11: A Trip and a Trap
I know it's been a while - but I've been both busy with other stories I've released in the meantime and being struck with various RL issues.
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
Have you heard the tale told of the beta - Or Perhaps HeThatFindsProblems? No? Well, check Wikipedia, it's in there somewhere.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: A TRIP AND A TRAP
Harry paced around the small room, waited impatiently for Dobby to return. Although if he admitted to himself, it was really his own fault for calling out the unknown gift address.
After a few interminable minutes, the house elf finally returned, carrying a tin of some sort. He looked over at Harry and shook his head.
"Does Harriet Potter know where she plans to go?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I just accidentally said the wrong name. No harm done."
Dobby sighed and gave Harry the tin of Floo powder. "Harriet Potter must be more careful and even more careful at Hogwarts! There is great danger planned."
"I know!" Harry said a bit peevishly. "I'll be keeping an eye out, all right? And besides..." Harry managed a sly grin. "You'll be around to warn me without disobeying your family, right?"
Dobby nodded his head frantically. "Yes, Dobby will need to be here most of the time, but he will come to Hogwarts as often as possible."
"Right then," Harry turned to the fire and took out a pinch of Floo powder. "I think that's all he used." He tossed the powder into the fire, which instantly turned the familiar green color. Harry cautiously felt for any remaining heat, but it seemed to be working, as the heat was gone.
Harry paused a moment, trying to recall precisely which address it was... something on Canton Street, wasn't it? Yes, that sounded right.
"697 Canton Street!" Harry made sure to enunciate clearly, and then turned to wave at Dobby, who seemed about to cry in happiness and relief. After that bit of awkwardness, Harry stepped through the fire.
Once again, he found himself spinning through flames and then summarily ejected into an unfamiliar, albeit somewhat nice room. A sort of generic room, with hard wooden floors and sturdy-looking furniture.
And then Harry realized that someone was sitting on one of the chairs. A blond, bespectacled boy, reading a book - Harry thought he was one of the Ravenclaws in his year, but he couldn't quite remember his name.
The boy looked up at the commotion and almost jumped up in shock.
"Harriet Potter? What are you doing here?"
Harry groaned and got to his feet, still a bit dizzy after the Floo travel. "I think I made a mistake. I was trying to get to the Patils."
The boy blinked. "Oh, I see what you mean. We're 697, but the Patils are at 679. They're down the street - I can walk you there, if you like."
Harry brightened and nodded. "Sure, that would be great!"
"Come on then!" The boy put down his book and led Harry through a few rooms to the front door.
"Is anyone else home?" Harry asked.
"My dad's somewhere around," the boy said. "He does a lot of research stuff from home. My Mum's at work, though." He opened the door and waited for Harry to go first.
Harry chuckled a bit to himself. Many times at Hogwarts people would open doors for him because they thought he was a girl - a bit that wasn't so bad, in the grand scheme of things.
As they walked down the street, Harry began to feel a bit embarrassed at his inability to remember the boy's name.
"Listen," he said slowly. "I don't want to offend you, but I can't quite recall your name."
"Oh!" The boy look surprised. "I suppose perhaps I shouldn't be all that shocked. Although we do have some classes together, I don't think we've ever worked in a group. I'm Anthony Goldstein." He held out his hand to Harry, who was only too happy not to deal with something more awkward.
"Sorry, Anthony," Harry apologized. "I guess I don't really talk to many people outside my study group."
Anthony chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, everyone knows about that. Six Gryffindors and one Ravenclaw. I think some people were offended that they weren't asked to join."
Harry scowled. "Well, that's silly. I mean, it kinda just grew naturally. Padma only joined because Parvati's in Gryffindor."
"Makes sense," Anthony shrugged. "To be honest, a lot of people were glad." He bit his lip, looking like he hadn't meant to say that.
"I know a lot of people don't like Padma," Harry told him. "Personally, I don't mind her little quirks, but I have heard she didn't get along with you Ravenclaws."
Anthony sighed. "It's a complicated thing. I don't have a problem with Padma, but she can be a bit abrasive at times. Most Ravenclaws love a good debate, but Padma invariably gets awfully personal. And then other people respond with personal attacks against her... well, you can imagine how that ends up."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I do. It's funny, because I think Hermione doesn't even notice anything personal like that when those two are going at it - and they do, all the time. Usually, she's too busy being highly offended by the actual content of Padma's arguments."
Anthony laughed. "That sounds like a lot of fun to hear. I'd have trouble not joining in, though."
"Most of us barely understand what they talk about though," Harry admitted with a grin. "Although maybe you're different, being in Ravenclaw and all."
"You shouldn't stereotype like that," Anthony said a bit teasingly. "Just because I'm in Ravenclaw doesn't mean I'm crazy smart." He paused and then smiled. "It's just a coincidence."
Harry couldn't help but laugh at that. "I see that modesty isn't the strong suit of Ravenclaw in the least."
"Never that," Anthony replied with a chuckle. "We do have a lot of smart folk, but it's more about where your priorities are, really. We're more the type to want to understand how something works far more than actually trying to get it to work, if you follow."
Harry nodded. "I do, actually. I think Ron - he's in Gryffindor with me - once said something like that about the differences between the two houses."
Anthony nodded. "Sure. And I know who Ron Weasley is, of course. Everyone knows about your study group, after all."
"Really?" Harry grimaced. "Is this just another stupid thing because of the Boy-Who-Lived nonsense?"
"Partially," Anthony admitted. "You have to admit, except maybe for Dumbledore, you are the most famous person at Hogwarts. Even if people don't know you personally, they're curious about you. And there are all sorts of rumors about what happened between you and Professor Quirrell last year."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I can imagine. It's a complicated story, but just to make sure there are fewer rumors out there, let's just say it involved You-Know-Who trying to steal something valuable. She was possessing Quirrell, and after she lost, she fled, abandoning the Professor for dead."
Anthony goggled slightly. "That's worse than anything I heard! I mean, some people said you had killed Quirrell in self-defense, but that's about as bad as it got."
Harry grimaced. "To be honest, I'd rather not talk about it, if you don't mind."
"Oh, right," Anthony nodded quickly. "Makes perfect sense, of course. Sorry for bringing it up."
"That's fine," Harry said in a somewhat distant tone. "I just prefer not to discuss that stuff." He paused and looked at the house numbers. "It looks like we're almost there. Are there a lot of magical families around here?"
"Actually, this street is almost entirely magical," Anthony replied. "The neighborhood isn't, but this stretch has no Muggles at all."
Harry smirked as he looked at the line of houses. "Kind a change from what I'm used to. Are there any other families I might know, I mean, other than the Patils?"
"Probably," said Anthony. "I think there's probably twenty or so kids in Hogwarts right now that leave near here. But nobody else from our year."
"Right," Harry replied. "I guess I don't really know much about the older kids. But what about you? Did you grow up around here?"
Anthony nodded. "Yeah, same house in fact. I used to come down here all the time..." The blond boy stopped talking and cleared his throat. "Never mind, that part's not important."
"Oh?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "Something you don't want to talk about? I can't imagine what that's like."
Anthony laughed. "Well, it's not so bad, I suppose. The only kids my year on the street were the Patils, so we used to play together as children. But..." He ducked his head and looked embarrassed. "It's silly, really."
Harry shrugged. "Whatever you feel comfortable with. I'd be a bad sort if I insisted you talk about that after I said I didn't want to go on about Quirrell."
"Yeah," answered Anthony with a long sigh. "It's just been a while, you know? Maybe it'd feel good to finally talk about it."
"If that's what you'd like," said Harry warily. He hoped it wouldn't be that embarrassing.
"I said before that I didn't have a problem with Padma, unlike a lot of Ravenclaw," Anthony started. "But when we were kids, we were pretty good friends. I was shy and kind of introverted, and Padma didn't like talking to most people. It was fine for a while until we decided to get married."
Harry stumbled a bit, before quickly getting back his balance. "I'm sorry - did you just say you got married?"
"Not for real!" Anthony clarified hurriedly. "We were only eight or so. Kid stuff, you know, playing around, emulating adults."
"Well, good," Harry said with a chuckle. "I was about to say that wizarding culture was quite a bit more backwards than I had realized."
Anthony nodded a bit sadly. "There's some truth there. It didn't matter that we were just kids, our parents - both mine and the Patils - were furious." He sighed and looked down at the ground. "It was a lot of 'not their kind' nonsense, not that I really understood that at the time."
"Wait a minute." Harry felt a bit confused. "Aren't you both pure-bloods?"
"Yeah, but that wasn't the issue," Anthony explained. "It's a background thing. I mean, it's weird; neither of our families are that religious, but suddenly it's all about 'protecting our heritage'."
"Um." Harry wasn't sure he had anything substantive to add.
"So that's it," Anthony said and stopped walking. "And it looks like we're here. I guess I'll see you back at Hogwarts, then?"
Harry frowned, feeling a bit bad for the Ravenclaw boy. "Are you sure you don't want to come in just to say hi?"
Anthony shook his head. "I'd better not. The Patils wouldn't be happy to see me. They still pretend not to see me in public, although my parents aren't any better."
"Well, if you say so," Harry said and held out his hand. "See you later then. Maybe Diagon Alley, but if not, there's always the Express."
"Very true," Anthony replied, shaking Harry's hand with a smile. "Have a good summer." He nodded once and started to walk back down the street towards his own house.
Harry took a deep breath and walked up to the Patils' front door, hoping they hadn't been too worried. And if they had... well, not much to do it about it now. He knocked loudly, and before he he had even pulled back his hand, the door swung open.
"Harriet!" Parvati shrieked. "Where have you been? We've been looking everywhere for you."
"Um, I accidentally went to 697 instead of here," Harry explained, fairly embarrassed by the mistake. "May I come in?"
"Of course!" Parvati stepped aside to let Harry enter. "Oh, don't forget to take off your shoes and leave them by the door next to the others."
Harry nodded. "Right, of course. And no left-handed business."
Parvati giggled. "I don't think I've ever heard it put that way. But yes, that's right. Let me just show you around; some rooms are off limits for us, depending on how late it is." She walked with Harry down the hall, passing by some interesting paintings and sculptures.
"Have you always lived in this house?" Harry asked.
"Oh, yes." Parvati nodded. "It's an old family home. Not that big, but it suits us. So obviously you can use the lavatory any time, even at night. Those rooms at the end of the hall are for my parents, so of course you can't go in unless you're invited." She grabbed Harry's hand and pulled him down another hallway. "That room on the right is our bedroom, but I'll show you that later. Um, the library is that other room over there, but first things first. You're late for dinner!"
"Oh!" Harry blinked and felt slightly embarrassed. "Yes, sorry about that."
Parvati halted and Harry stopped walking behind her. She had brought them to a sort of sitting room, where Padma and Mr. Patil sat, next to an older, pleasant looking lady who was clearly Mrs. Patil.
"Mother, Father, Harriet Potter is here."
Mr. Patil looked up from the book he was reading. "Oh, so she is. What was the problem?"
"I accidentally said the wrong number," Harry explained. "I was down the street - but um, they were nice enough to show me where you lived."
"A mistake, you say?" Mr. Patil asked.
"It was my first time with using the Floo," explained Harry.
Mr. Patil nodded. "Interesting. I had assumed you were already familiar, but I had forgotten you grew up with Muggles."
Harry was a bit surprised by this response. "You know about that?"
"Oh, I've talked a bit about you," Parvati explained hastily. She leaned over and whispered, "Nothing too private, naturally."
Harry grinned. "Naturally."
Mr. and Mrs. Patil stood up at almost the same time, in a way that almost seemed rehearsed - although for all Harry knew, perhaps it had been.
Mrs. Patil looked over at Harry and frowned. "Have you eaten yet, Miss Potter?"
"No, not at all," Harry answered, shaking his head.
"We have waited in case you had been delayed," Mrs. Patil told him. "Now we can all dine at the same time."
Harry smiled. "Great! Thanks a lot."
"Padma," Mr. Patil said a bit harshly. "Put down that book and come to dinner."
Padma looked up with a surprised expression on her face. It was subtle, but Harry had gotten fairly good at interpreting Padma's way of expressing herself.
"Oh, Harriet Potter is here." Padma looked closely at Harry. "Why were you delayed?"
Parvati huffed impatiently. "If you'd been paying attention, you'd know. Now come on, I'm starving!"
Dinner at the Patils was a subdued, but fairly pleasant affair. Growing up where he did, Harry supposed he ought to have been familiar with the food, but the Dursleys had never held much stock in "that ruddy foreign slop". But Harry found everything, for the most part, quite excellent, if a tad unusual to his palate.
"May I ask you a question, Miss Potter?" Mrs. Patil asked suddenly, causing Harry to choke a bit on some food, although he managed to clear his throat right away.
"Um, yes," he said in a slightly strained voice. "Of course."
"Parvati has told us that you are friends with Padma. Is that true?"
"Well, yes," Harry said, a bit taken aback. "We have a study group that she's a part of. Everyone else is a Gryffindor, but that's not a big deal. We get along together okay."
Mrs. Patil tapped her finger on the table, looking a bit thoughtful. "And what about this 'Granger' I've heard so much about?"
Parvati sniffed, and Harry saw her hiding a smile.
"I'm sure you're talking about Hermione Granger," Harry said with a smile of his own. "She and Padma get into some pretty spirited debates. I'll be honest, it goes over most of the rest of our heads."
"How do you mean?" Mr. Patil asked.
Harry shrugged. "Padma and Hermione are the smartest in the group - by far. But that doesn't mean they always agree, of course."
Parvati snickered softly. "No, not at all."
Mrs. Patil turned to her other daughter. "Padma, does that accurately represent the situation?"
Padma nodded. "Yes, I believe so. Ronald Weasley often mentions that we are obviously demarcated by our house affiliations based on our ethical and pecuniary leanings. It is a promising theory."
Harry leaned over and whispered to Parvati, "I don't believe I've ever heard Ron be quite that eloquent."
Parvati giggled into her hand. "Um, yes," she said aloud. "Ron likes to say that kind of thing all the time. Similar words, too."
Harry was glad he was drinking from a glass of water, otherwise he probably would have laughed aloud.
It didn't take long for Harry to settle into an easy routine at the Patil house. Both Mr. and Mrs. Patil worked during the day, so Harry and the twins were left to entertain themselves. Padma tended to spend most of her time in the library, not that this was much of a surprise to Harry, who actually didn't mind reading a bit when it wasn't about schoolwork.
In contrast, Parvati had several days worth of discussion that she simply had to talk about. It didn't take long for Harry to develop an advanced skill in acting as though he were paying attention. Mostly it involved a great deal of nodding and making supportive noises. After that, Parvati decided to give Harry a tour of the neighborhood, which was something he had been interested in, but the sheer amount of information began to overwhelm him.
Part of this was due to Harry's upbringing: he barely knew the neighbors on Privet Drive aside from the limited friends of his relatives - and even for those, he usually was not "permitted" to show his face when they visited. He had never really bothered trying to remember names and addresses before, and was spending most of his mental energy making sure he still could recall the Patil's house number.
The only time Harry ever spoke to the elder Patils was at meals, and even then, he always felt as though he were offending them in some way. Parvati would always assure him later that he had done nothing wrong, and ask why he was acting so shy anyway. Harry never really had an answer for that.
After a few days, Harry decided he would broach the subject of the acrimony between the Patils and Goldsteins, although he had to wait for just the right opportunity. He didn't think Parvati would be offended, as they had discussed sensitive matters before, and Padma - well, Harry wasn't really sure what could actually offend her.
The seemingly right moment came one day when they were all reading in the library - Parvati was reading the Quibbler, which they had all begun reading after Luna's enthusiastic endorsement. Harry was never quite sure what was true when reading the odd paper, although the twins had rather different ways of looking at it.
"Oh my word!" Parvati exclaimed suddenly as Harry waited for the right time to ask his questions. "Harriet, Padma, you read this edition, right?"
"Yeah," answered Harry. "We both did. Which story has got you so excited?"
Parvati looked back at Harry with a wicked grin. "It says that the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister is secretly a man Polyjuiced as a woman in a secret trick to seduce the Minister into an affair. That's disgusting!"
"I believe it," Padma said from behind her book. "Madame Umbridge has been the Senior Undersecretary for a short while, but she is already on the Wizengamot. It's clear that "she" is really a man in disguise. Why else would she she support banning marriage to werewolves?"
"I don't follow," Harry said in confusion.
"Neither do I," Parvati put in. "But have you seen her photo? She's ugly enough to be a man in disguise."
Padma sighed. "I don't have time to explain the logic. It's obvious. Granger would have understood."
"Probably," grumbled Parvati.
"Wait a minute," Harry said slowly. "What was that you said about some sort of juice?"
"Hmm?" Parvati looked back at him in confusion. "I didn't say anything about juice."
"Yes, you did," Padma informed her with a slight tone of annoyance. "You mentioned Polyjuice."
"Oh, yeah!" Harry nodded. "I saw that in the article, but I didn't know what it meant. On the other hand, I never really know what's true, so I didn't know if it was a real thing."
Parvati snickered. "Oh, it's real. It's an advanced kind of Potion that lets you change your shape into someone else. I'm not even sure if it's on the Hogwarts curriculum. Padma?"
"What?" Padma responded a bit acidly.
"Is it on the Hogwarts curriculum?"
"I don't know the entirety of the Potions curriculum," Padma replied curtly. "Maybe you should look it up yourself instead of always asking me."
Parvati rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Don't be so sensitive."
"That reminds me of something," Harry cut in, realizing this would be a good way to relieve the tension. "You remember how I was at the wrong house before I came here?"
"Of course," Parvati nodded. "Although I don't recall which one it was."
"It was number 697," Harry explained carefully, watching for any reaction. "A boy there, Anthony Goldstein, he walked me to your house."
"Oh," Parvati said simply and sighed. "Yes, I don't think I realized which one you said at the time. Um, did you two talk about anything?"
"Actually," replied Harry. "We did."
"You spoke to Anthony?" Padma actually looked up from her book. "Why?"
Harry shrugged. "We were walking over here, so we talked a bit about a couple of things. Um, like how you guys used to be friends."
"That was a long time ago," said Parvati. "There was a bit of a falling out between the parents."
"So he said," agreed Harry. "Something about him and Padma pretending to be married?"
Parvati smirked. "Oh, you heard about that? Merlin, but Mother and Father were furious. I didn't understand it at all at the time; to be honest, I haven't even thought about it for years."
Harry looked back and forth between the twins. "He seemed like a nice guy," he said. "And apparently he's in Ravenclaw - have you talked to him at school, Padma?"
Padma shook her head. "No. I don't really like speaking with the other Ravenclaws. Although I haven't tried speaking with Anthony since our parents forbade it several years ago."
"What?" Harry asked incredulously. "They forbade you to even talk to him?"
"Yeah," Parvati said with a nod. "But you know, parents and all that. They can get overprotective at times."
Harry suddenly had a small idea - although he wasn't sure if it'd work. "Well, I'm sure that doesn't apply to Hogwarts. Really, Padma, you should try talking to him. Maybe you could even invite him to the study group."
Padma frowned and tapped her chin thoughtfully. "All right," she said finally. "Perhaps I will."
Parvati seemed quite taken aback, and then she walked over to where Harry was sitting. "What was that about?" She whispered. "What's going on?"
Harry shrugged and smiled slightly. "Maybe I just believe in true love."
Parvati laughed and smacked Harry lightly on the shoulder. "You clever little minx. What about Hermione? Won't she be heartbroken?"
"I'm sure we can think of something," Harry said lightly with a laugh.
This little exchange had led to a series of little jokes Parvati began making, even at meals - although then it was even more subtle - usually.
"Mother, I love this dal," Parvati enthused at one point. "Truly."
"I'm glad you like it," her mother said in slight confusion.
"What about you, Harriet?" Parvati asked with a sly grin. "Fancy matching this with something? You're good at that sort of thing."
"Yes, I am," Harry responded with a small grin. "I think that the rice is looking a bit lonely. Truly, it deserves some companionship."
Parvati coughed to hide her obvious laugh in reply.
"What are you two talking about?" Mr. Patil asked, looking at his plate. "Is there something wrong with the rice?"
"No!" Parvati said hurriedly. "It's great, of course. Harriet was just saying it goes smashingly with the dal, right, Harriet?"
Harry nodded. "That is exactly what I meant. Truly." After that, it seemed they both had to work on their subtlety a bit.
A few days later, Harry was awoken by a sudden shriek, only to realize he was the last to wake up. A bit bleary eyed, he stumbled to the kitchen, where the Patils had already started breakfast.
"Look, Harriet!" Parvati held an envelope. "Letters from Hogwarts! They're here! And yours is too!"
"Oh," said Harry simply. "I thought that you were screaming because of something bad."
Parvati giggled. "Don't be silly, Harriet. Come on, let's open them!"
Sure enough, the envelope was indeed addressed to him, although in an interesting manner:
"Miss" H Potter
The "Girls'" Room
679 Canton Street
Harry snorted softly, thinking that perhaps Professor Dumbledore was to blame for this wry bit of humor. He quickly opened up the envelope and pulled out the letter. It was much the same as the previous year, albeit with a new set of books to obtain.
"Hmm," Harry mused. "There sure are a lot of books by this 'Lockhart' person."
"I know!" Parvati grinned back at him. "It must be his entire collection of adventure books. But maybe some of them are more advanced than second years... oh, I bet I know why. They must be setting us up for the next few years!"
"You sound like you've heard of him. Have you read any of his books?" Harry asked.
Parvati nodded eagerly. "Yes, I read a lot of Voyages with Vampires. It wasn't really a textbook though, more like a travelogue. You know, filled with his exciting adventures."
"Really?" Harry blinked. "So this guy is pretty talented?"
"Oh, definitely," Parvati enthused. "He's like the most famous explorer around. Traveling to exotic places, fighting dangerous monsters." Then she sighed. "Unfortunately I borrowed my copy from Lavender, otherwise I'd show it to you." Parvati giggled slightly. "Wait until you see his picture on the books! He's very handsome."
Harry frowned, not exactly interested in this aspect of Lockhart. "Uh huh. I'll take your word for it. Besides, what's important is that he knows what he's doing, right?"
Parvati nodded. "Well said, Harriet."
"So do you think he'll be teaching us this year?" Harry asked.
"No," scoffed Parvati. "He's got more interesting things to do, I'm certain. Although wouldn't that be astounding?" She began to giggle again.
"Right..." Harry drawled and turned to the other twin, who had started writing notes on her letter. "Padma, have you heard of this Lockhart guy?"
"Yes," Padma said. "But I have not read any of his books. They are too expensive considering their potential content. I could buy five similar books for the same price."
"Whoa..." Harry looked back at his book list. "Wait, are all of these books expensive? There's like seven of them."
Parvati shrugged. "Well, you can get them secondhand if you want. Actually, we probably will. I won't complain; getting the books at all is great. I don't want to complain to Mother and Father about not getting a brand new one if I get them at all."
Harry nodded. "A good point. Although it's not like I have anything else to spend money on."
"Well," Parvati started to say, then trailed off and looked back down at her letter.
"Oh stop that," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "You clearly have something to say, so go ahead and say it already."
"I'm just saying that, you know, maybe you could get some clothes that fit you a bit better. Or maybe just a bit nicer."
Harry groaned. "Not this again! I told you that I don't care about my stupid clothes. They're fine. I mean, they're a bit big, since I got them from Dudley, but they're good enough. And my Hogwarts robes fit me perfectly, I got them last year!"
"Dudley?" Parvati's eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute, isn't that your Muggle cousin? You have clothes passed down from a boy?" She sighed heavily. "Well, that explains an awful lot. And you need new robes, your old ones are too small. We all do, actually."
"Listen..." Harry rubbed his head, feeling a bit annoyed by the conversation. "How about this? When we go to Diagon Alley, we can all get some plain, simple, non-fancy new robes, okay? Will that stop all your whinging?"
Parvati smacked him on the shoulder. "Don't be a pain, Harriet." She smiled and winked. "But I agree. New robes for everyone!"
"Wonderful," muttered Harry.
"So you remember what to say, right, Harriet?"
"Yes," Harry said a bit impatiently. "I've had my fill of going to the wrong Floo address. It's just 'Diagon Alley', right?"
Parvati nodded. "Yes, I just don't want you to end up some place unexpected or dangerous."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I think I've met my limit of that sort of thing. Shall I go first, just in case?"
"Well, okay," Parvati said slowly. "But you have your wand? And some extra Floo powder for emergencies?"
"Yes and yes," Harry said, twirling his wand around. "Now let's get going. After we get those robes, we're supposed to meet the gang at Flourish and Blotts. And it'll be nice to see Hermione and Lavender after so long, don't you think?"
Parvati grinned widely and nodded. "Oh yes, definitely." She looked back at Padma, who was standing nearby engrossed in a book. Parvati turned to Harry and whispered, "but I wonder if Anthony will show up. Although I don't particularly want to be around when Padma overwhelms Hermione with whatever she's left out of her letters."
Harry nodded. "Indeed. All right, here I go." He stood in front of the glowing green hearth and said, as clear as he could, "Diagon Alley." Instantly he began to spin in a now familiar, if still disorienting manner through the spirals of fire and wind.
The Floo spat him out into Diagon Alley, very close to Gringotts. Mrs. Patil stood there patiently, waiting for Harry to get back to his feet. Harry wasn't sure if he was annoyed she hadn't helped him up or glad she let Harry do that himself.
In fairly quick succession, the three remaining Patils came through the Floor without incident. Parvati was quite pleased to see that Harry had made it through.
"I was worried you might end up in Knockturn or something," she confided as they walked together.
"Never that," Harry said dismissively. "Um, what's this Knockturn? That sounds familiar."
"It's the alley near Diagon - but you shouldn't go there," Parvati cautioned him. "It's filled with dark wizards, hags, all sorts of bad news. Whole place is sketchy if you ask me."
"Right," agreed Harry easily. After all, when would he even want to go to such a place?
Harry managed to suffer through the purchase of new robes, and even though he requested them as plain as possible, he kept suspecting that Parvati had somehow made them more girly in some way. But looking in the mirror... he still looked all right. A guy in a robe, not a guy in a dress. So close enough.
Finally it was time to meet his other friends at the bookstore, and Harry was already unable to prevent a ridiculous smile from appearing on his face. He was really looking forward to seeing them all again.
However, as they walked towards Flourish and Blotts, they couldn't help but notice quite a sizable crowd queuing up outside the door.
"What do you suppose is going on here?" He asked the Patils.
"Look!" Parvati shrieked excitedly, pointing at a large banner proudly proclaiming that Gilderoy Lockhart would be signing copies of his latest autobiography.
Suddenly a loud squeal came from the crowd, and Harry jerked in surprise, then calmed down with a smile. He would recognize that shrill sound anywhere.
Lavender burst out of the crowd and grabbed Harry in a fierce hug. "Oh, Harriet, it is so wonderful to see you!" She released him and squealed again, now being joined by Parvati as they embraced.
Harry laughed. "It's good to see you too, Lavender. You look great!"
Lavender blushed and then felt Harry's robes. "You do too, Harriet! Are these new robes finally?"
Parvati giggled. "Yes, although it wasn't easy getting her in the store."
"I'd imagine so," laughed Lavender. "Dear Harriet Potter, champion of the Trapdoor, defeater of You-Know-You, doesn't give a doxy what she wears!"
Harry couldn't help but join in the laughter. "Champion of the Trapdoor? But aren't we all the Trapdoor Gang?"
"Ooh, yes," said Lavender happily. "So you heard about that? I think it's such an exciting name, don't you?"
Harry shrugged. "Sure, why not?" He smiled widely, happy to see the bubbly girl again after so long. "So is everyone else here yet?"
"Not everyone," came a voice from nearby.
Harry turned to see Hermione standing there next to Neville Longbottom, both looking slightly nervous.
"Hermione! Neville!" Harry grinned at the two Gryffindors. "All we're missing now is Ron and we'll have the whole gang back together."
Neville smiled back. "It's good to see you all."
"For me as well," Hermione said with a nod.
"Oh don't just stand all the way over there, Hermione," Parvati said askance. "Get over here and give us a hug then!"
Hermione blinked in surprise, then walked over slowly. Both Lavender and Parvati grabbed the other Gryffindor in a hug, leaving the bushy-haired girl a bit taken aback, albeit with a smile on her face.
Harry shook his head. "Really Hermione, I'd have thought you'd be talking our ears off."
"Is that Granger?"
Hermione winced. "Oh, hello Padma. How was your summer?"
"My summer was perfectly normal," Padma informed her with the barest hint of excitement. "Did you get my latest four letters? You haven't responded to them yet."
Hermione sighed and rubbed her head. "When did you send them?"
"Last night," Padma said. "So they should have arrived sometime this morning."
"I was still traveling," Hermione explained in exasperation. "Why don't we discuss them later, all right?"
Padma frowned. "If you don't want to talk, maybe I should go find Anthony like Harriet suggested!" She turned around and stormed away from them.
"What?" Hermione turned to Harry. "What is she talking about? Did she mean Anthony Goldstein?"
"You know him?" Harry asked in surprise.
"Just a bit," Hermione admitted. "He's in some of our classes, but we've never really talked."
Parvati grinned wickedly. "Harriet's trying to get the two of them together. Isn't it romantic?"
Lavender gasped. "Wait! Isn't that the boy who.. you know.."
Parvati nodded. "Exactly."
"Oh go on then," Hermione scolded them. "Stop being so vague."
"I'll explain later, Hermione," assured Harry. "But first - have you seen the Weasleys? We agreed to meet around noon."
Hermione shook her head. "No, not yet. I spotted Neville earlier, so we walked around a bit until Lavender found us. Then we came here, and well, you saw what happened next."
"Say, Harriet," Neville asked slowly. "Are you also, um, really interested in seeing Lockhart?"
Harry blinked, a bit taken aback. "What do you mean?"
"I can explain," Hermione said, looking slightly embarrassed. "Lavender and I are both pretty excited to see Mr. Lockhart at the book signing. Have you read any of his books?"
"I have," Parvati told her. "But Harriet only cares if he's competent."
"Really?" Hermione raised an eyebrow. "How pragmatic."
"Um, so.." Neville said haltingly. "You don't, um, fancy him?"
Harry scowled. "No."
"You haven't even seen him yet!" Parvati said teasingly.
"Somehow I doubt I'll change my mind," Harry replied dryly.
"Come on then," Lavender urged. "It's almost time for the book signing!"
The interior of the bookstore was even more crowded than outside, and at the center of all the commotion was a smiling, blond-haired man surrounded by books with an identically smiling face. Parvati and Lavender screeched at the sight of him, although they were far from the only ones making a commotion in the store.
"So, this is the famous guy?" Harry asked Hermione. "Hmm, he seems kind of... I dunno."
"Competent?" Hermione replied absently.
Harry shook his head. "No, he seems awfully full of himself, doesn't he? With all the books of his face around? Something about him rubs me the wrong way." As he watched the author begin to sign books and chat with his fans, Harry began to realize why he disliked the man, whom he had never even seen before. It was something about the way he looked at the various women in the crowd, a kind of condescending, somewhat creepy manner. A look Harry was all too used to seeing from the various sexist idiots who thought he was a girl. But for some reason, none of the many women happily squealing at the sight of Lockhart seemed to pick up on it.
"Hey! Harriet! Over here!" It was Ron and the other Weasleys, squeezed in the crowd near a photographer.
Harry grinned and turned to his other friends. "C'mon, let's go over there!"
"I don't want to lose our place in queue though," Parvati said, biting her lip.
"Actually, I think the Weasleys are closer than we are," Neville pointed out.
"Ooh, well spotted, Neville!" Lavender said excitedly. She yelled out, "Ron, hold a place for us!"
Harry grinned and wove his way through the crowd, leading the way for the others.
Ron chuckled as Parvati and Lavender pushed their way behind the Weasleys. "Well, great to see you too."
Lavender waved her hand dismissively. "Yes, yes, it's marvelous to see you again. We'll have time to talk after we get our book signed!"
Ron turned back to the others with a frown. "You lot aren't so hung up on this ponce, are you?"
"Ron!" Hermione chided. "What a thing to say! Mr. Lockhart is a very accomplished author."
Ron rolled his eyes. "Right, should've guessed."
"He seems a bit off to me," Harry put in. "Don't you notice how oddly he looks at everyone?"
Neville stared at Lockhart and shook his head. "No, I don't know what you mean."
Ron chuckled. "I might have guessed Harriet wouldn't fancy the bloke."
"What did you say?" Ginny poked her head out from behind her mother. "Harriet, is that you?" She pushed out and grabbed Harry in a hug. "Oh, it's fantastic to see you again!"
Harry laughed. "It hasn't been that long." He raised an eyebrow. "You aren't mad into Lockhart too, right?"
Ginny shook her head vehemently. "No, certainly not. Um, why don't you like him?"
"He seems kind of odd to me," Harry said with a frown. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Kinda creepy."
"Oh, I see it too, Harriet," Ginny said hurriedly. "What a stupid creep!"
Hermione scowled. "Stop maligning a perfectly good man's name!"
"Speaking of big words," Ron interjected. "Where's our Ravenclaw teammate?"
"She ran off in a huff," Harry said with a smile. "After Hermione refused to discuss her billion letters over the summer."
Ron laughed. "A billion, eh? You sure you haven't missed a few?"
Hermione sighed. "It was certainly more than a few. At least five times as many as I sent back, that's for certain."
"Out of the way, there," the photographer suddenly snarled at Ron, moving back to get a better shot. "This is for the Daily Prophet —"
"Eh?" said Ron, stumbling back a bit, then he winced. "Ouch! Stupid bloody Scabbers." Ron pulled out his pet rat and sighed. "Suppose you probably got squashed when that git," Ron glared at the oblivious photographer. "Knocked into me." He carefully put Scabbers on his shoulder. "There, now you'll have a bit of air."
Hermione giggled. "You treat that rat better than your clothes."
"Oi! What's that supposed to mean?" Ron asked loudly, looking highly affronted.
"What's this?" Gilderoy Lockhart looked up from his table at the noise.. He saw Ron — and then he saw Harry. He stared. Then he leapt to his feet and positively shouted, "It can't be Harriet Potter?"
"Oh no," Harry muttered to himself.
Lockhart rushed over and clasped his hands around Harry's arm.
"Wondrous to meet you, my dear," the irritating ponce said. "I'm Gilderoy Lockhart."
"I know," Harry replied acidly. "Your face is everywhere I look."
Lockhart laughed loudly. "Yes, I do seem to be a bit all over, don't I?" He flashed a wide smile at the crowd, which laughed and applauded. He put his arm around Harry, who jerked away instinctively.
"Hey, watch it!" Harry said.
The crowd suddenly fell silent, and Harry looked back between Lockhart and the photographer. An idea suddenly came to him, one that might help with two problems at once.
"I know what you want," informed Harry accusingly.
Lockhart seemed very taken aback, shocked by the words into speechlessness.
Suddenly Harry smiled widely, copying the smile he saw everywhere. "You want to take a photo with me and my friends, right?"
Lockhart blinked and recovered quickly. "Why, yes, naturally. Your friends are also students at Hogwarts?"
Harry nodded and gestured to his friends. Ron and Neville seemed highly amused, while the girls looked as if they might faint.
"Well, that's wonderful!" Lockhart chortled. "Please, come over all of you! Yes, that's it. Hello there, lovely to meet all of you!" He bowed before the girls, and Parvati and Lavender burst into giggles. Hermione seemed a bit too intimidated so say anything, but Lockhart just winked at her with another huge smile.
He gathered Harry and his friends together, although he made sure to stand next to Harry. The photographer began clicking away madly, while the crowd applauded once more.
"That was quite clever," Lockhart whispered through his teeth at Harry. "I hadn't cottoned on at first to your little plan, but it was elegantly executed. I think you have a promising career ahead of you."
"Thank you," Harry whispered back graciously with a smile of his own towards the camera, although he wasn't quite sure what kind of career Lockhart had meant. Naturally, a well-publicized photo was all well and good - but although normally Harry wouldn't care about such things, there was a good reason this time. One thing that Harry had not yet seen was a photograph of himself - and this was the perfect opportunity to "test" how the curse might function under such a circumstance.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Lockhart said loudly, waving for quiet. "What an extraordinary moment this is! The perfect moment for me to make a little announcement I've been sitting on for some time! When young Harriet and her friends here stepped into Flourish and Blotts today, they only wanted to buy my autobiography and their school books — which I shall be happy to present now, free of charge —" The crowd applauded again.
The girls all looked very glad at this, and even Ron seemed happy to hear that bit of good news.
"No, they had no idea," Lockhart continued, winking at Harry, "that they would be soon getting much, much more than a few mere exceptionally well-written books. In point of fact, they will be getting the handsome and modest subject of those books." He winked at the crowd, who laughed as prompted.
"Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have great pleasure and pride in announcing that this September, I will be taking up the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!"
Parvati and Lavender squealed loudly and Hermione gripped Harry's arm.
"You hear that?" She whispered loudly. "Lockhart will be our new teacher!"
Harry nodded and looked back at Lockhart. "Could be interesting."
Ron shrugged. "At least he's no Quirrell."
"Yeah," Harry laughed softly. "Somehow I doubt You-Know-Who is hiding out under all that hair."
Next time, Harry finally returns to Hogwarts.
"Look!" Ron said excitedly. "I'm in the paper! We all are!"
Harry perked up. This was precisely what he had been waiting for.