The first of September dawned cool and clear. Despite the early hour, Harriet rolled out of bed and got dressed, pulling on one of the outfits Sirius had bought for her: a pale green blouse under a forest green cardigan, a pair of soft jeans, and white trainers with sparkly pink laces. It was a relief to have nice clothes to wear to her new school instead of Dudley's cast-offs.
Harriet double-checked that all her school supplies had been packed, then paced the room with nervous excitement. When the doorbell chimed at eight o'clock on the dot, she raced downstairs to fling open the door. The two men standing on the Dursleys' front stoop were a study in contrasts: one tall, broad-shouldered, strikingly beautiful, with long black hair falling gracefully into pale blue eyes, leather-clad and dangerous-looking; the other short and plump, sweet-faced and forgettable, with mild brown eyes, dish-water blond hair, a wisp of a moustache.
"You're here!" she said, all but leaping into her godfather's arms.
"Hullo, Harry! We promised to be on time, didn't we?" laughed Sirius, wrapping her up in a fierce hug. Over his shoulder Peter grinned and winked at her.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia watched suspiciously from the window as Sirius and Peter struggled to fit Harriet's enormous school trunk in the boot of a tiny red sports car. Finally Sirius aimed his wand at Harriet's trunk and shrank it to half its original size.
"It's a rental," Peter explained as he loaded Hedwig's cage in the backseat. "It would have been faster to take you by train to King's Cross, but someone--" He directed an arch look at Sirius. "--got it into his head that he now had the perfect excuse to drive a flash car."
Sirius put on a hurt expression. "But just look at her, Pete! She's fast, shiny, red..."
The sports car may have been built for speed, but traffic into London crawled at a snail's pace. Fortunately the commute seemed to fly by as Sirius and Peter joked and laughed and told Harriet stories of their own schooldays. They had been in Gryffindor House along with James and Lily Potter, the four of them all best friends, and Harriet ached to hear more of her parents' lives at Hogwarts. She wanted to follow in her parents' footsteps, to give the password to the portrait of the Fat Lady, to curl up on the couches in the common room, to study out-of-doors by the lake with the giant squid.
"Do you think I'll be sorted into Gryffindor?" she asked, worry churning in her belly.
"Of course you will!" Sirius exclaimed, surprised that she could doubt it. "You're a Gryffindor through and through."
Peter turned around as much as he could with his seat-belt fastened to give Harriet a reassuring smile. "Gryffindor will be lucky to have you! You're a Potter, after all."
"But how can you know? What if - what if I'm sorted into--" Harriet cut off, her eyes darting to the back of her godfather's head. "Into Slytherin?" Sirius had not been very successful in hiding his disdain for Slytherin House.
Peter wrinkled his brow, stymied. "Oh, well - well, I'm sure you don't have anything to worry about, Harry."
It took four turns around the block and some muscular driving (but astonishingly no wand-waving) to find parking on Argyle Street, perpendicular to St Pancras. "Next time - we'll bring the - luggage trolley - to the luggage," Sirius panted as he staggered under the weight of Harriet's unshrunken school trunk, "instead of - the luggage to - the luggage trolley."
"Quite the genius, your godfather," joked Peter, who only had Hedwig's cage to carry.
They found a luggage trolley, heaved the trunk onto it, and placed Hedwig's cage on top. With Peter pushing the trolley and Sirius guiding Harriet along with one hand on her shoulder and the other gripping his wand where it was half-hidden up his sleeve, they wended through the crowds to Platform Nine and Three Quarters.
"Sirius, are you sure this is the right place?" Harriet asked, staring up at the big plastic number nine over one platform and the big plastic number ten over the next platform. "I don't see a sign for Platform Nine and Three Quarters!"
"The platform's hidden from Muggles, much the way Diagon Alley is hidden," Sirius explained. "Only you needn't tap the wall or anything like that. What you do is walk straight at that ticket booth between platforms nine and ten to get to the other side."
The other side of what? Harriet wondered, but didn't have time to ask because Peter was already moving, pushing the trolley almost at a run, aiming for the barrier that divided the two platforms. Harriet blinked and suddenly Peter was gone.
A boy standing nearby gasped in surprise and cried out, "Mum, Dad! That man just disappeared into the wall!"
Harriet watched as the boy's parents turned to look, but of course it was too late to see anything. Undeterred, the boy began tugging his mother towards Sirius and Harriet. "I saw him disappear, Mum, I swear! And he had an owl."
"Dean, I don't think--" his mother began.
"Can't we ask, please? He was with that man, there, with the leather jacket and the girl with red hair. Maybe they know how to get onto the platform."
Sirius drew Harriet closer, his stance protective, but gave the boy and his parents a welcoming smile. "New to Hogwarts, are you?" he said cheerfully to the boy. "Not to worry, it's Harriet's first time, too."
"Oh, thank God, someone who knows what's going on!" the boy's mother exclaimed, looking very relieved. She held out her hand for Sirius to shake. "Sophie Thomas. This is my husband Noah, and my son Dean."
"Sirius Black, and my goddaughter Harriet Potter." When none of the Thomases reacted to Harriet's name, Sirius began to relax.
"How d'you do?" said Dean, shaking hands with Harriet. He seemed nice and friendly, a tall black boy wearing a red football shirt and blue jeans.
"Platform Nine and Three Quarters is hidden away with magic, you see," Sirius was explaining to Dean's parents. "But we can help you folks get onto the platform--if you'll be so good as to hold my hand, Sophie. Dean, you've got your dad? Right, then, you follow behind me and bring him through. The trick is confidence." Sirius took hold of Harriet with one hand and Mrs Thomas with the other. "Sophie, Noah, it might help to close your eyes as we go through. Ready, everyone? Let's go!"
They walked quickly, weaving through crowds of tourists, picking up speed until they were jogging. Harriet clung to Sirius' right hand, caught between her faith in him and the undeniable fact of solid walls. Eyes squeezed shut, she kept going and going, though surely they should have smacked into the wall by now, then suddenly Sirius was laughing and telling Harriet to open her eyes.
Harriet looked up and saw a scarlet steam engine waiting next to a platform packed with parents and children, some dressed in regular clothes and some in cloaks and pointed hats. A sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, 11 o'clock. Peter stood waiting with Harriet's trunk, his eyes darting anxiously about.
"Merlin's beard, Sirius, I thought you were only a few steps behind me!" said Peter, tugging on the edge of Sirius' leather jacket. "What took you?"
"Untwist your knickers, Petey, we were helping some Muggles." Sirius introduced his friend to the Thomases. "Sophie, Noah, Dean--Peter Pettigrew."
"Pleasure to meet you," said Peter, after only a brief hesitation. He shook their hands with a cheerful smile.
Sirius clapped Dean on the shoulder. "Shall we try to find a carriage for you and Harriet to sit together?"
They pushed through the crowd, Peter and Dean's father in the lead with their trolleys, Harriet and Dean behind them, and Sirius and Dean's mother bringing up the rear. Harriet and Dean gazed in awe at the zoo around them: cats roaming everywhere, owls hooting and rattling their cages, a large toad escaping a plump, round-faced boy.
Peter found an empty compartment near the end of the train and he and Sirius got both trunks and Hedwig's cage stowed away in under a minute, possibly with a judicious application of magic to hurry the job. Climbing back down, Sirius checked his watch and turned to Dean's parents. "It's only quarter to eleven. We've time still to introduce you around to some of the other parents and children, what do you say? Dean? Harry?"
"Sure!" said Dean, eager to meet other kids. Harriet nodded.
But Peter began to sputter, nervous. "Is - is that a good idea, Sirius?" When Mr Thomas seemed ready to take offence, he tried explaining, "Oh! No, no, it's not what you think--I'm only concerned that - that people will make a spectacle of Harriet. She's a bit, er, famous."
"Are you really?" Dean asked, his dark brown eyes wide and curious.
"That's what they tell me," Harriet replied, feeling her face go pink.
Sirius shrugged and smoothed down Harriet's bangs. "They'll find out about Harry soon enough, won't they," he pointed out reasonably. "In any case, I only meant Augusta Longbottom. Her grandson Neville was born just a day before you, Harry," he told her. "Your mums used to take you and Neville to the park together. Or, well." Sirius bit his lip. "They did until it was no longer safe to let children out-of-doors."
Not liking the unhappy furrow in his brow, Harriet reached up to squeeze her godfather's elbow. "Perhaps Neville and I will become friends," she said, leaning against him. "D'you think my mum would have liked that?"
"I know she would have," Sirius replied, managing a smile for her.
Peter cleared his throat. "I might have seen Caroline and Trenton Bones earlier? Their daughter's eleven now, isn't she?"
"Yes, Susan, Susie--her name escapes me." Sirius scanned the milling families until he spotted a familiar figure. "Ah, there's old Trenton faffing about, there, just under the clock. His bald spot's quite distinctive." He poked Peter in the ribs to get him moving. "Lay on, MacDuff!"
Peter scurried ahead, Sirius and Harriet at his rear, the Thomases following close behind. Around them, the throng began to whisper. "It's Sirius Black," they murmured. "Look, look at the little girl with him! It's Harriet Potter!"
Thankfully the Bones and their daughter Susan were too well-mannered to make a fuss at meeting the Girl Who Lived, and too liberal-minded to object to meeting Muggles. Augusta Longbottom, her rheumy eyes still wickedly sharp, merely shook Harriet's hand and said a cool hello. Harriet and Dean exchanged friendly smiles with Mrs Longbottom's grandson Neville, he of the missing toad.
"I don't suppose Hogwarts has a PTA we can join," Mr Thomas was joking to the others. Of course, he was then required to explain what a PTA was, exactly, to the pure-bloods in the group.
"A parent-teacher association sounds like a marvelous idea!" Mr Bones exclaimed, intrigued. "What do you say, Black?"
"Sirius," hissed Peter, interrupting, his head tipped in the direction of an icy blonde in an elegant blue gown and cloak, accompanied by a tall pale man and a small pale boy that Harriet recognised from that day in Madam Malkin's. The man and boy were looking the other way, but the woman lifted a haughty chin to stare right at Sirius, pale blue eyes meeting pale blue eyes.
"Thinks she's the bloody queen, does she?" Mrs Thomas muttered under her breath.
"She's a Black," said Mrs Longbottom, layers of meaning in her words.
Harriet winced as Sirius' grip on her shoulder tightened. "Narcissa Malfoy," he said, lips twisting with some deep emotion. "My cousin. Her son Draco is starting Hogwarts this year." He tore his gaze away from his cousin and turned to Harriet with a hard expression. "Do you remember what I told you, Harry?"
"Stay away from Draco Malfoy," Harriet answered promptly. She had found Malfoy rather stuck-up even before she knew who his parents were: she didn't think obeying her godfather would be very difficult.
Looking fiercely relieved, Sirius bent to kiss her forehead. "That's my girl."
Mrs Thomas cleared her throat, embarrassed. "Ah, I take it there's some bad blood?"
"They're Blacks," Mrs Longbottom repeated, a bit incredulous, as though even Muggles should recognise that great family. She sniffed disdainfully. "Bad blood, indeed."
"Nothing you need to worry about, dear," said Mrs Bones, with a kind smile for Mrs Thomas, perhaps fudging the truth a little. "Just politics."
"With pure-bloods, politics and family feuds are one and the same," Sirius muttered, quietly enough that only Harriet heard him. "Come, it's nearly eleven," he said abruptly. "We should get the children settled on the train." He gave Mrs Longbottom a slight bow, an oddly courtly gesture. "It was good to see you again, Mrs Longbottom. Bones, Caroline." He smiled at Neville and Susan. "Mr Longbottom, Miss Bones."
Dean's parents shook hands with everyone and followed Sirius back to the compartment where Harriet and Dean's trunks had been stowed. While the Thomases said their goodbyes, Sirius and Peter drew Harriet further away to share a final piece of advice.
"Harry, we want you to study hard and do well, of course," said Sirius, going down on one knee to look her right in the eye. "But more importantly, have fun. Hogwarts is a wonderful place and you'll have a chance to become friends with kids just like yourself, other young witches and wizards. Eat lots of sweets, learn to play Quidditch, and get yourself into trouble now and then."
"Not too much trouble, though!" Peter couldn't quite repress a grin, his lips twitching. "But a small bit of mischief, here and there. You'll keep old McGonagall on her toes, yeah?" He leaned over and pecked Harriet on the cheek; his whiskers tickled. "Send me loads of owls!"
"I will," Harriet promised, then squealed when Sirius scooped her up into the air, hugging her tightly and smacking big, wet kisses all over her face. "Sirius," she groaned, blushing with secret delight at his affection.
"I'll miss you," her godfather whispered in her ear.
"I'll miss you, too." Harriet hugged him back, then reached for Peter to pull him into their embrace.
Harriet and Dean climbed the train and knelt up on their seats to wave out the window, and first Mrs Thomas, then Sirius, leant up to give Dean and Harriet one last kiss. The train began to move, its great wheels turning, turning, and Sirius clung to Harriet's hand through the window, running alongside the train as it gathered speed, until eventually he had to let go, left behind on the platform with Peter and the Thomases, waving goodbye.
For the first time since Harriet learnt about Hogwarts, she felt a twinge of disappointment that she was going. It hurt to be separated from Sirius after four and a half weeks of being in his near-daily presence, ever since he showed up on the Dursleys' doorstep on the morning of her eleventh birthday. Harriet was only just beginning to know him, and Peter.
"I promised my parents to write once a week," Dean told her, looking a bit miserable. "And I promised my little sisters to draw them pictures of Hogwarts castle. They really wanted to come with me, you know."
"Sirius promised he'd come to every Quidditch match, even if my house wasn't playing," she told him. "Sirius told me parents are always welcome. Maybe your parents will be able to bring your sisters?" This suggestion cheered Dean right up, which gave Harriet a little flutter of happiness at taking the first steps to making a new friend.
The door to their compartment slid open and in came a white girl with freckles on her nose and hair even redder than Harriet's. "Hullo. Anyone sitting there?" she asked, pointing at the empty seat next to Dean. "Everywhere else is full."
Dean raised his eyebrows at Harriet, who nodded. "Go ahead," said Dean, smiling at the new girl. "Are you a first year, too?"
The redhead nodded. "I'm Ginny Weasley."
"Dean Thomas," said Dean.
"Harriet Potter," said Harriet--and, oh dear, now she was in for it.
"Are you really Harriet Potter?" Ginny blurted out, her brown eyes nearly popping out of her skull. "Have you really got, you know..." She pointed at Harriet's forehead.
"My scar?" She pushed her bangs aside to show off the lightning bolt scar. Ginny stared, awestruck, while Dean glanced between Ginny and Harriet, confused.
"That's a nasty one, Harriet," said Dean, sounding not quite sure what the big deal was. "Er, is this about how you're famous?"
Ginny's voice was a solemn hush. "That's a curse scar, don't you know? That's where You-Know-Who tried to kill her."
Dean's mouth dropped open. "Someone tried to kill you?" he squawked, staring at Harriet. "Bloody hell!"
Kicking idly at the floor, Harriet muttered, "I'd really rather not talk about it." It wasn't that she blamed Ginny for her curiosity--she was just as curious about what had happened to her as a baby, if not more, though Sirius and Peter didn't like talking about those days. But she hoped that Dean and Ginny would become her friends because they liked her, not because she was famous.
"Sorry," Ginny mumbled, chastened, staring at her feet. An awkward silence reigned in the compartment until:
"So, Ginny, are you Muggle-born or pure-blood?" Dean asked abruptly, his eyes narrowed at the other girl. "It means sod all to me, but you wizards seem to actually care about this sort of thing."
"Er, well, I guess some people do," said Ginny. "Not my family, though. We're pure-bloods, but a lot of other pure-blood families call us blood traitors for thinking Muggles should be treated fairly. My dad says there's no difference between a wizard that's pure-blood and one that's Muggle-born and I agree. We're all the same deep down, right?"
Dean seemed to loosen up upon hearing this, and so did Harriet. Technically she wasn't a Muggle-born, but she'd been raised by Muggles and didn't want people to hold the Dursleys against her. "But if you're a pure-blood, you must know loads of magic already," she said to Ginny, a bit envious. Harriet had been worried that she would be far behind everyone else, until she met Dean, who didn't know anything about magic either. But if most of the kids were like Ginny or Susan Bones or Neville Longbottom, or worse, like Draco Malfoy, then what chance did she or Dean have to keep up?
"Nothing with a wand, but I'm not bad on a broomstick," Ginny said, modestly. "And I've done accidental magic, of course. Mostly I watch my mum and dad and older brothers when they do spells. Er--" She hesitated, darting a glance at Harriet. "I suppose you didn't have parents to-- I mean, I heard you went to live with Muggles," she said in a rush, unable to contain her curiosity. "What are they like?"
"Horrible! Well, most of them aren't," Harriet corrected herself, shooting Dean an apologetic smile. "My aunt and uncle and cousin are awful, though. I'd rather I had sisters like you, Dean," she said. Or that I'd grown up with Sirius, though Harriet didn't say that out loud. But she thought having sisters would be almost as good.
"You've got sisters?" Ginny asked Dean.
"Yeah, two of them, Aleisha and Marianne."
"I've only got brothers," said Ginny, making a face. "Six of them. Bill and Charlie have already left--Bill was Head Boy and Charlie was Quidditch captain. Percy's a prefect this year. And Fred and George are Beaters for the Gryffindor House team. They're two years ahead of me and really popular."
"Wow," said Harriet, astonished. She tried to imagine growing up in such a big family. "Sounds like you have a lot to live up to."
"At least I'm the only girl," Ginny added, trying to be philosophical. "My brother Ron is the youngest and he gets forgotten by everyone, even our parents sometimes. And with so many of us, we never get anything new. I've got Bill's old robes, Charlie's old wand, and Percy's old rat." Ginny reached into a pocket and pulled out a fat grey rat, whose nose twitched even while sleeping. "Pathetic, isn't he? Percy got an owl from my parents for being made a prefect, but they couldn't afford--I mean, um, I got Scabbers instead."
Realising how much she had spilled about her family, Ginny turned as red as her hair and stared at her feet again.
"I never had money either," Harriet said suddenly, not wanting the other girl to feel bad. "Not until I got my Hogwarts letter last month, and my godfather explained who my parents were. I only had my cousin Dudley's cast-offs to wear and I never got birthday presents, either. Last Christmas, I got a pair of Dudley's old socks... And they weren't even gift-wrapped."
"Really?" said Ginny, sounding oddly cheered and appalled simultaneously.
"Jesus Christ," Dean muttered, hands shoved deep into his jeans pockets. "I miss my family already."
Quiet fell over the three children as they fumbled for safer conversation. Dean eventually asked about Quidditch, which he'd heard both Harriet and Ginny mention. Ginny perked up and began explaining the sport in passionate detail, with Harriet offering a few tidbits she had gleaned from Sirius, who was also a big fan.
"First years never make the house teams," Ginny sighed. "I'll definitely try out next year, though."
"Doesn't sound as good as footy," said Dean, still sceptical. Thankfully, he and Ginny were interrupted before they could launch into a heated argument over the relative merits of football versus Quidditch by a loud clattering in the corridor and a smiling, dimpled witch sliding open their compartment door.
"Anything off the trolley, dears?"
Harriet, who hadn't had any breakfast, leapt to her feet. The trolley was loaded with very strange and very colourful candies and cakes and other things she had never seen before. Remembering her godfather's admonishment to eat lots of sweets, she bought some of everything and tipped the whole lot onto an empty seat.
She looked up to find Dean and Ginny pretending not to stare hungrily at her stash. "Dig in," she told them, cheerfully trying to shove an entire pumpkin pasty in her mouth. It took a bit of convincing, but soon the others were tearing through Harriet's pasties and cakes.
"I don't care if it tastes like chicken or chocolate," said Dean, holding up a pack of Chocolate Frogs. "People shouldn't eat frogs."
"It's not a real frog," Ginny told him, "just chocolate shaped like a frog. But it's the cards you want."
Unwrapping her own Chocolate Frog, Harriet held up the card she found inside. "Albus Dumbledore, currently Headmaster of Hogwarts." She passed the card to Dean to see.
"Blimey, he's moving!" Dean exclaimed.
"What?" Harriet leaned over to see Dumbledore wink at them, then shuffle out of his frame. "Hey, where's he going?"
"Nowhere, really--it's a Chocolate Frog card, not a portrait. He'll be back." Ginny got the Morgana card again and gave it to Harriet.
"I wonder if I can learn to draw moving pictures," said Dean, looking thoughtfully down at Tiye of Egypt, who was fanning herself with a palm frond.
The countryside now flying past was becoming wilder, neat fields giving way to dark woods, twisting rivers, and brown hills. "The train must be using magic to help it along," Harriet told the other two. "I don't see how else we can leave London at eleven o'clock and arrive in some remote part of Scotland in time for dinner."
There was a knock on their compartment door and little round-faced Neville Longbottom came in, close to tears. With him was a girl already dressed in her Hogwarts uniform.
"Has anyone seen a toad? Neville's lost one," the new girl said. She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair, and rather large front teeth.
Harriet, Dean, and Ginny checked under their candy wrappers and under their seats, but no toad appeared. "No luck, Neville, sorry," said Dean.
"What'll my gran say when I tell her?" Neville whimpered, sounding so pathetic that Harriet immediately offered him a Chocolate Frog. Then she had to give the new girl a Chocolate Frog too, so as not to be rude.
"I've got Circe! I've read all about her in A History of Magic," said the new girl. "She developed the earliest forms of human-to-animal transfiguration, you know. Who did you get, Neville? Oh, you've got Dumbledore! I've read about him too--he's the greatest wizard of our times, did you know? He's currently Headmaster of Hogwarts, which is the very best school for witchcraft in the world, I've heard. I was ever so pleased to get my letter, though I was ever so surprised--my parents are Muggles, you see. I've already learnt all our set books off by heart, of course, and I'm reading all of Dumbledore's published works, too. My favourite so far is Animagery: From Circe to Yomoto, particularly the chapter on how Circe's theories have been adapted over the centuries to become the modern-day Animagus spell."
She said all this very fast and without stopping for air. When she got four blank stares at the end of it, she huffed an annoyed breath and explained, "The Animagus spell is an extremely powerful Transfiguration spell that allows an ordinary witch or wizard to become an Animagus for life, which means they will be able to transform into a particular animal--it's a different animal for everyone who manages the spell--just by thinking it, and be able to do it for the rest of their lives. It's a very interesting book!"
"Whoa! You want to slow down there, sister?" said Dean, bemused. "Remember to breathe, yeah?"
"Oh, is she one of your sisters?" asked Ginny, an innocent comment that nevertheless made Harriet blush in sympathetic embarrassment.
"Er, no, we're not related." Dean seemed torn between getting angry and laughing at Ginny's mistake. "It's just slang."
"My mum's Caucasian, actually," the new girl said, looking at Ginny askance. "I'm Hermione Granger. And you are...?"
"Ginny Weasley," said Ginny, her ears turning red yet again. But she lifted her chin at Hermione, stubborn.
Dean introduced himself next and Hermione shook his hand before turning to Harriet.
"Harriet Potter," she said, and braced herself.
"Are you really?" asked Hermione, with great intensity. "I know all about you, of course--I got a few extra books for background reading, and you're in Modern Magical History and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts and Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century."
"Am I?" said Harriet, cringing. Sirius had given her fair warning, at least.
Hermione opened her mouth and would have started up again, but an older boy poked his head in and said, "Longbottom, we've found your toad in our compartment." Neville scurried after him and Hermione reluctantly followed.
"You'd best get changed into your robes," she said on her way out. "I expect we'll be arriving soon."
"Whatever house I'm in, I hope she's not in it," Ginny scowled.
"I hope I'm in Gryffindor," said Harriet fervently. "Both my parents were Gryffindors, and Sirius and Peter. I don't know what they would say if I were in Slytherin." She made a face.
Ginny nodded, more than a little sympathetic. "I'd die if I got stuck in Slytherin! I don't suppose Hufflepuff would be too bad, but my mum and dad and my older brothers were all sorted into Gryffindor, so I 'spect it will be the same for me."
"How exactly do they sort us into houses?" Dean asked Ginny.
"Some sort of test, I think. Fred said it hurts a lot, but I think he was joking."
Harriet exchanged panicked looks with Dean. "A test! But we don't know any magic yet!" she protested, her stomach in knots. "Dean is Muggle-born and I'm as good as!"
"Oh - oh, well," Ginny stammered. "I've never heard of anyone being kicked out of Hogwarts before they'd even started."
Thumping his head back against the compartment wall, Dean sighed, "I bloody well hope you're right, Ginny."
Harriet bit her lip.
Sorting was done alphabetically by family name, and so first Harriet, then Dean, and finally Ginny were sorted into Gryffindor, to everyone's great relief and satisfaction. Altogether there were ten Gryffindor first years: Lavender Brown, Seamus Finnigan, Hermione Granger, Neville Longbottom, Leo Rosier, Parvati Patil, Harriet Potter, Edmund Spinks, Dean Thomas, and Ginevra Weasley.
During dessert the talk turned to families. "It's the reverse for me," Lavender was telling Seamus. "My dad's the wizard in my family and my mum's the Muggle. He didn't tell her about it until I started showing some magic."
"I'm a pure-blood," said Parvati. "Well, my paternal grandmother is a half-blood, but the rest of my relations are pure-bloods. My mother's family were all Ravenclaw and my father was a Hufflepuff." Her dark eyes were laughing. "Won't they be surprised when I tell them I'm in Gryffindor!"
"How about you, Leo?" Dean asked the black-haired boy, but to his consternation Leo made a show of pretending not to hear him.
"Ignore him," Ginny whispered. "I'll explain later."
Nodding reluctantly, Dean turned away with one last baffled look and instead asked Neville about his grandmother, which led to an almost unbelievable story in which Neville's Great Uncle Algie accidentally dropped eight-year-old Neville out of a window. Dean gaped at him. "You wizards are weird."
Seamus thumped his arm in a friendly way. "You're a wizard too! Or did you forget?"
Feeling warm and pleasantly full, her attention drifting, Harriet's gaze turned idly towards the High Table. Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall were deep in conversation. There was Hagrid, the huge, wild-looking man Harriet had met when Sirius had taken her to make a withdrawal from Gringotts. There was Professor Quirrell, who Harriet had met in the Leaky Cauldron. But it was the teacher sitting to Quirrell's right who caught her attention, a man with greasy black hair, a hooked nose, and sallow skin--who was staring straight into Harriet's eyes.
It was the oddest sensation, like falling from a great height into a deep and murky dream, her mind's eye drawn to a pretty little girl with dark red hair and bright green eyes, a girl who looked so very like Harriet that they could be twins. Lily, for the girl was none other than eleven-year-old Lily Evans, was being sorted into Gryffindor and it was wrong, the hat had to be wrong, and Harriet felt an awful, twisting pain in her chest, and then another sharp, hot pain shooting across the scar on her forehead--
"Ouch!" She clapped a hand to her head, tears stinging her eyes.
"What's wrong?" asked Ginny.
"N-nothing," Harriet stuttered, too confused to explain. The pain from her scar had gone as quickly as it had come, though the pang in her chest lingered. "Ginny, do you know that teacher speaking to Professor Quirrell?"
"Oh, that must be Professor Snape, Head of Slytherin House. Say, he does look like a greasy git, doesn't he? I've heard all sorts of stories about him," Ginny replied, sounding fascinated. "He teaches Potions, but everyone knows he's after Quirrell's job. Knows an awful lot about Dark Arts, Snape."
Harriet watched Snape for a while, unable to shake the feeling that he knew her, but Snape didn't look at her again.
Thankfully Harriet didn't have time to dwell on staring strangers, whether fellow students or professors--lessons began the next day with a vengeance and soon overwhelmed her with piles of homework. It was the same for everyone, and by the end of the week even the biggest gossips were kept too busy to whisper about the Girl Who Lived.
"Mail's here," Dean remarked, glancing up at the first screeching owl swooping into the Great Hall at breakfast on Friday.
"Thanks, Hedwig," said Harriet when her owl dropped a note on her plate. She had already received two letters that week, one each from Sirius and Peter, congratulating her on making Gryffindor. Sirius' letter had been a lengthy and excited ramble on all manner of things: Quidditch, Transfiguration (his favourite subject), Chocolate Frog cards, and Harriet's new friends. Sirius had asked Harriet to pass on his congratulations to Ginny and Dean for making Gryffindor--compliments that had made Ginny blush and Dean laugh. (Dean found it funny that Harriet's godfather was more excited about his making Gryffindor than his own parents.)
The letter from Peter had been shorter and full of helpful advice, like the best routes around the castle or wizarding etiquette that Harriet couldn't have known to ask about. Peter also had a talent for making sly comments about her teachers, which forced her to hide more than one snigger in class.
The note she had now was from Sirius, elegant copperplate handwriting informing her that he had been called out of the country on urgent business and would return in two weeks. Harriet was instantly curious, but as the note also said that owls wouldn't reach him, she would have to content herself with speculation. McGonagall is nearby should you need to talk to a grown-up, he wrote, but in case of emergency, don't hesitate to go straight to Dumbledore. He'll get a message to me immediately.
Ginny came into the Great Hall late. "Good, there's still breakfast," she said, grabbing a buttered scone. "Morning, all."
"Good morning," said Harriet, shifting over to make room, ignoring a glare from the Gryffindor fifth year being squeezed. "What happened to you?"
"Run-in with Rosier," Ginny scowled, biting savagely into her scone. "Prejudiced little runt." Dean pushed over a plate of sausages and Ginny grinned her thanks. "I hope he isn't too awful to you in the boys' dorm," she said to him.
"What are you talking about?" asked Harriet, confused. Leo had lent her a quill yesterday when hers had snapped. "He's a bit quiet, but he seems nice enough."
"To you, maybe," Dean snorted. "Trust me, Rosier's a git." He lowered his voice so Harriet and Ginny had to lean in. "He'll talk to Seamus and Neville, but he stares at Ed and me like we're aliens. And yesterday I heard him being rude to Hermione--though maybe she deserved it, what with her going on and on about knowing all the answers in History of Magic." But he sounded doubtful even as he said it.
Harriet made a face. "D'you think it's because you're black?"
"Ed's white," Dean pointed out. "I don't think that's it."
"No, it's because you're both Muggle-born," said Ginny, her face grim. "So's Hermione Granger. But Rosier's a pure-blood, see? His family hates Muggles and Muggle-borns--both his father and grandfather fought on the side of You-Know-Who." She shot a surreptitious glare at Rosier, just now sitting down at the table. "Don't know what he's doing in Gryffindor. He'd be better off in Slytherin with the likes of Malfoy and his goons."
"Hating Muggle-borns is still racism!" Dean stabbed at his bread roll in disgust. "Bloody hell. And I have to share a dorm with him!"
"Maybe he'll change his mind once he gets to know you," Harriet suggested, though Ginny's sceptical expression said she didn't think that was very likely.
Both Dean and Ginny were in foul moods when the Gryffindor first years arrived in the dungeons for their first Double Potions lesson with the Slytherins, but they quieted right down the moment Professor Snape stalked into the room, black robes billowing.
Snape began to speak into the silence, a mere whisper, but they caught every word. "I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses..." Snape's black gaze swept over the class to settle on Harriet.
"Potter!" said Snape suddenly. "What would I get if I added powered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Powered root of what to an infusion of what? Harriet glanced Dean, who looked equally stumped; Hermione's hand had shot into the air.
"I don't know, sir," said Harriet, clasping her hands together under the worktable.
Snape's lips curled into a sneer. "Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"
Harriet hadn't the faintest idea what a bezoar was. "I don't know, sir."
If Hermione stretched her hand any higher in the air, she would strain a muscle--but still Snape ignored her. He drifted closer like a viper about to strike, then leaned in to hiss, "What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"
Harriet forced herself to keep looking straight into those cold eyes, but it was difficult to focus. She felt herself falling, rushing towards Snape at great speed until all she could see was that dark gaze, and within that gaze, a reflection, a shadow, a monstrous creature with terrible teeth and snapping jaws and wild golden eyes...
Sweat suddenly prickled her forehead despite the chill of the dungeons. "I - I don't feel good," Harriet whispered, suddenly dizzy, confused.
Snape was a column of midnight standing over her. "How convenient," he drawled, scornful. "If you are truly ill, you will be taken to the hospital wing." He sounded as though it hurt to concede even that much.
Taking slow breaths, her eyes fixed somewhat blearily on the scarred surface of her potions worktable, Harriet tried to push back the vertigo.
"C'mon, let me take you to see the nurse," Dean coaxed. His arm around her shoulders was the only thing keeping her from sliding right under the table.
"No," Harriet whispered, stubborn. She wouldn't give Snape the satisfaction. Did he really expect the class to have memorised the entirety of their potions text? Well, clearly Hermione had, but she was willing to bet no one else had, not even Draco Malfoy. Taking another slow, careful breath, Harriet stiffened her spine and stared straight ahead, like one of the guards at Buckingham Palace. "Thank you, sir. I'll be fine, sir," she replied, so respectfully that her molars ached.
The class held its collective breath as Snape glared balefully down at her, at the bangs hiding the lightning scar. Then-- "For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, which also goes by the name of aconite."
Snape paused, waiting until she met his cold gaze. "Detention. Tonight after dinner. Don't be late." With a final sneer he circled away, a black predator in search of fresh prey.
How are you? Where have you gone? I hope you've warm clothes if you are somewhere cold and rainy. Your last letter said that Hedwig wouldn't be able to find you where you are, but I'll give this letter to Professor McGonagall tomorrow in case she knows how to get it to you. I've enclosed a picture that Dean drew of today's flying lesson: I'm diving to catch Neville's Remembrall. Speaking of flying...
You'll never believe it! I'm the new Gryffindor Seeker! I know you told me to stay away from Draco Malfoy, but it's really all thanks to him that I'm on the team. He was being a great git during our first flying lesson and he threw Neville Longbottom's Remembrall from really high up. I dove and caught it and Professor McGonagall saw me, but instead of giving me detention, she told Oliver Wood (he's the Gryffindor Keeper and team captain) that she wanted me to be the new Seeker. She said I was a natural! So now I'm on the team along with Wood, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, and Katie Bell (Chasers), and Fred and George Weasley (Beaters).
Wood wanted to keep it all a secret until our first match, but I had to tell Dean and Ginny. Dean still doesn't see the point of Quidditch, but he's promised to come to all our matches. Ginny thinks it's great that I'm the new Seeker. Do you know, I think she's even more Quidditch-mad than you are?
No, Professor Snape hasn't given me another detention. The one I had my first week was bad enough! My fingers are still cramped from copying out three chapters of Magical Drafts and Potions--but I'll never forget the directions to Boils Begone!
Remember how you told me that I should get up to some mischief, now and then? I don't know if this counts: Malfoy has challenged me to a wizard's duel and I'm to meet him tonight at midnight. Ginny tells me not to worry as neither Malfoy or I know enough magic to hurt each other, but in case something does go wrong, I wanted to tell you that I'm very sorry. But it's a matter of honour! I have to show Malfoy that I'll not take his bullying. He's worse than Dudley.
Lavender wants me to put out my candle so I'll finish up. Good night, Sirius! Though I'm sure I won't get a wink of sleep. Dean and Ginny and I are sneaking out at half eleven to face Malfoy and his second. Dean knows some boxing and says that he can always punch Malfoy if I can't make my wand work!
P.S. Dear Sirius, it's morning now. Malfoy didn't show up for our duel. Hermione says he never intended to, that it was a trick to get us into trouble. We didn't get caught out of bed, though, so no harm done. But did you know that there's a huge, three-headed dog in Hogwarts? It was guarding a trap door in the out-of bounds corridor on the third floor. I wonder what's down there?
Congratulations on being made Seeker! I'm so immensely proud of you! Your dad would be proud too. Did you know he gave you a plush, child-sized Quaffle when you were but a babe in your crib? He and I had the best time playing Quidditch and I hope that you will too. I understand that Professor McGonagall arranged to have your Nimbus Two Thousand picked up from my flat. Didn't I tell you to bring your broomstick to school? Next time you'll know to listen to me when it comes to all the important things in life, such as Quidditch.
I wish I could feel astonished that Draco Malfoy would try to get you in trouble, but it's typical Slytherin behaviour. I also wish I could feel dismay that you accepted Malfoy's challenge to a duel, but in truth I'm sneakingly proud. It'd be hypocritical of me to lecture you about fighting when your father and I were notorious for it, even in first year.
That said, I hope you'll exercise better judgment than we did; more than once Gryffindor lost the House Cup because of James and me. Furthermore, I implore you to consider what your poor godfather would suffer if you were seriously injured in a fight! It's true first years can't do much with their wands, but the more you learn in Defence class, the more likely you could really hurt someone or be hurt yourself. For my sake, be careful! And for the sake of your friends, as well. I suspect Dean and Ginny's parents would be upset if something were to happen to them.
Unfortunately I can't tell you where I've been the past two weeks; sometimes my job requires keeping secrets. I'm truly sorry. But I have many other stories to share! Remind me to tell you about old Mad-Eye fighting six vampires single-handedly! Being an Auror isn't all thrilling chases and beautiful women, however; there's also a disgusting amount of paperwork involved, I hate to say.
As for the dog mentioned in your postscript, which I'll assume is Hagrid's doing as I can't imagine any Hogwarts teacher coming near a beast like that: it probably is guarding something, as you suggested. And if Dumbledore is protecting something at Hogwarts, it must be important. I recommend that you and the others keep mum about what you've seen. No need to pique anyone else's curiosity and give Dumbledore more to worry about.
Well, this letter has gone on long enough! If memory serves you've loads of reading as it is, though I personally found more use for A History of Magic as a doorstop than anything else. Do write when you can, Harry, and tell me about Quidditch practice and whether that Malfoy boy gives you any more trouble. Please thank Dean for me for the wonderful sketch; it shows real talent. And good for you, Harry, for saving Neville's Remembrall. What a dive!
All my love,
Autumn took firm hold of the Highlands as the weeks hurried by. Between classes and homework and Quidditch practice three times a week, Harriet barely had time to respond to her mail, though Sirius wrote faithfully at least once a week. On Hallowe'en morning, she received yet another letter, this one thicker than usual. Already late for class, she tucked it away for later.
In Charms, Professor Flitwick paired up the students to practice levitating objects for the very first time. Dean was paired with Rosier, to their mutual disgust, and Harriet was paired with Seamus. "Swish and flick, remember, swish and flick," Professor Flitwick cried out in his high little voice.
Ginny swished and flicked her wand aggressively, shouting, "Wingardium Leviosa!"
"You've put emphasis on the wrong syllables!" Hermione protested, sounding almost offended by the error. "It's Wing-gar-dium Levi-o-sa. Here, I'll show you." Rolling up her sleeves, she flicked her wand and said, "Wingardium Leviosa!"
Their feather rose gently up into the air and hovered four feet above their heads, to Ginny's obvious frustration.
"What a show-off! It's no wonder she hasn't got any friends," Ginny complained as she and Harriet left the Charms classroom. "She's a nightmare, honestly!"
A small sob caught Harriet's ear and she turned to see Hermione hurrying past them, her face streaked with tears. "Oh, dear. I think she heard you."
"It's still the truth," said Ginny, but she stared after the fleeing figure with a guilty expression. When Hermione failed to show up for Transfiguration, Ginny decided to search for her and apologise. "I'll never hear the end of it if Percy finds out I made a girl cry," she said grimly.
"Do you need help looking?" Harriet asked. "Only I've another letter from Sirius and I'm already behind on writing him back."
"You stay, I'll go." Ginny made a face. "You're not the one who made her cry."
Settling herself by the fire in the common room, Harriet broke the seal of her letter and pulled out a thick sheaf of parchment, each page covered front and back in her godfather's copperplate handwriting. Tucked in the envelope were two wizard photos, one of Sirius and Peter with Harriet's parents, all of them dressed in Hogwarts uniforms, and the second of James and Lily with an infant Harriet. She stared at the two photos for a long time, drinking in her parents' faces, before finally turning to the letter.
It was not one of Sirius' typical missives, she quickly realised, full of jokes and quips and nonsensical observations. Instead, it was a heartfelt proclamation of Sirius' love for Harriet, rooted in the promises he had made to her parents and in their unshakable friendship. Sirius confessed his terrible guilt for failing to protect James and Lily, who had been as much his family as they had been Harriet's. He also spoke of James and Lily's love for their daughter, how they had planned for a child despite the war and had rejoiced at Harriet's birth. How they had fought to make the world a better place for her and done everything within their power to keep her safe. How they had died trying to protect her from Voldemort on this very day, ten years ago.
Harriet fought back the tears pressing upon her, not wanting the whole common room to witness her grief. The stairs to the dormitories were blocked by a group of third years. Grabbing up her letters and photographs, she stumbled out of the portrait hole in search of solitude. There were still too many people around--she realised belatedly that it was time for the Hallowe'en Feast. Borne along by the crowd, she only managed to escape when they reached the Entrance Hall.
The girls' toilet on the ground floor was empty, the noise from the Great Hall a quiet din once the door was shut. Slumped against the far wall, Harriet took out the first photo, her fingertips tracing the curve of her mother's cheek, the angle of her father's elbow. She smiled through her tears at the four Gryffindors, mucking about without a care in the world. Young Sirius stole a kiss from young Lily; young James howled in protest; young Lily pretended to swoon in young Sirius' arms; young Peter nearly fell over laughing; young Lily threw her arms around young James and smothered his face with kisses. It was silly and rambunctious and perfect and gone. She would never know that young couple, would never see them drinking tea in the kitchen when she came down for breakfast or hear them singing along to the car radio or feel their arms around her when she was lonely.
"I have Sirius and Peter at least," Harriet whispered to herself.
"Is someone there?" a wavering voice called out softly. "Hello?"
Harriet sat up, suddenly noticing that the door to one of the stalls was shut, and that she must not be alone in the toilet after all. "Sorry, I didn't know anyone was in here," she called back to whoever was hiding in the stall.
"Harriet? Is that you?" It was Hermione Granger, her voice sounding stuffed up.
Probably from crying, Harriet thought, scrubbing her own cheeks with her sleeve. "Yes, it's me," she replied, climbing to her feet. "Will you come out? Ginny was looking for you so she could apologise. She--"
The door to the toilet creaked open and someone with heavy shuffling footsteps came in. Harriet turned, her eyes growing wide when she discovered that it wasn't a someone at all--it was a monster, granite grey and gigantic, with stumpy legs and dragging arms. Its round little head nearly brushing the ceiling. "Hermione! Hermione, there's a big ugly thing in here with us! Hermione!"
The monster, whatever it was, heaved the huge wooden club in its hand and smashed two of the sinks right off the wall. Water spurted everywhere, and within her stall Hermione shrieked in surprise. The thing turned towards the noise, surprised, and swung its club again, tearing right through the flimsy wooden stalls.
"Hermione!" Harriet shouted again, crouching low and trying to find the other girl in all the debris. "Hermione, I'll distract it and you crawl out of there and get help!" Standing up again, Harriet yelled at the monster to get its attention, which worked perhaps too well, because it headed straight for her. "Uh-oh." She threw herself to one side as the monster smashed the wall, right where she'd been standing.
Hermione was huddled under the dubious protection of splintered planks, too frightened to make her escape. Harriet herself was blocked in, with the monster slowly advancing. If only someone would come find them!
Dean and Ginny must be mind-readers, thought Harriet a bit hysterically when her friends suddenly burst in, distracting the monster from taking another swing at her.
"Oi, you stupid troll!" Ginny shouted, throwing a piece of pipe that bounced off its shoulder. "Pick on someone your own size!"
Dean's faucet smacked the troll on the back of its head, though it didn't seem to feel it at all. "Get the hell away from her!"
The troll shuffled around to see what was making such a racket, and Harriet grabbed the opening, scrambling over to Hermione and pulling her out of the debris. "Come on, let's go, move!" she yelled, but the other girl was rigid with fear. When the troll looked over its shoulder and saw them, Harriet stepped in front of Hermione and pulled out her wand, trying desperately to think of a spell that would help.
"Oh, bugger it," Dean muttered. He snatch up the thickest wooden beam on the floor and ran at the troll full tilt, jamming the end of the beam right between its legs.
Roaring, the troll hunched over in pain, nearly trapping Dean against the floor. Fixing its beady eyes the cause of its distress, the troll raised its club for a mighty blow that would surely end Dean's life...
"Wingardium Leviosa!" shouted Ginny, with a perfect swish and flick. The club flew out of the troll's hand and rose up into the air, high overhead, turning over slowly--then dropped, with a sickening crack, right on the troll's little head. Letting out a pitiful moan, the troll collapsed flat on its face, stone cold unconscious.
Harriet let out a gusty sigh of relief and wiped sweat from her forehead. Dean rolled easily to his feet, barely out of breath. Wand still in the air, Ginny stared unblinking at the vanquished troll, astonished by her success.
"Is it... dead?" Hermione whispered, breaking the silence.
Harriet dared a step closer. "No, it's just knocked out. It's still breathing, see?"
"I can't believe we took out a troll," Dean marvelled, hands on his hips as he surveyed their fallen foe. He gave Ginny an admiring look. "Nice job with the levitation spell."
Ginny finally shook off her daze. "Thanks! Nice job punching it in the nads." She smirked, then she threw back her head and laughed.
Nerves jangling, Harriet followed her teammates out of the changing rooms and onto the Quidditch pitch. Loud cheers rose from the Gryffindor stands, prompting Harriet to look up. Standing under a large, flashing banner that proclaimed Potter for President, pumping their fists in the air, were her friends: Dean, Ginny, Hermione, Neville, and Seamus. Next to them were Sirius and Peter.
She heard her godfather's roar over the noise of the crowd. "GO HARRY! GO GRYFFINDOR!"
Feeling much braver, Harriet waved and grinned at everyone, and mounted her broom. The Gryffindor and Slytherin teams rose into the air at Madam Hooch's whistle; the Bludgers were released, then the Golden Snitch, then finally the Quaffle.
"C'mon, Angelina!" yelled Harriet as her teammate took possession of the Quaffle and began speeding towards the Slytherin goal posts. Passing the Quaffle, Angelina and Alicia dodged the opposing Chasers and zig-zagged down the field, but the Slytherin Captain intercepted the Quaffle and made a break for it. Oliver was more than a match for him, thankfully, and Katie took possession--until a Bludger knocked her aside. Slytherin had possession--a Weasley twin whacked the Bludger and stopped their Chaser from scoring. Then Angelina had the Quaffle, she was zooming down the field, the Slytherins were struggling to catch her, the Keeper dived to block the Quaffle--
Score! The crowd exploded with Gryffindor cheers and Slytherin boos. "Go Gryffindor!" Harriet screamed at the top of her lungs. Far below, the other players were back in action with hardly a pause, Slytherin quickly taking possession. Then, a flash of gold... The Snitch! Harriet raced towards it, her body flat against her broomstick. The Slytherin Seeker sped faster, trying to match her speed, but Harriet was faster still, a red blur streaking closer, closer, almost, almost--
WHAM! Something heavier than a Bludger slammed into Harriet's side, nearly knocking her off her broomstick. She heard shouts of foul! foul! from the stands, heard, over the growing clamour, Dean shouting, "Send him off, Ref! Red card!"
Madam Hooch didn't send Flint off, but she gave Gryffindor a penalty shot, which put them up another ten points.
Harriet had just dodged another Bludger when her Nimbus Two Thousand began stuttering. Frowning, she tried to steady it, but instead her broomstick went suddenly berserk, kicking and lurching and spinning in dizzying circles like a bronco trying to buck off its rider. There was nothing Harriet could do except cling tightly with her hands and knees. The Nimbus careened wildly, rolling over and over--it pitched forward, flipping end over end, and Harriet screamed and lost her seat, only just managing to hang on by the fingertips of one hand.
"Hang on, Harriet!" one of the Weasley twins shouted, trying to grab her other hand to pull her to safety. But the Nimbus evaded his attempt--each time one of the twins flew close, her broomstick would yank her out of reach. It swished violently back and forth, and Harriet almost lost her grip entirely. Then it plunged straight down, dragging her along, and using all her strength Harriet pulled herself close enough to swing a leg up and over. Her broomstick jerked and rolled a few more times, then came to a quiet stop as suddenly as it had started.
"Merlin's balls, Harriet," said Fred or George--she couldn't tell which. "I've never seen a broomstick act like that!"
But Harriet had already sped away, for there had been a glinting of gold in the sunlight and now the elusive Snitch darting just ahead was the only thing she could see. Stretched out on her broomstick, panting in exhilaration, Harriet felt the brush of wings against her fingers. But she missed, fist closing on air, and the Snitch darted backwards and flew straight into her mouth. Gagging, Harriet landed on the pitch in a tumble of broom and limbs, then bent over coughing until she spat out the Snitch.
I've got the Snitch, thought Harriet, relieved. Then-- "I've got the Snitch!" she called out to Madam Hooch, holding it aloft. There was an astonished silence for five seconds, then from the Gryffindor stands came a terrific roar, shouts and applause and stamping of feet so loud that the wooden beams holding up the stadium practically vibrated and even Lee Jordan's voice over the speakers announcing, "Gryffindor wins!" couldn't drown out their cheers.
Flying in big swooping circles around her, the Gryffindor team screamed their victory while the Slytherin team booed and hissed and their Captain argued with Madam Hooch over the legality of Harriet's catch.
"Harry, Harry!" Sirius was running across the pitch, his old Gryffindor scarf streaming behind him. He landed on one knee beside her and grabbed her up in an enormous hug. "Oh, Harry, you were marvelous! You were brilliant! You're a hero!"
"We won, Sirius, we won! Gryffindor won! Can you believe it? Isn't Quidditch fantastic?" Harriet babbled, trying to hug Sirius and jump up and down at the same time. "I can't wait until we beat Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw too! We're going to win the Quidditch Cup this year, I just know it!" Over her godfather's shoulder, she saw Peter hurrying over, Ginny and her other friends racing ahead of him.
"You won, you won!" Ginny screamed, throwing her arms around Harriet. Fred and George had landed next to them, and Ginny ran to her brothers, leaping on them in excitement. "Fred, George--you won!"
Dean and Seamus thumped Harriet on the back. "You were fantastic, never seen anything like it!"
"Congratulations, Harriet!" said Hermione, her brown eyes bright with excitement. "My goodness, what a thrilling game! I thought Quidditch sounded more than a little ridiculous when I first read up on it, but it's actually quite interesting to watch in person. And I'm so glad we won!"
Peter snickered, hearing this, and exchanged amused looks with Sirius. Harriet grinned and rolled her eyes. "We'll make a fan of you yet, Hermione."
"You were brilliant, Harry!" Peter exclaimed with a quick hug. "Nearly gave me a heart-attack once or twice, but you were brilliant! So much like James, isn't that right, Sirius?"
But Sirius was inspecting Harriet's broomstick, his wand casting a pale glow that enveloped it. Snape stood over his shoulder, sneering as Sirius worked. Professor McGonagall reached them soon after, looking torn between a desire to lord Gryffindor's win over Snape and figuring out who had tampered with the Nimbus Two Thousand.
Hermione drew Harriet away from the adults. "It was Professor Snape," she whispered. "Dean and I both saw him cursing your broomstick." She explained about how she had set Snape's robes on fire to break his concentration.
"I can't believe Snape would try to kill me," said Harriet, stunned. "If you hadn't stopped him... Thanks, Hermione, I owe you."
Hermione smiled shyly. "Oh, well, you tried to protect me from the troll--" She broke off suddenly, her brown eyes going wide. "The troll! What if the troll came into the girl's toilet to kill you? If it was Snape who set it on you... Harriet, we have to tell someone about him!"
Unfortunately, when Harriet tried sharing Hermione's theory about Snape with Sirius and Peter, she was met with surprising resistance. The three of them were sitting by the Black Lake in the waning afternoon sunshine, Harriet wrapped up in a blanket with Peter huddled beside her. Sirius lay supine on the grass at their feet, one arm crooked under his head.
"But why would Snape try to kill you?" asked Sirius, puzzled, fiddling idly with a long blade of grass; he cupped it in his hands and blew across it, producing a whistle. Harriet frowned. He didn't seem to be taking the threat of a murderous teacher very seriously.
"It's because he knows that I know that he was trying to get past the three-headed dog on Hallwe'en," she explained again, impatient. She turned to Peter for his support. "He wants whatever that dog is guarding--he set the troll on me as a distraction!"
But Peter seemed sceptical. "But does that make sense? Why would Snape try to steal something that Dumbledore is protecting? Dumbledore's too powerful--even Snape wouldn't be stupid enough to cross him. He certainly wouldn't try to knock you off a broom with everyone watching." Peter shrugged. "And, well, trolls might be dangerous, but they're not clever enough to go after a particular witch or wizard."
"But Snape hates me," she protested. "I don't know why, but he does."
Her godfather's face turned cold and angry, and he tossed aside his blade of grass. "Snape hates you because he's a bitter, bitter man who can't let go of the past. We were all in the same year at Hogwarts together, you know, only Snape was in Slytherin. He was a nasty git even then, wasn't he, Wormtail--" Peter nodded vigorously in agreement. "Anyway. We hated Snape and Snape hated us--James and me, mostly. But it's nothing to do with you, Harry."
"I don't know," said Harriet, fretful. "He's the only one I can think of who'd want to jinx my broom." There was Malfoy, of course, but Harriet doubted he knew enough magic to try.
"Jinxing a broom isn't really Snape's style," said Peter, after a moment's hesitation. "Don't you think? He's much sneakier than that."
Sirius jackknifed into a sitting position, protesting. "What - Peter - be serious! You're giving old Snivellus--" He cut himself off when Harriet gaped at the appalling nickname for her Potions professor. "Er, that is, Professor Snape. You're giving him too much credit, Petey. I vividly remember him hexing my broom in fifth year, for one thing."
"Ah, yes," Peter sighed in reminiscence. "I vividly remember you landing on your bum and having to sit on a cushion for three days."
The thread of the conversation had been utterly lost, Harriet realised, listening to their bickering. "But Hermione saw him," she burst out suddenly. The two men broke off and stared at her. "He was muttering some kind of spell, and - and he wasn't blinking! Hermione says jinxes require eye contact, and Snape wasn't blinking at all!"
"Oh, Harry," sighed her godfather. He shuffled closer to drape his arm around her shoulders. "If Hermione had looked behind her, she would have seen me doing exactly that: muttering a spell and keeping eye contact."
Harriet wasn't quite sure what he was saying.
Sirius ducked his head to meet her gaze, worry and affection in his eyes. "I was trying to fight the jinx on your broomstick, Harry. Used a counter-curse, for all the good it did. That's what Hermione saw Snape doing. It galls me to have to be grateful to him," he muttered darkly, "but Snape was trying to help you, not hurt you."
It made sense when he explained it like that. "But then who jinxed my broom? And why?" Joy over catching the Snitch had pushed aside the frightening drop of her stomach as she'd dangled from her broomstick, but it was coming back now. She bit her lip and huddled closer.
"I don't know yet, darling," said Sirius, his tone gentle, "but I'm going to find out. I won't let anything bad happen to you."
Secure in his embrace, comforted by his reassurance, Harriet allowed herself to trust. This is what having a dad must be like.
After a minute she cleared her throat and tried to remember what she'd been talking about. "Maybe - maybe I had it all backwards. Maybe there's a different explanation for why Snape got bit by the three-headed dog."
"Do you mean," said Peter, "that Snape was trying to protect whatever that dog is guarding?" He and Sirius exchanged doubtful looks.
But Peter's suggestion sparked a revelation in Harriet. "If Snape was trying to save me," she said, trying to turn her assumptions on their heads, "and Snape isn't fool enough to betray Dumbledore, then he didn't get bit trying to steal whatever the three-headed dog is guarding. Ergo--" Hermione had taught her that word, ergo. It was a good word. "--Snape got bit trying to stop someone else stealing it."
"Again with giving Snape too much credit," Sirius complained. "Isn't there a middle ground between villain and hero? There has to be another explanation for why he'd ever go near Hagrid's three-headed mutt!"
Peter's lips twitched. "Well, there's always a chance Snape was feeling lonely and wanted some... canine companionship."
A look of horror contorted Sirius' normally handsome face. "Merlin's hairy balls, Wormtail, take it back! Take it back!" He gagged as though he was about to sick up. "Argh - Snape - my brain - noooo..."
Harriet stared in wide-eyed alarm as her godfather fell over, whimpering, fists clenched in his hair. "I don't get the joke," she said plaintively.
Peter guffawed, patting Sirius clumsily on the head. "Padfoot, you great git. Never change." He climbed to his feet, shivering in the November air. "Brrr. We should head back before it gets any colder."
"Thanks, Peter," said Harriet when he helped her up. She turned for one last glimpse of the lake and the darkening sky, shaking off the remnants of her previous fright and allowing the happiness of the day to sink into her bones. "C'mon, Sirius, up you get."
But Sirius was curled up in a ball at her feet. Taking pity, Harriet used all her strength to lever him off the ground to stand beside her. She reached up and brushed grass out of thick black hair, smiling faintly at Sirius' pout. "None of that, you goose. It was a nice day, yeah?"
"No, it was a great day." Sirius whooped, suddenly, loud and gleeful, and began running and leaping across the lawn like an exuberant child. "Pooootter - you know she's best! Faaaaster - than all the rest!"
"Don't sing, Padfoot, people might hear you!" cried Harriet, giving chase, her face red with embarrassment.
"Seeeeker - falcon in flight! Sniiiivy - your team is shite!"
With a sigh, Peter trudged up the hill after them, Sirius' cloak under his arm.
Winter arrived the first week of December with fierce winds and icy rain. Thankfully the fireplace in the Gryffindor common room was never without a good blaze, and one evening after dinner saw Harriet and Dean sitting on the nearest couch, books spread all around them, though they had long since given up revising.
"Sirius keeps writing to say that it's all right for me to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas," Harriet was telling Dean. "But when I first met him in the summer, all he could talk about was us being together at Christmas... Like a proper family." She picked at a loose thread on one of the couch cushions. "D'you think he's changed his mind? About me?"
"Does he say, 'why don't you stay at Hogwarts'?" Dean asked, glancing up from where he was doodling Snitches and broomsticks on the blank endpapers of A Beginners' Guide to Transfiguration. "Or does he say, 'if you want, you could stay at Hogwarts'?"
Dean nodded. "He wants you to come and stay with him."
Harriet looked at him hopefully. "Do you really think so?"
"Positive. He's just saying the other thing because he wants you to have a choice. Doesn't want to smother you, I expect."
"That sounds like Sirius," Harriet sighed, smiling. "Always trying to do what's best for me, even if it's the opposite of what he wants." She shut her Charms text with a decided thud. "Well, that settles it. Ginny will have our dormitory all to herself over Christmas."
"Hermione's after her to keep looking for a reference to Flamel," said Dean. Hagrid had let slip the name 'Nicholas Flamel' the day after the Gryffindor-Slytherin match, and the four friends had been trying to learn more ever since. "Bad enough Ginny's stuck here while her parents are off seeing dragons, but who wants to spend Christmas hols in the library?"
"Hermione, that's who," Harriet snorted. "She wants me to ask Sirius, you know, casually. I hope he doesn't get suspicious about why I want to know!"
"Better you than me. My parents won't know anything about a wizard named Flamel." Dean checked to see whether anyone was nearby, then leaned in to whisper, "Honestly, I can't wait to spend two weeks not having to think about three-headed dogs or Potions or moving staircases. Hogwarts is great, but do you know how much footie I've missed?" He thumped the couch with his fist. "My mum taped loads of games for me, but it's not the same as watching them live."
Harriet couldn't help laughing at his disconsolate expression. "That's what you miss the most? Not your family?"
"Oi!" Dean protested. "You know I miss my family! I wanted them to come visit, but McGonagall said no. It's not fair. Sirius and Peter got to see you play Quidditch, but my family and Ed's family and - and Hermione's parents--" He threw his quill down in frustration. "They can't even see the ruddy castle!"
Hermione had read to them from Hogwarts, A History of the various wards placed on the castle and grounds, including a powerful Muggle-Repelling Charm. Knowing the details hadn't helped Dean's homesickness, though. Shifting over a little, Harriet gave his shoulder a friendly nudge and said, "So will you watch football tapes with your dad?"
"Yeah," Dean replied after a moment. He smiled--half-heartedly, but it was a smile. "Mum and Aleisha too. Marianne's too young to really follow the action, but she likes sitting with us. Footie's a Thomas family tradition--we're all fans."
It was another glaring difference between Dean's home life and the one Harriet had with the Dursleys. "What else do you miss?"
"Food," he promptly answered. "I miss my mum's cooking. I miss roti. I miss rice and peas, and - and curry goat, and dumplings."
Harriet wrinkled her nose. "Curry goat?"
"You'd like it if you tried it, I know you would. Get Sirius and Peter to take you to Brixton--there're loads of good places there. Oh!" Dean sat up straight, suddenly excited. "Or even better, come to my house! My parents wouldn't mind--they're always asking after you."
"D-do you mean you want me to come visit you?" Harriet stuttered. "At your house?" No one had ever invited her to their house before--the kids at her old school had been too afraid of Dudley and his gang.
"Sure! You could take the Tube over in the morning, spend the day, and my mum could drive you back."
Harriet blushed. "Thank you, I'd like that very much. I'll have to ask Sirius first, but I'm sure he'll say yes."
"Brilliant!" Dean grinned at Harriet, and she grinned back. "Only three more weeks, yeah?"
Those three weeks sped by in a blur until the last day of term was upon them. Harriet, Dean, Hermione, and Seamus climbed into one of the horseless carriages that would take them to Hogsmeade Station while Ginny, Fred, and George flew on broomsticks alongside them until they reached the edge of the grounds. "Merry Christmas! See you after the hols!" shouted Ginny, hovering in mid-air and waving. Harriet waved back until the carriage curved around a stand of trees and Ginny and Hogwarts were no longer in sight.
A snow storm seemed to chase the Hogwarts Express out of Scotland, but that evening when they finally pulled into London the sky was velvet black and pin-pricked with stars that shone brightly even through the haze of city lights. Harriet and her friends tumbled off the train in a muddle of banged elbows and stepped-on toes. "Hedwig, enough of that!" Harriet scolded when the owl screeched her indignation at being jostled.
"I've got her," said Parvati, steadying Hedwig's cage, and Harriet repaid the kindness by helping Parvati get her trunk down the carriage steps. Padma was already on the platform greeting a beautiful woman wearing a purple and gold-trimmed sari. "Oh, there's my mum!" Parvati exclaimed.
"Isn't she cold?" asked Harriet, eying Mrs Patil's bare arms with some concern.
Her friend looked at her oddly. "That's what Warming Charms are for."
"Harriet, come on!" Dean called. He and Hermione were already in the queue of people waiting to pass through the brick wall that separated Platform Nine and Three Quarters from the Muggle part of King's Cross.
"Go on," said Parvati, giving Harriet a warm hug. "Have a good holiday!"
"Thanks, you too!" she replied, then hurried over to wait with Dean and Hermione for their turn to be let through the barrier.
The first person Harriet saw on the other side was Sirius, his arms outstretched. "You're here!" she cried, and launched herself at him.
"Hullo, love," Sirius laughed, kissing her cheek and smoothing down her hair with a gentle hand. "Welcome home."
Home was a four-storey terraced house in Soho, very near Charing Cross Road. "My Muggle friend Helen lives on the first floor and runs the pub downstairs," said Sirius as he led them up two flights of stairs that hugged the left side of the house. "I've the second and third floors to myself. It's a bit grand for a bachelor, but, well, I have you now, don't I?" He unlocked the door and stood aside for Harriet to enter first.
"You took your sweet time," a low voice growled from deep inside the house, in the dark. The lights flickered on, illuminating two odd-looking strangers who were stood in the front hall. The first was a young woman with a heart-shaped face and bubblegum-pink hair. The second was a grizzled old man leaning on a wooden staff as gnarled and scarred as his face. There was something wrong with his left eye--it was electric blue and swivelled unnaturally in its socket.
"What are you starin' at, girlie!" he barked. Harriet jumped and squeaked in terror.
"Don't mind him, Harry," said Sirius, one arm going around her shoulders to lead her forward. "That's Alastor for you, the rude bastard. And this is my cousin, Tonks. She's a first year trainee."
"Wotcher, Harriet," said Tonks with a cheerful grin. "Moody and I've been setting up extra wards on the house for your protection."
"Th-thank you," Harriet stammered, embarrassed by all the fuss.
"She'd have been better off staying at Hogwarts," said old Mad-Eye, for Harriet realised now that's who he was. "Risky business, bringing her to London. To live over a pub."
Sirius glared at his old mentor. "She wanted to be home for Christmas, Alastor, and that's the end of it."
"This isn't home, you foolish boy," Mad-Eye spat at him. "Number Four Privet Drive is home, or the blood protection's for naught!"
"Do you think I don't know that?" Sirius took a step forward and jabbed a finger in Moody's face. "Do you think I don't know that I can't give my own goddaughter a home of her own?"
"Men," Tonks huffed, inserting herself between them. She rolled her eyes for Harriet's benefit. "Never can talk calmly if yelling's an option. Don't glare at me, Sirius. Didn't you want to show Harriet where she'll be sleeping?"
With a grateful smile to Tonks, Harriet tugged on Sirius' sleeve until he followed her up the stairs. The first door directly facing the staircase was open a crack, enough for Harriet to spy a leather jacket hanging off the back of a desk chair--the master bedroom, presumably, facing south and overlooking the street. Following the hallway that ran the length of the house, she passed a toilet, a linen cupboard, and a small office, before reaching the door of her bedroom.
"What do you think?" asked Sirius, setting down Harriet's trunk and looking anxiously about. "I wasn't sure what colours you'd like, so I kept the walls white. Do you want posters? Paintings?"
The room was a rectangle that took up the width of the house, with two tall windows and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. A handsome desk and matching chair were positioned under the left window, just opposite the bedroom door; a small white couch sat under the right window, perfect for curling up with a book; a tall bookshelf filled the wall between the windows. A four poster bed stood parallel to the couch, its headboard against the far wall; it had a fluffy white duvet and white bed curtains. Opposite the small couch, on the bed's other side, was a dressing table with a tilting oval mirror. The wardrobe was positioned opposite the bookshelf, to the right of the door. A large patterned rug carpeted nearly the entire room and would keep bare feet from touching cold floorboards.
"Please tell me that's not a real Persian rug," said Harriet, despairing. Sirius only whistled at the ceiling and rocked back and forth on his heels. Toeing off her shoes, Harriet stepped onto the thick rug and walked a slow circuit around the room. "It's perfect," she whispered, peering out the window to the private alley below, where the motorcycle was parked.
"You mean it?"
Wanting to banish the uncertainty in her godfather's eyes, she went over and hugged him around the waist. "It's perfect like it is, Sirius. I couldn't ask for better."
"Hmm, well," Sirius coughed, hiding a pleased smile. "At least tell me what colour for your bed curtains."
"Gryffindor scarlet," said Harriet, grinning. "And white lace curtains for the windows." She'd always wanted lace curtains--they sounded so romantic.
Touching his wand to the scarlet of Harriet's school scarf, Sirius charmed her bed curtains to match, then hung graceful lace curtains from brass rods over the windows. "There," he said, satisfied. "We can go shopping tomorrow for more things to make you feel at home."
But he only laughed, pinching her cheek in that way he knew annoyed her. "I've missed ten Christmases with you, darling, and I have every intention of spoiling you terribly to make up for it."
They spent Christmas Eve day shopping for last minute gifts, Harriet badgering Sirius until he promised not to peek as she paid for his gift with the pound notes he'd had converted at Gringotts, and Sirius insisting that he buy her a special outfit for Christmas Day.
Harriet watched in bemused silence as Sirius honed in on a pair of gold ballerina shoes that he promised would complement her new ivory-and-chocolate ruched velvet dress. "You're very good at shopping," she remarked as they exited the store with their purchases. "Better than Aunt Petunia."
"I should hope so! I have breeding and taste." Sirius put his nose in the air, looking startlingly like Draco Malfoy at his most superior--then winked, laughing. "No, I was sixteen when I first stepped foot in a department store. My parents hated everything Muggle, you see, but once I discovered how much stuff Muggles have--food and clothes and technology, such variety, from all over the world--I couldn't confine myself to Diagon Alley and wizarding establishments. It took some trial and error, but I learned to navigate London."
As Harriet followed her godfather down into a Tube station, she reflected on the difference between Ginny's family, who seemed quite isolated from Muggle society, and Sirius, who despite being a pure-blood wizard, had found a way to straddle two worlds. He swiped their Travelcards successfully on the first try and guided her to the correct platform without having to look at directions. A few minutes later the train squealed into the station, the doors opened, and bodies surged out, then in again.
"Who else will be at dinner tomorrow?" asked Harriet once they found seats. "Besides Peter, I mean?"
"Peter's mum, of course, and my cousin Andromeda and her husband and daughter--that's Tonks, you met her yesterday." Sirius ticked off their names on his fingers. "Moody might come, depending on whether he's on speaking terms with his grandchildren this year. Mary Macdonald--she was a good friend of your mum when we were in Hogwarts. She'll be bringing a couple of guests, including a girl about your age."
Harriet perked up at that. "Does she go to Hogwarts with me?" But a sudden commotion further down the carriage stopped Sirius replying; he jumped to his feet to see what was the matter, one hand automatically reaching for Harriet's shoulder. "What's going on?" she asked, peering around him.
A man in a ragged coat had collapsed on the floor. The London commuters sitting closest seemed uncertain about what to do: an elderly woman was urging her daughter to pull the emergency cord, while a man argued that help would come faster if they waited until the next station.
"Remus," Sirius whispered, his breath hitching. He stood frozen in stunned disbelief, then suddenly came alive, shoving passengers out of the way and dragging Harriet along behind him. "Remus! Remus!" He fell to his knees next to the unconscious man, wand in his hand, though hidden by the drape of his scarf. "Rennervate," he murmured, and when the stranger's eyelids began fluttering, he laid a gentle hand on his thin cheek.
Bracing herself against the sway of the train, Harriet leaned closer, curious. "Does he need an ambulance?"
"Of course he does, the poor dear," the old woman fretted. "Go on, Esther, pull the cord!"
"No, don't pull the cord," said Sirius, sharp and commanding. Esther's hand dropped instantly. "Please, no one pull the cord," he repeated, straightening up to face the small crowd that had gathered. "My friend has fainting spells--it's low blood sugar, perfectly manageable." He flashed his Auror badge, which looked convincingly like police credentials. "There's no need to stop the train and delay everyone. I'll help my friend off at the next station and we'll take a cab home."
Between the Auror badge and his authoritative tone, Sirius persuaded everyone to return to their seats with minimal fuss, though the elderly woman and her daughter continued to watch them with concern.
The stranger--Remus--groaned and stirred awake. "Padfoot?" he croaked, and opened his eyes.
"Lie still, Moony," said Sirius, his face and hands and voice gone soft and comforting. "You're safe, I've got you."
Harriet jerked her head up when the train screeched and began to slow. "Sirius, get him up--we're here." She grabbing their bags as they pulled into Green Park Station.
Slinging Remus' arm over his shoulders, Sirius helped his friend off the train while a helpful passenger cleared a path through the crowd. The sudden shift from horizontal to vertical had Remus nearly fainting again, but Sirius chose to keep moving, practically carrying the other man.
Sirius must have put a charm on Remus to make him weigh less, Harriet thought as she scurried after them, because they were almost flying up the stairs. Finally, they were out on the street, Sirius had his wand out, and a tremendously tall and purple bus had pulled up in front of them.
Only after they'd paid the fare and had taken seats (Harriet on a spindly rocking chair, Sirius on a stool, Remus curled up on a love-seat upholstered with a cabbage rose design) did Sirius explain the Knight Bus. "I didn't want to try Apparating with both of you. The Knight Bus is safer."
"If you say so," said Harriet, wide-eyed, as a station wagon leapt out of the way to avoid colliding with them. The driver didn't believe in stopping at red lights, either, it seemed, but it hardly mattered as the ride was already over. Stan Shunpike carried Harriet's bags to the front door of Sirius' building, tipped his hat, climbed back on the bus, and was gone.
"Mobilicorpus." Sirius guided Remus up the two flights of stairs with his wand while Harriet ran ahead and unlocked the front door of the flat. "Here we are," said Sirius, setting the other man down on the couch. "And I didn't bang your head against the doorjamb, either."
Remus sank back against the cushions, his face drawn, eyes shut. "Believe me, I'm grateful." He sounded a bit more alert, though he was too weak to pull his arm away when Sirius felt for his pulse. "I'm just tired, Padfoot, don't fuss."
"You fainted," Sirius protested, his worry turning into dismay. "The full was three days ago, Moony. Why haven't you healed yet?"
...the end, pretty much.