Harry found his classes easier than usual, though not easy. Knowing more theory helped, and a lot of the occlumency exercises were a lot like the visualization exercises McGonagall had long suggested but which Harry had hardly ever done outside the bits of class time they'd devoted to them.
Homework, however... There was a lot of it. The Professors were taking their OWLs seriously. Add to that, the extra-curriculars had started, and Harry had learned a bit about healing. The first night had been just a review of First-Aid from Defense, but the second night he'd learned things he hadn't known before. Seal a wound, mend a bone, heal a bruise. Useful stuff.
His potions class the second week was fun. Not the class itself, of course, though it was a little more interesting now that he had a better idea of what he was doing, but arranging his detention.
Ron, while cutting their buckbeatles, said, "You going to the dance, mate?"
"Maybe. It's not like last year where I had to. I'll go if there's someone I want to go with who wants to go with me." He glanced at Hermione a desk away, wondering if she'd heard that, but she was staring into her cauldron.
Ron said, "Harry, it's a masquerade don't need dates, you just put on your mask and go. Not knowing who you're dancing with is half the fun." Ron frowned, "Except you have to dance, and that part's rotten."
Harry raised his voice a little and said, "That's too bad. I was wanting to Snape dancing."
Ron, aghast, said, "Snape?" much to loudly in the quiet classroom.
Harry felt more than saw Snape coming up behind them and said, "You didn't know? I saw Professors Snape and Sinistra conversing beneath the stars the other night. They seemed intimate. I'm happy for him."
Harry turned to see an angry Severus Snape looming over him, and he noticed the whole class was watching.
Harry said, "We all support you sir. We've all seen these last five years that you have the brooding heart of a poet, and Professor Sinistra seems just the sort to give it solace."
Hermione, visible just past Snape, was giving Harry a hard look while Ron was either choking to death or holding in laughter.
A vein bulged in Snape's neck and he said, "Detention, Potter!"
Harry said, "We all at times feel ourselves to be detained by the demands of love, but in truth, does love not free us more than it imprisons us? Do not the wings of love bear more weight than a relationship weighs? Does not-"
"Detention, Potter! Detention detention detention. Tonight, this classroom, 7 O'clock, scrubbing cauldrons without magic!"
Harry's smile fled. Snape was even scarier than normal when he was angry, and Harry wondered if he'd gone too far. But he'd thought out that little speech beforehand, and hadn't been able to resist the opportunity.
That night, after dinner, he walked to the dungeons, nervous about spending an hour with an irate Severus Snape. When he got there, a row of cauldrons had been laid out along with a scrub brush and a glove.
"Occlumency?" said Harry.
"Tomorrow. Tonight, you're scrubbing cauldrons. Don't think this arrangement gives immunity to do as you'd like in my classroom."
"I'm supposed to get detentions from you."
"And I'm supposed to give you detentions when you misbehave. Get to it, unless you want another."
Harry said, "The HDA meeting is tomorrow night."
Snape was silent for a long time, just looking at him, but eventually he said, "You do need all the help you can get to survive whatever idiocy you'll get up to this year. Very well. Our occlumency session will be the night after. But for that privilege, you'll give me an extra half hour of scrubbing.
Ninety minutes later, the skin on the outside of his right index finger red from the friction, he shuffled out of potions classroom and made his way to the Gryffindor dorms.
He collapsed on his bed and thought about what sort of mask he might wear to the masquerade. He'd had two short dancing lessons with Sirius, in which they'd both spent more time laughing than dancing, and he thought himself much better prepared than last year to step to the music without stepping on anyone's feet.
He'd asked around, and while you didn't need to bring a date, most people would, and who would he ask if not Hermione? Cho came to mind, but she and Cedric were still dating. It hadn't exactly gone great with Parvati last year, and probably wouldn't go any better with Lavender Brown. Ginny? She was Ron's little sister, but when he asked himself why that mattered all he came up with was that Ron might throw a tantrum, and one of the resolutions he'd come to after reviewing his memories in the pensieve was that he wouldn't let fear of Ron's tantrums influence him anymore.
Still, he wasn't sure that Ginny's fangirl thing was really dead, even if she did talk to him normally now. He'd noticed that over the summer Eloise Midgen had dropped a few pounds and gotten control of her boils, but she was very quiet and he'd hardly ever talked to her. He'd played her at chess once, and the first word she'd spoken was check, followed by checkmate and good game.
Still, it had been a good game, and that made him wonder what a real conversation with her would be like, but he wasn't curious enough to want to ask her to the dance.
He knew Katie Bell better than any other girl but Hermione, what with them being the youngest players on the Quidditch team, but whereas knowing Hermione well made him think it might be nice to hug her and never let go, knowing Katie made him think it would be be awkward after a bit, even if the time he'd seen her in a sports bra argued it would be nice while it lasted.
He hardly knew any girls outside Gryffindor, as during lessons he'd nearly always partnered with students from his own house, but then, hardly knowing her hadn't stopped him from having a horrible crush on Cho.
He thought of Luna Lovegood, who he'd spoken to in the hallway the other day, and the idea of going with her to the dance made him grin, but he didn't consider it seriously.
He wanted to go with Hermione, who would no doubt fill him on the history of masquerades, and she had scads of time to change her mind.
He took out her unfinished birthday present, reminded himself he didn't have much time to complete it and the weekend would be busy, and he fiddled with the charms on it until he was ready for bed.
Hermione's birthday was Tuesday of the third week.
That morning, Harry wished her 'happy birthday,' and Ron got wide-eyed, then rushed off looking for the twins, which meant Ron had forgotten and was looking to get a present on the fly.
He hoped Ron would find something alright but not great.
Harry spent much of the day nervous about how she'd like her presents, wishing he'd given them to her at breakfast rather than waiting for the end of the day, and reassuring himself about his plans.
After dinner ended, Harry excused himself from Ron and Hermione, went to the basement, tickled the pear, and stepped into the kitchens. He had a short conversation with Dobby.
He hung around the ktichen longer than he needed to, because the elves were so happy to see him, but half an hour later, Harry entered the Gryffindor common room holding a white platter with a large metal mixing bowl turned upside-down over it.
He spotted Ron playing chess and Hermione at their usual table, poring over a large tome he didn't think was a textbook. He went to the corner of the room and took the mixing bowl off the platter, setting the empty bowl on the table, revealing what was beneath.
Hermione didn't especially like most cakes, so Harry had gotten the elves to make a flourless dark chocolate torte with walnut bits inside and fresh raspberries on top, to go with 16 small candles charmed to not drip any wax. He lit the candles with a spell, and walked slowly toward Hermione.
He had the idea that he should sing, but didn't.
Luckily, Ginny was braver than he. She looked up from a chair by the fire, saw what Harry was doing, and in a pleasant soprano, started on, "For she's a jolly good fellow."
Ron and Dean looked up from their chess game, and after a moment's surprise, joined in on the tune, and Harry found it much easier to sing once his voice would be only one of many.
And it was many. With a lit cake and the strains of a birthday song, everyone in the common room knew what to do, even those who didn't know whose birthday it was.
Hermione was among the last to look up. When she saw Harry approaching with the torte, she gasped, turned red, and covered her mouth, the edges of her wide, incredulous smile peeking out from behind her hand.
She pushed her books aside, and Harry set the cake on the table in front of her
Grin nearly taking in her ears, Hermione put the candles out with a spell.
Harry raised an eyebrow, and Hermione said, "It's much more hygienic than blowing."
Hermione was buffeted by the general crush of congratulations, and then the issue was raised that, while Harry had brought a cake, he hadn't brought a serving knife, plates, or forks. An issue dealt quickly with by conjuration.
Those students who knew Hermione well enough to feel that ought to be part of the birthday (and a couple who didn't) sat down with their slices, and Harry claimed the spot right next to Hermione.
"Not too sweet?" Harry asked as she bit into the cake.
"Just right," she said. Then, laughing, "You're really serious about getting me to that dance."
"I am, but this has nothing to do with that. First year, we weren't friends yet, second-year, I didn't know September 19th was your birthday until after it passed, but third and fourth-year I should've done a better job with it. Should've done this. Now that I've raised the bar, we'll have to do something similar for Ron's birthday."
She nodded. "Ron likes pie. We'll have to, Harry, how did you get me a cake?"
"Asked at the kitchens."
"The house-elves made it," she said, looking upset.
Harry said, "All the food you've ever eaten at Hogwarts, unless you brought it with you or bought it at Hogsmeade, was made by house-elves. This isn't any different, except I talked to them personally and thanked them."
Hermione said, "This was extra work for them."
"They were happy to do it. You should go down there and talk to them. It means a lot to them."
"Because they're so brainwashed that meeting a student is like meeting a demi-god for them. I know eating their food makes me complicit in their slavery, but Harry, going to them like that makes you a participant."
Harry said, "Dobby did most of the work on this, maybe all of it, and you know he's paid."
"And did you pay him for the extra labor?"
She frowned, and Harry wondered how he was going to avoid one of her lectures, and Ron saved him by setting a package on the table, wrapped in red paper.
Hermione turned to it, thanked Ron, and opened it, revealing a small case of butterbeer and a list of all of Fred and George's current products, along with how to treat their effects. Harry thought that was pretty good, considering Ron's restrictions in time and money.
While Hermione thanked Ron and looked over the list, Harry fetched his presents from the dorm, which he'd put in a festive gold box.
He gave it to her, and she opened the box, revealing the pack of self-inking, non-blotting quills she'd lusted after in Diagon Alley. She thanked him, then looked back into the box, at a square pieces of wood. She removed it from the box and unfolded in into an odd contraption. A book stand joined to a green slate, to small wooden arms with firm leather fingertips, and a folding stick with eyeglasses that had eyes drawn on them.
Harry said, "It's a word finder. You write the word or phrase you're looking for on the slate, give it to the book, and if it's anywhere in the book, the Word Finder will find it. Pretty useful for researching."
Hermione stared at him, stared at it, set the thick tome she'd been reading on the stand, and wrote, 'Prothietic imposition' on the slate. The arms came around, pages blurred, the eyes drawn on the glasses tracking rapidly back and forth, and the Finder stopped, leather finger pointing to the middle of the second paragraph on page 23.
So the darly, rather than a simple legalistic-linguistic imposition, is a prothietic imposition, requiring...
"It works," said Hermione. "And it's very gentle with the pages."
"Bloody unsettling," said Ron.
"It's the best gift ever," said Hermione, and she threw her arms around Harry. "Where did you get it? I've never seen anything like it."
"It was my idea," said Harry. "Lupin and Snuffles made most of it, but I did what I could. I cut some of the runes and cast a lot of the charms."
"That must've taken hours."
He shrugged, acknowledging that it had. As her smile widened further, he knew he'd been more than forgiven for not paying Dobby.
And yet, an hour later, when the cake was eaten and they were quietly doing homework as the fire in the hearth burned low, Hermione brought it up again, if tangentially.
Hermione said, "What do you really think of S.P.E.W."
Harry hesitated. "For starters, I think Spew is a horrible name."
"It's not Spew, it's S.P.E.W."
"People will read it as spew. How about House-Elf Liberation Front? You called it that at first. People would read it as Helf. Sounds like help. That's a lot better."
Hermione said, "Liberation was a little strong. Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare is much more general. I've been looking into politics, & it's important to leave moderates room to support your more moderate proposals."
"Then get rid of Promotion, and just make it Society for Elfish Welfare. Sew. That still gets the idea across. Or replace Promotion with Advancement, and it's, well, I'm not sure how you'd pronounce S.A.E.W., but it would be much better than Spew. Come on Hermione. This is ridiculous. You're smarter than me. You know Spew is a horrible name."
"It's not—okay, it is a horrible name, but only because people are being stupid and immature."
"If people weren't being stupid and immature, and a lot worse, there wouldn't be any need to help the house-elves."
She glowered, and he was afraid they might not speak for a few days, but then she said, "I'm being right stupid, aren't I?"
Harry said, "More stubborn, I think, but yes, it's so unusual it's surreal. Though it's not quite the first time you've been silly." He raised his voice to a falsetto, imitating her in first year, and said, "We could be killed. Or worse, expelled."
Her grimace returned, and Harry snorted. "Oh, come on. Most of that year's earnestly stupid statements were made by me."
Hermione said, "How about P.A.H.E.? People for the the Advancement of House-Elves?"
Harry said, "So people would say it pa-heh? Better than Spew, but Helf and Sew are both better than it."
Hermione took out parchment, quill, and thesaurus to write the ideas down, then paused. "Are you in it? Really in it? Not just because you're my friend and you're humoring me?"
He thought of Dobby, and how Dobby had been the Malfoys' abused, terrified slave. "I think so. It's definitely not okay the way it is now. At the very least, house-elves need to be able to leave their masters if they want, and punishing them physically shouldn't be allowed. But no more trying to free them against their will. And we shouldn't assume that house-elves are just small, bat-eared humans. We need to do a lot of research on house-elves before we decide what we're really trying to do."
"In our copious free time," said Hermione.
Harry shrugged. "Quidditch practice starts Saturday. At that point, I might be even busier than you."
"We'd better do what we can now, then. What do you think the Society for the Promotion of House-Elf Rights? S.P.H.E.R. or Spher."
After an hour of brainstorming, they were ready for bed, and had about decided on Society for the Promotion of Elfish Prerogative. Prerogative wasn't the perfect word, perhaps, and Hermione had had to tell Harry what it meant, but Spep, they agreed, had a very nice ring to it.
The first meeting of the HDA had focused on Protego. The second, on Impedimenta, as it was good for dangers of all sorts. A lot of the students had hardly known them. Harry had thought it would be boring, but Moody had insisted there was plenty to gain from revising spells he was already comfortable with. Casting them more quickly and more powerfully. Making them more accurate. Controlling the shape of Protego, so it could be any thing from a small buckler of light to a more energy intensive but more secure encapsulating sphere.
Still, Harry had been excited when Moody had promised more advanced spell work for the third meeting, and was disappointed when Moody, after the physical exercises, said, "Who here can cast a Patronus?"
Only four students raised their hands. A sixth year, two seventh years, and Harry.
Moody said, "Demonstrate for the others."
Harry remembered his summer. Rolling out of bed for breakfast with Sirius and Lupin. Most often waffles with berries, bacon, and a sliced vegetable grilled into crackling anonymity. Not the healthiest of routines. Sitting in a warm room, cutting runes into Sirius's latest project, half annoyed and half pleased by the way Sirius quite intentionally tried to distract him at the most delicate moments. The three hikes they'd gone on. One on green grass hills, one through a mossy oak wood, one through a peaty wetland. Lupin bringing him clothes.
He cast the spell, and the large white stag burst out, shining brilliantly.
The sixth year and one of the seventh years had silver shields, incorporeal patronuses. The other seventh year, Alexis Shirley, the Head Girl, had a raven not so bright as Harry's stag.
Harry felt uncomfortable from all the people looking at him.
Moody raised his voice. "A patronus can drive off not just dementors, but also ghosts, wraiths and poltergeists, and is of some use against compulsion spells, particularly area effect compulsion spells. Patronuses block or damp some dark magics aimed at the mind, just as they block a dementor's chill, and they can be used as messengers. However, most of these uses require a full, corporeal Patronus, such as Potter and Shirley have managed."
Moody passed by Harry, lowered his voice, and said, "Not bad, Potter, but a Patronus isn't worth much against dementors if you need ten seconds to cast it. You have to be quick. Or better, instant."
Moody raised his voice again, giving instructions on the spell, and when Moody had them start trying, Harry practiced it as well, aiming for quickness.
He thought occlumency could help him quickly raise the needed emotions and memories.
Once Moody had the others going, he showed Harry how to use his Patronus to send a message, which, if you were already comfortable with making a Patronus, was about as difficult as a second-year charm, and Harry had it down in just a few minutes.
The messenger Patronus was on the list Sirius and Remus had made for him, and he was looking forward to scratching a line through it when he got back to his dorm.
He sent a message to Moody, at the other side of the room, and after pondering who else he knew that wasn't in the room and knew the spell, he sent Prongs to Lupin, with the message, "I've learned the Patronus Messenger spell."
Moody stumped over and said, "Potter, help the others out."
Harry nodded, and figured he'd better focus on the fifth and fourth years, as sixth-years might not like taking instruction from him, and noticed that Luna Lovegood was producing sad puffs of dim grey fog.
"Hey Luna," said Harry.
"Harry Potter," she said.
"I think you need to go a little deeper on the first downstroke, and make the V as you come back up sharper before you start the curve." He demonstrated the motion, and she corrected herself and produced a puff of mist that was only marginally less unimpressive.
Harry said, "I hope you don't mind. Professor Moody asked me to help, but I'm just-"
"I don't mind, Harry Potter."
He wondered how long she'd insist on saying his first and last name. She said it so quickly, half swallowing the Ts, that it sounded like a single name. "Right. One thing. It's not enough to think of something happy while doing the magic. You have to ground the magic in the happy memory."
Luna said, "My happiest memories make me sad. Do you think they will work?"
It was an odd thing to admit to someone she didn't know well, loudly enough that other people around them might hear, but Harry ignored that and said, "Maybe. I'd try to separate the sad parts out. If that doesn't work," his voice dropped and he leaned in and half-whispered. "When I learned it, none of my memories were happy enough, so I used happy thoughts instead. Your brain doesn't know the difference between a memory and something you imagine, unless you teach it to." Which was part of what occlumency was for. "I'm using memories now though."
Luna smiled. "I'm glad you have happier memories now. I'll imagine having a Crumple Horned Snorkack as a pet."
Harry smiled absently, wondering what that was, and, if it were large and dangerous, whether Hagrid would bring one to class. It seemed to work for her, because her next attempt at the spell produced brighter silver mist, and more of it.
"Better," said Harry. "Keep at it." He moved on to Ron and Hermione, who were both struggling with it; Hermione seemed extremely intense, and Harry had no trouble imagining why, considering her experiences with dementors, but that attitude wouldn't work.
Harry said, "You need to relax. It's a happy spell."
If looks could kill...
Harry added, "Or maybe you can have a very focused happiness, I don't know."
Ron said, "You could read a book on happiness."
Hermione gave him the look as well, Ron met it levelly, and her lips twitched.
"Sorry," she said to Harry. "I'm not used to you tutoring me. It'll take some getting used to." She ran her hands through her hair twice, and said, "Alright, I'm used to it now, what am I doing wrong?"
Harry said, "Your motion looks great, and your pronunciation sounds great." Like always. "And I assume your intention, shaping and visualization are good too," not that he could tell if they weren't, "but I think you need to let the happiness flow a little more. When you're really happy, it expresses itself without your deciding on it. You laugh or smile without thinking about it. It just comes out. You need to let it come out through your magic."
Hermione frowned, and Harry realized 'just let it come out,' was antithetical to how she'd learned every spell she'd ever learned, but Ginny called for him, so he told her and Ron to focus on the happy memory first, the spell mechanics second, then went over to help Ginny, who was doing pretty well and just needed repetition, from what Harry could see.
Harry looked up to see Cedric standing with Cho.
Cho had silver mist, like all the rest, but Cedric's silver mist was starting to coalesce into a large animal with four legs. It broke apart before Harry could make out what animal it was, but he hoped it wasn't a stag.
"You're doing awful well," said Harry.
"We worked on it with Professor Lupin, during my OWL year. Just a little, since we were more focused on what would actually be on the OWLs." Cedric's voice dropped as Harry got closer. "But when Professor Moody asked who knew the spell, I didn't figure managing the incorporeal form counted as knowing."
"You're just about to corporeal, so I don't think you need my help at all."
Cedric said, "Not with this. Padma's sick. Wanna take her prefect round tonight? She'd take yours later."
A silver wolf ran through the wall across the room, and stopped in front of Harry. Its mouth opened, a few words came out of the mouth, but the mouth itself did not move at all. "Harry," said Lupin's voice, "Well done. But don't frivolously send Patronus messengers through muggle areas. Muggles can't see them, but there are other effects."
The wolf vanished, and Cho said, "Was that Professor Lupin's voice?"
Harry said, "Er, yeah. He was friends with my parents, so, we kept in touch. A little." He was upset with himself for still being nervous about talking to Cho, about still noticing how pretty she was even though she and Cedric were clearly going out.
Harry said, "I'll just go over there and help." He pointed in a random direction, saw Neville was in that direction, and went to help Neville.
After a half hour of people struggling with the spell, with no one managing it but everyone improving, they moved onto Harry's favorite part.
Dueling. They nodded along to Moody's review of comportment, cast cushioning charms on themselves, bound their wands to the approved spell list, and formed lines outside several different dueling circles.
Most of his fellow fifth-years, hardly able to manage a protego or a stupefy, had been easy pickings the first night, with Hermione the hardest, likely do to all the help she'd help given him preparing for the third task, but even she hadn't been very good. So the second night, Harry had competed mostly against sixth-years, and had surprised himself by winning all those matches too.
Now Moody led him into a mixed group of sixth and seventh years.
The Head Girl, Alexis Shirley, and a sixth-year Puff whose name he didn't know were the first ones up, and Harry felt a little nervous watching Alexis cast her spells silently. He needed to learn to do that.
The students mostly ran the matches themselves, with Moody going from circle to circle, most of the matches quite quick. Harry narrowly beat a sixth year, and by the time he'd got his breath back, it was his turn again, against a different sixth year, who he beat more easily.
On his third time up, he faced Cedric, who he knew would be a taller task.
Cedric had turned 17 early in his sixth-year, had trained for the Tri-Wizard Tournament just like Harry, and, being of age, had got to do magic over the summer. Harry had noticed him casting spells silently.
With the Tri-Wizard co-Champions facing off, the room came to a stop, the other dueling circles abandoned, students gathering to watch.
Harry ignored the crowd and focused on Cedric's wand.
"Three, two, one, go!" they intoned together.
The instant after Harry said, 'go,' he dodged and cast Expelliarmus. Cedric cast the same while dodging and cast Stupefy, while Harry rapidly cast two quick hexes.
Cedric countered, and sent back hexes that Harry had to defend against with Protego because Cedric had cast them silently and Harry didn't know what they were.
He disillusioned himself, spun away, and for a wild moment, thought of conjuring non-venomous snakes.
Then he had to use Protego again, because his disillusionment wasn't very good.
Cedric's Stupefy made a bright flash against his shield. He darted away, casting the simplest charm on the list of useful spells Sirius and Lupin had made for him.
Visible to all was a heavy distortion in the air, like a vaguely human-shaped blob of water. A disillusionment charm failing, exactly where Harry was, still under his own disillusionment.
He darted out of it, still disillusioned. Cedric cast hexes at the distortion he thought was Harry as Harry whispered "Stupefy."
Harry had thought about how he would take on one of the better seventh years. Had plotted it out. And as the plot went, that was where Harry won.
But Cedric was moving even as he was casting. And he seemed to realize the mirage was just that even before his hexes went through it, his wand snapping around to cast Protego.
Harry's Stupefy missed Cedric and glanced off the edge of his shield besides. Cedric jinxed Harry's disillusionment, then cast Stupefy. Harry dodged that, but didn't get his Protego up in time to deal with a pair of rapid hexes.
One struck him, and, his fingers turned to jelly. His wand fell out of his hand, and Harry grimaced as it hit the ground.
He gritted his teeth and said, "I concede."
Cedric performed the counter charm, restoring Harry's fingers to full working order. Harry picked up his wand and bowed slightly to Cedric, who bowed back a beat later, and did not bend so much.
It was Harry's first time giving the loser's bow, and he didn't like it.
It's been a long time since I last updated this. It may be a long time before the next update as well.
Monstrosity, by JLL, available for Amazon Kindle.