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

21. Twists . . .

by moshpit 9 reviews

Chapter 21

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: 2007-02-01 - Updated: 2007-02-02 - 11742 words


Chapter 21 : Twists . . .

. . .

Having briefly explored the six fundamental particle types representing magical energy, and given the existence of a magical core, the final question to ask is how do we, as magic-using individuals, actually use the unique form of energy that has been made available to us. Careful study and experimentation has revealed that all living creatures have pathways to channel the magic in their core throughout their body, hereafter referred to as conduits, although the majority of conduits appear to terminate at the top of the epidermal layer.

Unlike magical cores, conduits come in different types and sizes. For each type of fundamental magical energy particle -- Bond, Break, Change, Control, Create, and Destroy -- there is a corresponding type of conduit that is only capable of draining that type of fundamental particle from the magical core. Every living creature contains a mixture of conduits, with different species exhibiting specific overall trends in frequency, distribution, and clustering which are a signature of that particular species. Within a species' overall signature, however, there is great variation in the exact placement, sizing, relative type, and distribution of conduits within the general species trend, much like a fingerprint is believed to be unique among humans.

Before magical training begins, the conduits of the body are on par with a young bird that has had its wings tied to its back since hatching. While the wings and the necessary muscles to use those wings are present, they are under-developed and lack conscious control. The same holds true for the conduits, in that they lack conscious control and are poorly developed -- if at all -- by the time most students begin magical training. The process of formal schooling in wizards and witches will overcome these initial handicaps given appropriate time and practice, eventually allowing the full use of the magical core, although few students ever rise above the established curriculum. The conventional educational paradigm inhibits attaining the true potential in nearly every student, primarily due to the late age at which training begins. During childhood, the mind is much more flexible and capable of learning new things, and this ability is retarded with age as actively used neural pathways become fixated and alternate pathways fade away. This is the same principle shown when a child that is blind at birth and later gains sight at the age of five years never develops depth perception to go with the vision.

These problems aside, classical methods for magical training are sufficient to develop a minimal level of mastery over innate skills and resources for a particularly hard-working individual. Training and regular magic use do have a secondary effect in that conduits may become larger. While the total number of conduits is set by birth and is, therefore, immutable, their capacity to carry energy can be altered through rigorous magical training. The drawback to any such training, however, is the exaggerated physical repercussions to channelling energy. As the magical core is drained through the conduits, those conduits in use accumulate heat as a by-product. The human body dissipates the excess heat by having the blood stream carry away the surplus, allowing the body to cool itself through normal means: perspiration, heavy breathing, and eventually loss of consciousness, if necessary, as the body seeks to inhibit further heat build-up. Artificial means to augment the efficiency of the body, such as Cooling Charms, may enhance the cooling capacity at the epidermal surface; however, this increases the risk of serious injury to the recipient . . .

. . . Excerpt from Theory of Magic, Volume I, Section I, edited by R.J.L

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 7:09 am/

Harry was startled directly into an aware state, his breathing accelerated and heart racing from some fragment of an unknowable dream, only faintly conscious of his immediate surroundings. As he lay on his left side under the blankets, his vision swam into focus, and he perceived a hand holding a wand approaching the right side of his face.

Reacting on instinct, Harry snapped his own right hand out to wrench the approaching wand and hand straight up, twisting sharply to rotate the wrist outward and drove his assailant to the ground with a grunt of pain. Simultaneously sliding out of the bed, his left hand rose and fell in a rigid knife edge, and was streaking toward the back of his opponent's neck when he finally became fully conscious and realised he was in the hospital wing. Moreover, he was startled to find out that he was about to seriously injure Madam Pomfrey, who was crying out from the continued pressure on her wrist and arm.

Hastily, Harry released her while stepping back and stopping the potentially deadly blow to the back of her neck he had been about to administer with his left hand. Harry back-pedalled two or three steps before taking a few deep breaths to calm his racing heart and to regain his apparently long-lost mental balance.

"I'm sorry," he finally got out, somewhat loudly and abruptly. "Really sorry, Madam Pomfrey."

The mediwitch was on her knees, ignoring Harry as she kept her back to him. He could see how she awkwardly used her wand in her left hand to cast diagnostics on her right arm and wrist. Finally casting a spell on the wrist he had been fully prepared to shatter after smashing the back of her neck, the mediwitch slowly climbed to her feet and gave Harry such an excruciatingly close visual scrutiny that he found himself shifting from foot to foot.

"Mr. Potter, do you normally wake up and immediately try to kill people?" Her tone was clearly a no-nonsense demand for immediate and total compliance, rather than a casual inquiry as to whether his dreams had been sweet and fluffy.

"Er, sometimes?" Harry knew that his half-hearted answer would not pass muster if she really wanted to press the issue, and her frown made it clear that she intended to push. "I tend to have, er, violent dreams. If someone tries to grab me during one, well . . . Remus healed quickly enough."

The continued inspection was enough to make him feel like he was about to become very intimate with her wand in ways he really did not want to experience. Especially as his stomach was registering its complaint at being currently empty, and its rumblings were clearly audible. After a couple of days of continuous rest and no training, his body always slipped easily into a lackadaisical state, although his appetite remained the same as if he was still working out every day. This was going to have to change unless the matron released him soon.

"I suppose some dreams are unavoidable, from what I understand, Mr. Potter. You do realise that such dreams are not conducive to healthy sleep?" At Harry's hesitant nod, she continued as though lecturing a particularly slow and dim-witted student. "And you do know that inhibits you from thinking or performing well?"

Harry sighed, already anticipating the direction this conversation was going. "Yes, Madam Pomfrey."

"Then why do you not take steps to counteract them? Therapy, Dreamless Sleeping Draughts, an Elixir of Peace, or the like?" She was now tapping the tip of her wand into her left hand, and Harry decided abruptly that he was not going to continue to feel bad if she was going to push him towards places he had no intention of going willingly.

Harry let his tone cool as he replied, wishing to convey that this topic would not be discussed beyond this once. "Therapy is not really an option for me, and every potion you can name has nasty side effects if used regularly, more so if it is used every night. What with addiction, toxin build up in the liver, elevated blood pressure, uncontrolled weight loss or gain, inability to focus mentally, and some other really unpleasant problems, those types of potions are only good for single doses -- every fortnight at the most. Even that can pose serious long term risks with such a close dosage schedule."

The tableau was frozen for several moments. Madam Pomfrey slowly tapped her wand into her hand as she regarded Harry, who defiantly stared back at her, his expression carefully blank.

"I see. Should you be in my care, Mr. Potter, and I deem it necessary for you to take one of these potions, you will do so. However, I will not order them unless strictly necessary. Is that clear?" She had stopped tapping her wand, but Harry somehow knew that this point was non-negotiable.


Nodding, she gestured loosely toward the door. "You are free to go, Mr. Potter. Normally, I would have had an elf pick up some clothes and such for you, but they informed me that they cannot gain ingress into your room. If you hurry, you should have ample time for a normal breakfast in the Great Hall. If you tarry, you will be forced to settle for a hasty meal or none at all."

Harry nodded his head in acquiescence before he paused and looked at her again, a hint of embarrassment colouring his face. "I am very sorry about that, Madam Pomfrey. Thanks a lot for taking care of me." With a bit of a flush and a half smile, Harry gathered his possessions and grabbed his broom to head back to his rooms and change.

"Impossible as it may seem to you, Mr. Potter, I do know somewhat about life. In the meantime, if you would please leave, I need to go to St. Mungo's to fetch that Mentor of yours from Healer Worthy's clutches as well as to check up on Mr. Filch. You may drop by anytime after noon, and Cyril should be settled." She had no smile to offer, but Harry thought that her tone was much softer than he had any right to expect after the rather rude treatment he had given her arm earlier. That aside, this woman must have dealt with other hostile reactions in the past from patients with equally disturbed backgrounds, so perhaps she would hold no grudge over the incident.

"You moved Filch?" Harry looked around in surprise, but the only evidence of occupation in the Infirmary was his own dishevelled bed and the walls forming the headmaster's protected private room. There was not a trace of the events from the prior night.

Sighing, Madam Pomfrey started walking back toward her office. "The tampering with his faculties was more . . . extensive than expected. He needs more specialized care than I am able to provide. According to Professor McGonagall, that is all I may tell you, and you are not to repeat that information."

Harry paused to consider the ramifications of such a statement. In the short term, it meant that Filch was out of the castle, although his cat was likely to still be prowling around despite his absence -- if a bit lonely and vindictive. In the long term, it suggested that plots at Hogwarts had been in place for a longer timeframe than anyone yet realised, and the methods involved were deeper and darker than anticipated.

Harry found himself sighing in turn. "Message delivered, Madam Pomfrey."

Not wanting to deal with all the students likely to be headed to breakfast in their little groups while he was still in his pyjamas, Harry opened the window in the Infirmary before winking once at the mediwitch and taking off on his broom to fly around the outside of the castle. He knew he would have no problems opening his bedroom window from the outside, although based on how well-protected his own window had been, he suspected that at least some of the other closed windows would probably be quite difficult.

After all, he spent quite a few minutes layering protective charms and hexes on his window after he had disabled the lock on it last week. There was only so much staring into a mirror he could take in one go before the walls started closing in.

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 7:44 am/

Moving toward the Great Hall with just over 15 minutes to spare, Harry lay flat on his broom as he pushed the Firebolt to its maximum acceleration. It made the twists and turns of the corridors a bit exciting, as it was a more interesting way to fully wake up than a boring and easy flight around the outside of the castle. Harry ignored the yells of random students, two startled ghosts, and one outraged suit of armour that was slowly clanking down the halls after him while shaking a big stick dramatically.

"Mr. Potter." The condescending, sickeningly sweet and not very dulcet tones of Dolores Umbridge were easy to ignore as he raced over her head down the final set of stairs towards the entranceway and the Great Hall.

Harry needed to have a word with the Headmaster about placing those bits of armour on the inside edges of very sharp corners when they were carrying lances in addition to the usual sheathed sword. Just barely clipping that lance at almost 20 miles per hour was going to leave quite the bruise on his left thigh.

"Mr. Potter!" Umbridge's sudden increase in volume revealed her annoyance, but Harry was confident that he could always defend his feigned deafness by saying he had to concentrate on the broom at those speeds. A diversion could be fatal, and not just to him.

The buffering charms on the broom kept the wind from unseating him as he approached the pressure and wind a severe gale exerted, his broom hitting nearly 50 miles per hour in the long corridor. Without the countless magical charms all over the broom, if he ever approached the top end 150 miles per hour the wood itself would break under the forces involved, and the twigs at the tail would leave a very short trail of destruction. As it was, Harry felt as though he had his head out the window of a lorry at a comfortable five or ten miles per hour, a rather easy bit of weather to compensate for.

"Mr. Potter!" Her voice had now risen shrilly as he continued to ignore her, but his trip was almost over, and she was behind him, all the way back at the top of the stairs. He had plenty of time to grab some food and get to his tutoring session if he refused to be delayed.

The wind was whistling as he shot through the open doors into the Great Hall and aimed directly for the end of the Gryffindor table that the twins had taken to occupying since the inception of their dubious partnership with Harry. He ignored the cries of protest and outrage as the air pressure whipped robes, napkins, and papers about in his wake, although he was a bit sorry about toppling the odd pastry here and there. Harry slammed on the brakes and slowed to a more civilised speed right before landing at the empty seat between the twins, seeing Hermione, Ginny, and Neville opposite him as he sat down. Ron was lurking on the far side of Hermione, toward the centre of the table, but was resolutely turned away by the time Harry was seated.

"Mr. Potter!" The voice was now firmly and loudly calling in the background, but Harry was far too focused on what was in front of him to pay it much mind.

Something about the table was very much out of place, but Harry was baffled for a second as to what it was. Then it registered quickly. Hermione's plate, normally squeaky clean after every meal, was covered in some kind of residue and indiscernible mishmash. Opening his mouth to ask what was going on, Harry was abruptly silenced by Ginny jamming a copy of the Daily Prophet directly into his face.

"Read this!" she hissed with urgency.

Harry barely had a chance to glance at the headline --

Ministry Seeks Educational Reform!
Dolores Umbridge Appointed!
First Ever High Inquisitor!

by Rita Skeeter

-- before the paper was jerked out of his hands. "Mr. Potter!" a voice shouted from behind him, huffing and puffing a bit, probably from the effort of running down stairs in order to catch up with him.

Standing up and turning around, Harry was unsurprised to find himself looking down at the aforementioned Dolores Umbridge. Taking a deep breath, Harry screamed back at her. "What would you wish, Madam Dark Arts Professor?"

Shocked, she took a half-step back before glowering at Harry. "Do not shout at me, Mr. Potter! Apologise!" Though she was no longer yelling at him, her tone was far from polite, and every eye in the Great Hall was watching the exchange.

Harry matched her new volume as best he could, despite how uncomfortably loud it still was. "You thought yelling at this range was okay! Perhaps you would like to apologize first?" Harry knew his patronizing smile would not endear him to her, but the woman before him would never be a friend even under the best of circumstances.

"Detention for your attitude, Mr. Potter!"

Harry smiled widely. "Oh, so sorry, Professor. I must check my schedule! I'm in detention until sometime in December at least. Shall I get back to you on scheduling that one? How does 9th January sound to you?"

Apparently opting to ignore his further barbs, she paused to glower at him with open distaste as she took several deep breaths to get her lungs back under control. Shaking out the paper that she had so rudely taken from him, she ignored his earlier performance and adopted a rather minatory smile as she kept her eyes locked on his. "As you can see, Mr. Potter," she said in a voice dripping with liquid honey, "I have been appointed High Inquisitor of Hogwarts. I have the power to investigate, and, if necessary, alter the behaviour of those who make this place unsafe and unproductive." Pointing one thick and ugly finger at Harry's broom, she smiled serenely at him. "For safety reasons, Mr. Potter, there will no longer be any flying of brooms inside this castle. Not by you, not by anyone."

Moans echoed from around the room. As Harry glanced around, he saw quite a few students with their brooms at the breakfast tables -- except at the Slytherin table, that is. Those students were watching Harry's confrontation with what he could only describe as distant if pleased expressions. Closer to home, Fred and George in particular looked ready to murder the woman attempting to lambast Harry as they each had a hand on their Quidditch brooms. Hermione looked like she was going to be ill at the blatant disrespect Harry was cavalierly showing a figure in authority.

"Actually, you're not the High Fibbity Fitsy Foo." Harry's casual statement in a voice pitched to carry caused much of the muttered whispering going on to die down. "First, a moronic piece of gossip in the Daily Prophet does not make something true. Otherwise, I would be well on my way to becoming the most feared Dark Lord in a millennium, and I would exclusively wear pink socks. Neither of those is true. Second, by Albion Wizengamot procedures, any new law must be posted in its entirety in all main public gathering places, as well as every Ministry funded institution. I see no postings in what you yourself pointed out was a Ministry funded institution."

Harry smirked as he fondled his broom for a second. "So sorry, Madam Dark Arts. You're just a plain old Professor . . . /at best/."

Her mouth stretched into a deep frown as her face contorted into perhaps the ugliest attempt at a glower Harry had ever seen. Without acknowledging Harry's argument, Umbridge marched over to the bulletin board by the doors into the Great Hall. With a flourish, she pulled down a short piece of paper and all but stomped back over to Harry, thrusting it at him.

Harry casually caught the flittering paper and glanced at it, wondering if she was really so poor at magic that a simple Accio was too much for her.

By Order of the Ministry of Magic
Educational Decree No. 23

Hogwarts High Inquisitor

The Ministry of Magic hereby creates the post of Hogwarts High Inquisitor, with all the rights and powers thereunto for investigation into the activities and credentials of those at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Further, Cornelius Fudge appoints Dolores Umbridge to the post indefinitely.


Cornelius Fudge
Minister of Magic

Harry rolled his eyes dramatically before balling the paper up and tossing it over his shoulder. He ignored the bulging eyes and complete outrage on Umbridge's face. "Okay, perhaps you didn't hear me. That wasn't a law, with all the terms spelled out. It was a memo or notice of someone doing something. Doesn't mean a thing legally. I could post a note like that naming myself God-Emperor, and it would amount to the same thing. Cheers!"

Harry promptly turned his back to the woman and returned to his seat. Grabbing the tray of scones, Harry dropped two on his plate as he piled up bangers and drew the clotted cream and jam closer to him.

Umbridge, however, clearly had other plans. Gone was the saccharine tone and the pseudo-friendly smile which normally concealed her loathing. In its place was a voice that matched the ugliness normally found both without and within. "Mr. Potter! You cannot destroy official notices from the Ministry with impunity! You may think you have the upper hand now, but you and I both know that my position has been created legally! Whether it's today or one week from today, I will be the High Inquisitor, and you will answer to me!"

Glancing at his watch while ignoring how the students around him were leaning away, as though to avoid any spill over from Umbridge's ceaseless ranting, Harry realised that he had very little time to eat if he was going to go with Neville for some Herbology tutoring shortly. Sighing, Harry stood up and turned back to face Umbridge while she droned on.

Carefully schooling his face, he suddenly affected what he hoped was a mingled look of horror and surprise, before pointing behind her and screaming, "Vampires!" As she turned in shock while pulling her wand out, Harry Disillusioned himself and sat back down while keeping his eyes on her back, striving to become motionless. In the seconds of frantic searching it took Umbridge to comprehend that there were actually no vampires present in any form, the camouflage charm stabilized and Harry was impossible to see without some kind of magical intervention.

Watching Umbridge turn back around, Harry had to fight hard to not laugh at her facial expression. Umbridge's face was deep red in anger and embarrassment. "Mr. Potter! That stunt --"

Harry was almost willing to lay odds that she was about to cry from frustration. Her eyes still bulging, she was looking furtively from side to side, clearly trying to understand what had just happened and failing. "Where did he go?!" she demanded of Fred.

Fred shrugged while slowly losing the battle to a wicked smirk, batting a paper ball back and forth between his hands. "Looks to me like he's turned himself invisible. He was there; then he wasn't. Maybe he Apparated. I've heard he can do that inside the castle. Must be one of those secret Ministry Unapproved Dark Lord powers."

Seething, Umbridge continued to glare about the room before she scuttled off, muttering about searching the castle until she found Harry and taught him some proper manners. As she exited the room, Harry released the Disillusionment Charm and resumed smothering his scones in cream and jam. Noticing the absolute silence coming from the people sitting around him, Harry just shot one eyebrow up as he quickly scanned them. "What?"

Neville shook his head slowly as he regarded Harry with a sad expression. "You know you just completely hacked off a Professor that already had it in for you?"

Harry shrugged while trying to politely wolf down his breakfast.

Neville smiled in a vague way that reminded Harry faintly of Luna. "You know that when she does become Inquisitor, she'll do all she can to make your life non-stop misery?"

Harry waited until his mouth was empty to respond properly. "Oh, right, and that will be different how? She's already out for my blood but has to wait in line."

George clapped Harry on the back firmly. "That's our Dark Lord. All uncaring in the face of Ministry authority. Speaking of caring, young Harry, you really need to care more about your dedicated devotees. Right, Fred?"

Fred nodded his head sagely, one hand stroking his chin. "Too true, George, too true. Why, take just now for example. I'd swear our Dark Lord knows how to turn invisible, yet he hasn't taught his followers how he does it. What kind of leadership is that?"

Ginny and Neville were smiling somewhat at the antics, but Hermione still looked shocked that Harry had so casually blown off Umbridge. Ron looked torn between wanting to smile and wanting to flee from the table entirely. The rest of the Gryffindors and students around the hall had a myriad of expressions, ranging from disbelief to pleasure and even glee. The Slytherins, however, retained their new strange state of expression. Harry was unsure exactly what their glances said, but he was sure it was something odd, almost like some kind of amusement, anger, and guilt all rolled into one.

Sighing and pushing the strange house members out of his head, Harry spared a glance at each of the twins. "Why exactly would I wish to teach you how to be more effective at sneaking about?"

Any response the twins might have wanted to provide was cut off by Professor McGonagall's amplified voice ringing through the hall. "Students! Attention, please!" Harry, along with everyone else, craned his neck to see the Deputy Headmistress standing by the doors into the Great Hall.

"It is my duty to inform you that Potions classes are cancelled for this week." She had to pause while excited voices broke out and quite a few of the younger students actually gave a soft cheer. "Professor Snape will not be in the castle, and we have no substitute prepared. These classes will resume next week. And Mr. Potter, please join me immediately."

Checking his watch, Harry observed that he still had a few minutes before first lessons would begin. Harry grabbed his bag and broom before glancing at Neville. "See you outside in a bit, Neville." Cradling his broom over his shoulder, Harry walked over to McGonagall as she coolly watched him come closer.

As Harry neared her, the tall woman turned and began walking out into the corridor, leaving him to fall into step with her. "Mr. Potter, would you care to explain why Madam Umbridge is storming through the castle looking for you?"

Harry smiled absently. "Maybe she just can't get enough of me?"

The pervasive silence as he walked with McGonagall toward the Headmaster's office was evidence enough that she did not enjoy the answer. "All right, then," Harry said resignedly. "She ranted at me about her being some 'Super Questioner' appointed by the Ministry, and I pointed out that until new laws have been properly posted in their entirety, they don't go into effect. She's still just the same as she was yesterday, rather powerless and extremely dowdy. She got uppity about it, and I might have pulled a disappearing act on her just so I could eat in some peace and quiet."

The staccato echoes of their footsteps rang out as they continued down the corridor, until after a few long moments the Professor finally responded. "According to Albus and Cyril, when you cite the law, I should pay attention to it and take it as all but fact. What you have just told me, Mr. Potter, pleases me greatly. However, I fear it is only a matter of time before she becomes what she claims, and then things will become most difficult."

When they reached the gargoyle, Harry thought it was giving him a decidedly unfriendly look as McGonagall waved it aside and they proceeded up to the door outside the Headmaster's office. McGonagall stopped him there, however, before she would allow him to approach the door, leaving the two confined in a very cramped corridor. Motioning about them, the Professor levelly met Harry's gaze. "We cannot be overhead in this position from the corridor, and the portraits inside will not divulge this conversation to anyone other than Albus or myself. First, as to the reason you are here, there is a man from the Ministry waiting inside to speak to you. You will curtail your natural instincts and treat this man with respect, Mr. Potter. No matter what you may suspect, he is not here to do anything other than speak to you, is that clear? There shall be no violence inside."

Harry nodded, now both curious and dreading who had come to Hogwarts to speak with him, as well as the why of it all.

"Before you go in, I also wish to explain something. I understand that your life has been . . . different, Mr. Potter. I understand that you have acted only in self-defence, or else taken the choices that seemed best when presented with very difficult situations."

Harry watched her as she struggled to articulate something unpleasant. "Even with these things in mind, I still do not think you belong here at this school. You are dangerous and even reckless, though at times you are also charming and humorous. Your lack of respect for the Headmaster and the staff is something I will never approve of, no matter how justified you may be or think you may be. I find myself watching you with a mixture of horror and sympathy, Mr. Potter, and I do not like feeling this way about anyone. But your apparent indifference to certain acts leaves me the most chilled."

Clearing her throat, Harry thought she looked completely uncomfortable herself with the candid admission and direct honesty. "Be that as it may, I will do my best to teach you what I can, Mr. Potter. I am a professional, and I will not let my personal concerns influence how I treat you. I will aid you in whatever ways I find possible, for I do understand what it is you are facing. All I wish to ask of you in return, Harry, is to remember that we are all human, we all make mistakes, and sometimes . . . sometimes our mistakes cost us more than we ever expected."

Harry stood calmly, trying to understand the message that she was conveying and doing his best to guess at the more complex meanings she was surely referring to. Ultimately, Harry had to acknowledge that he felt a certain level of respect for this typically stern woman that was hard to describe. The kernel of respect had been planted by her abundant knowledge during her classroom lessons, and when combined with her firm sense of discipline and her composure and command in the hospital wing, it had secretly germinated. This blunt disclosure by the woman firmly entrenched the feeling, and his respect for her, he knew, would likely continue to grow.

"Thank you, Professor, for your honesty. I respect that very much." Harry had no higher compliment to offer someone than his respect, but he doubted she would appreciate that knowledge at present.

Giving him a thin smile, McGonagall nodded her head slightly, her demeanour returning to what he had witnessed previously in the Infirmary. "And if you find some way of preventing Umbridge from taking over here, Mr. Potter, then I shall probably be forced to admit to actually liking you; you never know. Now, I must see you to your meeting. I shall inform Mr. Longbottom that you will be late."

Harry flashed her a wry smile, thinking about Umbridge and what he could work out with Edgar. McGonagall opened the door, and Harry followed her into the office. "Harry Potter," she said with the faintest hint of a smirk, "may I present Arthur Weasley? I do trust that you two will behave yourselves, and I will see each of you later."

Without another word McGonagall swept out of the office, firmly closing the door behind her. Harry found himself staring in surprise at a man with the trademark red hair of Gryffindor's Weasley clan, albeit in less quantity. This man was clearly older, firmly in his middle age, with a frame that had once been clearly muscular and athletic but which was now somewhat softer with time and obligations. It was like looking into the future to see Ron thirty years from now. He was standing by the phoenix, absently stroking its feathers, as he regarded Harry through blue eyes framed by vintage glasses, with an overall expression that conveyed nothing.

"I take it from your expression," the man began in a quiet voice, "that you had no warning of who was here to talk to you."

Harry gave himself a mental shake, realising that he had been taken unawares indeed. He had been cautioned to be polite and to behave himself, and that the person was from the Ministry, but that was all. "Ah, no, sir. I was told a Ministry employee needed to speak with me, but that was it."

Mr. Weasley chuckled slightly and then gestured for Harry to sit in one of the chairs by the desk as he took his own cue by dropping into the one closest to the phoenix. There was a comfortable distance of some six feet between them. "Ah, yes, Minerva does have her own sense of style. First, Mr. Potter, do you mind if I call you Harry?"

Harry glanced at the man speculatively, wondering at the question. Most adults, he had found, simply called him Harry and that was that. Somehow, the question left him feeling slightly uneasy, as though he was about to walk into an ambush he had no way of anticipating.

"Of course not, Mr. Weasley."

Mr. Weasley gave him a wry smile. "Thank you, then, Harry. And please, relax. I have no intention of drawing my wand on you. From what I've heard, I probably wouldn't enjoy the outcome very much anyway."

The man's voice carried such amusement that Harry found himself smiling along. "Maybe, sir. You know how rumours are, though."

Mr. Weasley nodded his head as he rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward. "True, Harry, quite true. And yet, I find myself being appreciative of your magical talents as I have watched you trade volleys in your little game with my wife."

Having expected the conversation to move in this direction, Harry was unsurprised by Mr. Weasley's statement, but he still was unsure what to say. "Yes, well . . ."

"Relax, Harry. I'm here for a casual chat, not to shake things up." Mr. Weasley's completely calm demeanour told Harry that everything really was fine, and there would be no harsh words exchanged this morning.

"Right, Mr. Weasley."

"Harry, do you know anything about the Weasley family?"

Pausing to reflect on what he had learned directly and indirectly, Harry tried to summarise it as succinctly as he could. "Married, seven kids, appears to be six sons and one daughter. The twins are full of themselves and mischief, Ron is a bit hot headed, and Ginny . . . well, Ginny's confusing. Your wife has some cousin that's a squib accountant, Markus." Harry thought that his guesses about Ginny's reaction to needing different shoes would be best left out of the conversation. "That's most of what I can readily recall, sir."

"Yes, well, that's a good start I suppose." Mr. Weasley laughed softly, although Harry thought it had a slightly forced note to it. "I daresay that Ginny can be somewhat confusing. She's left us all rather confused for the past few years, but that's another story."

Mr. Weasley leaned back into the chair, folding his right leg over his left, and watched Harry for a few moments. "What I particularly wanted to know is whether you have heard of Molly's -- that would be my wife's -- brothers, Fabian and Gideon, and it sounds like you haven't."

Drumming his fingers lightly on the armchair, Mr. Weasley sat regarding Harry with an expression that could only be described as calculating. "I think, Harry, that the particulars aren't so important. The one thing you should know for now is that Molly lost both of her brothers during the first war with You-Know-Who, and it was a very hard loss for her to deal with. They did not go gentle into that good night."

Harry nodded his acceptance of this information, knowing that a great many families had lost members during the first war -- quite often in gruesome ways. When dealing with terrorists that hid behind masks and targeted children as often as adults, while typically avoiding any direct confrontation with the authorities, such was the outcome in both Muggle and magical worlds.

"She's rather fiercely protective of her family, quite a bit due to what happened with her brothers. You can understand that, can't you, Harry?"

Again, Harry found himself nodding. He could perfectly understand that desire to protect those that were family, and those that were like family, at all costs.

"So perhaps you can understand why she didn't react at all well when we found out that Harry Potter had put her twin sons and her only daughter in St. Mungo's hospital after some kind of fight."

Internally, Harry cringed. Receiving notice like that probably would have triggered all kinds of unpleasant memories, stirring pools of emotion that had been quiet for years now.

Mr. Weasley waved off the apology Harry felt he owed the man, clearly wanting to not be interrupted. "I find myself torn, Harry, on how to deal with what's going on. You see, Molly has always been quite strong willed, driven to succeed. I've always been somewhat more casual about life, but then they say opposites do attract. Before we started having children, she was even thinking about opening her own shop. She's quite the witch when it comes to charms and hexes. I remember when we were dating that she built this clock . . ."

Harry wanted to laugh as Mr. Weasley seemed to lose himself in his own introspection, clearly recalling days long since gone past. The overt affection the man held for his wife was clear from the tone, but it was equally apparent that he would only ever see the girl he fell in love with when he looked at his wife today. Coughing slightly to regain Mr. Weasley's attention, Harry fought the urge to grin and lost. "Sir?"

"Right, sorry, Harry. The mind wanders sometimes in its wondering." Sitting up again, Mr. Weasley took a second to collect himself and smiled back at Harry. "Right. Back to the point. She's smart, and has always been driven, and quite creative -- which I think you're learning to appreciate. Ever since Ginny and Ron came to Hogwarts, well, she's been a bit down and depressed. All of her time spent schooling the children, caring for the family, managing everything about the family after so many years, it was suddenly all over and done with. I think she lost herself a bit there, especially since the children, wanting to be seen as the adults they were learning to become, don't write home as often as perhaps they should. No one was asking her for her help, or for her opinion, and I think it was a little empty at the nest. There's no slight against my children implied, that's just what everyone does as they start to grow up and stand on their own. Does that make sense, Harry?"

Harry nodded, curious to see where this was leading.

"Well, now it gets complicated. I'm torn, I suppose, because I should be outraged and angry over what's been going on between you and my family, the fights and the hospital and then these pranks with my wife. Aside from losing sleep over our children, there were those Howlers, and those gnomes, and everything else . . ."

Mr. Weasley held up a hand as Harry started to shift around a bit, expecting the verbal attack that was properly due. "No, Harry. I told you I wasn't here to yell at you. This is why I'm torn. That was one hand's view of what's happened and how I should be reacting. On the other hand, I had a letter from Fred and George that explained things, and my boys are actually impressed with you -- that's either scary or fantastic, and I'm really not sure which. A few days later, we received another letter from Ginny that added some details my boys overlooked. And one of the things that hasn't escaped my notice is that my daughter is sounding, well, genuinely positive about something for a change. At the same time, I suddenly find myself confronted with the Molly I married, the woman who was fiercely creative and could charm or hex her way into or out of nearly anything. The fire is coming back in both my girls, Harry, and it's all because of you. No matter how it happened, and I do understand that it was quite accidental, I thought I might thank you."

Harry knew that he was staring in shock at Mr. Weasley. He had, to some degree, been feeling both trepidation and uncertainty about the inevitable clash with the Weasley parents, but even in his more delusional moments of imagining how he would prevent a battle for blood, he had never considered something like this.

Mr. Weasley was chuckling at him, but for some reason it did not bother him at all. "As far as the children go, I've had a long talk with Albus and Minerva already. I don't really approve, Harry, but I can understand the situation. I do realise just how dangerous that was for you. They have asked us to give you a chance, so we'll do that. And just between you and me, I know those families that were involved. As hard as it is for me to say this, I think you only accelerated the natural outcome by a few years, Harry. It's hard for me to accept, and I don't like to think about it, but that's the way I see it."

Harry took a long moment to study the man before him. There was no guile, no deceit, no malice, no indirection. It was evident that he had spoken the truth as he saw it and that Mr. Weasley was willing to put those events aside as something unfortunate and tragic, but ultimately unavoidable. "I appreciate your candour, sir." Harry surprised himself as he realised that he was starting to truly like Mr. Weasley and that the man was making a very positive impression upon him in a very short period of time.

"Now, as for Molly . . . Really, Harry, I'd actually like to encourage you a bit, as it were. There's only one problem we need to address first."

Finding his voice again, Harry felt somewhat sheepish for his stunned reaction. "And that would be?"

"The line, Harry. This last one with the gnomes. Well, you tell me, given the bit about Molly's brothers. Do you think you went a bit too far with it?"

Harry paused to think of all the various phrases the garden gnomes would spout and understood that there was one phrase in particular which was the reason for this visit. "Ah, I can think of one bit that probably was."

Mr. Weasley nodded his head, no hint of accusation on his face. "Yes, I'm glad you can see that. If you had known about her brothers, would you have done it that way?"

Harry shook his head, wincing at the idea. "No, sir. Of course not." Harry wanted to find some way to express his horror at the idea, but Mr. Weasley just waved his acceptance of the statement.

"Excellent, Harry. I'm glad we understand each other. So long as you keep the line in mind, I'm quite happy to watch you trade barbs with Molly." Mr. Weasley's eyes went a bit glassy as he apparently started reflecting on events again. "These past few days around the house have been just like old times . . ."

Harry immediately began fighting down a blush as he caught the unintentional drift of Mr. Weasley's words. "Ah, right, sir." He was desperately hoping the man would change the topic.

Mr. Weasley visibly shook himself for a moment and then stood up. "Well, that's that, then. I'm off to work, and I do work at the Ministry. Thanks for your time and understanding, Harry."

Mr. Weasley's smile was infectious, but Harry was already smiling anyway. The man was very easy to get along with and had a ready sense of humour. "My pleasure, Mr. Weasley. I enjoyed meeting you."

"Oh, and Harry?" Harry paused as he looked back at Mr. Weasley standing by the bright green flames of Floo fire. "I came here in such a way that neither of us will ever admit to anyone else that this conversation happened. We have not met each other yet. Is that clear?"

Harry had a sudden impression of the power and stern hand that could rein in the twins, of the man that could marry a woman with as devious a mind as Mrs. Weasley. The entire feeling was one so out of place in comparison to the easy-going, simple man he had just spent a pleasant time talking to that Harry found himself rapidly reconsidering the entire conversation. He suddenly realised Mr. Weasley's earlier protestation of losing in a wand fight to Harry was probably quite unrealistic. Harry instead found himself wondering just who might come out on top of a little friendly confrontation.

Harry guessed that Mr. Weasley must be a lot of fun when at home. You probably never knew who might show up when he walked into the room, and Harry thought that would keep life interesting. "I was called up here and just asked some questions about my dealings with vampires. I don't remember the name of the fellow as did the questioning, though."

With a laugh, Mr. Weasley stepped into the flames and vanished with a cry of "Ministry of Magic, Atrium!"

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 8:23 am/

Harry arrived at the target greenhouse by broom, narrowly avoiding the suit of armour that had almost caught up to him outside the Headmaster's office corridor. Harry knew he had a slight dose of paranoia, but the whole thing made him wonder just how enchanted the magical armour was that it would hunt down students that offended it and promise to deliver chastisement. The more curious question was how it actually tracked down a particular student.

Neville was poking about the base of some spiky, dark-red plant that would occasionally try to snag him with a tendril of vicious barbs. Neville, unaware that Harry had arrived, was talking in a way a parent might to a young child. "Stop that, Nessy!" Giving the offending tendril a loving tap with a hand trowel, Neville ignored it as he continued to apply some fertilizer to the base.

"You actually name the plants, then?" Harry asked, somewhat amused.

Neville carefully stepped out of reach of the plant before turning to Harry with a frown. "Why not? They clearly have their own minds. You'd name a pet, wouldn't you?"

Harry shrugged absently, his smile not fading a whit. "Not saying it was right or wrong, Neville. Just surprised, that's all."

Neville smiled back in a lopsided manner, acknowledging the point. "I thought we'd skip up a bit today, Harry, and work on the Venomous Tentacula. This one that I named Nessy is in need of some care."

Harry dropped his bags and donned his protective gear, curious as to why it was called the Venomous Tentacula, as opposed to just a Tentacula. Given the general trend for magical creatures to be either incredibly cute, fluffy, and harmless, or else not so cute, not so fluffy, and very lethal, it seemed likely that plants could be similarly classified. This one appeared destined to be in the latter category.

"Right, then. How many minutes before I die if it successfully gets some of those hooks into me?"

Neville laughed at Harry's question, shaking his head slightly. "Really, Harry. You're way too paranoid. You'll have plenty of time to walk up to the Hospital Wing, and maybe even have some lunch, before you need to start getting worried."

Harry stood next to Neville, watching the plant twitch and strain to reach them. "Well, evolutionarily, that doesn't make much sense. It wants its victims to die quickly if it needs their nutrients."

Neville shook his head briefly. "You've got it the wrong way round, Harry. If one of the spikes gets in you, it stays in and the poison will slowly kill you. You've got time to move off to some other location before you collapse. As your body breaks down, the spike will blossom into a new plant. Very efficient, and if the bodies were all piled up at the base of this plant, then there would be too much competition for food. Not to mention that it would discourage other creatures from getting close."

Harry watched some of the tendrils dance about in the air for a moment. "You know, Neville, that explanation doesn't really make me feel better. Dead is dead, you know?"

As Harry began tending to the plant, moving about as Neville directed, he found it amusing to notice Neville batting the plant away from Harry until he became used to how it moved. Once Neville apparently felt comfortable that Harry could look after himself, he stepped back and let Harry work while keeping up a discussion of the care and growth cycle of the plant.

Harry actually found it odd that he never felt the constant need to be aware of who was near him when he knew it was just he and Neville in the greenhouse. Even when he was only in the presence of Cyril or Edgar, he always kept himself aware and on edge, ready for conflict or some kind of instant action. Talking to Neville was somehow calming, as though his new friend actually radiated a tangible pacifism and peace to others.

At one point when their conversation hit a natural lull, Harry decided to ask about something he had noticed the prior week. "Neville, feel free to tell me to bugger off, but I was curious what's happened between you and Hannah? I thought you were an item when I met you all on the train."

Neville was silent long enough that Harry stepped away from the reach of the plant in order to safely look at him. Harry thought Neville's expression was one of determination yet sorrow, tinged with a hint of relief. "It's hard to explain, I reckon," Neville said at last. "For some reason, she made a judgment about you and wouldn't hear otherwise."

Neville moved over to the nearby bench. "We were together for a while, sure, but after she made up her mind . . . I don't know how to say it, but I don't feel so bad about it now. I'm kind of glad I learned that she isn't very tolerant now, rather than later, you know?"

Harry smiled wryly. "Well, not really. I can't honestly say I've ever had a successful relationship, so you're the expert here twice over."

Neville looked at Harry in clear surprise. "Really?"

Shrugging, Harry sat next to Neville. "Look, I live in the Muggle world. I can't exactly tell a girlfriend about what I do, I can't bring one home, and I can't spend copious time with her or her friends whenever they want me to. That's just not in my cards. I train whenever I do have free time, I can't talk about the books I read with a Muggle since what I read she can't learn . . . I had a couple of potential girlfriends, neither lasted more than a week. The funny thing is they both thought I was playing with them, seeing someone else at the same time since I couldn't explain all the weirdness."

Neville shook his head slowly. "Never thought about it," he offered quietly. "Makes sense, though. Before Hannah, I dated Susan Bones briefly, but we decided we were better off as friends. Oh well. Harry, now that you're here, you're around girls that you can talk to, right?"

Harry had to snort at that. "Oh, sure. 'Hi, I know you're terrified of me, the new dark lord and all, but what say we go spend some time alone together and get to know each other? I promise not to carve your heart out for my nefarious purposes until after I've had my way with you.' You'd think they would just line up for that, right?"

Neville was laughing openly by the time Harry finished. "Maybe you should try to be nicer, Harry. You seem to enjoy cultivating an attitude of uncaring indifference and violence."

Harry chuckled in turn. "Keeps the sheep at bay, Neville."

Neville made a humming noise as he studied some of the plants in the greenhouse. "Doesn't seem to be stopping Ginny, though, from what I can see."

Harry stopped smiling and sighed. "It's not like that, Neville. Er, look, I don't want to make you uncomfortable or anything, right? But I can tell you used to have a major crush on her. I don't know what happened, if anything, and it's not my business. But Ginny wants me to teach her how to fight, and I finally agreed. That means she has to spend time with me, sure, but it mostly means she has no idea what she's got herself into. We're barely friends, nothing more. I do hope she and I will become better friends, though, and that's part of why I agreed to help her. I really don't have time or the inclination for more, regardless of who it's with."

Neville remained quiet for a long time and started studying his shoes. "I suppose everyone can see that, Harry. You're right, though, I still do like her, though not really like that anymore. It's more like . . . like . . ."

Harry clapped Neville on the back for a second. "Like she was the first girl you convinced yourself you were in love with, and you'll always think of her in a special way. I understand. There was this girl Amy that I knew once, but she didn't feel about me as I did about her, or maybe I just bollixed it all up when I talked to her. That's just life, I guess."

Neville shared a weak smile with Harry. Checking his watch, Neville stood up and brushed his gear off. "I think we ought to stop for now, Harry. It's only about ten minutes to class, and we need to switch greenhouses. We haven't really got time to do more today. Let's clean up and head over, right?"

Accepting the desire for no more conversation, Harry helped Neville pack away the tools and extra materials. Grabbing his bag and broom, he followed Neville toward the greenhouse doors.

"Hey, Neville?" Harry stopped his friend. Neville paused to look at him in silent patience. "What keeps these greenhouses from getting too hot? The Muggles use all kinds of machines to keep the temperature stable."

Neville looked surprised for a second as he reached out and tapped the slightly frosted glass door. "Temperature Regulation Glass," he said quietly. "They're set to 25.5 degrees. If it gets a little too warm inside, then the glass cools down which, in turn, cools off the air. If the air is too cold, then the panes heat up a bit."

Harry paused to apply this setup to his knowledge of how magic worked. It sounded as though there were three spells cast on the glass: a temperature sensing charm, a cooling charm, and a heating charm. Some kind of ward-like control structure would bind them all together, activating either the heating or cooling spell when the temperature was outside of some small hysteresis window, and the collection of spells themselves would be powered from the ward-control's buffer. Looking closely, Harry could see that there was some pattern to the soft aura glowing on each bit of glass. He had always assumed he was just seeing the plants inside or the castle in the distance.

"Every pane, Neville?"

Neville nodded his head, as he opened the door. "Yeah, it's pretty neat. We're supposed to learn how to do those late in N.E.W.T. Charms, and they're dead useful for homes. The advantage in the greenhouse, though, is that you don't have to worry about snow build-up on the roof."

Harry nodded his appreciation as he moved to follow Neville through the door. However, he was unable to stop the person running pell-mell toward the greenhouse from crashing into Neville just as the boy stepped through the doorway. Neville went down in a bundle of arms and legs with the interloper, as Harry stepped back and unconsciously had a wand in hand, prepared to hex first and question later.

It took a second for Harry to register that it was a girl with long black hair, crying uncontrollably, and that she had apparently latched onto Neville and was holding him tightly enough that even the calm and reserved Neville was looking quite alarmed. Curious, Harry bent down and picked up the Daily Prophet that had been dropped in the impact, noting the main story on the Social Life page that the paper was open to.

Life As Tri-Wizard Champion
A Cedric Diggory Exclusive!
by Rita Skeeter

Harry skimmed the article and found out that Cedric had recently broken up with 'school date' Cho Chang. Harry vaguely recalled that Cho was the friendly and pretty Asian girl with long black hair that he had met on the train. They had passed each other several times since then, but she was somewhat cool and far more distant than she had been on the train. Hermione had mentioned after one of those encounters that Cho was dating Cedric, but it was obvious that Cedric was now apparently seeing -- with complete pictorial spread of various candid shots of two people clearly being affectionate with each other -- someone new. Looking down at the figure clutching Neville, Harry stepped closer and saw that it was, in fact, Cho Chang who was sobbing into Neville's chest.

"Er, Cho?" Harry tried tentatively. Getting no reaction, Harry just held up the paper and let Neville see the headline and photos. His friend's eyes widened for a moment before he sighed and apparently reached the same conclusion that Harry had. Harry reached down to offer a hand up, but Neville shook his head and motioned for Harry to go on to class and that he would follow later.

Nodding his acceptance, Harry took his bag, broom, and the /Daily Prophet/, and strolled over to the greenhouse where his class would be meeting. As he thumbed through the paper, Harry was both unsurprised and surprised to find no mention of the Malfoy debacle. He was curious what news he would receive at home tonight, between Edgar and the others. Surely Malfoy was not getting away with his stunt, given the hint from Edgar's letter the prior evening.

The whys and wherefores of coming to Hogwarts with Polyjuiced impersonators would be an interesting bit for the Aurors to explore. The fact that it broke several laws that Harry could think of offhand suggested that Lucius had taken a gamble and was going to suffer personally for a change. Of course, the next question would be where Draco was if someone else was parading around as the Malfoy heir at Hogwarts.

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 9:02 am/

"Where's Neville?" Ginny dropped her bag and broom off next to Harry's as she joined him at the table. "I thought he would be with you." Harry silently watched her scan the greenhouse before she looked expectantly at him. Hermione waved as she moved to the table across from them, Ron trailing in her wake and ostensibly refusing to make eye contact.

"He ran into a problem and said he'd be a few minutes late," Harry offered with as much nonchalance as he could. Somehow, it seemed unlikely that Cho would appreciate Harry telling others where she was or what state she was in. By keeping his tone bland and uninteresting, he knew that it would evoke no inquisition from others.

"Oh." Somehow, Ginny seemed faintly disappointed with his answer. "Well," she said, smiling brightly again, "did you have a good tutoring session?"

Something about the way she was asking the question left Harry wondering what the redhead was up to. "Rather typical, I suppose."

She nodded politely, her eyes obviously running over his clothes and protective gear. "Well, I'm glad you had a nice time, then."

At this point, Harry knew something was very wrong. He recognised that Ginny had radical mood swings for reasons that were not clear to his male brain, and he knew that he had experienced her vengeful mode, her stubborn mode, and her banter mode. This mode, some kind of polite and overly sweet concern, rang incredibly false with him. He noted in passing that her hair was up, pulled back out of her face and securely tied. It was not in the plait which seemed to be her hallmark for pranking, but it still left him vaguely suspicious.

Harry decided it was time to turn the tables. He was curious to find out what she did before coming here, so he adopted his best winning smile and cheery voice, "And you, my dear Ginny, how was your time spent before class this lovely morn?"

If anything, Ginny's smile became broader, but her answer was cut off as Professor Sprout called the class to order. All he received for his query was the exaggerated smile and a wink.

As Professor Sprout began to lecture about self-fertilizing shrubberies, Neville quietly slipped in and joined them at their table. Sprout saw him slip in but made no comment of it, except for her frown of displeasure at the company Neville was keeping.

Ginny shot Neville a glance that asked a clear question, to which Neville just shook his head and mouthed 'later' before he looked at Harry and shrugged. Harry noticed the wet spot all down the front of Neville's protective gear as the boy pulled out parchment and began making notes on the Professor's lesson.

When it came time to switch to the practical aspects after nearly forty minutes of lecture, the three of them moved off under Ginny's direction to the most secluded shrub of the bunch. "All right, what's going on?" she hissed.

Neville shot Harry a look, to which he just shook his head, hoping Neville would understand that meant he had said nothing of events just before class. "Um, did you read the Prophet this morning, Ginny?" Neville slowly asked.

Ginny nodded with obvious impatience as she laid out the tools they needed. Harry prepared the new basin for the shrubbery to be moved into, while Neville glanced around to apparently make sure they were not being overheard. "You saw the article on Cedric?"

Again Ginny nodded, but now she was watching Neville with an expectant look. "Well, Cho ran into us, and she was, uh, upset. According to her, Cedric only broke up with her a few days ago through a letter. I think either he was trying to be nice about it, or maybe she was just reading more into it than he really said, but she thought it wasn't so much a break-up as a take-some-time thing. Either way, well . . ."

As Neville trailed off to silence, Ginny frowned sharply. "Let me guess," she said with anger in her voice. "Her housemates have been teasing her, too."

Neville nodded slowly.

Ginny just sighed and began digging around in the base of the shrub. Harry exchanged glances with Neville, somewhat baffled at the response. "And I thought only some females were confusing," he muttered.

Ginny promptly smashed his foot with a hand rake, causing Harry to chuckle as she discovered the magic of steel-toed boots. Ignoring the glare she was giving him, Harry just smirked at her.

"Her housemates also tease Luna and take Luna's things," she spat out. "They may be smart, but they aren't very nice people at all. I'd like to hex the lot of them."

The three of them worked together in silence after that, although Harry spent some time trying to decide if he really wanted to talk to the odd Ravenclaw girl again. He knew he would invariably cross paths with her, which was a source of both dread and mild anticipation. Making a note to obtain a jar of marmalade and some crackers to carry in his bag, he decided he would just let that development follow the natural course of events.

Ginny, however, kept casting furtive glances at Neville, leaving Harry curious about what else was going on that he was unaware of.

/Mon, 11 Sep 1995, 11:06 am/

Harry followed Ginny around the side of Hagrid's cabin, although this time she was making a beeline for the edge of the forest. Harry saw that a large crate had been set up there. At nearly 20 feet on a side and about 10 feet tall, it looked large enough to be a comfortable studio apartment on the inside, except for the minor detail that it was shaking periodically. To make things even more interesting, no sounds were coming out of it despite the noises the frame alone should have been making in protest.

"So," he offered as they gradually got closer to the crate. "What are studying today, oh wise tutor?"

Ginny paused to smile in that strange sweet manner before she beckoned him to walk beside her. "Oh, I thought we might take a break from the simple creatures, Harry. You know, spice up things a bit."

"Right." Harry continued to eye the crate that was still shaking in random directions. It was impressive what magic could do to an object in order to strengthen it and make it nearly indestructible. "I'm sure this should be fun. Is that just one critter in there, or what?"

Ginny patted his hand in a flagrantly patronizing manner. "Now, Harry, really. Norman's not so bad. After all, I worked with him all of last year. Hagrid and I were just putting him in here before last class so you could get to meet him. I think Norman's just wanting to go for a walk. He usually roams about in the Forest these days."

Somehow, the idea that whatever was in that crate needed so much space, shook it like a cube of gelatin, and was perfectly safe roaming through the Forbidden Forest left Harry feeling reassured that it would obviously be the cute, fluffy, and harmless variety of magical creature.

"Norman and his siblings were some of the first creatures Hagrid ever bred himself, but don't tell anyone else that. He really wasn't supposed to try." The fact that Hagrid, whose idea of what was harmless was infamously dubious, actually bred Norman failed to comfort Harry at all.

Harry became even more paranoid, if that was possible, when Ginny moved to take his bag and broom from him, forcing him to consider just how much he trusted the redhead. She clearly needed him to be around to train her, so whatever he was about to face was unlikely to be instantly lethal. At the same time, he had yet to meet a magical creature that he was unable to handle, barring dragons, and that crate was far too small and inflammable for a dragon to be lurking inside. Harry relinquished his possessions with a suddenly jaunty smile, and Ginny took them and placed them securely behind the crate. Using her own broom, she flew up to the top of the shaking crate and reached out with her wand. She paused there for a second before looking back at Harry.

"Just take Norman for a walk, Harry, and he'll love you."

With a winsome smile, she tapped the top of the crate. There was a sharp report of several locks releasing, and suddenly the entire front vanished as though it was never there. Inside, Harry was curious to see, was a giant twelve foot long grey /thing/. It had no clearly defined head, two tremendous claws, what looked to be armour plating, with an over-sized stinger like a scorpion over its back. The multitude of legs scuttled the body around so that Harry was approximately facing the stinger, with the claws mere yards from him.

"What is it?" Harry asked the redhead who had stayed on top of the crate, his smile unconsciously slipping a bit as both wands almost leapt into his hands.

Anything else he might be tempted to ask was cut off as the creature shot out an enormous bolt of magical energy and literally flew through the air toward him.

Her simultaneous, cheerful answer gave him no information he could use as his own sense of mortality suddenly and violently reasserted itself.

"Norman's a Blast-Ended Skrewt, Harry!"


You may have recognized a line from the Welsh poet Dylan Marlais Thomas in this chapter. You may also have recognised a name that was originally created by Sandra Boynton, of her own author fame - in particular, from "Snoozers."

The mechanics of greenhouse temperature regulation is a side effect of a query Parakletos made to me. Thanks to Parakletos for asking an interesting question. The advantage to having all the rules of magic worked out is that it's easy to model just about anything and not be inconsistent.

Thanks, as always, 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. Thanks also to Reg for his Brit-picking, Treecat for slang checking, and Sovran for a pre-publish sanity check.

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