Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 19

Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Three.
Or, "Aspie Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

Note: I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made.

Note 2: There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though.

Chapter 4: Shadows

Professor Lupin's classes ended up being the best Defense Against the Dark Arts classes – maybe even the best classes of any topic – ever. Everyone but Crabbe and Goyle and their friends liked Lupin. Every class was about another fascinating dark creature, from Red Caps to Hinkypunks, Kappas and others.

As predicted, Snape was worse than ever to Neville in Potions, but Harry mitigated this a little by partnering Neville. Ron and Draco ended up together, and Hermione partnered Seamus Finnigan, which was good because she kept him from blowing up the cauldrons by having him prepare ingredients while she put them in and did all the stirring and so on. Nobody was really happy about the arrangement, especially Ron, but Neville was happier with Harry. Harry's presence deflected some of Snape's wrath, and Harry just sat there and took the abuse. He'd dealt with much worse from the Dursleys, after all. And knowing that Snape's behavior was personal and childish helped him not be so angry.

Still, it was hard. He didn't let on much, but he did get angry, and it came out later in other ways and at other targets, but it was safer than letting Snape know how much he was getting to Harry. Though not letting on much had its own dangers; Snape was one of those people who was never really happy with any kind of reaction or lack thereof. Over the years at home, Harry had learned to play Vernon and Petunia almost like fiddles; he'd figured out what to say and do, and when/how to say and do it, in order to manage their feelings and reactions. Snape was a work in progress for Harry. Even after more than two years of classes with the man, Harry was still mostly observing, because the man was harder to read than most people. Harry's experiments in influencing Snape were few and far between at the moment because of it.

Arithmancy was a difficult but rewarding class. The teacher was still focusing on getting everyone to the same level. Since most people were far behind Hermione and Harry in maths, Professor Vector let them get a head start on some of the maths she'd be introducing to the others in class later. Aside from giving them something to do that wouldn't bore them, Harry suspected her plan was to have them help the others as tutors when the time came.

Dumbledore's Wizard Studies class was only once a week this year, and they didn't often have homework. There was a lot of discussion, mostly. What homework there was, was mostly reading books from the library about various topics. Some of it was wizarding-world literature.

Care of Magical Creatures wasn't much fun anymore. After the disaster Goyle had made of Hagrid's first lesson, the depressed large man was focusing on boring animals called flobberworms, which seemed to flourish best when left alone.

When Quidditch season started back up, the MAC meetings got smaller, as those who had practice found it harder and harder to come. The Griffindors and Slytherins especially were affected by this, given that theirs was the first match of the year. Harry heard rumors that Oliver Wood, the Griffindor Quidditch captain, was getting especially vehement about winning.

Harry was annoyed that he wouldn't be able to go to Hogsmeade yet, but the part of him that had doubts about the man's guilt was glad he hadn't been caught. Though he also wished the man would leave the country, so the security would be dropped and he could go to Hogsmeade.

Shadow the dog had taken to playing with Harry on the weekends. It had started after breakfast one Saturday morning. After eating all Harry's table scraps, the big dog – who was beginning to fill out a little at last – ran into the trees and brought out a stick, urging Harry to play Fetch with him.

“Oh fine,” he'd said with a slight grin, and had thrown the stick toward the trees.

The dog joyfully bounded off to hunt for the stick. The first few times, it came back quite quickly, ready for more. Around the seventh time, though, it took so long that Harry went deeper into the trees to see where Shadow had got to.

He'd found the dog still sniffing around for the stick. Shortly after finding Shadow, the dog saw him and found the stick soon after. He brought it back to Harry, but Harry was too tired to play again. He found a nice convenient rock to sit on, and petted Shadow's head instead. Shadow didn't appear to mind.

This began a pattern. Every Saturday or Sunday, depending on when MAC meetings were, Shadow took Harry into this same area. Harry liked the place; being of the old religion, even though he was still reading the books Lupin had given him, the little clear spot surrounded by a roof of tree canopy and the pillars of the tree trunks felt like a spiritual experience. He wondered if this is what it felt like for most people to be in church.

Harry liked the clearing so much that he sometimes went there before breakfast. Shadow seemed a little annoyed that there was no food, and that Harry had to leave and come back with food, but the dog was still happy enough.

“This is an amazing little place,” Harry said one of these times. “I'm glad you showed me this place, Shadow.”

Shadow was curled beside the rock, not asleep but resting. He gave a small “Whuff!” in response. It felt like the dog version of “You're welcome.”

Harry had taken his shoes and socks off and was sitting cross-legged on the sitting stone, which let him lean against a tree. He looked up into the canopy of the trees. The light that came through the canopy was grey, but still pleasant. It had been just on the cold side of cool on his way up here, but the trees kept the wind away, so this little spot of theirs was warmer. Harry still made a mental note to bring a cloak next time, or wear a sweater under his robes. The castle itself could get pretty cold too, even with fires and tapestries and warming charms.

Harry sighed. “Sorry I can't come here in the evenings anymore. It's this whole Sirius Black thing.”

Shadow's head lifted up and he looked curiously at Harry.

“Yeah. This guy named Sirius Black broke out of prison, supposedly to kill me. But the man never got a trial, and... well... it would be pointless to explain it to you, since you're just a dog, but something doesn't add up. I think it's possible the man is innocent.”

An inquisitive-sounding noise came from the dog, whose ears were perked up. Harry smiled at him.

“You're such a good listener. Well okay, why not go on? Okay, so he supposedly betrayed my parents, but the father of a friend of mine... it's complicated, but this friend's father was one of Voldemort's lot—”

“GRRRR,” Shadow growled.

“Calm down, boy. It's okay. My friend is alright. He was a bit of a bigoted berk at first, but I won him over to my side. He's working on his bigotry, rejecting this whole blood purity thing of his father's. He's gotten into huge rows with his parents about it. I trust him.”

The growl vanished as Shadow calmed down, looking curious again. And strangely, Harry thought the dog looked... pensive. Could a dog be pensive?

“Anyway, yeah. I'm not gonna go looking for this Sirius Black fellow, but if we run into each other, I'll listen to his side. I'll be wary, of course, but I'll listen.” He sighed. “Oh, why am I telling you this? It doesn't mean anything to you. It can't.

He sighed again, closing his eyes. He just sat there, listening to the gentle sounds of nature around him. The breeze through the leaves, the few remaining insects and birds chirruping, and the creak of wood as the tree branches swayed in the breeze. It was very relaxing. So relaxing that he fell asleep where he sat.

Something wet on his hand woke him up. He blinked, and saw Shadow looking at him. Harry realized he had fallen asleep on the stone. He looked around and saw it was darker. Checking his watch, he saw it was just past 5.

“Well, I'd better get back to the castle, boy. Dinner isn't far away now.”

Shadow whined but wagged his tail as Harry scratched his ears.

“Don't worry, I'll be back tomorrow with some breakfast for you.”

“Woof!”

Harry chuckled and waved, heading back to the castle. Shadow seemed very intelligent to Harry; the big dog never followed him once he said he was leaving, like it could understand English.

As he walked back, he huddled against the chill air. This made him wonder where Shadow would go during the winter. Which made him wonder if dogs would be allowed as pets in the castle. But he immediately dismissed this idea; Shadow was much too large to fit anywhere in the castle. But he was going to find somewhere for the stray to hide away from the winter cold. Maybe Hagrid knew somewhere. Not Hagrid's hut, of course; the hut was barely large enough for Hagrid and Fang without adding another large dog. But maybe he could build a little dog house for Shadow, cast warming charms on it. Or buy one, since he didn't know how to make one.

*

The Saturday before Halloween, Harry was going to go to see Shadow again, but on his way out the Great Hall, he ran into Draco, who grabbed his arm and began to pull him away.

“Sorry about this, Harry, but Crabbe and Goyle are after me. I just need you with me for a little while.”

Harry sighed. “Fine. But you need to figure something out. Get a new dorm room or something. Put up wards around your bed, that sort of thing.”

“Already did that. It's getting from the bed to other places that becomes problematic.”

“Still...”

“Yes, I'm working on it, okay?”

“Have you thought of mailing your father? Have him talk to their fathers? You may disagree with them, but that's no excuse for attacking the sole Malfoy heir.”

Draco paused, looking thoughtfully at Harry before walking again. “That's a good idea. Can't believe I didn't think of it myself.”

By the time Harry shook Draco off, he was outside Lupin's office. The door was open.

“Harry? Was young Mr. Malfoy bothering you?”

“What? Oh. No, Professor. We're friends. He just needed some help avoiding Crabbe and Goyle. Remember, Draco is a friend of mine.”

“Oh yes, I'd forgotten you told me you befriended Draco Malfoy. Sorry about that, I'll try to remember from now on.”

Harry nodded, about to go so he could meet Shadow again.

“Harry, come in a moment will you?”

“Oh. Er, okay Professor. Will this take long?”

Harry came in and took the same seat he had last time.

“No, I don't think it should take long. Unless you have plans I'm interrupting?”

“Oh, no. Nothing I can't do later.”

“Good, good. Care for some tea?”

“That sounds good.”

Harry cast around for something to say.

“What's that?” Harry asked, referring to a tank full of murky water and a sickly green creature with horns and long fingers.

“Grindylow. For our next lesson. Water demon,” said Lupin, surveying the grindylow thoughtfully. “We shouldn’t have much difficulty with him, not after the kappas. The trick is to break his grip. You notice the abnormally long fingers? Strong, but very brittle.”

The grindylow bared its green teeth and then buried itself in a tangle of weeds in a corner.

Lupin tapped his kettle, and the water instantly boiled. He poured some into a cup with a teabag in it for himself and one for Harry.

“So, if it's not too forward of me, Harry, what plans did you have that got derailed?”

“Oh, I like to go out for a walk among the trees by the lake. The Forbidden Forest may be out of bounds, but that area isn't. I found a nice place to sit and listen to the trees.”

“That sounds lovely. That reminds me, how are you liking those books I got you?”

“Quite a lot, thank you. I may have to purchase copies of my own.”

“Glad to hear it. I'm always glad to help out a fellow member of the old religion.”

They sipped their tea.

“So what did you want to discuss, Professor?”

“I wanted to ask if you were worried at all about Professor Trelawney's predictions of your and Ron's demise.”

“You heard about that too, eh?”

Lupin grinned. “Yes. Professor McGonagall was complaining about it in the teacher's lounge. So, are you scared?”

Harry shook his head. “From what Hermione's told me, she's an old fraud, makes wild guesses.”

“That's what many of the other professors tell me as well.”

They sipped their tea again, Harry thinking as he did. Lupin had asked him if he was afraid. Did Lupin think he was a coward? After the Dementor, maybe he did.

Something of Harry’s thoughts seemed to have shown on his face, because Lupin said, “Anything worrying you, Harry?”

“No,” Harry lied. He drank a bit of tea and watched the grindylow brandishing a fist at him. “Yes,” he said suddenly, putting his tea down on Lupin’s desk. “You know that day we fought the boggart?

“Yes,” said Lupin slowly.

“Why didn’t you let me fight it?” said Harry abruptly.

Lupin raised his eyebrows.

“I would have thought that was obvious, Harry,” he said, sounding surprised.

Harry, who had expected Lupin to deny that he’d done any such thing, was taken aback.

“Why?” he said again.

“Well,” said Lupin, frowning slightly, “I assumed that if the boggart faced you, it would assume the shape of Lord Voldemort.”

Harry stared. Not only was this the last answer he’d expected, but Lupin had said Voldemort’s name. The only person Harry had ever heard say the name aloud (apart from himself) was Professor Dumbledore.

“Clearly, I was wrong,” said Lupin, still frowning at Harry. “But I didn’t think it a good idea for Lord Voldemort to materialize in the staffroom. I imagined that people would panic.”

“I didn’t think of Voldemort,” said Harry honestly. “I — I remembered those dementors.”

“I see,” said Lupin thoughtfully. “Well, well … I’m impressed.” He smiled slightly at the look of surprise on Harry’s face. “That suggests that what you fear most of all is — fear. Very wise, Harry.”

Harry didn’t know what to say to that, so he drank some more tea.

“So you’ve been thinking that I didn’t believe you capable of fighting the boggart?” said Lupin shrewdly.

“Well … yeah,” said Harry. He was suddenly feeling a lot happier. “Professor Lupin, you know the dementors —”

He was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Come in,” called Lupin.

The door opened, and in came Snape, carrying a goblet that was smoking like mad. It looked like a Halloween decoration made of dry ice, only darker.

“Ah, Severus,” said Lupin, smiling. “Thanks very much. Could you leave it here on the desk for me?”

Snape set down the smoking goblet, his eyes wandering between Harry and Lupin.

“I was just showing Harry my grindylow,” said Lupin pleasantly, pointing at the tank.

“Fascinating,” said Snape, without looking at it. “You should drink that directly, Lupin.”

“Yes, yes, I will,” said Lupin.

“I made an entire cauldronful,” Snape continued. “If you need more.”

“I should probably take some again tomorrow. Thanks very much, Severus.”

“Not at all,” said Snape, but there was a look in his eye Harry didn’t like. He backed out of the room, unsmiling and watchful.

Harry looked curiously at the goblet. Lupin smiled.

“Professor Snape has very kindly concocted a potion for me,” he said. “I have never been much of a potion-brewer and this one is particularly complex.” He picked up the goblet and sniffed it. “Pity sugar makes it useless,” he added, taking a sip and shuddering.

“Why — ?” Harry began. Lupin looked at him and answered the unfinished question.

“I’ve been feeling a bit off-color,” he said. “This potion is the only thing that helps. I am very lucky to be working alongside Professor Snape; there aren’t many wizards who are up to making it.”

So whatever was ailing Lupin required a specialized potion to help with it. Harry wondered what Lupin had. He didn't seem to be any different from other people, except disheveled and tired a lot.

“So you trust him, then?” Harry asked.

“Yes, Harry, I do. Dumbledore trusts him, so I do too.”

“Well, Dumbledore also trusted the Dursleys, and that didn't turn out so well.”

“Er, yes, I suppose so.”

Lupin drank the rest of the potion and shuddered. “Disgusting.”

Harry opened his mouth to say something else, but he got cut off.

“Well, Harry, I’d better get back to work. I’ll see you at the feast tomorrow.”

“Right,” said Harry, putting down his empty teacup.

The empty goblet was still smoking.

“One more question, first?”

“Yes?”

“Do you know a spell to find true north?”

*

On Halloween day, since he couldn't go to Hogsmeade, Harry returned to the clearing with food for Shadow in one pocket, and a candle in the other. The large dog greedily ate up the food, then jumped around excitedly for several minutes. Then it noticed Harry taking his shoes off, keeping his socks and thick cloak on. Shadow watched as Harry sat cross-legged on the sitting stone, setting the candle in front of him in a holder.

Sensing the solemnity of what Harry was doing, Shadow lay down and watched him quietly.

Harry stood back up. He took out his wand and stood in front of the stone. First, he put his wand in his open palm and said “Point me!” The wand jumped into the air an inch from his hand and swung around to point at north.

This information gathered, Harry took the wand in his hand again and moved to stand at the north side of the stone, facing outwards toward north. He then drew a five-pointed star shape in the air with his wand, the star inside a circle. It hung in the air in glowing red lines.

“Earth and soil, o elementals of the north, please bless and protect this space with your power. Amen.”

Walking clockwise from there, his wand tip facing outward and trailing a faint gray line, he stopped at east. He drew another star in the air, this one white, and said, “Wind and air, o elementals of the east, please bless and protect this space with your power. Amen.”

He walked around to the back of the tree that made the stone's back rest, and faced south. He drew an orange star in the air.

“Flame and heat, o elementals of the south, please bless and protect this space with your power. Amen.”

He went around to face west, drawing a blue star in the air.

“Water of the rivers, oceans, lakes, and rain, o elementals of the west, please bless and protect this space with your power. Amen.”

He completed the circle at north again. He then used his wand to trace out an invisible star over his heart. “Soul and specter, o elementals of the spirit, please bless and protect this space with your power. Amen. And now the circle is complete. May nothing intending harm be able to cross the threshold. Amen.”

With these words, many things happened all at once: the gray circle became silver and significantly brighter, connecting the four colored stars together. The red star made a pebble appear and fall to the ground. The white star made a brief gust of wind blow outward. Behind the tree, the orange star created a flash of magical fire. And the blue star wet the ground under it.

Harry put his wand in its holster again, and sat down on the stone like he usually did. Shadow looked up as he did, apparently noticing that Harry had cast the circle to include him, before laying down again to quietly watch.

“Twelve years ago, on this night,” Harry began to say softly, even though it was still daylight, “my parents James Potter and Lilly Evans Potter, were murdered. I have come here in their memory, as their only son, hoping to communicate with them.”

Even while he said this, he had to hold back a snort. He knew from the books he'd read that any communication with them was going to be one-way only. There was no way to get messages from the dead, according to the books. And that was fine by him.

“So Mom, Dad, if you're out there, I hope you're listening.”

He paused, gathering his thoughts.

“I don't know you. I only know what you look like because of that Mirror of Erised thing, and the photo album Hagrid gave me. I wish I could have gotten to know you. I wonder what you'd think of me. What you'd think of the Dursleys having 'raised' me. I wonder what you'd make of my Slytherin friends. I'm hungry to know anything I can about you. I don't even know exactly how old you were when you died. But given how old I think Professor Lupin and Snape are, and they were in your year, I'm guessing in your early to mid twenties.”

Shadow whimpered very, very softly, as though to give Harry emotional support without disturbing him.

“And now there's this man, a friend of yours, who's supposed to have been involved. Everyone – the adults, anyway – are so convinced Sirius Black was responsible for betraying you to Voldemort. I just wish I knew what the truth was. I wish you could appear before me, and tell me the truth. Though I dunno, maybe you don't know the truth either. You got taken by surprise, after all.”

Harry began to hug his legs, and leaned his head against his knees, taking his glasses off first and pocketing them.

“I just wish I could have known love growing up,” he said, his voice quaking. “Your love. Not the hatred the Dursleys showed m-me.”

His last shred of self-control broke, and he began to cry.

He'd been crying for a few minutes when he felt Shadow's nose against his leg. He sat up again, still crying. He couldn't tell what the dog's expression was without his glasses, but he wouldn't have been able to see through the tears anyway. He moved the candle to the other side, then put his legs out. Shadow reared up against the stone and lay his head on Harry's lap consolingly.

Harry kept crying, secure in the knowledge that most of the students were at Hogsmeade, and stroked Shadow's fur as he did. As he did, he eventually noticed bumps on the dog's skin that felt disturbingly alive.

He sniffed. “Feels like I need to get you something against fleas and ticks. And whatever kind of magical bugs you might catch around here, Shadow.”

Harry wiped his eyes with his sleeve and put his glasses back on. The dog was looking at him placidly.

They sat there like that for hours, silent, the light of the circle spell still glowing around them. At some point, Harry started to very carefully burn some of the bigger bugs out of Shadow's fur with his wand. But when he noticed the sun getting low in the sky, he checked his watch.

“It's not quite time to go yet, boy, but I'd better anyway. I'll need to wash up before the feast. Gotta get up now, okay?”

Shadow pulled his head back and put all four feet back on the ground, watching Harry as he got up and went to stand at the blue star in the spell.

“Water of the rivers, oceans, lakes, and rain, o elementals of the west, thank you for your help and your protection. Go if you must, stay if you will. Amen.”

In backwards order, he dismissed the other elements at each point. The stars dimmed as he dismissed their elements, but remained visible.

After dismissing the final element, he kept his wand held out.

“The circle is open, but unbroken. Amen. Finite!” At that spell, the glowing circle and stars blinked out.

*

After washing up, he went right to the Great Hall for the feast. Among the first to arrive after him were Ron and Hermione, who had bought him loads of sweets from Honeyduke's sweet shop, and talked to him all about Hogsmeade.

The feast itself was delicious, too. Best of all, Luna and his friends from Slytherin came over to the Griffindor table halfway through to shoot the breeze while Harry and the others continued to eat. Antigone got into a discussion about Rowena Ravenclaw with Luna, and Danzia was entertaining others at the table by sticking licorice sticks out her mouth like tusks and pretending to be a walrus. Even Draco had come over, though he kept sneaking worried looks behind him to make sure Crabbe and Goyle weren't sneaking up on him, but they were too busy stuffing their faces to care about him.

Harry was very full and very happy when he returned to Griffindor tower that night, despite his earlier tears. He fell asleep quickly in the warm bed.

*

On that week's Friday, they met an unexpected sight during their Defense Against Dark Arts class; Lupin wasn't there, but Snape was. He was filling in, apparently. Harry felt annoyed and angry; it was bad enough they had to put up with this emotionally abusive, childish berk for Potions class without him subbing for his favorite class as well.

“Sit down and be quiet,” Snape snapped at the class. “Better. Now, as even the most dunder-headed among you should be able to figure out, Professor Lupin is ill today. Nothing life-threatening, I assure you,” he said as though sorry it wasn't.

“So since Lupin is unable to teach today, I have taken his place. I expect your behavior in this class to adhere to the same standards I expect in Potions class, do I make myself clear? Good. Now, I see Professor Lupin has not left any record of the topics you have covered. So you will turn to page--”

“Please, sir, we’ve done boggarts, Red Caps, kappas, and grindylows,” said Hermione quickly, “and we’re just about to start —”

“Be quiet,” said Snape coldly. “I did not ask for information. I was merely commenting on Professor Lupin’s lack of organization.”

“He’s the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher we’ve ever had,” said Dean Thomas boldly, and there was a murmur of agreement from the rest of the class. Snape looked more menacing than ever.

“You are easily satisfied. Lupin is hardly overtaxing you — I would expect first years to be able to deal with Red Caps and grindylows. Today we shall discuss —”

Harry watched him flick through the textbook, to the very back chapter, which he must know they hadn’t covered.

“— werewolves,” said Snape.

“But, sir,” said Hermione, seemingly unable to restrain herself, “we’re not supposed to do werewolves yet, we’re due to start hinkypunks —”

“Miss Granger,” said Snape in a voice of deadly calm, “I was under the impression that I am teaching this lesson, not you. And I am telling you all to turn to page 394.” He glanced around again. “All of you! Now!”

With many bitter sidelong looks and some sullen muttering, the class opened their books. Harry stared at Hermione in puzzlement; he'd never seen her interrupt a teacher before.

Perhaps sensing his gaze, she looked back at him. He mouthed 'What are you doing? Don't antagonize him.' at her. Her response was a shrug.

“Can anyone tell me the differences between a werewolf and the true wolf?” Snape asked.

Everyone sat in motionless silence; everyone except Hermione, whose hand, as it so often did, had shot straight into the air. Harry, not having read the entire textbook, didn't know the answer. Something which must have shown in his face somehow, because Snape rounded on him.

“Ah, Mr. Potter. Since you were so knowledgeable in your first Potions class a couple years ago, perhaps you'd care to enlighten us on the differences between a werewolf and a true wolf?”

“I... I don't know, sir.”

“You don't know? But surely you've had plenty of time to read the textbook, Mr. Potter? You read the Potions textbook before school your first year, after all. Are you getting lazy now that you've gotten used to your fame, Potter?”

Harry's cheeks felt hot. “No, sir. I just haven't gotten that far in it yet. I have new classes this year, Arithmancy and Ancient Runes.”

“Hmm... I see. Well maybe, Potter, if you would spend less time going outside before and after breakfast to take in the fresh air, you'd have more time to read your textbooks.”

Harry didn't know what to say. “Er... perhaps. But the, ah... the fresh air wakes me up. I'm groggy all morning otherwise.”

This had the benefit of being true, even if it wasn't why he went out anymore, for it had been why he'd started the practice.

“I see,” Snape said. “Well, Potter, I suppose after over two years of grading your work in my class, I came to expect better of you. Five points from Griffindor for failing to do your best work in this class.”

There was an instant uproar from the rest of the class, but Harry was too stunned to listen to it. It had been Snape's usual mean, nasty tone, but... well... had that been a... a compliment? He replayed the words in his head again. Yes, that was right; Snape had complimented him. Harry reeled a little. It was even stranger to him than the talking boa constrictor had been. It was like facing down an angry cobra and witnessing it bark like a dog and wag its tail. Or like hearing one of the Dursleys say they loved him.

When the bell rang at last, Snape held them back.

“You will each write an essay, to be handed in to me, on the ways you recognize and kill werewolves. I want two rolls of parchment on the subject, and I want them by Monday morning. It is time somebody took this class in hand. Weasley, stay behind, we need to arrange your detention.”

When he met Hermione at the door, he said, “Detention? Ron got a detention?”

“Weren't you paying attention? I spoke out of turn again, and Snape called me a... a know-it-all. Then Ron defended me, and he got a detention for it.”

“Snape’s never been like this with any of our other Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, even if he did want the job,” Harry said to Hermione. “Why’s he got it in for Lupin? D’you think this is all because of the boggart?”

“I don’t know,” said Hermione pensively. “But I really hope Professor Lupin gets better soon. …”

Ron caught up with them five minutes later, in a towering rage.

“D’you know what that —” (he called Snape something that made Hermione say “Ron!”) “— is making me do? I’ve got to scrub out the bedpans in the hospital wing. Without magic!” He was breathing deeply, his fists clenched.

*

The afternoon of the first Quidditch match of the season, Harry woke up to see that there was a downpour outside. His idea of getting Shadow a doghouse looked to be more important than ever. So he spent some time before breakfast in the library, getting in right as Ms. Pince opened it, and began looking through the books for ones about caring for dogs. While looking through one book, he found a spell for using your wand like an umbrella. With this knowledge, he decided that he might as well visit Shadow again, since not many people would be in the castle anyway. He went after breakfast, putting his new books in his room first.

He was taking more food with him for Shadow than usual because of the rain – sausages and some egg this time. He put a spell on his shoes to keep the water from the soggy ground out of them. The big black dog was waiting for him, wagging its tail happily, its mouth open like a smile.

He smiled as the dog ate the proffered food with gusto.

“I can stay for a few more hours again today. There's a Quidditch match on, but I don't want to see it,” he said as he led Shadow to his favorite stone seat.

Shadow cocked his head at Harry and made a little sound that put Harry in mind of the words 'Why not?'

“I get scared for my friends high up in the air like that. And the crowd noises overwhelm me and give me headaches.”

The dog whined in a sympathetic way and pressed himself up against Harry's leg. Harry smiled again and patted Shadow's head before sitting down cross-legged on his favorite rock to listen to the rain with his eyes closed.

Some time later, he wasn't sure how long, he heard the sounds of lots of excited people coming from the direction of the castle. He made a note of it and continued meditating.

Not long after that, though, he felt a sudden wave of coldness come over him, that startled his eyes open. He shivered, despite being dressed as warmly as possible in a sweater, sweatpants, robes, a winter cloak, and a woolen hat. Shadow was hiding behind the tree at Harry's back and shivering too, with his ears back and tail tucked between his legs. The dog was clearly terrified.

“What is it, boy?”

The cold spell passed, but then started up again, making Shadow whimper quietly in fear, and breaking Harry's umbrella spell. Luckily, they were under the trees and didn't get nearly as soaked as they might have. But these odd occurrences made Harry decide to look around. Soon, he saw a figure in the distance. It was clad in black and floated along like a ghost. He knew at once what it had to be. And there were others of its kind, too, he saw. At least a dozen, floating toward the Quidditch pitch.

“Crap! Sorry, boy, but my friends are in danger, I have to go help.”

He ran off without another word, not even knowing what he could do to help. Maybe he could warn people? He ran soaking wet through the downpour, not bothering with the umbrella spell so he could have his wand ready if he needed it. He had to stop soon, though, and put the Impervious spell on his glasses so he could see where he was going. Once he had them back on, and could see, he took off running again.

The cold increased as he got closer to the stadium. He climbed the steps hurriedly, looking for a teacher. But the cold was getting worse, and the sound of the rain was getting quieter and quieter. Harry glanced out toward the pitch, and saw nearly a hundred dementors out there, their hidden faces looking up at the airborne students.

It was as though freezing water were rising in his chest, cutting at his insides. And then he heard it again. … Someone was screaming, screaming inside his head … a woman …

“Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!”

“Stand aside, you silly girl … stand aside, now. …”

“Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead —”

Numbing, swirling white mist was filling Harry’s brain. … What was he doing? Why was he flying? He needed to help her. … She was going to die. … She was going to be murdered. …

“Not Harry! Please … have mercy … have mercy. …”

A shrill voice was laughing, the woman was screaming, and Harry knew no more.

He woke up to lights, and dry warmth. His world was all fuzzy, meaning his glasses were off. But he could see shapes well enough to guess he was in the hospital wing.

“What happened?” he asked.

The no-nonsense voice of Madam Pomfrey issued forth. “Oh you're awake at last, are you? Sit up then. You had another run-in with dementors and passed out again.”

“Oh,” he said, sitting up. His memory was returning. He frowned as Madam Pomfrey put some chocolate in his mouth, but only because he knew he'd witnessed his mother being murdered. How he could have remembered that, he didn't know, but then, magic could do all kinds of weird stuff.

“You have visitors,” Madam Pomfrey said. She didn't sound like she approved.

“Who is it?”

“Several Weasleys, that Granger girl, and several Slytherin students,” she said. “You can't all come in at once, you know. Mr. Potter, who would you like to invite in?”

“Which Weasleys and which Slytherins?”

“The twins, and your friend Ronald, for the Weasleys. Mr. Draco Malfoy and--”

“It's us!” Danzia called in. “Me and my lot of girls.”

Decisions, decisions, Harry thought. He put his glasses back on, and noticed they were cracked. Quite how that had happened, he didn't know. He took out his wand and repaired them with a spell.

“You may have up to four at once.”

“In that case, Ron, Hermione, Antigone, and... um... Draco.”

“Draco?” Ron said, disbelieving. “I know you two are pals now, but Draco over Danzia or Angela?”

“We don't mind,” Danzia and Angela said in stereo.

“Well you four, in you get. The rest of you wait out there.”

Ron got in first, followed by Hermione. Draco was next, followed by Antigone.

“Anyone know where Luna is?”

“She was out here earlier. She said she'd come in after the rest of us were done, if she could,” Antigone said. “She was concerned, of course, but once we found out you were okay, she wandered off, saying she'd be back later.”

“Prob'ly wants to give you a get-well kiss,” smirked Ron.

“Where were you earlier?” Hermione asked. “You weren't watching the game, as far as any of us could tell. You just showed up, and passed out.”

“I was in my special spot, listening to the rain. I was keeping dry until I sensed the dementors and ran to warn people.”

“Well mate, you were a bit late for that. Dumbledore had already noticed them. Just after you passed out, he shot something silver at them, and they took off,” said Ron.

“I've never seen Dumbledore so angry,” Hermione said, shuddering. “It was terrifying. No wonder you-know-who's scared of him, if he can look like that.”

“What, did he turn into a monster?” Harry asked.

“No. Just got extremely grim, and sort of... grew, with power. Not literally, just appeared to get taller and scarier.”

“What, like Gandalf?”

“Who's--”

“Yes, just like Gandalf,” Hermione agreed. “Ron, it's a story from a Muggle book. Gandalf was a wizard in that story.”

The conversation continued among them for several more minutes, until Madam Pomfrey urged them out of the hospital wing for Harry to interact with the next group. Then the same thing happened again, until Madam Pomfrey grudgingly let Luna in on her own, the Weasley twins making kissy noises at Harry as they left.

“I brought you something, Harry,” she said without preamble, handing him a book. It was about dementors. “I got it from the library.”

“Thank you, Luna. Maybe it'll have something in here about how to fight them.”

“I brought you something else, too. I had Neville get it for me,” she said, handing him something.

He took it and looked at it. It was his two-way mirror, half of the pair that let him talk with Luna when they were both in their respective towers.

“Thanks, Luna! This will help a lot.”

“You're welcome.”

He grinned. This would make the inevitable night spent in the hospital wing more bearable, by letting him talk with Luna.

*

On Monday, Professor Lupin was back at work. Most people complained about Snape assigning them homework. Lupin told them they didn't have to do it. Harry, who had already done the essay, raised his hand.

“Yes, Harry?”

“I've already done mine. If we've already done it, can we hand it in for extra credit?”

“Yes, Harry. Anyone who did Professor Snape's essay may hand it to me for extra credit.”

He and Hermione weren't the only ones to pass theirs up. In fact, roughly half the class had done it.

Just before turning his in, Harry wrote something on a margin: “Your boggart... I know what it is. Don't worry.”

Lupin froze, reading Harry's note on the essay. He then tapped it with his wand, and bent down next to Harry.

“You made a slight mistake here, Harry,” he said, pointing at the note. It now read 'See me after class.'

“Ah, so I did,” Harry said, erasing the words with his wand. “Nice catch, Professor.”

They spent the rest of the class learning about hinkypunks, little one-legged creatures who looked as though they were made of wisps of smoke, rather frail and harmless-looking.

“Lures travelers into bogs,” said Professor Lupin as they took notes. “You notice the lantern dangling from his hand? Hops ahead — people follow the light — then —”

The hinkypunk made a horrible squelching noise against the glass.

When the bell rang, everyone gathered up their things and headed for the door, Harry among them, but of course he had to stay behind. Lupin closed the door behind him, locked it, and put up silencing wards.

“Sit down, Harry.”

Harry took a seat. He would be worried if not for previous encounters with Lupin, and Lupin's pleasant expression.

“Don't want anyone overhearing our conversation,” Lupin explained.

“Understandable.”

“So, Harry, my boggart. You say you know what it is. So, what is it?”

“The full moon. You're a werewolf.”

“Correct on both counts. Snape's essay?”

“Yes. I figured out you were always ill during the full moon. But it was realizing that your boggart was the moon that let me finally put the pieces together. I assume Dumbledore knows?”

“Yes. Everyone on the staff knows.”

“How long have you had this illness?”

“Since I was a small child. Dumbledore let me come to Hogwarts despite it. You know the Whomping Willow?”

“Yes. What of it?”

“It was planted the year I came to Hogwarts. I used to go through a secret tunnel to the Shrieking Shack to change. Kept me away from humans, leaving me to have to bite and scratch myself instead of humans.”

“That sounds horrible.”

“It was. But now I have Professor Snape to brew the Wolfsbane Potion for me. You saw me drinking it once. It's very difficult to make, and I've never been very good at potions. Now, Harry, I must ask you to keep this a secret from the other students. I know, especially with Professor Snape dropping hints, that the secret will come out eventually, and when it does, I'll have to resign. Parents will not want a werewolf teaching their kids, even with me on the Wolfsbane Potion. But I would like to try to make it the whole year before resigning.”

“Your secret is safe with me, sir.”

“Good.”

“Sir? Did you hear about the match, too?”

“All those dementors, yes. I heard. Dumbledore was very angry. He was against them being brought here to begin with. If it were up to Dumbledore, they would all be taken away to a starvation colony in Siberia.”

“Starvation colony?”

“The only way to kill a dementor, that we know of, is to starve them to death. Which means taking them far away from people. Just a handful of wizards live at such places, in order to cast patronuses to keep the dementors from escaping. But they themselves are out of reach of the powers of the dementors.”

“Patronuses? What are those?”

“The Patronus Charm is the only defense wizards have against dementors. The charm summons a sort of anti-dementor, a projection of all the things dementors feed off, but they cannot feel despair as humans can, so the dementors have no power over them.”

“Is that what Dumbledore used against them at the match?”

“Yes, it is.”

“And you did it on the train, too, right?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Could you teach me that spell? With these dementors about, I don't want to be caught without a defense again. If I were to pass out, they could Kiss me.”

“Ah, so you know something about dementors?”

“My friend Luna got me a book from the library about them. I read about the Dementor's Kiss. It terrifies me, to think they can suck out souls.”

“As well it should. But Harry, I don't claim to be an expert. Far from it.”

“Yes, but you know how to do it. Sure, I could go to Dumbledore, but then I'd have to explain everything all over again, and... and the last time I passed out, I heard my mum being murdered.”

“Lily?” Lupin said, looking grim. “Okay, Harry. If it means so much to you, I'll do it. But it’ll have to wait until next term, I’m afraid. I have a lot to do before the holidays, and turning into a werewolf every month takes a lot out of me. Now, run along for now,” he said, unlocking the door.

With the promise of anti-dementor lessons, Harry's mood lifted a little. He still went outside to meet Shadow and speak to the dog about his dementor visions and the sadness they brought. Shadow continued to be a really good listener, even if he was starting to occasionally look preoccupied. Harry figured the dog was getting tired of listening, and wanted to play, so whenever he could, he started running around the wooded area, letting the large dog chase him.

Because it was getting colder, Harry had started to look into making a dog house for Shadow. Not being great shakes at transfiguration, he found it easier to ask Hagrid for help locating trees to get wood from. Since he didn't want to kill the trees, he picked ones with nice big branches to prune, explaining beforehand his intentions. Hagrid made a point of picking out trees that needed pruning anyway in case ice would hit, explaining that the heavy ice would damage the trees far more than pruning a few branches would.

The branches harvested, Harry looked up spells for woodworking, since he didn't have any woodworking tools, and was thus able to shape and treat the wood magically with his wand. Then Hagrid let him have some nails and a hammer to use. It took a lot of work, and occasionally he had to use his wand to remove the nails or repair the wood, but he managed to finish the doghouse a little before two weeks til the end of term. With help from Antigone, he carved runes into the wood and imbued them with the power of warming spells, a spell to keep wild animals away, and some security spells to protect Shadow.

He took the completed doghouse out to his rock by levitating it along with his wand. Shadow jumped around excitedly as Harry used a sticking charm to attach the doghouse to a large flat stone he'd discovered a little farther into the wooded area. He had dragged the flat stone closer to his favorite boulder. Even with his wand to help him, dragging that rock had been very difficult. But now it was close enough to see from his boulder, and the warming spells on the outside of the house would keep most of the snow away, so Shadow didn't get buried in the white stuff.

Miraculously, he had completed the project and set it in place just in time. The next morning he woke to an opaline white sky and frost all over the muddy ground. He checked on Shadow, and found that he was cozy and warm, still asleep inside the house Harry had built for him.

Inside the castle, there was a buzz of Christmas in the air. Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, had already decorated his classroom with shimmering lights that turned out to be real, fluttering fairies. The students were all happily discussing their plans for the holidays. Both Ron and Hermione had decided to remain at Hogwarts, and though Ron said it was because he couldn’t stand two weeks with Percy, and Hermione insisted she needed to use the library, Harry wasn’t fooled; they were doing it to keep him company, and he was very grateful.

To everyone’s delight except Harry’s, there was to be another Hogsmeade trip on the very last weekend of the term.

“We can do all our Christmas shopping there!” said Hermione. “Mum and Dad would really love those Toothflossing Stringmints from Honeydukes!”

Resigned to the fact that he would be the only third year staying behind again, Harry got out some catalogs he'd ordered so he could owl-order what presents he hadn't already bought for people. At least he could hang out with Luna, who was only a second-year, while the others went to Hogsmeade.

On the Saturday morning of the Hogsmeade trip, Harry bid good-bye to Ron and Hermione, who were wrapped in cloaks and scarves, then turned up the marble staircase alone, and headed toward Ravenclaw Tower to look for Luna. Snow had started to fall outside the windows, and the castle was very still and quiet.

He was interrupted by a beckoning whisper from the Weasley twins, who beckoned him into a spare classroom beside a statue of a one-eyed witch.

“What's up? Why aren't you two off for one last trip to Zonko's?” Harry asked.

“Decided you could use an early Christmas present. Er, I mean Yule present. Forgot about that, sorry Harry.”

“It's fine. So what's this early Yule present?”

Fred pulled something from inside his cloak with a flourish and laid it on one of the desks. It was a large, square, very worn piece of parchment with nothing written on it. Harry, suspecting one of Fred and George’s jokes, stared at it.

“What’s that supposed to be?”

“This, Harry, is the secret of our success,” said George, patting the parchment fondly.

“It’s a wrench, giving it to you,” said Fred, “but we decided last night, your need’s greater than ours.”

“Anyway, we know it by heart,” said George. “We bequeath it to you. We don’t really need it anymore.”

“You're winding me up.”

“You wound us, Harry! When have we ever done you wrong?”

“Do you want a list?”

“Never mind that. We're serious, for once.”

“Yeah, this is no ordinary bit of parchment.”

And so Harry listened as they told the tale of finding the parchment in Filch's “confiscated and highly dangerous” cabinet, how Filch probably didn't know how to work it, and so on, without actually saying what it was.

“Okay, that's all interesting, but what is it?”

“Impatient, I see. Well, watch this,” said George.

He took out his wand, touched the parchment lightly, and said, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.

And at once, thin ink lines began to spread like a spider’s web from the point that George’s wand had touched. They joined each other, they crisscrossed, they fanned into every corner of the parchment; then words began to blossom across the top, great, curly green words, that proclaimed:
 
Messrs. Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs

Purveyors of Aids to Magical Mischief-Makers

are proud to present

THE MARAUDER’S MAP

 
It was a map showing every detail of the Hogwarts castle and grounds. But the truly remarkable thing were the tiny ink dots moving around it, each labeled with a name in minuscule writing. Astounded, Harry bent over it. A labeled dot in the top left corner showed that Professor Dumbledore was pacing his study; the caretaker’s cat, Mrs. Norris, was prowling the second floor; and Peeves the Poltergeist was currently bouncing around the trophy room. And as Harry’s eyes traveled up and down the familiar corridors, he noticed something else.

“Secret passages,” he said.

“Yes. And these two go into Hogsmeade. Seven in all. Now, Filch knows about these four” — he pointed them out — “but we’re sure we’re the only ones who know about these. Don’t bother with the one behind the mirror on the fourth floor. We used it until last winter, but it’s caved in — completely blocked. And we don’t reckon anyone’s ever used this one, because the Whomping Willow’s planted right over the entrance. But this one here, this one leads right into the cellar of Honeydukes. We’ve used it loads of times. And as you might’ve noticed, the entrance is right outside this room, through that one-eyed old crone’s hump.”

“Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs,” sighed George, patting the heading of the map. “We owe them so much.”

“Noble men, working tirelessly to help a new generation of law-breakers,” said Fred solemnly.

“Right,” said George briskly. “Don’t forget to wipe it after you’ve used it —”

“— or anyone can read it,” Fred said warningly.

“Just tap it again and say, ‘Mischief managed!’ And it’ll go blank.”

“So, young Harry,” said Fred, in an uncanny impersonation of Percy, “mind you behave yourself.”

“See you in Honeydukes,” said George, winking.

They left the room, both smirking in a satisfied sort of way.

Harry stood there, gazing at the miraculous map. He watched the tiny ink Mrs. Norris turn left and pause to sniff at something on the floor. If Filch really didn’t know … he wouldn’t have to pass the dementors at all.

He briefly thought of something Mr. Weasley had said, 'Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can't see where it keeps its brain.' But since Griffindors trusted something of that exact description every day – the portrait that guarded the entrance into their dorms – and there were scores of such portraits around, among all sorts of other similar thinking objects, it was pretty rubbish advice. And anyway, Fred and George had been using the thing for ages without it hurting them. And Riddle's diary had definitely felt far more alive than any portrait. This was, in fact, probably far less intelligent than any of the portraits.

Harry supposed the twins would have expected him to just shoot off on a whim, but it was cold outside, and he wasn't dressed for going out. So he wiped the map, stowed it in his pocket, and went up to Griffindor tower, where he retrieved his winter cloak and his money. And, since he'd seen a bunch of second-years hanging around, including Colin Creevy, he put his invisibility cloak over himself and used it to sneak away.

Just to be extra careful, he waited until somebody left through the portrait hole, following behind her. A first-year, she closed the door on his face, making him have to fight to not cry out. She glared curiously at the portrait. Seeming to decide the joints were stuck, she examined them.

“Anybody know a spell to make lubrication?” she called in.

As Harry left, he heard a fifth-year call back “Aren't you a bit young for a spell like that?” followed by laughter.

“Har har,” the girl said. “For the joints on the portrait, I mean!”

Harry didn't hear the rest of it, for he was too busy focusing on making it back to the one-eyed witch without bumping into anybody.

When he got there, he quietly activated the map again to make sure nobody was going to catch him at this. Also, he didn't know how to activate the secret exit. But the map, thankfully, could see him through the cloak, and showed him an image of himself tapping the hump and saying 'Dissendium.' So Harry did exactly that. The hump opened up, he checked one last time for Filch or Snape or any of the teachers, and when he saw nobody, he climbed in.

Once in, he lit his wand, wiped the map, and went along the passageway. It was long and twisty, and reminded him of a rabbit burrow. It took him ages to get to Hogsmeade, but finally he got to the end of the tunnel, where there was a trapdoor.

Hominem revelio,” he said. The spell revealed someone coming toward the trapdoor, so he put the invisibility cloak on in case they came down it.

Several minutes passed, and he tried the spell again. Whoever it had been was gone. He couldn’t hear any sounds above him. Very slowly, he pushed the trapdoor open and peered over the edge.

He was in a cellar, which was full of wooden crates and boxes. Harry climbed out of the trapdoor and replaced it — it blended so perfectly with the dusty floor that it was impossible to tell it was there. Still, he decided to put some spells on the inside later to trap anyone other than himself that came down it. He was already compiling a list of such spells as he knew while he crept slowly toward the wooden staircase that led upstairs. Now he could definitely hear voices, not to mention the tinkle of a bell and the opening and shutting of a door.

Before long, he was up the stairs, still under the invisibility cloak in case someone caught him and asked why he was there. But he escaped, and soon had the cloak off. He had another thought, and looked around for a bathroom. There was a tiny one back there, single-occupancy only. He went in and locked the door.

Looking into the mirror, he used his wand to lengthen his fringe and fought to get it to go over his scar. He ended up having to hold it down with a Sticking Charm. But once he managed that feat, he changed his hair color to a light brown.

His glasses, though, were going to be a problem. He was still wearing the ugly old glasses his aunt and uncle had grudgingly gotten for him when they realized he wasn't banging into things on purpose. He made a mental note to get new ones. In the meantime, though, he changed their color to a dark blue, and squared off the lenses. He wasn't very confident in this, but if Clark Kent could be Superman with just a pair of glasses and parting his hair different... he shrugged, and put the glasses back on.

For one last disguise – and this was a tricky one because he couldn't have his glasses on when he did it, he changed his eyes' color to blue. He examined his handiwork in the mirror, with his glasses on. Yes, he looked different enough. They weren't strong transfigurations, so he'd revert to normal before supper, but that was plenty of time. He left the bathroom fairly confident nobody would recognize him until he spoke.

Harry waded through the mass of students, his eyes looking at all the amazing candies. He felt like he was in a Willy Wonka store. He half expected to see Everlasting Gobstoppers there.

Harry squeezed himself through a crowd of sixth years and saw a sign hanging in the farthest corner of the shop (UNUSUAL TASTES). Ron, Hermione, Antigone, and Danzia were standing underneath it, examining a tray of blood-flavored lollipops. Harry sneaked up behind them.

“Ugh, no, Harry won’t want one of those, they’re for vampires, I expect,” Hermione was saying.

“Ooh,” Danzia said, taking the jar. “I want to try one.”

“You're not a vampire!” Hermione exclaimed.

“So? I can't be curious?”

“How about these?” said Ron, shoving a jar of Cockroach Clusters under Hermione’s nose.

“Definitely not,” said Harry.

Ron nearly dropped the jar. Danzia burst out laughing at this.

Harry!” squealed Hermione. “What are you doing here? How — how did you — ?”

“Wow!” said Ron, looking very impressed, “you’ve learned to Apparate!”

“Of course he hasn't,” Antigone said. “Though with Moldy's fixation on him, it wouldn't hurt to learn. You can't apparate in or out of the school unless you're a House Elf.”

“So, Troublemaker,” Danzia said, picking out a blood-flavored lollipop for herself and putting the jar back, “how'd you get past the dementors? Flying?”

“Didn't go over them, no. Doubt that would work anyway, they can fly. No, I went underneath them.”

He dropped his voice so that none of the sixth years could hear him and told them all about the Marauder’s Map.

“How come Fred and George never gave it to me!” said Ron, outraged. “I’m their brother!”

“You just answered your own question, Ron,” Danzia said with a smirk.

“But Harry isn’t going to keep it!” said Hermione, as though the idea were ludicrous. “He’s going to hand it in to Professor McGonagall, aren’t you, Harry?”

“No, I’m not!” said Harry.

“Yeah, why should he?” Danzia asked.

“Because of Sirius Black! He used to go to school here, you know. He could know about these passageways.”

“Which is why I intend to set some traps so only I can use the passageway into Honeyduke's. Filch knows about a bunch of them, and the only other one goes into the Shrieking Shack. I suppose you've heard that it's haunted?” Harry said. He had a hard time lying effectively, but this wasn't a lie, so it didn't count.

Hermione didn't look convinced.

“Don't fret, Hermione, I can help him out. I'll give him some runes and stuff he can use. Then we can work on the Hogwarts end of it later.”

“Well...”

“Plus,” Harry added, “the entrance is really hard to see. Blends in perfectly with the floor. I doubt even the owners know.”

“Yeah, and if Black broke in,” Ron said, “they'd hear. They live right over the shop.”

“Well okay, but what if Sirius Black comes to Hogsmeade to find Harry?”

“The whole town is swarming with dementors,” Danzia pointed out.

“And he's disguised. I barely recognize him even knowing it's him,” Antigone said.

“Also, there's loads of students here,” Ron said. “He'd get lost in the crowd.”

“I bet there's also aurors hanging around town, too,” Danzia added.

“Okay, okay,” Hermione said, exasperated. “I give in. But I don't like it.” She bit her lip, still worried.

“Are you going to report me?” Harry asked her, grinning.

“Oh — of course not — but honestly, Harry —”

“Seen the Fizzing Whizbees, Harry?” said Ron, grabbing him and leading him over to their barrel. “And the Jelly Slugs? And the Acid Pops? Fred gave me one of those when I was seven — it burnt a hole right through my tongue. I remember Mum walloping him with her broomstick.” Ron stared broodingly into the Acid Pop box. “Reckon Fred’d take a bit of Cockroach Cluster if I told him they were peanuts?”

Ron and the others took Harry around the store to look at everything. Among other things, Harry found something in a section for foreign imports. They were balls of some sort of bread with sesame seeds on the outside and a sort of bean curd on the inside. They were both sweet and savory. The owners gave him a free sample, and he liked it, so he bought a couple dozen.

Just like on the trolley, Harry ended up getting a bit of many different things. He wanted to get a bit of everything, but the store was so large that he doubted he'd ever be able to carry even one of everything, even if he skipped over the blood-flavored lollipops and other unusual tastes.

“Acid pops, honestly. Some of the things people like are weird,” Danzia said as she paid for her blood-flavored lollipop, a bit of cockroach cluster, and a dozen more normal candies.

“You're one to talk,” Ron muttered.

When they'd all paid for their sweets, the five of them left Honeydukes for the blizzard outside.

Hogsmeade looked like a Christmas card; the little thatched cottages and shops were all covered in a layer of crisp snow; there were holly wreaths on the doors and strings of enchanted candles hanging in the trees.

“That’s the post office —”

“Zonko’s is up there —”

“We could go up to the Shrieking Shack —”

“Tell you what,” said Ron, his teeth chattering, “shall we go for a butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks?”

Harry was more than willing; the wind was fierce and his hands were freezing, so they crossed the road, and in a few minutes were entering the tiny inn.

It was extremely crowded, noisy, warm, and smoky. A curvy sort of woman with a pretty face was serving a bunch of rowdy warlocks up at the bar.

“That’s Madam Rosmerta,” said Ron. “I’ll get the drinks, shall I?” he added, going slightly red. Harry noticed Antigone checking out Madam Rosmerta as well.

The rest of them made their way to the back of the room, where there was a small, vacant table between the window and a handsome Christmas tree, which stood next to the fireplace. Ron came back five minutes later, carrying three foaming tankards of hot butterbeer.

“Merry Christmas!” he said happily, raising his tankard.

Harry drank deeply. It was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted and seemed to heat every bit of him from the inside.

A sudden breeze ruffled his hair. The door of the Three Broomsticks had opened again. Harry looked over the rim of his tankard and choked.

Professors McGonagall and Flitwick had just entered the pub with a flurry of snowflakes, shortly followed by Hagrid, who was deep in conversation with a portly man in a lime-green bowler hat and a pinstriped cloak — Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic.

“Calm down, Jacob,” Antigone said to him, smirking. “You'll be fine.”

Hermione, apparently less convinced of the power of Harry's disguise, moved a Christmas tree in front of them with her wand.

Harry did his best to ignore the teachers and minister. It was hard, though, when their conversation was so loud. They ended up talking about Sirius Black, repeating the story Draco had told him. Hagrid clearly believed in Sirius's guilt, he was very vocally angry about it. There wasn't any new information in it, though, for Harry.

When the conversation ended and the teachers began heading back to the castle, he wondered if he should go back. The secret passage was long, and he had spells to cast. Resigned to such a short trip, he said his goodbyes and headed back to the secret passage.

End note 1: Yes, those of you in the know, Harry's Samhain ritual is a little unusual. I was taking into account the differences between the wizarding world and the Muggle world in this AU. I also took into account that Harry doesn't have any gods or goddesses yet, and might not ever. I haven't decided yet.

End note 2: Sorry this took so long. It's been like trying to get blood from a turnip lately with this story. That's on top of my usual depression and scheduled things I have to do.

End note 3: I wish I could remember which fanfic I originally read the idea of dementor starvation grounds in. But I've read so many HP fanfics they all kinda blend together. The only other things I remember about it was that Harry took a plane to Albania to study where Voldy had been hiding, and made friends with a young girl while there, then helped the Albanian government take away a dementor to Siberia.



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