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Darkness stretched from Harry’s feet. His shadow spread from his toes to drown wildflower fields, white pebbles and willow leaves. A tide of ink-black crept higher and higher, cold as ice, and full of hungry little teeth that tore small chunks from his flesh as the dark crept up his legs.
‘Fleur,’ he whispered.
Her name echoed over the blackness as it lapped about his thighs.
‘Fleur?’ Chill fingers clamped around his heart and he forced himself to twist about in the stomach-high darkness. ‘Fleur?’
A shadow hung above him, soft as summer shade, dancing as if it were cast by candlelight, and growing fainter still.
She’s gone. Tears leaked from beneath his lashes and trickled down his cheeks. He caught one upon his finger and held it up before his eyes. A droplet of darkness hung from his skin, dripping into the cold lake as it surged up past Harry’s shoulders. All these tears…
‘Enough to drown in,’ Fleur whispered in his ear.
He twisted about.
The shadow faded away above him into nothing and the dark spilt into his mouth, its chill so fierce it burnt the feeling from his tongue.
She’s gone. Harry closed his eyes and let the black lake swallow him, drifting down into the dark. There’re no dreams left now.
Fingers curled ‘round his shoulder and dragged him deeper. ‘Mon Cœur…’
He opened his eyes and found Fleur’s summer sky irises a finger’s length from his face. ‘Fleur…’
‘Were you dreaming?’ she asked, brushing her silver hair over her shoulder. ‘You kept tossing and turning.’
‘It wasn’t a great dream.’ He rested his forehead against hers and sighed. ‘I have to go back and think of some excuse as to where I was.’
‘I woke you up early,’ Fleur said. ‘You’ve got time.’
I didn’t leave through the Chamber of Secrets. He sat bolt upright and a chill rushed through his veins. Merde. Dumbledore knows I left the castle…
‘I wasn’t thinking straight when I left last night,’ he whispered. ‘I didn’t sneak out. Dumbledore will know I was away, I’ve ruined my alibi.’
‘Are you sure?’ Fleur asked. ‘If you’re sure, you mustn’t go back at all.’
He took a deep breath and ran through the events in his head. ‘No… No it’s okay. I killed Snape using the time-turner two and a half hours before I met with Dumbledore, when everyone could see me in the common room. I displayed his body in Hogsmeade while I was sitting with Dumbledore. I left after our meeting would’ve ended.’
Fleur slipped a finger under his chin and tilted his head up to meet her eyes. ‘Are you sure? If there’s even the slightest risk…’
‘I’m sure.’ He mustered a grin. ‘Sure enough that it’s worth returning. Only Dumbledore will know I left, he’ll assume I came to see you and even though the timing is suspicious, my alibi is watertight.’ Harry took a deep breath. ‘There are six horcruxes, not three. The diary, the diadem, and a ring are all destroyed. Voldemort’s familiar is another.’ Ice coursed through his veins. ‘And then there’s a locket and a goblet. Dumbledore is searching for them.’
She held his gaze with calm, blue eyes. ‘It doesn’t matter how many there are. We’ll find them and destroy them.’
‘Dumbledore will find the last two objects or we will.’ Harry gathered his faith. ‘We can kill the snake when we go after Voldemort, it’s always around him.’
‘Back you go, then, mon Cœur.’ She pressed a gentle kiss to his lips. ‘The full moon is in a week, I’ll see you then. It’s not so long.’
It’s far too long. Harry’s heart sank and he caught the same flicker in Fleur’s blue eyes. But only for a little bit longer. Once I’ve my NEWTs, we never have to do this again.
‘Au revoir,’ he murmured and apparated into the fringe of the Forbidden Forest.
Gryffindor tower’s shadow stretched before the dawn to the edge of the trees. Harry transfigured his clothes back into school robes and sprinted across the grass into the school. He crept along empty corridors past sleeping paintings until he reached the snoozing Fat Lady.
‘Where have you been?’ Hermione descended the staircase from above. ‘Sneaking about during curfew?’
‘I would never do such a terrible thing,’ he replied, noting the mud on her feet. ‘But it seems like someone else has been out of bounds this morning. You weren’t sneaking, were you?’
She flushed and vanished the mud from her shoes. ‘I couldn’t sleep. Parvati was having another nightmare.’
‘Still not a good reason.’ Harry shook his head in mock disappointment and tutted. ‘You could have been killed, or worse, expelled.’
‘You have broken every rule in the school,’ she retorted.
‘Most of them with you beside me.’
Hermione’s shoulders sagged. ‘They were good times.’ She edged down the steps, lingering on the last. ‘I am sorry about your wand, you know. I didn’t mean to break it. I know it was really precious to you, I should’ve just said sorry, but I didn’t want you to think I meant to and then everything else happened.’
‘I overreacted. Everyone else had already turned against me, it seemed inevitable you would. What’s done is done. You can’t change the past, not unless you’ve been gifted another time-turner?’
A faint smile crossed Hermione’s lips. ‘No time-turner. I’m amazed I was given one, actually. I think Dumbledore pulled strings so he had one around just in case it was important. I read up on them because I was curious about the arithmancy and they’re really bad for you. They put a lot of strain on your mind.’
‘Hogwarts isn’t exactly the safest of schools,’ Harry said. ‘I would know, I nearly die every year. If I were a suspicious person, I’d wonder if there wasn’t some conspiracy going on.’ He pried the Fat Lady’s portrait open with a wordless confundo and a tug. ‘Have you and Ron been stealing from my family’s vaults and plotting to murder me?’
‘We aren’t plotting anything.’ Hermione trailed him through the passage into the common room. ‘I can’t say I’m as certain about you, Harry.’
‘I was intending to steal your potions textbook,’ Harry admitted, taking a seat on the sofa closest to the fire. ‘It looked like there was some interesting stuff in there.’
‘That’s not what—’
Nev stumbled down the stairs, rubbing his eyes and yawning.
‘Morning, Nev,’ Harry called. ‘How’ve you been?’
‘Sleeping,’ Neville replied. ‘I have been sleeping.’
Harry looked all around him, feigning confusion. ‘Where’s Hannah?’
‘Too early,’ Nev grumbled, throwing a cushion from a nearby chair.
Harry summoned it into his left hand and dropped it behind him on the sofa.
‘That’s cheating.’ Nev collapsed into the chair opposite and glanced at Hermione, who scuttled across into the other chair. ‘Anything exciting happen yesterday when you were with Dumbledore?’
‘Not really…’ Harry smothered a small smile. ‘Just a long chat in his office. It sent me to sleep so well that I came back and went straight to bed. The only person that turned in earlier than me was Hermione.’
‘Well,’ Nev said. ‘If you want excitement, then you need only wait ‘til lunch or come back to the DA. We’re starting to try actual duelling now.’
‘Oh?’ Harry stifled a flicker of paranoia. ‘What’s happening at lunch?’
‘It’s another one of Slughorn’s parties.’ Nev grinned. ‘You get to take Katie, since she has elected herself your platonic date, we get to watch Romilda throw another tantrum, and you have to explain it all to Fleur.’
‘Fleur doesn’t mind,’ Harry said.
She definitely minds. She just prefers the girl she knows.
‘Doesn’t she?’ Hermione’s eyebrows disappeared into her hairline.
‘Well.’ Harry grimaced. ‘She says that she wants me to take Katie, but…’
A silver flamingo accosted Nev, flapping its wings at him and bursting into mist.
‘Breakfast for me,’ Nev said, hopping out of his chair and heading for the exit. ‘Catch you later.’
‘You know,’ Hermione murmured.
‘Katie?’ Harry feigned a deep frown. ‘Quidditch player? Really short, messy hair, terrible sense of humour? No idea.’
‘You do, don’t you?!’ Hermione balled her fists and bit her lip. ‘And you just let her!’
‘Let her what?’ He let a little ice into his tone. ‘Be my friend? Are you jealous she kept what you threw away?’
‘No,’ Hermione hissed. ‘You let her do everything short of throwing herself at you naked. And for what!? Just to get a thrill of power over her? She’d do anything—‘
‘We’re not having this conversation. My relationships and my friendships are none of your business, and you’ve only yourself to blame.’
Hermione huffed, throwing herself from the sofa and stalking out of the common room toward breakfast.
‘What was that about?’ Katie hovered on the stairs.
‘Nothing important,’ Harry said.
‘Uh huh.’ Katie swallowed. ‘So that’s why I heard my name a handful of times on the way down is it?’
Harry shot a dark look in the direction of the closing portrait. If she knows I know, it could ruin everything.
‘Not going to tell me, then.’ Her face fell. ‘It’s okay, I can guess what it was about.’
‘Well, we don’t need to talk about it if you’ve already guessed.’ Harry gestured toward the passage out. ‘Breakfast?’
Katie stared at him. Her shoulders slumped. ‘Breakfast,’ she whispered.
She knows I know. He watched her bite her nails and trail him through the corridors in the corner of his eye. It’s not going to be the same, now.
Harry took a seat in the middle of the table and poked the plate of bacon in Katie’s direction, casting a covert charm upon it to check for aconite or anything similarly bad for her health. ‘Do your worst,’ he challenged.
A faint smile passed across her face and she tugged a single slice onto her place, poking it around with the tip of her knife.
Katie… Harry searched for some words, but all that sprang to mind was the endless dark of the dreamless world. I’m sorry, wishes like these just almost never come true.
‘I have project work with McGonagall almost all day today,’ he moaned. ‘I thought it would just be the odd thing here and there, but she wants me to change over and over.’
‘Change?’ Katie glanced up from her plate. ‘Change what?’
‘Change me. She’s researching something to do with the boundary between human-to-animal self-transfiguration and animagus changes,’ Harry said.
‘You’re an animagus?‘ Katie blurted. ‘Since when?’
‘No.’ Harry laughed and shook his head. ‘I know my form and can transfigure myself into it with a wand. There’s a big difference. Want to guess what animal?’
Katie plucked her toast off her plate and munched on it. ‘Probably something evil. Are you a snake?’
‘Hmmm.’ She swallowed a mouthful of toast and brushed crumbs from the corner of her mouth, tugging the bacon plate back across. ‘You’re right, that’s not cool enough. You must be some kind of giant wolf, the alpha of the pack, or a basilisk…’
‘I’m not any kind of snake,’ he said. ‘And I don’t even want to know the logic behind the wolf thing.’
‘Oh it’s very simple.’ Katie beamed and swept a stack of bacon onto her plate. ‘You’re an apex, alpha, direwolf predator, and your alpha wolf instincts are the reason you have so many girlfriends. It’s ok to have a harem if you’re an alpha wolf animagus.’
‘Right…’ Harry rolled his eyes. ‘Well, as I’m not a… whatever wolf, that’d explain my lack of harem.’
‘Well if it’s not a cool form, then it’ll have to be a really cute or embarrassing one,’ she said. ‘Is it a kitten? Or a snail?’
‘Neither of those is even close. You are terrible at this.’
‘Is it a fish?’
He snorted. ‘Why on earth would I be a fish? And what kind of fish would I even be?’
‘A swordfish.’ Katie waggled her eyebrows at him, putting her bacon sandwich together with enough ketchup to drown someone in. ‘Perfect for slicing through the straps of seashell bras.’
He chuckled. ‘Sadly, I’m not any kind of fish.’
She hummed and took a bite of her sandwich. ‘Oh!’ Katie snapped her fingers and gulped down her mouthful. ‘It’s something edgy!’
‘No it isn’t.’
‘What’s an edgy animal?’ Katie mused.
‘It’s not an edgy animal.’
‘Is it a crow?’
Harry raised a finger. ‘Ok, yes, it is a raven, but that doesn’t make it edgy!’
‘It’s as edgy as it gets.’ Katie’s tone wavered. ‘And quite similar to a crow…’
Harry recalled a crow of silver mist bobbing its head around Katie’s ankles in the Room of Requirement and forced his smile not to slip. ‘Yeah, they’re fairly similar. Crows aren’t as maligned though, they’re more mischievous and playful.’
‘Crows are better. They’re more fun, and they don’t eat the intestines of dead things.’
‘Yes they do,’ Harry said. ‘That’s why they’ve shorter feathers on their heads, so they can stick their head inside without getting their feathers all messy. If you’re a crow animagus, you’ll be out there snacking on dead squirrels.’
Katie pouted and patted at her hair. ‘I hope McGonagall makes you a raven permanently.’
‘No you don’t.’ Harry grinned. ‘I’d come and fly around your face during quidditch and distract you.’ He ducked as Hedwig swooped down onto the table and deposited a sizable box of crystallised fruit.
‘I would get our new beaters to use you for target practice,’ Katie retorted, inspecting the box. ‘They need it.’
‘Quidditch not going well?’ Harry raised an eyebrow and shook his head at her. ‘It’s not for you.’
‘Not as well as it used to,’ she confessed. ‘We’re still winning, but it’s a bit… disjointed, without Angelina and Alicia, and Fred and George, not to mention our star seeker is still not playing for his house for reasons only known to him.’
‘Someone stole his broom,’ Harry muttered.
Katie giggled. ‘You’d need it back to play, wouldn’t you?’ She beamed. ‘Good thing Ginny’s pretty good, then.’
‘I’m never getting that back, am I?’
‘You can have it back over my dead body.’ Katie scarfed down the rest of her sandwich. ‘So, apart from being turned into a bird, what else are you doing?’
‘Hmmm, let’s see.’ Harry feigned thought. ‘In order of difficulty. Transfiguration project, my NEWTs, hiding from Romilda, enduring Slughorn’s brunch party, and getting my Firebolt back off you.’
‘Sounds like a good list. I have nothing to do except quidditch practice this evening, and Charms this morning.’
‘And Slughorn’s party,’ Harry said. ‘I’m not taking Romilda and Neville is playing hard to get, so that means you have to come and endure it with me.’
Katie’s face lit up with a huge smile . ‘You’re not blonde enough for Neville.’ Her face fell a little and she squirmed. ‘Wait, Fleur won’t mind, will she? I don’t want to cause any trouble.’
‘I asked her,’ Harry said. ‘She’d rather I went with you than anyone else. I think she trusts you not to love potion me or try anything else nefarious.’
‘She does?’ Katie narrowed her eyes. ‘She didn’t strike me as anything other than the extremely jealous type. Did you actually ask her or are you just telling me you did?’
‘I asked.’ Harry studied his fingernails. ‘After the last party, I thought I should.’
Katie’s lips twisted. ‘And she said yes.’
‘It was definitely more to do with me not going with someone like Romilda,’ Harry replied. ‘But you’re my best friend, she knows I’m not going to stop spending time with you just because she pouts at me.’ A small, soft smile crept onto his lips. ‘Especially since it’s a very cute pout.’
‘I bet you love it,’ Katie muttered. ‘You go with me and enjoy the party, then you go back to Fleur after she’s all wound up and jealous and enjoy the result of that.’
‘You know, I’d actually not thought about that.’ Harry grinned. ‘But now I definitely will. I bet she’ll want to keep my attention focused exclusively on her all night. Maybe I can convince her to wear a sea-shell bra.’
‘Sea-shell bras are my thing. Frenchie has more than enough going for her already.’ Katie’s brow creased. ‘I only have that green dress, by the way, but I can charm it different colours.’
‘It’s fine, come however you want.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I’ll transfigure something to match when I see you.’
Katie rolled her eyes. ‘Boys. You should really buy some actual dress robes, Harry.’
‘Fleur’s parents bought me some.’ He swung himself out from under the bench and plucked his box of crystallised fruit from the table. ‘I think they’re still in France. I’ll meet you at the party, I have to go be a raven for a bit now.’
‘You’re hopeless.’ She waved him goodbye as he trudged toward McGonagall’s office.
Harry wandered through the corridors, watching third year Ravenclaw girls scatter from his path, blushing like mad and whispering to one another. Right. Luna Lovegood’s seduction story. I should probably do something about that, it’s only going to encourage the Romildas. He paused before McGonagall’s office and knocked, then opened the door.
‘Mr Potter?’ McGonagall said. ‘You’re a little late.’
‘I was waylaid at breakfast.’
‘Try not to let it happen again, Mr Potter. This project will require considerably more effort from myself without your assistance, enough to make it almost untenable.’
‘Right.’ McGonagall strode around the edge of her desk. ‘Straight to work, then.’
‘Which bit of me am I changing?’ Harry asked, flicking his wand out and placing the box of sweets beneath the nearest chair.
‘I trust, Mr Potter, that you have read the things I asked you to?’
‘I have,’ Harry said. ‘It was interesting.’
‘In stages, then.’ A hint of a smile passed across McGonagall’s face. ‘Start with your hair into feathers, then your skin, then your bones, and onward until you are a raven. I shall observe, and note the point at which your behaviour changes.’
‘Wonderful,’ Harry muttered.
The sense of the raven prickled in the back of his mind as ebony feathers sprouted from his skin; its tingle grew stronger and stronger as he changed his skin, his bones, and began to swell through him as he moved onto the soft tissue.
Bright-thing. He cocked his head and studied the gleaming round shape on the dead-wood in front of him. Food?
‘Redeo.’ Old-female-two-legs-no-wings jabbed a dead-wood stick at him.
Harry stumbled into the nearest chair and shook off the raven. ‘That’s very strange.’
‘Biscuit, Mr Potter.’ McGonagall waved a tartan-patterned tin under his nose. ‘They’re ginger.’
‘Thanks,’ Harry selected the least battered looking one and bit a corner off.
Probably the safest thing I’ve eaten in a while.
‘It’s quite nice,’ Harry said, taking a larger bite of the biscuit. ‘I’m not a huge fan of ginger, really. Petunia used to drink a lot of elderflower and ginger cordial in summer at her little neighbourhood gatherings.’
‘Your aunt.’ McGonagall’s expression soured. ‘I never had the pleasure of meeting her.’
‘Don’t feel too bad,’ Harry quipped. ‘It wouldn’t have been all that pleasant.’
A soft knock came at the door.
‘I’m not interrupting, am I?’ Dumbledore poked his head and half the length of his beard around the door frame.
McGonagall smiled. ‘Not at all, headmaster.’
‘Good.’ He cracked a wide smile and swept into the room, rubbing his bright-gloved hands together. ‘I wanted to see this handsome raven for myself.’
Of course you did. Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes. You’re not sure whether I managed to deceive McGonagall, or if I’m genuinely not an animagus.
‘Did you know, Harry,’ Dumbledore said. ‘That one of the few ways to tell between an animagus and a simple transfiguration is the homenum revelio spell? It’s a little known fact, but that particular revealing charm relies on detecting a similar soul to that of the caster, so it won’t show magical animals, but would reveal an animagus.’
‘Interesting,’ Harry said. ‘That’s a much nicer kind of soul magic than the others you’ve told me about.’
‘Quite so.’ Dumbledore smiled. ‘I don’t, and no wizard or witch that I am aware of does, exactly understand how, but a full transfiguration into an animal also changes the soul, though an animagus transformation does not. I would hazard a guess it has to do with the perception of self.’
That’s probably a good guess, if it’s a guess at all.
‘You could have told me this before, Albus,’ McGonagall snapped. ‘That would have been a most useful piece of information for this project.’
‘Oh.’ Dumbledore ran his fingers through his beard. ‘I must admit that I had not considered that. Would you like to test it, Minerva?’
Sure you didn’t. Harry smothered his scepticism before it showed. And you definitely weren’t just saving it to show up and have a reason to see and test my change.
‘Well.’ Harry kept his face innocent. ‘I can transfigure myself to see if it works, professor?’
‘That would be very kind of you, Harry.’ Dumbledore pulled his pale, carved wand from his sleeve. ‘I would quite like to see this raven that Professor McGonagall mentioned, too. Should you ever find yourself teaching, you will realise that there’s a great deal of pride and joy to be taken in the achievements of those under your care.’
And their sacrifice, in my case. Harry pushed himself out of the chair, letting the sense of the raven envelop him as he changed.
He hopped onto the dead-wood in front of him, croaking his displeasure at the cold wash of alive-not-alive power and eyeing the shining round thing under his feet, pushing it from side to side with his beak and watching it glitter.
Harry found himself standing on McGonagall’s desk. ‘Sorry, professor.’ He jumped down, catching the bottle cap that had been beneath his foot before it hit the floor. ‘What did you see?’
‘No red,’ Dumbledore mused. ‘You would have shown up red if you were an animagus.’
‘I’m not.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I don’t really have time. I have my NEWTs to study for and then there’s that murderous sociopath waiting out there to disrupt my education again.’
‘Nobody becomes an animagus after a few weeks, Mr Potter,’ McGonagall said. ‘It usually takes months.’
Dumbledore sighed and pushed the door to the office closed. ‘I must confess I did not come here just to see Harry’s form. Another Order member has lost their life.’
‘Another?’ McGonagall sagged into her chair. ‘There are not many of us left, Albus.’ She pursed her lips. ‘You should go, Mr Potter. I think we are done for today in the light of this news.’
‘No,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Harry should stay to hear this, it pertains to him.’
‘Who?’ McGonagall asked, her face paling. ‘Not another of the Weasleys?’
‘Severus,’ Dumbledore murmured.
‘Severus…’ McGonagall blinked. ‘But—’
‘Tom finally discovered his deception, it seems. The manner in which his body was found can mean little else.’ Dumbledore bowed his head. ‘Without him, I fear we are as blind as we were at the start of the first war, and this time Tom is being much more clever.’
‘Snape is dead?’ Harry asked. ‘How?’
‘As you know, Professor Snape acted as our spy at great personal risk,’ Dumbledore said. ‘He died for the one he loved, or, I suppose, he died for her memory and the child she left behind. There is no death more noble than the sacrifice he has made; it should not be dismissed.’
He ruined something perfect. Harry felt the ice trickle through his blood and close ‘round his heart. A rare, precious, perfect wish. And he destroyed it.
‘It would have been more noble if he hadn’t betrayed her to die in the first place.’ Harry tried to keep the worst of his anger from the words, but it slipped off his tongue like water off glass.
‘I’m sure if he could have died to save your mother, he would have done so without hesitation,’ Dumbledore murmured. ‘It is not behooving to speak ill of the dead, Harry, especially not of a man so devoted to the woman he loved that he would die for not just her, but her family too.’
He didn’t die for her. He lived to destroy the one that killed her and he died because he didn’t really want to live in an empty world. Harry let his rage fade away into the void beneath. He hated my existence just as much as he must’ve been glad to see some part of my mother still existing.
‘What happened, sir?’ he asked.
‘His body was found in Hogsmeade,’ Dumbledore said. ‘Tom did not let him die easily.’
‘He was tortured?’ All the blood left McGonagall’s face.
‘Tom is not kind to those he believes have betrayed him. There is no other offence he punishes so severely.’
‘Poor Severus,’ McGonagall whispered.
‘I suppose he won’t be able to redeem himself after all,’ Harry murmured.
‘Has he not?’ Dumbledore fixed Harry with a long sad look. ‘There are few deeds an act like that cannot redeem.’ He turned back to McGonagall. ‘We are meeting at headquarters, to discuss how we will proceed now that Severus has been lost.’
Has been lost… A pawn swept from the board. Harry stifled a faint smile. And I almost believed him.
‘I have to attend Professor Slughorn’s brunch party,’ Harry said, pulling his box of sweets out from under the chair. ‘Though I assume I wasn’t invited anyway, being only adult enough to fight Voldemort and not to talk about it.’
Dumbledore frowned at the box. ‘There’re better places to find inspiration to getting permission to take your NEWT early, Harry.’
‘Crystallised pineapple, sir?’ Harry offered. ‘I’ve found I’ve developed a bit of a sweet tooth over the last year and a half and usually have something to snack on.’
‘Ah,’ Dumbledore murmured. ‘My apologies, Harry. Given the context, I’m afraid I jumped to conclusions and wished to help you avoid making a mistake.’
‘That’s ok, sir. It’s the intent that’s important, isn’t it?’
Dumbledore smiled and nodded his head. ‘I try to do everything for good intentions.’
I’m sure you do. Harry swallowed a bitter taste and a touch of cold wrath. I shall see you on the road to hell, Dumbledore.
He left McGonagall’s office and hurried toward Slughorn’s brunch party, side-stepping a gaggle of first year boys chasing an enchanted paper aeroplane, and pausing before the door to Slughorn’s lab.
‘You’re early, Harry.’ Slughorn trundled down the corridor and fumbled his key into the door, leading Harry into the room. ‘That’s an interesting looking box you have there. A present for your date?’
‘A gift for you, sir.’ He hid a small smile and set the box down on the desk. ‘I heard that it’s your favourite.’
Slughorn laughed and patted his belly. ‘You spoil this old man. You were quite right that it’s my favourite—’ his hand froze over the box ‘—you didn’t have a question, did you…?’
Harry leant on the back of the chair. ‘I just wondered if you’d put any thought into letting me take my NEWT early.’
‘Well…’ Slughorn let out a little sigh. ‘Nothing dark about that.’
‘Dark, sir?’ Harry stifled a laugh.
‘Don’t worry, m’boy!’ Slughorn clapped his hands together. ‘I’ll write your note this evening.’
And four out of four. Harry squashed the flash of triumph. Nearly free.
‘Thank you, sir.’ He grinned. ‘I need to get changed. If you’ll excuse me?’
‘Of course, Harry! Can’t come to one of my parties dressed in school robes, what would Miss Bell think?’ His eyes turned sly and his fingers drifted to tug at his moustache. ‘Or should that be Miss Delacour?’
‘No girl could ever condone such terrible form from their date.’
‘Indeed not.’ Slughorn’s fingers dropped back to his side. ‘Off you go then!’
Katie lingered outside in blue and silver, shuffling her feet and studying the background of the painting of a witch wearing an opulent silk dress. A faint smile flitted across her lips as she caught sight of Harry and she twirled. ‘I made it blue and silver,’ she whispered. ‘I thought that it was the best choice.’
Katie… A little pang tore through Harry’s chest. Why would you do that to yourself?
‘It looks nice,’ Harry murmured, wrapping her up into a hug. ‘I hope you didn’t have to kill Romilda?’
Katie giggled and curled her fingers into his robes. ‘Romilda was quite cross. I think she hoped to catch you before I was around to fend her off, but apparition classes are very close to here, so I had a head start.’
‘Damn.’ Harry slipped out of her embrace and transfigured his robes to match hers. ‘And I was so hoping to spend the party with her.’
‘She’s not so bad, really.’ Katie’s smile wavered. ‘Of course, she doesn’t know anything about you other than you’re vaguely attractive and famous.’
‘Better than the other sort.’ Harry grinned. ‘The ones that have a copy of our article on their bedroom walls beside the handcuffs are the ones that worry me.’
Other couples drifted past them into the room.
‘Shall we go in?’ Katie suggested. ‘I’m hungry.’
‘You should’ve eaten more breakfast,’ he scolded. ‘Some girl once told me it was the most important meal of the day, but then she stole all the bacon, so I’m not sure I should trust her.’
‘Sounds like that girl knew what she was talking about.’ Katie laughed and perused the plates, pausing before a dish of sugar-dusted fruit pastries.
Harry caught her hand as she reached to grab one. ‘Not before everyone’s here, bacon thief.’
‘Spoilsport.’ Her fingers lingered in Harry’s and she squirmed, refusing to meet his eyes. ‘Those looked good.’
Katie… He took a deep breath and eased his hand out of her grip, looping it through Katie’s arm instead. I almost wish I didn’t know.
Across from them, Malfoy caught Harry’s eye and raised his goblet in a mocking toast, inclining his head. ‘You missed Defence Against the Dark Arts, Potter.’ He sneered. ‘Couldn’t face it?’
‘Forgot about it, actually.’ Harry leant back in his chair and returned Astoria’s wave with a brief smile. ‘Some of us are good enough not to have to worry, I suppose.’
‘You’ll get yours, Potter.’ Malfoy glowered, then turned away to mutter to Pansy Parkinson.
I’m going to make sure of it. Harry smiled to himself and sipped his glass of water. My perfect wish.