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SIYE Time:2:03 on 17th August 2017


Trix
By GHL

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Category: Alternate Universe
Characters:Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Humor
Warnings: Death, Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Violence/Physical Abuse
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 108
Summary:

"But now old friends are acting strange..." - Joni Mitchell.

Voldemort is dead; Harry and Ginny are in love and living the dream. What's not to like, right? Then, a sudden rash of strange incidents piques Harry's anxiety. After years of war, are people just having difficulty adjusting to peace? Or is someone out there playing dirty 'trix'?

The story is set three months after the end of 'The Prevailing Counterpoint', and builds on characters and events elaborated therein. TPC is probably not required reading if you accept that Dumbledore and Snape are dead; that Lupin, Tonks and Fred are alive, and that Slytherins are fundamentally neurotic.


Hitcount: Story Total: 26068; Chapter Total: 1192
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:

Credit and appreciation is due to Martin (Gin110881) for reminding me in a review of The Prevailing Counterpoint just how awkward a collaborative student / Auror program is likely to prove. This chapter reflects that. Thanks also to Aimless for catching glitches and setting me straight. Hope you enjoy this somewhat transitional chapter.

Note added Aug. 8, 2015: A missing moment has been added to the end of the Auror meeting in this chapter. Credit again is due to Martin for pointing out a plot issue that was not explicitly dealt with in the text in the earlier version.





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Chapter 6. Cousin Capers (Jan. 9-10, 1998)

To get a sense of the electrified atmosphere pulsing through Hogwarts on Thursday and Friday, one need have looked no further than the charms classroom chalk board. Conveying sporting fervour and professorial frustration in equal measure, Professor Flitwick's looping script scrawled across nearly the entire writing space, spelling out the following message:

HOGWARTS FORECAST FOR FRI., JAN. 9:

PARTLY CLOUDY; LIGHT WINDS; NIGHTLY LOW NEAR 8 °C

GO EAGLES!!

NOW PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE

TRY TO SIT QUIETLY AND CONCENTRATE ON CHARMS!!!

This strange missive had come about for one simple reason: the entire school had gone a bit berserk. The recent flu epidemic had run its course and faded from conversation, but it had been replaced by another, perhaps even more debilitating, outbreak — Quidditch fever! Everyone, from the mousiest first-year to the most jaded, disaffected seventh-year was gearing up to see a rather unconventional scrimmage!

In truth it wasn't supposed to be a big deal... but sometimes modest circumstances, once conflated, can swell to prodigious expectations. On Tuesday afternoon after Transfiguration class, Zabini had casually approached Ravenclaw Quidditch captain Duncan Inglebee with a proposition — he was looking to task The Flying Circus with a bit of a practical test before their first scheduled match (January 19th against the Skegness Shrakes), and he wondered whether Inglebee's squad might enjoy a bit of a friendly tuneup? He suggested Friday evening, since nobody had reserved the pitch for that time.

By Tuesday evening, Inglebee had accidentally let slip to several dozen people that his squad had been challenged by The Flying Circus to take part in a head-to-head showdown, pitting this year's best squad at Hogwarts against the best team that... er, well, that nobody had ever played before. Within hours, a full-bore maelstrom of wild speculation had erupted.

Ultimately the resulting tangle of stories had alarmed both Harry and Flitwick enough that they decided to haul Zabini and Inglebee into Flitwick's office first thing Wednesday morning to determine what was going on, and figure out whether it amounted to something viable and within Hogwarts regulations.

"Okay," Harry had said, "according to the current rumours, this Friday evening, down at the Quidditch pitch we will be experiencing either A — a scouting mini-camp organized jointly by Holyhead and Falmouth, B — an ambush by rogue Heliopaths to retaliate for mistreatment during the Battle of Hogwarts, C — a match between Ravenclaw House and an exhibition team that will take place of the usual House Quidditch Cup Final, or D — something else entirely. Would either of you care to enlighten?"

Harry had proceeded to fix both Zabini and Inglesbee with a hard look that the most practiced eye might realize was tinged with amused exasperation.

Happily, within ten minutes, both Harry and Flitwick were able to translate the apparent plan into something that could actually prove, under the right circumstances to be legal, useful, safe and entertaining. In consultation with McGonagall, they decided to go ahead with a scrimmage, and establish realistic ground rules. The three faculty members had ultimately set weather stipulations, because both Harry and Flitwick had adamantly agreed that there was no point in risking injuries or illness for the sake of a meaningless pre-exhibition scrimmage.

Since Flitwick possessed a charmed wireless receiver capable of receiving Muggle news and weather forecasts from nearby Dufftown, he volunteered to track the conditions and make the final judgment on whether to hold the event. Hence, the chalk board updates.

As the scheduled day grew nearer and Flitwick's forecasts steadily converged toward favourable weather, the chatter grew from the original buzz to an undulating roar, and absolutely nobody was referring to this as 'a meaningless pre-exhibition scrimmage'. Instead, the broad consensus held that this might well be the single best opportunity all dreary-long year for an exciting Quidditch match at Hogwarts.

Wagers began springing up, and speculation was rampant.

Why had Zabini approached Ravenclaw rather than Slytherin? How much would Zabini cheat? How good would Page be after eighteen months in semi-pro? Would Ginny be allowed to terrorize the skies, or would she be kept on a tight rein to prevent injuries? Would Summerby ever actually say anything? Would Potter stipulate a super-fast professional Snitch? If so, would (Ravenclaw Seeker Orla) Quirke get so much as a glimpse at it before Potter made the catch? Would Potter shank the Snitch a few times to prolong the match? What crazy stunts would the twins pull? Would they charm the Bludgers to explode into green hair dye on contact? Was anyone safe with those two lunatics back on Hogwarts grounds? And, last but not least...

Could Ravenclaw keep this match even remotely close??

"Sure!" Harry replied in answer to Hannah Abbott's question as he and Ginny accompanied a crowd of students on their way together down to the pitch. Terry Boot's and Michael Corner's heads swiveled at the unexpected answer and they tuned themselves intently to Harry's voice as he elaborated. "Ravenclaw has a mature team, and most of their squad has been playing and practising together for years We, on the other hand..." Harry shrugged. "We've only been mucking about for a couple weeks. I think we'll be hard pressed to even keep pace with them."

"Bollocks Potter!" Zacharias Smith gave him a defiant sneer. "Forget playing your silly confidence games — I have a ten galleon wager down on you and your arrogant goons to run up at least a five hundred point margin over those gormless nancies. Easy money! If you can't demolish those Chickenclaws, you should all be ground up and fed to flobberworms."

"Oh, and who asked your opinion, Smith?" Sarah Lindsey shot him a searing look. "Now that I think of it, I can't recall anyone in the entire annals of recorded history ever asking your opinion for anything!" She turned to stalk away, but added congenially over her should, "Harry, Ginny — have a good match! I hope you all play well and have fun!"

"Have fun?? Stupid bint hasn't the slightest clue about sports." Zacharias scowled squintily in the direction of her retreating form, before suddenly flinching in surprise. "Hey! What the h... squawk squawk squawk SQUAWK squawk?!"

The group was laughing uproariously a minute later when Neville rushed to catch up with them. He gazed around at the faces with a puzzled grin. "What's so funny, mates?"

The answer, unfortunately, was accidentally clobbered by Neville's leg. "Oi!" he yelped, leaping back at the unexpected site of four pounds of ruffled, indignant feathers, claws and beak attacking his careless ankle. "What in the name of...?? Where'd the minging chicken come from??"

Needless to say, it was a rather foul (fowl) night for Zacharias Smith... but at least he could be comforted in having been at least partially correct. The match was not particularly close, and Ravenclaw did not really hold their own. Indeed, in mockery of the days of hype and eager anticipation, there was nail-biting sporting drama for a grand total of two minutes... before things really fell apart for the Eagles.

Ravenclaw actually scored first, with Lisa Turpin feeding Chambers a sharp pass on Grant Page's far side for an easy Quaffle to the left-most hoop. A few cat-calls emerged from the Ravenclaw stands. "Over-rated!" they called out to their former Quidditch Keeper, but Harry didn't think so. Even before the Quaffle got past Page, Harry knew that the goal had nothing to do with Page's skills, Chambers' scoring prowess, or even early-match nerves.

It was simply too dark!

Harry had spotted Page squinting fiercely, trying to track the Quaffle as Turpin and Chambers had closed in. Swooping about the east end of the pitch, Harry glanced up and noticed that two of the magical lights above Page's hoops had gone out! Nodding to himself in recognition, Harry adjusted them on the fly with a quick wandless spell and they flared back to life. Page looked up, first at the lights and then toward Harry, and flashed him a grin. Problem solved for The Flying Circus.

And bad news for Ravenclaw.

With Page adequately illuminated, the Keeper became very nearly impermeable, and the small Ravenclaw lead evaporated faster than Firewhisky in the Gobi desert as The Flying Circus began scoring in buckets. Their Chaser strategy was blatantly obvious from the very first play onwards, but it confounded the Eagles. The simple yet effective scheme was for Summerby to do most of the Quaffle handling, and feed the hot hand.

In the early going, this meant sticking within fifty feet of Ginny on all offensive plays and tossing her the Quaffle as soon as she had anything that looked remotely like an open shot on goal. After she scored on three of the first four excursions into Ravenclaw territory, the Eagles shifted tactics and began to swarm her the instant she embarked on an offensive. This, however, soon proved equally futile — Summerby instead began feeding Zabini and, although not possessed of Ginny's brutal scoring instincts, the team captain nonetheless made Ravenclaw pay dearly for ignoring him.

Bludger control was a complete washout for the Eagles. Beginning with the first play, Inglebee and Samuels proved to be no match whatsoever for the twins who played the whole match with an intensity that was both fierce and, strangely, rather humane. Fred and George found that they could protect their Chasers with their near-perfect keep-away skills, constantly foiling Ravenclaw Beater attempts to get anywhere near the Bludgers. The only (debatable) weakness in the twins' performance was their susceptibility to an unexpected emotion — pity.

In other words, there's no need to hurt anyone, if it's clear nobody can hurt you.

As it happened, Ravenclaw offensives were so disrupted by Ginny and Summerby zipping through the passing lanes in combination with Zabini's cloying on-Quaffle defence that the Eagle Chasers Turpin, Bradley and Chambers were completely rattled, even without Bludgers to flee from. Fred and George knew that Harry had hoped to avoid injuries and animousity, so despite their countless chances to clobber opponents — opportunities they never would have squandered against any Slytherin team of old — they held back, controlled the Bludgers, and let the blighters slog on unscathed. The closest the twins came to their old feisty ways occurred several times they noticed Ginny growing frustrated by unrelenting triple-teams. Even that bit of contention didn't last long — after Fred and George had each whacked the Ravenclaw Chaser Bradley with sharp, glancing blows in the span of less than a minute, the triple-team plays disappeared. From that point onwards, a single sidelong glare from either Fred or George was usually threat enough to spread a sticky defence.

Unsurprisingly, after several raucous minutes to open the match, the huge crowd grew eerily subdued. There was a rustle of appreciation as Ginny intercepted Turpin's pass and executed a wild, single-handed slalom run through the Ravenclaw defence to produce another mind-bending score; a bit scattered applause trickled through for other noteworthy plays, but the audience began to spend an increasingly large percentage of the time simply staring with wide, silent eyes at the systematic evisceration of what was arguably the best student team at the school.

Thirty five minutes into the match, high above yet another crisp Flying Circus offensive, Harry sidled up to his Seeker opponent.

"Hey Orla," he said.

Orla groaned, turning to him with an exasperated smile. "Hi Harry. I suppose you're here to tell me that you're watching the Snitch right now, and you're wondering if I'm ever going to see it too?"

Harry gave her a small smile in response. "Sort of," he admitted. "I was going to ask whether you figured I should end this now, or let them play a while longer?"

"Harry!" The Ravenclaw Seeker stared at him. "It's the Seeker's code — if you see the Snitch when you have enough points for the win, you go for it!"

"Ah." Harry pursed his lips and nodded. "And how about now?" Flicking his hand, the scoreboard suddenly went blank.

A loud murmur swept through the previously stoney crowd. After a moment, the magically amplified sound of a chuckling Flitwick resounded across the pitch. "Ahem! Very well, everyone, I guess maybe we should just forget the score. Play on!" With an amused grin, he waved knowingly at Harry.

"Okay, okay." Orla laughed. "We'll play it out, but if I ever see the Snitch, I'm going to grab it from right under your nose!"

Harry merely smiled and winked.

Down below, after some momentary confusion, the other players shrugged and soon settled into an untallied scrimmage that actually turned out to be much more entertaining for all. Instantly freed from the pressures of a horrendous deficit, the Eagles loosened up, threw away their playbook, and began experimenting. Turpin, Chambers and Bradley discovered that the key to disrupting Summerby's unflappable orchestration was not to attack the receiver or the passer, but rather to sustain constant motion in the passing lanes, seeking to contest every pass and play for possible interceptions. Ravenclaw Beaters Inglebee and Samuels realized that they needed to act as wedges to drive Fred and George apart so that the twins couldn't constantly cover for each other.

Ultimately, the outcome wouldn't have been hugely different. The Flying Circus still scored far more often than Grant Page made mistakes. The untold tally at the sixty five minute mark when Harry pulled down the Snitch must still have been quite ridiculous, but for at least the last twenty-five minutes, the aerial maneuvers and gamesmanship proved to be immensely engaging for both players and the crowd. And, gratifyingly, nobody seemed to care what the score was!

Well, almost nobody...

"Five hundred and thirty bleeding points, ta twenty!" Seamus shook his head in awe.

"Cobblers, mate!" Dean countered. "Ravenclaw had to have had at least forty points — Chambers himself had thirty!"

"Nah, Dean, two o' Chambers goals were waived fer Bradley's stooging!"

"Stooging?? As if Zabini wasn't stooging for at least five of Weasley's scores! I swear he..."

"Whoa, mate — watch where ye're walking!"

"Whoops! Wha...??" Dean leapt back several feet as an enraged bird threw itself at his legs. "What's with the rowdy chicken?"

"Huh..." Seamus paused in momentary consternation, before chuckling. "Dunno Dean — the way the li'l tyke's scratchin' dirt at ye, it's almost like he thinks yer completely off yer trolley."

Many say that the best way to get people's attention is to put on a show. Indeed, Friday night's scrimmage must have truly resonated with Hogwarts students, because the next morning's weekly interhouse Quidditch club suddenly ballooned from the usual genial affair involving roughly twenty regulars into utter bedlam! Harry estimated that nearly fifty students had shown up to the pitch... and he was feeling more than a bit guilty because, in the midst of all this chaos and excitement, he was going to have to skip out.

"Are you sure you can handle this insanity?" Harry asked quietly as he pulled Ginny aside on the outskirts of the crowd.

By way of answer, she simply leaned in and gave him a friendly peck on the cheek. "Don't worry. Zabini, Summerby and Stephanie have all promised to help; I was thinking perhaps two of us can run a few drills on the side for the novices, while the other two officiate a couple of parallel scrimmages. Anyway, we're sure to figure something out. And besides, what you have to do is much more important than this!"

Harry pulled her in tightly for a quick hug, and kissed her forehead. "Thanks!" He pulled back to beam a big smile. "Wish me luck!"

They gave each other one final squeeze before parting, then Harry made his solitary way off the pitch, down to the front gate and beyond. Lost in thought, the walk to the Apparition point barely registered in his mind, and he soon found himself striding through the woods toward the Dolwyddelan manor house... for the first time since his nightmarish experience six days ago.

Making his way along the final stretch of the path to the steps, both front doors swung open and he looked up to see Kreacher and Andromeda waiting for him. "Good morning!" He gave them a cheery wave.

Andromeda smiled, and Kreacher bowed. "Kreacher bids the Lord Potter a fine morning," the elf said in his usual rumble. Harry smiled to them both and, for the sake of civility, did not roll his eyes at the incurably formal deference that Kreacher continued to subject him to.

As Harry shed his cloak, in the Entrance Hall, Anna and Ange rushed out from the kitchen, outfitted in aprons and washing gloves. "Good morning, Mr. Harry!" they called out excitedly.

"Shall I go fetch Teri for you, Mr. Harry?" Anna asked.

"Good morning, Anna! Good morning, Ange!" Harry grinned at the girls, but instead of answering Anna's question, he turned inquiringly to Andromeda.

Andromeda shook her head. "Thank you Anna, but no. We'll not fetch Teri quite yet. Mr. Harry and I must first have a quick chat together in the study. Now girls, please finish up in the kitchen so you're all done before Miss Susan and Miss Daphne arrive for Sunday morning play time!"

Harry laughed as the girls squealed happily and chased each other back through the door. In a display of the friendly familiarity that had developed between them, Andromeda linked her arm with Harry's and led him into the old ornate study off the Entrance Hall. She closed the heavy oaken door behind them and gestured him toward a seat by the fire. "Tea, Harry?" she asked.

"Yes please, and thank you." Harry stretched his legs out comfortably. "So your owl indicated that Teri has been doing well all week?"

Serving the tea and taking a seat beside him, Andromeda gave Harry a weary but satisfied smile. "Yes, a tremendous improvement. We had been growing increasingly worried even before last weekend's incident. Teri had been having intermittent but fairly frequent spells of unexplained discomfort and disorientation from mid-December onwards, but after sleeping off her exhaustion from Sunday, she got up on Monday morning and has been on a steady, even keel ever since. She's actually doing better now than she had been last autumn when she first arrived here."

"That's great to hear." Harry sipped his tea pensively. "And you're certain that she's comfortable with speaking to me?"

"Yes, Harry." Andromeda nodded with quiet conviction. "I should mention that the circumstances are somewhat unique — Teri has made it consistently clear that she has no intention whatsoever of discussing anything about last Sunday with anyone, except you. And when I told her that you wanted to speak to her about it, she was actually... well 'eager' is never really a word I use with Teri in any context, but she seemed relieved that you were willing to meet with her, and quite open to doing it as soon as you were available."

"Wonderful!" Harry smiled. "Well, I'm ready whenever you and she are. My curiosity is going through the rafters."

Andromeda stood, picking up her tea as she did. "I think I've aid all I need to, and I believe Teri was ready for you an hour ago." She gave Harry a wry smile. "I think you'll find her quite curious about you too. Please sit tight for a moment, and I'll have Anna fetch her."

"Thanks Andy," Harry returned her smile, then angled his face toward the door. "Kreacher, could you please bring some hot cider to the study please? You can leave it right inside the door."

Harry moved his feet closer to the fire and closed his eyes, not in weariness, but rather in contemplation. He retreated into his magical senses until he could feel the humming signature of the old manor, something typical of a place that, despite having been abandoned for much of the last half century, had been occupied by wizards for many generations prior to that. Above the background buzz, he sensed the powerful white flame of Andromeda's aura retreating as the witch made her way to the kitchen, and he dimly registered the flickers of numerous other people moving about the building in their daily activities. And then after a while he detected the strong, blue glow that he was now becoming increasingly familiar with. It grew steadily stronger and more luminous in Harry's mind... until he heard the study door close with a soft click. Then he opened his eyes.

Teri stood by the door, holding several books under her arm, looking at Harry uncertainly. "Is it okay to enter, Mr. Harry?" she asked.

"Of course, Sugar Plum," he replied. "Sorry I had my eyes closed. I... well, I was just sort of getting to know you better."

She stared at him for a moment, then slowly, inquiringly, raised a finger and pointed at her head.

"Yes." Harry gave her a soft smile as he raised a finger to his own temple. "That's exactly what I mean. I suspect you probably do the same thing with me sometimes, don't you Teri?"

The girl stood in silent thought.

"Well, why don't you come in and show me your books." Harry gestured to the armchair that Andromeda had vacated. "Please take a seat."

Teri quietly obeyed, spreading the books on the table by the fire and settling into the chair.

"Would you like a cup of hot cider?" Harry asked, indicating the tray that Kreacher had placed near the doorway.

"Yes please." Teri was just starting to rise to fetch it for herself, when Harry reached out and placed a hand on her arm. She looked at him with a puzzled expression.

Harry gazed into her eyes. "You don't really need to walk over there to fetch it, do you?"

She stared at him for a long moment then settled back into her seat. Ever so slowly, she shook her head with a peculiar, somewhat guilty, expression.

Harry smiled. "It's okay, Teri, this can be our little secret. Go ahead and summon a cup for yourself — I promise you won't get in any trouble."

Teri scrutinized him carefully for a moment, then she nodded again. Without any other motion, she closed her eyes and a slight frown crept over her face. Over by the door, one of the cups rattled.

Attention still mostly trained on his companion, Harry's peripheral vision monitored the tray with curious anticipation. The cup sat still for a moment, then ever so slightly... hesitant like a fledgling sparrow poised on the nesting branch... the cup lifted. It lingered for an instant, an inch above the tray, but then, absolved of its gravitational duty, raised up and glided confidently over to the girl. Eyes still closed, she raised her hand and intercepted it with a Seeker's perfect grace, not spilling a drop.

She opened her eyes to meet Harry's quietly beaming gaze. An expression crossed her face — for the first time in Harry's recollection there was nothing cold or hardened in her eyes; no trace of a frown or smirk. It may have lasted only an instant, but it was, unmistakably and genuinely, a smile.

The girl and young man regarded each other in silence for a moment. Harry raised his teacup to Teri. She quietly reciprocated, and another smile drifted briefly across her face.

Harry then turned his attention to the books on the table. "So let's see what you've brought..." His gaze caught upon a familiar greyish hardcover with lurid green lettering. "Yugh!" Shivering a bit in revulsion, he shook his head. "We have lots of good, clean firewood in here — why bring that lump of flammable filth?" Still griimacing, he looked around in vain for something to cover the leering image of his face.

Teri burst out laughing at Harry's exaggerated disgust, then fought back a lingering smirk to restore her normally serious demeanour. "Just one question first, Mr. Harry, then I'll put it away."

"Okay," Harry nodded equitably as he averted his eyes from the literary abomination.

"Is anything in that book true?"

It was Harry's turn to burst into laughter. "I don't have the foggiest clue, Teri," he answered. "I know that's not very helpful, but I've never even opened the book and hope I never have to. May I ask why you were reading it?"

Teri paused for a long moment; seeming to struggle with the question. "I don't know Mr. Harry. It was not exactly curiosity." She shook her head slightly. "I think... I guess... I would like to get to know you."

"Ah." Harry nodded. "Well then perhaps we can get to know each other the proper way — by spending time together, talking when whenever we can, and helping each other. Becoming friends perhaps?"

"That would be very nice," Teri agreed softly. "I apologise for bringing a book that you don't like, Mr. Harry. I asked Miss Daphne to find it for me, but that was back when I... when I was worried that it might never be possible for us to be friends."

"No need to apologise; I'm pretty certain I know what you mean." Harry gave her a reassuring smile. "And as you've guessed, these are all reasons that I came to see you today — in part because I would like to become your friend, and partly because I was wondering if you might be able to talk to me about the... problem you've been having?"

Teri's gaze locked onto him. "If I talk to you about it, do you think we can keep it from happening again?"

Harry met her gaze. He contemplated the girl whose earnest eyes saw more than the light alone revealed; whose incisive ears heard more than sound. Something fundamental occurred to Harry — he realized that Teri, like Ginny, was someone he would never be able to truly ever tell a lie to. Ginny didn't need her Legilimency to read him like an open book, and Harry was becoming convinced that Teri must be developing that skill too. He sighed. With people like that, it was never particularly easy to deliver difficult answers.

"It's hard to say yet. Like any good witness in a challenging investigation, whatever information you give me may well make the difference between our success in figuring this out, or us never cracking it, but I'm afraid that I can't promise you a perfect solution right away." Harry watched the girl nod emotionlessly, then continued. "The best I can guarantee is a pledge to do everything in my power to find an answer. Hopefully it won't take us too terribly long, and with luck the solution will last us forever."

Teri nodded in tacit acceptance and gazed into a dark corner of the room. Harry let her sit in silence to gather her thoughts and recollections. After a while, she turned again to face Harry and the words began to come, with a careful deliberation that made her sound much older than her nine years.

"It was like being bullied. It was as if I had someone bigger and stronger following me around, making me do things I didn't want to, and... no..." Teri shook her head. "Maybe it's more like I was a doll and I had someone playing with me, making me do stupid things."

Harry watched with sympathy and concern but said nothing as Teri turned away to stare into the depths of the fire. "I hate her!" The hardness of her words subsided to a low seethe, barely audible above the crackling flames.

"Her?" Harry raised an inquiring eyebrow. "Do you know who she is?"

Teri shook her head angrily. "No. She doesn't care about names. The only thing important to her is that she can be the master and I have to be her slave!"

Harry gazed at the girl with a gentle sadness. "I hate to make you revisit this, but it would help me if you could give me some examples of things she made you do?"

"It started with stupid things like, lift your arm above your head, or kneel down and kiss the floor." The girl winced in embarrassment. "Later, it started to get really creepy. She would make me stare at Mrs. Dromeda sometimes, or walk around the house looking carefully at rooms, doors and windows..." Teri paused as she noticed Harry taking notes.

When Harry's quill ceased, Teri resumed speaking in a weak, haltingly tone. "I never really knew when she would visit. Much of the time, she would leave me alone, but she did often seem to guess whenever an interesting visitor was going to meet with us. So, of course she had to visit that Saturday after Christmas when we were all in the meadow..."

Harry's ears perked up.

"Up until then, she mostly just watched any guest we had, so I swear, there was no reason for me to suspect she would want to h-hurt..." Teri paused to swallow hard. "You remember, Mr. Harry, that thing that happened to your ponce friend? The one with the Quidditch toys?"

"Ron?" Harry nodded, with a frown. "Teri, did Bel-... did she... somehow force you to use your own magic on Ron?"

Teri shook her head. "I don't think so, but she kept trying to force me to get close to him... and I started to feel strange. And I felt a..." She paused uncomfortably, and turned back to gaze at the flames. "I kept hearing a loud buzzing — almost as though I had bugs in my ears."

Harry tapped his quill against a blotter thoughtfully. "Was she was channeling her magic through you, then?"

"I don't know." Teri shrugged. "Maybe."

"So what happened next?"

Teri took a deep breath; her hands clenched hard about the base of the chair. "I got angry. The buzzing was making me feel sick, and your friend was shouting and yelling at me, and the bitch kept pushing and pushing me to get closer to him, so I just refused to give anybody the satisfaction of... well... hurting me. So, I just said no. I forced myself to calm down, to not go off and throw a wobbly. And when I got calm enough, I made myself walk away."

"You looked amazingly composed." Harry gazed at her in quiet admiration.

"Mr. Harry, I..."

Harry looked up from his notes in surprise — for the briefest instant, Teri's voice threatened to crack; its pitch had seemed anything but calm. However, in the split second it took him to raise his eyes, he could already see her restoring the equilibrium she needed to speak evenly. "Mr. Harry, when I was little, there were lots of times I had to pretend to be very calm. Even if I wasn't."

A sharp pang shot straight through Harry's chest. Unbidden, scores of his own worst Dursley memories raced across his mind, overlaid against the image of the stoic girl sitting by the fire. His hand twitched, wanting to reach for hers so that perhaps, together, they could somehow exorcise their own private pains. But he held himself back, not knowing how a child of untold hardships would respond. Instead, hoping that she would be receptive, his eyes projected sincere empathy for a moment before turning back to his parchment.

"Through all that you've described..." Harry paused for a moment assimilate his notes. "Through all of this, you never lost yourself? You were always Teri, and you always knew what Teri wanted, but... there were times it felt like it wasn't you who was getting to decide what to do with your body?"

"Yes," Teri agreed. The momentary pain a minute ago seemed to be past her now. She picked up another book from the table and handed it to Harry. "How was she doing it, Mr. Harry? What spell was she using?"

Harry scanned the book's cover. It was an updated copy of Miranda Goshawk's 'Book of Spells'. He frowned sadly at her earnestness and at the lack, once again, of any satisfying answer to offer. "This is a good book, but even it may have nothing that can help us, Teri," he replied. "Someone has found some very strange magic that I don't understand yet. That makes it a lot more difficult than just looking up a counter-curse or a ward spell. But please understand this — the people that I work with have solved some very scary and strange riddles before, and we are going to find a way to beat this one too."

Teri nodded her head slowly. Studying her carefully, Harry finished his tea and put the cup down. "Do you trust me to help you with this, Teri?" he asked.

"I do, Mr. Harry," she averred.

"Can I talk to several people about some of the things we discussed today?" Harry asked carefully. "Only a few of my closest friends; people I trust with some of my deepest secrets to help solve some of my most challenging problems?"

Teri nodded again without meeting his gaze.

Harry smiled. "I'm very glad we were finally able to sit down and talk. Do you think we can do this again after I've had a chance to think about things some more. Maybe next week?"

"I think so," she said quietly.

Harry considered the girl, sensing a renewed reticence. Wondering if it was because of the challenging and ambiguous nature of the problem, he forced a smile onto his face, hoping to boost her mood. "So, do you think we should go out and see what kind of silly things Miss Susan and Miss Daphne are planning for the others?"

Teri shrugged. She put down her mug, but made no effort to stand.

"Is there anything else you'd like to talk about first?" Harry asked, still trying to project a cheery demeanour to disguise his growing concern.

She shook her head.

They sat in silence for a minute; Harry watching the girl as she stared at the fire.

Wondering if Andromeda might be able to shed light on the girl's sudden introversion, Harry finally rose from his chair. "Thank you, Sugar Plum," he said softly. "If ever you need to talk to me, please tell Mrs. Dromeda, and she'll be able to find me, okay?"

Teri said nothing.

As Harry began to cross the room, she finally stirred from her fugue. "Mr. Harry?"

"Yes?"

"Mr. Harry, do you think..." The girl paused and turned her back to him. "Do you think Miss Ginny will ever forgive me for what I d-did to you last weekend?"

"Ever forgive??" Harry was taken aback. "Heavens, Teri!" he exclaimed. "You don't need anybody's forgiveness. Ginny knows that it wasn't your fault. She knows exactly who was attacking me, and she knows blo-... er, she knows very well that it wasn't you!"

"I know I wasn't attacking you, Mr. Harry," Teri stammered, her voice beginning to break again, "but it never would have happened if I hadn't been there. I tried to stay away, but I c-couldn't. And... and Miss Ginny was so... angry..." The girl's closing voice had faltered to a wavering whisper.

"Miss Ginny wasn't angry with you!" Harry shook his head vigourously. "She was absolutely irate with the same person you and I are both upset at, but she wasn't mad at anyone else. If you were able to catch the subtle currents beneath her anger, you would have sensed frustration and worry. This situation is very troubling for us all, because we simply don't understand how to prevent these attacks yet, or how best to fight the sort of orders you were getting, or what we ourselves would do in your position. We're also concerned that the attacker is still learning new tricks, so even if you might have been able to resist the commands before, we can't expect you to succeed all the time."

Teri nodded quietly.

Harry's breath caught, afraid his candid outburst may have gone much too far for such a young audience. In fact, however, the girl's anxiety actually seemed to diminish, as if she was less concerned about perilous uncertainty than about the stigma of having caused disappointment or anger.

Harry nodded slowly, opting to change his tone back to gentle reassurance, "Miss Ginny is very powerful and very protective. That's what she was doing on Sunday — defending us — protecting both of us. She chased away the enemy so fiercely that you haven't had any problems in nearly a week, right? That was all Ginny meant to do."

Teri nodded uncertainly and turned obliquely so that her face was partially visible to Harry.

"Did Miss Ginny hurt you?" Harry asked softly. "Because if she did, I'm certain that it was purely accidental, and that she would very much want to apologise."

Teri considered this for a moment, then shook her head. "No, she didn't hurt me, but it was very very scary."

"Er yes, I know. I was there." Harry chuckled. "You're not the first friend that she's unintentionally frightened like that. I'm sure she will want to apologise to you, if you're willing to talk to her."

Teri didn't seem to have heard Harry's last statement. Her attention drifted back toward the fire for a long moment, but then she turned to face Harry directly with a fierce glint in her eyes. "I'm glad that neither you nor Miss Ginny is upset with me Mr. Harry. But you wouldn't have caved to the orders. You've never done anything the insane bitch told you to, have you?"

Harry rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, I don't know if your attacker has ever actually tried to command me, as such. Not using the methods she's been using on you."

"If she did, you would tell her to stuff it," Teri stated baldly.

Harry nodded. "I can't say for certain, Teri, but I think I could fight her off..."

"Mr. Harry, I don't want to ever let anyone use me to hurt people again." Steely determination shone in the girl's eyes. "You have to teach me everything you know about how to fight it."

"Blimey," He stared at her with wide eyes and ran a hand through his hair. "I'd have to start with Occlumency, but that's a seventh year NEWT option, Teri. A lot of students skip it altogether because it's so hard. And who knows how difficult it will be to learn any other spells we might need for dealing with... well, against whatever magic we're up against...?"

"That doesn't matter. You can teach me, uh, Occlumency to start with, and when you figure out other ways to fight it later, I'll learn those too," Teri stated obdurately.

Pinned by the girl's unbending stare, Harry knew better than to laugh or disagree. "Okay Teri," he said in a matter-of-fact tone, "we'll try. Starting next week."

Teri scrutinized him for a long moment with all the delicacy of a cudgel, then nodded. "Thank you Mr. Harry." At last, her tone lightened. "Now I think we can go see what silliness Miss Susan and Miss Daphne are up to."

Harry was late.

Only a few minutes late, mind you. Several students had accosted him on his way back through the Entrance Hall to ask him about an upcoming Hogwarts Army training session, and he could never brush off that sort of enthusiasm. The meeting could get along fine without him for a little while, right?

Perhaps not. By the time he stepped into the fifth floor DADA classroom, you could practically cut the atmosphere with a well-honed diffindo. With a pulsating red complexion, Auror Williamson paused in mid-sentence as Harry entered the room, and lowered the menacing finger that had jabbed mere inches from Ryan's stoic, unwavering face.

Ginny rolled her eyes, then gave Harry a quick smile, pulling out the chair for him beside her. Harry grinned his thanks, took the proffered seat, and nodded affectionately to Ryan, Hermione, Lupin and Tonks. "So," Harry said, pulling out parchment and quill, "it seems we already have a frank exchange of views underway. Perhaps Auror Williamson can bring me up to speed?"

Williamson swept his ponytail back and turned to glare at Harry who unconcernedly occupied himself with pouring himself a cup of coffee from the decanter. "Potter, are you telling me that you've suspected since New Years Day that someone, perhaps Bellatrix Lestrange, has been carrying out mind magic attacks and you didn't inform the Auror Department?"

Harry blew casually on his hot coffee, ignoring the multiple errors and inconsistencies in Williamson's statement. Uncertain how much Tonks had needed to tell her erratic Auror partner and not wanting to inadvertently implicate her as a tacit party to any delay, Harry glanced quickly past the apologetic look she was giving him. Instead he put his cup down and turned to meet Williamson's glare squarely. "You've reminded me several times yourself how thinly the Auror Department is stretched right now, Williamson."

Harry straightened in his seat and leaned forward; slowly, ominously encroaching into the Auror's space. "I had no intention of distracting your department with any allegation until I was confident it had some meat to it. Ultimately I confirmed enough of my initial suspicions last weekend to warrant a Sunday afternoon Floo call to Chief Robards. So, by my calculation, it took us three days to build a credible allegation, and it took you five days of sitting on it before agreeing to meet with us."

Still angry, but no longer quite able to credibly match Harry's intensity, Williamson diverted his attention to the parchments in front of him. "I see." He shuffled his documents pointlessly and irritably. "So, in order to put meat on a potentially spurious issue, you diverted Jenkins from his Auror-assigned research?"

"Auror assigned?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "Administration of the Joint Auror-Student Research Experience Program is shared equally by Chief Robards and myself," Harry answered unapologetically. "Until Ryan leaves Hogwarts, his first priority is to pursue work that will benefit his NEWT scores, and thus I reserve some latitude in choosing activities that utilize and augment his talents. Furthermore, I know from Robards' evaluation that Mr. Jenkins has performed exemplary volunteer service thus far to the Auror Department, but I will remind you that his service remains precisely that — voluntary. If you feel strongly about it, please write a complaint to Robards and send a copy to me. He and I will sit down and discuss your issue at one of our biweekly meetings in the same way we handle all other aspects of the program."

Harry finally took a drink of his coffee, then added, "It looks like we have forty-five minutes left to discuss the latest evidence, and plan possible coordination. Are you ready to focus on some real work now?"

Williamson's anger had subsided past petulance and onwards toward grudging acceptance. "Okay.".

"Ryan and Hermione." Harry gestured cheerily to the two stony-faced two students in the room. "Do you have any updates on the Bocio hypothesis?"

Ryan straightened, shaking off his earlier affrontedness. "Why yes, Harry. We've determined that the Bocio..."

"Er, sorry Ryan," Hermione interrupted, "but before you get too far, perhaps we should check to see if everyone here is familiar with the Bocio concept?"

Remus and Tonks both shook their heads. Williamson looked baffled but said nothing.

"Okay, well the fifteen second explanation is that a Bocio is a type of charmed proxy devised in the West African dark magical community for channeling spells over long distance to a specific victim," Hermione explained.

"The Muggles apparently call them 'voodoo dolls'," Ryan added with a self-satisfied smile that Hermione found quite amusing. Lupin and Tonks, both fairly familiar with Muggle culture, lit up with obvious comprehension; a flicker of confusion crossed Williamson's brow, but he nonetheless nodded seriously.

"Anyway," Ryan continued, "we believe that compared to the various better-documented mind control methods, the Bocio could be especially plausible. The symptoms described by our presumed targets don't resemble more common spells such as Imperius or Confundus, and the wards at Dolwyddelan and Grimmauld Place should have prevented any likely culprit from approaching near enough to attempt any other technique."

Ginny frowned pensively. "Are you any closer to resolving how Bocio are made?"

"There are two factors to consider." Ryan raised a pair of fingers to enumerate. "First is the question of which ingredients are required to construct an object to house the magical intent, and second is which spells are needed to activate the object so that it can actually communicate magic. For the latter, I doubt that we would be able to come up with the exact spells the African Bokors use, but I'm guessing that they resemble the basic wand making spells that are covered in seventh year Charms."

Ginny's eyes lit up. "Because a wand itself is basically also a charmed proxy for someone's magic?"

"Exactly Ginny!" Hermione smiled with the joy she found in any good analogy. "A wand is a proxy that channels magic from you, and the Bocio is a proxy that channels it to you. And just as the best wands are composed of special materials, so are Bocio. I think we're converging on the basic ingredients — the structure needs to be constructed from any organic matter that is good at retaining magical essence. Thus any wand wood should suffice. The West Africans don't have good native wand woods, but they do have marsh grasses that, when woven or braided carefully, supposedly work pretty well."

"And how are Bocio personalized?" Harry asked.

"Well," Hermione replied, "just like a wand has a magical core, so too does a Bocio, with the exception that the core is not derived from just any magical creature..." She paused for effect. "The Bocio core requires a piece of the victim!"

"So what piece of the victim does one need?" Ryan asked rhetorically. "Anything that is infused with the target's magical signature. Based on some tissue-specific magical retention studies done a while back at St. Mungo's, magical signature is highest in flesh and blood, so a Bocio with a core derived from those would be strongest. Bones and teeth are quite good. Hair and fingernails are acceptable."

"It is possible," Hermione added, "that long-worn articles of clothing may also work, since they pick up magical essence over time from residual skin and hair matter, and just simply from being close to someone casting spells. Ryan and I are still debating that, though. He believes the only way Lestrange could exploit the weak signature from clothing would be if she has some way of amplifying the Bocio effect beyond traditional African techniques."

Lupin leaned forward with an expression of great interest. "So perhaps we should concentrate on whether Lestrange or any of her cohorts have been able to steal tissue samples. Dora, do you suppose we could have someone check St. Mungo's to see if there have been any thefts from their blood and tissue stores?"

Tonks nodded. "Good idea. Of course St. Mungo's has amazing security on those stores because dark wizards have lots of reasons to want to get their hands on those samples, but it's definitely worth investigating."

"Please do check." Harry frowned, as he processed the scope of the issue. "Unfortunately, there's no way Lestrange got everything she needed from St. Mungo's."

Williamson looked at him. "And why is that, Potter?"

"Because I'm one of the targets, and I've never been treated at St. Mungo's," Harry replied. "It's possible that some Muggle Hospital may have kept a bit of my blood at some point in my childhood, but that's not their standard policy. Poppy has a single vial of my blood in store here in the Hospital Wing, but she checked it carefully a few days ago, and it's never been tampered with."

"Ever get your hair cut, Harry?" Ryan asked his tousle-mopped mentor with a devilish grin.

Harry shook his head. "Actually no. Not in at least seven years, anyway." He looked up to see puzzled looks. "Same reason that Tonks doesn't need haircuts," he explained. Lupin and Hermione both went slightly wide-eyed at the revelation; Tonks and Ginny both nodded knowingly; Ryan merely shrugged — nothing about Harry surprised him much anymore.

Harry paused in thought a moment. "Given how notoriety always seems to dog me, it seems kind of surprisingly but I really haven't left much of a physical trail. I've certainly shed blood here and there before, but I haven't been wounded in public recently — almost certainly not during the time frame in which Lestrange seems to have been pursuing her latest shenanigans. I don't need haircuts and don't cut my nails. Surely I've shed the occasional strand of hair here and there, but most of them are lying around in warded locations as well. I don't give my clothes away or leave them lying around..."

"Not true!" Ginny exclaimed suddenly.

"Ha!" Tonks snickered with a jocular elbow to Lupin. "Did I hear that aright, Luv? Are you prepared to believe that the goldenest gilded couple is finally airing a little bit of premarital dirty laundry?"

Ginny rolled her eyes. "No, you muppet, I mean it's not true that Harry's never given away any clothing!"

"Hey, you're right Gin'!" Harry exclaimed. "St. Mungo's Child Health Foundation! Back in November, they kept pestering me for an article of clothing for some kind of auction... and then a bit before Christmas they asked me for a second one, because..."

"They lost the first one!" Harry and Ginny exclaimed in unison.

"Interesting," Tonks mused. "I guess I have a second thing to check into when I head over to Mungo's. I wonder if..."

"Something wrong, Dora?" Lupin asked.

Tonks sat with a puzzled frown for a moment, then a strange glint lit in her eyes. "Merlin's hurlin' cabbage stew..." she swore under her breath.

Ginny's brow arched. "Huh? What is it?"

"Early December I was coming out of the showers at Auror headquarters at the end of shift and I saw a strange bloke in there," Tonks recalled. "He had a DoM maintenance uniform, but I'd never seen him before. I almost questioned him, but I was only wearing a couple of towels, and he was rushing off, so I let it slide. Then when I went to get dressed, I discovered that one of my Knickie-Sues had done a runner!"

"Errr" Hermione twitched nervously, "Are you saying that a pair of underwear was stolen?"

Tonks nodded. "I know that stuff happens all the time to the Harpies." She winked at Ginny. "But it seemed a bit daft at Auror headquarters."

"Were they clean or dirty?" Ryan asked analytically... then he froze with a look of mortification etching itself deeply into his face.

Tonks pinned Ryan with an evil grin that propelled him very low in his seat. "Listen Honey Bun. If you intend to tell me all about your private leisure interests, then you might want to wait 'til my fiancé isn't in the room."

"Erk..." Ryan protested.

"Ahem!" Hermione broke in loudly. "All jests aside, please. For the purposes of this investigation, Ryan's question is not only relevant, but potentially quite important. So which is it — clean or dirty?"

Ryan exhaled and gave the older student a furtive look of relief and gratitude. Tonks, meanwhile, offered Hermione a cheeky sneer. "Ever the spoilsport, eh Granger? The answer is 'dirty'."

"I assume that's bad news," Harry stated soberly. "One would have thought we could rely on a bit better security at Auror Headquarters."

Tonks nodded. "A combination of being short-handed and the fact that we went on the offensive after Voldemort died, I suppose. I don't think anyone has been expecting any Death Eaters to actually try something right on at our own home ground." She glanced at Williamsons, who nodded with a frown.

"I guess you'll want to take a few matters into your own hands, Tonks," Harry suggested. "Do you think you can amp up the personal wards around your locker?"

"Already done, Guv." She nodded with committed sobriety.

"And Occlumency?" Harry pursued.

"Class starts tomorrow — I promise I'll give it my best!" Tonks gave him an earnest look.

The table went silent for a long moment. Ginny glanced around and her gaze settled on Williamson. "Well, I'd say that good progress has been made in a very short amount of time." She then turned back to face Ryan and Hermione. "But if the victim's clothing hypothesis holds up, then we're likely confronted with the added question of how Lestrange has been able to enhance the Bocio's magic?"

"Tox report on the Firewhisky came back negative," Tonks related.

"Right." Ginny nodded. "So no obvious link there,"

"Yes, nothing direct anyway," Harry agreed. "But based on this morning's chat with Teri, I may have a glimmer of a different scheme. I believe Lestrange may somehow have used Teri's presence to amplify the command on Ron, and as a conduit for attacking me."

"Presence? As in, Teri acting like a..." Ginny paused for a moment as she recalled an old Colin Creevey tangent. "Focal lens!"

Harry frowned for a moment, then nodded. "Good one."

Ginny smiled momentarily, then turned her focus on Tonks. "Hmmm... Could she also have used you as a means for confounding Remus? Tracey Davis to get to Nott?"

Tonks shrugged wide-eyed.

Lupin shifted uneasily. "Eh, well, perhaps..." A troubled look crossed his face.

Tonks watched him, then nodded. "Yes, maybe. I need to think about it..."

"We'll have to compare details from case to case in order to understand how the magic might have manifested," Williamson interjected. "Tonks, can you go and talk to the girl out at Dolwyddelan?"

"No can do, matey," Tonks replied.

"And why not?" Williamson's eyebrow spiked irritably.

"Mum says that the girl will only talk to Harry," Tonks explained. "No substitutes."

"What barmy nonsense is that, Tonks?!" Williamson glared impatiently at the faces around the table. "Why shouldn't she talk to you? She's your own first bloody cousin!"

Tonks scowled at him. "Ah well. Blood doesn't seem to factor into the girl's..."

"Blood?" Lupin mused softly.

"Blood lineage?" Hermione clarified, nodding enthusiastically.

"Yeah, there's a thought! So Teri's probably Lestrange's daughter." Harry tapped his lips. "Tonks is Lestrange's niece. I wonder if Tracey Davis is...?"

"Related?" Ryan inferred. "Yes she is... give me a minute..." The student gazed at the ceiling as he sifted facts around in his head. "Tracey's maternal grandmother was Hilda Rosier, sister to Druella Rosier, who was Bellatrix's mother. That makes Tracey a second cousin to both Teri and Auror Tonks."

Hermione started at Ryan in amazement. "Since when is any fifteen-year-old boy a fount of genealogy facts?"

Ryan shrugged. "Most Slytherins are taught all that drivel around when we learn our first letters. Lineage is how pure blood parents determine who their children should be friends with." He offered a twisted half-smile.

The table fell silent as everyone digested the information. Tonks hummed in thought for a moment. "So maybe there are a bunch of us dear little cousins running about unknowingly spreading Auntie Trixie's good cheer?"

"That's a very jaunty way of looking at it," Harry agreed with a wry smirk. "Maybe I should visit Tracey sometime soon and see if she's willing to talk about the Diagon Alley incident?"

Everyone nodded... except for Williamson. "We're going to leave the Davis girl out of the investigation for now," he stipulated with bland inflexibility.

"And why exactly is that?" Humour and patience evapourated from Ginny's face as she turned to once again face the Auror.

"The Davis, Parkinson and Nott incident is the most tenuous link of all, and it's far too easy to explain in terms of youthful irresponsibility, mental instability and alcohol," Williamson replied. "Besides, too many people have already been privy to these highly hypothetical and very disturbing allegations about some sort of mind control plot. If we keep tipping more people off about an investigation like this, we could have a panic on our hands!"

"Some of us actually know how to broach issues discreetly," Ginny seethed into her coffee cup.

Harry tapped the table coldly and unpleasantly. "And some of us prefer not to risk leaving important insight or problematic risks unattended."

"I have seniority here, and my decision stands," Williamson decreed. "We will not question Davis, Parkinson or Ted Nott. Period. We will also not question any other people not hitherto discussed without my expressed approval."

A stoney silence fell about a table now split equally between expressions of rigid anger and obvious discomfort.

After a long moment, Ginny took a deep breath and quietly surveyed the gathering. She sighed. "We're not likely to make any more progress today, and the noon-time bells sounded a while ago. Dobby has catered a spread for us up in our quarters. Can I interest any of you in the finest fare Hogwarts can offer?"

Lupin and Tonks agreed immediately. Hermione appeared to be wavering. "I'm not sure, Ginny — I've barely seen Ron all week and he's getting a bit tetchy..."

"Drag him along, Hermione — tell him we'll have extra puddings!" Harry smiled at her as he began pulling his scrolls together. "How about you two — Ryan? Auror Williamson?"

"Sorry," Ryan replied. "Potions homework."

"Prior obligations," Williamson answered gruffly, "but thank you anyway."

As Harry, Ginny, Lupin, Tonks and Hermione climbed the stairs to go find Ron in Gryffindor Tower, Harry and Lupin fell a few steps back of the loquacious females. Harry threw an arm about his friend's shoulders. "Nice to have you back here in the hallowed halls, Remus."

Lupin grinned. "Yes it is nice, isn't it? Standing up in front of those bright young faces will never get old for me, but I also have to admit that it's wonderful bumping into Minerva, Filius and Hagrid every day, and especially you and Ginny. There's something special about getting the old friends together again, don't you think?"

Harry nodded reflectively. Old friends. New adventure.

The small flame poured dreamily upward from the wick. It jostled feverishly every five seconds, perturbed by the soft puffs of the girl's breath, before resuming its wraith-like shape.

Face illuminated by only the pale flickering glow, the girl sat in deathly stillness in the darkest corner of a dorm known for its dusky gloom. A large text lay forgotten in front of her as her wide eyes tracked the dancing flare, staring through its candescence toward invisible mysteries lurking in some dark place beyond.

The charms essay beneath her forearm remained incomplete — just as it had for the last forty minutes of her now-wasted free period. The quill in her hand had trailed off part way through a sentence; in sudden unexplained spasm it had pierced straight through the parchment and snapped its tip, but none of that seemed to trouble her.

She let the quill slide to the desk; her hand reached slowly toward her face and grasped a loose strand of hair dangling in her field of vision. With deliberate care, her thumb and fore finger closed around the filament, poised to gently move it to the side.

Motion ceased again. Several quiet breaths passed unnoticed.

Snap!

In a sudden wrenching jab, the hair was forcibly yanked from its roots. It quivered, trapped within the girl's vice-like grip.

Ever so slowly, the hand returned to the center of her field of vision, honing in on the lone candle. With the precision of a surgeon, she jabbed the tip of the hair straight into the heart of the flame. With a sharp, nearly instantaneous spark, the fibre hissed and coiled into a tight little ball of charred, disordered protein. A small tongue of smoke wafted up and was gone.

Apparently intrigued with the effect, she began moving the bundled, charred end closer to the flame to reignite, when...

"Oi! Space Pixie!" Pansy Parkinson shouted. "Quit messing with the candle and join me for lunch."

Tracey Davis let the hair fall to the desk, and turned to smile blandly. She rose from her dark corner of the seventh year girls dorm, blew out the candle and walked past her puzzled, frowning prefect, out of the room and down the hallway toward the Slytherin Common Room.


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