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Free Life Posted on 8/16/2014 1:03:46 AM
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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 14: Yuletide Fun
The last couple weeks of term flew by relatively quickly. Before he knew it, Harry realized that there was only one week left in the term and less than two weeks before Christmas. He still had the majority of his Christmas shopping to do, so that Saturday Harry made his trip into Diagon Alley.

He left shortly after breakfast wanting to give himself as much time as possible. He had a lot to accomplish in that one trip, and he wanted to make sure he had enough time for everything. Walking the streets in disguise, Harry entered practically every store on the alley. If not for his magical trunk, he would have been overburdened with his purchases in no time. All morning long he moved from shop to shop, talking to store clerks, looking at items, buying this, asking about that…it was exhausting. As it began to approach midday, Harry decided he needed a break from all of it. He wracked his brain for ideas of what he could do to get away for a bit when it hit him.

He went through the Leaky Cauldron and out the exit into Muggle London. There was a payphone not far down the road, and Harry swiftly made his way over to it. He cast some privacy charms around himself as he took out his trunk and dug out a small card that he had not seen since the summer. He dialed the number on it. The phone rang several times before it went to a message. Not home.

His shoulders slumped slightly, but he was not deterred. Knowing only one place to look for her, he set off for the department store where he had first met Jessica over the summer. Lady luck was with him that day, for as soon as he walked in he spied Jessica ringing up a customer. He waited until she was finished before approaching.

“Pardon me, but you wouldn’t be able to help me pick out an entirely new wardrobe, would you?” Harry asked her.

She spun around fast. “Harry!” she all but screamed with a wide smile stretching across her face. She leapt at him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. He caught her around the waist and laughed at her reaction.

“It’s good to see you too,” he drawled.

“How long have you been in London? Will you be here for long? Why didn’t you call and let me know?” she asked in rapid succession as she released him from her tight embrace.

“Let’s see,” Harry said ponderingly. “I just got in this morning; I won’t be here but a day, and I didn’t call because I didn’t think I’d have the time to meet you. Obviously I was mistaken on the last bit. I found myself with a bit of extra time and in need of a welcome break, so I called you. When you didn’t answer, I knew of only one place to look for you.”

“So you came all the way over here just on the off chance that I’d be working?” she asked. Harry nodded with a sheepish grin. “That’s so sweet, Harry. It’s so great to see you again.”

“Likewise,” Harry returned. “I do actually have a bit of clothes shopping to do, and I’m also in need of a nice lunch. Think you could help me out?”

“The clothes, definitely,” she said with a smile. “And I get an hour break for lunch, but that doesn’t start for another hour yet.”

“Well let’s get started on the shopping, and if need be, I can meet you back here when you get off. That is, of course, if you’d like to get lunch,” Harry added.

“Of course I would,” she said in mock exasperation. “Well come on then; let’s find you some new clothes.”

She led him up to the men’s department, asking Harry what he needed. He told her he needed some thicker clothes for the winter months, especially some workout clothes he could wear in the cold weather, and some new shirts. He explained that some of the ones he had bought last summer seemed to have shrunk. She raised an amused eyebrow at him at that.

“Somehow I don’t think it’s the fault of the shirts,” she commented lightly.

“Well of course not,” Harry replied obtusely. “They can’t exactly shrink themselves, can they? They must have shrunk in the wash or something.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she said with an impish grin. “Have you been keeping up with your workouts?”

Harry nodded dumbly, not understanding where she was going with that line of questioning. “Yeah, I run and workout every morning. Why?”

“Because it’s not the shirts shrinking, you’re just getting bigger,” she told him. “Honestly, after months of working out on a daily basis, what did you expect? I could feel it when you hugged me, and I could see it the moment I first took a good look at you.”

Harry ducked his head and scuffed his trainers on the ground, completely caught off guard at her comments. “Still modest, I see,” she said sweetly.

Harry looked up at her at that and gave her a small smirk. “Well I do try,” he said in an effort to regain some of his composure.

They spent the next forty-five minutes collecting a variety of new clothes to add to Harry’s wardrobe. Since Jessica had to stick around for another fifteen minutes before she could take her lunch break, they wandered around the store together for another ten or so minutes before heading for the register. After ringing him up, Jessica had to duck into the back to punch out.

When she came back out she smiled at Harry and asked, “So what do you want to do for lunch?”

Harry mulled that over for a moment. “I don’t know; I could go for anything. What about you? Is there anything in particular you want?”

She was quiet in thought for a moment. “I think I could really go for just a salad or a sandwich or something.”

“That works for me,” Harry immediately inserted. “Err, do you know of any place nearby that would work?”

“Yep, there’s a place a few blocks away if you don’t mind the walk.”

“Not at all.” The two set off. They talked a little about school during their walk. Jessica told him about the classes she was taking. She really liked her Literature teacher and was really enjoying the class, but her Chemistry teacher was an absolute monster. Harry snickered at that. Potions was not that far off from Chemistry.

Harry talked about school as well at her prompting, though the details were changed a bit. Harry also could not stand his Science teacher. He told her that the man had it out for him right from the start. He mentioned that his father and he had been rivals back when they attended the same school many years in the past and how he liked to make snide comments about both Harry and his father.

Jessica reacted as expected. She was outraged that a teacher would displace his anger at Harry’s father onto Harry himself, especially with a grudge that old and with Harry’s father being dead for fifteen years. “How they can let a man like that teach is beyond me,” she summed up.

“You’ll hear no argument from me,” Harry responded. The conversation turned to brighter topics after that, as they finally made it to Cid’s Deli. They quickly ordered: Jessica a Chicken Caesar Salad, Harry a Ham and Turkey with Swiss. Harry told her about the houses at his school and how each had a teacher as its Head. He explained all about Professor McGonagall and how, despite her stern exterior, he had become much closer to her this year, seeing her outside the classroom and even developing a bit of a friendship with her. When Jessica needled him for more information, he let slip about his dancing lessons with her, which in turn led to conversation about the upcoming ball.

Jessica was especially interested in hearing about his date to the ball. “What’s her name? What’s she look like? Is she nice? Do you like her? Are you going as friends or more than that? Tell me about her.”

Harry barely had time to respond in between each of her questions. He told her a bit about Ginny. She was his best mate’s little sister who had a bit of a crush on him several years back. They had recently become best friends, and he trusted her more than he had ever trusted anyone else.

Jessica asked several times about his feelings for Ginny, but Harry steadfastly maintained that she was his best friend. After they finished their meal, Harry walked her back to the department store. When they reached the doors, he turned to her and said, “It was great to see you again. Thank you so much for your help with the shopping.” He lifted up the bags still in his arms.

“It was my pleasure. Thanks for lunch and for stopping by. It was quite a pleasant surprise,” she told him in return. She wrapped her arms around him in a hug, which he returned. After a moment she released him and began to back up, though she did not fully release him until she had leaned back in to give him a peck on the cheek. “Keep in touch, Harry.”

“I’ll do that. Bye Jessica,” he said with a small wave as she began to back up towards the doors.

“Bye Harry,” she said as she returned the wave before turning herself around and walking back into the store. He only let his gaze linger on her for but a moment. Realising that he had wasted enough time already, he resumed his shopping. He had a couple stops to make in muggle London, including picking something out for Mr. Weasley for Ginny. Knowing her father’s obsession for all things muggle, she wanted to buy something from the muggle world for him. Unable to do so herself, she enlisted Harry’s help.

Harry was only too happy to offer his services. He had planned to make a stop in muggle London anyway, so it was really no inconvenience to him. When he asked her what he should get for her dad, Ginny did not have much of an idea of what to buy. She said that something electrical would be good, preferably something that used batteries. Harry was pleasantly surprised to hear her get all the terminology correctly. She did not seem to take after the rest of her family in that regard.

Harry picked up a couple small, battery-operated appliances for her to give to her father. He made his own muggle purchases rather quickly then returned to Diagon Alley to finish off the rest of his shopping. By the time he had finished, it was nearing supper time at Hogwarts, so he hurried back to the castle to get in before anyone became too suspicious of his absence. Luckily, most students were entirely too preoccupied with homework to notice much of anything as their professors were cramming in as much as they could before the end of term. His absence for the entire day went virtually unnoticed.

After dinner, Harry and Ginny retired to his office. They had not spent much time together in the last couple weeks. Ginny’s classes were putting a strain on her as her professors were piling work on top of the fifth years in preparation for the OWLs in the Spring. Without their animagus lessons, there was not a specific reason for them to meet regularly in private. A week ago, they had renewed some of the pranks on Draco and set up some new ones, but beyond that they had only really seen each other in passing or in the crowded Common Room.

After they settled in, she asked him about his day of shopping, so Harry began to give her a rundown of his day. He told her that it had been quite a long day, but he was happy because he had found everything he needed. He told her that he was especially excited to see her reaction to the gift he had chosen for her. Truth be told, he was both excited and nervous. He had spent much more money than he intended, but he had been offered a deal that he could not refuse.

She, of course, tried to needle him for more information about her gift, but she may as well have been interrogating the wall. Harry refused to give her any hints about it. Finally giving up, she asked him about the rest of his time away from the castle. Harry told her that he had quickly found himself burning out from all the shopping and about his decision to ask Jessica out for lunch.

Ginny became noticeably quiet and distracted at that point, but Harry continued on with his story. He was not quite sure what was bothering her, but he could tell that something he had said had struck her. When he told her that he had bought a couple muggle electronics for her to give to her father, Ginny did not react. Harry decided that was quite enough. He leaned far forward in his chair and snapped his fingers directly in front of her eyes.

Ginny jumped out of her seat while swatting his hand away. “What was that for?” she practically yelled at him.

“You were off in your own little world,” Harry replied calmly. “You haven’t heard a word I’ve said for the past few minutes.”

Her mouth formed the shape of an, “Oh,” though she did not actually say the word. “Sorry,” she said after a short moment of silence. She reseated herself.

“It’s okay,” Harry replied with a shrug. “What were you thinking about?”

“Huh?”

“When you were spacing out on me,” Harry answered. “What were you thinking about?”

“Oh,” she said rather more loudly than was necessary as a light blushed suffused her cheeks. “Nothing, really.”

After seeing her reaction, Harry was even more interested in what exactly she was thinking about. “Not nothing,” Harry said. “Come on, what were you thinking about?”

“It was nothing, Harry,” she insisted. “So what did I miss then? How was Jessica?”

“She was good,” Harry answered. “It was nice to see her again…”

“But…?” Ginny prodded, sensing Harry had more to say on the subject.

“I dunno,” Harry answered. “It’s just that I hadn’t really thought much about her at all over the past few months; I don’t know what I expected. We had only gone out that one time last summer, and we decided to stay friends. It was the right decision to make. I knew that then, and I still know it now.”

“But you still have feelings for her,” Ginny supplied a bit sullenly.

“No,” Harry answered without batting an eye. “I really don’t; that’s the thing. It didn’t feel the same. There was something missing, like a…uh…”

“Spark?” Ginny asked.

“Yes! That’s it exactly. There was just nothing there. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed seeing her and catching up, but there was just nothing there.”

Ginny perked up noticeably after that point when Harry again told her that he had picked up a couple small electronics for her to give to her father. She thanked him profusely for it and promised to pay him back as soon as she could. Harry just shrugged indifferently. He did not care about the money. He would neither try to stop her from paying him back, nor would he hound her for it.

“Were Hermione or Ron asking about me?” he asked her with a bit of dread.

“They did wonder where you were all day,” she replied. “But I don’t think they gave it too much thought. By now they’re used to you disappearing on them, and they were too busy with schoolwork to pay it too much mind.”

Harry let out a relieved sigh. “That’s good to hear.”

“I’m guessing you haven’t told them anything yet,” she said neutrally.

He reached up and ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s not like I haven’t thought about it,” he said. “I just don’t know what to tell them. If Hermione got an inkling of what I’ve really been up to, she’d run to Dumbledore without a second thought. I hate having to keep things from her and Ron, but I have to. She could easily ruin everything I’ve been working so hard for.”

“I know, Harry,” Ginny soothed. “I told you that I know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and I agree with your reasoning. But there has to be something you can give them that won’t give away anything important. Just think about it and look for something you can share with them. Even if it is something small at first, every little bit will help.”

Harry looked up and met her gaze. “I know. And thanks.” They were quiet for a long moment before Harry brought up something he had been thinking about for quite some time. “Gin?”

“Hmm?”

“Remember after you transformed for the first time, we joked about how our time training together was ending, and I said I was sure I could find something else to teach you?” he asked her tentatively.

“Yes,” she replied attentively.

“Well there’s something I want to teach you, if you’re willing to learn,” Harry told her carefully.

“Okay,” she said, drawing the word out. “What is it that you want to teach me?”

“Occlumency,” Harry said simply, watching her intently for her reaction. He was actually rather nervous about how receptive she would be to the idea. She knew more about him and his secrets than anyone else, and she had no means of protecting that knowledge from prying minds. It was not safe for her to know what she knew without being able to keep that information secret from a practiced Legilimens.

It was a selfish request on his part. He wanted to protect his secrets as best he could, and that would require making sure Ginny could protect them as well as he. Plus, a large part of him wanted to tell her even more. The prophecy still weighed down on him. Apart from Sirius, Harry did not have anyone else he could talk to about it. As reassuring as it was to have Sirius to talk to, Harry could not help but wish he had someone else, someone his age, someone there for him who could understand and support him when Harry felt overwhelmed. He knew there was only one person he could turn to for that.

He watched that person as she digested his request. Her face had first registered shock. She was unprepared for the request, not that Harry could blame her for that. She had then turned more thoughtful and reflective. She was considering it and probably working out the reason for his request. As the silence stretched on, Harry began to grow more nervous. This was very important to him. He desperately hoped that she would concede to it, but he was prepared to convince her, if he had to, by any means necessary.

Just then, Ginny looked back towards him. “This is important to you,” she stated more than asked. Harry nodded his head. “When do we start?”

Harry smiled. “You’ll do it, then?” he asked in a mixture of hope and disbelief.

“Yes,” she replied simply. “I know you wouldn’t ask me to learn it if it wasn’t important, both to you and to everything you’re doing. If I am the only one that knows what you’ve been up to, then it’s obviously important that I have a way of protecting that knowledge.” Harry nodded fervently. “And something tells me that there is a lot more to the story than you’ve been telling me.” Harry again nodded, though with much less energy. “I thought as much. That’s good enough for me.”

“We don’t have to start right away,” Harry said. “I know you’re going to be busy this last week of classes, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. But if you’re willing, we can get started over the holidays.”

“That sounds fair,” she told him.

After a short moment of silence, Harry leaned forward and plucked one of Ginny’s hands off her knees and into his own. “Thank you, Ginny,” he told her earnestly and emotionally, looking her directly in the eyes.

She gave his hand a slight squeeze. “You’ve no need to thank me, Harry. You’re the one that’s going to be teaching me a very useful and valuable skill. I should be thanking you.”

******

The next morning, Harry received a letter from Fred and George over breakfast. Noticing whom it was from based on the handwriting and ink colour, Harry tucked the letter into his robes and went to resume his eating. He was interrupted, however, by an inquisitive voice.

“Aren’t you going to read your letter?” Hermione asked him.

Harry looked up at her. “Yes, I was planning on reading it later.”

“Who’s it from?” she queried.

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. It was on the tip of his tongue to tell Hermione that it was none of her business when he remembered what Ginny had told him. Even something small and seemingly insignificant could do a world of good. He let out a breath then looked back up at Hermione. “Fred and George,” he answered.

Her eyebrows rose nearly into her hairline, but it was Ron who responded first. “What’re they doing writing to you?”

“They’ve been writing me once a month about their store. They tell me how it’s going and give me an earnings report,” Harry explained.

“Why’s that?” Ron asked.

“Because they made me part owner of the shop,” Harry replied uneasily, fearful of an explosion from his friend.

“Oh,” Ron said. He looked like he wanted to say something else but instead returned to his breakfast.

“So that’s all they write to you about then?” Hermione prodded.

Harry sighed again. “Not exactly,” he told her. “That’s how it began, but now they give me a report on a side project they’re working on.”

Hermione’s eyebrows did reach her hairline this time. Ron’s attention left his breakfast for the second time that morning, a rare feat, and again focused on Harry. Neville also leaned in, clearly interested in the conversation. Beside him, Ginny reached under the table and gave Harry’s knee a comforting squeeze. When he turned toward her, she gave him a reassuring smile and a nod, giving him the encouragement he needed to go on.

“And what project is that?” Hermione asked. Her voice had dropped down in volume. She obviously sensed that this was not something he wanted the average person to hear about. For her discretion, he was grateful.

“A couple months back, Dumbledore made a comment that the twins had been trying to get in the Order but that he was still reluctant to let them in since they’re so young…just out of school. You know the drill. I got to thinking that he was vastly underestimating them. They weren’t so hot in school, but they really are quite brilliant. They just chose to focus on less conventional topics of study.”

Hermione scowled at that but thankfully remained silent.

Harry continued, “I got to thinking that if given the proper motivation and a push in the right direction, they could be a huge help in the war. What have they been doing the past few years but inventing? Sure, all their inventions have been for the purposes of pranking, but that doesn’t take away from their brilliance. Just imagine if you could take that same creative genius and turn it towards the war effort.”

He paused to give them a chance to process what he had said so far. After a moment Hermione spoke up. “So you’ve what…given them a push in the right direction?”

“You can say that,” Harry said with a small smirk. “I gave them an idea. If they wanted to get into the Order, they would most likely have to earn their places. I had a couple ideas of items they could develop and present to Dumbledore in exchange for their admittance into the Order. I figure the ideas I gave them will only be a start. Once they get into it, their creativity will take over, and the Death Eaters won’t know what hit them.”

Ron was staring at him with his mouth agape. Hermione had turned pensive as she no doubt imagined the anarchy the twins would spread amongst the ranks of Death Eaters. Neville, meanwhile, grinned evilly. “That’s brilliant,” he said. “As much as I hated being the butt of their jokes, I can’t deny that they were good. Very good.”

Hermione looked back at him. “So what’s in it for you then?” she asked him.

Harry shrugged. “I hadn’t really thought about it. Then again, it might be nice to have them in my debt.”

“You mean even further in your debt,” Ron amended. “Don’t forget the only reason they have a shop right now is the money you gave them.”

Harry could only nod in return.

“You said this was a couple months ago?” Hermione asked. Harry nodded, dreading her response. “So why haven’t you brought it up beforehand? Why keep it from us?”

“I don’t know,” Harry replied uncomfortably. “I didn’t think it was all that important. I didn’t even know if anything would come of it. I would have brought it up when I had more to go on”

“You still could have told us,” Hermione continued. “Ginny obviously knew already.” She shot Ginny a withering glance as she said this. “If it was important enough to tell her, then why not us?”

“Ginny is my best friend,” Harry replied, trying not to let himself get agitated. “She was with me when I sent them the owl with the idea.”

“So what are we then?” Hermione demanded hotly, her voice rising in volume. “We used to be your best friends! Why are you pushing us away? Why are you keeping secrets from us?”

"I hardly think this is the time or the place for this, Hermione," a downtrodden Harry replied. The conversation was not going at all like he had hoped.

Hermione huffed irritably. "Right, and I'm sure you'll be going out of your way to set up the proper time and place," Hermione pushed scathingly. "Because your friends are so high on your list of priorities."
"Fine," Harry spat out, giving into his emotions. "You want to know the truth?” Without waiting for a reply he trudged on. “If you spent a little less time trying to pry all the painful details of my life out of me and actually treated me like a person instead of just another subject for you to obsess over, maybe I would have told you before now. As it is, you’ve done nothing all term long but hound and badger me to talk about Sirius with you, to open up and spill all the dirty little secrets in my life. You seem to think you’re the only one who can save me. Let me ask you this: why do you think you can save me?”

His voice turned steely as he continued on, his eyes boring straight into Hermione’s. “How do you think you can even begin to understand what I’ve been going through? Who have you lost? Who have you seen murdered right before your eyes? When have you ever felt the guilt of knowing that you played a large part in getting someone you love killed? Answer me that, Hermione. Just because I wasn’t talking to you about it, doesn’t mean I wasn’t talking to anyone. What do you think I was doing with Remus when I met him over the summer, or in our letters? And Ginny as well?”

“They’ve been there. They know what it’s like. I’ve talked to them about it, and I’m okay now. I still miss Sirius. I still wish things had turned out differently. That will never change, but I’m not broken. I don’t need you to fix me. Frankly, the fact that you’ve been so relentless in your pursuits to help me—“ Harry spat the words out “—just goes to show how little you understand what I’ve been going through. Every time you pushed you just gave me more and more reasons to withhold things from you. Instead of asking me why I didn’t tell you sooner, ask yourself why I should have.”

Harry stood abruptly. He stepped over the bench and set off for the double doors with a long stride, his robes billowing menacingly behind him.

******

Hermione made as if to rise and follow him, but Ginny stopped her. “Sit down, Hermione.” The bushy-haired girl sank back into her seat though she looked rather mutinous. “You’ve done quite enough damage already because you haven’t stopped to think about your actions. How do you think I’ve felt the past few months with you accusing me of trying to take advantage of Harry? You act as if you’re the only one who cares about him and is trying to help, but you’re the one causing the most damage. You can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve put him through for the past few months. There are so few people in his life that he feels he can trust, and every day you give him more reasons not to trust you. Sit and think about that.”

With that, Ginny stood and swiftly exited the hall. Not wanting to repeat her past mistakes, Ginny set off for the Room of Requirement at a jog. She passed a couple of stray students on the way. They gawked at her but moved out of her way without protest. She was surprised when she came into the corridor with the portrait of Barnabus the Barmy to find Harry standing in the hallway holding a door open.

She stopped in her tracks momentarily, spurring Harry to ask, “Are you coming or not?” His tone was flat and did nothing to give away his emotions.

Ginny nodded and smiled at Harry as she walked towards him and through the open door. Harry followed in afterwards, shutting the door behind him. Ginny spun around to face him. “You waited for me,” she half asked, half stated in surprise.

Harry shrugged. “Last time I stormed out of the Great Hall, you followed after me and got locked out.” He looked down at his trainers and scuffed his shoe on the stone floor. “I thought you might follow me again.”

“You thought right,” Ginny said with a smile. “Hermione was all set to run after you, but I made her sit back down and told her to think long and hard about what you said.”

“Thanks,” Harry said gratefully. “I don’t think I could have quite taken another argument with her right now.”

Ginny nodded. “Hopefully Hermione will take the time to really process what you said and cool down before she tries to track you down. If she doesn’t, things will probably only get uglier.”

Harry ran both his hands through his hair and pulled out slightly at the sides in frustration. “I know. I tried, Ginny,” he said, looking up at her. He began pacing back and forth in front of her as he continued. “At first I was just going to tell her the letter was none of her business, but then I remembered what you said. That wasn’t so significant that it had to be kept secret, so I tried. But…”

Ginny stepped in front of Harry as he turned in his pacing, stopping him in his tracks. “I know, Harry,” she said soothingly, taking his face into her hands to force him to meet her gaze. “I was there, remember? I know that you’re trying. That’s all you can do. It takes more than one person for a friendship to work. Hermione needs to be willing to meet you halfway. You’ve made the first step; now all you can do is wait to see if she’ll match it.”

Harry nodded in her hands, and Ginny saw him deflate before her eyes. His anger and frustration melted away to reveal weariness and fatigue. He was, quite literally, physically tired of fighting with her. Ginny profusely thanked the room in her mind when a sofa appeared behind Harry. She gently guided him down into it, and sat herself down right next to him.

Harry stared straight ahead, but when Ginny gave his leg a slight squeeze just above his knee, Harry reached out and grabbed her hand, giving her a squeeze in return. Sensing his need for comfort, Ginny lifted his hand with hers and swung his arm around her shoulders. She looked up at him, and he finally turned his head and looked down at her. He gave her the smallest smile and squeezed her shoulder, drawing her in closer to him. That was all the encouragement she needed to burrow her way further into him, using the side of his chest as her pillow.

They did not speak; there was no need. Nothing she could say would make him feel any better, and it certainly could not fix the situation for him. He did not need platitudes or false promises. He just needed to know that she was there for him. Even if he did not realise the need in himself, she saw it. As strong and independent as he was, Harry had spent too much time alone. All that time with the Dursleys was sure to leave its scars on him.

In the past, Ron and Hermione had been his lifelines. They were the ones he focused on when things got rough. They were his hope at a better life. She knew that it could not be easy for him to watch as that bond slipped away through his grasp. There was nothing she could do to help that. The three of them needed to come to terms on their own. All she could do was offer her own support and love, and that was one thing she knew she would never stop doing.

******

Several hours later and after a private lunch, Harry and Ginny ventured back to Gryffindor Tower. Ginny had a lot of work to do, and Harry could not deny that he too needed to get some work done. The two strolled into the Common Room and, as unobtrusively as possible, made their way over to an empty table in the corner of the room. They were not sitting for two minutes when Harry felt someone approach them from behind.

After a long moment, the presence spoke. “Harry, can we talk?”

Harry sighed, his suspicions on who it was confirmed. “Sure, Hermione,” he said, only slightly twisting himself around so that he was still not entirely facing her. She pulled out the chair on his right and took a seat. She just sat there for a moment looking down at the table, prompting Harry to turn himself towards her and arch an eyebrow as he waited for her to start. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Ginny sitting across from him eyeing Hermione warily.

Without lifting her head, Hermione began speaking. “I’m sorry.” She let out a long sigh. “I’m sorry for pushing you so much. I just felt like you were shutting me out, and I was worried you were shutting everyone out. I just didn’t think that you’d talk to anyone else about it.”

His eyes were still boring into her bushy hair. “Hermione look at me.” She did not move for a long second, but she finally, slowly, brought her head up to meet his gaze. “I hardly even know where to start. I’ve told you countless times that I was fine and handling everything okay, but you never once believed me. You never once trusted me to be able to take care of myself, and you assumed that I needed you to pick up the pieces of my life. You have, on a daily basis, hammered in just how little trust and respect you have for me.”

She shook her head sending her hair flailing. “Harry, I…”

“Just stop, Hermione,” Harry said, holding a hand up to forestall her attempt. “You can’t deny that you had absolutely no trust that I’d be able to handle Sirius’s death without your help. And trying to do so is only going to make things worse here.” Harry saw Ginny nodding her head out of the corner of his eye. He was thankful for the silent show of support. “The saddest part is that I have no idea why you’ve felt like I needed your help so much. Have I given you even one reason all term long for you to suspect that I was depressed or hiding my true feelings?”

“You were so distant,” Hermione answered. “I just assumed…”

“I was distant because I didn’t want to talk to you about Sirius,” Harry interrupted. “And that’s all you were interested in. We could hardly hold a conversation without you bringing it up or oh so subtly opening up a book about dealing with grief right in front of my eyes. Plus, I’ve been taking my studies much more seriously this year. That’s one thing I thought you’d understand. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and homework in my office, and I’ve been reading up on other topics to help prepare for my HA classes. Despite what you may think, I take my role as an Assistant Professor very seriously.”

Harry got a small bit of pleasure seeing her wince at that comment. “I’m sorry, Harry. I shouldn’t have said that. It’s just we were in the middle of the Great Hall and anyone could have heard…”

“What about every other time?” Harry asked incredulously. “That’s not the first time you’ve gotten on my case about it. Every time I show up a few minutes late for the regular curfew, you jump on my case about it and accuse me of abusing my position.”

“I’m sorry, Harry,” Hermione said dejectedly. “I guess I haven’t been the best friend to you lately.”

“You have to know, Hermione, that it wasn’t my intention to put any distance between us,” Harry told her honestly. “But there are some things I just don’t feel comfortable talking to you about. Had you allowed me the time and space to come to you on my own, perhaps that would have changed. Every time you pushed me, you only reinforced my decision not to come to you. Had you at all understood where I was coming from or what I was feeling, you would have known that you couldn't push me into talking. I know you only wanted to help, but you have to understand that you can’t always help everyone, and trying to force your help on others is only going to make things worse.” Harry was tempted to bring up the House Elves and S.P.E.W., but he figured now was probably not the best time given the tentative ground their friendship was on.

He shook those thoughts out of his head and focused back on the topic at hand. “You have a tendency to want to always be in control of every situation. You’ve been doing it for years with Ron and me. Any time we study together you take charge. Any time we’re trying to solve some problem, you take charge. But you can’t just expect me to lie down and let you take control of my life. You have to respect me enough to be able to let me make my own decisions, and when I tell you to drop something or that I don’t want to talk about something, I need you to respect that. You’re supposed to be my sister, not my mother or my professor, but you treat me like I’m a little kid who needs to be told what to do all the time.”

Hermione was nodding her head very slowly. It was clear that she was at least trying to take in everything he was saying. “I’m not asking for that much, Hermione,” Harry said after a long moment of silence. “Just for you to treat me as an equal.”

“You really think I treat you like a child?” she asked him tentatively.

“Yes,” Harry replied candidly. “To be honest, you always have in a way. It didn’t bother me as much in the past because I knew you were right most of the time. When you pushed Ron and me to study more or do our homework, I always knew you were right, but the distinction is that I chose to follow your advice, not your orders. You can’t tell me what to do, Hermione. Give me suggestions if you’d like, but then you need to accept it if I choose not to follow your advice. I need to know that you’re willing to let me live my own life.”

“I – I’ll try,” Hermione told him earnestly. “I never meant to try to control you; I just…” she trailed off ponderingly.

“Got used to me following orders?” Harry asked her.

“No!” Hermione declared, shaking her head fervently. “It’s not that, it’s just…I wanted to help you. Last June you were just so distraught, and you were isolating yourself; I promised myself that I wouldn’t let you go through it alone. I know you, Harry. And I’ve seen you always trying to bear your burdens on your own. You never ask for help. I wasn’t going to just sit back and watch you struggle through this on your own.”

“But if you hadn’t shut your eyes you would have seen that I wasn’t going through it alone,” Harry countered. “I appreciate that you wanted to help, Hermione. I really do. But I needed a different kind of help from you. One that you refused to give me time and time again.” At her questioning look, he continued. “I just needed my friends, Hermione.”

“I’m still your friend, Harry,” Hermione stated.

“You sure haven’t been acting like it. Between you and Ron, I was ready to go spare this year, and if it wasn’t for Ginny, I probably would have.” After he said it, he turned and gave her a grateful smile before turning his attention back to Hermione.

She nodded glumly at his pronouncement. “I don’t know what else to say.”

“Say you’ll stop hounding me. Say you’ll stop trying to push me to share more than I’m willing to share. Say you’ll start treating me with respect and dignity. Say you’ll start acting like my friend. You're supposed to be a sister to me; say you'll start acting like it.”

Hermione nodded her head marginally. “I think I can do that.”

******

It was not until much later that evening that Harry actually got around to reading the letter from the twins. Their shop was still doing well, and Harry gleaned from their vague comments that their new side project was coming along nicely. They did not share many details about it due to the sensitive nature of the information and the fear that Death Eaters could intercept the post. Harry sent a reply back to them to, among other things, ask for a small favour, just a little something that he had thought up to make the Yule Ball a little more memorable for everybody.

While most students had been bogged down with work over the last couple weeks of the term, Harry was still well ahead in most of his classes. The only class that was really taking up a lot of time was Potions, and that was more due to Snape’s vindictiveness than any difficulties with the subject matter. Compared to the rest of the student body, however, Harry might as well have already been on vacation. That changed this week.

It was now the beginning of the last week of the term, and even Harry was beginning to feel the effects of the rush of information being laid upon their shoulders before the winter break. Hermione, in particular, looked as though she was about to have a nervous breakdown. The fifth and seventh years all looked quite hassled as well. The teachers were relentless about OWLs his fifth year, and he imagined they would be even worse for NEWTs. But now he was in between the two, the calm before the storm, if you will.

That same statement could be used to describe the war. The Death Eater attacks had begun to taper off a little without any real cause. The Ministry was playing it up as if they had single-handedly stopped several attacks, but in reality, the Death Eaters were just attacking less. Rather than take this as a good sign, Harry took it for what he saw it as: trouble. The Death Eaters would only pull back for a reason, and whatever it was, that reason could not be anything good.

In addition to his own pile of work to do, he also had essays to grade for both Professors McGonagall and Caldwell. The additional work was cutting into his training time this week, but he supposed that missing one or two training sessions would not be the end of the world.

Harry was greatly looking forward to the upcoming break. He hoped that he would get another chance to go out into the forest with Ginny in their feline forms. They had a lot of fun that first night out. Harry did not spend much time in his panther form. He enjoyed flying so much that he usually opted to play around in owl form whenever he got the urge to transform. Plus, that gave him an opportunity to talk to and fly with Hedwig. While he loved his owl form, it was so much fun to have another animagus to play around with, to chase and wrestle. He finally realized just how much fun the Marauders used to have, and he felt just a little bit closer to his dad and Sirius as a result.

Harry handed McGonagall back a stack of graded second year essays after his Transfiguration class. She accepted them with a smile and a “Thank you.” Harry merely smiled back in reply as he ducked off to his office to get to work on a Potions essay he had been putting off for far too long already. Five rolls of parchment on the ingredients of Veritaserum and what each one adds to the potion. Quite an undertaking, especially when it was due in two days.

Lucky for Harry, Veritaserum was one thing he had made sure to read up on over the past summer. Harry knew he was playing with fire, and he knew that he would eventually be found out. He needed to know, therefore, what could be used against him should he be caught. He could not imagine Dumbledore using Veritaserum against him. Snape or the Ministry, however, was entirely different. Dolores Umbridge was proof enough that the Ministry probably would not hesitate to force Veritaserum on him. Voldemort would more likely use torture, if he did not simply kill Harry outright.

So it was only natural that Harry read up about that particular potion. He had heard that it was possible to fight and overcome its effects, so Harry wanted to know how. Granted, he did not learn much to help him in that endeavour. Harry had already read in detail the makeup of the potion, including the key ingredients and what each one adds to the final solution. He had found little information on blocking its effects, yet his scarce discoveries were certainly uplifting. It takes a strong mind to block the effects of Veritaserum, similar to how one can block the Imperius Curse. Harry was already an expert on the latter, having resisted the curse cast by Voldemort himself. Harry hoped that ability would transfer over.

Harry immediately set to work upon entering his office. He would be able to at least begin the essay from memory, and he had all the references he needed in his own personal library. At least he did not need to do actual research for this one. He dug out a bottle of ink, a quill, and several rolls of parchment and began writing.

By the time Harry put the quill down to run down to the Great Hall for lunch, his hand was cramping up on him. The quill had barely stopped moving for the past hour and a half as Harry worked on writing down everything he knew about the complicated and potent truth serum. As it was, he was half an hour late for the start of lunch and had to eat in a rush to get to Hagrid’s class on time.

He decided to completely forgo his training that day to return to his office. He waged an internal debate on his way through the stone hallways of the castle. Should he get back to work on Snape’s essay right away? Or should he begin working on those essays for Professor Caldwell? He eventually decided to start with the former. If he needed a break from that at any point, then he could switch over to the latter.

He skipped his training again the next day to finish up the essay. He was a little bothered at missing two training sessions in a row, but he was still running and working out in the mornings, so he did not think the respite would affect him too much. He was able to finish the essay up relatively early that evening and was pretty pleased with his work. He doubted he would receive good marks on it, but he attributed that more to Snape’s bias than the quality of his work.

Harry and Hermione were among the first to enter into Snape’s classroom after lunch the next day. The rest of the class piled in shortly after. Harry was just pulling out his essay when he heard the door open and looked into the back of the classroom. A smile lit up his face at what he saw. It was Malfoy. That alone was not what brought the smile, however. Malfoy had walked in with the rolls of parchment for his essay in hand, something that Harry had noticed he did on occasion, something that he had planned for.

When he and Ginny had recently renewed a bunch of the pranks throughout the school, Harry had added one particular prank he felt was worthy of Ginny, the twins, or even the Marauders on their best days. He was about to watch it play out.

Not a moment after Malfoy had made it to his seat—he was the last one to enter the class—Snape called for everyone to hand in their essays. He walked down the row of work tables collecting them. When he got to Malfoy, however, he stopped walking. “What is the meaning of this, Mr. Malfoy?”

Malfoy looked up at him in annoyance. “The meaning of what, exactly?”

“This,” Snape drawled, shoving the parchment back into Malfoy’s hands. “In case you had forgotten, I asked for five rolls of parchment on Veritaserum.”

“That’s what I gave you,” Malfoy spat, thrusting the parchment into Snape’s face.

“What you gave me,” Snape snarled, pushing Malfoy’s hands down, “are five rolls of blank parchment.”

Malfoy stopped trying to push the parchment back into Snape’s hands and took a good look at them. He gasped. “That’s not possible. I spent hours researching and working on this. I had all five rolls of parchment completely filled. It’s them again. It has to be.”

“What nonsense are you sputtering about now? Who is this them you speak of?” Snape demanded.

“Can I talk to you in your office for a moment?” Malfoy requested, shifting uncomfortably. Harry smirked. The last he had checked the map, another of the underwear shrinking charms had been close to activating. If he was not mistaken, Malfoy was currently dealing with more than one prank.

Snape did not look pleased, but he acquiesced to the request, leading Malfoy to the door behind his desk on the right-hand side of the wall. Not wanting to miss any of the excitement, Harry very discretely lifted his left hand and cast a spell at the door. Along with his research of privacy spells, Harry had read about different spells that could be used to eavesdrop or spy on others. He had not necessarily planned on using that knowledge, but it was good to know what could be used against him. Now he was very glad for the additional research.

He had charmed the door so that to Snape and Malfoy inside the room, it would appear perfectly normal. To those in the classroom, however, it appeared as though the door had completely disappeared. Not only could they see straight through the opening, they could also hear what was going on in the other room as well. Harry made sure to act as surprised as the rest of the class at the door’s sudden disappearance. No one did more than whisper about it to their neighbors, however. They were all interested in what was going on in the other room, even the other Slytherins.

“What’s this about?” Snape asked shortly. He was clearly annoyed at being interrupted from class.

“Pranks,” Malfoy said wearily. “Every day, I get hit with a ton of pranks. This is just another of them; I’m sure of it. I just finished that essay in the library and came straight to class. I had it in my hands the entire time. No one could have taken it, but they must have charmed my ink or something to make it disappear. I don’t know, but I’m sure it was them.”

“Do you have any ideas as to who is doing this to you?” Snape asked skeptically.

Malfoy’s shoulders drooped. “I don’t have any proof, if that’s what you mean. But I know Potter or those blood-traitor Weasleys are involved.”

Snape cocked an eyebrow at that. “And what evidence do you have about these pranks?”

“You think I would make this up?” Malfoy demanded incredulously. “Why would I do that?”

“I don’t pretend to understand how the teenage mind works,” Snape drawled. “But I have absolutely no proof that you’ve been under attack from any pranksters. For all I know this could be some elaborate scheme to get out of writing this essay.”

“Proof?” Malfoy asked. “You want proof?” he repeated, his voice taking on a somewhat hysterical quality. “I’ll give you your proof.” With that Malfoy flung his robes over his head. Snape’s eyes bulged out, and the man froze as he watched his student disrobe in front of him. As Malfoy undid the buckle of his belt and it became clear what was coming next, Snape’s face changed from shock to abject horror. The only emotion Harry had ever seen Snape lose himself to was anger. Harry knew that the look on Snape's face would be a memory he would cherish for a long time.

Harry watched transfixed as Malfoy pants dropped to his ankles. "Would you look at this?" he screamed, gesturing to his dwindling drawers. "This is the sixth time this has happened! And it always hits me when I don't have time to run back and change. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it is to sit through class like this?"

Harry never thought he would ever see the day Snape was reduced to spluttering, but that is exactly what the man was doing. After a long moment he was able to regain some of his cognitive faculties, and he rounded on Malfoy. "Get the hell out of my office!" he commanded. "Return to your dormitory and just stay there. You're excused from my class." He did not wait to make sure that his orders were followed. He strode to the door to the classroom and threw it open. As he walked in, he found the entire class staring straight at him, sniggering behind their hands. The beauty of the spell that Harry had used was that it was designed to be used when you wanted to remain unnoticed. As soon as the door was opened, the spell was canceled. All Snape saw when he turned was his office door.

He turned back to face the class and leveled them all with his deadliest glare. "What are you all staring at? Get to work!" He walked over to a shelf on the sidewall and busied himself with some of the ingredients stored there.

"Umm, sir?" one of the Slytherin students bravely spoke up.

"What?" Snape snapped, spinning on his heel and stalking menacingly towards the student.

"Y--You haven't given us our assignment for the day yet," the student continued meekly.

Snape stopped mid-stride. He pointed his wand at the board at the front of the room and instructions appeared. "Get to work. There is no reason for any of you to speak. I want complete silence." He strode back to the shelf and resumed his previous activity without giving the class even a cursory glance. Harry finally looked around and found that he was not the only one struggling to control his mirth. Even Hermione could not fully hide her amusement at what they had just witnessed. She was the only one who had already begun diligently working on the potion, but she did so with an amused smirk. Harry began arranging his ingredients, but his mind was not on the potion. All he could think about at the moment was Ginny. He could not wait to tell her about what had just occurred.

Harry beat a hasty retreat at the end of class. He knew that Ginny was just getting out of Charms class and that they both had the rest of the afternoon open. He wanted to head her off before she made it back to the Common Room. He was unsuccessful in his attempt, but he had no difficulty coaxing her into coming with him to his office. They sat on his sofa together as Harry regaled her with his tale. They shared a long and hearty laugh, reveling in the success they had met in their efforts to make Malfoy suffer for nearly killing Ginny, on top of the numerous other crimes they could attribute to him. The two of them spent the rest of the time until dinner working side by side in comfortable silence. Ginny had schoolwork to do, and Harry needed to grade the essays for Professor Caldwell he had been pushing off for the past few days.

By the time dinner arrived, word of what had happened during their Potions class had spread throughout the school. Naturally the tale became distorted throughout the retellings until half the school thought Malfoy and Snape to be involved in some torrid love affair. Harry and Ginny shared another good laugh when that bit of news reached their ears.

Harry had missed his daily training session for the past three days. Due to his continued work in the mornings, however, he did not suffer one bit from the break, and he very quickly rolled back into his regular routine. When he was not training or doing work for his classes, Harry was studying through the theory and principles behind Legilimency. If he was going to give Ginny Occlumency lessons, he would need some way to test her shields. Besides that, the subject held great interest for Harry. He had no desire to use Legilimency on anyone, except perhaps his foes, but he was still decidedly interested in how that branch of magic worked. He also surmised that knowing how Legilimency worked would only help him defend against mental assaults.

The last two days of classes were relatively uneventful. On Thursday, Charms class was a brief review before Professor Flitwick let the class out early. Professor McGonagall had a similar idea, spending most of the class in review. She did not, however, dismiss the class early, not that anyone expected her to. She kept them to the bell and told them all to have fun and to study over the break, as if those two concepts belonged in the same sentence. Harry knew that he would be doing plenty of studying over the holidays, just not specifically for his classes.

Harry still met with Dumbledore every Thursday night. Their meetings were generally brief. Dumbledore checked Harry’s Occlumency shields, and the two exchanged banter here and there, occasionally touching on something of some seriousness. That night was no different. The Headmaster was unable to break through Harry’s shields. Harry asked if he had any other ideas on blocking Voldemort, to which Dumbledore replied that he was still searching, but as of yet had not found anything that would work.

The Headmaster requested that they continue to meet even during the holidays, which Harry agreed to without complaint. He hated to think of Dumbledore as an enemy, but the expression, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” sprang to Harry’s mind. As long as he was friendly and seemingly open with the old man, no suspicion would be cast on him, so he continued to play the part of the good little boy.

It was not terribly difficult to do. He did not hate Dumbledore. He had his problems with him, but he knew that the old man always did what he thought was best. He just often forgot to consider the fact that he might not always know best, specifically when it came to Harry’s life. As Headmaster, he had the right to have some degree of control over Harry’s life while he was at Hogwarts. Outside of Hogwarts, he had no legal claim whatsoever. He overlooked that fact on a regular basis.

Harry also placed a lot of blame on the Headmaster for his time spent with the Dursleys. Not only did Dumbledore place him there in the first place, but he abandoned him there to people who hated him. How hard would it have been to check up on him every so often or to set up some sort of monitoring charm?

What bothered him the most was that he was sure that the man knew at least a good deal of what his childhood was like. His first Hogwarts letter was addressed to the Cupboard Under the Stairs, after all. He at least knew that Harry had been living in that cupboard, and if that was not enough to make him step in, it should have at least been enough to pique his interest and keep a close eye on things. He only once ever involved himself directly in affairs in Number 4 Privet Drive, and that was only to keep the Dursleys from kicking Harry out of their house after the Dementor attack on Dudley and Harry.

It seemed that as long as Harry was either with the Dursleys or at Hogwarts, Dumbledore was pretty content to let Harry be and to handle his own problems. This may have bugged Harry when he was stuck at the Dursleys before Hogwarts and every summer since, but now it was a godsend. If the old man was in any way suspicious, Harry had no doubt that he could very easily unravel everything that Harry had been up to this year.

His privacy wards could be broken by a powerful enough wizard. If he wanted to, the Headmaster could easily interrupt one of Harry’s training sessions. If he kept a close eye on Harry, he could discover Harry leaving the school grounds. He could also easily discover one or both of Harry’s animagus forms with a little effort.

Finally, he could just question Harry’s friends, more specifically Ginny. None of the others would be able to give Dumbledore anything of value, but Ginny could. And he would not have any trouble lifting the thoughts right out of her head if he so desired. Harry did not doubt that the man would perform Legilimency on his friends if he deemed it necessary. There was always a chance that he would only use Ron and Hermione in that capacity, but Harry was not sure he really wanted to take that chance, which was why Harry planned to get started on Ginny's lessons as soon as the break began.

He managed to corral Ginny into his office shortly after dinner on Friday. "I thought now that classes were over, we could get started on your Occlumency training," Harry stated rather directly. "Assuming, of course, you're still willing to let me teach you."
Ginny nodded her approval.
Harry took a deep breath before continuing. “The first step you should take is to organize your mind. You have to go through all your thoughts and memories and organize and store them by categories. In my mind, I store my thoughts into several different trunks to help categorize everything. You leave all your inconsequential thoughts like what you had for dinner or your favorite colour or other stuff like that out in the open.

“After you have everything sorted, then you work on building protections. You build walls or set up wards around your mind. I also put locks and wards on my trunks so that if anyone breaks into my mind, all they get are the inconsequential thoughts. The hope is that you’ll be able to expel any intruders before they would manage to break into the trunks to get at the meaningful memories.

“I have a book that will explain it much better than that which I will lend to you. Once your protections are in place, I’ll have to try to break through them. I've already begun reading up on Legilimency. I’ll be teaching myself that as I teach you Occlumency, so I’m not sure how well it will work, but I think it’s worth a shot. I was able to protect my mind fairly well over the summer without anyone to test me or teach me.”

Ginny sat back in her chair as she thought over everything she had just been told. “So you’d be trying to break into my mind to read my thoughts and memories?”

“Yes and no,” Harry replied. “I would be trying to break into your mind, but I’m not going to try to read your thoughts or look through your memories. I’m not Snape. If I get in, I’ll let myself be pushed right back out.”

Ginny nodded thoughtfully. “All right.”

“I should warn you; organizing your mind can be quite difficult. You’ll be forced to relive all of your memories, good and bad,” Harry told her seriously, thinking of her first year at Hogwarts with Tom Riddle’s diary.

Ginny must also have been thinking along those lines as she gulped audibly. She was quiet for a long minute before finally asking in a small voice, “You had to relive all your memories?”

Harry nodded somewhat uncomfortably, reminded of how painful that experience was.

“And you did that this past summer?” Ginny continued.

“Yeah.”

“Alone?”

“For the most part.”

“Even after everything that happened?” Ginny asked incredulously.

“It had to be done,” Harry replied simply. “It was tough, of course, but it was something that I needed to do. I think I’m better for it. It helps you to confront your past, and it also helps a lot for school. You can remember things much more easily because your mind is so organized. But I won't lie to you; it will be extremely difficult."

"Okay," she replied easily.

You do realize that you'll have to relive all your memories, even from your first year.” She nodded slowly. “And that I’ll be trying to break into your mind?”

“Harry, are you trying to convince me not to go through with it or something?” she cried in exasperation, but her smile ruined the effect.

“I just want to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into,” Harry told her honestly.

“Harry,” she said, leaning forward and looking him straight in the eyes. “This is obviously important to you, so it’s important to me too. If you think I need to learn Occlumency, that’s enough for me. You’re not exactly the type of person to ask for things of other people needlessly, and you’re definitely not going to take advantage of the situation. I trust you.”

“Well, thank you, then,” Harry replied, a bit taken aback.

“You’re welcome.” Ginny leaned back in her chair. "So I get to start with some reading then?"

“Yeah,” he said with a nod as he walked over to his bookshelf to retrieve the aforementioned book. He walked back and handed it to her. “I suggest you read that before anything else. It helped me out a lot. I learned more after reading that book for just five minutes than I did with Snape all of last year, which doesn’t actually say much, but trust me when I say that it’s a very good place to start.”

“Fair enough,” she said as she leafed through the pages of the book, not really taking anything in save for a couple headings. After a couple minutes of silence, Ginny looked up and broke the silence. “This Wednesday night is another full moon, isn’t it?”

Harry startled slightly at the unexpected sound. He had been gazing into the fireplace and lost himself momentarily in the blazing embers. “Ye—Yeah, Wednesday night is a full moon. But I’ve got all day to take a nap and Pepper-Up potion prepared if need be, so I should be fine for the ball on Thursday night.”

“Oh, it’s not that,” Ginny waved his comments aside. “I was just wondering, well….” She trailed off seemingly trying to think of how to phrase what she needed to say.

Harry, meanwhile, was wracking his brain to try to figure out what she was on about. It really was horrible timing that the full moon ended up on Christmas Eve, but why would she bring that up? “Are you worried it’ll be harder to hide the fact now that classes are out?”

“No, it’s not that either.” She growled at herself. “Why can’t I just ask you this?” she finally cried in frustration.

“You want to come with?” Harry finally asked in dawning realization.

“I don’t want to intrude,” Ginny hastily inserted. “But I was wondering if you thought Professor Lupin might want some extra company. You said that having other animals around seems to help calm him when he’s in that form, so I didn’t know if my going along as well would help. Or if either of you would mind, or….”

“I wouldn’t mind,” Harry interrupted. “And I can’t see Remus minding either. Most of the time is spent in animal form, either just wrestling or lying around. I end up falling asleep eventually, and Remus wakes me up when he changes back. I don’t know if more animals will help or not, but it couldn’t hurt to try, if you wanted to come. But don’t feel like you have to or anything.”

“I think I would like to, if you’re sure you don’t mind,” Ginny told him. “It will be nice to see Professor Lupin again, and I haven’t gotten much opportunity to spend time as a lioness.”

“Something we’ll have to rectify,” Harry interjected with a smile. “Especially now that we’ve both got some extra time on our hands.”

“It’ll be hard to get away from everybody without raising suspicion though,” Ginny commented.

“Good point,” Harry conceded. “We’ll figure something out,” he finally added at length.

**********

After spending Saturday afternoon training in the Room of Requirement, Harry made his way back to Gryffindor Tower to find Ron, Hermione, and Neville sitting around in front of the fire. Hermione had a book open in her lap, while Ron was trouncing Neville in a game of chess. Ron was the first to notice Harry’s entrance. “Harry, mate, where’ve you been?”

Harry smiled at his friend. “In my office,” he replied kindly.

“What were you doing in there?” Neville asked as he captured one of Ron’s pawns with a knight. Ron smirked as his queen promptly destroyed the offending knight, causing Neville to frown in thought.

“Just doing a little reading,” Harry answered.

“Reading?” Ron questioned almost in disgust. “We just finished the term yesterday. What could you possibly have to read already?”

“Honestly, Ron,” Hermione interjected as she looked up from her own book. “Some people read for fun or to learn something new and not just because they have to.”

“I swear, mate,” Ron said addressing Harry, “you used to be on my side in this, but you’ve turned on me.”

Hermione obviously did not take that remark too kindly, but Harry tuned the two of them out at that point. “So how are you doing, Neville?”

“Well, apart from getting humiliated in chess here,” Neville replied while waving his hand toward the chess board in front of him where he had about half the pieces that Ron had, “I’m doing pretty well. I’m looking forward to having a couple weeks off, relaxing, and just enjoying the holidays.”

“And the ball?” Harry asked lightly.

Neville paused for a moment before answering, “Yes, the ball as well.”

Harry could tell there was something bothering his friend about the upcoming ball. He hoped it was nothing serious. “What is it?” he asked.

“It’s nothing really. I am looking forward to it,” he said, his eyes glazing over as he presumably imagined what the evening would hold in store.

“Especially the part where you get to spend the entire night with Hannah,” Harry supplied helpfully.

Neville blushed slightly but didn’t deny it. He nodded. “Yeah, it’s just…”

Harry wracked his brain for what his friend was so nervous about when it hit him. He could almost smack himself for not catching onto it sooner. It was, after all, the same thing he had been worrying about not that long ago. “The dancing?”

Neville nodded glumly.

“I think you just worry too much, Neville. The more you concentrate on it, the worse it’ll be. You need to just relax and let yourself have a good time. If you let yourself loosen up, the dancing will come on its own.”

“If I remember, you were nearly having a nervous break down two years ago in preparation for the ball,” Neville remarked not unkindly.

Harry smiled. “Too right I was, but I like to think I’ve grown up a bit since then. I adopted a new outlook on life a little while back. There are times to take things seriously and to worry, and there are times to just let yourself have a good time, to forget your worries and have fun. This is one of those times. If you’re not going to have fun, why go at all, right?”

“When did you adopt this outlook,” Hermione piped in, apparently finished with her argument with Ron.

“Well, it wasn’t just a spur of the moment thing. It started a few weeks after my godfather died, and I think I finally really got it around my birthday,” Harry replied candidly.

Hermione’s mouth formed an “Oh,” but no actual response came out.

“So anyway,” Neville inserted to break the silence, “I take it you’re looking forward to the ball then?”

“Yep,” Harry replied. “I think it’ll be a great time.”

“I still say you’re crazy for taking my sister,” Ron interjected but without any venom.

“Well she is my best friend,” Harry remarked. “Speaking of, have any of you seen Ginny at all today?”

Neville shook his head while Hermione replied, “No, I figured she was with you.”

Harry shot her a questioning look at that but chose not to comment on it. “I haven’t seen her all day.”

“Maybe she’s in the library,” Hermione suggested.

Ron looked like he was going to say something, but Neville spoke up first. “Or she could be in her dorm.”

“I could check the fifth year girls’ dorm if you’d like,” Hermione offered.

“No, you don’t have to do that. It’s not a big deal. I just hadn’t seen her at all today and was wondering if any of you had a clue what was up,” Harry told them.

“Well now I’m curious too,” Hermione said as she rose from her seat and strode over to the girls’ staircase. “I’ll be right back,” she called out.

“So what about you, Ron? You looking forward to the ball?” Harry asked his friend.

A blush crept up from Ron’s neck all the way up to his ears. Neville laughed along with Harry and said, “I think we can take that as a yes.”

“I’d say that’s a fair bet,” Harry agreed.

Hermione came back down the stairs at that point and made her way back to the three boys. “She’s up in her room. Apparently she woke up with a headache, so she’s just been taking it easy up there. Resting, reading, and spending time with Emerald.” The last was said giving Harry a pointed look which he could not interpret.

“What is it with everyone and reading?” Ron asked exasperatedly.

Harry and Neville chuckled while Hermione huffed in frustration. “Tell you what, Ron,” Harry inserted. “You wanna go for a fly? Maybe I’ll practice my Chaser skills a bit against you.”

“Now you’re talking, mate,” Ron agreed happily.

“What about you two? Interested?” he asked of Hermione and Neville.

“You want me to play Quidditch with you?” Neville asked incredulously.

“Why not?” Harry returned.

“Well, I’m no good on a broom for one…” he started, the shy boy of years past emerging once more.

“Nonsense, you just need a little practice is all. And it’s not like we’ll be playing against another team, and there’ll be no bludgers to unseat you. Why not give it a shot?” Harry returned with a grin.

“I don’t have a broom,” Neville continued.

“Neither do I,” Harry said thoughtfully. “Not a functional one at least. We’ll just have to make do on the school brooms for now.”

“If you don’t mind…” he began uneasily.

“Of course we don’t mind. Why else would we have asked you? This is just for fun, Neville. You need to loosen up,” Harry continued.

Neville looked to Ron as if seeking confirmation. “I’m with Harry, mate. It’ll be fun. You should come.”

Neville’s face split into a wide smile. “Alright. You’re on.”

“Excellent,” Harry and Ron both chimed. Harry turned to Hermione. “What about you, Hermy?”

“Don’t call me that,” Hermione shot back.

“Oh, is that a pet name that only Grawp gets to call you? I didn’t know you two were involved,” Harry said with a serious face.

Hermione’s jaw dropped. A second later Ron let out a snort, and that was all it took to break Harry’s composure. Neville, who had been told all about Hagrid’s half brother, also broke into peals of laughter. It took a couple minutes for the three boys to calm down, and even Hermione got a bit of a laugh out of it after a moment. Smiling good-naturedly she swatted Ron, who was closest to her, on the shoulder. “If you three are quite done, I think I’ll pass.” When Harry made to speak up, she held up a hand and continued. “But I wouldn’t mind coming out to watch.”

“With a book, of course,” Harry said. Hermione smiled at him as Ron groaned theatrically.

“You’d think he would be used to it by now,” Neville commented.

Harry nodded his affirmation. “What about Ginny?” he asked turning to Hermione. “Do you think she’d be up for a little flying, or was her head still bothering her?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione said thoughtfully. “She seemed alright to me, but I didn’t think to ask if she was feeling any better now. I just assumed that since she was still up there that it was still a bother.”

“Well it couldn’t hurt to ask,” Neville inserted. “If she says no, then no big deal. But if we don’t ask, and she is feeling better….” He left the thought unfinished.

“Then we’ve got one angry Weasley on our hands,” Harry finished for him.

Neville nodded. “Not something I’d want to have to deal with.”

“I’ll be back in a bit,” Hermione said, already heading back toward the staircase.

While she went up to check on Ginny, the three boys visited their own dorm to insulate themselves in some thick jumpers and cloaks. The weather was pretty mild for this time of year, but it was still December and far from warm. Add to that the fact that they would be in the air flying at high speeds, and you would be asking for trouble if you did not prepare. Ron also made sure to grab his broom. They made it back down to the common room with time to spare. It was a few minutes later that they heard footsteps coming down the girls’ staircase.

Ginny came down smiling, broom in hand, as she saw the three of them waiting. “Hermione’s changing and grabbing some books. She’ll be down in a minute,” she informed them as she sat on the arm of an empty chair.

“How are you feeling?” Harry immediately asked.

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Much better, thank you,” she replied easily, but Harry knew that there was more that she was not saying. He had a feeling that she was reading the Occlumency book in her room and had made up the headache to curb Hermione's inquiry.

A moment later Hermione strolled down the staircase and into the room. “Shall we?”

And so the five of them headed through the castle and out onto the grounds. As they walked along, Ginny attempted to convince Harry to take her broom for the afternoon while she used a school broom. She still felt responsible for the fate of his Firebolt and felt that she should be the one to suffer for it, not him. Harry determinedly and repeatedly declined the offer, insisting that she was in no way at fault for what happened to the broom. After raiding the school broom shed, Harry and Neville each claiming one of the less worn down brooms, the four Gryffindors rose into the air with a quaffle and proceeded to play around. Hermione, in the meantime, headed into the stands to watch their antics as she read.

Two hours and copious amounts of warming charms later, the group headed back to the castle in high spirits. They ran into Luna in the Entrance Hall on her way to dinner, so the Gryffindors invited her to sit with them. The rules were more lax now that the holidays had begun. Normally there would not even be house tables set up, but because of the ball, the attendance of those staying in the castle for the holidays was much higher than usual.

The addition to their table earned them some curious glances but nothing more. They enjoyed the meal the house elves cooked up amongst light-hearted chatter and laughter. The castle was very relaxed at the moment. With classes just recently ending for the winter break and a lull in Death Eater attacks, the student body was breathing a collective sigh of relief. And at the same time, anticipation for Christmas and the coming ball was raising spirits.

The next day heralded Harry's double session of HA classes. He had debated over whether or not to continue the classes over the holidays, but in the end decided that there was little reason to stop. As it turned out, none of his students were returning home for the holidays, so nobody would end up behind as a result. He had told both classes about his intentions the previous weekend and had been surprised at their reactions. They cheered.

He had expected some grumbling at least. He was hopeful that they would accept it and not fight him too much on the extra work. Their immediate acceptance had not even crossed his mind, let alone the fact that they were happy about it. After taking a moment to collect himself, he had announced that anyone leaving the castle for the holidays should let him know by the end of the week. It was now the weekend, and nobody had contacted him. He assumed all his students were remaining in the castle. He was quite correct. It probably did not hurt that his classes were completely comprised of students of age to go to the Yule Ball.

His HA classes were going marvelously. In the BHA, Harry was moving right along through the subjects his IHA had covered the previous year. They were set to start work on Patronuses over the holidays. There was a small group of students who were proving to be quite adept in this area of study. After their last class he had asked them to meet him with him a few minutes before class today.

Harry surveyed the seven students from all four houses in front of him, a lone Gryffindor and two representatives each from the other houses. The room provided some simple seating arrangements for the seven, and he stood before them. They held similar facial expressions, curiosity being the most prominent. The most notable observation Harry made was the lack of reaction from all seven of being within such close quarters of students of another house. From many of his students, he still had to deal with house prejudices. Most could not be in the relative vicinity of Slytherin students without keeping a wary eye on them. This in turn kept the Slytherins on the alert. He did not see that same attitude here, which made him distinctly proud of the seven. That would hopefully help with what he had in mind.

Harry gave them all a genuine smile before he began. "I suppose you're all wondering why I asked you to come early today." There were nods all around, so Harry continued. "You seven are by far the best in your class. You're constantly the first to get every spell, and you've been a huge help to me in assisting your classmates in learning new spells." This had the effect of spreading smiles across all their faces. "I was considering asking if you would want some private training to help you catch up with the advanced class, but I had another thought that I thought might work better for all of us."

All seven were leaning forward eagerly, obviously interested in whatever it was Harry had in mind for them. "Frankly, I need you all to stay in the class you're in now. Without you all, things wouldn't run anywhere near as smoothly, so I'd like to keep you there. But at the same time, I don't want to hold you all back. What I was thinking is that you all would stay in your current class, and for about half the class you'd work with everyone else, learning the new material yourself and then helping your classmates with it. But then sometime after the halfway point in each class, I would have you seven separate from your friends and work together on some different things."

Harry paused to let the idea sink into their minds. "Once the other students start to catch on, your help isn't as needed, so you can all go work on something else while I get the rest of the students up to speed, with the help of the ones that you already helped along. How does that sound to you?"

Harry stepped back and watched as they thought over what he had said. The members of each house instinctively turned to each other first, but they were soon all huddling together to discuss it as a collective group. The scene brought a smile to Harry's face. It was great to see them making this a group decision, because it would involve them all working together as a group. His biggest fear was that there would be some hostility between the students based on house rivalries and prejudices. He could not have been happier with the way they were handling things thus far. He was really starting to think that this would work quite well for all of them.

A minute or two later, they came to their decision and turned to face Harry. Quinn Rasby, one of the Ravenclaw students, spoke up. "We're curious as to what types of things you had in mind for us to work on."

Harry took a moment to collect his thoughts before responding. "Some additional spells, but mostly advanced dueling tactics. I would have you dueling each other in more realistic circumstances, teaming up in different ways and with different numbers. I might give you different objectives to perform. That kind of thing."

The seven all turned towards each other and managed to communicate through looks as it only took a couple moments for Quinn to turn back toward him. "All right. That sounds good to us. When do we start?"

"Today," Harry told them. "I'll let you know when it's time to split apart, and what I want you to do today is split into two teams. I want one person from each house on each of the teams. Nicholas, since you're the only Gryffindor, I want you to switch back and forth between teams. I'll let the rest of you decide how to split up for now, just so long as you don't have two people from the same house on the same team. I want you to stick to low level hexes for today to give you all a chance to get used to working together."

They all nodded their acceptance. Harry left them to their own devices as he headed over to the side of the room. He marked off a section of the room and put up some basic wards to prevent stray spells from entering or exiting the area. While he was setting that up, students began trickling into the room. Come 10:00, he shut and locked the door and began class. As promised, he sent the seven students off to do their own thing a little over halfway through the class. The other students were casting curious looks their way, but most continued to diligently work on the new spells.

Harry made sure the seven got started all right then turned his attention back to the rest of his students. He made sure to keep an eye on the seven whenever he could but left them to work independently for the remainder of the class. The one problem with this new setup was that he was basically leaving them up to their own devices. He had to keep most of his attention on the rest of the class, and he did not have the time to baby-sit them. He had to trust that they would take the task seriously and that they would not begin acting inappropriately. His biggest fear was how the two Slytherin students would be treated by the other five, but so far there did not appear to be any cause for concern.

The next couple days flew by quickly enough, spent in the company of friends. Harry only managed to slip away once for training, much to his chagrin, but he could not complain too much. After all, it was not often he got the opportunity to just have fun with his friends without having any classes or anything else to worry about.

Wednesday rolled around soon enough, and Harry and Ginny both skived off to bed early claiming that they wanted to be well rested for Christmas and the ball. Harry leant his invisibility cloak to Ginny so that she could sneak out, while he just changed into owl form and flew out a window. They met in the tunnel under the Whomping Willow. Harry was waiting at the entrance with the knot pressed so that Ginny could approach safely.

When they made it to the Shrieking Shack, Harry entered first to find Remus waiting for him. Harry greeted the werewolf warmly and told him that he had brought some extra company for the night’s festivities. This earned him a raised eyebrow from the werewolf. It was at that moment that Ginny’s head popped through the trapdoor. She looked around curiously, this being her first time seeing the inside of the infamous haunted Shrieking Shack.

“Ginny Weasley,” Remus said aloud. “It’s been a long time,” he told her as he held his hand out to help her up into the room.

“Yes it has, Professor Lupin. It’s good to see you again,” she greeted him cheerfully.

“It’s a pleasure. And I must insist that you drop the formalities. It’s been several years since I’ve been your professor, and Remus suits me just fine,” he told her with a smile, belying his curiosity and fear.

“Remus, then,” Ginny agreed pleasantly

“I must say I’m at a bit of a loss,” Remus continued looking back and forth between the two teens. “Don’t take this the wrong way, because it is nice to see you, but what are you doing here? And why would you bring her with you?” he turned his attention fully to Harry as he began to pace. “You know the dangers involved here. I can’t have any humans around here. Even with the potion, I won’t take that kind of risk.”

“Relax, Remus,” Harry scolded gently.

“I will not relax. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened—“

“Nothing is going to happen,” Harry calmly interrupted.

“And how can you be so sure,” the werewolf demanded.

“Did I forget to mention that apart from being a good friend and my date to tomorrow’s ball, that Ginny here is also a pupil of mine?” Harry asked him casually, with a mischievous grin spreading across his lips.

“Pupil?” Remus asked thickly.

Harry just smirked. “Ginny? Would you mind showing Remus here what I taught you?” Harry glanced to Ginny who was smiling back at him timorously, nervous at her one time professor’s attitude regarding her presence.

“Sure, Harry,” she agreed. A couple of seconds later, Ginny Weasley was no longer to be found in the dingy room. In her place stood a majestic lioness, golden-red fur gleaming in the candlelight.

Remus’s jaw hit the floor. He stared at the lioness in front of him for a long moment, before turning his gobsmacked expression toward Harry. “You—how? What?”

Ginny, meanwhile, transformed back into human form and blithely remarked, “I think we’ve broken him.”

Harry smirked at her. “I think you may be right. Remus, coherent sentences, please.”

Remus sank down into a scratched up wooden chair and shook his head forcefully. “Let me get this straight. You,” he said, directing his gaze to Harry, “taught her to be an animagus?”

“Yep,” Harry supplied cheerfully.

“And you,” here he turned to Ginny, “learned to transform from Harry.”

“I think he’s catching on,” Ginny said to Harry.

“But you didn’t manage to transform until this term,” he remarked of Harry. “Which means you,” now his focus was back to Ginny, “couldn’t have begun learning until this term.”

Ginny shrugged while Harry responded, “Right in one, Moony.”

“But that’s incredible,” Remus exclaimed. “It’s supposed to take years for an adult to manage a full transformation. All those years ago I was shocked that James and Sirius and especially Peter were able to manage it at all, though it took them a few years. Then you manage it after only half a year,” he said to Harry, “and I’m thinking to myself that you must be extremely powerful to have managed that. Then you two come here and tell me that she,” he tilted his head to Ginny, “was able to manage it in a couple months. Unbelievable. I always thought you’d be a talented witch, but….” he trailed off here as he seemed to lose what he was going to say.

“Oh, I’m not that remarkable,” Ginny told him straightforwardly. “I just had an incredible teacher. Left on my own, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to manage it at all, let alone in such a short time. I have Harry to thank for that.”

“Nonsense,” Harry cried out. “It may have taken you a bit longer, but I have no doubt that you would have been able to get along just fine without me.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “If you say so Harry,” she relented, not wanting to argue about it at that particular moment.

“Well I’m willing to bet that it’s a combination of both. Harry, you’re a remarkable teacher from what I’ve heard, and Ginny, I’ve always known we could expect great things from you,” Remus said with finality.

They were all quite for a long moment before Ginny broke the silence. “I hope you don’t me coming along,” she told Remus. “I don’t want to intrude on your time with Harry, but we weren’t sure if having an extra animagus around would help you any more. Plus I was a little curious about what you boys get up to out here.”

“I don’t mind at all, and you’re not intruding. I’m honoured that you want to help. There are not many who would.” He paused a moment. “So how long have you known about Harry’s ability? I was under the impression that he wasn’t telling his friends. Are you teaching Ron and Hermione as well?” The last was directed towards Harry.

“No, actually I didn’t exactly tell Ginny about my ability so much as she caught me at it,” Harry told the werewolf, grinning ruefully. “She asked me to teach her, I agreed, and here we are. Ron and Hermione still don’t know.”

Remus looked thoughtful and did not speak for a long moment. “Well, I don’t know what to say. It’s your decision of course, but I am surprised that you’re still keeping it from them.”

“If you could see how they’ve been acting this year you might not be so surprised,” Ginny muttered darkly. Remus’s sensitive hearing was not necessary for him to pick up Ginny’s words.

He raised an eyebrow and looked between the two teens. “I heard about Ron kicking Harry off the Quidditch team, of course,” Remus said. "But I'm afraid Harry hasn't volunteered too much information on them beyond that."

“Ron and I have gotten into a couple spats, and there’s been some tension between Hermione and me,” Harry told the man.

“That’s putting it lightly,” Ginny huffed. “Ron kicking him off the team was just the latest in a long line of prattish things my dear brother has done.” She watched Harry carefully to make sure he did not seem upset at her outburst. He was watching her and gave her a shrug to show that it did not matter.

“Hermione has also been pretty unbearable at times. She kept trying to force Harry into opening up to her. She was convinced that Harry was secretly miserable and that he’s just been putting on a brave front for the world. She also seemed to think she was the only one who could help him. Also, she keeps getting on his case whenever he utilizes any of his newfound privileges given to him as a result of his being a Professor.”

“Assistant Professor,” Harry corrected mildly.

Remus nodded absently as he assimilated this new information. He knew how frail friendships could become in the blink of an eye. He had once been suspected by his best friends of being a spy for Voldemort, and he had been rather quick to believe the same of Sirius after the deaths of James and Lily. He and Sirius had nearly murdered one of their other one time best friends. It was only Harry that had saved them from that fate, something he would forever be grateful to the young man for. Cold-blooded murder was not something he wanted on his conscience.

“Well it’s good to see you have at least one person you seem to trust,” Remus said to Harry before turning his gaze to Ginny pointedly.

“Yes, I certainly do,” Harry agreed readily, following the man’s gaze.

Ginny blushed faintly under their combined gaze. A silence descended upon them once again, finally broken by Remus who said, “You two should change. It won’t be long now.”

Not long after they morphed into the large cats, they both watched as Remus went through the obviously painful transformation from man to werewolf. The three wrestled around for a bit. When Harry and Ginny worked together, they were generally able to get the best of the werewolf. They wore themselves out in that manner, and Harry and Ginny eventually curled up near each other to get a couple hours of rest.

When Remus transformed back into human form, he shook Harry awake first. Harry blearily opened his eyes to find the face of a beautiful lioness in front of him, and without even giving it a thought, his tongue had left his mouth and licked across her cheek. A moment later, Remus’s quiet laughter broke through his sleepy haze, and his human mind caught up with himself. If his fur were not black and thick, Remus would have seen what a great cat looks like when it blushes.

Harry quickly transformed back into human form and quietly muttered, “Not a word,” to his weary friend.

Remus did his best to adopt an innocent expression as he held his hands out wide. Harry shook Ginny awake, and she gave a big, toothy yawn before rising to her four paws and changing back into human form. She rubbed at her cheek and muttered to herself about drooling. Remus was not close enough to hear it, and Harry was not going to correct her. They bid the werewolf goodbye after receiving his assurances that he would be fine. They made the trek back through the tunnel together, and both eventually made it to their beds for another couple hours of sleep before they would be rudely awakened to open presents on Christmas morning.

***************

As he watched his two former students leave, Remus sank into a worn, wooden chair. He was physically exhausted from the night's transformation, but his mind was still sharp. Something was not quite adding up with Harry. It was clear that Harry had some secrets, and the prior night only leant further credence to that suspicion. Harry had learned to become an animagus in a rather remarkably short period of time by his telling, and he had taught Ginny how to transform in even less time. She had quite vehemently credited Harry for her rapid success, and, despite Harry's claims to the contrary, Remus had a feeling that Ginny was much more in the right.

He knew how hard the transformation was; he had watched his three best friends struggle through it. It had taken them a long time to manage it, and they had put so much time and energy into it. Even after they had managed it, for a long time the transformation had left them feeling drained. That did not appear to be the case with Harry so far as he could tell. Either Harry was just remarkably powerful, or there was something else going on that he did not know about. The fact that Harry was keeping things from Ron and Hermione only added to the mystery.

With Ginny added to the mix, Remus was quite sure that there was something he did not know about, and that was not even taking into account Harry's rather...interesting reaction to waking up next to a feline Ginny. One thing he knew about Harry, however, was that he would not be able to pry the information out of him. He was intensely curious, but he knew that he had to trust Harry. If he confronted Harry about it, he was likely to meet resistance and only set the boy on the alert. If he expressed his concerns to someone else and Harry found out about it, well, he did not want to think about that. No, he would just have to wait and see what other clues Harry would give away before doing anything.

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