Keith Lewis Keith Lewis 9 936 2002-12-30T15:05:00Z 2003-07-05T09:38:00Z 21 12049 68683 572 137 84347 9.2720 Chapter 3 Kidnapped
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note : Thanks for reviewing the story - it's appreciated. As I said in the summary, this is the first of 3 novel-length fics relating to the Anima Summas. I finished writing the third and last one just before OOTP came out, so I hope you don't mind that 'the death' and various other events play no part in it. I'll be posting chapters for the first 2 books at a fair old rate - one chapter per day if I can manage it (I'm altering the original chapters slightly to get rid of some minor irritations). From about chapter 8 onwards, I'll give details of some images showing the places that Harry and his friends visit and some of the things they see - I'll post the links at the appropriate times. I'm currently working on the plot of a new fic - taking in years 6 and 7, post-OOTP. It'll be H/Hr, of course, and will give vent to some of my firm convictions about 'the death' (or non-death I should say) and the possibility that we haven't seen the last of the much-loved character that JK so cruelly erased. Anyway - hope you like the rest of this story.
Harry looked out of the horseless carriage as it rounded a bend in the road, and the magnificent sight of Hogwarts came into view. It gave Harry a warm feeling inside - he was coming home.
The carriage pulled up outside the main entrance and Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny tumbled out and stretched their legs in the warm early evening air. A lot of students were milling around the entrance, chatting amongst themselves while they waited for the doors to be opened. Harry saw Cho Chang, who was on her own, looking out towards the lake. She had a sad look on her pretty face, no doubt thinking back to the times when she was with Cedric.
Harry felt a pang of guilt, and slowly walked over towards her. "Hello, Cho. How are you feeling?"
Cho turned around and smiled. "Oh hello Harry, I'm doing ok."
Harry wanted to say more but was interrupted by his nemesis, Professor Snape, who shouted, "Come on you lot, into the Great Hall quickly - the Headmaster is waiting to start the opening ceremony. Quickly now!"
Harry went back to join his friends and the students slowly made their way into the Great Hall and sat down at their house tables. There were a number of gaps at each of the tables, vacated by last year's seventh year students, shortly to be filled by the new first years. The top table held the usual array of professors, flanking the Headmaster. A buzz went up from the students when they noticed that Remus Lupin was there. He was sitting between Hagrid and Professor Flitwick at the end of the table.
The door to the side chamber opened, and Professor McGonagall entered leading the very nervous-looking first year students. Harry looked on with sympathy as he thought back to the time he had been one of those new students. No one had told them what was going to happen in the sorting ceremony, and all kinds of horrible things had gone through their heads. McGonagall then placed the sorting hat onto the stool, which stood at the front of the top table.
The hat opened its 'mouth' and sang its song, following which there was thunderous applause. Professor McGonagall then unfurled the scroll containing the names of all the first years and the sorting began.
"Andrews, Virginia," she shouted, and whispered to a scared little girl who sat on the seat and placed the hat on her head.
Without any sort of delay, the hat shouted, "Hufflepuff." Virginia staggered over to the Hufflepuff table whose students applauded warmly.
"Appleby, Simon." - was quickly sorted into Ravenclaw.
"Bones, Jeffrey." - was sorted into Hufflepuff, and ran over to join his sister, Susan.
"Bryant, Clare." - there was a long delay before the hat shouted, "Gryffindor." There was loud cheering from all the Gryffindors as the pretty little dark-haired girl took her place. She glanced nervously at Harry as she sat down.
Bagshot, Butch became the first Slytherin - there was not much doubt that he would, since he appeared to be a clone of Vincent Crabbe.
And so the sorting continued until all the first year students had taken their allotted seats. Then Professor Dumbledore stood to give his welcoming speech.
"Hello all students and welcome to a new school year at Hogwarts. First, let me get out of the way some nasty things. You may or may not know it, but Voldemort is back." There were loud gasps from most of the students.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but security around the school has been increased, and I'm afraid that Hogsmeade visits are suspended until further notice." There were groans all around the room.
"The Forbidden Forest is still forbidden, Mr. Filch will still frown on after-hours exploration of the school corridors, and no-one is allowed outside the school buildings after dark." He stared pointedly at the Gryffindor table as he said this - and in particular at Fred, George, Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny.
"Now onto more pleasant matters. We have a new professor this year - Professor Remus Lupin has kindly agreed to take the Defence Against The Dark Arts class again." There were boos from the Slytherins, but cheers from everyone else. Remus grinned.
"I know you are not happy about the Hogsmeade visits, so I've arranged a few things to make up for your disappointment. There will be a Halloween Ball and a Yule Ball as well as the normal End-of-Year Ball." There were excited whispers from the girls and groans from the boys.
"House Quidditch matches will start late this year." Groans all around, as Dumbledore paused, a twinkle in his eye. "Because I have arranged a special inter-school challenge match with The Salem Enchantments School." There was an excited buzz around the room. "As you may know, Salem is the premier Wizarding School in the United States and are currently school champions of their country, as indeed they have been for the past five years. But I know we can give them a good game - we aren't that bad ourselves, are we?" There were cheers around the room.
"That match will take place on 1st October. Now the school team has already been selected by Madam Hooch and the rest of the professors, and here it is." The students leaned forward excitedly.
"Keeper - David Bletchley from Slytherin
Chasers - Ernie McMillan from Hufflepuff, Terry Boot from Ravenclaw, Katie Bell from Gryffindor.
Beaters - Fred and George Weasley from Gryffindor.
Seeker - Harry Potter from Gryffindor"
There were a mixture of cheers and boos all around the room. Malfoy, in particular, had an angry expression on his face.
"The captain will be…" Dumbledore paused for effect, as everyone held their breath. "… Harry Potter!" There were loud cheers - except from the Slytherins. Harry sat stunned, not believing that he was the school captain. He felt honoured and nervous all at the same time. All the Gryffindors had got up from their seats and were patting Harry on the back.
"Harry," said the headmaster, "you should arrange practice sessions as soon as you can - you only have a month. Madam Hooch will be team manager, so you will need to get together with her quickly. Right, Quidditch House Captains. Your votes at the end of last year have been counted, and here are the names of the captains of each house. Slytherin - Draco Malfoy. Hufflepuff - Ernie McMillan. Ravenclaw - Cho Chang. And Gryffindor - Harry Potter." All tables cheered for their captain this time.
"There will be four new prefects this year. Slytherin - Draco Malfoy. Hufflepuff - Hannah Abbot. Ravenclaw - Terry Boot. Gryffindor - Hermione Granger. Will you please come up and collect your prefect badges. Professor McGonagall will brief you on your duties after the feast finishes."
Harry, Ron and Ginny were the first to congratulate Hermione, who sat stunned and had to be pushed up towards the top table to get her badge. Her friends looked proudly on as she walked back to her seat with the badge pinned to the front of her robes.
"And now, students, let's eat!" Dumbledore waved his wand and masses of steaming food appeared on the tables. Ron was, of course, the first to tuck in and grab a piece of every dish on the table.
"Ron!" said Hermione, looking aghast at the huge pile of food on his plate. "How are you going to get all that into your stomach?"
"Just watch, Hermione," he said as he started stuffing the food into his mouth.
Just before the feast finished, Harry walked up to the professors' table and spoke to Madam Hooch. "Excuse me, Professor. I think we should arrange a team meeting for tomorrow if that's ok."
"Yes Harry, bring the team to my office at 10.00 in the morning, and we can start on our campaign to win this match."
"Oh Harry," said Professor Dumbledore. Harry turned towards him. "I want to have a word with you - come into the side chamber for a moment if you will." Harry turned and gestured to Ron that he was going with the Headmaster.
Professor McGonagall was already in the chamber waiting for Harry and Dumbledore. She smiled at him and gave her congratulations on the team captaincies.
"Harry, I suppose you must be wondering what our birthday present is going to be?" In the excitement of the opening ceremony, Harry had forgotten about it until now.
"Yes, Professor, I've been wracking my brains, but I can't think how I'll be following in my father's footsteps."
"You know, of course, that your Patronus is a silver stag." Harry nodded. "And that your father was an Animagus - a stag, Prongs." Again Harry nodded. "Well, Professor McGonagall and I thought it would be a good idea, and it will help in the struggle against Voldemort, if you too, became an Animagus."
Harry gasped at this; he knew that it was very unusual for a witch or wizard to become an Animagus, especially at so young an age. "But... but... how?"
"It is not certain, of course, that you can become an Animagus, but we think that since your father became one quite young, you would probably follow suit. Now Professor McGonagall has agreed to instruct you in the process, which will take a few weeks probably."
"We can start next week, Harry," said McGonagall. "You'll need a week to settle back in and make arrangements for the school team. Meet me after classes, one week from today, and I'll start your training. It would be best, for now, not to say anything to your friends about this."
"But... but what if I can't become an Animagus? Why is it so difficult?"
"Because they never reach the lake," said McGonagall enigmatically.
"The Lake? What lake?" Asked Harry.
"That will have to wait until next week, Harry. You have to be patient."
Harry felt weak and elated. He'd had surprise after surprise in the last few hours, and he could only manage to squeak, "Th ... thanks. Thank you both," before going back into the hall, which was now empty apart from his friends and the new prefects.
Harry, Ron and Ginny talked excitedly about the school team while McGonagall was briefing the new prefects. Ron was particularly excited, and suggested that they go through the book he gave Harry for his birthday to find some new moves and tactics that he could use.
Hermione finally joined them, her face beaming, and they made their way up to the seventh floor to Gryffindor tower. Hermione gave the Fat Lady the password 'Acid pops', and the portrait swung forward to reveal the entrance hole. As they entered, Harry was mobbed and marched over to the middle table in the room, where Fred and George hoisted him onto it.
George turned to the students. "Ladies and gentlemen of Gryffindor. I give you our school captain, and house captain, Harry Potter!" The room full of students erupted with cheers, and shouted 'SPEECH, SPEECH'
Harry's face was a picture by this time, eyes wide and face pink. "Uhh.... You know I don't like making speeches you lot. Fred, George, Katie - school team meeting in Madam Hooch's office tomorrow morning at 10 am sharp. We are going to win this game aren't we?"
"YES," everyone shouted, and Harry jumped down from the table, went over to his favourite corner and flopped down next to Ron, Hermione and Ginny.
He was followed by seven first year students - four girls and three boys. They formed a semi circle around him, staring tiredly and shuffling their feet before Clare Bryant said, "Harry, we're all quite tired. Can you show us where we sleep please?"
"It's normally the prefects who do that, Clare," said Harry as he glanced over at Hermione.
Hermione grinned. "Not tonight, Harry. I think they want you to show them."
Harry grinned and stood up. "Come on then, let's go." Clare reached out and caught Harry's hand as he led the group up the stairs.
Ginny grinned after them. "I think Harry's added 7 more to his fan club - and in particular Clare. I hope she doesn't turn out to be another Colin Creevey."
'Or another Ginny,' she thought to herself.
As Harry and the first years, with Clare still clinging onto his hand, reached the top of the staircase, the other Gryffindors at the bottom let out a chorus of "Aaawwwww."
Ron and Hermione laughed, and they went up to their own dorms, looking forward to a good night's sleep.
Padfoot and the she-wolf crept stealthily through the northern end of the Forbidden Forest. It was almost a half-hour before midnight, and they were close to the meeting place that Snape had indicated. Up ahead they saw a clearing in the dim light given off by the moon, but it was empty. They crept as close as they dared, far enough away to avoid detection but close enough to listen to the proceedings with their ultra-sensitive hearing. They settled down to wait.
Just before midnight, they heard several slight popping noises, and saw six figures dressed in black cloaks and hoods. They stood silently waiting. A few minutes later two more figures appeared.
The two figures pulled their hoods back from their faces to reveal Wormtail and Voldemort. Ceri winced as a low growl came from Padfoot's throat, and she felt the strong emotion of anger coming from him. Sirius had seen the ratty features of Wormtail, and instinctively rose and started towards the clearing, intent on doing him as much damage as possible.
Sirius found however, that his progress was halted. The she wolf had bitten down hard on his tail with her powerful jaws and was dragging him back to their hiding place. The pain in his tail brought Padfoot to his senses, and he looked at the wolf gratefully as they again settled down to listen to what was going on.
By this time, the other six Death Eaters had pulled back the hoods of their cloaks, and Sirius recognised them as Lucius Malfoy, Walden Macnair, Avery, Nott Snr, Crabbe Snr and Goyle Snr. 'This must be the inner circle,' he thought.
Voldemort began to speak. "The time is drawing near, my faithful servants. We are growing stronger by the day. The world will soon be shaken by the power of the Dark Side. My plan is to take over the governments of both this country and the United States. Already, I have my supporters in the Ministry of Magic of both countries, and we will strike there first. Once these major powers have fallen, the rest of the world will be easy. My servants in the U.S. are recruiting followers at an ever-increasing rate, and within a few short months they will be ready. We will need to carefully plan our campaign of terror so that it strikes in both countries at the same time. I want our attacks to be far-flung around both countries. They will be diversionary attacks to keep their defences stretched as much as possible. It will then be far easier to strike at the centres of power."
The Death Eaters nodded and muttered their approval at the vision and tactical awareness of their master. "I will be contacting my inner circle in America to arrange a meeting with us, so that we can plan the campaign in detail. I will summon you to my headquarters when I am ready, but in the meantime, I want you all to start identifying the best targets for our attacks in this country - I want to strike in all four corners of the land at the same time." He rubbed his hands with glee. "They won't know what's hit them.
"Lucius, I am still feeling the emanations I told you about earlier, but I still can't get a fix on them. Tell 'our friend' that I want Potter and his gang to be watched closely - I'm sure that he's involved with this." Lucius nodded.
"Now go, all of you." Everyone in the clearing Apparated away.
Sirius and Ceri transformed to their human forms and looked at each other, stunned. Sirius cleared his throat. "I had no idea of the scale of his ambition, nor how far down the line his plans had gone. And what's this thing about 'emanations' and how does it affect Harry? This is serious stuff, Ceri. We have to get back and report to Dumbledore straight away."
"You'll have to go alone, Sirius. Things are far more advanced in the States than I thought. I'll have to go back and report without any delay. I'm scared about what's going to happen back home, Sirius - both our homes. The sooner our people start working on this the better. Look, I'll get back as soon as I can, but it may be a few weeks - it's going to be hard to convince my people how far along this thing is."
Sirius nodded, with some regret showing on his face. "Yes, I understand, Ceri. But..." He ruefully rubbed his rear end. "Couldn't you have found a less tender part of me to bite?"
Ceri chuckled. "You should be glad it was only your tail I grabbed hold of. The way you acted, it should have been your head! Do you know what would have happened to us if you'd shown yourself?"
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry, Ceri, I won't let that happen again. And thanks for stopping me."
She smiled at him. "You're welcome. Right, I'd better go now. I'll get back to my room in Hogsmeade - I've got a Portkey there. Goodbye Sirius." Ceri disappeared with a feint pop.
Sirius transformed back to Padfoot, and started back towards Hogwarts to give his grim report to Dumbledore.
Ginny woke early on the first morning of the new school year at Hogwarts. There were no lessons today - the students would be given their class schedules for the coming year, and would have time to prepare for their first lessons the following day. She got out of bed and padded out towards the bathroom to take her shower. She paused before entering - she had heard some strange sounds coming from the common room. She crept over to the landing at the top of the stairway and looked down. The sight that greeted her brought a flush to her face.
Harry was dressed only in a pair of training shorts, and was energetically going through his circuit training exercises. He was in the middle of a set of push-ups and was grunting, "Thirty three … thirty four … thirty five…."
Ginny stared at the splendour of Harry's tanned and well-defined body, and felt weak at the knees. She quickly rushed into the 5th year dormitory and shook Hermione, who was up until then sleeping peacefully. "Hermione ... Hermione ... Wake up, you've got to see this!"
Hermione groaned and opened her eyes to see Ginny's flushed face before her. She jumped quickly out of bed. "What's wrong, Ginny. What's happened?"
"Come on - come with me... quick."
Parvati and Lavender were both awakened by the excited chatter, and followed Ginny and Hermione out of the dorm, with curious faces.
"Be quiet - come and look at this," said Ginny.
Four mouths dropped open at the sight of Harry exercising.
"Will you look at that," breathed Lavender.
"Ohhh, wow," said Parvati.
Hermione could only stare in admiration, and she again felt that jolt deep within her.
Parvati whispered, "He is so gorgeous! Do you think he'll be doing this every morning? I'd better start setting my alarm from now on - I could watch him forever!"
Hermione shook herself and rolled her eyes. "Honestly! This is Harry we're talking about - he's our friend. Come on, back to bed - let him have some privacy." She ushered the others, quietly protesting, back to the dorms, but not before taking one more glance over her shoulder.
Harry, unaware that he had been the centre of attraction, finished his exercises just as he heard the sounds of the Gryffindors waking up and taking their showers. He quickly ran up to his dorm, and sat cross-legged on his bed breathing deeply as he willed his heart rate to slow down.
The others had gone down to breakfast by the time Harry had finished his shower, and he quickly followed, running down to the Great Hall. After all his exercising he was feeling hungry. Still feeling warm, he was carrying his robes on his arm, and just had on his usual T-shirt and trousers. He was looking forward to the meeting with Madam Hooch and the school Quidditch team that morning, and he was deep in thought about training and practice strategy as he entered the hall. The buzz of conversation that was normal at breakfast suddenly quieted. Harry stopped and looked up, wondering what had caused the lull. He saw most of the girls in the room looking at him, most with unrestrained longing in their eyes - Parvati and Lavender had been quick to tell as many people as they could about the early morning entertainment they had witnessed earlier.
'Oh no!' Harry thought. 'Not here as well. What's the matter with these girls?'
Harry quickly donned his robes, and walked self-consciously over to the spare seat between Ron and Ginny. He noticed the odd stares he was getting from the Gryffindor girls at the table, but when he looked over at Hermione she seemed to be her normal self. She smiled at him. "Morning Harry. How are you this morning?"
"All right - I think!" he replied, and started piling his plate with eggs, bacon, fried bread and black pudding.
"Hey, Harry," said Fred who was sitting next to Ron. "What're we going to be talking about in the meeting this morning?"
"Madam Hooch will be running the meeting, but I want to talk about our training and practice schedule for the next month."
"Training?" laughed Ron. "How are you going to get Fred and George to do that? Their idea of training is sitting down and playing an energetic game of Wizard Snap! I wouldn't like to be in your shoes for the next month."
Harry grinned nervously at Fred and George. "You're not going to give me a hard time are you?"
"Well I wouldn't bank on it, Harry. You know us!" said George with a wicked smile on his face. Harry groaned inwardly.
Ron looked down at Harry's overflowing plate and said quietly, "Harry, it's not like you to stuff yourself full in the mornings. You'll be getting as fat as your cousin if you're not careful."
Harry laughed. "If you had the diet I had this summer, you'd be putting away three times as much as this on your first morning back in civilisation. And there's no way I'll be like Fatty Dursley - that's what Lara calls him." Even as the last words left his mouth, he kicked himself angrily, hoping that Ron hadn't noticed.
Ron, of course, picked up on it straight away. "Lara? Who's Lara then Harry?"
"Oh she's just a girl I met - she lives in Privet Drive," Harry whispered.
"What's she like? Is she your girlfriend?" shouted Ron, so that everyone close by could hear him.
'Oh no - please,' thought Harry, trying to get out of answering by stuffing his mouth full of hash brown.
"Come on, Harry. Tell us - is she your girlfriend? Did you kiss her?" There was a lot of interest in the conversation at the Gryffindor table now.
Harry coloured up. "No she's not, and no I didn't kiss her." At the sound of the 'K' word, all the girls at the table leaned forward to try to hear more.
Hermione let out an indignant gasp, "You fibber, Harry. You told me you'd kissed her!" Hermione immediately put her hands over her mouth, and with eyes wide and a look of horror on her face mouthed to Harry, "Oh I'm sorry"
Harry stood up and his chair fell backwards onto the floor with a clatter. His face was burning as he shouted, "No I didn't kiss her - she kissed me!" and he stormed out of the Great Hall.
By this time, there was great interest around all four tables, and everyone started whispering, speculating on whether Harry had a girlfriend and who she was. Hermione, Ron and Ginny looked at each other, and followed Harry out of the room but there was no sign of him.
At the far table, Draco Malfoy was smirking, and he got up and quickly followed the four Gryffindors.
"I think he must've gone up to the common room. Come on - let's go," said Hermione. She was now feeling terrible that she was the cause of Harry's embarrassment, and it showed in her face.
"Hermione, it's not all your fault," said Ron. "I was the one who was taunting him in the first place. I should have known he'd react like that."
"Some friends you are!" said Ginny angrily. "You'd better tell us what you know, Hermione, if we're going to try to limit the damage you've caused."
Hermione hesitated before telling her two friends about Lara. She didn't want to make things worse for Harry, and she had promised him that she'd keep quiet. But the cat was well and truly out of the bag now, and Ron knew. So she didn't think there was any point in keeping the secret any longer. "Well he met a Muggle living in his street - No. 12, I think - Lara goes to the same school as Harry's cousin - Smeltings. He only met her just before coming to Hogwarts and he's a bit confused about his feelings for her - I think he likes her a lot."
"Well, come on let's go," said Ginny. "He must be feeling awful, and the sooner we can talk to him the better." The three rushed up the marble stairs towards the common room.
As they disappeared down the corridor at the top of the stairs, Draco Malfoy slipped off his Invisibility Cloak and put it back inside his robes. He grinned, evilly, and muttered, "Well that's a turn-up. Potty's got a girlfriend, and a Muggle at that! Now I'm sure dad'll be interested in that piece of news." He rushed off to the owlery, mentally composing the message to his father.
Harry was sitting in his favourite chair in the common room when his three friends burst in through the portrait hole. He looked at them angrily and went back to staring at the floor.
They tentatively approached him, and Ginny said, "Harry, are you ok? Look Ron and Hermione are really sorry about what happened…. Talk to us, Harry!"
Harry looked up, and there was anger and hurt in his eyes. "Ginny, you haven't done anything, but do you know how I'm feeling right now? Two of my so-called best friends have just humiliated me in front of the whole school."
Ginny looked helplessly at Ron and Hermione.
"I... I'm sorry, Harry. I didn't mean to needle you like that, but well, I was just surprised that you didn't tell me about Lara. If I'd known how you felt about her, I wouldn't have shot my mouth off."
"And I just didn't expect that two of my friends would do that to me!" Harry retorted, still feeling hurt and angry. Ron and Hermione looked at their feet, not really knowing what to say. Hermione, in particular, was feeling terrible and she was close to tears.
"Oh Harry, I'm really sorry. It just slipped out before I realised what I'd said." A tear rolled down her cheek - Harry looked at Hermione and saw the agony she was going through - he melted. He never could be angry with Hermione for very long.
He breathed out loudly, "Don't cry, Hermione. I know you didn't mean it. I suppose it was my own fault that I let slip Lara's name to this git here." He looked at Ron and smiled ruefully. "I knew that you'd never be able to resist having a go."
The three looked with some relief at Harry. "So are we still friends?" asked Ron.
"Of course we are, you silly git," said Harry as Hermione rushed over and hugged him. "Hey, enough. You'll get my robes all wet," he said grinning fondly at her.
"Hey I've got to go," said Harry. "The meeting with Madam Hooch is in ten minutes." He turned and raced across the common room and dashed out through the portrait hole - it wouldn't look good if the team captain was late for the meeting.
"Just to give you some idea of the task ahead, I've been researching Salem's match history," said Madam Hooch. The seven team-members sat around her desk and listened intently.
"In the last five years, they've played 54 games - and lost only one. And that was only because their Seeker was injured and they had to put out a reserve. I'll go through their team for you. The keeper is Dave Ballot, and he's 6'5" tall. The Chasers are Tom Broadbent, who's 6'2," Julie Mount 6' dead and Garry Kawalski who's 6'1."
"The Beaters are David Petrucci who's 6'4," just as wide and weighs 225 lbs, and Bill Bludge who comes in at 6'3 and 217 lbs. The Seeker is Kristen Davis, the smallest member of the team at 5'4" and as fast as lightening."
"Bloody hell!" said Fred looking aghast at Madam Hooch.
"Weasley! Language, please." Madam Hooch glowered at Fred.
"I've heard they breed 'em big in the States, but that's ridiculous. What do they do - bulldoze their way through the opposition?" said George.
Harry took in the worried faces around the table. "Look, so they're big. So what? A good little un is as good as a good big un any time - especially when they're on a broomstick."
"That's easy for you to say," said Ernie McMillan. "You've got the smallest one up against you."
"And she's also the fastest," said Harry and paused. "I'm going to have to be at my best to stand a chance against her. I think we can get over their size with two things. One - we've got to get fit. And I mean really fit. Two - we've got to work out some tactics for the Chasers to get around their superior reach. If we work at it, we can give them a good game. I'm sure of it"
"Thank you, Harry," said Madam Hooch. "You're the only positive one here. Now we can do this, I know we can. You're the best that Hogwarts has so don't underestimate yourselves. Now I think that Harry's ideas are good. We can have three nights of fitness training, 2 nights of practice, and 1 night of tactics every week. I know that's a very heavy schedule, but if you feel you can't keep up with it, then now's the time to resign from the team." Madam Hooch looked around the table, and was pleased to see a far better attitude from the players - with the exception of Fred and George. She raised her eyebrows at them, questioningly.
"We're not afraid of them. But all that training, Madam Hooch - that's terrible," said George.
Harry grinned at his two friends; he knew exactly what to say. "Fred, George. You'll be the key to beating the Yanks. You're going to have to keep their Chasers off balance with some pretty hefty bludger work. I know you're good - very good. But for that lot you'll have to put on a bit more muscle. There's only one way to do that - arm and upper body training - and plenty of good food." His friends' expressions picked up a bit when they heard the magic word. "But it's no good you eating well unless you train - you'll just get fat. So, Madam Hooch, do you think they can have treble portions of fillet steak every evening for the next month?"
A glazed expression had settled on Fred and George, and they were drooling. They both looked hopefully at Madam Hooch.
"I think I can arrange that, Harry," she smirked, and then turned towards Fred and George, "but the minute I see you slack off training, it stops. Is that clear?"
"Yes, yes, anything," they both said together.
"Ok. Harry - work out a training schedule for each of the team by tomorrow, if you please. I'll arrange for a training room down by the Quidditch field. Tactics meetings will be held on Tuesday nights, and practice on Wednesday and Friday nights. That leaves Monday and Thursday nights and Saturday mornings for training. Is everyone happy with that? …. Right. And good luck to you all."
The seven players left the office, chatting about the heavy schedule. Katie Bell asked Harry what training they needed to do.
"Apart from Fred and George who'll have to do a lot of weight training, the rest of us can do basic circuit training. We'll all have to do some running as well. We can jog around the Quidditch field to warm up, and more serious running after the circuit training. It'll be fun, don't worry."
At the end of the corridor, the team split up and went their separate ways to their common rooms.
Hermione and Ginny sat in the common room that night, reading their school books in readiness for the following day's lessons. Hermione, of course, didn't need to do this - she had read them three times already. Harry and Ron were playing wizard chess over by the centre table.
Ginny looked up from her book with a thoughtful expression on her face. "Don't you think Harry's become far more mature since last year? - I don't mean just his body. I'm talking about, well, his attitude and the way he speaks."
Hermione looked up and thought for a moment. "Yes. I think you're right, Ginny. Katie said that she was surprised at the way Harry conducted himself at the team meeting this morning - she said he was really cool. And look at when Ron and I upset him at breakfast - he didn't take long to forgive us. Last year, he'd have been pouting for a week! Yes, he's certainly changed."
"And he's so sexy as well, don't you think? I don't suppose I'll get a look in now," said Ginny sadly.
"Ginny! I thought you'd got over your crush on Harry. You told me that you'd resigned yourself to just being his friend."
"Yes I know I did. But that was before I saw him after the summer. I mean, look at him. He's so … so … "
"I bet there'll be a queue a mile long of girls wanting to ask him to the Halloween ball." Ginny looked sad as she went back to reading her book.
Ron's knight had just clobbered one of Harry's pawns when he looked up at Harry. "So what do you think of Hermione? Didn't I tell you?" he said.
"Well, yeah. She's certainly changed," said Harry
"She's growing up Harry. And she's gorgeous. I think I'll ask her to the ball - if I can get up enough courage to ask her, that is. Perhaps she won't want to go with me."
Harry grinned at Ron. "Well don't act like last year. Get it over with quickly this time. I bet there'll be loads of the guys after her, so the sooner you ask the better. At least that Viktor Krum won't be on the scene this year."
"What about him, Harry. Has Hermi said anything to you? Whenever I ask her, she won't tell me anything. Do you think she likes him?"
Harry thought before he answered - he didn't want to let slip Hermione's secret. "I don't think you need worry about him. I think she sees him as just a friend."
Hermione was looking at her Potions textbook, but she wasn't taking anything in. She was thinking about her life since coming to Hogwarts and how it had changed her. She was so grateful that she now had the best friends anyone could hope for. She thought back to the time before she knew she was a witch.
Hermione spent a lot of time lying on her bed at home, back then, feeling very sad. She had no friends to speak of - only Julie down the road, but she had other friends that she hung out with a lot. She had no brothers or sisters and she was left on her own a lot of the time. The other children at school gave her a wide birth after a number of strange things had occurred when she was around. She hadn't known then that she was a witch and could make things happen. She remembered the time when Billy Jones kept annoying her at school. He would creep up behind her and pull her hair. One day she had had just about enough of it, and shouted at him 'GO AWAY'. No one really knew how the boy ended up at the top of the tallest tree in the school grounds. But he didn't bother her after that, and neither did anyone else - they were very suspicious of the little bushy-haired girl after that incident.
The only thing left to her was reading. She was a naturally curious child and loved learning about all sorts of things. The other kids thought she was a bookworm and a swat, so they didn't really like her. They wouldn't take the trouble to get close to her and find out what she was really like and she had given up all hope that she would ever have a 'best friend' It was only when she met Harry and Ron that things changed. And even then, she remembered how bossy she was at first, and had almost not been their friend because of it. It was those two, and Harry in particular, who took the trouble to get to know her - and they had become best friends because of that. She had changed for the better since knowing them and now she had Ginny as well, as a best friend - she could talk to her about things she could never talk about with Ron and Harry.
She looked over at her two friends, laughing over their game of wizard chess. As she looked at Harry, she again felt that strange jolt deep within her. What was that? Did she like him only as friend or was it more? What was it? She gave up in the end and tried to concentrate on her book.
Harry ate a more healthy breakfast the following morning and he had made sure that he was with his friends when he entered the Great Hall. He didn't want a repeat of the previous morning.
"Will you look at this, Harry!" said Ron with a pained expression. "Double Potions with the Slytherins - what a way to start our 5th Year."
Harry looked at the class schedule he was reading. "Ugh! But at least we've got Charms and then DADA in the afternoon. Oh no - we've got Trelawney to finish the afternoon off. I wonder if she's thought up any new ways to kill me off?"
Ron laughed. "Don't worry, Harry. At least none of her predictions have worked. You're still with us, you know."
A great fluttering of wings filled the hall as the morning post arrived. There was nothing for Harry, but the last owl to enter dropped an ominous red parchment in front of Ginny. It was a HOWLER.
Ginny went red and looked nervous as she fingered the parchment, not wanting to open it in front of her schoolmates.
"Go on, Ginny. You can't delay the inevitable. Open it. It's already starting to smoulder at the edges," said Ron.
Ginny slowly opened the parchment and Mrs. Weasley's angry voice filled the hall …
'GINNY WEASLEY … I EXPECTED BETTER FROM YOU. WHEN I HEARD OF THAT .. THAT … SPELL … YOU PUT ON THREE OF YOUR FELLOW STUDENTS ON THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS I COULD HAVE DIED WITH SHAME.
I NEVER BROUGHT YOU UP TO ACT IN SUCH A WAY AND IF YOU'RE NOT CAREFUL YOU'LL END UP LIKE YOUR BROTHERS FRED AND GEORGE.
I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ANYTHING BAD ABOUT YOU FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR.
Ginny cringed as she put her head on the table, mortified. The howler burst into flames.
The other students however, thought it was hilarious and loudly cheered and started chanting - GINNY ... GINNY … GINNY. The cheering was led, of course, by Fred and George.
That was the signal for Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle to cringe, and they left the hall as inconspicuously as they could. At the top table, most of the professors, including Dumbledore, were not very successful in hiding their amusement - they'd all heard the details of the incident on the train.
Harry shook Ginny's shoulder and whispered, "If I ever get a howler, then that's the type I'd prefer. Come on, Ginny, your fan club awaits."
The four friends got up from the table and made their way to the first class of the year. Harry, Ron and Hermione went into the Potions classroom, which was in the dungeons, to see the grim face of Professor Snape looking at them disdainfully. They sat down at the back of the room while the other students entered and took their customary places.
Snape stood up. "Before we start, I want to alter the seating arrangements. I know that some of you," he glared at Harry, Ron and Hermione, "like to hide at the back, and frankly, your last year's results show it. So from now on, I want you, Potter to sit with Pansy Parkinson at the front - right here in front of me. Weasley - go and sit behind Potter with Lavender Brown. And you, Granger, take the seat along side Weasley with Neville Longbottom. MOVE!"
The three groaned as they went to their seats. 'Why is he putting me with Pansy?' thought Harry as he looked at the smirking face of the Slytherin girl.
"Alright - settle down. This lesson will be concerned with the emphasis of facial features. Now the Potion you are about to brew shouldn't tax even your feeble brains - eh Longbottom?" Neville shook visibly as Snape skewered him with one of his evil grins.
"If you brew the potion correctly, then your most prominent facial feature - whatever that may be," Snape glared at Harry, "will be emphasised. The effect will last for only 20 minutes. If you do not brew the potion correctly however, then the results may be unpleasant.
"I want each of you to work on your own today, no helping the person sitting next to you. The brew should be ready in about 1½ hours, which includes heating, and you will then test it on each other. The ingredients are up on the board, and if you need help, consult your textbook. Right, get your cauldrons out and start."
Hermione looked with trepidation at Neville. He was prone to extreme nervousness in Snape's class, and had been known to get his Potions wrong more than once. She kept glancing at him as she got out her knife and started chopping up the daisy roots, while Neville looked frantically through his Potions book.
As Neville poured the bubotubor puss into his cauldron, Hermione nudged him and whispered, "No, Neville. The daisy roots have got to go in first."
"5 points from Gryffindor," said Snape with an evil grin. "I said no helping the person sitting next to you, Granger." Hermione scowled and resigned herself to whatever fate was in store for her in just over an hour's time.
After 1½ hours, everyone's potion was bubbling away nicely in their cauldrons, but whereas most were a biley yellow colour, Neville's was a dark green. Hermione feared the worst.
"Right, everybody. The Potions should now be ready to test. Now who shall go first? … um Potter, come here and stand facing the class. Let's see if Pansy has got it right, shall we?"
Harry scowled and went to the front, as Pansy poured a measure of her potion into a glass jar. She handed it to Harry, who looked at the foul-smelling liquid with horror.
"Drink, Potter," said Snape, as the Slytherins leant forward eagerly to see what humiliation was to befall Harry. Harry closed his eyes and held his nose as he gulped down the potion.
"Ugh. That was terrible. Whew!" he exclaimed, as he felt his scar throbbing.
"Oh look," shouted Malfoy, "he's grown an aerial!" The Slytherins roared with laughter. Harry's scar, arguably his most prominent feature, stood out from his forehead by about 3 inches.
"Excellent, Pansy," smirked Snape. "5 points to Slytherin. 5 points from Gryffindor for the histrionics, Potter." The Gryffindors groaned - Potions was not going to be any different to previous years, with Snape looking for any excuse to favour his own house at the expense of Gryffindor.
"Sit down, Potter. Now all of you drink a measure from your partner's cauldron so that we can see the results."
The next half hour was quite hilarious and somewhat embarrassing. Ron's nose grew by about 4 inches, and Pansy's nose resembled that of a large pig's. Neville's jaw dropped down towards his chest, ending in a point, and Malfoy's eyes were like saucers. Hermione, however, was not so lucky.
"Longbottom! You forgot to peel the Abyssinian shrivelfig didn't you. 5 points from Gryffindor," shouted Snape as he looked at Hermione. She had no features whatsoever! Her face was completely blank, no eyes, no nose, no mouth, nothing. She was obviously in trouble, since she had nothing to breath through and Harry shouted frantically at Snape to do something, while Ron tried to calm her as she thrashed her arms in front of her.
Snape slowly picked up his wand and uttered an incantation as he pointed it at Hermione. She gasped out loud as her eyes, nose and mouth appeared, drawing in large gulps of air.
"I'm s ...s… sorry, Hermione," squeaked Neville as the bell went for the end of the class. Ron and Harry helped Hermione out into the corridor and it wasn't until they had reached Professor Flitwick's class that she was back to her normal self.
As they made their way down to the Great Hall for lunch, Harry spotted Cho Chang leaning on the front door, looking out towards the lake. "You go in," he said to Ron and Hermione. "I want to speak to Cho for a moment."
As he walked towards her, he realised that the feelings he'd had for Cho the previous year were not there any longer. She was still one of the prettiest girls in the school, but he was over his crush. The main feeling he had as he looked at her now was great sadness. He said quietly, "Hello, Cho. Can I speak to you for a few minutes?"
Cho looked up and smiled. "Ok, Harry. Let's go outside, shall we?"
Harry rubbed his thumb nervously as he looked at Cho. "I ... I wanted to speak to you about what happened at the Triwizard Tournament last year," he began.
"Look, Harry," Cho interrupted, "I know most of what happened. And you really weren't to blame, you know. I suppose that if you were a selfish person, Cedric would still be alive - you wouldn't have offered to share the trophy with him. But I know that you were thinking of Cedric when you did that. I can't blame you for being brave and noble now can I?"
"Thanks, Cho. It's true that I blamed myself for a long time for Cedric's death. And it wasn't until my godfather talked some sense into me that I faced up to the truth of it. It was Peter Pettigrew who killed Cedric, using Vol ... 'You Know Who's wand. If I could have stopped him I would have, you must believe me. But neither of us had any time to react." Harry paused before saying a white lie. He wanted to try to ease Cho's grief. "Cho - there's something that you probably don't know. When I was forced to duel with 'You Know Who', the light from our wands clashed, and the spells that his wand had done were forced out - I think the effect is called Prior Incantatem. Cedric appeared from his wand as a spirit, and he spoke to me."
Cho was listening intently now, and it was clear that she knew nothing about this.
"Cedric asked me to take his body back to you and his parents, for safekeeping. I'm glad that I managed to do that, Cho."
Cho had tears on her face now, but she was still smiling. "I didn't know that, Harry. And I'm glad that you told me. I've agonised over what his last thoughts were, and now I know. Thank you." They walked back into the school, Harry to the Great Hall and Cho up to the Ravenclaw common room.
Harry felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The white lie he had told Cho niggled at him, but he was glad that it had seemed to have eased her mind a bit.
That evening after classes saw the first school team session at the Quidditch field. Madam Hooch and the seven players were inside the training room, going over the training schedule that Harry had prepared. He demonstrated the circuit training exercises, much to the delight of Katie, and went through the routines for Fred and George on the Muggle weight machine that Mr. Weasley had managed to get for them. When everyone was happy with what they had to do, Harry led them on a fairly gentle four laps of the field.
Harry then supervised the circuit training sets, and was pleased to see everyone throwing them selves into it with great determination. At the end of the session, they did a more strenuous ten laps of the field, followed by 2 more at a gentle jog to wind down. They were all fairly tired at the end, and after showering, limped into the Great Hall for dinner.
Fred and George were the envy of their fellow Gryffindors as they each greedily tucked into three enormous fillet steaks, muttering, "It was worth it, it really was."
"How did it go, Harry?" asked Ron as he watched his brothers make pigs of themselves.
"Oh fine, Ron. If we keep this up I think we'll be ok."
"I must say that was a stroke of genius to get Fred and George to train. I thought you'd never be able to manage it."
"Well, Harry can be smart when he wants to be, Ron," said Hermione. "It's nice to see him using his brains for once."
"For once? Hermione! - I resent that," laughed Harry.
They had been back at Hogwarts for 1 week, and Harry felt excited that today he would get his first Animagus lesson. He thought about what it would involve as he went through his early morning training routine. He didn't notice a pretty face that held two beautiful hazel-brown eyes looking wistfully at him from the staircase landing. Parvati and Lavender did though.
They had had the same impulse as Hermione and had decided to come and watch Harry that morning. Hermione jumped and squealed as they poked her in the back, and the three crept back into their dorm before Harry could notice them.
"Well Hermione Granger. What have we here?" said Lavender with a twinkle in her eye. "Fancy your best friend, do you?"
Hermione went a deep pink as she replied, "Of course not, Lav. What do you take me for? Harry's my best friend and nothing more."
"It doesn't seem like that to me, the way you were ogling him back there," argued Parvati. "What's going on between you two?"
"Nothing ... nothing at all. I ... I was just going to the bathroom, and just happened to notice Harry working out. I was only there for a second before you came." She started to regain her composure. "You must be mad to think I like Harry that way. Come on you two, there's no way I'd let anything get in the way of my studying. You know that."
Parvati and Lavender seemed to accept her explanation, but Hermione wasn't sure that she accepted it herself. She'd had that jolt again, and just couldn't work out what it was. She felt angry with herself and quite a bit confused.
That evening after classes, Harry rushed to Professor McGonagall's office and knocked. "Come in, Harry," she called.
Harry opened the door and walked in. "How did you know it was me?"
"I knew you wouldn't be late for this, Harry. You are dead on time. Who else could it have been?"
Harry sat opposite his house professor as she explained the process of becoming an Animagus. "This session will be very short, Harry. It will only last 10 minutes at most."
Harry raised his eyebrows and looked at her questioningly.
"Remember I told you that very few witches and wizards get to become an Animagus. They never get beyond the first stage of the process. This first stage requires that you dream, Harry. I will place a special charm on you before you leave my office and you will then dream every night until the first stage has been completed. Now you will dream for up to1 month only, and if you haven't managed to complete the first stage in that time, then I'm afraid you will never be able to become an Animagus."
"What will I dream about, Professor?"
"You will dream that you are seeing your surroundings in your Animagus form. For example, you know that I'm a cat Animagus. When I dreamt, I saw grass and trees and ferns as I ran through a forest. I knew that I was a fairly small animal, but I couldn't see myself then. You can only become an Animagus if you see your Animagus form in your dream. Luckily, I did. It always happens the same way, to each Animagus, that is. You will seek out clear water. You must reach the lake and look in its smooth waters to see your reflection. What you see will be your animal form. Very few witches and wizards reach the lake, Harry, as I told you before."
"How long do you think it will take?"
"As I said, you must reach the lake within 1 month. Most Animagi reach the lake within 3 weeks. And don't worry if you don't find the lake in the first week - it is very rare that that happens within even two weeks. So be patient. Now I'll set the charm."
McGonagall picked up her wand, pointed it at Harry's head and uttered, "SOMNIO ANIMAGUS"
A yellow light surrounded Harry's head for a few moments and then disappeared.
"That's it, Harry. There's nothing more to be done until you reach the lake and find what animal your Animagus form will take. When it happens, come to see me straight away and I'll instruct you on the transformation process. And Harry, don't be too disappointed if you don't reach the lake. Very few do, so it's no disgrace. Goodnight Harry."
Harry wandered back to Gryffindor tower deep in thought. He couldn't help but feel that it would be a disgrace if he failed. After all, his father and Sirius - even Wormtail - had managed it. Perhaps that was why Professor McGonagall had told him not to tell anyone - to save him the humiliation of telling them he'd failed. He reached up and held the amulet in his hand, as he usually did at times like this. He was comforted by the warmth and security it gave him, and the feeling of urgency was still there, but Harry thought that the urgent feeling was a bit stronger than the last time he had felt it.
Harry couldn't wait to go to bed that night. But he couldn't go to sleep. He was far too excited by what he would see in his dream. He lay awake in his four-poster for ages, listening to Neville snoring his head off, and he thought about ways to make himself sleep. He quickly gave up on the idea of counting sheep. He didn't want to tempt providence - he certainly didn't want to be a sheep Animagus!
Just when he thought he'd never sleep that night, he drifted off. And dreamed.
He felt free - the most wonderful feeling of freedom. He opened his eyes and saw trees - tops of trees. He looked up and saw the stars and a bright moon. He was moving very fast, faster than when he was riding his Firebolt and it felt so much better. He looked ahead but saw just the feint outlines of trees in the moonlight. He looked down again and saw the trees rushing by underneath him. He then saw a clearing, and looked for water - there was none.
"Harry! Harry! Wake up you lazy git." Harry slowly opened his eyes and saw Ron shaking him. "Blimey, I thought you'd be there all morning. Come on, it's time for breakfast. Hurry up."
Harry groaned. He hadn't reached the lake. But there was one thing he did know now. He was a bird! No wait, I might be a hippogriff or a dragonfly, or a fly - how fast can a fly fly anyway? I might even be a dragon. He gave up. All he did know was that he could fly. And the feeling he'd had - it was wonderful. He couldn't wait to go to sleep again that night.
School had finished for the weekend, and Lara and her three friends were taking the shortcut from the school to the coffee shop. They went through the same routine every day after school. Lara liked to spend some time with her friends before she went home to Privet Drive and the others returned to school for dinner. They liked to sit and chat while drinking coke in the little café in the high street that was just a few minutes away from Smeltings.
"Have you heard from Harry yet, Lara?" Beth asked her friend, as they walked along a narrow alley.
Lara sighed, "No, not yet, Beth. But it's only been a week and he must be pretty busy at school."
"Look, I don't mean to be nasty or anything," said Josie, "but you've only known him for a day, and you know what some boys can be like."
"Harry's not just any boy, Josie. He's the nicest boy I've met, and he's so modest. I mean he's gorgeous and he doesn't even know it."
Just then, the girls heard slight popping noises coming from behind them. They turned to see four men wearing long black cloaks with hoods pulled over their faces. Each of the men was pointing a weird looking stick at them. Carol opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. Strange lights came from the end of each stick and all four girls went rigid. They couldn't move or speak. They looked in horror as the men approached them, each one catching hold of one of the girls' arms.
Lara felt a strange sort of lurch, and the alleyway disappeared and everything went black. She was still conscious, though, and felt rough hands lowering her to the floor. After a few moments, a light appeared about 20 yards away, and she looked at her surroundings. She seemed to be in a cave - a large cave - and she saw her three friends lying on the ground beside her. The four men were now gathered around the light, which appeared to be a bluish fire, although nothing seemed to be burning.
The men then turned and walked towards them. They uttered some strange-sounding words and the feeling returned to Lara's limbs. She could now move, and she found that she could speak as she whimpered, "Wh... who are you? Why have you done this to us?"
Carol and Beth began to cry and Josie looked on in terror. "Be quiet, or we'll immobilise you again," said one of the men.
The men again uttered some strange sounding words, and astonishingly, rope whipped out from the end of the sticks and curled tightly around the girls. It wasn't as bad as before - they still had feeling in their arms and legs and they could speak.
"What are you going to do to us?" asked Lara, as she stared with frightened eyes at the biggest of the four men.
"If Potter behaves himself, nothing will happen to you," he said. "You'll just be our guests for a little while. Now keep quiet and don't give us any trouble." The men then went back over and sat down beside the strange flames, talking quietly amongst themselves.
"Lara, what is this? I don't understand. How did we get here, and what are those weird sticks they are carrying? I'm frightened!" whispered Carol.
"I don't know, Carol," Lara whispered back, "but it sounds as if Harry's involved somehow - but I've got no idea what it's about. The only thing we can do for now is make sure we don't make them angry."
Harry sat with his friends in the Great Hall eating breakfast. He was looking forward to the training session later on that morning. He looked up when he heard the familiar sound of the owl post arriving.
An unfamiliar hawk flew right above Harry and dropped a black-coloured parchment onto his plate of half-finished scrambled eggs. He glanced at Ron, enquiringly, as he picked it off his plate and opened it. His eyes went wide as he read …
We have your Muggle girlfriend and her three friends. If you want them to see the light of day again then you will do well to follow these instructions.
Go into Hogsmeade, and walk through the High Street and past the edge of the village. In a little while you will see a style, leading onto open ground at the foot of a mountain. Go on a little while and you will come to a pile of boulders by a rough track. Wait there for further instructions.
Do not tell anyone. If we see any teachers nearby, we will kill the girls.
Come alone this morning.
It was unsigned. Ron, Hermione and Ginny looked questioningly at Harry, who was just staring at the letter. He then handed it to Hermione, who read it quietly to the other two.
"They've got Lara. If they harm her …" Harry whispered.
"Harry, we've got to tell Dumbledore - he'll know what to do," said Hermione.
"No - you read the letter. If they see any teachers, they'll kill them. No - I've got to go there on my own."
"No, Harry, you can't. You'll be killed!" moaned Ginny.
"Let's go outside to talk about this," said Ron. "We can decide what to do then."
The four walked outside and sat on a bench beside the lake. "Do you think it's 'You Know Who'?" asked Ron.
"Who else - or at least some of his minions," answered Ginny.
"Let me see the letter again," said Hermione as she grabbed it from Harry. "What do you think they mean by 'never see the light of day again'? Does this mean they've got them holed up somewhere dark?"
"Yes! Of course!" replied Harry. "I thought I recognised those directions. I bet they've got them in that cave - you know, the one where we met Sirius last year. We went up a rough mountain track to get to it."
"You're right, Harry," said Hermione. "We've got to tell Dumbledore - he'll be able to rescue them."
"I can't risk it. If they see any of the professors, they'll kill the girls. I've got to do this on my own. Look, I remember Sirius telling me when we were in the cave, that there was another entrance to it as well as the fissure in the rock at the front. He said that there was a narrow passageway at the top, an old rainwater gully I think he said - and it led right down into the back of the cave. If I can get to the top of the mountain without being seen, then I can take them by surprise, or I may be able to lead the girls out that way."
"You're not going on your own, Harry," said a determined Ginny. "We're coming with you. We can take our broomsticks and fly around behind them to the top of the mountain, and go down that gully together. The four of us will stand a better chance at getting them out."
Ginny looked at Hermione and her brother and they nodded their agreement. Harry looked at them gratefully.
"But you've got to do one thing, Harry," said Hermione. "If this goes wrong we've got to be able to get help somehow. Leave a note on your bed before we go, just to tell them what we're doing - you don't have to say where we've gone. But tell them that you'll use the 'find me stone' if we need any help."
Harry thought for a moment. "That sounds ok, Hermione. I'll go up to the dorm and write the note, you three go to the Quidditch field and get three broomsticks. I'll bring my Firebolt with me."
Four broomsticks were steered low to the ground around the back of the mountain that overlooked Hogsmeade. Harry flew very close to Hermione, giving words of encouragement as she clung desperately to her broom - she never had been comfortable in the air. They flew up to the summit and hovered for a moment. Harry was watching the ground intently, looking for the second entrance to the cave. He knew that it must be towards the front of the mountain, and probably in amongst a pile of rocks. He saw a likely looking place and pointed to the others to follow him down to the ground.
"Spread out and search for the entrance to the gully," he whispered, "and keep as quiet as possible." The four fanned out and started looking.
Dumbledore was sitting in his office talking to McGonagall and Sirius. They were waiting for Remus Lupin, who was late, to start their weekly progress meeting on the activities of the Dark Side. Snape had been called away at the last minute to sort out some trouble in the Slytherin common room, and would also be late.
"Have you given any more thought to the emanations that 'You Know Who' was talking about?" Sirius asked Dumbledore.
"Yes, I have. I've picked up on the emanations as well but I can't make any sense of them. They are definitely coming from the Light Side, though, and I've never experienced anything like it before. I get the distinct feeling that it is some sort of message or summons, and that it is meant for someone or something in particular. It is probable that only he, she or it is able to 'read' it."
"Do you think it's for the Anima Summa? For Harry?" asked McGonagall.
"Very likely, Minerva. And if it is, then Harry may not yet be strong enough, magically, to detect it. But he's getting stronger by the day, and I think he should be able to sense something before too long."
Just then, Remus Lupin burst in. "Headmaster, I've been checking my marauders map, and there's no sign of Harry, Ron, Hermione or Ginny anywhere at Hogwarts. Harry should be at Quidditch training, but Madam Hooch says he hasn't turned up."
"Oh no," said McGonagall, "what are they up to now! Do you know anything about this Sirius?"
"No Minerva, I don't," Sirius thought for a moment. "Look, Harry's not stupid. Haven't you noticed how more sensible he is this year? He wouldn't just go off without saying anything to us, and he certainly wouldn't miss Quidditch training … unless he's in some sort of trouble!"
"Minerva, check Gryffindor common room for any clues immediately please. And see if his broomstick is missing," ordered Dumbledore. She rushed out of the room immediately, with a look of concern on her face.
"When did you last check the map, Remus?"
"Before a few minutes ago, I checked about 9.30 - that's just over an hour ago, Headmaster"
"Have you noticed anything odd with his behaviour, or that of his friends lately?" said Dumbledore. Both Sirius and Remus shook their heads. "Well they can't have gone very far in an hour, even if they are on brooms."
A breathless McGonagall rushed back into the room then, holding a note in her hand. "Harry left a note on his bed," she gasped. " Harry's Muggle friend and three other girls have been taken captive and are being held somewhere near Hogsmeade. He doesn't say where, but the four of them have gone off to try to rescue them. Harry says that if any professors are spotted by the captors, the girls will be killed. He says he has the 'find me stone' Sirius. Do you know anything about that?"
"Yes, I do," said Sirius as a spark lit up his eyes. "I gave that to Harry for his birthday. If he uses it, his exact location can be pinpointed and we can Apparate there."
"Come on, quick," said Dumbledore. "We need to get to Hogsmeade straight away. We can't Apparate from the school grounds, as you know."
The three professors, and one big black dog strode purposefully out of the office and down towards the Entrance Hall. Dumbledore quickly explained the situation to the passing Professor Flitwick, and he joined them as they rushed towards Hogsmeade.
Ron ran over towards Harry at the top of the mountain. "I think I've found it, Harry. It's over there." He pointed to a clump of rocks about 40 yards away. Harry waved to the two girls and they went over to look at what Ron had found. At the bottom of a pile of rocks was a large boulder, behind which could just be seen a narrow fissure, covered with cobwebs.
"Do you think that's it? It doesn't look big enough," said Ginny doubtfully.
"Hang on a minute," said Harry, "I'll squeeze through and check."
With some difficulty, Harry managed to get into the fissure in the boulder. He pulled out his wand and whispered "LUMOS." A light appeared at the tip of the wand, and he saw that he was in a slightly larger space beyond the fissure. He could just see a narrow gully running down into the depths of the mountain. Harry turned and pushed his head back out of the fissure. "Yes. This is it, I'm sure. Come on - follow me, but be very quiet."
"Eh, Harry. Can you make sure there are no big fat hairies by the entrance?" whined Ron, eyeing the cobwebs fearfully. His friends knew that he hated spiders.
"There aren't any here Ron, come on," said Harry.
The gully was damp and slippery, and very narrow in parts and they had difficulty in keeping their footholds on some of the more steeply sloping places.
"Bugger!" winced Ron as he hit his head on a piece of rock protruding from the ceiling of the gully. This was followed by an "Ouch!" from Hermione who scraped her elbow on the narrow side of the tunnel.
As they went further down, they found that they had to get on all fours to crawl through some very tight spots. It was hard work and they were getting dirtier by the minute.
They seemed to be climbing down for ages, when they came to a large boulder surrounded by a pile of mud, dirt and small rocks. There didn't seem to be any way through.
"Sod it!" exclaimed Harry. "It looks as if there's been a rock fall fairly recently. Now what do we do?"
"Calm down, Harry. Lets think for a minute," said Hermione, as her forehead creased with concentration. "We can't levitate the boulder out, it would cause the rocks to slide down and make too much noise. And for the same reason we can't blast it away." She brightened suddenly. "But we may be able to bore a hole around it."
"How are we going to do that?" said Ron
"Stand back." She lifted her wand and muttered, "COMBURO CAVUM." A bright yellow light shot from the end of her wand and started to consume the rubble that was piled to the side of the boulder. After a few minutes, they could see that a hole, just large enough for them to crawl through, had been burnt right through to the other side of the blockage.
"Wait a few minutes for it to cool down," said Hermione quietly.
They all looked at her with admiration. "Where did you learn that?" asked Ron
"Where do you think, Ron? If you'd bothered to read your 5th year Charms book, you'd have found it in chapter 63."
Ron rolled his eyes. "I should have known!"
On impulse, Harry crawled over to Hermione and kissed her on the cheek. "You're brilliant, Hermione," he said gratefully.
Hermione was glad that the gloom hid her burning face from the others.
Harry crawled into the hole and looked through to the other side. He saw that the gully continued on downwards. "Come on," he whispered, "it's clear."
Padfoot led the professors towards the shrieking shack in Hogsmeade, and pushed open the side door for everyone to enter. Professor Dumbledore quickly explained to Flitwick about Sirius. "So you see, Filius, Sirius Black is completely innocent and he has been working for me for a while now."
The little professor gestured to Padfoot. "And I suppose that he's Sirius Black?"
"That's right, Professor," said Sirius as he transformed. "I brought you here because we'll be hidden from any prying eyes, and it'll be more comfortable to wait for Harry's call."
"Thank you, Sirius," said Dumbledore. "And that's all we can do now - wait."
They crawled through the gully for another fifteen minutes before it began to level out. Harry put his arm out to halt the others, and whispered, "I think we're close to the back of the cave, see how the ground is getting flatter? Be very quiet from here on."
They crept carefully forward until they could see a feint blue light from just ahead. Harry extinguished the light from his wand and put his mouth up close to Ron's ear. "I'll go on ahead to see what we're up against. You wait here till I come back - tell the others. I'm glad I brought this." he pulled his Invisibility Cloak from under his robes and put it over his head.
Harry cautiously inched forward and looked through the opening into the cave. He saw four Death Eaters sitting around the flame, and over towards the back of the cave, just in front of a large outcrop of rock he saw the girls, tightly bound with magical rope. He silently walked into the cave, past the Death Eaters, and out to the front entrance. He looked around outside, but could see no one else in sight. He went back to the others and pulled the cloak off himself. He gestured for the other three to come close and he whispered, "There are four of them sitting around a flame in the middle of the cave. When I give the signal, move out into the cave and stun them. I'll take the one on the right. You, Ron, take the one next to him, and you Hermione take the one on the left. Ginny, you get the one next to Hermione's target. Are you ready?"
The four rushed from the cave and shouted simultaneously as they raised their wands, "STUPEFY."
Three of the Death Eaters dropped unconscious to the floor, but Ron had missed his target. The surprised man recovered quickly and sent off a curse that narrowly missed Ginny, the cave wall next to her head lighting up with the force of it. Ron proved more accurate with his second try and the fourth Death Eater crumpled in a heap besides his fellows.
There was silence in the cave. "That was too easy. Something's not right here," Harry said as he looked nervously around the cave.
Lara and the other three girls had gone through a whole spectrum of emotions as they watched the action unfold. From terror, it changed to surprise and wonderment as they saw that their captors were being attacked, and then to relief as Lara whispered, "It's Harry," to her friends.
"Harry!" she shouted.
Harry and his friends ran over to the struggling girls and quickly released them from their bindings. Lara groggily got to her feet and limped over to Harry. She flung her arms around his neck and held him tightly, sobbing quietly.
"It's ok now, Lara. Everything's going to be all right," he whispered into her ear as Ron looked on, grinning. Hermione and Ginny just looked down at the floor.
Lara stood back and took a big breath. "What's going on, Harry? Who are those men and what are those sticks? What were those strange lights coming from them?"
"Ah, Potter! I thought you'd try something funny!" said a voice suddenly from the front of the cave. Harry looked around and saw five Death Eaters. He couldn't see their faces because their hoods were pulled over their heads, but he thought the oily voice was very familiar.
"CRUCIO" yelled the voice. The curse narrowly missed Harry, but caught Ginny on the shoulder. She crumpled to the floor, writhing in agony.
"Quick, behind that rock, and keep low," yelled Harry. Ron and Hermione ran behind the rocky outcrop, pulling the four frightened girls with them. Harry caught hold of Ginny's robes and dragged her into the shelter of the rock. As they disappeared from sight, the curse was broken, and Ginny gasped with relief.
"Oh do come on, Potter. You can't stay hidden for ever, you know," came the sneering voice of Lucius Malfoy. "Did you think that I wouldn't plan a surprise of my own?"
Harry peeped around the rock and saw Malfoy. The other four Death Eaters were reviving the ones they had stunned earlier.
"I'm getting impatient, Potter. Come out or face the consequences. Maybe you'd like a taste of our power to convince you?"
Curses were flung in their direction, dissipating against the rock they were hidden behind, and laughter filled the cave as the nine Death Eaters enjoyed their target practice.
"We're done for," said Ron. "How are we going to get out of this one?"
"You three keep them occupied," replied Harry, "and I'll signal Sirius."
Ron, Ginny and Hermione sent stunning spells blindly around the rock, missing the Death Eaters by a fair margin, not daring to raise their heads to take aim, but it was enough to buy Harry the time he needed. He pulled the 'find me stone' from his robes and said into it, 'EXPISCOR EGO'.
No more than five seconds later, Harry was relieved to see Dumbledore, Sirius, McGonagall, Lupin and Flitwick suddenly appear alongside him with a feint 'Pop'.
While the others sent stunning spells at the Death Eaters, Dumbledore pointed his wand at the eight crouching teenagers and whispered an incantation. A blue light shimmered around them, and spread in a semicircle to cover them all.
Dumbledore then turned back to help his colleagues. He saw that there wasn't much left to be done. At the sight of Dumbledore appearing before them, Malfoy and five of the Death Eaters had immediately Apparated away. Three of them weren't so quick witted, however, and found them selves bound tightly by magical rope before they could get off any shots. Dumbledore turned back and removed the shielding spell he'd put over the youngsters.
"Are you all ok?" asked Sirius as he ran over to them. "Are any of you hurt?"
"No, Sirius, we're fine," said Harry, "but Ginny took the brunt of a Cruciatus curse and she's still a bit groggy. Other than that and a bit of dirt, we're all ok."
Professor McGonagall bent over the reclining form of Ginny and quickly examined her. "Madam Pomfrey needs to take a look at her. I'll take her to the hospital wing," she said, and she took hold of Ginny's arm before they both disappeared with a 'pop'.
This was all a bit too much for the four Muggle girls. Strange lights, dark caves, men in black, people appearing and disappearing, and to top it all, an old and very strange man stood in front of them, looking like the Wizard of Oz!
"Harry," wailed Lara, "please tell me what's going on?"
"Lara, it's a long story but I don't think you'll believe me if I tell you." Harry looked pleadingly at Dumbledore.
"Go ahead, Harry, you can tell them. You realise of course, that I'll have to use the Obliviate charm on them before they are taken back?"
"Wh ... what's Obliviate, Harry? What's that?" said Lara as she eyed Dumbledore suspiciously.
"Lara, everything you've heard and seen here, from the moment you were captured, will have to be wiped from your memories. You see, we can't allow you all to remember anything of this - it's too risky." Harry took a deep breath, and looked towards Hermione and Ron. "These are two of my best friends - you know, the ones I told you about. That's Ron and that's Hermione. Ginny, my other best friend, was the one taken to hospital just a few minutes ago."
Lara looked up and regarded the two teenagers. She saw that Ron was tall, with a slightly long nose, and the reddest hair she'd ever seen. She felt a pang of jealousy as she looked at Hermione. Her hazel-brown eyes were kind and warm, and she was very beautiful. She could immediately tell that she was a very nice person, and the way she looked at Harry … She was startled at Harry's next words.
"Hermione's a witch. Ron's a wizard, and … and I'm a wizard too." He looked at Dumbledore. "That's Professor Dumbledore, my headmaster, and the greatest wizard in the world. The others are two of the professors at Hogwarts - they're wizards too. And the big ugly one," he looked at Sirius, smiling, "is my godfather. Oh yes, and he's a wizard as well."
Lara and her friends were now staring wide-eyed with their mouths open. "Don't be silly Harry, everyone knows that there aren't such things as witches and wizards."
Harry, Ron and Hermione then sat down with the girls and told them about their magical world, and the Dark Forces that were trying to take over. The adults meanwhile, went over to interrogate the Death Eaters.
Lara turned sad eyes on Harry. "You can never leave your world, can you Harry? You can never ... be with ... someone who doesn't have any magic, can you?"
Harry then realised the truth of it all. The thing he had wrestled with since meeting Lara, the thing that had been confusing him. He looked at Lara and placed his hand on her cheek.
"I'm so sorry, Lara. I really do like you a lot, but it can never work out between us. I'm sorry." The six others looked at them with a feeling of sadness, and Hermione again felt a jolt deep within her. She felt sad for Lara. She obviously liked Harry a lot, so much, in fact, that she was willing to give him up for the sake of his happiness. She looked with respect at the pretty blond-haired girl.
Dumbledore then came back towards the group. "Are you ready to go back home then? You won't feel a thing when I do the memory charm. You'll wake up in the woods close to your school thinking that you'd gone for a walk and got lost."
"Professor Dumbledore," said Lara, "please, don't wipe my memory. I promise I won't say anything to anybody. I ... I ... was just so very unhappy before, not knowing if I would see Harry again. It was awful and I don't want to go back to that. I know now that I can never be with Harry, like I can with other boys. It will be a lot easier for me knowing, rather than not knowing. Please."
Harry looked at Dumbledore. "I think it would be best, Professor. And I trust her to keep it quiet."
Dumbledore thought for a moment and then slowly nodded. He pointed his wand at Lara's friends and muttered, 'OBLIVIATE.' The three girls closed their eyes and flopped onto the floor in a deep sleep.
He then turned to Lara. "Lara, I'm now going put a special spell on you so that the Dark Forces will not be able to find you. Your memory will be in tact, but you can rest assured that you will be safe." He then uttered another incantation, while directing his wand at Lara. She felt nothing at all.
"Remus, Sirius. Will you take the girls back and make sure that they return to their school?"
Lara turned to Harry, put her arms around his neck and kissed him tenderly on the lips. She whispered, "Goodbye, Harry. Let me know how you're getting on, will you?"
She then hugged Ron. "Thank you for rescuing us." She then hugged Hermione. "Thank you too. Please look after Harry," she whispered as she looked at her knowingly. Hermione could only nod and squeeze the hand that held her as she looked at the girl.
Sirius and Remus then held onto the girls and Apparated to the woods around Smeltings. They said goodbye to Lara and then hid in a thicket before reviving the three girls. "Where do you think we are?" said Carol.
"You won't believe this," replied Lara. "I had a look around while you were still sleeping, and we're only about a hundred yards from the edge of the wood, just above the school. Come on, let's go."
Sirius and Remus watched from the edge of the wood as the four girls walked back towards the school. Outside the school entrance was a police car and several worried-looking adults. "Mum!" shouted Lara. A very relieved woman run to her daughter and hugged her tightly, before she starting asking a load of questions.
The two wizards smiled as Lara looked towards the place where they were hidden. They could see the wistful smile on her face - but they hadn't heard her sigh.
Ron and Hermione sat at Ginny's bedside in the hospital wing later that evening. They had just finished telling her what had happened after she and Professor McGonagall had left.
"Poor Harry," said Ginny. "It sounds as if he really liked Lara."
"Yes," said Ron, "but I guess it's for the best. When is Madam Pomfrey going to let you out?"
"I don't know, Ron. I feel fine now, but she says that there can sometimes be bad after affects with the Cruciatus curse, especially for people my age. So she says she wants to keep an eye on me. Oh there's Harry."
Harry had just come in to stand by Ginny's bedside, looking pensive. "How are you feeling, Ginny?"
"I'm ok, Harry. Why the glum look?"
"I just got a rocket from McGonagall, Dumbledore and Sirius. They're not very happy with me at the moment, and you lot aren't exactly flavour of the month either. They said I should have trusted them to work out a way to get the girls back, and not dragged you into danger with me. I suppose they're right."
"Well it worked out didn't it?" said Ron. "I mean - they should be giving us extra points for what we did."
"I don't think so, Ron," said Hermione. "We should never have gone off like that. It was exciting though, wasn't it?" she grinned.
"Come on, out ... out. This girl needs to rest." Madam Pomfrey had come over to the bed with a 'no nonsense' look on her face. The three waved to Ginny as they left the hospital and walked back to Gryffindor tower.
That night, Harry dreamt again …
It was daylight and the tops of the trees were now in sharp focus. He flew towards them, revelling in the feel of the wind that streamed around him. He soared high above the trees looking for a break in the canopy, looking for a glint of reflected light that would signify water. But there was nothing.