Summary: In the wake of the disaster at Azkaban, the Ministry
Hogwarts, Hermione and Ron investigate each other, and Harry
himself while Ginny (sigh) waits. The Order of the Phoenix rises
from the ashes. Third story in a series of four.
Author’s note: Is it possible, after all this time, that anyone is
itching to know what happens after “The Innocents”? I know I
Well, itch no longer. This is the third story in a series set in
fifth year- it follows “Drastic Measures” and
“The Innocents”, in that order. Special thanks
go to Mrs Paleologus for helping this story rise from the ashes of
trashy first draft, and to Elanor Gamgee for her very encouraging
"You look um, nice, Hermione," Harry said uneasily, as Hermione
him on the busy landing where two stairways met under the great wall
portraits of past Headmasters. They had arranged to meet Ron in the
to begin revising for O.W.L.s, at Hermione’s insistence. “You’ll
have time when Quidditch begins, Harry,” she had said. “We mustn’t
it a minute longer.”
Harry had seen her coming down the opposite staircase, fidgeting
her hair. At first he had not even recognized her in the crowd of
Harry couldn’t put his finger on it. She looked somehow different.
was the word Harry thought of but didn’t dare say. It was the word
saleswoman used to describe expensive vases on the shopping channel
Aunt Petunia would watch religiously. "Fetching," she would repeat
herself softly. It usually meant there was going to be an argument
Uncle Vernon about buying the vase. He blinked the memory away.
Hermione's face reddened guiltily at Harry’s words, but she
and was all business.
"Really? Do you think so?" she said, with feigned nonchalance. Her
Harry said the only thing he could think of.
"Are you all right? Is there something wrong?" He kept thinking
Aunt Petunia and her fetching vases.
"Wrong?" Hermione sounded annoyed. "No, of course not."
Harry shrugged and started down the rest of the stairs.
Hermione dashed after him and caught his arm, nearly knocking him
balance. A Slytherin third-year coming down the stairs narrowly
crashing into them. He tsked his annoyance loudly.
"Do I look terrible?" Hermione said. She had changed colour.
"No," Harry said, smiling at her sudden frantic change. It reminded
of his Aunt Petunia when the number of the vases on the shopping
was dwindling. "I just said you looked nice."
"Oh," Hermione breathed. "Thanks. It’s… just a bit of makeup that
lent me, and, er, this ribbon…"
She vaguely indicated a thin twinkling stripe winding its way
her bushy hair with a wave. It changed colours like shifting winds.
now it was blinking subtly at him - trying to get his attention.
Harry started. It was his turn to flush. He recognized the ribbon.
had worn it once, one morning a couple of weeks before, a morning
Harry had been keeping out of his mind. A morning when some things
done and said that, in the cold light of what had happened after,
silly and regrettable to Harry. He tried to ignore the blinking
"Oh, right," Harry said, and when he felt the weight of Hermione's
gaze, he knew he had to explain himself. "I knew I’d seen it
before. Anyway, let's go, then."
And he started down the rest of the stairway, the less said about
ribbon the better.
Harry left Hermione on the steps. Only when he got to the next
did he notice she wasn't with him. He turned to face her, repeating
Hermione chewed her lip. Her hair-ribbon went a deep plum colour.
" she began.
"Right then," said Harry and mimed proceeding. She didn't move.
"Not wrong, exactly," Hermione interrupted uncertainly.
Harry stomped back up the steps and grabbed the right sleeve of
robe, steering her down a side corridor. He hoped Hermione could see
"What are you doing?" Hermione hissed, her eyes bugging out. Her
band had turned an acid green.
"Does this have anything to do with-" Harry dropped his voice to a
Hermione blushed deeply, rendering quite superfluous the colour she
added to her cheeks.
"Harry, I-" she whispered urgently and then straightened up. “Oh,
this is stupid!" she said in her regular fussy voice. "I’m going
to the Tower-"
"Are you trying to get Ron’s attention?"
Harry smiled slightly at the shocked reaction on Hermione's face.
"How-" she stammered. Her hair band became the same mousy colour as
hair and he could no longer see it.
"Because you’ve got it already."
"When will he say so? I just can’t tell. I’m pretty sure he likes
He-" Hermione sighed. "The only time he lets on is when his life’s
danger. Harry, it’s ridiculous. He’s spoiling my concentration."
Harry grinned. "He’s mad about you. Trust me, I know," he
with pointed weariness. Few lights-out had gone by recently without
muttering about how he would broach the subject with Hermione.
think she actually likes me, Harry? I mean, I know she
she does, but that was when she was about to die, wasn't it? I'm
people say all sorts of things under duress..." and so forth.
Hermione bit her lip. "Don’t laugh at me, Harry. I was going to, in
library…" she whispered conspiratorially. "I thought I’d tell him to
get a book from the stacks, then follow him there-"
"Okay, enough, I’ve got the idea," Harry said, waving his hands.
"Well, there's not much privacy these days, is there? It was
idea. I was about to make a fool of myself," Hermione declared.
for talking me out of it," she said briskly and started to turn.
"No," Harry said, grinning. "I think that’s a terrific idea."
Hermione stood, torn, ready to go march back to Gryffindor Tower
clearly wanting to believe Harry too.
"Don’t make me go through with it, Harry," she pleaded.
"Never dream of it. Ron will be delighted," Harry said, "when I
Harry greatly enjoyed the expression on Hermione’s face.
"You would not!" she hissed.
Harry stayed silent.
"All right," Hermione began again. "Here’s a deal. You have to
"Anything," Harry said, smiling.
"You’ll do the same for Ginny."
Harry was stunned, as if Hermione had just upended his
"Why-" he began, then stopped.
"I know about you two," Hermione said, her face serious. “Ginny’s
miserable. You haven’t spoken to her.”
"Yes, I ha-" Harry stopped. He would not lie. "Why did she tell
"You really should speak to her. She's heartbroken."
"Hermione, I- I'm just not sure about Ginny..." Harry stammered
"Then you owe it to her to tell her," Hermione said, her hands on
hips. "Are you going to let her suffer until you make up your mind?"
There was no longer anything remotely fetching about Hermione’s
"What can I tell her?" Harry said, pleading.
"Whatever you like," Hermione said, her voice suddenly quite nasty.
tore the ribbon out of her hair, which poofed out messily. "I'm
to wash my ridiculous face. I'll catch you two up in ten minutes."
Hermione jogged back up the stairs. Harry followed her a little
out to the stairway, then stopped, at a loss.
“Oi!” came the voice of a younger student, who knocked into Harry’s
as he passed.
The revision session was not going well. Hermione had returned just
couple of minutes later, but nobody seemed inclined to concentrate.
who had already protested that this study session was a waste of a
day, was in a restless mood, suggesting every few minutes that they
study out by the lake. Hermione acted like herself (“No, Ron, you
need the distraction.”), but Harry knew better. She, too, was
Every few minutes, flipping through her notes, she would heave an
"This isn't the right one at all," Hermione said, heaving the thick
of a massive open book, which closed with a dusty "phlump". Hermione
still a moment. "Ron, would you go get-"
Harry looked up. Would she really-
"Never mind," she said finally. "I can find it myself." She lifted
heavy tome and lugged it over to the shelves under her arm. Harry
"What d'you suppose is eating her?" Ron asked in a whisper, leaning
the study table. Hermione had disappeared into the stacks.
"No idea," Harry said, poker-faced.
There was a sly smile on Ron's face. He dropped his whisper even
"Y'know, sometimes I think I'd like to follow her into the shelves.
her, you know? Wonder if she'd slap me."
"Probably," Harry muttered, shrugging.
"You don't think I would, do you?" Ron seemed to Harry like a puppy
This was becoming interesting. For some reason, Harry thought of
game Dudley used to play, where he would take two toy electric cars,
set them up so that they would smash into each other until the doors
off. Harry had always wished Dudley would let him play.
Harry put down his quill and took a moment to look thoughtful. "No,
far too chicken," Harry said. "Definitely."
Ron looked away, then crossed his arms, then uncrossed them. "Bet I
I bet I could."
"I dare you," Harry said.
Ron went quite red. "All right," he said, and stood up.
"For England," Harry said. He buried his face in his book as Ron
"Oh! What are you doing here?" Hermione whispered from behind two
of books and scrolls piled high.
"Erm... " came a voice that positively croaked. "Just wondering if
needed help finding- ermph!" A short
but weighty silence. "Blimey!" came the same voice, at full volume
time and sounding very impressed.
Harry saw Madam Pince, across the way, look up from her table, a
look flashing on her face, but she went back to her work.
"Blast!" came a sharp whisper. It was Hermione this time. "I can't
I -- I'm a prefect-!"
Harry saw Hermione shoot out from between the rows of shelves
the library door, as if she were suddenly taken ill.
"No running!" Madam Pince called crankily from her table. She shook
head. Hermione was gone. Ron emerged from between the shelves. He
back to the study table in a daze and sat down across from Harry,
Hermione had been sitting.
"You'd better bring her that," Harry said.
Ron looked up, his face stuck in an absent grin. "Huh?"
"You'd better take that when you go," Harry enunciated, indicating
quill and pile of parchment sheets at Hermione's place. "Bring them
to her. She'll be missing them later."
"Riiiight!" Ron said, catching on. He gathered up the sheets and
them sloppily into Hermione's bag, which he hoisted onto his
"Told you I could do it," Ron said with a wink. He left the library
There was no way Harry was going to continue studying without his
This was a free period, a rare enough thing, and Harry decided to go
for the hour remaining before the call for supper, perhaps to pay a
on Hagrid. Ron had had a point about the weather. The October sun
making a last stab at acting in a summery manner, and the grounds
inviting as Harry walked out the main entrance.
On his way, Harry made a detour toward the Quidditch pitch. Harry
taken to watching the second- and third- years play their pickup
during free periods. Trials for the new season would begin in only a
days, and Katie Bell, the new captain of the Gryffindor side, had
her teammates to keep an eye out for interesting prospects to fill
vacancies. This time, there was nobody playing, but he heard a voice
he began to move away in the direction of Hagrid's hut.
"-would be perfect- two against two. Call him!"
"Hey Harry!" came another voice.
There were three students running over toward Harry. Derek
the Hufflepuff Keeper, Sarah Jackson the Ravenclaw Keeper, and...
"You want to join us?" Derek said. "We've got an odd number."
"It'll be great," Sarah said. "The Keepers versus the Seekers, see
more useless with a Quaffle in their hands."
"Uh. sure," Harry said quietly. Cho was smiling.
"Great!" Sarah said. "Get your broom- we'll beat off anyone else
tries to use the pitch."
Harry was back ten minutes later, on his Firebolt. The others were
the air already, warming up with the Quaffle. Harry swooped in
Sarah and Cho and intercepted the ball. "Smooth!" Derek called out.
What followed was the best half-hour Harry had had in weeks. He and
were teamed up together against the two Keepers. It was a dramatic
match- Derek and Sarah had it all over the two Seekers in passing,
when Harry or Cho got a hold of the ball they could fly rings around
Keepers. Harry was in a state of bliss, his worries left far below.
had not played Quidditch for over a year. They traded goals,
up a score that stayed close to even for the duration of the match.
When the call came from the castle to go in for supper, the Keepers
ahead by two goals, and Harry and Cho were forced to concede the
"Bloody hell!" Derek said. "Just as it was getting interesting!"
The four touched the ground a little ways from the castle. "That
terrific," Cho said to Harry as the four walked into the Entrance
"I needed that."
"Yeah," Harry said, completely understanding what she meant.
"Why don't you guys join us at pudding, after supper?" Sarah said.
you're not too good to be seen at the Ravenclaw table."
"Yeah, I'll swallow my pride," Derek said, winking at Sarah. "You
to come, Harry?"
Harry was going to say no, but then he thought of Ron and Hermione.
had a feeling they would not be the best company this evening.
"Sure!" Harry said. "See you later." He ran up to his dormitory to
Harry had guessed right about Ron and Hermione. Ron was in an
chipper mood. Hermione, across the table from the two of them,
to giggle almost every time she was spoken to. "What'd you do this
Ron asked Harry as he chewed his roast beef.
"That's disgusting, Ron," Hermione said. "Swallow first, can't
"Yes, Mum," Ron drawled. He gulped, and a lump travelled down his
Hermione frowned. "That's dangerous. Don't expect me to lift a
if you start choking. Harry, he's baiting me on purpose. Stop
"Stop it, Ron," Harry said dryly. Hermione gave Ron a superior look
caused Ron to snicker and Hermione to giggle again.
Ron turned back to Harry. "So, what'd you do this afternoon,
"Quidditch. I ran into some people playing. How about you?"
"Not much," Ron said seriously.
Hermione grinned. Harry wondered if she had any idea what she
like. Dean Thomas, sitting next to her, looked over at her
as if wondering if she was running a temperature. "We had a bit of a
by the lake," she said. Harry smiled. It looked like Ron had won the
"That's good, then," Harry said. He stood up suddenly. "I'll see
"Where are you going?" Ron asked. Harry had noticed Ginny standing
from her place among the fourth-years. She was walking over toward
Hermione's face had gone serious, and she was eyeing Harry
"Er, they invited me to join them at pudding. The people I was
Quidditch with. I'll see you later."
Harry retreated from the Gryffindor table. From time to time he had
Ginny looking at him from her place a few seats away, which caused a
pang. The morning of their disastrous detour to Azkaban, Ginny had
Harry with a rather astonishing kiss. In that moment he had found it
natural to kiss her back. But the rest of that day was so horrible,
could hardly picture that moment, and when he did, he cringed with
He had avoided Ginny whenever possible, and had assumed, as a
old boy might, that his behaviour would not be noticed or have an
on anybody. Meanwhile, having Ginny nearby made him feel horrible
There was a shuffle as students rose from their places and went to
with friends elsewhere in the Hall. It was a privilege granted at
time to pay calls on friends from other houses or years, scrambling
strict and regimented seating order of the houses for a few minutes
evening. Harry got a hero's welcome from his new friends at the
table. "Harry!" Sarah Jackson called out. Cho moved aside and made a
between herself and Sarah for Harry to sit. Derek was already there,
on the other side of Sarah. He waved with one great hand. Harry
took the place offered.
The four Quidditch players replayed their match in word and gesture
pudding at the Ravenclaw table, every swoop and pass examined
The four compared notes on the up-and-coming students they expected
see at trials the following week, as every team had vacancies to
Harry was unexpectedly having a grand time, talking about the one
he knew best. Only occasionally did it hit him that he was talking
Cho, to whom he had never had the nerve to speak two coherent
before. He realized that it was certainly much easier to speak to
the Ravenclaw Seeker than to Cho the pretty girl whom he had liked
look at from halfway across the Great Hall.
Harry looked toward the head table for a moment and noticed
very strange. Nobody was sitting in Dumbledore's place. Dumbledore
arrived at dinner late, and was seated a little ways behind, a blank
on his face. Beside him were three wizards whom Harry did not
each dressed in official-looking robes. He craned his head a little
get a better look.
"Oh!" Harry said.
"What?" Cho said.
"Nothing, I- that's Percy Weasley, isn't it?" Harry said,
the row of wizards.
"It is!" Sarah agreed. "What's he doing here?" she said, a trace of
in her voice.
Percy Weasley stood up, and walked over to the head table, taking a
just behind Dumbledore's usual place. He was nervously fingering a
of parchment. "Er..." he intoned, adopting a supercilious smile.
"Excuse me, everybody," Percy went on, and the Great Hall fell
"Ah, wonderful to see you all again, really much sooner than I
to be back here, quite a pleasure."
These words were greeted with looks of confusion and muttering from
assembly. Harry turned his head and spied Ron shrugging his
as the Gryffindors surrounding him looked at him quizzically.
"I'm here on behalf of the Minister, who has asked us to do some,
work here with the Hogwarts faculty. Over the next few days, my
Mr Ekers and Mr Throng, and I will be visiting some of you
to ask some questions. I hope you'll be able to give us all your
as we straighten out some problems, here at the school. Er, your
has a brief statement to make as well."
Since when did Dumbledore need Percy Weasley to introduce him,
thought. He had a bad feeling about what was coming next.
Dumbledore stood up, and Percy handed him the sheet of parchment.
pointedly ignored the contents of the sheet and folded it in four as
stepped forward. Harry held his breath.
"Mr Weasley is much too modest," Dumbledore said, more quietly than
"He is about some very important business. The Minister has asked me
resign as Headmaster of the school, pending investigation into
alleged wrongdoings on my part."
There was a collective gasp. This was clearly news even to the
teachers. The Ministry wizards' faces darkened- this was clearly not
statement they had been expecting.
"I have refused his request. So he has requested rather more
that I take a temporary leave of absence. I have agreed to this. The
gentlemen sitting here behind me will be taking on my administrative
during their investigation. I second Mr Weasley in encouraging you
help them learn the full truth in their investigations." Dumbledore
to turn, then, as if something had occurred to him, he faced the
once more. "Oh, the Minister did also ask me to take some time away
Hogwarts," Dumbledore added. "I have advised him that this much I
not do. I am to remain in the staff quarters, but I will stay at the
to help in any capacity I am permitted to. Enjoy your pudding. The
The three wizards seated behind Dumbledore wore astonished
as Dumbledore took his seat. The oldest of the three was gritting
teeth in suppressed rage. Percy looked abashed.
"What was that all about?" Sarah said in astonishment.
"Don't know," Cho said. "Do you have any idea, Harry?"
"Something to do with whatever that was that happened a few weeks
I expect," he muttered. It was one of the school's open secrets that
four students were not accounted for the day all students were
into the Great Hall while seven mysterious bodies were collected
the grounds by the lake and taken away. Draco Malfoy had not failed
name them all whenever he felt the occasion had presented itself.
simply nodded, and Harry was relieved that she chose not to pursue
Sarah was not so discreet. "You ought to know something about that,
Harry adopted his blankest face. "No. Why?" he said.
"Hush, Sarah," Cho said. "Don't believe every bit of nonsense you
Harry thought to himself that he could kiss her right then. Ha,
wasn't news, he mused.
"What are you smiling about?" Sarah said.
"I wasn't," Harry said, looking perfectly serious.
Harry climbed through the portrait hole, and scanned the common
Ron and Hermione were sitting across from each other over a chess
Harry started when he saw that Ginny was standing with them. There
no escaping, though: Hermione had already caught his eye.
"Over here, Harry," she called out.
The chess game had obviously been abandoned for the moment, as all
pieces were sitting down in their squares with bored expressions.
was clutching a sheet of parchment.
"Nice of you to join us," Hermione said, a little too pointedly for
"Yeah, Harry," Ron said, cheerfully. "Sarah Jackson and Cho Chang?
have been tough to tear yourself away."
Harry caught a flash of utter mortification crossing Hermione's
Harry's own face felt hot. Ginny's face remained a blank.
"Ron!" Hermione hissed. "That's hardly nice."
"Sorry," Ron said, looking suddenly sheepish.
Harry wondered what was going through the minds of the three others
he took a seat, feeling about as awkward as he ever had. "So what
think that was all about? With Dumbledore?" he said, changing the
"It's awful," Hermione said. "How can they get rid of Dumbledore?
they still that blinkered, after Azkaban?"
"I thought Percy loved Dumbledore," Harry said.
Ron shrugged. "Percy loves whoever he's working for. Dad owled me a
of days ago. Said he'd been 'attached' to Fudge's office. Now he's
than Dad, even. Never said anything about him coming to the
"What are we going to do now?" Harry said. "They're certain to come
"We were just talking about that," Ginny said. She extended her arm
Harry, holding out the sheet of parchment, which seemed to have been
about a hundred times and was covered in watery red stains.
"We all got one," Hermione said.
Harry took the proffered paper.
When they come for you, just tell the truth. - D.
"Why didn't I get one?" Harry said.
"Didn't stay around for your pudding, did you?" Ron said. "It was
inside a strawberry. Here's yours," he added, holding out another
which was almost torn in two. "Sorry. Neville bit into it."
Harry's message was different. There was only one word written on
"He's a nutter. What's that about?" Ron said.
"I know," Harry said. "It's a password. For emergencies."
Somewhere between fourth and fifth year, Herbology class had taken
much more sinister turn. For the last three classes they had been
a plant called the Bloodweed, a seven-foot tall carnivorous vine.
Bloodweed was not nearly as bad, however, as the Songolo Ape-Wasp
it fed on. Hagrid brought in a cageful of these angry flying beasts
the Bloodweed's daily care and feeding, to be administered by the
"I hope these things are really bloody useful," Ron griped as he
on to the panicking ape-wasp's harness and approached the Bloodweed
"Oh yes, they've got loads of medicinal properties!" Neville
chipped in. He had been first in Herbology all year, outperforming
Hermione, and it was the one place he always seemed to be on sure
"The enormous curative potential-"
"Thanks, Neville. I feel better now," Ron said with finality.
"Stun the poor bastard, won't you?" Seamus said. "I don't want to
that scream again when it's eaten."
Harry took out his wand to do exactly this, when a voice came from
greenhouse doorway. "Excuse me!" It was Percy Weasley.
Professor Sprout tied off an ape-wasp's lead to a post, where it
buzzing and struggling. "Can I help you?"
"Can I borrow Harry Potter for a bit? Sorry to bother you.
Committee business," Percy said with a tentative, ingratiating
There were few feelings Harry had grown to hate more than the one
got when a whole roomful of people suddenly turned to look at him.
is exactly what happened at that moment. Professor Sprout looked
put out but she nodded. Harry went over to the door, where Percy was
with his Ministry-issue smile.
"How're you doing, Harry?" Percy asked jauntily as they exited onto
grounds before the castle. "How's the year going?"
"Fine," Harry said noncommitally.
"I've been doing fantastically myself," Percy said, not that Harry
asked. "Busy, of course. It was a shame about the whole Crouch
of course. But I've been getting on! I was moved over to the
office, with a brief for Educational Affairs- quite a promotion,
These are exciting times in magical education. We're working on a
reform package. Utterly revolutionary," Percy declared.
Harry blinked. The resurrection of Voldemort was such an
reality at Hogwarts, that it was easy to forget that much of the
world, not least the Ministry, continued to exist without
the fact. It seemed incredible that the Ministry's first priority
"What's this committee for?" Harry asked, almost fearing the
Percy's smile stayed fixed in place. "As I'm sure you know, Harry,"
said indulgently, "there have been some curious things going on at
school lately. Mr Ekers thought it was worth a looking-into."
They were inside the castle now, walking along a corridor toward a
of classrooms. Harry felt anger rising. "Are you trying to get
sacked?" he said, patience gone.
The point-blank question seemed to strike Percy's smile like a dart
cause it to deflate. "Don't be absurd, Harry," Percy said, his voice
colder. "Dumbledore has nothing to worry about. No decision will be
"That's the problem, isn't it?" Harry said, coming to a stop. Percy
at him. "You do know Voldemort's back, don't you? Your Mum and Dad
tell you that, didn't they?"
Harry saw something he had never seen in Percy's face. He was
Not annoyed, not pompous, not superior- angry.
"I rather think," Percy said, "that I am better-placed to know
this sort of thing!"
Harry was stunned. Was Percy listening to himself? He stayed silent
rest of the way.
The committee had chosen to conduct their inquiries in a classroom
far from the entrance to the staff's quarters, the better, Harry
to keep an eye on the comings and goings of the staff, whose
to their dictates was likely to be unenthusiastic at best. An old
stood in the doorway waiting for Percy and Harry. His face was
lined, with a few thick, bristly white hairs jutting straight out of
jaw by way of a beard. It was Mr Ekers, who had been present but
at supper the evening before.
"Good day, Mr Potter," Mr Ekers said in a gruff, croaking voice.
you for joining us." Harry had never been thanked less warmly in his
Mr Ekers ushered him to a student's desk in the front row, while he
Percy moved up to join the third wizard, Throng, at the head
"Mr Potter," Ekers began, "we have some questions about the events
September nineteenth. We assume you will be direct and truthful with
You know that there are means to compel forthrightness if you choose
Harry blinked. "You're an educational reform
Ekers actually appeared to smile. "Well," he croaked, "things will
changing around this school, that's reasonably certain."
"Erm..." Percy interrupted. "I'm sure I can vouch for Mr Potter,
he said. "I am confident he'll be straight with us. Won't you,
"All right then, then, the beam, please," Ekers said.
The third committee member, Throng, stood up. He was young, older
Percy of course, but probably in his thirties. Harry jumped back in
seat- with a sudden movement, Throng had pulled a wand from his deep
robe and directed it straight at Harry. A beam of intense yellowish
blinded his right eye. Yet, it was as if... the light was coming
"What's that!" Harry exclaimed. He could not raise his hands from
sides. He was paralysed. He heard Percy mutter "I'm sure that's not
necessary, sir. This boy has visited my family's house."
Out of his remaining eye, Harry could tell that Ekers had ignored
"Er... let's get started then, shall we?" Percy said, unease in his
"I wonder if you could take us through that morning, Harry. Start at
Harry was in a fury when he left the committee room, his right eye
readjusting to the darkness of the corridor. The strange yellow beam
left a violated, humiliating feeling, as if he had had the story
out of him by a gang of hoover-wielding thugs. Harry found Ron and
in the Great Hall. Lunch was almost over, but his friends had
saved him a serving, which Ron pushed toward him as Harry sat down
"You're just out now?" Hermione said. "That took ages!"
"It was stupid," Harry said, still fuming. "They asked the same
over and over. The whole time they kept this yellow light in my
There was a guttural laugh behind Harry. He turned and saw Moody
behind him. "Saw you coming in. Congratulations, laddie!" he said
a wicked smile, patting Harry's shoulder. "That means they think
gone mad. The yellow beam lets 'em see your brains. See if you're
and cooking it up."
"But I told them the truth!" Harry protested. The ordeal had been
and embarrassing to boot- he had to fight hard not to blurt out
he had done with Ginny that morning.
"Of course you did," Moody said, whispering now. Some of the
were leaning in, less than subtly, to try to hear the conversation.
know the reputation you've got with the Ministry now. Almost as bad
mine. Claiming you're chasing You-Know-Who around graveyards, trying
get people riled up."
Hermione looked shocked at Moody's words, but Harry smiled. After
grilling he took from the committee, it was good to hear at least
person out there who took him seriously.
"Did they call you?" Harry asked Moody.
Moody nodded. "For this afternoon. Expect I'll be shown the door
Moody said, his expression sardonic. He moved on, ambling slowly
toward his place at the Slytherin table.
"Harry! Come over here!" Fred called out across the common room.
lifted his head from the Transfiguration text he was alternately
and pretending to read. In recent days, he had taken to studying on
own, while Ron and Hermione worked together in the library. It was a
substitute for dating, perhaps, but it was the best they could do in
circumstances, and Harry respected that. As a matter of fact, it was
with him, because much as he wished them well, he still found it all
Fred and George were crouched over a table in a corner, examining
closely. Harry walked over and saw that there was a sheet of
with a quill lying on it.
"You show him," George said excitedly.
"Look at this," Fred said. "We've just worked out something
wicked. Do you see this quill?" Harry nodded. "Do you know whose it
"No, of course not-"
"Neither did we. We found it on the floor. But watch this," Fred
George muttered something very very quietly, and the quill lifted
to standing, point resting on the parchment. Suddenly it lifted
and made a period.
Harry smirked. "I've seen Levitation before."
George held up a finger. The quill then moved slightly to the left,
began to form an elegant small "e". George smiled. The pen was
backwards. "n", "o" - "One?" Harry thought. Then an "i" and an "m"
"Know whose it is now?" Fred said, smiling. Harry nodded. The quill
the word with a neat flourish on the capital letter H. "Hermione".
quill rose up again, and the word "love" appeared. Harry blushed a
He realised this was not his business, but he could not just yet
himself to stop the quill. The quill then rested itself for a few
still half-suspended in the air and Harry suddenly imagined he saw
as in a lingering image behind the eyelids, settling her pen on the
while she paused to think. He had seen the gesture so many times.
quill moved up a line. Words continued to appear, right to left.
"Suppose she's written a love sonnet?' George grinned. "Bet we can
The words clanged very unpleasantly in Harry's mind. He shuddered
if with cold, the cold of a stormy day in Azkaban. He grasped the
and it struggled in his hand to reach the parchment and continue
"Stop it," Harry muttered. "Stop the spell."
Fred frowned. George muttered obediently.
"Sorry, guys," Harry said softly. "That's really great. But I think
know- try it with someone else, okay?"
Fred and George looked at each other, as Harry grabbed the
He walked over to the fire and threw it in. George stood up and went
to Harry. He put his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Sorry about that,
we didn't mean to upset you."
"No, that's okay. Just... reminded me of something..."
"Come here, okay? Let's have a hand of Exploding Snap," George
Harry followed him, grateful to put the awkward moment behind them.
had an expression on his face Harry found completely
for him. He realized with a start that it was shame.
Harry's mind was not on the game. He was brought to every few
as another card went "bang" in his fingers, and George and Fred
laughing again, although Harry could see a curious concerned glance
George every few moments. Something was nagging at Harry's mind.
"pow" from his hand seemed to suddenly awaken the stirring thought.
"What?" said Fred.
"I've just had an idea-" Harry rose from his seat and ran up the
to his dormitory, leaving George and Fred mystified. Harry was back
minute later, a scroll in his hand.
"That's our map!" George said. "Don't go flashing that about."
"No," Harry said. "Listen- what you did to that quill- could you do
to this map?"
"What do you mean?" Fred asked.
"Make it go backwards. Make the little marks go backwards, through
Harry grasped the scroll tightly in his hand, waving it at Fred.
George raised his eyebrows. "Well. I don't know about that- I mean,
markings are magic- not just quill marks. But, well, we could try."
looked over at Fred, who had a smile growing on his face. Harry
the face of someone who tasted a challenge.
"What do you want it to show? Something devilish, I hope," George
"Absolutely," Harry said. "I want to see the morning of September
It only took an hour. Harry had left Fred and George to their
but much sooner than expected they were beckoning him back to their
of the common room. Fred and George, through some unspoken
with the rest of Gryffindor house, seemed to have special
to the little turret-nook at the corner of the room, the most
spot in the Tower, at least the most private where students were
to go. Only a few of Gryffindor's recognized couples shared this
and when the high armchairs were turned toward the window with back
the common room, everyone understood that the occupants were not to
"Bingo, Harry," Fred grinned. "We've done it. It's tough going,
The map really is interested in the here and now, not in what's gone
George was waving his wand over the map, which was spread over the
table. Harry saw the labelled points moving across the great map. In
corner there were "Fred Weasley", "George Weasley" and "Harry
clumped together. "Ron Weasley" and "Hermione Granger" were situated
either side of a library table. ("Turning into a bit of a prig,
he?" George observed, obviously noticing the same thing as
There was a sweep of George's wand, and suddenly "Harry Potter"
away from the common room and up the dormitory stairs. The points
to move faster and faster. All the points converged suddenly on the
Houses. "That's this morning," Fred said. "Everyone back in
Now the points zoomed around at dizzying speed, every minute or so
back in the Houses for a few seconds' rest. The three of them
the days backwards. "October second... October first... September
"Slow down here, can you?" Harry said. They had reached the
George moved the wand and the points began to move in a more
"Care to tell us what we're looking for, Harry?" Fred asked.
"I want to see who was first out of the castle, in the
The map was wound back to before sunrise, then George circled his
slowly forward. A few house-elves appeared in the kitchen. Then
Potter" and "Ginny Weasley" stirred in Gryffindor Tower, converged
the common room and walked down to the Entrance Hall. Fred and
looked at each other, expressions edging toward a smirk. "Never you
Harry muttered pre-emptively.
The two points moved together out onto the grounds. Then Harry saw
he was looking for.
"Draco Malfoy" appeared in the Entrance Hall, then moved outside,
far behind "Harry" and "Ginny".
"Malfoy!" Harry exclaimed. "No surprise there."
"What on earth is going on, Harry?" Fred's voice was no longer
"Shh," Harry hissed.
"Harry" and "Ginny" stayed still in one very tight spot for an
long time. To Harry's horror, "Draco" was only a few feet away.
cloudy points appeared around "Harry" and "Ginny". The names were
and illegible. Harry shuddered. These were the names of people with
souls left. Then "Harry" and "Ginny" moved toward the cluster of
"Draco" was fading back toward the castle.
Suddenly "Ginny Weasley" vanished, and was replaced by a new name.
jumped in his seat. "Who is Argo Rathbone?" he said. "Where did
"I'll explain," Harry said shortly. "Hold on a minute." Who
come next, Harry thought. Who was meant to be there, other than
Seven points were approaching. Seven? That makes eight, but
are only seven bodies. Harry's eyes were wide. "Atholstan, he's
Slytherin, of course, but... Heskwith- he's in Ravenclaw! And
"Harry" and "Argo Rathbone" charged up toward the castle, and the
points scattered. "Draco Malfoy" was already back inside, moving
"Guys," Harry said finally. "Will you do me a favour? Don't tell
"How could we, Harry?" George said. "We don't even know what this
"Thanks, guys," Harry said, and ran out of the corner. “Oof!” Harry
in surprise as he nearly knocked a passing Neville Longbottom over
his haste. Neville raised his hands in apology.
On his way toward the stairs to the dormitory, he was stopped in
tracks by Ginny, who had been watching him from a study table, and
awkwardly as he had approached. Harry felt a flash of anger,
to himself that this was not a convenient time, and then he felt a
of shame at his anger.
"Hello, Harry, I wanted to-" she said, quite tentatively. Harry saw
she was wearing the hair-ribbon that she had lent to Hermione, which
that moment was changing from green to purple.
"Hi Gin!" Harry said, speaking quickly and excitedly to conceal his
rush of annoyance. "I think-" He moved closer to her and whispered.
think I might have found who the students were- the other
Ginny raised her eyebrows. She clearly understood what he was
Harry held out his map, then realised that that would entail many,
explanations. "Well... it's a long story. Let's find Ron and
I'll tell you all about it."
"They're in the library again," Ginny said, and they headed for the
Walking through the corridors alongside Ginny was awkward and
She was acting... normally, but Harry felt anything but normal
her. Ginny seemed to have wanted to speak to him before. Harry
what she was going to say. A part of him desperately wanted to ask
she was thinking. Not that he would dare, of course. Another part
want to know at all.
A voice came from behind which almost caused Harry to jump. It was
I can't believe this, Harry thought to himself. Ginny
walking beside him.
"Sorry... were you on your way somewhere?" Cho said, looking from
to Ginny and back.
"Just the library," Ginny said. "No matter."
"Well, I just wanted to say... we've got a few more people
in a game tomorrow morning at eleven. Are you up for it?"
Harry looked over at Ginny, then couldn't account for quite why he
"Er, yeah, I'll be there."
"Great," Cho said. "See you then."
"Yeah," Harry said, and watched her walk away.
He turned and saw Ginny looking directly at him. She had a strange
on her face. The ribbon in her hair was suddenly a bright red that
altogether wrong against her hair colour.
"Ahh!" she exclaimed suddenly in a harsh whisper, her face flushing
"Stop looking like that. I'm going to bloody leave you alone, all
"What?" Harry's mind flushed itself of all thought. He did not
Ginny's words at all.
"You don't have to run around looking all guilty-like. You look
pathetic than me, even. I'm not planning on bothering you anymore. I
frankly too tired to care."
"Ginny, no, that's not-"
"Don't humour me. We have more important things to worry about.
talk to me like a bloody person, please. Things will go much easier
Ginny began walking down the staircase at a trot. Harry followed,
His mind had gone from blank to full of raging, incomprehensible
as they made their way through the corridors. Ginny was going at a
that was making it difficult for him to keep up.
When they arrived at the library, they spotted Ron and Hermione
in a stack of books and scrolls at a study table. Crossing the room
haste, Harry saw Hermione suddenly shut her book when she spotted
and Ginny approaching.
"What's your big secret, then?" Ginny said testily to Ron as
shoved some parchment scrolls away hastily.
"Nothing, to you," Ron muttered.
Harry had to concentrate hard to explain his discovery to Ron and
while an acid ache of shame burned behind his eyes. He must have
in explaining himself, though, because they looked increasingly
at the prospect of catching Malfoy taking part in something that
get him expelled or even arrested. But their smiles notched down as
listed the names of the other students.
"Anne Bolger!" Hermione said, eyes wide. "I've helped her
"This is terrible!" Ron said. "Can there really be that many
involved? Some of them... well, some of them aren't even
"We've got to tell... who can we tell?" Hermione said.
"Don't think Percy and his friends will be too receptive," Ron said
a trace of disgust. "We'll probably wind up the ones in trouble, and
they'll blow the names so that everyone can disappear."
"Moody," Harry said. "Only he knows."
"Do you want to go to the Slytherin dormitories to call on him?"
said, smiling grimly.
"Tomorrow morning," Harry said. "We'll catch him at breakfast."
Harry had difficulty sleeping that night. His mind was turning over
many thoughts that he wished he could get his hands on a Pensieve.
in the castle eight Death Eaters were sleeping, eight people who
willing to give their bodies over to Dark wizards bent on the
of the school. What did they hope to gain? What sorts of rewards did
offer to these people? What would make them willing to work for
And were there others?
On top of that, a sick, embarrassed feeling had sat in his stomach
his talk with Ginny, or rather, Ginny's talk with him. He was sure
must have seen him watching Cho walk away. Harry could not remember
long he had watched Cho, but he could not forget the look on Ginny's
when he turned back to face her. He had never even imagined her
angry before. She had wanted to say something to him, and he had
right over her. What did he stop her from saying? She said she
bother him anymore. What did that mean? A regretful sting- did that
Harry jumped suddenly to alertness. The noise was coming from Ron's
a strangled breath. Ron began hyperventilating. Was he having a
Harry sat up and looked over toward his bed, but saw nothing in the
He grabbed his wand from under his covers, and whispered, "Lumos".
eyes had sprung wide open, but Harry could not say for sure if he
actually awake. Harry stepped out of his bed. In the faint light he
that Neville and Seamus were awake, blinking.
"What's wrong with him?" Seamus said.
Harry looked down at Ron, who suddenly sat up, his eyes wide with
"Harry! Harry! I'm dying-" Ron grasped Harry's wrist. "Hermione's
"No, Ron, relax-"
"Harry, go to Hermione's room!" Ron said, in panicked anger. "She's
Harry, confused, stood still.
"NOW!" Ron said, in full voice, but his eyes shut themselves tight.
ran to the door, and down the stairs. He did not understand, and
what Hermione would think about Harry knocking on her door in the
of the night. He ran across the common room, and down the corridor
Hermione's room. He stopped and knocked lightly on her door. There
a cold, breathless shriek from inside that caused Harry to jump.
"It's Harry!" Harry said, as quietly as possible, although the yell
have woken Lupin, across the corridor, if not the whole house.
"Harry!" Hermione's voice was breathless like Ron's. Harry opened
door. Hermione was sitting up in her bed, shivering, the covers
tightly around her as she hugged her knees. "Oh god oh god I'm
she whispered. Her eyes were wide and hollow.
Lupin came into the room behind Harry, his own wand lit. "What's
Hermione?" he said. She did not answer. Lupin looked over at Harry.
like this too," Harry whispered to him. "He told me to come down
Hermione is by herself..."
Lupin went back to his room, leaving Harry alone with Hermione for
moment. He didn't know what to do. Hermione seemed at best only
that he was in the room. He walked over, sat on the bed, and
put a hand on her shoulder. This must have been the right thing to
because she then curled up like a baby and pressed herself into his
"I'm cold," she said to nobody.
Lupin came back into the room, holding a package which Harry
as his stock of medicinal chocolate, which he himself had tasted
times in his learning to deal with Dementors. He broke off a
chunk and handed it to Harry. "Make sure she eats this as soon as
has her breath," Lupin said. "Bring her out to the common room when
can walk. I'm going to see Ron right away."
Lupin left Harry holding Hermione, whose breathing slowly relaxed.
started to uncurl, and Harry wondered if he could edge away from her
Something told him not to. Harry handed her the chocolate.
he explained. "Lupin said to eat it." Hermione nodded. She sat up,
Harry's relief, her hair in a disordered mop. She still shivered
as she ate the chocolate. "Lupin's gone to see Ron?" Hermione
Harry nodded. "What's happening, Hermione?"
"Ron and I, last night, we both had nightmares. About what happened
Azkaban. He told me just this morning. But this was worse, by far,"
explained, her voice still shaking. "This wasn't even a dream. I
I was sure I was dying."
"Is this what you were- in the library, you covered up the books
"Yes. Sorry. We were going to tell you- it just felt like... our
"It's okay. Can you walk?" Harry asked. "Lupin wants me to take you
the common room."
Hermione nodded. She stood uneasily and pulled a dressing-gown from
the end of her bed. Harry followed her, close behind as she teetered
Ron was there in a huge armchair, wrapped in a blanket. Lupin sat
a footstool, watching him carefully. Hermione sat down, squeezing
into the same chair next to Ron. "Hi," she said.
"Hi," Ron said quietly.
"Can either of you tell me what's happened?" Lupin asked with
watching Ron's face as he spoke.
"This is because of Azkaban, isn't it?" Harry said. "What
was trying to warn you about."
Ron shrugged. "We have no idea. Probably."
"Dumbledore had no idea, either," Lupin said. "He didn't know what
expect. He just knew something had to happen. You don’t go through a
like that unscathed."
"You knew about Azkaban?" Harry said, startled.
Lupin nodded. "Dumbledore told me last week, when he found out the
was coming. Told me to keep an eye on you two," he added, looking to
All four started when the portrait hole swung open behind them. It
Mundungus Fletcher, the monitor for Hufflepuff house. His eyes were
and frightened. "Oh... Lupin, you're awake. Can you come-"
"Hands are full, Mundungus. What's up?" Lupin said. Fletcher's eyes
to the students. "Go ahead," Lupin prompted.
"A student's been attacked, in her bed, just a few minutes ago,"
explained. "She's within an inch of her life."
"Who!" the four said simultaneously.
"Anne Bolger," Fletcher said.
Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at each other. Somehow they all
they should say nothing just yet. "Go ahead, sir," Harry said. "I'll
Lupin stood up and followed Fletcher out of the room.
Only a few minutes later, Lupin was back, looking shaken. “Anne
is a mess,” he said. “Somebody used a curse that, well, simply put,
scrambles your insides. They’re summoning magical surgeons to
It will be a close-run thing. Hufflepuff tower is in a panic. The
Mark was hanging in Anne’s dormitory.”
Harry looked at Ron, expecting an explanation. Five years in, he
encountered bits of knowledge wizards took for granted that meant
to him. However, this time, Ron looked just as puzzled.
“What’s that?” Hermione asked finally.
“Right, you wouldn’t necessarily know about that,” Lupin nodded.
Phoenix Mark is an image of a flaming feather that hangs in the air.
an answer to You-Know-Who’s Dark Mark. There was- or is, I suppose-
secret organisation called the Order of the Phoenix. So secret that
this day not one single member has been identified. They believed
the best way to root out the Death Eaters was summary murder,” Lupin
disgust evident in his voice. “You-Know-Who promises his followers
he can abolish death. What is the Order’s answer? Instant death for
who considers joining his cause. That would make you think twice,
it? Except who knows if their victims are guilty. They didn’t go in
trials and other niceties. Better too many than too few. The idea of
Bolger being a Death Eater seems absurd.”
Harry looked over at Ron and Hermione. Hermione nodded slightly.
“Maybe not so absurd,” Harry muttered. Harry explained what the map
shown him earlier that evening, while Lupin’s eyes grew wider.
“Why didn’t you tell me right away!” Lupin said sharply.
“We didn’t know you knew about Azkaban,” Harry protested. “We were
to find Moody in the morning.”
Lupin nodded. “Yes, I’m sorry. You were quite right in the
of course. There is another side to this… I don’t know if you
Hermione, Ron, your… nightmare, it began exactly when Anne was
“They…” Hermione began, then stopped.
“Why?” Ron asked.
“I don’t know. I- I have guesses,” Lupin said nervously, noticing
looking down darkly. “I think it is a very good thing, for you both,
Anne was not killed. I wish that I could consult with Dumbledore… in
“Marzipan,” Harry muttered.
Lupin smiled. “Exactly so. I see you enjoyed the strawberries too.
will arrange something in the morning. In the meantime, you should
return to bed. I am expected to do some night-watchman duty tonight.
Hermione, finish your chocolate. In the morning, I want you to go to
Pomfrey and get yourselves enough to eat two ounces every hour,
fail.” Lupin stood to go. Hermione muttered “Um…” but then closed
Ron seemed to read her mind. He looked over at Lupin, who seemed to
“Right,” Lupin said. “Go up to Ginny’s dormitory, Hermione. I would
feel better if you weren’t by yourself.” Hermione smiled slightly,
Ron nodded at Lupin gratefully, squeezing Hermione’s hand. Harry
the gesture out of the corner of his eye, and felt a stab of longing
see Ginny himself. Lupin left them in the dark common room.
In the night, the seven other students, besides Anne Bolger, that
had named to Lupin were rounded up and brought to the staff room.
were no further incidents, and when Harry arrived in the Great Hall
breakfast, Ekers from the committee made a perfunctory announcement
the magical surgeons had saved Anne Bolger, but that her
would be long. Harry could tell the Monitors and some of the
had had long nights. The Monitors were strolling exhaustedly up and
the aisles as the students ate and speculated. There was no keeping
incident secret. Every Hufflepuff had been present.
The Hufflepuff table was in shock. A third-year girl, a close
and dormitory-mate of Anne Bolger's, was in tears, surrounded by a
of girls who seemed to be consoling her while at the same time
to get details of the story. The girl looked like she was hardly
to speak for the shock- her best friend was not only badly hurt but
unveiled as a possible dangerous traitor. Harry wanted to wish away
the curious students surrounding her- he had some idea of how
this kind of attention was.
Harry sat with Ron, Hermione and Ginny, all of whom were quiet and
"Terrible screams," Harry could hear bubbling over from the
at the neighbouring table. "A great, flaming feather…"
As he left the table and made for the exit with his friends, Harry
a hand grab his arm. He turned to see Draco Malfoy staring at him,
usual hostility on his face mixed with apprehension. Harry noticed
Crabbe and Goyle were not with him.
"Potter," Malfoy whispered viciously. Hermione, Ron and Ginny all
their heads at once at the sound of his voice.
Malfoy saw this and addressed them. "I’ve got business with Potter.
Ron slowly reached for his wand. "You can tell it to all of us,
Draco Malfoy tried to look defiant, but Harry could see that
made him too frightened to argue.
"Keep it in your trousers, Weasley," Malfoy spat. "Potter, tell
friends they’ve got it all wrong."
Harry looked over at Ron, Ginny and Hermione, confused. "My
What are you talking about?"
"Don’t play thick. The ones who set off that Mark in my dormitory.
didn’t have anything to do with it. They’ve got it wrong."
Harry gaped at him. Malfoy is terrified of us, he thought.
was a delicious realization, and he could not bring himself to own
and ruin it so soon.
"I saw what I saw, Malfoy. You were there," Harry said coldly.
Malfoy’s face was a picture of impotent rage. "You’re fools and
Potter!" Malfoy hissed. He began to walk away, raising his voice so
the whole Hall could hear. "You’re a murderer, Potter. I’m going to
sure everyone knows it!" Professor Figg angrily beckoned Malfoy back
his table, where the six other suspects that Harry had named shared
"Sure," Ron muttered. "Takes one to know one."
"Hold up, Harry," came another voice from the aisle leading to the
Harry turned. It was Lupin.
"I'll find you later," Harry whispered to his friends. Ron, Ginny
Hermione went out the doorway, while Lupin caught up to Harry.
Lupin dropped his voice. "Shall we try to see Dumbledore?"
Harry nodded. "All right," Lupin said. "We might want to… make use
something of yours. The Committee has its office right by the
to Dumbledore’s quarters. We won’t be able to get by unnoticed."
"I’ll get the cloak," Harry said.
The invisibility cloak could not possibly have fit Harry, Ron and
all together any more. Harry had not worn it since he was somewhat
and it took very careful and deliberate movement to conceal himself
Lupin. "This is so queer," Lupin whispered. “Last time I did this I
The hall was deserted, but there seemed to be quite a commotion
from the chamber where the committee had set up shop. Harry and
stopped by the entrance, which stood part-way open. A drawling,
voice emerged from the chamber.
"-unable to ensure the safety of students from these terrorists, I
see no need to continue supporting-"
Lucius Malfoy, Harry realised.
The next voice was the oldest of the committee wizards, Ekers. "Mr
there is no reason to believe that the Order had anything to do with
if they even exist. Anybody can cast a Mark."
"I intend to remove my son from the school immediately, and
my family’s endowment. A girl is nearly killed, and you try to tell
this is somebody’s joke," Malfoy hissed.
"Of course we can’t stop you, if that is your decision, Mr Malfoy."
voice was Percy’s, strained and exasperated.
"Yes we bloody can," Ekers croaked testily.
Lupin whispered close to Harry’s ear. "We won’t get a better chance
They moved in close to the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to
quarters. "Marzipan," Lupin whispered. The door moved aside
The spiral stairway was immobile this time. Harry gathered up the
and they stepped gingerly up the stairs.
Dumbledore opened the door of his office. "Visitors!" he said,
warmly. "How marvellous! Please come in. Am I to assume our friends
the committee are not aware of your presence?"
"Quite right," Lupin said, taking a seat in front of Dumbledore's
desk. Harry remained standing just inside the doorway.
"Do come sit, Harry," Dumbledore said, smiling. "There is no need
stand on ceremony. I am not your Headmaster at the moment."
Harry moved forward. "Yes, you are, sir." Harry sat.
Dumbledore smiled. "Well, well, that's most gracious. Glad as I am
see you both, I expect it's too much to hope that you bring happy
"I'm afraid so," Lupin said. Lupin gave an account of the attack on
Bolger, and the appearance of the Phoenix Mark. Dumbledore's face
darker. Harry filled in the story with his discoveries from the map
Draco Malfoy's denial of his involvement with the conspiracy.
Dumbledore nodded. "I know the Malfoys of old. Draco may have
about the plot somehow from his father, but Lucius is too shrewd and
to have included Draco. Draco is... not a person given to
I expect he tried to beat the others to the rendezvous in order to
Harry nodded. "Then the only person who believed Malfoy was part of
plot was me... and yet, the Mark appeared in his room!"
Lupin and Dumbledore looked at each other. "Somebody got the
from you, then, Harry," Lupin said, a slightly cross expression on
face. "Who’ve you told?"
"Only Ginny. And Ron, and, well, Hermione of course... and Fred and
were there when I found..." Harry trailed off.
"So, nobody really, then," Lupin said, with slight testiness.
"None of them would tell!" Harry said.
"We will have to look at that more closely," Lupin said. "There is
else, Professor. It's about Hermione and Ron."
Lupin proceeded to explain Ron and Hermione's strange nightmare,
its coincidence with the attack on Anne Bolger. Dumbledore's face
increasingly pensive as Lupin spoke. When Lupin concluded,
stood up without a word, and began examining a shelf containing a
of very ancient-looking manuscript scrolls.
"Hmm," Dumbledore muttered, pulling down a scroll and examining its
"Yes," he concluded finally. "The last account of something like
is from an English wizard travelling in Serbia in 1293. It is not
if my guess is correct."
"What isn't good?" Harry asked. Anything that made Dumbledore look
grave must be terrible indeed.
"Do you know about Deathlessness, Remus?" Dumbledore asked.
Lupin opened his eyes wide. "Only as a legend."
Dumbledore nodded. "So did I, until now. Do you care to explain
Lupin turned to Harry. "Well, Deathlessness is a state... of not
dead, really. Although not alive either. A person becomes a sort of
corpse, brooding on suffering and pain. Some far-fetched theories
it that Dementors are Deathless sunk to their lowest state."
Harry sat bolt upright. "Ron and Hermione are turning into
"No," Dumbledore said. "They are still very much themselves. But if
suffers a magical death anywhere near them, they may slip into a
state. We must prevent that at all costs."
"Well, they can be cured, can't they?" Harry said, an edge of
in his voice.
"The condition is generally believed to be mythical," Dumbledore
"Nobody has a cure that I know of."
"Well if *you* don't know--" Harry said, then fell silent.
After a silence, Lupin spoke. "I don't like to say it, but the odds
a magical death happening at Hogwarts these days are not
Dumbledore scratched his beard. "Yes. It is terrible to
but for all its defenses we can no longer assume Hogwarts is a safe
"Well... all I can think of as a preventative," Lupin said, "is an
comatose state. So that their minds cannot be affected. Until they
be reasonably safe... or until a cure is found," he added, looking
at Harry. Harry read the lack of hope in Lupin's eyes.
"Put them to sleep! That could be years!" Harry said.
"It could be," Dumbledore agreed. "Of course it will have to be
own choice. But I see more hope in that than in simply, well,
our fingers and hoping for the best."
"Harry and I will speak with them," Lupin said. "Madam Pomfrey will
the potion if we need it."
There was no Quidditch match that morning. Unsurprisingly in the
of the night's events, the students were confined to the castle for
day. While most of the Hufflepuffs retreated to their dormitories
shaken and exhausted, many other students who had no personal
to the previous night's horror chafed at the restrictions imposed on
Saturday activities. The corridors were full of restless students
what they could of their free day. Harry, Ron and Hermione had some
making their way to the hospital wing, as students rushed around,
around corners, tossing Quaffles up stairways, and evading Filch,
was in an apoplexy. Ginny was there too. It seemed appropriate to
that she should hear this information as well.
"What's this about, Harry?" Hermione said. "Last night?"
Harry nodded. He realised he must have appeared oddly silent, not
said a word since calling Ron and Hermione away from their chess
to lead them to the hospital wing. He had a sick, sad feeling in his
and could not bring himself to reveal any details of his
with Dumbledore. As he walked first toward Gryffindor Tower and now
out toward the hospital wing, the implications were sinking in... he
be losing his friends. Only minutes from now, they could be
who could guess for how long... the horror he had been acquainted
a couple of weeks before was returning...
"Lupin wants to tell you something... he has some ideas..." Harry
falteringly, feeling cowardly. He caught Hermione looking at Ron
Lupin seemed surprised to see Ginny enter along with the others,
he raised no objections. "Good, then," he said, clutching and
his hands. "Why don't we all take a seat then." Madam Pomfrey was
about at the back of the ward. Harry suspected she had already been
and might even now be preparing the potion. "What I have to say is
I'm going to be as direct as I can."
Harry did not interrupt as Lupin told Ron and Hermione about their
to Dumbledore that morning. At first they appeared merely confused,
as the implications of Lupin's words sank in, their faces became
"This is happening to us now?" Ron said. "We're... one of these
"No," Lupin explained. "You're not. But if you... feel another
death, you may become it. You will have experienced the death
dying. You came very close last night."
Hermione grimaced. "What can we do?"
Lupin inhaled deeply. "Nothing. We don't have a cure. We can only
you from undergoing that experience. Right now we can't say for
that nobody will be killed at Hogwarts. First the Death Eaters, now
Order of the Phoenix, have attacked the school. Yet I can't name
in the world that would be safer. All we can think of... is to turn
minds off. So that if it does happen... you won't be affected. We-
Pomfrey can induce a coma. We would revive you periodically, of
when we felt it was safe-"
"And that would be when, exactly?" Ron said, his composure starting
crack. "When You-Know-Who's defeated?"
"Or when we've found a remedy," Lupin said. "Which we will look
But the risk of losing you both-"
"Are you giving us a choice?" Ron said, his voice edged with
"Ron," Hermione whispered.
"Of course you have a choice," Lupin said. "Of course. But it comes
a strong recommendation. We love you. We want you to live."
Harry and Ginny both looked up at these words, and nodded their
There was a silence.
Hermione, her face flushed red, stood up and walked over to Lupin,
cupped her hand over her mouth. Lupin leaned over to allow her to
in his ear.
Ron smiled grimly. "I know what she said, sir. I was going to say
Harry saw Hermione give Ron a look which Ron could not hold. Ron
away from her, blushing. "Anyway," he mumbled. Harry knew that they
both thinking what he would have said in the same position- she
only go along if he did.
"I suppose that's a yes, then," Hermione said tiredly.
"It could be a week," Harry said.
"Or ten years," Hermione said.
"Or never," Ron said. "If You-Know-Who wins."
"Then we'll be luckier than anybody," Hermione said.
"He won't," Harry said icily. He surprised himself. He must have
Ginny, too. She looked at him with an expression much like fear.
Hermione's hands were clenched. "Well... honestly, this is... can
give us an hour or so? I'd like to... I don't know, write some
I suppose." She almost seemed to laugh at this.
Ron stood up and started to pace. "Don't you all forget about us
leave us here, will you?"
Harry and Ginny both shook their heads dumbly. The suggestion was
absurd to merit an answer.
Lupin, Harry and Ginny had left Ron and Hermione for an hour. It
taken an alarmingly large part of the hour for Harry and Ginny to
the story to an increasingly horrified Fred and George.
"Bloody hell," Fred had said. "Why were we never told?"
The looks of genuine hurt on the twins' faces as Ginny told them
story broke Harry's heart.
"We couldn't tell anyone," Ginny said. "Sorry, really. You'll come,
"Don't be barmy," Fred said. That settled that.
"Does Percy know?" George said.
Harry looked at Ginny. With shame, Harry realised it had not even
to him to advise Percy. Ginny expressed no such surprise as she
her head. Clearly it had been on her mind.
"I haven't yet," she said, with a grimace. "I don't know how to
him. I don't know how he'll react, and..." Here Ginny paused. "I
even know if we can trust him."
"You've got to, Gin," George said with finality. "There's no way
it. He's family. And anyway, he's as much as running the school now.
d'you think he'll take it if he finds all this happened under his
"We'll go with you," Fred offered.
Harry watched Ginny, who was deep in thought. Everyone somehow
to acknowledge that she was in charge in this situation, and Harry
not help watching her thoughtful face with a swelling admiration. In
last couple of weeks, she had been called upon to act with a very
head several times. This seriousness, which Harry had not really
before, became her.
"No," Ginny declared finally. "No, it'll be worse if he thinks
all going in ganging up on him. I'll tell him myself."
Ginny stood up. Harry, without thinking, stood up as well. "I'll go
Ginny said, noticing this. "I'm family. They'd boot you right out,
sorry to say," she said, smiling. She walked off toward the portrait
and Harry watched her go. He turned back to see Fred and George
him rather than their sister, a wry amusement on their faces.
"She's all right, you know," George said. "We can vouch for
Harry blushed. "Yeah, I suppose," he muttered, unable to hold the
Ginny's sudden outburst startled Harry. He had not seen her coming,
he waited in a discreet corner a few yards from the archway leading
the wing containing the staff quarters.
"Absolute bloody self-important smug little cold-hearted prat,"
elaborated as Harry caught up with her. She was proceeding down the
at a storming pace.
"He's not coming, then?" Harry said, already panting for the effort
"Oh, he's coming," Ginny said. She adopted a mocking supercilious
"’Absolutely shocking that you should endeavour to conceal this from
Committee. Demand that you cease and desist from any action ‘til
there. Lupin ought to be ashamed,’" Ginny spat sarcastically. "That
of rubbish. We'll have to get there fast."
Harry and Ginny ran up staircases and down corridors until they
finally to the hospital wing. Fred and George were there already
they arrived, waiting outside the door of the ward.
"Don't know if we want to go in just yet," Fred hissed, as Harry
Ginny came to a halt.
Ginny spoke at full volume. "But we can't wait--"
Ginny broke off. Harry heard the sound of raised voices inside the
His heart sank with foreboding.
"You see what I mean," Fred said with a hopeless shrug.
At that moment, Lupin arrived, and looked at the gathered group,
eyes darting puzzledly from one face to the other. Harry saw
in Lupin's eyes when the voices from inside erupted once more.
Ginny wasn't having any of it. She stepped forward and pushed the
door aside. Ron and Hermione were there, a distressing tableau.
was sitting on the edge of one of the beds, her eyes puffy. Ron was
with his arms crossed, facing away from her.
"Oh, why do you have to spoil everything!" Hermione cried out, near
"What is this all about?" Ginny said indignantly as Harry followed
in. Ron was standing, looking furious.
"She wrote to Krum!" Ron said. "What's that for, eh?"
"I told you, he's a *friend*," Hermione said. "He'll wonder about
if I just vanish off the face of the earth!"
"I didn't even know you were still writing to him!"
"What a time to be jealous!" Hermione said. "I don't know why I...
been so good to me since- why now, of all times, do you have to be
"Cruel, am I?" Ron snapped. "At least I only have one
Ron said icily.
"Do you now!" Hermione said with a humourless laugh.
Ron plopped himself in a chair, facing away from Hermione. The two
them fell into sulky silence.
Ginny looked at Harry and bugged her eyes, shaking her head with
"Excuse me, so sorry, but we haven't got loads of time," Ginny
an exasperated sting in her voice. She turned toward Lupin. "Percy's
Lupin raised his eyebrows. "We do not appear to have the luxury of
Hermione shuddered. "Suits me fine. Knock me out now."
"Yeah, no problem," Ron spat.
Lupin looked pained. Harry looked pleadingly from one of his best
to the other.
"Can't you two... settle this... for now?" Harry said, faltering
"Do you really believe I would do that to you?" Hermione said
to the air in front of her.
Ron heaved a heavy sigh. "I don't know."
The other occupants of the room shuffled awkwardly as the air
"This is... regrettable," Lupin muttered finally.
At that moment, the door burst aside once again. Percy came in, and
in his tracks as seven pairs of eyes turned on him at once. He
at Lupin, then at Hermione, then at Ron.
Percy appeared to lose his nerve, and cleared his throat.
"Erm..." Percy began weakly. "Officially, as a member of the
Committee, I must, erm, insist that you await our approval before
any, erm, action of this sort..."
Percy then did something that nobody in the room expected. He
over to Hermione, and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, hugging
tightly. It was as if he had squeezed a sob out of her, and she
weeping without restraint. Percy released her, then walked over and
the same to Ron. Ron squeezed his eyes tight and looked as though he
explode as his brother embraced him.
Percy released Ron, then walked swiftly past the others on his way
of the ward, avoiding all of their eyes and pulling the door shut
him. The silence that followed his exit was thick, except for
heavy inhaling of breath.
Hermione spoke finally, facing Ron this time. "I might be eighty
old next time you see me," she said. "Suppose you could not be angry
me by then?" she concluded, more sad than bitter.
Ron's arms dropped. He looked over at Hermione. "Forget it," he
weakly. "Forget about it."
Harry watched them move together and embrace, more politely than
although he realised it must be hard to say goodbye with five people
Lupin busied himself with a potion that was steaming quietly on a
table. "You won't be eighty," Lupin said with a reassuring smile.
soon as we think you'll be safe, we'll bring you round. Even if just
It did not seem necessary to say effusive farewells. Fred, George,
and Ginny simply pulled up chairs between the beds where Ron and
sat waiting. "You'll take notes, won't you?" Hermione instructed
her voice steadying. "We don't want to wind up hopelessly behind on
O.W.L.s. What a fiasco this is, it couldn't have been
"Yeah," Ron said with a snort and a grin. "Would have been much
convenient on summer hols."
Even Hermione had to smile.
After returning from the hospital wing, and a stop at the Owlery to
away the notes Hermione and Ron had dashed off to their families and
Harry had returned to the common room with Fred, George and Ginny,
what felt disturbingly like a funeral procession. Silence in a group
three Weasleys was a rare and grim occurrence. Though some kind of
had returned before Lupin administered the potion, it still had been
rude shock to see Ron's, then Hermione's, eyes roll up as they
back on their hospital beds. They're not gone, Harry kept
himself. They're not gone. But friends of Harry Potter were
to seem very thin on the ground.
Harry went to the quiet end of the common room, away from the
and toward the turret-nook, which was unoccupied. Ginny followed
for which he was unaccountably grateful. He realised that he had
hoping she would. Fred and George, on the other hand, dissolved into
knot of students gathered around the fireplace chattering, to
behaving as normal until the manner of announcing Ron and
absence could be decided upon.
Harry and Ginny took seats in the turret-nook, an event that in
Tower would be an occasion for rumours to erupt, but at that moment
did not care. He just wanted something like privacy and quiet.
Harry had so many questions weighing on his mind. Everything seemed
A Gryffindor he may have been, but he felt anything but brave.
was swirling away from him and there was nothing he could do. Ginny
sitting by him, silent. Harry looked over at her where she sat,
at her hands in her lap, thoughtful. After about two minutes, having
up hope that Ginny would speak first, Harry asked one of the
"What were you going to tell me yesterday?"
Ginny looked up, her thin orange eyebrows raised in a look of
Harry went on.
"You were stopping me to tell me something, but I interrupted
Ginny smiled a lopsided, uncertain smile before she spoke.
"The same thing I said to you later, really, only in a nicer way,"
said. "I wanted you to stop avoiding me. I wanted to tell you I...
holding you to anything."
Harry felt his face warming. "Oh. Well, that wasn't-"
"It's all right," Ginny said. "I'm not angry with you or anything."
voice dropped to a mumble. "It was my stupid mistake, really."
"It wasn't... that stupid," Harry muttered under his breath.
"I mean," Ginny went on, venturing uncertainly, "I know I'm no
Involuntarily, Harry chuckled. "Cho! It's not like there's any
there..." Immediately he felt his face go another twelve degrees
Ginny had winced visibly. Harry wished he knew how to Disapparate on
spot. Instead, his stupid flapping mouth moved some more.
"No, I mean, it's not a question of being a match, that is, you're
I just argh! No! It's just that it's weird and all what with
"Being Ron's sister?" Ginny suggested.
Harry stopped speaking.
"Or, being like family? Or, being so nice but really you love me as
friend?" Ginny started to breathe rather heavily.
Harry continued to not speak. He was not sure it was going any
than the speaking.
Ginny was shaking now. "I really really really really really really
wish I had never met you," she said, her voice quiet, hoarse and
Harry could not do anything but observe her, shivering like she had
been struck by a fever chill, her eyes narrow and angry. He pressed
uncomfortably into his seat, completely at a loss at how he should
with this very unfamiliar-looking girl.
After a moment, gathering herself, Ginny went on. "I used to admire
so much. Before you were at school, even. Mum's magazines were all
of rubbishy articles about you, and how wonderful and brave you
growing up out there with the Muggles, what a marvellous life you
I thought about you a lot. I worked out that you were only a few
older, that I might even meet you at school. Spent hours by myself
about nonsense like that. Completely cracked, I know. I- you don't
to hear this."
Ginny came to a full stop and inhaled sharply, but Harry was
watching Ginny talk like she never had before. It was like meeting a
new person. It took Harry a couple of seconds to catch on that she
"No!" he said, loudly enough to startle himself. "No, I mean, I
"Oh, it's sickening girl stuff," Ginny said, waving her hand
"It's nonsense. I used to imagine... being your girlfriend, not just
girl, not just one of a load of busy chattering Weasleys, not just
for six brothers."
Ginny smiled despite herself. "And you know, I thought I might
you and be Mrs the most bloody famous wizard in history. Well," she
her face now a deep red. "Not you, really. The bloke in the
It was all made-up stuff, I know."
Harry was amazed. It had never ceased to annoy him how much people
to know or imagine they knew about him, but the idea that little
across England had idolized him like a teen pop-star had never
to him... it was too absurd to contemplate!
"Don't laugh at me!" Ginny squealed angrily.
"No," Harry said, trying to get his breath. "No, Gin, I'm not... I
it's too much, just imagine, in my place, well I never had any idea!
was just... me!"
Ginny looked quite put out.
"Honestly, Ginny, I'm not laughing at you," Harry said, wiping his
"I just- just- well, I'm sorry I turned out to be such a
"That's just it," Ginny said, her voice soft. "You weren't.
I would have gotten over this... ridiculous thing... ages ago."
Harry's smile vanished under the very serious look Ginny gave him
speaking those words. She held his eyes, and he resolved for once
to look away. Instantly he discovered he did not want to
away. What had he been afraid of seeing? Anger? Accusation? There
nothing of the sort. Her brown eyes were deep, brave. He felt
becoming warm, but it was for once not from embarrassment. Many
passed. He and Ginny were together for that moment in a very calm,
place. He noticed something... he had never seen in anyone... the
of her mouth and the lines under her eyes... the crease in her
he saw exactly what Ginny would look like when she was old. It was
a matter of imagining the lines a little deeper, the cheeks a little
the worried furrow in her brow becoming permanent...
Her soft voice caused something to lift in his throat that seemed
compel him to speak. "You... are... not... just... any...
Harry said, finding each word as he spoke, and on the last word the
lifted. His mind was no longer still. It was no wonder he had been
her... she was... too enormous. He had to know something. He had to
out something about this impossible person whose entire life he felt
had just seen. How could he find it out? Ginny was looking at him,
face twisting oddly.
"Er," Harry said, reaching his hand out and slipping his fingers
her hair. "D'you suppose I could kiss you again?" His voice came out
deep and croaking.
"Oh!" Ginny's hand went up to her mouth. Her eyes glistened.
"For real. I mean it. I think I'll lose my nerve in a minute,"
said. His voice was shaking.
Ginny shook her head. "Don't play with my mind, Harry, you're just
"I'm serious... I've been ridiculous..." Harry whispered. "Ginny,
Ginny, I'm sorry..."
"Nonsense! Be quiet," Ginny whispered falteringly, eyes wide as
began to lean in toward her.
"You're so beauti- I mean it!" he added plaintively, as Ginny broke
gaze and sat up to look over the back of the chair.
"Yes, yes, all right!" Ginny hissed, flustered. "But I don't want
looking-" she said.
Harry's hand slid down her shoulder and arm and grasped her hand.
wanted desperately to pull her back down behind the shelter of the
"Neville!" Ginny called out suddenly.
"What's that?" Harry said testily. His mind was on fire.
"Neville was here, Harry!" Ginny said.
"Oh, well, is he gone now?" Harry said absently.
"Harry, sweet Harry," Ginny started over, smiling patiently,
Neville was standing right by here when you were talking to Fred and
He could have heard everything you said to them."
Harry's mind rewound itself.
Ginny went on. "I know it's stupid to imagine that Neville could
for the Order of the Phoenix, but maybe he told som-"
That did it.
Harry stood up.
He, and he alone, could guess all too well why Neville could work
the Order of the Phoenix.
"Right," he said.
Ginny followed Harry as he walked out of the turret-nook.
"I didn't know they'd kill, Harry," Neville said, pleading, as
cornered him in their dormitory room. "I've been sick all day. I had
Harry was struggling with a blank rage. "What did you think you
doing?!" he fairly shouted.
Neville winced. "Please. Please be quiet. I know... I have no
I... but please listen to me first-"
"How did you get involved with the Order of the Phoenix!" Harry
Neville's face went blank, baffled, for a moment. "Order-? I... I
even know they had a name. Years ago, I was at St Mungo's visiting
parents. Erm, my parents-"
"I know," Harry said, waving his hand dismissively. Harry startled
with the callousness of the gesture, and resolved to calm
"You- how? Well, anyway, a woman at the hospital stopped me and
she knew some people who would help catch them. The torturers. And
I like to help them. Well, I said yes. She told me a password, a
that would appear in messages to prove it was from them."
"And?" Harry urged.
"And, I didn't hear from them for ages. First time was just a week
so ago. They sent me an owl, with the password, telling me to watch
closely. And... that I'd be sorry if I gave them away."
Harry released Neville's shoulder, which he realised he had been
with painful force. He sat on the edge his bed.
"Right," Harry said tiredly. "So you told them the names I
to Fred and George."
"But I didn't know they were killers. They never said they'd do
They said they would 'catch' the Death Eaters."
"Have you done anything else for them?" Harry asked.
Neville shook his head, speaking quickly. "I- I don't think they're
I'm worried that they'll... expect more from me. I got a message
morning telling me to wait for instructions. Not to breathe a word.
Harry, you mustn't say anything to anyone. I need your help, Harry.
would do anything to get myself out of this. I'll help you catch
Please help me. But please don't tell anyone, or I'll be next."
Harry turned away from Neville, his mind full of noise. Suddenly,
a gesture that surprised even himself, Harry grabbed his wand from
pocket of his cloak, and viciously, with all his strength, he
it against the wall of their dormitory. It ricocheted off the wall
a SMACK, then off the ceiling, sending red and orange sparks
aimlessly around the room. The wand settled, unharmed, on Seamus'
Neville had his back plastered against the wall, looking at Harry,
Harry looked back at him. He felt loads better.
"Yes, all right, I'll help you."
THE END --- to be continued