Alice Evans and the Prisoner of Azkaban


Rating: G
Genres: Humor, Action & Adventure
Relationships: Harry & Hermione
Book: Harry & Hermione, Books 1 - 7
Published: 10/01/2011
Last Updated: 10/01/2012
Status: Completed

They're back for a third year! Alice, Harry, Ron and Hermione have another action packed year full of broken rules, dangerous beasts and more than a few life changing revelations. Please R&R to find out more!

1. Magic and Mayhem

A/N: Happy New Year readers! Hope you all had a good festive season and apologies for having taken so long to post this. There is good news and bad news: the good news is that - fairly obviously - I've finally gotten around to posting this, bad news is that I won't be able to update as regularly as normal over the next few weeks as I'm going to be super busy. Hope you all enjoy though!

Magic and Mayhem

Alice marched purposefully down the street trying not to let any of the apprehension she was feeling show on her face. She was trying to avoid asking herself what could possibly go wrong as she was afraid that the answer was almost certainly rather a lot. Pausing in front of the house with the neatest lawn, and the biggest car in the entire street she checked the slip of paper in her hand one last time to make sure it was the right one before taking a deep breath and walking up to the front door. The hand that rang the bell shook slightly but as she waited patiently for a response she repeated her speech silently to herself to focus her thoughts.

“Hello,” she began as the door opened, “I - Harry!” A grin spread across her face at the sight of his astonished expression, but she checked herself, “are your Aunt and Uncle in?”

“No they've gone to the station - How… What are you doing here?” he began grinning too.

“Coming to see you of course. Happy Birthday,” Alice reached across and gave him a hug worthy of Hermione but as she drew back she frowned slightly. “You've grown again,” she accused.

“Well it's about time,” he laughed, “either that or the alternative is you've shrunk… again.”

“Oi! Watch it you, I don't care about Ministry restrictions, one more crack about my height and I'll hex you into next week,” Alice mock glared at him.

“Alright, I promise I'll be good. Do you want to come in for a small while? My Aunt and Uncle will be home shortly though.” Harry tried to hold a serious expression but the twitch at the corner of his mouth gave him away and as the two walked through to the living room they both gave up and burst out laughing.

“That was terrible!” Alice managed when she had finally caught her breath.

“I know, but I couldn't resist.”

“You've been friends with Ron for too long.”

“Probably.” Harry sat down next to her on the sofa. “How is he anyway, have you heard from him recently, I haven't heard anything since he tried to phone me. How's Hermione? And you, how did you get here, what have you been doing all summer?”

Alice giggled again at his exuberance, “which question do you want me to answer first? Hermione and Ron are both fine, I've got letters from them with me so you can hear from them yourself. Ron's very sorry about the phone call by the way apparently Hermione wrote him an essay telling him off for being an idiot. I haven't been doing that much over summer, the Home decided to take us on a trip to Guildford for a few days so I asked if I could stop by here and…” She picked her satchel up from beside her feet, “I bring presents!”

“What?” Harry looked so nonplussed for a moment that Alice wanted to give him another hug, she had always thought life in the orphanage was tough, but it was nothing to what Harry must have experienced here. On her way through the house she had managed to catch a glimpse of the cupboard Harry had mentioned a few times and it made her blood boil just at the thought of anyone treating Harry so badly.

Focussing back on the present - literally - she rummaged in the depths of her impossibly large bag, “all magical modifications were carried out in a legal and educational environment,” she intoned in answer to Harry's questioning look, and drew out the first parcel she found. “Here you go,” she handed him a rather shabbily wrapped package that was clearly from Ron and watched him slowly peel back the paper, read the letter and accompanying newspaper clipping with avid interest before examining the Sneakoscope from every possible angle. It was such a Harry reaction she couldn't help but smile. Even when receiving his first ever birthday present he still wanted to find out about his friends first. She then proceeded to hand over Hermione's letter and gift which turned out to be a broomstick servicing kit and then the parcel from Alice herself.

“Wow thanks Alice,” he picked up the pocket radio she had given him and fiddled with a few of the dials on the front so that it suddenly hissed and crackled into life jumping through several stations, almost landing on one where a news reader was talking about something that had escaped, before the plaintive strains of some wizarding hit filled the Dursley's living room.

“I thought maybe it would make you feel less disconnected during the holidays and things, you can keep up with what's happening.”

“It's great,” suddenly he laughed, “you should see what Hagrid got me. I think it's a book but it's absolutely mental. It tired to bite my hand off when I unwrapped it this morning and now it's hiding under my bed somewhere.”

“I suppose he must think it will come in useful at some point, though I can't think when. Hermione will approve though; it's a book, it would go against all her principles not to.”

Harry chuckled, “I can just imagine her still trying to read this thing as it tries to take a chunk out of her,” a lurid grin spread across his face at the thought, “she might make an exception for this particular book I guess.” Looking down at the small collection of presents he had amassed he said, “we better get these upstairs, if the Dursely's get home and see these…”

“Where are they anyway?” Alice began helping him pick up the torn paper and string lying at their feet.

“They've gone to the station to collect my Aunt Marge - well she's not really my aunt - she's coming to stay for a week.”

“What's she like?”

“Vernon in a dress.” Alice, who had seen Harry's uncle from a distance at the station a few times, snorted at the image.

“Yeah. If you hadn't come round this was going to be one of my least favourite birthday's ever, and that's saying something.”

Alice wasn't sure what impulse made her do it, but she suddenly reached across and put her arms around Harry again. “I don't care if boys think hugs are soppy,” she whispered fiercely, “you need as many as you can get after having had to put up with them for so long.”

“Erm… thanks Alice,” as she broke away Harry's cheeks were slightly pink, “and thanks for coming round today.”

“It was the least I could do. Anyway,” she cleared her throat, “we'd better move all this stuff.”

Once they'd had gathered everything up Alice followed her raven-haired friend up the stairs and across the landing to Harry's room.


“What?” Harry looked totally perplexed. “What can possibly be Wow about my room?”

“I thought my room in the Home was tiny, this is hardly any bigger than -”

“A cupboard?” Harry supplied.

She grinned ruefully. “Point taken. So where do you want me to dump this?”

“Just on the bed.” He indicated the rickety looking structure covered in a faded green duvet that was squashed into the corner of the room. It was obviously sturdier than it looked though because once Harry had put everything down he sprang quickly onto the bed and sat cross legged. He looked up and caught Alice staring at him quizzically. “In case the demon book savages my ankles,” he explained. “Have a seat; just move those packets behind you out of the way.”

Turning Alice scooped up several packets of owl feed - which turned out to be empty - and dropped them into the bin at the side of Harry's desk before sitting down backwards on the chair in front of it. There was something slightly odd about seeing Harry at home, if you could call it that; he seemed constantly ill at ease and just didn't seem to fit at all in this muggle setting. She wondered if it was just exposure to the wizarding world or if he had always been like that, she had a horrible suspicion it was the latter. Steering her thoughts away from this depressing and ultimately futile train of thought she turned to lighter subjects. “So do you think the Kestrels are going to win the League this year?” she teased.

“Ha,” Harry scoffed, “only if the entire Pride team came down with dragon pox, then the Wasps had their brooms stolen and the Tornado's were tricked into a Vanishing Cabinet…” Harry continued in this vein for quite some time and they both became so absorbed in the normality of a conversation about Quidditch - which they had both been starved of for over a month - that neither of them heard the sounds of a car pulling up in the driveway outside.

“BOY!” The silence in Harry's bedroom was sudden and total as Vernon Dursley's ominous voice thundered around the house. “Boy, where the devil are you?” There came the thump of heavy footsteps on the stairs as Alice quickly cast around the room for somewhere to hide.

“In the wardrobe,” hissed Harry, clearly going through the same thought process.

Alice darted across the room but for someone who resembled a walrus more than anything else Harry's uncle seemed to move deceptively quickly; before she even had a chance to turn the handle Vernon's bulk was filling the doorway. There were several seconds of protracted silence during which Harry's uncle seemed in danger of suffering a coronary episode. His piggy eyes bulged alarmingly and the vein in his temple appeared at risk of beating it's way through his skin. Alice was just about to stutter out some sort of excuse for why she was there when he found his voice again.

“WHO - JUST WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?! POTTER,” he rounded on Harry who defiantly held his ground in the face of his uncle's incandescent fury, “YOU BETTER HAVE A GOOD EXPLANATION FOR THIS.”

“Alice is a friend.” Over the low, forceful tone of Harry's voice Alice could hear more feet on the stairs.

“FRIEND?!” Vernon roared - Alice was beginning to think he only operated at one volume - “FRIEND?!” he repeated as he moved further into the room revealing the figures of two women peering intently through the doorway who, by their general proportions, Alice assumed to be Harry's Aunt Petunia and Vernon's sister Marge. “You don't have friends at that freaky school you go to, just other freaks,” he spat the word as though it was in danger of burning his tongue. His tirade continued along this general theme for several more minutes as Harry stood patiently waiting for it to end, but Alice didn't catch it all as she was slightly distracted by the fact that Petunia Dursley was staring at her. Actually staring wasn't a strong enough word for it, it was as though she was trying to bore through Alice's skull and dissect the contents of her brain. Her expression was one of utter shock and her cheeks, which had been flushed previously, seemed to slowly be draining of all blood. The woman must really hate magic to have such an extreme reaction.

“- and YOU,” Vernon suddenly seemed to recall the object of his initial rage, “you can just get out right now.”

The part of her that wanted to run and hide whenever anyone shouted at her began strongly suggesting that she do so, but her natural stubbornness and loyalty meant that she also wanted to stay and somehow help Harry out of this situation. Somehow.

Seeing that she was about to answer back Harry, concealed from view behind his uncle's girth, signalled frantically to get her attention. A quick glance in his direction revealed that he was silently shaking his head. Deciding that he would probably end up in less trouble if she didn't cause a scene, Alice obeyed.

“Bye Harry, I'm sorry,” she whispered as she ducked around the Dursley's and ran down the staircase two at a time. At the bottom she nearly collided with his cousin who was standing non-plussed, mouth agape and with very little going on between his ears at the front door. As she moved toward him he jumped back from her as though burned; it was almost comical. Quickly opening the door she walked down the path and along the street with each step she took feeling like a betrayal of Harry, she vowed she would make it up to him somehow. He had looked so happy when she arrived and then she'd gone and made his birthday even worse than it would otherwise have been. Alice stopped dead in the street. There must be something she could do, or say that would make a difference surely? She had just resolved to turn around and go back when she heard several wails of terror and, much closer at hand, someone calling her name.

“ALICE! Alice wait.” She turned to see Harry struggling along the street behind her dragging his trunk and Hedwig's cage and getting tangled up in both.

“Harry, where - what happened?” She ran and took the cage from him so that he could manoeuvre more easily.

“Blew… blew up my - my uncle,” panting, he stopped momentarily to catch his breath. “I'm leaving,” he added.

“You blew - what?”

“Well I didn't blow him up exactly, more…” he searched for the right word looking slightly sheepish as he did so, “inflated.”

“Inflated?” Alice repeated the word deadpan.

“Yeah, I just got so angry at the way he treated you and the stuff he was saying about magic and just… everything sort of spilled over and I must have done magic by accident.”

Alice stared at him for several seconds more trying to decide whether to be pleased that his Uncle had finally gotten what was coming to him or appalled at the trouble Harry would likely be in for not only performing underage magic but doing so on a muggle. Several more wails and screeches from the direction of the Dursley household cut short her deliberations.

“We can worry about the trouble you're going to be in later.” She turned and started off down the road again. “Come on, we had better make ourselves scarce. Can you manage the trunk?”

Harry nodded and together they began to make their way to the end of the street; as they approached the junction Harry spoke up again. “Turn left there's a park not far from here we can go there till we decide what to do next.” Alice duly obliged and within minutes found herself looking at the most depressing park she could imagine. It hardly merited the name really it was just a tiny patch of scrub land wedged between the football pitches and another row of houses identical in almost every way to all the ones they had passed since leaving Harry's. Thankfully it was empty and so they made their way over to the swings and sat down to rest and assess the situation they now found themselves in. As Alice lowered the owl's cage gently down onto the grass its occupant hooted at her balefully.

“I know,” she told it, “but here is better than being back at the Dursley's isn't it?”

Behind her Harry gave a bark of laughter. “All the trouble will almost be worth it just to have seen the look on Uncle Vernon's stupid face when the buttons started popping off his shirt. You should have seen it, he looked like a giant tomato.”

Alice couldn't help but grin a little at his description and at the obvious enjoyment Harry had gotten out of getting one up on his odious relations. “Do you think he's deflated at all yet?”

“I hope not.” Harry considered this with glee evident in his eyes. “He probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference anyway, he's always the size of a whale.” He continued in this vein for several moments more fantasising about what might have happened to his uncle and likening him to several other rather rotund creatures. Alice let him ramble as she sat next to him on the swings unwilling to knock him down from his triumph. Eventually though she had to.

“So what are we going to do now?” Her raven haired friend sobered quickly at the question and he glanced up at her with eyes which didn't quite manage to conceal their worry.

“I'm going to get expelled aren't I?”

She couldn't deny that the thought had crossed her mind, but now that she had had several minutes to think about it she wasn't so sure. “I don't know if they will - no hear me out,” she continued as Harry snorted in disbelief, “what you did was accidental magic, albeit very powerful, it's the sort of thing that kids do before they go to Hogwarts. Surely they won't expel you for that? Besides,” she added when he still looked sceptical, “I don't think Dumbledore would let them do you? If he wasn't going to kick you out after flying a car to school, being spotted by muggles and crashing into a priceless, if rather vindictive, tree I don't think he ever would.” She was pleased to see her remark had the desired effect when his grin began to return at this.

“I suppose there is no point in worrying about it just now. There's no way they'll take me back now though; even if I wanted to go. I'm going to need somewhere to stay till school starts again… or longer if…” He left the possibility unsaid.

“I reckon you're best option is to go to Dumbledore or the Ministry and explain what happened. If you just disappear they'll think you've gone on the run or something stupid.” She was aware she sounded like Hermione as she said it but her friend was usually right, if a little bossy, and so that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. “Harry?” She looked at him in concern as he stared blankly at the grass in front of him in studied silence. “What do you think?”

After a moment he seemed to snap out of whatever thought process he had been going through and sighed in resignation. “You're probably right… again. But I'd need to get to London and I don't have any money and I can't use magic.”

“Don't worry about that,” she reached back into the gloomy depths of her satchel and rooted about amongst the debris at the bottom until she located her purse. As she pulled it out she saw Harry looking askance at the pink and silver sequins that covered it. “I didn't choose it,” she told him defensively, “all the girls got them at a birthday party at the Home and I didn't have another one so… Anyway,” she continued brusquely, “I've got a little bit of extra money in here that they gave me to get back to Guildford and for any treats we wanted to get. It should be enough to get a bus to London.” She counted the notes quickly as she spoke. “Normally I would have suggested going to Ron's parents, but they're still in Egypt aren't they?”

Harry nodded in affirmation. “Are you sure? I don't want to spend all your money.”

“Don't be daft Harry; I'd rather spend it on you than on sweets anyway. I think if we can find the Leaky Cauldron someone there can get us in touch with Hogwarts or the Ministry.”

“Alright then there's a bus stop not far from here,” Harry bounded off of the swing eager to have purpose again and let it drop with a clatter as he walked over to Hedwig's cage and opened the door. “Come on girl out you come. I want you to go to the Leaky Cauldron alright? Stay there until we arrive.” Alice had no doubt the snowy was listening intently as she cocked her head to one side and regarded Harry with her large yellow eyes. When he had finished she gave his shirt a playful nip with her razor sharp beak and then took off in a rush of feathers and outstretched wings.

“Come one then,” Harry broke the silence that fell as they both stared after her for several moments. “Let's go and get this bus.”

A/N: I know it's unlikely that child services would allow Alice, being all of 12 at this point to wander off to Little Whinging on her own, but hey it's a story and these aren't exactly normal kids are they?


2. A Very Good Plan

A Very Good Plan

Alice winced for the fourth time in as many minutes as the bus turned a particularly sharp corner and her knees smacked against the window pane. Harry's trunk had been too bulky to fit in the luggage rack and so with much pushing and shoving they had managed to squeeze it underneath their chairs; the only problem with this solution had been that they had to rest their feet on top of it for the entire journey leading to her current joint related issues. Staring outside into the darkness of the countryside they were driving through as she rubbed her painful knees she wondered, not for the first time, if the driver was doing it on purpose. He had seemed none too pleased when he had been asked to help them load Harry's enormous and decidedly heavy trunk onto the bus.

When they had arrived at the bus stop earlier in the day it was to discover that they had just missed a bus and would have to wait several hours for the next one. To pass the time Harry had practiced his impersonation of Vernon Dursley until it was passable, if slightly higher pitched than the genuine article, and they had walked to the nearest phone box to let Carol know that she would be spending the evening at “Harry's house.” She felt slightly bad at deceiving her like that, but as Harry pointed out once he had finished telling Carol that he would treat his “nephew” and “little (she had bristled at that) Alice” to the zoo the next day and hung up, sometimes the truth wasn't an option. By the time the bus eventually appeared the last of the sunlight was just sliding beyond the horizon and they were both beginning to succumb to the tiredness generated by the day's events. As though he were reading her thoughts Harry spoke up.

“You should try and get some sleep, you look exhausted.”

Glancing across at him and the dark circles under his eyes she smirked. “You don't look too bright eyed yourself.” She tried to stifle a yawn as the eyes in question crinkled with amusement. “All right. Just for ten minutes though,” she shifted in her seat to try and get more comfortable, “but if you think you're going to fall asleep too wake me up. We don't want to miss our stop.”

“Will do boss.”

She didn't think the motion of the bus, the noise of her fellow travellers, or the excitement of the day would allow her to get any rest, but no sooner had she felt her eyes beginning to slide shut than the bus driver was shouting, “ All passengers for Charing Cross,” and Harry was nudging her gently in the ribs.

“Come on sleepy bones, this is us.”

“How long was I asleep?” she queried trying to rub the sleep from her eyes and flatten her hair back into its plait where it had stuck to the window she had been leaning against.

“A while. Give me a hand with this will you,” he indicated the trunk which seemed jammed under the seats. After several moments of Harry trying to pull it out while Alice knelt on her seat and shoved it she gave up and climbed over the top into the aisle and they both grasped the handle and hauled at it.

“Harry, did I ever mention that I hate your trunk?” Alice grumbled as the thing stubbornly refused to budge.

“Only once or twi - oh look out,” he nodded behind her, “our helpful chauffeur is coming to the rescue.” Alice heard a muffled curse behind her as the driver creaked out of his seat and lumbered down the length of the bus with a face like thunder. Within seconds the trunk had been ripped out from under the seats, so fast that Alice thought they were in danger of being parted from the floor themselves, and deposited along with Harry and Alice in the strengthening drizzle of the dark London street.

“Well he was pleasant,” Harry removed his glasses to wipe off the film of water that was gathering on them as Alice looked around to get her bearings. “Pity we didn't get his address I'd have sent him a Christmas card.”

Alice rolled her eyes at this. “Are you sure you're not secretly a Weasley, that joke was as bad as any of Ron's or the twins.”

Reaching for his trunk again Harry grinned, “I'm flattered you would even put me in the same league as such masters of humour.”

She swatted him lightly on the arm. “Come on O King of Comedy, I think it's this way.”

Alice didn't realise just how strong her longing for the wizarding world had been until she saw the Leaky Cauldron emerge from the gloom and judging by the expression on Harry's face his thoughts were heading along a similar track. It was so good to see something familiar again even if it was a shabby looking pub in the heart of muggle London. Pushing their way into the pub she allowed Harry to take charge and head to the bar to talk to Tom. The few times she had seen the man before he had intimidated her slightly, (though to be honest who didn't?) and Harry was better at that sort of stuff anyway.

“Follow me,” he flicked a gnarled looking wand so that Harry's trunk levitated in front of him, “I'll get you sorted out with some rooms.”

Grateful that he seemed to be asking few questions about why two almost-teenagers, one of whom was the famous Harry Potter, had turned up on their own in the middle of the night they obeyed without complaint. Careful so as not to bash the trunk against the walls of the narrow corridors he led them along several dusty passages that looked as though they hadn't been used in years, although she knew this couldn't be the case, and up a rickety flight of stairs.

“Here you are,” he indicated two wooden doors before opening one and floating Harry's trunk inside, “if you need anything else I'll be downstairs,” and he turned on his heel and stomped off again.

“Hedwig!” Harry cried once he had followed his trunk in. The snowy owl who had been perched on top of the wardrobe spread her wings regally, and with several powerful wing-beats, landed on Harry's arm. “Hey girl,” he whispered affectionately, “you managed to make it then?” In response the owl nuzzled his ear and then, being her usual independent self returned to her original spot and settled down to sleep.

“She's got the right idea,” Alice grinned.

“Well,” Harry observed once they had both flopped down exhaustedly on the bed, “today's been different I suppose.”

Alice snorted. “You can say that again.”

“Today's been diff - ouch!” he protested as she elbowed him in the ribs.


It was a few minutes after this that she became aware that she had done nothing but stare absently at the ceiling. It seemed that her brain was starting to slip into that disengaged state that arrives just before sleep and causes time to become all fuzzy. “Right,” the bed creaked loudly as she sat up, “it's been a long day I might go to bed.” When Harry didn't answer she glanced down at him. What she saw made her smile affectionately.

Sprawled out on the bed, his glasses askew and his feet hanging off one end, her friend was fast asleep. It had been a long day for both of them, but unlike her poor Harry hadn't been able to get any sleep on the bus; no wonder he was exhausted. Gently, so as not to disturb him, she eased herself off the bed. Removing first his glasses and then his shoes she put them to one side before casting around for another blanket. Finding that he was lying on the only one in the room she carefully folded it in half over him. Once that was done she tiptoed towards the door and into her own room.

It was only once she was there that she realised that she didn't have any essentials of her own, she was sure Harry wouldn't have minded if she had borrowed a pair of his pyjamas for the night, but she didn't want to go back in and wake him. If she was honest she was also too tired to care. Crawling into her own bed she blew out the candle on the cabinet and was asleep almost instantly.

When she regained a conscious state it was to hear an insistent banging on her door. Immediately assuming something was wrong she flew to it and hauled it open to find Harry standing there looking nervous.

“What's happened?”

“Nothing… well nothing bad.”

“Makes a change,” she muttered relaxing slightly, but Harry who had heard her anyway grinned. “So what's up then?”

“Tom just came and woke me up. Apparently the Minister for Magic is downstairs… and he wants to talk to us.”

At this Alice felt a horrified dread sweep over her. They had both run away from home and Harry had blown up his odious uncle using under-age magic; how much trouble would that have landed them in? If the Minister for Magic himself had come looking for them then clearly a lot. She could feel her tongue curling up and her thoughts becoming incoherent even as she considered having to face the man.

“Don't worry,” Harry tried to reassure her seeing the panic on her face, “I'll do all the talking.” His smile conveyed more confidence than she was sure he felt. After all he had been told last year that he would be expelled if he performed any more magic outside of Hogwarts - even if it hadn't been him that first time. Then again, Harry had been threatened with expulsion more times than she could count.

“Right,” she took a deep breath, inhaling till it felt as though her lungs were completely full, “we can do this. Come on.” She moved forward and nearly walked straight into Harry who hadn't moved. “What's wrong now?”

“Erm… you might want to fix your hair first,” he gestured vaguely at the side of his own head to make his point.

“Why, what's…?” Striding quickly across to the chipped and dusty mirror propped in the corner of the room she trailed off as she saw what he meant. “Oh.” Having slept with her plaits in all night her reddish-brown curls seemed to have partially escaped them and were travelling as far from her head as they could possibly get. Deftly she pulled off the ribbons and began redoing her hair as she returned to the doorway and followed Harry down the stairs.

As it was still quite early there were only a few people down in the bar: one was a witch who was sitting in a corner counting what looked like tiny claws into a leather bag and in another corner sat two wizards completely ignoring each other and utterly absorbed in the books they were reading. Tom, who was busily wiping down some of the tables, seemed to be the only other person in the room.

Glancing up from his work he spotted them nervously hovering at the bottom of the stairs. “He's through there,” he pointed towards an aged looking door, “end of the corridor, last room on the left.” His toothless smile didn't exactly instil Alice with confidence.

Just as they were about to go into the room, Harry hesitated and looked at her. “You ok?”

“I'm fine.” How like him to be worrying about her nerves instead of himself at a time like this. The truth was she felt as though something had reached inside her stomach and was slowly twisting her inside until they were about to split. If she didn't really concentrate on ignoring the feeling she was going to be sick any minute, but she didn't tell Harry that of course.

“Right then,” raising his hand he knocked on the door and waited. The sound had barely reached Alice's ears when the latch gave a sharp click and the door swung open by itself.

“Come in, come in.” Cautiously they followed the voice into the room, to see the man who could only be Cornelius Fudge sitting by the empty fireplace. “Take a seat please,” he waved towards the two armchairs positioned opposite his own. “I understand neither of you have had any breakfast so I took the liberty of having Tom procure some for us.”

It wasn't until she cast an eye over the pile of toast and fruit that was on the table next to him that Alice realised that neither of them had had anything to eat the previous night. Despite feeling sick and nervous the smell of the hot toast was making her stomach rumble. Seeing that Harry was doing as he had been directed she shuffled quickly behind him into the second of the chairs and slid so far back in it that her feet were dangling several inches from the floor. Starving as she was she also waited until her friend had taken some toast before she helped herself to a piece and promptly wolfed it down. She never had been one of these people who couldn't eat just because they were anxious.

As all this was going on Fudge just sat and stared at them in silence, which was unnerving really and only served to make her even more nervous than she already was. Finally he broke the tension by smiling benevolently at them. “I should probably introduce myself before we go any further. I am Cornelius Fudge the Minister for Magic.”

Having seen plenty of pictures of him in the Daily Prophet they both already knew this, in fact Alice wondered if there was anyone in the wizarding world who hadn't seen an image of this portly little man in pinstripes and a bowler hat. He made a striking, if somewhat diminutive figure, and she suspected he knew that.

“Harry of course everyone has heard of,” he continued, oblivious to the fact that perhaps Harry didn't appreciate this, reaching out to shake his hand. “It is an honour to finally meet you Harry.” Harry's lips twitched awkwardly into what was evidently an attempt at a smile. “And Miss Alice Evans, I've certainly heard a lot about you too in the last few hours. It would seem the two of you had a fairly busy day yesterday.”

Alice wasn't sure if this was a question or a statement so she nodded and waited for him to continue.

“You both led us at the Ministry on quite a merry dance I can tell you.” He paused again as though he was looking for a reaction from one of them and when none was forthcoming excepting a stony and anxious silence he exhaled sharply. “If you are worried about your uncle Harry there is certainly no need to be, we have dealt with the situation. Mr Dursley has been deflated and the memories of both he and his sister have been modified so there will be no lasting harm done.”

“Oh.” Harry seemed to have nothing to say to this.

“Your aunt, though understandably upset, has agreed to allow you to return, provided that you do not do so before the summer holidays next year.”

“Do I have to?” Harry blurted almost as though he couldn't stop the question from tumbling out of him. Alice hid a sad smile; she hated it that he was so unhappy there.

“Now, now,” Fudge looked perplexed, “I'm sure this will have all boiled over by then. The members of the Accidental Magic Reversal Department who were sent to your house reported that your aunt was concerned for your whereabouts -”

“She probably hoped I'd been squashed by flying house,” Harry muttered so that only Alice could hear.

“And that she even asked after your friend Alice here.”

“She asked after me?” In her surprise Alice was startled from her usual tongue-tied nervousness. Why would Harry's aunt ask after her? She had seemed to despise her at the house. It was all very odd and certainly deserved some further thought.

“What about our punishment?” Harry asked with the sort of urgency that told Alice it was all he had been thinking about.

“Punishment?” Fudge chuckled jovially. “What on earth would you be punished for? A little under age magic is hardly worth a fuss over. No, we're all just glad that the two of you have turned up safe and sound. You really shouldn't have run away like that given… circumstances.” He stopped for a moment and seemed to collect his thoughts. Just as it seemed that Harry was about to say something else he began to speak again. “Alice your muggle guardians have been informed that you are staying with Harry for the rest of the holidays, no need for them to know the truth, and all the official technicalities have been taken care of by our Muggle Liaison Office. I believe your things have been collected and sent to your room.”

“Erm… thank you,” she mumbled. At least she wouldn't have to explain her peculiar absence to Carol. “Are… are we to stay here then sir?” She could feel her face warming as she spoke.

“Sir? My, we are very formal aren't we?” She flushed a shade that any Gryffindor would have been proud of at this. “Yes I think it would be best if you both stay under Tom's watchful eye for the rest of the holidays, provided that you stick to Diagon Alley and don't go back out into Muggle London. Everything will be paid for by the Ministry of course.”

“Are we under house arrest then?” Asked Harry who couldn't seem to compute that they weren't going to be punished. Alice could scarcely believe it herself, after all Harry had told her about the expulsion he had been threatened with the year before and compared to that this decided under reaction was just weird.

“House arrest?” It was obvious they were just bewildering Fudge now. Pushing back his bowler hat he scratched his forehead in consternation. “Of course not. I told you, you weren't going to be punished. Surely you don't want to be, do you?”

“But last year -”

The Minister for Magic waved a hand dismissively at Harry's statement. “Now, now, think no more of it. You are here now and safe and that is what matters.” He stood up glancing at his watch as he did so. “But I am afraid I must go now. Pressing matters to deal with at the Ministry. There's no need to see me out,” he smiled as they both made to stand up, “stay here and finish your breakfast. It was very nice to meet you both.” He shook their hands again and with a swirl of his emerald cloak departed the room leaving Alice and Harry staring curiously after him.

“Well,” Harry exhaled when he had gone, “that was… weird,” he echoed her earlier thought.

“Hmm,” Alice grabbed another slice of toast as she continued to stare at the door Fudge had exited through and reprocessing the conversation in her mind.

“Come on then,” Harry smirked at her.


“You've got that look on your face that you get when your brain goes into overload. What are you thinking?”

“Well he certainly provoked more questions than he answered there,” she looked at Harry who nodded and motioned for her to continue. “I mean why aren't either of us getting punished? Especially you - no offence.”

“None taken,” Harry grinned.

“I mean it could just be because you're the famous Harry Potter but that didn't seem to stop them last year. And then there's these circumstances he was talking about. What do you reckon is going on there?”

“Dunno. You don't think it might have anything to do with Voldemort again do you?”

“I'm not sure,” she reluctantly considered it, “but whatever it is must be serious if the Minister for Magic himself came to check you were alright.”

“Both of us,” he assured her. “Fudge came to check on both of us. You're just as important.”

His loyalty and lack of self importance made her smile. “Thanks Harry, but I know I'm not. The Ministry wouldn't give a fig if I disappeared down a well, but you're a completely different story. If anything happened to you there would be a national outcry.” His embarrassment at her statement made her laugh. To cover it he returned to her original topic.

“So what else were you thinking?”

“Well…” She wasn't sure how to proceed with this one. “The only other thing was… what he said about your aunt.”

“About how she asked after you? Yeah I thought that was bizarre too. Aunt Petunia has never cared about my friends or magic,” - or Harry himself Alice thought internally, but she didn't say it - “except to hate them.”

“When I was at your house, she looked as though she'd seen a ghost or something when she spotted me. I thought she was going to have a fit. At the time I thought it was, as you say, just because she hated magic so much, but now…”

“Now you aren't so sure,” Harry finished for her. Suddenly he laughed loudly, startling Alice from her thoughts. “This is great, term hasn't even started yet and already we've got two mysteries on our hands. Although…” he stopped mid sentence as he suddenly realised something.


“Our Hogsmeade permission slips. Now that I'm definitely going back to school I should have asked if he would sign it.”

“Didn't you get it signed at home?” She felt upset and disappointed on Harry's behalf.

“No, it only arrived the morning of my birthday. I didn't have time and then… Did you get yours signed?” He was clearly trying to keep himself cheerful about it

“Yeah, just before I came to visit you. They might make an exception for you,” she added hopefully though with little real conviction; McGonagall was a stickler for rules.

Harry simply shrugged half heartedly in response. “Oh well, it's too late now. Let's forget about it and concentrate on the rest of the holidays.”

Once they had finished their breakfast they went back up to their rooms to find that Fudge had been as good as his word and Alice's trunk and belongings were waiting for her outside her door. After much heaving and shoving she and Harry between them eventually managed to get them through the door.

“Right,” Harry surveyed their handiwork, slightly out of breath. “Now that you've got your stuff why don't we get changed and then go exploring.”

“Fudge said -”

“We won't go out of the street I promise,” he held up his hand solemnly as though about to swear an oath.

“Ok then, I'll be two seconds. Now shoo while I get ready.” She flapped her arms in the direction of the doorway.

It maybe took longer than two seconds, but it wasn't long before the two of them, feeling much refreshed, were sauntering along the dazzling and bewildering hodge-podge of shops that was Diagon Alley. Alice smiled contentedly as she allowed the welcome feeling of being back amongst wizard-kind to wash over her. The tangy smell of spices and ingredients wafting from the door of the Apothecary, the clang of metal ringing from the cauldron shop, the buzz of noise from the shoppers swarming along sun warmed paving slabs, the -

“Alice!” Harry's shout disturbed her from her romanticised observations; she hadn't even noticed he had left her side. Where was he? “Alice, over here!” He waved at her animatedly from the front of Quality Quidditch Supplies and she trotted obediently over to see what all the fuss was about. “Look at this,” he pushed her with gleeful excitement through the gaggle of other children that were pressing their noses against the glass to get a look at… whatever he was showing her. When the boy in front of her eventually condescended to let her past she gasped in ill-concealed delight. There lying in the window was the most beautiful broom she had ever seen. No wonder Harry's eyes were lit up like it was Christmas.

The Firebolt was what the carefully inked sign declared the masterpiece of broom-making to be. Alice didn't think she'd ever heard anything more wonderfully named, just the sound of seemed to say everything you could ever need to know about such a broom's speed and agility. Scanning the rest of the notice she whistled in appreciation at the sheer precision and technical brilliance it purported to possess. Glancing across at Harry he saw that he was silently mouthing the words on the sign as though trying to memorise them by heart.

“Haaarry,” she smirked at the look of total absorption on her friends face whilst trying, and failing, to look stern. “Don't even think about it,” she could tell exactly what he was thinking.

“What?” He looked up at her with innocence.

“You can't buy the broom. For one thing we haven't any money yet, you probably couldn't afford it anyway, and for another there is absolutely nothing wrong with your Nimbus 2000.”

“I know,” he sighed and returned to gazing enviously at the Firebolt in the window. “But it's just so - so… I mean look at it!”

Alice laughed and rolled her eyes, but she had to admit that she secretly agreed with him.

After what seemed like an age they reluctantly dragged themselves away and continued on down the street. Harry was just in the middle of postulating on whether or not they should stop for an ice-cream at Florean Fortescue's Ice-cream Parlour once they had been to Gringott's when Alice, who had been gazing at the bookshop on the other side of the road, stopped suddenly.

“Harry! Look, I think I know what Fudge was talking about!” She swung him round to face Flourish and Blott's excitedly. When he continued to look non-plussed she helped him out by pointing at the newspaper stand outside the shop.


Rushing over she grabbed a paper and hungrily devoured its front page. HUNT FOR BLACK CONTINUES it read in a headline that, combined with a photograph of the most terrifying man she had ever seen, took up the majority of the front page. She turned the page and Harry joined her to scan the article.

Azkaban's most notorious prisoner is still on the run today more than five days after he first escaped prompting questions as to the effectiveness of the Ministry's search for him. Sirius Black, the murderer who killed thirteen people with a single curse twelve years ago, is the only person ever to have escaped the fortress of Azkaban. It is believed when caught he will receive the toughest punishment that the law can mete out to him. Readers are reminded that on no account is he to be approached if sighted and -

Suddenly a carefully manicured hand appeared in the middle of the column that Alice was reading and whisked it out from under her nose. Looking up she saw a tall witch with severely cropped short, dark hair and a matching stern expression as she peered over the top of her glasses at them. She could feel Harry bristling beside her so she quickly placed a restraining hand on his arm; the woman was wearing the robes of a Flourish and Blott's employee after all.

“You intending to pay for that?” she indicated the money box on top of the newspaper stand and the sign declaring that each paper cost five Knuts.

“I…” Alice stammered as the woman's gaze bore into her, “I don't have any money on me.”

“Well then don't go reading the paper unless you can pay for it; we're not a charity you know.” And before either of them could respond she pivoted on her heel and disappeared back inside the shop.

“Well manners certainly don't cost anything,” Harry glared after her, “I've a good mind to go in there and -”

“Just forget about it; she's not worth it. We are going to need to go to Gringotts soon though, especially if we are going to be here for a while.”

“Yeah,” he ran a hand distractedly through his hair. “Well I guess we know what Fudge meant about circumstances then. They were probably worried we had run into Black or something. Have you heard of him before?”

She shrugged. “I think I remember reading his name once before, but I couldn't have told you before this what I had been reading about. Thirteen people with one curse though,” she whistled, “that's…”

“I know,” Harry nodded. It was scary. “What was it they said was going to happen to him? The toughest punishment they can mete out wasn't it?”

Alice nodded as she gazed at the picture on the front of the pile of papers. The face that stared back at her was gaunt and deathly pale, the skin stretched over a frame that seemed too large for it and eyes that burned through to your soul were framed by long curtains of black matted hair. She shivered. “What could be worse than Azkaban though?”

Neither of them could think of a suitable answer to this. Finally Harry shook himself. “Come on,” he put his arm through Alice's and steered her away from the bookshop. “It's too nice a day to stand here thinking of depressing things. Let's go to Gringott's, get our gold and then we can go and get an ice-cream. How does that sound?”

She beamed at him. “Like a very good plan.”

A/N: There you go. Sorry for the long delay, I've been reeeeeaaaally busy. Will try to be more prompt with the next chapter. Please R&R!


3. The Wonderful World of Wizardry

The Wonderful World of Wizardry

For the next week Alice and Harry pottered around in Diagon Alley, gradually building up the supplies they would need for Hogwarts, occasionally treating themselves to an ice-cream and spending far too much time in Flourish and Blott's and Quality Quidditch Supplies respectively. The time passed in a haze of sunshine and as neither of them had really spent much time in the wizarding world out with Hogwarts they took the opportunity to sit by the side of the street and just watch the world go by. Almost two weeks after Harry had blown up his uncle it was Alice's birthday.

“Happy birthday Miss Alice,” Florean Fortescue smiled at them both as he deposited two large sundaes on the table in front of them. Thanking him they both immediately began attacking the ice-cream.

“So,” Harry began breaking the satisfied silence once they had finished, “what else do you want for your birthday?” Earlier that morning owls had arrived from Hermione, Neville and Ron. Hermione had sent her a beautiful wooden box with a magical lock that only she could open, Neville a wizards chess set, and from Ron she had been pleasantly surprised to receive a book on Ancient Egyptian wizards.

“Harry I've told you, you don't need to get me anything.”

He rolled his eyes sceptically. “And I told you I'm not arguing about this, it's your birthday, of course I'm going to get you something. Now what do you want?”

Sighing at his obstinacy she considered his question. There wasn't really anything that she needed, then again when did you ever get something you really needed in a gift? Usually it was something completely impractical or sweets in her experience. Looking along the street for inspiration her eyes fell on a wizard walking past carrying an owl in a cage. It was a gorgeous barn owl with inquisitive black eyes shining out of a pale heart shaped face; the plumage on the rest of its body faded from a rich honey brown to the palest cream. She made up her mind in seconds.

“An owl.”

“An owl?” Harry sounded surprised, clearly this wasn't what he had had in mind.

“Oh I didn't mean that you should buy me one,” Alice rushed to explain herself, “That would be far too much for a gift. I just meant that I wanted to buy one for myself. I think I have enough money with me,” she checked her purse.

“Tell you what, why don't we go halves and that can be your present?” When she was about to protest he stood up and pulled her to her feet. “No buts, come on.”

Briskly he dragged her along the street, sidestepping a few witches who paused to stare at him as they went, and soon arrived at Eeylops Owl Emporium. As they went in the bell above the shop door gave a cheerful tinkle which caused the rather unnerving spectacle of every owl in the shop turning to look at them. Hundreds of pairs of eyes gazed down on them from the high walls and from the dark heights of the ceiling she could just make out the lights reflecting off many more, making the roof look as though it was peppered with stars. The shop had a slightly unpleasant smell, which she assumed was due to the vast number of birds within it, but this was offset by the surprising cleanliness of the place. The cages that lined the walls contained every imaginable species of owl and Harry and Alice began to slowly make their way around the shop considering them all as they went. There were so many it was difficult to choose.

“What about a snowy owl?” Harry indicated a magnificent example of the species, which puffed itself up proudly as Alice approached.

“Hedwig would get jealous,” she giggled.

Harry grinned. “True.”

“Are you looking for something in particular?” A stout man, going slightly grey at the temples, heaved himself out from behind the counter and ambled over to them. “We carry stock from across Europe and beyond here at Eeylops. Everything from an Elf Owl to the Eagle over here,” he indicated a cage to his left. Considering his customers more carefully he amended, “but that's perhaps a bit out of your price range, kids like you. Now, if it's a serviceable mail owl for school you're after then there's none finer than the Barn Owl. It's quick, reliable, and can carry quite a weight of packages.” He stopped and looked expectantly at them.

“Umm,” Alice hated being put on the spot. “Well… we just wanted to have a browse really. I'm not sure what we're looking for yet.”

“Well,” the shopkeeper looked irritated, “I'll be over here when you make your mind up,” and he stomped back to his seat.

“Oops,” Harry muttered once he had gone.

Grinning Alice went back to looking at the owls. It was difficult to make a choice, but deciding she had to start somewhere she approached the cage of a brown speckled owl of middling size. She wasn't sure what drew her to it, whether it was the unusual fan of soft grey feathers above each eye, the disgruntled and haughty expression it wore or something else entirely.

“It looks bored stiff,” Harry commented coming up behind her.

“Poor thing, I'd be bored out of my mind too if I was stuck in a cage like that all day. Hello there,” she put her fingers up to the bars as the owl hooted balefully and shuffled round on its perch so that its back was to her. “Come on now, I don't bite.”

“Don't!” The sudden cry came from the shopkeeper as he saw what she was doing and bounded towards them. “Get your hand away from -” He stopped short abruptly and looked from the owl to Alice in puzzlement. “Well I never.” He whistled. “That tawny has already savaged three of my customers since I got it, tried to take a chunk out of me too,” he showed them a wide cut that was scarring over on the side of his hand. “He usually goes straight for any hand that gets near the cage, but you,” he nodded towards Alice's hand which was still resting unmolested on the side of the bars. “They're meant to be bad luck too, tawny owls. Always hear about them in bad omens.” Looking back at the owl Alice saw that it was regarding her surreptitiously out of the corner of its eye. He really was a beautiful owl, if a bit unusual in temperament.

“I'll take him.”

“What?” Harry and the shopkeeper chorused in unison.

“Alice, are you mad?” Harry clearly thought she was. “He just told you the thing was dangerous.

“Possibly,” she smiled sweetly at him, “but I've made up my mind. I want this one.”

Looking at the stubborn lines of her face he sighed. He had long since learned that it was useless to argue with her. “Fine it's your birthday. Have this one if you want.”

“A birthday is it,” the man looked at her. “Tell you what since it's your birthday and considering this one's… disposition, what do you say I give him to you for ten galleons? You won't get a much better bargain than that.”

Minutes later the two of them emerged from the shop having paid their shares for the owl which Alice now carried in the cage under her arm.

“So what are you going to call him then?” Harry asked with a laugh. “Grumpy? Scratch?”

“Ha ha,” she laughed sarcastically. Looking down at her new pet - who immediately glanced away from her and pretended he hadn't been assessing his new owner curiously - she tried to settle on the right name. Eventually she had a brain wave. “How about Archimedes? I saw an owl called that in a film once, he was grumpy and wise too.”

“Archimedes?” Harry thought it over. “I like it. Alright Archimedes it is. So,” he glanced at his watch, “it's nearly time for dinner, why don't we head back to the Leaky Cauldron, introduce Archimedes to Hedwig and get something to eat?”

Her new pet it seemed had other plans. The minute she opened his cage to feed him Archimedes seized the opportunity to make a bid for freedom. Leaping over her head in a rush of feathers he took up that customary of owl perches on top of the wardrobe and refused to come down. Even when she tried to tempt him with some food he remained stubbornly up there, his head turned away from her like a spoilt child or a disdainful elderly relative. He must have come down at some point though because when Alice returned from her own dinner that night the bag of owl treats she had left on the table had been overturned and devoured. This set the pattern for the next few weeks. Archimedes would refuse to acknowledge her, Alice would leave food out for him and when she had returned from her days exploring with Harry it would be eaten. More than once Harry suggested that she take him back to Eeylops, but the owl's grumpiness was rather endearing in an odd sort of way. At least he tolerated her in a way he didn't seem to extend to everyone else, when she tried to put food in front of him he just ignored it, but on the occasions Harry and even Tom had tried a similar move they had only narrowly avoided having their hands pecked for their troubles.

“I'm not sure which is worse,” Harry laughed as they came out of Flourish and Blott's one day after buying their school books, “Archimedes or that stupid book you just had to buy for Care of Magical Creatures, that thing could take your hand off,” he glanced sideways at her copy of The Monster Book of Monsters which had been securely tied with a length of rope by the shop assistant.

“Definitely the book,” Alice grinned, “at least Archimedes sleeps some of the time.”

“I wouldn't count on it.”

As there was now less than a week left until term started Diagon Alley was packed with students buying supplies with their parents. Already that week they had bumped into Dean and Seamus, and Alice was convinced that she had spotted Neville from a distance out shopping with a forbidding looking old woman who could only have been his grandmother. They had disappeared into the crowd however before she could be sure. Fighting their way through the throng they eventually reached the Leaky Cauldron to find a very pleasant surprise waiting for them.

“About time! Where have you two been?” Ron bounded up from a table he had been sitting at in the middle of the pub and rushed over to them grinning from ear to ear.

“What are you all doing here?” Alice asked stunned taking in Ginny and Ron's parents sitting at the table too.

“Come to get you of course. You're coming to stay with us for the rest of the week. Dad's sorted it all out at work and Fudge says it's fine.”

“Great,” Harry beamed at him, truth be told spending everyday in Diagon Alley was beginning to get a bit boring and they had done everything there was to do about four days ago. A change of scenery would be quite refreshing.

“How was Egypt?” Alice asked as they went to sit at the table with the others.

“Really good, we got back yesterday. The best bit was when Fred and George locked…” he tailed off as his mother came within earshot. “Never mind I'll tell you later. Look at this though,” he pulled a brand new wand from his pocket. “Got it this morning,” he flourished it proudly. “Willow, fourteen inches and a unicorn tail-hair.”

“And he had better not go breaking this one,” his mother looked at him sternly before turning to Harry and Alice with a welcoming smile. “Harry dear, so good to see you again. How have you been?” Without waiting for a response she hugged him and then continued. “And it's Alice isn't it? Lovely to meet you dear, Ron and the boys have told me so much about you.” Technically Alice had already met Ron's parents at the end of the previous term, but as they had been more preoccupied with their daughter's welfare at the time they had never been properly introduced.

“Nice to meet you,” she responded shyly.

“Hey it's Potter and the midget!” The twins chorused with mock surprise as they appeared as if from nowhere and took a seat. “Fancy meeting you here of all places.”

Alice rolled her eyes with a grin; it was good to know some things never changed.

“Now,” Mrs Weasley ignored her sons, “has Ron told you that you are coming to stay with us for the rest of the week?”

The two of them nodded “That's really kind of you, there's really no need. Only if it's alright with you.” Aware that in her nervousness she was babbling incoherently Alice shut her mouth with a snap, then glared at the twins who were sniggering behind their hands.

“Nonsense dear,” their mother said kindly. “We can't have you two staying here for another week. Not when there is somewhere else you can go. Besides Arthur has it all arranged. Now if you two want to pop and get your things we can be off as soon as you are ready. The boys will help with your trunks.”

Speedily the two of them obeyed and dashed up the stairs followed by Ron, Fred and George. It took Alice only a few minutes to throw the few things she had taken out of her trunk back in and check under the bed to make sure she hadn't left anything there.

“What on earth is that?” Ron exclaimed as he came into her room to lift the trunk.

“It's an owl Ronald,” George cuffed him playfully on the back of the head. “Really what do they teach youngsters these days?”

“I meant where did it come from?”

“That's Archimedes. I got him for my birthday. Careful though,” she warned as he made to approach, “he doesn't like people very much.”

“Aaw what did you tell him that for?” Fred complained as Ron quickly backed away.

“That's not a bird,” Harry had arrived whilst they had been talking, “it's a pit-bull with wings. Get too close and it'll try to have your hand off.”

Alice rolled her eyes. “Don't exaggerate Harry.”

“Well if you want to try and coax the demon bird into his cage, or get him to fly to the Burrow, we'll get a move on with this trunk. Come on Fred,” George indicated that his twin should take the other end of it.

“Oof,” Fred groaned as they lifted it with effort. “What have you got in here Alice, bricks?”

“No,” she responded innocently, “just half the Hogwarts library.”

It wasn't long before everyone was gathered downstairs. Alice, who had spent longer than she had expected persuading Archimedes to leave his perch, was the last to arrive.

“We've sent your trunks ahead already dear,” Mrs Weasley nodded towards the roaring fire which seemed oddly out of place on a hot August day. “So just take a pinch of Floo Powder, that's it - not too much - good girl.”

“Have you ever travelled by Floo before?” her husband asked. Alice had to admit that she hadn't. “Don't worry about it, it's not hard. All you have to do is throw the powder into the flames, when they turn green step in and state where you want to go.”

“Mind you speak clearly when you do it,” Mrs Weasley added.

“Yeah and keep your elbows in or you might lose an arm,” Fred added helpfully.

Ginny and Ron went first to show her how it was done and each time the terrific whooshing of the flames and the emerald jets they produced gave her a little thrill of excitement. Travelling by Floo Powder was something she had wanted to do ever since she had first read about it. She knew that once she got used to it the concept would probably seem incredibly mundane, but for the moment it still held the excitement of any new form of magic.

Having thanked Tom for his hospitality one last time and with Harry's good luck ringing in her ears she stepped up to the grate and threw in her fistful of sparkling green dust. Instantly the fire changed colour and roared upwards. Not wanting to waste a moment she quickly stepped in and said in the clearest voice she could muster, “The Burrow, Ottery St. Catchpole.” The sensation of travelling by Floo, as Alice reflected later to her friends was rather like being sucked through a drinks straw at very high speed, or fired from a cannon, it was over so fast that she couldn't decide. Landing in the Weasley's kitchen fireplace she fell face down on the flagstone floor in a rather undignified heap.

“Well,” Ron and Ginny pulled her to her feet as Harry came crashing through the fireplace behind her, “welcome to The Burrow.”

As the rest of their party arrived, rather ruffled and lightly dusted with soot, Alice took the opportunity to look around the room. It was the first wizarding house she had ever been in and she wanted to take in every detail. The first thing that struck her was the size of the room, for such a large family she would have expected their kitchen to be bigger. Pot plants, both magical and muggle, were distributed across the room fighting for space - in one case literally - with pots, pans, piles of books, broomsticks, drawings, tangled balls of wool, cauldrons, beater's bats, packs of luminous balloons and a pile of what looked like souvenirs from Egypt. The whole room was a mass of activity, life and colour. As though it needed any more of the latter a large rag rug of every shade imaginable covered the centre of the floor. The sun streaming into the room caught the edges of the patchwork curtains casting fuzzy coloured shapes on the opposite wall. Pinned to this were several moving photographs of various members of the Weasley family including one of a much younger Ron and the twins pulling ridiculous faces down the camera lense. The radio belting out what she vaguely recognised as the latest Weird Sisters song by the sink was a larger version of the one she had bought Harry for his birthday. Glancing about she spotted the enchanted clock that Harry had told her about which was currently spinning most of its hands to the Home position.

“Now,” Mrs Weasley dusted some of the soot from her skirt, “you two just make yourselves at home. Fred, George you can get rid of those trunks, we'll put Alice in Ginny's room - you don't mind sharing do you dear?”

Alice shook her head. “No Mrs Weasley, I share with three other girls at the Home.”

“Call me Molly dear please. Right,” she clapped her hands together, “I had better see what's to be done about some supper.”

After dinner Alice sat contentedly in the living room, her stomach full and the soothing sounds of the wireless drifting through from the kitchen. Outside of Hogwarts she didn't think she had ever had such a wonderful meal. The food had been simple, but Mrs Weasley was an excellent cook and everything had been delicious. If he ate like that all the time she could see why Ron loved his food so much.

“Hey Alice,” she turned towards the sound of her name to see the twins peeking their heads around the door to the kitchen, “come here a second will you?”

“What's up?” Ron looked up curiously from where he was playing a game of chess with Harry.

“None of your business nosey.”

Ron shrugged and went back to his game; he was used to his brothers' antics.

Once she was in the kitchen however Alice repeated his sentiment. “What's up?” The twins were standing side by side in the middle of the room, their hands behind their backs and looking very pleased with themselves.

Instantly suspicious she changed her question. “What have you done?”

“Why do people always assume that we've done something wrong?” George whined, though she could see he was trying not to grin.

“Because you usually have,” she shot back, trying to keep her own smile from her face.

“You see George,” his twin sighed dramatically, “we try to do something nice for her and that's the thanks we get.” He grinned when he saw her eyes flick curiously between them and then try to see what it was they were hiding. “Got your attention now haven't we?”

“Oh you win, I'm intrigued. What is it then?”

“Well since you recently turned the grand old age of thirteen -”

“- and we were away gallivanting across the globe at the time -”

“- yes we are terribly sorry about that by the way,” George nodded straight-faced.

“Wracked with guilt,” his twin added.

“We felt it was only right that we presented you with a birthday gift of truly monumental proportions. And so - Fred if you will,” he gestured for his brother to take the floor.

“We present you with,” he imitated a drum roll, “The Marauders Map.” With a flourish he produced a large and fairly tatty piece of blank parchment.

Taking it gingerly from them, you could never tell with Fred and George, she stared at it in silence for a few moments. “Riiight,” she managed eventually.

“She seems confused George.”

“Just a tad. Should we enlighten her?”

“Let's do,” they moved round to either side of her and Fred gestured towards the parchment. “This may seem, oh Alice of the miniature people” - she scowled up at him - “like a perfectly ordinary and mundane piece of parchment. Am I right?”

“You would be,” she sighed deciding to play along. They would get to their point eventually.

“Well, as I'm sure you know appearances can be deceptive. This mundane piece of parchment is actually of untold value and is the secret of our success. But perhaps,” they were clearly enjoying drawing this out, “we should maybe just show you and let you judge its worth for yourself.” Drawing his wand Fred held it poised over the parchment and then with great ceremony he said: “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”

As Alice watched it was almost as though George had dropped a large bead of ink from his wand to the paper. From the point where the two met thin lines of ink began to run in every direction, curling and twisting around each other as they went. Watching in fascination Alice saw large words declaring it to be The Marauder's Map, along with the names of those who had made it, wind their way along the top of what was evidently the floor plan of a building of some sort. Looking closely she saw many corridors and staircases squeezed cheek by jowl onto the parchment next to towers and dungeons and several thin twisting paths that looked like passages ran away from the central mass off to the sides of the sheet. Occasionally some of the ink lines would rearrange themselves shifting a room or staircase slightly, new ones would appear and those that had been there would fade sometimes to reappear again only moments later. Suddenly Alice recognised what she was looking at.

“This is a map of Hogwarts!”

“Of course it is,” Fred grinned as though that had been obvious all along, “but look at what else is there.” Pointing towards the top most corner of the map he showed her several tiny moving dots. At first she wasn't entirely sure what they were, and she had to really squint to make out the tiny lettering next to each one. With a bit of effort she was eventually able to make out the names of Filch and Mrs Norris. “The map doesn't just show you where the rooms are,” Fred continued, “it shows you where all the people are too. Got us out of more than a few scrapes that one has.”

“Where on earth did you get this?”

“Swiped it from Filch's office in first year. It was in his filing cabinet with all the other stuff he's confiscated. We've been using it ever since. He doesn't miss it.”

“Never even sent it a Christmas card,” Fred grinned.

“It even shows you the secret passages out of the school. Look.” George pointed towards the squiggly lines leading away from the main building.

“And…” she was aware her mouth was hanging open in shock, “you're giving this to me?”

“That is usually the way birthday presents work. Do you think she's a bit thick George?” He questioningly glanced over the top of her head at his twin.

“Maybe a little; she might have hit her head coming through the Floo.”

“But what about Ron or Ginny?” She couldn't believe they were giving something this precious to her.

“Don't you want it?” George demanded pretending to be miffed.

“Well… I… I…” She couldn't think of anything to say.

“Definitely a bit thick.” Fred jumped quickly backwards as she went to hit him on the arm. “I don't know, rejecting our gifts and then violence? That's not how we brought you up Evans. Now just take the present and say thank you Fred and George.”

“Thank you Fred and George,” she repeated obediently and with feeling. No one had ever given her such a brilliant present before.

“It does come with a condition though. Although you probably shouldn't let our Mum know we told you this -”

“- or Hermione for that matter.”

“What's the condition then?”

“This map must at all times, or at least as often as possible, be used for the breaking of school rules, merry making, and the causing of general havoc.”

Looking from the map to the identical, beaming faces on either side of her Alice grinned wickedly. “Oh I'm sure we can manage that.”

“What are you three conspiring about in here?”

At the sound of Mrs Weasley's voice all three of them whipped round and, as the twins had done when Alice first came into the room, put their hands behind their backs and schooled their faces to stillness.

“Nothing Mum.”

Mrs Weasley surveyed the three of them critically, clearly not believing a word of it. “Hmph, well whatever you're doing you can do it out of my kitchen. I don't want to have to mend the sink if you two go and blow it up again.”

Under her watchful gaze the three of them quickly scurried away, so none of them saw the tiny smirk of amusement that broke out across her face once their backs were turned.

A/N: Who knew Fred and George were so generous? I love them, can you tell? The movie Alice was talking about is The Sword and the Stone, another movie with owls and wizards (I'm seeing a pattern start to develop here!) in which the owl is called Archimedes. If you haven't seen it already you should.


4. Setting Out

Setting Out

“I wish Hermione would hurry up and get back from France,” Harry griped several days later as Ron and Alice grinned at each other behind his back. “She would definitely know a spell that would make this easier.” To make his point he forcefully stabbed another peg into the jumper he was hanging on the washing line in the Weasley's back garden. Large families generated large amounts of washing and it was taking the three of them forever to hang everything out to dry.

“If she was she would say exactly the same thing that I did: that not everything should be done by magic. Doing some things the muggle way is character building.” Alice ducked to avoid the pair of socks he threw at her whilst muttering something incomprehensible. She knew he didn't really mind doing the washing, he just missed Hermione. As did she, it was over two months since she had last seen her best friend and she couldn't wait to see her on the Hogwarts Express. “We'll see her in a few days anyway.”

“Think you can wait till then?” Ron teased with evident satisfaction as Harry turned beet-red and busied himself with the washing. “We really are going to have to do something about those two this year,” he whispered later to Alice as the three of them walked inside with the empty washing baskets. “They'll never get their act together on their own. Got any ideas?”

Alice shook her head. “Leave it with me though; I'll think of something.”

Once they had disposed of the baskets they went into the kitchen to find Percy sitting at the table, his brand new Head Boy badge pinned prominently to his chest and his nose buried in a book. Glancing at the cover Alice had to suppress a grin as she read the title: How to Rule with Authority: Essays of a Head Boy. Really Percy must have come from a totally different gene-pool because he was nothing like any of his brothers.

“Ah,” he looked up at them as they entered, “finished with that then have you?” He puffed himself up importantly and straightened his glasses unnecessarily. “Well, I'm sure there are other things that you could be getting along with. It doesn't do to stay idle you know.”

“Yeah alright Perce,” Ron muttered ignoring his brother and steering his friends towards the stairs. “Come on; let's go up to my room. I'm not staying down here if Bighead is going to be insufferable.”

Alice and Harry snorted with laughter. They were only halfway up the stairs however when they heard a voice calling Harry's name from the bottom.

“Harry,” Mr Weasley shouted, “would you mind coming down to the living room for a moment? I just want to have a quick word.”

Ron leaned out over the banister, so far that Alice worried that he was in danger of toppling straight over it. “What's wrong Dad?”

“Nothing,” came the disembodied reply. “Just wanted to have a quick chat with Harry on his own.”

The three of them looked at each other sceptically. They had been around enough mysteries in the past two years to spot one in the offing, and this was definitely mysterious. Either that or they were getting paranoid which, Alice reasoned, was always a possibility.

“Sure,” Harry shrugged at his friends and tripped dutifully back down the stairs to find out what was happening. Left standing there Alice and Ron looked at each other in silence for a few seconds.

“So,” Ron said eventually. Suddenly a mischievous grin broke across his face and, knowing that he was thinking exactly the same thing as she was, Alice reciprocated. As quickly and as quietly as they could the two of the rushed down the stairs again, jumping the final few and landing cat-like in the kitchen from which Percy had now vanished.

Sneaking over to the living room door they both pressed their ears up against the wood and listened intently.

“- don't want to alarm you,” Mr Weasley was saying in an unnaturally sombre voice, “but there is something I need to discuss with you.” From his tone it sounded as though he was about to say someone had died.

There was a brief silence during which Alice wished she could see what was going on. She wasn't sure if Mr Weasley was doing something or if he was waiting for a response from Harry. If it was the latter he was sorely disappointed. “Right, well… the thing is… Molly didn't want me to tell you this, but you're thirteen now and you're not a child anymore…” He paused again.

“Is something wrong Mr Weasley?” Harry spoke into the silence which had descended. “Has something happened?”

“No, no!... Well, yes, in a way.” She heard him take a deep breath and looked at Ron questioningly, but he shrugged to indicate that he had as little idea as to what was going on as she did. “Well… you've heard of course that Sirius Black has escaped?”

“Yes,” Harry said slowly, “we saw it in the Daily Prophet a few weeks ago.”

“You see Harry, the thing is that the Ministry, Fudge especially, wouldn't want me telling you this, but we have reason to believe that Black has escaped for a purpose.”

Alice was suddenly very still. She had a horrible suspicion that she knew where this was going.


“We think, we are almost certain, that he has escaped to try and come after you. What you have to know is that Black was a member of You-Know-Who's inner circle and for about a week before he escaped his guards have reported that Black kept saying He's at Hogwarts over and over - I don't mean to scare you,” he paused.

“You're not.” Harry sounded almost as serious as Mr Weasley now. Glancing up Alice could see that Ron's eyes were as big as saucers.

“I know the Prophet has been saying he'll be caught any day now but the truth is somewhat different. What I need you to do, what I need you to promise me Harry, is that you'll stay away from Black. I know what you four are like at school and some of the things you get up to, but if you hear anything about Black, and I mean anything don't act upon it. I want you to go straight to Dumbledore am I clear?”

“Yes Mr Weasley. But why would I go anywhere near someone who wants to kill me anyway?”

“Well…” Ron's father cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable even through an inch of wood. “Whatever you hear… Please keep yourselves safe this year, alright?”

“Alright. I promise.”

She heard a scraping of chairs and the two of them quickly dived back towards the stairs and out of sight. Peering cautiously back around the corner they waited. Seconds later the door was opened and Mr Weasley appeared patting Harry on the arm. “Just remember what I said. And if you need to talk to me at any time…”

“Thanks Mr Weasley,” Harry looked ashen as Mr Weasley nodded curtly and then disappeared outside. Catching sight of his friends faces lurking around the corner Harry walked towards them. “I take it you heard all that?”

“Yeah, mate -”

Harry cut him off after glancing around cautiously. “We should probably go up to your room to talk about this.”

Nodding in agreement the three of them quickly made their way back up the stairs to Ron's luridly orange room. Alice perched on the wide window sill as Ron thumped down on his Chudley Cannons bedspread, making the springs below him creak violently in protest, and Harry sat on the camp bed that had been set up resting his head against the wall behind him. From the far-away look in his eyes she could tell that he was still mulling over what Mr Weasley had said to him.

“Well, now I can really understand why Fudge was so worried about you when we turned up at the Leaky Cauldron,” Alice said eventually when it was obvious Harry himself wasn't going to break the silence. “If they thought Black was going to kill you anyway and then we both suddenly disappeared, the Ministry must have been in uproar!”

“Yeah and there's no way they're going to let me go to Hogsmeade now. Even if I had had my form signed they would probably have thought it was too dangerous.”

Alice and Ron, who had been filled in on the situation earlier, nodded in sympathy.

“But I don't understand why Dad warned you away from Black, I mean surely it's common sense to stay away from someone that dangerous?”

Glancing away from Harry momentarily Alice smiled wryly at him. “Some would say the same of Basilisks and giant, three-headed dogs.”

“Point taken.”

“Ron's right though,” Harry suddenly seemed to have returned from wherever he had gone off to inside his head.

“I am?” This didn't happen very often.

“Yeah. It was almost like your Dad thought we would go looking for Black. Why would we want to do that?”

“Maybe,” Alice was trying to mull over the possibilities, “because Black used to be a Death Eater -”

“A what?” Harry looked perplexed.

“Death Eater. It's what Voldemort's -” Ron shuddered as Alice said the name, “- followers were called. Maybe because Black used to be a Death Eater Mr Weasley thought you might want revenge on him or something?”

“I don't know. Just because Voldemort-”

“Will you two stop saying that name!” Ron seemed incensed.

“Just because my parents were killed, doesn't mean I'm going to go hunting down everyone who followed Him,” he looked pointedly at Ron who scowled back at him. “I mean for one I'm a kid and for another I'd never get any sleep… Maybe I'll write to Hermione; see what she thinks about it.”

“Yeah why don't you just do that?” Ron remarked with a casualness which was belied by his smirk and went straight over Harry's head. Sometimes it amazed Alice that for two people who were both so intelligent, they could be remarkably blind about how they felt about each other.

After that they fell into a companionable silence each allowing the other to mull over their own thoughts. Alice, after glancing around at the state of Ron's room eventually broke the silence. “Ron, have you even bothered starting to pack for Hogwarts yet?” She indicated the books, socks, robes, and general knick-knacks that littered his room and were draped haphazardly across his bed.

“You sound just like Mum,” he commented idly picking up a fake snitch that was resting on the duvet next to him. “I've got a whole two more days of holidays yet. I'll just throw it all in my trunk before we get the train.”

“Not if your Mum has anything to do with it you won't,” Harry grinned. The evil glint in his eye hinted to Alice that maybe he hadn't been so unaware of Ron's earlier barb after all.

“Well,” Ron heaved himself off the bed, “if you two are just going to pick on me then I'm going down to get some lunch.”

“Typical Ron,” Harry shook his head once he had gone, but standing up himself anyway. “When the going gets tough: eat.” The two of them laughed and followed their friend down the stairs.

Those final few days of the holidays seemed to fly by all too quickly for Alice who was enjoying being amongst a family for the first time since she could remember. Ron's parents were very welcoming and made her feel as much a part of their household as any of their children, or Harry whom Mrs Weasley seemed to regard as a surrogate son. Even sharing a room with Ginny wasn't that bad. They still weren't the best of friends, but there was none of the animosity of the previous year and she even managed to make the younger girl laugh a few times. In fact the only time they came close to arguing was over whether the Holyhead Harpies or the Kenmare Kestrels were the better Quidditch team. For the first time ever Alice had mixed feelings about leaving for Hogwarts. She longed to be amongst her friends and attending classes in the wonderful and precocious castle again, but she was also reluctant to leave the Burrow.

“Who do you think we'll get for Defence Against the Dark Arts this year?” Ron asked as they pushed their trolleys through Kings Cross towards the magical gateway. “Do you reckon they might just cancel the class altogether. I heard they had a real problem finding anyone last year and that's why we ended up with Lockhart. After what happened to His Ridiculousness I don't think anyone would want to take the job.”

“Hmm…” Alice responded vaguely; she was too busy looking around to see if Hermione had arrived with her parents yet to pay close attention to what Ron was saying.

“Maybe it is jinxed like people say,” Harry commented, though he too was engaged in much the same activity as Alice.

“She'll probably be on the other side of the barrier already,” Ron supplied, giving up on his train of thought. “You know what she's like, she's always early for everything. I think her middle name might actually be Punctual.”

“Right come on then children,” Mrs Weasley stopped in front of the barrier. “We're going to go through in pairs.”

Once Harry and Ron had gone through, Alice found herself running at a trot towards the very solid looking wall with Ginny. No matter how many times she did this she still always had a slight twinge in her stomach at the thought that she might not get through and end up bouncing around on the platform as the boys apparently had the previous year. She managed the transition safely however and the feeling in her stomach was replaced by a little bubble of excitement at the fact that she was about to begin her journey to Hogwarts.

As they moved to make way for others coming through the Gateway, Ginny peeled away from the three of them to go and find her own friends. This left Alice and the boys to peer around for people they recognised.

“Hermione!” Alice yelled, suddenly spotting her friend across the platform and waving madly. For once she didn't care if people were watching. With a squeal of delight her friend bolted towards them, her bushy hair flying in every direction, and threw herself at Alice.

“Oh it's so good to see you! How have you been? Have you had a good holiday? I can't believe you ran away from the Home, what if something had happened to you? Did you have fun at the Burrow?” She fired questions at her friend at top speed. Suddenly spotting the boys behind Alice, Hermione leapt forward and gave them both a hug too, although she dropped Harry rather quickly without knowing quite where to look. It seemed she had recovered enough a few moments later to soundly chastise him though. “Harry, what did you think you were doing blowing up your uncle? You could have gotten into serious trouble, not to mention expelled!”

He grinned. “It's good to see you again too Hermione.”

She was not going to be so easily mollified it seemed. Glancing around warily to make sure that no one was listening and satisfying herself that the rest of the Weasleys were out of earshot she leaned in close. “And what about that other stuff you wrote to me about? The stuff about Black? You're worried about it.”

“No I'm not,” Harry raised his eyebrows at her. “What makes you think that?”

Hermione nodded in her friend's direction. “Alice told me,” she responded with a sly grin. “We do write to each other too you know.”

Alice shrugged as Harry scowled at her. She wasn't going to apologise for caring.

“Hang on a second,” Ron interrupted, “Hermione what is that.” He pointed to a basket sitting on top of her trunk and issuing a disgruntled and intermittent hissing sound.

“Oh,” Hermione smiled happily, “that's Crookshanks. I bought him yesterday.”

“And he is…” Ron looked doubtfully at the basket as Hermione bent over it and lifted the flap.

“My new cat!” She hugged the giant orange fur-ball affectionately. “He's lovely isn't he?”

`Lovely' certainly wouldn't have been the first adjective that Alice would have gone with, but she couldn't deny that the cat had character.

“Er, yeah… sure,” Harry clearly wasn't overly enamoured with the creature either. “Right well shall we get on the train then?”

“Hang on I just need to say goodbye to my Mum and Dad first,” Ron stood on tiptoe to try and locate his parents amongst the crush of families on the platform, “if I can find them that is.” Finally spotting them he abandoned his cases and took off at a sprint.

“We should probably say thank you too,” Alice looked back at Harry and then at the huge piles of trunks and cages they had amassed. Archimedes hooted grumpily as he scowled through the bars of his cage at her.

“Don't worry I'll keep an eye on everything,” Hermione smiled at them.

Making their way over to where the Weasley's were congregated Alice and Harry were quickly enveloped in one of the many hugs which Mrs Weasley seemed to be doling out. “Now take care all of you, remember and write Ginny, and I don't want to hear about you two misbehaving this year, Ron clean that mark off your shirt anyone would think you had eaten your dinner off it, Percy I know you'll do us all proud, no need to thank me Harry dear we enjoyed having you at the house, you too Alice, take care of yourselves all of you.” She chattered ten to the dozen as her eyes filled with tears and she hugged each child more tightly than the last.

“Have a good year everyone,” Mr Weasley put an arm around his wife as they all turned towards the train again. “And Harry,” he called after them, “remember what I said.” Alice and Harry looked at each other uneasily as they reached Hermione and collected their belongings. What sort of year was this one going to be?

“Oh this is ridiculous,” Hermione huffed several minutes later as she slammed yet another compartment door on a group of giggling students. The train had picked up speed and they had swapped the grey streets and towering buildings for blue skies and rolling green fields and still they couldn't find a carriage that was empty. “Are there no empty carriages on this train?”

“What about this one?” Ron pointed through the glass of the door he was standing by. “It's not empty but he's asleep so it's as good as.”

“Who's asleep?” Harry walked over to peer in, dragging his trunk behind him as he went.

“There's a man,” he informed the girls as the two came to see what all the fuss was about. “He looks a bit shabby though. You don't reckon he's the new Defence Against the Dark Arts bloke is he?”

“Must be,” Alice surmised. “Why else would he be on the train?”

“Well I don't care who he is,” stated Hermione, “it's the best we'll get so I'm going in.” So she did.

“Hermione!” Harry hissed following his brazen friend into the compartment, “you'll wake him up!” As he moved his trunk collided with the edge of the door causing it to bang loudly. Everyone tensed and watched the man in the faded robes, but he simply grunted in his sleep and rolled over to face the window.

“You were saying?” Hermione asked archly. Harry stuck his tongue out at her as the other two followed him into the compartment. As quietly as they could they set up a military operation to try and store their trunks in the luggage rack. Harry carefully and quietly stood on the free seats so that he could reach the overhead bay whilst the others passed the trunks up to him. Ron, as the tallest, was of a height that he could reach with effort without standing on anything so gave him a hand. It took a few minutes but eventually they had all of their trunks and the owls cages stored neatly away. Crookshanks' basket, much to Ron's chagrin, remained firmly on the seat next to Hermione.

The journey itself was fairly boring; no one wanted to talk too much in case they woke up the teacher sitting next to them so instead they fell to reading the Daily Prophet Hermione had picked up at the station or playing games to amuse themselves. After some rummaging through a bag Ron had found some of his Chocolate Frog Cards which he began to sort whilst watching Alice and Harry play snap, quietly, much to his bemusement as he couldn't see the point of the Muggle version if the cards didn't explode. They had just finished what must have been their thousandth game when she felt the train juddering to a halt under her. Glancing up she saw Hermione look in confusion first at her watch and then out of the dark and rain streaked window. “We can't be there yet,” she heard her mutter.

Laying down the Chocolate Frog cards he had been sifting through Ron got up and, climbing carefully round the professor's sleeping form, flattened his face against the window to try and see outside properly.

“Can you see anything?” Alice asked as she heard Harry open and close the compartment door behind her. Throwing a questioning glance at him he shrugged to indicate that he had no idea what was happening.

“I dunno,” Ron stood on his tiptoes as though this would improve his view slightly, “it's too dark to see properly, but I think there's someone coming on board the train.” The three of them looked round at Harry in alarm.

“You don't think it might be Black do you?” Hermione squeaked.

Gazing back at them, with what Alice could tell was forced calm, Harry shrugged again. There was nothing they could do about it now if it was.

Suddenly the door to their compartment slid open again causing Hermione to draw her wand with a startled squeak.

“Calm down Hermione!” Fred Weasley looked in surprise at the shaking wand currently pointed at his chest.

“We only came to see if you knew what was going on,” his twin added popping up over his shoulder, “but if we're getting a reception like that then we might take our fabulous selves elsewhere.”

“Sorry,” Hermione muttered flushing an embarrassed scarlet, “I thought you were… Never mind. Sorry.”

“So what do you suppose is going on then?”

Alice was just about to answer when suddenly the train was plunged into complete darkness as every light in the place abruptly extinguished.

“Hermione! Will you stop squeaking!” Alice hissed into the darkness, as her friend did just that.

“Sorry,” her friend repeated.

Suddenly there was a snick as the door slid open for the third time, the noise magnified sevenfold in the pitch black, and they all shrank backwards in their seats slightly.

“Alice? Harry?” She sighed in relief as she heard Neville's voice. “Are you in here?”

“Yeah we're here Neville. Come in. Watch your step,” she added, but too late as she heard a thump followed by a curse and Neville apologising to whoever he had just walked into.

“What's going on?”

“Dunno, we were just -”


“Ron! Mind the cat!”

“Well if you had put the stupid thing up -”

“He is not stupid! He's -”

“Quiet!” Alice had to stop herself from jumping as an entirely new and unknown voice entered the conversation. It took her a few seconds to realise it had come from the direction of the sleeping teacher in the corner. Clearly he wasn't sleeping any more. “Lumos,” the voice continued. A thin beam of light illuminated the shadowy contours of a lined and haggard face and cast a dim glow over the rest of them giving them enough light to see by. Catching a glimpse of Harry, Ron and Hermione sitting opposite her, she saw that they all looked as confused and alarmed as she felt. The professor wasn't looking at any of them however, but at the doorway to the compartment. Alice felt her head swivel reluctantly on her neck and when her own eyes made contact with the door she felt her entire body freeze. It was almost as horrible as when she had been petrified last term. All her muscles seemed to have become completely disconnected from her brain.

Behind the glass, and seeming to fill the entire corridor with its presence was a creature she had seen only in illustrations. Seeing these Alice had always thought they looked like Muggle representations of Death - minus the scythe of course - but sitting in the tiny carriage next to her friends all of her instincts were screaming at her that these were much worse. A Dementor. Scrunching backwards in her seat as the door glided slowly and sinisterly open again she felt the twin next to her, she suspected it was Fred but was too scared to take her eyes off the Dementor and check - put a comforting and protective arm around her. Then the creature did the one thing she had been terrified it would, it took a slow rattling, blood chilling breath that seemed to suck not only the air and warmth from the room, but the light as well. In a matter of seconds the chill seeped through her bones and seemed to travel past them to her heart. Dimly she could hear a high pitched whistling noise, almost like a kettle was boiling further down the train, but the noise seemed to be getting closer.

Across the compartment she was aware that Harry seemed to have slumped from his seat onto the floor, but no one seemed able to move to help him; they were all fixated, though whether by the sight and feel of the Dementor or some other magic she wasn't entirely sure. It felt as though she had been dunked in freezing water and as the Dementor drew a second hideous breath it threatened to consume her. By now the whistling had increased in volume and clarity so that she realised that someone was screaming. Had something happened further down the train?

Just as she felt herself slipping into unconsciousness and sagging against Fred's arm the professor seemed to recover himself enough to cast a spell. In her fogged and befuddled state Alice had no idea what it was but something wispy and silvery shot from the end of his wand and formed a barrier between those in the compartment and the Dementor. Almost immediately she felt less like she was drowning in ice and was able to struggle slowly back towards the surface, although she could still feel the forbidding presence of the Dementor on the other side of the silvery shield.

“He's not here,” the professor sounded hoarse. “Go.” Slowly, so slowly that Alice began to wonder if the Dementor hadn't understood or was simply ignoring the order, the creature turned and glided back out of sight along the corridor taking its chilling presence with it.

As though someone had flipped a switch noise and colour suddenly flooded back into the compartment.

“Harry,” Hermione dropped to her knees next to their prone friend. “Harry! Are you all right?! Harry wake up!” The note of panic in her voice was obvious.

“Just slap him,” Ron was on the floor next to her. “He'll wake up soon enough if you do that.”

Alice blinked groggily to clear her eyes and the rest of the room slowly came back into focus. It was only then that she realised that the lights had all come back on although she had no memory of them doing so. She gave her head a little shake to get rid of the last of the cobwebs but that only made her dizzy so she stopped.

“You alright?” At the sound of the low voice in her ear she turned to see Fred looking at her in concern, his twin's face also visible over his shoulder.

“Yeah,” she nodded. A crooked smile appeared on her face as she sat up straighter. “Of course I am.”

“Good,” George asserted. “For a minute there we thought you were going to end up like Sleeping Beauty down there,” he nodded in the direction of said friend who, due to the fact that he was at that moment regaining consciousness distracted Alice from the fact that George even knew who the Muggle princess was.

“W-wazzup?” Harry asked dazedly as he propped himself up on his elbows. “Hermione!” He protested as she suddenly flung her arms around him and he disappeared in a cloud of frizzy brown hair.

“Perhaps you might give him some room?” The professor laid a gentle but firm hand on Hermione's shoulder.

“Oh,” she drew back as she flushed red again, “of course. Yes. Sorry Harry.”

“'S'ok,” he smiled weakly. “What happened though?” He repeated reaching up a hand to wipe the thin sheen of sweat from his forehead.

“You passed out mate,” explained Ron, whose freckles stood out starkly against his pale skin, “when that thing -”

“Dementor,” Hermione supplied automatically.

“- when it appeared.”

“Who screamed?” Harry asked the question that was on the tip of Alice's tongue. The answer it received however puzzled her exceedingly.

“Screamed?” This time it was Neville who answered. “No one screamed Harry.”

“But -” The confusion was evident on Harry's face. Alice was similarly bewildered, perhaps the noise had been an effect of them both slipping into unconsciousness? She could have sworn it sounded like screaming though. Then again she hadn't been her most observant at the time. Harry tried a different tack. “What is a Dementor though?”

“One of the guards of Azkaban Prison,” the mysterious professor spoke in his gravelly voice. Though his steady grey eyes were tired with deep shadows under them, at present they were fully alert and fixed determinedly on Harry's face. “They've been called in to guard Hogwarts this year. They were searching the train for Sirius Black.” Alice, Harry, Ron and Hermione all exchanged significant glances at this. “I'm Remus Lupin by the way,” he reached into the pocket of his robes and brought out a large bar of chocolate. Breaking off several large pieces he continued, “I'm going to be your Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher this year. You should eat some of this, it'll help,” he stood up as he began passing them each a piece. As he turned to give Alice some chocolate his eyes met hers for the first time and his already unhealthy pallor drained even further so that he looked almost corpse like. So quickly that he almost tripped over Hermione and Harry who were both still sitting on the floor, he staggered backwards and thudded into a seat.

“Professor!” Hermione looked at him in alarm. “Are you all right?”

“Y-yes,” he tore his gaze away from Alice's face, which was frowning again in confusion, and smiled thinly at her friend. “Yes, I just stood up quickly that's all. Obviously the Dementor affected me more than I thought.” He looked round at them all, his eyes lingering for a fraction of a second longer on Alice, who was now thoroughly baffled. “I'd better take some of my own medicine,” he bit into a large square of chocolate with a wry smile.

Before Alice had a chance to ask anything else he stood up and moved towards the door. “If you excuse me I need to go and speak to the driver…” he quickly slipped out without another word. Alice gazed after him as the others filled Harry in on what had happened after he had passed out. It was without doubt the oddest thing she had ever seen. She could have sworn that Professor Lupin had gone pale at the sight of her; but what was so disturbing about her? There was always just the possibility that she had imagined it, it wouldn't have been the first time that she had been wrong about things, but still…

“Didn't any of you - fall off your seats though?” Harry, whose hand, Alice was mildly amused to see, was still being clutched tightly by Hermione, looked at each of them in turn.

“Well Evans looked pretty green for a minute there,” Fred supplied, much to her embarrassment.

“Thanks,” she muttered. “How could you tell anyway? It was pitch dark.”

His twin smirked at her. “Ah but you're so radiant we could see your luminescent face even still.”

“Yeah it was florescent green.” Several weak chuckles sounded around the compartment; everyone was still fairly shaken up.

Smiling, Alice bit into the chocolate and felt the heat instantly begin to flood back into her veins. No one said much for the rest of the trip, which wasn't too great a feat as they arrived at the station in Hogsmeade within twenty minutes. Struggling along the platform in the lashing rain they all made their way towards the horseless carriages that were waiting at the end of the platform. As they hustled over to them as quickly as possible Hermione hovered pensively behind Harry with a hand not quite touching his back, as one might do to an old person who was felt to be in imminent danger of falling. Every so often she would throw a concerned look in Alice's direction, but as her best friend hadn't actually passed out Harry was clearly the higher priority. Alice was happy to leave the situation at this because she hated people fussing over her.

“You all right Neville?” She whispered as they all took their seats. He was very pale his eyes were so wide that she thought they were about to pop out of his head.

“Yeah,” he answered, tight lipped, but attempting a smile to back up his statement. “Fine.”

She was about to reply but at that moment the carriage lurched over a rut in the road sending her already roiling stomach off into several more spasms of nausea, compounded seconds later by their approach to the gates.

“Blimey,” Ron peered out the window, “they've got them stationed at the gates to the school!”

Alice was about to ask what he was talking about when the familiar chill from the train hit her and her question was answered. Sitting back in her seat and closing her eyes, as she did when she got car-sick, she took several deep breaths and willed the churning in her stomach to stop. As they passed through the gates she felt that swooping feeling again, but refused to pass out, one attempt at it was bad enough. Besides the twins would never let her live it down if she did. Through a combination of sheer will and stubbornness she managed to make it into the grounds intact. She really hoped they were the only ones; crazy mass murderer on the loose or not, if the Dementors were swooping around the castle all year she really might go back to the Home.

A/N: I would imagine that the trunks were magical and fitted with some sort of weight reducing charm as if they contained all the stuff that they need for a full year at Hogwarts I would imagine they were quite heavy and so two students would struggle to lift one quietly otherwise. There is no actual reference in canon to the colour of Lupin's eyes, so my most profuse apologies to anyone who didn't imagine him with grey eyes. Please R&R!


5. Timetables and Talking Hats

Timetables and Talking Hats

“What do you reckon that was all about?” Ron stood on his tiptoes as they watched Harry and Hermione following Professor McGonagall up the marble staircase and then disappearing along a corridor.

Alice shrugged. “I don't know, but we're not going to find out until they come back so let's go and get a seat.” Her legs still felt like jelly and if she didn't sit down soon she was worried they were going to give out under her; but she wasn't going to say that of course.

Filing through to the Great Hall with all the other students they quickly located a free spot on the benches next to Seamus and Dean. Slipping into the space Alice gave a customary glance around the Great Hall allowing the familiar feeling of home to sweep over her and banish some of the uneasiness that had been sitting in her chest since the Dementors appeared on the train. As usual there were candles hovering above all the tables and beyond that the steel grey clouds blotting out the stars were echoed in the enchanted ceiling. Across at the Slytherin table Malfoy and his cronies had taken up their normal spot where he was regaling them with some evidently hilarious story which involved a lot of theatrical swooning. She could guess what that was about. The staff were all taking their seats too and she waved when she saw Hagrid sit down in his chair which was three times the size of anyone else's. Further along Professor Lupin was chatting to Professor Flitwick about something or other and she was delighted to see Professor Kreevain sitting on the other side of him surveying the students with measured eyes. Her lips stretched into a warm smile when she saw Alice.

“When are they going to get the food out?” Ron complained loudly, “I'm starving.”

“Aren't you always?”

“Not all the -”

“Did you hear there were Dementors on the train?” Seamus leant down the table to ask. “I heard that was why we stopped. Didn't see them though; we thought we'd just broken down.

“Yeah we saw them,” Ron looked grim again, “they came into our compartment.”

“Oooh really?” Lavender, who seemed to have an invisible antennae permanently attuned to gossip, somehow managed to pick up on this halfway down the table and came scurrying across to listen. “What was it like? Was it horrible?” She asked with ghoulish delight.

“Yes.” Alice's curt, monosyllabic response seemed to disappoint her.

“Well, obviously it was,” she continued with annoying authority, “but what happened?”

Neville saved her from either a snippy response or bashing Lavender over the head with an empty goblet.

“Harry passed out, Alice nearly did too. It was like drowning in cold porridge really.” He shivered at the memory.

“Harry was unconscious?” Dean joined the conversation with a mixture of sympathy and curiosity. “Where is h -”

“Quiet down there!” Percy glared imperiously down the table at them, his chest puffed out to show his Head Boy badge off to full effect. “The Sorting is away to start.”

Unusually, Alice was grateful for Percy's bossiness as it meant they were spared from any further questions. Sure enough as she glanced towards the huge double doors she saw Professor McGonagall walk through them followed by a straggly line of scared, awe struck and eager looking first years.

“There is no way we were that small when we first arrived,” Ron remarked watching them scamper after the Professor. “Well,” he amended with a sideways look at Alice, “you might have been.”

“Don't you start too,” she shoved him gently, but for the first time since the Dementors had boarded the train she smiled. They were awfully tiny. She watched as they shuffled, scurried, and tripped the length of the Great Hall; some of the first years were gaping in wonder at the enchanted ceiling and the floating candles, whilst others were actively avoiding looking at anything but their shoes. By the time they had all reached the front of the room and the nervous whispering had died down the eyes of every student were fixed expectantly on the Sorting Hat. With a shudder its torn mouth opened wide and it began to sing.

I may not be the neatest hat,

To rest upon you head,

I'm frayed and torn and all patched up

With multi-coloured thread.

I've seen it all in times gone by,

Observed the Great and Good,

And some who never did behave,

As often as they should.

I've acquired a sort of wisdom

As I go about my day,

That allows me to determine,

In which House you shall stay.

It might be with the brave and strong

In valiant Gryffindor,

Or join the brains in Ravenclaw,

If you've a taste for lore.

Perhaps fate lies with Hufflepuff,

Where they are good and true,

If you're ambitious and you're cunning,

Then Slytherin's for you.

So settle down upon the stool,

And try me on for size,

I'll find the perfect home for you,

See where your future lies.

“Well, that was enlightening as ever,” Ron gave a bored smirk. “The poetry was hardly inspiring though.”

Alice looked at him with amusement, “well if you think about it, it does have to make up a new song every year. You can't blame it if every so often the rhymes are a little…” she searched for the appropriate word, “lacking.” They both laughed as McGonagall began reading out the first name on her list. Once Romilda Vane and Walter Waddings had both finished being sorted, to Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff respectively, Professor McGonagall rolled up the parchment and removed both the Sorting Hat and stool from the front of the room. It was at that moment that Harry and Hermione tried to slip imperceptibly into the small amount of space left available next to Alice and Ron.

“Where have you been?” Ron hissed as Dumbledore stood up to speak.

“Tell you later,” Harry murmured in response before listening to his Headmaster. He still looked pale and drawn, though much better than he had when he first woke up; Hermione on the other hand was positively beaming. It was really quite odd. She didn't have further opportunity to ponder it though as Dumbledore had finished regarding them all solemnly and was beginning to speak.

“As most of you will no doubt have noticed,” he said once he had finished warning them about the Dementors, “Professor Kreevain has returned this year and will be sharing the duties of teaching History of Magic with Professor Binns. She will teach students from fourth to seventh years for the first term and then first, second and third years in the second term.” Alice tried to suppress a groan at this. That would mean she'd have to wait a whole term before she was in her class! “The more observant among you may also have noticed that we have a new addition to the staff table; Professor Lupin will be taking over in Defence Against the Dark Arts.” There was scant clapping which rippled round the room at this, although Alice and her friends were enthusiastic in their support. She was mildly distracted however by the reactions of the staff. Snape, who usually had a face that could sour milk, was glaring with evident antipathy and venom down the table at the new teacher. It was common knowledge that he wanted the job, but even for that his reaction was extreme. Lupin on the other hand seemed utterly oblivious to the loathing directed at him; he was too busy looking with curiosity, and some other emotion she could not quite identify, in the direction of Alice and her friends. He looked away when he saw that she had spotted him, but flicking her eyes back to Snape she saw that he too had noticed Lupin watching them and his inscrutable black eyes were now switching intently between Lupin's face and Alice's. So focused was she on this bizarre exchange that she nearly missed Dumbledore's next announcement.

“- and so I am delighted to say that the position of our Care of Magical Creatures professor will be filled by none other than our own Gatekeeper: Rubeus Hagrid.” He joined in with the much more enthusiastic applause which greeted this statement. After a moment of stunned silence Alice and her friends laughed delightedly and joined in too.

Before long Ron got his wish as the Headmaster sat down and the plates magically filled themselves with food. “Great,” he enthused grabbing a handful of bread rolls.

“So,” Alice would rather feed her curiosity, “what did McGonagall want?”

Harry pulled a face. “She just wanted to see I was alright after… you know… what happened on the train. Madame Pomfrey checked me over. That was it really.”

“Oh,” Alice tried not to sound disappointed; she had been hoping it was something more exciting. “What about you Hermione?”

“Me?” Hermione looked up startled. “She just wanted to…” Was Hermione avoiding her eyes? “She just told me to keep an eye on Harry, in case… well in case he passed out again.” She finally looked at Alice properly and smiled slightly as though it wasn't a big deal.

“I'm not a baby you know.” Harry replied hotly. “I can look after myself.”

“I know you can,” Hermione gave him a placating smile. But Alice wasn't convinced. Why would McGonagall just ask Hermione to keep an eye on him? Surely they all could? There was a tiny voice that questioned whether she was simply jealous that McGonagall hadn't included her, but she promptly squashed this idea. Hermione hadn't wanted to look at her when she spoke, was this because she knew Alice would catch her out in a lie? No one else seemed to have noticed; she would have to mull this one over.

By the next morning though she had all but forgotten it however; well perhaps not forgotten she thought glancing over at Hermione who was laughing at something Harry had said, but at least put it to the back of her mind. Besides they had other things to worry about.

“Oi Potter!” They all glanced up at the sound of an unpleasantly familiar voice. “You better watch out Potter,” Draco Malfoy sneered as he approached the table, flanked as usual by his two hulking henchmen. “I heard there might be Dementors going about somewhere; you wouldn't want to faint again!”

“Shove off Malfoy,” Ron's ears began turning red as he struggled to ignore him.

Shove off Malfoy,” the blonde Slytherin mimicked in a high pitched voice. “Are you going to make me?” Alice and Neville sitting on either side of him had to grab Ron's robes and hold him in his seat as he struggled to do just that. Malfoy' eyes glittered with barely concealed glee as he watched his efforts with a condescending sneer, then with a slight shrug of his shoulders he dismissed Ron and turned to look at Harry which made Ron's face burn even more. “So Potter I heard you're a bit fragile around our visitors from Azkaban?”

Behind Malfoy Alice could see his cronies at the Slytherin table, especially Pansy Parkinson, staring in their direction and sniggering with childish delight. Back at their own table Harry was clearly fighting to keep his cool.

“Malfoy,” he snapped, “if you've got a point to make can you just make it? Otherwise go a crawl back under the rock you oozed out from.”

“Oh, big talk for a soppy -”

“Is there a reason for you being across here Mr Malfoy?” Professor McGonagall had approached and was observing the Slytherin coolly through her spectacles.

“Professor I was just concerned about Potter,” Alice was mildly impressed with the speed and smoothness with which he was able to lie, “I heard he had been ill yesterday. I thought I'd come and see if he was alright.”

“Of course you did.” McGonagall replied tersely. “Now get back to your own table before I start docking points from Slytherin.” As he scurried off throwing irate looks back at them the professor turned back to the Gryffindors who hastily tried to wipe the enormous grins from their faces. “Now you five, here are your timetables,” she passed them out, “and do you think we can avoid any dramas from you this year?” Her gaze lingered on Harry slightly as she looked at them each in turn.

“Yes Professor,” they chorused dutifully still trying not to smile as she continued on down the table.

“I think I may actually love McGonagall sometimes,” Ron beamed.

“Don't let her hear you say that,” Harry grinned across the table at his friend. “What have you two got first anyway?” He looked questioningly at the girls.

Scanning her timetable Alice responded. “First I've got… Arithmancy, and Transfiguration then Care of magical Creatures and History of Magic after lunch. Not a bad first day.”

“Oh,” Neville looked crestfallen, “I forgot you won't be in all our classes this year.”

“Yeah it'll be strange, not all being together all the time,” Harry conceded, “it won't seem like Hogwarts.”

“Don't be daft,” Alice rolled her eyes, “it's only one class. There's no need to be so dramatic.”

Hermione elbowed him teasingly in the ribs. “Besides you've still got me in all your classes.”

“I don't get how you're going to manage that,” Alice frowned at her, “Arithmancy is at the same time as Divination. You can't do both classes at once.” She wasn't sure why she hadn't thought of this before; she knew her friend had signed up for all the classes.

“I know,” Hermione blushed as they all looked at her curiously. “Don't worry I've sorted it all out with McGonagall.”

Alice opened her mouth to say something, but Ron beat her to it. “Well rather you than me. I wouldn't want to have to do any more classes than I absolutely had to.”

“Really Ron?” Hermione looked at him sardonically. “That really surprises me about you.”

“Come on,” Harry stood up before the two of them started bickering again. “I know it's the first day of term, but can we not at least wait until the first class is over before you two start nagging at each other?”

The five of them walked out of the Great Hall with all of the bounce and enthusiasm for learning that comes with the start of a new term. Worries about mass murderers and Dementors seemed less threatening within the walls of Hogwarts where everything was comfortable and familiar. Halfway up the staircase Hermione stopped. “Oh, I've forgotten one of my textbooks,” she moaned, rummaging through her bag to try and locate it. “I must have left it at the table.”

“Well let's go back and get it then,” said Harry, turning round and making to walk back the way they had come.

“No!” Hermione's exclamation seemed rather louder than she had intended so she smiled sweetly and repeated herself more calmly. “No it's alright. You all go on I'll catch up.”

“Are you sure?” Alice asked, glancing at her watch. “We don't mind waiting for you, honestly. It'll only take a few minutes.”

“No, no, it's fine,” Hermione insisted obstinately and Alice noticed that she flushed a little as she spoke. “I'll catch up.”

Alice looked at her quizzically for a few seconds before giving Harry a questioning glance. When he shrugged in response she relented. “Fine!” She held her hands up in mock surrender. “If it means that much to you, we'll go.”

After watching their friend skip quickly back down the stairs the four remaining Gryffindors continued on their own way. Eventually though Alice had to split off from the rest of the group.

“Have fun in Divination,” she called after their retreating backs as she slipped into the Arithmancy classroom. Finding an empty desk near the front she slipped into it and saved a seat next to her for Hermione. If she ever got here that was; several minutes had passed and there was still no sign of her. It shouldn't have taken her long to get the book Alice thought glancing at her watch. If she didn't hurry up she was going to miss the start of the class.

As though on cue Hermione rushed in looking rather frazzled and out of breath. Quickly spotting Alice she dashed across the room and threw herself into the vacant seat. “Phew! What time is it,” she checked her watch. “I thought I was going to be late there.”

“Where have you been?”

“I told you; I was getting my book.”

Alice took in the stubborn set of her friend's chin and the steely glint in her eyes and realised she wasn't going to get any further with that particular line of questioning. “Alright.” She decided to change the subject. “So what are you going to do about Divination? I mean, you should be there now too shouldn't you?”

“I told you,” Hermione shrugged dismissively, though the stubbornness didn't leave her face, “I sorted it all with McGonagall. It's fine.” The finality with which she spoke indicated that the subject was closed. Alice knew her friend too well to argue or probe further; even if she had wanted to all further conversation was cut off by the arrival of Professor Vector.

“Are you feeling alright today?” Alice asked with increasing concern after class as Hermione dashed towards her.

“Of course,” her friend responded with the sort of innocent look that usually graced the twins' faces when they had done something they knew they shouldn't. “Why?”

“Well that's the second time today you've gone rushing back somewhere for a book. You're not usually so forgetful.”

“I must still be in summer holiday mode. That's all. My brain hasn't quite attuned to being back at school yet.”

Alice raised an incredulous eyebrow but didn't say anything. She had never known Hermione's brain to be attuned to anything other than school and work. Still it wouldn't do to push the issue. Hermione would tell her in her own time what was preoccupying her. And if she didn't… well then she would just have to get it out of her.

As they entered McGonagall's class for the first Transfiguration lesson of the term she noticed that a low level murmur seemed to be sweeping the room.

“What's happened?” she asked Harry, walking over to the table he was sitting at with Ron and Neville at the back of the room.

He grunted in response and continued flipping absently through the book in front of him, which he clearly wasn't reading at all.

“Trelawney is mental.” Ron offered helpfully when it became obvious Harry wasn't going to answer.

“She saw a Grim in Harry's tealeaves,” Neville added looking slightly fearful.

“Oh for goodness sake, there wasn't a Grim in the tealeaves!” Hermione scoffed. When Alice looked at her in surprise she quickly added, “I mean… everyone knows that's a load of rubbish, Grims and tealeaves and things… No one pays attention to Divination anyway.”

“So why did you take the subject then?”

“To get a better understanding of what people believe in. You can't disregard something till you've at least experienced it.”

Whilst agreeing with her sentiment Alice couldn't help but think that Hermione did this all too often. She had even done it just now. There was no way she could know whether there had been a Grim in Harry's tealeaves or not and yet she had scorned the idea straight away. It seemed that yet again Hermione was correct however as halfway through the class McGonagall was forced to halt her explanation on Animagi - much to Alice's annoyance as she found the subject fascinating - and persuade them all that Harry was not about to die. Alice wasn't sure what was funnier, the fact that their teacher was compelled to do this or watching McGonagall struggle with being civil about her colleague. Clearly she had no time either for Trelawney or her subject.

“I don't know. I still think there might be something in it. I mean she did know I was going to break that cup.” Neville reasoned as they made their way across the grounds later that day.

“So you think I am going to die?” Asked Harry, looking much more cheerful than he had before Transfiguration. “Cheers, Neville.”

“Oh I didn't mean it like that!” Neville rushed to correct himself. “I just… what I…” He stopped when he saw Harry was only joking. “Oh you know what I meant.” His ears went pink as he smiled. “What do you think Hagrid's class is going to be like?” He asked, changing the subject to cover his embarrassment.

“I'm sure it'll be great.” Harry's enthusiasm wasn't shared by Alice. Much as she liked Hagrid as a person, she'd seen enough of his dealings with magical creatures and tasted enough of his cooking to question his ability to take a class. Still, she reasoned, it was probably best to reserve judgement until after the class. Perhaps she herself needed to take some of Hermione's advice from earlier, and not judge until she had experienced things.

“Hey Potter!” They were all so used to being yelled at by the owner of that smug, self-satisfied voice that none of them either bothered to turn around. “Oi Potter!” A twinge of annoyance had crept into its tone as it was forced to repeat itself.

“Go bother someone else Malfoy,” Harry shouted in reply continuing to walk towards the paddock which had come into view by Hagrid's cabin.

“Is your life really so empty that you haven't got anything better to do than annoy us?” Hermione asked archly as the Slytherin chased after them and circled them so that they were forced to move to the side to try and pass him.

Ignoring her he motioned Crabbe and Goyle, who were shadowing him as usual, to cut them off so that they had no choice but to stop. “Are you sure you'll manage to cope with this class Potter? You don't cope too well round Magical Creatures, or so I've heard. You will let us know if you feel faint won't you?” He sneered and Alice could see Harry's hackles rising in response. “Come on,” he commanded his enormous bodyguards when he saw he wasn't going to get a response from the Gryffindors, “we wouldn't want to be late for the useless oaf's class.”

“He's not useless!” Harry spat at his retreating back once Malfoy was out of earshot.

“Just ignore him,” Hermione advised loftily. “He's not worth bothering about.”

“Still I hope he gets eaten by a Manticore or something… horrible,” Alice couldn't think of a fate fitting enough for the repugnant Slytherin. “What?!” she asked as her friends turned to look at her with incredulous amusement.

“Nothing,” Harry grinned crookedly at her, his anger of a moment before abating. “Come on, we don't want to be late for class… especially if we're doing Manticores today,” he added slyly causing Alice and the rest to chuckle.

As it turned out they weren't learning about Manticores. The subject of Hagrid's first class was in fact the equally dangerous Hippogriff. Hagrid as usual however seemed oblivious to this fact. “Beau'iful, aren' they?” He beamed at the astonished class as he paraded the creatures before them.

“Well it wasn't the first word that sprang to mind,” Ron muttered to his friends, “but I'm willing to run with it.” Alice stifled a giggle.

“Ev'ryone come a bit closer now,” Hagrid beckoned them forwards, “get a good look.” No one seemed inclined to move within range of the deadly looking claws, razor sharp beak, and calmly predatory eyes that comprised the beast; Neville even took a large step backwards. After glancing warily at each other however, Alice, Ron, Hermione and Harry all took careful, shuffling steps towards the fence that separated them from the Hippogriffs.

“Righ' now, tha''s it, they won' bite,” cooed Hagrid. Alice wasn't sure if he was talking to them or the Hippogriffs - in fact she suspected the latter. “Now if one of yeh want to jus' hop into the paddock there and introduce yourself.” The four of them looked at him in alarm. “How abou' it Harry?” Hagrid seemed not to have noticed their reactions.

“I - I - Well,” Harry's brain was clearly racing to come up with an excuse as his mouth worked like a fish out of water.

“Tha''s the spirit Harry,” Hagrid came up behind him and lifted him bodily over the fence as Alice struggled to decide whether the situation was funny or worryingly dangerous.

“Now Harry, this one's called Buckbeak,” the giant explained as he clambered over the fence after him and grabbed the halter of one of the waiting Hippogriffs. “Now what you got to do is stand in front o' him, not too close, tha''s it, and look him in the eye. It's really important,” he raised his voice so the whole class could hear him, “tha' you're always respec'ful to a Hippogriff. They're proud. Easily offended, Hippogriffs are. Don't never insult one, 'cause it might be the las' thing yeh do.”

Alice looked round in irritation as Malfoy guffawed loudly behind her. He, Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle were all giggling uproariously at something and clearly not listening to a word Hagrid was saying. Hermione, who was watching them as well, tutted loudly. Their teacher however, didn't seem to have noticed anything amiss.

“Now Harry, wha' yeh got to do is bow to him slowly. Tha''s it.”

Alice watched with awe, tempered by not a little trepidation, as Harry obeyed. Emerald eyes fixed on amber as he carefully bent from the waste, barely blinking. An unexpected, vice-like grip, abruptly latched on to Alice's arm and she glanced to her left to see Hermione, sheet white, gazing fearfully at him. Reaching up she gave her friend's hand a reassuring squeeze. Hermione's eyes never left Harry, but her grip did loosen slightly.

It was probably only a few seconds, but to Alice it felt like an age, before the Hippogriff eventually bowed back and she released a breath she didn't even know she had been holding.

“Good,” Hagrid clapped his hands like an oversized, excited child, “now I think yeh might even be able to fly him.” Once again he hoisted Harry up under his arms and deposited him casually onto the Hippogriff who, much to Alice's surprise, stood stock still throughout. Harry looked much less calm about the entire scenario as with a single strong flap of steel grey wings Buckbeak launched himself into the air.

“Oh Merlin,” she heard Hermione whisper next to her as they watched the Hippogriff, with Harry clinging to his back, soar high above the paddock and then swoop rapidly towards the nearby treetops. “Will he be ok?” She whispered urgently to Alice.

Hearing a distant whoop of pure joy carried on the breeze Alice grinned. “Yeah,” she glanced towards her friend with a smile, “I think he just might be.”

As they watched Harry and the Hippogriff turning high above them and then using the air currents to climb and glide, Alice felt a twinge of envy and wondered how different, or not it would be to flying a broom. She didn't suppose there would be the same smoothness or agility in a beast that big, but she hoped that she would get the chance to find out.

As she pondered and marvelled at the Hippogriff Hagrid let out a piercing whistle and the creature abruptly dropped back towards the earth. At the very last moment it spread its wings wide to act as a brake, though it still landed with an uncomfortable looking thud.

“Ok,” he addressed the class, “who else wants a go?”

The class, buoyed up by Harry's success and the elated grin he was wearing, were now much less reluctant to approach the paddock. Soon Alice found herself face to face with an impressive tawny Hippogriff, whose plumage reminded her distinctly of Archimedes. Everyone was chattering away happily as she slowly began to bow.

Suddenly there was a terrified, high pitched scream; the sort that shattered the peace of the forest and sent nearby birds rushing from their treetop roosts. The noise was urgent and pain filled and sent every head in the class swivelling in the direction of its source. Alice felt her stomach lurch as she took in the scene before her; each image imprinting itself on her mind. Curled up and cowering on the ground was a blood soaked body, with very distinctive blonde hair. Rearing above him about to take another swipe with those deadly talons was the Hippogriff Harry had ridden earlier. A flash of sunlight glittered along the point of the Hippogriff's claw as it came scything through the air. Another scream, this time in horrible concert with those from onlookers. Then Hagrid was there forcing himself between the boy and the beast, shouting a flapping his arms. For a split second Alice thought he was going to get the creature under control, then without warning Buckbeak spread his enormous wings and with a single beat he was airborne, students scattering in his path, and vanishing into the depths of the forest.

For a long moment nobody moved; all Alice could do was gaze horror stricken at the crumpled and bloodied body of Malfoy as Hagrid turned, white as a ghost and knelt beside him. Then suddenly it was as if a spell was broken and the class came whirling back to life. Several girls began wailing hysterically, Lavender and Pansy Parkinson amongst them, everyone was shouting and bunching together in groups away from the remaining Hippogriffs who seemed to be the only ones unaffected by the kerfuffle and stood quite calmly to the side of the paddock. More concerned for Hagrid than for Malfoy, Harry sprinted across to them closely followed by his friends.

“Oh Merlin,” Hagrid could be heard muttering to himself as they got closer, “don't let him be dead, please don't let him be dead.”

Alice careered to a halt as she took in all of the blood and Malfoy's face, which if possible was even paler than Hagrid's. He wasn't moving. “Hagrid…”

“Hagrid!” Hermione instantly took charge. “You need to get him to the Hospital Wing! Now!”

Her words seemed to galvanise the giant. After blinking at her for a moment he stood up quickly, scooped Malfoy into his arms and took off in the direction of the castle leaving the class staring after him. Alice however was looking at the pool of blood staining the grass a muddy brown. She could still hear Malfoy's screams ringing in her ears… And that was an awful lot of blood. Her earlier comment about hoping he was eaten by a Manticore came back to her; and she had the horrible feeling that it had been a premonition of sorts. For everyone's sake, she hoped not.

A/N: Cue dramatic, suspenseful ending music! Hope you enjoyed! Please R&R!


6. Lost and Found

Lost and Found

“Are you alright?” Hermione approached her in the common room later that evening looking worried. Alice had been quiet for most of the afternoon and had taken to sitting in an armchair by the window, staring blankly out at the setting sun for the best part of an hour. Glancing up at her friend she smiled wanly.

“Of course; I'm fine.” She widened her smile to emphasise her statement.

Unconvinced Hermione frowned back at her. “No you're not. You've hardly said a word since Malfoy was attacked in class. What's wrong?”

Alice shrugged noncommittally as she struggled to find the words to explain what was bothering her. “It's just that… He could have died! He was badly hurt as it was - I mean they've carted him off to St Mungo's,” Hermione sniffed sceptically at this but Alice ploughed on. “Hagrid could lose his job and - and I said I wanted something horrible to happen to him.”

“Is that what all this is about? You think you've jinxed Malfoy into getting attacked by a Hippogriff?” Hermione leant against the side of the chair as she stared at her friend questioningly.

“No! I mean…” she sighed, “I don't think I actually jinxed him it's just… Oh I don't know,” she muttered getting embarrassed and frustrated by her inability to articulate herself. “I just feel bad about the whole thing that's all.”

“Well cheer up, it's just Malfoy, the little toad deserved it. If you're going to worry about anything worry about Hagrid.” She straightened up and made to move away again, “and don't sit here all by yourself come over to the fire with the rest of us.”

With resigned obedience Alice pulled herself from the depths of the chair and traipsed across the room after her friend. As she neared the boys who were sitting on the sofa she could hear them discussing something intently.

“I mean,” Ron waved his arm in the direction of the window and the grounds beyond to emphasise his point, “he could be anywhere out there by now. And the forest is so deep I doubt anyone would ever find a single Hippogriff, even if they are huge!”

“It's probably just as well that Buckbeak did escape,” Harry added, “I mean if he was a dog in the Muggle world he would probably get destroyed for attacking someone and I assume the Ministry have the same sort of laws?” He looked to Hermione for an answer.

Nodding she agreed with him. “Yes, he's probably safe so long as they can't find him. It's just Hagrid we would have to worry about. It's so stupid,” she threw her hands out dramatically to emphasise the word, “it was all Malfoy's fault anyway, none of this would have happened if he had done what he was told.”

Alice remained silent, listening to their discussion. For the most part she agreed with them, but there was one niggling traitorous part of her brain that still told her that however big an idiot Malfoy was he didn't warrant having his chest slashed open by an irate Hippogriff.

“You're awful quiet Alice,” Harry glanced across at her a while later.

With a start she looked up from where she had been staring vacantly into the roaring fire and blinked several times to clear the light spots from her eyes. “I'm alright,” she smiled thinly at him, “just a bit tired. It's been a long day,” she heaved herself up from the sofa as she spoke, “I might turn in.” With a half hearted wave she wandered off in the direction of the stairs. It had been the truth, it had been an eventful day and she was tired, but if she was brutally honest she also wanted to avoid someone asking her what she thought about it all again, because she wasn't sure if she could have lied convincingly. Contrary to her wishful exclamation before class, however much of a pustulant little weasel the blonde Slytherin was most of the time she still didn't think he had deserved what happened. It would certainly teach her not to make vengeful remarks about people.

By the next morning the news that Malfoy had been taken to St. Mungo's was all round the school. Pansy Parkinson spent all of breakfast, and then the rest of the morning in Potions sobbing her eyes out and then wailing hysterically to anyone who would listen that “her poor Draco” was on the point of death. Aside from the fact that Alice doubted this - if he had survived this long then with the skill of the St Mungo's Healers he would probably pull through - Alice was mildly annoyed at the fact Snape never once told her to be quiet. Not that she had expected him to show any less bias than usual; it was just irksome to know that if any Gryffindor had so much as sniffled they would have been scrubbing out cauldrons in detention for weeks.

“I bet you Lucius Malfoy kicks up a stink about all this and poor Hagrid is going to get the blame for everything,” Hermione worried at her lip as they walked towards Defence Against the Dark Arts after lunch.

“He probably insisted that Malfoy be moved to St Mungo's just to get him into even more trouble,” Harry looked grim.

Alice kept silent again as her three friends discussed the possible reaction to yesterday's attack. It wasn't that she didn't care about Hagrid, he was after all their friend, however there was a tiny part of her that felt it had been a tad irresponsible of him to bring out Hippogriffs for their first ever class. She knew that Hagrid had had the very best of intentions, it was just that he didn't see dangerous beasts the way everyone else did; where a normal person would back off slowly, Hagrid would be naming it and planning it's first birthday party. Of course this thought was never voiced aloud.

Getting to class proved to be a welcome distraction. They were all naturally curious about what their new teacher would be like and Alice especially hoped that she could get to the bottom of Professor Lupin's odd behaviour on the train. If she had been expecting a repeat performance however she was to be disappointed. Professor Lupin treated her no differently than any other member of the class, in fact if she was honest he barely approached her for the whole lesson. That was not to say that the lesson itself was a bad one, quite the contrary it was one of the most enjoyable lessons Alice had ever had in that room.

“Good morning class,” Lupin smiled at them all as he hoisted a large tank onto his desk. Initially the students all drew back warily; their last practical class had gone less than brilliantly and poor Neville still had nightmares about Cornish Pixies. However on closer inspection the tank did not contain anything remotely similar and Professor Lupin certainly seemed in no hurry to release it. “Welcome to Defence Against the Dark Arts. Now I'm not sure where exactly you are with the subject, but I thought we could start by doing a little observation and you can answer some simple questions for me. That way I can see how much you know and you can decide whether or not to hex my shoelaces together before the end of class.” His remark elicited a few uncertain chuckles. “So first off, can anyone tell me what this is?”

Peering between the fronds of the numerous plants inside the tank Alice searched for the creature within. When she eventually spotted it lurking in a corner she didn't bother raising her hand to answer; Hermione had already done that for her.

“It's a Plimpy sir,” her friend explained, “they're most commonly found in deep lakes across Northern Europe and their normal diet consists of snails and other small fish. But sir,” she looked momentarily confused, “they're not dangerous at all.”

“Well done Miss…?”

“Granger,” she supplied.

“Well done Miss Granger, you managed to answer my first three questions in one there.”

Hermione flushed.

“Don't be embarrassed, never be embarrassed about your knowledge. And you are perfectly right, the Plimpy in and of itself is completely harmless - unless you're wearing rubber flippers of course, it likes to nibble on those. However it can be an indicator for something which is often less altruistic in its intentions. So,” he turned back to the rest of them, “can any of you tell me what that might be?”

“Fred and George were right,” Ron enthused after class, “he's brilliant!”

“He certainly is a change from all the other Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers that we've had,” Hermione joined in too. “Do you think he will last though? I mean he doesn't exactly look very healthy does he?”

“I hope he does, but he's really pale and he nearly passed out on the train too.”

Ron turned to look incredulously at Harry who had made this last comment. “You can hardly talk you actually did pass out!”

“It was a strategic move,” Harry puffed out his chest in what was clearly meant to be an attempt at macho bravado that was utterly ruined by the mischievous twinkle in his eye. “I was trying to lull the Dementor into a false sense of security.”

“Of course you were,” Ron bantered back. As the two boys continued teasing each other all the way to the Great Hall Alice glanced across at Hermione and they rolled their eyes with a knowing grin. Boys.

Since the following day was a Saturday and they had no classes the four of them decided to visit Hagrid and see how he was coping after the incident in class. They would have asked Neville to tag along, but since he was busy having the rules of muggle football explained to him by Dean for the hundredth time they decided to leave him to it. When they saw him Hagrid looked utterly woebegone.

“I've `ad someone in from the Ministry o'course,” he sniffed as he clattered around with cups and teapots. “Said dependin' on the gravity of Malfoy's injuries,” he hiccupped over the word, “there might be an inquiry or summat into what happened, don't know what they -” The end of his sentence was eclipsed by an almighty crash as he knocked several saucers flying off the sideboard where they bounced and shattered on the floor. “Merlin's beard!” Hagrid cursed as he stooped to try and pick up the broken pieces of china. Scared that he would cut himself on the lethal looking shards Alice rushed to help.

“Here, Hagrid, let me do that.” Quickly she pulled out her wand and set to work as Hermione went to get more crockery from the cupboard and made the tea with much steadier hands. “Reparo,” she muttered. As the saucers sprang back together she turned back to the table where Hagrid was now sitting having his hand patted awkwardly by a very uncomfortable looking Ron as Harry repeatedly insisted that he shouldn't be upset as none of it had been Hagrid's fault. Seeing him so distraught Alice didn't have the heart to disagree. Instead she asked another question. “What sort of inquiry?”

Hagrid took a deep breath before looking up at her with red-rimmed eyes. “He never said; just an inquiry. It'll be `bout poor Beaky I expect.”

“Has there been any sign of him?” Hermione asked pushing an enormous mug of steaming tea towards him. His response was simply to shake his head so vigorously that his mass of wild black hair shook and trembled almost as much as the hand that lifted the mug. As he drank Hagrid stared dejectedly out of the rain lashed window as though he was hoping to see the Hippogriff outside. Alice felt her heart go out to him, she knew how attached Hagrid got to his creatures, however sharp their claws were.

That night as she lay in bed Alice pondered on Buckbeak's fate. He must be out there in the Forbidden Forest somewhere, he was probably quite content too; after all he was a wild creature. Glancing through a gap in the curtains she could see Hermione silhouetted through her own set by the light she was casting with her wand. She could see her hunched intently over some book or another, the light of the wand flicking about as she moved across the page. There was no way she could be doing reading for a class because the girls had done all of their homework together already; with a small smile at her friend's dedication she turned over and closed her eyes.

When Alice awoke the following morning it was to find most of the castle still asleep and a thin sliver of morning light was just sneaking its way through the dormitory window. It wasn't quite sunlight yet, it was still far too early for that, but the lilac shade that fills the sky in anticipation of the rising sun. After lying for a few minutes deciding whether or not she would in fact wake up or try and slip back to sleep, she eventually chose the former. Slipping quietly out of bed she padded towards her trunk intent on finding a book to amuse herself with until such time as someone else woke up. From the gentle snoring emanating from the other four beds she assumed that this would take a while. As she gently shifted a few belongings to find what she was looking for her fingers came upon a thick wad of parchment and with a thrill of excitement she pulled out the Marauders Map. With everything that had happened in the last few days she had almost forgotten about it.

Creeping back into bed she spread the Map out on the blanket and tapped it gently with her wand. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” To her delight, as it had at the Burrow, the tiny ink lines wormed their way across the parchment until Hogwarts took shape. Looking at Gryffindor Tower she saw herself surrounded by the other girls and then in the boys' dormitory a tiny dot marked Harry Potter slept quietly next to Ron Weasley and Neville Longbottom. A cursory glance across the rest of the tower showed her that, rather predictably, neither Fred or George Weasley were in their room. A few minutes careful study revealed them to be moving slowly along one of the corridors on the first floor near the main staircase.

With a thrill of excitement at being able to use the Map properly for the first time, Alice slid back out of bed and carefully, so as not to disturb the other girls, pulled a jumper on and left the room. Once she had gotten through the portrait hole she scurried along the corridor keeping one eye on the Map to make sure that no one was heading her way. It wasn't that she wasn't meant to be in the corridors, just that other than the jumper which came down to her knees - it had been someone's castoff - she was still in her pyjamas; besides she liked the feeling of having the whole school to herself. Not that there were a lot of people up yet anyway; other than herself and the twins there were only a few moving points on the map.

Pausing just around the corner from where the twins were she listened intently to see if she could work out where they were up to, however other than the occasional indistinguishable whisper there was nothing. Checking one final time that no one else was in earshot Alice summoned up her best impression of McGonagall and stepped into view. “Misters Weasley,” she barked, “what do you think you are doing?” She had to struggle to contain a laugh as both boys, who had been busily enchanting the suits of armour that lined the corridor, stowed their wands and whipped round with alacrity. The expressions on their faces when they saw it was only her broke her control and she burst out laughing.

“Evans!” Fred exclaimed looking torn between irritation and amusement. “That's not funny; you almost gave us a heart attack!”

She gazed at them in wide eyed innocence. “Me?”

George scowled at her and addressed his brother in a dramatic aside. “We've taught her too well. Look,” he put a hand over his heart and affected a wounded expression, “she's even using out own Map against us. The outrage!”

Grinning as she walked towards them Alice changed the subject. “What are you doing to those poor suits of armour anyway?”

“Just a little charm we cooked up… to save them from boredom you understand.”

“Armour does get notoriously bored,” Alice nodded in agreement only just managing to maintain a straight face.

Fred nodded sagely. “Our thoughts exactly. And we also thought that if, coincidentally, we could alleviate this boredom a tad whilst also entertaining our fellow students -”

“- then that would be our good deed for the day.”

“Month,” his twin corrected.

“How very altruistic of you,” Alice responded with a grin. Really it was impossible to look serious around these two, especially when they bowed low in mock appreciation of her compliment.

“So if you do happen to travel this way, after breakfast say, then you might find yourself rather entertained -”

“- if we do say so ourselves -”

“-which we do.”

“What are they going to do?” She looked at the twinkle in Fred's eye and found herself naturally intrigued. His response was to mime locking his mouth shut with a wink. “Pleeeease?” she wheedled.

“Have you ever seen Tiller Girls, you know linked arms, high kicks when they dance, that sort of thing -”

“- Dad took us to see some once, he said it was typical muggle entertainment -”

“- Well… they're going to do that.” Fred finished, beaming at her and clearly very pleased with their handiwork.

Alice had seen the dancers they were talking about on the TV once and began to grin at the thought of the clunking suits of armour attempting to imitate the style.

“Just give us a second will you, we need to finish our masterpiece.” Alice waited patiently whilst they charmed the last few suits of armour.

To pass the time she looked at the rest of the Map which she still carried in her hand. It really was amazing, she considered as she looked at it, the magic that it must have taken to create such a detailed Map. The truly wonderful part was that it had to continually shift and change as rooms and people moved about. Even with her limited knowledge of magic - which, she reluctantly admitted, was slightly more advanced than the average third year - she knew it would take an awful lot of power to create such a thing. Everything was so detailed too, that's what she loved about it. Each corridor was laid out in exact proportions, there were tiny marks to denote windows and doors and even the contours of the grounds and the trees in the forest were -

She suddenly froze and her hand began to tremble slightly as though someone had just thrown a bucket of water over her. There, over by the spidery line that marked the wall around the grounds was a tiny moving dot. A dot that was inside the school grounds. A dot with a name next to it. A dot that - “Someone please tell me I can't read.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper.

“You can't read.” George chuckled as he finished his incantation with a flourish.

Fred however, looked up in concern at the tone of her voice. “What's wrong?”

“I -” she hesitated as the two of them made their way quickly over to her. “Can this Map be wrong?”


“It never has been before.” Fred reached out to steady her hand as the Map shook before their eyes. “Hey come on Evans,” he tried to crack a smile, but she could see the worry in his eyes now. “What is it? You're starting to scare me.”

By way of answer she just pointed at the mark on the Map that had gotten her so rattled. There, seeming to stand out starkly against the creamy parchment, was a name.

“Sirius Black,” George whispered sounding appalled.

Fred gave a long, low whistle.

“Merlin,” Alice's thoughts seemed to have returned to her and were now bouncing around inside her skull at such a speed that she couldn't get a proper handle on them. The implications of that one name on the page were terrifying. Her eyes flicked back to the area showing the Gryffindor Tower and she was relieved to see Harry still in his room, at least he hadn't gone wandering off anywhere. “We have to tell McGonagall.”

“And say what?” George demanded looking rather pale. “You were just perusing this map, that's probably against the law never mind school rules, and happened to spot Sirius Black's name on it?! Then we'll all get into trouble.”

“Well we can't not tell anyone! I'd rather get into trouble than have something happen because I stayed quiet,” she cried as her temper, stung by his attitude, began to rise.

“She's right,” Fred looked gravely at his twin. “Although,” he added turning back to Alice with a touch of his usual mischief, “if you could find a way to tell her without mentioning the Map… that would be great too.”

And so it was that five minutes later the three of them found themselves swearing blind that they had seen Sirius Black at the edge of the Forest when they had been out for an early morning walk. Alice had her fingers crossed behind her back the whole time.

“You're sure?” McGonagall asked sharply. Her face was ashen, her eyes boring into them as though trying to determine if they were lying - which they were but not, Alice reassured herself, about what was important. “You're all positive you saw S-Sirius Black?” She stumbled fleetingly over the name. Alice had never seen her this upset by anything; she was usually so unflappable and that got her own nerves on edge again.

“Yes Professor,” Fred answered seriously as his brother and Alice nodded vigorously beside him. “He looked exactly like he does on the picture on the front of the Prophet.”

She gave them all one last stern look. “Right - well then you better come with me the three of you.” Pausing only to mutter a spell which sent a jet of silver light shooting from her wand and speeding from her office, she lead them brusquely in the direction of the Gryffindor Tower. The light sent a ripple of memory skimming across the surface of Alice's brain, but in the current circumstances she couldn't quite get her mind to focus on it enough to pinpoint it exactly.

Arriving in the common room they found a few early risers startled at the sight of the Head of House bursting in on their Sunday morning with several pupils in tow. Striding over to the fireplace the Professor tapped what looked like an extravagant whorl in the decoration, but in actual fact turned into a key which she proceeded to turn. At once a loud ringing, rather like church bells but more insistent, filled the room. After that it wasn't long before students began appearing down the stairs, some clattering down two at a time, others meandering groggily still half asleep, all with a look of equal confusion and bewilderment on their faces. Harry, Ron and Hermione were among them. When they saw McGonagall standing with Alice and the twins they shot them curious looks, but none of them responded beyond twitching their head in the direction of the Professor. All would be revealed.

Once she was satisfied that the entire House had assembled McGonagall took her hand off the key - which transformed back into an unobtrusive piece of fireplace - and addressed the group gravely. “Ladies and gentlemen I am about to tell you all something and I would like no hysterics,” Alice could have sworn she flashed a look towards Lavender and Sally-Anne as she said this, “I would like you all to remain calm and follow my instructions straight away.” By now every pupil in the room was gazing at her in stony silence. What could she have to tell them that demanded such seriousness? “Sirius Black has been sighted in the grounds, and -” she had to raise her voice to be heard over the muttering and squeaks which broke out at her proclamation; Alice saw her friends go very pale. “And while we - quiet please!” Silence fell instantly. “I feel it safest that whilst the staff conduct a full search of both the grounds and the school -”

“You don't think he could have gotten into the castle do you Professor?” Asked a particularly alarmed looking sixth year whose name Alice couldn't remember.

“I feel it is unlikely Mr Dennings, but is always better to err on the side of caution. So as I was saying whilst the staff conduct a search you are all to be taken down to the Great Hall where we and the Prefects can better keep an eye on you all. So,” she turned and pushed open the portrait hole, “if you could all please follow the Head Boy,” she nodded towards Percy who puffed his chest out importantly as he strode forward, “and go down as quickly as possible - no running please,” she added as several first years tried to make a dash for it.

As Harry, Hermione and Ron scurried towards her Alice was aware of the fact that McGonagall fell in behind them. Clearly she, like Mr Weasley and the Ministry, believed that Black was specifically after Harry. “What happened?” Hermione hissed as they pushed through the portrait hole with everyone else.

Not wanting to give too much away with McGonagall in earshot Alice just muttered “I'll tell you later,” and tried to indicate the teacher's presence with her eyes.

“You are all right though?” Hermione persisted.

“Of course she is,” Fred clapped her on the shoulder, “she had us to protect her.”

“That's encouraging.” Ron forced out a joke, but no one felt like laughing much; the anxiety in the air was palpable. As they turned the next corner however the sight which greeted Alice made her feel such a sense of relief that she almost broke into the most enormous grin imaginable. Standing in the middle of the corridor, complete with flowing white beard and reassuring twinkle in eyes that were scouring the pupils filing past for a particular face, was Dumbledore.

“Ah, Professor McGonagall,” he moved quickly towards them as he spotted her next to Harry. “I got your message; the rest of the students are being ushered into the Great Hall as we speak.”

Alice and her friends glanced as each other as Dumbledore too fell in behind them. “They might as well wrap me in cotton wool whilst they're at it,” Harry hissed, clearly fed up with the fussing.

Hermione frowned at him. “They're just trying to keep you safe.”

Harry paused and was just about to open his mouth to say something when McGonagall raised her voice. “Hurry up now Mr Potter, no dawdling, we would all like to get to the Great Hall this week.”

With a rueful grin he shut his mouth and followed his friends, but Alice distinctly heard him mutter, “it's impossible to have a proper argument with anyone around here!”

It wasn't long before they arrived in the Great Hall to find the rest of the school congregated there and a huddle of teachers all anxiously discussing what they were going to do. Someone had pushed all the tables against the walls and filled the floor with giant beanbags. Spotting some of their friends Fred and George excused themselves. “Don't go getting into any more trouble without us Evans,” they called as they walked away.

Grabbing a beanbag each the four of them went and sat in a quiet corner where they could have a little privacy to speak. Settling herself down Alice surveyed the room as she rested her head against the wall. She had the feeling it was going to be a long day.

A/N: By the way the answer to Lupin's question about Plimpies was: Merpeople. The light, for those of you who haven't guessed, that McGonagall created was a Patronus which she sent to Dumbledore. And if you haven't heard of Tiller Girls, they're like the Rockettes at Radio City.


7. A Series of Unfortunate Events

A Series of Unfortunate Events

“So you didn't actually see him?” Ron asked her for the twentieth time in as many minutes since they had sat in the corner.

“No,” Alice was careful to keep her voice down as they were surrounded by other students, “but Fred and George said the Map is never wrong, so it doesn't make a difference. Besides,” she looked significantly at Harry, “they thought something like this was going to happen.”

“How did he manage to get past the Dementors though?” Harry was much more interested in the mechanics of the situation than any concern for himself. “I mean they're surrounding the entire school, and they're supposed to be the best guards anywhere, that's why they're at Azkaban isn't it?” He looked to Hermione for confirmation and she nodded. “So how did he manage it then?”

Alice had no answer to this.

“I'm sure the teachers will find him though,” Hermione patted his knee reassuringly, “either that or scare him off.”

“Yeah, because if he can kill thirteen people at once, escape from Azkaban and break into Hogwarts, the teachers are really going to terrify him,” Ron drawled sarcastically.

“I can imagine McGonagall could be quite fierce if she felt like it,” Harry jumped in before the two of them could start to argue.

“And Hagrid could be quite terrifying if you didn't know him,” Hermione added.

Alice smirked at that. “The only terrifying thing about Hagrid is his cooking.” She was pleased to see the others laugh at this; everyone was getting far too tense. Glancing around the Great Hall she could see all the students gathered in little knots, as they were, earnestly discussing, or speculating as to what was going on. By far the noisiest of any of these groups was the one that contained Lavender Brown. She was sitting with Parvati and Sally-Anne, as well as Parvati's sister and a few of her friends from Ravenclaw. Every so often her chatter would become very animated, increasing in volume as she waved her arms emphatically in the direction of the Forbidden Forest until someone laid a soothing hand on her arm.

“I really wish someone would tell her to be quiet,” Hermione complained the third time this happened, “she's doing my head in.”

“Mmm,” Harry answered vaguely; he was more interested in watching Professor Lupin who had just entered the room, whispered something to Professor Vector and then left again. “I wish they would tell us what's going on.”

“I wouldn't hold your breath,” replied Ron.

They had just settled back into a comfortable silence again when suddenly an echoing shriek sounded from somewhere outside the Great Hall followed by a loud clanging. Every single student in the room sat bolt upright, their terrified eyes fixed on the doorway and their ears straining to pick up the slightest clue from the ruckus outside. What on earth was going on?

“What is it?” Hermione whispered.

Alice had a growing suspicion, which was confirmed as she caught sight of Fred and George at the other side of the room with enormous grins plastered across their faces. She could feel an unexpected hilarity bubbling up inside her and begging for release from her lips. In vain she tried to hold it in; she'd always found it impossible when she got the giggles anyway. What began as a tiny giggle became a snort and before it developed into a full blown laugh she quickly clapped a hand over her mouth to hold it in. All the tensions she had been feeling and the adrenaline she had been running on since she first read that name on the Map released all at once and she rocked back an forth, her sides aching with mirth. Every time she thought that she was calming down slightly an image of the teachers, searching for Sirius Black but being confronted by suits of armour dancing in formation, would pop into her head and that would set her off again. When she eventually managed to calm down and wipe the tears from her face, she saw with a wry grin, that Harry, Hermione, Ron and half the students round about were all staring at her. From the expressions on their faces they were all seriously concerned for her mental wellbeing.

“Err… Alice,” Harry eventually ventured cautiously, “… are you alright?”

“Yeah,” she gasped trying to get herself back under control. “Sorry.” She took a deep breath and concentrated on not laughing again.

“So are you going to tell us what was so funny or should we just cart you off to St Mungo's right now?” Ron quipped.

“It was the twins,” she explained quietly so that those students still staring at her wouldn't overhear, “this morning before we spotted Black on the Map I caught them enchanting the suits of armour on the first floor.”

“Which I assume is what all that racket was a minute ago?” Hermione asked primly.

Alice grinned in response.

“I wish we could have seen that!” Ron enthused after she had explained fully. “Why do I always miss everything?”

“Because you're usually asleep or eating,” teased Harry with a smirk. Alice smiled, although it had backfired, the twins stunt had banished much of the tensions the group had been feeling. It also wasn't long before a very flustered Professor Sprout came bustling back into the hall followed by McGonagall who glared reprovingly in the twins direction.

“You don't think they'll get into trouble do you?” Alice asked in concern.

Ron, who had been watching this too, shook his head. “Nah, McGonagall can't prove it was them, although she probably suspects.”

“Besides she's got bigger things to worry about today,” Hermione added.

By mid afternoon any thrill of excitement they had felt at the school being effectively locked down had long since worn off. With nothing to do and nowhere to go they were becoming restless. “I spy with my little eye…” Hermione gazed half-heartedly around the room for something to choose, “something beginning with… S.” She looked at them expectantly.

“Slytherins,” guessed Ron. “Unfortunately,” he added in an undertone.

“Nope,” Hermione shook her head.

“Snape,” Harry glared across in the direction of the hated professor who was stalking the length of the hall enforcing discipline as he went.

“Wrong again.” Despite the fact that they were all bored out of their brains, Alice could tell Hermione was beginning to enjoy keeping them guessing.

“Students? Staff?” Alice threw in a second guess for good measure.

“What about half-eaten Sandwiches?” asked a boy called Kevin Entwhistle from Ravenclaw who was sitting near them. To emphasise his answer he nudged one of the plates that had magically appeared at lunchtime and were still littering the floor of the Great Hall.

Michael Corner who was sitting next to him ventured his own answer: “Sandstone?” He pointed towards the walls.

“Seats I wish we had?” griped Ron shifting uncomfortably on his beanbag. Hermione didn't even bother saying no to that one.

After another twenty minutes of this Alice really was beginning to get fed up. So, evidently, was Ron. “Oh, for the love of Merlin's woolly underpants!” He eventually exploded.

“Excuse me?” Hermione's eyebrows disappeared up under her fringe.

“I give up, we all give up; none of us has a clue what it is.”

Hermione blinked at him owlishly for a second. “Sunlight,” she answered pointing towards the enchanted ceiling as though this had been obvious all along.

“But you can't see sunlight!”

“Of course you can, how do you think you can see during the day?!” Hermione snapped back in what was undoubtedly the beginning of another customary argument between the two of them. Rolling her eyes with a sigh Alice sat back, fiddling with the end of her plait, as she tried to tune out their bickering. As Harry caught her eye he shook his head in despair, after several more minutes though he began to get fed up of the griping.

“Hermione,” he laid a patient hand on her arm causing her to stop mid-sentence and look at him questioningly. “Does it really matter? It was only a game.”

Opening her mouth to retort she suddenly seemed to think better of it and shut it again with a snap. “Alright,” she shrugged. Alice had to try and suppress a grin again at the look on Ron's face as she said this. It must be the first time Hermione had ever backed down from an argument!

The upshot of this was however, that once Hermione and Ron stopped arguing none of them could really find anything else to talk about and so lapsed into another bored silence. After what seemed like a year, rather than only just a day, the staff came back into the Great Hall. With his typical eccentricity, and evident relief, Dumbledore informed them that there was no sign of Black and that they could all return to their dormitories.

“If only they'd given us a chance to collect our homework this morning,” Hermione complained as they traipsed back up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower.

“Hermione,” Harry grinned. “You can go for a day without working you know, and after all we've only had half a week of term. You do all the same classes as us and Ron and I have hardly any homework.”

Alice frowned at this comment; surely Harry had made a mistake? There was no way Hermione could be doing exactly the same subjects as the boys because she had Arithmancy with Alice at the same time as the boys had Divination, not to mention the Ancient Runes classes they both took. She was about to say just that when she saw the flustered look on Hermione's face. It was almost as though… Alice wasn't sure what it meant, but she knew something was wrong; or perhaps not wrong exactly, just off kilter. Whatever it was she kept silent for the moment. Hermione would tell her when she was ready, wouldn't she?

The next day Black's trespass on the school grounds might well never have happened, other than the fact that it was the topic of conversation on everyone's lips. Alice did occasionally catch a teacher casting a beady eye in Harry's direction to make sure that he somehow hadn't vanished out a window since the last time that they had checked, but other than that life at the castle continued in much the same way that it always had. She was also very grateful for the fact that since Sunday Hagrid and Malfoy were no longer the main theme at dinner every night. That is not to say of course that ordinary life was not without its own excitement. At the end of the week they were given another highly unusual lesson in Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Riddikulus,” Alice quietly practiced the spell that Professor Lupin had just taught them as he finished explaining to them all what to do to the Boggart he had brought to class in a trunk. They had all just been treated to a display of Neville dressing Snape up as his grandmother - something both Harry and Ron had much appreciated - and now she was desperate to have a try. As she watched her classmates transform the Boggart into a succession of peculiar entities, she pondered on what her own might be. What was it that she was most afraid of? Failing? No, much as she strove to do well there were more important things than that. Death? Perhaps, but that was more because she would leave everyone behind rather than a fear of death itself. So was it something happening to those she loved then? She tried to think of something tangible and concrete that it might be, like Parvati's Mummy or the severed hand that was currently trying to chase Dean around the room, but if she was honest she couldn't. It wasn't that she wasn't scared of things she was, the Basilisk last year and the Dementor on the train had been terrifying. With those things though it had been the situation as much as the creatures which had frightened her.

Before she had a chance to ponder on her inner-most fears any longer she was suddenly shoved forwards and found herself face to face with the rolling, legless spider which Ron had conjured. Crack! Abruptly she found herself facing Hermione, but it couldn't be Hermione a tiny rational part of her brain insisted because Hermione was still standing behind her. As she watched, confused as to how this was meant to be frightening, Other Hermione spoke. “Help.” Alice blinked. “Help me Alice,” she repeated, her brown eyes widened in fear as some sort of glass box suddenly materialised around her. “Help;” except this time Alice couldn't hear the words, she could just see Other Hermione mouthing them.

Suddenly the Hermione in the box convulsed and began to scream - or at least she would have if there had been any sound. At the sight of her friend's face contorted and her mouth stretched wide in agony Alice took a step forward and tried to get to her, to help her somehow. No matter which way she tried however, she couldn't get past the translucent wall that surrounded her. Reminding herself that this was just a Boggart she raised her wand and pointed with a shaking hand towards it.

R-R-Riddikulus,” she stammered. Nothing happened so, with the class shouting encouragement behind her she went to try again. Crack! Suddenly the Other Hermione transformed into Harry, still in pain, still screaming, and still impossible to reach. “Riddikulus,” Alice whispered. As she spoke she could feel a lone tear trickling slowly down her cheek as though it belonged to someone else. Crack! The Boggart became Ron. Crack! Now it was Neville, then George, then Fred. Alice froze, she just couldn't seem to make herself move to try and banish it any more. The sight of her friends all screaming in agony was too much. Seeming to sense her distress Professor Lupin suddenly leapt towards the Boggart which immediately transformed into a large silvery orb and was duly forced back into the wardrobe from which it had emerged.

“Alice,” Lupin turned to lay a concerned hand on her shoulder and looked at her searchingly. “Are you alright?” Behind her the class had fallen totally silent.

“Yes sir,” she whispered her gaze still focused on the wardrobe door but in her mind replaying the sights the Boggart had shown her.

“Ok everyone,” he straightened up and addressed the rest of the class. “I think that's maybe enough for the practical demonstration today. If you can all just make your way back to the classroom, I'll have a quick word with Miss Evans and then we can finish up the lesson with some questions.” With a frustrated groan the class began shuffling in the direction of the staffroom door. “Straight there mind,” Professor Lupin added with a slight smile. “I don't want anyone taking any detours.”

Once they had all gone he gently guided Alice towards a chair and sat her down. “Now,” he spoke kindly, “do you want to tell me what that was all about?” She looked at him in confusion as she wiped the tears from her face, annoyed at herself that she had cried in front of a teacher.


“We couldn't see what was inside the box the Boggart became Alice, though… I'm guessing you could. What did you see? It's obviously upset you.”

Staring at him for a long minute, at his concerned face, which despite the scars seemed kind and gentle, Alice felt herself opening up. “It was my friends sir, they were in pain - screaming - and I couldn't help them. I panicked. It was stupid.”

“Not at all,” he got up and filled a mug with water before tapping his wand and returning it to her. “Camomile tea,” he nodded towards the now steaming liquid, “it's very calming. Drink it. Now,” he sat down opposite her, “don't ever apologise for getting upset about your friends. The Boggart's very nature is to make us think our very worst fears are real. Even knowing that your friends were standing behind you I'm sure most people would have had the reaction that you have had. It's nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Taking a sip as he spoke Alice could feel the warm liquid instantly refresh her and had to wonder if Lupin had put anything extra into it. Away from the immediacy of the Boggart she found that she was much calmer.

“Not many girls your age would fear not being to help their friends in need as their Boggart you know.”

“Well…” Alice glanced up at him and smiled slightly, “we haven't exactly had a normal first few years at Hogwarts.”

Lupin laughed at this. “So I've heard.” After watching her curiously for a moment, during which time Alice had the strangest feeling that he wanted to say something else, he stood up. “Okay then, drink up your tea and if you are feeling up to it come back to class again. Alright?”

She nodded and once he had left the room gulped down the liquid as fast as she could without burning her tongue. She had already made a fool of herself in front of the entire class and she didn't want Lupin thinking she couldn't cope with the workload on top of that.

As she slipped into the Defence Against the Dark Arts room five minutes later she walked as quickly and unobtrusively as possible towards the free seat next to Hermione.

“Are you alright?” Her friend asked looking concerned as Harry and Ron swivelled in their seats too.

“Of course,” Alice waved off their worried looks and tried to appear nonchalant.

“Of course you are,” Harry whispered sarcastically. “What was your Boggart?”

“It was silly really, it doesn't matter now.” She didn't want to upset any of them by telling them. They would only fuss. “Honestly,” she added when they continued to look unconvinced. “I'm just sorry you two didn't get a chance to face it.” Harry and Hermione shrugged in response.

“It's okay, as long as you are alright.”

“I'm fine,” she stressed. “Honestly.” There was little else that her friends could do but accept this and turn back to listen to Professor Lupin who was in the midst of telling the class about a thirteenth century witch who had kept a Boggart as a pet and pretending not to notice the exchange going on in the corner of the classroom. When he caught her eye a few minutes later Alice smiled gratefully at him.

When the class finally ended a still slightly shaken Alice made her way from the room behind Ron and Harry who were both chattering loudly about Boggarts and amusing things they could be transformed into. Trying to smile and get over her own encounter with the creature Alice took a deep breath and tried to participate. “It's a shame you didn't get a go Hermione, what do you think your Boggart would have been? Hermione?” She turned to where her friend had been walking behind her not two moments before. “Hermione?”

“Is something wrong?” Neville approached her seeing her stop in the corridor.

“No,” she shook her head looking around in confusion. “I just… I could have sworn Hermione was right behind me. Did you see her?”

“No, sorry.”

Alice continued to scan the corridor, but even if Hermione had been there it was difficult to make out individual students amidst the throng of pupils milling about. “Oh well,” she shrugged. Turning back she realised she had also lost Harry and Ron. “Honestly, you need to keep those three on a leash sometimes!”

“I'll walk up to the common room with you if you want,” Neville offered.

“Thanks that would be good,” she smiled at him as they started to walk and it dawned on Alice that she hadn't seen very much of Neville since term started and she said as much. “How was your summer anyway?”

“Not bad,” he made a face which belied his statement. “Gran was as determined as ever that I should suddenly become brilliant overnight.”

“You are brilliant,” Alice said defensively.

Neville blushed. “Thanks. I know you're only saying that, but thanks.”

“I'm not!” she protested. “Look at how you got rid of that Boggart back in class there. I couldn't do it, I just froze up.”

“You can do it when it really counts though, I've seen you. I couldn't do that I'm not brave like you and Harry or my -” He suddenly stopped abruptly, went bright red, then deathliest white so quickly that Alice thought he was away to pass out. For a second his mouth worked as though he was trying to make sound come out and then, giving up on that he suddenly rushed off along the corridor.

“Neville!” Alice ran after him. “Neville, come back!” Catching up to him she grabbed his arm and swung him round. “What on earth was that all about?”

Neville gave her a desperate look as though to implore her not to make him say, but just as she was about to relent he heaved a huge sigh. “Alright then. Can we stop though?” He nodded towards a stone bench set under a high arched window that they were passing.

Sitting down Alice faced Neville and waited, slightly confused, but patient; he was obviously flustered about something but she wasn't going to press him for answers. For almost a full minute she watched him chew his lip, avoid eye contact, nervously smooth his robes and generally anything that delayed having to speak. Just as she thought she might have to end up prompting him he took a deep breath and looked up.

“I was going to say my parents.” The words exploded out of him as though they had been bottled up tightly for a long time. Judging by the look of half relief in his eyes as the words came out she suspected they maybe had been.

“Your…” Alice replayed the conversation they had been having in her mind to remind herself of exactly when Neville had clammed up. “You wish you were brave like your parents?” It was with a stab of guilt that Alice realised that she had never asked exactly what had happened to Neville's parents. She knew he lived with his grandmother and that he never talked about them; she had just assumed that they were dead and that it was a touchy subject. It wasn't as though she talked about her own after all.

“Yes,” Neville nodded miserably. “They were Aurors.”


“When… When I was a baby…” he faltered. “You promise you won't tell anyone I told you this? Even Harry, Hermione and Ron?”

“I promise,” she laid a hand on Neville's arm to calm him as he became agitated again. “I won't tell a soul.”

Neville sniffed and took another deep breath; she suspected he was trying not to cry. “When I was a baby they were t-tortured. By Death Eaters,” he spat the word as though it was poison on his tongue. Alice could only listen, horror-stricken, as he continued. “They thought they knew where You-Know-Who was. First they tortured my Dad, then when he wouldn't tell they started on my Mum. Gran was babysitting me at the time so I wasn't there… She told me afterwards that it was hours before they - before their minds snapped.” He looked up at her for the first time since he had begun speaking. His eyes were tortured, but also seeking hers for a response to his outpouring. “They're both in St Mungo's now,” he added, a touch defiantly.

Not knowing what to say Alice responded in the only way she could, by giving him a tight hug. “Thank you for telling me Neville.”

“It feels good to have finally told someone,” he sniffed after a while as she let him go and patted his hand. “I just didn't before because…”

“You weren't ready?” she suggested.

Neville nodded. “I was ashamed too I suppose - not of them,” he hastened to add, “of myself. They were so brave, even before that night… and I'm… well.”

“I think they'd be proud of you, you know.” Alice smiled as he looked at her in surprise.

“What for?!”

“Well you just stood up in front of the entire class and managed to banish your worst fear. It takes guts to do that. I certainly couldn't. Last year,” she began ticking these things off on her fingers as she spoke, “you helped Harry and Ron save the school. And the year before that,” she had to raise her voice above his protestations, “we would all have been done for if you hadn't gone to get help for us. So, Neville Longbottom,” she finished fiercely, “don't ever let me hear you say you're not brave when it really counts. You're in Gryffindor after all.”

Neville seemed a little stunned by this outburst. “Ok,” he said meekly after a while.

“Good.” She stood up and looked expectantly at him. “Now, do you want to go up to the common room and find the others? By the way,” she added in a quieter tone as they walked back along the corridor, “thanks for telling me.”

After that Alice never mentioned their conversation and she kept her word to Neville by not telling any of her friends about it. When they reached the common room Hermione was waiting for them with Harry and Ron, her earlier disappearance having slipped Alice's mind in the light of Neville's revelation. That night she lay awake pondering his situation for some time. His disclosures certainly went a long way towards explaining why Neville was the way he was, and why his grandmother was so protective for that matter. Initially she had wondered why he would suddenly have brought it up after not saying anything for two years, but on consideration she suspected it may have had something to do with Sirius Black being spotted in the school grounds; after all the mere mention of anything connected to Voldemort and Death Eaters must remind him of his parents fate. In that respect he was rather like Harry. She'd been considering the similarities of her two friends' situations for hours when she realised it must be really late. Pushing aside the thick curtain which hung around her bed she reached for her watch and squinted at it in the moonlight. Two o'clock. She was going to be exhausted in the morning. With a sigh she settled herself back against her pillows and willed her mind to empty. At least it was Saturday tomorrow and she could afford to stay in bed a little longer.

After such a turbulent and eventful start to the term the next few weeks were surprisingly relaxed and crisis free. Their worries about Hagrid were assuaged slightly by the fact that three days before Hermione's birthday Malfoy returned to school as cocky, as arrogant, and as healthy as ever. Two years of practice meant they found it relatively easy to tune out his loud and pointed complaints to anyone who would listen about the state of the school and particular staff, not to mention what his father would do about it. That said Hermione and Alice did have to squash the boys' pleas to be allowed to punch him once or twice.

By the end of September Alice had come to a firm decision about two things. The first was that Ancient Runes was definitely one of her favourite subjects, along with Transfiguration and History of Magic. The second thing she was adamant about was that not only was Hermione hiding something from her, but that something very odd was going on. Her best friend would constantly disappear on her in corridors only to pop up again seconds later looking flustered and out of breath and whenever Alice went to ask her about it she would change the subject or fob her off.

Since that first Sunday of term there had been no further sign of Sirius Black, although Alice made sure she regularly checked the Map for his name. The unanimous opinion of the student body seemed to be that he was no longer in the area and a feeling of normality gradually returned to the school. For Alice and her friends however this was broken one Wednesday lunchtime with the arrival of the twins in the Great Hall. The minute Alice saw their faces she knew something was wrong.

“What is it?” She asked suspiciously. “You look serious; you two never look serious.”

“We're not sure,” Fred sat next to her and helped himself to a sandwich.

“That is, we know why we look serious,” George added following suit, “but not the actual extent of the situation.”

“You do know that you're not making sense again don't you?” Ron grumbled sourly. He'd been in a foul mood all morning since a fanged geranium had taken a dislike to him in Herbology. He still had puncture marks on his hand to prove it.

“We were just in Care of Magical Creatures -”

“Combing puffskeins like we've been doing all term now,” George interjected with a grumble.

“Anyway, just before the end of class Hagrid got an owl; it looked pretty serious judging by his reaction. It was from the Ministry.”

Alice looked up with a start as Harry dropped his spoon, Hermione gasped and Ron stopped chewing mid-mouthful. “Are you sure?” She looked intently from one twin to the other.

“Positive,” they answered in unison.

“Do you reckon it's about Buckbeak?” Hermione asked looking worried.

“Must be,” Harry asserted, “it couldn't be about anything else could it?”

“This is going to turn into another one of those lunchtimes where I end up missing out on food to go and clear up another mystery isn't it?” Ron asked looking comically forlorn.

“Oh come on,” Hermione smiled at him, “it's not as though you don't eat your fill at every other available opportunity.” She stood up from the table as Alice and Harry followed suit. “Come on, we better go and see what it's all about.”

“Don't worry Ron,” George called as they walked away. “We'll make sure we eat plenty in your honour.”

They said very little as they made their way quickly down to Hagrid's cabin, each worrying about how he was coping with whatever bad news he had received.

“Surely though,” Harry reasoned as they came within sight of the cabin, “they can't do anything yet. I mean they haven't even found Buckbeak.”

“Maybe that's what it is, maybe they have found him.” Alice shared a worried look with her friends. If the Ministry had found the Hippogriff Hagrid was going to be devastated.

Steeling themselves for whatever reaction was awaiting them they quickly approached and knocked on Hagrid's door. Nothing. Inside they could hear Fang barking madly as usual, but no one came to answer.

“Maybe he didn't hear us?” Ron mused as he knocked again.

“With all the racket Fang's making I'm sure he knows someone's here.”

As they waited Alice tried to peer in through the window, but the shabby curtains were pulled tightly over the glass and there were no signs of life. By the time she came back round to the front door to point this out Harry was bent almost double with his ear pressed against the wood, waving at her to be quiet.

“He's definitely in there,” he reported after a moment, “I can hear him moving about. HAGRID!” He suddenly straightened up and pounded on the door. “We know you're in there and we want to talk to you. Let us in!” He waited impatiently for two seconds before pounding on the door again. Eventually Hermione pulled gently on his arm.

“He obviously doesn't want to see anyone; maybe we should just -” Her words were cut off as a muffled curse sounded from inside, followed by the stomping of heavy boots, the creak of a rusty lock and finally the door swung open to reveal a very red-eyed Hagrid.

“You better come in then,” he croaked in a sore and tired voice. As they all shuffled into the gloomy cabin after him Alice glanced at Hermione with raised eyebrows. Her friend just shrugged in response.

“Hagrid what happened?” Harry asked earnestly sitting opposite him at the table whilst Alice went to open the curtains and allow some light to enter into the situation. “We heard you got a letter from the Ministry.”

“Yeah,” Hagrid sniffed loudly, but declined to elaborate.

“It's not about Buckbeak is it?” Hermione asked after an awkward pause. “They're not going to punish him for what happened are they? I mean they wouldn't…” she tailed off helplessly looking at her friends for support, not wanting to say exactly what she feared they might do to the Hippogriff.

“No, it wasn't abou' Beaky.” Hagrid brushed at his bleary eyes with the back of an enormous hand before shaking himself like a dog after a swim and straightening slightly in his chair. “It was abou' me.”

Hermione, who had just opened her mouth to speak again, stopped and gaped at him for one long wordless moment.

“They said tha' I might not be fit ter teach anymore. What with…” He tailed off but they all knew what he was referring to. “There's goin' ter be an inquiry. Whether I can keep me job or not,” he finally looked up at them as they gazed at him in appalled silence. Finally Hermione, always the first to regain her voice, spoke up.

“But they can't do that surely. I mean it was an accident, and Malfoy goaded Buckbeak so if it was anyone's fault it was his. There was no lasting damage -” Alice felt that was slightly beside the point but didn't say so, “- and we'll back you up. They can't do that!”

“It was your first day as a teacher anyway,” Ron chipped in helpfully, “surely they would take that into account.

“No,” Hagrid shook his head forcefully again, looking every inch the wild animal. “You don't understand, it's not jus' my teachin' job I could lose. If the Ministry decide I'm irresponsible or a danger to students or… Well I could lose me job as Gamekeeper too. Lose this house. I'd have ter leave Hogwarts. I don't have anywhere else to go.”

“We won't let them do that Hagrid,” Harry whispered fiercely.

“Of course we won't. There must be something in the Library, precedents for this sort of thing; we can help you prepare a defence for your case. Don't worry.” Alice and Ron nodded in agreement to Hermione's statement. She didn't care what reservations she had had earlier about the advisability of Hagrid's class. If her friend was being threatened they would all make sure they did everything in their power to help him.

A/N: Hope you liked. Please R&R!


8. Inside the Three Broomsticks

Inside the Three Broomsticks

“Really Mr Weasley,” Ron jumped and swivelled in his seat simultaneously as Professor McGonagall addressed him, “do you think it might be possible for you to condescend to pay a little attention in my lesson? I understand that the basic principles of Transfiguration may not fill you with the same inspiration as Mr Potter's conversation evidently does, but I would appreciate it if you kept your effusions until after class.”

Alice and Hermione, sitting behind the boys, glanced at each other and grinned. “Honestly Ron,” Hermione remonstrated as they were packing up after class, “you know she's got eyes and ears like a hawk; I really wonder where your brain is sometimes.” At that point she turned to Harry and so didn't see Ron making faces behind her back; Alice gave him a gentle kick on the shin. “Anyway Harry, I thought you were going to ask McGonagall for permission to go to Hogsmeade on Sunday?”

“What's the point?” Harry swung his bag onto his shoulder and began walking towards the door. “It's not as though she would ever say yes, I'd just get told it was far too dangerous with Black still on the loose.”

“Well, surely it's worth asking? It won't be the same if you don't go to Hogsmeade… I mean, you know, with the four of us and…” Everyone was watching Hermione now, Harry in confusion, Ron with mounting amusement and Alice torn over whether or not she should rescue her friend from her own conversation. In the end she wasn't required. “Well, anyway, shall we go to the Library?” And without another word she bustled off, her mass of hair hiding a face which Alice was sure was an impressive shade of red.

She laughed as Ron groaned loudly. “Not again?! I swear Hermione was born in a Library. We've been there every day this week, how can there possibly be any more books left to read…” he trailed off muttering discontentedly under his breath.

“Don't be daft,” Alice grinned, “libraries are fantastic; you'll learn to love them.” Her smile widened as the boys looked at her sceptically. “Come on,” she changed tack, “do you want to help Hagrid with his case or not?” That stuck them both so with resigned sighs they traipsed after her along the corridor.

Later that evening as the rising moon just crested the peaks of the mountains beyond the lake and cast an enchanting, silver light in through the Library window Alice and Hermione were still to be found pouring over piles of books. Harry had long since given in to Wood's demands for an extra Quidditch practice and Alice supposed that if he wasn't still out on the pitch he had gone to bed. Ron had just given up.

The Library had long since emptied of all but the most dedicated pupils, most of them panicking prematurely about their O.W.L.'s or N.E.W.T.'s, leaving only a few scratching away by candlelight. As she noted down yet another reference, this time to a fourteenth century accident at Hogwarts which involved a teacher, Alice had to suppress an expansive yawn. “Hermione,” she glanced over at the top of her friend's head - the rest being concealed behind a large book on wizarding law - “do you think we should maybe turn in now? My eyes are making the words go all squiggly and we do still have classes tomorrow.”

“Mmm, in a minute,” her friend responded vaguely. It was obvious she hadn't heard a word Alice said. Sleepily she sat back in her seat and rubbed her eyes; she didn't think her brain could cope with anymore words tonight, much as she loved them everyone had a limit. Except perhaps Hermione.

Gazing hazily around the room, as often happens when a person is tired, an odd and rather pointless thought popped into Alice's head. How many people were still in the Library at - she checked her watch - ten o'clock at night? She tried to count them all from where she was sitting but the shelves stopped her from seeing more than a few desks round about her, and they only had two people sitting at them. Too tired to bother getting up and going for a look, she dug down into the bag that was sitting at her feet searching for what she knew must be in there somewhere. Finally locating it she pulled the Marauder's Map out and laid it flat on the desk. Making sure that no one was watching her she tapped the parchment and whispered the incantation. Once the spidery lines had finished winding their way across the sheet she located the library and began counting. As she was doing so however she noticed something odd and stopped.

“Hermione,” she whispered to her friend. No response. “Hermione,” she repeated a little louder this time.


“Have you seen this?”

“In a second,” Hermione waved her hand over the book she was reading, not taking her eyes off the page.

With a half frustrated sigh Alice gave up on getting her friend's attention, goodness knows she herself had been absorbed like that often enough. Twisting round in her seat Alice looked towards the corner of the room that had pricked her interest on the Map. “I'll just be a second.” She doubted Hermione heard her, but she said it anyway.

Creeping quickly and quietly across the Library so as not to attract any unwanted attention, namely that of Madam Pince, Alice slipped between towering bookshelves until she found what she was looking for. Stopping in front of one particularly ornate looking bookcase she glanced back down at the Map. The evidence of her eyes told her that behind the books lay a solid castle wall; the Map said there was an entire room behind it. Searching the stone for a seam or a crack that would indicate some sort of entrance she stood on tiptoe to try and see, but there was nothing. Frustrated she looked back down at the parchment in her hand. Slowly, as she watched, the dot labelled Alice Evans tapped the wall in front of it with a tiny wand and beneath her name another word appeared. Squinting she pulled the parchment as close to her face as she could, without loosing focus, trying to work out what it said. Suddenly realising she cursed her own stupidity. It was obvious when you thought about it really.

Drawing her own wand she offered a silent prayer that this wouldn't be noisy and tapped the bookcase. “Alohomora.” With a muffled click the bookcase itself swung forward an inch or two. Glancing about herself one last time to check that no one was watching Alice felt a frisson of excitement as she pulled the shelves towards her to create a gap through which she could fit. Her tiredness of minutes before seemed to have evaporated entirely. Edging slowly she used her wand to illuminate the other wise pitch black space - and tried to stop her jaw from dropping. As rooms went it wasn't a very wide space, but what it lacked in width it more than made up for in height. As she twisted her neck backwards to look up the roof was so distant that it was barely visible by the dim light cast by her wand. What she could see though were books. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of volumes lined the walls and were shoved into ever available space. These weren't however the beautiful leather covered tomes that inhabited the library outside, or even the slightly shabby and potion stained ones. Here there were scrolls that looked distinctly moth eaten, manuscripts that were missing covers, and probably pages as well, raggedy sheets of parchment, jotters and well-thumbed note books all clamoured for space within what was clearly some sort of store cupboard. Alice felt as though Christmas, along with every birthday and Easter had come early.

Shattering her excitement she suddenly heard voices approaching in the main library outside. With a stab of disappointment and regret she quickly slipped back out through the bookcase, pushing it shut just as two Hufflepuff seventh years rounded the corner of the aisle. Seeing her staring at them with wide terrified eyes they paused momentarily.

“Shouldn't a little squirt like you be in bed by this time?” The tone was not unkind, but it made Alice's tongue fold up on itself all the same. Mumbling incoherently what was intended to be an apology she speedily backed away cursing both their bad timing and her own inability to articulate in front of people she didn't know. By the time she had reached the table she had been sharing, Hermione was in the process of packing up her books and notes.

“Where did you go?” Her friend asked before glancing up, seeing Alice's red face she changed her question. “What's wrong?”

“Nothing,” Alice smiled reassuringly, “I just bumped into some seventh years that's all.” Hermione had seen her face take on the house colours often enough to know that she was telling the truth. Alice waited impatiently for Hermione to pack away all her things, she was desperate to tell her about what she had found, but wanted to wait until they were out of the Library and away from prying ears before she did so. She was practically hopping from one foot to the other as they walked towards the door and the minute they hit the corridor the tale burst out of her.

“Wow!” Hermione had listened in increasing astonishment to her story. “Why didn't you come and get me?”

“Well I didn't have time; I'd only just found it when those Hufflepuffs appeared. I'll show you next time.”

“Are you sure?” Hermione was clearly torn between her desire to see the treasure trove of books and the fact that she suspected they weren't really allowed in the cupboard. “I mean after all, it was a secret stash.”

Alice thought about this for a second, she knew without a doubt that she wanted to go back and explore her find further, but how to convince Hermione? “Well,” she said eventually, “it can't be that secret if a simple unlocking charm managed to open it. Surely if they really wanted to hide it then it would be… well it would be hidden like the Stone in First year or the Chamber of Secrets was.”

Her friend considered her words for a fraction of a second before her face lit up. “Alright, when do we go back?”

Despite her friends' enthusiasm for the scheme, even Harry and Ron were mildly interested once she told them about it, it was difficult to find an opportunity to sneak back into the hidden Library cupboard. For one thing when the Library wasn't thronged with students Madame Pince was usually on the prowl, and for another by Halloween they had more pressing concerns to occupy their time.

“This is pointless,” Harry complained for the twentieth time as his friends shoved him the length of the Great Hall. It was the morning of their first Hogsmeade trip and he still didn't have permission to go into the village with his classmates. “There's no way McGonagall will let me go; not after Black's been sighted in the area.”

“Well it can't hurt to ask,” Hermione gave him a final push in the direction of the staff table before standing back to wait with Alice and Ron. Together the three of them watched anxiously as Harry approached the Head of Gryffindor.

“What do you reckon she's saying?” Ron whispered as they watched McGonagall turn to listen to their friend. Seeing the sympathy in her eyes and the tiny shake of her head as she glanced in their direction Alice let out a defeated sigh.

“No probably.”

Sure enough Harry returned a few moments later with a sullen expression and a definite negative.

“It's probably for the best,” Hermione tried to console him, although Alice could see that she was disappointed too. “I mean, you will be much safer in the castle after all.” The look on Harry's face at this told Alice exactly what he thought of this theory.

“We'll bring you back loads of stuff from Zonko's and Honeyduke's too mate, is there anything you want?” Asked Ron as the students around them began filtering back through to the Entrance Hall before setting out.

“No,” Harry shook his head with a forced smile, “it's fine you all go and enjoy yourselves; I'll be fine.”

Alice didn't believe him, and she didn't think the others did either, but there wasn't much they could do about it. With a sad smile, and a last sympathetic hug from Hermione, they turned to go. As they began to walk away Alice had a sudden brain wave and quickly rummaged through her bag. Finding what she was looking for she slipped back through the throng of students. “Here,” she quickly pushed the Map into Harry's hands, “you remember how I told you to work it?” Harry nodded once, the mounting excitement evident in his eyes. “Just follow one of the tunnels to Hogsmeade… and Harry?” She glanced back at him as she turned to catch up with the others. “Don't mention this to Hermione all right?” His conspiratorial grin was all the response she needed.

“Where did you get to?” Ron asked as she found him standing with Hermione in the Entrance Hall.

“Nowhere, I just dropped something that's all,” she tried to smile convincingly at them both. As the three of them walked down to Hogsmeade with the rest of their friends Alice began to worry if she'd done the right thing. There was no doubt that Harry had been over the moon that she had given him the Map and she wanted him to have a good time with the rest of them. But there was still a niggling doubt; it wasn't that she was worried about breaking the rules and disobeying McGonagall, it was just… What if Black really did turn up in the village and something happened to Harry, and it was all her fault, and she could have done something to prevent it -

“Are you all right Alice?” Hermione was looking at her with curiosity and a little concern as they approached Hogsmeade. “You've been awful quiet.”

Shaking off her apprehensions, after all there was nothing she could do about it now, Alice attempted a nonchalant smile. “Of course, just trying to decide what I want to see first.”

“Scrivenshaft's,” answered Hermione.

“Zonko's,” Ron said at exactly the same time. The two stared at each other for a second before they promptly began bickering about which shop to start at.

“Well we're almost there look,” Alice pointed towards the little village that had just come into view in an effort to get them to stop arguing. “Besides,” she added once they had shut up, “we'll have plenty of time for both.”

Since it was the first proper visit any of them had ever paid to Hogsmeade they decided to take a stroll through the village first taking in the thatched cottages which jostled cheek by jowl next to shops selling brightly coloured merchandise. The street which ran through the centre of the village swarmed with Hogwarts students all shouting and screeching in a manner that Alice was sure Filch would never tolerate in the halls of Hogwarts. The last shop along the street was Dervish and Banges so, to prevent further argument between Hermione and Ron, they started here. Unlike most of the wizarding shops she had been into, this one hadn't the same haphazard charm and mystery about it. Every wizarding implement you could ever possibly think of was laid out on the shelves that lined the wall in neat rows with tiny, hand written prices scribbled on the cards propped up beside them.

Much to Hermione's delight they next went to Scrivenshaft's where the shelves were piled high with, as the sign put it, everything you could ever need to fulfil your literary needs. She spent so long perusing the stacks of notebooks and marvelling over every imaginable type of quill that Ron took to standing by the shop door and humming loudly and pointedly. Even Alice was beginning to get slightly bored. However, being that it was only the second month of term, she didn't really need to buy anything although she claimed she had run out of ink. As she went to pay for a new bottle Ron leant over as whispered to Alice.

“I honestly don't see how she could have run out; I mean it's not as though she's writing a book in her spare time or anything. Actually,” he added after a considered pause, “I wouldn't put that past her.”

Alice gave a slight smile, but didn't have the chance to respond as Hermione rejoined them at that point.

The only things that marred the trip to Hogsmeade that day were the occasional Dementor patrols that swept through the village, and which they tried to avoid as much as possible, and the absence of Harry. As they continued through the village Alice kept an eye out for any sign of him, although she did hope he would have the sense to bring his Invisibility Cloak with him so she wasn't sure what she was looking for. However her patience was rewarded after they had gone into Zonko's Joke Shop. She was just in the process of investigating a bag of Hiccup Sweets when a disembodied voice whispered in her ear making her jump and nearly drop them.

“I don't suppose you could buy me some of them to give to Dudley could you?”

Resisting the urge to turn and look where she knew he wouldn't be, she hissed back. “Harry?”

“Of course it's me; who else is it going to be?”

She grinned, but at that moment Hermione, who was standing a few feet away from her and had obviously heard looked up with narrowed eyes. “Harry?! Alice what have you…?” She looked at her friend's red face and frowned, her mind clearly racing. As her eyes slid to a spot in mid air net to Alice she knew her friend had figured it out. In two quick strides she was standing right in front of her. “You gave him the Map didn't you? So that he could get out of the castle?”

When Alice said nothing she rolled her eyes and gave a frustrated, and slightly comical, groan. “Own up Harry, I know you're here.”

“Harry's here? Where?” Now Ron had come over too and was peering about him for sign of his friend; Alice could feel her awkwardness turning into a giggle at the absurdity of the situation. The corner of her mouth began to twitch.

“Here.” Harry's voice sounded amused as Ron swivelled back round to face them.


“Harry what are you doing?” Hermione just looked exasperated now. “You don't have permission to be here, and it's not safe. What happens if you get caught?”

“Well I won't get caught then will I?”

“Hmmm.” Hermione still looked sceptical.

“Why don't we go to the Three Broomsticks?” Ron tried to lighten the mood. “Fred and George have always gone on about the butterbeer they serve there and I can't wait to try some.”

“Alright,” Hermione still looked angry, but Alice wasn't sure if this was directed towards herself, Harry or the situation in general.

“What took you so long?” Alice asked to break the silence as they made their way quickly across the road. It had started to drizzle and they sped up so no one would notice that the rain didn't fall properly where Harry stood.

“I went -” Harry paused as several students passed within earshot. “I went down a passage on the Map, but it had caved in so I had to find one of the other ones. It came out inside Honeyduke's.”

“We haven't been in there yet,” Ron pulled a face, “I can't wait though. It's meant to be amazing.”

“It is.” Even though she couldn't see his face Alice could tell that Harry was smiling as he spoke.

“Try not to leave wet foot prints inside,” Hermione hissed at the three of them, still looking irritable, as they arrived at the Three Broomsticks. “Walk on top of ours or something.”

Filing inside the pub Alice could feel the warmth and noise hit her like a solid wall. The interior was rather like the Leaky Cauldron, but much livelier than she suspected the other pub had ever been. Students sat at almost every table and at the few they left aside were an array of witches, wizards, hags, dwarves, elves - even a few members of Hogwarts staff. There was a smoky haze floating above the tables but they managed to find a free one in the corner where the air was much cleaner.

“I'll go and get us some butterbeer then shall I?” Asked Ron looking around with evident interest, Alice quickly dug in her pocket for a few Sickles as the others did the same. Once he had gone to get their drinks Hermione and Alice were left at the table trying hard to look as though they were the only ones there. Alice found that it was difficult however to stop her eyes occasionally sliding to the empty space where she knew Harry was sitting and she kept having to remind herself not to turn towards him when she spoke.

“Hermione,” Harry tried to placate their friend, “please cheer up. I know you think it would be safer in the castle, but it'll be fine. You'll see. Besides,” his voice added as an after thought, “even if Black did turn up, which I can't see him doing in a pub this busy, he wouldn't be able to see me anyway.”

Hermione didn't seem to have a response to this so she just huffed in a non-committal way, Alice did notice that she seemed to brighten up after this though. Trust Harry to say the right thing to her.

“Here we are then,” Ron landed four foaming bottles of butterbeer on the table, managing to slop the contents of one of them all over his hand in the process. “Oops,” he wiped the sticky liquid off onto his jumper.

“Ron!” Hermione chastised.

He looked up at her non-plussed. “What?”

“You're…” she seemed to be searching for the right word. “You're just such a boy sometimes.”

“Well I should hope so too,” he grinned slipping a bottle of butterbeer under Harry's cloak. “If I wasn't then it would be very confusing - Ow!” He yelped as Alice threw a scrunched up napkin at him. “What was that for?”

“Being an idiot,” she grinned.

“This place is amazing,” Harry was clearly taking in the scenery. “With all those wooden beams the roof looks as though it goes on forever. How old is this place anyway?”

“It was built in 1567,” Hermione answered promptly, “or was it 1576… I can never remember. It was certainly built by the time of the Goblin rebellion in 1612, because the wizarding population used this place as their headquarters.”

“Cool,” Ron whistled impressed. “Do you reckon Rosmerta's family has always owned it then?”

“Who's Rosmerta?” Harry and Alice asked simultaneously.

“The owner,” Ron's face began to burn. “She's up at the bar, she served me the drinks.”

“I don't know,” she heard Harry's voice chuckle in amusement, “why don't you go and ask her?” The three of them continued lightly teasing Ron before eventually relenting and turning to a discussion of what they wanted to do for the rest of the day. They had just decided that they would pay a visit to the intriguingly named Shrieking Shack when Hermione glanced over Alice's shoulder and interrupted suddenly.

“Oh no,” she groaned. “Harry, move quickly!”

“What? Why?”

Alice twisted in her seat and immediately spotted the problem. Malfoy was rapidly approaching their table with a wicked glint in his eye and his lumbering shadows trailing dutifully behind.

“Quick, Harry - never mind, you're too late. Keep quiet!” Hermione hissed the last command out of the corner of her mouth as Malfoy came within earshot. It was the first time Alice had seen him up close since the Hippogriff attack, but if she thought it might have mellowed him slightly she was disappointed.

“Well, well, if it's not the three losers. Feeling lost today without Saint Potter are we?” He stopped inches away from where Harry was sitting under the cloak.

“Go away Malfoy,” Ron spoke through clenched teeth as his ears immediately coloured.

Ignoring him the Slytherin continued gloating. “You know if I was him I wouldn't want to hide away inside the castle. I'd be out here looking for revenge. But then what can you expect from a Gryffindor,” he sniffed disdainfully.

His words prompted a moment's silence as the three friends looked at each other warily. Alice could feel Harry shifting slightly next to her, clearly dying to say something. Eventually it was Hermione who took the bait. “Malfoy what are you talking about? Revenge for what?”

The gleeful cackle she received in response confirmed to Alice, as though she had really needed it, that Malfoy had been counting on her asking that very question. “You mean he hasn't told you?” He asked innocently. “Or maybe,” his pale face lit up, “he doesn't know himself.”

“Malfoy, either make sense or shove off,” Ron was getting tetchy now.

“What about you Evans, you not going to threaten me too, or don't you have the guts for it?”

Alice felt the heat rush to her face at his words. “You're not worth the oxygen it would waste Malfoy.” She surprised herself with how readily the quip came to mind; perhaps her shyness was improving.

His eyes narrowed dangerously. “Big talk for a little mouse.”

“What were you saying about Harry?” Hermione cut across him in an effort to assuage her curiosity.

“Potter?” Malfoy tapped his temple contemplatively pretending to struggle with his memory. “I can't seem to…”

“About Sirius Black.” Hermione's face looked as though it had been carved from stone and Alice could tell she was just itching to hex him to the other side of the pub.

“Oh you mean about Black? Yes well, it's really none of my business -”

“That's never bothered you before.”

Malfoy grinned again in response to Ron's statement. He was drawing a huge amount of pleasure from standing there taunting them; Alice wondered how anyone could be so odious. However hard she tried though she couldn't get the image of him lying, blood-soaked and pathetic in front of Hagrid's cabin, from her mind. It was all an act really, underneath all the talk he was just a weak and pathetic little boy and she had to remember that.

“True,” he smirked again. “But still if he doesn't know that Black was at school -”

Alice saw his next action as though it was happening in slow motion, but she was powerless to stop it. In one smooth movement Malfoy put his palms flat on the table and the twisted his body round so that he sat in the seat next to her. The seat that Harry was already sitting in. She could only watch in mounting horror as Malfoy appeared to stop several inches above the chair before letting out a noise somewhere between a banshee's shriek and that which a cat makes when its tail is stepped on. Harry on the other hand sounded as though all the air had been squashed out of him.

Suddenly Malfoy went flying sideways and landed with a clatter on the floor his head swivelling rapidly and his panicked eyes stretched wide to try and see what had happened. The chair itself quickly followed him as she felt Harry stand up, tipping it over in the process.

“Wait H-” Hermione managed to stop herself saying his name at the last moment; clamping her lips stubbornly shut.

Crabbe and Goyle were both standing, equally comical in their bewilderment if only she had been able to see the funny side, stepping every which way in their confusion. Alice didn't know what to do, but suddenly it didn't matter as Harry, obviously trying to escape ran slap into Crabbe and fell. She knew this for sure because as he did so the cloak was torn completely away from him revealing him entirely to an utterly bewildered pub - most of whom were now staring in their direction.

For some reason Alice's brain chose this moment to re-engage and seeing the cloak lying unobserved in a crumpled pile on the floor she quickly kicked it under the table hoping against hope that no one had noticed it. Malfoy certainly hadn't, he was too busy gaping at Harry. Slowly though the gawp turned into a malevolent sneer as it evidently dawned on him that Harry was definitely not supposed to be in Hogsmeade, let alone the Three Broomsticks.

“Oh Merlin,” through the deathly silence that had fallen around them she heard Ron groan behind her. Glancing up she felt her stomach drop down into her shoes. As though the situation hadn't been bad enough, there, striding through the tables, nostrils flaring like an irate bull and glasses almost steaming up with fury, was Professor McGonagall.

“Well Mr Potter,” she towered over him and spoke in clipped, icy tones. “I do hope you have a good story prepared for this because you are going to be spending a great deal of time in detention and I wouldn't want you to get bored.” Harry stared up at her, his glasses slightly askew, clearly struggling for something to say. “Get up please,” McGonagall added impatiently. “And I'd like you three to come with me as well.” Her inscrutable gaze swept over the three Gryffindors still sitting motionless at the table.

Not daring to look one another in the eye the four of them slowly got to their feet and trooped after their head of house as though they had all been condemned to the gallows. Alice couldn't see how they were going to get out of this one.

A/N: Once it had occurred to me I couldn't resist the idea of having Malfoy sit on Harry, it was too funny an image not to! I made up the date for the founding of the Three Broomsticks so if it is incorrect I apologise - there was a pub in Hogsmeade that was used during the rebellion though. As always please R&R!


9. An Ill Wind

An Ill Wind

“Mr Potter,” McGonagall's lips had become so thin they had all but disappeared, “forgive me if I'm mistaken but I seem to remember telling you this morning that I wasn't going to give you permission to come to Hogsmeade today. Did I not make myself clear enough?”

Alice would have preferred if she had just shouted at them. Instead her voice was silky smooth and dangerous. The four of them were standing, heads bowed, in a line before their head of house as she vented her anger on them. After the debacle in the pub Professor McGonagall had spoken to the landlady before leading them upstairs to the small room where they now were. When everyone else hadn't been looking Alice had managed to scoop up Harry's cloak and shove them under her own robes - she prayed no one would notice that she had suddenly put on a bit of weight. She could only thank her lucky stars that it was made of lighter and thinner fabric than normal garments or she wouldn't have had a hope of hiding it.

“I'm waiting Mr Potter. Did I, or did I not, make myself clear this morning?”

“Yes Professor,” Harry mumbled.

“And surely you three realised that he didn't have permission?”

“It wasn't their fault Professor,” Harry cut across their attempts at excuses. “They didn't know I - I didn't tell them.”

Professor McGonagall looked sceptical at this but didn't pursue her line of inquiry further. “What I would like to know then, is how you got out of the school grounds without a permission slip?”

A heavy silence met her words as the four of them glanced at each other nervously. How were they going to explain their way out of this one? Alice risked a peek up at McGonagall through her eyelashes. The Transfiguration professor was eyeing them all suspiciously, the toe of her sharp black shoes tapping out an impatient beat against the floorboards. What on earth were they going to say to her?

“I'm waiting,” irritation was beginning to bite in her voice.

“Well, I - erm… what happened was…” She could see Harry trying frantically to come up with a story as he nervously fiddled with the Map in his pocket. With a sudden stab of horror Alice realised McGonagall had spotted this too. In mounting dismay she realised what was about to happen seconds before it actually did.

“Mr Potter could you empty your pockets please?” Harry's head shot up so fast that Alice thought it was in danger of flying clean off his neck as McGonagall interrupted his stuttering explanation.


“Your pockets, Mr Potter; empty them please.”

With resignation Harry drew his hands from the pockets of his robes and in his bunched fists he held, along with a battered quill, butterbeer cap and several squashed playing cards, the Marauders Map. Thankfully it was blank and all Alice could do was cross her own fingers and hope against hope that McGonagall wouldn't realise what it was. As Harry laid the items on a rickety wooden table next to their professor he threw an apologetic glance at Alice, but she was too busy scrutinising McGonagall's face for a reaction to notice.

As she watched McGonagall cast an expert eye over Harry's belongings. Whether it was plain curiosity or simply the fact that she had been in teaching long enough to know that a large piece of seemingly blank, aged parchment was suspicious she picked it up.

“Mr Potter, what is this?”

All eyes in the room turned towards Harry. “Erm… It's - it's just some spare parchment Professor.”

“Really?” She didn't sound convinced. “Aparecium.” Alice felt her heart stop in her mouth as she looked to see if McGonagall's spell had any effect. It hadn't. She crossed her fingers behind her back. After trying a few more spells to exactly the same effect McGonagall was frowning thoughtfully and Alice was beginning to allow herself to hope that they might get away with it. Too soon.

“Well I think I had better take this for now.” Alice felt the bottom drop out of her stomach as she watched her favourite professor fold up her most prized possession and stow it in her pocket. She couldn't even speak up and say it was hers because that would be to admit that it was something in the first place.

“Now Mr Potter, I have no idea how you managed to get here, but you are still not meant to be in Hogsmeade so you can accompany me back to the castle. I will also look forward to you explaining it to me in detention over the next few weeks. The rest of you,” she cast her disapproving gaze over Alice, Ron and Hermione, “can carry on with your visit, but if I catch any of you doing anything to help Mr Potter sneak out of the castle again I will revoke your visiting privileges too. Do I make myself clear?”

Hermione and Ron mumbled an assent, but Alice kept silent, she was too devastated to speak. The best gift she had ever received had just been confiscated! Why on earth had she thought loaning it to Harry was a good idea?

She watched with glazed eyes as McGonagall led Harry from the room leaving the three Gryffindors standing there unsure of what to do now. Eventually Ron broke the silence. “Does anybody fancy going to Honeyduke's now or would you rather…?” He tailed off lamely having never really injected any enthusiasm into his suggestion in the first place.

“I don't really feel like it,” Alice heard herself reply in a monotone. She could almost taste her own bitter disappointment.

“Me neither,” Hermione looked as though she was away to cry. “Oh why is Harry so reckless all of the time?! Anyone could have seen he was going to get caught, and now he'll end up in detention until he's in seventh year!” She began fiddling agitatedly with a thin gold chain around her neck before seeming to realise what she was doing and dropping it abruptly. “Shall we just go back to Hogwarts?”

“Yeah,” Ron gave a resigned sigh. “We might as well.”

The three of them began walking back to the school, the entire way Hermione kept ranting about how daft an idea it had been and how Malfoy was such an irritating little toad, but Alice was only half listening. She was too busy stewing in her own resentment over her prize possession being taken away. A small part of her knew it was her own fault for suggesting it in the first place, but she couldn't help thinking, if only Harry had kept it better hidden and not drawn attention to the fact that it was in his pocket. If he hadn't tripped over Crabbe and fallen, if he'd gotten his permission slip signed when he got it, if a mass murderer wasn't out to get him - she knew this last was uncharitable and unfair, but it made her feel slightly better to add more things to her list of grievances. Passing the Dementor guarded gates didn't improve her mood any. As quickly as they could the three of them sprinted past them. The fact that the Dementor's weren't directing whatever terrifying power they held towards the three friends as they had on the train meant that Alice wasn't in danger of passing out again - although she did feel a little dizzy. What it did mean was that by the time she reached the castle she was in an unusually foul temper and took herself off to her room to read without a further word to her friends.

By supper time her empty, and noisy stomach, called her from her room and she was forced to abandon her solitude for the merriment of the Halloween Feast.

“Alice!” Ron hailed her over. Moving across she saw that he was sitting next to Hermione, in a much improved mood, and a rather peeved looking Harry. As she sat down Hermione addressed her.

“Where have you been? We were looking for you to tell you what happened. Harry only got a fortnight's detention; if you ask me he got off lightly.” She tried to frown disapprovingly in his direction, but somehow couldn't quite pull it off.

“Oh,” Alice sat down in the empty space without meeting Harry's eye.

“Are you sure you're alright?” Asked Ron quizzically, “you don't seem it.”

“I'm fine,” she tucked into her food with barely a glance at the thousands of pumpkins suspended over the tables or the choir chanting eerily in the far corner. If anything her dim awareness of these things only made her more bad tempered.

“Is this about the Map?” Harry asked quietly.

Finally she looked up at him, her eyes flashing dangerously. “No of course not,” she bit the words out sarcastically. “Why on earth would it be about the Map? It's not like I would get annoyed over the fact that I loaned my friend one of the few precious possessions I have - trying to do a good deed - and then he goes and gets it confiscated! Why would that annoy me?” She was aware her voice was rising as she spoke and she fought to keep it under control, she was beginning to attract a few concerned looks from those sitting nearby.

“Look, Alice, I'm really sorry I -”

“No,” she stopped him before he could complete his apology. “Don't apologise, don't -” She slammed her fork down on the table. “Just forget about it alright.” Standing up she pushed her plate away from her. “I'm not hungry any more. Enjoy the feast.” Still seething inside she stalked out of the Great Hall and up to her dormitory. By the time she had reached it and thrown herself onto it however her anger was beginning to wane. Her explosion at the table seemed to have drained most of it out of her leaving her feeling tired and ashamed. Harry hadn't deserved that. All she had done was hurt her friend and make a fool of herself. It wasn't as though getting angry was going to get her the Map back.

More annoyed at herself now than anything else she punched her pillow; the only thing this achieved however was that feathers spurted out of the side and made her sneeze.

“Ugh,” she groaned in frustration, flipping over and trying to forget about everything; by the time Hermione came up from the feast a few hours later she was sound asleep.

When Alice woke the following morning, her friends had already left for breakfast, so she quickly scurried about hoping to get down to the Great Hall in time to catch them before class started. Her mood from the night before had completely evaporated, replaced by remorse and a determination to make things right.

“Are you looking for Harry, Hermione and Ron?” Neville asked her as she peered the length of the Gryffindor table ten minutes later.

“Yes; have you seen them today?”

“They just left, you only just missed them.”

“Oh,” she felt deflated.

“Is everything okay Alice?” Neville was looking at her in concern. “You seem a bit agitated.”

“What? Oh, yes, I'm fine,” she smiled to cover her disappointment. “I'll talk to them at lunchtime.”

It was going to have to be lunchtime, because as it transpired she ended up being paired with Sally-Anne during Care of Magical Creatures - feeding lettuce to a flobberworm for over an hour - and whilst she sat next to Hermione in Arithmancy and though the two girls spoke, there was an air of strained politeness and things unsaid. Besides it was not Hermione that she needed to apologise to.

Finally they went for lunch and she could go in search of Harry. Hermione was no help in this regard as, much to Alice's chagrin, she had vanished again the minute class was over. After twenty minutes of searching she found the three of them in one of the courtyards. “Harry,” she approached him nervously as he laughed at something Ron had said. “Do you have a minute?” The end of her hair was going to twist off entirely in a minute if she didn't stop fiddling with the end of her plait.

He looked up in surprise at her approach. “Yeah,” he responded after staring at her for a moment. “Sure.”

“We might just -”

“I've got to go and -”

After glancing significantly at each other for a second Ron and Hermione stumbled over their half finished sentences and they got up from the wall they had been sitting on, beating a hasty retreat.

“Look Harry,” she waved off his attempt to interrupt, “I shouldn't have gone off at you like I did the other day. It was totally unfair and irrational. I'm sorry. It was my own fault McGonagall took the Map.” She stared hard at her shoes until he responded.

For one horrible, heart-wrenching second she thought he was going to remain silent. Eventually though he spoke.

“It's alright, I understand why you were annoyed. I would have been too. And I am really sorry about the Map.”

The breath she had inadvertently been holding exploded out of her in a rush of air. “That's really nice of you,” she smiled, “but I know I was an idiot. You can say it.”

“Alright,” he grinned back, “you are an idiot.”

“Hey,” she protested, laughing as she did so, “I said was past tense, there's no need to be insulting!” It was amazing how within seconds they had dropped back into their normal, easy camaraderie.

“Is it safe to come back now?” A voice called across the courtyard. They both turned to see Ron and Hermione watching them. “Or do we have to wait until you hug or something?”

“I wouldn't tease her Ron,” Harry smirked as their friends returned. “Apparently Alice has a temper, she might explode at you too if you don't behave.” Alice blushed as the others laughed good naturedly. She supposed she had deserved that.

As ever with Hogwarts though, just as one thing was straightened out, another fell out of place and they found a nasty surprise was waiting for them in the Great Hall at lunchtime a few days later. They had just sat down to several liberally piled plates of sandwiches - Ron's stacked higher than was probably possible to eat - when McGonagall entered the Hall and got everyone's attention by setting off several loud bangs from her wand. Alice twisted in her seat curiously to see what all the commotion was about. Standing next to the professor was a man so tall and thin that he didn't seem able to support his own weight and his spine was hunched over like a question mark as a result. Fanning out from around his balding head was a shock of hair that couldn't seem to make up its mind if it wanted to be white or brown and had opted for the middle ground of muddy yellow. A harassed and irritable look haunted his eyes which sat uneasily in a gaunt and sallow face; even from this distance Alice took a dislike to him which she tried to squash.

Once she had everyone's attention McGonagall spoke. “Can I have some attention please? Could all third years who take Care of Magical Creatures please report to my office this afternoon instead of going to their last class of the day. Thank you.” And that was it; no explanation, no elaboration as to who exactly the man next to her was. Although she didn't really need to, Alice and her friends knew exactly what this was about. It could only be about one thing: Hagrid. She looked at them feeling slightly nauseous.

“Well… that's that then.”

“Do you reckon he just wants to talk to us all, or do you think they might question us?”

“Question us probably,” Hermione answered Ron's own question looking worried, “if there's going to be an enquiry then we'll need to give evidence. Oh dear!” As she continued to look worried Harry surprised them all by reaching out and putting his arm around her shoulders. Concerned as she was Alice couldn't help but register the fact that it was the first time in months that her two friends had touched each other without blushing or flinching away.

“Don't worry Hermione, as long as we tell them what happened: that it was all Malfoy's fault, Hagrid will be fine.” From the expression on his face Alice could tell that he wasn't convincing himself.

In Transfiguration Professor McGonagall refused to give them any details about what was happening other than to say that the man was from the Ministry - which they had been able to guess on their own anyway. Alice and her friend's would have tried to press the issue further if they hadn't been trying desperately to get back into the professor's good books after events at Halloween. However to Alice's dismay at the end of the class McGonagall revealed that she wouldn't be going to her office with them.

“I thought she would be sitting in with us!” Alice could feel the knots forming in the pit of her stomach as the trekked reluctantly towards McGonagall's office. “I won't be able to say a word if I have to sit down with a stranger.”

Hermione patted her sympathetically on the back, there was no point in saying anything really; they all knew Alice's shyness was practically incurable.

When they reached the office they saw a straggly line of third years waiting impatiently outside.

“He wants to speak to us all individually,” Dean Thomas confirmed Alice's fear.

“What if I say the wrong thing?” Neville looked fearful. “What if I get someone into trouble because I can't say what I mean properly?” His question was more directed to Alice, but it was Hermione who, as always, had the answer.

“Don't worry about it Neville. You'll be fine, just tell the truth… And if you can't get your thoughts in order properly just don't say anything at all,” she added after considering him for a moment.”

As they all settled down to wait and the queue slowly dwindled, Alice could only hope that she would be able to do the same thing. Her brain, which was usually so quick when it came to books and facts, had a horrible habit of freezing whenever people started asking her questions. Very little was said as they all waited to go into McGonagall's office and she was glad of it as it gave her the opportunity to organise her thoughts slightly. Eventually though, she was next in line.

“Are you sure you don't want one of us to go in first Alice?” Asked Harry, who noticed that she had gone slightly green.

“No,” she forced a quavering smile, “it's fine.” Taking a deep breath she placed her hand flat on the wood of the door and, after a second's hesitation, pushed it open. Inside the man from the Ministry was sitting at McGonagall's desk, his spine curling up on itself as he hunched over a pile of papers in front of him. As she entered he finished scratching his quill across the page and glanced up.

“Take a seat, take a seat,” he waved a wizened and liver spotted hand towards the far side of the desk. “Now,” the man wheezed through creaky lungs, “Miss…?”

“Evans,” the word came out as a breathy whisper so she repeated herself a little louder. As he scribbled her name on the parchment Alice took the opportunity to slip into the large tartan armchair he had indicated.

“Miss Evans. My name is Atticus Carne; I work for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.” The way he said it told Alice he felt she should be impressed, or at least intimidated by this piece of information. The fact that the words seemed to puff from his mouth like the air from a badly working pair of bellows ruined the effect somewhat.

“Anyway,” he scratched the end of his nose and seemed to visibly lose interest in the conversation. It must be so boring, Alice thought, to have to sit and ask third years the same questions all morning. She fidgeted nervously in her seat. “On the afternoon of the 2nd of September, you were in Professor Hagrid's class?” She nodded mutely. “And you saw what happened to the Malfoy boy?” Again Alice moved her head in confirmation.

He then asked the one question that Alice had been dreading. “And do you think it was irresponsible of Professor Hagrid to have you all interacting with Hippogriffs in your first class?”

“No,” Alice was aware that she had probably paused a fraction of a second too long before squeezing out her high pitched reply.

“No?” She felt her heart sink as he clearly picked up on her hesitation. “Are you sure about that Miss Evans?”

Alice nodded again. She was beginning to feel as though her neck was on a hinge. As he scrawled a few more notes on the parchment Alice tried to lever herself up in her seat to read them. She failed; being short was such a handicap sometimes!

“How would you describe Professor Hagrid's approach to teaching?”

Alice stared at him blankly for an excruciating moment, willing her brain to work, it seemed it had other ideas however and stuck fast on an empty setting. “I…” She was half aware of her hand moving slowly upwards to fiddle with the end of her hair, she knew it was a nervous tick, but she couldn't seem to stop it. “Erm…” Carne was still staring at her disconcertingly through pale, rheumy eyes. How should she answer? The only adjectives that sprang to mind were entirely unhelpful: Haphazard? Inexperienced? “Enthusiastic?” she suggested eventually.

“Hmm,” he studied her again for a while before adding more to his notes. He really was writing an awful lot more down than any of her monosyllabic responses had warranted. The fact that he was clearly finding a lot to write about was unnerving her somewhat, which didn't help matters when he suddenly pounced with his next question.

“And do you think there was any way that Professor Hagrid could have prevented Mr Malfoy from getting injured?”

Alice blinked. “No.” Even to her own ears she didn't sound convincing.

“Miss Evans,” his shoulders seemed to hunch even further forwards, if it was in disapproval or irritation she couldn't tell. “I hope you realise how serious this all is. I don't have the time or the inclination to waste with people who aren't telling me the full truth. Now I want you to answer me again - was there anything about the class that could have been changed that would have prevented Mr Malfoy from being attacked by the Hippogriff?”

Loyal to the last Alice shook her head vigorously. She may have had thoughts to the contrary, and Carne might intimidate the life out of her, but she wasn't going to deliberately jeopardise Hagrid's job.

With a sigh Carne scribbled a final note on the piece of parchment before looking back up at her. “Right then Miss Evans, that will be all.” Alice didn't need telling twice.

“How did it go?” Hermione asked the minute she was back on the other side of the door.

“All right,” Alice gulped with a fleeting reassuring smile at Ron who was on his way in. “I didn't say much.”

“But you told him it wasn't Hagrid's fault didn't you?” Harry immediately asked.

“Of course.”

“And you said it was all Malfoy's fault because he hadn't been paying attention and was mucking about - you did tell him that didn't you Alice?”

“I thought he was supposed to be doing the questioning not you two!” Already on edge after her encounter with Carne, their persistence was beginning to irritate her.

Seeing the answer in her friend's evasion Hermione tutted. “Oh Alice, you should have told him!”

“Well you can tell him! You know what I'm like, I just clam up; I can't help it!”

“It's alright, don't worry about it,” Harry looked pensively at the solid wooden door as though willing himself to be able to see through it and pick up every word that Ron was saying on the other side. Despite all the magic in Hogwarts however, that was one thing that wasn't possible.

After that life seemed to settle back into its usual rhythm, if you ignored the minor ripples cause by Snape teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts that Friday afternoon as Professor Lupin was off sick. Harry was curtailed from ranting about the fact too vehemently however as he had the first Quidditch match of the season the following day to think about.

“Why does it always rain?” Ron moaned as they stood shivering in the stands waiting for the game to start.

“Oh be quiet Ron,” Hermione chastised him, “it does not always rain. In fact usually when there's a match the weather stays nice. You're just grumpy because you didn't get to finish your third helping of breakfast.”

“Well I would have if someone hadn't rushed me away from the table,” he griped, though more quietly so that only Alice and Neville who were standing next to him heard.

Alice grinned, Hermione had been more keen than any of them to make sure they got down to the pitch in plenty of time to get a good seat. And she didn't even like Quidditch.

Thirty minutes later Alice had to admit that Ron may have had a point about the rain though. She was wetter than she could ever remember being in her life, her robes were soaked through to such an extent that fish could probably live quite happily in them. The noise of the howling wind coupled with the occasional roar of thunder made it impossible to hear Lee Jordan's commentary, which was unfortunate as she couldn't see what on earth was going on. Even when the lightening did brighten up the skies for a brief moment the lashing rain was still too thick and fast for her to see through. Of course, that was assuming that there was anything to see and the players hadn't simply been blown away.

“THIS IS POINTLESS!” She screamed in Hermione's ear over another crash of thunder. “SOMEONE IS GOING TO GET HURT UP THERE!” Hermione nodded vigorously and she tried to reply. All Alice could see however were her lips moving, the words were snatched away in the wind as it whistled between them. “WHAT?!” She bellowed back.

Just as Hermione was about to repeat herself however she paused and frowned towards the sky before her eyes widened in shock. At exactly the same moment Alice felt a familiar chill sweep over her that had nothing to do with the pelting rain. For a moment it was as though time slowed to a standstill and she saw the cloaked and hooded figures of hundreds of Dementors, silhouetted by another flash of lightening, loom out of the sky to descend on the pitch, on Harry. The screaming from the train had started up again and was threatening to drown out the rushing of the rain. Then, suddenly it was as though time was in a rush to catch up with itself and everything happened very quickly. Hermione and several people around her screamed, Harry began to plummet from his broom, the Hufflepuff Seeker snatched the Snitch from the air, and to top it all off Alice could feel her own mind starting to slip towards an unconscious fog as the Dementors closed in. Then, across the stands, Dumbledore unexpectedly stood up; with a wave of his wand he simultaneously banished the Dementors and slowed Harry's fall.

“Harry!” Hermione's piercing screech was agonised as she swung out over the railing in an attempt to see that he had landed safely on the grass. Worried that she would throw herself over them entirely in her bid to reach him Alice, who was trying hard not to feel faint, grabbed a handful of her robes and pulled her back. As they all rushed quickly down the stairs to the pitch it fleetingly occurred to her how often they had had to do this, really they must be friends with the most frequently injured player in Hogwarts history. But she quickly pushed the thought from her mind; Harry could have been badly hurt even with Dumbledore's spell to slow his fall.

By the time the four of them - Neville had followed too - had reached the sodden grass the teachers and Gryffindor team members were all swarming around Harry who was hovering several feet off the ground on a stretcher that someone had conjured.

“Is he alright?” Hermione rushed over but couldn't get to Harry through the press of bodies around him.

“I think so,” it was Angelina Johnson that answered her, “I heard Dumbledore say he's just unconscious, but they're going to take him to the Hospital Wing to be sure.” As Alice saw Hermione visibly relax she felt her own fears for their friend ease. If Dumbledore said he would be alright then surely everything was fine? Still she would only feel completely better once she had seen him, and she could tell by her friends' faces that they felt the same. As the group parted to let the stretcher through she managed to catch a glimpse of Harry, pale, muddy, soaked to the skin, but essentially unharmed, and let out a huge sigh of relief.

“You weren't worried were you Evans?” Fred Weasley was suddenly at her side.

“Of course not,” she tried a grin out for size and found that it had the inclination to stick.

“Thought not. It's not as though he fell far after all, just a little drop, George and I have done worse tripping over our feet.”

“Well your feet are really large so I'm not surprised,” his twin chipped in as they all began following the procession carrying Harry back to the castle.

Fred shoved him gently. “And identical to yours.”

There was a brief break in the rain as they passed through the changing rooms, but it instantly resumed the moment they came back outside. Glancing up at the sky Alice saw the thick, dark clouds still stretched from one side of the horizon to the other; it didn't look like there was going to be a break at all. Still at least the thunder and lightening had stopped and the wind seemed to be easing slightly.

“Hang on!” Hermione suddenly stopped in front of her and turned, “what about Harry's broom? Did anyone collect it?” She looked from one to the other as they all shook their heads. “Wait a minute then.” Holding her robes up away from the spattering mud she dashed back into the stadium, only to reappear a split second later pelting in the direction of the forest. “It went this way!” After glancing at each other in bewilderment for a moment Alice, Ron, Neville, Fred and George followed suit.

“Hermione!” Alice yelled when it seemed her friend was going to run straight for the trees without even stopping to scan the skies for Harry's Nimbus. How on earth was she going to find it if she didn't even stop to check? It was almost as though… “Hermione will you stop a second!”

“We have to find it!” Her friend called back without slowing an inch. As the trees came into view Alice suddenly saw Harry's broom, it was spiralling slowly out of the sky straight into - “Accio Nimbus 2000,” Hermione roared. At the last minute the broom was plucked from the reaches of the Whomping Willow as though by an invisible hand and whisked through the air towards the waiting friends.

“Wow,” Ron panted leaning forward with his hands on his knees to try and catch his breath. “I don't - I don't say this often Hermione, but… nice one!”

Hermione blushed slightly and avoided their gaze. “Thanks.”

“Yeah, well done Hermione,” Alice added, although there was something about the situation that wasn't quite sitting correctly. She just couldn't work out what it was yet. “Harry would have been devastated if his broom had an encounter with the psychopathic tree.”

“Yeah,” Hermione looked more embarrassed than pleased with herself, “well, come on; we had better get it back to him.”

As they were trouping back across the sodden grounds towards the castle it suddenly dawned on Alice what had been amiss earlier when Hermione had been searching for the broom. There had been no searching involved. It seemed as though she had known exactly where the broom would be and reached it at exactly the right moment to save it from complete obliteration. But that wasn't possible, was it?

A/N: The plot thickens… slightly; it's more like runny porridge really - I'll aim for at least a custard-like consistency next time. Anyway, hope you enjoyed, please R&R.


10. Truth?


“Thanks Hermione,” Harry said for the millionth time since regaining consciousness as he looked at the broomstick propped next to his bed. “I don't know what I would have done if the Whomping Willow had gotten hold of my Nimbus.”

“It's alright,” Hermione flushed yet again at his thanks.

“You'd have just had to use one of the old Shooting Stars from the broom shed mate.” Harry, who other than looking a bit peaky seemed entirely recovered from his latest near death experience, grimaced at Ron's suggestion.

“Yeah well if it hadn't been for Hermione -”

“Harry, for goodness sake will you please stop going on about it!” Hermione smiled warmly at him, but seemed keen to change the topic. As Alice stood watching the pair of them she instantly decided on two things, first of all she was going to have to find out what Hermione was up to, there were too many unexplained things going on this term, secondly she and Ron needed to get their act together and force their friends to admit their feelings somehow. To do either of these things she wanted to talk to Hermione on her own, a feat which proved nigh on impossible as her friend spent almost the entire weekend in the Hospital Wing hovering anxiously over Harry and only leaving when Madame Pomfrey practically threw them out.

It wasn't until after classes on Monday that she finally got her opportunity. Alice and Hermione had gone up to the dormitory to get rid of their bags before dinner, they were the only ones there and seeing her friend take far more books out of her bag than she really should have needed for the day prompted Alice to ask. “Hermione…”

“Yes?” Her friend looked up at her from between a curtain of bushy hair.

“Why do you have so many books with you? You didn't have half of those classes today, you couldn't have. I know something's going on… Please tell me.”

For one long minute Hermione remained bent double over her books before slowly, ever so slowly, straightening up. “Nothing's going on. Why would you think that?” With a sudden brilliant smile, that somehow didn't quite reach her guarded eyes, she very obviously tried to change the subject. “Come on the boys will be waiting for us, we'd better go down to dinner.” She took a step towards the door.

“Hermione Jane Granger!” Alice suddenly moved so that she was blocking her way, her voice rising as she did so. “There's something you aren't telling me I want to know what it is. You've been behaving weirdly all term: disappearing every two seconds,” she began counting things off on her fingers, “forgetting things, staying up till all hours of the night, avoiding me… And I know for a fact that you've been lying to me, because I can tell by the look on your face. So spill; what's been going on?” It took a lot to get Alice angry, but right now she could feel the heat simmering under her skin and pulsing through her veins like a heartbeat. How could Hermione keep her in the dark? They were meant to be best friends who told each other everything and something was clearly going on.

It was with an effort that she swallowed her temper and took a deep breath as Hermione stared at her for an agonized second. Eventually her friend's gaze slipped to her shoes and she began worrying at her lip - the way she did whenever she was anxious.

“Hermione,” Alice warned.

“I - I promised I wouldn't tell.”

Alice just continued to stare at her, one eyebrow raised questioningly.

“Oh, alright!” Hermione flopped down onto her bed in resignation. “I'll tell you but you have to promise, not to tell anyone. I mean it Alice, you can't even tell Harry and Ron - or the twins.”

“Ok.” Alice was frowning now, what could possibly merit so much secrecy?


“I promise,” she put her hand over her heart as she said it before going to sit next to her friend. “Now what is it?”

Reluctantly Hermione reached a hand up to her neck and caught the end of the fine gold chain that she was wearing. Pulling it over her head she handed it to Alice, revealing what had been hanging on the end of it.

“Is this…?”

“Yes, it's a Time Turner. I've been using it all term.”

Alice could feel shock, like a rush of water quickly extinguish the heat of her earlier anger. Suddenly she understood everything - well, almost everything. “I've read about these - they're really rare, not to mention powerful and dangerous. How did you get it?” Abruptly realisation struck. “Is this what McGonagall wanted to talk to you about at the start of term? She wanted to give you this?”

Hermione nodded without a word.

“And you have been going to more than one class at a time? Ron was just kidding when he said that at the start of term.”

“McGonagall said they only gave it to me because I was an exceptional pupil and that I wasn't allowed to tell anyone about it, not even you three. You can't tell her I told you or they'll take it away.” She looked at her friend with pleading eyes.

Slowly Alice nodded, still allowing all the implications to sink in. “That was how you knew where Harry's broom was, and how you reappeared so quickly! I'm right aren't I?”

“When I ran back into the stadium I went back an hour and watched the game again - it was even worse watching him fall from ground level and knowing I couldn't help him. Then I saw where the broom had gone and I followed it to the tree. Then I had to use the Time Turner again to get back to the pitch so that no one would notice I had gone. If you thought something was weird, why didn't you say anything at the time?”

“Well I'm saying it now.” All her anger at her friend had vanished now that she understood. “Besides I wanted to wait till you were on your own before I spoke to you about it.” She examined the Time Turner more closely and an idea occurred to her which could potentially lead her to resolve the second thing she had decided on after the Quidditch match. “Is it not illegal to use a Time Turner for anything other than the express, Ministry sanctioned, purpose for which it was given?” Alice finally asked mischievously as she held it up and watched it twirl on its slender golden chain.

Hermione blushed again. “Well… yes, but as you said Harry would have been devastated if his broom had been damaged!” Her rapid protestations told Alice she had hit the nail on the head.

“Oh, definitely! But you took an awful risk for him.” By now Hermione's face rather resembled the colour of her bed spread.

“He's our friend,” she mumbled, “friends help each other out.”

“Of course.” With a slight smile Alice deliberately changed the subject. “So how exactly does this thing work? Do you have to say a spell, or…?”

With her gaze fixed firmly on the Time Turner Alice saw Hermione glance up sharply from the corner of her eye. “You have to turn it - once for each hour you want to travel backwards… or forwards, but I haven't done that, it's too tricky.”

“Is it difficult? Trying not to bump into yourself I mean?”

“A bit, it's not so bad if you remember where you went; it's more complicated trying to not let other people see you twice, especially if it would be impossible to explain logically.” She seemed to relax as the conversation was steered away from Harry and her motivations for breaking wizarding law to save the broom.

“It's really pretty,” Alice ran a finger along the delicate, curling frame of the hour glass and watched as the sand inside the glass shimmered as it caught the light.

Hermione nodded, visibly more comfortable again. “Yes, McGonagall said it was quite old and -”

Confident that her friend's guard was down Alice suddenly switched her gaze away from the Time Turner so that she was looking her directly in the eye. “Hermione, do you fancy Harry?”

Stunned into momentary silence Hermione gaped at her speechlessly for a moment as the colour rapidly flooded back into her cheeks. “I - I…” Alice arched an eyebrow at her in her best impression of McGonagall whenever she wanted to extract an answer from a reluctant pupil. After a moment Hermione ducked her head and mumbled a response.

“Sorry I didn't hear that,” Alice began to grin, she knew she was being a little mean, but she was only teasing and Hermione would do exactly the same if their positions were reversed.

“Alright, yes!” Her friend suddenly answered loudly. She then proceeded to watch in bemusement as Alice laughed delightedly and jumped up to punch the air.

“I knew it!”

Hermione's face seemed about to burst into flame as she plucked awkwardly at a loose thread in the bedspread. “How?” She sounded more perplexed than Alice had ever heard her. “How did you know?”

“Hermione,” Alice was half amused, half exasperated, “it was really obvious. Anyone watching the two of you together could tell.” As her friend looked up at her in alarm she gave her a hug and a reassuring smile. “Don't worry, Harry feels exactly the same way.”

At her words Hermione's face seemed to light up for a split second before her guard came down again and she looked at Alice suspiciously. “Are you sure?”

“Positive. If you just spoke to him about it you would see I'm right.”

“No!” She looked terror-stricken at the very thought of it. “No, I can't do that.”

“If you just -”

“No.” Hermione was firm now, all her embarrassment seemed to have evaporated. “I can't tell him - and I'm not arguing about it.” She overrode her friend's protestations with a decisive wave of her hand. “I'm going down to dinner.” She walked towards the door throwing a last remark back over her shoulder as she went. “And don't you dare mention a word of this to Harry.”

As she listened to her friend's footsteps receding down the spiral staircase Alice groaned and flopped backwards onto the bed. Really Hermione was infuriating sometimes. Getting her to admit her feelings for Harry was all well and good, but what purpose would it serve if she refused to act upon them? It was like taking two steps forward and four steps back. This would require some careful thought.

However over the next few weeks it seemed that no amount of gentle prodding or persuasion on Alice's part would induce Hermione to tell the one person about her crush that really ought to know about it: Harry. Instead she focused her energies on helping Alice find her way back into the secret room in Library. Alice suspected her friend was deliberately trying to distract her, but she didn't want to push the issue of Harry and end up having a fight over it. Funnily enough however, Harry ended up being the solution to their dilemma.

“Here, I got it.” Hermione appeared through the portrait hole clutching the Invisibility Cloak.

“Did you tell him what we wanted it for?” Alice asked as the hastened along the corridor to the Library.

“Yes, but the minute I mentioned books I think they both stopped listening.” Hermione grinned. “I believe Ron's exact words were `Who cares about a bunch of mouldy old textbooks?'”

“Boys are bizarre.”

When they reached the Library they paused and made sure no one was coming before pulling the cloak over them. “This would be so much easier if I still had the Map,” Alice complained.

“You do remember which bookcase it was don't you?” Hermione sounded concerned for a moment.

Nodding Alice began to creep slowly into the Library with her best friend shuffling cautiously beside her. It was late again and so they didn't have to worry too much about bumping into the odd pupil that was still wandering around. As she had said to Hermione, she had no trouble finding the spot where the cupboard was; the only thing they had to be wary of was anyone approaching when the tried to open it. Alice kept lookout whilst Hermione whispered the spell and the two girls quickly slipped inside.

As the lights of their wands fell across the shelves Alice allowed her friend a moment just to take in the scene, she looked as if her birthday had come early. It was a while before she spoke.

“Wow,” was all that she managed eventually.

“It's great isn't it?” Alice beamed, glad that her friend appreciated it as much as she did. “I was thinking too that we might find some things in here to help with Hagrid's case.”

“Of course,” Hermione reverently picked up half of an ancient looking book that appeared to be contemplating disintegrating entirely. “We'll have to be careful no one spots us taking any of this out of the Library though.” Apparently her concern over breaking school rules didn't apply when it came to books. The two girls looked at each other, their eyes lighting up with excitement, and grinned conspiratorially.

Over the next few weeks however the four of them were so busy they barely had time to eat. The teachers began piling on the homework in the run up to Christmas, which was especially affecting Hermione although neither of them could tell the boys why. Coupled with that they were all spending as much time as they could looking up cases in the Library which might help Hagrid keep his job, all in all it had left very little time for the girls to sneak books from the cupboard to peruse. Much to her dismay Hermione had all but given up trying to read any of the notebooks stored there, with attending every single class available at Hogwarts she just didn't have the time. However when Alice suggested she scale back her own visits the idea was met with stern protest.

“You might find something useful!”

And so she kept reading, but just as life was beginning to adopt a natural, if rather work laden, rhythm they were rather forcefully reminded that sometimes the Universe had other plans. It was in the middle of Herbology and Alice was just helping Neville re-pot a particularly irritating Flutterby bush when Professor McGonagall appeared at the door to the Greenhouse. After conversing in whispers with Professor Sprout for a moment she beckoned to Alice; perplexed she put down her trowel and crossed the greenhouse towards the teacher.

“Miss Evans, I'm afraid I'm going to have to borrow you for a moment. Mr Carne is back at the school and he wants to talk to a few of the students again; your name was on his list.” Alice felt the bottom drop out of her stomach. What could he possibly want? With a horrible sense of foreboding she followed McGonagall across the grounds. “Don't look so nervous Miss Evans, they only want to ask you a few more questions. I'm sure you'll be fine.”

“They, professor?”

Professor McGonagall grimaced as she realised her slip. “Yes… Mr Carne has a guest with him this time. The senior undersecretary to the Minister for Magic, her name is Dolores Umbridge - there's no need to look so alarmed Miss Evans, I'm sure she doesn't bite.” Alice would have been slightly reassured by this if McGonagall hadn't looked as though she herself wasn't quite confident of the last point.

As they continued walking in silence Alice tried to mentally arrange her thoughts so that she could construct a better argument in Hagrid's defence than she had last time. But no matter how hard she tried her mind kept skipping back to the question of why they wanted to speak to her in the first place. Was it because she hadn't been very confident last time? Did Carne think that she wasn't a very reliable witness? Surely not, if he felt she was unreliable then wouldn't it be better to speak to someone who seemed more sure of what had happened? There was always the possibility that she had been selected at random of course. Then there was the question of why Fudge's office was involved, surely it wasn't serious enough to warrant that? Then again Malfoy's father was meant to be quite high up; perhaps he had contacts at the Ministry and had pushed the case to prominence?

When they reached McGonagall's office Alice saw with a jolt that Pansy Parkinson was just leaving, a look of smug satisfaction plastered all over her pug-like face.

“In you go then Miss Evans,” McGonagall gave her a gentle push when it seemed that her legs wouldn't start themselves. She knocked.

“Enter.” Feeling like she had just been transported into a cheap horror movie Alice pushed open the solid wooden door. On the other side, rather than a zombie or a solemn butler, was Carne sitting in exactly the same spot as he had been last time she had seen him. Next to him was a woman who Alice could only assume was Dolores Umbridge. Taking in her outfit Alice blinked for a second; that was rather a lot of pink, and was that… a bow in her hair? What was she? Six?

“Miss Evans.” She wasn't sure if Carne's grunt was intended to be a greeting or simply him introducing her.

“Do sit down dear,” Umbridge waved her towards the free seat. “We just want to have a little chat.”

Alice sat obediently.

“Now dear,” the woman was clearly going to take the lead this time round, “I believe you've spoken to Mr Carne before, is that correct?” When Alice nodded she smiled slightly, though it really looked more like a wince, and continued. “And am I right in saying that when you spoke to him you described Professor Hagrid's teaching as `enthusiastic'? What did you mean by that?” The whole time that she was speaking she never took her protuberant eyes from Alice's face, not even to blink, it was rather disconcerting, not to mention off putting.

“Erm…” Alice really wished she would stop staring, “well I - he clearly loves his job,” she stammered eventually feeling her face start to flare up in competition with Umbridge's offensively pink dress.

“Yes, yes my dear,” her inquisitor waved a hand dismissively, “and while that's lovely I want to know how he teaches. Is he disciplined? Is he efficient? Is he effective?”

Alice didn't know what to say and she cast a desperate look in Carne's direction hoping that somehow, although he hadn't yet proved to be an ally, he would aid her. No help was forthcoming, Carne simply shifted awkwardly in his seat trying with limited success to conceal the boredom on his face. Alice switched her eyes back to Umbridge's face. She was still staring unblinkingly at her. What should she say? If she was brutally honest then there was a part of her that knew the answer to all those questions was No, but did that necessarily mean that Hagrid wasn't a good teacher.

“He - he has a different style Miss Um -”

“Ma'am will do dear.”

Alice blinked. Was she serious? She gazed for a moment at her face which was still frozen into an unnatural smile. Apparently she was. “Yes ma'am. Well he has a very different style,” she could feel her tongue trying to wrap itself in knots, “it's very… hands on.”

“Yes. So I can see. Back to the question of his teaching though,” she wasn't going to give up the point easily; she might look like a toad, but she was like a dog with a bone now. “I just want you to give me a yes or no answer; that's simple enough isn't it?” Her voice was laced with a sugary quality that was clearly meant to be reassuring. Alice gulped. “Would you say that Professor Hagrid's lessons are well thought out and planned?”

What should she say? All those guilty thoughts and criticisms of Hagrid's class she had had since the accident came back to haunt her. But it was Hagrid, she couldn't tell on him like that, it would be a betrayal. “Yes,” she squeaked eventually, “of course.”

“Are you sure dear?” Umbridge looked sceptical as she made some notes. “You seem rather hesitant.”

“No!” Alice could feel tears pricking behind her eyes as she began to get flustered.

“No, they aren't well thought out?” Another note was added.

Alice looked horrified for a moment. “No I meant: no I wasn't hesitant, I still mean yes to the question!” She cursed her own incoherence, why was she so awkward? They were only asking simple questions.

“Hmmm,” Umbridge's pink lips pursed as her face folded up into a frown.

“Perhaps,” they both looked across sharply as Carne suddenly spoke, “the beast?” He looked questioningly at Umbridge.

“Ah yes,” her face seemed to light up again. “Miss Evans, how did you feel during the class at being asked to approach and deal with a Hippogriff? Several other students have told me it was quite frightening - that they didn't feel at all ready. What were your thoughts?”

“Well it was a bit scary at first, but once we went up to them it was fine.” Surely there was nothing wrong with the truth here?

“So you did find it intimidating?” Umbridge closed in on the first half of her statement just as it dawned on Alice that there might be some other agenda at work here. The woman seemed very keen to have her condemn Hagrid.

“No… I… once we approached them I realised there was nothing to be scared of.”

“Since you did feel anxious do you feel you were bullied by Professor Hagrid into dealing with dangerous creatures?”

“No.” By this stage Alice's face was hot enough to fry an egg on. A combination of embarrassment, anxiousness at the poor job she was doing defending Hagrid, and anger at the woman for trying to make her say something she didn't mean had turned her entire head into a tomato once again. She tried to blink back the tears that had crept to the edges of her eyes but all that succeeded in doing was knocking them down her face. Angrily she brushed them aside.

“I know dear, it's all very upsetting,” Umbridge cooed in that overly honeyed voice. “Let's not distress you any further by bringing it all back up. You can go now, we have everything we need.”

“But -”

“Off you pop,” she waved a pudgy hand towards the door without a second glance at Alice.

With a horrible feeling that something awful had happened, though she wasn't quite sure what, a rather shell shocked Alice complied.

On her return to the Greenhouse her friends all wanted to know what had gone on and when she told them she had been re-questioned they all glanced at each other in concern. Catching their looks only made Alice feel worse. It was difficult explaining to them what she had said when they asked her later on though; for one thing she couldn't quite remember herself and for another they kept interrupting each other trying to make sure that she had said the right things. In the end she pretended she had a headache and escaped up to her bed.

As she had learned over three years however, there was no running away from things at Hogwarts, and although no one mentioned the previous afternoon initially when she went down to breakfast they were all soon reminded of it. Just as she was pouring herself a goblet of Pumpkin juice the owl post arrived in a clatter of shifting plates and a flurry of feathered bodies. As always Hermione received a copy of the Daily Prophet.

“Oh honestly,” she huffed after taking one look at the front page. “These journalists are just vultures, what's this ones name?… Rita Skeeter, well, I don't think very much of her.”

“Hermione, what are you on about?” Ron raised his eyebrows at her inquisitively before shovelling some bacon into his mouth.

“Hagrid's case.” That got their attention. “It's all over the paper; that and the fact they were interviewing pupils.” She sniffed in irritation.

“What does it say?” Harry peered over her shoulder at the newspaper.

Ministry sources, who wish to remain unnamed,” Hermione quoted, “have reported that pupils feel Care of Magical Creatures classes are `different' to their other lessons and have hinted that they feel bullied by their teacher. Poor Hagrid!” She exclaimed. “Who would say that about him?”

Horrified Alice grabbed the paper from her and quickly scanned the rest of the article.

It has also been said that their seems to be a complete lack of discipline and order in Professor Hagrid's lessons with other pupils expressing the opinion that educational qualities at the school as a whole were suffering. When questioned on events in the class some pupils were so distressed by the professors `style' that they were visibly upset and reduced to tears -

Alice stopped reading at this point. That foul woman had twisted everything she had said and done, there was no doubt that the unnamed source was either Umbridge or Carne, who else would have blabbed all that?

Seeing Alice's flustered face and trembling hands as she clutched the paper, Hermione became concerned. “Alice are you alright?”

“It's me,” her stomach churned uncomfortably as she looked up at her friends, “the pupil she talks about in the article, it's me.”

Instantly the atmosphere at the table changed. All three of her friends were staring at her with a mixture of disappointment, animosity and bewilderment. To avoid their gaze Alice looked back at the paper.

“What do you mean it was you?” Harry sounded incredulous. “You said all that stuff about Hagrid being a bully and undisciplined and…” he scanned the article again, “how the education at the school was suffering?”

“No!” Alice exclaimed, “I never said that last bit.”

“But you said the rest of it then?” Ron shook his head in disappointment. “How could you? Hagrid's our friend!”

“No I didn't,” how could they think she would do something like that? “At least I didn't mean to, she twisted everything I said.”

“But why did you say anything that could have been misconstrued at all? Why didn't you just tell them that Hagrid is a great teacher, that nothing would have happened if Malfoy wasn't a twit and that Buckbeak was never going to be dangerous?”

“Because I got flustered alright, and you know how I get when I talk to strangers and because I -” She stopped before she said something that she would regret.

“Because you what?” Harry was angry at her now, she could tell. “You think it was partly Hagrid's fault don't you?”

“No!” She looked from one to the other trying to get them to see her point, but they knew her too well, they could see the lie in her eyes. “Well not really,” she said eventually, she might as well tell the truth if they thought badly of her anyway. “But he was the teacher, and it shouldn't have happened. But,” she rushed to continue as they all visibly stiffened, “I would never have said so to Umbridge. I tried to defend him I honestly did!”

“Yeah well obviously not hard enough.”

Everyone was silent for a moment as they all avoided each others gaze and Alice found herself staring at her unfinished breakfast. Suddenly she wasn't very hungry anymore. They sat like that for a few moments more, the atmosphere thick enough to cut through with a knife and no one saying anything. Around them the normal chatter and revelry of a typical Hogwarts morning ensued unmolested, reinforcing the unnaturalness of the four friends' unease. Eventually she couldn't stand it anymore.

“I might just…” Before her sentence was finished Alice was on her feet and walking away from the table, trying not to walk too quickly so that it looked as though she was running away. The minute she was outside though she slipped into a convenient cupboard in the Great Hall and burst into tears.

Over the next few weeks Alice wasn't sure what she would have done if Fred and George hadn't taken pity on her and let her tag along with them, or if Neville hadn't been so good a friend and stuck by her. As it was she was still miserable because after their fight Hermione, Harry and Ron all refused to speak to her, but it would have been a whole lot worse if she had been on her own. Hagrid had been remarkably understanding about the episode too, which only served to make her feel even more guilty about how she had behaved during her interview. If only she had asserted herself more, rather than letting Umbridge and Carne walk all over her. Still there was nothing she could do about that now, she could only try and atone for it. And atone she did.

Since her friends were giving her the silent treatment she had plenty of spare time in which to help Hagrid research for his inquiry. Gathering every book on wizarding law, animal attacks, student injuries and old reports that she could lay her hands on, she would stay up late into the night reading and taking notes. Once in a while Fred and George would drag her out of the Library to help them in some prank or other, largely, she suspected, these were designed with the sole purpose of making her laugh rather than anyone else, but more often than not she was to be found at a table in the Library or the corner of the common room flicking through dusty tomes. The discovery of the secret stash in the Library proved very useful in this as it was full of old inspectors reports on Hogwarts and jottings made by Healers who treated, amongst other things, injuries sustained by those who dealt with magical creatures. Of course with these she had to trawl through a lot of information that was irrelevant to her enquiry, but they were usually still interesting irrelevancies nonetheless.

One night she sat reading just such an account of a Healers day to day life in St Mungo's and pondering how privileged she must be to read a book like this, so packed full of wonderful experiences, that no one else had read. The fire had almost burnt out and everyone else had long since gone to bed when she reached the end of a page and felt all the feeling leave her body. Surely she couldn't have read that last sentence correctly could she? She squinted in the dim light and then lit the page with her wand just to make sure as she read the passage over again trying to control the shaking hands that held the tatty notebook. The section had been a fairly generic one about a student sent to St Mungo's after falling foul of a classmate in Potions, but there was nothing to suggest it would contain anything too far out of the ordinary. Then that one sentence. That one sentence that had shattered everything.

Popped round to see Lily Potter today to consult about a possible case of poisoning as she's one of the most highly qualified Healers I've ever met. James was there with the kids too, not that they really have anywhere else to go. Hiding all the time must be hard. It's so nice to see her though as we haven't had a proper catch up in a while. The children have grown so much since I last saw them and Harry has become a positive terror, he won't sit still for a minute I don't know how Lily manages, at least his sister is better behaved.

And that was it, that one paragraph had blown everything out of the water. Never mind the fact that there was a rare snippet of information about Harry's parents and his early childhood. Those three words kids, children, both of which were in the plural and most importantly that word: sister. Harry had had a sister?! Why did none of them know about this? More importantly why didn't Harry? Why had no one told him?

Then an even more crucial question occurred to her. How on earth was she going to tell him?

A/N: Well there you go, finally we are getting to it - not that most of you haven't already figured out where this is going, it's not meant to be that big a secret! Also I know in the last book it said Hermione's middle name was Jean but I think Jane fits better so… deal with it! Also the cupboard Alice cries in is the same one Harry and Hermione hide from themselves in at the end of PoA - just for interest. On a slightly more technical note I won't be updating for the next few weeks as I'm going to be away - hence this update so soon after my last one, I thought I would leave you on a cliffhanger. I'm evil like that!


11. Family History

Family History

It soon emerged that the problem would not only be telling Harry, but getting him to listen to her long enough to actually start the conversation was almost impossible. Every time she approached the three of them they would either become suddenly immersed in homework or simply get up and leave wherever they had been sitting. After the first twenty times Alice gave up trying; which was probably just as well as she still had no idea how exactly she was going to word it. How exactly did you break it to someone that they had a sister they had never known about?

For three nights Alice didn't get a wink of sleep, she just lay awake tossing and turning. Each morning she woke up with no ideas, but instead had a massive headache not to mention a horrible, nervy, sick feeling in her stomach. What she couldn't understand was why no one had ever mentioned it.

It wasn't just as though Harry was from a normal family that could have managed to keep secrets about this sort of thing; he was Harry Potter, for Merlin's sake! He was in every History book that had been written in the past twenty years. His early childhood, such as it was, had been analysed in depth and comprehensively; how could all these authors have missed out something as vital as a sister? It just didn't make sense.

“Evans…” She jumped suddenly as George Weasley waved his hand in front of her face to get her attention. “Are you alright?” She was sitting with the twins at a table in the corner of the common room and had been attempting to do some homework hoping that it might distract her slightly. It didn't.

“Yes, I'm fine,” she smiled slightly to emphasise her point.

Fred peered at her too. “You look exhausted.”

“Yeah I didn't sleep much last night.”

Both twins glanced over in the direction of Harry, Ron and Hermione who were all laughing and joking by the fire. “Do you want us to go and punch Ron?”

“Because we will.”

“Thanks, but… I don't think that will help much,” the corner of her mouth lifted in a half smile. “I just…” her smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “I just need to put this right, take back what I said… something - anything.” She heaved a tired sigh and rubbed her temples in frustration, she couldn't tell them what was really wrong. “I don't know what to do.”

“Stick with us midget,” Fred patted her on the back, “we'll think of something for you.”

“Why does that not inspire me with confidence?” She joked; it was impossible to stay completely miserable around the twins. “I just need to put it right somehow. Do you think they would let me go to Hagrid's hearing and retract my statement, or make another one?”

“What stand up in front of the entire panel?” George looked at her sceptically.

“Well I could try, it's the least I could do if it would help Hagrid.”

“Or you could write a testimony and owl it to whoever's investigating, but then if that's Carne then -”

“You're doomed.” Fred nodded with grave severity whilst impressively managing to maintain a straight face.”

“Why are you doomed?” Ginny Weasley came over and sat in the free chair around the table. “I mean obviously because you're friends with these two,” she tipped her head in her brothers' direction, “but why else?”

“Just this whole situation with Hagrid's inquiry and what I said and…” Alice tailed off staring towards her friends.

“Ah,” Ginny looked thoughtful for a moment as she considered the situation. “Well… where is his Hearing going to be?”

“In front of some special committee from the Departments of Magical Law Enforcement and Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures I think. Why?” Alice was curious now; she wanted to see what Ginny had in mind.

“Well isn't Susan Bones' aunt the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement? So she should have a lot of influence, write to her, or ask Susan to so you get a fair hearing. Put across Hagrid's side of the story.”

The three of them stared at Ginny for a moment as Alice felt a bubble of hope flare in her stomach. That might actually work. Why hadn't she thought of that? “Ginny,” she said with perfect seriousness, “you might actually be a genius.”

“Of course she is,” Fred grinned, “she's related to us!”

Ginny caught Alice's eye and rolled her eyes. “Don't hold that against me.”

The next day Alice caught up to Susan in the corridor and explained what it was that she hoped she would do. To her joy and not a little excitement and relief, she was more than willing to write to her aunt. After that there was nothing else she could do but wait, carry on researching and worry about Harry and his mysterious sister. She had already taken out every book on modern magical history that she could find in the Library and trawled through them for any mention of Harry's family, but none mentioned any siblings. Even Professor Kreevain, who Alice felt was one of the best magical historians in the world - though she suspected she might be a bit biased - made no mention of it in any of her books. The whole thing was very confusing.

It was a whole week before she heard back from Susan again. She had just told Professor McGonagall that she would be staying at Hogwarts over Christmas (though with her best friends all not speaking to her she had fleetingly considered saying that she was going back to the Home) when Susan bustled over with a piece of parchment folded in her hand.

“Alice! Here you go,” she held out the parchment to her, “My Aunt finally replied. She wrote a letter to you and put it in with mine. Sorry it took so long.”

“No that's alright,” Alice smiled shyly, desperate to open the note and see what it said. “She's a very busy woman; it was nice of her to reply at all.”

“Well…” Susan glanced back across to where her friends Hannah and Morag were waiting for her at the Hufflepuff table. “I had better get back - let me know how everything goes alright?”

“Of course. And thanks for this by the way,” Alice gestured to the parchment in her hand as she spoke, “I really owe you one.”

“I'll hold you to that.” Susan laughed as she turned and made her way back over to her friends.

Without bothering to watch her go Alice quickly tore open the purple seal that was stamped across the back of the note and speedily allowed her eyes to devour the contents. What she saw made her smile like she hadn't smiled for days.

My dear Miss Evans

It was with great concern that I heard my niece Susan's account of your experience of giving evidence for Professor Hagrid's inquiry. Of course we are all concerned about the incident which occurred at Hogwarts, but I would hope that no Ministry employee would have allowed that to prejudice their handling of the case.

As I understand the committee is due to hear evidence on the 13th of December at a special convening within the Ministry, I myself will be in attendance. If you would therefore like to resubmit your evidence please compile a statement and owl it to me forthwith. I will void your original testimony and present this one to them along with the rest. I hope that this solution will be to your satisfaction and that you will not hesitate to contact me directly if any other problems should arise.

Yours faithfully

Madam Amelia Susan Bones

Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement

All of a sudden, finishing her breakfast was not important and she sprinted back up the length of the Hall and ran as fast as she could to Gryffindor Tower - much to the bemusement of poor Neville who had been about to sit down beside her.

“Alice are you alright?” He asked twenty minutes later as he came upon her scribbling feverishly in the common room. “You ran out of the Great Hall like You-Know-Who was chasing you.”

Startled from her writing she looked up and made an apologetic face. “Oops, sorry Neville. It's just that I got a reply from Susan's aunt and I was so excited that I wanted to start my reply straight away. I didn't see you there. Sorry.”

“That's alright,” Neville grinned. “I know how absorbed you get in things. It's fine, honestly. You had better hurry up though, I know Care of Magical Creatures was cancelled, but I've got to get to Divination and you've got Arithmancy.”

Alice checked her watch. He was right she was cutting it a bit fine. Quickly scrawling her signature at the bottom of the letter she folded it neatly and stowed it in the pocket of her robes.

For the whole morning Alice remained in a state of nervous excitement, she couldn't wait for it to be lunchtime so that she would be able to head up to the owlery and post her letter. Every so often she would check that it was still there in her pocket, although after she nearly dropped it in the corridor she decided it was probably safest to just leave it there and stop checking every two seconds. Eventually, after what felt like the longest morning of her life, they were released for lunch and she ran up the innumerable flights of stairs to the appropriate tower.

Standing in the owlery she spotted Archimedes sitting on a roost not far from her and called to him. He ignored her. After her third unsuccessful attempt at coaxing him down she decided to opt for a more drastic measure. Taking her wand from her pocket she pointed it threateningly at him. “Archimedes I'm warning you. Get down here right now or I'm going to curse every single feather off of your stubborn body!” The owl gazed balefully at her for a moment before abruptly launching himself from the perch and plummeting towards her so quickly that she thought he was going to collide with her head. At the very last moment he spread his wings and dodged sideways, narrowly avoiding scalping her with his talons. The haughty look in his eyes as he landed told her that this was to teach her who was boss. “Yes well, your job is to deliver letters,” she reasoned with him as she waved the scroll about, “and it's not something you've done very much of, so it's time to justify your keep mister.” They stared each other out for a moment before the owl hooted in assent and stuck his leg out obligingly. “You see,” she commented as she finished tying the knot, “you can be nice when you want to. I'm not saying you have to like everyone, but if you could find it in your feathery heart to be nice to me every once in a while…” After a moment Archimedes nipped her hand with his beak in what she hoped was meant to be an affectionate manner. It was more painful than would normally indicate any sort of warmth, but he hadn't drawn blood which she supposed coming from him was positively loving.

As she watched her owl fly across the Hogwarts grounds she heard a voice behind her. “You know one day that owl is going to kill us all in our sleep.” She turned to see Fred Weasley grinning idiotically in the door to the owlery.

“Well we can only hope that he starts with you.” She countered. Glancing behind him she raised a questioning eyebrow. “Where's George anyway?”

“What makes you think that I'm not George?”

“Because I can tell the difference between you.” She felt obliged to state the obvious.

He nodded seriously. “Right - I forgot you had spooky powers. You don't fancy teaching that skill to my Mum at some point, do you?”

“I can make the two of you name badges if that would help,” walking back across to him she ducked as he tried to ruffle her hair then stuck out her tongue as he scowled at himself for missing. “So where is he?”

“He managed to convince Angelina to do an extra Quidditch practice with him.”

“What's so funny about that?” Alice asked as she watched him smirk at the news. Then before he could respond she realised what he was getting at. “Does he like Angelina?” Fred's broad grin gave her all the answer she needed.

“Don't tell him I told you that though,” he admonished sternly as they began to walk back down the stairs.

Alice felt the corner of her own mouth tugging into a smile at the thought. “Wouldn't dream of it.”

“So who were you sending the demon owl off to anyway?” He slung his arm loosely around her shoulders in a comradely fashion as they continued their descent.

“Amelia Bones, she wrote back to Susan this morning so I thought I'd send a statement back to her as quickly as possible. And don't make fun of Archimedes,” she jabbed a finger into his ribs, “he's just misunderstood.” Their banter continued as they reached the bottom and returned to the common room for the remainder of lunchtime. When they got there however the place was in a bit of an uproar.

“Well Scabbers is my pet!” Ron, standing at the bottom of the staircase to the boys' dormitory red faced and yelling, waved his rat in the air to emphasise the point. Alice and Fred stopped just inside the portrait hole to observe the commotion. “He has as much right to a stress free life as Crookshanks - more even as he's been here longer, he's been here even longer than me for Merlin's sake! He doesn't deserve to be persecuted!”

“Of for goodness sake Ron,” a clearly disgruntled Hermione was squaring up to him, whilst cradling her cat, even though there was a ten foot gap between them, “don't be so dramatic all the time. “All Crookshanks did was chase him, it's what cats do! He was just playing.” The cat in question spat and hissed in Ron's direction as Hermione hitched him higher in her arms.

“Playing? Playing?!” Ron's high pitched screech would have been comical if he hadn't looked as though he was about to explode. “Scabbers is half dead!” As he thrust said pet in Hermione's direction so that she could see for herself Alice couldn't help but think that the rat might be a whole lot healthier if Ron stopped swinging him about all over the place. The poor thing probably had vertigo.

“Tcht,” Hermione tutted dismissively and for a split second Alice thought Ron was actually going to throw his rat at her. Luckily for Scabbers Harry chose that very moment to wade into the argument.

“Look will you two stop fighting about it. Hermione can't you make sure that Crookshanks stays out of the dormitory and Ron can make sure that Scabbers doesn't come down to the common room, that way everyone is happy?” Neither of his friends looked it as they glared at each other over his head.

“Fine.” Hermione went off to sit by the fire, cooing over her cat as she did so.

At the same moment Ron muttered under his breath: “I will if she will,” and disappeared back up the staircase to the boys' dormitory leaving a bereft Harry standing in the common room on his own. For a split second he caught Alice's eye and she thought that their shared despair at Hermione and Ron's argument might bridge the gap between the two of them. It wasn't to be however, for just as she was about to smile tentatively at him he broke the contact and disappeared after Ron.

Alice sighed. When were they going to forgive her, or at the very least talk to her? She had important things she needed to tell them. Sighing she went to fetch the books she would need for the rest of the afternoon, she would just have to wait for Hagrid's hearing and hope that what she had done would be enough to put things right.

Two days later Archimedes announced that his mission had been completed by landing perilously close to Neville's bowl of porridge at breakfast - scaring the life out of her friend in the process. Attached to his leg was a disappointingly cursory note saying that her testimony had been received. After that all that she could do was wait again.

On the day of Hagrid's inquiry she was constantly fidgety in class, unable to concentrate on anything, and continually peering out of windows whenever she was within sight of Hagrid's cabin to see if he had returned from the Ministry yet. Professor Vector even had to tell her to pay attention in Arithmancy. From the sly looks she cast in Harry, Ron and Hermione's direction she could see they were occupied in much the same activities. By evening she was so impatient for news that Fred, George and Ginny had to take her out to the Quidditch pitch just to distract her. An hour zooming around on a broom did manage to calm her nerves slightly, but more importantly from her vantage point she saw three shadowy forms, that were unmistakably her friends, crossing the grounds towards Hagrid's cabin. And there was already smoke rising from the chimney. Initially her first instinct was to turn her broom in mid-air and head directly towards them, but after consideration she realised that she probably wouldn't be very welcome.

Eventually the biting December chill and growing darkness got the better of them and they headed back to earth. But when they entered the changing rooms Alice was in for a shock. Striding in the opposite direction with determined faces, Harry, Ron and Hermione all stopped dead when they saw her with the Weasleys. For a long moment the four of them gazed at each other uneasily until the silence was broken by Ginny.

“I'm freezing,” she declared in an unnecessarily loud voice to no one in particular. “Let's go and warm up by the fire in the common room.” She grabbed the twins' sleeves and hauled her brothers out of the room after her. Once they were gone Alice spoke up.

“Look I'm really sorry about what I did, what I said - or didn't say - to Umbridge. I honestly didn't mean to get Hagrid into more trouble it was just…”

“It's alright,” Harry smiled at her for the first time in weeks, “Hagrid told us what you did to try and fix it.”

“And we're sorry we overreacted so… badly.” Hermione's mouth twisted as she said the word as though it was something sour she wanted to spit out.

Alice nodded wordlessly - what else was there to say about it? She changed tack to stop another awkward silence from falling. “What happened with Hagrid's hearing?”

“They didn't come to a decision,” Ron answered. “He said that because there was new evidence to consider they needed a second sitting. It won't be decided until the New Year.”

Abruptly Hermione stepped quickly across the gap between them and threw her arms around Alice. “I've missed you.” Her voice sounded choked.

Patting her gently one the back Alice smiled. “I've missed you too. All of you.” She met Harry and Ron's eyes over her shoulder. They smiled tentatively back at her, clearly it would take a while to get things back to normal between the four of them; this had been a rather spectacular bust up but she was confident that they would manage. Deciding that the best way to achieve this would be to put it firmly behind them and pretend it hadn't happened Alice gently released Hermione. “Right then, I don't know about you lot but I'm getting cold just hanging about here. Anyone fancy going back to the fire in the common room and seeing if we can't get ourselves some hot chocolate on the way?” At the mention of chocolate Ron's eyes lit up and both Harry and Hermione agreed whole-heartedly.

That night as she lay in bed and the warm fuzzy feeling induced by the fire, the chocolate and the knowledge that she had her friends back began to wear off Alice began to worry once more about her most pressing issue. Now that he was talking to her again she really had no reason not to tell Harry about what she had discovered. The problem was that over the next few days she was just too scared to say anything.

The news was going to blow his whole world apart and she really didn't have to be the one to deliver it. How would you even start a conversation like that?

Sitting with Ron and Hermione in the courtyard one afternoon, Alice contemplated the problem. She had taken to carrying the journal around everywhere with her and right now it seemed to be burning a hole in her pocket, she couldn't keep track of anything her friends were saying and Hermione had given up on including her in the conversation. She could see that something was on Alice's mind and was confident that's he would tell her when she was ready. Watching some first years screeching riotously as they capered and dived about in the newly fallen snow, Alice spotted Oliver Wood striding past with his broomstick in hand. He looked pre-occupied and seemed to be muttering to himself, but Alice wasn't bothered so much about that as the fact that it almost certainly meant that Quidditch practice was over for the day and Harry had probably returned to Gryffindor Tower. She made up her mind; time to bite the bullet. It was now or never.

“I'll be back in a minute,” she told her friends as she slipped off the wall they had been perching on and without further explanation made her way back inside, each reluctant footstep leaving blot in the pristine layer of snow. As she walked she tried to formulate sentences in her mind, the problem was that each sounded worse than the last. “Harry, I read in a book that you used to have a sister.” Was that too flippant? “Harry, hypothetically how would you feel if you had had a sister and now you didn't and no one had told you?” Too convoluted? How should she tell him? Was there even a right way to tell him? No matter how slowly she dragged her feet it was all too soon that she found herself standing outside Harry's dormitory. Taking a deep breath to give herself courage she raised her hand and rapped smartly on the door.

“Come in.”

Before she could talk herself out of it she slipped into the room and shut the door firmly behind her. Looking up from where he was crouched by his trunk, the contents scattered on the floor around him, Harry smiled when he saw her. “Hi.” A look of confusion passed over his face when he saw her grave expression. “What's up?”

As she stared at him trying to think of what to say Alice realised that she had twisted her hair so tightly around her finger that she was cutting off the blood supply to the tip. Letting go she moved her hand behind her back where the other one was clutching the journal she had found. “Look Harry… when we weren't speaking…”

“Alice, are you alright?”

She nodded. “Yeah; just - don't interrupt alright?” She smiled crookedly at him. “When we weren't talking I - I found something out. It was about you. I didn't want to tell you in front of the others, because… well you'll see why.” She stopped again searching for the right words. Why didn't they teach a class in breaking difficult news at Hogwarts? Eventually she decided that someone else could explain it far better than she could. “Here,” she held out the journal to him. “Read the page I marked.”

Still bemused by her behaviour, Harry dutifully accepted the book, opened it at the page marked and began to read. Watching his eyes run back and forth across the lines Alice felt sick. She took in every single reaction and tried to guess which revelation he had reached. A slight tightening of the hand holding the book, the knuckles whitening slightly as he realised it was about his mother; the corner of his mouth curving up into a proud smile as he heard her described as a wonderful healer; then his face went blank as he struggled to cope with the rest of the passage. She saw his eyes flick back to the top as he read it over again, trying to understand; then as realisation hit all the colour abruptly drained from his face and he sat down very suddenly, and very hard, on the floor.

“Harry!” She rushed forward to make sure he didn't pass out. As her hands clutched his arm she could feel him shaking under his robes.

“I don't…” He dragged his wide, frightened and confused eyes up to meet Alice's. “How can that be…? I don't have a s-sister… Why did no one tell me?” He whispered at last sounding anguished.

“I don't know Harry; I'm sorry.” She gave him a one-armed hug. “I found the journal in that cupboard in the Library. I know I shouldn't have had it, but once I read… I thought you ought to see it.” She stopped, uncertain of what to say next.

“No… it's fine.” Harry was just staring straight ahead now, his emerald eyes like beacons shining out of his pale, drawn face. He looked like he was going to be sick.

“Do you want me to get you something?”

He twitched his head jerkily in what was evidently meant to be a negative. “I just don't understand why no one told me before. I mean a sister, that's a fairly important thing to tell someone about… What do you think happened to her?”

Alice stayed silent for a moment; she knew what she thought, but she didn't want to have to tell Harry, at least not while he was still in shock. As she was searching for an answer though, he responded himself.

“You think He killed her too, don't you?”

She met his gaze and felt her heart break for him. He looked so lost and sad. Harry had spent his whole life with the spectre of his parents' murder hanging over him, even if he hadn't known the full story, and now he had another relative to mourn all over again. No one deserved that, least of all Harry. Slowly, and with resignation, she nodded. “You should speak to someone though. Dumbledore, or McGonagall… or Hagrid, they're bound to know. They could tell you what happened, why she was kept a secret.” When Harry stayed silent she tried a different tack. “Are you going to tell Hermione and Ron?”

For a moment he was silent. “Yes,” he croaked eventually. “I'd better… Thank you for telling me on my own though. I needed to digest it before I do that.” She gave his arm a reassuring squeeze.

“Do you want me to come with you when you do?”

“Please,” he patted the arm that wasn't stretched around his shoulders, took a deep breath, and stood up. “Come on I had better do it just now.”

When they found them a short while later, exactly where Alice had left them, Ron and Hermione's reactions to the news were typically their own. After sitting in stunned silence for a moment Hermione questioned the veracity of the book and once Alice pointed out that she couldn't see why the author would lie, her bushy haired friend enveloped Harry in the mother of all hugs looking as though she herself was going to cry. Ron on the other hand had gone very pale under his freckles. “Mate…” he wanted to be sympathetic but didn't know what to say. What could you say in that situation?

After a while Hermione broke her hug, though she still held Harry by the shoulders and forced him to look at her. “What are you going to do now?”

A steely look had suddenly entered Harry's eyes, the intensity of it scared Alice slightly and it wasn't even being directed towards her. “Now? Now I want answers.” Abruptly he stood up, snatched the book up from where Alice had placed it on the table and stormed back into the school kicking up a flurry of snow in his wake.

After looking at each other with a mixture of indecision, mutual sympathy for their friend and worry, the three of them sprinted after him.

“Harry!” Hermione yelled as they saw him disappearing up the staircase in the Great Hall.

Without stopping he just shouted back over his shoulder. “What?!”

“Mate, where are you going?” Ron's long legs meant that he caught up with their friend much more quickly than either of the girls.

As she jogged alongside them to keep pace Alice thought for a moment that Harry hadn't heard him. He certainly didn't seem about to respond; he just kept pounding determinedly along the corridor, his face set like granite. Eventually he bit out a response through gritted teeth that sent another spasm of nerves shooting through Alice's stomach. “To see Dumbledore.”

A/N: Well apologies for the HUGE space of time since my last update, I can only excuse myself by saying that life once more got in the way. Anyway I hope you enjoyed the latest chapter and please R&R so I know what readers think of the story… it's always nice to hear from you all.


12. One Thing After Another

One Thing After Another

“Harry, my dear boy, come in.” Dumbledore's welcoming smile faded slightly when he saw the stern expressions on the faces of the four third years. Solemnly they trouped into his study after him as the Headmaster went to sit behind his desk resting his chin on arched fingers as he watched them all carefully. It was the first time Alice had been into his study and she was slightly distracted looking around at all the portraits - which rather disconcertingly were all staring back with avid fascination. Harry, on the other hand, was much more focused.

“Professor I want to talk to you.”

“I had surmised as much,” Dumbledore's eyes twinkled through his half-moon spectacles as he surveyed him. “What can I help you with?”

“This.” Harry tossed the journal onto the Headmaster's desk where it fell open at the page Alice had folded back. She watched as Dumbledore slowly picked it up and scanned the lines of neat handwriting quickly. After a while he put the book down with a sigh.

“Why don't you all sit down?” He conjured some extra chairs for them with a brisk wave of his wand. All of a sudden Alice thought he looked rather old and care-worn.

“I'll stand thanks.” Harry bit the words out, he seemed to be only just managing to keep his temper in check. They watched as Dumbledore continued to gaze at the book in front of him before finally straightening his shoulders. “I suppose you would like some sort of explanation?”

“We can go -”

“No.” Harry cut Hermione off mid-sentence. “Stay. I want you to hear this too.” He looked back at Dumbledore with expectancy and rage mingling in his eyes. Alice didn't think she had ever seen such controlled anger from him; it seemed to be rippling slowly outwards in waves and filling the room with an unbearable energy and tension. “Is it true?” He asked.

In his brief hesitation Alice thought she saw the Headmaster's eyes flicker shut in momentary resignation, but they seemed to snap back open so quickly again that she wasn't sure. “Yes, it is.” The response was so quiet that she almost missed it.

Harry's hands curled slowly into fists at his side before he suddenly seemed to become aware of what he was doing and had to force his fingers to flex one by one. “Why…” He was fighting to keep his voice level. “Why was I never told, why does no one know about her?”

“Harry,” the Headmaster fixed him with his piercing blue gaze, “what you have to remember is that your parents went into hiding before you were even born. Very few people even knew of your existence before your parents were murdered, it is understandable that they knew as little of your sister.” He said the word with a calmness that belied the anguish of the situation. The word casually tacked onto the end of the sentence as though they were discussing some other sibling, one that Harry had always known about, not a sister that he had only just discovered was torn brutally away from him.

It seemed as though Harry was letting these words slowly sink in as he stood in the middle of Dumbledore's study, glaring at one of the legs of the desk. Ranged across the room behind him, Ron, Hermione and Alice looked at each other as they shifted awkwardly. As she caught her friends' eyes she could see the anger on Harry's behalf beginning to bubble in the pit of her own stomach reflected in them. How could Dumbledore have done this to him?

“What happened to her?” Harry's voice, suddenly low and quiet, cut through the room like a knife. From the corner of her eye Alice could see that the portraits of past Headmasters and mistresses were as still as though they had been painted by muggles. Each pair of eyes fixed on the exchange going on between the two extraordinary wizards.

“Harry,” Dumbledore removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes as though they pained him, and then replaced them, “what you have to understand is that -”

“NO!” Harry voices jumped several decibels in a single syllable and Alice flinched at the anguish in his voice. “I don't have to understand anything! I don't want to understand whatever excuse it is you've got lined up this time. I had a sister and I never got told about her; twelve years and no one saw fit to mention her for Merlin's sake!”

“There are reasons, important reasons, why you haven't been told certain things - now I know that it isn't fair to you, believe me if I could tell you everything right now I would, but there are some things that you just aren't ready for.”

For a moment the insane thought occurred to Alice that Harry might be about to jump across the desk and throttle Dumbledore where he sat. Fortunately the moment passed and he opted for setting his jaw mulishly, with an audible growl instead. It was probably just as well because Alice didn't know how she would have reacted if he had done something to Dumbledore. The enraged part of her that wanted to throw one of those stupid silver contraptions that littered the room at him might have just let Harry do what he wanted.

“Professor?” Every eye in the room, including those on the walls, swivelled to fix on Hermione. “Surely Harry has a right to know, even if you can't tell him everything,” her tone indicated her scepticism about this, “then surely there must be some things that you can tell him?”

“As always Miss Granger,” Dumbledore nodded sagely, “you are correct. What would you like to know Harry? I promise to tell you everything I can.”

Harry looked as though he was about to argue, but after glancing across at Hermione who shrugged to indicate that it was probably as good an offer as he was going to get, he snapped his mouth shut again. As he considered what to ask Alice watched him run his fingers distractedly through his hair so that he looked even more frazzled and harassed than usual. She was surprised he hadn't burst a vein by now. There was a hot anger fizzing away inside her just waiting to spill over - and only being kept in check by her timidity and the fact that it wasn't her place to say anything - and it wasn't even her family under discussion.

“Did she die?” he asked eventually.

“Lord Voldemort murdered everyone in that house apart from you that night. I have never lied to you about that.” The words fell from Dumbledore's lips like stones, sending ripples across the silence of the room. Harry seemed to sag slightly where he stood and Alice saw Hermione make a motion to go to him before she checked herself.

“Right…” Harry's shuddering breath seemed to suck in all the air in the room. “Why did no one ever tell me?”

“I have no idea why your aunt and uncle never mentioned your sister to you, that is a question which you will have to put to them I'm afraid. As for myself… well, when you arrived at Hogwarts I saw how much the recent knowledge of your parents murder had affected you and… I did not want to add to your burden. I will admit Harry that it may not have been the right thing to do, but I was only trying to do my best for you, as has always been my intention.” He looked earnestly at Harry with those remarkable blue eyes as though willing the boy to believe him. Alice glanced across at her friend to see if his remarks had had the desired effect, she herself remained sceptical, not of Dumbledore's claim to care for Harry, just of his explanation as to his actions. There was just something that didn't quite add up, but she couldn't work out what it was.

“Shouldn't that have been my decision?” Harry challenged. “I mean, it wasn't as though you forgot to tell me that my parents had a goldfish or that my Mum's favourite colour was blue; this was my sister we're talking about. And I can understand how no one else knew about her at the time but what about now? I mean I've never read every history book that I'm mentioned in but I know there's definitely nothing in any of them about me having a sister.” He glanced quickly across at Hermione as he said this who, having definitely read every book there was about Harry, nodded in confirmation. “Surely someone else would have known about her?”

Dumbledore was silent for a long moment and Alice could almost see the cogs in his astute and aged brain ticking over as he pondered how to answer the question that had been put to him by the thirteen year old. Eventually he sighed and looked down at the papers on his desk. “I'm afraid that was my decision again - and,” he raised a finger to halt Harry's irate hiss, “and it was for the same reason as before, I did not want to hurt you further. We deliberately kept your sister's existence from anyone who asked questions about your childhood to protect you.”

“You had no right to do that!” Harry couldn't keep silent any longer as his anger boiled over again. “You might as well have killed her yourself, because that was what you did; by… by… smothering,” he spat the word as he began to pace agitatedly, “her memory you've made sure she was murdered twice, once by Voldemort and once by ensuring that everyone that should have remembered her didn't!”

Alice didn't think she had ever seen Dumbledore look so old. “Harry, please try to understand. I acted with the best of intentions, I'm not saying it was my finest hour but I was only thinking of you. I understand that you are angry with me, and probably rightly so, but try to understand. Harry?” Harry continued to pace, a thunderous look on his face as though he wanted to hit something badly and was just trying to decide what it would be. “Harry.” The Headmaster's tone was sharper now and caused him to finally pause and look at him. “Harry, just out of curiosity, where did you get this book from?” He held up the battered journal. As he did so Alice saw Ron and Hermione's eyes slide towards her and then quickly dart away again. Harry's eyes remained fixed with mulish stoicism on the Headmaster, clearly he didn't want to get her into trouble.

“Does it matter sir?” In bottling down his temper Harry's tone was now devoid of all emotion.

“I found it Professor.” The words were out of Alice's mouth before she had a chance to reconsider them. She didn't want her role in the situation to be another source of friction between the two; besides, Harry was right, did it really matter? The look in Dumbledore's eyes told her that for some reason it did. She couldn't work out why though; as his eyes moved from Harry's face to hers the expression in them was unfathomable. It was part surprise, part concern, possibly some satisfaction thrown in as well for good measure and a hint of some other emotion which she couldn't quite pinpoint. Without a word however he broke the contact and switched his gaze back to Harry.

“I see.”

There seemed to be nothing else to say to that, and indeed nothing else to say at all for the silence in the room began to stretch out excruciatingly. Dumbledore continued to gaze at Harry, who stared dejectedly at a table leg all the fight suddenly drained out of him, whilst his friends watched the two of them and struggled not to interfere.

Eventually it was Dumbledore who spoke up. “Harry you do know I wish it could have been different don't you?” The third year nodded, but continued to say nothing. Finally he let out an exhausted sigh and raised heartbroken eyes brimming with tears that were barely contained.

“Right… I -” Harry cleared his throat and blinked several times to regain his composure. “Right, well I - I think I might just… go and…” He turned and made his way towards the door, motioning for his friends to follow, which they immediately did, crowding round in silent support. Dumbledore watched them go without saying a word. As they were about to leave the room, Harry glanced back over his shoulder. “Professor?” His voice was dull and robotic sounding.

“Yes Harry?”

“My sister, what was her name?”

There was a beat of silence before the Headmaster smiled sadly at him. “Clover, Clover Potter.”

After that Harry didn't say a word for the rest of the day he just sat, staring blankly out of the window at the swirling snow. They all tried to engage him in conversation a few times, but no one really knew what to say. After a while Harry excused himself and disappeared up to the dormitory.

“Well,” Ron remarked after the three of them had watched him go. “Today has been… unexpected.”

“How long have you known?” Hermione asked Alice.

Alice fiddled awkwardly with her shoelace. “A few weeks. I did try to tell you, but… you know…”

“We weren't speaking.” Hermione finished for her.

“Yeah… Sorry.”

“It's not your fault. How could Dumbledore keep that from him?!” Hermione returned to her state of righteous indignation.

“Never mind that - well obviously Harry is our top priority,” Ron amended as Hermione glared at him furiously, “what I mean is, Harry is only one person; how did he manage to keep it from the entire world?”

“And why? I know what he said,” Alice frowned thoughtfully, “but it still doesn't make sense.”

“I don't know how Harry managed to stop himself from cursing Dumbledore into next week.”

Hermione rolled her eyes at Ron. “I imagine the fact that he's the most powerful wizard on the planet probably had something to do with it.”

“Don't start fighting,” Alice warned them.

“We're just going to have to make sure that we're there for Harry over the next few weeks; he's going to need our support.”

The next day Harry was talking again, he certainly wasn't his usual self, but at least he wasn't brooding in silence anymore. It was a mark of how concerned Hermione was about him - as were they all - that she didn't protest when he said that he was going to sneak back to Hogsmeade during the visit the following day.

“Well I couldn't exactly say no, could I?” She hissed to Alice later.

So the next morning the three of them set off, nerves on edge, knowing full well that Harry would be waiting for them in the village. Sure enough as they passed the Shrieking Shack they heard the sound of footsteps falling in behind them. Making sure that they kept far enough away from other students that Harry wasn't likely to bash into someone they made straight for the Three Broomsticks. Again learning from their past mistakes when they entered the pub and found a table they made sure that the `empty' seat that Harry was sitting in was firmly in the corner and completely inaccessible to annoying Slytherins or anyone else who fancied sitting down.

“It's almost like a Christmas card isn't it?” Hermione commented gazing outside once they had all settled down with their butterbeers. Alice had to agree with her, the holly and mistletoe that wrapped around almost every available surface coupled with the warm, cosy atmosphere and glimpses of falling snow through the windows did tend to make for a rather festive picture.

“Christmas cards don't get quite so cold though,” Ron shook his head to remove the melting snow that clung to his hair in clumps as he removed his scarf.

“Being really cold and then getting nice and toasty inside with a warm drink is half the fun of winter though,” Alice informed him with a smile. “I always love having a really good snowball fight and then going inside to heat up by the fire. It makes me feel all festive.”

“I never used to have snowball fights as a kid,” Harry's disembodied voice mused. “Dudley always just used to shove my face in a snow drift or put ice down my back instead.” They heard him snort in amusement. “I got my own back on him though. One year I spent an entire afternoon sitting on top of the shed roof just waiting for him to walk past it and then I knocked all the snow off on top of him. He was practically buried under it.”

Alice, after having had her encounter with Dudley over the summer, found this image very amusing. “What did your uncle say?”

“He locked me in the cupboard for a week,” Harry replied matter-of-factly. “Which was probably just as well really, because it gave Dudders time to calm down; he would have beaten me to a pulp otherwise. You should have seen his face when he dug himself out of the snow,” he chuckled, “he was absolutely livid!”

They all began discussing various other pranks which Harry could pull on his horrid cousin and were halfway through a particularly detailed plan as to how Harry could utilise an Ever-Bashing Boomerang to greatest effect when Hermione stood up. “I'm just going to pop to the loo.” She had barely been gone a minute however when she was suddenly back, looking very anxious and flustered. “Harry,” she hissed at the empty air next to Ron, “I think you had better go. McGonagall is here again - she's up at the bar talking to Professor Lupin, but she's heading this way.”

Alice peered round the enormous Christmas tree that was partially blocking them from view to check and sure enough their head of house was walking straight towards them.

“Does she have special powers or something?” Bemoaned Ron in frustration. “It's almost as though she knows that you're here.”

“Don't be daft,” Harry asserted, “it's just bad luck. Come on, wait till she's sat down and then we can sneak out.” His chair creaked as it slid backwards seemingly of its own accord. After a moment there was a rustle of branches and Alice assumed that he was looking round the tree itself. “Okay,” he whispered. “Come on.”

Quickly, quietly and as unobtrusively as they could manage the three of them rose from the table and shuffled round the tree and past the table where McGonagall was now sitting with Professor Lupin. As they passed they caught a snippet of conversation.

“It's been years since I was last in here,” the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor was saying. “I used to come in here all the time with James and Lily and…” Alice momentarily froze as his words registered; she was desperate to hear more but didn't want to be spotted by the teachers. She took a step forward to keep moving and felt Harry's solid presence motionless in front of her. She gave him a little shove to encourage him to keep walking. “Just leave it Harry,” she hissed where she thought his ear might be. When she didn't feel him shift in response she laid her hand flat against his invisible back and shoved hard to get him walking again. He seemed to reluctantly comply.

Once she had reached the door Alice paused and glanced worriedly back over her shoulder at the teachers, they didn't seem to have noticed the students scurrying past them. Thankfully. As she stepped through the door after Ron and Hermione she felt the icy cold hit her like a wall, but she only had a moment to pull her coat more tightly around her as suddenly her friends took off after the rapidly retreating footsteps that could only belong to Harry. Bowing her head against the snow that stung her face Alice scurried after them around the side of the Three Broomsticks and found them clustered around a now revealed Harry in a narrow alleyway next to several empty butterbeer crates.

“He knew my parents,” Harry was staring blankly at the frozen ground. “All term and he never mentioned it.”

“It might not have been them,” Ron reasoned as he shuffled from one foot to the other in an effort to keep warm.

“How many other James and Lily's do you reckon there are? They would have been about the same age as him I suppose - it must have been them.” He looked up at Alice and the others questioningly. “Do you think he knew her too… Clover?”

“He might have…” Hermione looked torn. “Harry look I know what you're thinking -”


“You want to go and ask him about your sister.”

“What's wrong with that?”

“I -” She looked to Alice and Ron for support, “I just don't know if that's a good idea or not… Not that I'm saying it's a bad idea as such… just… I'm not sure what I'm trying to say.” She threw up her hands in defeat, though whether at herself or the situation Alice couldn't tell.

“I think what she's trying to say Harry is have a think about it,” Alice advised, “don't act rashly.”

“Yeah,” Ron went to stand next to him and put a comforting hand on his shoulder. “Work out what you want to say to him first. You don't want to get a reputation for shouting at all the teachers.” Harry cracked a smile at that.

As the next day was the last day of term the bulk of the school disappeared for the holidays. With Sirius Black still on the loose, most people felt they would be safer at home; a view which Alice found silly as surely there was no place safer than Hogwarts? The upside of the whole situation however was that they virtually had the run of the school. “Harry,” she called across the common room that night to where he was sat hunched in a chair by the window, “come and join us - this popcorn is amazing!” She popped a piece in her mouth to prove her point.

“Yeah, where did you two find it?” Hermione asked the twins, who were also staying for the holidays, as she helped herself to a handful which was still warm after being toasted over the fire.

George tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially, but the effect was ruined somewhat by his little sister. “They snuck into the kitchens.”

“Ginny!” Fred rolled his eyes. “Here Harry,” he held out the plate as their raven-haired friend joined them, “Ginny shouldn't be allowed any more.” His sister stuck out her tongue at him before snatching some more with a wicked grin. Placing a thick leather bound book on the table, Harry obliged.

“What's that Harry?” Alice nodded towards the book.

“A photo album; there are some photos of my parents in it - and you three. Hagrid gave it to me in first year.”

“Oh, do you mind if I take a look?” Harry had never shown them the album before, but she was curious to see what his parents had looked like. Scooping up the album, she ran her fingers across the embossed red leather before deftly flicking it open. She smiled as she saw the first picture: it was one of the four of them taken by Colin Creevey the previous year; she didn't know when Harry had acquired it. Their enchanted images were all waving happily out of the page at her and she resisted the daft impulse to wave back.

“Can I see?” Hermione scooted over on the sofa next to her. “Oh that's a really good photograph!” She reached across to turn the page over. The next image was older, tattier around the edges; it was of Harry's parents. As she looked at them she realised that people weren't exaggerating when they said Harry looked like his father, if someone hadn't told her who was in the photograph she would have said it was Harry himself. James Potter was sitting on an old stool with his arm around the waist of the woman standing next to him; a woman with long, flowing, dark red hair. So that was Harry's mother. Alice frowned as she looked at the picture, there was something…

“Wow Harry,” Hermione's voice broke through her thoughts, “your Mum was really beautiful.”

“Yeah,” he looked back across at her with a sad smile. “Yeah, she was… thanks.”

Alice didn't have a chance to work out what it was that was wrong about the photo before Hermione turned the page again to show a photo of Harry at the Burrow in first year. Well, not wrong exactly, just… disconcerting.

“Hey Ron, come and have a look at this one, you were both so tiny then!” Hermione giggled as she showed him the album. As her friends all began laughing and exclaiming over the pictures of themselves and expressing interest and curiosity over the ones of Harry's family Alice tried to apply her brain to the problem of the photo of his parents. There was something about it nagging at her brain, but every time she thought that she had almost worked it out the answer escaped her, everything just seemed to become woolly and unclear. It was bizarre and it was giving her a headache so eventually she gave up and joined in the fun with her friends.

Two days before Christmas Harry announced his decision to confront Lupin about going to school with his parents.

“Do you want us to come with you?” Ron asked looking up from an enormous book that Hermione had given him to read for Hagrid's case. He started to rise from the table.

“No it's alright,” Harry shuffled his feet awkwardly, “I need to do this myself.”

“Of course,” Hermione was obviously trying to conceal her disappointment and concern, “we understand… And we'll be here when you get back.”

“Thanks.” He smiled before walking quickly from the common room.

A worried Hermione gazed after him. “Do you think he'll be alright?” Neither of them answered. They tried to turn back to their research but every so often Alice would catch Hermione's eyes straying towards the portrait hole.

“Have you told him yet?” She asked the thirtieth time this happened.

“What?” Hermione went red almost instantly. “Told him what?” Her eyes slid worriedly to Ron and then back to Alice trying to signal that she didn't want her to say anything in front of him.

“Don't worry Ron knows that you like Harry.”

“Alice!” Her friend exclaimed as Ron guffawed loudly.

She threw her hands in the air in a motion somewhere between a mock apology and amusement. “Oh come on, it's not my fault; I didn't tell him, you're just both really obvious!”

Hermione flushed an even deeper scarlet and hid her face in her hands with a stifled groan. “Really?” She peeped at them between her fingers.


“Oh, Merlin.” They could practically see her toes curling in her shoes as her whole body cringed. “Who else knows?”

“No one,” Alice asserted at exactly the same moment as Ron answered.

“Fred and George.”

“Ron!” She exclaimed rolling her eyes at her friend's tactlessness whilst Hermione buried her face in a cushion.

“What?” He seemed dumbfounded as to what he had done wrong as Alice glared at him with one eyebrow raised reproachfully. “She asked!”

Turning away from him and his male logic Alice addressed the top of Hermione's head. “Look it's fine they won't say anything, especially not to you or Harry, I'll make sure of it.” She took the muffled grunt that emerged from the depths of the cushion to be an affirmative. After waiting for a moment to see if she would get any other response Alice gave and turned back to the Transfiguration essay that she had been writing. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Ron covering his mouth and shaking slightly as he tried to contain his laughter. She grinned.

After what seemed like an age Hermione eventually shifted, but only so far as it took her to pick up the nearest book and conceal her face behind it again. “Don't talk to me,” her voice emerged from behind the pages, “I'm being humiliated.” Over the top of the cover Alice could see that her forehead was still an impressive, flame red.

The three of them had just settled back down to work again when Harry abruptly burst back into the common room.

“How did it go with Prof -” Hermione was forcefully cut off as Harry let out a furious yell and kicked a chair halfway across the common room. “Harry! What's wrong?” She looked with startled eyes, and not a little fear, from the shattered wreckage of the spindly wooden chair to Harry. “What on earth did he say?”

“Oh well nothing much,” Harry was breathing hard, his nostrils white with anger. “Just that he not only went to school at the same time as my parents he was one of my Dad's best friends since first year. Yeah apparently him, my Dad - and Sirius Black were all really cosy!”

“S… Sirius Black?” Alice had to check she had heard him properly.

“But how…? Black's… well he's…”

“Evil incarnate?” Ron helpfully supplied as Hermione struggled for words.

“Well according to Lupin the three of them were the best of friends - and Black was - is my godfather. But that's not the best part,” he was practically spitting by now, “the reason why everyone has been so paranoid about me all year and why I got all those cryptic clues from Mr Weasley and Malfoy was because when Voldemort went after my parents the person who told him where they were was -”

“Sirius Black.” Alice was thunderstruck. Could there possibly be any more dramatic revelations about Harry's past?

“Merlin,” Ron whispered. They all stared at Harry in silence for a few moments as he struggled to get his temper back under control. “Did he say anything else about it?” Ron eventually asked.

“That after I… Once Voldemort was gone Black revealed his true colours for the first time; that was when he killed all those people. He said that Black had been a Secret Keeper for my parents because the house was under a Filius Charm…Fildus…”

“Fidelius Charm,” Hermione supplied softly.

“Yeah, that was it.” Harry seemed to be calming down slightly, at least his breathing had returned to normal and he slowly sat down on the sofa next to Hermione and Alice. “Anyway he said that he was the only one who knew where they were hiding and that he… well, he told Voldemort.” Ron and Hermione flinched as he said the name again.

They all sat in silence as Harry's news slowly sank in. It seemed utterly impossible, but then so many impossible things had happened this year already that this latest was… well… Alice didn't know what to think anymore. After several more moments of standing in the middle of the floor all the fight seemed to drain out of Harry and without warning he slumped dispiritedly into a chair and let out a groan of frustration.

They all watched him tentatively before Hermione cautiously brought up the original reason for Harry's visit to Lupin in the fist place. “Did you ask him about your sister?”

Harry nodded miserably. “He didn't seem surprised, so Dumbledore must have told him I knew already. He knew her…”He took a deep breath and blinked back tears. “He said that she was a really happy baby, apparently I used to tease her all the time and… steal her toys and things.”

None of them really knew what to say. Hermione reached out and took his hand.

“I think I might go to bed, if you don't mind.” Harry squeezed her hand before standing up. “It's been a long day.” And so, not for the first time in the space of a few weeks, the three of them watched in sympathetic understanding and worry as Harry trooped off to his bed with the weight of the world on his skinny shoulders.

“Well this will make a Merry Christmas,” Ron gloomily shut his book which was still lying open on the desk.

“Poor Harry,” Hermione added looking close to tears herself. “First Dementors, then Hagrid's enquiry, then his sister, now this. We need to do something to cheer him up.”

“Well, it's Christmas the day after tomorrow so it would seem logical to do something then.”

Hermione grinned. “Ron, talking about logic; are my ears deceiving me?”

“Ha ha,” Ron laughed sarcastically. “I didn't hear you coming up with any better suggestions.”

“Oh no, I think it's a good idea.” Hermione smiled brightly.

Alice rolled her eyes at the two of them. Honestly, they were unfathomable; one minute they were at each others throats and then the next they were the best of friends. “Okay then,” she threw her plait back over her shoulder and rolled up her sleeves, “so what are we going to do then?”

A/N: Another day of drama for Harry - I'm starting to feel a little sorry for persecuting him so much! Hope you enjoyed it. I'll try to get back into regularly updating. Please R&R!


13. Breaking the Mould

Breaking the Mould

“Merry Christmas boys!” Hermione burst through the door to the boys' dormitory as Alice followed in her wake.

Ron groaned and turned over in his bed. “Just for once,” they heard his muffled grumble emerging from the pillow, “I would like to be able to sleep in on Christmas day!”

“Don't be a grump,” Alice chastised as she perched on the end of his bed. “It's Christmas!” She waved her wand and hundreds of tiny paper snowflakes began descending from the canopy of his bed.

“Alright, alright I'm up!” He was grinning really. “Hey Alice,” he exclaimed sitting up and examining one of the snowflakes, “these are really cool.”

“No, that's the snow outside,” Harry pointed towards the window which snow was falling rapidly past. Ron sighed in dramatic despair at his friends before leaping towards his presents and ripping through them.

“Thanks Hermione!” Alice, opening her own in a much more controlled manner, revealed another charm to add to the bracelet Hermione had given her in first year. This one was of a tiny hour-glass. “It's perfect!” The two girls smiled at each other across the dormitory as they shared the secret before Hermione glanced reflexively down to make sure that the real Time Turner was safely hidden. As she struggled to attach the charm to her bracelet, which she still wore all the time, she was suddenly attacked by a great quantity of wrapping paper as Ron threw it away in his haste to get at what lay inside. “Ron!”

“Oops,” he peered guiltily up from the floor where he was surrounded by a collection of sweet boxes, a Weasley jumper and what looked like a Chudley Cannons shirt - not to mention several presents still unopened. “Sorry, Alice.”

Laughing she shook her head in despair as she went to open her own gift from Mrs Weasley, which was endearingly predictable. Harry who had also just unwrapped his own Weasley Jumper held it up with a grin. “Do you reckon we've got enough of these now between us to open a shop and start selling them?”


Once they had opened their gifts the girls set about collecting up all the scraps of wrapping paper and stuffing them into a bin that was really too small for purpose. Just as Alice was emerging from under one of the beds with a handful of elusive paper and string she heard Hermione exclaim: “Hey, Harry, you missed one over here!” They all looked to see what she was talking about and sure enough, there, sitting on a chair by the dormitory door, was another package. Harry crossed the room to pick it up, turning the brown papered object over in his hands as he searched for a note or a tag to say who it was from. Finding nothing he shrugged and tore it open.

Beneath the paper lay a long, blue leather case, the sort that glasses or particularly expensive jewellery might come in. Frowning thoughtfully Harry flipped the lid open. He stopped.

“What is it Harry?” Hermione began to cross the room to get a look.

“Who's it from?”

“They're glasses,” he held up a pair of large, wire framed spectacles. As they caught the light Alice saw that there was a fractured crack all along one of the lenses, almost as though they had been dropped or trodden on.

“Why would someone send you broken glasses?” Hermione asked curiously as she took them to examine them.

“Maybe they broke in the post?” Hazarded Ron. “If the owl was anything like Erroll then it's possible.”

As Alice moved to join the group Hermione raised her wand. “I'll mend them for you if you like.” She opened her mouth to say the spell, but as she did so Harry suddenly snatched them from her.

“Wait!” he dashed across the room and rummaged through his trunk. Within seconds he had found the photo album they had all been looking at the other night and flipped through it quickly until he found the page he was looking for. Alice and the others watched him in silent incomprehension. For a moment Harry scrutinised one of the images and a look of realisation crossed his face, with confusion hot on its heels. “I think,” he hesitated for a second. “I think these were my Dad's.”

“What?” They stared at him for a moment as he looked reverently back at the spectacles in his hand; his eyes were shining with sudden tears.

“Let me see.” Gently Alice took the album from him and cast a glance between the man in the photograph, who looked so like Harry, and the object in his hand. They certainly looked the same.

“Who would send you your Dad's glasses?” Hermione took the album and proceeded to do exactly what Alice had just done.

“Maybe it was Dumbledore; he sent me the cloak in first year after all.”

“It might be…” she speculated, it was possible he had sent them by way of apology for concealing Harry's sister, “but then again, if he had had them then why not just give you them at the same time? And why send these anonymously? I mean the Cloak helps you break school rules so I understand why he did it then, but those,” she gestured at the glasses in his hand, “well they're just glasses.”

Ron tried to contribute. “Maybe it was Lupin, he did know your Dad - but I suppose,” he interrupted himself, “he could have given you these when he told you that.” They all pondered the problem for a moment.

“Maybe it was your Aunt?” Having seen her over the summer Alice doubted this, but she thought it was worth mentioning anyway. It wasn't as though she could think of anyone else.

In response to her suggestion Harry snorted in amusement and dug in his pocket. “This was my Christmas present from the Dursley's,” he held up a single crumpled tissue, “so I don't think it was them. They wouldn't want to outdo themselves.”

“Well… I don't know then,” Hermione was evidently at a loss. There were another few moments of considered silence as they all wracked their brains and Harry continued to gaze at the broken glasses as though they were the greatest treasure in the world; which, Alice supposed, to Harry they were.

“Anyone fancy breakfast then?” Ron's hopeful question broke the mood and they all laughed.

Christmas at Hogwarts that year was a much smaller affair as so few students had stayed for the holidays, but that didn't mean it was any less spectacular. If anything the school had gone out of its way to compensate for the lack of people by being more brash, more colourful, and more festive than usual. The Great Hall was festooned with colour; there were so many trees that Alice felt it was rather like eating Christmas dinner in the middle of a forest, all be it one where everything was covered in streamers and fairy lights. Enormous garlands hung so low from the sealing that when Hagrid stood up from the table at the end of lunch and wobbled off - having drunk rather too much Fire Whiskey - he was in danger of scraping his head off of them.

If Harry's glasses had been from Dumbledore or Lupin, neither of them mentioned it. Alice didn't see the glasses again that day, but every so often she would catch Harry with a far away look in his eyes and she knew he was thinking about them. Then he would snap out of it, catch her watching him and smile to show that he was fine. Typical boy!

By the end of the day Alice was exhausted and it was all that she could do to eat yet another mince pie in the common room in front of the roaring fire, play yet another game of exploding snap with Fred Weasley (which she won) and then stumble off to bed feeling happy and contented.

The glasses had reminded her however of her promise to find something to cheer Harry up, and after several days of careful thinking she managed to formulate a rough plan. The problem was that a part of the plan would involve talking - not her strongest attribute. In the end she decided that if she over thought the whole thing she would just increase her nerves even more, so she made up her mind to just get on with it.

Abruptly she stood up from her seat in the common room where she had been sitting reading with her friends and announced that she had something she needed to do. Without explanation she set off at a trot through the empty corridors and tried to keep her mind clear of all thoughts until she reached her destination. Eventually she stopped at a solid wooden door and before she could talk herself out of it, raised her hand and quickly knocked. There was a moment of silence. Perhaps no one was there?

“Come in.”

Pausing in the corridor she took a deep breath and tried to arrange her brain properly. “Oh for goodness sake,” she chastised herself before pushing the door open; what did she have to be nervous of?

“Ah Alice,” Professor Lupin smiled slightly when he saw her. He straightened up from the Grindylow tank he had been bending over. “What can I do for you today? Did you have a nice Christmas?”

“Yes, thank you Professor.” She hesitated. “Harry told us that he came to talk to you a few days ago.”

“Ah,” Lupin nodded slowly and then went to sit on the edge of his desk, “I see.” He folded his arms and looked at her searchingly. “Did he tell you what we talked about?”

“Yes,” Alice fiddled with the end of her plait. “He said that he came to ask you about his sister -” Lupin winced - “and that you told him that you went to school with his parents and Sirius Black… And that Black was his godfather.”

“Well… yes…” Lupin ran a hand across his tired face. “What was it you wanted to talk to me about exactly?”

“I…” How to ask? “The thing is Professor we've all been a bit worried about Harry, he's been really upset by everything - although he wouldn't admit it,” she added with a wry grin. “Nothing seems to be going right for him this year and I just wondered if… Well I saw on the train at the start of term that you managed to repel those Dementors and I was wondering if you would teach that to Harry. At least if he could do that he might not feel so… powerless about everything that's happened.” She paused, waiting for an answer.

“I don't see why I couldn't,” he replied after watching her carefully for a moment. “If Harry is willing to learn that is; it would be difficult but he has shown an aptitude for Defence Against the Dark Arts. Yes, I don't see why not,” he smiled at her and as he did so the years fell away from his face.

“Thank you,” she reciprocated. At least that was one part of Harry's life that was looking up, now she only had to complete the other part of her plan.

She was about to edge uncertainly towards the door when Lupin spoke again. “Alice,” she stopped in her tracks. “You know you're very -” He paused and seemed to change his mind about what he was about to say. “Astute. You're very astute, for someone so young.”

“Thank you Professor.” She skipped a beat before the question she really wanted to ask popped out. “Professor, what were Harry's parents like?” She was genuinely curious.

For a long moment nothing in the office moved, it was as though she had strayed onto sacred ground somehow; Lupin stared hard at her for a moment as though trying to fathom her motives in asking. Then, just as she began to wonder if she had done the wrong thing, he broke the silence. “They were wonderful people, the best of friends a man could ask for. James was very like Harry, not just in looks although I'm sure you have all heard that often enough. He was impulsive and adventurous, fun-loving and he had a certain disregard for the rules -”

“Like Harry,” she laughed at the thought. “What about his Mum?”

Lupin sobered. “Lily was one of the most uncommon women I have ever met. She was beautiful and kind, warm… she was very strict, she always made sure that we behaved ourselves. Fiercely intelligent…” Lupin tailed off. The thought occurred to Alice that perhaps Lupin had been a little in love with her himself, he certainly seemed a little more withdrawn when he was talking about her, as though it was private or there was a secret somehow. “Why do you ask?”

“I…” Why had she asked? “With everything that's happened recently… And then Harry showed us some pictures of his parents and I was curious. ” She shrugged uncertainly.

“Well,” the barrier around Lupin that seemed to have fallen whilst they were talking returned, “tell Harry to come and see me when he can and we can discuss those lessons.”

“Thank you Professor.” Alice backed towards the door.

It wasn't until term had restarted that she was able to put the second part of her scheme into operation, that was because phase two of `Operation cheer up Harry' required input from someone who was rather reluctant to play their part.

“Alice, can you not just drop it?” Hermione blushed trying to hide her face by busying herself with her hairbrush in a vain attempt to flatten her hair somewhat - she wasn't succeeding.

“Oh come on Hermione, you like him and you know he likes you. All you have to do is ask him. It'll be two days before Valentine's Day too so it will be really sweet. It's simple, come on, repeat after me: Harry, would you like to go to Hogsmeade with me? Ten words. Simple.” She smiled winningly at her.

“Well it sounds fine when you say it like that.” Her friend huffed in irritation. “I'd like to see you try.”

“Yuck.” Alice wrinkled her nose. “Me and Harry?!” She shuddered. “That would just be awkward and… wrong.”

“Ha. Ha. You know what I meant.” Hermione swatted her with the brush then bit her lip as she gave it some thought. “Alright,” she took a big shuddering breath and then grinned nervously at her best friend. “But… let me do it in my own time alright?”

“Sure,” Alice beamed at her.

“You know,” Hermione laughed after they had sat in awkward silence for a moment, “it's at times like this that I'm so glad that you aren't Lavender or Parvati; if you were you would have spent the last five minutes squealing at me.”

“I can if you really want me to.” Alice smirked as Hermione looked at her sceptically.

“No thanks,” she put down her brush, clearly accepting that her hair was always going to be bigger than her head. “Right come on then let's go down and see if Harry is back from his lesson with Lupin yet - What?!” She protested as Alice smiled knowingly again, “I'm just curious, Patronuses are really rare pieces of magic I want to know how he got on with his first try. My interest is purely technical.”

“Of course it is.” The two girls laughed as they made their way down to the common room. Harry however, hadn't arrived yet.

“Where had you two gotten to?” Ron asked looking up from the game of chess he was currently beating Neville at.

“Nowhere,” they sat down in front of the fire. “Isn't Harry back y-” Hermione started to ask but before she had finished her sentence, the object of her question walked I into the common room. “Harry!” She exclaimed brightly. “How was your lesson with Lupin?”

“Alright,” he collapsed heavily on the sofa next to them. “Tiring.” The smile that greeted them was strained and set in a pale face. “Do you want a piece?” He held out the bar of chocolate in his hand. “Lupin gave me some after facing the Dementor.”

“No, that's fine. He made you face a Dementor? That's really dangerous Harry!” Hermione sounded alarmed.

Their friend however shook his head as he took a loud, snapping bite. “Not a real one, it was a Boggart. I told Lupin that's what I thought I feared most so he went and got the Boggart we had used in class so that I could practice on it. He said that would be better than just trying to conjure a Patronus in an empty classroom. It still felt real though.”

“Did you manage to make a Patronus though?” Alice asked, sympathy mingling with her curiosity.

“Yeah, not a proper one though, but he said that what I did produce was really good for a first attempt.”

“I'm sure it was brilliant,” Hermione beamed at him now that she was satisfied he hadn't been in imminent danger. “At least now if the Dementors turn up at the match again next week you'll be able to hold them off long enough that you won't have to practice sky diving again.”

“I doubt they will,” Ron opined with an air of wisdom, “Dumbledore was absolutely livid, but I don't get why they turned up in the first place anyway.”

Alice noticed Harry shift uncomfortably in his seat and suddenly become very interested in his half-eaten chocolate. “Harry, what is it?”

“Hmm?” He avoided her gaze, trying to look nonchalant.

Harry,” Hermione warned sternly, “what's wrong?”

“Nothing,” he eventually met her gaze, trying to look innocent; Hermione was having none of it. “Alright,” he sighed. “Just before the Dementors appeared there was a flash of lightening and I thought I saw… something.”

“What do you mean?” Ron moved until he was on the edge of his seat, drawn forwards by the mystery.

“There was something - someone - in the stands, right at the top where hardly anyone every goes. A big, black shape… I only saw it for a second so I'm not exactly sure.”

Alice glanced nervously across at Hermione who had gone very pale; she didn't like the sound of this. There was a niggling feeling in the pit of her stomach that told her, more than any description that Harry might have been able to give what, or who, had been in the stands during the match. The thought made her blood run cold.

“Do you think it was Sirius Black?”

“It must have been,” Hermione answered Ron's question before Harry had a chance to open his mouth. “Oh Harry! Why didn't you tell us about this sooner? You have to tell McGonagall!”

“I don't know what I saw for sure; it was just a shape, it could have been a trick of the light! It was raining and then the Dementors appeared so fast I didn't have time to check properly.”

Hermione looked unconvinced, but she bit her lip and stared worriedly in the direction of the spiral staircase instead.

“Look, it's done now,” Alice decided to be diplomatic, “let's just forget about it shall we?”

Reluctantly the others agreed. Over the next few days however Alice noticed that Hermione seemed to be increasingly preoccupied about something, fleetingly the thought occurred to her that she was perhaps up to something with the Time Turner again, but she dismissed the idea. Before Hermione had told her about her magical necklace she had just been very tired and disappeared randomly, but this was different. Now she would just catch Hermione frowning out of windows or into fireplaces whenever she thought no one was watching her, or staring blankly at a book instead of reading it. The latter definitely told Alice that something was wrong, Hermione never missed and opportunity to read whatever was in front of her. Whenever she asked her though, her friend denied everything and grinned at her unconvincingly. It was quite by accident however that in the second week of term she found out exactly what was troubling her.

On Thursday morning Alice had been left on her own to go to Transfiguration whilst Hermione went off to repeat the hour in Muggle Studies (which Alice could never understand why she took) and Divination (which Hermione couldn't understand why she was still taking.) On her way to the classroom she realised that in her hurry to get ready before breakfast she had left her copy of Intermediate Transfiguration lying on her bed. Hoping that she had enough time she sprinted up to the common room to fetch it.

“Hermione?” She stumbled to a halt in the common room, which would have been deserted had it not been for her friend who had jumped up guiltily from an armchair next to the fire when Alice had dashed in out of breath and slightly dishevelled. “What are you doing in here?” Her friend was staring at her with wide, shocked eyes and a slightly guilty expression.

“I… erm… I was just - nothing!” Hermione couldn't lie to save her life.

“Hermione,” Alice's eyes narrowed suspiciously, “what have you got behind your back?”

Her best friend stared at her for a long moment and she could almost see the thoughts ticking through her brain, trying to work out whether or not she could dissuade Alice. Having known her for three years it wasn't long before she huffed reluctantly and drew her hands out from behind her back, revealing what she had concealed. Alice frowned.

“Erm… Hermione, why have you got Harry's Dad's glasses?”

Her friend was worrying at her lip again, a concerned crease had appeared between her honey-coloured eyes and she was twirling the broken spectacles agitatedly between her fingers.

“Hermione?” She repeated when her friend still didn't answer.

“I was going to give them to McGonagall alright?!”

“I… Why?” Whatever response Alice had been expecting that hadn't been it. Why on earth had Hermione snuck up to the common room and taken the glasses to give to McGonagall? It didn't make sense.

“After the other day when Harry said that he had seen - thought he had seen Sirius Black at the Quidditch match, it got me thinking: if Black had been friends with Harry's parents at school then he -”

“He might have sent them to Harry,” Alice whispered her brain finally catching up with Hermione's. “Is this what you've been worrying about for days?” Hermione nodded miserably. “You should have said something,” She looked back at the glasses in Hermione's hand again, “and you should definitely have said something to Harry.”

“I know, but they're his Dad's and I know what he would say if I suggested handing them over to a teacher. He's so stubborn, but what if they were cursed or something? I mean it's possible isn't it?” She looked eagerly at Alice for confirmation.

“Yeees… I suppose…” She wasn't sure. With Black anything could be possible, but surely if they were cursed something would have happened to Harry by now, he had owned them for nearly two weeks after all. Then again, would it not be better to make sure. “But to take them without telling Harry? Really? He would never forgive you.”

“I know!” Hermione sank into the chair she had sprung up from and hung her head so that her bushy hair fell like a curtain across her face. “I don't know what to do. If I give them to McGonagall he'll never speak to me again and I don't think I could bear… But if I tell him he'll probably think I'm over reacting and still get angry.”

Sympathising with her plight, Alice quickly crossed the room and perched on the side of the chair as she put an arm around her friend's shoulders. “Look, I don't think you're giving Harry enough credit here. Certainly don't hand over the spectacles without telling him; I'm not saying he'd never speak to you again - I don't think Harry could last long without talking to you,” she was pleased to see Hermione smile slightly at this, “but he'd certainly feel betrayed. Unless you leave it and don't do anything,” an option she was positive her friend wouldn't take because it just wasn't in her nature to let things lie, “then I think you're going to have to tell him.”

“But what if he won't let McGonagall look at them? I mean if I tell her I think they're jinxed then she'll probably want to strip them down and you saw how protective Harry was when I offered just to mend them. He'll have a fit if he thinks people are tampering with them.”

“You could make sure that they're given back in the same condition. Or,” she was thinking out loud now, reasoning things out as she went along, “if he does kick up a fuss about it then just let him know that you're going to go to McGonagall anyway.”

“Are you sure?”

Alice nodded and gave her friend an affectionate squeeze.

“Alright, hang on then.” Her friend rose and dashed back up the stairs to the dormitory; Alice could only assume that she was replacing the glasses. Seconds later she was back again, checking her watch as she strode across the common room looking much more like her usual efficient self. “We're going to be late for class now, it started ages ago. I guess we'll just have to use the Time Turner, sorry.” She glanced up at Alice apologetically as she fished said object out from under her robes.

“Are you kidding?” Alice felt a fizz of excitement shoot along her spine. “I've been dying to have a go of that thing all term!” From the soberness of moments before Alice was practically bouncing up and down as Hermione threw the long golden chain around her neck. Magic had become such an ingrained part of her existence now that sometimes it was easy to forget that there was anything particularly out of the ordinary about it. She loved moments like these when she was re-inspired by something to do with it; what greater expression of the extraordinary was there than time-travel? If anyone had asked her the things she had most wanted to do with magic when she had first started at Hogwarts this would have been one of those things right up there with Apparition, being able to levitate things and Transfiguration.

With wide, shining eyes she watched as Hermione held up the Time Turner, its golden edges sparkling enticingly in the winter light, and flipped it back a half turn. All at once the world became a swirling cloud of light and colour; the common room around her dissolved and she felt as though she was being yanked off her feet and thrown backwards, or falling horizontally - the sensation didn't last long enough for her to work out which. As quickly as the motion started it was over and she found herself standing in a deserted corridor outside the Arithmancy classroom, swaying slightly on the flag-stone floor as her body adjusted to the shock of transition. “Wow,” she mumbled trying to take in the fact that she had just travelled in time and marvelling at how easy it had been. “I… Wow.” There weren't really any other words.

“Oh, come on!” Hermione whisked the chain from her neck and pulled her quickly along the corridor towards a nearby classroom. “In here before someone spots us.” She towed Alice into the deserted room and turned back to peek through the crack she had left open in the door. “Once we both leave the room, then we can just slip back in and carry on as though nothing had happened, alright?”

“Alright,” Alice was aware she was still grinning like an idiot and tried to straighten her face with difficulty. A few moments later there was a huge commotion out in the corridor as students began pouring out of classrooms shouting and screeching at the tops of their voices.

“Right, that's us.” Hermione had to raise her voice over the din. “Are you ready?”

Alice nodded and the two girls slipped back out into the corridor and rejoined the flow of students. Even though she knew her other self - how strange to think of it like that - was somewhere upstairs, Alice couldn't help but keep peering around her to make sure that she didn't bump into herself. Thankfully being small had some benefits because even if she had, for some inexplicable reason, encountered a second self in the corridor she would be unlikely to spot herself through all the taller students crushing around her. Even thinking that sentence made her head hurt.

It wasn't long before the girls reached the Transfiguration classroom and slipped into their seats next to Harry and Ron.

“What are you two grinning at?”

“Nothing,” Alice smiled enigmatically, “Just having a good day that's all.”

“Well do you fancy passing some of that on?” Ron moaned. “We've just spent an entire lesson with Trelawney telling us we're all going to keel over at any moment and now we've got to try and turn these shoe brushes,” he brandished one of the said objects which were lying on every desk, “into something impossible! I could use some `good' right now.”

“Oh.” Something suddenly dawned on Alice and she slapped herself on the forehead. “I am such an idiot!” She couldn't believe how scatterbrained she was.

“Any particular reason why, or is this just an observation?” Harry teased.

With a giggle Alice turned back to explain to Hermione. “Can you believe after all that I forgot to pick up my Transfiguration book?!” Hermione glanced up from her own copy which she had been reading over before class. She met Alice's eyes for a split second before bursting out laughing too.

“I don't get it,” Ron complained grumpily, “what's so funny about that?”

“Girls,” Harry told him with all the wisdom of his thirteen years. “Don't ask.”

The four of them found themselves rather busy over the next few days and so it wasn't until after the Quidditch match on Saturday, where much to their chagrin Ravenclaw were narrowly beaten by Slytherin, that Hermione had an opportunity to broach the subject of the spectacles with Harry.

“No.” His tone brooked no argument and he had set his jaw in an expression of stubbornness that Alice had seen all too often before. Hermione however, tried to reason with him.

“But Harry, they could be dangerous! I'm not saying that you should destroy them or anything just let McGonagall or Flitwick or someone have a look at them. For your own safety!”

“No,” he repeated. “If they were going to curse me or something wouldn't it have happened by now? Just because I don't know where they came from doesn't mean that they're dangerous; I mean look at the cloak, I didn't know where it came from at first did I?”

“But that was completely different,” Hermione was clearly trying to be patient with him, but a note of irritation was creeping into her voice as Ron and Alice watched their argument in silence, neither wanting to get involved. “You didn't have a mass murderer trying to hunt you down then.”

“Voldemort taking a holiday that year was he?”

“You know what I meant,” her brows lowered dangerously. “Fine!” She exclaimed when he continued to look unmoved by her pleading. “Answer me this then: if I'm right and those spectacles were sent by Black, and you don't do anything about them, what are you going to do if something happens?”

“I don't think that sentence even made sense.”

“It's not a joke Harry! You know exactly what I meant; how are you going to feel if someone gets hurt and you could have prevented it? Curses aren't always instantaneous, look at what happened to Ginny last year.”

“That was completely different,” Harry muttered looking sullen.

“Was it? She thought that diary was completely innocuous too. So did you if I remember rightly.” She threw out the last statement like a challenge and the minute she said it Alice could sense that her friend had gone too far.

“Your point being that you didn't I suppose,” Harry was really angry now, his green eyes flashed dangerously in the firelight as he turned deathly pale. “As always Hermione Granger knows best while the rest of us just wander around like brainless idiots.”

“You know I didn't mean it like that.” Her bushy hair seemed to crackle with electricity as her own temper was roused by Harry's mocking comments. “But now that you mention it, yes I warned you about that too. And I was right wasn't I?”

“Ugh,” Harry threw his hands up in frustration, “I don't have to listen to this!” He spun on his heel and stalked towards the staircase that led to the boys' dormitory.

“FINE!” Hermione yelled at his retreating back as she too made for the staircase. “That's the last time I try to give you advice! Just don't come crying to me if it turns out that I was right!” The only response she received was the sound of a distant door slamming forcefully. Letting out a strangled scream of frustration she stomped up the stairs to her own room.

“Well,” Ron eventually broke the protracted silence that had descended over the room. “I suppose it makes a change from me and Hermione shouting at each other.”

Alice frowned worriedly towards in the direction which her friends had angrily flounced; the last thing she wanted was another falling out within the group. How were Harry and Hermione ever going to get together if they weren't even speaking? She had faith that they would work it out eventually, they were too good friends for them not to, but this would surely mean another delay in Hermione having that chat with Harry that she had promised she would. She rolled her eyes; honestly, people.

The two of them turned back to the homework they had been doing before the row erupted, but it wasn't long before they heard a pattering of feet racing down the stairs again. They both glanced up curiously as Harry strode briskly across the room, spectacles in hand and a determined look on his face. He didn't seem to register his friends still sitting by the fire where he had left them earlier and probably would have steamed on by without a word had Ron not piped up.

“Mate, where are you going?”

“McGonagall.” Was the curt response as he reached the portrait hole. Seeming to consider for a moment he paused and looked back at them for a second before disappearing through it. “Don't you dare tell Hermione.”

Alice couldn't help it, the minute the portrait swung closed behind him, she burst out laughing. Boys were utterly ridiculous sometimes.

A/N: Because at the end of the day, as we all know, Hermione is nearly always right! Please R&R as always!


14. Things That Go Bump in the Night

Things That Go Bump in the Night

Alice had log since decided that people were peculiar, just take Harry and Hermione for example. Harry had admitted that Hermione was right, albeit not to her face, but she knew he had taken the glasses to McGonagall. Similarly Harry knew that she knew he had done it… And yet the two of them still insisted on being frosty and curt with each other for the next few weeks. It wasn't that they weren't speaking they would just be terribly polite in front of each other, or pay a disproportionate amount of attention to Ron and Alice. It got tiring after a while.

By the end of January Alice was getting fed up of it, neither of them had attempted to heal the rift, largely due to the fact that both were ridiculously stubborn and proud, and they were both miserable as a result. It was a Monday night and Alice was exhausted after a particularly tense weekend, made even more so as it had been their last opportunity to do any research for Hagrid's hearing which was to have taken place that afternoon. She was only half concentrating on her Potion's essay, flicking a glance out of the window every so often to see if any lights had come on in Hagrid's cabin and then across to Harry and Hermione who were sitting on the opposite side of the table from her and very deliberately facing slightly away from each other. Ron, as usual, was half asleep over his own essay and didn't seem to be paying attention to anything much at all.

Alice was just about to say something to the two of them when a sudden tapping at the window caused her to swivel sharply in her seat; at the same moment Ron jerked upright sending bits of loose parchment fluttering to the floor.

“That's one of the school owls,” Hermione observed after they had all stared at the bird outside for a moment. As though in answer to this statement the owl leaned forward again and pecked sharply on the glass as it had obviously done before.

“Quick let it in,” Harry scrambled round the table to lift the catch on the window before anyone else could respond to his instruction, “it must be from Hagrid!” He gave the window a shove and with a juddering effort it eventually complied allowing the owl to hop gracefully inside and then flap across until it landed on the table, crushing Alice's homework under foot, or claw, as it did so. As the bird gazed round with unblinking amber orbs at the four of them, the Gryffindors gazed back, all suddenly nervous as to what news the missive tied to its leg contained. Eventually, unable to bear the suspense any longer Alice reached across and tore the note away, scanning the text hungrily as the others crowed round in silence. As her eyes travelled across the few brief, hastily scribbled lines, Alice felt happiness begin to bubble up inside her.

“He got off!” she whispered.

“What?!” Giving up on trying to read it over her shoulder Harry snatched the letter away.

“Hagrid got off,” Alice turned excitedly and repeated in a louder voice for the others' benefit. An enormous grin began to travel from one side of her face to the other. At her words Hermione let out an excited squeak and flung an arm around Ron and Alice's necks simultaneously and crushed the three of their bodies together whilst doing an exuberant victory jig. As Ron began protesting that he couldn't breathe she dropped them and rushed over to give a similarly excited Harry a hug too. Clearly in the emotion of the moment all previous arguments between the two of them had been forgotten either that or they had come to an unspoken consensus that Hagrid's triumph outweighed their petty argument.

“Come on!” Harry exclaimed excitedly once Hermione had eventually let him go, “we need to go and see him!” He had barely taken two steps however when Hermione grabbed his arm and swung him around.

“Harry, don't you think you should go and get the cloak? It's getting dark outside and… one of the teachers might spot us. You know you're not meant to leave the castle.”

“Ugh!” Harry gave a groan of frustration, pivoted on the spot and raced towards the dormitory stairs. Within what seemed like seconds he was back, cloak in hand and the four of them were creeping across the frosty castle grounds towards Hagrid's cabin, trying and failing to keep everyone's feet under the cloak. It was just as well it was getting dark and the grass was quite long as anyone looking out of the castle window would have been able to see four pairs of seemingly disembodied feet striding across the grounds… and that would be bound to raise questions. As it was they reached the cabin without incident and Harry threw off the cloak to bound up the steps and pound on the door. There was a moment of silence and he had just raised his arm to repeat the motion when they heard a chuckle from within.

“Was wonderin' when I'd be seeing you lot.” There was the sound of feet stomping across the wooden floorboards and then the door was flung open to reveal Hagrid's ruddy, smiling face.

“We got your letter!”

“Congratulations Hagrid!”

“Yeah, well done mate.”

The third years were tripping over each other in their delight for him. Hermione, without waiting to even get inside, threw her arms around his waist - which was as high as she could reach. “We knew you could do it!”

“Ah now,” he looked sheepish behind the jubilant smile, “I couldn't have done it without yeh.”

“Don't be silly,” Hermione released him and immediatelybegan bustling about making cups of tea in his oversized kitchen. “You never did anything wrong, they were always going to see that in the end.”

Alice wished she had had this confidence whilst they were researching for the hearing. Hindsight was a wonderful thing.

“What happened then?” Ron asked eagerly. “Was Lucius Malfoy there? Oh I wish I could have seen his face! Did he say anything?”

“Aye, Lucius was there,” Hagrid chuckled at the red head's enthusiasm, “didn't look too pleased either I can tell you, reckon he thought he'd lined enough pockets with gold that the outcome was certain - there's a cake in that cupboard Hermione. We need ter celebrate.” He waved a giant hand in the direction of the sideboard and continued explaining to them exactly how Malfoy senior had reacted to the verdict, much to Harry and Ron's amusement, as Hermione removed a tin from the cupboard and sniffed gingerly at the cake it contained. Evidently it was found to be satisfactory because moments later she was carrying a tray to the table laden with five enormous mugs of tea and the cake all neatly cut up on the least chipped plate she could find.

“What about Buckbeak?” Harry asked several minutes later. Alice paused midway through trying to chew a mouthful of particularly tough and rubbery cake, as her eyes fixed on Hagrid's face which suddenly seemed to have lost a little of its sparkle.

“Ah… well, they said if Beaky ever got found he'd have ter be…” Hagrid drew one enormous finger across his beard roughly where his throat was; they all got the idea. Hagrid looked glumly into his mug of tea.

“But it won't come to that,” Hermione smiled encouragingly at him as Alice patted his arm, “Buckbeak is safely somewhere in the Forbidden Forest. No one will ever find him in there.”

“So anyway,” Alice felt they should probabl change the subject, “I'll bet that Umbridge woman wasn't pleased?”

Her question had the desired effect, Hagrid's beetle-black eyes regained their usual twinkle as he grinned mischievously. “Yer right there. Once Madam Bones read out yer new statement the hearing started goin' my way and you could tell she wasn't happy about it…” As the light faded outside he continued relating with exultant detail how exactly the hearing had played out and Umbridge's reaction to her defeat. By the time they made their apologies and left it was almost pitch black and they had to stumble across the grounds under the cloak without a light. Once back inside they shuffled as quickly and quietly as they could through deserted corridors hoping against hope that no one would catch them. It seemed that there luck for the year must have finally begun to change Alice thought as they reached the bottom of Gryffindor Tower uninterrupted.

No sooner had the thought flitted blithely through her head than she heard the click of heels against the flagstones. The third years all stared at each other in horror. The corridor they were standing in was extremely narrow, it was possible that they could flatten themselves against the wall and allow whoever it was to pass, but the cloak wasn't big enough to cover four of them if they did this. And if anyone did collide with them in the corridor… Alice could only imagine what a teacher would have to say if they discovered four students with an invisibility cloak.

“We should turn back.” Hermione looked panicked.

“And go where?” Ron nodded down the long corridor behind them, whoever was approaching would hear them running.

With a glance at Harry, Alice could almost see the plan forming behind his eyes, he met her own hazel ones and she nodded in agreement. “Just follow my lead,” he hissed to the others as the footsteps approached the turn in the passage. Before any of them could protest he whipped the cloak quickly away from them and stuffed it under his own robes just as none other than Professor McGonagall rounded the corner. Catching sight of them she stopped abruptly.

“What on earth are you four doing roaming the corridors at this time of night?” Her mouth set in a line that Alice had long since learned to recognise as potentially dangerous. She hoped Harry knew what he was doing.

“We were in the Library Professor,” he blurted. “Some of us,” at this he threw an exaggerated glance at the girls, making sure their head of house saw, “lost track of the time. We were just going back to the common room.” Alice had to wonder if Harry had considered a career in acting once he left Hogwarts.

“Well,” McGonagall seemed to be weighing up how heavily she should discourage such dedication to learning, “it's not safe to be wandering around at night. Next time I suggest that if the four of you wish to be as assiduous in your studies you take some books to the common room.” They all nodded and mumbled an assent, scarcely believing their luck and trying not to grin. “As it is, it is fortunate that I bumped into you Mr Potter, I was just on my way to return these to you.” She held out a familiar pair of battered spectacles. “It would seem that they are indeed a pair of ordinary glasses, with no particular magical properties that we could trace.”

The grin that Harry had been holding back suddenly blossomed across his cheeks as he slowly reached out his hand and reclaimed his father's glasses. “Thank you Professor.” They seemed to be the only words he could manage. Sneaking a glance at their teacher Alice elbowed Hermione gently and nodded to attract her attention. In an uncharacteristic show of emotion McGonagall seemed close to tears herself as she watched Harry cradle the spectacles.

“Right then,” she sniffed suddenly and cleared her throat, “run along to your common room now all of you; you should all be in bed.” They didn't hesitate to comply.

“Mate,” Ron laughed as they dashed through the portrait hole minutes later, “I don't know how you manage it, but you always seem to manage to get us out of scrapes with McGonagall, could you not just do it more often… like when we have an essay due that I haven't done?”

“Ron!” Hermione exclaimed reproachfully, but she was laughing too. For the first time in a while things seemed to be looking up for them all.

For the rest of the week it was easy to forget the shadow of Black hanging over Harry and the castle. Harry was in a perpetual good mood, his Patronus lessons with Lupin were going well, he had a tangible connection to his parents and there was a Quidditch match to look forward to at the end of the week. His humour was infectious and Alice had to admit that it was one of the best weeks she had spent at Hogwarts in a long time.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, if a little frosty, but there was heat and laughter enough in the Great Hall that morning to banish even the most stubborn of chills. Alice was particularly entertained by the enormous raven-headed hat that the second year Luna Lovegood was sporting and received a radiant smile when she told her so on the way down to the pitch. The day flew by in the usual fashion: Gryffindor won an outstanding victory, followed by one of the impromptu common room parties the Weasley twins were becoming famous for. By the time she crawled into bed, her stomach far too full of pumpkin juice and custard creams, Alice was quite content.

It seemed only minutes later that she was being abruptly and unexpectedly woken from a dream that had been full of swooping lions and ravens playing Quidditch by the sound of several distant shouts echoing around the corridors. Close at hand the terrified whispers of Lavender, Parvati and Sally-Anne hissed around the darkened room.

“Did you hear that?”

“Someone screamed.”

“What's happening? Do you think someone's been murdered?”

“Oh don't be ridiculous,” Hermione's biting tones cut across the darkened dormitory and silenced their anxious twittering. “No one's been murdered, don't be daft.”

“What happened?” Alice asked, turning in the direction of her friend's voice.

“Someone did scream,” Hermione responded. Now that she wasn't chastising the others Alice could hear that there was the tiniest hint of fear in her voice. The five of them sat in the pitch black, straining for the tiniest hint of noise. Just as she was about to slip out of bed feeling that whatever it was might have passed there was the sound of feet pounding on the stairs and someone battered on the dormitory door. Sally-Anne squeaked and Alice could hear her diving under the bed covers. Without waiting for any of them to respond to the door, whoever was on the other side of it burst in.

“Is everyone alright in here?” By the wavering light of the candle they held she could see that it was Felicity, one of the prefects. She was very pale.

“Yes,” Hermione called from the back of the room as the rest of the girls, bar Alice, continued to sniff and whimper, “what's going on?”

“Come on,” was the cryptic response, “you had all better get down to the common room.”

Quickly, and with many curious glances at the prefect and each other, the five Gryffindor girls scrambled out of bed and pulled on their dressing gowns and slippers. In their rush to get to the door they nearly tripped over one another as they jostled with each other. As Alice tried to keep up with Hermione, Lavender's rabbit slippered foot landed heavily on hers and she winced in pain. Going down the stairs they joined several other groups of Gryffindor girls, all in similar states of dress and confusion as themselves. When they reached the common room they found the entire house there, surrounding an almost ghostly Ron - his hair standing out in an even more brilliantly orange halo around his head in comparison. Next to him sat Harry, Neville, Ginny, Fred and George, all trying not to look worried and panicked in various degrees and all failing miserably.

“What happened?” Hermione rushed over with Alice hot on her heels. “Ron was that you that screamed?”

“I didn't -” he began to protest.

“You screamed Ronniekins,” Fred ignored his brother.

“Like a girl,” George nodded in agreement, though she could see that they were both still rattled about… whatever had happened.

Just as she was beginning to wonder if any of them were going to provide an answer, Ginny spoke up. “I don't understand what happened though.”

“Ron was attacked in his bed.” Neville responded solemnly. “By Sirius Black.”

There was a moment of horrid silence and Alice swore she would have been able to hear a pin drop on the far side of the room. Every single Gryffindor seemed to be holding there breath, waiting to see what would be said next.

“What?!” Alice's horrified whisper echoed loudly in the silence. “How? Inside the castle?”

Ron nodded shakily, the flickering light of the fire amplified the dark shadows under his eyes giving him and ill and haunted look.

“He wasn't hurt though,” Neville added.

“No, the girly squeal scared him off,” joked Fred, “if only the Dementors in Azkaban had known that.”

“Are you alright Harry?” Hermione looked across in concern.

“Oh thanks,” Ron protested sarcastically before anyone could answer. “I get attacked by some psycho-nutbag-mass-murderer and all you want to know is if Harry is alright. Really, some people!”

“You know what I meant,” Hermione flushed in a mixture of embarrassment and irritation. “I was just -”

“Oh I know what you were just,” huffed Ron, but Alice could see that he wasn't really angry at her; he just needed some normality and for Ron that meant fighting with Hermione.

“What happened then?” Hermione asked gently, clearly trying to placate him.

“I heard this ripping noise - it must have been what had woken me up - then I looked up and he was standing there, Black, he must have slashed through the curtains round my bed because he was standing there holding a knife. He looked at me with these horrible, mad eyes… then I shouted out -”

“Screamed,” the twins interjected.

“Yeah, well anyway, then everyone else woke up and he turned and ran. I don't know where he disappeared to.”

Ginny wasn't the only one to squirm uncomfortably at this last remark and cast fearful eyes around the room as though Black might still be lurking in a dark corner. Alice watched Fred place a comforting arm around his sister as others around the room checked for signs of any lurking, escaped murderers. For a few moments there was nothing but silence as everyone exchanged worried glances and tried to digest the news.

Suddenly the door to the portrait hole burst open causing several more people to scream - Ron nearly jumped out of his skin. It was only Percy Weasley however, looking extremely self-important in his paisley pyjamas with his Head Boy's badge firmly pinned to the front, and followed by an upset looking Professor McGonagall.

“What on earth has been happening in here? Weasley,” she rounded on Ron, “your brother says that you were attacked by Sirius Black; is that true?”

“Yes Professor,” Ron began to explain.

“Right,” McGonagall was breathing heavily by the time he had finished. “Right… right, well then. Everyone back down to the Great Hall. Stick together. I want no wandering off. If Black is inside the castle then you must all be on guard.” For a split second everyone just stared at her blankly. “Move!” They all scurried to obey.

As they approached the exit to the common room Alice saw the Professor lay a firm hand on Harry's shoulder in a way that implied that she wasn't letting go until they had reached the Great Hall. It was only at this point that Alice realised that the portrait hole itself had been damaged. Shuffling quickly past it so that she didn't fall behind, she craned above the heads of the others to get a look. From the outside the wall around the portrait hole was covered in scorch marks, the sort produced by a blasting curse of some type. The back of the Fat Lady's portrait also appeared smashed and damaged around the edges, but as it was swung open she couldn't see the full extent. Over the noise of footsteps and agitated whispers however, she could hear someone weeping piteously.

Noticing that the others were getting ahead of her somewhat Alice forced the Fat Lady's plight from her mind and scurried after them. She caught up just in time to hear Ron declaring loudly to Hermione: “- And if we spend all day in the Great Hall again I am not playing Eye-Spy, alright?!”

Alice smiled. It was good to know that even in the midst of upheaval, some things never changed.

As it turned out they did have to spend another day holed up in the Great Hall, although Hermione was banned from choosing the games they played to occupy themselves. Sirius Black however was nowhere to be found.

“If only we had had the Map back,” Harry complained as they all trooped back to Gryffindor Tower the following night, “then we could have made sure that he was gone.”

“I'm sure the teachers did a thorough enough job Harry,” Hermione informed him seriously. “Hogwarts is one of the most secure places in the country.”

“How did he get in then?” Harry challenged. Hermione had no answer to that.

As they reached the common room they paused in front of the portrait hole. The damage to the stone work was still in evidence, bearing witness to the violence of the previous evening. The Fat Lady though had vanished, replaced by a portrait of a pair of grizzled old wizards. As the four of them approached the portraits challenged them.

“Who goes there? What's the password? Can't pass without a password.”

“Erm…” They all stopped in confusion. “Is the password still the same?” Alice asked tentatively.

“Of course it's not,” the fiercer of the two wizards barked back. “Sirius Black might know it and then where would we be if we kept the same password?”

“Well that doesn't make sense.” Hermione declared. “If Black had known the password he wouldn't have had to break in would he? He could just have told the Fat Lady.”

The portrait's blinked for a moment, taken aback by her brusque logic.

“Still can't get by without the password.”

“But we don't know the password!” Ron moaned. He was tired and grumpy and this clearly wasn't improving his mood any.

“Well then you can't get passed. Isn't that right?”

“Right you are Cyril. No password, no passing.” He smiled evilly at the third years. Ron looked like he wanted to reach through the painting and strangle him.

“So now what are we going to do?” Harry turned to his friends. As though in answer it was at that moment that Neville came puffing up the corridor behind them.

“What are you all doing hanging about out here?” He stopped casting confused glances between the four of them and the portrait.

“Cheery and Happy won't let us in and we don't know what the password is,” Harry answered sarcastically as he gestured towards the two wizards.

“Oh,” Neville's face lit up. “I've got a list of the week's passwords here,” he retrieved a slip of parchment from his pocket and showed it to them. “I got them from one of the Prefects.”

“Ha!” Harry crowed taking the parchment from him. “Neville, have I ever told you that you're brilliant.” Neville blushed as the other three congratulated him too.

“Right, well,” Harry cleared his throat and turned with a triumphant smile towards the now sour looking wizards. “Water Beetle.”

As the portrait swung forward to admit them they could hear its occupants complaining resentfully. “Spoilsports.”

That night Alice lay in bed she couldn't help speculating about what could have happened to Ron, or what might happen to Harry, to any of them, if Black returned. It was all too easy to let her imagination run away with her, lying there in the dark with just a sliver of moonlight edging through the crack in her curtains, listening to the rustle of feathers as owls swooped and dived past her window and the gently sigh of the other girls sleeping. Imagining that they were made by the soft sweep of robes across a stone floor, or the exhalation of a breath as someone prepared to strike - snap out of it Alice. Irritably she rolled over and forced her mind to think about something else.

The next day the array of tired faces at the Gryffindor table told her that she wasn't the only on who hadn't slept well that night. For Harry and Ron however that didn't seem to have been a problem as they both appeared as energetic and chipper as usual.

“Hey Alice,” Harry materialised at the table next to her in the Great Hall during lunch, grinning idiotically from ear to ear.

“What is it?” She glanced suspiciously at Ron who had followed him in and was wearing a similarly self congratulatory expression. “What have you done?”

“We had a little errand to run, and we felt that you should be presented with the rewards of our endeavours.” Before she could ask what on earth he was talking about he produced a piece of parchment from behind his back with a flourish. “Here you go.”

“The Map!” Alice exclaimed taking it gently from him. “How on earth did you get this back?” she asked, impressed and stunned in equal measure.

“It was simple,” Harry boasted. “McGonagall couldn't find anything untoward about it. She doesn't know how to work it so to her it was just a plain piece of parchment. I said I was running low on parchment, pointed out that I hadn't been able to get to Hogsmeade to buy any -”

“Fibber,” Alice commented.

“Well she doesn't know that does she? Anyway I think with everything that happened the other night, she was feeling bad and the guilt trip worked, so there you go,” he gestured happily to the Map now resting on the table in front of Alice.”

“Harry Potter,” she wasn't sure whether to encourage such behaviour or not, “you are entirely unorthodox but thank you!”

“You're going to give him a big head,” Hermione's wry voice reached them from across the table. As they looked across at her she shrugged and carried on eating her lunch.

“Don't you approve Hermione?” Asked Ron, sitting down and tucking into the sandwiches with gusto.

“I just don't think you should have lied to a teacher again. The Map was confiscated as a punishment after all.”

“Yes, but to punish me, not Alice,” Harry reminded her. “Besides I did all my detentions. Please don't be angry Hermione,” he smiled winningly at her. “Please?”

After looking at him for a moment and trying hard not to laugh at his ridiculousness she glanced across at Alice who nodded with a grin. Finally she relented. “Fine,” she chuckled, throwing up her hands in mock surrender. “Do what you want. I give up, you're incorrigible.” They all laughed. Finally something was going right.

Once things in the castle had calmed down a bit, Alice decided it was her duty as friend to corner Hermione and force her to confront an issue she had been avoiding with all her usual stubbornness and determination. Finally she found her opportunity one lunchtime when they were on their way to meet Harry and Ron in one of Hogwarts' many courtyards.

“Do I have to?” Her best-friend whined plaintively.


“But -”

“Hermione,” Alice glared at her sternly, “we've talked about this. He is going to say yes, you have nothing to worry about, just get out there and ask him!” Really her best friend could be annoyingly stubborn sometimes.

“Why can't he do it?” Hermione peaked nervously round the door frame before pulling back quickly and flattening herself against the wall out of sight. “I mean… he is the boy after all.”

Alice felt like bashing her head against the stonework but refrained with great difficulty. “It's exactly because he is the boy that you have to do this,” she explained much more patiently than she felt. “You're more coherent, organised, and less laid back; if you don't do it now you'll be waiting months before he gets up enough courage to do it - no matter how much he wants to right now.”

“I…” Hermione couldn't seem to find an argument against this so she changed tack. “But Ron's with him.”

“Don't worry about Ron, I'll get rid of him.”

Hermione's mouth opened and then closed again without making a sound. Alice grinned triumphantly, she knew she had won. “Right then, come on!” With a forceful shove she propelled Hermione through the doorway and out into the courtyard where Ron and Harry were sitting. There was no one else in sight.

“Hi Harry,” Hermione stopped in front of him, entirely ignoring Ron and with her voice much higher than was natural.

“Oh Hermione,” Ron began, “I was going to ask you about that homework that Prof - Ow!” He protested loudly as Alice grabbed his arm.

“Come on Ron, I want to show you something.”

“Hang on a second then,” he sank his weight backwards and was easily able to hold her back. “I just want to -”

“It's kind of important.” She shot a meaningful glance in the direction of Hermione, who looked panic-stricken, and Harry, who just looked confused.

“Alright, alright, keep your hair on. If you'd just tell me what -”

Ron!” She stepped heavily on to his foot and nodded all too obviously in the direction of her friends, raising her eyebrows meaningfully as she did so. Finally the penny dropped.

“Oh. Oh right,” an idiotic grin spread slowly across his face. “Oh I get it.”

“I'm so pleased for you,” she drawled sarcastically and began to tug on his arm again. This time he followed without protest.

As they crossed the courtyard Alice didn't look back once, she didn't want to put Hermione off even more than she already had been. She could however hear her begin to speak.

“Harry… CanIaskyousomething?” The words were a jumbled rush.

There was a brief silence and Alice wasn't sure if they were waiting for Ron and her to disappear; she sped up. A second later though she heard Harry's voice.

“Yeah… look Hermione, I think I know what this is about and well,” she heard him clear his throat, “there was something I wanted to ask you too. The thing is I really…” With a feeling of slight disappointment Alice realised that they had moved out of earshot. Still she reasoned, she would rather give them privacy to do this themselves. Once they were back inside the castle however, Ron had other ideas. The minute they reached the corridor he pulled his arm from her grasp and, much as Hermione had done minutes earlier, concealed himself almost entirely behind the door frame.

“Get away from there,” Alice hissed at him, “don't be so nosy!”

“Is she going to ask him to Hogsmeade? Won't that be weird if Harry has to hide under the cloak all the time?” Ron whispered back, ignoring her completely.

“Of for goodness sake,” Alice was beginning to get the giggles at the ridiculousness of the whole situation, “you're like a three year old. Give them some privacy.” He didn't move. “Ron!”

“They might need us for something.”

“I'm sure they'll manage fine on their own.” He frowned at her obstinately, his jaw jutting forwards like a disappointed child. “Besides, I rather think Harry was about to do the asking.” She tutted as Ron turned back to look again. “Come on idiot,” she slapped him gently on the back of the head. “Move!” Finally, and with a comical look of bitter resignation, he complied.

As they sat waiting for their friends in the common room, Alice revised her opinion; Ron wasn't so much like a child as an eager puppy. Every time someone came into the room he would look up hopefully and then sag back into his seat in disappointment as he saw it wasn't them.

“Ron, have you got something wrong with your neck?” George asked when the twins came over to speak to them. “Or are you just stretching?”

Ron scowled at his brothers. “We're waiting for Harry and Hermione if you must know.”

“Ah,” Fred nodded seriously before a wicked grin spread across his face. “So they've finally gotten around to asking each other then?”

“About time too; we were beginning to wonder if we'd need to give Harry lessons in how to talk to girls.”

Alice snorted in amusement, she couldn't help herself, they were just so ridiculous. “And I suppose you two think that you are a right pair of Casanovas? I don't notice many women falling at your feet.”

“We keep them well hidden,” George joked, “for our own safety you understand.”

“Anyway,” Fred leaned towards her and batted his eyelashes idiotically, “how could you resist this charm?”

“With great difficulty,” Alice giggled. “But I'm sure I'll manage somehow.” She smiled when he pretended to be disappointed. “Cheer up; I'm sure Moaning Myrtle thinks you're lovely.”

“Oi!” Alice ducked as he swung a pillow towards her head. She was just about to throw one back at him when Ron's exclamation caught her attention.


Quickly she looked up I time to see her friends trying surreptitiously to sneak back through the portrait hole without anyone noticing. As they heard Ron's shout they froze, like deer in the headlights, before glancing at each other, flushing bright red and then coming over to join them. As they sat down it didn't escape Alice's notice that they chose the opposite ends of the sofa to do so. She tried not to laugh.

“So,” George cleared his throat loudly and pointedly. “Harry… been up to much today?”

Harry turned the same colour as the seat he was on. “Not much… just… you know…”

“Yeah.” Fred was clearly enjoying watching them squirm. “We do.”

“Been making any plans?”

“It's good to be organised after all.”

“Oh, for goodness sake,” seeing that they weren't going to say anything Alice eventually came to their rescue. “You two are mean! Go and pester someone else for a while. Go on,” she added when they continued to smirk at her. “Scat!” She watched them walk away, already bantering with each other again, before turning apologetically back to Harry and Hermione.

“So, what happened then?” Alice rolled her eyes as Ron jumped straight in. “Are you two going out now?”

“Ron!” Hermione exclaimed, “that's private.”

“Okay,” he looked crestfallen for a split second, “but are you though?”

It was comical really, the way they looked from Ron, whose face was shining with curiosity, to Alice, who although she could hide it better had to admit that she wanted to know too, in utter exasperation. As Hermione met her eye she raised a questioning eyebrow at her.

“Oh, alright!” She muttered finally. “We're going to Hogsmeade together, just to…” She struggled to find the right word and glanced towards Harry for help.

“Just to see,” he supplied with a slight smile. He wasn't showing it much, but from the light in his eyes Alice could tell that despite the embarrassment he was overjoyed. She wanted to hug them both. As silence fell within the group and Ron continued to beam inanely at his friends, Alice glanced around the room.


“What?” Hermione looked up in alarm. “What's wrong?”

“Well,” Alice lowered her voice to a whisper as she continued to watch the person she had spotted sitting in a corner with her friends. “Should someone warn Ginny? About you two I mean… I mean she does have a bit of a thing for Harry…”



“Ron.” The girls spoke in unison, grinning wryly as they caught each others eye.

“What?! Why me?” He looked horror-struck and paled visibly underneath his freckles.

“Because she's your sister, that's why.”

“Yeah, but… What about Fred and George?”

Alice snorted and raised a sceptical eyebrow. Love them as she did she would be the first to admit they weren't exactly subtle… or tactful, and she told Ron so.

“But neither am I! You're always saying it. I'm useless at all that… emotion… stuff.” He blushed even as he said it, much to Harry's evident amusement.

“Much as this fails to shock me Ronald,” Hermione did a passable an entirely unconscious impersonation of McGonagall. “I'm afraid you don't have an option. You're going to have to talk to her.” The finality in her voice brooked no argument.

Ron groaned and buried his head in his arms.

A/N: First off apologies (AGAIN!!!) for the fact this has taken me ages to post, I've had a fairly hectic few months and just haven't been able to get around to it - that and the fact my laptop died on me and I failed in the number one rule of all writers by not having this chapter backed up anywhere, meaning I had to try and rewrite the whole thing from memory. Please forgive the delay!! On the chapter itself, my theory was that the Map wouldn't say anything to, or insult McGonagall, like it did with Snape because, if nothing else the real Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs would all have been too scared of her to try. Please R&R.


15. A Tumultuous Day

A Tumultuous Day

The morning of the Hogsmeade trip Alice wasn't sure who was more nervous, Harry or Hermione. The two of them sat on either side of her, blushing furiously, barely touching their breakfast and avoiding eye contact wherever possible. Normally she would have pointed out how ridiculous this was, but it had taken them both so long to get to this point that she took pity on them and remained silent. It didn't stop her exchanging amused looks with Ron though.

Once they had gotten ready for their trip, and Harry had been dispatched through the tunnel, the three of them set off. Once or twice she and Ron tried to engage her friend in conversation but Hermione looked as though she would be sick if she opened her mouth, so in the end they gave up.

“What if it all goes hideously wrong?” She suddenly blurted nervously as the thatched roofs came within sight.

“Don't be daft,” Alice reassured her. “What could possibly go wrong? It's not as though you don't know each other. Just forget that you're on a date and act normally.”

Hermione glanced nervously from Alice's face to Ron who was now standing several feet away from them, attempting to gaze nonchalantly at the trees next to the path, and ruining the entire act by grinning idiotically. Seeing the direction of her gaze Alice tried to reassure her. “Don't worry, I'll keep Ron well away from you.”

Hermione did laugh slightly at that, but continued to nervously tuck her hair behind her ears as she spoke. “Right, good… well… I'll see you two later then.” She continued to nervously tuck her hair behind her ears.

“You look really nice,” Alice whispered to her. “Just have a good time; and remember it's only Harry.”

After giving her a tentative smile Hermione nodded brusquely and without a word set off down the path by herself. Alice had to admit she found it rather amusing, her friend was wearing the exact same expression that usually graced her features before an exam. It was sweet really.

“They better not muck this up,” Ron observed as he appeared at her elbow.

“Oh lighten up,” she chastised him. “Of course they'll have a good time. It's Harry and Hermione for goodness sake! They're made for each other.”

Ron continued to watch their departing friend. “Yeah well,” he muttered sceptically, “they've got a great knack for making a mess of things everyone else would find impossible to.” He suddenly brightened comically. “Maybe we should follow them just in case! To make you sure, you know?”

“No.” Alice elbowed him in the ribs as he stood on tiptoe to try and keep sight of Hermione. “Leave them well alone! You wouldn't want us constantly popping up if you were in their position would you?” She looked at him sternly. “Ron Weasley we are going to stay as far away from them today as possible, or you can go back to the castle right now!”

“Yes Mum!” He mumbled looking sheepish. At the sight of his face Alice finally cracked the smile she had been fighting against and laughed. “Come on idiot, let's go and have a look around the shops.”

“Alright,” he sighed in mock resignation, “I was thinking -”

“Uh oh - ouch!” Alice laughed as Ron elbowed her back for being cheeky.

“I was thinking,” he repeated loudly, “that we could go to Honeydukes; I need to stock up on some Chocoballs and Liquorice Wands… oh and I want to get some Drooble's Gum too, and maybe some Peppermint Toads whilst I'm at it…” Without waiting for him to stop fantasising about the sweets he was going to buy Alice rolled her eyes and set off along the path. If she kept going he would notice he was talking to himself in a second or two and catch up. Sure enough a moment later she heard the pounding of feet behind her and in several long strides Ron was walking next to her - albeit it still reeling off a list which included nearly every single sweet available to wizardkind. Alice had to smile.

True to his word Ron spent a good hour perusing the shelves of Honeyduke's and left with a bag almost as big as Alice. “I've been saving up!” was his indignant reply when she looked askance at it. As they spent the day wandering around Hogsmeade she kept an eye open for their friends and did her best to steer Ron in the opposite direction whenever Hermione popped into view; he was far too nosey and would have tried to hang about and spy on them if she hadn't intervened. With Harry under the cloak it did look rather like Hermione was aimlessly trailing around the village on her own, but the enormous grin that was plastered across her face each time they saw her suggested to Alice that her day was going well. She was glad; her friends had spent too long skirting round each other, she wouldn't have wanted the day to go badly for them.

“Why don't we have a Magical Menagerie in Hogsmeade?” Ron mused after a while as they strolled back down the street towards the Shrieking Shack munching contentedly on the enormous bag of sweets he had purchased earlier. “I mean you would think that with all the pets at Hogwarts it would make sense to have one?”

“I -” Alice had to admit it wasn't something that she'd considered before, having only recently acquired a pet, and a perfectly healthy if anti-social one at that, it wasn't really something she'd had to give much thought. “Maybe they just expect students to take their pets to the Care of Magical Creatures Professor, so they wouldn't need a shop for it,” she hazarded.

“Yeah, well,” Ron glanced down at his jacket pocket which evidently contained his rat as it was almost splitting at the seams, “I don't really fancy Scabbers' chances if I took him to Hagrid, He'd probably try and feed him some home cooking and to be honest I think one of those rock cakes would finish him off altogether.”

Alice thought this was a bit harsh and was about to say so when someone shouted behind them.

“Oi, Weasel!” Alice felt Ron stiffen beside her at the sound of Malfoy's voice. “Are you two on a date or something?” She shot her friend a warning look as they swung round to face the approaching Slytherins; the group was bigger than normal, in addition to Malfoy's ever present, hulking shadows, Pansy Parkinson, Blaise Zabini and a few others were lurking in the background too. “I saw you'd ditched Granger earlier, though to be honest who wouldn't?” He smirked unpleasantly as his cronies tittered behind him.

Alice was sorely tempted just to walk away, but with just the two of them alone on the path against a large group of Slytherins she knew she would be an idiot to turn her back.

“Give over Malfoy,” Ron started going red, “do you never get any new lines? Those ones are getting boring.” Instantly the group stopped smirking and every single one glared at them menacingly.” Alice groaned internally; honestly would Ron never learn not to antagonise them?

“You know Weasel, now that Saint Potter isn't around for you to hide behind, I think it's about time we taught you some respect.” Malfoy began to reach for his wand. Before his hand had even reached his pocket however Alice felt a rush of air as a spell flashed past her. A spell which had originated from Ron.

Snarling as the magic narrowly avoided him Malfoy countered with his own spell - the incantation muttered so quietly that Alice couldn't tell what it was intended to be. She didn't hang around to find out. Not quick enough to get her own wand in time to conjure a defence she threw herself flat on the ground as the spell whizzed harmlessly overhead.

Rolling and regaining her feet with the reflexes which made her a good Quidditch player she finally managed to conjure a shield to deflect the next attack, this one from several sides as the Slytherins began to close in. As she struggled to maintain her shield charm her gaze flicked from the smugly confident face of Blaise Zabini to the pug-like triumph of Pansy Parkinson's. She was mildly surprised at how quickly the situation had changed and the others were beginning to form a circle around them, advancing slowly. With each jinx their superior numbers drove the shields that Ron and Alice had created closer to the Gryffindors and forcing them to fight back to back. This gave them an opportunity to concert their efforts however.

“Ron,” Alice hissed as she dropped her shield momentarily to hurl a stinging hex at Pansy Parkinson. “Do you think you can shield us both if I try and deal with them?”

“Knock yourself out,” he spat back through gritted teeth as he performed a peculiar leap to avoid the Jelly-legs curse Malfoy had just gleefully aimed at him.

Even working together Alice and Ron quickly found themselves overwhelmed; they simply couldn't direct their spells everywhere at once. With a jubilant hiss Malfoy managed to dodge their defences and disarm them both in one fell swoop.

“Not so clever now are we?” He sneered at Alice as he brandished her wand teasingly just out of reach. “Did you really think a Mudblood -”

“Oi! Don't -” Ron's exclamation was cut short as Malfoy cast a silencing spell on him.

“I don't suppose you ever learned any manners in that house of yours Weasley but I was always taught that when my betters were talking I didn't speak unless spoken to. Anyway,” he either ignored or didn't hear Alice's disgusted snort at this, “as I was saying: as though a Mudblood like you could ever outwit us, especially if that,” he jerked his pale, pointed chin in Ron's direction, “is all the help you've got.” He paused and looked at the two of them thoughtfully, clearly taking an evil enjoyment in having them at his mercy. “Now what should -?”

“Hey Malfoy!” Alice groaned as she heard the shout behind her. Not now - could he not stay out of trouble for five minutes?! “Don't you like fair odds?” The entire group of Slytherins circled around Ron and Alice swung almost in unison towards the speaker, just as Hermione rushed into view with Harry, whose voice it had been, slightly ahead of her. Both their wands were already drawn and as she turned Alice could see Harry quickly stuffing what she suspected was the cloak into a particularly deep pocket of the coat he was wearing.

“Potter!” Malfoy spat as soon as he had recovered from the unpleasant surprise of the interruption. His quick brain soon evaluated the situation and realised his advantage. “You're not meant to be out of the castle.”

“And I you're not meant to be practicing magic outside, especially not on people who are outnumbered and defenceless!”

“Yeah well, Weasle-bee threw the first spell,” a malicious grin spread across his face as he realised they couldn't argue their way out of that one.

“Quite right too!” Harry raised his wand as Hermione threw him a warning glance. From the corner of her eye Alice could see a few of Malfoy's less brave cronies beginning to back away. They may not have been outnumbered but they were still unnerved by the sudden change in odds.

Expelliarmus!” Alice and Ron's wands went soaring through the air towards Harry and as though that was the cue for the fight to resume, spells were suddenly flying in every direction. Taking advantage of the Slytherins' momentary distraction Alice and Ron ducked through their ranks and dodged round the back of the bushes next to the path so that they came up behind Harry and Hermione.

“Here you go,” Harry quickly thrust their wands towards them, “you might be needing those.”

“Thanks,” Alice grinned despite herself, “you are going to get into so much trouble now though!”

“When has that ever stopped me?” Harry sidestepped a jinx that hissed between them, making the unfortunate bush behind them that it hit look as though someone had sneezed particularly violently over it.

Alice looked at it in faint disgust. “Charming.” As she turned back to the fight that was still ongoing she felt a sudden sharp twinge in her knee and looked down to see a long, though fairly shallow, gash had torn across her knee, the spell that had caused it ripping through her robes in the process. “Ouch!”

“Alice, are you alright?!” Hermione called across from where she was currently firing gobbets of orange gloop from the end of her wand with grim satisfaction in the direction of Pansy Parkinson. Alice had to admit she had very good aim.

“Yeah fine,” she glanced up to see where the curse had come from and sure enough saw Malfoy grinning smugly, a gleeful glint in his eye. “Just -”

As she spoke a black, furry blur shot past her and launched itself snarling and spitting upon the blonde Slytherin, pinning him to the ground and growling menacingly in his face in an impressive show of razor sharp teeth. Malfoy let rip a shriek that would have been comical had not the dog, wolf, or bear - for it was big enough to be any of them - been inches from ripping out his throat. The group that seconds before had been battling fiercely was instantly still. Through the silence generated by the animal's abrupt arrival the only thing Alice could hear was the deep rumble in its chest, even the birds had fallen silent. No one moved as still growling fiercely the animal slowly shifted its weight from Malfoy's body, he whimpered pitifully as it moved. The dog, for now that she had gotten over her initial shock Alice could see that was what it was, backed up several paces and stopped, still staring with cold eyes at the boy. After taking a few seconds to decide it wasn't going to kill him instantly, Malfoy scrambled to his feet in a flurry of legs and robes, almost tripping over himself in the process and scrambled behind the protective bulk of Goyle who was a few metres behind him and already backing away too.

As the Slytherins all began following suit, none of them taking their eyes from the animal until they were far enough away to turn and run, Alice and her friends began, after glancing nervously at each other, to make subtle movements away from the beast too. They had gone no further than a few paces however when the animal seemed to suddenly lose interest in its initial quarry, with a flick of its head it fixed blazing eyes on the retreating Gryffindors. Alice heard Hermione's quick intake of breath and the snap of twig as Ron stumbled to a halt.

“No one move,” Harry hissed, his lips barely moving. “Stay quiet.” The four of them stared hard at the dog, each hoping that it would turn and walk away. Alice could feel her legs beginning to tremble with the effort of consciously not moving them and tried to stop the shaking. If she hadn't thought the notion was ridiculous she could have sworn the creatures eyes were slowly moving from one face to the next as though it was trying to memorise each one. She was aware that her breathing had slowed to the point that it had almost stopped completely.

It was at that moment that Ron's rat suddenly decided to begin squealing and shrieking from inside his pocket, almost as though it was desperate to show that he was in a rude state of health after all. As though this was his cue the dog lunged, bridging an impossibly large gap between them, and threw himself onto Ron.



Hermione screamed. But the dog simply bowled him over and dashed off along the path away from the village. With Ron lying dazed and shaken on the ground and his friends desperate to ensure that he was alright, it was a few seconds before anyone realised what was missing.

“Scabbers!” Ron wailed, looking first at his now empty pocket and then at the rapidly disappearing form of the dog. “He must have escaped.”

“Ron, I'm sorry,” Hermione began to console him, “I'm sure he'll be - Where are you going?” Her eyebrows raised in astonishment as Ron quickly scrambled to his feet and made off along the path after them.

“You don't think I'm going to leave him to get eaten by that monster do you?” He called back.

“I…” Hermione looked despairingly at Harry who gazed seriously back at her, then at Alice before shrugging in silent apology and sprinting after his friend. “Oh honestly,” she huffed, “boys! Come on Alice, we better keep them out of trouble.” Trying not laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation, Alice obeyed.

As she pounded along the path Alice couldn't help but wonder at how rapidly the day had changed, not just once but several times, from an ordinary trip around Hogsmeade to the fight with Malfoy which seemed to have bubbled out of nowhere and dissipated almost as quickly, then the appearance of the terrifying dog which for some completely unfathomable reason they were now chasing - surely the logical response would have been to run away from it?

“Ron, where are you going?” she repeated Hermione's question as she saw him veer off into the trees, the others hot on his heels. “Oh for goodness sake,” she muttered as she followed, “this is ridiculous!” Even running at her fastest, the fact that her legs were a lot shorter than the others and they had had a head start meant that she was losing ground. By the time she had entered the trees she had completely lost sight of them - where had they gone? As she slowed to a more normal pace she opened her mouth to shout their names when abruptly a terrified scream rent the air.

“Ron! No get off of him!” Alice felt her heart grow cold as she realised that was Hermione's voice.


She sped towards the sudden sounds of a struggle and snarling that had broken out ahead of her. Almost as quickly an eerie silence fell. What had happened? Alice tried to still her suddenly rapid breathing in an effort to pick up any noises that would guide her. Creeping forwards she was just about beginning to think she had gone the wrong way when she heard the sound of sobbing and began to run towards it. Pushing her way past several particularly thick branches she was momentarily aware of being in a clearing before her foot connected with something solid and she was catapulted head over heels, landing heavily with her face in a pile of leaves. Quickly spitting them out and rubbing dirt from her eyes with her sleeve she saw Hermione several feet away, her tear streaked face looking startled by her friend's unexpected entrance.

“Alice,” she choked, rushing over to help her up. “Thank goodness you're alright!” As she gave her a hug it didn't escape Alice's notice that she had several scratches on one hand and looked rather dishevelled.

“What happened? Where's Ron? Where's Harry?”


Alice twisted round to see Harry, covered in dirt and looking grim emerging from a hole between the roots of a tree behind her - it dawned on her that it must have been his legs she had tripped over. “Ron's in there.” He nodded towards the dark opening in the ground.

“What? I don't…” Alice glanced from one to the other.

“He caught Scabbers,” Hermione sniffed, “but then that dog attacked him again. It grabbed his arm - there was blood everywhere - but Ron wouldn't drop that stupid rat, I tried to help him (which explained the scratches Alice realised) but the dog… It pulled him in there.”

“We have to go after him.” Harry looked determined and Alice knew there would be no dissuading him, not that she would even have suggested such a course; he was right after all. He glanced nervously at the dark opening between the roots, before that familiar determined expression that so often graced his features overtook it. His green eyes hardened. “Come on then.”

Without hesitation the girls followed him into the darkness. Crouching down on all fours Alice squeezed through the narrow opening in the ground - it was just as well none of them were very large, she reasoned, otherwise they would never have fitted. After crawling in the pitch dark at a slight angle for a few seconds she felt the earth suddenly stop beneath her hands. Hearing her hesitation Harry spoke up. “There's a ledge. Lumos,” suddenly light blossomed just below her to reveal a short drop onto an earthen floor and a more reasonable sized tunnel stretching off into the darkness beyond on either side. “Hold onto that,” he motioned to the thick, arm-like root protruding from the ceiling above her, “and swing yourself down so you don't hurt yourself.” Briskly she obeyed, before lighting her own wand.

“Are you alright?” She looked at his pale face in concern.

With a slight smile he nodded. She raised an eyebrow questioningly, not believing him for a minute. His lips stretched into a proper smile at her perceptiveness and persistence. “Well, I will be once we've found Ron.”

“How do I get down from here?” Hermione's voice made the two of them look up.

“Here,” Alice began to show her as Harry disappeared along the tunnel, he came back almost as quickly however. “They can't have gone that way,” he said, “the tunnel's all caved in, there's dirt and roots everywhere. They must have gone that way.” He motioned with his wand light behind Alice. “I'll lead,” he added unnecessarily, evidently unable to not take charge in situations like this. Not wanting to waste time arguing she quickly flattened herself against the tunnel wall and let him squeeze past. As she followed however his words jolted something in her memory and she paused to root around in her pockets.

“Alice, speed up!” Hermione hissed from behind her.


She had just found what she was looking for when Harry suddenly cursed loudly.

“What's wrong?” she asked in concern, raising her own wandlight to help her see what they faced ahead.

“It's the tunnel, it splits up ahead. I don't know which way they went and I don't suppose either of you are good at tracking or anything?” His strained grin as he looked back at them with tight eyes told her his attempt at a joke was intended to mask his worry. It wasn't working.

“Not really,” she smiled back grimly, “but I might have something, hang on.” Pulling the Marauder's Map from her pocket she swiftly unfolded it and muttered the spell.

“Alice, what are you doing?” Hermione sounded more quizzical than chastising. “The Map only shows the castle.”

“Actually, it shows the castle and the tunnels leading out of it.” Alice looked up at them eagerly. “What Harry said made me remember what the twins told me when they gave it to me. There used to be seven tunnels out of the castle but some of them can't be used any more because they've caved in.” She looked at them expectantly.

“You think this might be one of them.”

“I know it is.” She pointed down at what they had yet to notice on the map. Near the edge of the parchment, between two feathery lines clearly meant to denote a tunnel, were three little dots labelled Harry, Hermione and Alice. “And look,” she pointed to the fork in the tunnel on the map, “that tunnel doesn't go anywhere either, see there's a dead end there. My guess is they went the other way.”

“Alice, you're a genius!”

She shrugged.

Quickly, the three of them took off into the deepening gloom of the tunnel. The smell of damp earth filled her nostrils and she was aware that her hair must be full of dirt and spiders webs, she could feel the gauzy tendrils brushing against her cheeks as they walked. Moving itself also became increasingly uncomfortable as they were forced to crouch as the tunnel narrowed and shrank in upon them. In parts they were forced to crawl on their hands and knees, a task made all the less palatable by the fact that it caused her cut she had received from Malfoy to start bleeding again. As she scrambled along, dirt began to collect under her fingernails and she felt the rough grit of the ground under her palms. She tried to focus on the sensations as they helped keep her mind focused on the present and stopped her from speculating what had happened to Ron. Every so often she would glance down at the Map in her hand to see how far they had come; it seemed to be taking them forever, but then it was easy to lose all sense of time shut away under the ground like this. She had just checked it for what seemed like the hundredth time when the dots that represented herself, Harry and Hermione reached the edge of the parchment. As she watched they slowly winked out. They truly were in uncharted territory now.

Stuffing the now useless map back in her pocket she continued to follow her friends along the tunnel. Just as she was beginning to wonder if the tunnel stretched all the way back to London the compacted dirt beneath her feet began to slope upwards and within seconds the three of them were standing in the thick and dusty atmosphere of a clearly disused room.

“Where do you suppose we are?” Harry's eyes were darting quickly around the room looking for any sign of Ron, but the only evidence that their friend had passed through was an ominous looking drag mark in the dust beneath their feet. “Alice, is it on the Map?”

She shook her head with wide eyes taking in the smashed pieces of furniture and torn wallpaper that hung limply from the walls as Hermione tiptoed across the room. Peering through the slats of a boarded-up window her friend squinted into the darkness beyond.

“I think we're in the Shrieking Shack,” the face that turned back to them was pale in the wandlight.

Looking grim Harry glanced towards the staircase that Ron's trail led towards and then back at the girls, both of them nodded resolutely and went to stand behind him. As quickly and quietly as they could the three of them crept up the stairs, the lights of their wands casting odd, flickering shadows on the walls. As they reached the landing it became perfectly obvious where Ron must be, the wide clean stripe on the floor went straight to one particular door and a faint thread of light was escaping beneath it. Extinguishing their wands they approached it and with another nod of assent from his friends Harry reached for the handle.

One,” he whispered, “two, THREE!” He flung the door open and the three of them thrust their wands through the space that was created. Coming from the gloom of the hallway into a room half-lit by a single lamp Alice was disoriented for a split second, then she caught sight of Ron hunched in a corner of the room between the wall and an enormous ragged looking four-poster bed. A smear of scarlet blood stretched from somewhere by his hairline, where it was thickest, to his chin and his right arm was being held at an awkward angle as though it pained him. What concerned her most though was the mixture of fear and horror he was looking at them with.

“Ron!” Hermione moved forwards into the room. “Are you alright?”

“No!” His voice cracked with the pain. “No, stay back!”

Hermione stumbled to a confused halt several paces into the room as Alice simultaneously heard an ominous creaking of floorboards from the dark recesses of the opposite corner. With a reluctance that made her feel as though the world was moving in slow motion she dragged her eyes across from Ron's terrified face to the shadowy figure that had rapidly materialised as if from nowhere. When her eyes finally connected with that hollow, gaunt face Alice felt her stomach contract and her muscles freeze up. Harry on the other hand had no such compunctions.

“Hermione!” He made a move, arms outstretched, to stand in front of her or drag her out of harms way, Alice wasn't sure which. Unfortunately he got the opportunity to do neither because with an irritated twitch of his head Sirius Black, for as little as she cared to admit it Alice had no doubt as to the man's identity, spoke.

“Stop!” The voice was harsh and croaky with disuse. “Nobody move.” An emaciated hand, so pale that it really did look skeletal levelled Ron's wand at Hermione's chest. “Nobody move,” he repeated menacingly. Dark, inscrutable eyes flicked between Hermione, Ron - still curled up in the corner, and Harry who was now partially blocking Alice from Black's view. The part of her that tended to get herself drawn into Harry's scrapes kept telling her to shift slightly so that she could see what was going on better, but she couldn't seem to get her feet to move. “You boy,” the wand tip flicked in Ron's direction, “get -”

“Leave him alone!” Hermione's voice was a high-pitched, squeak but she was clearly fighting to keep the fear from her voice.

“Be quiet girl!” Black barked. His eyes, as shadowy as his name, which had been fixed on Ron gave a dismissive jerk in the tremulous brunette's direction before refocusing on their object.

“Oi!” Now it was Harry's turn to shout. “Don't speak to her like that!” Alice saw from behind his hand begin to inch towards the pocket that held his wand and she prayed that he wouldn't do anything rash.

Black however ignored him, abruptly becoming feverish in his intensity he jabbed Ron's wand at its owner to punctuate his sentences. “Where is he? Show me. I know he's here.”

Fear and confusion mingled in Ron's eyes as they flicked towards Harry and then looked for help that wasn't forthcoming from his friends. None of them knew what to do. What was Black talking about? Harry was right there and he was practically ignoring him. Not that that was a bad thing, Alice's scared mind began to over-reason everything, obviously the longer the crazy, escaped convict failed to acknowledge that the object of his nearly year-long search was in the same room as him the better. Although not if you happened to be Ron she looked apologetically back at her red-headed friend. How on earth were they going to get out of this one?

So fortuitously in time with her thought that had it been someone else in this situation she might have found it comical Alice heard feet pounding on the stairs behind her. The three Gryffindors standing in the room shifted nervously as Black glanced towards the still open door. “Back against the wall,” he hissed taking a step forward to force them to start moving.

Alice and Hermione didn't need telling twice, and as the latter's vice-like grip closed around a defiant Harry's wrist he was reluctantly forced to comply. With each step back she took Alice never allowed her eyes to leave Black for a second, he on the other hand had twisted his body so that he was half facing the children and half the empty doorway through which they could hear cautious footsteps slowing as they moved closer. As the brittle, aged wallpaper made contact with Alice's back she slipped her sweaty palm into the pocket of her jacket and began to inch her wand out. Black didn't seem to be paying them much attention anymore, but she didn't want to bet on it. From what she had seen so far he was certainly living up to his violent and unpredictable reputation and she didn't want to give him further cause for alarm. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Ron moving with an effort up onto his knees so that he had a clearer line of sight through the door, on her other side Harry and Hermione had also retrieved their wands and were trying to keep them concealed behind them. It seemed that everyone in the room had stopped breathing, the ancient dusty atmosphere of the Shrieking Shack had settled over the room like a shroud, smothering all sound other than the approaching footsteps. Alice wanted to shout a warning to whoever was out there, to tell them to run, or watch out or to rescue them, she wasn't sure what just something to lost them know that they were feet away from one of the most feared wizards in the world. She couldn't seem to make the thoughts whirring relentlessly inside her head transfer into any meaningful action though. Fear seemed to have plugged up her voice.

In the corridor the light of a wand fell across the dusty floorboards as the owner of the footsteps seemed to pause momentarily. Then they moved again, the sound more decisive now.

One. A cloak swished against the wooden floor. Two. The bright light of a wand entered the doorway blinding her to what lay beyond; she sucked in her breath. Three. With a final stride the figure entered the room. Alice could have cheered for joy.

“Professor!” Relief and delight were evident in Harry's voice as he caught sight of Lupin crouched defensively in the doorway.

“Harry, stay where you are.” Lupin's eyes were fixed on Black's face, his own features devoid of all emotion although Alice could only guess at the conflict that must be going on inside him. To see his former friend again after all this time and all that had happened…

“Remus?” In Black's hand Ron's wand twitched slightly, but he didn't lower it. Surprise was evident on his gaunt and waxen face. “What…”

“Let them go Sirius.” Lupin's voice cracked as he spoke and despite her fear Alice felt her heart go out to him. This must be so difficult for him.

In the gloomy, battered and dusty room the silence seemed to stretch endlessly as the two men stared at each other, sizing each other up, both trying to determine how the other would react. Pinned against the walls the four children had frozen in place, not daring to breathe lest they upset the precarious balance of the situation. “I can't,” Black growled eventually, “not yet, not till this is finished.”

Hermione resolutely stepped in front of Harry as Alice made a similar motion towards him. “We're not going to let you hurt Harry,” her friend quavered in the strongest voice she could muster. “If you want to kill him you're going to have to kill is too!”

Black's eyes flicked dismissively to her face before refocusing on the teacher. “Kill him? I don't want to kill him girl, why on earth would I want to do that?”

“Why?!” Harry exploded as he forced his way between the girls. “To finish what you started. You killed my parents! Your best friends and you sold them out to Voldemort!” Black looked with empty eyes from Harry's face, white with rage, to the wand in his hand now pointed squarely at his own heart.

“I don't deny being responsible for Lily and James' death,” Black's voice was grave and strangely calm, the sudden change was unsettling, “but I never betrayed them to Voldemort.” He paused before his eyes flicked back to Ron again. “The one who did that is over there.”

“What?!” Bewilderment swamped Ron's pale face. “He's lost it.” He began shaking his head emphatically. “All that time in Azkaban; he's lost it.” Alice made a mental note to warn Ron of the wisdom of insulting deranged mass-murderers afterwards, if she ever got the chance.

“Shut up!” Harry yelled again. “I know all about it; you were their secret keeper, you were the only person who could have told Voldemort where they were!”

“Sirius,” Lupin's voice somehow still managed to be calm, “think about this. Ron can have been no more than a baby himself. Think about what you're saying.”

Black's next statement however, confused everyone even more, if that were possible, and confirmed to Alice as though she had needed further proof that Azkaban really had unhinged him. “Not the boy Remus; the rat.” His eyes, once again alight with a fixated mania, locked on the quivering mass in Ron's pocket.

“The rat?” For almost the first time since he had entered the room, Lupin sounded confused and allowed his gaze to be drawn away from Black's gaunt face as he glanced towards Ron.

“No! He's not touching Scabbers! He's mental!” Ron shifted his uninjured arm protectively over the pet in his pocket. Alice glanced in bafflement at Harry and Hermione next to her as they watched the bizarre exchange play out.

“He's not a rat… Look,” something akin to tiredness washed across Black's skeletal features as he sighed - though it sounded more like the creaking whistle of air as it left an old set of bellows - “just give me the rat and I'll show you. Then you'll understand.”

“No, he can't…” Ron sounded less convinced now, his voice almost pleading rather than adamant. The blood running from the cut on his scalp trickled down into his eye and he was forced to move his protecting hand to wipe it away.

“All I want is the rat Remus,” Black repeated, “let me show you the rat and you'll understand. I don't want to harm the boy… either of them.” He seemed pained as he spoke the words and there was a flicker of something, some emotion that had been absent before that made Alice think that perhaps things weren't as clear cut as they seemed. Lupin apparently agreed with her.

“Was it…? And you're saying…?” The professor allowed his unfinished questions to ask hang in the air, but evidently Black understood there meaning because he nodded. Lupin's eyebrows shot up, amplifying the wrinkles across his forehead, and he stared searchingly at the man before him before echoing his motion. “Alright,” he sighed eventually, looking as old and careworn as Alice had ever seen him. “Show me. Ron,” he held his hand out behind him never moving his wand or his eyes from Black's face, “give me your rat please. It'll be alright, I promise.”

“I… I don't understand,” he was confused even as he reached for the trembling lump in his pocket, “what's Scabbers got to do with anything?”

“What's he got to do with it?” The light began to re-enter Black's eyes as he raised his voice over the sudden squeaking that filled the room as Ron drew Scabbers into the light by his tail. “He's got everything to do with it.” His voice cracked as he gazed upon the struggling rodent. “Everything.” Abruptly he made a diving movement towards the rat causing both Lupin and Ron to yell in response. Swiftly the Professor stepped between them, his wand pressed sharply into what little flesh there was beneath Black's chin, as Ron cowered away and tried to shelter Scabbers with his broken arm. The effort had caused a thin sheen of sweat to break out across his pale forehead and the shadows under his eyes had begun to turn an unhealthy green.

“Sirius!” Lupin barked. “Don't make me use this on you. You still have to prove this to me.” The two men glared at each other for what seemed like an eternity before Black eventually dropped his gaze. Gradually Lupin relaxed the pressure of his wand on his neck. “Hermione,” he stretched his other hand out again, “would you be so kind as to pass me Ron's rat?”

Obeying teachers' requests must have been so deeply ingrained with Hermione that it overrode every other concern, Alice considered as she watched her friend hurry to do so, because if her friend was even half as scared as she herself was now then she didn't know how she could even move. The situation seemed to have changed rapidly again, although she wasn't sure how or what had provoked it. Lupin and Black seemed to know something that they weren't sharing with the children, or at least Black was trying to convince his friend of something. But what? And what on earth did Ron's rat have to do with it?

As Hermione handed over Scabbers, with some difficulty seeing as he was frantically twisting around her hand in an attempt to escape, Lupin returned the warning pressure on his wand to prevent Black from making any sudden movements. With her task complete Hermione scurried back to her place by the wall and Alice noticed her slip her hand into Harry's for reassurance.

“Professor I don't -” Harry was cut off mid sentence.

“Quiet a moment Harry. What makes you so sure that it's him?” As her teachers eyes had never left Black's face the entire time he spoke it took Alice a second to realise that this question had been directed at the skeletal figure in front of him rather than at her friend.

“Look at his paw.” For the first time in minutes Black's eyes focused on something other than Scabbers and moved to Lupin's face, albeit with the same feverish intensity. “Think about it,” he seemed to be willing his one-time friend to remember something, or to believe him, but what it was Alice wasn't sure; she had no idea what they were talking about. “What was the biggest piece of him they ever found?” She couldn't see enough of Lupin's face to see how he reacted to this equally cryptic question. It was almost as though she and her friends had intruded on some pre-existing conversation, all the pieces didn't seem to be there.

“What are you talking about?” Harry asked eventually, his frustrated and angry voice breaking through the silence that had descended across the room at Black's question.

For a moment Alice didn't think anyone was going to answer him. Eventually Lupin spoke in measured tones, although she suspected that it was an effort for him to keep whatever emotion he was feeling out of his voice. “I believe Harry, that what Sirius is implying is that Mr Weasley's rat is in fact… Peter Pettigrew.”

A/N: Not exactly much of a cliff hanger I know, but if I didn't cut the chapter off somewhere it was going to go on forever. Next chapter will be full of much more in the way of revelations and new action for our heroes. Going off on a bit of a tangent I apologise to, and thank, those of you who have borne with this story during the massive gap since I last posted. So THANK YOU… and please R&R.


16. The Man Behind the Mask

The Man Behind the Mask

Alice blinked. Whatever she had been expecting it hadn't been that.

“But that's impossible,” Hermione piped up in quavering tones. “Peter Pettigrew's dead, he killed him; there was a whole street full of witnesses!”

“Who didn't see what they thought they saw! Peter never died that day; that would have taken too much back-bone and commitment. No, he scurried away like the traitorous rat that he really is.” The level of hatred that this statement brought to Black's eyes terrified Alice and it was that, more than anything else that had been said or she had seen that evening, that convinced her Black was telling the truth, or at least he believed that he was.

“Let me show you,” Black repeated. Pleading with Lupin now. For one breathless moment the children watched their professor as he stood, Scabbers biting and scratching so frantically in one hand that Alice realised he was drawing blood. Finally, after an eternity, Lupin nodded.

“Together then;” he moved so that Scabbers, or Pettigrew if that was indeed who it was, hung suspended by his tail between them. As both men turned their wands on the creature it emitted a shrill squeal and attempted to escape one last time by climbing up his own tail. An odd light had entered both of their eyes, Alice noticed. It was neither manic as Black's had been earlier, or sombre as Lupin's had, but full of a grim determination and an energy which she assumed could only come from the fact that for the both of them they were dealing with unfinished business here. “Three,” Lupin began to count down.



There was a terrific bang and flash of blinding light. Alice felt rather than heard something heavy hit the floor nearby. Blinking to clear her vision she saw something that she had half suspected that she would- although this didn't make it any less of a shock. Sitting curled up in the middle of the room, looking bedraggled, crumpled, filthy and disorientated was a man who would probably at one time have been inclined to be chubby, but now had the sunken and saggy look of someone who has lost weight rapidly. Unsurprising considering the fact Scabbers, or Peter for there was no one else it could be, had been ill all year. An illness which made sense now that his true identity had been revealed. Doubtless he had heard that Black had escaped and had been worrying himself to death about it all year.

“Hello Peter.” Lupin's carefully controlled voice cut through the stunned silence in the room. Even Black seemed slightly surprised that he had been right all along; as though he had not expected the good fortune of being vindicated.

“R-Remus? Sirius? What -” The pathetic, reedy voice seemed to think the better of whatever it had been about to say. “My old friends -”

“Don't you dare.” Sirius' low, even voice managed to be calm and threatening all at once. If even half of what he had accused Pettigrew of was true Alice didn't know how he could stand there so and not want to curse the rat, or man she mentally amended before realising her earlier description was probably still more appropriate even now, into the next life. His eyes had become fiery beacons burning in the hollow mask of his once handsome face. “Don't you dare call us your friends. Friends don't do what you did Peter.”

“I don't know how closely you've been paying attention Peter, or how much you heard over all that racket you were making,” Lupin too was remarkably measured, though he had turned even paler than usual, if that were possible, and there was a spark of disgust in his eyes, “but we've been having a bit of a chat. Catching up on old times as it were, and we got talking about the night that Lily and James died. If you don't mind I'd quite like if Sirius could finish his story. You see,” he turned to the man standing next to him, “I must confess that whilst I can work out some of what happened, I still seem to be missing the full picture.”

Black stared hard at Pettigrew for a moment before his dark, inscrutable eyes flicked up to Lupin's face and then across to Harry who didn't flinch away. After a tense moment he finally spoke, though his voice was strangely detached as though it was coming from very far away. “I was Lily and James' Secret-Keeper, but…” his eyes flickered momentarily, “but I persuaded them to change at the last minute, to use someone else. Peter. I thought there was no way anyone would suspect that he would be the one who…” An unearthly laugh bubbled to his lips, “but that shows how much I knew, how you managed to fool us all. Didn't you Peter? I must admit we didn't give you nearly enough credit.” He exhaled sharply through his nostrils and Alice suspected he was struggling to control himself.

“What happened next?”

That night, I was meant to check on Peter, but when I arrived at his hiding place, he'd gone. Yet there was no sign of a struggle, everything was just as it should be, too neat. I didn't like it so I set out for Godric's Hollow straight away, but by the time I got there… it was too late. I found the house destroyed, their bodies… I saw what Peter had done; what I had done. After that -”

“You went after him.” Lupin wasn't asking a question.

“Then what happened?” Harry's eyes were narrowed in a pale face, weighing up all that he was hearing, refusing to believe anything until it had all been put before him.

“I caught up with Peter, cornered him on a street full of Muggles. That much at least was true. But he outwitted me that time, who would have thought it? He transformed before I could hex him into tiny pieces - so you see he actually prevented me from committing the one crime I was imprisoned for which I had actually intended. Ironic really. And because he cut his finger off before he did it, everyone thought he was really dead. Why wouldn't they? Half the rest of the street was, he'd seen to that.”

Alice looked to see where Sirius gestured dismissively and sure enough saw that one of Pettigrew's fingers was missing. “You don't b-believe him do you Remus?” Peter's eyes flickered from one man's face to the other searching for an understanding that was not forthcoming. “He tried to kill me!” Alice noticed that he had rocked forward onto his knees in a pitiful display of pleading, it also didn't escape her notice that the more he tried to defend himself the more eloquent he became. “All those years - He killed Lily and James and then he tried to kill me; he'd have succeeded if I hadn't escaped! He tried to kill Harry here -”

“BE QUIET!” Sirius suddenly roared, looking more like the bear he had resembled earlier than at anytime since they had entered the Shrieking Shack. Pettigrew flinched and cowered against the bed behind him. “Don't even speak his name, don't say any of their names! After what you did -” Sirius brought the wand in his hand up to point directly at Pettigrew's heart.

“Remus! Please! Save me! I knew this would happen, I knew…” His pleading became incoherent as he pulled his head under his arms and curled up in a ball sobbing pitifully.

Lupin turned and put a restraining hand on Sirius' shoulder. “Wait.” Black eyes darted upwards to look incredulously at him and Alice could sense Harry stir restlessly beside her. “Just wait,” Lupin repeated. “I know patience is a lot to ask of you after everything that has happened, but wait just a little longer.” After glaring at his old friend for a moment, Sirius finally relented with a frustrated sigh and lowered his wand.

“Th-thank you Remus,” Pettigrew's snivelling voice rose up from the dust choked floor boards.”

“I didn't do it for you.”

“I knew,” Pettigrew was muttering, “I knew, I knew this would happen.”

“You knew Sirius would manage the impossible and escape from Azkaban to come after you?”

“The…” Peter was scrambling to build a defence, his puffy eyes darting wildly around the tiny room; it was enough to convince Alice of his guilt. She felt a wave of loathing sweep over her quite unlike anything that she had ever experienced before. It was because of this piece of filth that Harry had lived the blighted childhood that he had, been deprived of the family he deserved. “ The D- He Who Must Not Be Named would have taught him tricks to -”

“Voldemort?” Sirius was derisive. “What's wrong?” he added when Pettigrew flinched again. “Scared to hear your old master's name? Admit it Peter, you were Voldemort's spy for months before Lily and James died,” his voice was building to a crescendo again as he continued. Alice could see why he had been mistaken for a mad man, if he hadn't been before he went into Azkaban there was certainly a touch of insanity about him now. “You haven't been waiting for me to find you for twelve years, you been waiting for the Death Eaters to catch up with you. I heard things in Azkaban you see, they blame you for what happened to Voldemort. I'd almost be tempted to let them know where you are… almost.”

Pettigrew was frantically shaking his head as Sirius' voice dropped to a whisper on the last word. Whether in horror at the prospect of such a fate or to still try and deny the accusation Alice wasn't sure, and to be honest she really didn't care.

“Er - Mr Black - Sirius?” Hermione piped up in a quavering voice. Alice was vaguely aware that she began asking him how he had escaped, but she was only half listening to the response she was too busy watching Harry. He was staring at the dusty floorboards with vacant eyes, his forehead furrowed, deep in thought. Processing everything he had been told was obviously a lot for him, but although he may not have realised it yet, or said as much, he clearly believed Sirius' story on some level at least, because his wand which minutes before had been trained on Sirius was now pointing towards Pettigrew. Now that she came to think about it so was hers, although she had no recollection of taking it out of her pocket.

“Right - well then,” Professor Lupin's voice was abruptly businesslike once again. “I don't suppose that leaves much else to say then really.”

Sirius glanced across at him and quirked an eyebrow quizzically. “Together?”


Pettigrew had obviously realised what was going on a second before Alice had because he suddenly launched himself sideways and tried to dive under an old piano in the corner of the room. Sirius and Lupin lunged after him and for a few seconds there was a flurry of dust and robes as the three men tussled, but his former friends were too quick for him, seizing onto his robes they dragged him out and threw him bodily back on the floor before them.

“Nice try,” spat Sirius sweeping away the hair that had fallen in front of his eyes with one hand whilst the other raised the wand again.

Lupin's expression was stony. “Goodbye Peter.”

“WAIT!” Alice swore later that she must have blinked and missed Harry move, because suddenly he was standing between the three men, his hands thrown out pleadingly towards Lupin and Sirius.

“Harry, what -?” Hermione took a step towards him and then seemed to think better of it, clamping her mouth shut and stumbling to a halt. In his corner Ron let out an incoherent whimper.

“What are you doing Harry?” Sirius looked at him in confusion. “It's because of that piece of filth that you've had to grow up without any parents.”

Harry turned to look at Lupin who met his gaze for a long moment. “He's right Harry.”

“I never said that he wasn't. But I know my Dad wouldn't want his two best friends to become murderers just for him.” He threw a disgusted glance at Pettigrew whose rapid, rat-like gaze was flitting from one face in the room to the next. Their responses gave him no encouragement. Harry's next sentence made his face crumple and turn an unhealthy yellow. “Besides, the Dementors can have him.”

“Noooooooooooooo!” An agonised wail tore out of Pettigrew as he threw himself prostrate before Harry, filthy fingers scrabbling at the hem of his robes. “No, Harry please, I beg you, I -”

“Don't you touch him,” Sirius aimed a swift, sharp kick at Pettigrew's head which he only narrowly avoided, “I told you not to talk to him.” Peter recoiled with a snotty whimper.

“Are you sure?” Lupin's pale eyes searched Harry's determined face for a long moment, then seeming to find himself satisfied with what he found there he nodded. “Alright then. If that's what you want.”

Sirius puffed out a long irritated breath, clearly he didn't agree with the decision that had been reached. With twelve years in Azkaban behind him and having searched all year to find the pathetic excuse for a man now gazing up pitifully from the floor, Alice could understand his frustration. Still, she knew Harry had made the right decision. For a second there was silence as everyone contemplated what had happened. Lupin and Sirius still had there wands trained on Pettigrew, and now that Harry had determined they were no longer going to kill him, he had moved aside.

“Shouldn't you knock him out before you take him to the castle?” Alice forced herself to speak up eventually; it seemed no one else was going to make the suggestion. “To make sure that he doesn't try to escape again?”

“Good idea.” Before anyone could make a move to stop or assist him Sirius gave a dismissive flick of his wand and Pettigrew's eyes rolled backwards in his skull as his body slumped sideways with a crash; the fact that his now unconscious victim's head connected sharply with the leg of a stool before reaching the floor did not seem to overly concern him. “Should have done that ages ago,” Black turned to look properly at Alice for the first time since she had entered the room a transformative smile on his face that seemed to strip away the years. The minute he registered her properly however the expression froze and then gradually slipped away leaving him looking confused and haunted. He sat down heavily on the stool as what little colour there was left drained from his waxy complexion.

“Sirius…” Lupin's warning voice sounded from the corner where he was now tending to Ron's arm. “Sirius just let me explain.” As their teacher straightened up, his gaze flicking with concern between his old friend and Alice, she found herself at a loss all over again; what was there to explain now?

“How…?” Sirius seemed about to point an accusing finger at her before seeming to think the better of it and leaving his arms to flap helplessly. “How can she be here? They all died… all of them, they all… Remus?” The way he sought clarity from his friend was so childlike that Alice almost felt sorry for him.

“Professor Lupin, what's he talking about?” Harry came across to stand next to her; everyone seemed to have forgotten about Pettigrew now lying like a discarded sack of potatoes on the floor between them. “Who died?”

Lupin seemed to be fighting some sort of internal battle, a range of emotions flitting across his scarred face too quickly for Alice to pick out any one individually. Eventually his gaze, which was ranging across all of their faces, settled on Alice and as he looked into her eyes she could see enough of his inner turmoil to know that whatever it was was causing him a lot of pain, but there almost seemed to be some pity in there too… surely not for her? What could that be for? “They don't know Sirius. No one's ever told them.”

Alice was frowning now, her mind trying to sort through everything that was going on and only managing to conjure up a headache. Every time she tried to settle on a fact to reason it out it seemed to slip away from her, like water trickling through her fingers.

“But how… I mean she looks so like L-”

“Sirius!” Lupin warned again, but it came too late because just like that the dam burst and Alice's mind seemed to be swarming with thoughts. Everything that had happened that year, all the clues and hints, suddenly seemed to slot together like pieces of a puzzle.

The way Sirius was reacting to her now, the way Lupin had reacted to her on the train, Harry's aunt's fixation with her when they had met over the summer, the unfathomable looks she had received from Snape over the years. She understood exactly what had annoyed her so much about the photographs of Harry's parents. It had been so obvious now that she thought about it! Snippets of prior conversations seemed to bubble up from her memory all at once, clamouring for attention. Fudge speaking about Petunia's worry: “she even asked after your friend Alice here.” Dumbledore's cryptic explanations to Harry: “Lord Voldemort murdered everyone in that house apart from you that night.” His expression when she had owned up to being the one to find the journal. The Sorting Hat's observations on her very first night at Hogwarts: “Plenty of courage, but that's to be expected,” almost as though it had recognised her somehow. Every time she had thought Lupin was about to say something and then had seemed to change his mind. Fred's innocent observation: “You have green eyes you know.” And her own comments to Harry so long ago now: “Harry, sorry - do I know you from somewhere? Before Hogwarts I mean, you look really familiar.” The screaming that only she and Harry could hear whenever Dementors got close, for Merlin's sake Harry had even told her he realised that it had been the sound of his mother! Why hadn't she worked it out earlier? If nothing else her last name ought to have made it blindingly obvious. The final line in the journal entry seemed to be playing on a loop round and round inside her head: at least his sister is better behaved. Could it really be possible?

“ALICE!” She felt a hand grab her arm to steady her as her legs suddenly seem incapable of supporting her weight anymore and the world began to spin disconcertingly. Blinking rapidly to try and clear her vision she sought out Lupin's worried and resigned face.

“Is it true?” He didn't need to ask what she meant.


A strangled sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob burst through her lips before she clamped them shut. Conflicting emotions raged inside her: joy, excitement, confusion, anger, grief, frustration - she hopped from one to the next without any control or logic. Slowly she turned to look at Harry who was still hovering protectively next to her with his arm outstretched in case she should need his help again. Harry who was always there for everyone and always got the raw end of the deal. Harry who right now looked so confused and clearly hadn't worked it out yet. And why should he have?

Abruptly her stomach felt the need to echo her roiling emotions and she bolted from the room before emptying its contents noisily over the banister.

“Alice, are you alright?” Lupin's voice was calm once more as it followed her out into the corridor.

“Yes,” she croaked wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve before straightening up gingerly. “I'm fine,” she called back slightly louder. As ungraceful and out of character as it had been throwing up seemed to have cleared her mind slightly. She was still full of questions, but they were more ordered now. Squaring her shoulders determinedly she turned to face whatever lay ahead of her and walked back into the room.

“Will someone please explain to me what is going on?” Hermione was looking worriedly from her friend to Lupin and back again.

“I'm… that is Harry and…” Where should she start?

“Harry, she's your sister.” Lupin finished the sentence that she could not. His words dropped, less like pebbles creating ripples on a pond and more like enormous boulders whose waves Alice could feel crashing around the room. With those four words she could feel that the entire fabric of all their lives had shifted irrevocably.

“My…” Harry shook his head rapidly, though whether this was a denial of the information or simply to clear his head Alice wasn't sure. She kept her eyes fixed on his pale face that, despite all the trauma he had already been through, still contained such innocence. “What? How? No… Dumbledore said that - he said that she died.” He seemed to be refusing to look at Alice, as though to make eye contact and see her properly, see the truth, would be too painful for him. For her part Alice was still trying to make sense of things. She had no doubt that what Lupin said was true, after all what reason would he have to lie about it? And even if it had taken her a ridiculously long time, she had come to the same conclusion herself anyway. There were still pieces missing though, parts of the puzzle that she desperately wanted someone to fill for her.

“Actually he didn't,” at the sound of her voice Alice turned towards Hermione. As she did so she caught sight of Ron, his mouth hanging open and his eyes flickering searchingly between his two friends faces as though trying to spot similarities, the unfolding drama in the room had momentarily distracted him from his own pain. “He didn't say that she died,” Hermione continued. Despite the evident shock on her face she couldn't help but reason things out. “He said that everyone who had been in the house had died, we just assumed that your sister… Alice,” she whispered the name before continuing “We just assumed that she had been there too.”

“We all did.” Black spoke for the first time in several minutes.

“So he lied to everyone?” Hermione's eyes flashed with concern towards Harry, but he seemed too shocked to be angry… for the moment.

“Yes, but… Listen I don't know all of Dumbledore's reasons for doing what he did, for not saying -”

“You've known since the start of term.” Alice was surprised at how cool her voice sounded as she interrupted a teacher.

Lupin looked at her for a long moment a mixture of pity and an apology swimming in his pale eyes. “Yes,” he answered even though it hadn't been a question. “And I'm sorry I didn't say anything to you, Dumbledore made me swear… I know that's no excuse, but I genuinely thought that it was best for you, for all of you.”

“He always was devious,” Black piped up again. Whether it was the shock of the situation he found himself in or the fact that Pettigrew was still lying unconscious at his feet and no longer a threat he seemed to be a completely different person to the mad man that had greeted them when they entered the Shrieking Shack. “If you want answers though, he's the one that will have them.”

Alice hated to admit it, but he was right.

“But what about us?” Harry finally looked at her. Alice felt her stomach twist as she met those green eyes, so similar to the ones that had gazed out at her from the photographs. They had the same eyebrows she noticed suddenly, it fleetingly occurred to her that this was an odd thought to have at such a moment but then the brain had a tendency to do such things, they had the same arch before tapering off at an angle. She smiled tentatively at him. Her brother. The word sounded odd even in her head. “I mean,” he elaborated, “what happened to us? Why didn't we know about each other…?” He stumbled to a questioning halt, not knowing quite what to say. What was there to say?

“You were - are - twins,” Lupin answered. “I don't know why Alice wasn't in the house the night your parents were murdered, though I'm guessing Dumbledore does -” Hermione let out a loud snort at this, “we all thought she had been. The way he explained it to me was that he kept her a secret to keep her safe from Voldemort and any Death Eaters looking for revenge -”

“Yes, but surely he could have done that without lying to Harry about the fact that she had survived?” Sirius seemed quietly outraged all of a sudden. “Lily and James would have hated the thought that their children grew up without knowing each other.” At his words Alice felt as though someone had sucked all the air out of her. Of course. It hadn't occurred to her, not fully anyway, that if she was Harry's sister then that meant that Lily and James were her parents too. Of course she knew that that was how it worked, but the thought just hadn't dawned on her yet. She had parents! Real, identifiable, nameable parents; she wasn't some anonymous cast off anymore, there was a family she could claim to. It was a strange feeling.

“Right… right…” Harry's brain seemed to have stalled. She didn't blame him it was a bit of an information overload; she was barely keeping up herself. “Right,” he repeated again. “We should get him back to the castle,” he nudged Pettigrew's prone form with his foot. “Sort out one thing at a time.”

“I still think you should have let us kill him, he's not worth keeping alive and we only really need his body to - but you're right of course!” Sirius held up his hands as the four Gryffindors glared at him. “It was only a suggestion.”

“Let's get on with it then.” Lupin became businesslike once more and rolled back the sleeves of his robes. “Alice, would you be so kind as to give Ron a hand?” She nodded, glad to have something to keep her occupied.

“You alright?” Ron whispered as she stooped to help him up.

“Yeah,” she nodded vigorously and forced a smile. “Of course.” He didn't look convinced but the motion of standing had obviously jangled his arm again, which at this proximity she could see was evidently broken as well as bleeding, so he didn't respond and concentrated instead on keeping it still. “Can you walk?”

“Yeah, of course,” he echoed her with a hint of a wry grin, although it quickly became a grimace as he moved again, “it's just my arm, not my legs.”

In silence they waited for the others to shuffle out of the room ahead of them. Lupin in the lead, followed by Sirius who had Pettigrew's inanimate body suspended in mid air in front of him, then Harry with an ever present and nervous looking Hermione close behind him.

As she helped Ron move stiffly down the staircase she nodded towards Pettigrew who was now being propelled into a secret corridor Lupin had revealed in the wall - although not, she noticed, the one they had entered by. “Are you ok about the whole… Scabbers situation?”

“I suppose,” Ron's lip curled up in disgust, or it might have been pain, Alice couldn't really tell. “I mean it's not exactly like I would have wanted my rat back now is it? I just can't believe that I kept that - that thing! That I looked after him all these years!”

“You didn't know.”

“No.” They lapsed into silence again, broken only by the muttering of spells as they all lit their wands to guide them along the corridor. This passage was very similar to the one they taken from the forest, although, if Alice was any good at geography, it seemed to snake back in the direction of the castle.

“Professor?” Harry called after they had been walking for about five minutes. “Where are we going?”

“Back to Hogwarts.” Lupin confirmed Alice's suspicion. “This passage comes out at the bottom of the Whomping Willow.”

The four friends stumbled to a halt. “Errrr…” Alice had to smile as Ron and Harry shared a panicked look. They knew only too well about the stroppy tree in the grounds.

“Don't worry,” Lupin reassured them. “It'll be quite safe, I promise.” Alice caught Harry's eye and shrugged, for a second it was as though nothing remarkable had happened in the past hour, as though their entire world hadn't been turned upsides down, then they both glanced away again embarrassed and unsure of what to say.

Instead Alice concentrated on helping a flagging Ron along the corridor and making sure he didn't either pass out, or bash his arm against the narrow walls of the tunnel. As they walked she also watched the back of Sirius' head, his matted mass of dark hair, considering everything that they had found out about him. She didn't doubt he was telling the truth. After all Pettigrew had as much as confirmed his story, and even if he hadn't there was something in his eyes when he had told them his story that Alice couldn't deny. Right now he was whispering to Harry, who in turn was looking up at him with an expression Alice had never seen in his eyes before. It was a mixture of hope and excitement and… she struggled to find the right word to describe it - longing possibly? It sounded soppy, but she knew family meant everything to Harry and as his godfather Sirius was the closest he would ever get to that now. Except for her she reminded herself. This sister business would take some getting used to, but every time she contemplated it her overloaded brain reeled dizzily away from the subject. She was rapidly becoming exhausted; it had, after all, been a very long day.

As they reached the roots at the bottom of the Whomping Willow and waited patiently for Lupin, who had somehow gone to stop the tree from savaging them, Sirius sidled past her friends and came to stand by Alice.

“Look,” he cleared his throat and shuffled his feet awkwardly as once again she marvelled at the change in him, “I've just been telling Harry that I'm his godfather, though he already knew that, but Lily and James made me your godfather too. Anyway I was saying that the two of you are more than welcome, that is if you want, to come and stay with me, once this is finished and I get myself sorted out, it doesn't have to be forever, just over the summer, or longer if you want of course, not that I'm saying you have to you're probably perfectly happy where you are, it's only if you want and… well the offer is there.”

Alice could hardly believe her ears. As he spoke she was aware that the biggest grin had spread across her face. It was so wide that she had to stop after a few seconds because her cheeks were beginning to hurt, once she had relaxed her face though it instantly sprang back again, she couldn't help it. “You mean the three of us?” She asked shyly. “Like a proper family?”

“Well,” the corner of Sirius' mouth curled upwards in evident pleasure at her enthusiasm, “I can't promise anything, but it's a start.”

“I'd love to.” Leave the Home? Carol and the other women were kind enough to her, but she would have given her right arm long ago, and probably her left too if she was honest, to have gotten out of that place.

“That's it!” Lupin's voice rebounded around the inside of the tunnel.

“Well then,” Sirius flicked his wand so that Pettigrew shot upwards through the opening in the earth, not seeming to be overly perturbed by the fact that his skull connected sharply with the ceiling, “onwards and upwards.” With an elated smile she followed him. As she emerged into the grounds she was only just aware of the fact that the Whomping Willow was indeed somehow miraculously still and that the moon had risen, illuminating the imposing silhouette of the castle in the distance when suddenly Sirius threw an arm out in front of her.


She glanced up at him in alarm, moonlight reflected onto eyes that were staring straight ahead at Lupin who stood rigidly several feet away, himself staring at the source of the light.


“Everyone behind me now!” His tone brooked no argument and Harry and Hermione quickly scurried round, helping Ron emerge from the passage once they had done so.

“What's going on?” Hermione's panicked whisper was audible in the stillness. Alice glanced from Sirius' white face, she wasn't sure if it looked even paler because of the moonlight or if what little blood left in it had left completely, to her Professor, to her friends standing worriedly next to her. All looked as non-plussed as she felt, but there was a fear in their eyes too, generated largely by the tension radiating off of Sirius. Clearly something was very wrong.

Suddenly Lupin began to shake and tremble, his body arched and contorted as though something was causing him great pain. Alice began to make a motion towards him, but she had stopped even before she felt the warning pressure of Sirius' hand on her arm. Glancing up at him she could see that for the first time that night he was genuinely afraid and her opinion of him had changed so radically in the last few hours that she knew that it wouldn't be without reason. And just like that it all fell into place.

“Oh Merlin,” she breathed, looking back at Professor Lupin in horror. Professor Lupin who no longer really resembled their kindly Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. Professor Lupin, who couldn't seem to stand the light of the full moon. Professor Lupin, who appeared to be elongating and sprouting copious amounts of hair and teeth. Alice gulped.

“Oh,” Hermione's voice was a high pitched squeak. “Oh my… he's a werewolf!”

As she spoke, Pettigrew, whose lifeless body had settled on the ground just beside them, let out a sudden moan as he began to regain consciousness. Sirius didn't even bother with magic this time he just pivoted on one foot and smashed his fist against the side of Pettigrew's head; eyes that had been fluttering open as he struggled to rise rolled back in his skull and he dropped like a stone. The damage was done however, the noise had attracted the attention of Lupin, or what had been their teacher; the beast that had replaced him snapped his head in their direction and glared at them with feral yellow eyes. A deep, throaty snarl ripped from between rows of dagger sharp teeth at least as large as Alice's fingers.

“Run!” Sirius bellowed. With a rough shove he sent the children spinning in the opposite direction and once again Alice found herself sprinting for her life across the Hogwarts grounds.

For several seconds she could hear the swift pounding of the werewolf behind them, then there was a thud and a pained, bone-chilling howl. Glancing back she saw that they have been granted a few moments respite due to the fact that Lupin's transformation was not yet quite complete. Elongated, furry head thrown back towards the moon, his distorted features twisted in pain, what was left of the man was becoming fully the wolf. Next to her Hermione faltered, looking back in concern at the sounds.

“Hermione, MOVE!” Alice and Harry, who had to pause in helping Ron along, grabbed her robes and propelled her forwards.

“Keep going!” Yelled Sirius as he caught up with them. “Get to the castle!” Alice would have time later to contemplate the amusing and ridiculous sight of Pettigrew skimming rapidly across the grounds, his toes brushing the grass, his head lolling to the side, as the five of them ran behind him; at least she hoped she would have time. Right now she was concentrating on staying alive. Another, more elated howl, sounding behind them told her that the werewolf was finished transforming. With a desperate effort she pushed her body, fighting against the tiredness, churning out every ounce of speed that she could from her legs. They were almost at the castle now, Ron leaning against Harry, doing an odd lopsided gallop, she and Hermione sprinting along with Pettigrew in front of them and Sirius behind. Abruptly he ignored his own command and stopped.

“Go!” He repeated when she wavered in response. From the corner of her eye as she turned back she saw his body morphing and shifting into the dog he had obviously been in the woods earlier. She didn't have time to contemplate it however as she was concentrating too much on keeping up her speed. Added to that she was nearly sent flying as Pettigrew, no longer under the force of Sirius' spell began to slump to the ground right in front of her. Thankfully Hermione was on the ball and resumed his duties, never breaking her stride as she did so. Alice once again thanked whichever fates were responsible for making that girl her friend. Behind her a torrent of snarling had erupted followed by the rhythmic pounding of paws on the grass; the howls receded, but she didn't dare to look back.

Mercifully it wasn't far to go and as they reached the castle they all sprinted up the steps and threw themselves gratefully behind a sheltering wall. Whether it had been deliberate on Hermione's part or not, Pettigrew didn't stop in time, slamming into the wall and sliding down into a crumpled heap on the floor. At this rate Alice doubted he would regain consciousness by his own volition any time this week.

Breathing heavily the four friends all gazed at each other for a moment before wordlessly sticking their heads around the corner almost as one and peering back towards the Whomping Willow. The grounds were deserted. The only sign of movement was the tree itself, now back to swishing its branches gently through the air.

“Where -?” Harry's question was cut short as an eerie howl echoed out across the grounds. Alice glanced around nervously, her short breaths creating billowing clouds in the cold night air. She could feel her heart still thudding in her chest with fear and exertion, each beat keeping the adrenaline pumping through her body. Where were they? Just when she thought she couldn't stand the suspense any more there was a disturbance in the tree line and a large animal came bounding out of the Forest. But which was it? Alice squinted to see more clearly in the moonlight, and sighed with relief as a huge black dog left the shadows and raced towards them. It was Sirius, and he appeared to be alone. Her relief slightly surprised her, an hour or two before she had been convinced he was a psychotic mass-murderer after all, although she kept a wary eye on the tree line as he leapt up the steps to the front door and transformed back into a man in one fluid movement.

“What happened to Lupin?” Harry asked looking earnestly at his godfather.

Sirius stretched and rolled his shoulders, readjusting to his body again, before answering. “Don't worry, I didn't hurt him. He's in the Forbidden Forest somewhere. I just had to draw him away and then give him the slip; make sure he wasn't going to hurt himself or one of you four.”

“He's a werewolf?” Alice wasn't sure whether she was imagining the faint note of disgust in Ron's voice. She never had understood the odd prejudices and fears of the wizarding world.

“Of course, he's a werewolf Ron,” Hermione snapped before Sirius even had a chance to respond. “What else could he be?”

“Does Dumbledore know?”

“Of course.” Sirius responded as Hermione rolled her eyes with a muffled groan and mimed bashing her head against the stone wall. “He's known since Remus was at school here. But that is a story for another day,” he made to roll back his sleeves in a businesslike manner before seeming to think better of it, but not before Alice had seen that his forearms were covered in a crisscross of fresh scratches. “We need to sort things out with regards to Peter here.”

“We should take him to Dumbledore,” Harry looked down at the unconscious figure on the floor. “While we're at it, he has some explaining to do.” His eyes flicked up towards Alice and she felt her heart lighten as he smiled at her nervously before looking away again. Maybe things were going to be alright after all.

“Wait,” Hermione glanced nervously back over her shoulder as Professor Lupin's unearthly howls echoed around the grounds, “Sirius can't just go stomping through the castle. We might know he's innocent, but until his name is cleared anyone that catches sight of him is probably going to curse him on sight, or at the very least call the Dementors. We need to get him to Dumbledore's office without being seen.”

“She has a point.” Sirius furrowed his brow as he gave the problem some thought.

Harry however reached straight for his coat pocket. “Don't worry, I've got the cloak you can use that.”

“The cloak?”

“Yes, it's an invisibility -”

“I know what it is,” his godfather cut in, “I'm just surprised to see it again that's all.” He accepted the shimmering fabric from Harry gingerly and held it up for inspection, memories that they could only guess at played out across his face. “It's a long time since I've seen this,” he whispered finally before swirling it around his shoulders and disappearing from view. Alice suspected this was partly to conceal his emotions from them.

“What…” Ron winced, “what are we going to do about him though?” He nodded towards the seemingly lifeless body of Peter Pettigrew, floating eerily several feet above the floor of the Entrance Hall.

“I'll sort that,” the raw croak of Sirius' disembodied voice was a tad spooky in the dark hall. Alice felt a disturbance in the air next to her as he moved. “Celarium.” As if from nowhere, the back of Pettigrew's dirty robes seemed to ripple and then, spreading out from the point where she assumed Sirius' wand must be, he became invisible. Well not invisible as such she reasoned, he was sort of there if you looked from certain angles, but she could see straight through him at any rate.

“Right.” Hermione was brisk once more. “Are we all set then? Let's go see Dumbledore.”

A/N: And there you go; finally the big reveal, hope you liked it and that it lived up to expectations. If it didn't I apologise, but this was always how I had intended to do it. Also Celarium vaguely means concealed in Latin, I realised there wasn't actually an incantation anywhere for a Disillusionment charm so as usual invented one. Hope you're enjoying it, please R&R!!!


17. The Turn in the Road

The Turn in the Road

“Ah, Harry.” Dumbledore glanced up from his desk and smiled at them all as they filed into his office. Alice was the last of the four students to enter and once he had greeted her, his eyes flicked behind her to a still invisible Sirius and Pettigrew. “Ah.” The slightest of frowns flickered across the old headmasters face. She wondered if anything ever fazed him, or if in his long years at the school he had gotten so used to unexpected interruptions that nothing shocked him anymore. Certainly he didn't seem overly bothered that four of his students had turned up in the middle of the night, one of whom was still bleeding quite badly despite the scarf Alice had tied around Ron's arm to try and stop it, accompanied by an escaped purported mass murderer and man who was supposedly dead floating unconscious in the air. After a moment of silence during which he surveyed the odd group with those measured blue eyes of his he spoke with what she could have sworn was a touch of humour. “Sirius I think perhaps we could dispense with the Cloak, don't you?”

In a flurry of fabric Sirius suddenly reappeared, an odd tight expression had come across his face, and a wariness reminding Alice of how he had looked when they had met earlier in the evening. “Dumbledore.” She wasn't sure if it was a greeting or not.

“Why don't you all take a seat? I can see that this may take some time.” He waved his wand and five comfy chairs materialised in front of his desk, another flourish and a tiny camp bed appeared next to one of the many tables scattered around the office. One final motion and Pettigrew's body was lowered onto it, becoming visible to them all as he did so. After glancing at each other, the four Gryffindors sat down, followed by a grey-faced Sirius. “It appears that we have a lot to catch up on. If one of you would like to start?” They were each treated to the Headmaster's twinkling blue gaze for a few moments, and not for the first time Alice had the impression of being rapidly assessed. She tried to keep the anger and injustice, that had sprung up within her earlier and had been pushed aside out of necessity, suppressed, but she wasn't sure how successfully she was.

“Sir, Sirius is innocent,” Harry blurted, “he didn't kill Peter Pettigrew.”

“Yes, I had rather surmised that.” The blue eyes flicked in the direction of the camp bed before returning to Harry. “Although perhaps if we could begin at the beginning. I find that often helps with these things.”

Harry looked at him and nodded before taking a deep breath and reliving the night's events. Hermione chipped in occasionally and once when Harry got to the point of explaining about Scabbers not actually being a rat Ron said his piece, although he mostly kept silent as his arm seemed to be paining him again. Sirius never said a word throughout the whole account he just sat, his rapid, alert gaze flickering between Harry and Dumbledore; every so often he would look over at Alice too. She could only wonder what he must be thinking. She herself didn't contribute to the tale; she had already lived through it once and had no desire to do so again, her brain was liable to explode with the overload of information. Besides she knew her tongue could be sharp if riled enough, something that happened only exceptionally rarely, and she didn't want to say something to Dumbledore she might regret.

What she did notice was that when Harry reached the point in the tale where Alice had realised they were related he hesitated momentarily before omitting that part from his account. She glanced at the Headmaster to see if he had noticed anything amiss, but if he did he barely batted an eyelid. It was impossible to tell if he had realised the extent of the night's revelations or not. She suspected it wouldn't be long before they found out though, Harry was not likely to disregard the matter, or the fact that Dumbledore had lied to him yet again. And if Harry didn't bring it up then she certainly would, there were some times when embarrassment just had to be sidelined.

When Harry had finished, Dumbledore was silent for a moment; he scratched his long, thin nose, pushed his glasses into place, smoothed his beard contemplatively and cleared his throat before speaking. It was the nearest to being unsettled Alice suspected she would ever see him. “Well,” he began, “I will be the first to admit that life never ceases to surprise me with its variation and intricacies. It would seem first and foremost that I owe you Sirius an apology -” Alice felt it was more than a little inadequate for what her godfather had been through, but then what did she really expect him to do?

“You believe him then?”

“I would imagine that the presence of Mr Pettigrew, more than vouches for the story,” Dumbledore looked kindly at Harry. Alice wasn't finding his presence as reassuring as normal however, there had just been too many times that he had lied to them and let them down this year for her to have the confidence in him that she had once had.

“What is going to happen to him?” Alice eventually piped up. She felt her stomach lurch at the prospect of the Dementors but hardened her heart against any sympathy that might lurk there. He wasn't worth it.

Dumbledore exhaled slowly through his long nose and regarded Pettigrew's sleeping form for a moment. “Mr Pettigrew will be turned over to Ministry authorities; after that it is up to them to decide his fate. I would imagine though that he will be taken before the Wizengamot and if found guilty of his crimes, Azkaban in all likelihood awaits.”

“Or,” Sirius was almost glaring at his former teacher with hard eyes, “we could just deal with him ourselves.”

“Sirius.” Harry's tone was somewhere between pleading, and a warning.

“Alright, alright!” Their godfather swept his hair impatiently from his face and fidgeted in his chair before hunching back in it. “It was only a suggestion.”

Dumbledore gave a small cough to attract their attention again. “I think perhaps we should deal with the most immediate concerns. Mr Weasley seems to be in some pain and I rather think that Madam Pomfrey might want to see to that arm. Miss Granger,” Hermione flushed to be thus addressed by the Headmaster, “if you would be so kind as to accompany him down to the Hospital Wing?”

Immediately he spoke Hermione jumped up from her seat as though electrocuted; Alice suspected that for all of her braveness she was a little intimidated by him. Moving quickly over to Ron she helped him to his feet, issuing a stream of whispered questions and concerns so rapidly that Alice could barely make any sense of them at all. As they left she threw an encouraging smile in Alice and Harry's direction, although her eyes were worried.

“Well then…” Dumbledore gazed steadily at them for a moment. “I gather that is not all you wanted to say to me?”

“Professor,” there was a bite of anger in Harry's direct tone. Alice had never heard him speak to the Headmaster like that before, even on previous occasions when he had lost control and raged at the old man there had never been the determination that there was now. His voice was even, but angry sparks seemed to jump from his eyes as he made sure Dumbledore was listening and understanding every word he said. “Why did you never tell me that Alice was my sister?”

A sigh like autumn leaves rustling over dried grass escaped from across the desk. With weary hands Dumbledore reached up and adjusted the golden frames perched delicately on his long, thin nose. Had she been feeling more charitable Alice may have felt some measure of sympathy for him, always having to confront so many difficult and problematic issues at his age - not that he hadn't any option in the matter - but she was too angry at him herself to care much at the moment. For the minute though she kept silent and let Harry steer the conversation.

“Why did you let me believe that my sister was dead?” He continued. “Why didn't you tell Alice who she was? Why -?” He stopped as Dumbledore raised one long thin finger from the desk. It was a simple, fleeting gesture, but its request for silence was unmistakable.

“I believed that I had good reason for my actions Harry and I will explain them to you in good time if you will allow me, but first I offer my apologies for having concealed things from you yet again. I did believe, and I do still, that I was acting in the best interests of both yourself and Miss Evans, for your protection. Nevertheless you are both understandably upset,” his eyes flickered from Harry's face to Alice's as he spoke and she was careful to keep it devoid of any of the emotions which were roiling within her. She was angry yes, livid even, at the way they had been lied to by everyone; irritated at herself for having taken so long to work out what was blindingly obvious; upset and grieving even for parents that she felt as though she had lost them all over again; nervous, elated and worried about what it would all mean for herself and Harry; most of all though she was curious as to what exactly Dumbledore had to say, there was still so much that she didn't understand. “ - and for that,” the Headmaster continued, “I am sorry.”

The Headmaster stood and walked out from behind his desk, midnight blue robes peppered with tiny silver stars swirled around him as he turned towards one of the darkened windows. Moonlight, the same moonlight that had transformed Professor Lupin so terribly, illuminated his face, picking out each spidery crease and careworn line upon it.


“Shh!” She chastised Harry as he made to interrupt impatiently just as Dumbledore seemed about to speak. Sure enough he did, although his voice sounded older than it ever had.

“I told you earlier to start at the beginning, so perhaps I should do the same here.” Another pause. “I told you before that few people were aware of Harry and his sister's existence prior to the night your parents were killed, their closest friends of course -” Alice glanced towards Sirius and although he never took his eyes from the Headmaster he nodded to show that he had seen her questioning look. It seemed he was soaking up this story every bit as eagerly as Harry and herself. “-but no one else. On the night of Halloween Alice was not in Godric's Hollow -”

“She wasn't?” Sirius clearly couldn't help but interrupt. “Where was she then?”

“She was with Minerva. Several days before Alice had contracted a form of flu. Not serious but it is contagious, so rather than give it to Harry she was taken out of the house for a few days. So when Voldemort turned up looking for Harry, Alice wasn't there. He would have known of her existence of course, I'm sure Peter would have seen to that, but since he never had the chance to relate events in Godric's Hollow that night to anyone and never finished his business there it is of little consequence.”

“But I don't understand,” Alice felt she had to speak up, it was after all her they were talking about, “if Professor McGonagall knew, why didn't she tell me, or why didn't someone…”

Dumbledore turned back from the window and looked at them. “I am afraid that she didn't know my dear. You see once I had heard what had happened and dispatched Hagrid to collect Harry I immediately went to ensure Alice was still safe. Finding that she was I then had to decide what was to be done for the best, I realised that the Death Eaters would be looking for you almost as ardently as for Harry and that the best way to keep you safe was to put you somewhere they could never reach you. And where after all is safer than death? After modifying Minerva's memory - something I am not proud of might I add, and she will no doubt be livid with me when I explain it to her - I took you to the Orphanage and left you in their care under your mother's name, it was all there was left to give you.”

“But why didn't someone recognise her as a Potter earlier?” Sirius asked incredulously. “I mean she's so like Lily at that age and when she stands next to Harry, well the resemblance is unmistakable.”

Alice could feel Harry staring at her wordlessly, trying to pick out all of her features and identify their similarities. She flushed uncomfortably at the scrutiny.

“I performed a - well, an old and complicated piece of magic, it operates rather in the same way as a Fidelius Charm does on a building; so long as Alice was under the charm most people would look at her and see nothing remarkable. Any time her name would magically appear - on the Hogwarts Lists for example - it would be as Alice Evans and not as Potter. The memories of those who knew of her were not modified to forget her completely, but masked. Of course those who were most well acquainted with her, with Lily and James would not be able to forget her entirely. You Sirius and Remus, one or two others I believe recognised her, or recognised Lily and James in her. It would be very few however. If anyone tried to work it out the spell would divert their thinking, they wouldn't be able to hold onto all of the facts required to add things up -” at least that explained her confusion all year Alice realised. “Of course,” Dumbledore came back and sat at his desk, his chin resting thoughtfully on arched fingers, “once you planted the seed in her head this evening it was all too much, the mask slipped and the spell's hold was broken at least in part. I would also add that it must have taken powerful magic on your part too Miss Evans to have broken the enchantment.”

Alice was only half aware that he had fallen silent at this point; her mind was reeling from the momentous information that she was being asked to take in. She felt slightly sick again. It had been Dumbledore that had left her in the Home, who had lied not only to herself and Harry, but everyone for years, had all but erased her existence. She was a Potter not an Evans. Her parents had been murdered by Voldemort, and undoubtedly he would have killed her too had she been in Godric's Hollow that Halloween. She wasn't quite sure which issue she wanted to examine first; every time she tried to focus on something she felt her head spin and her stomach lurched. Eventually she settled on the simplest of questions. “So my name isn't really Alice then at all is it? You said Harry's sister was called Clover Potter.”

“Well,” for the first time that evening Dumbledore looked mildly sheepish, “I must admit to having told a small fib there. In actual fact your middle name was - is Clover. I believe Lily wanted to carry on the family naming tradition. Your full name is Alice Clover Potter.”

“Right…” Alice Clover Potter. That would take some getting used to.

Glancing up with wide, bewildered eyes she saw Harry and Sirius on either side of her gazing at her in concern. “Are you alright?” Sirius asked. He was still the gaunt, bedraggled scare-crow of a man they had encountered earlier, but the turn of events that evening had imbued him with a life and energy which seemed to fill out some of the hollowed flesh and made him look rather more like the man she imagined he must once have been before Azkaban.

“Yes.” She tried hard to muster a smile. The expression felt forced.

“Really?” Harry looked at her sceptically. He too was looking pale.

“Well about as fine as you I should imagine,” she countered.

He smirked and shrugged in acknowledgement of her point.

“I want them to come and live with me.” She wasn't sure if Sirius' statement, it certainly wasn't a question, was intended to cover her awkwardness but she nonetheless appreciated the diversion of attention. Both children looked hopefully up into his determined face and then at Dumbledore who quickly smoothed the tiny frown from his face.

“I think there will be plenty of time to talk about things like that Sirius, but for now I think we should set about clearing your name first.” Sirius tutted at the deflection, but he didn't argue. “With your permission I would like to summon the Minister and Aurors to the office. I will explain everything to them, you have my word that they will not arrest you again. Children,” he looked down at their tired but cautiously alert faces. The mention of Fudge had put them on guard again. “You are more than welcome to stay, but I can also see that you are exhausted. I shall leave it up to you whether or not you wish to go and join your friends in the Hospital Wing.”

Alice and Harry glanced at each other. Neither needed to speak to know what the other was thinking. “We'll stay.”

“Very well.”

Dumbledore walked over to the fire place scooped up a handful of what Alice could only assume was Floo-powder, for it turned the fire an emerald shade that rivalled Harry's eyes, and through it in. That done he aimed his wand at the flames and sent a spell of unknown properties spinning off into the ether, for unknown purposes, and to an unknown destination. Alice could only assume that this was his way of summoning the Minister for Magic. She wondered how Fudge took to being called like a dog, and at rather an antisocial hour too. It didn't take long for her to find out.

“Really Dumbledore, what on earth can be so urgent at this hour?” All of a flap, bottle green cloak still askew and without his customary bowler hat Fudge tumbled out of the fireplace followed by several severe looking wizards who she assumed were Aurors and a diminutive man in grey robes who could only be some sort of assistant. “Surely this could have waited until -” He stumbled to a halt upon catching sight of Sirius sitting with apparent calm at the Headmaster's desk, although sitting next to her godfather Alice could see his clawed hands gripping the arms of the chair, a gesture which belied his composure. “Oh.” Fudge's eyes bulged as he turned an alarming shade of purple which she suspected Harry's uncle would have had to work to achieve. “What is…? Dubledore I… Gentlemen seize that man!” He ordered after blustering and gaping like a fish for a few moments.

“Now, now,” Dumbledore stood as Sirius twitched in his chair. He hadn't drawn his wand or raised his voice, but the Headmaster's commanding presence was such that the Aurors who had moved on Fudge's command paused. “Cornelius, please do not act hastily; I have a perfectly good reason for inviting you here tonight. Please take my word for it, none of us are in any danger from Mr Black. Events have occurred of which you are unaware so if you will please give me the opportunity to enlighten you; take a seat.” He conjured more chairs, so closely behind the new arrivals that they were all but forced to sit in them.

“Dumbledore!” Fudge raged, a rather odd attitude for a sitting man to adopt. “Have you taken leave of your senses? What could Black have possibly done to atone for his crimes? The man killed thirteen people; there were witnesses! And what are these children doing here?” He suddenly seemed to notice them, Harry especially, with surprise and was momentarily flabbergasted, but quickly regained his voice, albeit several indignant octaves higher. “What on earth…? Do our security measures mean nothing to you man?! This was exactly what the Dementors are here to prevent -”

“You know I was never in favour of the Dementors Cornelius, and Sirius is in the room, perhaps you would get further if you were to speak to him rather than over him.”

“And as I would have told you at the time if you had ever bothered to ask me,” Sirius' quiet voice seemed to stun the room into silence, “I didn't kill anyone twelve years ago, nor have I ever killed anyone, then or since.”

Fudge emitted several incoherent, spluttering noises but otherwise didn't say anything. Alice wasn't sure if he was too shocked at being addressed so rationally by a convicted man who looked as mad and as dangerous as he was purported to be or if he simply had nothing to say.

“You may notice that there is another member of our little party here tonight, Cornelius, who I think may go some way towards explaining things.” He gestured expansively in the direction of Pettigrew who was still to all intents and purposes dead to the world on the camp bed Dumbledore had conjured for him.

“What…? But that's… I was the first there… I saw… How can…?”

“Quite.” The Headmaster returned to his desk and sat slowly. “Now if you would allow me to explain, without interruptions,” he added as Fudge opened his mouth again, “then perhaps we can clear this up.” And for what seemed to Alice like the hundredth time that night the story began to be reiterated, although it didn't escape her notice that the Minister received a somewhat cut down version; Dumbledore made no mention of Ron's injuries, the fact Lupin and Sirius had been going to kill Pettigrew, or the fact the professor was currently roaming the grounds in a decidedly unfriendly guise.

Sirius was now lounging comfortably in his chair for all the world as though his fate didn't rest on Dumbledore's ability to convince Fudge of his innocence. Harry as always was alert to everything going on in the room, keeping half an eye on Pettigrew, perhaps afraid that he would somehow vanish and all would be lost, whilst listening intently to the exchange between the adults. For her own part Alice couldn't seem to keep her eyes open. The day finally seemed to have caught up with her and it wasn't until she nearly fell forwards out of her seat that she realised that she had dozed off at all. She gave herself a little shake.

“So you see Cornelius,” Dumbledore was saying, evidently reaching the end of his tale, “it would seem that Sirius was never the perpetrator at all, but in fact Mr Pettigrew here.”

For quite some time Fudge remained silent mulling over everything he had heard, every so often he would glance warily at Sirius and then at the children before turning to Pettigrew, frowning, and then go back to staring at the floor in contemplation. She wasn't sure if he was weighing up his options or simply struggling to think of a response. After an age he eventually spoke. “Well now see here Dumbledore, I can take what you say about P-Pettigrew here, however madcap the whole thing sounds, but really, Black is a convicted criminal I he can't simply be allowed to walk free on the say so of a few children. I'd never be able to show my face in the Ministry again!”

“Well, of course, that can be easily remedied. Some Veritaserum should provide the truth of the matter.” Dumbledore extracted a tiny glass vial from some pocket in his expansive robes and held it up to the light to reveal the clear liquid within. Alice couldn't help a tiny smile of triumph; he really did seem to think of everything. She wondered if he always carried around Veritaserum being accustomed to being put in spots such as this, or if he had just somehow known it would be needed tonight. Both, she suspected, were plausible. “Would you like to administer the potion Cornelius? I believe we should start with Mr Pettigrew.”

“No, no,” Fudge looked appalled at the very suggestion and shrank back slightly in his chair looking askance at the unconscious Pettigrew. “No, no, you be my guest… hang on!” He suddenly exclaimed as Dumbledore began to move again. The Headmaster glanced across at him questioningly and although Fudge seemed to wilt under the stern gaze he was not cowed completely, which Alice thought said something about the man. Without another word he gestured for the Aurors sitting on either side of him to move and with an alacrity and understanding which Alice felt could only be borne of considerable training they immediately sprang up and went to stand one either side of Pettigrew's prone form. From the look on Dumbledore's face Alice wondered if he was refraining from rolling his eyes, but you never could really tell with the man. Striding over he proceeded to tip half the contents of the bottle down Petitgrew's throat.

“Is that safe?” Alice hissed, her question was directed at Harry, but Sirius heard too and they answered, rather unnervingly, in unison.

“Who cares?” They glanced across her at each other and grinned wickedly.

Ennervate.” At Dumbledore's spell, Pettigrew woke with a splutter and tried to rise groggily.

“Peter,” Dumbledore's tone was far more gentle than Alice felt the man deserved. Now that he was awake again, she felt all the loathing and hatred that she had suppressed earlier come flooding back. “Peter,” he repeated when no immediate response was forthcoming.

“Yes?” Pettigrew's eyes were oddly unfocused, he seemed to be seeing everyone in the room but there was very little expression on his face to indicate that he recognised any of them. Alice wondered if perhaps they hadn't hit his head a little two hard, or often against solid objects that evening. So long as he was able to clear Sirius' name, she found she didn't really care.

“Are you Peter Pettigrew?” Dumbledore was asking.

“Yes.” Again the monotonous, monosyllabic response. Fudge sucked in a hissing breath between his teeth.

“Peter - can you tell me what happened on the 31st of October 1981?”

Pettigrew's brow furrowed for a moment; he looked like a child, albeit a very large, ugly, filthy one, trying to grasp for the correct answer he knew was already expected. “October… The Dark Lord killed the Potters and then… then he tried to kill Harry, but it - it failed somehow… I don't understand…”

“And how did Lord Voldemort -” even in his semi-catatonic state, Pettigrew flinched at the name. It also didn't escape Alice's notice that Fudge and the Aurors paled slightly too. “- know where Lily and James were Peter?”

“Because I told him,” Pettigrew whimpered and ducked his head slightly into his shoulders as though expecting to be struck. Alice felt a surge of revulsion in the pit of her stomach at this pathetic creature. Beside her she felt more than saw Sirius fidget in his seat, obviously impatient with the speed of Dumbeldore's questioning, or perhaps just angry again at the admission from his former friend.

“Get to the point Albus,” Fudge himself was sounding impatient now. His wide, popping eyes were transfixed on the scene before him as though he couldn't believe any of what he was hearing, but the tight cast to his mouth suggested to Alice that a part of him must. He certainly seemed angry, or perhaps it was just at having been proved wrong about Sirius all this time.

“And what happened after that? What happened with Sirius?” The Headmaster prodded.

“Sirius…” A grin suddenly seemed to spread across Pettigrew's face making him look quite mad; madder even than Sirius had at times appeared. Perhaps Alice reasoned that this was what happened when you spent twelve years as a rat. “Ah he underestimated me didn't he? All those years at school, him and James, thinking they were better than I was, pitying me, looking down on me -”

“WE WERE YOUR FRIENDS DAMN IT!” Sirius' sudden roar made Alice jump in her seat. Her godfather was on his feet, face scarlet with rage, quivering fists clenched by his sides in an effort to restrain himself. The Aurors were instantly on the alert.

“Sirius.” Dumbledore warned. “Sit down.”

He didn't move.

“Sirius,” Harry hissed, looking desperately at his godfather, who seemed not to hear him, and then glancing at Alice. Really did he want to get himself arrested again? Quickly Alice reached out and gently tugged on his ragged sleeve to get his attention. When he eventually looked down at her the anger and grief in his eyes was of a scale she could hardly even comprehend. She could almost see the lost young man he had been, inside him, falling through a chasm of emotions, flailing for something to grab onto. She slipped her hand, so tiny in comparison, into his and pulled him back into his seat. He acquiesced without a word, eyes still blazing fiercely.

Dumbledore turned back to the prisoner. “What happened when Sirius confronted you?”

“I fooled him didn't I?” Pettigrew giggled childishly. “Fooled everyone. I cut it off,” he held up the remains of his severed finger, “blew the street to bits, and transformed. I escaped.”

There was silence in the room for a moment.

“And then?” Dumbeldore asked eventually.

“Then I hid, found a wizard family to take me in. Twelve years I spent like that… twelve years…” His voice, which had been full of excitably emotion, seemed to taper off and his eyes lost their focus, his head drooped onto his shoulder. It was like watching a wind up toy suddenly reach the end of its mechanism. Alice blinked.

“I think that may have been the proof that you were looking for Cornelius.” The Headmaster eventually broke the hush that had descended on them all.

“Right… well then, that was… Right, I see…” Fudge seemed baffled. His gaze flickered from Pettigrew to Dumbledore and back again in rapid succession.

“You will of course undoubtedly want to question him further, once he is in custody, but there can be no doubt about the truth of his statement. Which of course in turn, clears Sirius' name.”

“Hmm,” Fudge bristled at the assumption. “I'll be the judge of that thank you Dumbledore. Your turn then Mr Black.” The Minister looked at him, half in expectation and half in accusation. Clearly he still had his doubts about him.

“Dumbeldore,” Sirius, who had regained his composure, spoke up, blatantly ignoring Fudge, “these two are exhausted,” he nodded at Harry and Alice, both of whom had been struggling to stay awake, immediately tried to look alert and awake at his words, “maybe it's about time they were in bed?”

Straight away Harry began protesting that they were fine; Alice left him to it, partly because keeping quiet was just what she did, but also partly because she suspected that Sirius wanted them to leave, that he didn't want them to see him questioned.

“I think perhaps Harry,” Dumbledore looked at him not unkindly, “that Sirius is right on this occasion. If you both return to Gryffindor Tower and get some rest, that would be best. Don't worry, I won't let anything happen to your godfather.”

Harry huffed, but didn't argue back.

Placing a hand on his shoulder, Sirius looked him square in the face. “I'll see you two later, alright? I'm not going anywhere.”

“Ok.” With a smile at Sirius that was interrupted by a yawn which she tried to suppress, Alice followed him as Harry began shuffling sleepily towards the door.

“Goodnight,” Sirius called.

“G'night.” Was the sleepy response.

A/N: There you have it, another instalment. Apologies that this one goes over a lot of old ground; I did consider just paraphrasing most of the scene, but then there were some important bits that needed to be stuck in there. I promise the next one will be more interesting… or it least I'll try to make it so! Please R&R as always… and enjoy!


18. Consequences and Conversations

Consequences and Conversations

“Right…” Harry paused in front of the portrait hole. It was the first thing either of them had said to each other since they had left Dumbledore's office. Having walked quickly straight to the Hospital Wing only to be told by Madam Pomfrey that she had already patched Ron up and let him go, they had slowly made their way back to Gryffindor Tower. It wasn't that they were lost in thought about the evening, for her own part Alice had been all too aware of the awkward silence that was developing as they roamed the corridors, keeping an arms length away from each other and exchanging fleeting half-smiles every so often. She just didn't know what to say, wouldn't know where to start. What were you were meant to say to a brother you had technically only just found after twelve years, having been friends for three of them? It was all rather confusing and her exhausted brain just didn't have the energy to cope with it.

“Yeah…” She shuffled her feet, looking at the Fat Lady, the guttering torch on the wall, Harry, the worn and pitted surface of the stone, her shoes, Harry, the loose thread trailing from the cuff of her sleeve which she proceeded to twist round her finger before glancing back at Harry again. He looked as uncomfortable as she did. “Do you want to talk in the morning?” She asked hesitantly.

“Yeah…” he echoed her. “Yeah in the morning would be good. I'm really -” He struggled to contain an enormous yawn and failed, “- really sleepy now.”

Her smile broadened as she turned and gave the Fat Lady, who was staring curiously at the two of them, the password and they climbed quickly into the common room. No sooner than Alice had stumbled sleepily halfway across the room than she heard an excitable squeal from beside the fireplace and looked up to see Hermione and Ron, pale faced but whole again, rushing towards them.

“What happened? What did Dumbledore want to talk to you about? Is Sirius still alright? What's he going to do about Pettigrew?” The questions tumbled out of Hermione's mouth as she grabbed Harry's sleeve and looked searchingly first at him and then Alice. Ron hovered behind her with expectant curiosity.

“Its fine,” he replied with a grin, “its all fine. Sirius is still in Dumbledore's office; he's talking to Fudge, but Pettigrew confessed so they know he's innocent.”

“That's great mate,” Ron beamed as Hermione threw her arms happily around Harry babbling about how she had know it would all turn out for the best.

“If you don't mind,” Alice was dead on her feet, too tired to properly celebrate at that moment. All she could think of was the comfy bed and warm blankets waiting for her upstairs. “I think I might go to bed. If I don't, I'm going to fall asleep standing upright.” After her own quick hug from Hermione, and another awkward smile with Harry, she shuffled towards the staircase, leaving him to explain it all.

Sleep however proved elusive and she was still awake when Hermione came to bed an hour later, she was still awake an hour after that too, and she was still awake after what felt like several nights and days must have passed. Everything that had happened was bubbling around inside her head, clamouring for her attention and calling her away from sleep.

What was it going to be like having a brother? Was there a chance that they could be like a normal brother and sister? She would love to have what Ron had with his siblings, but would she and Harry ever be able to make up for the lost time they could have spent together as children, for the violent way their home life had been shattered? Of course Harry wasn't the only family that she had found, if she was also the child of Lily and James Potter then that meant that she was related to the Dursley's too; not that she welcomed the fact, but somehow just knowing she wasn't so alone in the world anymore was comforting.

She was still annoyed with herself for not having realised it all sooner, even though she knew whatever spell Dumbledore had cast - she made a mental note to go and look it up in the library at the earliest opportunity - had prevented her from doing so. But whenever her thoughts steered themselves in the direction of her headmaster she would get annoyed again so she stopped thinking about it; instead her thoughts turned towards her parents. She was going to have to find out all she could about them. Harry never spoke about it much, but everyone always said he looked like his father - with his mother's eyes of course - and flew like him too. Perhaps that was why she was good at Quidditch too? She hoped so; it would be nice to have that sort of connection. And her hair, dark red and long, from what she could remember of the photos she had seen Lily's hair had been much the same, maybe a little lighter and straighter perhaps, but that didn't matter. Was she like them in other ways, did she do things, have mannerisms or expressions, that they had? Did her talent for Transfiguration and History of Magic come from them? How much had she inherited from her parents and never even known? Her mind was buzzing with questions.

Eventually, frustrated by her lack of answers and the elusiveness of sleep, she threw off her covers and padded softly towards the window. Wrapping herself in a blanket she settled down to gaze out at the grounds. Where was Professor Lupin? The revelation that he was a werewolf had been unexpected, but with everything else they had found out that night it somehow wasn't nearly as much of a shock as it should have been. Her gaze roamed across the top of the forest taking in the sweeping blanket of the canopy which was gently undulating in the cold mountain breeze. She squinted to get a better look; was it only the wind? Suddenly a dark shape broke through the leaves and soared high above the forest before just as quickly folding its enormous wings and diving back beneath the safety of the canopy. It was only at the very last moment, when its form was illuminated by the bright moonlight that she realised what it was: a Hippogriff. She smiled, the situation with Buckbeak seemed like so long ago now, she was glad that he was still alright. She made a mental note to tell Hagrid, but she suspected he knew far more about he Hippogriff's well-being and whereabouts than he ever let on.

Settling back again she allowed her tired eyes to drift upwards to the stars. For some odd reason this helped to steady her thoughts, and quieted the roaring torrent of questions pouring through her brain. Gradually she began drifting off, lost in the endless tapestry of lights in the velvety black sky.

“Alice!” Someone was shaking her gently awake. “Alice? Come on waken up.”

She shifted with a groan registering both the extreme cold she could feel in her hands and toes and the discomforting stiffness in her back and neck. She must have fallen asleep on the window ledge; she cracked open her eyes with a murmured groan.

“Come on, you're going to miss breakfast if you don't get a move on,” Hermione was standing next to her, looking much more dressed and awake than Alice.

“Mhhm,” she mumbled, her voice raspy with the cold morning air in the dormitory, “just give me a second.”

“Are you alright?” Hermione asked ten minutes later as they walked down to the Great Hall for breakfast. She was examining Alice's pale face critically. “You look exhausted.”

Alice yawned for what seemed like the hundredth time since she had woken up and smiled sleepily. “I'm fine; yesterday was just a big day that's all.” A thought suddenly occurred to her. “Hey! I never asked: how did your date with Harry go?” She was amused to see colour flood into her best-friend's face as she immediately squirmed under scrutiny.

“Oh that… it was good.”

Alice waited for a moment as the silence stretched and Hermione's face continued to turn such a deep red that Alice wondered if it would eventually just catch fire. “Aaaaand?!” She prodded when it became apparent that the brunette wasn't going to be forthcoming. “Come on you've got to give me more than that.”

“It was… well… we went for a walk round the village, then we had lunch in the Three Broomsticks and we looked round a few of the shops… we talked…” She trailed off again, examining the ends of her shoes as they walked.

“And?” Alice repeated, trying not to laugh now at how embarrassed her friend was.

“He…” Hermione was intrigued by her laces to the point where Alice wondered if she thought they might leap up from her shoes and start dancing across the corridor, as sleep deprived and curious about Hermione's circumstances as she was, the prospect made her smile. “He might have… givenmeapeckonthecheek.” The words tumbled out of her mouth, tripping over themselves in their haste to be heard before Hermione finally went violet, clamped her mouth shut and hid her face behind her voluminous curtain of hair.

“Sorry,” Alice could feel a giggle rising up inside her, “I didn't catch that. Could you repeat it please? He gave you what exactly?”

With an irritated tut, Hermione raised her head, fixed annoyed and defiant eyes on her best friend and practically shouted the words at her. “A. Peck. On. The. Cheek!” As she spoke two first years, who had just rounded the corner stopped dead, eyed her fearfully for a moment and then quickly scurried off looking as though all the ghosts of Hogwarts were chasing them. With a snort Alice surrendered to her laughter, and after deliberating for a moment whether or not she should get properly angry Hermione joined in.

“Did you see the look on their faces?” Alice choked out several minutes later as they entered the Great Hall for breakfast.

“Yes!” Hermione chuckled, “they looked like they were about to wet themselves. Do you think we were ever that small?”

“I'm sure Fred and George would say that I still… What's going on?” Alice stopped dead as she registered the uproar which seemed to be taking place in the room. At every table students were clustered in groups whispering anxiously to each other, or shouting across and between tables to classmates on the other side of the room. The teachers, who Alice noticed also seemed to be deep in discussion with each other, were doing little to stop the students that were darting the length of the table, or careering into the Hall at high speed and dashing to join their friends whereupon they took up the conversation with animated alacrity. It wasn't until Alice spotted a group of Hufflepuffs nearby pouring over what looked like that morning's issue of the Daily Prophet that the penny dropped.

“Come on,” she grabbed Hermione's hand and dragged her in search of their own friends.

“Have you seen this?” Lavender Brown shouted as she noticed them approach the Gryffindor table. “They're saying Sirius Black is innocent!” She waved a copy of the Prophet in the air. “Can you imagine?” Hermione snatched the paper from her, ignoring her indignant protestations. Quickly, her bright, perceptive eyes scanned the front page before she flicked it open and read the columns within. Twisting herself at an angle Alice glimpsed the headline.

Black Cleared: Ministry admits failings

Beneath that was an old picture of Sirius shortly after his arrest. She assumed that must have been when it was taken, because although he was wearing prison robes, his face still looked full and healthy. It certainly hadn't been taken recently anyway.

Failings?!” Alice whispered indignantly; that was putting it mildly in her opinion.

“Shush,” Hermione chided her, “just read this.” She pushed the paper towards Alice and continued reading it over her shoulder. Skimming quickly through the four pages devoted to the story Alice struggled to keep the telltale grin from spreading across her face. Certain phrases jumped out at her: Extraordinary events. Ministry backtracks on twelve year old sentencing. New evidence quashes Black's conviction. Free to go. Peter Pettigrew taken in for questioning. Dementors removed from Hogwarts. Manhunt wound down.

Alice contained her wild desire to do some sort of celebratory dance around the table with some difficulty. The only niggles she had about the article was the noticeable lack of any official apology offered to her godfather, and the fact that it spoke about his conviction being overturned. She felt like writing in to the idiot who had written the piece and pointing out that he had never been convicted in the first place, he would have needed to have had a trial for that. She refused to let it spoil her good mood though.

“What do you think happened?” Both Lavender and Parvati looked as though their birthdays had come early, they hadn't had this much gossip since Wayne Hopkins had been caught kissing Mandy Brocklehurst behind Greenhouse Three by Professor Sprout. “We thought that maybe -”

But exactly what the illuminated speculation of Lavender and Parvati's minds had come up with was to remain a mystery to them. “Have you seen it?!” Harry and Ron skidded to a breathless halt next to them having obviously dashed the entire length of the Hall. Harry was positively glowing. His eyes were fixed on Alice.

“Yes, I… Lavender do you mind if we borrow this?” She was conscious that the girls were staring curiously between the two of them, perceptive enough to notice that there was something going on.

“Suit yourself,” Lavender looked crestfallen that she was to be kept in the dark. “I got it from Seamus in the first place anyway.”

Alice and Harry went to sit at the other end of the Gryffindor table, but before they had taken more than a few steps each Hermione grabbed their sleeves. “Not in here,” she hissed, glancing around suspiciously, “someone might overhear you.”

“Good thinking.” Ron nodded at her so seriously, and the look Hermione gave him in return was so incredulously condescending that Alice felt herself in danger of beginning to laugh again.

Once they were out in the Entrance Hall Harry stopped and turned to them with a wide smile. “It's brilliant isn't it? Now the world knows that he's innocent.”

“I can't believe they let him off so easily,” Hermione mused. “Not that I doubted it,” she rushed to clarify, before Harry or Alice could frown at her, “I just meant that Fudge is usually such a stickler about things, and it was him who sent Sirius to Azkaban, I thought he would fight more to prove he hadn't been wrong.”

“Well he couldn't very well do that when Pettigrew was lying trussed up on Dumbledore's office floor, spilling his guts about what he'd done could he?”

“From what my Dad's said about him, I think he'd still try,” Ron mused. They all fell back to reading the article, pointing out bits to each other and trying to contain their excitement. Of course there was no mention in it of how Pettigrew had been caught, Harry and his friends didn't feature at all, the article simply glossed over that part, but in a way Alice was glad that it did, she didn't feel she was ready to face questions yet. After a few seconds she glanced up in time to catch Hermione and Harry going through a very odd pantomime - well, Hermione was, Harry was just staring at her in confusion. Her friend would glance at Alice and then look meaningfully back at Harry and then raise her eyebrows questioningly, she would then role her eyes in frustration when he continued gazing at her blankly and then repeat the process. After watching this for a few seconds Alice eventually took pity on them both.

“I think what she's trying to say is that we should talk Harry.”

“Oh.” Realisation flooded his face. “Oh, right… yeah,” he suddenly looked bashful, “yeah we probably should.”

“Come on Ron,” Hermione immediately declared, sweeping up the newspaper and the protesting red-head simultaneously.

“But, I was just reading -”

“Let's go and get some breakfast.”

“Oh ok.”

Hermione had to lengthen her stride to keep up with him after that.

“What are they like?” Alice queried as she watched their retreating backs.

The corner of Harry's mouth curled upwards in a motion that was, now that she thought about it, very like the half smile she herself often displayed; he was quickly serious again though. “Do you want to go for a walk or something?”

“Sure,” she nodded racking her brain for what exactly she was going to say to him; she wasn't sure where to start. “Just don't make it sound so much like you're asking me out alright, it's a bit weird. Besides,” she added slyly, “Hermione might complain.” That got that laugh she had been hoping for.

They set off along a corridor and had been walking for some minutes before either of them spoke again. It was Harry who broke the silence.

“Did you have any idea that…?” He tailed off gesturing vaguely in front of him, trying to articulate with his arms what he couldn't with his words.

Alice shook her head, vehemently. “No. I mean I realised that there was something I was missing. The whole story about your sister… and there were others things that never quite made sense, but I had no idea that it was this.”

“Me neither.”

“Do you mind?” The question was out of her mouth before she even realised that she had wanted to ask it. Had wanted to ask it since the moment she had put two and two together the night before.

Harry stopped dead in the hallway and looked at her incredulously. “Mind? No of course not; why would I mind?”

“I don't know,” she shrugged, suddenly embarrassed again, “I just thought that maybe… you know…”

“Don't be daft,” Harry grinned, “I'm delighted.”

“Well, that's alright then.” They continued on in silence for a few moments. “Are you going to go and live with Sirius?” She asked eventually.

Harry didn't even pause to consider his answer. “Yes.” The words were immediate. “Are you?”

She watched him from the corner of her eye for a long moment as they continued walking before she answered. Observing the way his hair was in such a state of disarray that he looked like he had stuck his finger in a plug rather than simply run his nervous fingers through it repeatedly, his normally pale face was flushed red with embarrassment, but there were prominent shadows lurking under his eyes; eyes that were currently watching her in a similar fashion. She smirked when she realised what they were both doing. “I was thinking about it… but only if you want me to.”

“Why wouldn't I?” His incredulous gaze fixed sharply on her. “We'll be like a family.”

For some reason his use of the word family made Alice feel more reassured than anything else he could have said. Family. She had hoped that Harry would have felt the same as her but now she had actually confirmation of it. Up until that moment she hadn't realised how afraid she had been that he would want things to stay exactly as they were, or worse that they would become awkward and distant.

“…if you want that… I'd like to be your brother if that's what you want…” Harry was looking uncertain now, and she suddenly became aware that she had been so deep in thought that she hadn't said anything in response to his question.

“Of course! I would, family is… I've wished since forever that I… yeah,” she beamed at him, “family would be good.”

“You know,” Harry's swift footsteps echoed around the near deserted hallways, everyone being at breakfast still, “if it wasn't for Dumbledore's spell I think we'd probably have worked everything out much sooner. You look so like my Mum - our­ Mum. From the photos I've seen anyway.”

Alice beamed at him again. “Thanks. Do you mind if… would I be able to borrow your photos of them? Just to look at. I'd like just to see them.”

“Of course. You can keep some if you like. Or copy them, there must be a way.”

“We could probably ask Colin Creevey,” Alice laughed, enjoying being able to tease him about the second year again, “I'm sure he would know how.”

“Speaking of other students, what are we going to do about telling everyone - or not,” he rushed to add. “It's up to you.”

Alice could feel the tiny lines appearing between her eyebrows as she frowned thoughtfully. “Can we keep it to ourselves just now? Do you mind? I just want to think about it for a bit. Take one thing at a time.”

Harry nodded sagely. “I was thinking the same thing. We should probably talk to Dumbledore and Sirius again too. Speaking of which: do you know if Sirius is still in the castle? I haven't seen him yet today.”

“Neither have I, but,” she reasoned, “if I was him I'd want to keep a low profile this morning, especially with those Daily Prophet headlines.”

“You're right -”

“Aren't I always?”

He stuck his tongue out at her. “Anyway.” He grinned back. “Do you want to go and find the others now?”

“Sure,” she smiled sweetly at him, “we've been away so long Hermione's probably pining for you.” The minute the words were out she gleefully darted off down the corridor before he could react. After a split second she heard his feet pounding on the flagstones after her.

“Oi! Just watch it you!” The sounds of their laughter swirled around in the corridor and tumbled out of a nearby window to join the brisk February breeze whirling round the castle.

“Hey Midget!” Alice's head snapped up from where it had been resting on her arms as two solid thuds rocked the bench on either side of her.

“Oh great, it's you two.” She yawned sleepily and replaced her head on the table she was sitting at, her plaits falling across the books scattered there as she did so.

“Yeah we knew that already -” Fred made her head connect sharply with the table as he pulled out the book she was utilising as a pillow and held it up for examination. She sat up and scowled at him irritably.

“- Thanks for telling us, but we're not the ones having an identity crisis.” his twin finished.

“Really, you are going to have to decide whether we can call you Evans or Potter, we're exhausting our supply of appearance-related nicknames -”

“-And with our O.W.L.'s to study for we really don't have the time to be thinking up more.”

“You two have never studied for anything in your lives,” Alice snatched the book back from Fred before rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Still, they were right; she was going to have to decide what to do some time soon. It had been nearly a month since the events in the Shrieking Shack, and Alice still hadn't told anyone that she was Harry's sister. Only Neville and the Weasley's knew about it, and that was largely because Ron couldn't keep a secret and had blurted it out one evening. She knew the newspapers and the wizarding world generally would seize on the news with gusto if it was revealed, and she didn't know if she wanted to put Harry through all that, never mind herself. She had seen the furore generated by the unexpected announcement of Sirius' innocence, the interest from which had all but sent her godfather into hiding or as he called it “going on a little holiday,” to Merlin only knew where; the last time she had received an owl from him he had been in Peru, the one before that Switzerland. Although after twelve years being cooped up in a cell in Azkaban, she didn't begrudge him the time spent exploring the world. It still hadn't even been properly decided if she and Harry would be staying with him during the holidays, although his offer still stood. As much as she longed to say yes, it would mean revealing her identity to everyone.

“Yes we have!” George exclaimed indignantly. “We frequently study the ancient and most noble art of mischief. We're adept practitioners now.”

“Speaking of studying, aren't you meant to read the books, not nap on them?” rejoined Fred. “This behaviour doesn't seem very characteristic at all O-Tiny-One, imagine what Hermione were to say if she saw you?!”

“Yeah well, I didn't get a lot of sleep last night, and besides I think Hermione might have other things on her mind at the moment,” a mischievous smirk broke across her face at this last statement.

“Yes, where are Harry and Hermione? They're normally joined at the hip these days.” The comment was unusually restrained for Fred, and George's silence on the topic was positively uncanny. However Alice suspected that they were still smarting from Hermione hexing the latter's eyebrows off the previous week and refusing to return them until they stopped their teasing.

She had to admit it was a little odd to see her two friends, well her brother, although it she was still just getting used to the idea, and her best friend as a couple. Not that they were a proper couple yet, they still blushed whenever they held hands or anyone mentioned their new status. But they were just spending a lot more time in each others company, and Alice found that things which she would normally have been the first to hear from Hermione were being reported to Harry first. She wasn't jealous; at least that was what she kept telling herself, it was just going to take a while for them all to adjust to the new way of things. But they were happy, and if they were then so was she.

“Actually they're with Ron and Neville in the common room I think. I had to finish this so I stayed in the library,” she waved vaguely at the books piled in front of her. “It's my Potions essay for tomorrow,” she answered the question George was about to ask.

“Ah. So why haven't you done it yet?”

“Don't think the irony of our questions does not make an impression on us,” Fred grinned.

“It is noted,” added his twin.

“In fact we relish in it.”

Alice laughed and yawned again. “Harry let me borrow his photo album, I started looking at it when I went to bed and before I knew it, it was after midnight - so I may have slept in a little this morning.” She didn't really mind though, it had been nice to have the privacy to look through it, finally knowing that these were photographs of her parents. She still marvelled at the fact. Not that it had been the first time she had seen it since February, but she liked to look at it and Harry didn't mind.

“Ah, well if you're becoming nocturnal anyway then you can do your essay tonight. We need a hand with something.”

“Four aren't enough?”

“Nope come on,” Fred grabbed the aforementioned hand and pulled her up from the table, ignoring her protests, as George scooped her books under his arm and then followed them from the Library. As he passed a scowling Madame Pince he waved comically and enthusiastically at her, which only made her scowl even more. Alice giggled again.

After having dragged her halfway across the school with no explanation as to the why or wherefore, Fred and George finally stopped outside the Great Hall. Since it was the middle of the afternoon the great oak doors were firmly shut.


“Come on.” The twins glanced around furtively, satisfying themselves that the coast was clear, before George hauled open the heavy door until there was a big enough gap to slip through. Fred followed swiftly, still dragging Alice after him.

“Are either of you going to tell me what you're up to?” She stopped once they had closed the door, pulling her hand from Fred's and placing with the other on her hips in her best imitation of Hermione at her most bossy.

“All in good time midget,” George chuckled as he continued to lead the way across the Hall.

“Freeeeed?” She wheedled, her curiosity getting the better of her.

The nearest twin turned around and winked at her. “We're just going to liven up dinner a little that's all. With Sirius in the clear and the Dementors gone from the school, we thought it was high time we did something to celebrate.”

“I'm surprised you hadn't done something before now.”

“Well it was all in the planning you see; we wanted something extra special for such a momentous occasion -”

“- especially since it involved our favourite specky-celebrity and his midget sister.”

Despite knowing no one was in the room, Alice glanced around reflexively at his last statement. “Keep your voice down.”

“Don't panic Thumbelina.”

“Alright then what do you want me to -”

“Should I ask why you are all in here in the middle of the afternoon?”

All three of them swivelled quickly to face the doorway where, much to Alice's relief, Professor Lupin was standing. He still had that drawn and cautious look that he had worn since the night in the Shrieking Shack, as though his misadventure in the Forest had damaged him somehow. She hadn't really had the chance to speak to him properly since then however, so she didn't really know for sure.

“We were just…”

“Alice left her books in here at lunch and we were helping her look for them professor.” George lied quickly holding up one of the volumes he had snatched from the Library.

“Right, I see,” Lupin didn't sound at all convinced. “Well now that you've found them why don't you run along now? Alice,” he added as the three of them scurried towards the door, “could I have a word please?” He quickly shut the door on the twins who had turned back to look at her curiously.

“We weren't doing -”

“Of course you were,” he smiled and immediately looked younger. “You and Harry are both far too much like James for your own good. Although perhaps you are less good at lying about it, you've too much of your mother in you I guess.”

Alice beamed to hear herself compared to her parents.

“So what were you up to?” There was more curiosity in Lupin's voice now than disapproval.

She sighed with a lopsided, apologetic smile. “I don't know, they hadn't told me yet.”

Lupin chuckled at her disappointment. “Well at least you're honest. Anyway I just wanted to have a word with you about… things. See how you are getting on. I promised Sirius I would keep an eye on you two whilst he was away.”

“I'm fine. We're both fine…” She paused, wanting to ask something that had been bothering her for weeks, but unsure of how to approach it.

Lupin however, saved her the trouble. “What is it Alice?”

“Professor, I was just wondering… what happened to you, that night after we left the Shrieking Shack?” Lupin's face became grave and Alice immediately regretted that she had spoken. “I'm sorry I shouldn't have -”

“No, Alice. No you are perfectly entitled to ask. And it is I who should be apologising to you and your friends, I put you all in terrible danger that night and I should have known better.”

“I think we did an alright job of putting ourselves in danger if you ask me Professor.”

At her words Lupin cracked a smile and then chuckled and it occurred to her that it wasn't something she saw him do very often. He looked much younger when he did.

“You're maybe right,” he put his hands in his pockets and leaned casually against the wall, “but still, it was reckless of me to go out on a full moon, especially without having taken my potion. You see,” he answered the unspoken question in Alice's face, “Professor Snape has been making me the Wolfsbane potion every month whilst I have been teaching here - I assume I don't need to explain to you what that is? No,” he smiled as Alice shook her head, “I don't suppose I do; you are so very like your mother. Anyway I came to the Shrieking Shack that night entirely by coincidence… well not entirely…” He sighed as Alice looked at him quizzically; she wasn't entirely sure where he was going with this. “I had suspected for some time that Sirius may have been using the place as a hideout, you see it was where I used to go as a student here when the… my transformation would take place each full moon, but that I went there to investigate on the very night you and your friends should turn up there too, that was not something I had envisaged. I had been so distracted before I left that I had forgotten to take my potion that night. Afterwards, when I had transformed I believe I escaped into the Forest - what you have to understand Alice is that when I am in the form of the wolf… well let's just say I am not at my most lucid.”

“And Dumbledore let you stay?”

“Yes.” Lupin was serious, but his head leant curiously to the side as he studied her face. “Do you think he was right to do so?”

“Of course.” She didn't need to think about it; her response was emphatic although she blushed to the roots of her similarly coloured hair as he continued to watch her. “I mean… you're a brilliant teacher. We've learnt more this year than in the last two years combined -”

“Not to malign my professional colleagues,” Lupin interrupted with the ghost of a smile, “but I don't think many would exactly view that as an achievement.”

Alice grinned. “Maybe not, but you are still a good teacher. And it all turned out alright in the end, no one was hurt and it's not as though you forget to take the potion all the time. You made one mistake, and everyone makes mistakes sometimes, even teachers.” She stopped, aware that this was probably the longest speech she had ever made in front of a member of staff. But Lupin was different wasn't just a member of staff any more. He had been her parents' friend; he was her godfather's friend.

For a long minute he was silent as she looked up at him, determined not to break eye contact no matter how red her face became. Somehow, she felt, this conversation had become very important. Eventually he spoke, and when he did so his voice sounded very old and distant. “And it doesn't bother you that I'm a werewolf?”

A quizzical eyebrow raised itself on her forehead. “Should it? I know the wizarding world has weird hang-ups about stuff like that, but I was raised as a Muggle; everything I see here is weird so being a werewolf isn't any more or less so. Besides, everyone has something odd about them.”

Lupin surprised her by bursting out laughing at her last comment. Clutching his sides he rocked back and forth against the wall until tears streamed from his eyes and Alice did begin to start worrying about him. She was just about to start slowly edging away when he managed to regain control of himself.

“I'm sorry Alice,” he chuckled wiping his eyes, “but you have a wonderful way with words. It's rare to find someone who is so refreshingly frank with me about my… condition too. Usually they either pussyfoot around the subject or ignore me completely. Now,” he pushed himself up from the wall and resumed a more professional stance, “I've taken up too much of your time today already. My apology still stands, and if you could convey it to your friends too, although I shall try and speak to them. Thank you for our chat Alice,” he added as he held the door open for her, “I very much enjoyed it.”

“That's alright,” she smiled, less shyly now than she normally would have, as she passed him.

“Oh, and Alice?” She turned back. “Could you remind Harry that he has a Patronus lesson arranged for this evening? He doesn't really need them now what with the Dementors gone, but we had one scheduled and if he still wants to come… well you never know when it might come in handy do you?”

A/N: I thought it was about time that Alice started coming out of her shell a little bit more, after all that she's been through she would surely have built up a little more confidence. Not much to say else about this one really, I hope you enjoyed it and please R&R!


19. For Merlin's Sake!

“For Merlin's Sake!”

April had turned to May before they knew where they were and the warm summer months were such a refreshing change from the chill that had pervaded the grounds all year, augmented by the Dementors who were now mercifully gone, that everyone seemed to spend every spare minute they had outside. It had been several weeks since either Harry or Alice had heard from Sirius, but that morning Archimedes had finally returned with a reply. Contrary as ever, the owl hadn't seen fit to arrive conveniently with the rest of the owl post at breakfast but had barrelled into her Arithmancy class, scaring the life out of Professor Vector and taking up residence on top of the blackboard for the rest of the lesson, glaring balefully at the rest of the class whilst Alice flushed with embarrassment. The minute they had been dismissed for lunch she and Hermione had rushed off to find the boys, who had been in Divination - with Hermione, Alice never would get her head around how her friend managed to conceal it all - and the five of them had rushed outside to read the letter by the lake.

Dear Alice and Harry (She read aloud.)

Please can you stop sending that owl with your letters, it is completely mental and has tried to savage me six times in the process of removing the letter from its leg. I'm bleeding and everything! (“He's such a baby!” Alice muttered with a grin.)

Other than that I hope that you are both still well. Well done on winning the Quidditch Cup again Harry, I knew you could do it! I can't remember if I've ever mentioned it before, but I came to watch you fly once - in my Animagus form - and you were brilliant! Even more like James than ever.

I am in South Australia at the moment, in a place called Coober Pedy. It's the strangest place; there's a large wizarding community here and a lot of the buildings have been hollowed out of the ground by magic so most people live underground. You'd like it. Speaking of houses, I'm thinking of coming home soon, (“Does he say when?” Asked Harry excitedly, trying to crane around and see the letter before Alice shushed him and flapped him away so she could continue reading.) - though I'm not sure where that is going to be yet. I've told you before about the house my parents left me, but I'll be honest, I'm not too keen on going back there. My offer to the two of you still stands, there is a home there (wherever there will be) if you want it. Alice, have you decided yet what you are going to do? If you haven't that is fine, just make the decision in your own time, there is no rush.

I'm not sure if Dumbledore has mentioned it to you or not, but I've written to him about you staying with me and he seemed a bit cagey about the idea, but I'm sure he's just being over-protective as usual. I'll manage to talk him around though, so if he does say anything to either of you don't worry about it.

I should also mention, although you might already have heard by now, that I have another motivation for coming back. It seems that Peter's trial date has finally been set and even if I wasn't going to have to testify, which I will, I want to be there. (Alice paused, and looked up at her brother. “Did you know?” She asked, so shocked that the words had difficulty getting out. He shook his head vehemently. He would have told her if he had. With more difficulty this time, she carried on with the rest of the letter.)

On a more cheerful note (although it depends on your point of view I suppose!) how are you getting along with studying for your exams? If you're anything like James and I were you'll have left it to the last minute, though from experience that's perhaps not the best way. Still Alice I imagine that at least you and Hermione will have started by now. Just a word of advice, don't do what Lily used to and have study plans all set out for the boys weeks in advance - (Alice flicked her gaze up in time to see Hermione look crestfallen and she had to contain a smile) - they probably won't stick to them.

Anyway, I hope to hear from you soon and if not it won't be too long before I'm back and you'll be able to see my ugly mug for yourselves again anyway.

Keep safe and don't do anything I wouldn't (though admittedly that gives you quite a lot of leeway.)


There was a moment's silence.

“Well…” Harry puffed out eventually.

“They had to set a date eventually,” Hermione reasoned; “we knew they would, it was just a matter of time.”

“Do you think we'd be called on to testify?”

“I don't know,” Alice chewed speculatively on her lower lip, “it depends - I mean, Dumbledore didn't tell Fudge we were there did he?” Her statement, directed as Harry, was only partly such; she had been so tired that night she really couldn't remember everything that had been said.

“No,” he answered slowly, “but he saw us there so he probably put two and two together. He's not a complete idiot.” Hermione snorted disbelievingly.

“I don't know Alice,” Neville joined in, in his slow, logical manner, “they probably only want to know about what happened when… you know, when Sirius Black was imprisoned. I doubt they'd need you to testify when you told me Fudge and Dumbledore heard him confess under Veritaserum.”

Alice had to concede he had a point.

“Oh, come on, you've all gone all serious again; it's far too nice a day to start thinking about Pettigrew again,” piped up Ron. Hermione rolled her eyes, but Alice suspected that he didn't really want to talk about the man that had posed as his pet rat for all these years so she indulged him.

“Well whatever the reason, I'm glad Sirius is coming back in time for summer. It'll be good to see him again, and we'll have time to get to know him properly, not just through letters,” she waved the piece of parchment to emphasise her point.

“Have you decided what you're going to do yet?” Harry asked. It was the sixty-four thousand galleon question and Alice still hadn't given them an answer yet, she wanted to be sure she made the right decision, but she knew that Harry was waiting for her before he went and told Dumbledore that he wanted to leave the Dursely's.

Very slowly she nodded. “Yes.”

Delight exploded across Harry's face before he managed to rein it in. “Wait a minute,” he examined her own expression closely, “yes what? Yes you've made up your mind, or yes you want to move in with Sirius?”

Alice grinned. “The second one.”

For a second Alice thought she was about to witness what happened when someone burst with happiness; Harry seemed to bounce on the spot, his grin reached the point where it looked likely to split his face clean in half, and his arms twitched, about to reach for a hug before seeming to think better of it and just flapping, birdlike, once or twice.

“That's - that's great,” he finally managed once he had gotten himself under control, from the corner of her eye Alice could see Hermione's head swivelling from one of them to the other as though she was watching a tennis match, a ridiculous grin on her face.

“That'll be weird,” Ron pronounced suddenly. They all turned to look at him; Alice raised an eyebrow. “What?” He asked in defensive bewilderment. “I just meant it would be weird you all living together like a family; I'm used to thinking about you separately… If that makes sense.”

“Ron,” Hermione's tone suggested she was trying hard not to sound condescending, or laugh, “I don't think that you've ever made sense in your life!”

“Well I think it's great.” Neville smiled at Alice and Harry and as she caught his eye she couldn't help wondering how he felt about the situation, given that he came from a similarly parentless background. She resolved to talk to him about it at some point. For now she just smiled back.

“Would you all be able to keep it quiet though?” She asked, although she knew they would. “I'm not saying it has to be a secret, I just don't want the whole world knowing - especially the Prophet.”

“Our lips are sealed.” Ron mimed zipping his mouth up and throwing away the key before settling back on the grass, arms folded languidly behind his head. The other four observed his lanky figure strewn across the grass for several moments before beginning to laugh. She wasn't sure who threw the first handful of grass at him, but before she knew it they were all covered in greenery and she was spitting grass stems out of her mouth and trying to stop laughing simultaneously. Eventually, lying there on the grass with her friends, she felt freer and more relaxed than she had in months.

It wasn't until another fortnight had passed that Alice and Harry found themselves approached by a particularly timid looking first year one lunchtime who, flushing scarlet and staring determinedly at his feet, thrust a slip of parchment towards Harry and then scurried off wordlessly.

Glancing at his friends in bemusement Harry unfolded the note and scanned it rapidly. “Dumbledore wants to see both of us in his office right away,” he looked up at Alice.

Her eyebrows rose a fraction before she concealed her surprise. “Now? Does he say why?”

Harry shook his head. “Nope, just requests the pleasure of our presence forthwith.”

“Don't you even get time to finish your lunch?” Quipped Ron, his mind, as ever, on the priorities in life causing Hermione to tut loudly.

“Honestly Ron! You had better not keep him waiting,” she addressed Harry and his sister, “it might be important.”

Wiping her hands on a napkin Alice rose from the table and without another word she and Harry scurried off in the direction of Dumbledore's office. As she walked as quickly as she could, short of breaking into a run, Alice wracked her brains for anything that might give a clue as to what he wanted to talk to them about. She came up empty. Surely there couldn't be any more revelations; could there? She received a partial answer as soon as she arrived in the imposing office. The Gargoyle that usually stood guard had clearly been alerted to their imminent arrival and stepped aside without either of them having to provide a password; sprinting up the spiral staircase after Harry she could feel butterflies begin to erupt in her stomach. Her exact opinion of the Headmaster may be very confused, but her nervousness in his presence remained unaltered. Once Harry had knocked on the large oak door, she slipped quickly into the room behind him and immediately felt a wide grin suffuse her features.

“Sirius!” Alice felt a rush of delight to see her godfather sitting in the chair across from the headmaster. Actually sitting wasn't really the word, lounging would probably be more appropriate. She had never seen someone look so casual and at ease, in fact the change in him was remarkable, he was almost unrecognisable as the man they had met several months earlier. His hair was still long, but whereas before it had been filthy, matted and almost to his waist in places, now it was neatly trimmed just above his shoulders. The gaunt, waxen face that had been stretched across his skull was now full, tanned and healthy looking; she could almost see the handsome young man that appeared in all the photographs of her parents that she had been looking at. The Azkaban rags which had hung so loosely on his frame before had been cast off in favour of a loose white shirt, black trousers and long black boots covered over with scarlet robes; the overall effect made him look rather like a pirate. The last twelve years hadn't been completely erased however, there was still a haunted look in his grey eyes, but as he caught sight of Alice and Harry coming through the door it quickly vanished to be replaced by a long, slow smile.

“Are you two keeping out of trouble?”

Harry grinned back. “We're not doing anything you wouldn't if that's what you mean.”

“Somehow that doesn't reassure me,” their godfather bantered back; Alice laughed.

“What are you doing here anyway?”

Sirius shrugged languidly before his curious gaze flickered towards Dumbledore who was sitting quietly behind his desk observing the exchange. “I was summoned,” was the cryptic response.

As they all turned to look curiously at him, Dumbledore adjusted his golden spectacles before speaking. “I'll get straight to the point then shall I?” His discerning blue gaze jumped from one listener to the next with a rapidity which Alice suspected belied the level of analysis they were each subjected to. “Sirius has informed me that he has offered, and you both have accepted, a home, outside of Hogwarts. Would that be correct?”

Both children nodded slowly, unsure of where this was going.

“I take it Alice that this means you have made the decision to reveal, as widely as you wish, that you are Harry's sister?”

Her head moved up and down once in affirmation. She knew he knew all this already, why then was he bringing it up again? The answer was not what she had expected.

“That of course, is your prerogative to do with as you wish; however I am afraid that for Harry to leave his family is simply not a possibility at the present time.”

There was a beat of silence throughout the room, broken only by the shuffling scrape of Fawkes' claws on his perch as he seemed to manoeuvre himself further away from the anticipated explosion which would result from such a statement. None was immediately forthcoming however as the three of them stared at Dumbledore in bewildered astonishment. Even the portraits of bygone Headmasters were holding their breath.

“But… why can't I stay with Sirius and Alice?” The crushing disappointment and confusion in Harry's voice when he finally spoke was palpable; his face seemed to crumple in upon itself as he frowned questioningly at the Headmaster. Alice was torn between the desire to give him a hug and slap Dumbledore. She was saved from having to make a decision as to which to do first however as Sirius spoke up.

“See here Dumbledore, James and Lily made me their guardian,” he gestured at Harry and Alice, “now I maybe haven't done a great job of that up till now, but I intend to live up to that responsibility and unless you can give me an exceptionally good reason why not, they're both coming to live with me.”

The Headmaster examined each of the three stubborn faces opposite him carefully before resting the bridge of his nose against his fingers and heaving a long, tired sigh as he rubbed his forehead. “I had hoped,” he said slowly, “that it would not come to this. I wish that you could just accept that what I do, I do for the best.”

“Well I for one am fed up of being kept in the dark.” Harry's sudden, angry, interruption seemed to surprise everyone, including himself because as they turned to him with startled eyes he flushed red and snapped his mouth shut quickly.

“Yes…” Dumbledore was looking in Harry's direction, but his gaze seemed as distant as his voice, he appeared to be talking to himself now more than anyone else in the room. “Yes, perhaps you are right, after all… it had to happen sometime… I had hoped, but… very well.” His gaze suddenly sharpened as he seemed to come to a decision. There was a pause as they all waited for them to elaborate; when he didn't Sirius broke in with a hint of frustration in his voice.

“Dumbledore, for Merlin's sake, will you please just tell us: what is going on? We -”

“After Lily and James died,” the Headmaster began as though he hadn't even heard Sirius speak, as though he had intended all along to begin the story then and there. Alice could tell by the tightness around his eyes however that the tale was causing him some strain to tell. “After they died I had Hagrid take you, Harry, to safety whilst I took care of your sister,” he glanced at Alice before refocusing his intent gaze on the object of discussion, her brother. “That done I went to Privet Drive and while waiting for you to arrive I began to put in place the enchantments required to keep you safe. But -” He raised a hand as Harry shifted forward in his chair to interrupt; he was left hanging like a hooked fish as he paused to allow the Headmaster to continue. “But the most powerful and ancient magic had already been put in place, or begun at any rate, by your mother, it only fell to me to complete the task.”

“My Mother?” Harry sounded perplexed, his face flushing red with emotion as he spoke. “I don't understand; what did she do?”

“She died to save you my dear boy, and that kind of act does not go unrecognised in the magical world. In voluntarily giving up her life to protect your own, Lily, unwittingly I would imagine, invoked an ancient power to protect you. I don't suppose it was something which Voldemort ever intended to happen either, I doubt if he realises even yet exactly all that happened on that night.”

Alice and Harry gazed almost spellbound at the old man. Not only was he speaking of powers so far beyond their comprehension that it would be fruitless for them to comment, but he was also addressing matters which, although deeply personal, neither of them could remember to any significant degree and so were reluctant to interrupt lest he stop. Sirius, on the other hand, had no such compunctions. “Oh for goodness sake Dumbledore, will you stop dithering around the issue and get to the point!”

Alice couldn't help but smile - though it was quickly suppressed - at his impatience.

“As I was saying,” Dumbledore inclined his head regally in her godfather's direction to acknowledge his sentiment, “the magic which Lily unleashed by her sacrifice could only be completed, could only be made unbreakable, if you were to live with those who shared her blood. As her only living relative besides Alice I then sent you to live with her sister. So long as you are there Voldemort cannot touch you.”

“But…” Harry seemed confused and upset though it didn't take her long to work out why. “But what about Alice, wouldn't she be in danger? Why couldn't she have lived with us too; or why couldn't she have been the relative that kept me safe? Wouldn't that have worked?”

“He has a point.” Sirius glared at the old man, the relaxation he had affected on their arrival all but gone; when he saw her looking however he gave her a crooked grin and reassuring wink. She couldn't help but smile back.

“Alas, no,” the Headmaster answered Harry's question. “Much as I may have wanted to keep you together, Alice was the loophole that could have allowed Voldemort to find you and to circumvent the enchantments. I had to weigh up the risks and do what I thought was safest. I doubt this will make you feel any better Harry, but if I had to make the choice again today I think I would still do the same thing.”

“Hmph.” Harry folded his arms and hunched backwards in his chair looking far from placated.

There then fell a temporary silence as the three of them mulled over Dumbledore's revelations. Some things still didn't quite add up however and eventually Alice felt the need to say something, though she wasn't sure until the question was out of her mouth exactly what it would be. “From what you've said - well it's obvious really - Harry was the one in most danger, the one Voldemort was after… and I was just wondering professor, why that is?”

Sharp blue eyes swung in her direction and regarded her critically for a few moments before he wet his lips slightly and took a deep breath. It was almost as though he had to summon his courage to deliver the answer, but that couldn't be possible could it? Why would Dumbledore be afraid of that? Was it really so terrible? Surely he wasn't afraid of anything?

“There is no easy way of… I had hoped to avoid telling you this, to spare you Harry, until you were old enough to deal with it, but perhaps…” The old man's hesitancy was really beginning to worry her now. The portraits hung on the walls of the office were silent, not even the rustle of painted robes disturbed the room; Alice could almost imagine them all with their faces pressed up against the `front' of the canvas straining to catch ever last syllable. She didn't look away from the Headmaster to check. Sirius fidgeted irritably in his seat.

“Well, what is it?”

With a sigh Dumbledore placed his palms on the desk between them and rose from the seat. In several strides he had crossed the room to an ornate looking black cabinet set into one of the walls. She watched as he produced from within this a large, shallow stone bowl. The edges seemed to be crisscrossed with a myriad of tiny cracks, but as Dumbledore came back and she got a closer look, Alice could see that these were in fact countless runes running in circles around the bowl. Within it there seemed to be a peculiar silvery liquid, or mist swirling slowly around; it fleeting crossed her mind that this was how moonlight would look if someone managed to capture and confine it, but she quickly brushed aside such fanciful thoughts and concentrated on what was about to happen.

Setting the bowl on the table the Headmaster flicked a glance towards Sirius. “I assume that you know what this is?”

Her godfather nodded. “A Pensieve. They're used to store memories,” he added for the benefit of Harry and Alice. She watched as the ethereal silver mists swirled peaceably within the stone bowl apparently confined by its edges. From the few runes she could translate she could tell there were certainly containment enchantments placed upon it, as well as ones to create an almost infinite space within to store the memories, most of them however were beyond her comprehension.

“Before you were born Harry, a prophecy was made, a prophecy which few know of -”

Alice interrupted; she couldn't help herself. Clearly she was spending too much time around Hermione. “Don't the Ministry of Magic keep a record of all prophecies that are made?”

“They do, however as the person the prophecy was made to is present we are able to hear it now in it's entirety without troubling the Unspeakables in the Department of Mysteries.” She wasn't sure if she imagined the ghost of a smile that flitted across the old, lined face with this comment. “You see,” he answered the question he had presented, “it was I who heard the prophecy fourteen years ago, and have kept it safe ever since, Voldemort knew of it of course, he even heard a part of it's content, but if he were ever to hear it in its entirety - well let us not worry ourselves with further guesses at the future.”

“And what is it?” Harry was now sitting so far forward in his seat that Alice worried that he was in danger of falling off.

In answer to his question Dumbledore took his wand and touched the tip of it to the swirling substance in the Pensieve. For a second Alice didn't think that anything was going to happen, but gradually she became aware that the swirling mists had become more purposeful. She watched in no slight surprise as the substance at the centre of the vortex began to rise up out of the mass and coalesced into what was recognisably a human form.

“That's Professor Trelawney!” Harry exclaimed before Alice shushed him quickly. Her gaze was riveted on the wraithlike figure emerging from the depths of the Pensieve. Although it undoubtedly was the Divination teacher, when it spoke, it was not with the airy, mystical voice to which they were accustomed, the tone was harsh and deep. Her pronouncement sent a chill across Alice's skin that belied the warm summer's day which seemed to be continuing impossibly outside of the office. “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches.” The words seemed to reverberate unnaturally around the room. “Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies ... And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not ... And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives ... The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…

She felt as though the air had all been sucked out of her. Even if she had wanted to breathe, her mouth felt so dry that she doubted she would be able to inhale properly. It would have been less shocking to find out Professor Snape was a secret lover of daisy chains and pink. Her brain seemed to alternate between a complete shutdown of all higher functions and a manic overload, her thoughts flying too rapidly to process properly. Had she honestly just heard what she thought she had? Judging by the green tinge to Harry's cheeks and the tight white line that Sirius' mouth had become she suspected it might be the case. She wanted badly to be sick. From the corner of her eye she saw Sirius' fingers flex and for one crazy moment she thought he was about to draw his wand. Instead he spoke in a taut whisper, full of pent up rage and bewilderment.

“How could you have kept this from him? Did Lily and James know?”

Never averting his gaze from Sirius' face, Dumbledore inclined his head sadly. “It was the reason they went into hiding in the first place. To keep Harry safe from him.”

“So…” The object of their discussion struggled to fit a sentence together. “So that means that… that I…” Alice reached out and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze, he glanced up at her and she saw the hurt fleetingly disappear from his eyes in acknowledgment of her gesture. She fancied that when it returned it was less than it had been, even if only marginally, but then she might be imagining it. He took a deep breath and without looking up from the tips of his shoes said very quickly: “Does that mean me then? Does it mean that - if he ever comes back properly - I have to kill him?”

“Not initially, when the prophecy was made there were two boys who would go on to fit the description given, but the night that he attacked you, the night Voldemort gave you that scar, he unintentionally fulfilled a part of the prophecy.”

The Dark Lord will mark him as his equal,” Harry intoned in a hollow voice, “but why me?”

“Who can ever guess at his real motives? I suspect he saw you as the greater threat. I've already told you that he never heard the full extent of the prophecy, and so in giving you that scar he ensured that you would be the only one to which it could apply. So yes, in a manner of speaking, the prophecy does mean you Harry.” He sighed and rubbed his eyes with long fingers stretched beneath the frames of his spectacles. It occurred to Alice that a simple `yes' would have done, but then when had Dumbledore ever done things by halves? “I'm sorry that I did not tell you earlier, but having watched you grow up these last three years, seeing the trials which you have already had to suffer, I had hoped to spare you further pain. I told myself you were still too young.”

“Give him some credit Dumbledore,” their godfather interjected rising briskly from his seat and striding across the floor to stand behind Harry, a protective hand laid on his shoulder. “He can handle it.” Looking at Harry, Alice wasn't sure that was strictly true; he looked worse than she had ever seen him. The usual brilliant green of his downcast eyes was almost completely obscured by the shock-widened pupils within them. White-knuckled hands clenched his robes into angry fists and there was a distinct pallor to his cheeks that was reminiscent of an encounter with a Dementor. He seemed lost for words and she didn't blame him. To be suddenly told, at the age of thirteen, that he may one day be called upon to save the wizarding world… well she wasn't sure that she could cope with such a responsibility.

“Professor,” her voice was a whisper, but in the still silence of the room she was easily heard, “do you think Voldemort… do you think that he will come back some day? That Harry would have to…?” She found herself unable to speak the words.

“I -” Dumbledore paused and glanced upwards as Sirius gave a warning cough. Alice watched as, standing behind him where her brother couldn't see, he gave a tiny shake of his head. It seemed to have little effect on the Headmaster however who ploughed on. “I fear that it may come to that some day; though I sincerely hope that I am wrong.”

There was silence for a full minute as Harry thought things over, chewing on his lip until a thin trickle of blood was evident. Alice didn't know what to say, didn't know what she could do to make him feel any better; this was his burden to bear in the end. Eventually he looked up and licked the scarlet liquid from his lip. “I need to think.” With a final squeeze he slipped his hand from Alice's and stood up slowly.

“Alright, but remember we're here if you need us,” Sirius patted his shoulder reassuringly for which he was rewarded with a fleeting smile. In stony silence, Harry walked from the room. None of them stopped him.

The minute he had gone however, Sirius exploded. “How could you do that to him?! Honestly Dumbledore the amount that you've put that boy through, it's a wonder he hasn't had some sort of break-down already! When were you intending telling him about this prophecy? When he became an adult? Happy seventeenth birthday Harry, oh and by the way, contrary to popular belief I don't think Voldemort is gone and I think you're the only one who can ever defeat him.” He continued to rant, working himself up into a manic frenzy, again reminding Alice of his Azkaban days, and punctuating each verbal attack on Dumbledore with curses which she pretended not to hear. Dumbledore simply sat there quietly and calmly as her godfather continued to seethe, reproaching the Headmaster for everything from his actions when Lily and James died, what he had done to Alice and his “mishandling” of the current situation. She continued to sit quietly in her seat, shrinking backwards so as not to attract attention. Eventually he drew to a halt, his breathing ragged and a layer of sweat glistening on his forehead; he turned to Alice. “I'm sorry, you shouldn't have to hear this, perhaps you should go and find Harry; I'll come and see you both before I go.”

Alice was about to protest, but Dumbledore finally added his own contribution. “He's right Alice; I'll let your teachers know that you are both excused from lessons for the afternoon too.”

Silently she nodded and scurried from the room in search of her brother. It didn't take her long to find him, he was standing in the Owlery whispering quietly to Hedwig and stroking her feathers with gentle fingers. Warm afternoon light streamed in through the enormous windows illuminating flashes of colour as it refracted off of the varied plumage of the many owls dozing peacefully in the rafters. Outside she could see the immense majesty of the surrounding mountains in an unending series of blue as the heather changed colour with distance. The giant squid caused gentle ripples to disturb the surface of the lake which lapped against the rich green shores. Beyond, the bulk of the forest seemed a solid, reliable presence in the light of day, rather than threatening as it sometimes did after dark. If ever there was a place to soothe shattered nerves, she considered, it was here.

As she took a step forward the noise alerted Harry to her presence and he turned towards her. His eyes were red and swollen, he had obviously been crying, but at her approach he tried to brush angrily at any tears which might be lingering on his face. Wordlessly she went over to him and gave him a hug. After a moment's hesitation she felt his arms wrap around her back and his face lean against her shoulder; they stood like that for several minutes, neither saying a word, neither of them had to, until she felt his hold begin to loosen and she dropped her own arms slowly.

“Better?” She asked quietly, looking into his face with concern. He nodded slowly. “You're not alone in this Harry,” she whispered, fiercely protective of her brother now. “I know the prophecy says that it has to be you in the end, but prophecies are only what we make them to be, and whatever happens in the future, Hermione, Ron and I, and Neville too I suspect, we'll be behind you all the way. Besides it might be years before he comes back anyway; if he ever finds a way.” She surprised herself at her own calm and eloquence.

“Thanks,” his voice was croaky, but whether it was his earlier tears or the emotion of the moment which caused it she couldn't tell; she suspected both. “That means a lot Alice… and I'm glad…” He stopped.

When it was apparent he wasn't going to continue she prodded him. “What is it?”

“It doesn't matter, it sounds stupid.” Harry shook his head.

“You always sound stupid,” she joked, glad to see her teasing produced the ghost of a smile, “so fire away.”

“I'm glad that you're my sister,” he finished hesitantly.

Strangely touched by his words, despite the fact that they had both voiced similar sentiments before, she felt tears spring to her eyes and blinked them back quickly. “Yes - well,” she cleared her throat, “someone has to put up with your nonsense don't they?”

“Can you not just be serious for once?” He tried to frown at her, but he was beginning to laugh - which had after all been her intention.

“Alas,” she tried to look tragic, “I think I have spent far too much time with Fred and George for that ever to be a possibility now.” She glanced at her watch and slung an arm around his shoulders, giving him another small hug as she did so. “Come on, we should go and find the others. They should just have finished Herbology, if we hurry we can catch them before they go into Transfiguration. Did I mention Dumbledore had given us the afternoon off by the way? We can go flying later if you want.”

The first proper smile she had seen since they had walked into Dumbledore's office stretched across his face. “Now that I can do.”

A/N: It's just one thing after another with poor Harry isn't it? He's going to need his summer holidays just to recover from all these revelations! Anyway, hope you liked it and please R&R as always!


20. Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

As the whistle sounded shrilly in her ears Alice quickly scooped up her bag, which she had only just finished hastily repacking having spilt the contents everywhere, and leapt towards the open train door. She landed with a clatter just as the wheels began to turn sluggishly, establishing the regular rhythm which would be their accompaniment for the next nine hours. Turning quickly, she slammed the door shut and then paused to stare wistfully out of the window, imprinting an image of Hogsmeade, with the castle dimly visible in the distance, in her mind. It would be two and a half months before she saw it again. Not that going home would be such a hardship this year as home would be with Sirius, but still she knew she would miss it. Far too quickly for her liking, the train rounded a corner and Hogwarts was swept out of sight. She sighed and turned to go and find her friends.

As she walked along the corridor she was aware that her enquiring glances into the compartments were returned with an intense curiosity. She supposed people were still getting used to the fact that she was Harry Potter's sister - as kindly advertised by the Prophet who had gotten their hands on the story only the preceding week - but still, she wished they wouldn't stare so much. If she was honest she was surprised it had taken this long for the revelation to reach the papers, though whilst she was grateful for that it didn't make her newfound celebrity status any easier to deal with. She was also well aware of the fact that she had been sheltered from most of the furore inside the walls of Hogwarts, it was only now that she had left that she would have to face the storm properly. It wasn't an inviting prospect. Peering into a compartment halfway down the train she saw all of her friends sitting discussing something animatedly with Fred, George and Ginny. She quickly slipped inside.

“Hey Evans!” The twins couldn't seem to drop the nickname no matter how hard they tried. “We were wondering where you had gotten to.”

“My bag broke,” she held it up and indicated the snapped strap which had caused her mishap, “and I dropped everything.”

“Well that was -”


“In the extreme.”

Alice stuck her tongue out at the twins and took a seat next between Ron and Neville.

Glancing round at her friends she smiled as she saw Harry and Hermione covertly holding hands where they thought that no one could see, she noticed that Ginny was determinedly not looking at them, but other than that she seemed fine with the new arrangement. Next to her, Neville was leafing through a copy of Herbology Monthly, whilst Ron was flicking through a pile of chocolate frog cards he had produced from somewhere. It occurred to her that it seemed like forever since they had last been sitting on the Hogwarts Express, puffing slowly in the opposite direction, and she said so.

“Yeah,” Harry answered, “it does, doesn't it? So much has happened since then.”

“I'm be glad to be going home again,” Hermione's smile, quickly turned to a concerned frown in Harry's direction to check that she hadn't upset him with her remark. He caught her looking.

“Hermione, you can mention the word `home' in front of me, I'm not going to have a meltdown over it.”

“Makes a change,” Ron whispered grinning as Harry batted him on the arm in response. Alice was glad to see he was able to smile about it now, but she still hated the fact, and felt slightly guilty too if she was honest, that she was to be allowed to stay with Sirius permanently and Harry still had to go back to the Dursleys. Not that he would have to stay there all summer; Sirius had eventually managed to argue a compromise with Dumbledore that would allow Harry to spend part of the holidays with his sister and godfather, provided that he went back to his aunt and uncle first. It wasn't perfect, but it would have to do for now. She still wasn't sure how Sirius had managed it; she suspected that as he was their legal guardian the Headmaster had had little option but to eventually accommodate some of his wishes. The way Sirius told it to them afterwards, the old man hadn't been happy. She knew deep down that he only had Harry's best interests at heart, but she felt that too often he sacrificed Harry's happiness for his safety. It was a difficult balancing act, but she still resented it.

“You've got your thinking face on Evans,” Fred observed from the other side of the compartment.

“Don't think,” his brother added, “you're on holiday. That means two months off from thinking.”

“I can't do that,” she bantered back, pretending to look outraged, “imagine what might happen if I ended up like you two and forgot to start again in September?!” She smirked across at them as Ron chuckled and gave her an enthusiastic high-five. Having won that particular bout of verbal sparring she settled back in her seat, returning the gesture when Fred stuck his tongue out at her, ready for the long journey ahead as they continued larking about.

“Neville,” she asked after a while, chewing lazily on a liquorice wand as she squinted at the page he was reading, “what's that?” she pointed at a particularly gnarled looking specimen, which vaguely resembled a cactus, embellished with several notes on the opposite page.

“You mean you don't know?” He queried, looking slightly shocked.

She glanced up at him. “No. Why? Should I?”

“Noooo,” he answered slowly, “not necessarily; it's just that you and Hermione normally know everything.”

“That's not true,” the brunette broke off from her conversation with Harry to answer the charge.

“Well, most things then,” Ron joined in.

“Definitely almost everything,” added George as Fred nodded enthusiastically beside him with a fixed look in his eye that told Alice he was trying to keep a straight face.

“There is a definite absence of anything you don't know; a dearth of uniformativeness one might say; a lack of illogicality; a -”

“Oh, will you lot just shut up and let Neville answer the question!” Ginny broke in with a grin, Alice smiled thankfully at her.

“It's a Mimbulus Mimbeltonia,” he answered, “they're actually really rare. They're fascinating plants…” he began to describe the various properties to her at length and she noticed with some pride and satisfaction the way he was obviously enjoying relaying the information to her and the ease with which he could recall it - an unusual feat for Neville. He was just explaining to her the various magical uses which Stinksap could be put to when he was interrupted by the unwelcome hiss of the door as it slid open. Even more unwelcome were the occupants on the other side.

“Oh for Merlin's sake Malfoy,” Harry cut in before the Slytherin had even opened his mouth, “you would think you would get tired of constantly coming into our compartment to bother us. Don't you have any friends of your own?”

“Stupid question,” George muttered.

Two bright spots appeared in the usual pallor of Malfoy's cheeks as he scowled at them; behind him in the corridor Alice could just see Crabbe and Goyle loitering indolently. Well, if truth be told, she could only actually see Crabbe, but she assumed Goyle was there too, neither of them had enough brain cells to function independently, they probably had to pool resources just to tie their shoe laces in the mornings.

“Didn't that pathetic excuse for a godfather ever teach you any manners Potter?” The blonde glared spitefully at them, clearly irked at having his grand entrance ruined.

“Didn't your father ever teach you it's rude to barge in on people?” Ginny piped up from behind her brothers.

“I'd ask if you the same question, but seeing as you're Weasley's I needn't bother; you probably couldn't afford manners anyway.”

“Was there something you wanted Malfoy?” Hermione asked with a sweetness that was clearly forced. The look in her eye was steely.

His scowl deepened as realised his goading was having little or no effect. “I just thought I would drop by and see how our latest Hogwarts celebrity is doing,” he nodded in Alice's direction. “The whole train is talking about it. How does it feel to be outshone by your sister Potter?”

Harry opened his mouth to retaliate, the set of his jaw suggesting that Malfoy was beginning to hit the mark a little. Hermione placed a warning hand on his arm and before he could speak Alice launched in. “Really Malfoy, can't you do any better than that? People will start to think you just aren't trying.” She wasn't sure where the words were coming from, or the courage to say them; they seemed to trip off her tongue with very little involvement from her brain at all. “Now if you aren't going to say anything worth listening to why don't you just trot off back to whichever rock you crawled out from under and drop it on your head?”

Whether it was the compartment full of uncompromising faces arrayed against him, his disliking of the odds should things degenerate into a wand fight, as they so often did, or the fact that he was simply too shocked at Alice having stood up to him so forcefully, she wasn't sure. Whichever it was Malfoy gawped at them for several moments, his jaw working soundlessly before he whirled on his heel with a scowl which promised retribution and stalked away down the corridor, his enormous protectors trailing dumbly after him.

A loud noise close to her ear made her jump slightly and she nearly cricked her neck turning to see what it was, as it turned out it was only Ron beginning to clap with the others slowly joining in until her face began to heat up with embarrassment.

“Wow Alice, where did that come from?”

“Erm… I'm not really sure.” After a slight pause she joined in with her friends' laughter. Perhaps she really was coming out of her shell at last, goodness knows if anything was going to make her do it, it was the crazy things they got up to at Hogwarts. Perhaps by seventh year she would be able to talk to people without tripping over her own tongue?

“Do you suppose Malfoy will ever just get the hint and buzz off?” Ron asked the group at large.

“Probably not,” Hermione answered with a sniff, “that would mean he was learning which implies the presence of a brain.”

Harry chuckled. “I don't know, I don't think Hogwarts would be the same without him constantly annoying us every five minutes. It would be too quiet.”

“Harry,” Alice leaned round Ron and looked at him incredulously, “of all the things that can be said about our time at Hogwarts, I don't think quiet can ever be one of them.”

He grinned back. “True.”

“It'll certainly be quieter without Professor Lupin there next year,” Ginny pointed out, sobering slightly, “I doubt we'll get someone as good to replace him.” She had a point Alice thought, Lupin certainly did make his subject come alive. It had come as a shock to all of them when he had announced his resignation at the end of the year, even Lupin himself seemed slightly surprised by his decision. When questioned about it by Harry all he had said was that he had felt he was a danger to the students and that events in February had only gone to prove this. Alice didn't buy it however; she flattered herself that she had convinced him to stay at the school, at least she thought she had. Evidently not. His reasoning just hadn't made sense though, it had been months since his episode and nothing had changed since then, at least not that they were aware of. It was all very mysterious.

“You never know he might change his mind,” Harry sounded hopeful as he picked up Ron's discarded pack of cards and began to shuffle them before dealing them out to everyone, “besides it's not as though we'll never see him again, he said he'd probably be round at Sirius' all the time. And he said he'd come visit on our birthday.”

“Oh.” Alice suddenly looked up from the cards she had been examining.

“What's up Midget?”

She looked across at Fred who had spoken and then at Harry. “I've just realised, I don't know why I didn't before really, it's a bit obvious when you think about it, I just don't suppose it's one of those things that you really -”

“Are you ever going to get to the point?” Ginny butted in, not unkindly.

She smiled crookedly. “My birthday will be on a different day now, won't it?”

Her brother smiled in understanding. “Only if you want it to be.”

“You could always have two birthdays,” Neville chipped in. “You know - like the Queen.”

“Just don't expect us to bow and call you Your Majesty all the time,” George added.

“Yeah, your head doesn't need to get any bigger than it already is.” Fred snickered as she threw a card at him and tossed one back.

“I think you two have maybe missed the point of the game here,” Hermione sounded like a parent patiently asking her children to behave; any minute now Alice almost expected her to tell them that they ought to know better by their age. She tried to hide her grin. “Let's get on with the game shall we?” They all looked determinedly at the cards, but after a few seconds she risked a glance upwards; Fred caught her eye and winked conspiratorially.

By the time they arrived at King's Cross they had worked their way through six games of Snap, four games of Old Hag and some other wizarding game which Ron tried and failed to explain to the rest of them. By then most of them had lost interest and left Ginny to sit arranging the cards by herself, doing something that looked very similar to fortune telling.

Hauling her case along the platform with Archimedes empty cage wedged under her arm Alice forced her way out of the throng of pupils and turned to the others. “We should probably say goodbye here, before we go through the gate.”

“It won't be long before we see each other again,” Harry smiled brightly at her. “Dumbledore said I only had to stay at the Dursleys for a few weeks, and even then I'll see you at the trial, I'm not going to miss that.”

“Yeah, we'll all be back together before you know it.” Hermione smiled. “I'm going to have to run though, Mum and Dad will be waiting for me.” She gave them all a quick hug lingering longest on Alice, before turning finally to Harry. “Take care of yourself till I see you,” they heard her whisper as she blushed and glanced sideways at their audience who all looked studiously at the scarlet train idling by the platform.

“What makes you think I wouldn't?” He replied with a knowing smile. “And I promise I'll write till then.”

“I'll hold you to that,” she smiled back; despite herself Alice felt her heart warm slightly, they really were sweet together. If she believed in such mushy nonsense she would almost say they were made for each other. Hermione reached up and gave him one of her notoriously tight hugs, standing on tiptoe to hold onto him for as long as she could. Eventually she relinquished him and said a final goodbye to them all before turning and plunging into the throng of pupils heading towards the gateway to the Muggle world. Harry watched her go with a wistful expression on his face. Just out of his line of vision all three Weasley boys began to shake with silent laughter and Alice aimed a kick at the nearest one, who happened to be Fred.

“Honestly you three,” she sighed, rolling her eyes.

Ginny shook her head at them. “Merlin, have I got to put up with another summer of you lot being idiots?”

“You know you love us really Gin,” George put an arm around his little sister and ruffled her hair.

“What's that?” Harry finally turned back to them looking nonplussed.

“Never mind mate,” Ron grinned.

He looked at them all with confused green eyes as they smirked back, but held their silence. Eventually he gave up trying to work out his friends with a shrug. He clearly thought they were all mental. Which, Alice considered, they probably were to an extent.

“Right, well, I had better go too,” Neville spoke up, “Gran will be getting impatient.”

“Ok,” Alice gave him a hug too, “but we need to see more of you this summer, alright?” It wasn't really a question. “I'll see if Sirius will let you come and stay or something, once we get sorted.”

“I'd… I'd like that,” he smiled back hesitantly.

“It's the Quidditch World Cup in a couple of months too,” Ron added, “Dad mentioned that he might try and swing us all some tickets.”

“Really?” Harry and Alice's eyes lit up at the same moment. They all began walking with Neville towards the gateway chattering excitedly about Quidditch and the possibilities that the World cup presented. As they filed through the wall one by one they left behind a now almost deserted platform and the familiar, comforting bulk of the Hogwarts Express slowly puffing out copious quantities of smoke which swirled languidly into the space they had occupied. It would be there again, as it always was, for the start of a new year in September; waiting to whisk them off to new adventures. As they joined the bustle of humanity on the other side of the gateway any onlooker would almost be forgiven for thinking that there was nothing uncommon about them other than the fact that the group contained a disproportionate number of redheads. They would, of course, be wrong.

A/N: Just a short one this time to round things off. In case anyone is confused about Lupin's resignation, he obviously had to go because of the curse Voldy put on the job, but since he had decided to stay I decided that he should just feel compelled to go at the end of term and made up an excuse rather than have a valid reason. Hope you've enjoyed this and as always please R&R. I'll try and not make you wait too long for Book 4!