Harry and Ginny slipped from Slughorn's office and headed straight for the seventh floor. Ginny, it turned out, had a fair knowledge of the castle's secret passageways and hidden staircases. Twice, Harry had to grip her hand tightly as she took a path that deviated from the one he would have chosen. To his delight, her choices were altogether as quick as the route he had chosen mentally.

It wasn't until the second dive through a tapestry that Harry marked the pain in his hands. "I do believe I've only got the bit of burn pain left. And Madam Pomfrey's paste seems to be putting an end to even that!"

"Oh don't be such a big girl's blouse. Stop complaining about every little life-threatening injury you come across." Ginny's mock serious tone caused them both to laugh.

"I missed you," said Harry abruptly. "You can't imagine what it's been like over the past year."

"You're right! I can't imagine," responded Ginny. "I'm still waiting for you to sit down and explain just where and when you've been. And don't leave out all the pretty girls you've gotten to know." Her mischievous grin mocked her demanding tone.

"If it makes you feel better," said Harry, "I will tell you honestly that I haven't seen a single girl since I've been away...married ones yes, but no single ones."

Ginny punched him in the arm as they came up the stone gargoyle.

Harry shuddered, and then kissed her lightly.

"You really are a nancy boy just like Ron said. I didn't hit you that hard," said Ginny testing Harry's resolve.

"It's not that," said Harry. "It's just that this gargoyle and these stairs hold a particularly difficult memory for me. This is where Greyback grabbed me. I watched him die on the landing."

"That's horrible Harry. I'm so sorry. I didn't know." Ginny's voice quavered with the thought of her jest gone awry.

"No need to apologize," said Harry. "Greyback got his just desserts. When I think of all the pain he caused in the world, we are better off without him." Unconscious of the act, Harry had been rubbing his left arm where Greyback had broken it. "Anyway, at least Lupin doesn't have to worry about him anymore."

They passed the gargoyle and rode the stairs to the landing. To his relief, Headmistress McGonagall was just coming out of the office when they arrived on the landing.

"Potter, Miss Weasley! What are you doing out alone again?" McGonagall's plaintive words sounded almost a plea.

"I'm not alone," said Ginny. "I'm with Harry."

"I'm sorry," said Harry, trying to smooth it over. "We're here to see Francois DePais...and...to...ah...pick up a friend."

"Aye, I've seen your "friend." Francois is inside in flights of ecstasy," said McGonagall. "Is there any rule you don't intend to break Mr. Potter?"

"It's a long story," said Harry. "The wyvern is manageable. I just have to keep him calm."

"Calm! Calm he says. My heart is still going like that. I take Francois to my office and I'm confronted by a dragon. I don't know what to expect next from you. You won't make me expel you with only five days remaining in the term, will you Potter?" McGonagall looked down her bony nose and then swept past leaving the door open. Her action of allowing them into the office without activating the mirr panel took most of the sting from her words.

"Headmistress, would you be interested in coming to the D.A.'s practice this afternoon? We have invited Professor Slughorn and Professor Moody. You would be more than welcome," offered Ginny.

Ginny's request seemed to fuddle McGonagall, and she sputtered a "We'll see" as she fluttered down the spiraling stair.

"Thanks," said Harry. "I'm glad you thought of that."

"Maybe I should wait outside?" questioned Ginny, as she contemplated the partially open office door.

"Not a chance," replied Harry, dragging her after him into the room and shutting the door.

No sooner had they entered the room than Capricio took to flight; and growing larger, almost toppled Harry to the floor. The dragon stopped to sniff Harry's hands. Apparently satisfied, he flew back to DePais' observation perch.

"Good to see you doing so well after such a knocking about," said DePais. "Your pet has proven the most wonderful subject. I do believe he likes the attention!" said DePais energetically.

Harry and Ginny rounded the easel and found dozens of sketches of Capricio. The artist had caught many moods, and attitudes of flight, in his short time with the dragon.

"Your wyvern is admirable. I only wish I had longer access to him," said DePais with a hint of possessive longing.

"There may be an opportune time coming up. We practice with the D.A. from five o'clock to eight o'clock each evening the remainder of the term. Capricio has observed one class and he seems satisfied of my safety. Possibly you could have that time with him. The decision, however will be his not mine," said Harry.

"That would be a tremendous boon," said DePais appreciatively.

"Right now we have to find our friends Ron and Hermione," said Harry. "They have been out looking for me. When we have found them we will return to the Gryffindor common room. You could find us there, or if you are detained, you could join us in the Room of Requirement for our D.A. practice. Either way, if Capricio is willing, we will have to make the transfer carefully. I'd like to limit the number of people who have knowledge of his presence."

"I understand your desire for secrecy and I will fully comply with your terms," said DePais.

"We'll see you in a bit then," said Ginny, moving toward the office door. Harry nodded a goodbye to the portraits, and made his way from the room with Ginny and Capricio. Harry stowed the dragon as they descended the spiral stairs, and by the time they entered the corridor, the dragon was well hidden.

"Let's find Ron and Hermione," said Harry. "I've got loads to tell you all."

The pair had just passed the gargoyle and entered the seventh floor corridor when they heard a high-pitched squeal. "There you are!" shrilled Hermione with obvious frustration in her voice. "I've looked everywhere for you. Now I've found you but I've lost Ron."

"What do you mean you've lost Ron?" asked Ginny apprehensively.

"Ron got Harry's note this morning," said Hermione to Harry. "It didn't say where exactly he was going. After an hour we got worried. That's when I woke Ginny. We agreed to separate and search the castle. We checked the entrance doors and they were all locked, so Ron and I started in the dungeons and Ginny started in the towers. We searched the castle one level at a time. Ron was supposed to meet me here by the gargoyle, but he never showed. I've been around the entire seventh floor three times."

Hermione's words were a plaintive plea.

"He could be looking for you, and you just keep missing each other," suggested Harry.

"Nothing like this has happened on any of the other floors," said Hermione with a note of panic in her voice. "We always met at the prearrange spot before we proceeded on to the next floor. Our arrangement was out of self-protection. We aren't supposed to be out of our common rooms unescorted."

"Let's head back to the dormitory," said Harry. "I can grab the Marauder's Map and we'll find him in short order. It'll save time in pointless searching."

"Good idea," said Hermione, already moving the direction of the Gryffindor dormitory. "I was down to calling on one of the staff for help."

"Let's get there and find out what's going on. If Ron couldn't find you he may respond to the D.A. galleon and be waiting for us in the common room," said Ginny.

There was no further discussion; the only word being spoken was the password guarding the dormitory entrance. Once inside it was obvious that Ron wasn't in the common room.

"Ginny, if you and Hermione will wait here, I'll check our dormitory room. If Ron's not there, I'll be back directly with the map."

Without waiting for an answer, Harry sprinted across the room and up the stairs. In less than a minute he was back, with the map and several Gryffindor boys in tow.

"What's happening, Harry?" asked Neville Longbottom.

"We're trying to find Ron," explained Harry. "He went out looking for me this morning and we can't seem to locate him now."

Harry cleared some loose parchment from a table, and hesitating for only a moment, he spread the Marauder's Map out in front of the group. Without taking out his wand, without a spoken word, Harry activated the map concentrating on "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." Lines appeared, filling in the details of Hogwarts castle. Small moving dots showed the location of students, teachers, and ghosts alike. Harry quickly divided the map into rough sections and had each of his friends start sifting through the small black dots representing individuals. The fact that many students had already left the castle for their homes would normally have aided in the process, but as it was, the dots were crowded in the library, Great Hall, common rooms or dormitory rooms.

"Blimey Harry, this is quite a map," said Dean Thomas, after an appreciative whistle.

Harry started with the seventh floor because that was where Hermione said she had last seen Ron. "He's not on the seventh floor," said Harry after a quick perusal.

"I can't see him on the sixth. Nor on the fifth. Nor any other floor," came the chimed reports.

"Here's something odd though," said Neville. "What's Colin Creevey doing on the fourth floor? He's just standing there."

"He's not supposed to be out without a teacher," added Seamus Finnigan.

"Like that's ever stopped a Gryffindor," said Harry. "In our second year, Colin crept through the castle to bring me some grapes even though everyone thought Slytherin's monster might be roaming the corridors. That took bravery."

I don't think that all Gryffindor's are that brave," said Neville weakly.

"You're one to talk, Neville," said Harry. "You walked alone through the castle to the astronomy tower in the dark of the night our very first year to give a warning about Draco Malfoy. You've been in the forbidden forest. You went to the Ministry and fought alongside us against the Death Eaters. You answered the call for help a week ago when the Death Eaters got into the castle. Don't talk to me about a lack of courage or bravery."

Neville seemed to grow under the realization that the praise was valid.

Harry turned to the assembled group. "Everyone of you is in Gryffindor because the sorting hat could see courage, or honor, or bravery in you. I'm proud to be in Gryffindor with you lot."

The words seemed to cause a certain amount of introspection, which Harry cut short. "I trust you all. That's why I showed you the map. I'm concerned about Ron. I don't think he could have gotten out of the castle. I was hard pressed to get out and I paid dearly for my attempt. We've got to find him, and we've got to see if Colin is all right."

"Wait," said Ginny. "Here he is. He's on the seventh floor waiting by the gargoyle. There's a small smudge on the map. We must have just missed him."

Harry looked skeptically at the map, but he had to admit that Ron was exactly where Ginny had said. Like Colin, Ron wasn't moving. "Maybe I did miss him," said Harry, wondering to himself if he had indeed been that careless. "Let's divide into two groups. Hermione and Ginny look after each other and your group. We'll meet back in the common room as soon as possible."

They quickly divided into two groups of four. Hermione and Ginny led their group after Ron. Harry gathered his group and headed to the fourth floor and Colin.

"Keep quiet and alert," whispered Harry to the teams as they separated in the hall outside Gryffindor tower. They nodded understanding as they split up. The boys followed Harry who led them quickly down to the fourth floor. Eight eyes and ears strained for anything even slightly askance.

Harry's team was held up as two uncooperative staircases waved about in mid-air before allowing them egress. When they finally arrived at the fourth floor, Harry checked the map. Colin hadn't moved a whit.

Leading them cautiously around the fourth floor corridor, Harry suddenly recognized where they were headed. He pulled his friends close and whispered, "Colin is in a secret passage behind a mirror. I was of the understanding that the passage had caved in several years ago. Something is wrong here. Keep sharp."

When they arrived at the mirror, it was plain to see why the passage was so hard to detect. The huge mirror was a pier glass, its frame covered in dark tooled leather. To casual observation, the windows on either side showed the misty grounds. Indeed it didn't appear that there was space for a secret passage.

Harry was looking intently for a method to access the secret passage when Dean Thomas stepped forward. "Here Harry, I think I can help with this." Facing the pier glass, Dean drew stares as he started to dance a jig while reciting a limerick...

"There once was a mirror from Kent,

Its images all ways were bent,

It told not the truth,

To the aged or youth,

To hide is why its hide was sent."

As Dean stopped his absurd antics, the mirror shimmered and disappeared, leaving a leather-framed hole in the castle wall between the windows.

"There you go Harry," said Dean.

Harry looked at Dean with more than a bit of admiration. Examining the opening, he saw it was large but that a short distance in, it was blocked by broken stones and rubble. At a loss as to why the map insisted that Colin Creevey was there, Harry stepped back and reconsidered.

"That's why we stopped using this passage," said Dean peering past Harry. "That, and the fact that you feel the prat in the opening."

"Have you tried moving any of the rubble?" asked Harry, shocked at the revelation that Dean knew of secret tunnels.

"No. Didn't even try. We gave it up as a lost cause. We figured it was more work than it was worth. We still had other ways out of the castle, so we just left it," explained Dean.

As Harry reached into the blocked passage, Capricio struggled in his pocket. Taking it as an ominous sign, Harry moved everyone back a pace. "Let me have a minute. Sometimes I just need to think a bit."

The others waited patiently, all the while staying alert for trouble.

Harry walked into what was left of the passage and began to search the debris by spectra. Shortly, it was obvious to him what was going on. A small patch of rubble, indistinguishable from the rest, shimmered with the tell-tale signs of a magnetic bottle. The sole of a shoe was barely visible amidst the wreckage.

"If Colin is hurt behind this magic, it doesn't bode well for him. I've got to act quickly." Harry's thought set his resolve.

"Colin is trapped in there. You three get a teacher, or McGonagall...any of the staff. I'm going to try and get Colin out. Hurry!" Harry's urgency spurred the others. He didn't have to ask twice. Without argument the three boys tore down the corridor looking for assistance.

Alone in the corridor, Harry urged Capricio from his pocket. "Cap, we may not have much time. I'm going to need your help again. I'm going to use the spreading spell we used in the dungeon. It should open this magic. I know it's a delicate balancing act, but I need you to drag Colin out if I can open a hole."

Capricio flew to Harry's shoulder and awaited his chance.

Harry manipulated the magnetic field carefully, allowing no magic to precede the natural phenomenon. An intense ache in his hands reminded him of his most recent contact with masking magic.

Harry concentrated. Sweat poured from his brow and dripped, stinging, into his eyes. He finally succeeded in opening a hole in the centre of the magic large enough to admit Capricio.

The dragon dived from Harry's shoulder and into the hole. He came back tugging at Colin Creevey's foot, but Colin's hips were wider than the opening Harry was providing. Pull as he might Capricio could not get Colin out.

Harry refocused. The opening enlarged by degrees, as did the dragon, until Capricio had succeeded in pulling all but Colin's right arm from the trap. All progress stopped there. Harry balanced the magnetic spell with one hand and attempted to use his free hand to drag Colin the final foot to safety. Colin's wand, seized in his right hand, kept pulling him back into the hole. Capricio enlarged and with a mighty tug, pulled Colin free of the magic. Capricio, seeing the job finished, shrank and flew back to Harry's pocket.


The focus Harry had been exerting was shattered by Headmistress McGonagall's shout as she came up behind him. His magic slipped by only a fraction of an inch, but that was all it took. The magnetic magic responded violently, blasting Harry out of the passageway entrance and into the corridor. He hit the floor hard, knocking his head sharply.

"Potter! What on earth are you doing!" shouted McGonagall.

"Trying to save Colin Creevey's life," said Harry getting up gingerly from his fall while cradling his newly re-injured hands.

McGonagall looked from Harry to the passageway and noticed Colin's feet sticking out into the corridor. "Good heavens!" she exclaimed. "Some help here boys."

McGonagall, Seamus, Dean and Neville finished removing Colin from the hidden passageway.

"Is he alive?" asked Neville.

McGonagall was stooping low over the small boy's motionless form. "Yes, but we're here none to soon." She conjured floating stretchers for both Colin and Harry. "I might as well make a sign for as many times as I have said it...Potter to the hospital wing."

The four attendants hurriedly pushed the litters through the air to the hospital and Madam Pomfrey.

The hospital matron was in a state when she saw Colin and Harry. She gave them a quick squizz, and then pointedly ignored Harry while focusing on Colin. After a tense half hour, the still form that was Colin began to stir. Only when she was sure of Colin's progress did Madam Pomfrey turn to Harry.

"Harry Potter!" she said in exasperation, "Did I, or did I not, just treat you for this same injury?"

"You did," said Harry sheepishly.

"I have half a mind to let you heal on your own accord. It would serve you right, and it might teach you a valuable lesson," said Madam Pomfrey.

"Poppy," McGonagall interrupted, "It seemed to me that Potter was doing his best to save young Mr. Creevey. I'm not so sure but what he deserves to be applauded."

"Don't mind me," said Harry cutting into the conversation. "If I could just have a bit of your wonderful orange burn paste, I would be eternally grateful."

Madam Pomfrey's severe attitude melted, "Yes Potter, you are right, and I did swear an oath to alleviate suffering where I can."

She proceeded to remove the singed bandages from Harry's hands, apply more paste, and re-bandage the wounds.

"Two such injuries, and this close together," tisked Madam Pomfrey, "I'm not sure how well your hands will heal."

She bent low and whispered into Harry's ear, "Mr. Potter, you might look into learning how to make this ointment. You seem heaven-bent on dangerous paths."

"I don't think that either Creevey boy will be out of the hospital tonight," said Madam Pomfrey, straightening and addressing Headmistress McGonagall. "But Potter can go."

"In a moment Poppy," said McGonagall. "I need a word with Mr. Potter."

As Madam Pomfrey crossed the ward to check on Dennis Creevey, McGonagall steered the other three Gryffindor boys from the hospital ward with her eyes and a tilt of her head. When the boys were in the hall, McGonagall rounded on Harry. "Mr. Potter, are you bound and determined to make my first week running this school a disaster? What will your family think when you show up for the holidays suffering from such injuries?"

"They'll think it was bad luck that it was only my hands," responded Harry.

"Be that as it may, I intend on sending you back to your muggle relatives in one piece. I did see enough of your performance to be mightily impressed, though. Opening that magic, and without a wand. Where did you learn that bit of legerdemain? We don't approach that level of magic here at Hogwarts."

"With the resources Albus provided me, I have been able to learn beyond Hogwarts. I'll be teaching some of these same things to the D.A. I do hope you'll be able to accept our invitation to attend."

McGonagall looked shocked at the altered tide. Going from a dressing-down to Harry's reaffirmed invitation left her floundering.

Harry noticed the distress and back-pedaled, "Only if you have the time, mind you. All the staff would be welcome to come and either observe, or participate."

"As I said, we shall see Potter. Take your charges back to Gryffindor Tower. Yes, I am going to let you go unescorted. Our arrangement of last night is proving to be more and more of a truth," said McGonagall crisply.

Harry turned to leave, but was held back by the Headmistress' grasp on his shoulder, "Thank you Potter for saving the Creevey boy. And Potter do try to stay out of hospital for at least a few hours, won't you?" The tiniest bit of a smile crept into her voice.

Harry smiled. He gathered his friends outside the door and hurried from the hospital wing.

"Blimey, I hope the others didn't have as difficult a time with Ron," said Dean as they hurried back to Gryffindor Tower.

When they arrived back at the common room, they found Hermione, Ginny and their entourage sitting, distractedly playing exploding snap.

"Where have you been? Where's Colin? It's been over an hour since you left!"

Ginny's demands sounded a trifle possessive to Harry, but he understood the concern behind the words. He smiled to diffuse the situation. Ginny wilted under the smile, but as she neared Harry, her brusque manner returned. "Your hands! What did you do to your hands again?"

Escaping from Ginny's ire, Harry's team made themselves scarce.

"Nothing really," lied Harry. "Anyway, Madam Pomfrey is a whiz at burns and we did find Colin in the process. He'll be in hospital for at least the night. How did you do with Ron?"

"We found him. He was standing by the gargoyle. Said he'd been there for some time. If you ask me, he seems to be hi..."

Hermione cut off Ginny's comment. "Ronald is tired. He's had a hard night. He slept on the lumpy old sofa here in the common room. He's worried sick about..." and she whispered to Harry..."that dragon of yours." She paused, weighing her words, "Ronald has gone for a shower. He said if he gets done soon enough, he'd come to the D.A. practice." Her last statement seemed to cost Hermione dearly.

Harry was puzzled, "What's gotten into Ron and Hermione?" he wondered.

"I'd like to sit down and explain what has happened over the last bit of time. But I'd really like Ron to be part of that discussion." As he spoke, Harry realized how much he relied on his best friend Ron just being around to listen.

"That's not goin' ta' work," said Seamus rejoining the conversation now that a bit of Ginny's storm had blow by. "We we're so long in the hospital wing that it's near time for the D.A. practice."

Harry was shocked when he looked at the time. There was less than thirty minutes before the D.A. was scheduled to meet. A second concern pushed into his mind at Seamus' words. "I hadn't intended on relating my story to all of Gryffindor house. I'll have to limit it to just Colin's rescue. The rest is for only Ron, Ginny and Hermione."

"I'd best be going to prepare the room for our practice," said Harry, settling the concern. "I'll have to leave explanations for later, after the D.A. meeting."

"We understand, " said Seamus. "You've not been a skint with yer time, or yer talents. We've seen what yeh did for Colin. We can wait to yer time."

Thankful for Seamus' words, Harry turned to leave the common room. Ginny caught him at the portrait hole. "Harry, there's something I need to tell you. It's about the way Ron acted when we found him. He acted oddly. I've seen him in a lot of moods before. This is different. I don't know how to explain it. Harry I'm worried about my brother."

"Are you sure it was Ron?" asked Harry bluntly.

"That was my first thought too," said Ginny. "I asked for the D.A. sign and he gave it. He seemed resentful, but he gave it. I asked a few questions as we came back to Gryffindor tower, and he knew all the right answers. It's Ron, he's just...different."

"He's always been a bit different," said Harry in an attempt to lighten the discussion.

"No jokes Harry," said Ginny on the verge of tears.

Her tone cut the smile from Harry's face. "All right, I understand. I'll keep an eye on him."

He pulled the Marauder's Map from his pocket and a quick look showed the dot labeled Ronald Weasley in the Prefect's bathroom. "He's still in the bathroom. When he comes to the D.A. practice, we'll both watch him. Now I really have to be going. See to getting the others to the Room of Requirement, would you? Headmistress McGonagall said she would be sending an escort."

Dissatisfaction with the extent of Harry's answer was evident in Ginny's body language, but she nonetheless agreed to shepherd the others. They exchanged a parting kiss and Harry was gone.

Harry disappeared under the invisibility cloak out of habit and headed around the castle to the Room of Requirement. He had only gone a short way when he saw Francois DePais striding quickly down the corridor. Harry pulled off the cloak and hailed DePais.

"Harry, just who I was coming to see. The Headmistress said I might catch you as you left your common room. The opportunity to study Capricio, is after all..."

Harry remembered his promise to DePais to allow him to sketch the dragon during D.A. practice. He extracted the wyvern and protective gold lining from his pocket. Capricio surprised him again by flying directly to the portly artist.

"Well that's decided," said Harry handing over the protective pouch. The D.A. meeting will be done at eight o'clock tonight. Please meet me on the seventh floor near the tapestry of Barnabus the Barmy just after that, and I'll gather Capricio.

DePais broke his longing gaze from the dragon. "I'll be there." Without a further word the artist turned and hurried away.

His time even shorter than he had anticipated, Harry scrambled around the seventh floor. When he came to the blank stretch of wall, he quickly considered what he needed to have for his intended instruction. At the end of his third turn, the polished door appeared. Harry let himself through and had to catch his breath. The room was no longer a cozy, intimate practice floor. It had expanded to a stadium complete with bleacher seats. If he hadn't known better, Harry would have thought he was outside the castle. His quick preparations were barely complete when there came a knock at the door.

Harry walked to the door and was astounded to see not only the regular members of the D.A., but nearly the entirety of Gryffindor house. Scattered among them were teachers, students from Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, and several house elves.

He shielded the door and gave the agreed upon sign. The regular members of the D.A. countersigned and were allowed to pass through. After the regular members had filed into the Room of Requirement, Harry closed the door and addressed the crowd in the hall. "I invited you here to be involved in something that is much bigger than Hogwarts. We of the D.A. have committed ourselves to whatever it takes to defeat Voldemort and his Death Eaters. If you are not able to make this same level of commitment, this is not for you."

Several of the students had gasped at the blatant mention of Voldemort's name. Those same few peeled off and retreated back down the corridor.

"Those of you who have remained will face one additional requirement. You will be required to sign a document attesting to the fact that you will not divulge the D.A.'s training or membership."

A handful more thought better of the commitment and left the group.

"Good. The rest of you will be allowed inside after Hermione Granger has had you set your hand to the document mentioned. Teachers will not be required to practice, but they will be required to sign the oath of fealty."

Harry's words brought a bit of muttering from some of the teachers and Harry addressed them immediately. "Just as wizarding schools hold their locations and methods secret from each other; there is a certain degree of guarded secret about what you are going to witness. I sincerely hope you will reserve judgment until after you have observed our training. If we are juvenile, you will have no cause to be concerned for our secrets. On the other hand, if what you see helps you understand our commitment, you will then also understand our desire to closely keep our training methods and membership."

Harry's reasoned approach seemed to win acceptance of the teachers, elves, and students. He excused himself and slipped back into the room. He called to Hermione and explained what he had told the group outside the door. "Please sign them in while I make the final preparations for the D.A. to practice.

While Hermione was in the hall, Harry proceeded to split the D.A. into triplets. Each group of three was instructed to stand shoulder-to-shoulder facing outward. He had barely finished when Hermione came back into the room.

"All signed in," she said. Then she looked at the ground, "Harry, Ron's not here."

Harry pulled out the map and showed Hermione that Ron was still in the prefect's bathroom. "He'll either be along shortly or he won't. If he shows up, help him and keep an eye on him. If he doesn't show up we may need to get him to see Madam Pomfrey to find out what's wrong with him. We'll begin practice and see what happens."

Hermione capitulated and Harry placed her in an unfinished triplet. He then let the remaining group in and had them seat themselves in the bleacher seats.

"Today we are going to practice attack and defence." Harry's words brought complete silence. "By staying in these fighting formations, you have the ability to surround enemies, protect your weaker elements, and protect from an attack from any direction."

Harry demonstrated by standing inside of a triangulated group of three triplets. He showed them how he could not attack any of the groups from a blind side and that at least one of the groups always had a shot at his blind side.

"If you don't have enough to make multiple triplets, at least form in to a single set of three. It will give you the best opportunity for protection. If there are only two of you, stand back-to-back. If you are alone, get your back to a protected wall."

The assembled group seemed to grow more animated as they saw the value of the fighting formation.

"I will now walk among the groups. I will be aiming minor curses at each group. We will go slowly at first. Whoever is on the side facing me will be the protector for the group. Deflect the curses, but don't return spell yet. That will come a bit later when we have mastered this technique. Be warned, if you must use this against a large force, expect them to learn, and copy, your defence. Let's begin."

Harry took a fighting stance and started among the students. Those on the far side of the triplets seemed the most nervous, owing to the fact that they could not see Harry's attack. He purposely started with the most proficient D.A. members. Shield charms went up quickly, deflecting most of the minor curses; although a well placed Jelly-Legs jinx got through as an anxious Dean Thomas tried to turn his group so he could see the attack.

Harry stopped the practice and discussed the event while Dean's team recovered. "This is where you have to place consummate trust in each other. You don't have to see me. You have to trust in your fellow D.A. members. Again!"

Harry started again, this time moving more quickly. The groups got better and better and by the fifth time through, not a single curse landed.

"Better," he said tersely. "Now to add to your groups. He motioned for the students seated on the stadium seats to come forward. "File out on to the practice floor and add yourselves by reforming the groups.

There was some muttering at the prospect of forming a team with unknown students.

"You won't always have the same people around you," explained Harry. "To be effective, we have to trust each other. That trust has to be sincere and complete."

As understanding sank in, the groups reluctantly broke up and reformed with the new students.

Harry began the attacks slowly. After several circuits of the room, he increased the speed of his attack. He began to dodge and move at odd angles. The new tactics caught some off guard and once again a few curses landed.

Harry called a halt. "By paying attention to what is only directly in front of you, you offer the best protection for your comrades. Don't worry about what the others are doing. Focus on only what's directly in front of you. Again."

After six more trials, the teams were beginning to act as organisms, placing trust and confidence in the effort of their mates.

"Time to reform," said Harry.

"We don't want other groups!" shouted a burly seventh year Ravenclaw.

His words brought a smile to Harry's face. The Ravenclaw boy was teamed with a Hufflepuff second year and a Gryffindor fourth year.

"Look at your teams," said Harry. "You have already begun to trust people you don't really know. Let's test that a bit more."

The groups reformed.

"I said this is also a way to protect weaker elements. One person in each group put away your wand. You will now become the responsibility of your team members." Harry saw that not one person was willing to stow their wand. Without a word, Harry made a circular motion and one wand, at random, was removed from each group and deposited on a table at the edge of the practice arena. Much muttering followed the wand removal. Harry didn't hesitate. He started among the groups. Realization set in as his first two curses got through to unprotected members. Quickly groups assessed their members and began rotations to protect the unarmed members. Harry picked up his pace. Soon he was running through the groups. The ebb and flow was akin to a flock of birds changing direction in flight.

When all his curses were successfully deflected, Harry stopped the practice. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he complimented the group, "Very good job. Now the next stage. You get to fight back. Don't forget defence, but if you see an opportunity, you may curse me."

Smiles blossomed throughout the room. "He'll get his," "My turn," and, "Finally"; along with other imprecations could be heard through the arena.

"Begin," said Harry, as he became a running blur. At his speed, many of his curses landed as individuals thought more about attack than defence. Secondary to Harry's curses, were curses aimed poorly by the groups and not deflected by inattentive groups nearby.

After two minutes the floor was in a shambles. Harry stopped the practice. While people nursed various injuries, Harry explained, "You neglected defence. Attack is all well and good, but defence keeps you safe. Not only you, but those who depend on you too. This time focus on defence and attack only as direct opportunity presents. Break up and form as quickly as you can when I attack."

Groups broke up as individuals began to obey, "This time I'm going to come through without warning. Your job is to form up and protect each other."

Without further instruction, Harry ran at the group. The first time through, individuals tried to deflect curses without grouping up. Harry made sport of individuals with various curses while leaving groups, in the main, alone.

"Stop it Potter!" bellowed an angry voice. Cormac McLaggen pushed through the group and confronted Harry. "You do so well bobbing through us like a little fairy, picking out the weak to attack. Let's see how you do against just me!"

Harry saw that McLaggen was deadly serious and that his challenge could fracture the tentative alliances that had begun to form. "We're not here to fight amongst ourselves," said Harry.

"Coward!" spat McLaggen.

For one instant, anger flashed through Harry. Slytherin's magic stirred with dark purpose. Harry mastered the urge and squared with McLaggen. "If it will help us move on Cormac, give it your best shot." Pointedly Harry put away his wand.

A smile crept onto McLaggen's face as he attacked silently.

Harry listened for the pitch of McLaggen's magic and was ready at each turn. After several minutes and dozens of deflected attacks, McLaggen loosed a magic so tremendous that it caused the air to shimmer and hum. Harry gathered the magic up as if it were so much tissue paper, shredded it and turned it into butterflies.

The crowd laughed and applauded.

McLaggen looked stunned. "How did you do that?" he demanded.

"Stick with us and we will teach you," said Harry. "Until then we will protect you."

McLaggen glowered.

"We can teach you how to control that temper too," said Harry. He extended his hand to McLaggen.

McLaggen accepted the handshake grudgingly and added, "Better to be on the same side with you. Let's get on with it."

The afternoon progressed with multiple attacks and defences. Individuals quickly learned that the best protection was with others. Soon no one remained on their own. Groups found ways to protect their members and not compromise the safety of nearby groups.

As eight o'clock neared, Harry stopped the practice. "Now it's your turn to attack. I'll move around you. You are free to use any curse or jinx you wish. I'll not attack, only defend."

Harry knew he was setting himself up. Many were still nursing small injuries from his curses and he was sure they were eager to retaliate. "Begin!"

Harry ran through the group. At first they tried individual attacks, then, as if understanding enmass, they joined in a coordinated attack. Harry was assaulted from every side. The speed of his protective spells, honed in trials with Capricio, was almost eye-blink fast.

When Harry had run the gauntlet three times without a single spell making mark, he called a halt. "We'll end it there," he said mopping his sweaty face. "Same place and time tomorrow. Stay focused and stay alert for dangers."

The crowd moved across the large field and filed out the door. Harry was pleased to hear the congratulation ringing across House boundaries. He noticed that the teachers and house elves had remained seated in the bleachers. With only Hermione and Ginny remaining on the field, Harry glanced at the stands. To his horror, sitting above the teachers, was Severus Snape. The curtain of greasy black hair and hook-nose made him unmistakable.

Harry's anger flashed immediately to white-hot. He sprinted across the field and up the bleachers. Teachers and elves alike scattered as they recognized the object of Harry's focus.

Snape made no move to protect himself as Harry approached.

Harry never hesitated. Grabbing a handful of black hair and forcing his wand into Snape's neck, he spat out hatefully, "I would never have believed you would have the gall to show your face in this school again!"

Snape didn't move. In fact, Snape didn't even blink. Harry had just become aware that Snape didn't even breathe when he felt the wands pressed into his back.

"Admirable training Mr. Potter," said a gruff voice in his ear. "But you have some learning to do yourself."

Snape dissolved in his hands. Harry turned slowly to see Minerva McGonagall, Remus Lupin, and Alastor Moody putting away wands.

"When we are obsessed by a thing," said Lupin, "We can give away our ability to see past that thing."

"It's a trap that Voldemort uses regularly," said McGonagall softly.

"You need to master your hatred. Your goal must be beyond revenge. It must be much greater than that to allow you to focus correctly," growled Moody.

Harry slumped to the bench. The lesson taught, the three members of the Order of the Phoenix followed the other teachers and the house elves, and made their way from the Room of Requirement.

Hermione and Ginny made to come to Harry but he asked them to wait in the hall. They complied reluctantly. Harry sat on the hard wooden seat, head in hands, and chastened himself severely.

« Chapter 26 - Perfect Perspectives   Chapter 28 - What is a Friend »


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