast, and we're talking about after breakfast. Now if I could just manage to eat something for lunch today..." Harry finished by glaring at Ginny who was blatantly ignoring him while complaining at the lack of proper seasonings on her sandwich.

Fred nodded. "Just so long as we're clear, young Harry."

Harry grimaced. He was going to have to do something about that whole "young" bit the twins prattled on about. "I need to go train for a bit. Ginny, love, help yourself to the rest of my lunch, won't you? I think I took too much to finish by myself." Harry swept his hand at his plate of crumbs before rising to leave.

As he faced the doors out of the Great Hall, Harry was confronted with a startling sight. Every Slytherin student was silently staring at him.

Grinning, Harry pulled Floppy the baseball cap from his head, then waved it before him in a sweeping bow while keeping his eyes on the Slytherins. When he put the cap back on his head, Floppy instantly changed back to an old wizard's hat hanging over his right ear. Humming tunelessly, he sauntered out of the Great Hall and toward the staircases, always keeping at least one eye on the Slytherin table.

As Harry climbed the maze of staircases, he kept glancing over his shoulder to make sure he had no trackers. When he reached the second floor landing and started for the stairs to the third floor, he noticed George coming up behind him. "What is it, George?"

George looked puzzled. "How do you know I'm not Fred?"

Harry shrugged. "Trade secret."

George frowned at this but ignored it for the moment. "Fred's keeping Ginny occupied for a few minutes, so I can come and talk to you Harry. We need to have that long talk really soon, so how about now?"

Harry looked at his watch and thought about it. Dumbledore had not been in the Great Hall, so he was still at the Ministry dealing with the problem of keeping a fractionally domesticated Death Eater in the building. He skipped his training last night, had to meet Remus and Sirius this morning, and it was probably going to be another late night. Harry just shook his head back. "Sorry, I've got to train, so how about during tea tomorrow instead?"

George nodded his head. "Right, that works. Where are you going to train, by the way? Need a secret passage or something?"

Harry just grinned back. "I'm looking for a secret room that a mentor of mine told me about. He said he heard rumors about it even before he got to school, and it took him almost six years to discover the place."

George whistled softly. "A secret room, eh? We've found passages in and out of the castle, around the castle, and through the castle, but so far, no secret rooms. Let us know if you find it, right?"

Harry kept grinning. "I'll think about it after you surrender."

George leaned back as though horrified. "Never! We happy few shall prevail!" Posing theatrically with one hand on hip and the other shielding his eyes from an imaginary sun, George stomped back down the stairs singing a song about a wayward boy caught in battle while Harry resumed his climb to the seventh floor.

Nicholas Flamel told him about a room in Hogwarts he had read about during his second year and then spent three more years locating: the /Come and Go Room/. It was on the seventh floor, across from a portrait of someone dubbed Barnabas the Barmy, but Nicholas never told him how to identify the exact painting. Neither Remus nor Sirius had heard of it, so they had nothing to offer except curiosity about actually finding the room. As he walked along the hall, Harry stopped abruptly when he saw a man trying to teach trolls to dance. He knew he had probably found the right spot. Only someone completely barmy would even think of it, let alone try it, and the subject of the painting appeared to be losing his battle.

Concentrating on a room he could practice his martial arts in as well as work on his magical training, Harry slowly paced back and forth three times. When the door materialized in the wall, he was very curious what the Come and Go Room would have provided. A large padded room? Some mirrors? Mats? Practice dummies?

Opening the door and walking into the room, Harry was completely unprepared for what he saw. On the wall next to the door was a long bookcase filled with volumes. The far end of the room had a large matted area, behind which the wall was covered in mirrors. There was a simple student's desk by the bookcase. The rest of the floor was made of beautiful polished wood.

The ceiling was at least 15 feet high, allowing plenty of space for weapons work. Along one wall was a rack of weapons -- bo, jo, keibo, tanto, suburito, and bokken, apparently in multiples with different woods for each complete set. There was a stand slightly beyond the rack for holding a single set of wakizashi, katana, yumi, yari, and naginata. Training equipment, including a heavy bag, makiwara board, and three life-size dummies were on the opposite wall from the weapons. With floor dimensions of nearly thirty feet on a side, Harry was impressed - it seemed to be the perfect room for him to work out in.

Harry walked over to the bookcase. If the room was able to fashion itself into what Harry wanted, then hopefully the books would be ones he needed to or wanted to read, but had not yet had the opportunity to do so. Scanning the titles, Harry realized that most of these books were the basic texts in the areas they represented, there was nothing beyond the Hogwarts curriculum in complexity. Apparently, the room had been created with some distinct limits on the materials it would provide. He supposed it made sense that you would want to keep Dark Arts books or books on ritual magic and the like from the hands of students.

Before Harry could become too disappointed, there was a brief flash of flame near the center of the room accompanied by a rustling sound. Without even thinking, Harry flipped his wand out, made a quick stabbing spiral and called out "Bleep!" A piece of paper had been slowly falling to the floor was shredded into small pieces, now falling like confetti.

Sighing, Harry walked over to the loose pile of paper bits and flicked his wand through two elaborate sweeps before watching the paper reassemble into one sheet. Reaching down, he scanned the contents. Back in office, please join me as soon as you are able. Password unchanged. - AD

Resigning himself to another day of no training, Harry paused on his way out the door to pick up a book on the basic philosophy of combat, one of his favorites. He would offer it to those who wanted him to teach them how to fight, and if they could grasp the basic points, maybe he would actually consider teaching them.

As he walked out of the room, however, the book vanished as it crossed the doorway. "Stupid holodeck rules," Harry muttered. Making his way back to Dumbledore's office, Harry was mildly surprised to not run into any other students. Even in a school this large, with several hundred students running around someone should be in the halls. Unless, of course, Snape was back early, in which case they would all be either hiding or cheering. Expecting to hear the worst, Harry told the gargoyle the password and walked in as the Headmaster bid him enter.

Dumbledore looked tired, and there was only a very slight twinkle in his eye. Gesturing to the chair Harry had spent so much of the prior evening in, Dumbledore waited for Harry to sit.

"Harry, I am sorry I arrived here later than I said I would, but I have resolved the difficulties you gave me regarding Professor Snape. It took some digging through the archives, but we have filed copies of the original authorization for his use of Legilimency on students here with the Aurors. They have released Severus. If you would like to see it, here is a copy." Dumbledore held out a scroll toward Harry.

Harry glanced at it, noting that it was close to what Remus had predicted and shrugged. "So you got Fudge to sign an order of authorization after applying a bit of political pressure, and you had it backdated to when he was hired in the summer of 1987. That was not unexpected."

Dumbledore rested his elbows on the desk, his fingers steepled. "I have told Severus not to report back to the castle until after curfew tomorrow night. Professor Moody will return with him. This will hopefully give him time to alleviate some of his anger toward you, Harry. As I feared, his unfortunate predisposition has become outright hatred beyond what even your father incurred."

Harry shrugged again and tucked the scroll into his pocket. "Tell me, Headmaster, you have said that you trust Snape - you say you trust him with your life. Do you trust him with the life of everyone in this school, including me?"

Dumbledore nodded. "I do, Harry."

Harry looked steadily back at the Headmaster. "Do you have our consent to gamble with our lives like that?"

Dumbledore leaned back into his chair, relaxing his hands on the soft padding along the arms. "Harry, I heard of a most simple prank conducted last night affecting two other Gryffindors, Mr. Creevey and Mr. Finnigan. I believe you are, shall we say, intimately familiar with the situation?"

Harry muttered under his breath about portraits and privacy but nodded at the Headmaster.

"Do you realize that in some places, to be thought of as homosexual can be fatal? That other people will literally inflict barbaric beatings to the point of death for what they consider aberrant behavior? Or that the rumor that one has slept with another of the same gender, particularly the male gender - double standard that it is - is sufficient to invoke this wrath?" Dumbledore watched Harry quietly.

"Somewhat," Harry said, "I know that some types of people engage in violence against homosexuals, but the same type of people do that to others for reasons of skin color, religion, political inclinations - you name it. Xenophobia has many forms beyond just physical. Are you trying to tell me there are organized groups of people that do this as a matter of course? And they aren't completely mental?"

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, Harry, I am. There are tribes of more primitive people still on this planet that do exactly that, and there are groups who subscribe to radical religious beliefs even among the most advanced and enlightened nations that advocate and do as much. So tell me, did you have their consent to gamble with their lives this morning?"

Harry stared at the Headmaster. Floppy suddenly stirred and said calmly, "My point, Mr. Potter."

Having once again forgotten that Floppy was even there, Harry was preparing to start flinging curses before he recognized the hat's voice. Settling back into his seat, Harry felt that he could see where the Headmaster was going, but the comparison between a childish prank that would never be known outside of the castle and harboring a man who spent years killing and torturing...

"I see your point, Headmaster," Harry began, "but I respectfully disagree. That prank - which was all it ever was meant to be - was not malicious in intent nor will it be known or remembered within another week. Snape, however, must have killed and tortured in order to even get the Dark Mark, let alone what he had to happily do in order to join the inner circle. No matter your beliefs, just those actions that I am aware of him doing here call into serious doubt whether the man has changed from the Death Eater he was."

Dumbledore sighed. "Severus proved himself to me before I hired him, Harry. I feel the risk from Severus is no different than the risk posed by, say, Professor Flitwick. I would further say that you, rather than Severus, are probably more of a risk to the students."

At the implied insult, Harry was more than ready to get up and leave. Remus, however, did ask him to give the man a chance, so Harry chose to stay seated and slowly boil inside. "And have you asked Snape about the Dark Mark yet? Or why those Slytherins went unpunished?" The chill in his voice was unmistakable.

Dumbledore shook his head. "In a room full of Aurors, Harry, I was not about to open either of those discussions. I will be meeting with him tomorrow when he returns to the castle. In the meantime, we have delayed constructing the final student timetables until we know how to place you in classes. With your agreement, I would like to use our time before dinner to test your abilities rather than discuss Voldemort. I would further suggest our next meeting be tomorrow evening, right after dinner until just before curfew. My staff and I must finish preparations for the classes starting Monday. Is this acceptable to you?"

Harry nodded briefly. Albus and Harry both pulled out their wands and agreed to the limiting terms of the meeting. Dumbledore then nodded at Harry, as if inviting Harry to begin.

Harry stood up and walked over to the window, absently petting Fawkes as he stood looking out at the afternoon light and students on the grounds. "Well, to start with, I'm probably woefully unprepared for Herbology as I only really know those plants used in the potions I've learned. I think Divination is bunk and, therefore, have no working knowledge of it at all. I also think it's safe to say that in Muggle Studies, there is nothing Hogwarts can offer me."

Stretching slightly, Harry turned back to face the Headmaster. "I doubt any Defence Against the Dark Arts class here would teach me anything, but I'm probably about right for Charms and Transfiguration. If anything, I probably know a lot of things the other fifth years don't but lack the basic things they do know -- like turning a teacup into a lobster. That's not exactly useful in my life."

Walking slowly around the office, Harry finished his narrative self-assessment. "I know some potions but more alchemy thanks to Nicholas. I suspect that with some tutoring on the side, I can catch up in that area. Ancient Runes - I'm likely well ahead of any of the students, and my Arithmancy is probably closer to a seventh year preparing for N.E.W.T.s or something. You have a Magical Creatures class, but I only really know the ones you need to understand for DADA. So, I'm probably behind in that for my year level."

Harry scratched absently at the back of his head for a minute. "I can't think of anything else you need to know right now."

Dumbledore rose and gestured to a door in the wall behind his desk. "If you will follow me, Harry, I need to test your skills somewhat to verify your assessment. Also, I have been amused by your interesting choices of incantation when doing Magic recently. Please try not to drive the Ravenclaws and Miss Granger insane, Harry." They were walking down a short hallway toward a door at the very end.

Harry shrugged. "Curiosity did kill the cat, Headmaster."

Dumbledore chuckled as he opened the door into his private training area. "And the cat died happy, but I am more concerned with the fact that the cat died in this example. Now, Harry, let us see what you know..."

Nearly four hours later, Harry and Dumbledore were slowly walking down to the great Hall for dinner. Both were breathing a bit heavily and had sweat stains on their clothes, their skin still shining with beaded perspiration as though they had been through a heavy workout. The Headmaster had a faint limp in his right leg, while Harry was favoring his left arm moderately. "I'm pleased to say your assessment was mostly correct, Harry. I think you might be a little more advanced in Transfiguration and Charms than you thought."

Harry gave a half-smile. "Maybe. I'm not the best judge of my own abilities. I'm still trying to understand how you ran through several years' worth of lessons for so many classes in just a few hours. I'm knackered."

The Headmaster chuckled quietly. "I cheated, Harry. I had you doing magic that contained several lesser spells combined. By the way, your dueling style is most unorthodox. We shall have to duel more during the year. I enjoyed that."

Harry shrugged as they arrived outside the doors to the Great Hall. "I'll be in shortly, sir. I want to catch my breath for a moment."

Dumbledore nodded and proceeded into the room for dinner. Harry walked out onto the front steps and made sure no one was in hearing distance. "Floppy?" he asked quietly.

"Mr. Potter?"

"The sorting question -- how do you feel about stirring it up a bit?"

The hat was silent for nearly a minute. "How so, Mr. Potter?"

"Put me in a different House for now."

"Why should I? Is Gryffindor deficient in some manner?"

Harry paused to try and verbalize the thoughts that had been cooking in the back of his brain all day. "If the label is irrelevant and the point is that it's our values that matter, then I want to know what values each group has. How can I do that without living with them, and seeing how they interact?"

"You haven't spent enough time in Gryffindor yet to understand their values, Mr. Potter, let alone some other set."

Harry failed to realize he was shaking his head until Floppy nearly fell off. Pushing the hat back onto his head, he tried again. "Look, it takes time to internalize knowledge and be able to make generalizations based on it. Rather than spend a month in one house, I'd rather skip among the houses for a bit and work on it in parallel rather than in series."

Floppy started twirling the tip of the beat up wizards hat while remaining silent for nearly two minutes. "Very well, Mr. Potter, I'll consider it -- but not until later. You might just try socializing a bit beyond those with red hair to start with."

Harry chuckled a bit at that pointed remark. "If that's the best I can get, then that's what I'll take. Thanks, Floppy." Harry felt like smirking as he strolled into the Great Hall. Dinner was just starting and several students turned to look at him. He may not be getting sorted into a different House yet, but that had no impact on where he might choose to sit.

Waving in passing to the Gryffindors, Harry walked over to the Hufflepuff table which seemed to be full of students shocked that he was at their table. Spotting an empty seat across from Hannah Abbot who was sitting at the very end of the Hufflepuff table, Harry dropped into it while smiling at her. "Hello, Hannah."

Hannah looked back at Harry while glancing around at the other students who were staring at him. Whispered conversations were slowly starting around the room. "Hey Harry," she started, "welcome to Hufflepuff table I guess."

Harry nodded his thanks to her. "Pretty quiet reception, although the whole swimming-in-a-fishbowl effect is rather thorough from your house."

Hannah chuckled at him before pointing to the pretty girl on her left. "This is Susan Bones, a good friend of mine." Harry smiled at her, before Hannah pointed to the boy sitting on Harry's right. "That's Justin Finch-Fletchley, another good friend." Harry briefly shook hands with him, although a bit of awe seemed to be radiating from both Susan and Justin.

As Harry ate his meal with the trio of Hufflepuffs, he noticed that while no one at the table was hostile, no one was particularly welcoming except Hannah. Susan warmed up a bit and started talking more freely on Hannah's discussion of various professors and classes, but the conversation remained slightly stilted. Finally realizing that he had achieved as much as he could for one evening and that he was only interfering with their normal eating habits, Harry politely excused himself and went back to Gryffindor tower while most students were still eating. The reaction of the Hufflepuffs in general was something to ponder, since it failed to match both his expectations and what he was told he could expect in general.

Having the common room to himself, Harry dropped back into the armchair facing the fire and pulled out the book on wards to actually get some quiet reading time in. Turning to the end of the introduction where he had left off, Harry resumed his quest for new information. ... wards must be anchored in something impervious to the heat that will be dissipated in proportion to their strength ... flux buffers can be artificially created when located far from primary feeds, but they require tuning and are limited by influx rates ... impractical to devise a moving ward due to variation in energy patterns and strengths, causing instability in ...

"Harry!" Harry looked up to see Ginny smiling at him and Hermione hovering behind her.

"Yes?" His mind was still somewhere in the book. While mobile wards were typically thought impractical due to the energy variations, Hogwarts' unique geography could potentially counter the barriers involved. It might be possible...

"It's late." Hermione gestured to the clock in the corner. "Go to bed!"

Harry looked at it in some surprise. "Huh, I didn't realize it was so late. I guess I got lost in my book." Marking the page and flipping the book closed, Harry rose and stretched before smiling back.

Ginny looked at him through squinted eyes. "What was sitting at the Hufflepuff table about? You weren't trying to make me jealous, now were you?"

Harry looked blankly at her before laughing. "Were you?" Ginny glared at him. Harry just looked back at Hermione. "Thanks, Hermione. G'night."

Ginny shoved him toward the stairs. "Tomorrow is supposed to be a profitable day, Harry, so off with you." Ginny and Hermione then went up their stairs to follow their own advice.

As Harry walked up the stairs, he noticed each door he passed was colorfully marked with all kinds of indicators for who the occupants were. Apparently, that lesson had been driven in quickly. Shaking his head in silent mirth, Harry entered his room only to find Seamus sitting on his trunk, twirling his wand.

Seamus saw Harry and shot to his feet. "Potter!"

Harry noticed the other three boys were each lounging about, reading in bed. For some reason, Harry suspected they were more interested in what was about to happen than their books, but this might have only been true for Ron since his was the only book upside down. "Yes?"

Seamus stared at Harry. "I want that film, Potter."

Harry just smirked back. "Why? Don't you want to see how cute you two looked together?"

"No!" The vehemence in Seamus' voice was a little surprising. "I've heard about your little war with the Weasleys! Those two wouldn't hesitate to put those pictures everywhere, so that means you'd do it too!"

Harry shrugged. "Nah, not my style. I'd rather just hold on to them and threaten you quiet-like when you were doing something stupid." If anything, this seemed to irritate Seamus even further. "Tell you what. Two weeks from tonight, I'll pull out the pictures, and you can decide what to do with them. In the meantime, they stay locked up in my trunk once they get developed. Fair?"

Seamus growled and grumbled but finally relented since, after a full day of trying, he had failed to open the trunk the camera was in. Harry just smiled at him. "Besides, think of it this way. Since you've already been pranked by me, even if a bit indirectly, then you're safe from what I'm going to do to everyone else. The worst is over for you."

Seamus paled a bit at that before going over to his own bed. Meanwhile, the other boys were looking at Harry, their apprehension evident.

As Harry finished his own preparations and lay back in bed getting comfortable, Floppy changed back into the nightcap with the frizzy ball at the end. "I would caution you, Mr. Potter."

Harry, still thinking of other things, perked up a bit. "Oh?"

"It only takes one small stone to cause an avalanche, Mr. Potter, one that cannot be stopped."

Harry merely shrugged and went to sleep.

A/N: I try to respond to all reviews. See the 'Author Response' section after each Review.

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 Chreechree and cwarbeck.

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