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Harry Potter and the Renascent Seer

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Summary: When Cordelia Chase falls into a coma, it’s up to Xander Harris to do everything he can to save her. With the help of a few friends, he finds hope halfway across the world. Please read the warnings! Will include slash.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Harry Potter > Cordelia-Centered(Past Donor)gleefulmusingsFR1515126,7812113137,13811 May 1010 Oct 10No

Alliances, Part 3: Odds, Ends, and Weasley Twins

Author's Note: A thousand apologies for not updating sooner. Real life has been absolutely ridiculous as of late. Enjoy the new chapter, and I promise to catch up on review replies soon!


* * * * *



After leaving Madam Malkin’s, Harry shuffled further down the sidewalk and entered Flourish and Blott’s to peruse their collection.

He had decided that perhaps he should take a lesson from Hermione and start building a personal library. He wasn’t particularly averse to reading; indeed, it was an activity in which he had once sought refuge. When he was younger, it had always been safer to have his nose buried in a book than paying too much attention to what was going on in the Dursley house.

Of course, the unanticipated offshoot was that his grades had started to climb past Dudley’s, which was strictly disallowed. So Harry had abandoned his pastime in favor of disappearing inside his head, a practice in which he still frequently indulged, much to his friends’ chagrin. Over time, he had lost interest in learning new things which might inadvertently place him in unwanted competition with cousin, while at school, reading for pleasure wasn’t a luxury often afforded him.

Now, however, he could afford both literally and figuratively to absorb as much information as he could get his hands on. No matter how impressive the library at Hogwarts, he doubted that its walls contained every parchment about magic which had been written. Too often he had found school texts to be overly verbose and daunting. Such tomes excited Hermione, who viewed them as a puzzle to be unlocked, but Harry felt that authors could have imparted their wisdom more effectively with less fanfare and more focus. Granted, he had never truly excelled at theory, but once he truly understood something, he knew it for life and could then replicate and build upon that knowledge.

He slipped inside the bookstore and immediately headed to the Defense section but quite soon found it lacking. Obviously the shop catered to the general populace, while he needed more specialized information. The problem of course was that he had no idea where to begin his search. He thought about asking the proprietor to order for him specific materials, but he presumed that would entail inviting questions he didn’t wish to answer, as well as alerting both Dumbledore and stray Death Eaters as to what he was trying to accomplish. For all he knew, the Ministry illicitly tracked what people bought; he certainly wouldn’t put it past them.

That decided, Harry made up his mind to search out instead books to help him catch up on what he should have been learning these past five years, books which would break down the material so that he might more easily absorb it. He doubted he was the only one who didn’t care for theory.

Harry wandered from display to display and made note of several works which caught his eye. He wasn’t yet ready to buy anything, and he kept an eye on the clock on the wall so that he wouldn’t be late meeting Luna at Fortescue’s. He hemmed and hawed for almost an hour, internally debating possible purchases. He was rather surprised at the number of books which detailed magic of which he was unaware. Well, he supposed that made sense. Hogwarts was a school of wizardry, not an institution which taught the mysteries of all sentient magical creatures. He failed to understand why this was so; after all, magic was magic, wasn’t it? Was it really so compressed and compartmentalized that only certain forms worked for certain groups? Were that the case, wouldn’t Muggleborns, half-bloods, and purebloods be instructed differently? No, there had to be baseline principles, regardless of type. Purebloods like Malfoy knew different spells because such things remained in the family, and purebloods were taught from an earlier age.

Well, it was time for him to expand his mind, wasn’t it?

He made another circuitous round of the store, tossing books into his basket with aplomb. Centaurs, goblins, merfolk, Veela; as many histories of various species as he could get his hands on, making a mental note to ask Dobby about house elf magic at a later date. He also picked up a few manuals on wizarding law, figuring that if Fudge was going to continue to harass him, he’d do well to know the guidelines within which he could retaliate. It was unfair for him to use continually Hermione as a gofer simply because Harry himself was put off by doing a bit of research on his own. He errantly wondered how much of these topics had been covered in History of Magic before realizing that he had no idea. Honestly, what was Dumbledore thinking by having Binns as the history professor? Yet another addition to the long list of questions Harry doubted he would ever ask.

Taking his selections to the counter, he offered a customary grimace after the clerk totaled the purchases. Truthfully, he was surprised at how little they cost; he had been expecting much more. Those purchases which Harry thought it best to conceal he asked the clerk to shrink down so that he might place them within his robes. After stowing them with the shrunken sheaves of documents given to him by the goblins, Harry parted with the requisite galleons and took his leave.

As he once again stood before Flourish and Blott’s, Harry realized it best to pick out a birthday gift for Hermione. It was true he still had almost two months to consider a final purchase, but he thought he should begin looking. He wanted to give her something different than the usual book or chocolates from Honeyduke’s. He thought two gifts were in order, one practical and the other whimsical, or as whimsical as one could get with Hermione. Frowning in thought, he turned to his left and found himself in front of the stationery shop. Deciding he could use more ink and quills, he entered and quickly made his selections, but before he could pay, he noticed a display for a new product.

“Excuse me,” he politely said to the clerk. “Could you tell me a bit about these, please?”

The young man behind the counter smiled winningly at the cute boy and prepared to launch into his pitch, assured of a sale by the quick blush the customer gave.

“These are called Verus Quills, because they become intrinsically linked to their owners. All the owner has to do is cast the accompanying charm and then write out the alphabet with the quill. After that, the quill is programmed with the owner’s handwriting and they become automatic, much like a Dictoquill.”

Harry frowned. “Are those anything like what Rita Skeeter uses?”

The clerk, whose name tag read Virgil, curled a lip. “That woman...don’t get me started. Whenever she comes into the shop, I excuse myself and force someone else to wait on her. Quite a pest she is. But yes, the principle is the same. However, Verus Quills are unique in that they will write only for their owner and are unable to be used by anyone else.”

“Wow.” He nodded in acknowledgment, thinking of the D.A. Such quills would be incredibly useful, even if he couldn’t think of all the uses immediately, and even if he wasn’t sure he wanted to keep the D.A. going. Whatever the case, he’d have to look for a better gift for Hermione. “I’ll take the lot of them.”

Virgil’s eyes widened. “All of them?,” he squeaked.

Harry nodded more emphatically. “I have lots of friends for whom these will be wonderful. Do you have a form so that I can order more if need be?”

“Of course, sir.”

“Sir? I don’t look that old, do I?”

Virgil thought the boy was flirting, so he placed his arms on the counter and leaned forward. “Not at all. You look only slightly younger than me. Hogwarts?”

Harry backed up a step, blushed, and nodded again. “I’m going to be a Sixth Year.”

“Congratulations.” Another charming grin. “So, would one of these be for someone special?” The boy ducked his head and mumbled unintelligently. Virgil decided that even if the boy was flirting, he was also incredibly shy and, as he didn’t want to risk mucking up the sale, he begged off. “Well, I hope you find these useful. Is there anything else with which I can assist you?”

Harry frowned and considered the question. It would be helpful to have some means of communicating with his friends while at school without anyone else being able to overhear them, or Dumbledore’s spies or portraits or whatever eavesdropping.

“Do you have charmed parchment which would allow my friends and I to write notes to each other which no one else could read?”

Virgil’s eyes lighted. “Even better! We have journals with wards to which you can key one or several people so that they can be shared.”

“But what if I don’t want all those people to read the same message?”

“The wards are layered so that you can individualize and prioritize the messages. If you plan on using more than two journals, then your own journal would function like that of a Secret Keeper, if you’re familiar with the Fidelius charm.”

“All too well,” Harry said darkly.

The clerk blinked. “I see. Well, you alone would set the wards and instruct the journal to display the appropriate messages to the person or persons you want.”

“But what if they want to communicate with each other without me reading what they write?”

Virgil winced. “Well, that’s the one drawback, you see. There’s no way around that. Your journal would keep a record of all transmissions, so you would be privy even to, er, confidential communications.”

Harry thought about that. He wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea, except where Ron, Hermione, and a few others were concerned; he certainly didn’t want to violate their privacy. However, if he did decide to use these journals for the D.A., it would be useful to discover what the members might be writing to each other about him and his closest friends, as well as determining their true loyalties.

He knew he should feel bad about imposing on their secret thoughts, but he didn’t; he couldn’t afford to, not with Voldemort nattering about and his Death Eaters being a nuisance. Had he these last year, the debacle with Marietta Hedgecombe might never have come about, and he wasn’t willing to repeat that mistake. Enchanted parchments just weren’t cutting it. Of course, all of this was predicated on whether he intended to keep up with the D.A. He was still on the fence about that. Perhaps he should let Ron, Hermione, or both of them take over the reins and he could serve as an occasional advisor. Yes. He liked that idea.

“Are you still with me?”

Harry started and looked up into Virgil’s concerned face. “Oh. Yeah, sorry. Just thinking about what you said. Right, then. Okay, I’ll take fifty journals, plus my own, and I would also like three additional for my friends, so that they can write to each other without fear of any intrusion on my part.”

Virgil’s eyes widened. “Er, I’m not sure we have all that in stock.”

“Would you check, please? It’s fine if you don’t. I’ll send an order once I return to Hogwarts, but if you have four, I’ll take those now. In addition to the quills and these other things.” He held up his personal purchases.

“Right away.”

Harry waited as the clerk went to the back, and was disappointed but unsurprised when Virgil returned with only four journals in hand. He was wary of using such devices, as they reminded him uncomfortably of Tom Riddle’s diary, but he still thought they were his best option. In fact, perhaps this was better, for he could get Ron and Hermione’s opinions on his idea and its feasibility after some experimentation with their personal journals.

“As I thought, we don’t have that many journals on hand,” said a rueful Virgil, “but I do have the four you requested. Complete instructions are located inside each one. I forgot to mention that they are also wand-specific. The first time someone goes to write something, they must first touch the tip of their wand to the lock, and the lock will then adjust itself to grant them access. After that, only that wand will be able to open the journal.”

Harry nodded. It wasn’t foolproof, but it was the best for which he could hope. At least there were some security measures in place. “Brilliant. How much, then?”

Again, Harry was surprised at how little the lot cost, and he then began to worry that he was taking his money for granted. Surely Ron or Ginny or even Hermione would have balked at how much he had spent in the past few hours. Still, he thought they were good and reasonable purchases, and he could well afford them. Better to be prepared than caught unawares. He doled out the total price and handed the money to Virgil, who took it graciously but seemed to hold Harry’s hand longer than necessary.

“Er, thank you,” Harry croaked.

“Of course. Would you like me shrink these for you?”

“Please.” He averted his eyes. It was ridiculous how easily he was flustered. In fact, it was quite mortifying. Hopefully, Voldemort wasn’t skulking about, otherwise he would discern the easiest way to defeat Harry Potter: have a good-looking boy stand before him and hold his hand.

Virgil quickly complied and handed Harry the shrunken items, watching with intent interest as Harry opened his robes and deposited the items inside. He was built quite nicely, if a little more delicately than Virgil preferred. Nice boy, cute and polite, considerate of his friends, and reasonably well-off.

“My lunch hour is coming up. Would you like to get a butterbeer at Fortescue’s?”

Harry’s mouth fell open and his face felt on fire. “I’m...I mean, uh...”

“That’s okay. I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m sorry.”

“Oh! Oh, no,” Harry said weakly. “It was very nice of you to ask. You’re very nice.” He blushed more deeply. “It’s just that I’m meeting my friend for lunch, and I’m not sure how she would feel if I invited someone along.”

“I see. A friend. A she friend.” Virgil fought to stave off a blush. Perhaps he had misjudged the situation. How embarrassing! All the good ones.

“Just a friend,” Harry mumbled. Oh, Merlin! He was terrible at flirting! No wonder Cho had thought him daft last year. He cleared his throat and offered instead the most charming smile he could muster.

Virgil’s mouth parted and his eyes widened as the boy’s face was suddenly transformed from one of cuteness into one of beauty. Godric! That smile made all the difference. Wow! The boy should definitely use that weapon more often; he’d send people flailing about to obey his whims.

“Well, you best be off, then. If you need anything else, just drop back in or send an owl and ask for me.”

“Thank you. You’ve been very helpful. And kind.” Harry all but ran out of the shop.

Virgil stared at the retreating form and sighed wistfully before smacking his palm against his forehead. “I didn’t get his name!”



* * * * *



Harry, cursing himself and his flushing skin, raced across the street and sought refuge in Eyelops Owl Emporium. He knew things were grim when the overwhelming stench of so many owls was comforting rather than off-putting. He stalked the aisles in search of Hedwig’s favorite treats as he willed his respiration to calm and his normal pallor to reassert itself.

What was wrong with him? That little exchange with a random store clerk had left him more tongue-tied and nervous than any interaction he had ever experienced with Cho, including that time in Madame Puddifoot’s!

He dropped his head forward and rested it against the cool metal of one of the shelves. This was absolutely ridiculous! Thank the gods no one had been there to witness it. He could just imagine Hermione’s exasperation, or the consternation and then teasing he would have to endure from Ron. And if it had been Ginny, well, she wouldn’t have rested until he and the clerk had coupled right in front of her. She probably would have offered direction.

So a cute boy had talked to him. So what? Cute boys talked to him all the time. Of course, those boys weren’t flirting with him. Or had they been? Harry began combing his thoughts in search of possible flirting attempts he hadn’t been sophisticated enough to have recognized before. Not that he was all that sophisticated now. He was a bit of rube, apparently. Hadn’t Hermione always suggested as much?

Flirting always made him think of Seamus Finnegan, because Seamus flirted with absolutely everything and everyone; he was a natural tease. Perhaps Harry could ask him for lessons? Some kind of translator or something? And Seamus was awfully cute, especially with that sexy Irish accent. He blinked. Sexy? Seamus was sexy? Well, yes, he rather was. Of course, he hadn’t been quite so sexy last term, what with acting like a twit in the D.A. and all the rest of it, but Harry was willing to cut him some slack. He couldn’t expect all of Gryffindor to rally unquestionably behind him. Seamus, a half-blood, was probably terrified about what Voldemort or his Death Eaters would do to his family; they were prime representatives of what Voldemort despised. If Harry could understand anything, it was fear. And Seamus had delightfully pouty lips.

Sweet Merlin! What was wrong with him? He was being inane and spending far too much time thinking about boys and about what he’d like to do with them. He was supposedly to save the wizarding world, and here he was instead, a blushing schoolboy who had run away from someone who had tried to hold his hand. He was pathetic! Yet that didn’t stop him from thinking of any number of hot guys he knew. As usual, he began with the Weasley clan, and started from the top, with Bill. Perhaps this was because he had seen Bill first thing this morning and had spent a good portion of his time in Gringotts wondering what Bill looked like naked. Pretty amazing, he had decided. And then there was Charlie.

He sighed.

Charlie! Charlie was so...well, delicious, really. He had given Charlie far too many appraising looks during Fourth Year, when Charlie had helped bring the dragons for the first challenge. Merlin, his arms! They just looked so strong, like he could scoop Harry up in them and keep him safe, and pin him down, and...

“Stop it,” he whispered harshly to himself. “It’s not right to think of your best mate’s brothers that way! What would Ron say? What would Mrs. Weasley say!”

Besides, Bill was engaged to Fleur. Well, that was quite telling, wasn’t it? One of the most beautiful women Harry had ever seen, Veela or not, who could have had any man she wanted, had chosen Bill Weasley. At least Harry couldn’t fault his own good taste.

Charlie was single, wasn’t he? Ron hadn’t said anything about Charlie dating anyone. Oh, he was being ludicrous. Charlie was much too mature for him. Wasn’t he? What would Charlie want with a skinny runt like him?

Harry skipped right over Percy and thought next of the twins. It was almost sinful how adorable they were, and he thought himself a bit touched in the head that when he thought about one, he usually ended thinking of them both, with himself somewhere in between. That was certainly untoward and entirely inappropriate; quite possibly perverted. Oh, hello, Fred and George! Would you be willing to engage in a bout of incest to placate my raging libido? Want to play Harry in the Middle?

The scary thing was that he could actually imagine them agreeing, and that sent his mind off to places from which he should best shy away. And truthfully, he preferred George, though he would never be able to qualify just why that was. It wasn’t anything against Fred, of course, but when Harry would watch the twins, and hopefully they had never noticed him doing so, he had always thought George was the more quiet one, even a little shy. Well, as shy as a Weasley twin could be.

He began banging his head on the shelf. “Don’t think about Ron, don’t think about Ron.”

Blood was pooling between his legs, and Harry Potter was never more grateful in his life for wizarding robes.

Of course, once his mind began racing, he couldn’t shut it off, so he moved past the Weasleys and began considering other boys. Dean Thomas was good looking, but not really his type. Neville was invariably kind and inordinately brave, but Harry couldn’t quite picture himself snogging the boy; still, he was quite glad to count Neville as an incredibly good friend. Justin Finch-Fletchley was more than a spot of all right; he was actually quite lovely, with all of that curly hair, and he was a bit of a flirt, as well; he was Hufflepuff’s answer to Seamus Finnegan. Terry Boot was okay. Ernie MacMillan was a prat, but not entirely unfortunate looking. Zacharias Smith wasn’t worthy of consideration, even if his hair did look like spun gold. Michael Corner was quite attractive, but after the way he had treated Ginny, all Harry wanted to do was repeatedly punch in his face.

He knew a lot of girls and a fair number of boys fancied Malfoy, and Harry was willing to concede that Malfoy wasn’t completely ugly, but he did nothing for Harry, not when he knew how diseased the boy’s mind was. Even if he had been attracted to Malfoy, he would never be able to cast aside the past five years and all of the absolutely vile things that great prat had said and done to Harry himself and his friends.

And before he could stop them, he was assailed with unbidden images of Cedric Diggory.

Really, that was just too much. He had to force himself to stop romanticizing their brief encounters. Yes, Cedric had been absolutely beautiful, had all but taken Harry’s breath away, but truly no one could be that perfect. Well, he had had lovely eyes. A most fascinating shade of gray, so much unlike Malfoy’s, whose eyes always looked stormy. Cedric had had kind eyes, gentle eyes.

He sighed again.

And Cedric’s thick, wavy chestnut hair. Harry wished he had worked up the courage to touch it, just once. He imagined it had been like gossamer. He thought about how it would feel between his fingers, like secret kisses, and how Cedric would purr under his touch. And the full, luscious lips which had been crafted for long, slow busses which Harry was quite sure would have made his toes curl.

“You’re being obscene,” he chastised himself. “Cedric is dead. Leave him be.”

But he couldn’t. Because he had killed him, as much as if he had cast the spell himself. Stupid sense of fair play; he should have just taken the blasted cup. He should have suspected something was wrong with it. He sometimes thought it would have been better had he just allowed Cedric to take the cup.

No, no. No, Cedric had been owed someone to witness his murder. He deserved to be remembered as more than Death Eater collateral damage. To the very end, Cedric had been a hero, and not because of his face or his body, but because he had been a decent, kind boy with atypical bravery; because he had treated people with respect and consideration, regardless of what other people said.

“Don’t you dare cry. Not here.”

A few tears slipped past his command, however, and Harry angrily swatted them away. He should probably check himself into St. Mungo’s. It couldn’t be healthy to obsess this much over someone who had perished more than a year ago. How could he be just as upset over Cedric, a boy he had never truly known, as he was about Sirius, his own godfather? Of course, he really hadn’t known Sirius, either. Perhaps that was what was so haunting, that he hadn’t gotten the chance to know two such incredible men, and now he never would.

Still, what was he going on about? Cedric hadn’t felt anything for him other than compassion and perhaps a dose of pity. He had been one of the few who had insisted almost from the beginning that Harry hadn’t entered himself in the Goblet. He wished he had told Cedric how much that had meant to him, how close to his heart he had kept that generosity, when the entire school, including one of his own best friends, had turned their backs on him. Cedric had told his house that he wouldn’t tolerate those insipid badges Malfoy had produced, that engaging in such childish behavior was beneath Hufflepuffs.

And yes, they had had a few brief conversations, most of which had involved Harry staring at Cedric’s mouth and managing to nod in the right places and hoping Cedric hadn’t noticed his fidgeting, praying that his robes covered him adequately in the front. So what if Cedric had stood closer to him than necessary? It had made sense, after all; the contestants weren’t supposed to speak to each other about the tasks, and Cedric had merely been cautious. Right? And if Cedric had looked into his eyes the entire time he spoke, what of it? Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do? What confident people did? None of it meant anything.

Yet he couldn’t stop himself from wondering what would have happened if he had tried to hold Cedric’s hand, or had hugged him, or had told him how much he had admired him. He doubted Cedric would have cared; he had been with Cho, after all.

Still, perhaps if he had had the guts to say anything that wasn’t mundane, maybe he wouldn’t still be so desolate. He would always be haunted by Cedric’s death, of course, but possibly this heartsickness wouldn’t be so acute. Even if he had been outright rejected, it would have been better than this constant wondering and the distant hope which still burned somewhere deep within him. And how pitiful was that? Hoping a dead boy might have fancied him? No wonder half the world thought him nutters.

But none of that explained why he had been dreaming of Cedric long before the other boy had been murdered, dreaming of him even before fourth year. Harry had always known who Cedric Diggory was - who hadn’t? - even if their contact was limited to the occasional Quidditch match. He had noticed the way the trousers fit Cedric’s body, and the way the sun transformed the highlights of his hair into a halo, and the creamy unblemished skin which Harry had been sure was even softer than he had ever imagined. How Cedric’s eyes had sparkled even more than Dumbledore’s, just because he was so happy all the time.

Was that was this was about? That part of him had been jealous of Cedric for being happy? Had he wanted Cedric because he had wanted to taste that happiness for himself?

No. He had wanted Cedric because Cedric had been worth wanting. He might not have known Cedric well, but what he did know, he had liked. Had loved.

“I did love him,” he whispered, closing his eyes, the admission a knife his gut.

He immediately tried to talk himself out of it, that he couldn’t possibly have loved Cedric. He didn’t even really know what love was! Certainly he hadn’t learned it from the Dursleys, and it was a completely different love than what he shared with Ron and Hermione, and different than what he had with the Weasleys, even those after whom he lusted. How could he have loved Cedric?

He forced himself to pull it together and squash it all down; he would deal with it later. He had to meet Luna soon, and he still wanted to see the twins and whatever mischief in which they were currently involved.

Grabbing a can of owl treats, Harry squared his shoulders, breathed deeply, and made his way to the front of the store, thankful it was practically empty and that no one had seen his ridiculous display. Honestly, he had to be more careful. One simply never knew when beetles might be lurking about. He needed to get himself under control, especially before he returned to school. He could ill afford to have these spells in the company of other people, as they would become nothing more than new fodder for Malfoy and his cronies.

He placed the can of treats on the counter and his eyes restlessly sought the clerk, hoping it wouldn’t be another cute guy. Spying a bell hidden by the register, he tapped it with impatience.

“I’ll be right there!,” a distinctly feminine voice shouted from the back.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. A few minutes later, a woman bustled forward with a speed which would have pleased Madam Pomfrey and came to stand behind the counter.

“Is that all, young man?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry if I disturbed you.”

“Oh, not at all! It’s just that there’s a clutch hatching in the back, and I’ve been checking on them throughout the morning.”

His eyes lighted. “Really?”

“In the market for an owl, are you?,” she laughed.

“Oh, no! My owl is perfect. She’s almost seven now. My friend Hagrid bought her from here, as a matter of fact. Hedwig was a birthday gift. Best one I ever got, too,” he smiled.

“You’re Harry Potter!”

He touched the fringe of his hair to ensure it was still covering his scar and lowered his eyes. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I’ll have you know I don’t believe one whit of that nonsense in that rubbish paper. I use it to line the owl cages. It looks much better with droppings dotting it, I’ve found.”

His laugh was explosive and he wheezed his thanks.

“I well remember Hagrid buying that owl,” she said fondly. “Told me how important she was to be to a new friend of his. Good taste in owls, that man has. So, named her Hedwig, did you? A great snowy owl?”

“She’s beautiful,” Harry beamed. “She’s one of my best friends.”

The woman nodded. “I know exactly what you mean.” She stormed toward the door and flipped the lock. Turning back to Harry, she said, “Why don’t you come into the hatchery for a few moments. You might get to see one of the owlets being born.”

“Wow,” he breathed. The woman smiled and strode toward the back of the shop, Harry trailing behind her.

“Here we are!,” she announced, stopping before a nest.

Harry peeked from behind her and looked into the bulbous orange eyes of a tawny barn owl. The bird considered him for a moment. Harry bowed his head, which seemed to please her greatly, and she nodded in kind.

“You have respect for owls,” the pleased shopkeeper noted. “I’m Calliope Marchbanks, by the way.”

He blinked. “It’s nice to meet you. Er, pardon my asking, but are you any relation to Griselda Marchbanks?”

The woman smiled. “Yes, I am! She’s my elder sister. Might I ask how you know her, Mister Potter?”

He looked around nervously, but decided that, as they were alone, it was doubtful they would be overheard. “I met her briefly when I was tried by the Wizengamot.”

“Excuse me? For what could you have been possibly been tried?”

“Er,” he hesitated, blushing, “I chased off a couple of Dementors. Someone had sent them to Surrey after me, and they attacked both my cousin and me. My cousin’s a Muggle, you see, and I’m underage, so not only did I illegally perform magic, but I potentially exposed it.”

“Outrageous.”

Harry hung his head and nodded.

“Oh! Not you, dear!”

He looked up, startled.

“What breed of fool would haul a young man before the Wizengamot for protecting not only himself but a Muggle from Dementors?,” she raged. “By the way, how did you drive them off?”

“I cast my Patronus?”

The woman’s mouth fell open. “You? You cast a Patronus? But you’re a boy!” Harry frowned, but the woman paid no heed. “You cast a Patronus strong enough to ward off Dementors, saving your life and that of your cousin, and you get punished for it? What kind of nonsense is going on here?,” she roared.

He blinked and stepped back.

“Oh, I’m sorry, dear,” she said ruefully. “Just gets my goat, it does. I just can’t fathom how such a travesty occurred. While the rules against underage magic are stringent and explicit, they certainly don’t apply to instances of mortal peril! And I’m sure it would have been nothing for the Accidental Magic Squad to pop over and Obliviate your cousin. Honestly, what were they thinking? I have a good mind to send my sister a Howler the likes of which she’s never seen.”

“Please don’t,” Harry begged. “She was very kind, and I gathered she thought the whole thing was just as ridiculous as you do.”

Calliope snorted. “Of that, I have no doubt. But who sent the Dementors?” Harry trapped her in an even gaze. She paled, but nodded. “Of course. Sick bastard.”

He smothered the hysterical giggle threatening to erupt. “Well, I never quite determined whether or not it was Voldemort.” He was shocked and pleased when the woman didn’t so much as flinch at the name. “I rather think it was Fudge who sicced them on me,” he glowered, “although Umbridge took the credit.”

“That imbecile!,” Calliope screeched. “How well I can believe that fool would do something so reckless! And I’m sure she was there to lead the charge against you?”

Harry inclined his head.

“The titmouse,” she seethed. “Thank Merlin she and Fudge are gone.”

“What?”

Her eyes widened. “Don’t you know? Fudge was ousted from the Ministry, largely because of his attacks against you! They’ve temporarily installed Amelia Bones in the position.”

His breathing became faint as he wondered how the new Minister would react to the note he had had Dobby deliver. He had been under the impression Bones was still the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; never would he have guessed she was the new Minister! Well, he supposed it served him right for ignoring his post for most of the summer.

Calliope wasn’t paying attention to him, however. “About time, too. Fudge had been a disaster from day one, always prancing about like a reindeer on Christmas Eve. Stupidest man I’ve ever known, that’s for sure. Nothing but a puppet. Well, hopefully things will improve with a no-nonsense woman like Bones in charge. I hope she chooses to run in the general election. I’d certainly vote for her.”

Dazed, Harry nodded.

“Oh! One’s hatching!”

He turned his eager face to the cage and stared with wonder as he heard a gentle pecking and watched as the outer shell of an egg begin to crack. In his excitement, he grabbed Calliope’s hand and squeezed, a totally unconscious movement on his part.

She looked at him askance; this boy was not mad. If he said Voldemort was back, he was. He could have said any number of things against Fudge, but hadn’t. He could have blamed her sister for his illegal trial, but didn’t. Harry Potter was one person where good hype wasn’t enough. She squeezed back.

He held his breath as he watched the tiny little head break though the shell and offer a pathetic chirp. “Oh, it’s wonderful.”

“It is, indeed.”

“Miss Marchbanks…”

“Calliope, please.”

“Calliope, then.” He gave her a self-conscious grin. “How long does it take before an owl is ready to become a post owl?”

The woman turned her eyes up to the ceiling. “Well, there are many variables. It depends on the breed, of course, as well as the individual owl’s intelligence and disposition. Typically a few months at the minimum.”

Harry thought of Pigwidgeon and nodded. “How long do you think for this little, er, guy?”

Calliope peered more closely into the cage, the mother owl now cleaning off her young. “Boy,” she promptly decided. “If he’s anything like his mother, not long at all. But I thought you weren’t looking for a new owl, Harry?”

“Oh, not for me,” he rushed to say. “Frankly, I hope Hedwig outlives me, for I just don’t think I could bear to lose her. My best friend’s birthday is coming up, and I know she would love to have her own owl. I’ve seen her with Hedwig; she would take great care of this little owl.”

“She, is it? Then you’re speaking of Hermione Granger?”

Harry promptly released the woman’s hand and turned startled eyes upon her.

She chuckled. “Said I don’t believe the nonsense the Prophet prints about you, but I do read the articles to keep apprised. It’s no secret that Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley are your best friends. It wasn’t that long ago that Molly was in here buying that wee runt. What did they end up naming him, anyway?”

“Er, Pigwidgeon. Pig, for short.”

She laughed with delight. “I approve! So, this owl would be for Hermione? Is it true what they say of her?”

Harry stiffened. “And what would that be?"

Calliope was unsurprised and was sure he was ready to launch into a blistering defense of his friend. “That she’s quite brilliant, of course.”

He relaxed slightly and curtly nodded once. “Hermione Granger is the brightest witch of her age.”

She considered his statement. “Coming from Harry Potter, that endorsement means something to me.” She nodded. “All right, then, yes, I think this owlet could be properly trained in a few months time. When is your friend’s birthday?”

“Mid-September.”

“Hm. Well, it will take some effort on my part, but I’m willing to expend it. And as Topaz here seems to approve of you, I doubt she’ll resent that her baby will be going to a good home.” She paused. “Harry, are you quite sure you can afford this? While this wee one wouldn’t be as expensive as Hedwig, personal post owls are not cheap.”

“I have the money, and Hermione is worth every galleon and more.”

The woman nodded. “Let’s leave these two alone, shall we? We’ll go up front, I’ll get you the paperwork, and ring you up.”

Happy to comply, a cheerful Harry followed her back out into the store proper. “I’ll need a cage, of course, so that Hermione can take her owl home for the holidays and summers, and whatever treats you think the owl might enjoy. Oh! And if you have any books on owl care or this specific species, I’d like those as well, please. Hermione would go spare if she couldn’t learn absolutely everything she could about owls.”

Calliope smiled. “Have you any thoughts on a name?”

He debated only briefly. “Sophus.”

Her smile became more broad. “Masculine nominative for ‘wise’. Excellent choice, Harry.” She made some notes on the paper before her. “All right, then, we’re all set.” She named the total and watched with careful eyes as the boy before didn’t even blink, merely dipping into his purse and conscientiously counting out the galleons. She palmed the money and deposited it, and then they chatted about when Sophus would be delivered to Hermione.

“Calliope, perhaps you could answer a question for me?”

“I’ll certainly do my best,” she promptly replied.

“A friend of mine who recently met Hedwig told me that I had an extremely powerful familiar. What does that mean?”

Her eyes widened. “Harry, this is...most unexpected. Familiars are incredibly rare, and they are almost never owls.”

He frowned. “But what is a familiar?”

“A familiar is an animal who willingly bonds with their owner.”

“I don’t own Hedwig,” Harry vigorously protested. “She’s my friend!” Hadn’t he said this already?

That pleased Calliope to no end. “And that is why she has chosen to bond with you, because you treat her not as a servant, but as an equal. All animals, and especially owls, are enormously prideful, as they have every right to be. They were here before us, you know, and will be here long after we all kill ourselves. That Hedwig so obviously respects you says much to your character. That she has become your familiar means she will never leave you, Harry. She will be by your side until she is no more, and she will remain unfailingly loyal and protect you from harm.”

“I know Hedwig loves me,” he said softly.

“Indeed. There is much we do not know about the magic of familiars, for we are, unfortunately, unable to converse with animals. Even the most powerful Animagi are often at a loss when their animal forms encounter another of their kind. True familiars are few and far between. That level of trust between animal and human is not often to be found.”

“Fawkes.”

She nodded. “Yes. Dumbledore’s phoenix is a good example. Familiars typically have a heightened awareness of their human counterparts, an intelligence which goes beyond normal capabilities. Never doubt that when you speak to Hedwig, she understands your every word.”

“I wish I could understand her,” he said wistfully.

“I rather imagine you can. Typically, humans who have familiars show a remarkable degree of empathy. While you might not understand exactly Hedwig’s clucks and chirps, you usually can discern her moods, correct?”

Harry nodded.

“While most people who have animals also share a link, a bond with a familiar goes much deeper. You don’t need words, Harry. You communicate with Hedwig just fine. If she has become your familiar, it is because she loves you greatly and considers you her own. You’re right in that you don’t own her; she owns you.”

He grinned so hard he thought his face might crack.

“Now,” Calliope added, “I have some books here on what we do know of familiars and their magic, if you would like them.” He nodded and reached for his purse. She held up a hand. “None of that!,” she said sharply. “You have given me extreme pleasure in coming here this morning and chatting with me. It’s nice to have an intelligent conversation with a thoughtful young man, instead of receiving looks and being whispered about as the doddering old Bird Lady.” He looked affronted on her behalf and her heart warmed. “You well understand public opinion, Harry. You should know that no one beneath you can offend you, and no one your equal would.”

He frowned. “I’ve heard that before.”

“Eleanor Roosevelt. A remarkable lady, Muggle or no. Quite wise.”

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“All right, then,” she said briskly, “I’m sure you have places to be, but the next time you’re in Diagon Alley, do drop in, won’t you?”

“Of course! And I’ll send you a note to tell you how much Hermione loves Sophus. I’m sure Hedwig would like to see you again.”

“That would be lovely,” she smiled. “Off you go!”

“Thank you, Calliope,” he said gravely, taking the books on familiars in hand. “For everything.”

She nodded brusquely. “I’ll have the cage and the books for Miss Granger shrunk and delivered to you by post before her birthday.”

He smiled again and took his leave.

Calliope watched from behind the counter as he turned left, presumably toward Fortescue’s, and sighed. “Delightful boy.” She frowned. “I think I best contact Griselda. That Wizengamot business doesn’t sit well with me at all. Honestly, what were they thinking?”



* * * * *



Draco Malfoy had snuck away from his manor home with every intention of segueing into Knockturn Alley to find some useful little whatsit that would aid him in further enraging Harry Potter once the school term started. Better yet, something to humiliate either the Mudblood or the Weasel, for nothing pissed off Potter more than when his friends were attacked. All but skipping down the avenue, Draco smirked with barely suppressed laughter. Of course, people were used to Draco Malfoy smirking at everyone and everything, so sure of his intellectual and pedigreed superiority, that no one really took notice.

The blond boy suddenly halted in his tracks as he spotted Harry Potter across the thoroughfare. The Boy Who Wouldn’t Die was walking along, completely unaware of the people stopping their commute simply to gawk at him. Draco could truly not believe that Harry was as ignorant as he claimed as to his affect on other people. Surely no one was that stupid. Draco scanned the immediate area and was unsurprised to see young girls clutching their hearts as an unwitting Harry passed; adults stared and began whispering to each other, some being forced to restrain their friends and spouses from reaching out to touch the bespectacled youth, as if Harry Potter was messianic.

He wrinkled his nose. He, of course, felt nothing but contempt for Harry Potter and everything and everyone associated with him, and was himself used to attracting a great deal of attention; but watching Potter now, Draco got the distinct impression that Potter wasn’t unaware of his admirers so much as he was truly uncaring. He saw them as a burden, a hindrance to the life of normalcy he was so desperate to claim for himself.

Draco snorted. Who wanted to be normal when they could special? It didn’t make sense.

It wasn’t so much that he objected to Potter in theory. He did admire power, after all. But the reality of Potter was rather unpalatable. Potter was boringly moralistic and his dedication to underdogs pathetic. His temper frequently got the best of him, and Draco was sure that more than anything else was what would trigger Potter’s defeat. Not to mention Potter’s appalling taste in friends. The Weasel was a sycophantic idiot who rode Potter’s coattails like a puppy nipping at his master’s heel. As much as he didn’t care to admit it, Granger was worthy of more consideration; though a Mudblood, the girl was anything but stupid, if O.W.L. results could be believed.

Draco scowled. It didn’t so much rankle him that he had been outperformed by Potter, although it was surprising, but that their entire class had been bested by Granger was noxious. It was also somewhat galling that she ignored whatever insults were thrown her way, but let one of her friends be attacked and Granger became a force unto herself. His cheek still hurt from when she had struck him. He had played it off at the time as if he had been surprised more than anything, but her bloody punch had actually hurt, and that had been humiliating. Draco turned these thoughts over and decided to review them later. Perhaps Granger would be an excellent way to get to Potter.

Potter was now moving with what Draco could only call purpose. As usual, the boy was mumbling to himself and his eyes were glazed with that look Potter sported when he was deep in thought. Draco wanted to chuckle. Poor, simple Harry had absolutely no ability to mask his emotions. He wore everything on his sleeve and was thus impossibly easy to manipulate. Draco would have thought that, by now, either the Mudblood or McGonagall would have better instructed him in deportment.

Malfoy peered more closely and realized he might possibly have erred. Potter wasn’t uncaring of his fame; he was terrified by it. As soon as the Slytherin recognized this, he started as a surge of people converged on the boy, demanding he attend to them, trying to touch him and ripping his shirt in the process. He watched as Potter immediately cowered, looking as if he was trying to will himself to merge with the sidewalk as the mob’s worship quickly turned into indignation and then anger at his continued silence and his perceived indifference.

Draco watched this impassively, stomping down a weak inner voice which insisted he should help Potter, who now appeared to be nothing more than two large, green, and horrified eyes. Ridiculous. Potter was a half-blood, a blood-traitor, a Mudblood-lover, and a host of other things which Draco found equally offensive. As powerful as Potter might be, and he was quite sure the idiot was more powerful than anyone realized, Draco had little doubt that Voldemort would emerge triumphant when all was said and done, regardless of Potter, Dumbledore, or anyone else.

Suddenly, three Aurors Apparated between Potter and his maniacal fans, their wands drawn and donning expressions so fierce, Draco’s bladder wanted to relieve itself. He stood there, jaws agape, as the Aurors backed the crowd off, all the while the people jeered that the Boy Who Lived owed them his time, attention, and protection. Even Draco thought that ridiculous. Potter didn’t owe anyone simply because he was alive.

Draco surmised it was his half-blood cousin with the ridiculous name who was screeching at the collective. “Harry owes you nothing, you ungrateful lot, and nothing warrants this unprovoked attack! Get back to your homes, all of you, before I lock you up in Azkaban for your appalling stupidity!” Her hair rapidly changed colors and her eyes seemed to breathe fire as she delivered her tirade.

Potter meanwhile had pressed himself tightly behind Kingsley Shacklebolt, who looked absolutely murderous. Draco frowned and attempted to process what he was witnessing. So Potter was scared; he supposed it made sense, but it was startling because he had never seen the other boy truly afraid. Another part of him wondered why Potter had reacted the why he had, almost submissively, and had done nothing to prevent the attack or fight against those who had assaulted him, as if the thought to defend himself had never made itself known. This was the person who routinely defeated the Dark Lord like other people changed their shorts? That was disconcerting.

Draco swallowed heavily. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as glorious to be Harry Potter as previously thought.



* * * * *



“Talk to me!,” Ginny Weasley shrieked at her older brother.

“About what?,” demanded an exasperated Ron.

“About whatever it is that’s troubling you! Obviously something is wrong,” she said in a more sedate tone. “Is it Hermione? Harry? Don’t you want them to come and stay here with us?”

“Of course I do! They’re my best mates!”

“Well, you better snap out of this funk before Hermione gets here,” she warned. “Otherwise, she’ll pester you endlessly until you’ve told her everything, right down to the color of your shorts.”

He blushed.

“Ah,” Ginny said, smiling knowingly. At last, she was getting somewhere. “Finally decided to get off your lazy bum and declare your intentions to the scarlet woman, have you? Well, it’s about bloody time! You’re lucky she’s put up with you for as long as she has, especially after your nonsense about Krum. I don’t know what the big deal is. Everyone knows how you feel about her.”

“What are you babbling about?,” he crossly barked.

“You’re in love with Hermione, of course!”

Ron shrugged. He didn’t believe there was any point in denying it. “Okay.”

Ginny’s gaze narrowed. “She’s quite pretty when she isn’t being so...bookish.”

“Hermione is very beautiful,” he quietly said.

She hesitated and then added, “So is Harry.”

“Yes,” Ron agreed, before thinking. He started, trained pained eyes on his sister, and fled his own bedroom.

“What a prude,” she pouted, rolling her eyes. “Well, it’s obvious what I have to do. I need to push them together, somehow. Oh! What if they all three fancy each other! How scandalous!” Ginny clapped her hands in delight. “How wonderful that Ron and Harry will be sharing a room. I’ll just have to hide all their clothes!”

She was sure the twins had a Wheeze which could aid in that endeavor, and if she just happened to spy a naked Harry, so much the better.



* * * * *



Before meeting Luna, Harry decided to pop in to Weasleys Wizarding Wheezes, the joke shop established and managed by the twins, Fred and George, and which had been financed largely by Harry himself, though that tidbit was unknown to everyone but the three of them.

Figuring it would be easier to slip back into life at the Burrow if he slowly renewed contact with a few Weasleys at a time rather than being overwhelmed by the entire family at once, he also felt more at ease around the twins than the other siblings. Fred and George were never much serious about anything, and a nice dose of levity would be quite welcome.

And he wanted to ogle them.

He wasn’t ashamed to admit it, even if only to himself, and being with them would help to ease his distress at what had just occurred. Luckily, Tonks had mended his shirt and there were no other outward signs of the...altercation, which thankfully seemed to have been confined to the area around the bookstore, located at the opposite end of Diagon Alley. Hopefully, the twins hadn’t heard the commotion.

Hearing the bell announce a potential new customer, Fred and George simultaneously looked up from the counter, eyes lighting with joy at Harry’s arrival.

“Welcome, Harry!,” Fred bellowed.

“Good to see you, mate!,” George offered, nose crinkling with pleasure.

“Hello,” Harry said cheerfully. “How goes?”

“Very well, thanks to you,” Fred replied.

Harry soured. He didn’t like being reminded that he had provided the seed money for the shop. It was, after all, a sound investment. The entire student body of Hogwarts had for years been paying the twins for their comic inventions. Harry had once seen movie while on break at the Dursleys. Of course, he had to spy from the top of the stairs so that his aunt and uncle would not see him, and he heard the dialogue more than actually watched the movie. It was called Field of Dreams, and Harry remembered the line, ‘if you build it, they will come’. He thought that more than apropos for the twins’ idea of a joke shop.

“Now, now,” George tutted, “none of that. You might not believe your contribution to be anything special, Harry, but we disagree. So please humor us if we say ‘thank you’ every now and again.”

He nodded with weary resignation and began to peruse the shelves.

“What are you doing in Diagon Alley, Harry?,” Fred shouted from the back room.

“Just needed to pick up a few odds and ends,” the boy responded. “I’m meeting Luna soon, and then we’re going to see Dumbledore at Hogwarts.”

“Lovegood?,” George asked, quirking an eyebrow. “Ron said she was barmy.”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Ron’s not the best judge of character. I should know; he chose me for his best friend.”

“Sod off,” Fred grinned, as he made his way back to the counter. “Best thing he did, that was. Hasn’t made a good choice since. Here, mate, got some post for you.” He held out a batch of letters.

George snickered and nodded in agreement at his twin’s assessment of their brother. “So what are you seeing Dumbledore about?”

Harry shrugged. “Class selection, mostly,” he said evasively, palming the letters.

“Mostly,” Fred and George repeated, their eyes twinkling.

“It’s bloody frightening that your eyes twinkle just as much as Dumbledore’s,” Harry shivered. “I think the lot of you are nutters.”

“Thank you!,” the twins beamed.

“And the letters, Harry?,” George asked, curiosity piqued.

He gave them a hard look. “I trust you with my life, both of you.”

The twins straightened and gave him measured looks. Harry had just gifted them with no small admission. They nodded.

“There are things going on,” the boy continued, “things I don’t yet understand, but which I need to figure out. As soon as I do, I’m going to need you. Badly.”

Each twin cocked their head and considered the statement, discerning it had something to do with Dumbledore, about whom they had their own reservations, particularly after Umbridge’s reign of terror. They nodded carefully. The corners of Harry’s mouth quirked up, but he wouldn’t say anything more. The twins, who could actually be quite sensitive, dropped the subject.

“Well, good!,” George expounded. “Perhaps a visit in a few weeks from his best mate will snap ickle Ronniekins out of his latest snit.”

Harry sighed. “What’s his problem now?”

The twins snickered. “Well, our dear little sister has been riding Ronald to declare his intentions to the fair Hermione,” Fred confided in an exaggerated whisper.

“Well it’s about bloody time!,” Harry exclaimed. “I swear to Merlin that if I have to watch those two dance around each other for another year, I’m either going to kill them or myself, just so I don’t have to watch! I’d rather ask Voldemort to tea!”

“Ronnie is a bit infuriating, eh, mate?,” Fred laughed.

“It’s not just Ron!,” Harry challenged. “Hermione is just as bad. In fact, sometimes she’s worse! At least he tries to keep his feelings to himself. Hermione just barges around the tower and talks my ear off. ‘What did Ron mean when he said this? What did you think of his tone? Are you two up to something behind my back?’ Honestly!”

Fred laughed at him and Harry flushed as he realized how much like an exasperated Hermione he had just sounded.

George sobered. “Are you and Ron up to something behind Hermione’s back, Harry?,” he asked in a peculiar voice.

Harry blinked. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Nothing,” Fred interjected. “So, Harry, do tell us. Any new romantic prospects looming on the horizon for the Boy Who Lived?”

Said Boy again rolled his eyes. “Hardly. After that mess with Cho, the last thing I want to do is get involved with some girl who’s going to cry when I try to kiss her.”

“She cried?,” George guffawed.

Harry flushed bright red. “Yeah, well, she was thinking of Cedric,” he whispered, dropping his eyes to the floor.

George’s own eyes narrowed fractionally as he contemplated how immediately despondent his friend had become at the mention of Diggory.

“She’s daft,” Fred offered. “It’s sad about Cedric and it always will be, but, well, life goes on, doesn’t it? The bird had the most sought after boyfriend in the whole sodding wizarding world, and she blew it by sniveling like a miserable wretch. Good riddance, I say.”

“Most sought after boyfriend?,” Harry repeated, sniggering. “I highly doubt that!”

“You shouldn’t,” George said seriously. “You’d be a wonderful catch for anyone, Harry Potter. Chang is a stupid bint for blowing the chance.”

“Well, it wasn’t quite like that,” Harry countered, not really wishing to engage in yet another denigration of Cho Chang. He’d been through that more than once with Ron and Hermione.

“Oh?,” asked an intense George, leaning forward on the counter with his elbows. “Tell us, mate, how was it, then?”

Harry blushed again and shrugged. “How’s it going with Angelina, Fred?”

“Angie’s a nice girl. She’s fine,” he replied, not really answering the question.

“And Alicia?,” Harry politely inquired of George.

The redhead shrugged. “We’re not together anymore.”

“Oh. Er, sorry,” Harry said quickly, ducking his head, trying to smother that warm little tingle which resulted when he realized George was single, chastising himself and his selfishness.

“No apologies necessary, Harry. She wanted things to get much more serious, and, well, I’m not quite sure she’s the one, you know?,” George said slyly.

Harry nodded, but seemed distracted. “Well,” he declared, “I suppose I should be off to get everything done before Dumbledore sends a posse of Aurors to fetch me. It’s bad enough I’ve got Tonks and Kingsley, and Merlin knows who else, peeking out at me from behind every corner. When Tonks isn’t tripping over a rubbish bin, that is.”

The twins laughed appreciatively. “See you soon, Harry,” they both intoned.

“I have a favor,” Harry quietly stated.

The twins looked at each other, and then back at Harry, nodding.

“Don’t tell Ron, Hermione, or anyone else that I was here today, or that I am meeting Luna.”

“What’s going on, Harry?,” Fred demanded, though his tone was light. And what did Lovegood have to do with all of this?

“Enough, Fred,” George scolded. “Secrets, Harry? You know we’ll always keep yours.” His brother’s face cleared and Fred nodded.

“Thanks,” Harry said gratefully. “So I’ll see you at the Burrow in a few weeks.”

The twins nodded again. “Mum’s already planning the feast,” Fred snickered. “Inviting the whole family to celebrate her adopted son’s Sweet Sixteen.”

“Will, er,” Harry stammered, trying for nonchalance and failing miserably, “will, uh, will, um, will Charlie be there?,” cursing himself for choking on the name.

The twins eyed each other carefully and, as one, turned back to Harry, who patently ignored the look. He sighed inwardly, determining they had already figured out way too much. Still, he did trust them to keep his secrets. After all, he had kept many of theirs, and they were nothing if not loyal. That, and desperate to violate norms and rules at every given opportunity.

“He said he would be,” George began.

“And Bill is coming, too,” Fred finished. “With Fleur.”

All three groaned, although the twins noticed that, while sympathetic, Harry’s whine contained no real venom. At last, Harry took his leave after asking the twins to relate his best to Lee Jordan, waving as he passed out the door and along the front window.

“Well,” George softly said, “I think we have it.” He set his jaw and shrugged.

“I’m sorry, Forge,” Fred obligatorily whispered. He himself, however, was less sure than his twin. He had noticed that Harry had been looking much more closely at George than at him. Perhaps there was more than one Weasley brother upon whom Harry Potter was crushing? He turned his back and smirked, wondering how dear Ronniekins might react to that little tidbit.

George said nothing and immediately set about tallying the morning’s receipts.
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