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  The first thing that Percival did once the pair had appeared in their room, was to inform Harry of the conversation that he had missed while he had been talking to Sirius. Then he explained in minute why Dumbledore having his key was not an ideal situation. Harry confessed that Hagrid had taken it back from Griphook after taking him to Gringotts in first year and being thoroughly overwhelmed Harry hadn’t noticed. He had only held his key between second and third year, when the Goblin on the carts had given it to him, while Mrs Weasley was distracted by visiting her own vault. Then at the start of third year it had mysteriously gone missing from his money pouch, he had meant to write to the Goblins about it but had forgotten in amongst the excitement of the start of the year and the terror of hearing there was a wanted criminal chasing him. He hadn’t realised until fourth year when Mrs Weasley had collected his school things that she had held his key. Together they drafted a letter to Striknott and sent it through Harry’s post-box. Not ten minutes later the button was glowing, indicating a reply. Harry was relieved to see it was not a howler.

 

  Harry opened the box just a touch apprehensively and withdrew his Accountant’s missive. As expected he was thoroughly scolded for being so careless with something so valuable (and didn’t he realise that giving someone his key was tantamount to giving them his vault! Just how would he have felt if someone had removed all of the family heirlooms that were stored in there? Hmmm? The bank wouldn’t have been able to get them back if that was the case. Wasn’t he lucky that while not being the sharpest tool in the shed, Hagrid was honest to a fault) and warned that should such an event happen again his accounts would be frozen and only accessible if he was in the company of his guardian as he would have clearly demonstrated his lack of maturity. It then went on to assure him that they had checked the tally’s and since first year, the withdrawals matched the amounts he stated had been used, so despite having the key, Mrs Weasley had only used it for its intended purpose. Striknott promised that the key had been deactivated and so they could safely let Dumbledore have it as it would be of no use to him. A shiny new brass key also lay in the bottom of the box, it was attached to a silver chain, which Striknott said, came from the Potter vault. If he placed a single drop of blood on the clasp, and the key, then the key would return to him should it be lost or stolen, and he would be the only one able to remove the chain. 

 

  “That’s a relief,” Harry sighed, sliding the chain over his neck and falling back onto the bed. “I know we haven’t been getting along, but I didn’t think that she would steal from me.”

 

  Percival hummed noncommittally. It was funny after having been the head of Magical Security for so many years, he really wouldn’t have been surprised if she had been stealing from Harry. Over the years he had seen it all. He was slightly concerned that his old memories seemed to be fading somewhat. They’ll never disappear- the crotchety voice said. They are just becoming less important to you. Well that was reassuring at least.

  

  “Perce….” Harry called softly to get his attention. “Do you think you could….um…would you mind…”

 

  “Mind what Harry?” Percival looked at the younger boy who was fiddling with his chain.

 

  “Well is there a spell so that no one else can see it?” Harry finally asked.

 

  “There is. And I suppose you would like me to cast it on your chain?” he gave a long-suffering sigh.

 

  “Or could you…maybe ..teach me how to do it?”

 

  “Sure, let me do the chain to begin with then we’ll practice on a few things. Like that new wand holster we bought you.”

 

  Percival reached out a hand and pulled Harry to his feet. “Now the trick here is that a simple charm, similar to the disillusionment charm, is easily overcome with a finite. So, this is the one I want you to practice. Ab oculus abscondere.” He gently tapped his wand onto the key.

 

    Harry looked down at his chest, “I can still….” he reached up a hand and curled his fingers round the key.

 

  “Yeah, so can I, but I assure you no-one else can.”

 

  “Really?” Harry asked looking up at Percival, through his fringe, the amazement showing in his eyes. “I know I’ve been doing magic for a while, but every now and then it just………”

 

  Percival’s dark eyes softened, “Yeah, me too.” He took a half pace forwards and lifted a hand to push the hair out of Harry’s eyes. Harry tipped his head up to better look at the taller boy.

 

   Hurried footsteps coming up the stairs caused the pair stepped apart quickly as Ron burst into the room. 

 

  “Just caught her!” he said happily, puffing slightly from running up the stairs. “She says she’ll get the Cleansweep if she can.”

 

  “Cool,” Harry said, pushing away the odd tension that had been developing, to focus on his internal grin at knowing that Sirius would badger Mrs Weasley into letting him pay at least half as a thank you for her contribution to the household, over the last few weeks. “Well done, mate.” Harry slapped Ron’s back and pulling the taller boy down beside him as he sat on the bed.

 

  “I never thought it would be me,” Ron said meekly. “I…I thought it would be you…”

 

  Harry snorted, “The twins were right, I’ve caused too much trouble, besides can you see Snape allowing that? I believe all the Heads of House have input into the decision. To be honest I actually thought it might be Dean. He’s quiet but gets similar marks to us in everything accept defence.”

 

  “Don’t you think I deserve it?” Ron asked insecurely.

 

  “That’s not what I mean, Ron,” Harry said firmly.  “It’s just you’ve been in most of the scrapes with me. To be honest after our arrival in second year, I didn’t think either of us would get it. And of the others, Neville’s too shy, and Seamus blows shit up all the time.  Which don’t get me wrong is an impressive talent all of its own but is probably not what they are looking for in a Prefect. So, while I’m a little surprised, I do think you deserve it and I am happy for you.” It was that statement which finally allowed Ron to relax and enjoy the feeling of achievement.

 

 

 

  “Harry,” Percival said, looking over at the boy who was lying on the bed beside him lazily. 

 

  “Mmm.”

 

  “I never told you what I needed to tell you about Occlumency,” there was something in his tone that made Harry, open his eyes and roll onto his eyes to look at Percival.

 

  “No, we haven’t really had much down time.” Harry watched as Percival sat up.

 

  “It’s about the Horcrux. We’ve been practicing Occlumency, the whole point of which is to stop someone else from looking through your mind, the problem is…”

 

  “He’s already inside,” Harry finished. “When I was building my defences, I found something……It’s like a black oozy quick sand. I couldn’t figure out what it was, until I noticed the feeling it gave me. It felt just like that diary. I’ve tried to build a wall around it but I’m afraid he will just be able to push up from underneath, so I’ve tried to hide my memories elsewhere. I’ve fenced that area in so I should get a warning if he breaks through.”

 

  “Oh.”

 

  “You sound surprised,” Harry smiled.

 

  “It’s just that you haven’t been exposed to things like this before.”

 

  “Yeah, well, some crazy bloke just came along, and he’s been making me do horrible things like thinking.”

 

  “He sounds terrible,” Percival smirked.

 

  “Yeah, he is,” Harry nodded solemnly, before a gentle smile crept across his features. “I suppose we should pack. If we aren’t done by the time Mrs Weasley’s back, we’ll never hear the end of it."

 

 

 

  It was odd how widely their possessions seemed to have scattered themselves since they had arrived. It took them most of the afternoon to retrieve all their books and belongings from all over the house and stow them back inside their school trunks.  Harry chuckled when he noticed that Ron kept moving his prefects badge around, first placing it on his bedside table, then putting it into his jeans pocket, then taking it out and laying it on his folded robes, as though to see the effect of the red on the black. It was only when Fred and George dropped in and offered to attach it to his forehead with a Permanent Sticking charm that he wrapped it tenderly in his maroon socks and locked it in his trunk. 

 

   Seeing Ron’s single compartment trunk Percival took pity on the boy and demonstrated the enlarging spell and as with Harry’s trunk (this time using empty crates from the attic) created four removable compartments.  Ron’s eyes boggled at the amount of space, he now had. Unfortunately, Fred and George apparated into Ron’s room just as Harry and Ron were practicing the spell on the last two crates (no one had yet checked the desk drawers to see the results of the mis-cast spell) and wanted to learn it too. Later they pulled Percival aside and got him to show them a couple of concealing spells and warding runes as well, which they engraved onto two of the boxes that they added to their trunks. Slapping him on the back they thanked him and then asked him to ensure that Harry’s trunk had better protection on it than the usual automatic-locking charm. Percival glared at them as they disapparated. He had done that just yesterday, just because Harry was oblivious didn’t mean he was. Fifteen-year olds couldn’t have changed that much in the last seventy years, could they? He vividly remembered catching Dorinda McCarthey searching through his underwear after breaking into his trunk. That would not be happening to Harry!

 

 

 

 

  Mrs Weasley returned from Diagon Alley around six o’clock, laden with books and carrying a long package wrapped in brown paper that Ron took from her with a moan of longing. 

 

  He frowned as he held it. The Cleansweep, if that was what she had purchased, was thirty-seven inches long and the longest of the brooms currently on the market. He was sure that this package was shorter than that. Both Nimbus’s and the Firebolt were thirty-six inches but there was no way she would have been able to afford either. Maybe the Cleansweep had also been too much, his stomach dropped. How much was a Comet Two Ninety? It was thirty-five and a half inches and would probably have been cheaper. Still it was a reasonable broom, it could only reach sixty miles an hour, but it could turn on a sickle. Yes, that must be it, it would have been the cheapest option. Ron pushed away the slight sting of disappointment, after all it was still a new broom, and he didn’t want to use all the money his parents had saved on a broomstick, that would be selfish. And the comet would be just fine for a keeper.

  

  “Never mind unwrapping it now, people are arriving for dinner.  I want you all downstairs,” Mrs Weasley said, but the moment she had left the room Ron took a deep breath and started to rip aside the paper in a frenzy and before stopping abruptly. He tipped his head to the side in confusion.

 

  “It……it……”

 

  “I think he’s broken Fred,” said George, nudging his brother’s shoulder.

 

  “Easy to do,” replied Fred. “I’ll just fix him.” He reached out a hand and slapped Ron in the back of his head. Ron’s head tipped forward until his chin hit his chest.

 

  “Owwww! What was that for?” Ron whined, scrubbing a hand over the back of his head.

 

  “Going to show us your new broom?” George reached out to take the paper.

 

  “It’s a Nimbus 2001…” Ron said reverentially.

 

  The twins’ jaws hit the floor, “She’d never have been able to afford that!” Fred huffed.

 

  Harry looked up, wondering if he should say something before the twins’ jealousy turned to anger. “I think Sirius may have helped,” he said quietly.

 

  “But why would he help Ron!” George spat angrily.

 

  “A lot of reasons,” Harry spoke more firmly this time, bringing out the arguments he had used to persuade Sirius. “First he’s my best friend. Second, he came with me to protect the Philosophers stone and he sacrificed himself so that I could continue on. Then he came with me to the Chamber of Secrets to help rescue Ginny, and while we got separated he kept digging at the rocks until a space was cleared for us to get back through. Lastly,” Harry looked at them sternly, “it makes it fair.”

 

  “Oh,” said George deflating slightly.

 

  “Right you are,” said Fred.

 

  “Though other people should know that it wasn’t expected that they advise the Goblins about such things…….”

 

  “What are you talking about Harry?” Ron asked.

 

  “And Sirius might be interested in making a similarly valued contribution to the enterprise if it is required.”

 

  “Well, alright then,” a completely mollified George agreed happily. 

 

  “Harry! What are you talking about?” Ron whined. 

 

  “Boys! Get down here now!” came a scream from the bottom of the house.

 

  Harry grinned and bolted out the door.

 

  “Harry!”

 

 

 

  Downstairs in the basement Mrs Weasley had hung a scarlet banner over a heavily laden dinner table, which read:

 

Congratulations

Ron and Hermione

New Prefects

 

  She looked in a better mood than Harry had seen her all holiday.

 

  “I thought we’d have a little party, not a sit-down dinner,” she told the teenagers as they entered the room. “Your father and Bill are on their way, Ron. I’ve sent them both owls and they’re thrilled,” she added, beaming.  

 

  Fred rolled his eyes, while George who was hidden from his Mother’s view, pretended to vomit.

 

  Sirius, Lupin, Tonks and Kingsley Shacklebolt were already there, and Mad-Eye Moody stumped in shortly after Harry had got himself a butterbeer.

 

  “Oh Alastor, I’m glad you’re here,” said Mrs Weasley brightly as Mad-Eye shrugged off his travelling cloak. “I’ve been meaning to ask you for ages - could you have a look in the writing desk in the drawing room and tell us if there is anything inside it? I know the house got cleaned up, but I haven’t wanted to open it in case there was something still in there.”

 

  Sirius smirked as Moody’s electric blue eye swivelled upwards and stared fixedly through the ceiling of the kitchen. One of these days the woman would listen to him. He had checked the desk himself and found nothing more than on old missive from his Mother to her lover, and hadn’t that been an eye opener! He had of course then refilled the drawers with stationary.

 

  “Drawing room…” the auror growled, as the pupil contracted. “Desk in the corner? Yeah I see it…..three quills….14 sheets of parchment…..two ink pots… a wax seal with the Black shield on it…..another with the Potter shield…..four sticks of wax in midnight blue…”

 

  “And a fwooper in a pear tree…” the twins began to sing.

 

  “Shut up,” snapped their Mother.

 

  “and a deck of cards, with pictures of indecently dressed ladies on the front.” Moody finished, Mrs Weasley seemed slightly disappointed. “If there was a Boggart in there it might have moved somewhere else in the house. Do you want me to look for it? Tonks and I can investigate after dinner?”

 

  Mrs Weasley grimaced as she imagined Mad-Eye conducting a search through the house, which was already in a state due to the children’s school preparations, “No, no I’ll do it myself later,” she tried to arrange her features into a beaming smile. Harry thought she looked constipated. “You have a drink. We’re having a little celebration, actually…..” she gestured to the banner. “Fourth Prefect in the family,” she said fondly, ruffling Ron’s hair.

 

  “Prefect, eh?” growled Moody, his normal eye on Ron and his magical eye swivelling around to gaze into the side of his head. Harry had the very uncomfortable feeling it was looking at him and he moved away to where Sirius was standing near Lupin.

 

  “Well, congratulations,” Moody continued, still glaring at Ron with his normal eye. “Authority figures always attract trouble, but I suppose Dumbledore thinks you can withstand most major jinxes or he wouldn’t have appointed you….”

 

  Percival, who was standing near Harry, grunted at the Auror’s words and muttered “that’s one way of looking at it.”

 

  Ron looked rather startled at this view of the matter but was saved the trouble of responding by the arrival of his Father and eldest brother.  Mrs Weasley was in such a good mood she did not even complain that they had bought Mundungus Fletcher with them. Though Harry did see Sirius did pull his wand and cast a monitoring spell on the man, it would alarm should the thief attempt to steal anything.

 

  “Well I think a toast is in order,” said Mr Weasley, when everyone had a drink. He raised his goblet and opened his mouth to speak, “…”

 

  “Thank you, Arthur,” Sirius stepped forward and raised his glass. “Ron and Hermione, being a prefect is a great responsibility, that I am sure you will both live up to. You will need to be a friendly and accessible role model for the younger students. Guiding them through their formative years. Some,” he nodded at the twins, “will provide you with challenges, may you meet them with grace.  To Ron and Hermione, the new Gryffindor Prefects may Magic’s Blessings be on you. Oh, and if you want advice, that’s Remus’ job because neither your parents nor I were Prefects,” he finished cheekily, and downed his drink. Arthur just grinned while Molly scowled.

 

  Ron and Hermione beamed as everyone drank to them and then applauded.

 

  Sirius moved to place his glass down on the kitchen bench and Harry realised that for the first time he was standing alone with Professor Lupin.

 

  “Harry,” his old Professor started.

 

  “You were Prefect then,” Harry cut across him hurriedly. Percival leaned against the fireplace behind them, monitoring the situation.

  

“Yes….yes I was,” the werewolf acknowledged awkwardly.

 

  “I was never prefect myself,” said Tonks loudly approaching the group from the side. Harry had never been so grateful for an interruption in his life. Today the metamorph’s hair was tomato red and waist-length, she looked like she could have been Ginny’s older sister. “My Head of House said I lacked the necessary qualities,” she winked at Harry.

 

  “Like what?” said Ginny who had been listening in from where she was standing near the table, choosing a baked potato.

 

  “Like the ability to behave myself,” said Tonks.

 

  Ginny laughed; Hermione who was standing at the table next to the youngest Weasley, looked like she didn’t know whether to smile or not and compromised by taking a large gulp of butterbeer and choking on it.

 

  “What about Harry’s Mum?” Ginny asked Remus.

 

  “Yeah, Lily was,” he nodded.

 

  “She must have stuck to the rules and studied hard then? I bet she listened to the teachers,” Hermione asked, giving the werewolf a pointed look.

 

  “For the most part, though she wasn’t afraid to step outside the rules if she felt the situation warranted it,” Remus answered much to Hermione’s obvious disappointment. He then launched into a story about Lily, stopping a group of Slytherins from attacking a lone Hufflepuff third year in the library, by using Wingardium Leviosa to tie their shoe laces together. 

 

   Harry slipped away into the parlour at the end of the story.  It was funny, he had waited for years to be told more stories about his parents and the first one that Lupin spilt, was at the behest of Hermione and in front of a group of his friends. He felt a little silly, but he had wanted that moment to be one that was just for him. Quite frankly he was more than a little jealous and he knew it.

 

  Noise drifted up the stairs and in through the open door, Harry registered Ron talking about the flight statistics of his new broom, Bill and Mrs Weasley were arguing over Bill’s lack if haircut and Hermione was trying to get Lupin to talk to Harry about his study habits. Why couldn’t she just let things be? With a sigh he flopped into the arm chair and drew his feet up onto the seat, wrapping his arm around his knees. A minute later Fred and George tumbled into the room followed by Mundungus Fletcher.

 

  “It’s ok,” Fred said as he saw that the room was already occupied, “we can trust Harry he is our financial backer.

 

  “Look what Dung’s got us,” said George, holding out his hand to Harry. It was full of what looked like shrivelled black pods. A faint rattling noise was coming from them, even though they were completely stationary. “Venomous Tentacula seeds. We need them for the skiving snack boxes but they’re a Class C Non-Tradeable Substance, so we’ve been having trouble getting hold of them.”

 

  Harry wondered if Snape was planning on using Dung to sell of the Basilisk parts, assuming they were still usable. He hoped that the Potions Master had a more reliable contact.

 

  “Ten Galleons the lot, then, Dung,” said Fred.

 

  “Wiv all the trouble I went to get ‘em?” said Mundungus, his saggy, bloodshot eyes stretching even wider. “I’m sorry lads, but I’m not taking a Knut under twenty.”

 

  “Dung likes his little joke,” Fred said to Harry.

 

  “Yeah, his best one so far has been six sickles for a bag of Knarl quills,” said George.

 

  “Be careful,” Harry warned them quietly upon hearing a thump from down stairs.

 

  “What?” said Fred. “Mum’s busy cooing over Prefect Ron, we’re Ok.”

 

  “But Moody could have his eye on you right now,” Harry pointed down at the floor.

 

  Mundungus looked nervously over his shoulder at the open door. “Good point that,” he grunted. “All right lads, ten it is, if you’ll take ‘em quick.”

 

  “Cheers Harry,” said Fred delightedly, when Mundungus had emptied his pockets into the twins’ outstretched hands and scuttled off down the stairs in search of more food. “We’d better get these upstairs…”

 

  Harry watched them go, he felt slightly uneasy about helping them purchase such things, especially as he knew that Mrs Weasley would most certainly disapprove. However, he was sure that they wouldn’t do anything truly dangerous with them, and honestly with Riddle around, well they all needed a bit of a laugh. Besides Percival had pointed them in the direction of several creations that would be great for defence and they had to start somewhere. It was inevitable that Mrs Weasley would find out that Harry had given them their start-up money and when she did she would not be pleased. He shook his head to clear his thoughts, it didn’t really matter after all, the twins were adults and Mrs Weasley was not his Mother. 

 

  Leaning back in his chair Harry closed his eyes and spent a few moments trying to meditate, until he caught the sound of his own name.  Kingsley Shacklebolt’s deep voice, emerged from the stairwell rising above the rest of the chatter from the floor below asking why Harry hadn’t been made prefect and he snorted. It seemed like everyone else cared more about it then he did.

 

  “You all right there Potter?” grunted Moody, entering the room.

 

  “Yeah, fine,” well what else could Harry say. 

 

  Moody took a swig from his hip flask, his electric blue eye staring sideways at Harry.

 

  “I noticed you wandered off after Lupin’s story.” Harry hummed. “Sit up, I’ve got something that might interest you,” he said. 

 

  Harry twisted in the chair, put his feet on the floor and looked over.  From the inner pocket of his robes Moody pulled a very tattered old wizarding photograph.

 

  “Original Order of the Phoenix,” growled Moody. “Found it last night while I was looking for my spare invisibility cloak, seeing as some bugger seems to have lost my best one…..thought people might like to see it.”

 

  Harry took the photograph. A small crowd of people, some waving at him, others lifting their glasses, looked back at him. Harry stared hungrily. There in the front row were two people he wished more than anything he could see for real. The echo that was produced in the graveyard that few months ago was a cruel reflection of them and he tried not to dwell on it, apart from acknowledging that his parents loved him and had tried to protect him even in death.

 

  The Moody in the picture was unmistakeable, though his hair was slightly less grey and his nose still intact.  Sirius stood with his arm round an attractive brunette.

 

  “That was Marlene McKinnon, she was killed two weeks after this was taken, they got her whole family. Voldemort himself killed her,” Moody said when he noticed where Harry was looking.

 

  “Sirius…” Harry didn’t ask but Moody answered anyway.

 

  “Yeah, they were engaged. She’d been the only one to manage to get him to settle down. He received the alarm that her house had been attacked and went straight there without waiting for back up. Idiot boy. They reckon he saw her body and magic just exploded out of him. Spent four weeks in Mungos.  After that he became more ruthless, he didn’t always abide by Dumbledore’s ridiculous order not to harm the Death Eaters.”

 

  “But what if they’re firing curses that would kill you, like a blasting curse and you block them it. The block would bust apart and they might get hurt or even killed by the shrapnel?”

 

  Moody grimaced, “Dumbledore, would look down at you over his glasses, shake his ridiculously long beard and tut in disappointment, before going into his lecture about the sanctity of life.”

  

  “Sound like you might have been on the receiving end of it a time or two.” Moody grunted. “This lady looks like Neville, is that his Mum?” Harry asked, pointing at a figure in the back row.

 

  “Aye, and that beside her is Frank, poor devils,” growled Moody. 

 

  Moody continued pointing out the people in the photograph and explaining how they had died. It was a rather grim conversation and one that Harry wasn’t quite sure he wanted to participate in. Though he did appreciate that Moody gave him a copy of the photo.

 

  “Why are you showing me this Professor?” 

 

  “Not a professor! That was a ridiculous notion. I’m an old man Potter,” he huffed. “Never married, only family was my sister who passed away last year. This man,” here he pointed to Harry’s Father, “And that brat with the multicoloured hair downstairs are the closest I’ll ever get to children. Regardless of what happens Harry, you can count me to be on your side. I didn’t know Lily had a sister, and I placed too much trust in Albus! Which I regret.” He huffed again. “Bloody imbecile, didn’t even pick up that man wasn’t me! We’ve ruddy well known each other nigh on seventy years! Some friend.”

 

  “Yeah?? Thanks….” Harry blinked away the emotion he was feeling. “Say Prof….” Harry gave in to Moody’s glare, ”ah….Moody. Did you know them well? My parents that is?” it came out in a rush in the end.

 

  “Aye, your Dad more than your Mum.”

 

  “Do you think…..would you mind…. telling me, or even writing…. some of the things that you remember about them?”  he turned hopeful green eyes up to look at the gnarled man. “The only memory I’ve got is the night they died.”

 

  Moody froze, “Yeah,” he swallowed roughly. “I reckon I can do that for you lad,” he answered gruffly, clapping Harry on the shoulder.  “I need a fire whiskey……” he muttered as he stuffed the photo back into his robe pocket.

 

  Harry watched Moody stomp back out the door and listened to his footsteps slowly fade as he descended the stairs. Curling back in on himself Harry rested his forehead on his knees and closed his eyes. He wondered how long he needed to wait before he could make his way up to bed.  More than anything he longed for the peace and quiet that the room offered, and maybe Perc…..

 

  “Harry?” Remus enquired as he entered the room, gently pulling the door closed.  “Um, I know it might be disappointing not to be Prefect, but your Father wasn’t, and he still managed to be Head Boy. I’m sure that Alb…..”

 

  Harry raised his head and stared at the werewolf, with glittering green eyes full of anger, causing him to pause. “What makes you think that I wanted it?” Harry asked.

 

  “Well you’re up here hiding away while everyone else is down there celebrating.”

 

  “Oh, I see. So, the fact that after my Dad’s best friend tells a story about my Mother for the first time, I want to spend a couple of moments sitting quietly by myself. Is reflective of me being jealous of my best mate, for getting some attention for himself for once. Interesting……….”

 

  “That’s not what I…..”

 

  “Do you even know me at all Mr Lupin?”

 

  “Harry call me Remus, or Mooney.”

 

  “Why should I? I don’t know you and you obviously don’t know me.”

 

  “I was one of your Dad’s best friends.”

 

  “Really, that’s nice. Mr Lupin where were you when I was being stuffed in a cupboard?”

 

  “I was suffering too Harry, you have to believe me. I believed three of my friends had died, and the other had betrayed us. Wolves don’t understand betrayal Harry. I fell apart.”

 

  “My parents had died Mr Lupin, and then after spending a night out on the porch, wrapped in a light blanket, I was shoved in a cupboard on a cold floor and starved. It was dark, lonely and cold and I was fifteen months old. I didn’t understand what was going on. But I guess, it must have been harder for you, seeing as you were an adult! And clearly that made it much more difficult for you to process the loss. Clearly I was the one who was better off!” Harry spat.

 

  “Harry, that’s not…”

 

  “I don’t want excuses Lupin. I needed you and you weren’t there. Sirius needed you and you weren’t there. I know there are other issues there, but you didn’t even try to help him or find me…”

 

  “I did….I did….” Remus protested in desperately. “Once the Aurors left I searched the house and pulled out the things I knew that you would want. Things that Lily and James would have wanted preserved and I took them to Gringotts for the Goblins to put away for you. Just ask them they’ll tell you. Then I went and saw Albus and asked to be told where you were. Being what I am, I knew that the Wizengamot would never allow me to look after you, but I thought I could visit. He….” Remus stalled in the face of Harry’s glare. “I know that it wasn’t the best decision now, but at the time, Harry he had always held all the answers for me. So, when he told me that you were safe and protected. I was reassured and I….I allowed myself to grieve. I went feral and it took two whole years before I returned to myself. That first day, I cleaned myself up and went to Albus again demanding to be allowed to see you. I argued that Lily and James would have wanted it. He told me that your guardians were looking after you well and didn’t want you to have contact with the Wizarding world just yet. That it was far too dangerous to expose you to a dangerous creature such as I am. I asked to be allowed to send presents and write, Albus said I didn’t need the address for that, so I did. I never got a reply.”

 

  “I never received any letters from anyone before my Hogwarts letter,” Harry said quietly. “Why didn’t you tell me about my parents when you were at Hogwarts.”

 

  “Albus said that I could only have a professional teacher- student relationship with you. I couldn’t show you any preference or meet you outside of lessons. It was actually written into my contract. I was cutting it fine with the patronus training and some of the things that I said. I believe it is in several of the other teacher’s contracts as well. By the time he offered the contract I was desperate Harry. I’ve never had much money just enough to get by, but I had been unable to find work for months. I didn’t read the contract before I signed it, I trusted Albus to look out for me.”

 

  “What did he tie the contract too?”

 

  “My magic,” Remus lowered his head.

 

  “What would have happened if you lost your magic?”

 

  “I’m a werewolf Harry. There’s a reason why Muggles don’t become werewolves, magic is needed to survive the curse. If I lose my magic, I will die in the first transformation that I had after it happens.”

 

  “Oh,” Harry thought for a moment. “Why didn’t you write during the tournament.”

 

   “I tried again Harry. That was when I started to suspect that my letters weren’t getting through, so I went to Albus again and asked if I could have your address to visit, now that you knew me.”

 

  Harry snorted, “Let me guess…”

 

  Remus nodded, “yeah, he turned me down again. He said that you needed space to process what you had been through at the end of the Tournament. I’m sorry that I believed him. He said that your Aunt looked after you well. it was at that point, I put it together and realised that you were at Petunia’s. I had come here to let Sirius know I had figured out where you were and was going to visit you, when we received the advice about your warning from the ministry.”

 

  Still scowling Harry hugged his legs tighter, shoulder slightly towards Remus, “You know,” he paused for a moment wondering if he should say anything. Still he might as well get everything of his chest all at once. “You know, it might have been nice if ….I would have liked to hear the first story that you told me about my Mother privately and not in response to something one of my…friends had asked.”

 

  “Oh,” Remus said. “So that’s the reason that…..” he waved his hand around the room.

 

  Twisting further away, Harry, leant his head against the chair so that his face couldn’t be seen. 

 

  “I’m sorry Harry, I didn’t think….”

 

  “Seems to be a lot of that going around.”

 

  “Yeah, there does,” Remus agreed. “Albus has been the leader we’ve all followed for so long, that somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten to think for ourselves. And you’ve paid the price. Be honest with me Harry, were the Dursley’s really all that…..”

 

  The boy leapt to his feet and faced the man fists clenched tight in anger, “why is my word not good enough for you. What will it take for you to believe? You’ve just as good as admitted that Dumbledore doesn’t know anything and then in the very next breath you accuse me of lying!”

 

  Arms raised, plans forward in surrender, Remus tried to explain, “No Harry, that’s not what I……”

 

  “Then what did you mean Lupin?”

 

  “My family, they didn’t cope well when I became a werewolf, they didn’t love me and nurture me.  My Mother in particular was afraid and my Father, well I think he felt guilty every time he looked at me, so he pushed me away. I was wondering if that was what your experiences were. Albus promised that you were never beaten or abused.”

 

  The sneer that slid onto Harry’s face was worthy of Snape, he turned his back on the werewolf and grasped the hem of his shirt ripping it off over his head exposing his naked back and the pale criss-crossed lines on it, standing out starkly, highlighted by his still prominent ribs. There was a gasp behind him, that definitely didn’t come from Lupin. Harry flipped around again, holding his shirt up in front of his body.

 

  Mrs Weasley was standing in the doorway with her hand still on the doorknob.

 

  “Oh Harry!” her hand came up to cover her mouth, “Ginny didn’t lie,” she whispered, before shaking her head. “Let me look and see if there’s anything that can be done,” she transitioned from shocked observer to caring Mother in a heartbeat. 

 

  Harry backed away shaking his head, he hadn’t meant for anyone else to see, sure Percival knew but that was Percival, which made all the difference in the world, “It’s ok Mrs Weasley. They’re old, I doubt there’s anything……”

 

  “Nonsense,” she clucked at him. “If I can’t do anything then I will have a word with Severus.”

 

  “No!” Harry jerkily pulled his shirt back on. “No! I don’t want anyone else to know!”

 

  “But we can help,” she coaxed.

 

  Distrust in his eyes he asked, “why would you help me now?”

 

  “Because I was wrong to dismiss the things I was told, and I am an adult. If you won’t let me tell Severus, let me tell Sirius, he’ll have enough scars from Azkaban that he could probably do with the same treatment.”

 

  Someone was taking the stairs two steps at a time, as Harry’s body began shaking out of his control. He didn’t like this, he didn’t want anyone to know! It was mortifying that he had allowed this to happen to himself, that for all his magic he couldn’t stop it. Logically he knew it wasn’t like that. Aunt Sera and Sirius already knew what had happened, but they hadn’t seen the scars. Only Healer Addison, Percival and Ginny (though he didn’t want to think about that) had. That was still too many. There was no noise, only his stream of consciousness. Every feeling amplified. He wanted to vomit! His chest felt like it was weighed down by bricks, every breath coming in a gasp of monumental effort.

 

  Warm arms encircled him, and a hand firmly grasped the back of his head, tucking his head under their chin, with his face into their neck. He took a breath in…..Perce! Oh! thank the Gods Perce was here! Hearing returned.

 

  “It’s alright, they haven’t seen anything that they didn’t already know about. It’s not ideal and it’s not what you wanted but it will be ok.” The hand moved in a circular pattern on his back spreading its warmth. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

 

  “I’m a freak!” Harry whispered.

 

  “No!” the calm voice suddenly went gruff, and Harry shrank into himself. “Don’t speak about yourself that way. You are a survivor. You are strong. Those scars show that. The only reason I hadn’t mentioned a potion to try and get rid of them yet, is because they don’t change who you are, and I didn’t think you were ready to talk about them just yet. I thought when you got to that point Addison would help.”

  

  “I deserved it! They didn’t ask to have me dumped on them! Destroying their perfectly normal lives.” The arms around him tightened.

 

  “You didn’t deserve it, it should never have happened to you. Nothing you did caused it. Petunia knows it! She was trying to make up for it. Dudley’s learning to do better. And Vernon’s just a pig! You are wonderful Harry. In all my life I have never met a soul as beautiful as you.”

 

  Harry broke into a million pieces.

 

  Perce looked up and around the room, noting that Remus and Mrs Weasley had left, pulling the door closed behind them. Scooping Harry up with an arm under his knees and the other behind his back, he made his way over to the couch. The boy was still too damn light!

 

    It took several long minutes for Harry to calm. Percival sat with the other boy in his lap, continuing the flow of verbal reassurance, as he reflected that perhaps Harry’s break-down was overdue.  Sure, in the three weeks they had been at Grimmauld, he’d had the flashback in Gringotts and the other after the fight with Mrs Weasley, but there had been so many shocks, challenges and confronting situations. Really it was amazing that Harry hadn’t had a magical outburst from the stress, or spontaneously combusted in anger. Finally, he looked down at Harry who had his hands fisted around the edges of Percival’s robes, face pale and tear stained, eyes red. It was truly heart-breaking. He lifted a hand to wipe away the last tear that was rolling down that pale cheek.

 

  The door slammed open, making them both jump. Percival had drawn his wand and had it pointed at the doorway in less than a second.

 

  “Harry!” Hermione barged into the room. Percival lowered his wand tip. “We need to talk about your homework situation. I know that you said that you had it all done, but I really need to check on it before we get back to Hogwarts. If you’ve done it by yourself it’s guaranteed to be all wrong. Don’t be expecting that I’ll look over it for you on the train, if that was your plan. I’ll be too busy with Prefects duties and then where will you be. I know you said you didn’t want any help, but I’ve decided to be generous and offer you a last chance. You know you won’t be able to get it done without me, so if you apologise now all will be forgiven and we can deal with it tonight,” she hadn’t seemed to take a breath as she spat out her words, nor had she noticed that the boys were staring at her in shock. 

 

  “Harry! This is your last chance,” she clicked her fingers sharply twice, then blinked and seemed to take in the room for the first time, still not registering Percival’s wand, which was still in his hand, as a threat. “What on earth are you doing? Harry, get off him at once! I can’t cover this up Harry. I’m going to have to tell Ginny. I know you like her and she is expecting you to ask her on a date by the end of the year, around Valentine’s day should be good, if you can wait that long.  She won’t take kindly to this. If you come with me now and confess to her yourself, you’ve got the best chance of gaining her forgiveness….”

 

  As she drew breath to continue her rant, Percival spoke, “Get. Out. Granger! Harry has as much desire to date Ginny as you have of failing Arithmancy.”

 

  She glared down at him, “What would you know? You’ve only been here half a minute. I know your type! The minute you get the opportunity you’ll betray Harry and be laughing behind his back.  Come on Harry,” clearly she thought she was coaxing him gently, but it came across as more of an order.  “Get away from him, I know you don’t like boys that way and you don’t want to spoil things with Ginny, do you? You know it’ll make everyone happy if you two go out, it’ll by just like your parents!”

 

  Zing.

 

  “Ouch!” Percival’s stinging hex, hit her outstretched hand. “What did you do that for?! You’re a barbarian! See Harry! He’s violent! He’s no good for you. He just….”

 

  “Get. Out,” Percival repeated, wand still pointing at the girl.

 

  “I will not until you un-hand my friend!” she stomped her foot.

 

  Harry raised a hand, (Woosh. Thud.) and banished Hermione from the room, slamming the door closed. He buried his face back into Percival’s collar and couldn’t suppress a hysterical giggle. 

 

  “She just doesn’t shut up!” he said when he was back in control. “I thought you were very controlled. After all I’m sure you have lots of Auror grade spells you could have used.” He giggled again.

 

  Percival hugged the smaller boy tighter just for a moment, then pulled back so he could look into the green eyes, “Yes there are but I didn’t think any of them were appropriate. You’re getting better at your wandless magic too.” 

 

  Harry snuggled into his chest for a moment then groaned, “You’re very comfortable you kinow, but I guess she had a point. It probably isn’t appropriate for me to….”

 

  “Apart from the fact that your backside, feels like it’s made from Goblin steel daggers, why isn’t it appropriate?”

 

  Harry wiggled a little at that just to make Percival wince, before he spoke, “You’re….you’re …not…I’m not…at least I don’t think I……” his cheeks turned pink.

 

  Percival slid his wand away and raised his hand to cup Harry’s cheek, “It doesn’t need to be defined. What you are, what I am. What matters is what we feel. And I feel that this is ok. It’s right. Though you might want to stop wiggling so much,” he added voice tightening.

 

  “But only guys who are…”

 

  Percival ran his thumb across Harry’s bottom lip to silence him and shook his head, “Does it matter if you are a guy who like other guys Harry?”

 

 Harry hadn’t thought about it really, he’d always just assumed that he liked girls because that was normal, wasn’t it? But maybe he did. Certainly being around Percival made him feel…….something. So, what if he did? Was that a problem? From what Percival was saying it sounded like it didn’t really matter in the Wizarding world. However, in certain circles it did in the Muggle one. Internally he cringed, Aunt Petunia probably wouldn’t like it, well old Aunt Petunia wouldn’t have. Uncle Vernon definitely had views on the matter, if his muttering about the ‘pansy’s’ who acted in the local theatre group was any type of indication. What about Ron?

 

  “Talk to me Harry?” Percival enquired. “Where have your thoughts gone?”

 

  “I don’t know what I am. And I wonder what the Muggles will think, and the Weasleys. Is it ok in the Wizarding world to be….whatever?”

 

 Percival smiled gently, “Back in my day, yeah it was. These things weren’t talked about as such as the whole subject was more taboo then it is now. No-one ever knew what anyone else’s preferences were. I guess the only way we will find out what people think is by talking to them. Though I don’t suggest writing it in a letter to your Aunt, because we both know that your Uncle will only approve of Heteronormative relationships.”

 

  Harry relaxed against Percival once more, before sighing, “I suppose we should go up to bed now anyway.”

 

 

  Despite a night full of dreams of the deaths of his parents and Hermione turning into the monster book of monsters and chasing him around a room he couldn’t escape from, Harry woke feeling reasonably refreshed.  Hedwig hooted at him from where she was perched on the back rest of his bed.

 

  “Morning Hedwig,” he reached out a finger and ran it down her chest gently. 

 

   She nipped at his finger lightly, with no intention of harm and fluttered her wings. It was a big day today; her boy would be making his way to that enormous cold nest. Usually she would sit in her cage for the journey but this year, having had a taste of freedom himself, he hadn’t had the heart to confine her. It always worried her when he was out of her sight. The journey took several hours this was the first time she would be separate from him. Hedwig let out a hoot of annoyance. Perhaps this year she would sneak into his nest in the sky. Surely his clever new nest mate would find a way to let her in. 

 

  “I don’t like the idea of you travelling in you cage Hedwig. I hope you don’t mind flying to Hogwarts. It’s just it’s such a long way and I worry about you,” he voiced his fear. 

 

  She chirruped her agreement. Yes, he was good her wizard. He knew she didn’t like to feel trapped. After all the time that they had both been locked in, he understood.  Maybe she would peck at the older wizard that seemed to care about her boy until he gave her a letter to take, so that he had something to greet him when he arrived. She ruffled her feathers, yes that was an excellent idea.

 

  There was a sharp rapping on the door, “Harry, you had better get up. Mrs Weasley is going ballistic saying that you are all going to miss the train if you don’t hurry.”

 

  Harry blinked, had they slept in! He glanced over to where Percival was just pushing himself off the camp bed. 

 

  “Harry, when you’re dressed I’ve got something I want to give you before you go.”

 

  Hedwig bobbed her head and cooed in contentment. It was a relief to know that she wasn’t the only one looking after her boy anymore.

 

  A quick shower later, and Harry left Percival shrinking their trunks so that he could meet Sirius in the library.

 

  “I ….I was thinking Harry,” Sirius started. “At first, I wanted to go with you to the train, as Padfoot. You’ve never had someone to see you off before, but I ….when I thought about it, it’s not a wise idea. The rat could have told anyone that I’m an animagus, there is a part of me would be happy with the risk…but, I also thought about what you were saying when you first arrived. So, I hope you won’t be too disappointed if I don’t go,” he grimaced.

 

  Harry took a couple of stumbling steps over to his Godfather, “I’d have loved you to be there, Padfoot but you’re right. It would be worse if something happened to you. I don’t think I would ever recover from it. Especially seeing as you’re so close to being free, Madame Bones is investigating, and you should hear about a trial date soon. McMillan said he’d know something by the second week of school. Thank you for not rushing in.”

 

  “It got me thinking as well. Your Father and I, we found these in a second-hand shop when we were in sixth year and bought them, so we could talk to each other whenever we had detention.  I’d hidden them in my old flat. Kreacher went and got them for me as soon as I remembered. Luckily no-one had discovered them in the meantime.” He held out one of a matching pair of ornate silver hand mirrors, Harry took it carefully. “All you have to do is say my name….”

 

  “Sirius,” Harry said quickly.

 

  “And it will vibrate,” finished Sirius, glancing into the buzzing piece of glass he held. 

 

  Harry looked into his mirror to see his Godfather staring back at him.

 

  “This way we’ll be able to talk, without sending owls. The things that the ministry was saying about you at the start of the summer concerned me. I wouldn’t put it past them to have someone at Hogwarts, besides I’ve just gotten used to having you around. I’ll want to know what you are up to. And you can keep talking to Healer Addison when I go to see him.”

 

  “Is Aunt Sera going to stay around even though we are heading to Hogwarts?” Harry wondered how Sirius was going to arrange to meet Addison.

 

  “She’ll be here for the next week, but she has told me she has to make a trip back to the States for a couple of charity events. She should return around Halloween. I’ll schedule my visits around her.” He wrapped Harry in a tight hug. “Go on. You had better finish getting ready before Molly blows her top.”

 

  Noise was the first thing they noticed as they stepped out of the parlour, both Mrs Black and Mrs Weasley were screaming at the top of their lungs. Percival was standing in the kitchen and handed Harry a couple of slices of buttered toast.

 

  “I meant to do something about that portrait, but I forgot,” the American whispered.

 

  “You’ll get another chance at Christmas time. I wonder if she is really that bad, or if being trapped in the house with the….well you know…. affected her portrait.”

 

  “Hmmm,” Percival, grabbed Harry by the hand and dragged him to the entryway. He examined the portrait while they waited, but couldn’t see anything overtly affecting the painting. He’d have to wait for a better opportunity for a more in-depth look. It wasn’t long before all the teens had gathered in the entryway, with their school trunks. 

 

  “What are we waiting for?” Fred asked as he stood on Ginny’s toes for the third time, due to the overcrowding, she elbowed him in the ribs in retaliation.

 

  “We’re waiting for the guard to arrive,” Mrs Weasley said.

 

  “Why do we need a guard to go to the platform?” George asked.

 

  “Not you, Harry!” Mrs Weasley huffed.

 

  There was a knock on the door, opening it revealed a smiling Tonks.

 

  “Right Harry, you, Percival and Ron are with me and Tonks, Hermione and Ginny you’re with Remus and Kingsley, Fred and George you help Alastor with the trunks,” Mrs Weasley ordered. She quickly counted and then shook her head. “Which pair of you hasn’t bought their trunks down, two are missing.”

 

  “It’s alright, Mrs Weasley,” Percival said respectfully. “I asked Kreacher to shrink ours, so Harry and I are all sorted.” He tapped his pocket.

  

  “Oh,” she blinked at him. “That’s actually rather…”

 

  “It’s slavery, that’s what it is!” a piercing voice interrupted causing the twins to roll their eyes. “Harry, I am so disappointed in you, after all that work we did last year on SPEW…”

 

  “Sensible,” Alastor’s gruff voice cut across the diatribe. He pulled his wand and promptly shrunk all of the trunks giving them back to their owners. “Now, if we’re ready?” His magical eye swivelled around to glare at them all.  

 

  Mrs Weasley pulled open the door and stepped out into the weak September sunlight.

 

  “Are we, walking to the station?” Harry asked. “Isn’t that a bit…..?” He looked at Percival in confusion.

 

  The Weasley matriarch stopped and turned to look at the group who were staring at her curiously, “Well the ministry hasn’t provided cars this year, come on!”

 

  “Why not apparate?” Fred asked.

 

  “That’s alright for you, but not for the others and you can only take one person along sidealong. We’d have to be apparating all over the place and there would be no-one to keep an eye on you while we popped back to get the rest.”

 

  “I can do two,” Tonks said, “As can Moody, Fred and George can take themselves. So, Percival and Harry with me, Ron with you, Hermione and Ginny with Alastor, and Fred and George can meet us there. It’ll literally be a one-hop stop.”

 

  “Well….. I suppose, but Dumbledore…..” she seemed a bit flustered.

 

  “While we could all probably use the exercise,” Percival said politely, “I think perhaps the Headmaster has been a little too busy to think about the logistics of the operation and this will save us time. Aunt Sera was saying that there is an apparition point just outside the station beside the cafe’. If we go now, we can stop in and grab something to eat for the train. Have you got your Muggle money Harry?”

 

  Harry stuck a hand in his pocket and drew out his velvet money bag, “I’m sure I had a couple of twenty-pound notes in here somewhere.” He reached in and grabbed the note he could now feel and pulled it out. “Yup.”

 

  “Oh, alright then….” Mrs Weasley seemed a little deflated.

 

  “Do you boys know where it is?” Tonks asked.

 

  The twins just grinned and disapparated.

 

 

 “Oi! Harry,” called a tall boy with dreadlocks as he and Percival emerged onto Platform nine and three quarters. “Who’s your friend.”

 

  “Hey Lee, this is Percival Graves. Percival this is Lee Jordan, best mate to Fred and George,” he introduced as they moved away from the entrance to allow space for Mrs Weasley, Ginny and Hermione.

 

  Lee looked over at the group, “Are Fred and George…never mind there they are. See ya Harry.” He sauntered over to join his friends.

 

  “Well,” said Fred, clapping his hands together, “can’t stand around chatting all day. we’ve got business to discuss with Lee. See you later.” After a quick goodbye to their Mother, they each threw an arm around Lee’s shoulders and heads together speaking very quickly they made their way onto the train.

 

  “I guess we had best find a compartment as well,” Harry said. “Thanks for everything Mrs Weasley, if you could pass the message onto the others that would be appreciated.”

 

  “Thank you,” Percival echoed.

 

  She gave them all one last hug before shoo’ing them away.

 

  “Right where do you want to sit?” Harry asked as they boarded the train.

 

  Ron and Hermione shared a glance.

 

  “Well Ron and I are supposed to go into the prefect’s carriage,” Hermione said pompously.

 

  “Yeah, I know. I just thought you might have wanted to sit with us when you were done, but if you don’t…” Harry shrugged one shoulder, resulting in Percival’s hand reaching out to press it down again.

  

  “Get the usual one Harry, and if you can’t we’ll come find you. I spoke to Bill, we’ll have to do a patrol at some point, so if we haven’t found you before that, we’ll find you then.”

 

  “We might have to stay in the Prefects carriage for the whole journey Ronald, the letter from the Head Boy and Girl wasn’t very clear. I’m not going to let you shirk your responsibilities! Especially not on the first day,” she began another rant, which Ron ignored as he manoeuvred her in the direction of the other Prefects. Quite frankly Harry was impressed with how tolerant the red-head was being, and once again felt relief that it wasn’t him.

 

  “Maybe we should have wished him luck?” Percival mused watching them go. 

 

  “Come on,” Ginny said. 

 

  As they walked passed compartments that were already full, Harry couldn’t help but notice that a lot of people stared at him with great interest and several pointed him out to their neighbours. In front of the very last carriage they met Neville Longbottom, Harry’s fellow fifth year, his round face shining with the effort of pulling his trunk along and maintaining a one-handed grip on his struggling toad, Trevor.

 

  “Hi Harry,” he panted. “Hi Ginny….everywhere’s full…I can’t find a seat…”

 

  “What are you talking about?” said Ginny, who had squeezed past Neville to peer into the compartment behind him. “There’s room in this one, there’s only Loony Lovegood in here -“

 

  Harry frowned, “Who names their child Loony?”

 

  Ginny giggled, “Don’t be silly Harry, her name is Luna, she’s just a bit crazy is all.”

 

  Neville mumbled something about not wanting to disturb anyone, but Ginny was already sliding open the door. “Don’t be silly, she’s alright. Hi Luna, is it ok if we take these seats?”

 

  The girl beside the window looked up. She had straggly, waist-length dirty blonde hair, very pale eyebrows and protuberant eyes that gave her a permanently surprised look. Harry thought she reminded him of someone from the photo album Hagrid had made for him in first year and made a mental note to check. The girl gave off the distinct aura of dottiness. Perhaps it was the fact that she had stuck her wand behind her left ear for safekeeping, or that she had chosen to wear a necklace made of butterbeer corks, or that she was reading her magazine upside-down. Her eyes ranged over Neville and came to rest of Harry. She nodded. 

 

  “Thanks,” said Ginny smiling at her.

 

  Harry shrunk Neville’s trunk for him so that he could stow it in his pocket.

 

  “Had a good summer Luna,” Ginny asked.

 

  “Yes,” said Luna dreamily, without taking her eyes of Harry. Which Percival found slightly disconcerting. “Yes, it was quite enjoyable, you know. You’re Harry Potter,” she pronounced.

 

  “I know I am,” said Harry.

 

  Luna turned her eyes on Percival, “And you are ……interesting…..the original Percival Graves.”

 

  “Was my Great Uncle,” Percival said firmly. Yes, she was a very disconcerting individual.

 

  With a slow blink, she turned to stare at Neville instead.

 

  “And I don’t know who you are.”

 

  “I’m nobody,” said Neville hurriedly.

 

  “No you’re not!” Harry and Ginny said sharply at the same time.

 

  “Neville Longbottom - Luna Lovegood. Luna’s in my year, but in Ravenclaw,” said Ginny.

 

  “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,” said Luna in a sing-song voice. 

 

  She raised her upside-down magazine high enough to hide her face and fell silent.  

 

The train rattled onwards, speeding them out into the open country. It was an odd, unsettled sort of day; one moment the carriage was full of sunlight and the next they were passing beneath ominously grey clouds.

 

  “Guess what I got for my birthday?” said Neville.

 

  “Another Remembrall? said Harry, remembering the marble like device Neville’s Grandmother had given him in first year.

 

 “No, though maybe it would help. I lost the old one ages ago….no look at this…”

 

  He dug the hand that was not keeping a firm grip on Trevor into his schoolbag and after a little bit of rummaging around, during which Percival took Trevor and transfigured him a terrarium from the handkerchief he carried in his pocket, Neville pulled out what appeared to be a small grey cactus in a pot, except that it was covered with what looked like boils rather than spines.

 

  “Mimbulus mimbletonia,” he said proudly.

 

  Harry stared at the thing. It was pulsating sightly, giving it the rather sinister look of some diseased internal organ. A sudden premonition, had Harry cringing, this was not going to end well.

 

  He tuned back in just as Neville was saying, “My Great Uncle Algie got it for me in Assyria. I’m going to see if I can breed from it.”

 

  “Does it do anything?” Harry asked.

 

  “Loads of stuff!” said Neville proudly. “It’s got an amazing defensive mechanism.”

 

  He drew a quill from his school bag, Luna’s eyes appeared over the top of her magazine again, to watch what Neville was doing. Neville held the cactus up to his eyes, his tongue between his teeth he chose a spot and gave it a sharp prod.

 

  Liquid squirted from every boil on the plant, thick, stinking dark green jets of it. They hit the ceiling, the floors, the windows and splattered the front of Luna’s magazine which she had quickly raised to cover her face. Ginny who had flung her arms up just in time, merely looked as if she was wearing a slimy green hat. Percival had managed to cast a shielding charm in front of himself and Harry, protecting them both, though they did have the goo, dripping off the ceiling onto them. It smelled like rancid manure.

 

  Neville, whose face and torso were also drenched, shook his head to get the worst of it out of his eyes.

 

  “S - sorry,” he hasped. “I haven’t tried it before…didn’t realise it would be quite so…you know….explosive…don’t worry though, Stinksap’s not poisonous.”

 

  “It’s alright Nev, Percival here taught me a handy spell this summer.” 

 

  Harry dropped his wand from his holster into his hand and began syphoning the tenacious fluid off his friend. With a soft splat, a large blob off the stuff, gave in to gravity and fell onto Harry’s head.  At that precise moment the door to their compartment slid open.

 

  “Oh …hello Harry,” at the sound of the soft, nervous and very feminine voice, Percival’s head swivelled from where he had been carefully cleaning sap off Luna’s robes to look at the very pretty girl with long dark hair who was standing in the doorway. “Um….bad time?”

 

  “Oh…hi Cho,” Harry said blankly. “Yeah it is a bit, sorry.”

 

  “Um….” said Cho. “Well just thought I’d say hello…..bye then.” 

 

  Rather pink in the face, she closed the door and departed. Harry turned back to Neville.

 

  “So, want to learn the charm?”

 

  Neville grinned and pulled his wand from the bag, “Look at this Harry, after I saw you in Diagon. Great disguise by the way. Gran took me to Ollivander’s. You should have heard the fuss he kicked up! Just because she didn’t take me in first year and made me use Dad’s wand. Completely unsuitable he said. It was nearly the best part of my summer I can tell you and….” he raised his new wand for inspection. “Cherry wood and unicorn hair!” he said in awe. “I can feel so much more with it. Thanks!” he looked over at Percival.

 

 “No problem,” Percival. “Right back to it then.”

 

  By the time Ron and Hermione turned up an hour later the compartment had been returned to its original pristine state.

 

  “I’m starving,” said Ron placing Pigwidgeon’s cage in the luggage rack. “Hey Harry, where’s Hedwig.”

 

  “I sent her on ahead,” Harry said.

 

  “All pets are supposed to be transported in ministry regulation cages!” Hermione chided.

 

  “That’s only if they are aboard the express, Hermione,” Ron said. “Percy commented on it when he got his owl in fifth year. It is perfectly acceptable to allow owls to make their own way to the castle. I don’t know why I didn’t think if it myself to be honest.”

  

“She hates that cage, I wasn’t going to confine her to it for eight hours when I don’t have to,” Harry agreed.

 

  “Guess who’s the fifth year Prefects for Slytherin?” Hermione asked looking disgruntled.

 

  “Malfoy,” replied Harry at once. It was obvious really, his grades were really good, by far the best in his year in Slytherin and he was Snape’s favourite. 

 

  “And that cow Pansy Parkinson,” said Hermione viciously. “How she got to be a prefect when she’s thicker than a concussed troll….”

 

  “Can’t say I know her other than she went with Malfoy to the Yule ball last year,” Harry shrugged.

 

  Hermione ignored him, “We have to patrol the corridors every so often,” she said with a great deal of self-importance. “And we can give out punishments if people are misbehaving.”

 

  “Yeah, I can’t wait to get Crabbe and Goyle for something,” Ron snickered.

 

  “You’re not supposed to abuse your position Ron!” said Hermione sharply, before going on to scold him more fully. He just stared at her amusedly.  

 

  When Hermione had left the compartment to patrol the train, dragging Ron with her, Harry asked Luna if he could borrow her magazine when she’d finished. She promptly handed it over saying, “I’ve read it all, already.”

 

  It was an interesting and amusing read. Harry was particularly fond of the headline:

 

Sirius Black - as he’s painted?

Notorious mass murderer 

or innocent singing sensation?

 

     Sirius would get a laugh out of that he was sure, at any rate Percival was chuckling as he was reading over Harry’s shoulder.

 

  “Anything good in there?” Ron asked as he re-entered the carriage and Harry looked up from the magazine.

 

  “Of course not,” said Hermione scathingly pushing past Ron to take a seat, before Harry could answer. “The Quibbler’s rubbish, everyone knows that.”

 

  “Excuse me,” said Luna, her voice had suddenly lost its dreamy quality. “My Father’s the editor.”

 

  “I - oh,” said Hermione, looking embarrassed. “Well…”

 

  “It’s alright Luna,” Percival said, “Harry and I enjoyed it immensely. Especially the article about Stubby Broadman. I reckon we’ll have to send him a copy.”

 

  “Oh,” the dreamy voice was back. “If you think he’d like it, you can keep that copy.”

 

  “Thanks Luna,” Harry smiled. “I’ll be sure to tell him to get a subscription.” She smiled back at him softly.

 

  As usual they were visited by Draco Malfoy, though Harry didn’t rise to his threats. Instead he smiled at him placidly when he tried to goad him.

 

  “Tell me, how does it feel being second-best to Weasley, Potter?” the blonde had asked.

 

  Green eyes twinkling, Harry replied, “Ron, will make a rather good Prefect I should think. I mean he already knows how to cope with the twins. I guess the question you have to consider is do you? I can only imagine what they would do if you tried to give them detention. Congratulations though, I’m sure you’ll survive.”

 

  Draco froze for just a second as he considered Harry’s words and then with a huff, he signalled his bookends and they departed.

 

  “Harry!” Hermione began to scold. “You can’t threaten the prefects…..”

 

  The dark-haired boy tuned her out, he needed to talk to Percival. There had to be a better way to deal with the Slytherins. The animosity and fights had to stop. Harry leaned his head against Percival’s shoulder and watched as the rain drops slid down the window.

 

  “You’d better change, we’re nearly there,” Hermione said breaking the silence. She and Ron pinned their prefect’s badges to their chests. Harry grinned when he caught Ron checking his reflection in the black window.

 

  At last, the train began to slow down and they heard the usual racket up and down it as everybody scrambled to get their luggage and pets assembled ready to get off. Harry patted his pocket, reassuring himself that he hadn’t misplaced his trunk.

 

  Ron and Hermione disappeared from the carriage again to go and supervise the students as they disembarked the train, leaving Harry and the others to look after Crookshanks and Pigwidgeon.

 

  “I’ll carry the owl if you like,” offered Luna, as Neville picked up Trevor’s terrarium.

 

  “Oh - er - thanks,” said Harry, handing her the case and hoisting Crookshanks carrier more securely in his arms.

 

  They shuffled out of the compartment feeling the first sting of the night air on their faces as they joined the crowd in the corridor. Slowly they moved towards the doors. Harry could smell the pine trees that lined the path down to the lake.  He stepped onto the platform and looked around, he couldn’t see Hagrid or hear his familiar call of “firs’-years over ‘ere….’firs’-years…”

 

  Instead they were met with the sight of Professor Grubbly-Plank herding the new students towards the boats.

 

 “Where’s Hagrid?” he wondered aloud.

 

  The group became separated as they were jostled along the platform, Harry only managing to stay near Percival by grasping on to the back of his robes with a firm grip, the other arm securely around Crookshanks’ carrier.  As they approached the coaches he looked around for Ron, wanting to know what he thought about the appearance of Professor Grubbly-Plank, but the lean red-head was no-where in sight, so he followed Percival on to the dark rain-washed road outside of Hogsmeade station.

 

  Here stood the hundred or so horseless stagecoaches that always took the students above first year up to the school. Harry did a double take. The coaches were no longer horseless. There were creatures standing between the carriage shafts. If he had had to give them a name, he supposed he would have called them horses, though there was something reptilian about them too. They were completely fleshless, their black coats clinging to their skeletons, of which every bone was visible. Their heads were dragonish, and their pupil-less eyes white and staring. Wings sprouted from each wither - vast, black leathery wings that looked as if they ought to belong to giant bats. Standing still in the gloom, the creatures looked eerie and sinister.

 

  Everyone else seemed to ignore them. Letting go of Percival’s robe Harry moved closer to the creatures and reached out a hand, wanting to check if they were real.

 

  “It’s ok,” Percival said softly. “I can see them too, they are thestrals. You can only see them if you have witnessed death and understood it.”

 

  “Mmm,” nodded Luna. “They look a bit scary, but you’ll find that they are actually rather gentle. They let me visit them in the forest sometimes.”

 

  “What are you looking at Harry,” Ron asked as he approached.

 

  “Thestrals. Oh, here,” Luna passed Pigwidgeon’s cage over. “He’s rather excitable, isn’t he?”

 

  Ron, took the cage and they turned from the thestrals and entered the carriage.