12: A Perplexing Photograph
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.
Quick Author's Pre-Note: Yeah, sorry about the delay. You know how it is, eh?
Harry and the Mysterious Curse of the Girl-Who-Lived
CHAPTER TWELVE: A PERPLEXING PHOTOGRAPH
"Well, that looked like fun!" Ginny said brightly. "I can't wait to see your picture in tomorrow's Prophet!"
Harry chuckled. "Me too. Ought to be quite.. interesting, I think."
"Free books!" Ron said happily. "Now that's a pleasant surprise."
Hermione whipped her head at Ron in surprise. "Why are you so pleased about books?"
"Freebooks," Ron pointed out. "I'm not planning on actually reading them, after all."
Lavender giggled. "Maybe you should give them to your sister them if you don't want to bother."
"Great idea!" Ron said with a wink at Lavender. "Glad to see someone's being smart about books for a change."
"Why, Ronald Weasley!" Hermione hissed. "You watch your mouth!"
"Here you are Gin," Ron said, dumping his Lockhart books in his sister's cauldron. "Enjoy!"
"Ron!" Hermione said again angrily.
"Calm down," Parvati muttered softly. "He's just trying to get a rise out of you. Don't let him win!"
"Fine," Hermione grumbled and glared at Ron, who looked away and pretended not to notice.
"My goodness!" Mrs. Weasley huffed, fanning herself as she walked over to them through the crowds. "A picture taken with Gilderoy Lockhart himself! How exciting."
"Oh no!" Lavender suddenly gasped and patted her hair. "I must've looked a fright! My hair was all over the place."
"Hardly a fair thing to say," Hermione grumbled.
Parvati sighed. "You both looked fine, of course. Right, Harriet?"
"Yes, yes," Harry said dismissively. "Everyone looked beautiful or handsome or whatever. Great work everyone, now can we please get some air?"
"Nicely said dear," Mrs. Weasley beamed at him. "Yes, let's all get out of this crowd. Mr. Weasley and the others should be about finished soon, we'll meet them outside."
"Typical of you lot."
Harry would recognize that voice anywhere. He rolled his eyes and turned to face Draco Malfoy, wearing a sneer that practically curled his face back.
"Hello, Malfoy," Harry said in a tired voice. "Well, this has been fun. We've got to run; see you at Hogwarts."
"Leaving so soon?" Malfoy asked with a chuckle. "Don't you want a few more photographs for your adoring fans?"
"Oh shut your sniveling face," Ron snapped.
"I wasn't talking to... whomever you are," Malfoy said dismissively.
Ron's fist clenched. "You... bloody..."
"Ron!" Mrs. Weasley gasped. "Language."
Malfoy smirked. "Nice to see Mummy here to protect you."
"Move your ugly, girlish body out of the way," Parvati told him in a matter of fact tone. "We've got far more important people to talk to and far less hideous, sickly sorts to see."
"Parvati!" Hermione gasped in a horrified tone, although Harry saw her trying to hide a smile.
"She's right," Lavender yawned. "We have a long day ahead, and we have a lot to do. You know how it is, don't you, Draco? You must be tired, with such a weak little body."
"You dare..." Malfoy sputtered. "You..."
A hand placed on Draco's shoulder halted the inevitable angry tirade. "Well, well, well," an older man chuckled with a familiar sneer. It was clear that this was Draco's father. "It seems that you were right, Draco. An awful lot of Gryffindor girls in your year, highly interesting indeed. I feel bad for the boys," he glanced meaningfully at Ron and Neville. "If they've managed to hold on to their masculinity, that is." He bowed his head slightly to Mrs. Weasley. "Pleasure to see you again, Molly. And where is your delightful husband? Off tending to wayward Muggles, I assume?"
"No, no," Mrs. Weasley said a bit haltingly. "He's still in the store, he'll be along soon."
"Why, we must wait then," Mr. Malfoy said with a oily manner. "I must greet my old colleague."
"What are you doing here?" Draco whispered suddenly to someone behind him. "I didn't ask you to help me today."
"Oh, leave it be, Draco," Mr. Malfoy waved his hand. "It needs to learn to be more obedient, after all. Why don't you give it your things to carry for a while while we wait?"
Draco smirked maliciously and nodded. "Dobby, carry my books for me." At this command, a familiar house elf stepped forward with a stack of books nearly as tall as the elf.
It was at this point that Harry almost said something foolish, but managed to stop himself just in time. Dobby waggled his eyebrows at Harry, and shifted his weight around in some odd attempt to communicate. Harry nodded and coughed at the same time, then winked slightly.
Dobby smiled and winked back, just as quickly.
Harry was now a bit confused about Dobby in general - if he belonged to the Malfoys... what did that mean exactly? Did they have something to do with the danger at Hogwarts? It seemed likely, although it was possible Dobby had just overheard something. Harry resolved to discuss it with his friends when they had some privacy.
"Molly, we've got the books." It was Arthur, who had just pushed his way through the crowds with the older Weasley boys. He then noticed Mr. Malfoy standing there. "Oh. Lucius."
Mr. Malfoy nodded. "Arthur. Fine company you're keeping these days." He sneered and peered down into Ginny's cauldron, picking up one of the new Lockhart texts. "Brand new books, courtesy of Lockhart's largess? Or perhaps young Miss Harriet Potter? I'm sure you're with the girl for some reason. Nice to see that your vaunted regard for thrifty living doesn't extend to exploiting famous young girls."
"Put down that book," Mr. Weasley growled, which shocked Harry, who had never seen the man express such unpleasant emotions. It seemed that the Weasley children were just as about as surprised.
"Oh, where are my manners," Mr. Malfoy said with a chuckle and dropped the book into the cauldron with a thud. "Although I'm certain that if the book's damaged, you'll find some way to get Miss Potter to pay for it."
Mr. Weasley almost lunged forward, but his wife grabbed his shoulder.
"Arthur, don't," she insisted. "He's not worth it."
"Listen to your wife," Mr. Malfoy drawled. "A wise woman. Although I am probably worth quite a great deal more than you could imagine." He gestured to his son. "Come Draco, we still have purchases to make." Without deigning to look back, he walked off into the crowded store. Draco followed, although he made sure to sneer a final time at them.
"Wow," Parvati said slowly. "Suddenly I understand Draco Malfoy."
"A chilling thought," Lavender said with a shudder.
Ron laughed. "Thank you for that. That puts it all in perspective, don't it?"
"Let's go," Mrs. Weasley said, pushing a bit on her husband's shoulder, who was still glaring into the crowd after the Malfoys.
"You okay, Harriet?" Ginny asked as they finally walked outside. "You and that house-elf seemed to know each other."
"Eh?" Ron tripped a bit in surprise. "Wait, thatwas the house-elf you met? Merlin's slimy tongue, Harriet!"
"Ron!" Hermione said. "That is awfully stupid profanity."
"My Mum's right here," Ron pointed out.
"What's that supposed to mean, Ronald Weasley?" His mother said harshly. "We will be having words when we get home."
"Listen," Harry interrupted as politely as he could. "We really should go meet up with Padma - and maybe Anthony, if she's found him."
"Oh is that right?" Parvati said with a snicker.
"Well, I don't know," Mrs. Weasley said slowly. "We still have a bit left to do."
"Why don't we split up then?" Harry proposed. "I know Parvati and Lavender have been dying to talk, so why don't you guys check down that way? And Neville and Ron and I can check the other way. We can meet up for ice cream in twenty minutes no matter what. Um, Hermione can you stay a little while?"
Hermione nodded. "Yes, Harriet, I have some time before we have to leave. Um, whom should I walk with?"
"You can walk with us!" Lavender said excitedly, grabbing at Hermione's hands. "It'll be fun, talking with the girls!"
"And I have a feeling Harriet's sick of being with only girls for weeks," Parvati said shrewdly.
"Well, I don't know about that," Harry said, wondering how obvious he had been about it.
"What about me?" Ginny whined.
"You can walk with us," Parvati told her. "It'd give us a chance to get to know each other a bit more. And we can answer some questions about Hogwarts for a new Gryffindor girl."
Ron raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think she'll be a Gryffindor?"
"Oh, really, Ron," Lavender scolded.
"Right, fair point," Ron shrugged.
"Um, I dunno," Ginny said, looking at Harriet.
"No, that's a great idea," Harry nodded. "And if you see Luna, you can bring her along too!" He turned to Mrs. Weasley. "Why don't you walk nearby, so you feel they're safe? And Mr. Weasley can walk with us."
"Is that all right with you, Arthur?" Mrs. Weasley asked her husband, who had calmed down considerably and was now grinning widely.
"Yes, a capital idea!" He beamed.
"So what do you suppose was with that house elf?" Ron asked as they walked down the Alley.
"Actually, that's something I wanted to talk about," answered Harry. "Why would the Malfoys' house elf want to warn me about danger at Hogwarts?"
"Hello, what's this?" Mr. Weasley broke in. "Did you say something about a Malfoy house elf?"
"Yeah, Dad," Ron said. "That's the house elf that's been bothering Harriet. Blocked her mail, remember?"
Mr. Weasley frowned. "Yes, I do. How very odd. Very suspicious, certainly."
"Harriet," Neville asked hesitantly. "Do you recall what sort of danger the house elf mentioned? Or anything about its owners?"
Harry nodded. "Actually, I do. Not the sort of thing you just forget, is it? House elf showing up and banging its head into everything. Every time Dobby almost spoke ill of its family, he would try to hurt himself. Of course, now that I know the Malfoys were involved... well, I can't blame the poor guy for not liking them."
"But hold on a second," Ron said. "Dad, I thought that house elves couldn't disobey their masters?"
Mr. Weasley stroked his chin thoughtfully. "That is indeed yet another bizarre problem, isn't it? Harriet, did it seem that the elf was disobeying in some way?"
"Not exactly," Harry said, putting few things together. "Actually, now that I think about it, I remember Professor Dumbledore mentioning that you could trick house elves into revealing information. Dobby definitely was unable to directly disobey the Malfoys, but we were able to compromise on an indirectway for him to help me out. Kind of odd, but it seemed to work."
"That is unusual," Mr. Weasley agreed. "I suppose part of my confusion is that I've never heard of house elves trying to subvert their master's will - well, not in centuries, in any event. This elf - Dobby, you said? He must be a bit different than most house elves, or perhaps with an exceptionally strong moral code."
"That makes sense," said Neville. "Most of the time, house elves don't really seem capable of seeing anything immoral about their masters, even when it would seem obvious."
"Oh, that reminds me!" Harry realized suddenly. "Mr. Weasley, what about that address Dobby mentioned? Where I accidentally Floo'ed to? 38 The Dormers in Highworth?"
Mr. Weasley frowned. "Well, the Malfoy manor is in Highworth," he said cautiously. "Although I don't recall their address off the top of my head. That may be it, however."
"Hey, look!" Ron pointed and then waved. "It's Luna! Over here, Luna!"
Luna and her father were standing nearby, and she looked over at Ron's loud yelling. She grinned widely and ran over, grabbing Harry in a hug.
"Great to see you again, Harriet!" Luna beamed. "And you too, Ronald and Neville. And Mr. Weasley, very nice to see you as well!"
"Hello, Arthur," said Luna's father, who was walking up slowly, an odd look in his eyes. "What are you all doing here today?"
"Nice to see you both," Mr. Weasley said quickly. "Xeno, I imagine we're here for the same reasons - Hogwarts supplies, correct?"
Mr. Lovegood shrugged and looked up into the sky. "Who can really say why we're truly here?"
"Right..." Ron chuckled. "Luna, sorry you missed Ginny - she's with Mum and the others walking the other way. We're going to meet up in a bit at Fortescue's for a bite, you want to come too?"
Luna nodded happily. "Okay! Daddy, is that all right?"
"I'm sure it is," Mr. Lovegood said solemnly. "Ice cream can be excellent for the pores."
"How have you been Harriet?" Luna asked as they walked back to the ice cream parlour.
"So it's Harriet again?" Harry asked, raising an eyebrow. "I thought we had agreed that you wouldn't call me that. Not actually a girl, remember?"
"Huh?" Ron looked at them with a look of utter confusion.
"What?" Luna frowned and looked a bit confused. "Oh, dear, yes - I had forgotten. It's not Harriet, it's... Hrr... prr..." She winced and held her temples.
"You forgot?" Harry asked in horror. "You forgot that I wasn't actually a girl?"
"Yes, but now it's coming back," Luna said, grimacing slightly.
"What are you guys talking about?" Neville asked in confusion.
"Girl stuff, I imagine," Ron whispered a bit loudly. "Best to stay out of it, I reckon."
"Ah," Neville nodded. "We'll stay out of it then."
Ron nodded and smirked. "Yes, quite. Wisely said, Lord Longbottom."
Neville shoved him and then laughed. "Don't make me knight you, Sir Weasley."
Ron laughed and pushed Neville back. "Shut it! I'd make a better knight than you. Remember the chess game?"
Neville nodded dramatically. "Oh I do. But I rather think we weren't assigned correctly - I think I should've been a king."
Ron snorted. "Someone's got a high opinion of himself, don't you?"
"I am so sorry, Not-Harriet," Luna said tearfully, shocking Harry a bit, who had been listening to Ron and Neville's silly argument. "I did not mean to forget, truly I didn't. Please forgive me. Please."
"Luna, stop that," he scolded. "It's gotta be that curse, obviously. I can't blame you for something you didn't mean to do." Harry sighed. "But now I'm worried - do you think that if we don't see each other for a while, you'll forget again?"
"Oh, I hope not!" Luna gasped.
"Would you stop making Luna cry?" Ron said, a bit horrified. "Harriet, that's not very nice of you."
"No, no, no!" Luna snapped. "Don't accuse her of that, Ronald! Not-Harriet has been very nice to accept my utter failure. It's completely my fault, not hers."
"Didn't you tell me to stay out of it?" Neville mumbled to Ron.
"Shoulda taken my own bloody advice," Ron grumbled.
"Ron, watch it," Mr. Weasley cautioned. "You shouldn't use that sort of language."
"Right, sorry," Ron rolled his eyes.
"I'm sure we'll figure something out," Harry tried to assure a still teary-eyed Luna. "Maybe make sure we talk regularly - or do some sort of experiments? You'd like that, right?"
Luna sniffed and wiped her nose on a handkerchief. "Yes, actually. Experiments can be fun, as long as you obey the proper safety procedures."
Mr. Weasley smiled at them. "It sounds like you've got it figured out then, right?"
Eventually they arrived at Fortescue's ice cream parlour, albeit slightly ahead of schedule. Harry took the opportunity to buy Luna something in advance, an ice cream lollipop that wouldn't melt until you licked it off the stick.
Luna smiled as she unwrapped the frozen confection. "You don't have to be so nice, Not-Harriet. I should be the one apologizing."
"Why don't we agree everyone's wrong and stop there?" Harry suggested.
"I'm sure we can agree that Ron is often wrong," Neville quipped.
"Oi!" Ron said indignantly. "I'm not afraid of you, Neville. Well, not that much, anyway."
Mr. Weasley laughed. "Ah, such enthusiasm. Reminds me of my own rollicking schoolyard times."
Ron raised an eyebrow. "Really?" He grinned at his father. "You got into fights?"
"Well, I don't know about that," Mr. Weasley sputtered. "Besides, this is hardly the place for this sort of talk. Your mother and the others might be here any moment."
"Mum doesn't have to hear about it!" Ron insisted.
"Is that right, Ron?" It was Ginny, who had just popped into the store. "What does Mum not want to hear?"
"Nothing, Ginny," Mr. Weasley chuckled nervously. "Nothing at all. Just something Ron misspoke, that's all."
"Guys!" Parvati ran in, pulling Lavender and a somewhat exasperated Hermione in with here. "Guess who webumped into?"
"Hello," a familiar Ravenclaw boy said, pushing back his hair in a sort of nervous manner.
Padma walked in right behind him, looking a bit annoyed. "So now that we're here, can we please finalize the quandary of the unknown records of Alexandria?"
Harry looked at Hermione meaningfully.
"Yes, yes," she grumbled. "Do shut up."
The rest of the summer sped past in a haze, until Harry finally found himself standing outside the Hogwarts Express. Finally ready to return to Hogwarts after what had been a restful and stressful summer holiday. Harry had initially been looking forward to seeing the results of his photograph experiment, but was quickly disappointed when he remembered the Patils didn't subscribe to the wizarding newspaper.
"Mother thinks it's a waste of money," Parvati had explained to a disappointed Harry over breakfast. "And Father says it's all rubbish anyway. Besides, we've been reading the Quibbler ever since your birthday, and that's all they're willing to pay for."
"But the picture..." Harry had not quite figured out how to explain why he so badly wanted to see the photo of himself.
"Don't worry," Parvati then told him. "Lavender said she'd grab a copy, and I'm pretty sure the Weasleys get the Prophet. We'll see ourselves when we see them on the Express."
The train whistle interrupted Harry's musings and he looked around with a sigh. The twins were saying their final goodbyes to their parents, and Harry began to recognize several students he knew slowly climbing aboard the train.
"Miss Potter," Mrs. Patil said, causing Harry to start a bit. "I hope you have had a pleasant summer with us, although I would assume that next summer you will have found more feasible accommodations."
"Um, yeah," Harry said, getting back his bearings. "Thank you so much for letting me stay. Everything was great. Uh, I guess I'll try to find somewhere else to live next summer. I think that Professor Dumbledore had some ideas about it."
"Harriet, don't be ridiculous," Parvati scoffed. "I'm sure you could stay if you had to next holiday. Right, Mother?"
Mrs. Patil frowned but nodded slightly. "Yes, I suppose so."
"Do you suppose Granger or Anthony are on the train yet?" Padma asked, peering at the Express.
Mr. Patil grunted and looked annoyed, and Harry had a pretty good idea why. Although he and Parvati had been careful not to mention anything about Anthony Goldstein, Padma didn't seem to care about displeasing her parents in that regard. Luckily, it seemed that at the very least, they hadn't attempted to ban future contact with the Ravenclaw boy. Harry had a feeling that command probably wouldn't have gone over very well.
"Well, why don't we check?" Parvati said brightly, trying to avoid her parents eyes. "Harriet, shall we?"
Harry nodded. "Of course. Thanks again," he said to Mr. and Mrs. Patil and walked onto Hogwarts Express.
The train had already started to become a bit crowed, but the three of them managed to find an empty compartment. After barely a minute sitting down, Padma leaped up impatiently.
"I am going to see if Granger or Anthony are on the train yet," she said.
Parvati sighed. "If you must," she said in slight annoyance. "But don't just corner them somewhere and talk their ears off if you do find them. Bring them back here. Okay?"
Padma nodded. "Yes, all right." Then she was off, leaving the compartment quickly.
Parvati yawned and stretched languidly over the seat in an awkward manner. Harry found himself a bit taken aback by her contortions.
Parvati caught Harry's look and then looked at a bit embarrassed, straightening up in her seat. "Sorry about that, just a bit tired. I'm really happy to be back to Hogwarts, aren't you?"
Harry shook his head to clear it, and then nodded emphatically. "You'd better believe it. I'm just happy to do something, you know?"
"Oh certainly," Parvati nodded and smiled. "So what do you think about Lockhart as the new Defense Professor? Better than last year, eh?"
Harry laughed. "No question on that front, right? Well, as long as he doesn't try to kill me too."
Parvati giggled and then made a disapproving sound. "Tsk, tsk, Harriet. Not everything is about people trying to kill you."
"Isn't it, though?" Harry asked, raising an eyebrow.
Parvati laughed. "Maybe just a little," she said teasingly.
Harry pulled out his copy of Year with the Yeti,which he had been trying, but failing to actually get through. After attempting another few pages, Harry shut the book in a huff.
"This is ridiculous," he complained. "Most of this book isn't about yetis at all; why do I need to know about Lockhart's favorite color?"
"Lilac, right?" Parvati said, a bit absently, looking out the window. She turned back to face Harry. "What's the problem, anyway? I think it adds a sort of color to the stories. Sometimes they can get a bit boring."
"I'm not sure I've even learned one useful spell or technique by reading this," Harry grumbled and then leaned back with a sigh. "Ah, well. Maybe the others are better. I thought that the Trolls one was a bit amusing."
Parvati giggled. "Haven't read that one yet myself. Although I would wager Hermione has managed to read the lot."
Harry snickered. "Obviously."
After a few minutes of waiting, they were set upon by several of their friends in rapid succession, crowding into the compartment until only Padma and Hermione were missing. Ron had mentioned seeing Hermione outside earlier, so it was assumed she'd join them soon enough.
"Is it all right if we sit here?" Ginny asked, standing near the door next to Luna Lovegood, who looked over and Harry and winked.
"That depends," Harry said quickly. "What color is my hair?"
"Huh?" Ginny looked at the older students in confusion. "Is that some sort of trick question?"
"Hmm," Luna considered the query, then peering at Harry. "Is it - not red?"
Harry nodded. "Close enough." He grinned at the two younger girls. They quickly squeezed in on nearby seats, and suddenly the train began to move.
With a sudden feeling exhilaration rushing through him, Harry couldn't help but felt excited - Hogwarts, finally! It didn't take long for the group to begin chattering away in their usual manner, settling back into their remembered behavior the previous year. Although something was missing...
A piece that used words none of the rest had ever heard of before.
"No, for the last time, the use of dangerous venom with Potions isn't just a moral issue!" Hermione was saying this as she stormed into the compartment, then stopped and looked around. "Oh, good. I was wondering when I'd find you all. Getting a bit crowded in here, isn't it?"
"Hey, Hermione!" Lavender called out. "Where's Padma?"
"Right behind me," grumbled Hermione. "She basically dragged Anthony along with us."
"Oh, really?" Parvati asked, raising an eyebrow. "Where is he?"
"Right here." Anthony stepped forward and blinked. "Oh, there certainly are a lot of you. Is it always so many?"
"Nope," Ron said blithely. "Those two are new," he said, pointing at Ginny and Luna. "One's my little sister - care to guess which one?"
"Shut it, Ron!" Ginny told him a bit angrily, her face looking slightly flushed.
"So answer the question, then!" Padma had suddenly appeared, hands on her hips. "Exactly why would you have a problem using unstable venom in Potions?"
Hermione groaned. "Would any of you mind terribly moving over a bit and giving me a place to sit down?"
"But there's a few seats empty over there," said Neville in confusion. Hermione glared at him, and Neville gulped.
"Right, here, take my seat, I'll sit there," he said, getting up quickly.
"I'm going to go say hi to some of my housemates," Anthony said. "I'll see you guys later."
Harry waved. "See you later." After the Ravenclaw boy had left, leaving Padma to sit down next to a wary Neville, Harry turned to Parvati.
"So, you think my little idea is working?" He asked her.
Parvati giggled. "It just might be, Harriet."
"Ooh, what idea?" Lavender asked excitedly.
"Oh, I'll tell you later," Parvati told her. "In the meantime, tell us about your trip - how was it?"
Harry leaned back in his seat comfortably and closed his eyes. He had a bit of time before Hogwarts, after all, didn't he?
Hogwarts was everything Harry had remembered and more. He felt a wave of happiness rush over him as he rode in the horseless carriages to the castle. A reminder that wizards did love their theatrics.
"It's good to be back," he said softly.
Ron, sitting across from him, nodded vehemently. "Brilliant to see the old place again, innit? Even if it does mean having to be given homework - and Hermione bugging us to complete it."
Hermione smacked him while Lavender burst into giggles.
"Watch it, Lavender," Hermione warned. "I'm not afraid to hit a girl."
"Oh, are you two going at it then?" Ron asked, looking a bit excited.
Hermione and Lavender shared a look, and then both hit him at the same time.
"Oi! What did I do wrong?" Ron asked, holding up an arm to protect his head. "Neville, back me up here."
"Hmm," Neville glanced quickly around the carriage. "No."
Harry laughed. "Come on, there will be plenty of time for fighting later. Maybe we'll get to duel or something in Defense this year?"
Hermione brightened. "Ooh, I do hope so," she said. "Practical experience is quite useful after all." She turned to Ron and waved a finger. "But you mustn't forget theory altogether."
"Why are you singling me out?" Ron complained. "You're the only one who likes that stuff anyway - well, you and the Ravenclaws." He grinned. "And it looks like we may be getting a new one, eh?"
Hermione shrugged. "Anthony's not a bad sort. He has that off-putting thing about him that all Ravenclaws seem to have, but he's not as bad as Padma. And besides, aren't you and Neville a bit happy to have another boy in the mix?"
"Um, well," Neville stammered a bit, before clamming up completely.
"Oh I don't know, Hermione," Parvati said with a smirk. "Perhaps the two young lads might get a bit jealous. Do we really need more male energy?" She poked Harry in the shoulder. "Besides, Harriet here is more man and woman both than any of the rest of us put together."
Ron laughed. "I'm not about to argue with that one."
Parvati looked at Hermione shrewdly. "But I'll bet Hermione's a bit happy to get a break from all that arguing. I'm afraid it'll only last until the carriage ride is over, though."
Hermione sighed. "You have a point, Parvati. I honestly do like Padma, annoying personality and all. But sometimes I just like a little time to myself."
"I can completely understand that," Harry said in utter agreement. "Although that gets boring eventually as well."
"So," Ron rubbed his hands together and smiled. "What are we thinking for this year's crop of ickle firsties? Ginny's obviously a shoe-in for Gryffindor, but I'm not sure about Luna."
"She can keep up better than us with the 'Claws," Lavender pointed out. "And she's certainly a smart girl, if a bit odd at times."
"But she's been hanging out with us," Neville put in. "Maybe that's influenced her the Gryff way."
"Hmm, I don't know," Hermione said thoughtfully. "Think about it for a moment. A bit off-putting, intelligent if misguided at times, and a vehement defender of nonsense. That's Ravenclaw for you."
Lavender giggled. "Jealous, are we?"
Hermione scowled. "No. And may I just say I'm more than a bit tired of all the talk that if you're smart, you must be in Ravenclaw. Did you know that I had the highest marks of anyone in our year?"
"Really?" Parvati gasped dramatically and clapped for a moment, until Hermione glared at her. "Everyone, quick! A round of applause for the biggest surprise ever!" She then started clapping again. The others were quick to join in, although Hermione continued to glare, until finally she broke into laughter as well.
"All right, you can stop," Hermione told them. "But my point is the same. We have a few highly intelligent folks in Hufflepuff and Slytherin." She paused and looked over at Harry. "And maybe a few in Gryffindor that'd do far better if they applied themselves a bit more."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, message received. I'll be sure to beat even you this year."
Hermione colored a bit. "Well, now, you needn't go quite that far."
Lavender giggled and then gasped. "Ooh, I almost forgot. I brought a copy of the Prophet the day after we met Lockhart!" She pulled out a folded newspaper from her bag, and Ron leaned forward with interest.
"I see you, Ron," Lavender said with a laugh. "Here you go." She handed the paper to Ron, who opened it quickly.
"Look!" Ron said excitedly. "I'm in the paper! We all are!"
Harry perked up. This was precisely what he had been waiting for.
"Harriet, it doesn't seem like you enjoyed it that much," remarked Neville, looking over Ron's shoulder.
"What? What do you mean by that?" Harry asked in confusion.
Ron passed over the paper and Harry saw the problem. In the photo, the version of himself kept ducking outside the picture frame, making it impossible to catch a good glimpse. Harry tried viewing the paper from different angles, but to no avail. He tossed the paper to the floor with a huff.
"That's annoying," he said grumpily. "I can't even see the color of my hair."
Parvati looked at him with an odd expression. "Is that such a mystery, Harriet?"
Lavender picked the paper off the floor with a frown. "You didn't have to throw it, Harriet. I want to put it up on our wall, if it's okay with you all."
"Aw," Ron pouted. "Can't we put it up in the common room?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Do you care that much about everyone seeing you in the paper?"
"Um, no," Ron said hesitantly.
"Besides," said Parvati in a matter-of-fact tone. "Don't you already have a copy?"
"No," Ron grumbled. "My Mum put it in her "Special Memories of Family" box. Said it wouldn't do to get a swelled head about it."
"A wise lady," Neville said with a nod. "My grandmother said about the same thing."
The carriages came to a stop and the doors opened. They had arrived.
Harry didn't bother paying much attention to the Hat's song, although it seemed a bit different from the previous year. He was far more interested in the actual Sorting. The first to be sorted in Gryffindor was a small, mousy boy that was greeted enthusiastically by the table. Then several more students were Sorted into various houses until finally:
"Still think Ravenclaw?" Lavender asked in a whisper to Hermione.
Hermione nodded. "Yes, I do."
And sure enough, after only a minute or so, the hat called out "RAVENCLAW" to the excited cheering of the Ravenclaw table. Harry made sure to applaud loudly as well, triggering his friends to follow his lead. Luna looked over in their direction and smiled, before walking to the Ravenclaw table.
Harry hoped that Anthony or Padma would help her a bit, although it was a tough thing to do. Anthony could probably only do so much, as he wasn't a girl, and Padma... well, she wasn't very much liked in that House.
Eventually the Sorting came to the final student.
"What will you do if she ends up in Slytherin?" Harry asked Ron.
Ron looked horrified. "Don't say such awful things, Harriet!"
But it turned out not to matter, as the Hat then called out "GRYFFINDOR". Ginny was welcomed by the table, including her brothers. Fred shook her hand in a grand and dramatic fashion, and George bowed in a elegant manner.
Ginny giggled. "Prats," she said affectionately.
"Welcome, welcome," Dumbledore proclaimed cheerfully as he got to his feet and the students quieted down. "Before we begin the highly anticipated feast, let me first introduce a new member of our staff. Our new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor is well known author Mr. Gilderoy Lockhart."
Instantly a wave of enthusiastic applause echoed throughout the Hall, although Harry noticed that the most enthusiasm came from the girls. Lockhart, dressed in a fancy aquamarine robe, stood and waved to the crowd with a toothy smile.
"Thank you so very much, Albus," Lockhart said loudly. "I hope that the students here learn a great deal from my fantastic exploits." He winked and the female students made various excited noises. "I rather think this will be one of the most interesting years at Hogwarts since I was a student," Lockhart said, shooting a discreet look at Harry. He then sat down next to a visibly angry Snape.
"What's with Snape?" Ron whispered to Harry.
"Good question," Harry said softly, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
The rest of the evening went fairly as expected, with the typical sort of yearly announcements from the Headmaster and a sumptuous and satisfying feast. Ginny spent much of the time talking with and explaining magical things to the mousy boy, Colin Creevey, who somehow got increasingly excited over time until Harry wondered if the small boy would simply explode with happy energy.
As they all walked back to the Gryffindor tower, Colin ran over to Harry and stuck out his hand. Harry accepted it carefully, a bit taken aback by the energetic boy, especially when Harry and his friends were fairly tired after a long day and the recent comsumption of delicious food.
"Hullo, I'm Colin Creevey," Colin said. "Although you probably already heard my name when I was Sorted. And you must be Harriet Potter! I'm so honored to meet you!"
"Um, yes, thanks," Harry answered, pulling back his hand from Colin's, who hadn't seemed to realize that handshakes weren't meant to last that long.
"I had heard a lot about you before today, of course," Colin confided. "But Ginny answered a whole bunch of my questions about you!"
Harry raised an eyebrow. "Did she now?" He looked over at Ginny, who winced and shrugged.
"Well, I'm sure she'll answer whatever questions you might have during the year," Harry grinned. "Won't you, Ginny? Maybe tell a story or two?"
Ginny smiled awkwardly. "Um, yes, of course I will. Happy to help out a fellow Gryffindor."
"There you are then," Ron said, ruffling the shorter boy's hair. "You'll have a great time at Hogwarts."
"Thanks sir!" Colin beamed up at the much taller Ron. "Are you friends with Harriet?"
Ron rolled his eyes. "Yes, I am. I'm Ron, one of Ginny's many older brothers."
"Oh, of course!" Colin gasped. "It's obvious, now that I see it. You two are clearly related."
"Come on, come on now," Percy walked over and interrupted. "You need to come with me to the first year's dorm. Hurry now!"
Colin waved at Harry and then walked to the rest of the first year students.
"Well, that was interesting," Parvati remarked. "Looks like you've got yourself a fan, Harriet."
Lavender giggled. "Maybe he and Ginny can form a club."
"Oh, really now!" Harry said in annoyance.
"And why not?" Hermione said airily. "It's never too late to start getting a new junior study group to copy our excellent example."
"If that means they don't have to hang around us, I'm all for it," proclaimed Ron.
"Fantastic..." Harry grumbled. "We'll have to find them a Mystery too, I expect."
Lavender clapped her hands excitedly. "Ooh, and we need one too!"
Hermione beamed and nodded in agreement. "Yes, we do need a group project, don't we?"
Parvati looked at Harry with a reprimanding look. "See what you've done?"
Harry shrugged and grinned at her. "What's life without a little Mystery?"
In a way, it rather shocked Harry how quickly he fell into the same old Hogwarts routine. All his things unpacked just the way he liked, easily memorizing the new Hogwarts schedule.
And even the typical sort of class to start the year off in the normal fashion. Something bizarre and highly dangerous, yet somehow also familiar. In their first Herbology class, shared with the Hufflepuffs, Professor Sprout introduced them to a dangerous plant that looked like small infants in a vaguely unsettling manner.
The Hufflepuffs all greeted Harry with a suspicious level of friendliness, and he found himself in the unenviable position of pretending he recalled all of their names.
"Oh, great to see you again," Harry said, shaking a friendly, sort of pompous boy's hand.
"You look lovelier than ever," another boy said, bowing a bit.
"Thanks... you," Harry said, slightly annoyed by the compliment.
"Did you have a good summer with all of your friends?" This came from a girl Harry was pretty sure was called something like Susie, often a bit more recognizable due to the long plait that fell halfway down her back.
"I did, that is, we did," replied Harry.
"What in the world are you lot going on about?" Ron finally asked, and Harry privately was happy someone had said something.
"What do you mean?" The non-pompous boy seemed a bit taken aback. Then he shook his head. "Sorry, I'm being rude. I don't think we've formally met. I'm Justin Finch-Fletchley." He stuck out his hand and Ron accepted it gingerly.
Justin then proceeded to shake hands with Neville and do a sort of complicated head nod to the girls.
"I'm Ernie Macmillan," the pompous boy said, pushing forward and grabbing Ron and Neville's hands at the same time. "Fantastic to finally have a chance to talk with you lot. Marvelous, really."
"Um, I suppose we should introduce ourselves too," the plaited girl curtsied in a fairly adorable way. "I'm Susan Bones, and this is Hannah Abbott."
Hannah smiled shyly and waved a hand, then went back to filling her plant pot with compost.
"What about those two?" Ron asked, pointing at the other two Hufflepuff boys slightly rudely.
Justin frowned slightly. "Oh, well, the tall one is Zach Smith, and the other is Wayne Hopkins. They don't really talk to most people outside of the Hufflepuff House."
Ernie chuckled. "Ah, but don't worry about them, Ron Weasley. After all, you haven't introduced us to your prodigal Gryffindors." At this, he gestured to Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan, sitting by themselves.
Harry blinked in surprise, as he had forgotten the two close friends were even there, although that had often happened the previous year, as they had been the only Gryffindors not in his group of friends.
"Don't bother with those two," Ron scoffed. "Not the friendly type, like we are. Right, Nev?" He grinned and threw his arm over Neville's shoulder.
"Um, exactly," Neville said in a slightly annoyed fashion, as he had been holding a trowel with compost, which had spilled a bit.
"Well, Ron's question still stands," said Hermione. "Why are you acting so friendly all of a sudden? More than last year, I should clarify."
The Hufflepuffs exchanged a few significant looks.
"Well, it's not that complicated," Susan began slowly. "Everyone knows about your study group last year, and how you even hung out all the time with a Ravenclaw."
"Your sister, Parvati," explained Justin. "Although of course we don't need to tell you that."
Parvati scowled. "I'm not sure what you mean, really. She's my sister. Why not let her join our group?"
"Very good point," agreed Justin. "And yet, apparently this year there's been rumors you've invited Anthony Goldstein, another Ravenclaw, to your group."
"Well, sort of," Hermione said a bit haltingly. "It's a bit more that we all spent some time together over the summer, and now... well why not invite him?"
Susan smiled. "That's preciselythe point. We four have had our own study group that we sort of modelled after yours, although obviously we don't have the brains of your group." She nodded at Hermione. "Everyone knows you had top marks last year, and the rest of you weren't far behind."
"Um, yes," Hermione stammered, her face getting a bit flushed. "But I'm sure there are intelligent students in all the Houses."
"Thank you," Ernie nodded to her. "I quite agree, of course. Shame that so many don't seem to understand that."
Lavender pouted. "I don't understand."
"All right everyone!" Professor Sprout called out. "Put back on your earmuffs!"
"We'll talk more later," Susan whispered with a smile.
Harry exchanged a look with Parvati and she shrugged.
"Interesting lesson," she said quietly, so that only he could hear.
"Quite," replied Harry with a smile of his own.
After a fairly predictable, albeit pleasant Transfiguration class with Professor McGonagall, it was finally time for the highly anticipated Defense class with Gilderoy Lockhart.
All three of the girls were nervously chattering with each other about what Lockhart might talk about, and which of the many books were the best.
Ron groaned. "I'll just be glad when everyone calms down."
Harry nodded. "I agree. But I hope he knows what he's doing."
"I doubt even they would disagree," Neville said quietly, gesturing to the girls, although he tried to make sure they couldn't see him do this.
Harry laughed. "We can always hope, right?"
"Hullo, Harriet!" It was Colin, waving at them in the middle of hallway.
Parvati scowled at the small first year. "Colin, please don't bother Harriet right now. We're late for class!"
"Oh, sorry," Colin said apologetically, looking instantly very sad.
Harry winced. "Don't worry, we're all in Gryffindor," he told Colin. "I'm sure we'll see each other plenty of times this year."
Colin instantly brightened and nodded energetically. "Of course! Thanks Harriet!" And he ran off, smiling all the while.
Ron clucked his tongue. "You really shouldn't lead on the poor firstie, Harriet. Unless you really aretrying to start a fan club."
"Say, Neville," Harry remarked nonchalantly. "Smack Ron for me, will you?"
"With pleasure!" Neville replied with a short bow, and hit Ron on the back of the head.
"Oi!" Ron rubbed his head and glared at Neville. "You just wait until Harriet tells me to hit you."
Neville laughed. "Like that'll ever happen."
Naturally, the girls had missed this entire exchange, as they had rushed into the classroom to grab good seats. Harry decided to take a seat in the middle, although Ron was quick to sit in the far back of the classroom.
Finally the man himself arrived, and Lockhart swept into the Defense classroom with a flourish. He bowed deeply, sending most of the girls into waves of giggling.
"Welcome, my dear students! As you are all quite aware, I am the famous Gilderoy Lockhart." He grinned and winked. "But you can just call me Professor Lockhart."
As several students giggled softly, Harry frowned and watched the new Professor carefully. What sort of teacher would Lockhart be? Incompetent and secretly evil like Quirrell? Mean but competent like Snape? Or something else altogether?
And would he actually try to kill Harry at some point, like Parvati had teased?
No, that was ridiculous, Harry realized. Sometimes Professors were just Professors.
Next time, a terrible attack at Hogwarts.
"Dobby, I need your help," Harry pleaded. "Think about what's already happened!"
The house elf twitched and he seemed about to burst into tears.